NSV debuted three titles at SPIEL '21, with one of those being Snowhere from frequent NSV collaborator Steffen Benndorf.
As with NSV's The Mind, Snowhere seems like it will invite "Is that really a game?" type of questions from those who encounter it. See whether you agree after reading this description:Quote:Your challenge in Snowhere is to use snow cards to extinguish all the fire in play.This design — which is listed for 1+ players — sounds like an interactive art exhibit as much as a game, and I'm intrigued by minimal rule sets like this that leave me wondering how something even works. The experience itself is the thing, and I'm curious to see what it's like.
To set up the game, spread the 111 cards fire-side up on the table in a single mass so that none of the cards are separated from one another. On a turn, a player picks up a fire card that is either uncovered or covered by at most a sliver of one other card. Turn the card over. If it shows a giant snowflake, set it aside; otherwise, use it to cover one or more of the fire cards still in play. You cannot cover a fire card one-to-one, but must cover part of the playing area (along with fire) with the snow card or cover part of another snow card already in play.
When a player can no longer remove any fire cards from the table, use any giant snowflakes set aside earlier to cover as much of the remaining fire as possible. The fewer fire cards revealed, the better, and if you have covered all of the fire, then you win.
Qwixx and The Game — that NSV is now producing with no plastic components. To summarize the details on the NSV website, the NatureLine titles use:
—Paper banderoles on card decks instead of cellophane wrapping
—Score pads and instructions made from recycled paper
—Unpainted wooden pencils
—A box that is packaged inside a slipcase, with both being made from recycled cardboard
—Water-based varnish and sustainable inks
—Wooden dice that are "100% FSC"
• Speaking of Qwixx, one of the other new titles from NSV is Qwixx Longo, co-designed by Benndorf and Reinhard Staupe, with this title playing much like the original game, but taking a bit longer to play...which you might have already suspected given the name.
For those unfamiliar with Qwixx, here's a rundown of gameplay in Qwixx Longo, which will also cover what's new for those who already know the game:Quote:Qwixx Longo is a quick-playing dice game in which everyone participates, no matter whose turn it is. Each player has a scoresheet with the numbers 2-16 in rows of red and yellow and the numbers 16-2 in rows of green and blue. To score points you want to mark off as many numbers as possible, but you can mark off a number only if it's to the right of all marked-off numbers in the same row.• The final new title from NSV in the second half of 2021 is Splitter from first-time designer Stefan Nikolic. The game is listed for 1-12 players, but in theory you could have any number of people at the table as long as everyone has a score sheet and knows what numbers are rolled on the dice.
On a turn, the active player rolls six eight-sided dice: two white and one of each of the four colors listed above. Each player can choose to mark off the sum of the two white dice on one of their four rows; additionally, if the sum of the white dice matches one of the two lucky numbers printed on your scoresheet, you immediately mark off the next number in the row in which you have the fewest marks.
Then the active player can choose to mark off the sum of one colored die and one white die in the row that's the same color as the die. The more marks you can make in a row, the higher your score for that row. Fail to cross off a number when you're the active player, however, and you must mark one of four penalty boxes on your scoresheet. If you have at least six numbers marked in a row, then you can mark off either of the final two spaces in a colored row (15/16 in red/yellow and 3/2 in green/blue) — assuming the dice allow you to do so, of course. If you do this, you also mark off the padlock symbol in that row, locking everyone else out of this color.
When either a player has four penalty boxes marked or a second color is locked, the game ends immediately. Players then tally their points for each color, sum these values, then subtract five points for each marked penalty box. Whoever has the highest score wins.
Here's how to play:Quote:In Splitter, you must group numbers together to score points — two 2s, three 3s, and so on — but you're placing two numbers at a time, so things won't always work out.My immediate question: Why isn't Splitter part of NSV's "NatureLine"? Couldn't these dice be 100% FSC wood? Couldn't the pencils be unpainted?
Each player has their own score sheet with 44 empty spaces on it, with two different patterns of spaces included in the box; each pattern has a dashed line through the middle that splits it into two mirrored halves.
On a turn, someone rolls two six-sided dice. Each player then writes the results, e.g. 1 and 4, in empty spaces in the pattern, with each number being in the mirrored space of the other. If, say, you place the 1 in the leftmost space of the top row, then you must place the 4 in the rightmost space of the top row.
After 22 dice rolls, everyone's pattern will be filled. Each 1 on its own — that is, with no other 1s orthogonally adjacent — scores 1 point; each set of two 2s that have no other orthogonally adjacent 2s score 2 points; and so on up to a set of six 6s with no other orthogonally adjacent 6s being worth 6 points. A starred space is present on each half of the pattern, and a scored group that contains this starred space has its points doubled. (One pattern has a set of three spaces with hearts, and if you fill all three hearts with the same number, you score 5 points.)
Whoever has the highest score wins.
That's one of the hazards of planting a (sustainable unbleached hemp) flag for environmental causes, of course. Everything else you do suddenly becomes suspect, a source for questions that diverts attention from whatever progress you have made. Sure, you've done X, but why not Y?
I know NSV is busy with SPIEL '21 right now, but I've asked for an interview to cover this question and try to get a bigger picture of what the introduction of NatureLine means.
To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
16 Oct 2021
- [+] Dice rolls
Mindclash Games. For my taste, they tend to knock it out of the park when it comes to highly thematic, heavy board games. However, due to Covid-related reasons and travel restrictions, they were unable to attend.
In lieu of meeting in person, I met up with some of the Mindclash crew via video chat after I returned from Gen Con, and (via Tabletop Simulator) Dávid Turczi gave me a high-level gameplay rundown of Voidfall, their upcoming, grand, sci-fi 4x Eurogame that is being crowdfunded on Kickstarter (KS link) for a 2023 release.
Voidfall comes from the creative minds of Nigel Buckle and Dávid Turczi, the same designer duo behind the the unique, civilization-building, deck-building games Imperium: Classics and Imperium: Legends, which are 2021 releases from Osprey Games. In Voidfall, Buckle, Turczi, and Mindclash Games boldly present their take on a euro-style 4x game, capturing player interaction, tension, exploration, and empire-building, combined with minimal-luck gameplay, resource management, and tough decisions, often found in economic euros.Photo provided by the publisher
Voidfall plays with 1-4 players in 60-240 minutes and can be played competitively, co-operatively, or solo conveniently using the same core rules. Here's the backstory behind it:Quote:For centuries, the Novarchs, descendants of the royal House of Novarchon, have ruled with an iron fist over the feudalistic galactic empire of humankind, the Domineum. During this time, they brought stunning technological innovation and scientific advancements to their domain. This accelerated progression helped the Domineum reach — and eventually inhabit — even the farthest segments of the known galaxy, where new Houses emerged to govern the outer sectors of the empire. As the House of Novarchon grew in power, so grew the religious cult that surrounded them, proclaiming grim prophecies about an ancient cosmic being from another dimension: the Voidborn.In Voidfall, each player plays as one of the ten Great Houses that broke away from the Domineum. Each house plays asymmetrically with its own history, strengths, and weaknesses. In the solo/co-op mode, players can win the game together by pushing back the Voidborn, whereas in the competitive mode, you need to gain more influence in restoring the Domineum than your opponents/rivals.
Many thought it to be only a myth, but in truth, it was the Voidborn's dark influence that granted the Novarchs the sheer knowledge to achieve rapid expansion for the empire. While the cult of the Novarchs envisaged eternal life through the otherworldly entity, the Voidborn's only intention was satiating its eternal hunger. And so, when the Domineum had achieved a vastness fitting the Voidborn's craving, interdimensional rifts opened at the heart of the Domineum to unleash cosmic corruption. As the House of Novarchon and its followers welcomed the Voidborn and sought their false salvation, the entity infected and spread and seized control over the inner worlds. Now, it is time for the remaining Great Houses to purge the galactic corruption, prevent the Voidborn from fully manifesting in our dimension, and to ultimately overcome the chaos as the new rulers of the Domineum.
There is a lot to soak in with Voidfall. I was initially intimidated by all the components and iconography when I saw it in Tabletop Simulator. The good news is that Ian O'Toole is behind the art and graphic design, so it looks awesome and once you initially learn the iconography, it will click and make sense faster than you'd expect. At least, that's how I felt after Dávid explained the iconography on a few cards to me — my mind quickly went from "This is crazy!" to "Ohhh, I get it."
Voidfall features a modular map set-up with beautiful large hexes known as sectors that players interact with throughout the game. It can be played with a variety of map set-ups and scenarios, including multiple options for players preferring less combat/more peaceful gameplay — or more aggressive gameplay options if that's preferred. Between this, multiple play modes, and the variety of asymmetric houses, there is a lot of replay value packed into Voidfall that should keep things interesting and fresh game after game.Photo provided by the publisher
Players each get a player board that has slots for different agenda and tech cards, as well as a house mat that includes civilization track effects for their respective house. Players also receive an influence dial to keep track of their score, production dials to keep track of production and inventory of resources, and a deck of focus cards that are used to take actions during the game.Photo provided by the publisher
Voidfall is played over three cycles (rounds), and each cycle has a new event, a new scoring condition, and a specific number of focus cards that can be played. Each cycle is split into three phases: Preparation, Focus, and Evaluation. While the Preparation and Evaluation phases are mainly maintenance and upkeep-related, the Focus phase is the heart of the game.
During the Focus phase of each cycle, you play 4-7 Focus cards, one at a time in player order, to take actions and guide your empire's strategy. First, you choose an available Focus card, then you resolve up to two out of three actions on it, then you discard it. Focus cards help you improve your sectors, improve technologies, boost your production, reinforce fleets, prepare for attacks...you know, all the things you need to do to make your empire more awesome than your opponents. You'll likely want to and need to do everything, but each Focus card can generally be played only once per cycle, so I can see how tough decisions surface when it comes to deciding which card to play, when to play it, and which two out of three actions you want to resolve on it.
As far as action on the game board goes, each sector starts a certain way based on the scenario and each player's house has a home sector that they rule. Each sector can be improved during the game by adding military installations to aid in combat, and guild locations to help you produce resources. Each sector also has a die to represent the population which is a production multiplier for your guilds. Beware though, the higher the population, the more likely your opponents will be to try to attack you and take over your sector.
Unlike most 4x games, combat is completely deterministic in Voidfall. There are no luck-based factors contributing to your battles so you can tell which side will win the war before it even starts since it's mainly based on who has the best fleet power.
Combat is split into two phases, an Approach step and one or more Salvo steps. In the Approach step, sector defenses deal damage to the invading player's fleet. Certain types of fleets can also deal damage in the Approach step if they have the appropriate technology. Then in the Salvo round(s), each side deals damage in initiative order, and initiative is based on who has the most fleet power. This step is repeated until one side runs out of fleet power. Hence the reason you can determine who will win before combat even starts. Considering this, you can think of the importance of strengthening your fleet in Voidfall to be similar to keeping up your military in a game like Through the Ages. But you can't always do everything, so there lies part of the balancing act that makes Voidfall appealing to those looking for a challenging and engaging gaming experience.
Voidfall also features an interesting agenda system where players can build and customize their own tableaus of influence scoring conditions. With each House, you can pick between two agendas to start with which can help guide your strategy early on, and you can draw additional agendas through Focus card actions and various other sources. Once you've played your Agenda in one of your open Agenda slots, it can be scored at the end of each cycle.
Whether you're playing Voidfall competitively or co-operatively, the game ends after the third cycle is finished. In competitive mode, the player with the most influence wins. In co-operative mode, you calculate the Voidborn's influence score and if all players have at least that much influence, you all win; otherwise you all lose.
There's tons more learn and discover in Voidfall. The sneak peek I got left me excited and curious to experience a full game, even considering I'm nowhere near fully grasping every aspect of the gameplay. I recommend checking out the design spotlight articles the Mindclash development team has been posting if you're interested in learning more about Voidfall.
I'm looking forward to playing Voidfall when it officially releases. In the meantime, I'm super pumped to get my copy of Perseverance: Castaway Chronicles – Episodes 1 & 2, which I'll get my hands on much sooner.
- [+] Dice rolls
As a result, only Beth Heile is on hand at SPIEL '21, and she and partner John K are gathering games for BGG.CON 2021 in November, meeting with publishers to talk about GeekUp bits, and taking pics of what's on display at the show. Here's a sampling of what she saw in the media showcase room:
• Lost Ruins of Arnak: Expedition Leaders was still being worked on only three weeks ago, according to a representative from Czech Games Edition, but CGE prints in the Czech Republic, so shipping was not an issue regarding get copies to SPIEL '21.
• Golem, from Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, Simone Luciani, and Cranio Creations
• SCOUT, from Kei Kajino and Oink Games, with this new version featuring circus-themed icons on the suits as a visual aid, with each card being named to represent an individual performer.
• It's a Wonderful Kingdom, from Frédéric Guérard and Le Boîte de Jeu
• Lisbon Tram 28, from Pedro Santos Silva and MEBO Games, includes a completely superfluous, yet thematic bell. The publisher noted that playtesters loved ringing it as they took actions, so the bell made it into the final game for ambiance...
• One of the 100 copies of Hippocrates from Alain Orban and Game Brewer shipped to SPIEL '21 in advance of the full production run.
• Moon Adventure from Jun Sasaki and Oink Games, with the publisher describing this title (which features elements of 2014's Deep Sea Adventure) as a "hard co-operative game".
• Garden Nation, from Rémi Saunier, Nathalie Saunier, and Bombyx
• ECO: Coral Reef from Unique Board Games, with designer Izik Nevo saying he was inspired by his time as a diver, his love of chess, and his desire to bring attention to the issue of pollution on the sea turtle population.
• EXIT: Das Spiel – Die Rückkehr in die verlassene Hütte, from Inka Brand, Markus Brand, and KOSMOS introduces 3D elements to this best-selling line of escape room-inspired games. Updated: Image now spoiler-proof due to reader request.
• Components in Paleo: Ein neuer Anfang, an expansion for the 2021 Kennerspiel-winning game Paleo from Peter Rustemeyer and Hans im Glück.
• Living Forest, from Aske Christiansen and Ludonaute
• Dreadful Circus, from Bruno Faidutti and Portal Games
• CATAN: Logik Rätsel, a solitaire logic puzzle that I previously wrote about here
• Mille Fiori, from Reiner Knizia and Schmidt Spiele, which I described in detail here
• 1923 Cotton Club, from Pau Carles and Looping Games
• Wer lacht, verliert! is a party game aimed at folks who (at a minimum) would not object to the NSFW image posted below. I'm fairly certain you will not find a copy of this game at BGG.CON 2021, so you'll have to buy one for yourself should you want to play.
• Beth took a break from shooting pics to take aim at a shifty character from Spiel des Jahres-winning MicroMacro: Crime City. (Note Beth's "golden ratio" earrings, which are awesome.)
I greatly appreciate her efforts to sample the SPIEL '21 offerings on top of everything else she's doing!
- [+] Dice rolls
Once upon a time, in a small town in central Italy, there were a couple of kids who liked to make custom Yu-Gi-Oh cards with paper. As they grew up, they developed more and more games together...Martino Chiacchiera (l) and Michele Piccolini, already playing games (Can you spot the Pokemon TCG booster pack?)
Wait! This is a little too far back.
Our journey with Wonder Book begins in the distant past, but not that distant. It was 2015, a time when we didn't yet know how to write a story or how to fold a piece of paper to make the simplest of 3D pop-ups. Our memories are blurry, but we'll try our best to reconstruct what happened.
One day, probably during some design session of one of our scrappy first games, an idea descended upon us: How cool would it be to make a game with pop-ups? It would have a board that is both 3D and interactive, light years ahead of current board games!
What kind of game could we make with that "technology"? Our first idea, which has remained unchanged since then, was to make a co-operative, story-centered, dungeon crawler game, with rules so intuitive that everybody would be able to play and enjoy.
We began with a "flat" prototype (i.e., a normal game with a normal board) to start evaluating mechanisms. We had a couple of nice ideas — but that was no pop-up game! We wanted pop-ups to be central to the experience. We didn't want to "build pop-ups around a game"; we wanted to build a game around pop-ups!
There was one little problem, though: We had absolutely no idea how to build a pop-up.
Easier Said than Done
After that, we started frantically researching and studying pop-ups. You can admire in the image below our first YouTube search on the topic:Researching how to make pop-ups, courtesy of YouTube's history
At the top, you can see Duncan Birmingham, our savior. In "The Pop-Up Channel", he covers most of the pop-up mechanisms that exist on this planet — a bible of paper engineering knowledge! — and teaches you how to build them. (For those who don't know, there is an entire discipline dedicated to making pop-ups, and it's called, you guessed it, paper engineering.)
Obviously, we proceeded to watch all of his videos, and we built our own "physical encyclopedia" of mechanisms. Then we used these acquired skills to painstakingly make our first prototype of an interactive scenario. After a lot of time spent cutting, gluing, and swearing (because pop-ups never go flat when you fold them), we had our game board: a small village and a big ugly temple. We even had an interactive dragon as a boss! (Keep this dragon in mind as it will come up later.)Early prototype
The Sacred System
We had a pop-up board, we had combat and exploration mechanisms, we had grandiose ideas for a branching story — great! We tested it. It wasn't great. The game was a bit all over the place. Too many rules, too many components. What we needed was an elegant system that all on its own handled the story and the game progress, that introduced the rules, the heroes, the enemies, and the scenario. But how? We were searching for a sacred grail.
Then, the solution struck like thunder and it had always been right under our nose: We needed a pre-sorted deck of cards! And each card could have all sorts of things on it. It could introduce rules, challenges, riddles, choices — all at the pace that we desired!
A Home for the Game
It should be said that during those years we were living in different cities and that the development had been mostly remote and very hiccupped since we could have in-person sessions only when we were in the same city (which happened mostly during holiday periods, when we were both in our home town).
Our project looked promising, but we couldn't easily find an opportunity to develop it at full force, so when we did have the chance, we made sure we ended up living in the same place. For a period of time, we even lived under the same roof. Only a few months of work, and we could finish the game! We thought. We had no idea how much our estimates were off.Keep playing and nobody explodes
Regardless, there we were, developing the game design night after design night, always rigorously accompanied by tea and biscuits. We had a system that worked, but building pop-ups from scratch took way too long. What could we do?
Steal like an Artist
In the field of drawing, artists make extensive use of references. It is surprising when for the first time one discovers that most concept artists, for example, don't paint a character out of thin air. Rather, what they do is take inspiration, steal, stitch together, and transform parts of pre-existing artwork until they get something cool and new.
Basically every field from writing to music, from programming to design has some kind of saying that suggests that the most efficient solution to everything is to "steal". You may have heard it as "talent borrows, genius steals", or "everything is a remix", or something similar.
We needed that. To steal...ahem, to get inspiration from references.
Thus, we bought and consulted an avalanche of pop-up books. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we would start from what was already done and make it better! We studied their designs, and we looked for cool mechanisms, finding some interesting ones. (A modified version of the most complex one is now at the very center of the Wonder Book's game board!)
But not all we found was great. In fact, we realized that most of the pop-up designs that exist in pop-up books are engineered to be looked at, not to be used. They are not suitable, for example, to support miniatures or they don't achieve the level of interactivity that we desired.
So we started thinking about how we could modify some of the mechanisms to make them work in a board game. We were coming up with many prototypes, but we dreaded the idea of refining some of those to production quality. It was clear that it would take us too much time, and we were not suited to the task. We thought we had a solution to inefficiency, but we were back at square one.
We needed a paper engineer.
Bye, Bye, Frankenstein
In the magical water world of Venice, Italy, there lives a paper engineer who had created some books that we liked very much: Dario Cestaro. We tried to contact him. Surprisingly, he wasn't scared away by two crazy guys asking him to build professional pop-ups out of some wacky home-made designs. Actually, he was enthusiastic. Dario was on board!
He would make real dummies starting from our scrappy prototypes (affectionately named "Frankensteins" because of their nature as "pieces sewn together"), and he would also provide contacts for pop-up manufacturers.Some of the "Frankenstein" prototypes, initially born out of brutally stitching together pieces of other prototypes
We had a game, and we had a paper engineer on board. The missing piece was a publisher.
Looking for a Publisher
We asked dV Giochi, both because of our history of collaborations with them and because our intention of making a game for everyone aligned with their motto that "Everyone wants to play." They were growing, and they had partners in several countries. They were the perfect publisher!
We pitched them the game, expecting "yes" as an answer, but the answer that we got instead was...
"ABSOLUTELY YES! We must release it as soon as possible!"
The issue? The game was not actually ready, and it wouldn't be ready for quite some time still. The scope was simply too big. We had settled on a narrative-driven game, which required a lot of content to produce manually. Moreover, making a pop-up game and finding the perfect use for each pop-up was not an easy task. It hadn't been done before, thus, we couldn't steal, ahem...take inspiration from anything. For the game system, we had taken inspiration from Legends of Andor, Stuffed Fables, Near and Far, Deckscape, and many others, but there was nothing with pop-ups. And we couldn't know for sure how many pop-ups we could fit in the game scenario until the manufacturers told us what the prices were — but to get a quotation, they needed the final pop-up. A chicken-and-egg situation.
Then, we got the news: Pop-ups are expensive. Gluing pieces together costs, so we had to be smart about what we put in there. Furthermore, the typical numbers in which pop-up books are printed is much higher than the typical numbers of a board game print run.
This was hell! With a tight deadline, we would have to redesign some pop-ups and rethink our gameplay and story for the hundredth time while coming up with clever solutions to keep the quality and the quantity of pop-ups high. And we needed the publisher to bet big on the game because it would have to be a huge success in order to amortize the costs.
Plus we had a few other minor obstacles, like babies being born, full-time jobs, living in countries other than the publisher's, and then even moving again to end up living in completely different countries and doing an important part of the final development remotely again.
And finally the cherry on top of the pressure cake: We received news about other games in the making that contained pop-ups! A chilling sensation ran through our spines and lingered for weeks, months even. But our fear gradually faded as we got more and more information, realizing that we weren't competing for the same genres and that our game could still stand out thanks to its unique features, like the interaction with pop-ups relevant for gameplay purposes.
What followed was an intense, non-stop period of close development with the publisher, with game mechanisms being revamped, an infinite amount of story that had to be refined, tons of sampling to ensure component durability, improvements to pop-ups, and a complete renewal of several aspects of the game, including the collaboration with hall-of-fame artist Miguel Coimbra, who did a wonder book... erhm, wonderful job! All of this while more and more partner publishers were getting on board, hyped for the game and urgent to have it. This period seemed to last forever, but it was necessary to support the development of a game like this.Miguel Coimbra had to illustrate many spreads of the pop-ups' scattered pieces, but with the final 3D aesthetic in mind. Hard times!
Fortunately, there is a happy ending. Everyone's hard work has paid off. We are very happy with the final result and are thankful to everybody for their amazing work, from the publisher for their help with development, to artists, to testers, to the marketing. Everyone made this metamorphosis possible and turned a scrappy idea on paper to a beautiful polished product made with paper.
The game board now has beautifully illustrated and refined pop-ups that use a paper 10% thicker and 33% stronger than the one normally used.
Thanks to the feedback from the publisher and many playtesters, the gameplay has been enriched and geared toward more experienced players, while maintaining its original characteristics that make it easy to learn and playable by everybody. (You can expect a game that can easily be opened and played right away, but don't be tricked by its cute aspect into thinking that it will be easy to beat the game! We even support different difficulty levels, and if you are a hardcore gamer, don't worry, they are all difficult.)
The story now covers six chapters spread across almost three hundred double-sided cards that will offer you challenges, touching moments, laughs, and dilemmas that will force you to make decisions that impact the future.
The lore has found its raison d'etre in dragons. Do you remember the big dragon pop-up boss that we had in our early prototype? It became clear soon that this was the thing testers loved the most, which prompted us to put dragons at the center of the story. Not only will you find that very same dragon in the final game, but you will find out that it is now just a mini-boss. We wanted to go big, and therefore we introduced a much, much bigger creature...Demo at Gen Con 2021
The game is now manufactured and is coming out! At the Gen Con 2021 pre-launch, copies were sold out. The game will be featured in Europe at SPIEL '21 and will hit the shelves in multiple countries at the beginning of November 2021. It will be available in Italy, USA, France, Spain, Chile, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and UK, and negotiations are ongoing for many other countries!
The dust has settled, the heroes can rest...
Or can they? A terrifying silhouette of a dragon pops up. (Pun intended!) Something troubling is happening in the magical world of Oniria. The land of the dragons needs new heroes. Are you ready to enter the Wonder Book and become one of them?Enjoy the trailer, made by SpoiledBoiled
Every End is a New Beginning
Wonder Book is out, and now we can finally take a rest!
—Michele Piccolini and Martino ChiacchieraWait... WHAT IS THAT SHADOW? AAAAAAH!!!
- [+] Dice rolls
In the co-operative game The Siege of Runedar, you and your fellow dwarves — or you alone as the case might be — attempt to defend a fortress from attacking orcs, goblins, and trolls, but you're defending it only until you can dig a tunnel to freedom and escape with whatever part of your golden treasure the orcs don't take home for themselves.
The Siege of Runedar is marketed as a deck-building game from Reiner Knizia and Ludonova, but "deck improving" might be a better description as your deck size remains at twelve cards over the course of play, with you ideally replacing starter cards with upgrades, then still better upgrades.
One problem, though: Your deck contains two orc cards that can never be upgraded or removed, and whenever you start with one of those in hand, you draw a card from the orc deck, which will add one or more orcs around the fortress, advance those orcs over the walls and into your living area, or bring a siege tower or catapult within range of attack.Four orcs too many!
The one bright spot in this situation? You might not see those orc cards thanks to a twist in how you handle the cards in your deck. After you shuffle your deck, you place two cards on the discard pile, leaving you ten cards that you will play over the next two rounds, five at a time. You never draw extra cards on a turn, and you won't know which cards have been removed until you pick up your second hand of five cards.
With this set-up, you know that bad things are coming, but each time you pick up a new hand, you hope for a reprieve. No orcs in the first five cards? Okay, great for right now — let's go to work! Maybe they're both waiting in the second hand, which means you'll have only three cards to play, which won't allow you to do much...but maybe you'll find fewer than two and can do even more. More than other deck-building games, The Siege of Runedar gives you opportunities for good feelings just by picking up your hand and seeing what's not there.
To upgrade your deck, you play cards while in an orc-free workshop to collect matching resources — metal, leather, wood — then place these resources on the available upgrade cards. Once you've paid the complete cost of an upgrade, any player during their turn can choose to remove a non-orc card in their hand from the game and replace it with that upgrade, which they can then play on the same turn.Decks at the end of a two-player game: brown cards are starters, with upgrades going from okay (yellow) to decent (gray) to awesome (red)
Each card you play can be used for movement points in the fortress or for one of its listed powers: resource gathering, close combat, long-range combat, or digging. That last one might seem unexciting, but to win the game, you need to clear all the rubble in the fireplace room — 6/8/10/12 pieces, depending on the difficulty level of the game — which then clears one of the five tunnel pieces, with you then confronting two goblin tokens before you can start digging again to clear the next batch of rubble.
Goblins come in five levels of difficulty to match the five tunnel pieces, with you drawing two at random from the appropriate level. Maybe you'll have to fight the goblin, maybe you need to give it resources to pay it off, and maybe the goblin has brought more rubble that you need to clear. Whatever the challenge is, you probably won't be happy to see it.
Each turn, you are pulled in many directions, needing to collect resources for upgrades, to dig to clear rubble and escape, to fight orcs so that you can collect resources or not have them steal your gold, and to remove the siege tower and catapult before they cause large-scale trouble.
Combat is handled with six-sided dice, with two sides showing a crossbow for a long-range hit, two sides with a single close-range hit, one side with two close-range hits, and one side with three close-range hits. For combat, you play as many cards as you like with the appropriate symbol (close range or long range), then roll all the dice at once. You need two hits to kill an orc, which discourages you from playing one card at a time since a single hit does nothing and doesn't carry over to the next roll — yet if you overcommit on combat, then you give up cards that could be used for something else. These choices are standard stuff in games of this type, and they work as intended, with you sometimes gambling on a single roll to great success and euphoria and sometimes committing big to a "must win" situation that you do not win.Close combat hits against a catapult and siege tower? UselessFour crossbow hits against trolls?! Equally useless
As with many co-operative games, you can lose in various ways, e.g., if the last piece of gold is stolen or all ten orcs are in play. You can fight against those two loss conditions, but you do have a definite clock in the game, that being the fifty-card orc deck. If you draw the last card, you lose, and while lucky shuffles may keep the orcs away for a while, inevitably you will draw those cards and see more forces against you.
Siege towers bring troll attacks if you don't remove the tower in time, and if you would be attacked by trolls for the fifth time, you lose. The catapult has a similar loss condition in that the fifth such attack kills you, but you'll feel the walls closing in long before that because each time the catapult strikes, you lose one of the possible upgrade slots, giving you fewer choices of how to make your deck better and possibly costing you already collected resources, i.e., time, with time being your most precious resource of all.Only two goblins stand in the way of winning, two goblins that require nine hits...
I've played The Siege of Runedar twice on a review copy from Ludonova, both times with two players, and offer more details of gameplay and more thoughts on this SPIEL '21 release in this overview video:
- [+] Dice rolls
I'm still updating BGG's SPIEL '21 Preview, which might be of interest even if you're not heading to Essen, Germany for the show given the wide variety of games listed, with the latest being the space-based card-management game Apogee from French publisher DTDA Games.
DTDA Games showed up at SPIEL '19 seemingly out of nowhere with Efemeris, and now it's a late arrival at SPIEL '21, too, with the publisher not being listed in Merz Verlag's SPIEL-GUIDE 2021 or its late registration list from the end of September.
What's more, I just heard from Korean publisher Playte — formerly OPEN'N PLAY — which booked at SPIEL '21 the week of October 4. Yes, Merz Verlag is still booking publishers down to the wire, and I need to get those titles listed ASAP, even though they'll be available only for demo right now.
Ideally I can give you a good picture of what will be there in Essen to help you know what you want there on your table...
- [+] Dice rolls
08 Oct 2021
• Osprey Games has announced Crescent Moon, an upcoming 2022 release from designer Steve Mathers that's described as "an ambitious asymmetric area control game of tense negotiations", to which I respond, "Yes, please!"
Crescent Moon plays with 4-5 players in 150-180 minutes and promises tense negotiations and political intrigue in a 10th century Middle East fantasy setting as described below:Quote:As the sun rises over the deserts, rivers, and oases of the Caliphate, a delicate balance has been upset. As one of many rival powers in the region, you now have the opportunity to alter the course of history and seize power for yourself. The ambitious Sultan sits in a golden palace, presiding over great works of architecture. The secretive Murshid works to covertly undermine the central authorities through an expansive network of agents.• Norweigan publisher Aegir Games teamed up with Paradox Interactive to bring the award-winning Europa Universalis PC game back to the tabletop world in 2022 with Europa Universalis: The Price of Power from designer Eivind Vetlesen, with a solo mode designed by Dávid Turczi.
The wandering tribes of the Nomad aim to sow discord in order to secure employment for their experienced mercenary citizenry. The ravaging forces of the Warlord sweep across the land, chasing after promises of plunder. And, in the face of chaos and uncertainty, the Caliph aims to preserve order through military might. Will you successfully navigate this web of rivalries and rise to prominence, or will you squabble with your lesser adversaries and fade into obscurity?
Crescent Moon is played over three years (or four years in the long game). Each year, players will take four actions which might be to deploy new armies, enlist mercenaries, build fortifications and settlements, conquer new land, expand their influence, and much more. Each character has a unique pool of abilities and available actions, which will shape their game, whether its the Sultan, who cannot raise their own army and must depend on mercenaries, or the Murshid, who can use their political influence to interfere in other characters' battles. Players can purchase potent power cards, representing ploys, wise advisors, and specialist units from a market shared between all players. At the end of each year, players score points according to their own unique character objectives, and at the end of the game, the player with most points wins.
Crescent Moon is an area control game for four or five players. Take on the role of one of five radically asymmetric characters, each with their own objectives to fulfill, unique actions to utilize, and game-changing special powers to employ. Build symbiotic relationships with your allies, undermine your rivals, and choose your friends and enemies wisely in this cut-throat game of power and politics.
Europa Universalis: The Price of Power, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter in November 2019, is a 4x, grand strategy game for 1–6 players that plays in 90-300 minutes. Here's a high-level overview of what you can expect:Quote:Govern one of Europe's great nations through the Ages of Discovery, Reformation, Absolutism and Revolutions — spanning more than three hundred years of history. Lift your nation out of the slumber of the Dark Ages and create a glorious empire, through clever diplomacy, brave exploration and ruthless conquest. Each of the playable nations have their own very unique opportunities and challenges.Columbia Games is planning to crowdfund Alliance, a new strategic game with coalitions and shifting alliances during the Napoleonic Wars (1805-15) for 2-6 players from designer Tom Dalgliesh (Hammer of the Scots, Napoléon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815, Richard III: The Wars of the Roses)):
Europa Universalis is a strategy board game that gives players a full 4X game experience in a historical setting. Through strategic use of cards and careful management of resources you can expand your realm on the map board, while at the same time developing the internal machinery of the state on your player board. You must build diplomatic relations that support your ambition and you can explore far-away parts of the world. By recruiting skilled advisors and carefully investing monarch power in great ideas, province development, and long term strategies, you may well be able to outshine your historical counterparts.
This is a game for 1–6 players (depending on the various scenarios included). The goal of the game is to build the most successful empire, and points are scored for (amongst other things) owned provinces, explored territories, diplomatic relations, victories in wars, and secret objectives that have been accomplished.
The board game is based on the famous strategy game series by Paradox Interactive, and captures the heart and soul of the grandness that makes the computer game so magnificent.Quote:A game of diplomacy in the Napoleonic Era...with a Columbia Block System twist.• Zain Memon, game designer and co-founder of the cinema and new media studio, Memesys Culture Lab, is at the tail end of a Kickstarter (KS link) for his latest political, area control title, SHASN: AZADI, which is available as a standalone follow-up or expansion for his 2021 release SHASN.
Set in the Napoleonic Era, the players play as Austria, Britain France, Prussia, Russia, and Spain. They cannot do it alone though, they need help of the neighboring countries, the minor states. The Columbia Block System add a level of granularity to the traditional style of such games.
Even though Alliance is best played with 3-6 players, the Minor States creates added depth for even a two-player game. Solo rules will also be created for the growing demand for solitaire play.
Players start the turn by receiving six cards, and discarding one. Afterward, the take turns playing a card, moving and building units, conducting combat operations if the need arises. Then a political phase happens where players make diplomatic plays for the Minor States in the game (non-committed countries).
Players make alliances with each other that last at least a year and can have many subjects (gold tributes, border disputes, non-aggression pacts, etc.) By default, the winner is who gains the most Victory Points in cities by the game's end. Other scenarios may have extra stipulations that also determine victory.
If you're not familiar, SHASN is a political area-control game for 2-5 players where every player takes on the role of a politician in the midst of a political campaign. Here's the gist of what AZADI brings to the SHASN world:Quote:SHASN: AZADI is a semi-cooperative political strategy board game where players play as revolutionaries, trying to free their country from the grips of a tyrannical imperial power. If they succeed, only one will emerge as the leader of the new nation.
Each player must work with their compatriots to topple the Imperials and gain freedom for their nation. But every time a player takes a turn, the Crown will march forward and the Imperials will take a turn, launching devastating attacks against the revolution.
Players can combat the Imperials by resolving Azadi Cards. From Jallianwala Bagh to the battle of Yorktown, each Azadi Card is a unique event from history.
Each Azadi Card has two sides, presenting players with two divergent paths of resistance. Will players take the path of peace and sit on a hunger strike, or will they take up arms and assassinate their oppressors? Each choice in an Azadi Card belongs to a certain Ideologue. Players must choose their path wisely, for their choice will unlock a new zone, and a Resistance Card belonging to that Ideologue, strengthening that Ideologue for the rest of the game.
For every action you complete on an AZADI Card, you will gain legacy. Spend your legacy to erect Monuments to your sacrifice and earn new powers once your nation gains Azadi. If players resolve the number of Azadi Cards required by their difficulty, and a final Foundation Card before time runs out - Azadi will be theirs.
But the new sovereign nation will need a leader. Players must compete in the first democratic elections of their country to see who will be declared winner.
What will you stand for? And what will freedom cost?
- [+] Dice rolls
After a night of playing Fleet: The Dice Game, I got inspired to design a roll-and-write game. I was never enamored with roll-and-writes until I got to experience the engine building of Fleet. Not only did I get to mark off Xs that enabled me to mark more Xs, but every other phase those Xs actually did something!
Marissa Misura and I began brainstorming some elements that we wanted. Above all, we wanted to create something. Some of our favorite games leave us with something to be proud of. Sure, I might score terribly while playing Agricola, but at the end I have my own dysfunctional little farm. Knowing Brian Lewis and having personally seen Jurassic Park thirteen times in the movie theater, Dinosaur Island seemed like the natural fit. I pitched some basic ideas to Brian, jokingly called it a "Roar 'N Write," and Brian was in. Thus began a journey that none of us had foreseen.
Okay, Who's The Jerk!?
While Brian has had success in the industry, I figured I would introduce the team. I also feel that the games we love say a lot about us.
Brian Lewis: The co-designer of Dinosaur Island and very much the John Hammond of the project. Brian is the type of designer who has a prototype ready to go the very next day. On top of that, he loves a quality spreadsheet and frequently lands on elegant solutions after long conversations. Brian's favorite game is Brass, and I think that mirrors his design philosophy. It isn't always easy, and you might have to lean on others, but the textile is going to get to the port whether you like it or not. Maybe it is because of his many creative ventures, but Brian ensures things get done and we are all constantly marching forward. This game exists because of him.
David McGregor: My design experience is largely from playtesting the designs of others and being fascinated by the constant stream of new releases. I would love to call myself the Ian Malcolm of the group in that I often find the "quotable moments" in design conversations. I like discussing game "flow", clean turn structure, and "feel good moments". I am one of those much loathed pacifist gamers; like a hobbit, my heart lies in peace and quiet and in good tilled earth. Unlike Malcolm, a mathematician, I don't care about the math behind a design decision as long as it "seems right". Where other designers can talk of input and output randomness, probabilities, etc. I stick to baby talk: "This feels good, and that doesn't." My favorite game is Le Havre because it is a sandbox in which I can make fish sandwiches while you ship steel. I love how the game has a real sense of narrative, with the city, ships, and economy changing as the generations pass. I hope your final park in Dinosaur World gives you the same sense of satisfaction that my splay of cards in Le Havre does for me, even when I come in dead last with the finest fish sandwiches on this side of the Seine.
Marissa Misura: Marissa is the Sattler and Grant of the design team by lending direction to the chaos. Not only does she make sense of the stream of consciousness of ideas that we all regurgitate, but she translates it to beautiful notes that we can work with later. Both she and Brian are the math gurus of the group, and while they work on balance and toil in the spreadsheets, my mind drifts to dinosaurs on Jet Skis. Marissa's favorite game is Race for the Galaxy, and she loves "digging" through the deck to find synergies. She is constantly amazed at how much you "get done" in a short session and wanted a similar feeling with Dinosaur World.From left, David, Marissa, and Brian
The three of us have known each other for nearly a decade and have worked together on a previously published design called Fungeon Party. This dexterity party game came out of a casual night with friends. As the night went on, we continued to challenge each other with more and more ridiculous dice-based challenges. We eventually wrote them all on index cards, set a timer for thirty seconds per card, and attempted to complete the stack of cards in co-op fashion. It was a silly game that we thought would be nothing more than a fun thing to entertain our friends. However, after taking it to some playtesting groups, several other designers suggested we pitch it. Sure enough, after a handful of successful pitches, we happily signed with WizKids. Dinosaur World would prove to be a much more involved and ambitious design challenge.
What Kind of Park Is This?
With inspiration found and a Dinosaur Island "rawr" and write to make, we started firing off ideas. We wanted an "activation phase", and we wanted combos as in Ganz schön clever. Buildings became polyominoes, dino paddocks became rectangles, and they all did something.
Early on, we had an idea of a logistic puzzle in which you would build roads and "travel" along those roads scoring in some way. In my dreams, dinos made their way to exits and escaped on Jet Skis, but this proved to be difficult to track. We were building roads and buildings, then crossing them off as they became "visited." By the end, you didn't have a cute little park blueprint, but instead a grid of scribbles and Xs. The goal was always to walk away with one of those "I made this!" feelings that we got from the Rosenberg classics.
As the game was now set in the Dinosaur Island universe, we wanted to use the DNA dice as the primary component. Very quickly we came up with a core worker-placement mechanism for our general actions: building attractions and special buildings, creating dinos, and laying down roads to connect attractions. The dice would be drafted, provide their base DNA, then be placed on a board to take an additional action.
In our first few plays, the board felt a bit too tight, so we added a dice-stacking mechanism reminiscent of Marco Polo. You could now use an occupied space as long as the threat pip value was higher than a previously placed die. This added a nice competitive wrinkle to the initial draft as you may want the threat pips to ensure your second action will be possible. For example, you may need a specific type of DNA to build dinosaurs, so one of your dice might have a high threat value to ensure that you can take a "create dinos" action later in the round.
After some tinkering, we had a core turn structure. You drafted dice, placed them to take DNA and actions, then built attractions in your park. When adding buildings to your park, they immediately activated, which would give you money to activate other buildings, specialists, etc. It was a fun system, but was difficult to teach and required a lot of resource tracking. We found it easy, but we were the ones who created it.
Brian threw together a prototype board, and we took it to Origins 2019 to pitch to the Pandasaurus Games team. The pitch went well, and the reception from the various playtesters was inspiring. We refined the game using several bits of feedback and brought a newer version to Gen Con 2019. This was the first experience when we had playtesters find us and return looking for another go at the game. As a new designer, this was such a cool moment for me, and I know Marissa and Brian felt the same way.
Gen Con 2019 was where the game really took on new life. We wanted ways of making the economy more diverse, but we didn't want to change the core mechanisms or add more complexity. Our countless playtesters over the weekend came up with brilliant ways to add player agency and a diverse economy, and they solved some final scoring wrinkles that we had yet to iron out. The buildings went from being pre-printed on the board to a deck of cards that could be drafted to add variability to the game. The convoluted route scoring was simplified, and we left the con with a game we were proud of and that felt close to being done.
The next problem was more of a publisher issue than a design issue. How was the game going to be presented? Brian suggested that we make a small Dinosaur Island expansion to pair with the roll-and-write, and we graciously jumped on board. Little did we know where the design process would take us...
They Didn't Stop to Think If They Should
Our initial idea was to take Dinosaur Island into the Ice Age. We listed issues that gamers have had with Dinosaur Island and Totally Liquid, then brainstormed ways to "game-ify DI".
One of the core ideas was to create a Dinosaur Island campaign. Titled "The Rise and Fall of Dinosaur Island", it saw your park thriving through a period of boom before being riddled with corruption and sabotage. Each of the episodes would act as a module that could be played in a variety of combinations. Some of these modules were more ambitious than others. The earlier episodes were basically sets of new buildings and dinosaurs. One of our goals was to make the park itself more interactive. These initial tiles had placement bonuses and adjacency scoring. The new dinosaur tiles had variable recipes that would change as you created more of them.
The first of the ambitious elements was a stock market module using Ice Age mammals. Mammals were commodities, and we added speculation phases, buy phases, and sell phases. We also wanted players to be able to invest DNA into making mammals and manipulating the markets. Mammals would enter the economy from outside agencies, and players would be adding their own to change the values of certain creatures. Costs and VPs would fluctuate, and the idea was that entering the market would be a highly-interactive but necessary aspect of play.
It was a challenge from the start. We did our research by playing stock games with both simple and more complex mechanisms to find something that would work. We saw this as the key module and worked tirelessly to make this function while keeping the rest of Dinosaur Island intact. Ultimately, we used a system in which the dinosaurs would enter the system randomly and be up for sale. As they were purchased, the player would get "action points" to manipulate the market as they saw fit. It didn't work. The decisions were obvious and boring, and we shelved it to focus on the other modules.
Some of the other modules included a series of tasks that you had to complete to satisfy a guy we referred to as "Nerman", as well as a complete overhaul of the hooligan system. Nerman, based on Dennis Nedry, would cause issues across the parks, and you would have to allocate workers or money to the tasks. We discussed the idea of these tasks being semi-cooperative like Troyes or more take-that with the ability to sabotage other players like mandatory quests in Lords of Waterdeep. Either way, this module never got to testing.
The hooligan revamp came entirely from my dislike of the original system. As one of the earlier playtesters of Dinosaur Island, I had a table flip moment with some poorly drawn hooligans, and I questioned the system throughout the entire design process. If I was going to get my crack at Dinosaur Island, we were going to have to address this.
The idea eventually became a bag-building system. You would court customers through PR actions. The customers were color coded, with each color representing various wants and needs. If you were able to place the specific color meeple at the attraction they most desired, you would score additional points, excitement, etc. Going heavy on dinos? Court more dinosaur lovers. Love amusement park french fries? Court customers who were amped about amusement park food. The customer draw led to more positive interaction. Instead of the sting of hooligans, you would get the occasional bonus of attracting specific customers. We even added variant cards that would change the function of the customers from game to game. This module worked well, and we were in a state that was ready for development.
The last of the more ambitious modules were hybrid dinos that blended the three dino types from the base game. The idea was to massively overhaul the threat system and make the game more punishing. Many players were clamoring for a bloodbath, and that was the goal. We were working on dinos that would march around the board shutting down systems and point-scoring options. The players would have to invest in Robert Muldoon-style security to march around securing the dinosaurs.
This module was more manageable, but it continued to exacerbate a problem we had with most of them as the game was already phase and upkeep heavy. We had hit a wall. Everything we tested added some fun, but also made the game more difficult to manage and more of a table hog. We often left the playtests wondering if it was worth it, and we settled on the reality that it wasn't. This was probably the lowest point of development for the "Rise and Fall" campaign expansion.
You Can't See What Is on the Other Side Until You Get There
Throughout our brainstorming sessions, we often talked about cutting and adding components. Brian came up with the idea of doing away with the park boards and building with hexes. Another evening we talked about having a little truck that would move through your park and activate tiles. Eventually, all we had from Dinosaur Island were the dice and theme.
Up to this point, the goal was to make a small component-light complement to the roll-and-write. Despite being campaign focused, we were working with only new cards, tiles, and Ice Age meeples. We were still designing within the basic structure of Dinosaur Island and had no intention of pitching this as a standalone title. The first play with the hexes and truck tour changed that. Cutting the vast majority of the Dinosaur Island components liberated our design space, and suddenly we started bringing back ideas. We all love games with engine building, so we saw the park activation as the primary means of scoring points and earning money. Elements we used in the roll-and-write were showing up and being added to tiles.
From here, the design process went fast. We kept some of the phases from Dinosaur Island. You still drafted dice and used workers to collect dinosaur recipes, buildings, etc, but now you had to hold back some workers to ensure you had enough to run your park. The park phase turned into a logistic puzzle in which your truck would start in the Welcome Center and travel to adjacent tiles. If the tiles had workers present, you would take the action and collect resources.
The various colored meeples that represented customers now became workers with specialties, and instead of building your customer base, you were building your worker pool. Blue workers became scientists, red truck mechanics, etc., and we kept the bag-building mechanism for this. Workers would come in on "résumé cards" that were similar to the boats of Keyflower, with you drafting the workers, then adding them to your bag. Eventually this mechanism felt cumbersome, and very rarely did we feel any meaningful strategy in the bag building, so we cut it. Simply having the players draft a résumé card and take the assortment of workers still required the players to puzzle their way through activating their buildings and efficiently using the bonuses provided by the workers.
The new park phase allows you to move your "jeeple" from attraction to attraction, gaining resources as you went. If you move to a dino paddock, you get excitement, but you also have to roll the threat dice. Each category of dinosaur deals a differing amount of threat and potentially death. Attractions provide bonuses based on their adjacency, and buildings do any number of things.
Our goal was to keep the basic economy of Dinosaur Island in which excitement would convert to money at the end of the round, but we also changed excitement to a spendable resource during the park phase. Thematically, some buildings just aren't as exciting for your visitors, but might be necessary for operation. As you visit these, you must spend "active" excitement to get the benefits. This will lower the total income for the round, but will hopefully get you some benefits. Excitement also reverts back to zero at the end of the round, so you must generate excitement on the turn you intend to use it to get any use out of certain buildings.
The park phase proved to be a favorite among playtesters, but we were growing concerned about players hammering the same route over and over again. Once some players found a juicy combo, they were content with doing it repeatedly. We eventually decided to use dice to "count down" activations. You could use an attraction as much as you wanted, but each use would become less exciting for your patrons. Eventually, these buildings would cease to produce excitement, but instead cost it. Players could use their nice combos a few times before the value started to decline.
While this solved one problem, it opened up another. Now buildings at the front of the park had excitement generation in the negatives, and players couldn't activate them. On a whim, we decided that after three years, the park needed to renovate the entrance and create a new one. At the beginning of the third or fourth round (depending on the player count), players add a new entrance for the remainder of the game. Now tiles that were buried in the remote reaches of your park could be hit early, and new combos were accessible.
The core was set: dice drafting, worker placement, tile laying, and logistics. We fine-tuned our phase structure, flipped phases here and there, and cleaned up the flow of play, then we were ready to playtest. We felt the design was of a similar weight to Dinosaur Island, but the experience felt quite different.
Life Breaks Free
As Brian, Marissa, and I continued to fine-tune and playtest, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, and upended our plans for an Origins and Gen Con roll-out and playtesting frenzy. Our little game was the farthest thing from our minds as we were concerned for the safety of our friends and family.
After the first major wave of infections had subsided, we were able to continue to work together, but development and playtesting slowed. With the help of Brian, Stevo Torres, and the Pandasaurus team, we were able to put our prototype assets in Tabletop Simulator and shift playtesting to an entirely digital space. Playtesting this way lacks much of the genuine interaction and feedback you can get face to face. So much of the experience of this hobby is tactical and based on friendly banter and conversation, that these early tests felt cold and distant. The upside is that there is little to focus on but the mechanisms and experience. A good digital playtesting experience might be fun, but a bad digital playtesting experience really sits with you. Some of our most genuine feedback has come from these digital plays.
Pandasaurus hired Andy Van Zandt to handle the remaining development. Andy was able to fine-tune balance and make excellent suggestions about turn structure and streamlining. All of the buildings or elements of the flow of play that we knew needed polish were suddenly getting that attention.
Kwanchai Moriya was once again on board, with Stevo Torres handling graphic design and Joe Shawcross and Andrew Thompson contributing additional illustrations. It seemed like within days we were getting art proofs and concepts that left the design team speechless.
An Aim Not Devoid of Merit
When Pandasaurus shared the official announcement and covers for both of these games, it was the first time I felt a resounding sense of dread. I have never fancied myself a creative, and the act of putting your work out there is terrifying.
From day one, I never considered this a product. Brian, Marissa, and I were just having fun. From the "rawr" and write, to the expansion, to the campaign, to World, each breakthrough and setback was a fun challenge to overcome. Not once did any of it feel like work. Sure, we had arguments, a bad playtest with close friends, and moments when simple solutions felt impossible, but after every play the game felt better. We were having fun.
Toward the end of the design process, we asked ourselves whether this was different enough. We know the theme is rife with options for more direct interaction and sabotage. We know some gamers would want nothing more than to march raptors into your opponents' Welcome Center, but those moments never really emerged. The puzzle of linking your tiles and driving your little truck around continued to be fun, and the design space grew around that. We always went back to my "baby talk" design philosophy and asked the question, "Well, does that feel good?" After each change, both major and minor, we felt the answer was a resounding "Yes!"
From the get-go, we let the design lead us. No idea was too wacky; even when we had whittled Dinosaur Island to just the dice, it felt like the right step. Every decision was in the interest of fun, and we felt, as John Hammond would say, that that was, "An aim not devoid of merit." We hope you enjoy playing the game as much as we enjoyed putting it together.
- [+] Dice rolls
TEN is a quick-playing game from designers Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, and Shawn Stankewich (a.k.a. Flatout Games) and publisher AEG that encourages you to take risks — while carefully managing your money — in order to collect all the right cards.
In general, the deck contains cards of four colors, and at game's end, you score one point for each card in the longest sequence of each color, with a full sequence of 1-9 being worth 10 points instead of 9. Your holdings might look something like this:21 points, with a couple of worthless duplicate cards
Also in general, your turns consist of revealing one or more cards from the deck, then taking either number cards or currency cards — but the details are what matters, so let's get into those.
More specifically, on a turn, you flip a card from the deck and place it on the table. If the card is wild — that is, a number card from 1-9 that can be any color or a color card that can be any number 1-9 or the lone wild number, wild color card — then the game pauses for a once-around-the-table auction, with the winner paying money to the bank for the card.
If you don't flip a wild, then sum the value of the cards flipped so far, with numbers cards being positive and currency cards being negative. (In the image below, for example, the sum of flipped cards is 0 because of the blue five (+5) and the currency card (-5) — but play has been interrupted to auction the wild green card.) If the sum of flipped cards is above 10 or the sum of revealed currency is higher than 10, you bust, receiving a white compensation token worth 3 money. At least you tried...Nearing the end of the game with a very busy table
If you don't bust, then you have these options:
• Take all the number cards and add them to your collection. Each other player (not you) takes currency from the bank equal to the sum of revealed currency cards, with a currency token limit of 10. (White compensation tokens don't count toward this limit.)
• Take currency equal to the sum of revealed currency cards (up to the limit), with all number cards being placed in a market.
• Flip another card from the deck.
I realize that all of the above seems flowcharty — and the included player aid does nothing to reduce this feeling:The starting player icon on this aid is a nice touch;deal out player aids, and whoever gets this card plays first!
That said, once you run through a few turns, you internalize what happens when and can then focus on the choices available to you — and at that point, you start to realize that while TEN has the hallmarks of a classic press-your-luck game (get something okay now vs. shooting for something better at the risk of getting nothing), your choices are often more complex and layered than in something like Sid Sackson's Can't Stop.
If you take numbers, your opponents take currency, which gives them more power during auctions for wild cards. In addition, when you bust or when you take currency, number cards go into a general market, and when a player takes number cards on their turn, they can purchase one card in the market for the face value of that card (e.g., an 8 costs 8 money). Put more money in their hands, and they'll be able to buy cards that fill in the gaps in their sequences.Seventeen cards in the market!
So you don't want to take numbers when currency is out since it will enrich opponents, and you don't want to take currency when numbers are out because the number cards go into a market where opponents can buy them, and you don't want to bust on the sum of revealed cards since (once again) opponents get money equal to revealed currency cards, yet you don't want to stop after revealing only one card because all too often you could likely flip one, two, or even three more cards without busting, giving you the chance to grab many numbers at once.
I've now played TEN eight times on a review copy from AEG with two, three, and four players. The two-player game is a different experience since you running out of money means that the opponent can win auctions for next to nothing, but you do have the option of discarding collected cards for 1 money each, giving you a way to scrounge cash from duplicate cards you collect or the spare 9 that will never be linked in sequence.
With more players, you add more copies of various cards to the deck, ensuring that you have more numbers to go around, yet never enough to satisfy everyone — although it does feel great when you flip exactly what you need, with the potential of those "YES!" moments sometimes driving you to take chances when you really shouldn't.
For more thoughts on TEN and a demonstration of gameplay, check out this overview video:
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Aside from all the board game action, one of the things I loved about my first Gen Con experience was randomly bumping into different people I only "knew" from Twitter. I'm really glad I crossed paths with Jason Matthews (Twilight Struggle, Imperial Struggle, 1960: The Making of the President) and got to chat with him for a bit in between meetings.
Capstone Games, and thankfully Clay was still friendly with us after we "stuck him" playing Stick 'Em the last time we saw him in early 2020 at the GAMA Trade Show. We got to play a quick game of their new fantasy-themed, 2-player duel card game, Riftforce from designer Carlo Bortolini.
The goal of Riftforce is to gain 12 Riftforce (VPs) before your opponent. At the beginning of the game players draft 4 out of 10 different guilds with unique special abilities. Then you create and shuffle a deck of element cards for your respective guilds and draw a hand of 7 cards. You each essentially have a deck of four suits of cards with 5, 6, or 7 on them representing the card's health.
On your turn, you either play up to 3 cards along the rift with the same suit or with the same number, or you can discard a card and activate up to 3 cards you've previously played, again, either matching the number or the suit. This is when you trigger the special abilities of your guilds to attack and hopefully destroy your opponent's element cards, which is the main way you score points.
Besides playing cards and activating cards, you can also check and draw as an action. First you gain 1 point for each location on the rift that you have at least one card and your opponent doesn't have any opposing. Then you draw back up to 7 cards.
Riftforce quickly becomes a deep, thinky card game as you're managing your hand of cards to strategically play and place cards along the rift, while holding some back so you can activate the ones you've played. Timing is very important as well. The 10 different guilds all have interesting abilities and it's super fun exploring synergies between them.
I've already played 3 more times since Gen Con and dig it more and more with each play, in spite of always getting whooped.
Genius Games, I got schooled on pea plant genetics when playing a few rounds of Genotype: A Mendelian Genetics Game, a new worker-placement, dice-drafting game for 1-5 players from designers John Coveyou, Paul Salomon, and Ian Zang.
In Genotype you are competing to gain the most victory points, which primarily come from fulfilling phenotype trait requirements on pea plant Cards. I had a great experience playing 2 rounds of a 5-player game. I'm not sure if it was the game itself or the fun, competitive people I was playing with (probably a mix of both), but I really enjoyed the blend of tight worker placement with dice-drafting and how well it was integrated with the theme. Plus, the fact that it's educational and even includes a booklet explaining how the gameplay elements tie back to the history and science behind is icing on the cake.My player board during my demo game
• I previously mentioned Public Market, from Point Salad designers Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, and Shawn Stankewich, in a tile-laying games post, but it was great to stop by the Talon Strikes Studios booth to check it out in person.
In Public Market, players bid on and draft fish tiles which you put in your ice chest to eventually sell based on the current market prices. After you sell your catch, you get a new ice chest. Each ice chest is different and presents new placement puzzles for you to solve as you load it up with more fish, plus you can unlock bonuses by covering shrimp in your ice chest. All the while, you can also build up an engine by earning permanent fish increases by completing Today's Catch cards.
The play mat looked great and really made the theme pop, but it's an upgrade and doesn't come with the game by default.
• I met briefly with Sam Healey at the Mythic Games booth where some people were deeply engaged in a game of Carlos G.Q.'s 6: Siege - The Board Game, an asymmetrical game with miniatures based on Ubisoft's acclaimed tactical shooter video game, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege, which is available for pre-order and coming out in 2022.
At the next table over, a few folks were playing Monsterpocalypse Miniatures Game since Mythic Games and Privateer Press are co-producing a Monsterpocalypse big-box product range coming to Kickstarter Fall 2021, targeted for delivery in late 2022.
Samuel Bryant and Gwen Ruelle's 2019 release Fire Tower, so I made an impromptu stop at the Runaway Parade Games booth to see what it was all about.
Gwen gave me quick rundown of Fire Tower, which is a competitive 2-4 abstract strategy game that plays in 15-30 minutes, where your goal is to protect your own fire tower while trying to spread the blaze towards your opponents. You play action cards that allow you to alter the direction of the wind and add varying patterns of fire, water, and defensive barriers on the board. But most importantly, you get push those beautiful, chunky, orange gems around the board while you play!
They were also showing off the Fire Tower: Rising Flames expansion, which is new 2021 release that adds a new action cards, other special cards, a flock of firehawks, and a solo mode.
Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy, the new fast-paced, streamlined version of the original Dune board game from Gale Force Nine and designers Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, Peter Olotka, Greg Olotka, and Jack Reda. They weren't demoing it at Gen Con, but I was excited enough to unbox it in the hotel lobby to take a peek at everything. I'm really looking forward to playing it! Of course, I still need to play its predecessor, but I'll likely get this to the table much sooner since it plays in an hour.
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