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Game Preview: Bag of Chips, or You Can't Play Just One

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Bag of Chips
Mixlore, a Canadian-based studio in the Asmodee Group, seems to specialize in unusually packaged games for a mainstream audience, such as Black Mirror: NOSEDIVE, Skulk, and Don't Sweat It!

On August 16, 2021, Mixlore released Bag of Chips in Canada, this being a food-themed game packaged like the item after which it's named, similar to 2019's Ramen Fury. In October, the game will also be available in Italy, Spain, Chile, Korea, and other parts of Asia.

Here's an overview of this 2-5 player game from designers Mathieu Aubert and Théo Rivière:
Quote:
Bag of Chips is a party game in which you will face crucial choices to score as many points as possible at the end of each round. Be careful, though, because if you're too greedy, you will lose a lot!

At the start of a round, each player is dealt six objective cards and the 25 chips — in five colors, ranging from 7 yellow potato chips to 3 orange chicken chips — are placed in the bag. Someone draws five chips from the bag and places them on the table, then everyone discards two of their objective cards. The player draws four more chips, then everyone discards another objective card. The player draws three more chips, after which everyone places two of their cards on the positive scoring side of their playing area and the final card on the negative scoring side. The player then draws two more chips, one by one, both for increased drama and for some of the objective cards.

Board Game: Bag of Chips

If a played objective card has not been completed, discard it. Add the points from your completed positive objective cards (if any), then subtract points from your negative objective card (if any). The player with the highest score wins two reward tokens, and the player with the second highest score wins one reward tokens. Complete rounds until someone has four or more reward tokens and wins. (In a two-player game, only the player with the higher score receives a reward token, and whoever first collects three tokens wins.)
I've now played Bag of Chips four times on a review copy from Mixlore with two, four, and five players, and the game is a mash-up of silly presentation and head-scratching choices that are harder than you expect them to be. In the image below, for example, you'll see that three onion, one vinegar, and one kebab chip have been drawn, and I've pared my hand down to these four cards. The middle two cards seem like safe bets since one is already worth 24 points and the other needs only one more kebab in the remaining nine chips to be worth 9 points.

Now, 9 points isn't very good, especially in a game with more players since the final point totals seem to swing higher thanks to people taking more risks to overcome more opponents, but you also want to keep a card that can become the negative objective card, so at worst that card would cost me 9 points.

Board Game: Bag of Chips

In fact, the card on the left is worth 11 points, and that total can only go up — which is a mixed blessing given the final card in my hand: the lone "instant win" card that requires more chicken than potato once all the chips have been drawn. If this card is in your positive section and it hits, then you win no matter how many reward tokens everyone has; if it's in your negative section and it hits, then you lose the round no matter how many points you have. If it doesn't hit, then it's ignored, no matter which section it's in.

So my choice of what to keep depends on what comes up in the second draw of four chips. Maybe the instant win card will be scotched, so I can ditch the onion/kebab combo card...or maybe that card will still be viable, which means I'll likely ditch the kebab card.

The need to consider what might count against you is a great twist in a bidding game. Tying into this are objective cards that reward points based on the final chip drawn from the bag, so with those in hand, you care about what's been drawn before in a different way than with the other objective cards. Aside from the instant win, the cards range in value from 1 point to more than 200, so you can swing wildly for high totals or play it safe on lower-valued cards. You can also gamble on the impossible not happening as with, say, all six onion tokens being drawn, and those final draws will often have you gripping your hands tightly until that final token hits the table.

To see more of the objective cards and watch me run through two rounds, check out this overview video:

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Gen Con 2021 I: Hachette Boardgames, and 25th Century Games

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: IKI
I've already posted a broad overview of Gen Con 2021 that tries to give a perspective on the show as a whole and some of what we can expect from the game industry in the coming year. Now it's time to dive into game- and publisher-specific coverage thanks to dozens of pages of notes and even more images.

Let's start the journey as all journeys begin: filling the suitcase.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Packed and ready to go to

Okay, I don't have much to say about this other than that preparation for Gen Con 2021 felt far more like my preparations for NY Toy Fair than for any Gen Con of years past. BGG didn't have a booth at the show, so all of us attending lacked a home base and we were left to whatever we had scheduled individually — which for me meant 32 publisher meetings over four days to check out what was new, what they have coming, and how things stand for them given all that's going on in the world.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Birds at the airport?! Good thing I packed appropriately. Sic 'em, Katniss!

• The first stop Thursday morning was the press room to pick up my press badge, and while there a PR representative rolled in the first cart of games picked up from exhibitors for display in the press room.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

I shot a few pics before it was time to head into the exhibit hall, starting with Horrified: American Monsters from Ravensburger since this title was debuting at the show and had not previously been made public. (In fact, Ravensburger had a limited supply of this title, and as far as I could tell it was selling copies only to those who had preordered the game ahead of time.)

Board Game: Horrified: American Monsters
Bonus seventh cryptid in the background

Board Game: Horrified: American Monsters

I love the look of the game board in The Belgian Beers Race from Michaël Boutriaux, BYR Games, and Grand Gamers Guild, mostly because when shot at this level of detail, the board looks like an abstract art print from the 1950s. As for what the game is about, um, beers and racing, I assume. Look at this image!

From gallery of W Eric Martin

RPG Publisher: Hachette Boardgames
• My first publisher meeting of the show was in the Hachette Boardgames booth, this being the game-based branch of Hachette Book Group, which is the largest publishing company in France. Asmodee may not have made it to Gen Con 2021, but the French contingent of the game industry was still present thanks to Hachette, which since February 2019 has acquired Gigamic, Sorry We Are French, Le Scorpion Masqué, and Blackrock Games, which distributes titles for several dozen game publishers, in addition to founding two internal studios: Funnyfox and Studio H.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Hachette debuted three titles at Gen Con 2021: the second edition of IKI from Koota Yamada and SWAF, and Studio H's Oltréé (Antoine Bauza and John Grümph) and the English version of Suspects (Sebastien Duverger Nedellec, Paul Halter, and Guillaume Montiage). The 2020 releases Dinner in Paris and Nidavellir were also available for purchase.

In a comment that was echoed by many other publishers over the course of the show, Hachette's Adrien Crochette said that advance copies of these games had been brought in for sale at Gen Con 2021 (and that arrival had been uncertain until immediately before the show opened), but the general release of these games in the U.S. had been pushed back from September to "ideally by the end of the year". The games were still in China at that point, and movement was predicted but not guaranteed, given all the uncertainty about what it would cost to ship them, whether containers would even be available, what the delay might be when the games arrive at the Los Angeles-Long Beach port, and so on.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Asked what we might see from Hachette in the future, given that Blackrock Games on its own has a 400-product catalogue and handles roughly 90 new releases each year, Crochette said that the current goal is to choose 8-10 games per year from this catalog and the other companies it owns, then import and promote this limited selection in the United States. After all, despite the size of Hachette Book Group, the Hachette games division in the U.S. currently consists solely of Crochette.

One other new item Hachette had on hand was Gigamic's and Nouri Khalifa's Quantik, which had debuted in Europe in 2019 and which is part of Gigamic's "classic" line along with Quarto, Quixo, and Quoridor. Regarding this last title, which debuted in 1997, Crochette said that Hachette is awaiting a massive restocking of Quoridor as TikTok has recorded more than (checks stats again) 62 million views of Quoridor-related videos and sales of the game pick up at online sites a few hours each new video drops.

If you have been playing games for a while or like to scan thrift store shelves, you might think that everyone knows about Quoridor — but the video and sales evidence shows otherwise. Similarly, while talking about this trend later with a Ravensburger representative, he mentioned that at a previous Gen Con, they had put Labyrinth on a demo table, which baffled a German executive who was visiting given that Labyrinth is more than thirty years old and has sold more than 20 million copies. Doesn't everyone know this game?!

No, they do not. Ravensburger demoed the game repeatedly throughout the day and sold many copies in the process. Sales of 20 million copies sounds impressive, but the world has more than 7 billion people in it, so in all likelihood less than 1% of the world's population is familiar with Labyrinth — which means plenty of room for sales growth remains.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

One of Hachette's future releases in the U.S. is In the Palm of Your Hand from designer Timothée Decroix and publisher La Boîte de Jeu, with this being a party game for 2-8 players in which you attempt to convey a specific memory depicted on a card — in the image and video below, that would be a person on a rocking chair on a front porch — by miming the image with various components in the open hand of a player while that player has their eyes closed. The other players in the game don't see your card — only the miming — and they then contribute cards to a pool from which the active player must try to identify the correct image.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The secret image, followed below by a tactile description of that image


Board Game Publisher: 25th Century Games
Board Game: On the Rocks
25th Century Games had a range of titles in stock, both old and new, such as On the Rocks, a drafting game from designers Christina and Michael Pittre and co-publisher PenTree Games in which you try to assemble the right ingredients in your various glasses to complete drink orders.

Company owner Chad Elkins said that copies of the game were already gone from the warehouse, with everything in distribution other than what was for sale at the show. This might sound like a good thing, but Elkins says that combination of a small print run and a quick sellout is a mixed blessing since you have no idea what demand might really be. Should you invest in a second printing immediately? Especially since production and shipping issues might delay arrival of those games until after the initial buzz fades?

Board Game: Space Explorers: Age of Ambition
Elkins noted that Tutankhamun and Space Explorers were also out of stock at the warehouse level, but he plans to Kickstart Yuri Zhuravljov's Space Explorers: Age of Ambition in 2022 for release in 2023, with a reprint of the base game taking place at the same time. This expansion includes seven modules for use with the base game, with at most three modules being added to any one game.

Also on the display tables at Gen Con 2021 was the second edition of Danny Devine's tile-laying game Kōhaku, co-published with Gold Seal Games. Players take turns drafting a koi tile and a feature tile from a shared display, placing those tiles in their personal grid in a checkerboard fashion. Feature tiles score based on what's adjacent to them or what's present in the entire grid.

The initial release of Kōhaku featured acrylic tiles, whereas this new release has ye olde cardboard tiles to keep the price reasonable. Aside from copies flown in for Gen Con 2021, the general release of Kōhaku will take place in Q1 2022.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

A surprise release at Gen Con 2021 was Holly Jolly, a 2-4 player card game from Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle that gives 25CG a second Christmas title in its line-up following 2018's Christmas Lights: A Card Game. Each turn in the game, you add one of the three light or tinsel cards to the tree, changing the collective value of the lights or tinsel (depending on what you add), with you then taking an ornament or present card to match this total value, with these latter cards scoring in various game-y ways.

Elkins isn't sure whether the main shipment of Holly Jolly will arrive in time for holiday sales in 2021. If not, he'll make the game available for purchase on the 25CG website, then release the game into retail in Q4 2022. Given the shipping issues now, long-range plans aren't a bad thing for publishers to consider as long as they can afford to sit on inventory.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Other titles coming from 25th Century Games:

Three Sisters is a roll-and-write design that designers Pinchback and Riddle Kickstarted through their Motor City Gameworks brand, with 25CG having come on board later to co-publish and distribute. This title should hit retail outlets in Q1 2022.

Board Game: Three Sisters
Board Game: Gartenbau
• The tile-placement, garden-building game Gartenbau from David Abelson and Alex Johns should hit Kickstarter in October 2021 for a 2022 release.

David Conklin's Blazon will launch on Kickstarter after that, with this being a game about medieval shield-making with art by Ian O'Toole.

• O'Toole is also handling art duties on 25th Century Games' new version of Reiner Knizia's classic auction game Ra.

Green Team Wins will be a 2022 release from Nathan Thornton, co-designer of Medium, in which you try to answer questions in the same way that everyone else does.

Each game, you use 15 question cards. Reveal a card, then have everyone answer it simultaneously. Whichever answer is the most popular one constitutes the "correct" answer, and everyone who gave that answer is part of the green team — at least for this turn. You score 1 point whenever you join the green team, and you score 2 points each time you're already on the green team and give the correct answer. The player count is open so long as you can manage to track who's answered what!

•••

Hoo boy, have I covered only two publishers so far?! Let's see whether I can cover ground more quickly in future posts so that I'm not doing this until SPIEL '21 opens in mid-October...
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Sun Sep 26, 2021 1:00 pm
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Collect Shells for Castles, Dump Sweets for Points, and Wait to Collect Just the Right Cards

W. Eric Martin
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• German publisher Zoch Verlag has announced three titles for release in October 2021, with Strand Unter qualifying as its big-box game with a physical element to gameplay.

Board Game: Strand Unter

This 45-minute game for 2-4 players is the first published design from Christian Raczek, and here's the introductory pitch from the publisher:
Quote:
Strand Unter is a three-dimensional family game in which everyone places their castles in the sand so that they are close to the water, while trying to stay out of the way of the tide.

Plenty of shells can be found in the ankle-deep sand trenches, and those who collect enough of them in competition with their fellow players can build a total of four sand castles. These castles differ in size, value, and required building material. In the end, the best castles are those that escape the approaching tide by a hair's breadth...
Okay, that description doesn't give you a lot to go on, but this image suggests a lot of the elements of gameplay:

Board Game: Strand Unter

Board Game: Kings & Creatures
• Designer Nicko Böhnke is debuting three games in 2021: a pair of memory-based storytelling games from HUCH! — Fabula Rasa: Crime and Fabula Rasa: Seemannsgarn — and Kings & Creatures from Zoch, also due out in October 2021.

Here's an overview of this 2-6 player card game:
Quote:
Kings & Creatures is a set-collection game in which you take what you want to get what others need.

Board Game: Kings & Creatures

All players help themselves to a heroic selection of great cards to create valuable collections — but only those who combine courageous taking with clever waiting will get hold of the most fabulous heroes. Access to grandiose cards is given only to those who choose modest cards...but those who want only to preserve their future chances with clever restraint may discover that the true heroes have long been elsewhere.
• Oh, wait, turns out that Zoch Verlag has two big box games with physical elements on its late 2021 release schedule! Kipp mir Saures is a 2-4 player game from first-time designer Emmanuel Albisser, and Google translate is suggesting that "Kipp mir saures" means "Kill me sour", yet "kipp" also means "tilt", which is far more relevant to the following description, so perhaps "Tilt sours for me" or even the Def Leppard inspired "Pour some sours on me" — except that the "sours" in question here are sour-flavored candies, so the original Def Leppard song would work even better here, and I'm sure that Zoch has reached out to the band to consider licensing opportunities.

Board Game: Kipp mir Saures

In any case, here's a summary of what's going on:
Quote:
In Kipp mir Saures, three tubes are filled with dice in a tactically clever way until they dump out sweets.

In a spectacular three-dimensional rack, flavor, shape, and pack tubes are waiting to be filled with dice cubes. Once the weight of the cubes causes the tubes to tip, all the cubes tumble out. At these moments, players may grab new treats, fit candy on their cards, and pack what they've collected. The tactically clever thing to do is to use the different weights and colors of the dice in such a way that the tastiest treats arrive in their own packages.
And once again here's a highly suggestible component shot to bring the previous description to life:

Board Game: Kipp mir Saures

• Wait a second — three titles? Hasn't Zoch released four titles every six months consistently for years? Perhaps something else is in the pipeline waiting for just the right moment to be announced...
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Candice's Gen Con 2021 Round-Up/Discoveries: Part 1

Candice Harris
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Microbadge: Great Western Trail fanMicrobadge: The Great Zimbabwe fanMicrobadge: Battlestar Galactica - I am a CylonMicrobadge: COIN fanMicrobadge: Twilight Imperium (fourth edition) fan
Board Game: Caesar!: Seize Rome in 20 Minutes!
Gen Con 2021 was an awesome experience for me, although I'm sure my feet would disagree after clocking in 14,000+ steps on day one alone. It was wonderful to reconnect, hang, and play games with Eric, Beth, and Lincoln, plus I had an amazing time wandering around checking out new games.

• The PSC Games booth was my first stop on day one. I had the opportunity to play a quick (tense!) game of Paolo Mori's Caesar!: Seize Rome in 20 Minutes!. As a fan of Mori's 2019 release, Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes, I was curious to see what he cooked up with the follow-up, and Caesar! did not disappoint.

From gallery of candidrum

The overall gameplay and setting differ from Blitzkrieg!, but they scratch the same itch in terms of being quick-playing, two-player games with tough decisions and tension driven by a solid chit-pull system.

In Blitzkrieg!, placing your chits on particular spaces on the different World War II theater tracks allows you to activate special abilities, whereas in Caesar!, you trigger special abilities by closing off regions on the map, similar to completing a box in the Dots and Boxes game many people have probably played as a child.

When a region is closed off, whoever has the highest influence value gets to place one of their control tokens in it. The interesting thing here is that closing the region off and gaining the special ability is independent from taking control of the region, and the goal of the game is place all of your influence control markers out before your opponent. However, the special abilities are very helpful, so there's a balance of knowing when to close something to snag a special ability versus trying to take control of the region, but ultimately it's ideal to do both if you can manage it. Rarely is that possible, though, so it makes for interesting choices.

There are a few other fresh new twists in Caesar! that makes it stand apart from Blitzkrieg!, but I dig both of these games. They did not have copies of Caesar! at Gen Con, but I was able to pre-order it (targeted for shipping in November 2021), and I'm looking forward to playing it more.

Board Game: Kombo Klash
• I briefly checked out Kombo Klash, a new tactical, tile-laying and combo-scoring game for 2-4 players from designer "Nero" Ondrej Sova and Hub Games, the publishing company behind Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr and Adventure Mart.

From gallery of candidrum

Board Game: Waggle Dance
Waggle Dance is Bright Eye Games' new version of Mike Nudd's worker bees, dice worker-placement game for 1-4 players that's all about making more honey than your opponents, with this design having been originally released by Grublin Games Publishing in 2014.

From gallery of candidrum

Board Game: burncycle
• Shannon from Chip Theory Games gave me a gameplay rundown of burncycle, a co-operative, puzzly infiltration game in which 1-4 players command a team of robots using "creative action sequencing" to take down evil, human-run corporations. After checking it out in person, I'm pumped to get burncycle on my table and play it. Even though the components and art weren't final, I was still impressed, as always, with the component quality from Chip Theory Games.

From gallery of candidrum
Art and components not finalized

Board Game: Too Many Bones
After I was already buzzing with curiosity and interest for burncycle, Shannon threw me another exciting bone (pun intended). Chip Theory Games is crowdfunding Too Many Bones: Unbreakable, a new standalone expansion for Too Many Bones in Q4 2021.

Unbreakable launches on Gamefound on October 19, 2021 as the final release in the Too Many Bones series, including at least two new Gearlocks, new encounters and baddies pack, a whole new narrative, and more.

Grand Gamers Guild had a variety of new releases to share, starting with Richard Yaner's Gorinto, an interesting, Japanese, elemental, abstract strategy game for 1-4 players with scoring goals that vary each game.

From gallery of candidrum
From gallery of candidrum

For another take on the elements, Mythalix from designers Julian Gaine and Kyri Karaiskakis is an area control, battle game in which 2-4 players each command a mythical god with their own unique powers and abilities.

From gallery of candidrum

Board Game: Ad Astra
While I didn't get to play it, I did chat briefly with Marc Specter, owner of Grand Gamers Guild, about The Artemis Odyssey, a sequel to The Artemis Project and a reimplementation of Ad Astra from designers Bruno Faidutti and Serge Laget that is being crowdfunded on Kickstarter (KS link) for a targeted 2022 release.

Board Game: The Artemis Odyssey

Board Game: Frosthaven
• I stopped by the Cephalofair Games booth to introduce myself to Isaac Childres, who I had met digitally at Gen Con Online 2020 when he gave an overview of his 2020 hit, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. I happened to catch some players deeply engaged in a demo game of Frosthaven with the coolest custom Talisman Sabre Terrain 3D landscaping. It was very impressive and immersive thematically.

From gallery of candidrum

Board Game: The Mirroring of Mary King
Box cover
concept art
• Eric and I met up with Jim Felli, creator of Cosmic Frog, at the Devious Weasel Games booth to play Felli's upcoming 2022 release The Mirroring of Mary King, a two-player game in which one person is a mortal contemporary woman named Mary King (Eric) and the other player is the ghost of Mary's long dead ancestor, a 17th century Scottish merchant burgess of the same name (me).

The goal of the game is to get the central tableau cards, representing an image of Mary, switched completely to your respective side (mortal or ghost), so we took turns playing control cards and special action cards to manipulate the state of Mary to our own advantage. I've conveniently included a photo of when I, the ghost player, had a moment in the lead before Eric played his cards right and ended up victorious in the end.

From gallery of candidrum
Prototype components

There was an interesting tug-of-war feeling throughout the game, and I noticed that you have to carefully think through the implications of what you do each turn to avoid leaving opportunities open for your opponent. I had some very thinky moments as I was constantly trying to put myself in good leading position while also defending myself from any of Eric's mortal antics. I appreciated that the rules were fairly easy to digest, but the decisions were often challenging.

From my experiences with his games, Jim Felli is a master at creating unique games, with the uniqueness coming from a combo of the theme and the gameplay mechanisms as they relate to the theme. The Mirroring of Mary King continues with this trend, and I'm looking forward to checking out the finished version in 2022.

Board Game: The Spill
•. At Smirk & Dagger Games, I checked out a demo of its upcoming 2022 release The Spill from Andy Kim, at the tail end of its Kickstarter campaign (KS link). In The Spill, 1-4 players work together to contain an oil spill — black dice dropped through a custom randomizer tower — and save the sea life.

From gallery of candidrum
Prototype components

Board Game: The Night Cage
Meanwhile, at sister company Smirk & Laughter Games, I had a great time working co-operatively with brave strangers to struggle through the puzzly, horror-themed tile-placement game The Night Cage from designers Christopher Ryan Chan, Chris McMahon, Rosswell Saunders.

From gallery of candidrum
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Gen Con 2021: A Post Mortem of Sorts

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
I last attended a game convention in March 2020, all of us on the BGG team and practically everyone we encountered at GAMA Expo uncertain why they were present and uncomfortable with what we might encounter on the way home. If the event had been scheduled one week earlier, we would have carried on without regard for the happenings of the outside world; one week later, and no one would have been present. We hung there frozen in time, focusing on games because we didn't want to contemplate anything else, a world of fear having descended on us while we were on the plane to Reno.

Some of that spirit was still present at Gen Con 2021, both in me and in others. We had jobs to do, sure, but for the most part the jobs could have been done elsewhere or delayed until another time. This time everyone was uncertain whether the Indiana Convention Center would be absent life or flooded with more humans than we could reasonably stand. We recognized the folly of being there, while also wanting to connect with others, desperate to be part of something larger than ourselves and hoping that something wouldn't be a tally of the diseased and deceased.

In the end, Gen Con reported that "a unique attendance of over 35,000 gaming fans" made their way to the ICC, which was populated with "more than 320 exhibiting publishers and vendors, including more than 90 first-time Gen Con exhibitors". Many of those first-time exhibitors found room at Gen Con 2021 solely because of all the publishers that weren't on site, whether those that had cancelled prior to the sign-up deadline (such as Asmodee, Paizo, CMON, and BGG itself) or those that had cancelled later, when it became clear that the conditions for a convention weren't ideal — although who's to say at this point we're ever going to return to "ideal".

Gen Con also notes that "[p]ublishers released more than 200 new games during the convention", which is far off the numbers of years past. I barely managed to push BGG's Gen Con 2021 Preview over two hundred new titles being sold and demoed, with almost as many titles being removed from the list as added to it in the final weeks ahead of the show. By comparison, BGG's Gen Con 2019 Preview listed 635 titles.

At the show, almost every publisher had stories of games stuck somewhere in the distribution pipeline, whether due to a shortage of paper at the manufacturer, a record number of cargo ships backed up near the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, a container tagged for and awaiting customs inspection for weeks, or a lack of drivers to move goods to a final warehouse.

Publishers spoke of previously unimaginable — yet now commonplace — prices for containers, with the highest price I heard being $35,000, roughly ten times the "normal" price of 2019. Every publisher expects retail prices for games to rise in 2022, if not sooner, given that a $35k cost on a container that contains, say, five thousand big box games equals a $7/copy shipping cost, compared to 70 cents not too long ago. One publisher had hoped to bring in advance copies of a Kickstarted game to seed the market and generate buzz, but each copy of the game would have cost $70 to ship, so that plan was out, leaving only a single copy on hand to represent what was to come...some day.

Multiple publishers stated that prices have been held down relative to what's included in a box, with the $40 game of today generally containing more components of better quality than the $40 game of 2010. Now it's time to increase prices to better represent a game's components, but more for survival's sake than anything else. Few people want to increase prices as they don't want their games to compare unfavorably on the market, but given the choice of working for nothing or maintaining a functioning business with positive cash flow, the latter seems like a no-brainer.

Despite the relative lack of new games and an attendance count half that of 2019, nearly every publisher I spoke with said that sales at Gen Con 2021 were outpacing those of 2019. Apparently the folks who did come to the show were those with money to burn, those who wanted some sense of normalcy in the simple act of attending an event and taking home souvenirs, lots and lots of souvenirs. Titles from 2020 that had been featured only on livestream presentations had their first spotlight at a convention, some moving as well as 2021 releases while others struggled to overcome the impression that they were passé.

Publishers obviously welcomed game sales, but they also talked about the value of being able to talk to players in person, see people interact with their games, and experience buzz in real-time. One publisher mentioned that Thursday demoes for a new release had seemed slow, but over the four days of the show, more and more people came to test the game and sales picked up, proving in real time the value of a convention — although the hope, of course, is that those players carry their excitement for the game back home to share it with others. Time will tell.

Time was on everyone's mind for all sorts of reasons, whether it was the short window of time between Gen Con and Origins (which many publishers are skipping on the assumption that few people will attend both shows) or between Origins and SPIEL (which many publishers are skipping due to lack of product, governmental restrictions, or medical uncertainty); the thought that conventions might all be conducted this way in the future (with everyone masked and eating furtively to avoid seeming callous); or the recognition that one of the first things to do after leaving Gen Con is conduct a Covid test to ensure that you brought home only what you had intended to carry.

On that last point, Gen Con reports that "[o]ver 90% of Gen Con’s attendees were vaccinated against COVID-19 according to surveys conducted by organizers", and while the safest choice of all is to never leave your residence, once you have a Covid vaccine, your risk of getting seriously ill due to the disease falls drastically. Whether you want to take that risk, well, that decision will vary from person to person, but anyone who does, say, go skydiving will ideally wear a parachute in order to avoid risking harm to others — not to mention yourself.

What risks will future shows carry? For many first-time exhibitors, the possibility of not finding a space for themselves on the exhibit floor at Gen Con 2022. Maybe Asmodee has exited the convention business permanently, content to pitch games to mainstream audiences, and maybe it will once again lay claim to a vast section of booths. All publishers face the possibility that increased shipping costs and the uncertainty of manufacturing will become a permanent part of the business, forcing them to land items at their warehouse months ahead of a show to ensure inventory.

For players, well, perhaps you'll have to be content with less spectacle and fewer choices, but ideally you can still make connections with others across the gaming table in this hobby that we love.

•••

Candice Harris and I will be posting overviews of specific games and publishers over the next couple of weeks as we go through all of our notes and photos. I hope you'll keep checking in to see what we saw, played, and anagrammed.
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Fri Sep 24, 2021 5:05 am
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Build Bus Routes, Houses, and Hands of Cards, While Escaping Two Rooms

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• For a short while, BGG sold copies of Let's Make a Bus Route from designer Saashi of publisher Saashi & Saashi through the BGG Store — then the supply dried up and it became clear (although I'm not sure it was ever specifically stated) that the game had been licensed to someone and would re-appear...somewhere.

Board Game: Get on Board: New York & London

Now the French side of IELLO has announced a Q1 2022 release date for Get on Board: New York & London, this being its re-branding of the original game with a jazzy 1950s look courtesy of artist Monsieur Z. Here's a short take on the game from IELLO:
Quote:
Ah, here’s the bus! Hurry, grab a seat, and get out of the rain! Just like every trip, you're fascinated by all the other passengers on board: tourists, professionals, students... They're all traveling together, though they each have different destinations. This bus line is truly special, but will it be able to transport everyone safe and sound?

In Get on Board: New York & London, you have twelve rounds in which to build the best bus line in town. Each round reveals a new card that shows all players the route shape they must complete. Place your bus accordingly on the central board. Take the passengers where they want to go by connecting them and their destination to your bus line, avoid traffic, and gain as many victory points as possible!
Board Game: Let's Make a Bus Route
For more details on the gameplay, here's a description of Let's Make a Bus Route:
Quote:
The game includes a large shared map board, along with five individual player boards. All players draw their routes on the shared board, while taking note of their passengers, sights, and other elements on their individual boards.

To start a round, you reveal a colored bus route at random from the deck. Each player's board has a different combination of colors and required moves, so blue on one board might be go straight one block, while someone else goes two blocks and a third player must make a turn. Players make their moves in turn on the shared map board, then mark the icons of what they've seen at various intersections on their player board. Different types of riders all score differently, and placing checks on your personal board for passengers and areas (sight-seeing spots, stations, universities) before other players do can earn you extra bonus points, so strategically planning your route while keeping in mind your main destinations is very important. Sharing the road with someone else causes traffic, which might lead to penalties. Meet the conditions on public demand cards to score bonus points!
While I'm sure that some will be disappointed by the change of setting from Kyoto to New York and London, I would take bets that the subtitle is included specifically so that IELLO can release expansion boards down the line that will fit into the base game box.

Board Game: Get on Board: New York & London

Board Game: Two Rooms
Two Rooms is a co-operative card game for two players in which a group of humans has entered the House of Mist and must escape the vampires within.

The game first appeared in 2020 from Japanese publisher YUTRIO, and Italian publisher Fever Games has licensed the design for a new edition in October 2021 that features comic artist Lorenzo De Felici. Here's an overview of how to play:
Quote:
The game takes place in the two halves of the game box, one depicting a red door, and the other a green door. The game centers around a deck of 15 cards. On your turn, draw a card from the deck and place it into one of the two rooms. When you "open" the room to add the card, you look at the cards already present and resolve their effects in ascending numerical order. Some effects will remove cards to the casualty area, others will cause cards to switch rooms, and so on. While this is happening, the other player must keep their eyes closed.

The game comes with four difficulty levels, and the players win if the Cloaked Vampire is placed in the casualty area and the players know the location of one of the human cards, Nina. The players lose in a number of ways, such as Nina entering the casualty area or the deck running out of cards.
• U.S. publisher Renegade Game Studios and Oni Games have picked The Three Little Wolves — a design from Poki Chen and Smoox Chen that first appeared in 2020 from Taiwanese publisher 桌遊鬍子 POKI Design — for release in October 2021.

Here's an overview of this quick-playing 2-4 player game:
Quote:
Centuries after a famous story featuring three little pigs, the Swine family has learned a precious lesson and become the greatest landlord in the world. (They love houses!) The Wolf family, however, has become the best architects of all time. (They hate lousy houses!) The three little wolves now work for the Big Bad Pig to build all kinds of houses. Can you help the wolves build the highest house and find the best home for them?

Board Game: The Three Little Wolves

Three Little Wolves is a family game in which each player needs to build three houses by playing cards from small numbers to large. The higher you build, the better the chance you can score points — but your fellow players might send their little wolves to live in your nice house for big points! Plans, disguises, and a pinch of luck in your hand are all you need to win the game!

In more detail, players take turns playing one card from hand to build one of the three houses — blue, green, and red — in front of themselves, then refill their hand to four cards. If the Big Bad Pig (BBP) is drawn, it rewards the tallest house at that moment, but if you can't keep the house tall enough at the end of the game, you will get punished. If you don't want to play a card, you can discard a card and send one of your three wolves to live in other players' houses for a chance to score points!

Board Game: The Three Little Wolves

The third time the BBP rewards the tallest house triggers the end of the game. All players compare the height of their buildings, and the shortest of each color is knocked down by the BBP! Whoever scores the most points wins!
Board Game: SCOUT
• Japanese publisher Oink Games has licensed Kei Kajino's card game Scout! for release in a new edition that keeps the same name — SCOUT — while adopting a circus-setting, albeit mostly only on the game cover.

This new edition will debut at SPIEL '21, then be available elsewhere in Europe before the end of 2021 and in the U.S. in early 2022. Here are the details of gameplay:
Quote:
SCOUT is a ladder-climbing game in which cards have two potential values, players may not rearrange their hand of cards, and players may pass their turn to take a card from the current high set of cards into their hand.

More specifically, cards are dual-indexed, with different values on each half of the card, with the 45 cards having all possible combinations of the numbers 1-10. During set-up, whoever is shuffling the cards should randomize both the order of the cards in the deck and their orientation. Once each player has been dealt their entire hand of cards, they pick up that hand without rearranging any of the cards; if they wish, they can rotate their entire hand of cards in order to use the values on the other end of each card, but again they cannot rearrange the order of cards in their hand.

On a turn, a player takes one of two actions:

Play: A player chooses one or more adjacent cards in their hand that have all the same value or that have values in consecutive order (whether ascending or descending), then they play this set of cards to the table. They can do this only if the table is empty (as on the first turn) or the set they're playing is ranked higher than the set currently on the table; a set is higher if it has more cards or has cards of the same value instead of consecutive cards or has a set of the same quantity and type but with higher values. In this latter case when a player overplays another set, the player captures the cards in this previous set and places them face down in front of themselves.

Scout: A player takes a card from either end of the set currently on the table and places it anywhere they wish in their hand in either orientation. Whoever played this previous set receives a 1 VP token as a reward for playing a set that wasn't beaten.

Once per round, a player can scout, then immediately play.

Board Game: SCOUT

When a player has emptied their hand of cards or all but one player have scouted instead of playing, the round ends. Players receive 1 VP for each face-down card, then subtract one point for each card in their hand (except if they were the player scouted repeatedly to end the game). Play as many rounds as the number of players, then whoever has the most points wins.
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Wed Sep 22, 2021 1:00 pm
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More Cards for Dominion, More Palaces for Carrara, and More Animals to Stack Upon Animals

W. Eric Martin
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• While many of us were busy with Gen Con 2021, U.S. publisher Rio Grande Games announced Dominion: Allies, the 14th expansion in the Dominion game line from Donald X. Vaccarino.

Board Game: Dominion: Allies

Here's an overview of this December 2021 release:
Quote:
It's a celebration! People are dancing in the streets, and riding horses through the dance halls. You've finally formed an alliance with the barbarians to the north. Instead of the streets running red with blood, they'll run, well, the usual color — let's not focus on what color the streets run. The point is, there's peace. Sure, negotiations were tricky. The barbarians are uncouth; they have no five-second rule and stick out the wrong finger when drinking tea. There are perks, too, though. They've given you skulls to drink mead out of and spices to get rid of the skull aftertaste. And you've given them stuff in return: forks, mirrors, pants. It's great for everyone. And with this treaty out of the way, you can get to work on your other neighbors. Soon, all the allies will be yours.

Dominion: Allies contains 400 cards, with 31 new Kingdom card piles that contain allies who will do favors for you and split piles that you can rotate.
Board Game: The Palaces of Carrara
• Belgian publisher Game Brewer plans to release a new version of The Palaces of Carrara from Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling, the design team behind its 2020 release Paris. This title will be Kickstarted in December 2021, and it will be followed by a new release from Kramer and Kiesling based on this calendar of crowdfunding projects on the Game Brewer website:

Oak, by Wim Goossens — October 2021
Palaces of Carrara (remake), by Kramer & Kiesling — December, 2021
Camargue (working title), by Franz Couderc — January, 2022
Lord's Land (working title), by Kramer & Kiesling — March, 2022
Hippocrates expansion, by Alain Orban — May, 2022
Pixie Queen expansion and big box, by Rudy Seuntjens — October 2022

• Designer Max Wikström has written designer diaries about many of the aspects of the 1-4 player co-operative fantasy game Agemonia, which is being Kickstarted by Finnish publisher Lautapelit.fi ahead of a planned 2022 release.

Board Game: Agemonia

HABA is expanding its "My First..." line of products in 2021 with My First Advent Calendar, and while this item isn't a game, I'll be darned if it wouldn't make an ideal expansion for the Animal Upon Animal line, possibly with players taking turns to draft critters prior to the start of play.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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Tue Sep 21, 2021 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Doodle Dash, or Faster, Pussycat! Draw! Draw!

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Doodle Dash
Doodle Dash, one of the debut games from Norwegian publisher Chilifox Games, isn't a flashy design that delivers a BRAND NEW GAMING EXPERIENCE the way that most titles are marketed. Instead this game for 3-7 players from the design team Fridtjof Buvarp, Maija Buvarp, Pauline Buvarp, Åsmund Svensson, and Eilif Svensson delivers what it promises — a quick-playing, drawing-based party game — in a clean and efficient manner that doesn't overstay its welcome.

In the game, each player takes turns trying to guess what everyone else has drawn. You draw a card facing away from you with that card listing seven items, give a number from 1-7, then avert your eyes while everyone else races to draw whatever person, object, name, or title you chose. As soon as someone finishes their drawing, they grab the golden cylinder to indicate their firstness. The next player to finish grabs the die and keeps rolling it until either everyone else has finished their drawings or they roll the lone STOP sign on the die, which forces everyone else to stop drawing immediately.

The cylinder holder reveals their drawing first, and if the guesser identifies whatever the thing is, they each score 1 point. If not, the die-holder reveals their drawing, scoring 1 point along with the guesser if the latter can now identify the thing in question. If not, all other drawers reveal their images, with each of them scoring 1 point along with the guesser if the ID is finally made.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
What's this?

The challenge of the game is obvious: Drawing quickly makes it difficult to draw clearly, so how much do you want to lean one way or the other? What's the essence of the object from your point of view, and can you draw that in such a way that the guesser will identify it...and can you do it before someone else does?

Sometimes that essence is surprisingly common, and I imagine such drawing experiments already take place in sociology classes to record how people represent different objects.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Cats must have three whiskers!

The other challenge that comes with weighing speed over specificity in your drawing is that — depending on the object in question — the second revealer has an advantage over the first since the guesser now has two images to ponder and compare. What might have been unclear from the initial scribble now comes into focus, although sometimes you really need to see ALL the remaining drawings before you know what the object is.

And sometimes even those images don't help when certain drawers misread the card in question or depict something other than what was written. In the image below, for example, only the image in the lower left really matches what you're supposed to guess.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

I've played Doodle Dash three times on a review copy from Chilifox Games, once each with 3, 4, and 7 players, and the game does what it's trying to do. The experience was more enjoyable with the largest crowd, mostly because it was fun to see what people drew, whether you were guessing or not.

Sometimes the objects had a singular "correct" way of being drawn, akin to the drawings of "cat food" above, as when everyone depicted a telescope the exact same way. In those cases, the game was about pure speed rather than about trying to decipher what was important to depict, and I found those rounds less interesting since I wasn't interpreting what to draw, but simply trying to push an image out as quickly as possible. I like that type of challenge in Pictionary when two teams are going head-to-head, but I think that's because you're drawing in front of the guessers and responding to them in real time, modifying your image on the fly to lead them to the answer; in this game, you whip out the drawing and that's it.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
I learned that I cannot draw a horse

For more on the game and how it compares to three other quick-drawing party games, check out this video:

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Mon Sep 20, 2021 1:00 pm
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Gen Con 2021 Check-In

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
My apologies for the lack of posts yesterday and today, but I'm at Gen Con 2021 with a few other members of the BGG team, and I'm trying to ensure that I get enough sleep each night so that my brain keeps working.

I've been posting pics and notes about new and upcoming game releases on BGG's Twitter account, and posts will resume shortly with compilations of what Candice and I saw, played, and juggled.
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Sun Sep 19, 2021 2:46 pm
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Game Preview: Azul: Queen's Garden, or Planting Groups of Greens

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Board Game: Azul: Queen's Garden
On the Tuesday prior to Gen Con 2021, publisher Next Move Games gave a tiny bit of info about a new entry in the Azul game line from designer Michael Kiesling, namely that a fourth title would be added to the series before the end of 2021 — Azul: Queen's Garden.

Turns out that Next Move would also have a single copy on hand at the con to show to the media, and Candice and I were able to play most of a game during our appointment time with Martin Bouchard.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Non-final components

As with all of the other Azul titles, the heart of Azul: Queen's Garden is making smart choices when drafting new elements to be added to your personal scoreboard.

The first difference that stands out in this game is how you draft those elements. In the other titles, you lay out five, seven, or nine factories that you then populate with four colored tiles from a bag; in Azul: Queen's Garden, you create four stacks of five, seven, or eight(!) landscape boards and place one stack in the center of the table at the start of each of the game's four rounds.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Non-final components

You then place four tiles on the top of this stack. Tiles come in six colors with six different symbols on them, with three copies of each color+symbol combination (think Qwirkle); each symbol represents a number from 1-6, with the tree being 1, the bird 2 for its wings, the butterflies 3, and the bell flowers 6.

The start player chooses only from these tiles, selecting either a color or a symbol, then taking all tiles of that color/symbol — except that you cannot take the same color/symbol combination more than once in a single turn. (If two yellow trees are present, for example, you take only one of them.)

If after a player has taken their turn, the topmost landscape board doesn't have four tiles on it, place it to the side, then draw four tiles from the bag and place them on the revealed landscape board. Thus, the first player doesn't have access to everything that will be revealed in a round, and all players face the dilemma that if they remove something from the topmost landscape board, they will give (probably) better choices to the next player. A bit further on in a round, you'll see something like this:

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Non-final components

Once all the tiles have been removed from a landscape board, it's flipped over to reveal a single colored symbol in one of its six spaces. This board can be drafted along with tiles when you draft a particular color or symbol so long as you don't take a duplicate.

All of the tiles and boards you draft must fit into your reserve area, which can hold at most twelve tiles and two boards. If you would overflow your reserve, then you can't draft whatever you had planned to draft.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Tile reserve — full!

Instead of drafting, you can choose to place a single landscape board or a single tile on your board; when you place a tile, it must go on a board, whether on your starting board or a landscape board that you've added.

To place a tile/board — henceforth called "elements" — you need to discard a number of elements equal to the value of the symbol being placed, similar to how in Azul: Summer Pavilion you must discard tiles equal to the numbered space that you want to cover, and those elements must all be the same color or the same symbol as what is being placed. The element that you're placing counts as one of the things being discarded, so a tree pays for its own placement cost since a tree has a value of 1.

As when you're drafting, when you discard elements to pay for a placement, you cannot duplicate a color or symbol. In the image below, for example, I'm planning to place the dark green 6/bell tile by discarding the six items at the bottom of my reserve: three tiles (including the tile I'll place), one board, and two jokers. I cannot use the landscape board with the dark green bell on it since I'm already "paying" with a dark green bell.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Non-final components

You start the game with three jokers, and a joker can be any color/symbol combination. As in Azul: Summer Pavilion, you can gain more jokers by surrounding certain features on your game board: one joker for surrounding the central starting fountain, two jokers for surrounding a bench or statue, and three jokers for surrounding the gazebo on a landscape board.

Instead of drafting or placing, you can pass, and the first player to pass takes the "1" marker, loses 1 point, and will be the starting player for the next round. When all players have passed, players score points for features on their board based on whatever is highlighted on the central scoring board. In the image below, for example, you see that dark green, blue, and tree elements on your board are each worth 1 point. (The central scoring board is double-sided, so you can use either side in a game.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Non-final components

At the end of four rounds, you score points for each group of 3+ elements on your board that share a color or symbol. The left-hand column on the score board above helps you track and score each element in turn, and your score for a group is the sum of the values for the elements in a group. For example, if you score a light blue group that has a tree, butterflies, and bell flowers, that group is worth 10 points since the tree is 1, butterflies are 3, and bell flowers are 6. You cannot repeat a color or symbol in a group, so the maximum number of tiles in a group is six, and you score 6 bonus points whenever you do have a group of six. "Qwirkle!"

Ideally you place elements so that you can score them for the color, then score them again for the symbol. You can see an example of this two images up as I have a group of bell flowers and a group of light green tiles, which means the light green bell flower tile will score twice for me — 12 points total — at game end, in addition to scoring 3 points for me at the end of round four when that symbol scores. Similarly, the light green bird will score twice for the light green group and the bird group...but a bird is only 2 points, so that's not quite as much of a buzz.

This write-up doesn't cover every detail of gameplay, such as you being able to pay 6 points to grab a blank landscape tile and add it to your personal board, but now I've mentioned that as well, so hmm. In any case, ideally this write-up gives you a feel of what to expect when Azul: Queen's Garden debuts at SPIEL '21 in October 2021 and when it debuts in retail outlets prior to the end of 2021. Note that the components shown here are not final as Next Move Games in tweaking colors and other details prior to going to production.
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Fri Sep 17, 2021 8:01 pm
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