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Winners Announced for Deutscher SpielePreis and The American Tabletop Awards

W. Eric Martin
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North Carolina
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• On Monday, Sept. 16, SPIEL organizer Friedhelm Merz Verlag announced the results of the 2019 Deutscher SpielePreis, an annual award in which gamers vote on the titles they've most liked over the preceding twelve months. Voting takes place in the middle of the year, with titles released between July of the previous year and June of the current year being eligible.

Based on the votes tallied, the winner of the 2019 DSP is Elizabeth Hargrave's Wingspan from Stonemaier Games and (in Germany) Feuerland Spiele. (Yes, Wingspan appears in a second BGG News post today.) Here are the other vote-getters in the top ten, with their originating publisher listed instead of their German-specific one:

2. The Taverns of Tiefenthal, by Wolfgang Warsch (Schmidt Spiele)
3. Teotihuacan: City of Gods, by Daniele Tascini and Dávid Turczi (Board&Dice)
4. Spirit Island, by R. Eric Reuss (Greater Than Games)
5. Architects of the West Kingdom, by Shem Phillips and S.J. Macdonald (Garphill Games)
6. Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, by Ignacy Trzewiczek, Przemysław Rymer, and Jakub Łapot (Portal Games)
7. Underwater Cities, by Vladimír Suchý (Delicious Games)
8. Newton, by Nestore Mangone and Simone Luciani (Cranio Creations)
9. Just One, by Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter (Repos Production)
10. Gloomhaven, by Isaac Childres (Cephalophair Games)

Concept Kids from Gaëtan Beaujannot, Alain Rivollet, and Repos Production won the 2019 Deutscher KinderspielePreis.

• That same day saw the debut of The American Tabletop Awards (ATTA), a new annual award founded by a committee of ten — Brittanie Boe, Nicole Brady, Amber Cook, Ruel Gaviola, Jonathan Liu, Becca Scott, Suzanne Sheldon, Theo Strempel, Annette Villa, and Eric Yurko — with all the committee members being based in the United States and being involved in the gaming industry in various ways.

The ATTAs will name winners in four categories — early gamers, casual games, strategy games, and complex games — with winners being announced in June in future years, but in September for 2019 to kick things off now rather than waiting another nine months. Each category will have a winning title, two recommended titles, and two nominated titles. (The format seems to be that the top five titles in a category are nominated, with committee members then voting on those to determine the winning and recommended titles.)

For 2019, the ATTA winners are:

• Early gamers: Catch the Moon, by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez (Studio Bombyx)
• Casual games: The Quacks of Quedlinburg, by Wolfgang Warsch (Schmidt Spiele)
• Strategy games: Chronicles of Crime, by David Cicurel (Lucky Duck Games)
• Complex games: Root, by Cole Wehrle (Leder Games)

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Wed Sep 18, 2019 4:03 pm
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New Game Round-up: Sail to New Islands in Concordia, Then Attempt to Return Tiles in No Return

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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• I'm sure that you've been eager to hear more about what I'm looking forward to at SPIEL '19, and if that is indeed the case, here's an overview of the second title on my "must have" list: Marco Teubner's No Return: Es gibt kein Zurück! from German publisher moses. Verlag

No Return: Es gibt kein Zurück! ("There's No Turning Back!") is played in two phases, with players collecting tiles in phase one, then scoring their tiles in phase two. People move into phase two at their own pace, and once you go in, you're there for the rest of the game — which might not be long!

The game includes 132 tiles, specifically two sets of tiles in six colors, with the tiles being numbered 1-11 in each color. Each player starts with eight tiles in hand, and you can discard and redraw once before the game begins. On a turn, you either (1) discard up to four tiles in the your hand from the game, then draw that many tiles from the bag or (2) play one or more tiles from your hand to a color on your board, then draw that many tiles. You can play tiles of only one color, and all the tiles played must be equal to or less than any tiles of that color you already have in play. You place these tiles in descending order, and you can build at most six rows during the game, one of each color.

Whenever you want, you can switch to phase two. Once you do this, on a turn you either (1) discard up to four tiles in the your hand from the game, then draw that many tiles from the bag or (2) clear tiles from your play area to score them. To do this, choose one or more tiles in your play area of only a single color, starting with the lowest valued tile (or tiles), then sum the tiles you want to score. You must then "pay" to score these tiles by discarding tiles of one color from your hand that sum to this same amount or higher. The tiles you discard from your hand don't have to be the same color as the color of the tiles you're scoring. Remove the tiles you paid from the game, and place the tiles you've cleared face down in a score pile. Refill your hand to eight tiles at the end of your turn.

As soon as someone draws the final tile from the bag, you complete the round so that everyone has had the same number of turns, then the game ends. A player's score equals the sum of the tiles that they've cleared minus the sum of the tiles they still have in play. (Tiles in a player's hand are discarded.) Whoever has the highest score wins!
Chunky tiles + simple rules + somewhat controllable randomness + press-your-luck elements + a shared pool of resources that will likely lead to drastically different styles of play with different player counts = a "must have" title for me. We'll see whether my expectations hold up once it's actually on the table!

• In 2018, German publisher PD-Verlag released Concordia: Venus as both a standalone game and an expansion, with one of the maps differing depending on what you purchased. PD-Verlag had promised that in 2019 buyers would be able to acquire the map they didn't get, and now it's making good on that promise with the release of Concordia: Balearica / Cyprus (for those who purchased the Venus expansion) and Concordia: Balearica / Italia (for those who purchased the Venus base game).

This expansion features the Balearic Islands off the coast of eastern Spain, with players starting the game with no capital city and two ships at sea. It also includes a fish market that can be used as a variant with any other Concordia map. An explanation:

As a new commodity, fish replaces the ordinary bonus units you usually collect when playing your Prefect. The bonus is doubled up to two fish in provinces that have failed to produce in the last round. Sell your fish on a separate fish market where you can get either goods, cash, or special actions in return. The fish market offers an extra layer of planning ahead, and new challenges for the experienced Concordia player.

Designer Mac Gerdts shows off Balearica at the Modena game fair

• French publisher Matagot has informed me that it will have the French (and English) versions of Stonemaier Games' Tapestry for sale at SPIEL '19, whereas German publisher Feuerland Spiele — which has been Stonemaier's partner on German versions of Wingspan, Scythe, and other titles — won't have the German edition of Tapestry available until July 2020.

Why the difference? Blame Wingspan, which won Kennerspiel des Jahres in July 2019. In a Sept. 12, 2019 Facebook post, Feuerland notes that (in my translation) "Due to the success of Wingspan, we currently have high investments in production, which will be paid off only in the Christmas season." As a result, Feuerland Spiele has launched a preorder campaign for Tapestry since production for that game needs to take place prior to Christmas. Those who preorder will receive a discount on the price and are promised the game six weeks ahead of its arrival at retail.

In other Feuerland Spiele news, Frank Heeren was interviewed by Wü in September 2019, and he revealed that Feuerland will release a German version of Barrage in 2020. Heeren also mentions that details on what's in the Wingspan expansion will be revealed on October 2, 2019, and if production and shipping goes as planned, he hopes to have a small Wingspan promo item at SPIEL '19. Oh, and another mini-expansion for A Feast for Odin featuring a new island. Details on the SPIEL '19 news starts about 21:00 minutes into the video. (H/T: Christoph Post of Brettspielbox)
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Wed Sep 18, 2019 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Wayfinders, or Connect the Island Dots

W. Eric Martin
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North Carolina
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My SPIEL '19 previews continue, this time with a look at Wayfinders, a 2-4 player from Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance and Pandasaurus Games.

Wayfinders will likely remind you of pick-up-and-deliver games with which you are familiar or possibly collect-resources-then-build-stuff games that you know as it blends those two game genres into one tiki-fuelled, island-hopping environment.

On most turns of the game, you'll place one of your five workers in the one of the resource hangars, possibly segregated from your fellow players as in the image below and possibly in the same ones. Resources come in five colors, with those colors matching the five colors of islands. How convenient that all is! It's almost like you're playing a game instead of actually managing an inventory of resources ahead of a Polynesian excursion...

On the right, two turntables and a microphone pair of headphones

On your non-worker placement turns, you collect goods from the hangars equal to the number of your workers in that hangar, specifically the good (or goods) closest to the exit, no matter your place in line. You slide those goods out into your collection of stuff on the table, then you move your plane around the islands — orthogonally only, mind you, due to airspace restrictions — with you needing to pay a resource matching the color of the island if no one has established an airstrip there. (If anyone has established an airstrip on an island, which is indicated by a player's hangar being present, then all players can move onto this island at no cost.)

If you want to place one of your hangars on an island, you must pay the 1-4 resources depicted at the bottom of the tile, after which you place a hangar in the lowest empty slot. If you establish a hangar after someone else did earlier, you pay these resources to them because you're a follower who must pay tribute to trendsetters; if you're the first to establish a hangar, then you pay the bank and hope that someone else will follow in your path.

The dark green player color is somewhat absorbed by the surroundings

Some islands give an immediate bonus of 1-3 random resources from the bag, some provide a permanent bonus, e.g., using green resources as whichever color you wish, and some grant you a special way to score points at game's end — and these are the ones you need to focus on should you want to win the game instead of simply moving a tiny airplane across cardboard squares for 20-30 minutes.

Those first two types of islands earn points, but they're worth 1-5 points with a fixed value; the latter type of island scores based on how well you meet the condition on it, such as placing your hangars in a horizontal line or on blue islands or on islands surrounding this island. They're limited in value only based on the random layout of the tiles and how well you can abuse them over the course of the game. If this game has only two blue islands, you might want to skip that blue-multiplier to focus on something else; if six blue islands are present, well, how close are they and what does it cost to establish hangars on them and are those goods available.

Place tiles adjacent to one another only if you want to make gameplay difficult

You can always use two matching goods as a joker for a missing color, but anyone who does that consistently is simply moving a tiny airplane across cardboard squares for 20-30 minutes instead of trying to win.

I've played Wayfinders three times on an advance production copy from Pandasaurus Games, one with two players and twice with three, and I quickly learned that my typical approach to game-playing is less than optimal for this design. You can't simply wing it and see what happens, but instead need to figure out from the get-go which islands might provide the most points and what path you might follow to place hangars on them and which permanent bonuses might help you along the way and where you might place hangars instead should you not want to hand over four resources to an opponent who will then use them to fuel their own growth in the future.

The resource market isn't huge, so you can't plan long-term there, but instead need to have an overall island-hopping plan that you then adjust on the fly based on what other players take and what gets dropped into the troughs as replacement resources. The final round of the game begins as soon as someone places their eighth hangar on the board, so you don't have a long time in which to make things happen, so get moving!

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Tue Sep 17, 2019 4:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Three-Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition

Rob Heinsoo
United States
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Games from Other Worlds

The first time I encountered a playable game from another world, it was the game of Jetan, the Barsoomian version of chess at the center of The Chessmen of Mars, the fifth book in Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series. In Burroughs' novel, originally published in 1922, Jetan was mostly a vehicle for showing just how broken combat-chess becomes when you throw a hero like John Carter into the role of a supposedly easily-captured pawn! The story was great, but even better, in my mind, was that the appendix of my paperback copy had rules for the game of Jetan and advice for creating its 10x10 orange and black board.

In fifth grade, a couple months after I had started playing D&D, I made a Jetan board out of craft paper, with disks cut from milk cartons and labeled with magic marker as the pieces. For a couple of years, my friends and I alternated between four games: Monopoly, Jetan, Napoleonic miniatures games using a book my dad had bought me called The War Game, and graph-paper crawls using our home-brew interpretation of the original brown box of Dungeons & Dragons.

I've been thinking about games played in fictional worlds almost as long as I've been thinking about D&D. It probably wasn't a question of whether I was going to make up a game played by D&D characters; it was a question of which game and when.

Born in Water

The answer turned out to be Three-Dragon Ante (3DA) in 2004.

I came up with Three-Dragon Ante while snorkeling around a green rock in Hawaii. At the time, 2004, I worked at Wizards of the Coast as the lead designer of the D&D Miniatures game. On vacation, completely relaxed and happy, I found myself thinking about what I was going to be doing in the days immediately after returning home.

The first thing that occurred to me was that I was going to run a Wednesday-night session of D&D. These were the days of D&D 3.5, and I was running a wild campaign influenced by Dave Hargrave's Arduin Grimoire. Before I left on vacation, the player characters had learned that the information they needed on the threatened resurrection of a many-armed Chaos god might be available through the semi-estranged family of the adventuring party's very own half-orc fighter. The fighter had been an interstellar marine ("I fought space"), but his family appeared to be simple tavern-keepers. The player characters (PCs) were headed to the first tavern adventure of the campaign, and I realized I wanted to keep them entertained with a tavern subplot. Neither brawling or carousing seemed right for this group of PCs as they were more about taking control than losing control. What about a card game, something to put their shiny gold to use? What card game would they play?

Poker was my first thought, but the idea of pushing our world's gambling card game into a D&D world struck me as both wrong and depressing. In fact, I'd seen it done! There had been a card game sold as part of the Arduin game line that turned out to be poker with a few dragon cards. (The fact that I haven't been able to remember the game's name while working on this article, well, that's a sign of how much it irritated me.)

The 52-card deck that eventually gave birth to poker, in our world, has its own peculiar history, born in tarot and fortune-telling. Even if a fantasy world had the same tarot-and-divination origins for its card sets, the results would be different. Surely a magical world of dragons and wizards would have created its own card games!

Kicking around the green rock, I realized that poker is a great game, but it was the wrong type of game for me to build my D&D campaign's tavern adventure around. When you're running a role-playing game, you want to keep as many players engaged as possible. If the PCs in an RPG session are playing a card game in character, you don't want players folding out of hands; you want them engaged even in losing hands.

Okay, I needed to do something other than poker. Maybe the Arduin game had started with a good idea, and I needed to do something involving dragons? D&D had great dragons that could easily be the suits, and to keep players involved, I'd make high cards the cards you play when you're competing for the main stakes, but low cards would help you by triggering powers as long as you played lower (or at least not higher) than your opponent had just played. After the ten most fruitful minutes of game design in my life, I swam away from the rock, back to shore, having figured out 3DA's core mechanism and already thinking up powers for D&D's five metallic and five chromatic dragons.

Iconic Dragons

Being handed ten iconic dragons as the suits for a card game was almost too good to be true!

In D&D, the five chromatic dragons are evil. Red, Blue, Green, Black, and White — these are the dragons you have to watch out for because they'll eat you, take your treasure, and maybe track down and eat the last few people you talked with in case they have treasure, too.

In Three-Dragon Ante, the evil dragons have to feel evil. When their powers trigger, they steal gold either from the stakes or from opponents, and sometimes they even steal cards. They don't share, and they never help an opponent. They also don't draw lots of cards. If you play only evil dragons, you're not going to be able to maintain your hand size. On the plus side, if Tiamat the evil Dragon God is in the game, she counts as every color of evil dragon, making it more likely that you'll be able to create a color flight of three evil dragons of the same color.

D&D's five traditional metallic dragons are good. Gold, Silver, Bronze, Brass, and Copper — these are the dragons you have to think twice about fighting because a) they're probably more or less on your side, and b) they're often even tougher than evil dragons!

In 3DA, we had to reflect that the good dragons are more likely to help you rather than actively hurting your opponents. Several of the good dragons let you draw cards. Playing many good dragons, and occasionally triggering their powers, makes it more likely you won't have to buy more cards in the middle of a gambit. The drawback, if you choose to see it that way, is that some of the good dragons, like the Silver Dragon and the Gold Monarch, can also help your opponents. The good Dragon God, Bahamut, is the exception. Unlike Tiamat, Bahamut won't help you create a color flight; instead he punishes opponents who have mixed good and evil.

It's Not Dragon Poker

Some people call 3DA "dragon poker". I understand the comparison, but as mentioned above 3DA is in many ways the deliberate opposite of poker.

Poker is a game about knowing when to fold. When you'd rather not fold, it's about knowing how to bet in ways that confuse opponents into folding when they should stay in the hand. If you play poker well, you fold out of most hands.

My goal with 3DA was to keep everyone involved. Ergo, no folding. The trick is to offer potential rewards to players who don't appear capable of winning the full stakes. The game's core mechanism offers both macro-rewards and micro-rewards: playing high cards helps you compete directly against the other players to win the stakes; playing low cards helps you trigger card powers that can set you up for later success.

Play a Gold Dragon that's equal strength or lower strength than the card that the opponent to your right just played, and you can draw a card for each good dragon you've played in this flight. Play a Red Dragon that's equal or lower strength than the card played by the opponent to your right, and you can steal 1 gold and a random card from the hand of the opponent who has played the highest strength cards this gambit. Unlike poker, you hold onto your cards, so you're not just playing the current gambit; you can use your cards in the next gambit or even the one after that.

What It Was, and What It Is Now

The original Three-Dragon Ante, published in 2005, contains seventy cards. Sixty of the cards are from ten suits based on the iconic dragons of D&D. Each suit has a single triggered power that appears on cards of different strengths. Unlike identically ranked clubs and diamonds in our world's 52-card decks, the strengths of the 3DA suits differ to match the toughness of D&D's dragons. In the original set, the other ten cards — seven mortals, two dragon gods, and a Dracolich — are each unique.

The one hundred cards in the new Three Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition, which debuts from WizKids in the U.S. on Sept. 18, 2019, include all seventy cards from the original set, with some of these cards having slightly improved mechanisms. The thirty new cards come from three new categories:

1. Ten new standard dragons, one for each color. Each game now starts with seventy standard dragons, with seven per color instead of six.

2. Ten new legendary dragons, one per suit. These color-specific legendary dragons aren't the strongest dragons in their suit, but they have powers that are greatly improved versions of their color's standard power.

3. The Chromatic Wyrmling and Metallic Wyrmling as new legendary dragons that enable you to play and trigger the power of a stronger evil or good dragon whose power you would have otherwise have missed out on. These bring the total number of legendary dragons to 15.

4. Six new mortals, including the Dragonrider, Prophet, and Illusionist, along with three mortals reprinted (with one slight change) from the Emperor's Gambit expansion set. The Queen, The Sorcerer, and Wyrmpriest bring the total number of mortals to 15. As you could probably tell by the card art above, all the new images are by the original 3DA artist, Craig Phillips!

Customizing Each Game

Instead of playing with all one hundred cards, the new edition is meant to be played with eighty cards. Use the seventy standard dragons each game, then choose ten cards from the mix of mortals and legendary dragons. You can choose cards at random or build your favorite mix. The rules include a page of advice and slang about how people set up games in D&D worlds.

One small advantage of the new card mix is that adding ten extra standard dragons helps reduce the number of times you have to shuffle, especially when playing games with five or six players.

Of course, the bigger advantage of the new card mix is that playing with different combinations of mortals and legendary dragons should help keep the game fresh. I'm curious whether there will be decks that people enjoy playing most or whether people will set games up at random.

Many of the new mortals and legendary dragons have powers I'm excited about having added to the game, but I'm waiting to write more about the mortals' new powers when people have had a chance to play with them! Spoilers from the rulebook are one thing, but I don't feel right telling you what I think the new mortals accomplish. Better for people to enjoy finding out in their own games.

Strengthening the Evil

On the other hand, I feel fine talking about weak pieces of the game that have improved in the new edition!

The main issue is that evil was weak. Since the good dragons tended to be slightly stronger than evil dragons and helped you draw more cards, the evil dragon cards were more likely to be chosen as cards to be thrown into the ante. I even played off this in the Three-Dragon Ante: Emperor's Gambit set with several dragon powers that relied on having evil dragons in the ante.

This time around I confronted the problem directly. Of the original five colors of evil dragons, Green Dragons and Red Dragons had reliable powers that didn't need changing, while the other three colors have improved!

White Dragon
The White Dragon originally allowed you to steal two gold from the stakes only if a mortal was in play. Perhaps I was attempting to design a somewhat weak ability? Unfortunately, teaming up with a mortal turned out to have very little effect on strategy. Since White Dragons are the weakest dragon, their power frequently triggered, but more often than not it had no effect. It was rarely optimal play to lead with a mortal in order to enable your White Dragons, so White Dragon powers triggered so randomly that players sometimes forgot about them.

The new White Dragon power skips the requirement to team up with a mortal; now the White Dragon forces your weakest opponent to pay you two gold. This works better in D&D terms since there isn't anything about White Dragons that makes them more likely to team up with humanoids. If White Dragons are going to be capable of bullying anyone, it's going to be someone weak!

In terms of game dynamics, a card that picks on the weakest opponent is a good counterpoint to the Red Dragon that targets the strongest opponent. The Red Dragon's power is still definitely better, but players now think twice before throwing the White Dragon into the ante.

The new Legendary Dragon: The White Hunter bullies all the weaklings in the gambit. It's a 7-strength white dragon that reads "Each weaker opponent pays you 3 gold." If your opponents aren't taking the gambit seriously, the White Hunter can wake them up, particularly if you play it as the clincher in a white color flight.

Black Dragon
It used to steal two gold from the stakes; now it steals three. The improvement seems to be enough to make players seriously consider playing the Black Dragon instead of automatically tossing it towards the ante.

The new Legendary Dragon: The Black Raider is an 8-strength black dragon that reads "Steal 1 gold from the stakes, then take 2 gold from the opponent to your left, 3 gold from the opponent to their left, and so on until you have taken gold from everyone." The idea with the Black Raider is to push gold theft as far as it can go with a mechanism that stings different opponents to different degrees. The raid gets richer for every player in the game. A Black Raider in a three-player game ends up stealing six gold; in a six-player game it steals 21!

I see this as a feature. Unlike some card games, 3DA glories in playing differently with different numbers of players. For example, the value of scoring a color flight changes dramatically based on the number of players. Similarly, in a 3-player game, triggering your Black Raider's power is no big deal, while in a 5 or 6-player game it could be your main priority.

Blue Dragon
That's the new version of the power at left. The card in original 3DA counted only evil dragons in your flight, making it less advantageous to choose the version of the power that forced each opponent to add to the stakes. People usually chose the safe "give me a gold piece" option since it was hard to arrange to play all-evil. If you're going to choose the dramatically interesting option and push the stakes higher, it's correct to reward your daring, so the Blue Dragon now works on how many cards you've played this flight, not the number of evil dragons you've played.

The new Legendary Dragon: The Blue Overlord isn't subtle. It's a 10-strength blue dragon built on the premise that if the Blue Dragon's power is interesting, doubling the power is more interesting. Yes, the Blue Overlord reads like the Blue Dragon and replaces "1 gold" with "2 gold". Play it as the third card in your flight and trigger its power to force each opponent to add six gold to the stakes, which will be either awesome when you win the gambit...or hilarious when someone else snatches the stakes away from you!

Playing in Character

This is the third time I've made rules for playing Three-Dragon Ante as your D&D character. The third time is the charm! I believe these new rules for using a couple of your character's abilities while playing 3DA are an improvement over how I handled D&D abilities in 3e and 4e.

The problem with the earlier versions was that they supplied many abilities that were "always on". The earlier versions supplied advantages you had to think about the entire game, which feels intrusive to me now. Three-Dragon Ante doesn't need to be tweaked with power-ups that can affect multiple actions every gambit. Therefore, the Legendary Edition pivots around character abilities that don't get used often but which may have a big impact when they do come up.

Three-Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition comes with cardboard coins for six players as well as 3DA ability disks. Before the game, you can choose one or more abilities that your D&D character meets the pre-requisites for. Some 3DA abilities have a lot of impact, while others are just a bit of flavor; it depends on how good a card player your character is.

During play, you'll keep your ability disk on its "Ready" side and wait for events to trigger one of your abilities. When you notice a trigger and use one of your 3DA abilities, you flip your ability disk to its grey side. You can't use any of your abilities again until you earn the right to flip your ability disk to its "Ready" side by scoring a special flight, whether a color flight or a strength flight.

Once you've used an ability, you can just play the game and role-play normally, without having to think about your 3DA abilities again until after you score a special flight. Maybe you'll try extra hard to score a special flight, maybe you won't, but either way it's a natural enough decision. I like the way that opponents react when you score a special flight and can ready your 3DA ability. There's a feeling of "Oh no, here they come again", and I think that captures how the game might feel when being played against dangerous characters in wild places!

Rob Heinsoo
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Tue Sep 17, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Rebuild Rome, Revisit Boomtown, and Ready Yourself for The 7th Citadel

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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• At Gen Con 2019, designer Dávid Turczi spent hours at the event tables teaching people how to play Rome & Roll, a co-design with Nick Shaw that UK publisher PSC Games plans to Kickstart in October 2019 ahead of a 2020 release. Here's a summary of the game:

Rome & Roll is a heavy roll-and-write board game in which 1-4 players compete to craft an empire. Draft from a pool of custom dice to collect resources, construct the town, and organize armies. Political alliances, the colonies, and even the Gods all have a part to play. Imperii Gloria!

—Draft the dice to match your needs: roll, draw, and win!
—Play one of seven unique character classes, ranging from merchants to military leaders, with a wealth of different strategies to deploy.
—Take advantage of four possible scoring avenues: construct buildings, trade resources, conquer unruly colonies, and renovate the Roman road network.
—Make political alliances and call on the Gods.
—Raise armies and invade settlements as far afield as Egypt and Spain.
—Build roads and manage unruly provinces.
I spoke with Turczi about the game at Gen Con 2019, and he said that the "roll-and-write" description might be deceptive because although players do indeed roll dice and write on their personal player board (as well as on the shared Rome board), the game is more of a combo-driven, engine-building game, with players starting slow, then ramping up quickly as they gain bonuses and use other players' dice.

Co-designer Dávid Turczi (on left) listens to a question at Gen Con 2019

Looney Labs notes that Doctor Who Fluxx: 13th Doctor Expansion, originally announced for mid-2019, is on hold for now: "Many of you have been asking when our 13th Doctor Expansion Pack will be coming out. We wish we could tell you, but we still don't have approvals from the BBC. But we CAN tell you that there was a chance it wasn't going to happen at all because we were going to lose the Doctor Who license altogether. And we CAN tell you that, thankfully, that is not happening! Doctor Who Fluxx will live on until at least summer 2021, which means we will definitely be making the expansion pack at some point. We just don't know when."

• On Facebook, designer Bruno Cathala teased a new edition of Boomtown, a.k.a. La Fièvre de l'Or, a co-design with Bruno Faidutti that first appeared in 2004 before being re-released in a pirate-themed Polish edition in 2012.

Cathala notes that they're reworking the game for a new edition in 2020 from French publisher Lumberjack Studio.

Non-final imagery from Jonathan Aucomte

• In February 2020, Alderac Entertainment Group will release Tiny Towns: Fortune, an expansion for Peter McPherson's Tiny Towns co-designed with Josh Wood that brings something new to this world:

The smaller creatures of the forest have created a civilization free of predators, and they look to you as mayor to guide their growing and thriving town. However, the area is small, and resources are scarce. The clever use of limited resources will determine the most successful tiny town.

In the expansion Tiny Towns: Fortune, the creatures of the forest have found a way to trick each other into thinking shiny bits of metal have arbitrary value. It's very useful — so much so that you can use this thing called "money" to get other creatures to give you almost anything in return for the right number of shiny bits. If only earning money weren't so difficult!

• This post has focused on titles due out in 2020, but here's one that probably won't see release until 2021: The 7th Citadel, this being a sequel of sorts to The 7th Continent from designers Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter and publisher Serious Poulp. Here's an overview of what we know about this game at the moment:

The 7th Citadel will take place in a new unique "Dark Fantasy" world whose gameplay will be significantly enhanced compared to that of The 7th Continent.

In The 7th Citadel, a solo or co-operative "choose-your-own-adventure" exploration board game, you choose a character and begin your adventure on your own or with a team of other explorers. Inspired by the ''Fighting Fantasy'' book series, you will discover the extent of this wild new land through a variety of terrain and event cards. In a land fraught with danger and wonders, you have to use every ounce of wit and cunning to survive, crafting tools, weapons, and shelter to ensure your survival.

As with its predecessor, ''The 7th Citadel'' features an easy saving system so that you can stop playing at any time and resume your adventure later on, just like in a video game!

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Mon Sep 16, 2019 1:00 pm
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New (Old) Game Round-up: Terraforming Dice, Joining the Mob, and Starting a Mutiny

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Despite my efforts to survey everything I can about upcoming game releases, I know that I miss lots of game announcements. Here are a few such titles that I didn't notice when they first came to light, but which aren't yet released. They're still newsworthy!

• In May 2019, Reddit user timbonicus posted an overview of a Terraforming Mars dice game that they played with designer Jacob Fryxelius of FryxGames at Sthlm Tabletop Expo in Stockholm. Fryx hasn't mentioned this design in its SPIEL '19 info, so don't look for it in Essen!

Image from imgur

• Italian publisher Pendragon Game Studio lists 15 Men from designers Emanuele Briano and Alessandro Ciceri as an August 2019 release, yet the game doesn't yet seem to be on the market. Here's an overview of this 3-5 player game:

In 15 Men (on a dead man's chest), a group of dangerous old sea dogs will dispute control of a sea vessel and its precious treasury. Who will win out in the end? The brave captain and his faithful companion, or the mutineers?

15 Men is an intrigue game in which the players carry out their roles in secret, while the captain tries to keep control of the vessel with the help of his guards and faithful sailors. During the game, each player tries to corrupt the sailors who have not yet taken a side, and each sailor has a unique ability that the one who corrupts them can use to change the cards on the table.

Once all the doubloons have been spent, some pirates might be killed in a gunfight, then the team with more victory points takes control of the vessel, sending everyone else to the plank and the sharks waiting in the water below...

• In a July 2019 Facebook post, CMON Limited announced a partnership with IDW Games to release a Dragon Ball Z tabletop game in 2020. From the announcement:

Leveraging IDW's creative partnership with Toei Animation and CMON's masterful work in game design and miniature production, Dragon Ball Z Miniature Mayhem will be a fast-paced, dice-driven, battle royale.

Players will get to create their dream "what if" showdowns as many of the iconic heroes and villains will face off against each other in an effort to determine who's the strongest fighter in the universe.

• In August 2019, designer Andreas Steding tweeted the following, noting that Hansa Teutonica is being redesigned as a game about Chicago mobsters:

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Sun Sep 15, 2019 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Game ON! Travel Coins, or How to Make a Game Accessory the Hardest Way Possible

John Butitta

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I blame this whole long, somewhat dreary tale on Power Grid, one of my gaming group's favorite games, but a design with one of the worst coin/money sets of any game. We complained about it regularly. Then one of my game group, Kurt, found a small plastic coin set online to try for Power Grid, so we used it. Then we used it again. And then we started using it for other games.

Power Grid plastic coins vs Game On! Travel Coins

This impressed the rest of us enough to want our own sets. However, they simply weren't available. Being a persistent sort — you can insert "thickheaded" or "obsessive compulsive" here, too — I spent way too much money and effort trying other options. They were all too big, too heavy, or too limited. None of them were suitable. I kept saying, "Why doesn't someone make a nice portable, quality set that works for most games and that also looks good and feels right in my hand? Why doesn't someone make...?" Then that little voice in the back of my head that whispers "Why not you? Why not you?" got very insistent. I ended up making my own.

Unfortunately, you can't make one set; you make lots of sets.

So I am now in the game accessory business, selling Game ON! Travel Coin sets. The story of how this all came about is detailed below. And I also found out why no one else made a coin set like this. If you just want the answer to that question, skip to the last paragraph.

Why Bother?

I have read many posts and reviews in which people write almost reverentially about the quality of game components. This is generally true for boards, rules, and meeples. I love them, too. I agree that quality components enhance the enjoyment of playing a game.

Having seen or played many of these highly praised games, I am always surprised about how people will accept without comment any cardboard chunk or annoying paper offered as a marker or money. After using this simple plastic coin set, I realized that it enhanced my gaming enjoyment as much as the finely crafted, artistic bits that people love. I was radicalized.

Decisions, Decisions, and Compromises

Anything is possible if you set your mind to it, right? Look at Edison and the lightbulb. Taking a firm "Can DO" attitude, I set out to make my coin set.

I started by asking "What is my ideal coin set?" First and foremost, I wanted the coins to be smaller and lighter than poker chips to make the set easy to carry. Why? One of my first attempts to find my ideal set was a beautiful set of poker chips. It currently sits in my basement game room gathering dust. Even hauling out the poker chip set was annoying. It was like lugging around a jumbo bowling ball. Plus the poker chips were too big. Poker chip sets were useful for only a few games and, as we jokingly say, for a doorstop.

Then my wife tried to pick up the poker chip case by the handle, which promptly snapped. The case fell, almost breaking her toe, the latches popped, and we had poker chips flying everywhere. Okay, so there were two criteria out of that incident: lighter chips and no latches.

What about metal coins? I love nickel way more than plastic or ceramic poker chips. Nickel coins feel "weighty" and solid when I hold them. I like the clink they make when the coins tap each other. There are some nice nickel coin sets available right now. However, nickel is an expensive material, and nickel coins don't really save any weight over poker chips in equal numbers and denominations.

This stymied me for quite a while. I looked at making an injection-molded plastic set. I actually bought a closeout set from a token vendor. When I asked why these were closeouts, they said that the quality was poor and indeed it was. Those coins were small and light, but they looked and felt cheap. They were mostly white with color stripes. The color bleeding caused irregular borders, and the coins had no case.

I also tried a set of playing card money. The cards were light, but too big and too inconvenient aside from just not feeling right. The playing cards and closeout tokens are gathering dust in the basement near the poker chips. At this point my "Can DO" attitude fizzled, shipping me back to the "Can't DO" doldrums.

Then I happened to run across Mardi Gras coins. These are large, brightly colored aluminum coins that revelers throw from the Mardi Gras floats to the bystanders.

Mardi Gras coins compared to the Game On! coins

I learned that these coins are made by stamping aluminum using a mold, then anodizing them to add the color. Anodizing is an electrochemical process that causes the color to uniformly adhere to an oxide on the surface of aluminum. This solved another big worry. Nickel coins are enameled to add color. This works great if the coin is used solely for display, such as a souvenir medal. In regular use as coins, though, the enamel would likely chip. That is why you rarely see any colors on nickel coins unless they are minted in brass or shiny shade.

Nickel coins need to be different sizes to make them distinguishable, whereas the anodized aluminum coins were light and uniformly colorful, while having a tough surface that still felt like metal when I held them. Ah, I thought, could this actually work? The "Can DO" attitude was back.

Unanodized Game ON! aluminum coins

One Set to Rule Them All...

Now I faced the key question — What should the ideal coin be? — which invoked many other questions: What size coin? What thickness? What colors? What art? How many in a set? and so on. Before checking with mints, I needed more details on what exactly to ask for. My Mardi Gras sample coin was about 1.5" in diameter, slightly smaller than a poker chip, but still too big. The original plastic set I wanted to buy had 7/8" coins, which were too small. How do you experiment with coin sizes?

Well, U.S. coins have no rational basis for size — the nickel is bigger than the penny, which is bigger than the dime — but they're great for experimenting with coin size. I started walking around with a pocket full of U.S. coins to get opinions on size. The U.S. quarter was the size everyone liked the most. It is ~1" (25mm) and fits nicely in hand. The interesting feedback, though, was that the quarter is too thin. The requests I kept hearing were that the coins needed to be thicker so that they're easy to pick up. Two quarters stacked on top of one another seemed to be the right width. Plus they feel "weightier" and more solid than the thinner Mardi Gras coin. In the end, I settled on a target coin that was 5mm (3/32") thick with a 25mm (~1") diameter.

Size comparison

A harder design decision involved what kind of art to use. Since this coin set was meant to be usable for any game, I wanted the art to be simple. Each coin would be one bright color to make it easily recognizable. I also wanted the coins to be two-sided. I decided to use simple art: a diamond pattern and the denomination on one side of the the coin, with only the denomination on the reverse side.

Deciding how many coins and of which denominations to put in a set was another tough decision. I am an 18xx/Acquire player, so I wanted the higher denominations: 500, 1000, and 5000 coins. On the other hand, most Eurogames need at most a 25 or 50 denomination coin.

The even harder issue was how many 1 denomination coins to include in the set. With thirty 1 coins, the set would support up to a six-player game with each person having five 1 coins before trading them in for a 5 coin. I hate when a coin set is so inadequate that players have to trade in coins to fill out the a shortage in the bank. This was a real head scratcher for a while until someone suggested the obvious: add a 2 coin. This eliminates the issue of adding enough 1 coins and made making change at the lower denominations infinitely easier. I finally settled on an "Elite" set of 240 coins: 30 1 coins, 30 2 coins, 30 5 coins, 25 10 coins, 25 25 coins, 20 50 coins, 20 100 coins, 20 500 coins, 20 1000 coins and 20 5000 coins.

The Elite 240 coin set with storage options at right;
extra foam cutouts are shown as an illustration

I wanted this "Elite" set for myself and brazenly assumed every other gamer in the world would want the same set. One set to rule them all...

A Digression: Never Discuss Politics, Religion, or Metal Coins with a Gamer

Making the ten types of coins in ten colors but the same size with simple art so that they could be used for any game seemed like a good compromise. For feedback on this idea, I read many blogs and articles in which gamers commented on metal coins. I posted my ideas on some of them and got torched immediately. Some respondents were passionate about having different coin sizes. Some demanded elaborate designs as with the Scythe coin set. One person looked at the prototypes and pronounced the set "so 1970s". Others commented that they wouldn't consider anything other than nickel, and they wanted a unique set for each game — at a $1 coin, no less!

One pair of game company execs to whom I showed the prototypes treated me to a thirty-minute tag team full volume, non-stop lecture about why these coins sets were worthless. They pulled out their own multi-sized nickel coins with the fancy artwork to show me what the coins should look like, even though they mentioned having lots of coins available because they weren't selling. One even pulled out their iPhone and showed me eight websites with similar coins and said that this is what I needed to do. I felt like the Russians in June 1941; the Germans had attacked, and it was an overrun.

And all the time I was thinking: "If everyone is making the same type of coins, which are barely selling, why not try something different?" (heavy sigh)

Like every other aspiring designer in the game world, I wasn't going to give in to a bunch of negativity. I ultimately went back to the inspiration for this project. Kurt's original coin set came in a nice, easy-to-carry injection-molded plastic case with all the coins the same size.

Having coins of different sizes would create havoc with the case design as it would have to be tall enough and wide enough to accommodate the largest coins, but the smaller coins would constantly spill out every time the case was moved. Plus, I now had ten different coin denominations; my head ached thinking about designing a case for ten different coin sizes. The case size would be huge, killing the portability principle.

So I went with the 25mm diameter for all the coins. I kept the simple artwork so that it could be used with almost any card, board, or mini game. The denominations on the coins were easy to read without the fancy artwork. With ten different colors, you could easily tell the coins apart by glancing at them. For color-blind people, each coin had a denomination on both sides.

Decisions, Decisions, and Compromises (Continued)

The final decision/compromise was picking the coin colors. I had no real basis for choosing colors other than to appeal to as many gamers as possible. In my simplistic reasoning, I asked "What very large gamer group would care about coin colors?" Why, Magic players, of course!

I had already decided to make the coins two-sided (tapped/untapped in Magic speak), so why not make the first five coin denominations the five Magic colors? The 1 coins would be white, the 2 coins blue, the 5 coins green, the 10 coins red, and the 25 coins black. What other group might be interested in colors? Well, role-players like silver and gold, so I made the 50 coins silver and the 100 coins gold. As for the 500, 1000 and 5000 coins, I just decided to see which other colors were available. I didn't hear the disheartening words "standard poker chip colors" and "In D&D the golds are 100 but the silvers are 10" until much later after the sets had already been produced.

A side view to show the final colors

I was blissfully happy, and all I needed now was a name. After some discussion, I settled on the name: Game ON! Travel Coin set. I christened myself and the company as "Der Coinmeister". It sounded cool, and after arm-wrestling the German language for many years, I figured this was a small payoff for all that study.

The design decisions finally were done. Now all I had to do was contact mints to get the coins made, and I would be on the way to coin mastery.

An Arabian Nights Hero Rescues Me

I wanted to make the coins in the U.S., so I contacted mints that made Mardi Gras coins to ask them for a quote for making the coins. They were all glad to take my order, but two issues arose:

• They would make them in only two sizes — 1.5 or 1.25 inches in diameter and 1.25 mm thick, and/or
• They were so outrageously priced that I would be offering coins at the same price as more expensive nickel coins

My plans abruptly crashed and burned. To get my set, I needed to make lots of sets and sell the extras to like-minded gamers. The set I wanted to make was either unmintable, unsellable, or both. All my talk/testing/planning was now just smoke — another out-of-the-box idea that amounted to nothing but a long, fruitless exercise.

The coin project lay moldering, dead but unburied, for seven months. Then I was laid up at home for almost a month without enough to do, which is always a dangerous situation for me. I began to sniff around the corpse of the coin project again. I've written reviews of Origins and Gen Con for Counter magazine for over ten years. During that time, I had the opportunity to talk with lots of game designers, big and small. They often talked about how hard it was to produce a game in the U.S., so they worked with printers in China. I kept reading about this Alibaba website and wondered whether this would work for minting coins. Well, what can I lose, I thought?

I went to the Alibaba website, typed in "aluminum coins", and got 135 hits. What's more, all of these sites would make any size that I wanted, and the prices were reasonable. I sent out a bunch of requests and got lots of replies. I eventually narrowed my choices down to three manufacturers who would make test coins if I paid the very reasonable cost of making a mold. I also realized that I had seen Mardi Gras coins in only five colors, so I had to struggle with the mints to get them to anodize in five additional colors.

Two of the three mints sent me sample coins. I even made some test sets from the cheaper of the two. I showed these to people at Origins in 2017 to get feedback, which was mostly along the lines of "Okay but sort of cheap-looking".

The final coin set

Then the set arrived from the third mint, the most expensive one. It was so superior in color and quality that there was no question which way to go. These had bright, true colors, such as white, blue, gold and yellow, not the shiny pastels of the Mardi Gras coins. They had a tough finish coat that wouldn't scratch or chip. They looked and felt good! The price point would be painful, but everyone who saw this set loved the coins. I loved them. These were coins I would be proud to own and proud to sell. Alibaba saved me.

A Case Study...

With the coin minting on track, I wanted to get some kind of box to hold them. Kurt's set came in a nice little injection-molded plastic case. In a rapid series of flashbacks, I started with U.S. manufacturers who made injection-molded cases. Again, the cases were too expensive, and the manufacturers weren't willing to customize a case.

This time I queried Alibaba promptly to discover a stunning profusion of case makers. As I was looking, one particular case caught my eye. It was injection-molded but had a tough fabric cover, zippers (I learned my lesson about latches with the poker chip box incident noted above), a handle, and foam inserts that were cut so that there were five or six removable inserts per row. I loved the case.

The case's outer appearance; note the zippers and handle

I contacted the manufacturer, who graciously worked with me over multiple samples to get both the case size and the row width correct so that the coins would be held firmly in place at a depth from which they could easily be pulled up. On top of that, the case had a nice zipper compartment in the top for more storage. It turned out way better than expected, and it was affordable. The final case had an 11"x9" external diameter, a handle, two zippers, and seven rows of five foam cutouts inside that could be removed or adjusted depending on which coins or other accessories (dice, figures etc) the gamer chose to put in the case. The case could hold up to 400 coins, although I was expecting to use space for only 240, with the rest of the volume being available for storage.

With 240 coins inside, the whole set weighed 2.5 lbs. The rub: the minimum order quantity was five hundred cases. That was many more than I needed for the coins that I had ordered, but I thought there might be a second minting. It was better to have a few (!!) extra cases. This was not a project for the fearful, so full speed ahead with five hundred cases on order.

"Patience You Must Have, My Young Padawan"

Okay, I thought, you can actually make these coins in time for the big Kahuna: Gen Con. I pushed the manufacturers to get the coins and cases done so that I could show the 240 coin sets there. The manufacturers grumblingly complied with my short time frame. I made up business cards that promised a Kickstarter in October because...well, that's what a seller does, right? Run a Kickstarter? A completely naïve decision on my part. More on that below.

Soon I received 18 boxes containing 70,000 coins and had an irritated spouse. Then, to my horror, I opened the first box to find...each coin was individually packaged in a cellophane bag that had to be cut open. We spent months cutting them out of the cellophane.

Imagine having 17 more cases like this, each with 2500+ individually wrapped coins

I got enough open to make up some sets using the sample cases I had on hand. The actual cases were in Chinese customs weeks before Gen Con. They cleared customs agonizingly slowly, but were finally on the way to the U.S. They arrived at LAX four days before Gen Con at the same time as a massive shipment of cherries that had to be transported immediately. The cases were waiting for me when I arrived home from Gen Con.

All was not lost at Gen Con, other than some valuable gaming time. I did get a chance to talk to game journalists in the press room and show them the coins. That is something I should have paid more attention to. Talking to game journalists is obvious, but where to meet them was the key lesson that went over my head.

Kicked by Kickstarter

Kickstarter has been a real boost for game designers and for gaming in general. It seemed like the natural place to debut the coin sets. As a Kickstarter newbie, I asked people how to go about running a Kickstarter campaign. There is also a lot of good posted information about this on Kickstarter itself and blogs such a Jamey Stegmaier's on the Stonemaier Games website.

My Kickstarter did a massive bellyflop, mostly because despite all of the great information available, I failed to comprehend a few critical fundamental concepts:

1. Kickstarter is not an advertising platform. As many places advise, build up the interest BEFORE the Kickstarter campaign (duh).

2. Kickstarter is not very flexible. I wanted to sell customizable sets and individual sets of coins, but that is not possible, so I created an overcomplicated group of sets for sale.

3. Everyone loves to jump on the bandwagon of a funded campaign. I put down a goal of selling 250 sets, which is what I had available to sell. That was dumb. Since the sets were already made, I could have chosen five sets as the goal, or even one set to have a successful Kickstarter, then push out one of those "Funded in 24 hours" boasts.

4. Timing is everything. A Kickstarter in October is bad timing. There is lots of advertising for SPIEL releases around that time. I advertised on BGG but never asked the key question: How often would my ad show up? It turned out it was about 1 in 100, which essentially was not seen. My ads were swallowed up in all the other SPIEL advertising.

5. Several game company people mentioned using Facebook to advertise, so I did. What they didn't spell out or I was too thick to understand was that you also needed to create a following on Facebook ahead of the Kickstarter. I paid to boost my Facebook post, supposedly reaching several hundred thousand people without one hit on my page. I don't advise trusting Facebook's numbers.

6. I did wind up selling twenty sets to people who were quite happy to get them.

"There's a Big Difference Between Mostly Dead and All Dead. Now, Mostly Dead Is Slightly Alive."

That was all a totally frustrating experience. After some painful self-review, I decided to start again, this time exhibiting at tabletop conventions. I began at a small one in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, then went on to a larger one, Geekway to the West, in St. Louis, then finally went to Origins 2019. Along the way, I got much more information about what gamers want, how to show the coins, how gamers like to purchase coin sets, and what they are looking for. The gaming press turns out for the larger events and are always interested in writing about something new.

One total surprise coming out of all this was that the case was a hit. As I was demonstrating the coin sets, people kept asking about buying the case separately. It seems that it is the perfect size (with the adjustable inserts) for RPG gamers to transport figures and dice with space for pens/pencils/character sheets/etc. in the zipper storage. What started out as an afterthought turned out to be a "product line".

RPGers like this storage concept to transport figs and dice

"Good Judgement Comes from Experience, and Experience Comes from Bad Judgement" (Rita Mae Brown)

I did accomplish several goals. I now have a good high quality, universal, portable set of metal coins for myself and my gaming group. I learned a lot about the mechanisms of marketing. I have a website and Facebook page, take credit cards, and have a tax ID and a seller's permit in three states. I have gotten Game ON! Travel Coin sets into the hands of a lot of like-minded gamers who were are looking for an alternative to poker chips and had the same issues I did with cardboard for markers or coins. They were quite excited to see these sets. I stumbled into a business that means that I can write off trips to conventions where I exhibit as a business expense.

Better organized booth at Origins with specific sets and individual coins to sell

I learned that exhibiting at conventions is work and not fun. At Origins and Geekway, there were thousands of gamers enjoying gaming nearby, and I was stuck in a booth. (All game company owners and employees are now laughing snarkily and evilly after reading that last sentence.)

I also found out why no one would make another set like this. The profit margin is too slim for a company to sell profitably. In coin sets there are two options: cheap/low quality/profitable, or high quality/high cost/slim margin. Since the Game ON! Travel Coin set is a personal project, I could afford to create it as I have no overhead and and am not relying on this to support my family or my retirement. When I was writing the Gen Con and Origin reviews for Counter, I talked to an endless stream of hopeful game designers, but met very few who could ever make enough money to even consider giving up their day job. The gaming business is a harsh one. It is a real tribute to the great large and small companies that bring out the profusion of fine games to which we have become accustomed and stay in business.

But in the final analysis:

• I own my ideal coin set.
• I won't ever need to buy another chip/card/plastic set.
• I am not alone; there are other gamers who are looking for this type of set.
• I carry my set with me whenever and wherever I game.
• I leave the cardboard chunks of markers and irritating paper in the box.
• My set enhances my enjoyment of every game in which I use them.

I learned a lot, but one important overall lesson is that I love gaming as a hobby, not as a business.

And finally: Game ON!

John Butitta, a.k.a., Der Coinmeister

Next stop for Der Coinmeister: SPIEL '19
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Sat Sep 14, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Climb Blocks and Mountains, and Avoid Falling Through Space

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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• Yes, I'm still catching up on games announced during Gen Con 2019. Publishers, please share info with me in advance and slap an embargo date on that press release! Then I can prepare posts in advance and not be doing this six weeks later.

In any case, during Gen Con 2019 Deep Water Games announced that it had picked up 7 Summits from designers Adrian Adamescu and Daryl Andrews, a title that had originally been announced from Mayday Games. An overview of the setting and gameplay:

In 7 Summits, players take on the roles of a team of world class mountain climbers. By the effective management and use of drafted dice, players upgrade their equipment, advance in skill, and ascend the highest mountain on each of the seven continents.

At the beginning of each round, the first player rolls the dice, then each player selects dice to use to either climb a mountain or improve their equipment, i.e., unlock abilities to aid your way up the mountains. Mountain climbing can be dangerous, so try to make it to plateaus before bad weather hits! Each round, a new weather card is drawn, with the weather affecting one mountain — or possibly all of them!

Once the final weather card has been drawn, the game ends and whoever has the most points wins.
Love the Kwanchai Moriya cover that amps up the vertigo and heightens the feeling of hypoxia. Blarg!

• Somewhat along the same lines, at least thematically, is The Climbers: Family Edition from Holger Lanz and Simply Complex, with this version of The Climbers coming with fewer components for a faster playing time and a $40 MSRP, which is important since this item will be exclusive to the U.S. retail chain Barnes & Noble. Publisher Clay Ross notes that this edition of the game includes a special two-player variant.

• I've already posted about Tony Boydell's Lux Aeterna — a 6- to 12-minute real-time solitaire game of not falling into a black hole that will debut at SPIEL '19 from co-publishers Surprised Stare Games and Frosted Games — but the cover image wasn't complete at that time, so I'm showing it off now. You can find a soundtrack for the game here.

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Fri Sep 13, 2019 1:00 pm
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The Business of Board Games: The Superstar Effect

Pandasaurus Games
United States
New York
New York
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(This article by Nathan McNair, co-owner of Pandasaurus Games, first appeared on the company's blog on Sept. 4, 2019 in a somewhat different form. —WEM)

I want to talk about an issue called "The Superstar Effect" and the chaos that it creates in markets, focusing on the board game industry and why games are often out of print.

The Cabbage Patch Effect

There is a long-standing "common knowledge" theory that companies like to intentionally constrain supply in order to create a false sense of demand in the market, thereby making a thing hard to get, with that scarcity then making people want the thing that they can't have, even if it's not a thing that they would have otherwise wanted. This all falls under the blanket term "artificial scarcity".

This has absolutely happened in collectible markets for sports cards, Magic cards, Beanie Babies — any consumer product whose value is derived from the act of collecting itself or from speculation in secondary market prices. Rares have to be...well...rare. I was an avid collector of basketball cards as a kid, and I loved grabbing my Beckett and valuing my cards. If the rare cards had been more abundant and you could easily get them from a blind pack, then there would have been little point in collecting them as you could cheaply and easily get whatever collectibles you wanted.

Oddly enough, the most famous examples of artificial scarcity (Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle Me Elmo, Furby, Ocarina of Time, Popeyes chicken sandwiches) were likely not artificially scarce. They were unexpected hits — or at least bigger hits than expected — that wound up outstripping the producers' capacity to make them. There is a famous story about the factory that made Etch-a-Sketch working around the clock on Christmas Eve to produce more to sell on Christmas morning.

The initial shortfall of supply for most of these products is a matter of guessing wrong about how badly people would want the item. After that, they couldn't catch up to the demand, at least not until months after Christmas.

Cabbage Patch Kids were all unique dolls. No two were ever going to be the same — I see you, KeyForge — and that caused massive issues at Coleco trying to keep up with the production demand of creating millions of unique dolls for Christmas. They just couldn't, which led to mass chaos and angry parents fighting each other in malls.

The vast majority of things that are supply constrained are not artificially constrained. They are actually constrained in the supply chain by how quickly they can be produced in quantity to meet demand.

The board game industry is not supply constrained, at least not in the hobby board game market. If our company wanted 100,000 units of a game, I could likely have them produced in 3-4 months. (I'll note that 100,000 units is a massive success in the hobby game space.) There is, of course, some upward theoretical limit of board game production capacity and at certain times of the year we come close to hitting it, but in reality the board game industry does not have a production capacity issue.

So if that's the case, why is it that board games sell out all the time?

The Superstar Effect

The superstar effect isn't a new idea. The basic theory is this: If something is perceived to be of a higher quality, it will get a disproportionate number of dollars.

I'll put this into board game terms. Let's say that Root is 10% better than some similar game that came out in the same year. We'll call the other game Little Root. He has the heart of a champion; he's just not as good as Root. For this example, we'll assume Little Root is mechanically, artistically, thematically, and cost-wise similar to Root, but a little worse.

Logically speaking, Little Root is 10% worse, so you would expect sales to be about 10% worse if demand were linear.

And in a world in which consumer information was low, you would expect Little Root to do pretty well. After all, a game that is 10% worse than Root is still a good game. Why wouldn't it do well?

The problem for Little Root is that Root exists. More than that, though, Reddit exists, BGG exists, Facebook groups exist — and consumers talk. They talk about how good Root is. They talk about how Root is better than Little Root. They may even say things like "Little Root is actually pretty good, but it's not as good as Root." Consensus starts to form around how good Root is. People are playing Root, so then other people want to see why everyone is making cute woodland creatures go to war against one another, so they buy Root.

As a result, Little Root is not going to sell 10% worse than Root. It's going to sell a lot worse. Labor economist Sherwin Rosen's formula for the superstar effect is complicated, but the net result is this: Root is going to get almost all of the sales, and Little Root is probably not going to fare well.

It's simple. If there is a limited amount of money to go around for consumers, and Root is better, why buy Little Root at all? Just buy Root.

Of course, the board game world has hits out there other than Root, but they tend to fill a different niche, either mechanically, in game weight, or thematically. As a result, Scythe and Dinosaur Island and Wingspan and Root and Spirit Island can all coexist with one another. Santorini, Azul, Sagrada, and Machi Koro can all sell well. They all scratch a different itch from one another and will find an audience.

Peas in a pod?
When you ask someone "What's the better game, Root or Azul?" the answers will probably be along the lines of "Uh, those are super different games so that's a weird question. They're both good." But if you asked the differences between Azul and a hundred other gateway level games from 2018 — well, you may find Azul coming out on top.

The hits are HITS. The non-hits are...well, going to do poorly.

What About the Sell-Outs?

You might be saying to yourself, "I thought this was about why games are sold out all the time."

I'm getting there, I swear. The reason games are sold out all the time is because of the superstar effect. Not every game can be a hit. For every Root, there are probably a hundred or more Little Roots that don't sell well.

And here is the big twist: Before consumers vote with their dollars, it is very hard to tell the difference between Root and Little Root. After all, it's not like Little Root is bad. It's a really good game, 90% as good as Root! And it's not as though the publisher of Little Root was aware that Root was coming out. If so, that publisher would have done something different.

Now for the second twist: Root didn't know it was the superstar either.

Leder Games has talented people top to bottom, and Root is a fantastic game — but Root could have been Little Someothergame. I think most talented publishers and designers set out to make the best game they can, but there is always the chance that another game will be better or be perceived as better.

We're not
See, no matter how hard we try and no matter what we put into a game, publishers do not decide who the superstars are. Consumers do. It can be a combination of gameplay and art, or price and right-place-at-the-right-time, or a perfectly timed review or reviews.

Good publishers tend to have more than one hit title, so there are some things that we can do — release fewer games, be choosier about the games we release, put the games through longer development cycles, spend more on art and components, etc. — to try to give our games a chance at becoming a superstar...but we don't actually get to decide what is or is not a superstar.

This means we have to be cautious, so let's MATH!


I'm going to keep the math brief.

If we run a 30% profit margin on a game (made up numbers, but close enough to average, I would say), that means we need to sell 70% of our print-run to break even. We're going to ignore fixed costs in this calculation, so understand that the real numbers are likely worse than what I'm describing here.

• If I print 1,000 copies at a 30% margin, I need to sell 700 copies to break even.
• If I print 5,000 copies at a 30% margin, I need to sell 3,500 to break even.
• If I print 10,000 copies at a 30% margin, I need to sell 7,000 to break even.

Now let's reverse this.

• If I sell 3,500 games and I've printed 5,000, I have broken even.
• If I sell 3,500 games and I've printed 10,000, I have lost money — a lot of money.

If we assume this is a $50 game and the publisher sells the game into distribution at 40% of SRP, we're talking numbers like this:

• Revenue from selling 3,500 units: $70,000
• Cost of printing 5,000 units: $70,000
• Cost of printing 10,000 units: $140,000

So the swing is from breaking even to losing $70,000 by overprinting. Overprinting is a huge risk for publishers.

If I am Root, printing 10,000 copies is probably safe. Hell, printing 100,000 copies is probably safe. But if I am Little Root, printing 10,000 copies is bad, like "my company could be out of business" bad.

Now if Little Root doesn't know it's not Root, and Root doesn't know it's not Little Someothergame, then what does a publisher do? The answer is simple: We go to store owners and distributors and ask them, "Hey, how many of this thing do you want?"

Perfect, So You Solved It!

As it turns out, distribution and store owners, well, they also don't know what is going to be a big hit. They have more information than publishers do, generally knowing far more about the games that are coming out across the world.

We all learned a few weeks ago that Stonemaier Games was putting out Tapestry, whereas distributors have likely known about it for, say, five months. If I had gone to one of our distributors and excitedly showed them a civilization-building game, they would probably not take very many because they would likely feel that Tapestry is going to be the bigger hit.

Yes, sometimes distributors have enough information to have a good sense that given all the games they know are coming out, Game X is likely to be a success — but they aren't always right. There are games that surprise them. They certainly have under-purchased games from us in the past — and they have over-purchased games from us in the past as well. I mean, a quick perusal of games that are regularly on sale for 80% off SRP is a good guess as to where someone bet wrong.

Distributors Are More Risk-Averse Than Publishers

It turns out that distribution also has to worry about risk.

Distribution generally buys board games at about 40% of SRP and tends to sell them somewhere in the range of 50% of SRP to retailers. It's more complicated than that, with minimum order quantities and free freight shipping and discounting so that number can range from a little less to a bit more than 50%, but I don't want to overcomplicate stuff here.

In general, if distribution buys a $50 game for $20 a copy, they are going to sell that game for $25 a copy. Distribution's profit margin per $50 game (not accounting for fixed costs, shipping, marketing, employees, running a warehouse, etc.) is $5 for every game sold.

Again, let's run some math. Let's say a single distributor buys 1,000 copies of a $50 game.

• Cost to distribution: $20,000
• Revenue from selling 500 copies: $12,500
• Revenue from selling 1,000 copies: $25,000

These numbers can help you see part of the problem: Distribution's margin is thinner, and their risk on overbuying a title is higher than it is for even the publisher.

Distribution has some advantages over a publisher, namely (not accounting for exclusives) that they are more likely to be able to spread around the risk of games that underperform. For publishers, Little Leder Games and Little Root are in a world of hurt, while Leder Games and Root are doing great. The distributor, on the other hand, may have taken too much Little Root, but they'll also get to sell Root to offset some of those losses.

To sum up, the risk per title is worse for distribution and their overhead costs are far worse, so even though they can spread the "superstar" risk across more titles than a publisher can, they still can't make a habit of buying 5,000 copies of everything in the hope that they are all Root.

Retailers have similar limitations with risk, so they don't generally run around buying cases of games. They buy one or two copies and take a wait-and-see approach to most games for the same reason that we don't run around printing 20,000 units of every single title.

Where Does That Leave Us?

It leaves us in a pickle without a good way out. The reality is that for the vast majority of games, no one knows how big of a hit it's going to be until the game has come out and consumers have played it. Given that I don't want to go out of business, we have to print most titles as though they are Little Root.

If we have a breakout hit, then we'll print more and run with it. It may take us 6-9 months to find the right balance between demand and production, which means gamers are likely to be annoyed when they can't get games. We also run the risk of losing shelf space on store owners' shelves and losing mind-share in the marketplace while the game is unavailable.

We also don't actually know how many people want the game. Selling out of 5,000 copies doesn't mean we should go print 100,000. Demand for the game may top out at 6,000 copies, or perhaps 10,000 — or maybe over the next year or two that demand will continue to grow as more people play it. We just don't know.

We also risk another game coming along in the interim and firing us. It happens, and it happens not infrequently. You sell out of your first print run of a game and enthusiastically print more only to have some other new game come along, and the next thing you know you're Little Root.

Basically, everyone is cautious, and since everyone is cautious, it means hit games will be hard to get ahold of for the first 6-9 months of release.

What is Pandasaurus Games Doing About It?

We would be a pretty poor company if our solution to the whole "how to gauge demand" issue was to throw our hands up and say there is nothing to be done. Here's what we're doing instead:

Make fewer games that are better.

There is a business model out there that says print 3,000 copies of loads of games. Sell the first 3,000, then move on. There are companies that certainly follow that model.

It's a bad model.

If consumers figure out that a company can't be relied upon to make consistently good games, they will take a "wait and see" approach to your games. If stores get stiffed and have loads of your old games collecting dust or being put into sidewalk discount sales, they will remember. If distribution has loads of your games in a warehouse not moving, they will take less of your next game.

Our goal is for all of our games to sell 10,000 copies in their first twelve months. We are getting close to that being the case, and we've done that by releasing fewer games and making sure that every single one of them is special.

Our goal is that most of our games get a third and fourth printing and that one or two titles every year become evergreens — games that continue to sell for the next ten years and beyond. So far, we've had a lot of luck with several games that continue to sell extremely well year after year.

Fun fact: Machi Koro has sold more in 2019 than in 2018. It's five years old.

The way that we are getting our average sale per game up is by making sure every single game is good and by putting money into art budget, marketing, and store outreach. It takes years to earn gamers' trust that our games will be high quality and of an expected sort of game. This usually means family-friendly games in a gateway to midweight category. (Dinosaur Island is probably the upper limit of difficulty that we will release.)

It means Molly and I have a lot of frequent flyer miles. We are on the road all the time, both looking for new games and meeting with store owners and distributors globally to make sure they know about our games.

Jonathan Gilmour has been to four conventions in the last six weeks looking for new games for 2021. (2020 is already fully set in stone.) It’s a ton of work. Jonathan looks at up to a hundred games at larger shows, with a lot of them being repeat designs as he may see a game at Unpub and give feedback, then see changes at Origins or Gen Con. For our 6-8 releases in a year, we are likely looking at 400 designs to find that small number.

Now, we don't just put out the best eight games we find every year. Sometimes a game is fantastic, but it's a weird fit for our brand, so we'll send those designers to friends in the industry who would be a better fit for the title.

We then send those games through a 6-12 month internal and blind playtesting network. Games go through the wringer and come out substantially better for it. Wayfinders is probably about 90% the same as the game that we originally signed, but those small tweaks that Thomas and Jon made took the game from a very high-quality gateway-plus game to something incredibly special, and it took a lot of hard work and time.

After development we go through graphic design, art and production, something for Molly and Stevo to cover in a blog post at some point, but I think our artwork is top-notch, and our production quality tends to be on the higher side of the industry.

Wait, Why Don't You Just Make Root?

Well, for one thing I don't think Patrick will give it to us, but for another, it's because of everything I said. We don't get to decide which games are going to be superstars. We just put out high-quality game after high-quality game and figure if we play the odds enough, we'll get one occasionally. All we can do is make the best games we possibly can and hope that what made a game resonate with us also resonates with all of y'all. And we have to be cautious about the numbers that we print. Most of our games have print runs of 5,000 copies, although Machi Koro Legacy was several times that amount.

All that we can do as a company is try to make our non-superstar games more successful. If we can't do anything to make Root, we can do something to make sure our Little Roots find a bit more success in the market as a baseline and give them every chance we can for them to become superstars.

It also means something crazy has happened, and this entire blog post was very prescient on my mind because we have a "good" problem: All of our new releases for mid-2019 are completely sold out at the publisher level. Now, this doesn't mean that all of them are going to be the next Root, but it does mean you should probably snag any of our new games you want quickly. We're reprinting all of them, but it'll be December 2019 before they are back in stock...
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Thu Sep 12, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Digging Up More Root, and Expanding The Big Book of Madness

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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• In its April 2019 Kickstarter campaign for Root: The Underworld Expansion (KS link), which adds two new factions to the Root base game, publisher Leder Games offered an add-on item titled "new automated factions". Those factions have now been upgraded to a complete product — Root: The Clockwork Expansion from Benjamin Schmauss and Cole Wehrle — which bears a Q4 2019 release date and this description:

Root: The Clockwork Expansion allows players to square off against four fiendishly automated factions. Insert a faction to round out a low-player count game or team up for co-operative play! Compete against the:

—Mechanical Marquise 2.0 - Dodge her marauding patrols as you try to stop her from completing her building tracks.
—Electric Eyrie: Shore up the Woodland's defenses against this fearsome invader. If they go unchallenged, the Woodland will soon be flooded with their forces.
—Automated Alliance - Police these radicals and raze their bases before a little uprising turns into a massive rebellion.
—Vagabot - Hunt the dastardly Vagabot across the many clearings of the game or attempt to court him with items.

• Another expansion sort of along the same lines is One Night Ultimate: Bonus Roles, which collects all of the extra characters created for the various One Night Ultimate titles from Bézier Games and puts them in a single box that will debut at SPIEL '19 in October.

IELLO has announced that The Big Book of Madness: The Vth Element, the long awaited expansion for Maxime Rambourg's 2015 release The Big Book of Madness, will debut in February 2020. This expansion includes two modules that can be used independently or combined, with "phobia cards" being madness cards that include a permanent constraint on the holder while the "Dark Matter" module adds the "Vth Element" along with the Dark Book, Dark Curses, Dark Monsters, and new magicians.

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Wed Sep 11, 2019 1:00 pm
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