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Bring Spiders, Werewolves, and a Coyote to Your Table

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game Publisher: Bézier Games
• On September 23-24, 2020, BGG will host another game demonstration livestream — broadcast schedule here — and U.S. publisher Bézier Games is one of the publishers taking part, with Whistle Mountain from Scott Caputo and Luke Laurie — originally covered here — being demoed on Sept. 24 and with Ted Alspach's Silver Dagger, the fourth title in the publisher's Silver series — being demoed on Sept. 23.

Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game, which bears an October 28, 2020 release date:
Quote:
In Silver Dagger, as in the other Silver card games, everyone starts the game with five face-down cards, with everyone being able to see two cards of their choice. Cards are numbered 0-13, with the number showing how many werewolves the character on that card attracts, and each character (number) has a different special power.

On a turn, you draw the top card of the deck or discard pile, then either discard it to use the power of the card (but only if it came from the deck), discard it without using the power (ditto), or replace one or more of your face-down cards with this card; you can replace multiple cards only if they bear the same number, and you must reveal the cards to prove this, being penalized if you're wrong.

Board Game: Silver Dagger

Silver Dagger contains 14 new roles and abilities not seen in the previous titles, some of which allow you to strategically switch the direction of gameplay, the #4 zombie in particular! As might be expected, zombies are tough to get rid of; in game terms, you can't place them on top of the discard pile, and they need to be face up in order to pass them to the previous player. The game also includes helpful roles such as the debt collector, which subtracts a point for each card held by your opponents, and the halfling, who has the power to divide your entire score for the round in half.

As in other Silver games, call for a vote when you think you have the fewest werewolves circling your village. Your opponents will then have only one more chance to save themselves — or to sabotage you!
You can combine cards from Silver Amulet, Silver Bullet, Silver Coin, and this title as you like to create your own custom deck as long as you have cards in each of the slots from 0 to 13.

Board Game Publisher: HeidelBÄR Games
From gallery of W Eric Martin
• Looking ahead to other conventions, German publisher HeidelBÄR Games is taking part in Castle TriCon, an online game demonstration event run with Horrible Guild and Czech Games Edition that's open to the public on Sept. 26-27, 2020. (HeidelBÄR Games will also take part in SPIEL.digital 2020, and BGG will also livestream during that event. Schedule currently in the works!)

Anyway, one of two releases coming from HeidelBÄR Games is Anansi, a trick-taking card game from Cyril Blondel and Jim Dratwa for 3-5 players that's a somewhat changed version of 2016's Eternity from the same designers. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
Quote:
Some say Anansi is a trickster, but he is a spider for sure and sometimes even a man. Let me tell you why he is also known as the "Keeper of Stories": One day, Anansi decided to gather all stories and become the wisest of all. After many years, he finally had all the stories in the world, but poor Anansi did not feel any wiser. Eventually he realized that true wisdom is not achieved by keeping knowledge to yourself, so he decided to share his stories and inspire people with them — and believe it or not, that was how this game was made!

Board Game: Anansi

In Anansi, you have to be smart about which tricks you are trying to get. Each trick represents a story, but stories untold are worth only a little. If you can acquire followers — by playing a card not to the trick, but for its indicated number of followers — you can match up your followers with stories to inspire them, and inspiring all your followers should always be your goal because this grants you the trickster's favor and sweet bonus points.

Note that cards played to gain followers can affect the trump suit, which means that the trump can change several times in a game. It is up to you to adapt to the new situation!

Board Game: Anansi

Anansi is in the same game line as Spicy, with the game box and card backs being decorated with a special metallic print in purple. For such a rich and cultural theme, publisher HeidelBÄR Games paired up with Nigerian artist Dayo Baiyegunhi and South African artist Emmanuel Mdlalose to create a unique and colorful look for the story world of Anansi.
• The other title due out from HeidelBÄR Games is a new edition of Spartaco Albertarelli's Coyote, first released in 2003, with this game also having some changes from earlier versions. Here's the story behind the game:
Quote:
One day Coyote crossed the river with his friends, but he was carrying too many things and almost drowned before Bear pulled him out of the water. Poor Coyote had lost everything.

They sat down by a fire to dry off and rest. Coyote became jealous of the other animals because they still had all their things, so he challenged them to a bluffing game to win their belongings. The other animals agreed to the challenge as they thought Coyote would never win. After all, he is known to never tell the truth — but in this game everybody has to lie because no one knows the truth...

Board Game: Coyote

In the bluffing game Coyote, you always see the cards of the other players, but never your own. When it's your turn, you must announce a number that is less than the total of all the cards in the game, yet higher than the previous number given. Alternatively, you can challenge the number previously announced. Finally, when all the cards are revealed, you'll see who has the cunning Coyote on their side.
As with Spicy and Anansi, for Coyote HeidelBÄR Games has hired an artist from the community in which the game's story is set, specifically Zona Evon Shroyer, with the publisher describing her as a Yupik Alaskan native and a master of traditional Northwest Coastal art. All three of the artists for these HeidelBÄR titles, as well as Jimin Kim on Spicy, have previously done no game artwork, and I think HeidelBÄR deserves a lot of credit for bringing new "voices" into the industry.

Board Game: Coyote

Board Game: Coyote
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Tue Sep 22, 2020 1:00 pm
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Supercharge Potatoes, and Use Triangles to Rebuild Nature

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: The Dietz Foundation
• In July 2019, I wrote about The Dietz Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Jim Dietz of Jolly Roger Games and Ultra PRO "to produce games which enhance critical thinking, the use of math, and historical knowledge with the goal of generating revenue to endow scholarships for budding teachers and current teachers seeking to bring creative new means of education to the classroom".

The organization's first release was Jason Little's 3 Years of War, and it's on Kickstarter with its second title until September 24, 2020: Supercharged from designers Mike Clifford and Mike Siggins, with this design being a reworking of their Grand Prix Manager from 1992 (KS link). Here's an overview:
Quote:
Supercharged is a game about motor racing in the 1930s for 1-5 players. The system allows for a full grid of cars — not just the players', but also privateers that ran alongside, and usually hindered, the factory teams.

Each player controls two racing teams: one in the top category and another slower team unlikely to win, but capable of reaching the podium and ending in the money. That is important since the game's winner is based on money earned. Winning, though, is adjusted based on the level of cars a player selects, so taking the "best" cars may not be the optimal strategy for victory when the car ability bonus is applied.

Board Game: Supercharged

Gameplay is handled with a randomized team draw that determines player order in addition to generating random events; these events emphasize the dangerous and unreliable nature of 1920s and 1930s driving, courses, and early race technology. On a player's turn, cars move a certain number of spaces with the option of slipstreaming, "charging" (which permits multiple bonus spaces if clear track is ahead), and blocking (which can force trailing cars to spin out).

The game takes 45-60 minutes to play a race, and games can be combined into a multi-race contest or even a full season if the players wish.
Board Game Publisher: Origame
• I'm writing about this title just a bit after the end of the Kickstarter campaign (link), but better late than never, I suppose.

Plantopia: The Card Game is a 2-5 player game from Daryl Chow, co-designer of The Artemis Project and Remember Our Trip and head designer of the Singaporean publisher Origame. Plantopia is based on the Instagram comic series Life of a Potato, and it plays as follows:
Quote:
In the game, players harness their gardening abilities to contend for the coveted title of Plantopia's "Champion Gardener". Manage the plants in your hand and in your tableau, and plant the best combos to earn the most magical leaves. But pay attention to all of your fellow gardeners, as whoever can predict the weather can make their plants grow!

Board Game: Plantopia: The Card Game

Capitalize upon the immediate powers of the baby plants while harnessing the scoring combos of the Treevolved plants. Will you go for the fast-growing flowers, the card-drawing cacti, or the weather-controlling trees? Or a combination of all of the above?
• Illustrated playing card decks have a lot of fans on Kickstarter, but I've never paid much attention to them. One that recently caught my eye, though, is a set from Sunish Chabba in which he combined details from several Hieronymus Bosch paintings to create an original work of sorts, with the 54 cards in that deck recreating that image when you assemble them in the right way. (KS link)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The background images of the Bosch art interact with the card symbols in various ways, creating a deeper image that blurs the planes in which everything exists — which seems appropriate for a design inspired by Bosch.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• And I might as well highlight another non-game item now that I've started down that path. In February 2020, I wrote about a new 3D-building system from Stéphane Villain called CARAPACES in a round-up of items seen during the Spielwarenmesse 2020 trade fair.

Publisher Romain-Guirec Piotte has now launched a funding campaign on Ulule (link) through the end of October 2020 in which you can acquire 100, 200, or 300 triangles in white, pink, or black (or a combination of colors), with each pack of one hundred triangles including ten copies of ten differently sized triangles.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Prophetic sculpture from January 2020
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Mon Sep 21, 2020 1:00 pm
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Game Alone (or Not) with Florence, Gate, and Votes for Women

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Votes for Women
Draft cover
• In June 2020, I wrote about Tory Brown's Votes for Women, which is being published by Fort Circle Games. That title is being Kickstarted (link) through September 24, 2020 ahead of a scheduled release in Q2 2021, and as a refresher, here's an overview of this 1-4 player game:
Quote:
Votes for Women is a card-driven game covering the American women's suffrage movement from 1848-1920, culminating with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. The game provides competitive, co-operative and solitaire play. Players can play cards for their events, discard cards to campaign in states, or discard cards to organize for suffrage.

The game plays out over six turns: two turns in 1848-1890, two turns in 1890-1919, and two turns in 1919-1920 (during the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment). The Support player must get 36 U.S. states (out of 48) to ratify the Amendment before the Opposition player (or the Oppo-bot in the solitaire game) gets 13 states to reject the Nineteenth Amendment. Two players may also play co-operatively against the Oppo-bot.
From gallery of W Eric Martin
Gate is a solitaire, tower defense game from Jason Glover and Grey Gnome Games in which you must protect your small medieval town from a swarm of vile creatures. In more detail:
Quote:
You have to manage the health of your town's gate, the tower, and the local farm. In addition, this attack is causing fear levels to rise. If you cannot keep your gate standing or if the fear of the townspeople gets too high, you lose the game. If, however, you can hold off the swarm of enemies long enough, you will be victorious!

Board Game: Gate

Gate uses deck-building as the driving mechanism in the game. You start with three starting cards, but as the game progresses you can recruit new people from your town to help your cause. Each character has unique abilities, and some even have special powers. The enemies in the game get increasingly more difficult with each new wave, so you have to make good choices as to when to spend resources on fighting off your foes, upgrading your command, and repairing your town.
Board Game: Ragusa
Board Game: Venice
• Following Ragusa in 2019 and Venice in 2020, UK publisher Braincrack Games is closing out its "Eurocity" trilogy with Florence, a 1-5 player game from Dean Morris (with a solo mode from Dávid Turczi) that will be Kickstarted ahead of a 2021 retail release.

Here's an overview of the game:
Quote:
Set in the titular city, Florence tasks players with elevating the status of their family and navigating the city on the night of a grand Carnevale to set up meetings with the ruling Medici figureheads: Cosimo, Giovanni, and Contessina.

Florence is a Euro-style area control game in which the regions you want to hold change each round as the Medici move around the city attending various functions. Over nine rounds, each player dispatches family members to attend parties, give gifts, brag about their achievements, engage in spurious gossip, and muscle their way through crowds to get some valuable face-time with the Medici. The chief resource in Florence is time: As the Carnevale moves into full swing and the streets fill with revelers, they will become harder to navigate, and you will need to be cautious of which actions you ask your various scions to complete.

Board Game: Florence

But by ensuring that your family is at the front of each queue and the most talked about (by meeting conditions of various "brag" cards), you gain valuable points to elevate your family's status. Each Medici is impressed only by a specific approach, and as the night goes on, they become harder to impress — which scores you more points for increasingly harder objectives should you do so.
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Sun Sep 20, 2020 1:00 pm
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Interview: Volko Ruhnke, Creator of the COIN series

Neil Bunker
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[Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move. —WEM]

This week, Volko Ruhnke, designer of Nevsky and Labyrinth: The War on Terror and creator of the COIN series, joins Neil Bunker from Diagonal Move for a retrospective of his remarkable career.

DM: Hi, Volko, thank you for joining us. During your design career, you have created some of the most well-known historically themed games currently available. Please can you tell us how it all began?

VR: Hi, thanks for letting me join you! I started board wargaming as a grade-schooler, with Avalon Hill games in the 1970s. For the first decade or so, published games to me were received wisdom: I did not think to doubt what came in the box. The designers were professionals, after all! Then, as a college student on a trip to Europe that included visits to various battlefields, I noticed that some terrain was quite different from what I had grown familiar with on my most revered game boards.

That epiphany — that games could be wrong in some way, could be improved — was the start for me of tinkering with purchased games and ultimately designing new games. At first, I would just get out my pencil and mark up changes to rule books. Or I would take elements of games that I owned, the combat results table, for instance, and apply them to different situations on homemade maps. Eventually, I got involved in playtesting for my favorite company, GMT Games. I had that fan relationship with GMT for years — I even helped GMT president Gene Billingsley assemble game boxes in a convention hotel room once — before I approached them with a design.

Board Game: Wilderness War

DM: Your first notable success was Wilderness War, in which players vie for control of North America during the 1700s. It is still in print almost twenty years after its initial release. Can you tell us about the development of that game, and why you think it has had such longevity?

VR: In the 1990s, friends and I designed and ran paper historical campaigns for one another, homespun role-play campaigns with great attention to historical detail.

One of mine was set in the French and Indian War: We sought to recreate the year 1756 on the American frontier. That war was my greatest interest at the time as I live in Virginia. George Washington's early military career was as a Virginia colonel, and I had studied his history including from his papers in the nearby Library of Congress. When I complained to a friend that the none of the existing board games about the French and Indian War had all the elements I thought needed, he challenged me to design my own.

I designed Wilderness War in 2000 when card-driven games were still young. Mark Simonitch's Hannibal: Rome versus Carthage was a key inspiration. With Wilderness War, I tried to take the CDG form that Mark Herman, Simonitch, and Ted Raicer had invented and refine it to my favorite setting, one that happened to emphasize competing modes of warfare: European-style massed armies and fortifications on the one hand and petite guerre of frontier raiders and rangers on the other. I suspect that Wilderness War still gets played mainly because it tries to hew closely to the original power of CDGs while exploring an asymmetric contest.

Board Game: Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?
Image: Volko Ruhnke

DM: Labyrinth: The War of Terror followed in 2010. It depicts the struggle between the U.S. and Islamic extremism. How does making a game based on an ongoing or very recent conflict differ from one modelling events outside of living memory?

VR: A difference may be that more players already will have formed views of more recent history — or maybe not as hobbyists can be quite passionate and opinionated about whatever historical period fascinates them!

Regardless, history is always interpretation, and as a designer your interpretation is in there, no matter how objective you may strive to be. As professional wargamer Peter Perla wrote, game design is communication. So I did try with Labyrinth or in designing A Distant Plain with Brian Train about the still ongoing war in Afghanistan, to be explicit with myself about what we were saying to players about those conflicts.

However, whether it's about guerrilla warfare or Gettysburg, a wargame presents a designer's model that is necessarily simplified. The model can teach us something about past or ongoing affairs, but it only adds to the mental models that the players already bring to the table. My hope in game design is not to change anyone's position on anything, but rather to raise questions in players' minds and thereby perhaps to help them refine the understanding of events that they already possess.

Board Game: Andean Abyss

DM: The year 2012 saw the release of Andean Abyss. What was the spark that turned a game about a relatively obscure conflict into a game that became the start of the popular COIN series?

VR: The idea for Andean Abyss sprung from my experience on Labyrinth and from my day job teaching U.S. intelligence analysts.

From the latter, I had become ever more interested in insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN) as a complex interplay of many actors and factors. A premise of Labyrinth was that jihadism versus counterterrorism was at core a global insurgency/counterinsurgency — and one, I think, valid criticism of Labyrinth's model was that it reduced a multiparty conflict to just two sides. Australian COIN expert Kilcullen wrote that all counterinsurgency is multifactional, and I wanted to explore that.

Colombia offered a rich story of at least four powerfully competing visions for the country's future battling it out, with a government facing down three insurgencies at once and coming out mostly on top. How did they do that? Only one other board game had taken on Colombia's war — Crisis Games' Colombia — and that game was published (out of my town!) years before the period that Andean Abyss would cover!

Finally, after facing the challenge of designing a solitaire mode for one side in Labyrinth, I wanted to see whether I could do the same for all four sides in a game, to mimic multi-side action for a single player, and Colombia's factional struggle offered that opportunity.

GMT President Gene Billingley's reaction to my proposal was hesitant; as he has since said, he did not think that he could sell a game about Colombian guerrilla war (until he got the chance to play it). He was right, in a way: Initial preorders were quite weak, especially within the U.S. But the promise of a series to follow buttressed the potential of the volume, Andean Abyss got made, and players reacted well. Other designers joined me almost at once for new settings, and the COIN Series was off!

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
COIN Series games (image: Neil Bunker)

DM: The games that immediately followed Andean Abyss showed COIN to be a flexible system capable of depicting a variety of historical periods. Can you describe how the system developed during the first years and what you think makes it so flexible?

VR: The central design challenge in Andean Abyss was to effect as cleanly as I could the asymmetries among four factions in their ends, ways, and means (the classic components of strategy). Within that, I needed to show guerrilla and counter-guerrilla operations as mainly a matter of initiative (as an abstraction of local information advantage) since the contest of firepower so important to conventional warfare is not really the determinant of victory. Out of those modelling tasks, I came up with the initiative-card sequence of play, faction-unique ops and special activity menus, and asymmetric victory conditions at the heart of the COIN Series.

Those game mechanisms apply well to such varied conflict settings, I think, because these asymmetric factional features of Colombian and other counterinsurgencies actually are true of all mass human affairs. All of us all the time have overlapping but not identical interests. All of history is factions, so COIN Series topics are to be found everywhere.

(Factions come to the fore especially in internal conflicts like insurgencies — which are abundant across the ages but deeply under-gamed. Yet they are there in classic, apparently two-sided wars as well. You need to see them to understand how the Wehrmacht acted in World War Two, for example, and there is some great boardgame design work underway now to explore that.)

Board Game: All Bridges Burning: Red Revolt and White Guard in Finland, 1917-1918

DM: How does it feel for you to see the COIN series now being driven by other designers who are taking it into new and varied directions?

VR: It is the best part of it for me. I had originally envisioned just four COIN Series volumes, one per continent: Colombia, Angola, Philippines, Iraq. They would have very similar internals to Andean Abyss. But what we got from all the designers who stepped forward is a far more varied and higher quality exploration of factional conflict. We have non-violence as a tactic, raiding for plunder, tribal loyalties, and — to come — future conflict on another planet.

I certainly never would have thought of Brian Train's adaptation of the COIN Series sequence of play to a two-player game (Colonial Twilight), which gives the same — even amplified — struggles for initiative. Nor could I have foreseen Bruce Mansfield's rework of the Series' solitaire system from difficult flowcharts of limited variability to smooth and capable card-based bots in Gandhi, now in work for retrofit to earlier volumes. VPJ Arponen with this three-player All Bridges Burning and other designers have made their own, similar leaps within the system.

Board Game: Nevsky: Teutons and Rus in Collision 1240-1242

DM: Your most recent big game is Nevsky, which is set in medieval Europe and features logistics and operational issues affecting conflict during the period. Please tell us about the inspiration behind the design and its development process.

VR: The initial inspiration for a system examining medieval warfare at the operational level came from a college memory, a course called "English Constitutional History" that highlighted feudal service as a building block of law. To my wargamer mind at the time, the fact of limited military service ("show up with a helmet, spear, and horse for forty days") raised the operational question of how such time-limited duty affected military campaigns. What happened after the forty days ended and the war was still going on?

The next inspiration was from not a historical but a game-mechanical perspective. I loved the game Angola (originally from Ragnar Brothers, now in a beautiful MMP edition) designed in the 1980s but not really copied in the hobby. One fantastic mechanism in Angola is "column" cards that very smoothly model friction in communications and trust among allied factions, while in fact speeding rather than impeding gameplay. I wanted to steal this mechanism and apply it to some setting where the means of communication were uncertain and the command or alliance system rickety. Medieval warfare seemed a perfect setting for that.

The next step was to find a campaign in the Middle Ages that really interested me. There are not many wargames depicting medieval warfare at operational scale, so the field was quite open. My father's family was from the Baltic region. In the 1990s, I got to do a military history tour of Russia that really inspired me. I wanted my medieval operations designs to tour the cultural boundaries of Latin Europe, where I hoped to find more asymmetry and personality to two opposing sides' military styles. Teutons versus Rus in 1240-1242 offered me all that interest, and a classic motion picture to help excite players to the topic. Nevsky was born!

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Almoravid prototype cards (image: Volko Ruhnke)

DM: Nevsky is also the first in a new series, "Levy & Campaign". The next installment, Almoravid, is now available for pre-order. How does Almoravid progress the series, and what does the future hold for the series long term?

VR: Almoravid will take the Levy & Campaign series to the opposite end of medieval Europe geographically and with regard to its range of economic development — Muslim al-Andalus. Bigger armies, better roads, tougher fortifications across the countryside, and a more complex political environment as Christian kingdoms and duchies try to coalesce against even more fractious Muslim petty "taifa" states until a massive African Almoravid intervention force arrives to beat the Christians back. The core rules of levying and marching, supplying and fighting will be quite familiar to fans of Nevsky, but the physical and political environment will require different approaches.

For the future of Levy & Campaign, I am happy to report that I am enjoying a similar phenomenon to that of the COIN Series. Both new and experienced designers and researchers are stepping forward to create or co-design further volumes. Once again, my original concept for four volumes — one at each corner of medieval Latindom: Russia, Scotland, Spain, and the Holy Land — is superseded by opportunity for a broader array of settings. And the favorable reaction that Nevsky has received from designers, critiques, and most of all players now makes realization of a full series possible. Next up will be Italy, from a veteran Italian wargame designer. Designs set in Byzantium, Dark Ages France, and Scotland have begun. We shall see!

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Falling Sky prototype, now hanging on Volko's wall (image: Volko Ruhnke)

DM: Coming full circle now, your games are successful, both critically and commercially, and increasingly influential outside of the traditional war game audience. What effect has this level of success had on you personally?

VR: I am loving life, naturally! Game design is its own joy, related to but something other than game play. The widespread practice of players making their own games for themselves and their friends bears this out. A challenge, when our own designs go into publication, is that these two joys start to compete for what is already limited time in the week. "Design games, play games, have a life — choose two" as design teacher Alan Emrich once wrote. My great fortune, however, is that a few years ago I retired from a successful career in government service and can now delve fully into all aspects of my main hobby as well as enjoy my family and much more.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Falling Sky retail (image: Neil Bunker)

DM: What advice do you have for aspiring game designers?

VR: Follow your bliss! You are designing for your own entertainment, after all. (If instead you are striving for fame, fortune, or adoration, turn back now!) Borrow everything you can from other games — they are your toolbox — but mix them up, combine and change other's tools as you see fit. There really are no rules. Go new places. Experiment away: no lives will be lost.
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Sat Sep 19, 2020 1:00 pm
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Geoff Engelstein Sure Makes a Mean Pinball...Roll & Write

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: WizKids
I have fond childhood memories of going to the shore and the Poconos with my family, hitting arcades with my older brother. We always played skeeball and pinball, and of course, Streets of Rage. Pinball was especially exciting because of the dopamine-inducing lights and sounds, not to mention the amusing variety of different themed machines from movies to rock bands and just about everything in between.

Given my enjoyment of pinball, I was curious to see how it translated to the board game world when I was hipped to Geoff Engelstein's pinball-themed roll-and-write game Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade from WizKids. WizKids kindly hooked me up with a copy so that I could give it a whirl and share my initial impressions of (spoiler alert!) the most thematic roll-and-write I've played to date.

From gallery of candidrum

In Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade, 1 to 4 players compete to score the most stars (victory points) after three rounds of roll-and-write pinball. The game comes with four unique pinball tables, each featuring a different theme and variation on the core mechanisms and ranging in complexity levels. Each pinball table is represented by two dry-erase boards — one for the pinball table and one for the backglass, which is primarily used to track your score.

A turn in Super-Skill Pinball begins with a player rolling two dice, followed by all players choosing one die result to move their ball and fill a box on their board showing what feature their ball hit, but you're not just filling any boxes — they're bumpers and targets and spinners and flippers, just like a ball hitting different parts of a real pinball machine. It's quite clever!

From gallery of candidrum
Each pinball table is split into multiple levels. At the beginning of the round, your ball starts at the top of the board, and following the laws of gravity, you move your ball down one level (or more) each turn, simulating it rolling down the table. Bumpers break this rule and give players the opportunity to stay in the bumper zones multiple turns, assuming you can get the right dice rolls back-to-back.

Your pinball will eventually drop down to the flipper zone, where there will hopefully be a box available to mark off, timed with the right dice roll, so you can flip your ball back to the top of the table; otherwise you lose the ball, and your round ends. After all players have completed their third round, the player with the most stars (victory points) wins.

In Super-Skill Pinball, players are playing simultaneously, sharing the same dice rolls, but making their own choices independently, which means players will usually start rounds 2 and 3 at different times, and it's highly unlikely you'll all finish the game at the same time. It is a bit multiplayer solitaire in that sense, but since everyone is equally invested in the outcome of each dice roll and knowing where your opponents are scoring wise, it usually ends up being exciting, and feels quite engaging.

As I mentioned above, four themed pinball tables are included in Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade, and they range from easy to advanced difficulty:

• "Carniball" is a carnival-themed introductory table covering the basics of Super-Skill Pinball and is the best place to start if you're new to the game. It features plenty of flair with ferris wheel cars, as well as carnival games like knocking ducks down by squirting a target, throwing darts at balloons, and testing your strength. Once you have the basics under your belt, then it's fun to mix it up and play the other tables and explore all the variety and twists they offer.

• The "Cyberhack" table allows players to unleash their inner hacker and try to bring down the data monopoly of corporations that run the world. This table builds off of the basic mechanisms introduced in "Carniball" and adds spinners and a fun press-your-luck mini-game played on the backglass board once you've filled up the RUN bumpers. This one pairs well with The Matrix soundtrack.

• The "Dragonslayer" table transports us into a fantasy world where players are wizards on an adventure building up their book of spells, fighting goblins and rats, casting spells to modify dice and gain bonuses, and defeating the dragon to capture its hoard and gain even more victory points.

• With the "Dance Fever" table, players flash back to the 1970s and get their groove on with disco ball bumpers, boogie bonuses, and the Disco Pinferno multiball mini-game. There's quite a bit to juggle in this one at moments, but because the graphic design is so consistent and well done across the board, you'll pick it up fairly quickly after you've played the other tables.

From gallery of candidrum
All of the different tables are fun and challenging in their own way, but I also just dig the many different ways you can earn stars. Some features like bumpers give you a star every time you hit one, and then there are even juicier points to be gained by unlocking bonuses, and it's neat how this set-up varies a bit from table to table.

As you complete various sections of bumpers, targets etc., you get to unlock different bonuses, such as multiball, which allows you to play with two balls at once, and different score multiplier bonuses, which are super helpful for beefing up your score.

Certain sections when completed allow you to select a "Skill Shot", which is a reserved result you can use at any point instead of either die result. You simply circle whichever number you want (1-6), then erase it once you use it.

In addition to Skill Shots, you can also nudge the table to modify one of the die results — or even a Skill Shot — to a different number to optimize your choices and avoid losing balls. This is awesome because anyone who's ever played pinball has probably bumped the table here and there trying to force the ball to go where you need it, so I love that this element is captured in the game.

Each game you have only three opportunities to nudge, so use them wisely. To nudge, you write the difference between the original number and the number you want in the nudge box, then move your ball accordingly. The harder you nudge, the more likely it is that you'll tilt and lose your ball(s). How does one tilt? you're probably wondering. Well, on the next roll after you nudge, you check the difference between the two die results. If the difference is less than the nudge amount, you tilt!

Nudging is a fun little gamble that you'll be tempted to do often, but sometimes it's best to save at least one nudge for round 3 emergencies. In one of my four-player games, two players nudged at the same time with two balls in play from the multiball bonus, then I rolled doubles which caused them both to tilt (since the difference was 0 and they had nudged 1). Whoops! It was a bummer for them, but we all laughed about it, and it's one of those gaming memories we won't forget. (Those nasty double 4s!)

From gallery of candidrum

All-in-all, I think Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade is really well done and worth checking out. Every time I play, I'm tickled by the fact that it's soooo pinbally — the way your ball interacts with all the different pinball elements (bumpers, flippers, targets, spinners), the nudging, the exciting bonuses, multiball mode. It all ties together so well. I've played only a handful of different roll-and-writes, but I'm pretty sure this one takes the cake for being most thematic! ...and it's also awesome to see such a unique, refreshing theme in a board game, period.

On a few occasions, I lost track of whether or not I had scored something, but it never mattered too much because the scores weren't super tight at the end; either way I was having a lot of fun and not caring so much whether or not I won the game. That is something to be wary of, however, since everyone is in their own zone trying to keep track of everything. There was also one game in which someone ended their game way before everyone else, and he ended up just rolling dice while we played for another 15-20 minutes, so that is something you may run into.

I really love how Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade captures different themed pinball machines and it feels like you have four different games in one. I also think it's cool that the tables ramp up in complexity and have a nice variety of themes. I can't help but think about all the fun expansion possibilities, too — wink wink, Mr. Engelstein and WizKids. I could also totally see Super-Skill Pinball having an awesome (and addictive) digital adaptation with some sweet pinball sound effects! In the meantime, I'll continue enjoying it analog and making my own sound effects.
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Fri Sep 18, 2020 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Influentia, or The Art of Losing the Best Trick

Miguel Bruque
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Board Game: Influentia
In 2015, I published my first game, and my head was full of new ideas that I wanted to develop.

One of my goals was to take a classic game and add a twist that would give the game a completely different sensation while playing. I always played classic Spanish trick-taking games with my family, such as "la brisca" or "el tute", and I started to think of a new way to give the same importance to winning as to losing the trick...

What if the card you played, or lost, triggered an effect? What if this effect could be better than winning the trick? I started to think of the side effects that could fit with this idea. I took a Spanish deck of cards and drew icons on them, then brought the game to my fellow testers and played a couple of rounds.

The seed was sown, the idea was clear, and with a couple of retouches it would be playable.

At that point, I worked on the whole concept, selected a theme to give it some flavor (the Italian Renaissance), developed the triggering effects, and created another deck where each card had a value that you would want to win to score points at the end of each round. This deck had the locations of the most important cities in Italy. You had to play (trick) resources to control these locations in order to make your family the most influential in the city.

BOOM! The lore was written, and it merged perfectly with the mechanisms and the feeling of the game.

Board Game Designer: Miguel Bruque

Board Game Designer: Miguel Bruque

After many sessions of playtesting and making adjustments, I decided to present the game at the Jugar x Jugar Games Creation Contest in 2016. Influentia was named the winner out of more than eighty other games presented.

It was a great joy to win the contest. This showed me that the game had a strong core. People particularly enjoyed the constant difficulty of decision making, round by round, to decide whether they would rather win, take the location, and score points — or lose the trick and trigger an effect.

Board Game Designer: Miguel Bruque

But something was still niggling at me. The contest tested only two-player games, and the game really shined with three players, so I decided to rebuild a couple of effects, rethink some scoring phases, and test, test, test...

Later, I had the opportunity to present the game to Ludonova, where the guys decided to keep the later core mechanisms and give the last twist — and a brilliant twist, I think — to the lore. They gave a darker look to the Italian Renaissance, placing it in a cyberpunk dystopia.

I'm really happy with the final changes of the game. I reached my goal with the twisted trick-taking and Ludonova nailed the lore — what more could I ask for?

Miguel Bruque

Board Game: Influentia
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Thu Sep 17, 2020 1:00 pm
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Lava Flows in Tobago, Complicating Your Search for Treasure

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Tobago
• German publisher Zoch Verlag has announced its releases for the second half of 2020, with a highly unexpected title leading the billing — Tobago: Volcano, this being an expansion for Bruce Allen's 2009 release Tobago.

In the original game, players move around an island trying to discover treasure, and they hold pieces of treasure maps that — unlike normal maps — determine where the treasure might be. You might initially know, for example, that this particular treasure (one of four) is not next to a palm tree, then someone lays down a card that shows this treasure is on the beach, and another player's card identifies it as being within one space of a mountain.

Eventually these cards will pinpoint this treasure's location in a particular hex, and whoever first moves to that hex collects the treasure, after which another treasure will be available on the island...somewhere. (If you've played the 2018 game Cryptid from Osprey Games, then you might recognize the feeling of possible targets being winnowed over the course of the game.)

Here's what is going on with the expansion, which is due out in October 2020:
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Tobago: Volcano, playable only with the Tobago base game, complicates your search for hidden treasure.

In the original game, treasure awaited under palm trees, next to huts, in forests, and in the mountains. Thanks to a volcano that takes up seven of the board's hexes and now towers high above the game board, lava comes into play. During set-up, each player places a triangular tile of three hexes near the island's perimeter, with one of these hexes being covered with lava; the player's ATV starts on another of these hexes.

Board Game: Tobago: Volcano

During the game, you can violate the normal rules of card playing by laying down an illegal card, e.g., "not in the mountains" when an "in the mountains" card was played earlier for this treasure, after which you immediately cover this card with one of the four new volcanic clue cards included in this expansion: next to/not next to the volcano and next to/not next to lava. Once this treasure is claimed, the volcanic card is returned to the side of the playing area for subsequent use.

Whenever a player collects an amulet, they add another hex of lava to the game board, whether adjacent to the volcano or lava already in play. This means that the island will transform dynamically throughout the game, possibly moving treasures to locations where no one suspected them previously. After all, the largest forest might not stay the largest if overrun by lava, and the forests themselves might even disappear completely!

Board Game: Tobago: Volcano

During a turn, an ATV can travel over lava — but not stop in lava — if the player spends an amulet or (if they have no amulets) discards their largest treasure card. Don't let your travel routes get cut off by the lava flow...
Board Game: Tasso
Kurz vor Knapp from Helmut Punke and Tobias Punke seems reminiscent of Philippe Proux's Tasso — which I covered in 2019 — so I'm curious to try this game given that you have a few simple differences in how it works, specifically (1) wooden sticks of various lengths, (2) the ability to steal another player's turn by building higher, and (3) pillars that you place in the building area, which means you get to designate the possible building sites.

In any case, here's an overview of the game:
Quote:
Assess, connect, build higher!

In Kurz vor Knapp, you set up the playing area by placing the string in a circle, placing ten cylinders within this circle, then laying the wood beams out at random in a spiral around this circle. Each player starts the game with a number of cylinders based on the player count.

On a turn, you look at the wood beam on the end of the spiral — without touching it or measuring it — then identify which two cylinders you want to place this beam on. You want to place the beam so that its endpoints are contained (and not hanging over) the faces of these cylinders, and each cylinder can have at most two beams resting on it. After you identify these cylinders, each other player has a chance to steal your turn by identifying cylinders on a higher level where this beam could be placed.

Board Game: Kurz vor Knapp

If you — or the turn stealer — have correctly estimated the length of the beam and can make the connection, you then place one or more cylinders from your supply onto the playing area, with one cylinder on the newly placed beam and additional cylinders on beams at lower levels. The higher the beam, the more cylinders you can place! If you can't place the beam, then you return it to the end of the line, and if you had tried to steal someone's turn, they get to hand over the number of cylinders they would have placed.

Whoever first places all of their own cylinders wins.
Board Game: Silencio
Board Game: Eureka!
• Given my love of The Mind, I am eager to try César Gómez Bernardino's Silencio, a card game that seems to require a similar merging of spirits. Here's an overview of how it plays:
Quote:
In Silencio, all players form a team together, a team that cannot speak to one another.

You each start with a hand of cards from four suits, and your goal as a team is to discard as many cards as possible — but each card played must have a higher value than the previously played card of the same suit. If a newly played card is the direct successor of the card last played of that color, then you orient the card to show its dark side and suffer the penalty from that card, with the green penalty, for example, forcing the next card played to be green while the blue penalty requires you to give another player one of the face-up cards available from the Oracle.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

If a newly played card is not the direct successor of the card last played of that color, then you place the card with the light side face up, taking the bonus depicted on that half of the card if you desire, such as ignoring the next penalty or placing a card from your hand face up in front of you so that anyone could play it.

Five shrines are play — one multicolor shrine and one of each color — and before or after your card play for the turn, you can choose to flip a shrine face down to use the bonus of that color.

If you can't play or have no cards in hand, you must pass, and if all players pass in turn, then the game ends. Your score is based on the number of cards in all players' hands, with 0 being the best score possible. If you find the game difficult, you can include the tavern card that a few times each game allows a player to give limited information about their hand; if the game is too easy, you can remove some or all of the shrines to eliminate those "extra" bonuses.
Silencio is a revised version of Bernardino's Eureka!, which was released in 2017 from Spanish publisher 2D10. Gameplay is mostly the same, albeit with shrines being added to the new design and small changes to other details.

• Finally in Zoch's quartet of new titles is Die Seher von Santiiba, a.k.a. "The Seers of Santiiba", a 2-4 player game from Leo Colovini and Teodoro Mitidieri that also has me wanting to see the rules after this short description:
Quote:
In the far reaches of Santiiba, the Valley of the Hopeful, seers ply their occult trades.

Each turn in Die Seher von Santiiba, one player rolls the five dice, which correspond with five kinds of cards. The dice have 1-3 stars on three of the sides and the numbers 4-6 on the other three sides. Each other player then secretly selects a color, whether the color they think you'll choose or the color they themselves are interested in. You then name one of the colors, and if anyone else has selected that color, they reveal this information. If the matching die shows stars, they move their seer figure on the scoring track this many spaces, and if it shows a number, they take a card of this color. You either take the die (if it shows stars) or the card, placing this object in your "area of uncertainty". You then continue your turn by naming another color or end your turn.

Board Game: Die Seher von Santiiba

If no one choose your named color, then you pick either the die or card of this color, placing the object in your area of uncertainty. If you took a card when the die showed stars or took a die with a number, then you must continue your turn; otherwise, you can choose to continue or end your turn.

If all other players have revealed their color choices, then you lose everything in your area of uncertainty, receiving only a bowl card as consolation. If you end your turn — whether voluntarily or after successfully choosing four of the five colors — then you move all the cards to your oracle board and advance your seer a number of spaces equal to the sum of all the dice.

Board Game: Die Seher von Santiiba

Players take turns in this manner until the first player reaches 30 VPs. Only then are the victory points on the cards counted as well — but the player who has collected the fewest cards of any particular sort won't get to count the neighboring kind of cards at all. If you have the fewest herbs, for example, then your amulets are worth nothing. Ties are broken in favor of whoever has the most bowl cards. Once you've determined which cards (if any) you must lose, you sum the value of your remaining cards and advance your seer. All players who reach the Cloud Castle of Wisdom on space 75 win; otherwise, whoever has advanced the farthest wins.
Die Seher von Santiiba, like the other titles listed in this post, will debut in Europe in October 2020.
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Wed Sep 16, 2020 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Ugly Christmas Sweaters, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Theme

Hunter R. Hennigar
Canada
Peterborough
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Microbadge: Ugly Christmas Sweaters fanMicrobadge: Ugly Christmas Sweaters fanMicrobadge: Ugly Christmas Sweaters fanMicrobadge: Ugly Christmas Sweaters fanMicrobadge: I drink espresso ... WHEEEEEEE!!!!
Board Game: Ugly Christmas Sweaters
My partner Kym and I launched Ugly Christmas Sweaters on Kickstarter (link) in November 2019. Being so personally tied to both the game and the campaign has spurred this "self-evaluation" of everything that's come to pass with the design process (which is coming up on the four-year mark).

With Kickstarter fulfillment winding down, I thought I'd bring anyone curious about the game up to speed and, well, writing all this out seems to be consequently cathartic.

The Origins

I love trick-taking games. Always have. They sum up much of my childhood and a major bulk of lunchtime in my high-school cafeteria. For me it was Bridge, Hearts, Euchre, Oh Hell! — any of those games that could be played with a small footprint and a standard deck of cards.

"Write what you know", they say.

Well, this being my first game, I decided: "Design what you know."

I think that idea grabbed me, carried me along, and held me up while I had early game design struggles. It was a nice anchor to tug me in, remind me of what the game should feel like when I started to drift.

"Design what you know, design what you know, design what you know."

That simple mantra beating the back of my brain over-and-over was a big factor in what got us here, but the implications of that mantra (and letting it go in a sense) made Ugly Christmas Sweaters the game you see today.

Board Game: Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Trick-taking games have such a wonderful set of mechanisms baked in:

• To start, you have a hand of cards — your cards, your lot in this microcosm. You peel this pile off the table and organize a sundry group of colors and numbers as the gears begin to spin in that pink head-flesh of yours. It's exciting to anticipate what you might do with the hand given to you.

• Then, there's the general play of a trick, each player laying a card down in predetermined order, with a dash of drama as there are inevitably unexpected winners and losers.

• A trick is a relatively quick game atom, with a good built-in pace that keeps players invested in what is happening at all times.

• Finally, someone scoops up the trick and this affects either their score, or other players', or both.

Board Game: Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Maybe that is a quick and dirty generalization of this category of game, but the trick-taking system is so well established (conceived in the 15th century) that it felt like a solid foundation on which to begin a design. On top of that, if you look at the physical, tactile components for a trick-taking game, you'll mostly find a deck of cards. This was important to us two-fold: The game has a small footprint in terms of transportation and table presence, but it also keeps the complexity of manufacturing (in both cost and production) to a minimum.

In any case, nostalgia was the name of the game when it came to trick-taking, so when a theme finally tagged along, it was no surprise that it too had its root buried in that field.

I always attempt to pinpoint where my love of the holidays began, and inevitably I fail. To say, "It's just a feeling" is a cop-out of the highest degree, but that's all I end up with. Maybe it's that life gets a little simpler around the holidays, a week of the year where time doesn't stop...but slows. Kym and I have the opportunity to put family and friends before everything else for a few fleeting moments. In doing so, these wonderful experiences with people emerge. Moments away from your phone/computer/television provide an opportunity to simply exist.

That's the same way we both feel about board games. Sure, there's many other benefits to gaming — healthy stress, memory formation, cognitive skill increase, etc. — but at a base level you have these face-to-face, tangible social interactions in an ever-increasing closed-off digital world. So there it was, a theme called Christmas!

Without getting too rambly, I knew trick-taking wasn't the end game, but a mechanism that would dovetail into another, and then again. Tableau building and set collection were always going to be in the game, and to link those two mechanisms would come a third: drafting.

With this in mind, I had to make sense of what a holiday theme meant. What, connected to Christmas, could logically stroll alongside those mechanisms mentioned above, without seeming "pasted on"? I needed something that could be grouped together with multi-use cards and different colors (suits) and could get away with looking...well...mishmash. All of this, while somehow maintaining a strong sense of verisimilitude.

I suppose now you can see why Ugly Christmas Sweaters was born.

Board Game: Ugly Christmas Sweaters

The Grind

We had it! A three-pronged approach: trick-taking, nostalgia, and the desire to design a Christmas-themed game at a complexity level that more seasoned gamers would want to play. It had to be something fun and thematic, while carrying depth and not straying too far from that familiar trick-taking feel that holds a special place in my heart.

Everything was set, a solid grouping of mechanisms, a cute theme, vision for days — easy, right? Oh, no. No-no. Just the opposite.

From gallery of hunterrhennigar

I am a big proponent of doing my research, and in game design that generally means playing a LOT of other games. Kym and I hit the ground running, and since she actually hadn't played many trick-takers before meeting me, we revisited all the old standard 52-card deck trick-taking games that were beloved in my youth: Hearts, Euchre, Bridge, Oh Hell! Also, we began tapping into the "new-ish" wave of standalone trick-taking games: Diamonds, Skull King, Blend Coffee Lab, Tournament at Camelot, The Fox in the Forest, The Bottle Imp, Potato Man, Voodoo Prince, etc.

Doing so gave us a heck-ton of insight as to what a great trick-taking game should play and feel like; not only that, it helped us identify game elements or mechanisms that weren't yet present in a trick-taking game. Essentially, the more games you play, the better equipped you are to add pieces to make your own game unique.

With that said, this process began a few years ago and was our freshman effort — and when your game design instincts aren't honed, it can be a double-edged sword. When you play so many good games, you are bound to think, "Oh, I liked that little thing", or "Maybe this piece can work in my game". I'm not really sure what other designers call this, but when we finally became self-aware, we dubbed it "rule hedging".

Early in the development process, we found ourselves intensely focused on making Ugly Christmas Sweaters feel different round-by-round because while I enjoy many trick-taking games, they can begin to feel a bit rote after a while. You can see in the final iteration of Ugly Christmas Sweaters the gameplay cards like "Trendy Yarn", "Perfect Fit", and "Fads" shift at the start of each round. We feel this, paired with the "Secret Santa" objectives, provides that sense of change without adding too much complexity.

This wasn't always the case as earlier we had two other gameplay cards in the mix that changed the way a trick would play out.

From gallery of hunterrhennigar

The first gameplay card was labeled "Stars & Stumps", which effectively could shift card strength round by round, so in some rounds low cards (1,2,3) would be stronger and in other rounds high cards (12,11,10) would be stronger. (At this point the "Perfect Fit" cards were middling values 4-9.)

While this value shift might have its place in some games, it didn't here. The only thing it accomplished was throwing players for a loop when they entered a new round where the values had shifted. We quickly scrapped it and used a simplified approach that was tied into more traditional trick-takers: high cards best. We then shifted the "Perfect Fit" (super trump) cards to the 1-6 values so that a low card could have its day once in a while.

Lesson learned: Added complexity can be a great thing for a game, but you need to check yourself at every avenue because needless complexity can kill a game.

From gallery of hunterrhennigar

The second gameplay card I take all the blame for. I wanted a way to break away from that "follow the suit led" rule that is a staple of most trick-takers. Not in an effort to "be cute" or "add something different", but rather because we needed a way for the sweater draft pool to have diversity in color and icons; by doing so, "Fads" could be achieved at a higher rate, and players could more easily control what would end up in the draft pool for their own sweater builds.

Like the "Stars & Stumps" example, I hedged my bet on the rule and added cards to the trick that would shift between you following the color of the card led and you playing a different color than the card led. Again, this just ended up being confusing and admittedly not at all elegant.

In the final iteration of the game, you can follow either the color or the icon of the first sweater card led in a trick — which means you can have various outcomes. Some tricks could be all the same color, while another trick could be a rainbow, and most fall somewhere in between. Looking back on it now, it's almost humorous to think that "Aha!" moment didn't come sooner — especially considering the way the sweater cards are designed as the solution was slapping me over the head every time I sat down to playtest — but hey, we got there!

As a designer, you will inevitably struggle with the bad rules and mechanisms that find their way into your game prototype. Eventually cycling them out takes many playtests, a strong self-evaluation, and other points of view. I hope including these "facepalm" examples helps other first-time designers know that they can make mistakes, while also being critical of their own designs. I am nowhere near infallible when it comes to game design — none of us are.

I will say, through those early-to-mid stages of design, it was amazing to have Kym. She was always up for a round or two of Ugly Christmas Sweaters, someone to jabber my ideas at, and most importantly she was as much a cheerleader and developer as she was a plain-speaking, critical, gatekeeper with any ideas I had. When you're self-publishing, you really need someone like that in your corner.

The Polish

All right, all right, so we've talked about what we removed from Ugly Christmas Sweaters. Now, I'll start diving into all the little micro-decisions and tweaks Kym and I had to make with mechanisms we ended up keeping!

Board Game: Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Tricks → Drafting
I've heard a lot of folks say, "When you play a game with trick-taking in it, no matter what other mechanisms exist, trick-taking will overrun them." I think this is very true in most cases, but I don't think it has to be this way. That criticism living in the back of my mind at all times is a huge part of why Ugly Christmas Sweaters balances its three mechanisms evenly. To make it work, we needed to dial down the "10" that was trick-taking, and the solution we came up with was changing the way our tricks were resolved.

I would say a majority of trick-taking games play out as such: Each player plays a card, all cards are compared, one player wins, the winning player places all the cards from the trick in front of them (for better or worse). This way exists because it is simple, has low rules overhead, and is easy to track.

But what happens if that game is also a tableau-builder? If players aren't drafting similar numbers of cards in the same round, a score could quickly cascade for one player, especially with the randomness of a trick-taking hand. Of course there are many solutions to a problem, but for our game flow, we chose to mitigate it by playing tricks for draft order of cards, rather than having someone win the whole kit and kaboodle. (A fellow game designer said this part of the game feels like a blend of trick-taking and auction, which is wonderful to hear.)

There was another layer to this process, though: We liked the thought of a draft order, but we didn't want players to be drafting cards from the trick they were currently playing. To us, that wasn't really a gateway to strategy. It leaned further on the side of output randomness, and we are much bigger fans of input randomness. Players needed to be informed of what their spoils could be before they decided how to play for them, not just fumble or luckbox into a good draft.

Board Game: Ugly Christmas Sweaters

So the loop became this:

• A current draft pile of cards would always be present.
• The trick you are playing now determines your draft order for the current draft pool.
• After drafting, the cards in the current trick become the new draft pile for next trick.

This not only allowed you to make a plan for the current trick/draft (playing strong if you were looking to draft a specific card and therefore wanted higher draft priority), but also gave you a "plan ahead" dynamic for building your sweaters on the back end. It became really fun to play with this decision within a decision: "Do I play a strong card so I can draft early this round? Do I really want any cards in the draft pool right now? Should I hold back and play a weaker card that will be useful for my sweater build if I can draft it next trick?"

I felt this also managed to solve the "strongest hand wins" problem that can be present in trick takers. With all players drafting equal numbers of cards, players who didn't have a hand that would win a majority of tricks could still keep an opponent's score at bay (or even come out on top) if they were observant and played their trick/draft/knit loop well. We always aspire to make a game that rewards those who are thinking on multiple levels, and I am happy to say we got there on this one.

Anyway, finding this nice loop that had a range of complexity was a big crux for the game. To me, it was something special and different that swayed a bit from the traditional trappings of a trick-taking game, but still kept that mechanism important.

Tension
Another built-in feature with many trick-taking games is a straightforward flow: Play a card from your hand, resolve the trick, rinse, repeat. Eventually you find yourself out of cards and that triggers the end of the round (or the game). This method works well for games with bidding or when the amount of tricks taken matters because as long as you haven't hit your goal, there is potential for tension right up to the last card.

In the early stages of Ugly Christmas Sweaters, we had the round playing out as listed above, and to be completely honest it felt flat and anticlimactic. Having changed the dynamic of the trick, we desperately needed to find another way to give players that same tense feeling. It became clear we would have to choose a specific game state that would trigger the end of the round, and for us that was adding a race mechanism:
Once any player completes three sweaters in their tableau, the round's end is triggered.

Board Game: Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Three sweater builds means that the majority of a hand could still be played, yet players didn't have an exact idea of when a round would end — could be nine tricks, could be twelve. On the flip side, you and your opponents' sweater builds are all open information, so even though you don't know exactly when a round will end, an observant player who is continually assessing their opponents' board state will have a solid idea.

It was important the game give you freedom to build as many sweaters as you want, though. That way the round's end adds another question mark as players are never forced to complete a build (or trigger the end of the round) if they don't desire to. By doing that, other strategies emerged: If you felt someone was going big with their builds, you could choose to quickly (and sub-optimally) knit three sweaters to end the round, a lot of times leaving the more ambitious player with a sweater (or two!) unfinished.

On the other hand, if you don't want a round to end, then draft aggressively, taking a piece needed by your rival to ensure they can't complete three builds! I love how these little sub-strategies formed with our rules implementation. I think for designers it is a good thing to keep in mind when adding a mechanism because it can really affect how your game feels; you just want to make sure it is positive.

Secret Santa
Who doesn't love a hidden objective card? Especially when the name of the card ties in with the theme!

Okay, okay, seriously though — aside from loving personal objective cards in games, there was one huge reason why I decided to introduce these cards into Ugly Christmas Sweaters: front-end opaqueness.

During playtests, I found new players having trouble with what cards to play/draft at the beginning of the round. On average, it was taking until their third draft before folks began to have a clear vision of how their tableau was shaping up, and therefore what to cycle through the trick/draft/build process. While your strategy and builds will constantly change in a round, I didn't like that "lost" feeling players were having initially.

Board Game: Ugly Christmas Sweaters

My solution was to give players a little anchor, a small "build path" push right from the hop. Of course, there are the rounds' "Fads" to tempt you, but cards of that color or icon are not necessarily going to be present in that initial draft. Whether they chose to use it or not, I felt having a secret objective gave players a nice strategy bearing to begin a round...

...and hey, a fulfilled "Secret Santa" is worth the same VP amount as a fulfilled "Fad", so it allows players to make a little treasure from an otherwise underwhelming sweater.

Two-Player
With two kiddos to raise (and now this COVID mess), larger game nights can be hard to schedule. This means my partner Kym and I play the majority of our games at 2P, so when designing Ugly Christmas Sweaters, we couldn't make a trick-taking game that was accessible only to three- and four-player counts!

I will admit this was one of the hardest challenges to wrap my head around in development. There were a few musings about taking out an entire suit or taking out a certain number of the higher cards, but because the sweater cards were designed to be evenly balanced between the four colors, removing a suit was pretty much a non-starter. I also felt like it would be best if the game's set-up and draft pool count was the same through each player count (with some minor changes).

Board Game: Ugly Christmas Sweaters

We eventually landed on each player putting two cards into the trick instead of just one — and we never looked back. This was nearly the identical set-up as the other player counts! You and your opponent playing cards back and forth twice added a nice little cat-and-mouse layer and allowed each player to have more control of what goes into a trick and what ends up in the draft pool. I wanted to highlight this player count because I think many trick-takers work well at the 3-5 player count, but there seem to be only a handful of trick-takers out there that play well at two.

Scaling
I know Ugly Christmas Sweaters is on the heavier side of a "family game" (depending on how much your family plays trick-takers). Personally, I love the fact it plays much meatier than its theme might suggest, but I wanted players who aren't familiar with trick-taking to settle in and not be overwhelmed with rules overhead. On the flip side, I wanted those who love ramping up tension and wringing out every drop of strategy an opportunity to do so.

So I made a scaling chart in the rulebook as well as a few "hard mode" variants to really push you. I won't ramble into great detail about them here, but I did my best to ensure that the game had layers that could be peeled back, or added on, depending on your play group. I hope that it helps the game be more versatile and gives it some longevity without having to add a whole cavalcade of expansions.

Board Game: Ugly Christmas Sweaters

The End

Well, folks, that's essentially four years of work boiled down! We ran a successful Kickstarter and were overjoyed with the support and response for this esoteric little card game. I challenged myself in many ways on this project. We set out to make a trick-taking game that added a fresh feel to the genre.

Even though some cautioned against it, we made a Christmas-themed game, hopefully one that folks who love board games will want to play. On theme alone the game will likely be divisive, but hearing folks say things like "It feels innovative", "You've got something really special here", "A challenging puzzle", or even "There is crunchy, multi-layered trick-taking hiding inside this lovely game of sweater creation!" means the world to us. Our Kickstarter was a lot-lot-lot of work, but holy smokes, was it a blast to see all the support folks gave us "unknowns"!

I am excited to hear what those who have played, or who do play, think of Ugly Christmas Sweaters and thrilled to show you the other quirky-and-odd-games Kym and I have been working on for our "mom-and-pop-shop" Hen House Games.

Thanks for the read, and happy gaming!

Hunter R. Hennigar

Board Game: Ugly Christmas Sweaters
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Tue Sep 15, 2020 1:00 pm
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The Crew Wins the 2020 Deutscher Spielepreis

W. Eric Martin
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The co-operative trick-taking game The Crew from Thomas Sing and KOSMOS has won yet another award — the 2020 Deutscher Spielepreis.

The DSP is determined by the votes of gamers, who rate their top five games from the previous year, in addition to naming their favorite children's game. Those votes are then tabulated, and here's the list of games that received the most votes:

1. The Crew, from Sing and KOSMOS
2. Cartographers, Jordy Adan and Thunderworks Games
3. Maracaibo, from Alexander Pfister and Game's Up
4. Barrage, from Tommaso Battista, Simone Luciani and Cranio Creations
5. Cooper Island, from Andreas Odendahl and Frosted Games
6. Glen More II: Chronicles, from Matthias Cramer and Funtails
7. Crystal Palace, from Carsten Lauber and Feuerland
8. PARKS, from Henry Audubon and Keymaster Games
9. Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Khan, from Simone Luciani, Daniele Tascini, and Hans im Glück
10. Paladins of the West Kingdom, from Shem Phillips and Garphill Games

Andor Junior from Inka Brand, Markus Brand, and KOSMOS was voted best children's game by DSP respondents.

Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
Board Game: Andor Junior
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Mon Sep 14, 2020 6:00 pm
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Traverse Sumatra with Reiner Knizia as Your Guide

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Ludonova
Board Game: Polynesia
In May 2020, I posted an overview of Peer Sylvester's Polynesia, an October 2020 release from Spanish publisher Ludonova, and in August 2020, Sylvester posted a designer diary about the creation of that game.

Ludonova has another title due out in late 2020 that's set a few thousand miles west of Polynesia: Reiner Knizia's Sumatra, a set-collection game for 2-5 players. Here's a detailed overview of the setting and gameplay:
Quote:
Join this expedition, and you will have the unforgettable opportunity to explore Sumatra, from the top of its majestic volcanoes to the depths of its tropical rainforest. Find the most exotic animals and the most exuberant flowers, and discover the endless variety of cultures that coexist on the largest island in Indonesia. Your expedition sets out with the mission of writing a travel notebook that will help raise awareness of one of the richest ecosystems in the world. Whoever makes the best contribution to this exciting mission will win.

Board Game: Sumatra

In Sumatra, players move around the island to explore its multiple landscapes. On a turn, your possible actions depend on where you're located in relation to the travel notebook token that starts the game in base camp with all the players:

• If you're one space behind the token, you move to the notebook's space and end your turn.
• If you're on the same location as the token, either you move ahead one space or you stay put, take a tile from the pool of "available information" tiles, and add it to your personal notebook.
• If you're one space ahead of the token, you move the token to your space, move all the "available information" tiles to the "known information" pool, draw tiles from the bag equal to the number shown at your location, add those tiles to the pool of "available information", then take one of these new tiles and add it to your notebook.

Board Game: Sumatra

Thus, you're catching up with the group, researching with the group to add info to your notebook, moving ahead, or digging into new tiles ahead of everyone else.

Tiles score and have effects in various ways, for example, with players gaining or losing points for meeting the most or fewest inhabitants. Flora and fauna tiles score only if you have a pair in a column, but only the highest-valued of this pair scores. Villages score only if you have more pairs of reception and GPS tiles than the number of villages, while the reception and GPS pairs net you no points, but allow you to get a tile from the pool of "known information". Equipment makes it safe to explore volcanoes on the island, and if you don't have enough equipment, you might lose other tiles you've collected.

Board Game: Sumatra

Sumatra also includes badges that players can collect. Be the first to collect, say, three flora tiles or a combination of two inhabitant and two craft tiles, and you can claim the badge for this, which is worth 3 points at game's end. You can also claim one diversity badge for having at least one tile in at least six rows of your notebook. The more rows you have a presence in, the higher the value of the diversity badge, but you can claim at most one during the game — and if someone else claims the six-row badge, then you'll need to have a tile in at least seven rows for the next one...
Based on a reading of the rules, Sumatra seems like a typical rules-light Knizia design in which player interaction drives everything in a quiet way.

On a turn, you either take a tile or move without taking a tile. When you move ahead of the token, you guarantee yourself first pick at the next spot, and if no one else moves, then you'll have the first two picks; additionally, by moving ahead, you guarantee that everyone else can take at most one more tile from the current location because they'll be forced to move forward on the next turn.

As for the tiles, you're trying to navigate a web of scoring conditions that isn't point salad-y since many of the conditions relate to one another. For the most part, you fill the tile rows of your notebook from left to right, and if you don't collect enough equipment of different colors, then you'll lop off the rightmost columns before you tally the endgame score. If you collect three equipment of the same color, that's worth 5 points; if you also have the volcano of that color, you collect another 5 points, whereas a volcano without sufficient equipment is worth -5 points. Villages are worth 5 points each, but only if you have enough of both GPS and reception to "cover" those villages; otherwise you score nothing for them.

Sumatra is due out in November 2020.

Board Game: Sumatra
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Mon Sep 14, 2020 1:00 pm
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