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Become a Gotham City Detective in Batman: Everybody Lies

W. Eric Martin
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To follow up my earlier post about narrative games in which you solve mysteries, Polish publisher Portal Games has announced a deal with Warner Bros. Consumer Products, DC, and Genuine Entertainment in which it will create and publish "officially licensed tabletop games set within the DC Universe featuring Batman characters".

Board Game: Batman: Everybody Lies

The first title to be released under this deal will be Batman: Everybody Lies, a design by Ignacy Trzewiczek and Weronika Spyra that uses the co-operative deduction game system found in Portal's 2018 release Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game. Here's an overview of this title, which will have a preorder campaign open on March 4, 2022 ahead of a Q2 2022 release:
Quote:
Batman: Everybody Lies is a crime-solving deduction game for 2-4 players set in rich lore of the Batman comics universe. Players take on the roles of four key investigators — instinctive journalist Warren Spacey, tenacious reporter Vicki Vale, brutish detective Harvey Bullock, or the cunning Catwoman — who are drawn into a series of mysterious events unfolding in Gotham City.

Throughout the game, players co-operatively make decisions running the investigation and trying to solve a series of challenging cases. They visit famous locations in Gotham City (like the Batcave, Arkham Asylum, Blackgate Penitentiary, and the Gotham City Gazette) and cross paths with well-known Batman characters (like Batman, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, Scarecrow, and more) while trying to chase leads, identify suspects, and gather enough information to help save Gotham City. The game also adds a brand new hidden agenda mechanism, which assigns secret goals and unique win conditions for each player based upon which DC character they portray.

In Batman: Everybody Lies, players utilize a variety of physical and digital game components — a deck of cards with essential clues and plot twists, various physical handouts, and a dedicated website with access to in-world resources from the Gotham City Gazette archives — for a truly immersive experience. The game also features another new thematic treat — scenes — that bring memorable gameplay moments to life via original comic book illustrations that feel torn straight from the pages and panels of the beloved comics.

Beginning with an introductory prologue designed to get players acquainted with the game rules, Batman: Everybody Lies then continues with three big cases to solve, each taking roughly 2-3 hours to play. Each case can be played separately as standalone episodes, yet should players crack all four cases, they will unravel a master narrative with an epic climax. Every scenario ends with a final report with questions verifying how well the team has investigated the case.
Board Game: Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
The press release announcing the deal notes:
Quote:
All Batman games will feature new and inspired iterations of the story-driven, co-operative deduction game system from Portal Games' award-winning Detective game series, delivering deeply thematic games that challenge 2-4 players to team up with the Caped Crusader and bring the theatrics and themes of Batman to life in a fully immersive tabletop experience....

Future games may explore other corners of the DC Universe as well as pluck inspiration from DC film and TV content. "Batman is easily one of the greatest crime-solving sandboxes ever created," says Genuine Entertainment CEO Joe LeFavi, who brokered the Portal/DC deal and serves as a producer and brand manager on Portal's tabletop game series. "So as long as there is a need for the Dark Knight in Gotham City, we can only hope to give him and our players more cases to crack in the years to come."
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Sat Jan 22, 2022 3:00 pm
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No Release from More Escape Room Games

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Jonathan Eaton's Houses of Treasure: Ascalons Fury
Have we reached peak "escape room game" yet? Absolutely not, with the prime evidence for the continuation of this trend being KOSMOS' sales report of over 14 million games in its Exit: The Game line. KOSMOS is adding still more titles to this line and its Adventure Games series in 2022, in addition to localizing the narrative game series Cartaventura and Suspects.

• Who else is releasing titles in a similar vein? In Q4 2021, Dutch publisher Jumbo launched a pair of titles branded as "Jonathan Eaton's Houses of Treasure". Here's the backstory that is meant to encompass all future releases in this series:
Quote:
Jonathan Eaton, billionaire and entrepreneur of Vestigium Industries, combines his work as manager of the largest corporation in the world with adventures and discoveries in temples, catacombs, and ancient labyrinths. The world is shocked when Eaton announces his resignation, then shocked again when he announces that he will choose his successor in the spirit of Willy Wonka, with everyone participating in a competition that will span the globe and grant the winner all of Eaton's shares in Vestigium, making them the richest person on Earth.
Apparently the name "Jonathan Eaton's Squid Game" was already trademarked.

Board Game: Jonathan Eaton's Houses of Treasure: Itzamna's Eye
In Eaton's youth, he fell into the catacombs of the local church, and it took four days before he found his way out. In Ascalons Fury, 1-4 players take 90-120 minutes to undertake this same adventure, solving puzzles and searching for a way out of the maze. In Itzamna's Eye, you visit the temple of Itzamna, a Mayan god with tremendous powers, in an attempt to find the jewel of Itzamna's eye.

• German publisher HCM Kinzel is releasing a line of games under the name Trapped, and these titles are meant to evoke an escape room more directly, with 2-6 players placing posters and notes in different places around their home, then examining these items for clues, puzzles, and codes.

Trapped: Der Jahrmarkt ("The Fair") is the easiest of the three, with players needing to pass tests of clairvoyancy while consorting with jugglers and showmen. Trapped: Der Kunstraub ("The Art Robbery") is medium difficulty, with the son of an art-loving family instigating the theft of a valuable work of art, with you being part of the team that needs to find and remove the painting. For the expert-level Trapped: Der Bankraub ("The Bank Robbery"), you are part of a gang of bank robbers who are targeting a huge shipment of gold bars being kept in a bank vault.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Oh, hey, I just discovered as this was about to be published that these titles were originally released in 2020 from U.S. publisher SolidRoots, with that company already having a second series of titles on the market: Trapped: Mission to Mars, Trapped: The Zoo, and Trapped: Flight 927.

Board Game: Trapped: Mission to Mars
Board Game: Trapped: The Zoo
Board Game: Trapped: Flight 927

• And French publisher Space Cowboys had its Unlock! series of escape room games licensed by book publisher Rageot for a series of youth adventure novels from author Fabien Clavel under the name Unlock! Les Escape Geeks:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

And now Space Cowboys is releasing a level 1 Unlock! title that features the characters from these novels, although no knowledge of the books is required to take on Unlock!: Les Escape Geeks – Échappez-vous de la Tour Eiffel ("Escape from the Eiffel Tower"), which is due out on February 11, 2022. For now, the cycle of licensing is complete...

Board Game: Unlock!: Les Escape Geeks – Échappez-vous de la Tour Eiffel
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Sat Jan 22, 2022 1:00 pm
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Pop Bubbles, Make Soup, Toss Garlic, and Return to Isla Nublar

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Echt Spitze
I've already covered two new titles coming from German publisher Schmidt Spiele in the first half of 2022: Auch schon clever and Mit Quacks & Co. nach Quedlinburg, both from designer Wolfgang Warsch.

But Schmidt Spiele has more on its release calendar, including a new entry in its "Klein & Fein" line that feels like one of the most convoluted roll-and-write games on the market. Well, convoluted when learning from a rulebook or the description below; in person, with the game in front of you, I think it would be far easier to learn, but I don't have that option here, so let me now present an overview of Echt Spitze, a 1-4 player game from Ralph Querfurth and Klaus-Jürgen Wrede:
Quote:
In Echt Spitze, you want to fill the spaces on your player sheet — both sides of it! — to score more points than anyone else.

To play, each player takes a sheet from the score pad of the same level (1-3). The sheet has a 5x5 grid of squares on each side, with the rows and columns being numbered 1-5. Many of the spaces feature an icon (fruit, flower, gem, etc.) surrounded by a soap bubble.

The active player rolls 4-6 dice, two more than the player count, then all players in turn choose one of the dice and place it on the matching number in either the row or column of their sheet. (Dice show 1-5 and a ?, which is a joker.) The active player then either keeps the remaining two dice or re-rolls them. Each player can then use one of the two common dice to target a particular space on their score sheet, e.g., if you placed a 4 on the 4 column and the two dice show 1 and 3, you then mark off either the 1-4 space or the 3-4 space on your sheet.

If this space has a soap bubble, you mark off this space, poke a hole in it with your pencil, then flip the sheet over and mark off the newly poked space. Now you'll continue play on the back of your sheet, flipping it over again only when you "pop" another soap bubble.

When you mark off an icon, no matter which side of the paper, track this in your score column. The first player to mark off all icons of a type receives the large bonus, then everyone else can score only the small bonus for this icon.

Board Game: Echt Spitze
Pokey, pokey

One or both of your chosen dice might have an X on them. If this is the case and you don't pop a bubble this turn, you can mark off one or two extra spaces adjacent to the originally marked space for that turn. With two Xs, if you marked 1-4, for example, then you could mark 1-5 and 2-5. If you mark all squares in a row or column, circle the star next to that line.

When someone scores their third type of icon, the game ends. Players tally their icon bonuses, points for each star (which vary per level), and 1 point for each collected icon that didn't receive a bonus. Whoever has the highest score wins.

Level 2 sheets have beehives, and when you mark off a beehive, the bees attack everyone else and they can no longer mark off this space, which means they can't complete this row and column. Level 3 sheets challenge you to create polyominoes with marked-out spaces, in addition to collecting icons.
Querfurth and Wrede were responsible for 2021's Kannste Knicken, another roll-and-write from Schmidt Spiele, with players in that game folding over the corners of their sheet to draw on those now revealed areas. For this design, they've brought all of both sides of the sheet into play. For 2023, I expect we'll be drawing on cubes. We'll see!

Board Game: Die Zukunft von Camelot
• Other titles from Schmidt Spiele include the 2-5 player game Die Zukunft von Camelot ("The Future of Camelot") from Emanuele Briano, with each player controlling a knight and one of Merlin's apprentices to complete various challenges.

Board Game: Die Zukunft von Camelot

Rückkehr zur Isla Nublar ("Return to Isla Nublar") is seemingly yet another game based on the Jurassic Park franchise, but no images are available yet and the J.P. words aren't used in the description of this 2-4 player game from Marco Teubner:
Quote:
Isla Nublar, the setting for Jurassic Park films, was largely destroyed by a volcanic eruption. Many dinosaurs and some of the research results could not be recovered while people were escaping this disaster.

Now in Rückkehr zur Isla Nublar, a small brave group is trying to save what can be saved. To do this, the players set up new observation posts to secure existing knowledge. The dinosaurs, in turn, are trying to save their own lives and (understandably) they have little leniency for the players' efforts.
Board Game: Monstersuppe
Board Game: Alice's Garden
Monstersuppe is a 2-4 player game for players aged 5 and up from Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen in which you attempt to make soup with all sorts of gross ingredients with the long-term goal of having the most slime in your bowl after four rounds.

Ikhwan Kwon's tile-placement game Alice's Garden, which first appeared from Russian publisher Lifestyle Boardgames in 2020, will be released by Schmidt Spiele as Wald der Wunder. In this game, 1-4 players place polyomino tiles on their individual game boards while attempting to satisfy as many of the Red Queen's requirements as possible: The trees must be as far apart, the rose bushes must be the most sumptuous in the whole Wonderland, and the chess pieces must have a neat path to walk on.

Here's an overview video of the game that BGG recorded at Spielwarenmesse 2020, back when attending conventions was still a thing:


Die Villa der Vampire from Guido Hoffmann and Jens-Peter Schliemann is the obligatory Drei Magier Spiele in this line-up, with vampires being a regular feature in this brand's games, alongside cockroaches. Here's what's happening with the neckbiters this time:
Quote:
The big vampire festival, which takes place every 99 years, is coming up in the abandoned villa. But what's this? The very old vampires are still "sleeping" calmly in their coffins and they might miss out. You can't have that!

Board Game: Die Villa der Vampire

In Die Villa der Vampire, you slip into the role of child vampires, and with the help of three vampire bats, try to maneuver garlic bulbs into suitable graves in the vampire villa to wake up the old vampires. But where exactly are the well-heeled vampires who will bring a lot of vampire points hiding? Who will use skill and luck to collect the most vampire points and win?
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Fri Jan 21, 2022 1:00 pm
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Rediscover Amun-Re, Santa's Workshop, and Reiner Knizia's Odd Socks

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Amun-Re
• One of the first games I played when I dove deep into hobby games in 2003 was Reiner Knizia's Amun-Re. I was already familiar with Lost Cities, but like many people I connected that game more with the publisher (Rio Grande Games) than the designer. Despite being someone who scoured used book stores to find every title from an author I admired, at that time I hadn't yet grasped the concept of game designers being akin to book authors and having a catalog of works to explore.

No matter — Amun-Re opened my eyes, and the Guy Stuff Gamers group I played with then introduced me to many other Knizia designs, such as Ra, Circus Flohcati, Trendy, Money!, and Stephenson's Rocket, hooking me for good.

Board Game: Amun-Re: 20th Anniversary Edition
Non-final front cover

With the 20th anniversary of that design on the horizon, UK publisher Alley Cat Games plans to use crowdfunding to release the appropriately named Amun-Re: 20th Anniversary Edition, with this edition featuring new art by Vincent Dutrait, a player count of 2-5 instead of 3-5, and four expansions for which Alley Cat's Caezar Al-Jassar has passed along summaries:

Statues: In each of the first three rounds, grand statues are added to certain provinces. These statues each grant unique powers to the player who controls the province in which they are built. This expansion adds extra interest to the auction phase and gives players their own player powers that may vary each time. The statues will be miniatures representing Egyptian gods.

Afterlife: A fourth purchasable item is added to the market phase: afterlife tiles. These tiles are then placed using the rewards granted to players in the offerings phase or by discarding unwanted cards and tiles. Players place the tiles into their own personal pyramid shape, starting with a base of up to five tiles. Each placed tile gives the player a bonus, and this bonus is multiplied if the tile is placed on top of matching tiles within the pyramid. At the end of the game, each completed row of tiles is worth points.

Pharaoh: This mini expansion adds tension to the auction phase by rewarding players for overbidding other players. The Pharaoh moves to each province that is overbid, and at the conclusion of the auctions the player who wins the province with the Pharaoh receives a token that grants extra rewards in the subsequent offerings phase.

Viziers: Viziers are added to the auction phase. Each player now bids on both a province and a vizier using the same bidding mechanisms. With 3-5 players, these viziers are placed off the main board, and a player must work out which combination they want to pursue. A variant allows two or three players to place viziers in the provinces themselves, bidding for two provinces but choosing only one province and one vizier. Each vizier grants an instant bonus, and combining these with your provinces becomes a key to success.

Board Game: Relationship Tightrope
• An even older Knizia title that acquired a new edition in 2021 is the card game Relationship Tightrope, which was first released in 1999 as Drahtseilakt. In the game, players each contribute one card to the table — either simultaneously or turn-by-turn — with the player of the highest card winning tokens of one color and the player of the lowest card winning tokens of another color. Your goal is to balance the two colors and have a score as close to 0 as possible.

Japanese publisher Korokorodou has released the game as Odd Socks, with the gameplay being the same and players now attempting to balance blue and red socks so that they can cover their feet evenly.

Board Game: Relationship Tightrope

• Korokorodou has also released a new edition of a minimalist design from Taiki Shinzawa, a game first released in 2013 as バベルの塔 ("Tower of Babel"), but now titled TOPPEN. Here's an overview of this two-player game:
Quote:
TOPPEN is played with ten tiles — five of one pattern and five of another — with each player owning one set of tiles. During set-up, the second player places the ten tiles face down randomly in a square grid so as to form a continuous shape of their choice. The tiles are flipped color-side up, then the game begins. Taking turns, players take one of their tiles and place it on top of a neighboring tile/stack. The following restrictions apply:

—You can take only one tile, the topmost of a stack.
—You cannot split the tiles into two separate groups.
—You cannot move a tile to an empty space.

Board Game: TOPPEN

If you cannot make a legal move, you must pass until a legal move is available to you again. You cannot pass if a move is available. The goal is to have your own tile at the top of the last pile remaining when the game ends.
Board Game: Santa's Workshop
• Yet another title getting a fresh look is Keith Ferguson's 2017 game Santa's Workshop, which first appeared from Rio Grande Games. Here's an overview of this 2-5 player game:
Quote:
Santa's Workshop is a worker-placement game, taking place over nine rounds, in which players use their elves to collect materials in order to build gifts, and tend to the reindeer. Players may customize their workforce by sending elves to be trained in certain aspects of the game, which provide a benefit for the rest of the game. For some gifts, plastic may be substituted for the standard materials of fabric, wood or metal. This will cause those gifts to score fewer "Christmas Cookies", but may allow a player to build more gifts in a shorter amount of time. This can be helpful when Santa comes around three times during the game for an inspection to see which team has made the most gifts.

Players will have to decide when to visit the mail room in order to pick which gifts to build, and when to tend to the reindeer. The reindeer accumulate points the longer they go untended — and each of the eight reindeer provides a unique bonus to the player.
U.S. publisher Elf Creek Games is overhauling the look of the game thanks to Andrew Bosley and Jacqui Davis, and the new Santa's Workshop will include two game modes: a standard game for players as young as 7 and an advanced game for players aged 10 and up. Elf Creek Games anticipates releasing this edition of Santa's Workshop in November 2022.

Board Game: Santa's Workshop
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Thu Jan 20, 2022 1:00 pm
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Can You Remain Undaunted by What You'll Face in Stalingrad?

W. Eric Martin
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UK publisher Osprey Games has announced a new title in its Undaunted series of games from designers Trevor Benjamin and David ThompsonUndaunted: Stalingrad, with this game taking place on a scale unlike the first two standalone games.

Board Game: Undaunted: Stalingrad

Here's a blurb about the game from the designers:
Quote:
We're digging deep into the storied Battle of Stalingrad, a key battle not only for the Eastern Front but the entire Second World War, and we're doing it with a massive box full of content unlike anything Undaunted fans have seen before. We're introducing new units, actions, and ways to interact with the environment. What we're most excited about, though, is that we've created an integrated campaign where the results of each scenario impact the rest of the campaign's rich narrative and will set the stage for scenarios to come.
And here's a bit more about the game, which is due out in the latter half of 2022:
Quote:
Stalingrad, 1942. Before you awaits a grueling conflict in this cornerstone battleground. As the bullets and bombs tear the city asunder, only through wits and valor can you seize the cornerstone of the entire Eastern Front and change the course of history.

A heavy burden rests on your shoulders. Every casualty suffered in battle will weaken your forces for the entire campaign. Every bomb blast and mortar shell leaves the very ground for which you are fighting in further ruin. Every inch lost to the enemy brings you closer to the jaws of defeat. Over the course of up to fifteen branching scenarios, you will decide the fate of Stalingrad and, perhaps, the war itself. Even though the consequences of your actions will persist, the game itself can be fully reset and replayed, allowing you to explore every potential outcome.

Undaunted: Stalingrad is a monumental, platoon-level, standalone game that expands the series' scope and challenge beyond anything that's come before. Featuring more than 300 unique illustrations by Roland MacDonald and 150 evocative mission briefings written by acclaimed author Robbie MacNiven, immerse yourself in this campaign at the heart of the war.
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Wed Jan 19, 2022 4:30 pm
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Stand on Your Own in Legacy of Yu, Wreckland Run, and The Hand of Destiny

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Board Game: Legacy of Yu
• Designer Shem Phillips of Garphill Games has included solitaire rules in nearly all of his releases dating back to 2016, but for 2022 he's going to release his first one-player-only game: Legacy of Yu.

Here's an overview of the game, which Phillips expects to bring to Kickstarter in mid-2022:
Quote:
During the reign of Emperor Yao, the people of ancient China were constantly plagued by deadly floods along the Yellow River. Eager to put an end to the devastation, Yao selected Gun, one of his officials, to devise a plan. After nine years of failed attempts using dams and dikes, Gun's employment came to a questionable end. After his passing, Yu inherited his father's work. Learning from Gun's failures, Yu set out to construct a series of canals to direct the surging river into nearby fields and smaller waterways.

Legacy of Yu is a solo-only, fully-resettable, nonlinear campaign game in which you step into the role of the legendary hero of the Xia Dynasty, Yu the Great. It will be your job to build the canals ahead of the impending flood, while also defending your growing village against neighboring barbarian tribes. With each game, stories will be shared and new gameplay elements added. The campaign features a self-balancing system which adapts to how well you are doing. The campaign ends once you either win or lose seven games.
Board Game: Legacy of Yu
Sample barbarian cards

• U.S. publisher Renegade Game Studios has announced a third title in its "Solo Hero Series", with Wreckland Run from Scott Almes due to launch on Kickstarter on February 8, 2022.

The game's description is minimal, but the cover screams Mad Max: Fury Road, so you already have some idea of what you're in for with this design:
Quote:
Load up your vehicle with supplies, strap on a few weapons, and prepare to make your wreckland run.

Board Game: Wreckland Run

Wreckland Run takes place in a post-apocalyptic landscape known as the Wrecklands that's filled with marauders and other dangers. In this post-apocalyptic solitaire game of vehicular carnage, you choose a vehicle and driver to guide through a seven-chapter campaign, trying desperately to get supplies through to the last holdouts of civilization. Each chapter introduces new options and challenges, and the whole game can be replayed with different combinations of drivers and vehicles.
Renegade Game Studios notes that the KS campaign will feature an Anomaly expansion for Warp's Edge, another Scott Almes design and the second title in its Solo Hero Series following Kane Klenko's Proving Grounds in 2019.

• In Q4 2021, Barrett Publishing ran a Kickstarter campaign for three thematically-related games, two of which are solitaire-only designs, with the third being for 1-2 players.

Board Game: The Hand of Destiny

In The Hand of Destiny from Joe Klipfel, you face waves of minions ahead of a final boss battle, with everything taking place in your hands and not on a table. From the BGG game description: "You use your hero's limited strength resources and unique abilities to vanquish foes and move through the deck. Manage your health, upgrade your hero, and play cards as efficiently as possible to win the day."

Board Game: The Forgotten Road

The Forgotten Road from company owner Gabe Barrett is set in a different part of the "Realm of Shadows", with you traveling down the road of the title, encountering threats on your way to rescue a fellow hero who has been placed in a dungeon. In more detail:
Quote:
The Forgotten Road is a hand-management game in which you need to play your action cards and use your special abilities as efficiently as possible to take out monsters, pass skill checks, move to new locations, and defeat bosses of ever-increasing difficulty. The game ends when either you run out of action cards or health and lose — or you defeat the final boss at the end of the road/dungeon deck and win.
Board Game: The Last Stronghold

Barrett is also the design of The Last Stronghold, a co-operative design for 1-2 players that also has you trying to hold on until you can defeat the leader at game's end. In some detail:
Quote:
The forces of darkness have pushed all the way south, destroying everything in their path. The city of Lux is all that stands in their way from completely overtaking the realm. A small group of heroes must work together to fend off the evil army long enough to take out its leader.

The Last Stronghold is a dice-driven siege game in which you must fend off monsters in the areas surrounding Lux and prevent them from overtaking the city. You use special abilities and magical artifacts to manipulate the dice and monsters, with the goal of eventually taking out the final boss...should you last long enough. On your turn, you add threats to the board, decide which threats you want to deal with, move to that location, roll dice and use hero abilities to get rid of those threats, and repeat until you either defeat the final boss OR all heroes are incapacitated OR the main city you're protecting takes too much damage.
All three "Realm of Shadows" titles are due out in mid-2022.
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Wed Jan 19, 2022 1:00 pm
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Ride or Die in Skull Canyon: Ski Fest or Skate Summer

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Board Game: Skull Canyon: Ski Fest
If you want to be reckless on the slopes no matter the weather, U.S. publisher Pandasaurus Games plans to satisfy those desires in 2022.

• Assuming shipping goes as planned, ha ha, April 13, 2022 will see the release of Skull Canyon: Ski Fest from first-time designers Jason Klinke and Kip Noschese.

Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game that carries a 45-60 minute playing time:
Quote:
Prove you're the ultimate skier by taking on the most difficult runs, collecting the best gear, and earning the highest score!

To get your ski on in Skull Canyon: Ski Fest, you need to collect and turn in matching sets of slope cards. Each set you turn in lets you ski a run on the mountain, earning victory points, fame, and a spot on the run scoreboard that tracks who performed best on each run. The higher a run's difficulty rating, the more cards you need to collect to complete it — but you'll also score more points and earn more fame.

Board Game: Skull Canyon: Ski Fest

At the end of each day of skiing, you take a break at the Ski Village, where you can take bonus actions and acquire gear to prepare for the next day of skiing. At the end of the third day, players score for the number of easy, advanced, and expert runs they control, then whoever has the most victory points wins!
• This game will be followed in mid-2022 by Skate Summer from another first-time designer, Randy Reiman, with art by Pape Ink, who is new to working on games.

Board Game: Skate Summer

Note, though, that Skate Summer will precede Skull Canyon: Ski Fest in that the former game will be launched for funding on Kickstarter on January 18, 2022, with this 2-5 player game being released in two editions: a retail edition with limited stretch goals that will hit retail stores and special edition juiced with all stretch goals that will be available only through the crowdfunding campaign. As for what the game's about:
Quote:
It's summer, and you're riding the sun-drenched half-pipes of Pelican Park. Locals know there's no ledge too high, no rail too long, and no ramp too dangerous for you and your crew. Nail rad trick combos and show off your skills, but be careful — the longer you stay on your board, the more likely you are to bail!

The object of Skate Summer is to score the most points by doing trick combos, collecting goal tokens, and visiting S-K-A-T-E-R locations. The game is played in rounds. Each round has the following phases:

1. COMBOS: Players simultaneously play trick cards, earn rewards, and roll dice to check their balance.
2. SKILLS & POINTS: Players simultaneously improve their skills and score points for combos.
3. MOVES: Players take turns navigating the park, picking up goals and gear.
4. ROUND END: Each player resets their board and draws up to their hand size, then the "Pro Skater" first player marker passes to the left.

Board Game: Skate Summer

If any player's score has hit or passed the endgame token at the end of the round, the game ends and players count up their endgame points. The player with the highest score wins!
Okay, graphic designer Matt Paquette should feel stoked over those player boards, which are simultaneously obvious and ingenious...
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Tue Jan 18, 2022 3:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Zapotec

Board Game: Zapotec
I started working on the game that would become Zapotec in early 2019. March 31st was my last day of work that year, after which I took some time off so that I could focus on board games full time for a while. (This is still ongoing after over two years.)

I had just closed Merv, so I started playing around with some ideas for a new game. Following the theme from my two previous games, Ragusa and Merv, I was still thinking of some other way to use the "house placement" mechanism.

In this case, the idea was to have a map with house slots where each slot would have a few properties (e.g., type of building, neighborhood, etc.), and each turn you had constraints on which houses you would be able to place. Those same properties would also be relevant for endgame scoring.

The initial idea was about building a modern city in which each building slot had three properties: their type (residential, commercial, industrial), the neighborhood (with three on the map), and whether the building was next to a road, a railroad, or a water course. One of the first boards looked like this:

From gallery of Fabio_

The action selection, at the time, was based on nine double-sided tiles, each one having one icon on each side, with the icons being the three types of buildings, the three neighborhoods, and the three resources.

Each player also had a player mat with nine houses sitting on the main grid at the start (covering all the "+1" spaces) and various discs covering the circles:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

There would be a row of 5-7 tiles on the main board and one tile on each player mat. On your turn, you would flip the tile on your player mat (moving it from the left slot to the right slot), then get a tile from the main board and place it onto the left slot. Depending on where you took the tile from, you would gain or lose some coins (as indicated on the board).

You would then activate the two tiles:

• When activating a tile with a resource, you would gain that resource for each visible "+1" on the corresponding row, so if you already had built two houses from the "bricks" row, you would gain a total of 3 bricks.
• When activating a tile with a neighborhood shield, you would collect money along the corresponding column, so if you had built two houses in that neighborhood, you would gain three coins.
• When activating a tile with a building type, you would be able to build a house of that type (with each building type requiring a specific pair of resources), the house would go on the main board on a slot of the matching type and in the same neighborhood of the column from which you took the house.

Instead of placing a house, you could place one of your discs under one of your already built houses (thereby upgrading it) or place a disc on a special building slot on the map (with one for each main building aspect). The number of discs on those bigger building lots would determine how many points each house with the matching aspects would be worth at the end of the game for all players. For example, if at the end of the game, the wharf building had three discs, each house next to water would be worth 3 VP, while upgraded houses would count double. Removing discs from your board would also unlock various abilities that let you spend coins to activate various bonuses.

This initial prototype already had many of the ideas that would then become central to Zapotec, such as the resource grid, the house placement and costs, and some of the scoring principles.

The drafting of tiles, though, was not working very well as you often would end up taking the tiles you could afford rather than the ones you wanted, and especially at higher player counts, the tiles you needed might end up always being taken by some other player.

During that time I was able to playtest two or three times a week thanks to regular events with PlaytestUK and weekly tests with a few other designer friends at my place, with enough free time between them to let me iterate quickly and try new changes.

One of the first things that changed was swapping out tiles for cards. Each card would have both a resource and a building aspect, and players would have a hand of cards so that they could plan a few turns ahead instead of relying on which cards were available to draft on the next turn. Cards would also have a scoring multiplier that would apply to all of your buildings with a given feature.

Here is a picture from an actual playtest session:

From gallery of Fabio_

In this version (from mid-April 2019), you would play a card in front of you, deciding which resource row to activate and which buildings you could build, either the type, the neighborhood, or whether it should be next to a railway, road or water. When placing the building, you would then get the tile from the same slot on the board, and place it on your player mat on the same slot from which you took the house. That tile then provided extra resources when collecting from the same row.

The card would also provide a score multiplier for your buildings with some other feature. For example, one card would let you build an office and score 1 VP for all your houses next to a river.

Upgrading a building by placing a disc underneath it would cost an additional coin over the cost of the building type, and now you would gain one of the tiles on the board that's tied to the type of building you boosted.

Finally, you could add a second disc to an already boosted building (turning it into a level-3 building) and at the same time add another disc to one of the nine main buildings on the left top corner of the board. These buildings will award a certain number of VP to each building with the given feature and even more VPs to boosted buildings of that type. (The slot in the top left corner, for example, awards each commercial building of level 1/2/3 with 1/2/4 VPs times the number of discs that have been placed on it at the end of the game.)

Board Game Publisher: Board&Dice
In early May 2019, I went to a playtest session at Dávid Turczi's place (as we both lived in London at the time). I tried his game Tawantinsuyu, then we played a game of Merv. (Although the main game was pretty much finalized by then, I was still working on the solo mode, and I was looking for some advice from the master.) At some point, Dávid half-jokingly said that if I ever made a game with a Mesoamerican theme, he would gladly show it to his friends at Board&Dice, so over the next few days, I did some research into whether I could somehow fit my city-building game into that setting.

I found the Zapotec civilization to be very well fitting because that civilization developed along three valleys around a central location. The three city neighborhoods naturally turned into the three valleys of Mitla, Etla, and Ocotlán; the three types of buildings turned into temples, villages, and corn fields, and instead of water/rail/roads I used three types of terrain: plains, forests, and hills, which emerged almost naturally from the setting.

Once I had those three specific types of buildings, it came naturally that each one would provide its own special resource: corn fields produce corn, temples produce priests, and villages produce trading opportunities (abstracted into gold).

The "capital" actions were then a way to spend these resources, so gold was now used to access trading tiles, which initially provided just some conversions, but which eventually evolved into more varied kinds of special abilities.

Corn was sacrificed in order to advance on a track, and priests were used, along with building resources, in order to build pyramids.

From gallery of Fabio_

I changed the card play so that cards were reused; now cards played in a round would become the ones from which to draft in the next round. The cards were also played simultaneously, with the printed number determining the turn order for the round. The leftover card, after drafting, would become the scoring card for the next round, etc.

This new version introduced more tension between being early or late in turn order. Now if you are last in turn order, you will try to build houses that satisfy the scoring card for both the current round and the next round.

Also, by reusing cards, there's a good chance that the scoring cards for the last couple of rounds have already been used a few times, so they would have a bigger impact on scoring. Finally, players are presented with an interesting choice between whether to pick up a previously used card to play it again next round or leave it and possibly score from it.

I also tweaked the pyramid scoring to create an incentive to work together to build bigger pyramids. (Completed pyramids award way more points than incomplete ones, but you can build only one level per pyramid per turn.)

By early June 2019, I had a game that was in a good enough state, and I brought it to a playtesting session at Dávid's place. He kept the prototype so that he could bring it to a meet-up with Board&Dice a few days later.

I made another copy of the prototype, which I then brought to a lot of places. Around that time, I left my flat in London, spent a weekend in Melksham for a playtesting event, then while all my furniture was on a truck heading across Europe, I went on a trip to Germany where I stopped by, among other places, Göttingen for the big annual game designer meeting. Once settled in Milan, I went to a dozen or so gaming and playtesting events all over Italy between August and January, making more tweaks to the design here and there.

During that time I also received some great feedback from Board&Dice, which was happy to sign the game.

A few final tweaks were implemented: We removed one game round (going from six to five), introduced the palace (that counts as two houses for scoring purposes but doesn't provide resources), and started thinking about a few other ideas.

In February 2020, I flew to Warsaw for a week of full immersion with Board&Dice and a few other designers for their upcoming games. (We also playtested Tawantinsuyu, Tekhenu, Tabannusi, Origins, and Dark Ages with David, Daniele, Adam, and the lovely folks from Board&Dice.)

During that week, we finalized the last remaining details, improved the trade tiles, and introduced the ritual cards in order to provide even more variability in the game.

From gallery of Fabio_

I am happy that the majority of the work on Zapotec was finalized before the emergence of the novel coronavirus. Even though the ongoing pandemic has certainly resulted in additional challenges, particularly when it comes to wider playtesting of the finished design, additional development, and the disruption to the global supply chain, I am happy knowing the game received all necessary attention and is, today, on its way to various worldwide warehouses for fulfillment and distribution.

Fabio Lopiano

Editor's note of a self-promotional nature: Zapotec is available for purchase via the BGG Store. —WEM
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Tue Jan 18, 2022 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Ankh, Gods of Egypt, or Simplicity Made Complex

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Ankh: Gods of Egypt
As I noted in my 2022 new year's resolution post, I'm trying to play, write about, and record videos about a wider spectrum of games than I would normally play. I know what I like, sure, but maybe I could like something else given that I'm not necessarily the same person now as I was a few years ago. (Cue thoughts on Theseus' paradox.)

I had received a review copy of Ankh: Gods of Egypt from CMON, for example, and while I normally avoid mini-on-a-map games that include direct conflict, I realized that aside from Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men (review here), I had played no games by designer Eric M. Lang. I've interviewed Lang many times about new releases, and I love chatting with him at conventions, but his games didn't seem like my type of thing, so I never played his work.

With those thoughts in mind, I thought I'd try a modern Lang design and a mini-on-a-map game in one go. Turns out I was surprised by the core of Ankh, it being a Eurogame at heart with players taking two of four simple actions on a turn:

• Move each of your figures on the board 0-3 spaces to land on an unoccupied space.
• Summon a figure from your reserve adjacent to either a figure of yours on the board or a monument you control.
• Gain followers — the game's money — based on the number of neutral or owned monuments to which you are adjacent.
• Gain an ankh power by paying 1-3 followers.

Simple, right?

From gallery of W Eric Martin

One wrinkle is that your second action must be on a lower level than your first, so if you gain followers, then you must gain an ankh power for your second action, whether you can afford to or not.

Another wrinkle is that each time you take an action, you move a marker on a central track for that action, and when the marker reaches the end of the track, you trigger an event. Most of the events are bonuses that help only one player — you gain control of a monument, or you use a camel caravan to split a region in two — so you want to be the one to trigger an event, but players are collectively moving markers on four tracks related to the four types of actions, which means that you can usually trigger an event only if another player moved the marker to the next-to-last space on the track. You don't want to set up an event bonus for someone else, but you must take two actions on your turn (unless you start by gaining an ankh power), so you're probably going to do so multiple times, just as another player will set you up.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Near game's end

These forced actions provide a timer for the game, yet it's an irregular timer since events will be triggered with a different rhythm from one game to the next. As with all the Reiner Knizia games that I adore, in Ankh: Gods of Egypt you want to take all the actions — especially since you need followers to gain ankh powers, yet to gain followers you need figures in the right places — but you can take only two at a time, and events keep rushing toward you, and before you know it, conflict has begun, conflict being the one event that involves everyone.

To resolve conflict, you look at each region on the game board. If only one player is in a region, they score 1 devotion — the game's scoring metric, players being (as the title says) gods in Egypt — along with 1 devotion for each of the three types of monuments (obelisks, pyramids, temples) for which they have a majority. That preceding phrase sounds both cumbersome and promising; in practice scoring is easy to resolve, yet not necessarily easy to obtain due to that constantly advancing clock. You'll be eyeing all the monuments, but you'll grab only a few, so make them count, especially since most of the level-2 ankh powers key off of monuments you control.

If no one is in a region, ignore it, but I've yet to see that happen in three games. If two or more players are in a region, then battle ensues, with each player choosing and revealing an action card from their hand. Some cards take effect immediately, then players in the region score for monument majorities, then you resolve battle — although it doesn't feel much like battle given that you can have towering gods and swole guardians on the board, yet each figure has a strength of 1, so the strength comparison is often 2-1, 3-2, or something similarly meager. (Some games inflate values by pointlessly having all numbers be tens or hundreds, but Ankh keeps it honest, so I'll give credit for that.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
When you boil it down, it's 2 vs. 2

In a battle, all non-god figures on the losing side are removed from play, which might be one reason why the battles have such low strength totals. Who's going to bring five figures into a region if they think they're going to lose them as you'll then need multiple summon actions to build up forces once again? (That said, two of the battle cards encourage grand efforts like that, with one of them giving you devotion for lost figures. So many sacrifices! You must be an awesome god indeed!)

More generally, it feels like you want to compete in as many regions as possible since you're picking up only a point or two at a time, so you need to squeeze out victories here, there, and everywhere instead of dogpiling one place and letting others score what you ignore. Besides, you have only seven figures (a god and six warriors), with the chance of getting up to three guardians, so you have little opportunity to swarm a region. The game keeps hustling along, and you're like, well, I have one figure in that region, so you're telling me there's a chance!

Aside from the battle cards, you have the aforementioned ankh powers that provide perks, with each guardian and god also having a unique power of their own. All of these extras feel tiny — you gain a few followers or a mummy respawns by your god instead of perishing in battle or a crocodile sits in water and provides its 1 strength to two, count 'em, TWO regions instead of one — so the simple core of the game becomes papered over with a multitude of details that feel almost inconsequential, yet they sometimes turn a battle, which then has knock-on effects in who exists in a region, which carries over into everything else. For the want of a nail and all that.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
New region, who dis?

These tiny, yet significant details are strangely paired with large-scale, yet extraneous figures that can obscure the current game state unless you have a perfect memory of where every piece is or you're standing over the game board to ensure that a crucial monument or figure isn't overlooked — something that has happened in two of my three games. I have little experience playing games with miniatures, so perhaps one becomes accustomed to peering around game pieces to spot other game pieces, but if given a choice, I'd opt for large and small colored cubes to ensure clarity of what's where. That would probably sell a lot fewer copies of Ankh: Gods of Egypt, though.

One cool twist in the design is the midgame reset that shakes up everyone's holdings. After the third conflict, in games with three or more players, the two players with the lowest scores merge, becoming a single god to compete against everyone else as a team. This sounds mighty, like Atlas and Hercules combining to create a mythic figure twice as strong as either one individually, yet in practice the figures and monuments of the lowest scoring god are wiped away, so it's more like Atlercules is as powerful as before, but now he has two driver's licenses, so he can vote twice in the Greek elections. As with so many other things, the advantage for this new figure is tiny, yet a tiny wedge can split an opponent's hold on a region, so it's all about where you can place that wedge relative to what everyone else is doing.

For more thoughts on Ankh: Gods of Egypt, along with details of the ankh powers, god powers, and guardian powers, check out this video overview:

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Mon Jan 17, 2022 1:00 pm
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Links: Damon Stone Takes You to Haiti, and Ian Livingstone Gets Knighted

W. Eric Martin
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• In December 2021, Inverse's Zeb Larson profiled designer Damon Stone and his game Liberation—Haiti, one of the Zenobia Award finalists for 2021 in an article titled "This Surprising New Game Wants to Fix the Worst Thing about Risk". Here's an overview of the game from the designer:
Quote:
The French colony of Saint-Domingue produced more wealth than the rest of France's colonies combined. France chose to meet the demand for these labor-intensive crops by way of an explosive increase in slavery with nearly half a million enslaved West Africans working the Saint-Domingue plantations. The brutality and greed of the plantation owners and overseers, coupled with the extreme disregard for the enslaved Africans' humanity, set the stage for revolt. After months of hidden preparation, the signal was given following a secret Vodou ceremony. On the 21st of August, 1791, the fuse to the powder keg that was Saint-Domingue ignited with the flame of liberation.

Board Game: Liberation - Haiti

In the cooperative deck-building and strategic war game Liberation—Haiti, the players each control a geographical faction of enslaved Africans or those who escaped enslavement living in the French colony of Saint-Domingue during the early period of the Haitian Revolution, 1791 to 1793. These factions seek both the abolition of their slavery and social equality.

Before rebelling and fighting for your liberty, you need to recruit people to your cause, gather information, develop maneuvers, and stockpile supplies, all while the game is opposing your actions. You have to face well-armed colonial militia and foreign armies, navigate fragile or fleeting alliances, and overcome both political and environmental challenges to win freedom for your people.

The game is played in two stages: the Planning Stage and the Revolution Stage. In the Planning Stage, you use a deck of cards specific to your faction to acquire planning cards that represent intelligence, people, and materiel. Cards added to your pool will in turn help accumulate more and stronger cards of these types. In the Revolution Stage, you use your acquired card pool to overthrow the colonial slave system by deploying units to raid plantations, defeat enemy forces, seize control of strategic locations, increase the morale of your people, and meet political challenges.
The article goes into detail about how and why Stone developed the concept behind the game. A few excerpts:
Quote:
Stone sees Liberation—Haiti as an opportunity to set the record straight on both the realities of slavery and Haiti itself, which he says only gets acknowledged by the rest of the world "when there is a disaster or national tragedy."
Quote:
"I was watching Hamilton for the third, fifth time, and the idea that people were learning about this particular period of American history because it was made in a very accessible format was just something I was fascinated by," he says.

"I thought it would be fascinating to display the only successful slave uprising that resulted in the abolition of slavery for its people as well as the formation of a country in which the revolutionaries were still in charge."
Board Game Publisher: Board&Dice
• In a highly informative November 2021 post on BGG, Andrei Novac of publisher Board&Dice broke down the costs involved with a Kickstarted game to demonstrate how a game that bears a $100 price on KS will (perhaps) net the publisher $18 per game...before taxes kick in, mind you.

Ian Livingstone, co-founder of Games Workshop and co-creator of the Fighting Fantasy book series, has received the title "Knight Bachelor" from UK's Queen Elizabeth "[f]or services to the Online Gaming Industry", with him being one of 1,122 people on the New Year Honours List for 2022.

• Starting on January 21, 2022, gamers in Gloucester and Herefordshire plan to play the board game Dune from Gale Force Nine for no less than 85 hours continuously to land a spot in the Guinness World Records. The game(s) will be streamed on Facebook.
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Sun Jan 16, 2022 1:00 pm
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