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Mergers, Splits, and Distribution Deals: Remembering Francis Tresham and Chad Jensen, and Distributing Games in Canada and Elsewhere

W. Eric Martin
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Tresham at SPIEL '05. Image: Richard Breese
• Game designer Francis Tresham passed away on October 23, 2019, just as SPIEL '19 was about to open. I had mentioned his passing on air during our livestream, but not in this space, and I'm finally correcting that deficiency.

You can measure the influence of a designer in multiple ways, and Tresham's legacy might be best represented by his influence on other game designers, specifically his creation of two game genres — 18xx games and civilization games — through the publication of the stock-manipulation and rail-building game 1829 by his own Hartland Trefoil Ltd. in 1974 and Civilization (also by Hartland Trefoil) in 1980.


I wish that I could say more than that, but I've played 1830 once and Civilization never as they're not my style of games. Instead, I can only recognize how Tresham's work has inspired others, both those who have created games of their own in these genres and those who play these games with a passionate devotion, such as Edward Uhler of Heavy Cardboard, who interviewed Tresham in mid-2018:


• On November 14, 2019, Kai Jensen noted on BGG that her husband Chad Jensen, designer of Dominant Species and the Combat Commander series of games, had passed away. Jensen had been diagnosed with cancer earlier in 2019, with BGG user Christopher Hill posting a warm tribute to the designer at the time.

• Baltic publisher Brain Games has entered a distribution agreement with Canadian publisher/distributor Luma Games, with Luma now having "exclusive English-language distribution" of its titles in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. On top of that, Luma Games will "manage Brain Games's French catalog for Canada's French language market".

In June 2019, Luma had picked up distribution rights for Italian publisher Horrible Games — which changed its name to Horrible Guild in October 2019 — in North America. Luma also recently announced that it will be demoing and selling Bruxelles 1897 at BGG.CON 2019 on behalf of Belgian publisher Geek Attitude Games, with that title moving into North American distribution in early 2020.

• German publisher Pegasus Spiele has signed a deal with Canadian distributor Lion Rampant Imports to give that latter company exclusive distribution of Pegasus titles in Canada. (In case you forgot or missed the news, Asmodee had signed a deal in August 2019 to purchase Lion Rampant Imports.)

• Along the same lines, in mid-October 2019 Pegasus signed a deal with Let's Play Games Distribution and VR Distribution to give these two companies exclusive distribution rights of its titles in Australia, and in early October 2019, Pegasus signed a deal with Spilbræt.dk for exclusive distribution of its titles in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland.
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Tue Nov 19, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Create Houses for Elves, Build Dice for Super Fights, and Battle in North Africa

W. Eric Martin
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• Designer Uwe Rosenberg used to have fairly consistent partners for his work: AMIGO for Bohnanza titles, Lookout for big-box games, and Feuerland for even bigger games.

Yet Rosenberg has been creating so many games that he's been branching out to other publishers, publishers that launch their existence with his creations, such as Edition Spielwiese in 2016 with Cottage Garden (as well as his Nova Luna at SPIEL '19), Wyrmgold in 2019 with Robin of Locksley, and Canadian publisher Paper Plane Games in March 2020 with the 1-2 player game Fairy Trails.

In Fairy Trails, one player represents elves, the other gnomes, and you want to give your creatures completed homes first in order to win. One tile starts face up on the table, while each player has a hand of two tiles. On a turn, you place one tile adjacent to one or more tiles already in play, and the edge of each tile contains paths in pink (for elves) and yellow (gnomes), although often these paths terminate on tiles instead of continuing onward. When you close one of your paths, whether by creating a loop or by terminating all of the branches, you mark all of the home spaces along that path with one of your markers — and whoever places all of their markers first wins.


In the solo game, you place tiles one at a time (instead of having a hand), and you must place at least one house on the board each turn starting with the fourth tile in play, ideally giving everyone a home before the paths lead you astray.

• UK publisher Osprey Games has announced a few of its 2020 releases, with Undaunted: North Africa from Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson being a standalone sequel to 2019's Undaunted: Normandy. Here's an overview of this May 2020 two-player release:
Quote:
The North African campaign has begun. Take control of the British Army's Long Range Desert Group and operate behind enemy lines or command the formidable Italian forces opposing them. In Undaunted: North Africa, players once again lead their sides through a varied series of missions. As casualties mount, wounded soldiers leave the players' decks, forcing them to adapt in the face of changing tactical circumstances. Use your cards to strengthen your forces, deploy vehicles to advance rapidly across the battlefield, and seize the initiative as you determine the outcome of the North African Theater.
• That title will be preceded in February 2020 by Letterpress from Robin David, a 1-6 player game that has this somewhat vague description:
Quote:
Johannes Gutenberg has given us letterpress printing, but it's up to you to master it!

Compete with your rival wordsmiths in Letterpress to craft the most impressive words and win first pick of letters to add to your collection. Choose wisely, for you will find any you leave in the words of your opponents, and the player who uses their stored letters to greatest effect will spell victory.
• In November 2017, L4 Studios funded a Kickstarter for KAPOW!, a dice-building game of superhero (and supervillain) combat from Larry Bogucki, Douglas Hettrick, and Carl Van Ostrand that was fulfilled in early 2019 through publisher 2 Ton Porcupine.

At SPIEL '19, White Wizard Games announced that it had picked up the title and would be relaunching it as a White Wizard title in 2020, with the game universe being expanded with more characters through a partnership with 2 Ton Porcupine. In a press release announcing the deal, White Wizard's Rob Dougherty said, "KAPOW! is super fun, easy to learn, and also has great strategy and tons of replayability, so it is a natural fit for our portfolio of games."

We talked with Dougherty about the game and White Wizard's new involvement with it at SPIEL '19:

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Mon Nov 18, 2019 1:00 pm
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Tokyo Game Market Round-Up: Fafnir, Remember Our Trip, Distance from Here, and Goat 'n' Goat

W. Eric Martin
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Since BGG.CON 2019 is taking place on Nov. 20-24, I won't be trekking across the Pacific to attend the next Tokyo Game Market on Nov. 23-24, 2019. Even so, I can highlight a few titles that will be featured at TGM and that might show up in licensed versions or at retail outlets closer to you in the months to come.

• Let's start with Remember Our Trip, a puzzle-y, (sort of) town-building game from designers Saashi and Daryl Chow and publisher Saashi & Saashi. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
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Remember Our Trip is a board game in which players recreate a map of a city they visited together. After returning to your own country, you and the other players have gotten together to try to recall the map of either Kyoto or Singapore (depending on the game board you choose). You need to piece together the scenery of the map using fragments of your memories, with you earning bonus points if your memory matches that of the main board and other players.

In the game, each player has an individual image board, while everyone shares a common map board. Each of the twelve rounds of the game starts with the revelation of a "memory card", which shows one of six patterns that players can build on their image board with image tokens that they draft. Over multiple rounds, you'll compile image tokens next to one another, and if you have the right tokens in the right shape, you suddenly "remember" the building that matches the shape and image, placing that building on the shared common map and scoring points for it. You can additionally score points for completing buildings with image tokens that match buildings remembered by others, i.e., that they placed on the common board earlier. You've now remembered that building, too!

Each player also has objective cards and photo memory cards, and you can score points for satisfying them. If you can't fit all of your image fragments into play, you lose points for scattered thoughts. For more difficult play, you can use the 7x6 area on the Kyoto or Singapore game board instead of the regular 7x7 area.


Oink Games seemingly releases a new title at each TGM, and for this show it has a new design from founder Jun Sasaki, a 2-4 player titled Fafnir that falls into the bucket of "games in which you trade things to collect things that you might trade again in the future". Some details:
Quote:
The chicken "Fafnir" lays two new gems each day, and all the players want to acquire these gems on the off chance that they'll be more valuable than the gems they already hold. Whoever throws away the most gems in a round acquires these two newest gems — but you can't throw away the colors of the gems that Fafnir just laid! No chicken will be impressed by you shaming the gems that you're also trying to acquire!

Once a certain number of stones have been discarded in Fafnir, the round ends, and everyone scores for the gems that they've collected. Gold is worth 1 point each no matter how many have been collected, so go for gold if you want to play it safe. As for the five colors of gems, whichever one appears most frequently is worth 3 points each, while the secondmost frequent color gem is worth 2 points each, and all other gems are worth -1 point each.
I've undoubtedly missed details in my summary of the gameplay, but as with most Japanese game announcements, I do the best I can and figure we can always edit descriptions later once the title is available. Actually, that same statement holds true for most everything I add to the database ahead of it being released, so never mind...


• To round out this round-up of titles from established JP designers, let's cover two upcoming games from Hisashi Hayashi of OKAZU Brand, starting with Goat 'n' Goat, a card game for 2-5 players with rules that I've roughly translated as follows:
Quote:
Three mountains stand tall in front of the goats, who must try to combine their efforts to climb these daunting mountains together. Can you lead the goats to the highest parts of the mountains?

In Goat 'n' Goat, a.k.a. やぎ山, you want to combine your goats to conquer the tallest mountains possible, but goats only like to line up in certain ways. The game includes goat cards in three colors, with numbers ranging from 1-5 and with more low numbers than high; the game also includes mountain cards in three colors, with the values ranging from 3-9.

Players start with 3-5 cards in hand, and six cards are laid face up on the table. On a turn, you play one or more cards from your hand that all have the same number, whether of one color or more. If you don't have cards of this color or all the cards of this color are equal to or less than the number played, then you add these new cards to the stacks in front of you, with each color going into its own stack; if the number played is lower than the top card in a color stack, then you place all previously played cards of this color in front of you face down as penalty points, then start a new stack of this color with the cards just played.


Quote:
You then choose as many cards from the row of six as the value of the card(s) just played. The quantity of cards played doesn't matter — only the digit on those cards! Whether you play a single 1 or five 1s, you draw only one card. If you now have more than eight cards in hand, you must discard down to eight cards, keeping all discarded cards as penalty points.

On a turn, after playing cards, you can choose to discard cards of a color to collect a mountain card in the same color that has a lower value. Thus, to collect the 3 blue mountain, you must discard four or more blue goat cards that you've collected in front of you.

Once you've gone through the deck twice (with 3-5 players) or once (with two players), the game ends. You tally all mountain points you've collected, then lose 1 point for each penalty card in front of you. Whoever has the highest score wins!

• The other Hayashi title from OKAZU Brand is the party game Distance from Here, which is for 2-8 players and which appears to have only Japanese rules despite the location cards also having English text. Here's what I know about the game right now:
Quote:
In the game Distance from Here, you rank six location cards in order of what you think is nearest to you! However, the actual correct answer is irrelevant! What the players think is closest is most important, and this is what will actually earn you points!

With only two players, Distance from Here is played as a co-operative game instead of as a competitive one.
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Sun Nov 17, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Covered Boards, Smashed Licenses, and Unmatched Gothic Gameplay

W. Eric Martin
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Restoration Games has unveiled the next title in the Unmatched game series it's been releasing in co-operation with Mondo GamesUnmatched: Cobble & Fog, with this being a two- or four-player game from designers Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, Justin D. Jacobson, and Chris Leder due out in Q2 2020. As for what's inside the box:
Quote:
Unmatched: Cobble & Fog features four new characters for the Unmatched system. Invisible Man uses fog to dart around the board and strike without warning. Sherlock, with the trusty Watson by his side, schemes and calculates to ensure victory. Dracula and the sisters slowly drain you of your power. Jekyll & Hyde uses the former's cunning and the latter's brute strength to win the day.
Any character in Unmatched can be pitted against any other, so now you can finally have that Bruce Lee v. Dracula face-off for which you've always longed.

Update, Nov. 16: JR Honeycutt has been removed from the credits of this title at the request of the publishers, who note that he was paid a fixed amount for his development work on this game and that his name will not appear in the published work.

• Speaking of Chris Leder, he's a developer at U.S. publisher Calliope Games, which has just announced a crowdfunding project for a new edition of Station Master from Chris Baylis. (KS link) This card game was first released in 2004 from Mayfair Games — five years before the founding of Calliope Games! — and here's an overview of how it plays out:
Quote:
With the rising of a new dawn, another busy day at the station begins. Harried passengers hustle about, looking for their trains. Behind the scenes, the engineers and workers rush to connect carriages to engines. It would all be a fine mess if there wasn't someone to oversee everything, if there was no station master! Can you be that station master? Can you balance the needs of your passengers with the carriages you have available?

In Station Master, you have to compete with opponents to direct passengers to the proper trains while choosing the best place to assign your carriages. There are many unexpected things that can happen at the station, so be prepared for anything!

Station Master is a quick and highly interactive 2-6 player card game within which players attempt to influence the value of departing trains by assigning passengers and carriages in an effort to get the trains to depart on time and accumulate the most points.
• With Azul: Summer Pavilion hitting retail markets now, Canadian publisher Next Move Games has teased its next release in Michael Kiesling's Azul game family — Azul: Crystal Mosaic.

This item is not a standalone game, but rather an expansion for the Azul base game, with the package including four plastic overlays (to keep your tiles from migrating across the board when playing in an airplane or on the back of a camel) as well as four double-sided game boards that provide new challenges for gameplay.

Alderac Entertainment Group, publisher of the long-lived card game Smash Up, has announced a partnership with The OP to bring "officially licensed factions" to Smash Up starting in 2020.

What those factions will be is a mystery for now, with AEG stating that "More will be revealed come AEG's 2020 March Smashness and future events." The OP has published a large number of games based on licensed IPs — Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, Munchkin Marvel, Talisman: Kingdom Hearts, and Bob's Burgers: Belcher Family Food Fight to name a few at random — so feel free to make lots of smashing speculations between now and March 2020.

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Fri Nov 15, 2019 1:00 pm
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Alexa Can Now Teach You Ticket to Ride

W. Eric Martin
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Game publisher Days of Wonder is working together with mega-giant online retailer Amazon to get more people playing Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride: Europe.

How? By introducing Alexa skills that will both teach these games to new players and serve as an opponent for players both old and new. These skills are now available in English and French for those in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. An excerpt from the press release announcing this development:
Quote:
After saying, "Alexa, launch Ticket to Ride" or "Alexa, launch Ticket to Ride: Europe," players are taken on a guided journey from setup to the end of the game for either game. No matter the player's experience level, the skills offer new ways to play and learn. For those new to the game, they offer full rules walkthroughs during play sessions. Veteran players can skip the walkthroughs and use other helpful tools that are part of the experience. The skills customize themselves to the number of players and track their remaining trains, the longest route, points, and more. They also act as an additional player for groups looking for an extra person or anyone who wants to get in a solo game against the skill itself. While each player takes their turn, the skills provide thematic background music and sound effects to immerse everyone in the world of Ticket to Ride.

"Ticket to Ride is a fast-paced, immersive board game experience that is now being elevated by voice," said Joe Balzarini, Director, Alexa Skills. "We're thrilled to be working with Days of Wonder to bring these skills to life and provide customers with an immersive, interactive voice gaming experience."

"Working with Amazon to bring the Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride: Europe Skills to Alexa-enabled devices has been exciting. We believe this is a great way for players to discover these classic games for the first time or in an amazing new way," said Adrien Martinot, Head of Days of Wonder.

Days of Wonder is eager for players to experience the free Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride: Europe skills for themselves. Additional languages and territories will be supported soon to ensure players around the world can learn and play Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride: Europe like never before.
I attended a press event during SPIEL '19 where this Alexa skill was demonstrated by Amazon employees, and while it's not something I'll use (since I already know the rules to these games and prefer playing against people rather than AIs), I can imagine this skill being extremely useful for the vast audience of potential players out there.

Nashville-to-Atlanta is still unclaimed?! Newbs!

As easy as Ticket to Ride is to learn, I recognize that it's easy only because I have a familiarity with games; I know the language of games and have a lot of background upon which to draw when learning new ones. If you asked me a question about, say, cars or anything related to the technical requirements of BGG, I'd stare at you for a while, then likely say, "I'm not sure what you want me to do." (Scott Alden can verify this from de-bugging sessions we've had.) I've encountered plenty of folks who have this reaction to learning a new game because they're not familiar with the game language, and they would benefit from having a teacher hold their hand from start to finish. Alexa can be that teacher.

In the demo session, the presenters started from ground zero: opening the box and laying out the pieces. This process could be tedious for some, but you can say "skip" and jump to whatever's next.

If you don't have Alexa join you as an opponent, you can still use it as a rules monitor and score tracker. You draw cards like normal, but when you claim a route, you say something like "Green player claims New Orleans to Houston", and Alexa will note this internally. If someone else tries to claim the route (because you were refilling the snack bowl and forgot to put your trains on the proper spaces), Alexa will stop that player from doing so, just as it will keep someone from claiming a double-route in a two- or three-player game. At game's end, you read off the tickets you completed and failed, and Alexa will tally the scores for all players.

With Alexa as an opponent, you start the game by drawing three tickets from the deck and reading them off to Alexa, with those tickets now being hers. (Do you refer to Alexa as "her"? I've never used one before.) You then remove them from the game so that no one else will claim them. Alexa has her own train card deck, so when she draws cards, nothing changes with the actual cards available for drafting by humans, whether for good or bad. When Alexa claims a route, she announces this and you must place trains on that route so that no one else will go there. It's an interesting take on an AI given that the drawn train cards are private and the tickets are public, which is the opposite of the online version of Ticket to Ride.

Why is Amazon doing this? To make more money, of course, but more specifically, at the press event an Amazon rep said that one of the most frequent error messages they get for Alexa is from people asking Alexa how to play such-and-such a game, with this being a skill previously unavailable on Alexa. Days of Wonder has sold millions of copies of games in the Ticket to Ride series, and I'm sure the customer service department receives plenty of questions about how to play. Amazon knows how many copies of the game it's sold and who has purchased them, and now it can send these buyers a message about this new skill — and if those buyers now play a game that's previously been hidden in a closet, some percentage of them will buy more games in the series, similar to how the introduction of the Ticket to Ride app years ago led to more sales of the physical game.

The biggest hurdle that exists to getting more people playing board games is the need for them to learn rules prior to playing. A video game allows you to start, then hit buttons and move around at random until you figure things out; board games don't allow players that same luxury. As for where this goes in the future, who knows? The rules-teaching app Dized has been in the works for years, and I don't know whether it's gained traction with publishers and players, but Amazon and Days of Wonder have a larger customer base upon which to launch a program like this. We'll see what comes in the years ahead.

[Disclosure: Amazon gave attendees of the press event an Alexa Echo so that they could test this skill themselves, something I've yet to do as this announcement came earlier than I had anticipated. Whoops. I'll post an overview video of this skill later, then pass the Echo on to someone else given that I won't use it otherwise. —WEM]
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Thu Nov 14, 2019 5:23 pm
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Butterflies and Butt Battles from Rio Grande Games

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• At BGG.CON 2019, Rio Grande Games will have the new releases Butterfly, Queenz, and The Way of the Bear for sale through retail partners, while demoing upcoming titles Nevada City, Monster Baby Rescue, Underwater Cities: New Discoveries, and the just announced Musical Chairs from Kelly North Adams. Here's an overview of that latter title, which is due out at the end of February 2020:
Quote:
Musical Chairs is a whimsical card game that simulates a game of musical chairs but with cards instead of music.

Each round, players start with a hand of eight cards to play. The starting player must play their lowest card to begin the round. Cards are played in ascending order until either no one has a legal move or everyone chooses to stop playing. In either case, the music now stops, and everyone has to take a seat.

After every played card, players moves their pawn around a circular board. Choosing where to stop is critical because the color of the chair you end up on determines which cards you score — both from your hand and from the cards already played. If two or more players end the round on the same chair, a "butt battle" must take place, with players having the option to play cards from their hands in order to claim the chair.

Players can also claim special cards and special power tokens during the game.
A butt battle, eh? Seems like a good way to grab the Instagram and TikTok audience to expand Rio Grande's potential player pool.

• Speaking of Butterfly, this late October 2019 release from Stephen Glenn has a simple set-up and straightforward gameplay. You first lay out tiles at random in a 6x6 to 9x9 grid, depending on the player count, then the player to the right of the starting player places a hedgehog token on one tile. On a turn, you can turn the hedgehog left or right or keep it looking forward, then you move it as far as you want to collect the tile on which it lands. If you pass over a butterfly net printed on the board (from which a tile was removed previously), you can choose to draw a tile from the bag and keep it.

Once a player can't move, the game ends, with players scoring points for butterflies (possibly doubled if they collected a doubler of the appropriate color), their highest-valued dragonfly, their lowest-valued lightning bug, their most recent grasshopper, their bee/honeycomb sets, and the squared value of their flowers, with points being lost for wasps. A player must capture a tile, if possible, so you might not get the chance to collect what you want...

Queenz was a SPIEL '19 release from Bruno Cathala, Johannes Goupy, and Mandoo Games, and I posted both written and video overviews in August 2019. The Way of the Bear is the new name of 2018 release Wangdo from Frank Crittin, Grégoire Largey, Sébastien Pauchon, and Mandoo Games, and we recorded a short overview of the game at SPIEL '18. Rio Grande's Ken Hill notes that some of the power cards in The Way of the Bear have been revised to better balance the game.

Both of these titles should be available through retailers by the end of November 2019, along with Uwe Rosenberg's Robin of Locksley (another SPIEL '19 release courtesy of Wyrmgold GmbH) and Friedemann Friese's Power Grid: Middle East/South Africa (ditto, but through 2F-Spiele).

Underwater Cities: New Discoveries and Monster Baby Rescue — both SPIEL '19 releases from Delicious Games — should have their Rio Grande Games versions on the U.S. market by the end of 2019. Joining them will be the RGG versions of Concordia: Balearica / Cyprus and Concordia: Balearica / Italia (two more SPIEL '19 releases), along with "a massive reprint of Concordia and Concordia Venus", according to Ken Hill.
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Thu Nov 14, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Fight as a Two-Headed Giant, Set Fires as a Dragon, Then Discover Your Inner Compass

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• Okay, stepping aside from my SPIEL '19 coverage (with lots of notes and pics still to process), let's check out a few 2020 releases that publishers have announced, such as the intriguing-sounding Inner Compass, a March 2020 release from Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen that AEG will demo at both BGG.CON 2019 and PAXU 2019. An overview of what's going on:
Quote:
In Inner Compass, you play as one of four characters searching for meaning in their everyday lives. (Sound familiar?) Make the right life choices, experience the full spectrum of emotions, create meaningful memories, and — ultimately — find your own inner compass. The most enlightened player wins!

Inner Compass is a bold experiment in determining your personal inner compass. Will you focus on building up emotions to release them at certain times? Sometimes it can be healthy and productive, while at other times it can be destructive and inappropriate. As you move through the game, you'll learn how to communicate your emotions constructively and earn points towards winning.
• Another 2020 release being previewed at PAX Unplugged 2019 is Ettin, a 2-8 player card-drafting game from Kenneth C. Shannon, III and WizKids currently scheduled for release in May 2020. Here's an overview of the game:
Quote:
From the mists of war, a pair of great nations rise together like a two-headed giant. They march across the land crushing their foes. As one, they combine their strengths, thwart their enemies, and achieve a triumphant destiny.

In Ettin, teams of two compete against each other in fierce skirmishes and fast global conflicts. Your alliance shares strategies, defenses, and resources as you face off against neighboring enemies. You can even expand to 16+ players with multiple copies of the game!

Each of the eight unique nations has a different focus and playing style, designed to be a formidable opponent or a reliable friend. Pairs of enemies and allies play at the same time, making even the most climactic global conflicts between eight players shockingly quick.
• Another upcoming WizKids release is Tournament at Avalon from designers Karen Boginski, Jody Boginski-Barbessi, and Kenneth C. Shannon, III, with this February 2020 release being a standalone sequel to 2017's Tournament at Camelot. An overview:
Quote:
Tournament at Avalon takes players to the land where Excalibur was forged, building on the innovative mechanisms of Tournament at Camelot with new characters, cards, and mechanisms, allowing players to focus on informal diplomacy or alliances alongside the standard combat of the original game. It's a deep, challenging experience all on its own, with extra depth and complexity for players who own both games!

In the game, you play as a legendary character, battling opponents with weapon cards: arrows, swords, deception, sorcery, and even alchemy. The more you injure your opponents, the better you fare in the tournament. However, even the most injured characters can make a complete comeback with the grace of Godsend cards and the aid of their special companions. This trick-taking game ends when one opponent has been injured to the point of death. The player with the most health is then declared the tournament victor!

In Tournament at Avalon, you also have cards representing the legendary enchantress Morgan Le Fay and a new set of location panels that grant additional advantages to a player when they are the host of a tournament round. If you have Tournament at Camelot, you can mix and match your favorite cards, playing with either ruleset or combining the two games to play an epic "Chaos of Battle" tournament with seven or eight players!
• This final title would greatly benefit from an image or two to give you a better idea of how the game will play, but for now I'll have to leave you with only a written description of Dragnarok, a 2-4 player game coming from Kathleen Mercury and Kolossal Games:
Quote:
Being a dragon is usually pretty awesome —wings, fire breath, a big pile o'gold to sleep on at night — until THEY showed up, that is, a "party" of adventurers who trespassed on your land, in your cavern, to steal YOUR gold. Why? What rights did they have to it? Why is it okay to trample all over yours? Good news, though, as you've found the village and castle keep they call home. You're fed up, and you're a dragon, so you're not reasonable. Time to get your gold back and to burn them and their village to the ground.

Dragnorak is a scenario-based, fantasy dexterity game in which players, acting as dragons, burn hero and villager meeples on a three-dimensional board. During their turn, a player may take a free movement action, then one of four different dexterity attack actions: Firebomb, Spit, Boulder Wheel, and Swoop. Most gold wins, of course, as befits dragons, and don't worry about missed shots because they build up your RAGE, which allows you to keep attacking until ideally there is nothing left.
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Wed Nov 13, 2019 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Cupcake Empire, or Frosting, Fans, and (Find something else that starts with F before you post this)

Yves Tourigny
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Cupcake Empire was designed by Al Leduc and Yves Tourigny. Al is currently visiting his mother in the Yukon, so I have been tasked with writing this diary. It was supposed to be a dialogue between Al and I, so I'll be writing both our parts.

Al: I'm very happy with the result and will henceforth let Yves write all my designer diaries, whether we co-designed the game or not! Great job!

[Al's note: I didn't write that. Anybody can type "Al" and then a bunch of nonsense. That doesn't mean I wrote it. W. Eric Martin, can we please use a different color to indicate when it is really me?]

[W. Eric Martin's note: Sure! I'll even put it in italics. Just to be clear, however, Yves is writing this and wrote both the preceding notes, so this might get confusing.]

[Al's note: Got it!]

[Editor's note: We will call Al "Alan" throughout because otherwise it looks like I'm, I mean, Yves is conversing with an artificial intelligence.]

Yves: Cupcake Empire started off as something ridiculous, which, if my memory is accurate (and I believe it is) was called "Wizard Race".

Alan: Well, to be clear, it was about wizards racing...

Yves: Right, as opposed to a species of magical people.

Alan: ...but it wasn't called "Wizard Race" or "Wizard's Race". That's just what you called it. It didn't have a title.

Yves: I should probably keep this offline, but I do find it very annoying that your prototypes never have a title. I'll edit this out because I don't want to embarrass you.

Alan: (weeps uncontrollably)

[Al's note: Please delete this.]

[Editor's note: I tried, but it wouldn't save properly! I'm very upset that we weren't able to take this out. Grrr.]

Yves: "Wizard Race" was a game about wizards racing around a color-coded landscape, and it used your DICE POOL ENGINE mechanism (patent pending). A bunch of dice are rolled and sorted by value, then you use a value, and roll those dice, and sort the result, and so on.




Alan: I like dice.




[Yves's note: I should mention that Al had dice in his mouth the entire time we were talking.]

Yves: We both do, buddy. So, "Wizard Race". Most of the dice were white, some of them were colored, and the colored ones allowed the player to go through the corresponding colored terrain spaces or to gain a bonus of some sort when the pool in which they were embedded was chosen. It was already an engine-building game, where adding dice of certain colors to your mix would guide your strategy into certain directions.




Alan: It worked, but it needed a bit of pizzazz — or so I was told. As soon as my back was turned, Yves took my game and redesigned it.

Yves: Yes. I did. I gave it a much more compelling theme and added some thematic flesh to the skeleton.

[Yves' note: This was in January 2016, according to file creation dates on my hard drive. You can tell we didn't work on that version for too long because there are only 45 files in the "Electric Fan Co." folder. There are 629 files in ten subfolders in the Cupcake Empire folder. That's a lot of iteration.]

Alan: You made the new game about fans. Like, the portable ventilation devices.




Yves: Well, not every game has to be about wizards and space goblins. I think a game about the manufacture and sales of fans set in 1950s Canada is overdue.

Alan: I did like some of the additions you made to the gameplay, like tying each pool to a specific action and having the strength of each action increase when the number of dice in a pool was greater than certain thresholds.

Yves: It was an homage to Seth's Clyde Fans graphic novel!




Alan: I don't think anyone cares. That looks super depressing. Is that old man on the toilet?

Yves: Anyway, I'll have you notice that the "Fan Factory" player board looks remarkably like the Cupcake Empire one, so clearly I was on the right track. Specific actions are linked to each column, there's a break room, special actions, and a warehouse inventory track. There are some pretty major differences, though, if you look closely. The first is that the actions on the columns could be upgraded. That was replaced by the innovation tokens that could be added to any column. The next is that one of the columns gave you grey innovation cubes...




Alan: Grey innovation cubes. (puts on high-pitched whiny voice) Oh, I've been looking for a game about the exciting world of fan production and distribution, honey. Look, it even has grey cubes to represent my grey withered soul!

Yves: (puts on higher-pitcher whinier voice) Oh, look, why don't we get this game about generic space wizards racing across blank landscapes? I don't think I could handle something with as much gravitas as the fan game. This game with no theme about moving pointy-hatted people is much more to my liking!

[Al's note: I've never put on a high-pitched voice in my life! Why are you arguing with yourself? I'm going to have to rewrite all of this. Is this libel? I think this might be libel.]

[Editor's note: It isn't libel.]




Yves: Grey innovation cubes, which are clearly the equivalent of the "bright ideas" from the Cupcake version. There are also the machines.

Alan: Those were my idea.

Yves: Okay, buddy. There are also the machines, which permanently occupied a spot in the columns, allowing the actions further down the column to be reached with fewer dice. Those were Al's idea. We removed them because it turned out to be a bad idea.

Alan: It wasn't bad; it just wasn't right for what we were trying to accomplish. In fact, I think they could easily be incorporated into some sort of expansion to Cupcake Empire.

Yves: We did away with them and made the employee dice specialists in their own column instead, giving them the ability to jump to the next highest action space. Another important difference was the spatial dimension. It was a much more important factor, and I think your sales were tied to your position on the various boards. I honestly don't remember too much about that aspect, and I can't find any written rules or notebooks.




Yves: Anyway, I think Al was grumbling about the theme, so I tried to spice it up a bit with some color:




Alan: Those were nice, but the issue wasn't color. It was fans. It was always fans.

Yves: Well, judging from the email record, I emailed you these on Feb. 2, 2016. On Feb. 3, 2016, I emailed you the first Cupcake Empire stuff, so clearly I'm a responsive and flexible co-designer.

Alan: ...I'm not going to comment on that.

Yves: So, this is the first player board for Cupcake Empire, from early February 2016:




Yves: Several things jump out at me. First, the order of the columns is all wrong, at least in terms of the final version. Second, most of these actions were heavily modified, if not entirely changed, during development. Clearly this is still a "produce inventory, then convert into money" model of scoring. We still have "machines", and there is no dedicated space for improvements.

Alan: You can see a lot of the final version in there, however. The break room and morale track are already in their final form, and so is the once-per-turn special action, even if the actions will change. Those characters stuck around until the end of the prototype era, except for that hand. The size of the columns and the distribution of action spaces stayed consistent, except for the boss lady column.

Yves: I think people were expecting more snark from you, just then.

Alan: Oh, uh, you spend too much time making elaborately illustrated prototypes, and it makes me look bad.

Yves: Right. The geographical component was still a stumbling block. They changed the most, and the most frequently, during development.




Yves: That's February 4. Gross.




Yves: That's literally two days later, February 6. This is clearly inspired by the Raymond Biesinger map of Ottawa I have on my wall. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if I picked it up on February 5.




Alan: (silently mouths the national anthem, weeps, and hugs a beaver)

Yves: It is a powerful piece of design, which I shamelessly copied for my prototype. It has a nice Seth feel to it. Look at Seth's scale model "Dominion City", in comparison:




Alan: This has nothing to do with Cupcake Empire.

Yves: Well, the reader may be interested in what inspires the designers, and this is a thing that inspired me. If you hadn't crushed my dream of making the "Electric Fan Co." game, perhaps I wouldn't have to bore you with culture! If it helps, imagine that the foundations of the city are built on a mass grave of space goblins or whatever you like.

[Al's note: This is what I deal with every day.]

Yves: A month later we had these bigger tiles.




Alan: Are you just going to upload your entire drive? That would be quicker. *slurp*

[Editor's note: Al was drooling uncontrollably because of the dice in his mouth and frequently had to pause and slurp up the saliva cascading from his mouth.]

[Al's note: This isn't as funny as you probably think it is, you know. It's actually pretty unprofessional.]

Yves: Finally, in April 2016, we start to see the city tiles turn into something like their final form.




Yves: We've got the sales values in red on the bakery and counter spaces, and the three colors — start, green, brown — but we still have a spatial arrangement. The next breakthrough came in August 2016.




Alan: Oh, that's essentially the final version, with the customers. It's so weird to think of the game without the little customer meeples.

Yves: Yeah, this is more or less the final version, with a few differences. The customers further away from the bottom have money bonuses associated with them in the final version, and there is a variable number of counter spaces for different player counts.

Yves: We can chart the changes in the player boards also, but first the improvement tiles.




Yves: These were the earliest Cupcake Empire ones. Strangely, they were tied to specific columns (which explains the colors), and there are large ones which give you extra VP (represented by $). There are still those damned machines.

Alan: Those machines were a good idea. *sulks*




Yves: The next version of improvement tiles and player boards made some important changes. First, the improvements are column-independent. Next, they are all placed in the columns, and they are all activated when dice reach the level at which they are placed. We're still working on the "produce, then sell" model.




Alan: Oh, snap! That's it!

[Al's note: I have never said "oh, snap" in my entire life, gosh dang it.]

Yves: Yes, this is April/May 2016 when we did a big redesign. The columns are in the correct order, and the actions are...well, the actions. The correct ones: Baking, Icing, Sales, Marketing, and Managing. There are spots for the improvement tiles, which are now circular. There are customers! Strangely, the customers are not tied to specific positions on the board; you just claim them from a central supply.

Alan: Wait, what's that book in column 1?

Yves: Never mind, that's what.

Alan: Oh, those were the recipe book tiles that gave you bonuses. That didn't last too long. Whose idea were those? Let me see...

[Al's note: They were Yves' idea.]

Yves: More importantly, there are two major new elements (both probably my idea) that are central to the final version of the game: recipes and production/sales tracks. You assemble cupcake bottoms and tops to form cupcake recipes (which can be used to attract customers with matching preference), which increases your production value (top track). Your bakeries, counters, and customers increase your sales value (bottom track). At the end of each turn, you score VP equal to the lowest track.

Alan: That is a much better way of doing things. Didn't you steal that idea from Knizia?

Yves: I don't think so. I mean, I think a few games of his use similar ideas, but I don't think he does it exactly in this way.

Alan: With cupcakes, you mean?

Yves: That's right. Knizia does not have a cupcake game.

[Yves' note: Look up whether Knizia has a cupcake game...]




Yves: The new improvement tiles are essentially the same as the final version of the game, with the $2 changed to $3, and the customer given a range of 2. This is from April 2016.

Alan: Look at those cute little books. Oh, and machines!

Yves: Moving on. The next big step was in July when the customers were placed on the city tiles we saw earlier and when the bonus cards were added. These are in the final version in essentially this form. Even the values are identical. The only difference is that the final version uses tiles, and there are five in each of the four sets, instead of three.




Alan: There wasn't much left to change after that, just the endless process of small adjustments that game design seems to consist of. Overall, it was fairly painless for Cupcake Empire.

Yves: We played it a lot. Thankfully, the length of the game was consistently in the under-60 minute range. We tried different targets for the game-end trigger — 60, 70, 80 points — and we experimented with giving the bonus card points during the game or after the game. Oh, I guess I haven't shown the score track. For a long time we used a square one.




Yves: Then in 2017 we switched to a track going around the outside of the terrain since the game was more of a ra...since, uh, to save table space.

Alan: More of a what? What were you going to say?

Yves: A race. An ECONOMIC race in which you build your dice engine and try to outsell your competitors. It's very cutthroat and not at all wizardy. Incidentally, I should mention that the cupcake theme was inspired by the cutthroat vegan bakery business in Ottawa. Run and staffed by women, mainly, which is why I went for the skewed gender distribution in my prototype. Ludonova didn't stray far from our original concept and art direction.




Alan: They do make great vegan cupcakes in Ottawa, but you're trying to distract from the point that we came full circle, going from a race game all the way back to a race game. Checkmate.

Yves: That's not how Chess works, first of all, but also, I'm really hoping that some of the bakeries will see this free publicity and send us some free cupcakes.

[Al's note: I know that isn't how Chess works, and I would also like some free cupcakes, so please email us with offers for free cupcakes.]

Yves: In conclusion, we worked on this game like we do on most games. You had an interesting idea with no flavor to it, I redesigned it more to my liking, then we eventually hammered out something that pleased both of us. It's like you baked a bland little cupcake and I added a bunch of colorful icing to it!

Alan: Can we make this analogy a little less insulting?

Yves: You know, this is already much better than my original analogy in which your cupcake was made of sawdust and dog hair.

Alan: ...well, let's not forget to mention all the times you sulked for hours because I wanted to make changes that turned out brilliantly.

Yves: Fine, let's not forget to mention all the times you, uh, made... When... Um. Oh, when you failed to appreciate how much better the prototype looked than what you would have brought to the table, and how it not only made playing the game much more enjoyable for us, but it attracted a lot of prospective players who might have been turned off by a generic wizard footrace.




Alan: Or fans!?!

Yves: ...

Alan: I think we're done.

Yves: Yeah.

[Al's note: This is just about the worst designer diary I've ever read. On the other hand, I didn't have to write any of it, and it seems to have taken you 4-5 hours. Thankfully, no one reads these.]

•••


Addendum by the actual Al Leduc

The plan was for us to write the designer diary together, so I got started by starting at the beginning. My delightful co-designer had other plans — other plans and an entirely unreasonable deadline that would have been totally reasonable if he'd told me more than a day before and had not tactically chosen it to be enacted while I was out of town helping my poor dear mother move from her home of thirty years to a little apartment.

So below is as far as I got before the rug was pulled out from under me!

Many thanks to the amazingly understanding and sympathetic Eric Martin for listening to my pleads and tacking this on without Yves' knowledge.

It all started with a dream of treachery

I'd been struggling with a dice-drafting idea for a while (which I called "dice pool drafting" as players took all the dice of a certain value, not just one at a time; Yukon Airways uses this method). I awoke from a dream in which I was playtesting my good friend Yves' new game about trading in the Mediterranean when I suddenly realized with a flash of rage that the sneaky little stinker had stolen my idea! Even worse, he'd improved on it by giving each player their own set of dice, thus mitigating a number of the issues I'd been running into. I promptly started working on a new game, while silently fuming at Yves' treachery.

It's got great potential

Players used their different colors of dice to traverse different types of terrain, while ending their turn on good spots to acquire bonuses. The players were wizards so that I could handwave the weird ways they could move. It worked well enough, and as games do, it improved over several iterations. The key elements were a central board that allowed the players some interaction, a race-style score track, the idea that rolling 6s was something special for all players, and most importantly, that each player had their own player boards, dice, and improvements.


November 2015: Even the earliest player board featured only five columns


More treachery!

One otherwise perfectly fine day I got a text from Yves: "we need to talk about your game. I have an idea you'll love. Starbucks at 7:00. You're buying"

The long and short of it was that he'd completely reworked the game to be about door-to-door salesmen selling electric fans in the 1950s. More significantly, each column of dice had a specific function, like making fans, advertising, or selling to a neighborhood on the game board's map. I liked the mechanical rethinking so much that I asked him to help me co-design it, which basically meant he got to do 85% of the rest of the work.

The double-cross

So I show up for playtesting like the innocent lamb that I am, and bam! Yves throws down a game about making cupcakes that used 70% of the mechanisms from the fan game. "Fans are boring, and cupcakes are amazing," he says. "Heck, yeah", I reply, like it wasn't the most obvious thing he's ever said. It's not that I'm a huge cupcake fan, but fans are just so dull. Fan salesmen were still better than wizards racing around a lake as themes go, so who am I to criticize? I'm not really that fussy about theme as long as the mechanisms are solid and work with it, but it matters to Yves, so I let him do whatever he wants... It's better than hearing him complain about it week after week.

Okay, now it's starting to smell really good

We'd run into a few snags with the fan theme, but the general idea of running a small business was solid. The dice were your workers, and colored dice were specialists. The dice from each column on the player board represented a certain business activity, with more dice being a stronger action. When you take an action, all the workers (dice) there pull together to get the job done, then they go off to work on other tasks. (That is, the dice are rolled and go to the task that matches the number rolled.)

Making cupcake bottoms, icing tops, advertising, and enacting business improvements (i.e., engine-building) were the four obvious tasks, but we wanted five jobs. We knew we wanted something to take place on the map to represent sales areas and to give players a good way to interact with each other, but it took a long while to figure out a really satisfying way to do this.

Oh, for crying out loud!

So that's it. I've run out of time to set the story straight. Take what he says with a few grains of salt!!

Please reply with Team Al (TA) or send me a cupcake to show your support in these trying times.
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Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:00 pm
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SPIEL '19: Packing It In

W. Eric Martin
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For a change of pace this week, I'm presenting a side of the convention experience that happens only after it's over: Getting all of those (potentially) great games home.

Okay, yes, you might be figuring out your luggage space while the con is underway, pushing your clothes aside to drop a box or two in the suitcase and compute what will likely still fit: "Hmm, one KOSMOS, a Hans im Glück, two Lookout 2p, a handful of AMIGOs, and a few other oddball items."

Then you discover something wonderful and suddenly you're contemplating how much can fit in your carry-on bag.

Should you find yourself in that situation, I offer some packing advice in this video, along with teasers for SPIEL '19 releases that might find their way into overview videos down the road:

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Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:01 pm
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New Versions of Wiz-War, GOSU, Night Clan, and Hansa Teutonica for 2020

W. Eric Martin
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• In the category of "you just can't keep a classic game down", Steve Jackson Games has acquired the rights for Tom Jolly's Wiz-War.

In Wiz-War, the player wizards move through a maze, trying to steal treasure from one another or just kill opponents. The game has had multiple editions since its debut in 1983, mostly recently in a Fantasy Flight Games edition from 2012. This new edition will "probably" be released in 2020, although possibly later.

• Along similar lines, French publisher Sorry We Are French plans to release a new version of Kim Satô's GOSU — titled GOSU X — in Q4 2020, and it's released print-and-play files in English (link) and French (https://gosux.sorryweare.fr) for those who don't want to wait a year.

• In mid-2017, Gamephilia released a new edition of Y. Ohashi's Night Clan, which first appeared in 2014 from Japanese publisher Domina Games. That Kickstarter was finally fulfilled in December 2018, and now Japanime Games is apparently distributing the remaining titles in North America, with preorders being fulfilled first, then general orders, with any remaining stock presumably available at conventions in 2020. Here's a summary of the gameplay:
Quote:
Night Clan is a fast-paced area control game with a hint of deception. Each player is dealt an identical deck of thirteen cards. The players take turns placing their cards, two at a time, on the game's locations. Once all cards have been played, the cards placed in each location are resolved and any remaining cards are used to determine which player has achieved victory.
• In August 2019, while receiving information related to SPIEL '19 releases, German publisher Pegasus Spiele included an intriguing item on its long list of titles:


As you might now know, Hansa Teutonica Big Box did not debut at SPIEL '19. Asked for an update, Pegasus' Ronja Lauterbach has let me know that "it took too long to work things out with the printers and our partners for other countries", so the item was delayed rather than being rushed out. At this time, no release date has been set other than a general date of 2020.
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Sun Nov 10, 2019 1:00 pm
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