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Designer Interview: Julian Courtland-Smith, creator of Survive: Escape from Atlantis!

Neil Bunker
United Kingdom
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Board Game: Survive: Escape from Atlantis!
[Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move. —WEM]

Survive: Escape from Atlantis! designer Julian Courtland-Smith joins Neil Bunker from Diagonal Move to discuss his remarkable forty-year career designing board games:

DM: Hi, Julian, thank you for joining us. Please can you tell us how you got started in game design?

JCS: When I was a child I loved playing board games. After I left school, I went into catering. Didn't care for it so went on to art college. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, probably architecture. In 1965, whilst I was making up my mind as to what direction to go in, I read an article in a magazine about games. It was by Waddingtons, publicizing their new product Mine A Million. That was the moment I thought I can do that and become rich and famous! Ha! Easier said than done!

My first design was a world domination game, akin to Risk. Looking back, it was rubbish. Well, you have to start somewhere. I worked in retail management and spent my nights and weekends inventing numerous games. However, it was 17 years before I had a game accepted.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
An early press photo

DM: Survive: Escape from Atlantis! is your most well-known game. Where did you draw inspiration for the game from?

JCS: After I'd invented Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs I was looking around for another strong theme when I chanced upon a row of books in my local library all about the island of Atlantis. These inspired me to devise a game with a sinking island.

DM: Can you elaborate on the design process?

JCS: My first attempts at devising "Escape from Atlantis" didn't really work as I drew the island on the board. During play, the island was slowly covered by sea tiles to effect sinking. When tokens were moved across these tiles, they all shifted and knocked down other meeples like men in boats. It was two years later before it dawned on me to change the sea tiles to land tiles. That way the island could be removed piece by piece from the board during play to simulate it sinking. I called the game "Escape from Atlantis" as the title summed up the game's objective.

DM: How did you get "Escape from Atlantis" to market?

JCS: I took my 2D prototype to Graeme Levin, owner of Games & Puzzles magazine. He became my agent and showed it to Parker Brothers. They liked it and made it their lead game in 1982 in America. They changed the name to Survive! and altered the game in a number of ways. It was advertised coast to coast in the States and sold very well. At the time Survive! was selling 14,000 copies a week compared to Monopoly's 12,000.

Unfortunately, computer games came out and the winter of '83 saw a massive 80% drop in the board game industry as people were buying the new computer games. Board games bounced back a couple of years later but never recovered their dominance in the market. Parker Brothers dropped the game, and it dragged on until closeout a few years later. In 1986 Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs was launched in the UK. It did very well, coming in at #2 to Trivial Pursuit in the bestsellers list. I remember saying it would never catch on. What do I know!

Waddingtons phoned and asked if I had another 3D game. I confidently said yes! I had two weeks to turn Survive! (2D) into a 3D game. I remember sawing up a wooden hoe handle to make the island's land-tiles. Waddingtons launched their 3D version of Survive! and agreed to call it Escape from Atlantis!

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
An early photo of Survive!

DM: Survive! has been an incredible success and is still available 38 years after its original release. What do you attribute this success to?

JCS: When Survive! was launched there was nothing like it on the market. Starting off in the mass market gave it great impetus. The turbulent years of the 1980s/90s when companies were either going under or being taken over meant I was constantly taking my prototypes from one company or another. I knew to be financially successful that I needed a major manufacturer to market the game, hence I only dealt with the top five companies in the world. I had many offers from smaller companies but decided to hold out for the big one. When Hasbro took over Waddingtons in the 1990s, I submitted my game to them and they relaunched Escape from Atlantis into Europe in 1996 under the Waddingtons brand.

The game ran until 2002 and was off the market for a number of years. Meanwhile, Survive! reached #1 in the secondhand board game market. Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games in the USA was looking to relaunch popular retro games. He saw copies of Survive! trading on eBay for up to $100. He thought if there was that much demand for this game secondhand, perhaps there's a market for a new product. He became my new agent, and in April 2010 announced that Stronghold Games would be reprinting a new version of the game called Survive: Escape from Atlantis!

Board Game: Survive: Escape from Atlantis!

The game was launched on October 10, 2010. In June 2012, Stronghold Games relaunched a new edition, Survive: Escape From Atlantis! – 30th Anniversary Edition, which is still on sale today. It included refreshed artwork and a slightly revised theme. Simultaneously, French publisher Asmodee licensed the EU languages and launched The Island, which is the same game as Stronghold's version but with a rebranded name for EU trademark purposes only.

Yes, my game has done the rounds with a lot of publishers. End of the day, it's the public who decide. I'm pleased and grateful that games players today enjoy playing Survive! I get messages from fans who say they enjoyed the game in their childhood and are now playing it with their children and grandchildren. I'm pleased Survive! has lived up to its name.

DM: What influence do you think the success of Survive! has had on the games industry?

JCS: Games evolve just as art, music and literature do. Each new artist, author, or designer is influenced by preceding works. Good games, popular games have always been copied.

There are a number of games out there which appear to be influenced by Survive! Catan (1995) comes to mind as does Forbidden Island (2010). I think the biggest change Survive! brought to the market was hexagonal spaces on the board, thus allowing tokens more efficient movement. Before then, you saw hexagonal spaces only in war games.

Prior to my games, there were countless Monopoly-style variants where you commenced play from one corner and went round the edge of the board or track rolling dice. This trend had continued from Victorian days. I wanted to break out of that niche and use the whole board in play.

I do believe the same level success can be repeated despite market saturation that has occurred following the advent of Kickstarter. Survive! has remained successful because the play mechanism hasn't dated. Being the first such game, this style of board game has endured. Someone will come along one day with fresh ideas and usurp the market, then we'll see a whole new trend emerge.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
A cover star in 1986

DM: Did the success of Survive! change your life?

JCS: Guess so. It was literally a rags-to-riches story. Prior to the success of Survive!, I was broke and unemployed, scratching a living doing odd jobs, but I persisted with my dream. Following the success of Survive!, I became a full-time designer and moved with my family from a three-bedroom council house to our five-bedroom country house. Whilst there, Waddingtons launched Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs, followed by Escape from Atlantis. The government wanted to tax me at 60% which was crippling, so we emigrated to Eire. We stayed there awhile, and in 1987 moved to the beautiful Isle of Man.

DM: You designed Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs before Escape from Atlantis. Can you tell us more about that game?

JCS: I invented Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs in 1979. I got the idea whilst standing on a London Underground station waiting for a train. On the wall was a poster advertising a dinosaur exhibition at the Natural History Museum. That was my eureka moment. I thought great idea for a game! I was highly influenced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 book The Lost World.

Inspired, it took me just two weeks to invent the game, six weeks to write the rules, and six years to get it to market. Before Waddingtons took the game I approached a number of manufacturers. I remember a Dutch company turning it down as it was "racist". At that time the men in the jungle were represented by small black Halma pieces, so I changed them to small white Halma pieces and called them Incas. Initially, the pteranodon in the game was a picture on a card. One day, I chanced upon a retailer selling small plastic pteranodons. I introduced that to the game as a playing piece. Waddingtons turned this bird into a moving toy, and it became a big hit with the kids.

Board Game: Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs

DM: How was the design process for Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs different from that of Survive!?

JCS: I was six years trying to market Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs. During that time the game was extensively playtested by my family and friends until it worked perfectly. There was no pressure back then to deliver another game as games contracts were always one-offs, unlike books. When new authors get their first book launched they will normally sign a contract to produce more. With games you're only as good as your last but your reputation does get you interviews.

Games manufacturers of old retained artistic control. You were lucky if you got your name on the box! The first print runs of Waddingtons' Escape from Atlantis, which were 25,000 copies, did not give me any accreditation, even though it was written into my contract. Later, after a fuss, they agreed to mention me in the rules. Companies would, if they so chose, alter the rules or change components. The swirler dice in the Waddingtons Escape from Atlantis game was included by them, but to be fair, it proved popular with children.

By and large, Waddingtons' Escape from Atlantis didn't differ too much from my prototype, but Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs was radically altered. I was trying to break with tradition and designed the game with no dice. Waddingtons decided to include dice as they reasoned children like to roll dice. They also made a number of other changes, which is why I always say Waddingtons' Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs is their version of my game.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Are there plans for a Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs re-release?

JCS: I have been approached many times over the years by companies wanting to market Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs (LVD). In 1987 I divorced. My wife and I agreed to split ownership of all the games I'd devised during marriage. Hence, she retains copyright to LVD whilst I own EFA. My ex-wife has indicated that she would be open to offers, but that she wants the game marketed as it was originally designed.

Publishers always want to input their creativity which can be an improvement or not. As I said, Waddingtons' Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs was nothing like the original. I tend to agree with her. Had LVD been marketed as invented, I believe it would still be around today as in its original form, it's better suited to the hobby gaming market.

DM: What other games have you designed, and do you have plans to release any others?

JCS: Too many to list here. I've designed well over fifty games to date.

I did produce a third game in my adventure trilogy called "Mammoth Mountain". The game has a strong theme which includes prehistoric animals of the period like woolly mammoth, sabre-toothed tiger, and so on. The game involves armed conflict between tribes fighting for survival whilst the world is slowly freezing over. When I presented it to Waddingtons, the games industry was in turmoil. Waddingtons were facing extinction therefore weren't prepared to launch "Mammoth Mountain" or any other games.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
"Mammoth Mountain" prototype

In the intervening years I devised a number of products, including a debating game called "Controversy". I was turned down because it was considered too controversial.

Late 90's, I devised a range of 3D hand-held magnetic puzzles. Hasbro turned them down due to production costs. The magnets in my design precede today's neodymium magnets! Had I been able to acquire cheaper components, I believe they would have got to market.

When I took Escape from Atlantis to Waddingtons, I also produced a space theme of the game in case they preferred that. Years later Stronghold Games told me they were interested in marketing a space version of Survive! It was "re-imagined" by American designers Brian, Sydney and Geoff Engelstein and called Survive: Space Attack! I had very little input into the product; any co-developing by me was done via Stronghold Games CEO, Stephen Buonocore.

Board Game: Survive: Space Attack!

In recent times I have invented games for a younger market, for example, "Diamond Quest", a ludo-style game based in India of old which is enjoyed by my grandchildren.

Regards Survive!, a new Japanese version of the game was launched in 2020 and is doing well. Also, there are plans in the pipeline for another version of Survive!, hopefully in 2021. Watch this space!

DM: Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring game designers?

JCS: Start with a good, strong theme. Once you have that, try to match the theme with a major mechanism as in the island of Atlantis sinking in Survive! From there have some rough ideas about minor mechanisms like meeple movement, die rolls, cards.

Maths must come into the game straight away. How many players? How many spaces on the board? How many tokens, cards, etc. All these need to "balance" so that play runs smoothly. Size of spaces and tokens is important. Make your game appeal to as wide an age group as you can. The greater the age group, the wider the audience, the bigger the market. 8-80 is perfect.

Make rules concise, to the point. Easy to read. Don't make the game difficult to play. It's easy to add a new rule to solve a problem in play. Much better to concentrate on getting the game play working smoothly.

The days of games lasting all day and night, like Risk, are long gone. Time each player's move, ideally making the game last up to an hour and a half. Try to build into the game a natural ending. Last, but not least, playtest, playtest and playtest. To give you an idea, Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs was playtested over two hundred times.

Finally, can you think of a new way of playing a game? Hard ask I know, but try to break out of the mold. Break with tradition, start a new trend and with luck your game will be around for the next fifty years!
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Fri May 29, 2020 6:08 pm
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New GMT Game Round-up: Command U-Boats, Struggle for Glory, Raid Anglo-Scottish Borders, & Write the Versailles Treaty

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: GMT Games
• In a May 2020 newsletter, GMT Games announced its latest P500 addition: Border Reivers: Anglo-Scottish Border Raids, 1513-1603 from designer Ed Beach. Beach is known for designing deep, immersive, historically rich, and often beasty, games such as Here I Stand and Virgin Queen, and some might also know him from his design work on the Civilization VI PC game.

Similar to Here I Stand and Virgin Queen, Borders Reivers serves players a strong dose of 16th century history, but is a faster-playing, slightly Euro-feeling game of resource competition, raids, and battle for 2-6 players. In more detail:
Quote:
For two hundred years, war waged back and forth across the border between England and Scotland. By 1482, the unfortunate town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, once the richest port town in Scotland, had changed hands thirteen times. By the time Henry VIII ascended the throne of England in 1509, the fifty-mile-wide stretch of rolling hills and stunning vistas that straddle the border had seen decades of hardship and atrocity.

Yet still the hardy families living on these frontier lands persevered. Unable to count on crops surviving until the harvest, they subsisted primarily on the livestock they could shepherd in the fields near their homesteads. When supplies ran low, raiding to steal what they needed from their neighbors was often the answer. Raids were often carefully planned operations with several border families uniting to steal livestock from a common foe in the dead of night. Cattle and sheep were the likely targets, often with hundreds of these creatures being stolen in a single raid. The reiver's goal was to herd their quarry to safety before the retaliatory "hot trod" pursuit could catch up and force an engagement.

Board Game: Border Reivers

To combat this constant hostility, England and Scotland established the system of March Law. Each nation divided its border lands into an East, Middle, and West March with each of these six territories administered by a Warden responsible for keeping the peace. The Wardens were drawn from the most powerful families on the borders, clans of great renown that could put upwards of a thousand men in the saddle in times of need. The March Law would have succeeded, too, but for the fact that these same great families were usually the ones best equipped and most inclined to raid their neighbors.

In Border Reivers, each player rules over one of the Marches as leader of one of the six major riding families of the border: Grey, Fenwick, Dacre, Maxwell, Kerr, or Hume. Your goal is to increase the wealth and fame of your clan throughout the reigns of Henry and Elizabeth to end the century as the most famous border reiver of all time. Players gain VPs from successful combats, amassing large herds of livestock, and by elevating their notoriety above the other players in the regions of the map.
While we wait (anxiously, in my case) for further updates on Borders Reivers, I figured I'd mention a couple other new GMT releases available for pre-order directly from GMT and retailers:

Board Game: Twilight Struggle
• Eric mentioned Imperial Struggle in a post in December 2018, but considering that was a while ago and more importantly, it's from the design team (Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews) that brought us the acclaimed Twilight Struggle, I figured it was worth putting back on everyone's radars. Here's a brief overview of this highly anticipated two-player peace and war game:
Quote:
Imperial Struggle is a two-player game depicting the 18th-century rivalry between France and Britain. It begins in 1697, as the two realms wait warily for the King of Spain to name an heir, and ends in 1789, when a new order brought down the Bastille. The game is not merely about war; both France and Britain must build the foundations of colonial wealth, deal with the other nations of Europe, and compete for glory across the span of human endeavor.

Board Game: Imperial Struggle

Imperial Struggle covers almost one hundred years of history and four major wars, yet it remains a low-complexity game, playable in a short evening. It aims to honor its spiritual ancestor, Twilight Struggle, by pushing further in the direction of simple rules and playable systems, while maintaining global scope and historical sweep in the span of a single evening.

In peace turns, players build their economic interests and alliances, and take advantage of historical events represented by event cards. They must choose their investments wisely, but also with an eye to denying these opportunities to their opponent. In war turns, each theater can bring great rewards of conquest and prestige, but territorial gains can disappear at the treaty table. At the end of the century, will the British rule an empire on which the sun never sets? Or will France light the way for the world, as the superpower of the Sun King's dreams or the republic of Lafayette's?
In 2018, Ananda Gupta posted an excellent article that sheds light on the similarities and differences between Imperial Struggle and its "older cousin" Twilight Struggle which has me pretty hyped to play it.

Geoff Engelstein and Mark Herman's Versailles 1919 is a political, negotiation game in which 1-4 players gain influence to contribute to writing the Versailles Treaty. While thematically reminiscent of Herman's World War II classic game Churchill, Versailles 1919 is lighter and very different mechanically, sitting in a sweet spot that eurogamers and wargamers alike will probably dig. Here's the gist of it as described by the publisher:
Quote:
On November 11, 1918 an armistice halted the killing field that was The War to End All Wars. To make peace, Woodrow Wilson (United States), David Lloyd George (United Kingdom), and Vittorio Orlando (Italy) were hosted by President George Clemenceau (France) in Paris, and sat down to write what would become the Versailles Treaty. The treaty was signed on June 28, 1919, after six months of acrimonious debate and bargaining between the great powers.

Versailles 1919 allows you to experience this piece of history as one of the four leaders with a national agenda that must be satisfied. As one of the Big Four, you sit in a conference room gaining influence on the issues present in the room. Hovering in the waiting room sit other issues and personages who are waiting their turn to make their case to meet regional aspirations such as self-determination. Will you support Ho Chi Minh's attempt to free Vietnam from French colonialism? Help Prince Feisal establish a new nation in Mesopotamia or Chaim Weitzman create a Zionist state? Work with TE Lawrence to reduce unrest in the Middle East or with Ataturk in Anatolia?

Board Game: Versailles 1919

As France, you are concerned with containing future German aggression while aligning with the British on reparations to pay for the destruction of the war. The British, however, would like to see Germany restored as a trading partner while preserving their empire against the global aspiration for self-determination. Italy wants territorial concessions from the former Austro-Hungarian empire. Lurking in the background is the threat of Bolshevism. Towering above it all is President Woodrow Wilson with his fourteen points that set global expectations soaring, ultimately ending in disappointment when the U.S. does not join the League of Nations.

Versailles 1919 introduces a new card-bidding mechanism in which you use your influence to settle issues aligned with your agenda while keeping domestic constituents in support of your actions. You need to balance the need to demobilize your military forces while simultaneously keeping regional unrest under control. All of these decisions are set against the backdrop of regional crises and uprisings. The player who writes more of the treaty prevails in this contest of wills and national agendas. Can you save the world from the rise of nationalism? Can you make a better world while satisfying your domestic electorate? Play Versailles 1919 and relive making the flawed peace that was the Treaty of Versailles.
Board Game: The Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939-43
• For the solo gamers out there who love a good challenge, be sure to check out The Hunted: Twilight of the U-Boats, 1943-45, which is Gregory M. Smith's sequel to The Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939-43. Similar to The Hunters, The Hunted also includes rules for two players. Here's an overview of what you can expect:
Quote:
The Hunted is a solitaire tactical level game placing you in command of a German U-Boat during WWII. This game picks up the action where The Hunters left off, with you commanding one of many U-Boat models available starting in 1943 and looking to successfully complete U-Boat operations until the end of the war. Not only is this a standalone game, but fans of The Hunters will enjoy having the capability to easily combine both games to span all of WWII and experience the career of a U-Boat commander from 1939 until 1945.

Board Game: The Hunted: Twilight of the U-Boats, 1943-45

While your mission is to destroy as much Allied shipping and as many capital ships as possible, players will find it extremely challenging to "go the distance" and survive the entire war. The second half of the war has not been sugar coated; the brutal aspects facing U-boat commanders in the final phases of the war make surviving your attack difficult at best. True to history, your challenge is to accomplish what only a few could achieve — to make it to the conclusion, as happened historically.

The Hunted is purposely designed to deliver a brisk, yet intensive gaming experience that forces many decisions upon you as you take command among the major German U-Boat models in service during WWII, and try to survive until the end of the war. All major U-Boat models are accounted for, with every level of detail, including period of service, armaments, crew make-up, damage capacity, and more. Fans of The Hunters will enjoy the same nail-biting game system, but fraught with many more challenges to withstand the advances the Allies have made in anti-submarine warfare. If you ultimately survive until 1945, you will surrender at port, having done your part on the front lines.

As U-Boat commander, you will be confronting many decisions during your patrol. To begin with, eleven German U-Boat models are profiled and available for you to choose from. Patrol zones reflect the period during the war at sea and will shift as the war progresses. All stages of the U-Boat campaign are represented; missions become increasingly more difficult as your adversary makes advances in anti-submarine warfare.
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Thu May 28, 2020 1:00 pm
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Links: Distinguishing Between Red and Anthrocite, and Choosing Games for a Pandemic

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
• Following the May 18 announcement of the 2020 Spiel des Jahres nominees, jury member Udo Bartsch has written an article that explains why certain games are nominated for the Spiel des Jahres award, which is aimed at families, while other titles are nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres, which is aimed at enthusiasts or connaisseurs. Here are two translated excerpts:
Quote:
Which game is a game for everyone and which is not cannot be determined by generally applicable and precisely measurable characteristics, but only by playing with as many different people as possible — and even then, the results are not always crystal clear.
Quote:
In the current year we see The Crew and The Cartographers as connoisseur games. Why? The Crew is a trick-taking game. Many people play trick games; Skat, Schafkopf, Doppelkopf, and also more modern representatives like Wizard are quite popular.

But in contrast to the usual competitive trick games, the co-operative The Crew demands more: If you want to play sensibly, you have to develop a notion for the whole story beyond your own hand and without seeing the cards of the other participants, you need to anticipate processes such as "stinging" or throwing off. The Crew requires an unusual thinking process to make it run smoothly. It's like a logic puzzle with cards. Several times I sat at the table with people who knew Wizard or Doppelkopf, but still had no idea what The Crew was now asking of them.
Board Game: SpyNet
• In mid-March 2020, Matt Jarvis at Dicebreaker profiled designer Richard Garfield, with the interview highlighting which game of his has been overlooked (SpyNet, a 2017 release from Z-Man Games) and what he values about KeyForge compared to Magic: The Gathering: "A game like KeyForge makes it tough for a 'one size fits all' strategy guide to emerge; every deck has its strengths, weaknesses and peculiarities. Weirdly, there is noticeably more variety in decks even though in a TCG technically a larger variety of decks could be played — because in practice they aren't played."

I also appreciate these comments from Garfield given how they mirror my own thoughts:
Quote:
"One of my current concerns in board game culture is how fast players draw conclusions about games," he says. "My favorite thing about games has always been that the best ones get better with time and go to unexpected places."

"Skim the comments and reviews on [BoardGameGeek] and they are littered with people talking about imbalances after far too little time. It often seems players pick a strategy the first time they play and if something unforeseen happens the game has a problem that should have been designed around."

Garfield says that games with a large amount of gameplay variety such as 1970s classic Cosmic Encounter, often cited as one of the best board games ever made and a key influence on Magic: The Gathering, have become "dangerous to make" as a result.

"Recently I have begun to suspect that this culture may excessively narrow the sort of games that are made," he says. "Designers are encouraged by this to create games that are tightly constrained so that players get what they expect and are not surprised except perhaps in the minimal amount required to make it feel like a new game."
Board Game: Jaipur
• Thanks to folks looking for things to do while at home, mainstream media outlets continue to introduce new board games to their readers, as in this April 30, 2020 article by Alexis Soloski in The New York Times that leads with this introduction:
Quote:
If you, like me, grew up with a battered box of Sorry and a Battleship missing at least two of its boats, you should know that board games have improved. With a large number released each year, the variety of games and the mechanics that govern them are almost infinite.

My library books remain unread, a stack of untouched New Yorker issues has become a household obstacle, and I can't make it through a movie, or even a 23-minute sitcom, without reaching for my phone. So why can I spend a focused hour-and-a-half bartering for camels in an Indian marketplace playing Jaipur or simulating quilt-making in Patchwork?
Board Game: Sanssouci
• On Ars Technica, Nate Anderson does something similar in an article titled "6 board games I’m playing during the pandemic", with this assortment of titles ranging from the "oh, of course" to the "wait, really?" Here's an excerpt that highlights the out-of-print title shown at left, although a new edition is coming in 2020 from Chilean publisher Fractal Juegos:
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A terrific tile-layer, this Michael Kiesling design has been criminally overlooked. No dungeon crawls here, D&D lovers—this is a game about building a European formal garden while moving your nobles down the garden path so they can smell the roses (and earn you points). It's fast, it's fun, and it's extremely relaxing. The rules are simple to teach, turns are fast, and everything looks great. The game even includes a small expansion module in the box for slightly more complex play. The biggest downside? It might be hard to find new right now.
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Wed May 27, 2020 1:00 pm
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Ride Whales, Collect Artifacts, and Sail Northwest with Reiner Knizia

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Grail Games
Australian publisher Grail Games has had a steady partnership with designer Reiner Knizia for years, starting with a new version of Circus Flohcati in 2015 followed by a new version of Medici in 2016.

Artist Vincent Dutrait was responsible for the look of that second title, and at this point the Knizia/Dutrait/Grail team has also worked on King's Road, Medici: The Card Game, Yellow & Yangtze, and the still-to-be-released Medici: The Dice Game.

Now they're coming together again for two new titles, the larger of which is the 2-6 player game Whale Riders, which bears a 30-45 minute playing time and this description:
Quote:
You are a whale rider. For generations, your people have known and lived with the ice whales and together you've bought and traded at the busy ports along the fabled Ice Coast. You are honored to be the latest in your family to sail with the whales — but the ice is thickening and the glaciers are moving. A deep winter is coming, the fiercest for centuries. You decide to ride your mount one final time before the snows come to buy and sell as much as you can...and maybe even collect some precious pearls along the way.

Whale Riders is a new design with a classic feel, with players racing to the end of the Ice Coast and back, buying and selling as many resources as possible to make the money needed to acquire the richest prizes. Will you skip opportunities to gain the greatest treasure, or will you make your money slowly along the way?

Board Game: Whale Riders

Each player has two actions per turn, but a lot they want to accomplish. Sail? Buy? Sell? Draw more order cards? All the while, your opponents might be sailing past and beating you to what's on offer down the coast! Once all the precious pearls have been purchased, the game ends and the player with the most pearls wins!
Grail Games plans to Kickstart Whale Riders in July 2020, along with a standalone companion game from the same team. In Whale Riders: The Card Game, which is for 2-5 players, you ride alongside others to buy goods along the Ice Coast, sometimes working together with others only to become competitors again when a better proposition comes along.

Board Game: Tutankhamen
Board Game: Tutankhamen
• In other Knizia news, U.S. publisher 25th Century Games plans to release a new edition of Tutankhamen — first released in 1993 by AMIGO, then republished in 2004 by Out of the Box Publishing — under the slightly different name Tutankhamun. The game will accommodate 2-6 players, and here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
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The Great King Tutankhamun has passed, and arrangements are being made to fill his tomb with artifacts that will travel with him to the afterlife.

You are one of the priests and priestesses gathering artifacts for King Tut's tomb from all over Egypt. Once all the parts of each artifact have been located, that artifact is placed in the tomb, and the priests who took the most credit for acquiring it donate the funds needed for its procurement. Along the way, enchanted idols from the Gods may assist you in your journey. By acquiring artifacts, you rid yourself of your own wealth in order to pay the highest tribute to the late King Tut. If you can be the first player to completely disperse your wealth, you will so impress the new Pharaoh that he'll appoint you to the highest priestly office.

Prepare your offerings and invoke the aid of the mighty Egyptian Gods while you wind your way down the Nile toward the tomb of the great King Tut. Will you earn the favor of the new Pharaoh and be declared the next High Priest of Egypt?

Board Game: Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun features gameplay familiar from earlier versions of this game design, while adding new Egyptian god powers and implementing a modified scoring system.

To set up, shuffle the artifact and god idol tiles, then arrange them in a snake-like pattern that emulates the winding of the river Nile. Players start at one end of the line, taking turns choosing any tile from in front of them along the Nile while never being able to claim a tile they have already passed. Multiple sets of scoring tiles (three sets each of 8, 6, 4, and 2 points), along with ten 1-point scarab ring tiles, can be claimed, and when the last tile of any set has been claimed, the player holding the most tiles from that set scores the number of points listed, while the player holding the secondmost tiles scores half that amount. Whoever has the most scarab tiles when the last one is collected scores 5 bonus points.

Tutankhamun includes two copies each of five different Egyptian god idol tiles. When you collect one of these, you immediately trigger its ability to manipulate tiles on the path, tiles in player's collections, tiles in the Underworld (i.e., the collection of bypassed tiles), or scarab ring tiles in your collection.

When a player reaches zero on the score track at the end of their turn, the game ends and that player will be proclaimed the new High Priest of Egypt!
Board Game Publisher: SimplyFun
• When Knizia tweeted about the release of his game Phantom Seas in May 2020, I was surprised to discover not a design of his unfamiliar to me (since few people can keep up with all that he releases), but rather that the publisher of the game — SimplyFun — still existed.

For those not familiar with the company, SimplyFun started publishing educational games in the late 2000s, with its distribution of these titles being handled by sales agents who would host Tupperware-style parties during which they would show guests the games and take orders for them. I wrote about several SimplyFun releases in the late 2000s on Boardgame News, the site I ran prior to joining BoardGameGeek, but then I lost contact with the company and forgot about it — which is perhaps to be expected given that I never saw their games in stores or at conventions, much less at private home parties.

In any case, in April 2020 SimplyFun released the 2-4 player game Phantom Seas, which plays like this:
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In Phantom Seas, you want to claim as much treasure as possible without having it stripped away from you by the phantom ship that patrols the waters.

To set up, place the 22 treasure tiles face down at random on the designated spaces on the game board. These tiles are worth 1-3 points as indicated by the number of locks on them. Place the included compass on the game board, and orient the board so that the compass points north. Place your ship on one of the starting locations and the phantom ship in the center of the 13x13 game board.

Board Game: Phantom Seas

At the start of each round, reveal seven direction cards from the top of the deck. Players then take turns choosing a card and moving their ship in the indicated direction and distance, with most cards giving you choices for one or both of these values. If you finish your movement on a treasure tile, flip it over to see whether the phantom ship moves; if it does, the phantom ship moves directly toward you, and if it reaches you before ending its movement, then you throw that treasure away instead of keeping it.

Some tiles have you rotate the game board (and the compass), which means that the direction cards will now have you moving in different ways.

After all the cards have been played, reveal seven new cards from the deck. After seven rounds or after all treasures have been claimed, players count their scores to see who wins.
Board Game: Phantom Seas
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Tue May 26, 2020 1:41 pm
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Scooby-Doo and Jack Torrance Hit the Game Table — Again

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Board Game: Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion
• In February 2020, U.S. publisher The Op announced Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion from Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim that was labelled as the company's first "Coded Chronicles" game.

The second such title has now been revealed: The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel is by the same designers, and it's for one or more players, ages 17 and up, with a playing time of at least two hours and a release date of Q4 2020. Here's an overview of what you're doing in the game:
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The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel puts one or more players in the roles of unhinged writer Jack Torrance's wife and son, Wendy and Danny, who must work together and find a way out of the mysterious resort!

Driven by the "Coded Chronicles" mechanism, which requires you to unlock clues and solve puzzles for unique storytelling codes, the game allows you to use psychic abilities like "the shining" to get through more than two challenging hours of escaping the threat of homicidal Jack and the paranormal hotel itself! Since every Coded Chronicles game is enriched with thematic details and objectives, escaping captivity makes this edition's difficulty level as hard as a dizzying hedge maze (minus the time limit)!

Board Game: The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel

Players can anticipate being engaged with every unpredictable turn, thanks to Wendy and Danny's heightened abilities, which allow their characters to investigate with double the intuition as characters from the previous Coded Chronicles game, Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion. Use Wendy's skill of looking and using surrounding objects to get a better hold of helpful items or tap Danny's supernatural "Shining" to reveal hidden clues.
The year 2020 is the fortieth anniversary of the film The Shining, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to find a second game being released this year to mark the occasion, with Prospero Hall and Mixlore's The Shining having been released in March 2020.

Board Game: The Shining
• Or maybe given the current growth of the board game market, we just have to anticipate that many licensed properties will have associated games released by multiple publishers. In March 2020, for example, I wrote about Back to the Future: Dice Through Time and Back to the Future: Back in Time, with each being a co-operative dice-based game due out in mid-2020, the former from Ravensburger and the latter from Funko Games.

And just as The Op is following Mixlore onto the market with its own game about The Shining, CMON Limited is following The Op with its own take on Scooby-Doo, with Scooby-Doo: The Board Game — due out "soon" — being a co-operative design for 1-5 players from Guilherme Goulart and Fred Perret. Here's an overview of the game from CMON:
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Ruh-roh, Shaggy! There's a monster on the loose, and it's scaring everyone out of town! It's up to the Mystery Inc. gang to stop them! Scooby-Doo: The Board Game is a co-operative family game for 1-5 players that brings the beloved cartoon series to life with amazing miniatures of the whole gang.

Players take on the role of Scooby-Doo, Fred, Velma, Daphne or Shaggy, and ride the Mystery Machine around town, building traps to catch the villains before they frighten all the citizens away — but just like in our favorite episodes, even the best plans can go awry as the monster, which is controlled by the game itself, may make a move the players never expected!

Board Game: Scooby-Doo: The Board Game

Each member of Mystery, Inc. has their own unique, special ability to help them during the game, and they'll need all the help they can get because the villains all operate differently as well! The gang can succeed only if they coordinate together as a group.

Scooby-Doo: The Board Game has three levels of difficulty (easy/medium/hard) and special rules for playing as a two-player game or a solo game.
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Mon May 25, 2020 4:42 am
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"New" Game Round-up: Two-Player Sequels & Second Editions

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Board Game: Royal Visit
Board Game: Schotten Totten 2
Board Game: Twilight Struggle: Red Sea – Conflict in the Horn of Africa
Let's face it — sometimes it's much easier to get two-player games to the table, especially nowadays as we all continue to distance ourselves from larger social happenings.

Eric gave us a sneak peek of a couple of two-player sequel and second edition 2020 releases with Reiner Knizia's Schotten Totten 2 and Royal Visit in one of his Spielwarenmesse 2020 trade fair posts. I suppose Schotten Totten 2 was not a huge surprise after the release of 2019's Battle Line: Medieval, a rethemed version of Battle Line that's part of GMT's new "Lunchtime Games" series — with another title in that series being Twilight Struggle: Red Sea, a sequel to the highly acclaimed Twilight Struggle that I covered in this March 2020 post.

Here are a few more 2020 two-player sequels and second editions to check out...

Board Game: The Institute for Magical Arts
School of Sorcery is a dice-rolling, area-control game from Steve Finn and his publishing company, Dr. Finn's Games. Finn is probably most known for his games Biblios (which I love!) and Herbaceous (which looks beautiful, but I've never played).

School of Sorcery is a reimplementation of Finn's 2015 release The Institute for Magical Arts, a game in which two players compete as student wizards who use dice rolls to place crystals in an attempt to win cards that grant special powers, victory points, or both. Yes, there's dice rolling, but don't run away just yet — there are re-roll tokens and cast cards that allow players to manipulate their dice and mitigate some of the randomness.

Board Game: School of Sorcery

School of Sorcery features many of the same mechanisms as The Institute of Magical Arts, but with some new rules, upgraded components, revamped card powers, and new cards with a variety of powers. Considering how much I enjoy Biblios, I'm really curious to try School of Sorcery.

Christopher Moeller's Napoleon's Eagles: Storm in the East – The Battles of Borodino and Leipzig from Compass Games is a cards-only, Napoleonic wargame that reimplements Moeller's 1995 original release, Napoleon's Eagles.

The new version of Napoleon's Eagles is a more mature design, yet maintains the essence and core ideas of the original version. Here's an overview of the historical setting and battle scenarios you can expect:
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The events of Autumn 1812 to Autumn 1813 marked a pivot point in the history of 19th century Europe. Despite ominous setbacks in Spain, Napoleonic France before 1812 was at the height of its expansion. The continental system was holding, if imperfectly. Monarchs friendly to the Empire — several being members of Napoleon's immediate family — ruled in every capital of the continent. Only Britain remained unbowed. By the end of 1813, the story had changed dramatically...

Board Game: Napoleon's Eagles: Storm in the East – The Battles of Borodino and Leipzig

Napoleon's Eagles is a highly playable, action-packed card game set during the wars of 19th century Europe. Two battles are featured: Borodino, the sanguinary clash before the gates of Moscow featured in Tolstoy's famous novel War and Peace, and Leipzig, the great "Battle of Nations" which marked the beginning of the end of the French Empire.

Two smaller battles are included (Shevardino and Lieberwolkwitz), as well as two campaign games that cover multiple days of battle: September 5-7, 1812 at Borodino and October 14-18, 1813 at Leipzig. The game includes rules for cavalry charges, artillery bombardment, army morale, and army commanders. Emphasis is placed on the role of reserves and the judicious commitment of infantry and cavalry. Key terrain pieces are featured, such as the city of Leipzig and the famous Great Redoubt at Borodino.
Board Game: The Fox in the Forest
Foxtrot Games' The Fox in the Forest Duet, co-published by Renegade Game Studios, was released in the U.S. in January 2020.

Duet features a trick-taking mechanism, theme, and vibe similar to 2017's The Fox in the Forest, which landed a recommendation from the Spiel des Jahres jury in May 2020 following its release in Germany, but flips the competitive element on its head to create a two-player-only, co-operative trick-taking experience:
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To set up the game, place gem tokens on the designated spaces of the game board and the team tracker token in the center of the movement path. At the start of each round, shuffle the deck of thirty cards — which contains three suits, each numbered 1-10 — and deal each player a hand of eleven cards. Reveal one card as the "decree" card to determine the trump suit. For each trick, one player leads a card, and the other must follow suit, if possible.

The winner of the trick moves the team tracker toward them a number of spaces equal to the number of fox footprints on the cards played. If the tracker lands on a space next to a gem, the players collect one gem. If the tracker would move off the end of the path, return the tracker to the center of the path, then add a forest token to one end of the path, reducing the number of spaces upon which you can move (with you sliding gems next to this covered space next to the new end of the path).

Board Game: The Fox in the Forest Duet

The odd-numbered character cards have special abilities when played, allowing the trick winner to move the tracker in the direction of their choice or to ignore the footprints on one of the played cards so that you can land on just the right spot. One character allows players to exchange one card with each other, while another allows a player to change the decree card.

At the end of a round, you add five gems to designated spaces, add a forest space to shorten the path, then receive a new hand of eleven cards from a freshly shuffled deck. Collect all 22 gem tokens, and you win. Run out of time or head off the end of the path with no forest spaces in reserve, then you can just keep running in defeat or shuffle the cards and start the game anew.
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Board Game: Ascension: Apprentice Edition
• Coming from Ultra PRO, Ascension: Eternal is Justin Gary and Jared Saramago's new two-player introduction to the world of Ascension, replacing the 2013 Ascension: Apprentice Edition.

Ascension is a fairly well-known, quick-playing, deck-building game in which 1-4 players acquire more powerful cards for their deck, while spending power to defeat monsters and gain honor/victory points. Ascension: Eternal retains the same core rules and includes everything two players need to play the game, as opposed to the standard format for most Ascension sets that allows for play with up to four people. The Eternal set was designed with the intention of having a good entry point for people getting into the hobby, while also serving as a solid introduction to Ascension for more experienced gamers.
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Fri May 22, 2020 3:24 pm
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BGG.CONline Goes Live Today, May 20, 2020; Check Out the Guest List

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Gen Con and SPIEL have cancelled their events for 2020, with both organizations promising to hold online conventions during the days when their shows would have taken place. BGG is doing something similar, but we got a jump on them since we cancelled our BGG.Spring show in early April, giving us several weeks to organize BGG.CONline — which debuts today, Wednesday, May 20!

You can visit the landing page for BGG.CONline — with this being our landing page in the future for all live events — to see the list of guests scheduled for airtime on May 20-21, as well as the games they will feature. (The listed time on the schedule matches your own time zone, so you don't need to adjust anything.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
We're starting with two of the Spiel des Jahres jury members, who are joining us from Germany to talk about the recently announced nominees for the Spiel, Kennerspiel, and Kinderspiel des Jahres awards, then we'll be joined by publishers who will give an overview of recently released games.

You can watch the Twitch broadcast from the BGG.CONline landing page, and if you're already logged into Twitch, you can comment on that page.

Hope you'll join us for the first of what will likely be many such online events!
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Wed May 20, 2020 4:57 pm
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Gen Con 2020 Cancelled

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
One day after the cancellation of SPIEL '20, Gen Con has announced that it, too, will not take place in 2020.

Convention co-owner Peter Adkison writes about the decision on the Gen Con blog and announces Gen Con Online on the same dates — July 30 - August 2, 2020 — as the original show. An excerpt:
Quote:
This will be the first time in the 50+ year history of Gen Con that we will miss the chance to see each other in person, and it hurts, but nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our attendees and the communities they hail from.

I have a conviction about the power of people being together in the same space. Things will have to change as we learn how to adapt to this crisis, but one day we'll join together in rolling real dice onto the same tabletop.

Until then, we adapt and we keep going. For us, that means working on Gen Con Online and planning for our triumphant return to Indianapolis for Gen Con 2021. If you've already bought your badge for Gen Con 2020 and you're willing to roll it forward to next year, it would be a huge help in keeping us operational as we work towards the future.
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Tue May 19, 2020 5:37 pm
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Game Overview: Nova Luna, or Taking Tasks to Tiles

W. Eric Martin
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Normally I present a written overview of a game along with my video overview in order to talk about that design from another perspective or to craft my thoughts in a more organized manner than the free-form nature of my video presentations, but with BGG.CONline starting tomorrow, May 20, and much still to prepare, I'm choosing to post only the video for now.

If you're curious about 2020 Spiel des Jahres nominee Nova Luna, this overview covers how to play and what the game feels like, in addition to including a full solitaire game that can watch or skip through as you like.

Conveniently, I've already posted overviews of the other two 2020 Spiel des Jahres nominees: My City (written and video overview here) and Pictures (written and video overview here), so now I just need to write something about Nova Luna...

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Tue May 19, 2020 2:33 pm
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Spiel des Jahres Nominations for 2020: My City, Nova Luna, and Pictures; Cartographers, The Crew, and The King's Dilemma Are Kennerspiel Nominees

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From gallery of W Eric Martin
The nominees for the 2020 Spiel des Jahres — Germany's "game of the year" award — have been announced, along with nominees for two accompanying awards: the Kinderspiel des Jahres (KidJ) for children's game of the year, and the Kennerspiel des Jahres (KedJ) for enthusiast's game of the year, that is, for those already comfortable with learning and playing new games.

Jury chairman Harald Schrapers and Kinderspiel des Jahres chairman Christoph Schlewinski announced the nominees and other recommended titles during a live broadcast on Facebook, with these three titles being nominated for Spiel des Jahres 2020:

• My City, by Reiner Knizia from KOSMOS (video overview)
• Nova Luna, by Uwe Rosenberg and Corné van Moorsel from Edition Spielwiese (video overview)
• Pictures, by Daniela and Christian Stöhr from PD-Verlag (video overview)

Aside from these nominations, the SdJ jury recommended the following six titles: Color Brain, Draftosaurus, The Fox in the Forest, Kitchen Rush, Little Town, and Spicy.

Note that the Spiel des Jahres award is primarily aimed at family gamers, i.e., those who play games but aren't heavily into the gaming scene.

Board Game: My City
Board Game: Nova Luna
Board Game: Pictures

Nominations for the Kennerspiel des Jahres went to:

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale, by Jordy Adan from Thunderworks Games (and in Germany from Pegasus Spiele) (video overview)
The Crew, by Thomas Sing and KOSMOS (video overview)
The King's Dilemma, by Hjalmar Hach and Lorenzo Silva from Horrible Guild (and in Germany from HeidelBÄR Games) (video overview)

The SdJ jury recommended three other titles at the Kennerspiel level: Paladins of the West Kingdom, Res Arcana, and Underwater Cities. The winners of the Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres will be announced in Berlin, Germany on July 20, 2020.

Board Game: Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
Board Game: The King's Dilemma

The titles nominated for Kinderspiel des Jahres 2020 are:

Hedgehog Roll, a.k.a. Speedy Roll, by Urtis Šulinskas and Lifestyle Boardgames (and in Germany from Piatnik) (video overview)
Foto Fish, by Michael Kallauch and LOGIS (video overview)
Wir sind die Roboter, by Reinhard Staupe and Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag

The Kinderspiel des Jahres jury, which differs from the SdJ/KedJ jury, also recommended seven other titles: Go Slow!, Hans im Glück, Magic School, Puzzle-Memo, Slide Quest, Zombie Kidz Evolution, and Zoo Run.

The winner will be announced on June 15, 2020, roughly one month prior to the winners of the other awards.

Board Game: Hedgehog Roll
Board Game: Foto Fish
Board Game: Wir sind die Roboter
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Mon May 18, 2020 10:48 am
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