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Hachette Boardgames Acquires Sorry We Are French & Scorpion Masqué

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
In February 2019, I wrote about how Hachette Livre, the largest book publisher in France and the owner of the Hachette Book Group in the U.S., was taking steps to purchase French game publisher Gigamic. In September 2019, I noted that Hachette had founded two new games studios: Studio H and Funnyfox, with the former focusing more on games for the hobby market and the latter on games for the mainstream market. And in October 2019, Hachette purchased distributor Blackrock Games, which has a 400-product catalogue and handles roughly 90 new releases each year.

Well, time to add two more publishers to the Hachette Boardgames umbrella. At the start of February 2021, Hachette acquired publisher Sorry We Are French, which was founded in 2018 by Emmanuel Beltrando, who (according to the article linked to above) will continue to lead SWAF "in order to pursue its development in the creative autonomy specific to the brands of the Hachette Livre group".

Today, March 1, 2021, Canadian publisher Scorpion Masqué announced its acquisition by Hachette Boardgames. In a Facebook post, Scorpion Masqué founder Christian Lemay states that the entire six-person team will stay in place. Moreover:
Quote:
Le Scorpion Masqué was at a crucial stage of its growth. With the success of recent years, the management and administration tasks have become heavier and it slowed down the development of our games. The arrival of the Hachette group helps to solve this problem.

On a more personal note, as the Grand Boubou, I will be able to devote myself only to my passion: game development. That's why I created Scorpion Masqué after all. Our games will be even more pampered before landing on your tables, and this is very good news!
Speaking of the publisher's "success of recent years", I highly recommend reading Scorpion Masqué's "2020 Year-End Review", which was published on February 10, 2021. The post details the challenges related to the games it released in 2020 — including one on Friday the 13th of March, the day prior to the first lockdown in France and Québec — and how the game market has been affected by the pandemic. An excerpt:
Board Game: Zombie Kidz Evolution
Quote:
Lastly, people don't buy the same things online as they do in stores. I don't have any serious studies to back up this claim, but the inquiries I made to numerous game stores were useful in confirming what Manuel (our Creative Director) and I had suspected at the beginning of the current crisis. Generally speaking (and yes, there are exceptions as always) consumers will buy a product online that they already know. You already know what game you want to buy when you go online, instead of walking into a brick-and-mortar store looking to poke around a bit, to discover new things, to be reminded of games you've heard of, or to get the recommendations from a well-informed staff member who will confidently place a copy of Master Word into your hands. Online, consumers will buy something they know; a classic like Uno, Sorry, or Monopoly; or a game that has created enormous buzz, like Azul, The Crew, Pandemic, Codenames...

On our side, only Zombie Kids Evolution can come close to that rarefied air, in the "Family Games" section. Oh, don't get me wrong, we've sold a lot of Decrypto and Stay Cool this year, but I'm convinced that we would have sold more...if it weren't for that pesky virus.
Scorpion Masqué also shared sales figures for 2020: $CA 3,484,000 ($US 2,725,000), an increase of 36% from 2019, with over 350,000 games produced in 2020, including "a first print run of 12,000 Master Word in French, and 28,000 Zombie Teenz Evolution (English and French)".

In that post, Scorpion Masqué also teased its 2021 releases, starting with the party game Olé Guacamole! by designer Guillaume Sandance, which challenges you to say words that don't contain certain letters — "8 seconds of rules for 15 minutes of fun", in the publisher's assessment — followed by a French-only second edition of a game in its Decrypto/Stay Cool/Master Word line, followed by a game in its Zombie Kidz universe: "the much-rumored racing game with the sightless driver".

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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Mon Mar 1, 2021 6:47 pm
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Black History Month 2021: A Postscript

W. Eric Martin
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In case you missed any of the shoutouts to the designers, artists, publishers, and content creators featured on BGG during Black History Month in February 2021, you can find links to all of the posts in this meta-list created by BGG admin Matthew M, a.k.a. Octavian.

My thanks to Matthew for taking the initiative on this project, pulling together the initial list of candidates, and creating a schedule framework. Thanks also to Elizabeth Hargrave for her "Black Voices in Board Games" post and to BGG user hexahedron for their "Black board game and RPG designers and artists" GeekList, both of which proved valuable as a research starting point.

I've seen a number of requests for similar coverage during Women's History Month — which starts today, March 1 — and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, but I need to take my foot off the pedal and not burn out. Before running Boardgame News on my own, then joining BGG, I worked full-time as a freelance writer, mostly for trade publications. I probably wrote 1-2 profiles a week during those years, possibly even three profiles some weeks, but never a daily profile for four weeks straight...

That said, BGG will have creator spotlights of female designers, artists, publishers, and content creators on its front page each day in March. What's more, I intend to make more of an effort to feature games from underrepresented individuals in this space and elsewhere on BGG, as with the feature image for the March-April 2021 New Game Releases catalog that's now live on the front page:

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Mon Mar 1, 2021 4:49 pm
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Interview: Ted Alspach, Designer of Suburbia and One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Neil Bunker
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Board Game Publisher: Bézier Games
Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move on January 29, 2021. —WEM

Ted Alspach, the founder of Bézier Games and the designer of Suburbia, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and many more games joins Neil Bunker from Diagonal Move to discuss game design and publishing.

DM: Thank you for joining us today, Ted. Please, can you tell how you how your journey in the games industry began?

TA: I had been designing games for a long, long time, but didn't take it seriously until about 2005 or so. One of my designs, Seismic, was picked up by Atlas Games. At about that time, I started publishing Age of Steam expansions. Our very first game was Start Player, a card game to determine who goes first. Shortly after that, I published the very first Ultimate Werewolf game (now known as the "whitebox" edition), making 800 copies by hand until I manufactured the first "real" edition — Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition. Ultimate Werewolf has the distinction of selling more games each year than the previous year...for the past fourteen years!

DM: One Night Ultimate Werewolf has been a big success, spawning a host of other themes and a word game (Werewords), plus associated merchandise. Can you tell us the story behind your involvement with the game and your thoughts on what makes it so popular?

TA: The One Night games have been a very successful series for us. There are two things that have made it successful: The variety of roles combined with easy-to-learn gameplay, and the integration of the app into the game, which provides it with a way to reach gamers who normally wouldn't touch traditional board games.

Board Game: One Night Ultimate Werewolf
Are you the werewolf? (Image: Bezier Games)

DM: One Night Ultimate Werewolf and its related games are quite different experiences to the likes of Suburbia or Colony. What design elements contribute to a great party game versus those for a great strategy game, and which is the more challenging to design well?

TA: For a party game, there has to be high interaction among the players, and a super short initial rules explanation, and a variety of things to do each game. We address the former by limiting the amount of time players can discuss roles, the second by making most of the rules specific to cards which are then explained by the app, and the latter by including more roles than you can possibly play with in a single game.

For strategy games, it's about making meaningful decisions that make you feel like you are doing something better (or at least different) than your opponents, and having enough variability that each game will be different than the last. That's why the information in strategy games we publish is mostly open (except for end game secret goals), and why there are always a lot more tiles/cards/etc. than you can play in a game. Think of all the extra buildings in Suburbia, rooms in Castles, or cards in Colony. Even New York Slice has a large number of "Today's Specials" to keep the game fresh.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Castles of Mad Kind Ludwig

DM: There is a vein of humor running through many of your well-known designs, including some of your more strategic games. How do you think a light-hearted touch enhances the game experience for players?

TA: These are *games* after all, so taking them too seriously doesn't work for me. I like that players can find fun situations through the various combinations in our games. In Castles, building a kennel next to the meat locker is either very efficient to feed your dogs, or it's super creepy because of where the meat might be coming from!

DM: Suburbia and Castles of Mad King Ludwig are both much loved games. Suburbia has seen a "Collectors Edition" reissue, and Castles is soon to receive the same. As a designer, how does it feel to have created games that have clearly resonated with the board game community?

TA: Some of the best experiences I've had are when someone comes up to me at a trade show and tells me that Castles/Suburbia/One Night/Werewords/Silver/etc. is their favorite game. Or that Castles is the game that got their spouse into gaming. Or that the only non-video/mobile game their kids will play is Ultimate Werewolf, and they want to play it all the time. Seeing people having fun playing your games is incredibly rewarding!

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Suburbia

DM: Moving to your experiences as CEO of Bézier Games, what do you feel makes a game stand out in a crowded industry? Is it a unique mechanism, distinctive graphic design, a combination of things?

TA: Our tagline for Bézier Games is "The New Classics" because we want every game we publish to be a game that players play years from now. We don't always achieve that goal, but when we do it's really exciting.

In order for that to happen, more than anything, the gameplay itself has to be compelling. There might be a component or set of mechanisms that's new and grabs people's attention, but the gameplay has to be good enough that they're willing to play the game several times, which is where you start to see more and more people exposed to them, and that results in more sales of those games.

There's also a huge dose of lucky timing that goes into any game being successful. If you have a game that comes out at the right time, when players are looking for that kind of game, your game ends up doing well, as long as the game itself is a solid game.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Suburbia: Collectors Edition (Photo: Antony Wyatt)

DM: Board games typically undergo a lengthy development process before publication. Can you provide a publisher's view on this process?

TA: For us, the number one thing that influences the time it takes is playtesting. We typically playtest games hundreds of times, both internally and externally. After playtests, the game is modified in some way, then more playtesting occurs. This can take months or in some cases years.

Games evolve over time quite a bit until one day you simply realize it is finished. Additional playtesting continues at that point to ensure there are no weird edge cases, and that the final art and components work as intended.

DM: In addition to your own games, Bézier also publishes other designers' work (Favor of the Pharaoh, Whistle Mountain). As a publisher, what is the one thing you wish aspiring designers, and the game buying public in general, knew about the industry and why?

TA: The amount of influence a publisher has on any game varies significantly. That first game of my mine that was published wasn't changed at all by the publisher, much to my surprise. They even used the art that I had come up with. Bézier Games tends to rework most aspects of games into something that feels more like a game you could expect from us. We typically add some sort of long-term variability, like the "Today's Specials" to New York Slice, which makes games more replayable, especially in the short term when you're excited about a game and playing it a lot.

Designers shouldn't spend a lot of time or effort on artwork either because it will almost always be replaced by something that the publisher wants to use. Sometimes that can get in the way of a publisher figuring out whether the game is right for them.

Board Game: New York Slice
New York Slice (Image: Bézier Games)

DM: From a publisher's point of view, is there a game you consider to be the "one that got away"?

TA: Anytime I play a game I really like that's similar to the kinds of games we publish, I always think "What would we have done differently?" and "Could we have made this game even better had we published it?"

In 2020, my favorite non-Bézier Games game was The Search for Planet X by a big margin. The gameplay is amazing, and the integration of the app is perfect for a deduction game, which removes the problem with many deduction games of a player giving wrong information accidentally, and wrecking the deductions for the other players as a result. I would have loved to be involved with the publication of that game!

DM: What is next for both yourself and Bézier Games?

TA: For 2021, we have several giant releases: a Collector's Edition of Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Ultimate Werewolf Extreme, and Maglev Metro!
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Sat Feb 27, 2021 1:00 pm
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Get a Relief Column to Peking, Resolve Russian Civil War Crises, and Battle in World War II in Twenty Minutes

Candice Harris
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From gallery of candidrum
Deluxe Edition
(not final)
• Wargame aficionados, in February 2021 Worthington Publishing launched a Kickstarter campaign (KS link) for a new deluxe edition of John Welch's solitaire gem Keep Up The Fire!: The Boxer Rebellion, which was originally released by Victory Point Games in 2011.

Keep Up The Fire!, the tenth game in the States of Siege series, plays in 45 minutes and is getting a fresh coat of paint with updated artwork, all mounted boards, thick counters, and more.

Here's a brief overview of the setting and challenges you'll face:
Quote:
Keep Up The Fire! is a solitaire States of Siege series game set in 1900 Peking (modern day Beijing), China where Foreign Legations (areas assigned to Imperial powers including ambassadors, business people, and a handful of troops to provide security) are besieged in their compound by Chinese anti-imperialist forces. The Chinese "Boxers" (Society of the Harmonious Fists), with the Imperial Manchu forces of the Qing Army, are angry and determined to expel these foreigners from China.

Board Game: Keep Up The Fire!: The Boxer Rebellion
At the Legation Compound siege, you must coordinate the various foreign detachments that have joined to defend their position until a Relief Column arrives. You also command the Relief Column, battling their way from the port of Taku inland through hostile territory to break the siege at Peking.

Note that this game can also be enjoyed in teams working together (just as the Eight Nations had to), deciding how best to defend the Legation Compound and get the Relief Column to Peking in time!

A set of five standards-based lesson plans are also available for classroom teachers should they wish to use this game as a teaching tool.

The game is a race against time as the Chinese forces besieging the Legation Compound are attacking relentlessly while the Relief Column battles its way to the rescue. With limited time and relentless attacks on the Compound, will you manage to keep up the fire?
Board Game: Soviet Dawn: The Russian Civil War, 1918-1921
• In addition to Keep Up The Fire!, Worthington Publishing's reprinted deluxe edition of Darin A. Leviloff's Soviet Dawn, which was originally released in 2009 from Victory Points Games as another solitaire game in the States of Siege series, will be available in March 2021.

Soviet Dawn (Deluxe Edition) was successfully funded on Kickstarter (KS link) in late 2020 and has also been spruced up and upgraded with new-and-improved components thanks to Worthington Publishing. In more detail:
Quote:
Soviet Dawn (Deluxe Edition) brings Darin Leviloff's novel States of Siege game system back for a much larger storytelling adventure covering the Russian Civil War from 1918 to 1921. Upgraded with a bigger, hard mounted game board, beautiful linen finish cards, large counters, full color rules, and more!

With several enemy "Fronts" converging on Moscow, the fate of the revolution and the prestige of international communism rests on your ability to manage and resolve every crisis that the "Whites" can assail you with. As the headlines unfold, you draw upon military and political resources to help you, or try to reorganize the Red Army for special abilities that can greatly enhance your position. Who knows? You might even capture the Imperial Gold Reserve!

Board Game: Soviet Dawn: Deluxe Edition

Can you deal with the great crises of that time and defend the revolution? Will you withdraw from the Great War (WW1) or exercise the Bukharin Option and fight on? Can you execute the Czar in time, or will the Whites rescue him? Will you fortify Petrograd or press your offensives home? How will you deal with internal and external dissent? Play Soviet Dawn and see!

This Deluxe Edition includes the expansion set.
Board Game Publisher: GMT Games
Board Game: Vietnam 1965-1975
• Speaking of refreshing older games, in the February Update Newsletter from GMT Games, Gene shared some excitement for a new P500 addition: a reprint of Vietnam 1965-1975, Nick Karp's award-winning, classic Vietnam game of the 1980s.

Vietnam 1965-1975, originally released by Victory Games in 1984, is a two-player game considered to be quintessential grand operational Vietnam game. There are no major rules changes expected, and GMT's primary goal is to modernize the components and clean up any ambiguity in the rules.

Vietnam 1965-1975 has a jaw-dropping (for some) playtime range of 360-6000 minutes because it can be played as scenarios or you can strap in for the entire campaign as briefly described below from original publisher, Victory Games:
Quote:
This simulation game re-creates one of the longest, most complex, and least understood conflicts in U.S. history in all of its military and political aspects.

From gallery of candidrum
Non-final P500 cover image from GMT's website

The rules include detailed treatment of movement, terrain, search and destroy operations, special operations, firepower, air mobility, riverines, brigade-level formations, limited intelligence and auxiliary units in each scenario. The scenarios start out small with Operation Starlite, and slowly build in complexity, introducing more rules, until the entire Campaign Scenario which covers the entire war from 1965 to 1975 and introduces South Vietnamese politics, morale and commitment, strategic bombing, reinforcements, and pacification.
Board Game Publisher: PSC Games
• I was perusing some upcoming releases the other night and was excited to discover Paolo Mori's 2019 release, Blitzkrieg!, from PSC Games has a new "square edition" coming in Q2 2021. Not only will you save some shelf space, but this version also includes the Nippon expansion as an added bonus.

If you're not familiar with Blitzkrieg!, it's an excellent, WWII-themed filler game for 1-2 players that's packed with fun, exciting, and tense moments and even features a solo mode designed by Dávid Turczi, who probably has a doctorate in solo game design at this point. It's also easy to learn and can be played quickly, true to its tag line: "World War Two in 20 Minutes". Here's a brief description with more details from publisher:
Quote:
The perfect wargame for non-wargamers, Blitzkrieg! allows two players to battle across the War's most iconic theaters, winning key campaigns and building military might.

Board Game: Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes
Original rectangular box cover

Players draw army tokens from a bag to determine their starting forces and to replenish their losses. Rather than "fighting" battles with dice or cards, players allocate their military resources to each theater's campaigns, winning victory points, further resources, special weapons, and strategic advantages as they play. Refight World War Two several times in one evening!
Blitzkrieg! is one of my favorite filler games, and I feel it is a hidden gem that deserves to be more widely known, so I'm glad that's it going to be available again for folks to check out!
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Fri Feb 26, 2021 3:54 pm
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Race, Marry, Crawl, Meditate, Fight, and Dominate the Forest

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Board Game: Block and Key
I moved away from regular Kickstarter update posts a while ago, yet when I look at my inbox this week, recently announced Kickstarter projects dominate that space. Let's take a glance at a few of the projects holding out the hat for your gaming dollar:

• On a turn in David Van Drunen's Block and Key from Inside Up Games, you either take blocks from a reserve or add a block you have to a shared gamespace, ideally completing objective cards when you do — but you can complete such a card only when your particular 2D perspective of the 3D playing area matches what is depicted on the card. You play the game on an elevated platform so that your eyes will be at board level without you crouching down to rest your chin on the table like a sad dog. (KS link)

Zombicide: Undead or Alive will land in 2022, marking ten years since CMON Limited debuted with Zombicide, the game that arguably defined what a table game Kickstarter should be. This zombie-fighting design from the original team of Raphaël Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, and Nicolas Raoult is set in the mythic wild West and invites you to mow down zombies with dynamite and locomotives as our ancestors did generations ago. (KS link)

• Designer Mitsuo Yamamoto regularly creates abstract strategy games from ceramic tiles, and for his current project he's offering a quartet of Shogi games — on a standard 9x9 board, on a 4x7 board, on a 4x6 board ("Le Shogi"), and on a 3x3 board ("Pop Shogi", which is Yamamoto's own design) — with a more accessible design for the pieces for those who don't speak Japanese. (KS link)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• Within three days of launching, Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition from Jacob Fryxelius, Sydney Engelstein, Nick Little, FryxGames, and Stronghold Games had garnered nearly $600k in support. The (KS page) could probably show nothing more than a logo and still do well, but of course it details the solo and co-operative play modes as well as the regular competitive gameplay in which you're once again trying to make Mars habitable.

Bloodstone is a 1-8 player combat arena game from James Hudson and Druid City Games that was added to the BGG database back in 2017 and that will become a reality in 2022 — but only for those who back the KS campaign since the title won't have a retail release (outside of the publisher's webstore). Hudson explains why here.

Board Game: Bloodstone
 

Scott Almes and Gamelyn Games are continuing their "tiny epic" game series with Tiny Epic Dungeons, this being a co-operative dungeon-crawling game in which 1-4 players must make it through a modular dungeon before their torchlight runs out so that they can face the "dungeon boss" that awaits for them in the second act of the game. (KS link)

A Universal Truth is a Regency Era courtship game for 1-5 players from Patrick Einheber and Danger Toad Games that's filled with more than two hundred multi-use cards with which you'll earn money, build relationships with friends and family, get two people to fancy one another, then wed before anyone else. (The game ends at that point, so you will have to watch Bridgerton once again to experience the marriage's consummation.) (KS link)

Board Game: A Universal Truth

Root: The Marauder Expansion from Cole Wehrle, Patrick Leder, and Leder Games will be a thing, but you might know that already given the write-up from Candice Harris in mid-February 2021. The KS campaign has nearly $1.2 million in support as of Feb. 25, 2021, so apparently lots of people know.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Board Game from Daryl Andrews, Morgan Dontanville, and Cryptozoic Entertainment is a solitaire game in which you play through the four "books" of Frank Miller's iconic Batman: The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, with each book taking 90 minutes. Check out these ridiculously on-brand dice! (KS link)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• In January 2020, I wrote about ZEN Tiles Solo from Youichirou Kawaguchi and ChagaChaga Games. Here's a short description:
Quote:
ZEN Tiles Solo is a solitaire board game that challenges you to look at yourself objectively while placing emotion tiles on a 24-hour timeline.

To win, you need to find a spot to place twenty different emotion tiles above these time boards, so think carefully about "your yesterday". You might have become happy about yourself — "I had a positive thoughts!" — or were perhaps surprised: "I didn't realize that I have negative feelings every time when I see this person."
In 2020, Kawaguchi released ZEN Tiles Basic, a lightly competitive version of this game that can be played with up to four people, and now the designer is using Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/guchifukui/zen-tiles-yo...) to make this game easily available to people outside of Japan.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• At Spielwarenmesse 2020, BGG recorded an overview of Tiny Turbo Cars from designers Hjalmar Hach, Laura Severino, Alessandro Manuini, Jonathan Panada, and Giulia Tamagni — and now Italian publisher Horrible Guild has brought the game to Kickstarter (link) for delivery by the end of 2021.

The hook in this racing game is that each player has a sliding puzzle to serve as their remote controller, and you program your moves for the round by sliding tiles into the middle two rows of the controller, with players moving in the order in which they lock in their moves. The faster you finish, the more likely you are to make the moves you set up — and the more likely you are to make mistakes, too. More details in the video below:

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Thu Feb 25, 2021 8:53 pm
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In Space, No One Can Hear You Complete Objectives

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Board Game: ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo
Game publisher Ravensburger has become well-known for its licensed adaptations of movies, comics, cartoons, and theme park attractions, and following the release of two such titles in the U.S. in 2021 — Disney Villainous: Despicable Plots, which lets you take the roles of Gaston, Lady Tremaine, and the Horned King, and Pusheen Purrfect Pick, based on the Pusheen comics — Ravensburger has announced a more high-profile title that will debut on August 1, 2021: ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo.

This game, designed by Scott Rogers and developed by Steve Warner, is a 1-5 player co-operative game in which you take on the role of Nostromo crew members Ripley, Lambert, Parker, Brett, or Dallas, all of whom are trying to survive on a spaceship that's been infiltrated by an alien. Executive Officer Kane has already been killed, and as for Science Officer Ash, well, we'll get to him. Here's an overview of the gameplay:
Quote:
Over the course of the game, crew members collect scrap, craft items, and fulfill different objectives. The crew will lose and gain morale as they encounter the Alien and other situations. If crew morale reaches zero, players lose the game.

Each turn has two phases. In the Crew Action phase, players creep through the Nostromo's halls, gathering scrap, crafting items, trading scrap and items with other players, and using items and their special abilities. Brett, for example, can craft items with one fewer scrap than other players. If the Alien is within three spaces of the player with the incinerator, that player can use the incinerator to send the Alien back to its nest.

In the Encounter phase, players draw and resolve an Encounter card. The Alien could be lurking behind any corner...

Once the players fulfill their initial objectives, they face one of five final missions, each with a unique set of requirements. Players must fulfill the final mission's requirements simultaneously to win the game.
In more detail, the game includes ten objectives, and during set-up you reveal one more objective than the number of players. You also choose a final mission at random, but you set it aside face down, revealing it only after you've completed all of the objectives.

Board Game: ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo

Each crew member has a number of action points that you use to move, pick up or drop items or scrap, craft items out of scrap, trade with other crew members, use an item (some of which can be used a limited number of times), or take your unique special action.

The encounter cards move the alien around the board, with it always moving towards the closest crew member. If the alien and a crew member are ever in the same room, the team loses morale and the crew member must flee. What's more, the encounter cards replenish scrap in various rooms in the Nostromo, but they can also bring "concealed tokens", which must be revealed whenever someone enters that room. You might find nothing, or the alien might turn up — or Jonesy might surprise you, but don't worry because you can craft a cat carrier to catch him.

Some of the final missions initiate the Nostromo's self-destruct sequence, giving all players four more turns to complete the requirements of that mission before the game ends with a bang. And should you find yourself having an easy time aboard the Nostromo, you can introduce Science Officer Ash to the game, with Ash moving through the ship to remove scrap and force the crew to lose morale.
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Tue Feb 23, 2021 3:23 pm
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Faiyum: Crafty Card Combos and Crocodiles in Ancient Egypt

Candice Harris
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In 2020, Friedemann Friese and his publishing company 2F-Spiele invited us all to relax with his uniquely-themed, "after"-worker placement game Finishing Time — but now it's time for us to get back to work in ancient Egypt during the reign of Amenemhet III to impress the pharaoh and develop Faiyum!

From gallery of candidrum

Board Game Publisher: 2F-Spiele
Friedemann Friese's Faiyum is a deck-construction and hand-management strategy game fused with route-building elements in which 1-5 players take on the role of pharaoh's advisors in ancient Egypt, competing to earn the most reputation (victory points) by creating the best card combo-engine for harvesting resources and gaining money to build roads and structures, to gain the respect of the pharaoh.

I picked up a copy of Faiyum for myself the minute I read that it featured "a card mechanism reminiscent of deck-builders and the market mechanism successfully used in Power Grid". I'm generally a fan of board games that include any flavor of deck-building, so it seemed right up my alley. [Disclosure: BoardGameGeek sells Faiyum through the BGG Store to provide distribution for the game outside of Germany. —WEM]

When I unfolded the game board for Faiyum before my first game, I instantly loved its look and feel, and I was anticipating a pleasant gaming experience because of it. The colors are great and it's very well designed and illustrated by Harald Lieske. It also has this charming vintage appeal to it that I dig, which I'm assuming is a result of Lieske's history of contributing artwork to several older classics such as The Castles of Burgundy, La Granja, Arkwright, and many others.

From gallery of candidrum
Game board set up for a two-player game

The game board is a map of Faiyum with a channel dividing two separate peninsulas which are connected only by a dam, with both peninsulas being surrounded by a lake. There are resource spaces for wheat (yellow), grapes (purple), and stone (gray), clearly identifiable by color and graphics. All three types of resource spaces are considered "undeveloped" at the start of the game. Additionally, the wheat and grape resource spaces are swampy, and therefore covered with adorable, wooden crocodiles. (Googly eyes not included, but highly recommended!) There are also four building sites (brown) and one starting settlement space (red) on the board which are considered "developed" areas in Faiyum.

Off to the left side of the game board is the card market that demands your attention if you want to impress the pharaoh and stand a chance at winning Faiyum. In the vein of Friese's popular classic, Power Grid, Faiyum's card market has four spaces for the current card market where players can buy cards, and four spaces for cards that will be available later in the game so that you can plot and plan accordingly.

From gallery of candidrum
The current market (i.e., four lowest) cards with discount tokens


From gallery of candidrum
The four highest cards can't be purchased until they slide into the current market

During set-up, you shuffle the main deck of cards into a draw pile, then prepare a "final turns" stack which is seeded with four natural disaster cards that will trigger the end of the game. Each card has a unique, even number on it, and the card market is always sorted in ascending order such that the four lowest cards form the current market and the flour highest cards cannot be purchased until they slide into the current market slots.

The cards in Faiyum are action cards, and they are the heartbeat of the game. You don't have a personal deck of cards from which you're randomly drawing, but instead your cards will either be in your hand or in your discard pile reminiscent of Concordia. There's a variety of different cards you can purchase throughout the game, which keep things interesting — but can also look a little crazy and complicated when you initially skim through them. Even though there are a lot of different action cards to familiarize yourself with, they will click and make sense faster than you'd expect thanks to a few key features in the game.

First of all, there's an awesome card glossary that comes with the game, and it explains every card really well with plenty of excellent examples. I would be very surprised if anyone had a question after checking the card glossary, but regardless, there's more. [Second disclosure: I edited the rulebook, so this is nice to hear! —WEM]

The iconography on the cards is excellent. After you learn what the action is from the card glossary, the images on the card make sense and more often than not, you won't need to look up a lot of cards after a game or two. For example, there's always the main action graphically represented and then at the bottom of each card you'll see the cost for playing the action always has a red background and the benefit always has a green background, which makes the cards easy to parse at a glance. I've played Faiyum only with gamer friends, and they picked it up quickly due to the clear iconography, but I get the impression that even non-gamers can pick it up fairly quickly especially with a good teacher.

On top of the wonderful card glossary and iconography, each card falls into one of four types of actions, and when you understand how one type of action works, I found it easy to grasp how different cards of the same type worked. There are harvest actions to help you gain resources; build actions which allow you to develop Faiyum with settlements, roads, bridges etc.; commerce actions to help you earn money; and "other" actions the feature some different gameplay effects.

For example, everyone starts the game with three Farmer cards, which are harvest actions. Farmer cards allow you to place a worker on an undeveloped resource space adjacent to another space that has a worker on it and gain one matching resource based on the space where the worker is placed.

From gallery of candidrum
Examples of harvest action cards

Other harvest actions look and function similarly as you can see above from the following examples: The Senior Farmer works the same, except you gain two matching resources, the Grower allows you to gain two roses (a wild resource) when you place a worker on any undeveloped space adjacent to the channel, and Harvest Hands follows the Farmer rules, but allows you to spend $1-$3 to place 1-3 workers and gain 1-3 resources depending on where you place the worker(s).

Along with gaining resources, if you place any workers on a space that has a crocodile on it when taking a harvest action, you remove the crocodile from the game and gain $1 since you're draining the land and opening it up for development opportunities. There are even cute little crocodile icons on the top corners of harvest action cards as a reminder.

From gallery of candidrum
The building action cards function just like they sound and let you develop crocodile-free resource spaces by building a variety of different structures in Faiyum. When you build roads and bridges, they create a network connecting spaces and you'll usually gain some reputation from these action cards, plus a bonus reputation each time you build the first direct connection between two settlements, two building sites, or a settlement and a building site.

A key thing to note is that everything built on the board does not belong to a specific player; it is all common property for all players to interact with. This, combined with the card market variation, lends itself to a great deal of variety and some interesting player interaction.

Faiyum has a smooth flow to it and moves at a decent pace. It doesn't have any rounds or phases, but instead players simply alternate taking turns, in turn order, until the end of the game is triggered. Continuing with the vibe of simplicity, there are only three actions you can take on your turn, which I found makes it fairly easy to teach and get into for your first game:

1) You can play a card from your hand, either using it for its action or to get money for it.
2) You can buy a card from the current card market, placing it directly in your hand after paying the cost.
3) You can take an administration turn and do admin-y things such as gaining income and refreshing your hand and the card market.

Everyone starts the game with a hand of five cards (three Farmers, Settlement, and Two Roads) and some amount of money depending on turn order. When it's your turn, you can play a card for its action or discard it to gain $2. Regardless of the type of action card, you'll typically be playing cards to gain resources, money, and reputation (victory points) in some form, whether it's from harvesting, building, or taking some other late-game scoring cards. There are also "other" cards mixed in that allow you to do fun different things like take cards from the market at a set price or copy the action on the top of your discard pile.

From gallery of candidrum
You can instead buy a card from the current market and take the card directly into your hand after paying its cost, which will be discounted if there's a discount token on the card. Discount tokens are placed on all four current market cards at the start of the game, and they're also added to cards when players take administration turns. The cards in the market with discount tokens are usually hot items and timing is very important in Faiyum. You don't want to sleep on a good deal because odds are it won't be available next time it's your turn.

After you take your newly purchased card, you draw a card from the main deck to refill the market. Remember whenever you add cards to the market, you shift them to ensure all cards are in ascending order from the start of the market. This could shift existing cards in the current market making them cheaper in some cases, and more expensive in other cases. Again, it is important to pay attention to the card market and try to catch good deals before your opponents. Of course, there will be many occasions where you unfortunately won't have the funds you need to seize the opportunity, so money is also important to have on hand.

I found the key to doing well in Faiyum is all about gaining cards that can be comboed with your existing cards so you can build the best money, resource, and reputation engine. For example, one game I had a card that allowed me to gain roses, then I was able to get another card that let me convert roses into reputation. Another time, I had the Plantation card that let me build a workshop on a grape resource space to gain grapes and reputation, that I comboed with the Vintner, which let me place a worker on a space with a grape workshop to gain reputation and money.

From gallery of candidrum
Finding these card synergies is where it's at in Faiyum...and the more card combos you can create and execute, the better you'll do. With the main deck being shuffled every game and different cards coming into the current market at different times, I really enjoyed the mystery of not knowing exactly what my engine would look like each game, but just constantly surveying the card market for good cards, good deals, and good combo opportunities.

Eventually after buying cards and playing cards from your hand into your discard pile, you'll be wanting to get your cards back into your hand. That's when you should plan to take an administration turn. Administration turns have three main steps to them for gaining income, buying back cards from your discard pile, and replacing cards in the current market.

For income, you first (potentially) gain money based on the amount of cards remaining in your hand. It's always $3 minus the amount of cards in your hand, so if you have three or more cards in your hand when you take an administration turn, you won't earn any base income. Then you can remove 0-2 workers from any spaces on the game board earning $0-$2 accordingly. Sometimes this decision doesn't matter too much, but it mostly does. The reason is that if you remove a worker from, let's say, a settlement space, and your opponent has a card in hand that allows them to place a worker on a settlement space to get some goodies, you probably don't want to help them with that — but on the other hand, you may need to clear some workers for your own sake, and it ends up being a tough decision. Finally, you gain the top three cards back from the top of your discard pile (for free).

Next you can optionally buy back additional top cards from your discard pile by spending $1 per card. Your discard pile is never shuffled, and this makes it very important to consider the order in which you play your cards in Faiyum. Buying cards back from your discard pile can get expensive, so if you don't consider the order when you play your cards, you might not be able to afford to pick up some of your best cards, and that would be sad. With this in mind, it's also a good way later in the game to bury weaker cards towards the bottom and just never pick them back up. Although, there's no hand limit, so you could always hold onto the weaker cards and cash them in for $2 by discarding them towards the end of the game, and that might help you buy some juicy, late-game scoring cards.

The last step of your administration turn is to replace 1-2 cards in the current market based on player count. You'll always remove the lowest card(s) with discount tokens on them first, then the lowest cards. The remaining cards in the current market get discount tokens, then you refill the market, always shifting cards into ascending order.

Players continue taking turns, playing cards, buying cards and retrieving cards from their discard pile until eventually, the fourth natural disaster card makes its debut appearance in the card market. When this happens, players can no longer take administration turns, which can be rough if you're not planning for it. In most of my games, I was the one to trigger the end of the game by strategically timing my final administration turn well. This allowed me to swoop up all of my cards one last time and the others were stuck with whatever they had in hand. If you try this at home and make your friends bitter, you didn't hear it from me.

From gallery of candidrum
Natural disaster cards in a four-player game

After the end of the game is triggered, players can only play cards, buy cards, or bow out by taking the natural disaster from the card market with the most reputation. In a four-player game, the first player to quit gains 10 reputation, the next player gains 6, then 3, and 0 if you are last. This often adds a bit of tension since it becomes a race to snag the extra bonus points before the end of the game. The player with the most reputation wins the game and is considered the pharaoh's most cunning advisor!

I didn't get to play Faiyum with five players, but I'd imagine it would be a bit wild since the card market would likely change a lot in between each of your turns and therefore it would be harder to plan out your turn. It could be totally fun, though! I'm sure I'll give it a try at some point, but alternatively, I was pleasantly surprised how well Faiyum plays with two. It was quite enjoyable, and there were plenty of moments of tension with the card market. Plus, I really like that you use the full deck of cards for every player count, but with the timing of administration turns, you never really know which cards will end up getting removed from the game and this adds to the variation of Faiyum.

The solo mode is similar to the multiplayer gameplay, so there aren't a lot of new rules to learn if you plan to play Faiyum solo. You can play one-off games and try to beat your best score, or for something a bit more interesting, they've also included campaign challenges. You have seven different goals to achieve, starting with gaining at least 150 reputation in a game, and each time you fulfill a goal, you can unlock a variety of achievements that change the solo rules slightly in your favor.

From gallery of candidrum
Faiyum is an interesting deck-construction, hand-management game that seems to have a lot of variation from game to game, which I find especially interesting considering you use the same deck of cards each game. I can't really think of a game that feels exactly like it, which is a plus for me. I'm a deck-building fan, which is originally what drew me to it. If there's deck-building of any sort mixed with player interaction on a game board, I'm all ears, so I'm not surprised that I've been enjoying Faiyum.

It's not a very thematic experience, but the cardplay is where it really shines. I appreciate how each game I played evolved completely differently depending on the timing of when different cards appeared in the market, which ones got purchased, and how different players chose to execute the card actions relative to the state of the game board. Plus, creating those rewarding card combos always felt very satisfying. The more you play, the more you'll know the potential of the cards, which could seem like it'll eventually get boring, but when you have no clue when different cards will be available or when they'll be removed from the market from an administration action, you have to be flexible and prepared to readapt your strategy each game.

Then you have the game board being built up differently each game, too, which helps keep each game feeling fresh. For example, one game I placed the first worker on the smaller peninsula and we were off to a tighter start and had a different experience than when the first worker was placed on the larger peninsula.

I appreciate the simplicity of Faiyum. It's awesome that there are only three main actions you can take on your turn, and you can explain the cards as they appear in the market, so it ends up being a straightforward teach and quick to get into with new players. Don't get me wrong, though, because while the game structure is relatively simple, the decision space gets deeper and more complex, the more cards you acquire.

If you enjoy strategy games with awesome cardplay opportunities, player interaction, and/or adorable wooden crocodiles, then Faiyum is worth checking out.
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Mon Feb 22, 2021 3:16 pm
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Metal Gear Release Plans Less Than Solid, and UNO Gets Remixed

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Metal Gear Solid: The Board Game
• At PAX Unplugged 2018, IDW Games announced Metal Gear Solid: The Board Game from designer Emerson Matsuuchi, teasing the game as "Coming 2019" in a tweet from the show.

Yet 2019 has come and gone, not to mention 2020, and on Feb. 15, 2021 Matsuuchi announced on BGG that the game is not coming to market anytime soon — at least not with IDW Games:
Quote:
The decision was made back in December [2020] not to move forward with the MGS Project. Since that time, I have been pursuing a myriad of options to keep the project going. I have offered to put in capital from my company to help fund the last leg of the project, and even to buy out IDW's interest in the project along with purchasing all of the assets. Unfortunately, I couldn't get any traction with those options.

The rights to the design were finally given back to me a few weeks ago. So I have reached out and enlisted the help of a friend that is a bonafide expert in licensing and has connections with Konami. We're working to keep this project alive and exploring possible options. While there are no guarantees that our efforts will bear fruit, I'm still optimistic that we will be able to get the MGS game to market, to the patient fans that have been kept waiting.
Answering questions in that thread, Matsuuchi says that crowdfunding the design with a MGS license is not an option based on the licensing agreement, and he is willing to re-theme the design should it be impossible for another company to acquire the MGS license.

For a taste of what could have been — and what might still be — you can watch this overview of the game from Matsuuchi that BGG recorded at Gen Con 2019.

Board Game: UNO Remix
• Let's follow up my profile post of Damon Saddler, a Key Lead Designer at Mattel, with news of yet another new version of UNO, one that will likely feel familiar to folks who play hobby games.

UNO celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021, and to mark the occasion Mattel is releasing many editions of the game, which makes sense given that by many accounts UNO is the best-selling game in the world. Thus, we now have a specific "50th Anniversary Edition" that includes a gold-ish coin as well as a small box version that has gold Wild cards, not to mention five themed versions for the various decades in which the game was sold.

In addition to all of those — and what is undoubtedly more to come throughout the rest of 2021 — in February 2021 Mattel released UNO Remix, which works as follows:
Quote:
UNO Remix features familiar UNO gameplay, with players trying to empty their hand by playing cards that match the value or color of the topmost discard play, but now you can personalize the deck to make it your own and change what's possible during the game.

At the start of each round, you add special cards or write-on cards to the deck. You can personalize cards to specific players, e.g., "Skip to Aldie" or "Draw 2 Chad", you can add a mark to a card to increase the number of cards drawn the next time it's played, you can introduce cards that block penalty cards, and much more!

Board Game: UNO Remix

And as always, when you have only one card left in hand, you must yell "UNO!" to warn others that you're about to win.
Yes, legacy elements of game design have come (back) to mainstream titles, and their implementation here makes perfect sense given that (due to their low price) these UNO titles are often viewed as disposable commodities anyway and (due to the condition of the world) you're probably going to be at the table with the same group of people, which will make the in-jokes more entertaining, as with the legacy-originating and now decade-old Risk Legacy.
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Wed Feb 17, 2021 7:02 pm
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Revisit Great Western Trail, Then Follow Trails Elsewhere

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Great Western Trail
Plan B Games, which owns the eggertspiele brand, has announced a second edition of Alexander Pfister's Great Western Trail, which debuted in 2016.

You can see the changes immediately from the box, with artist Chris Quilliams taking inspiration from Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, using black bands across the box top and bottom to give a panoramic, cinematic feel, with the image also stretching around the sides of the box. Quilliams has also created new art for the game board and cards, with Plan B planning to reveal the new look bit by bit over several weeks.

On top of this, Pfister and eggertspiele are working on two additional Great Western Trail titles, each of which will use elements of the original game — deck-building and a rondel — but in new ways. Says Martin Bouchard of Plan B Games, "Alexander is re-exploring the core mechanisms of the base game because it's an open field for creativity."

The second edition of Great Western Trail is due out in Q3 2021, while Great Western Trail: Argentina will debut in mid-2022 and Great Western Trail: New Zealand in mid-2023. Bouchard notes that unlike Plan B's Century series, these titles will all be standalone games that don't have crossover elements.

A new edition of Rails to the North, first released in 2018, will also arrive in 2021 to be compatible with the second edition of GWT.

Board Game: Great Western Trail
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Tue Feb 16, 2021 2:23 pm
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Designer Diary: Inkling

John Keyworth
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Board Game: Inkling
This is a short designer diary about the development of Inkling, a word card game designed by me and published by Osprey Games in February 2021.

To help make sense of a game you are unlikely to have played here is a brief overview of the final game: Inkling is a game about using letter cards — in any way you can — to help the other players guess words on a secret clue card. Longer words are worth more points, and you are playing in two teams at once, one with each neighbor.

Concept and Prototype

I've always been bad at word games as correct spelling does not come naturally and anagrams remain completely opaque, but in March 2019 I was listening to the latest Ludology podcast — all about word games — and I thought rather than start with the letters and make words, you could start with the words and make letters, and in that way you can play with words even if it's not normally your thing.

The prototype came together quickly, and the core of the game has remained the same: Drafting letters to spell words on your card for people to guess.

The components were the letter cards from Lexicon and the word cards from Concept. Both were ill-suited to the task, but making up words proved fun enough to develop the game further.

Design and Playtesting

The bulk of playtesting happened at the UK Playtesters group in Oxford and Oxford on Board, although I also took the design to the playtest area at the UK Games Expo 2019, which let it receive feedback from a much wider variety of people.

There were three challenges to work on before the game could be finished: the clue cards, the letter cards, and the scoring.

Clue Cards: Dedicated clue cards were the first component to be made — the same list of the most common English words with 4 to 9 letters that made it into the final game. The problem was word distribution as early versions had very easy cards and very hard cards depending on the letters in the words.

Fixing this took learning what made cards easy or hard, then making a formula to calculate a difficulty score in a spreadsheet. I then played with the word lists until each card was balanced with the others.

From gallery of jkeywo
Clue card prototype and final design

Letter Cards: While the word lists were being balanced, the letters needed designing. First, the cards became stylized, which gave players much more scope for playing with them to make words. After that, a new set was printed without the black border of the originals.

From gallery of jkeywo
Letter card prototypes and final design

Scoring: This was originally both more chaotic and more rule-intensive. You were limited to guessing 1, 2, and 3 words in rounds 1, 2, and 3, and these words could be from anyone. You received the points from words you guessed, as well as from each of your own words guessed by at least one other player.

You may be able to imagine the problem already, but with six players it could take a while to look at everyone else's creations, with players often getting up from the table and walking around it. There was also some unwanted randomness in whose words received the most attention, and some unwanted strategy that emerged from a mixture of competitive and co-operative incentives.

Laying the problem out like that makes the eventual solution seem much more obvious that it was, but ultimately, instead of playing as individuals, players would guess only their neighbor's words and total their scores as a team of two (so each player is on two teams).

The game became much more comfortable to play, the time taken was more consistent across player counts, and all you had to worry about was creating good letter combinations for your neighbor to guess.

Publishing

Come September 2019 I was playtesting the game at the UK Playtesters event in Oxford, and Anthony from Osprey Games was also there. He liked the game, they took it back to the office, and it was soon signed.

Board Game: Inkling
Image: More Games Please

While most of the game was finished at that point, we continued playing with the word list until it was as balanced as we could make it.

That all seems like a lifetime ago, with how long 2020 has been, but I'm very excited to be able to see the game in print come February 23, 2021.

John Keyworth
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Tue Feb 16, 2021 1:00 pm
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