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Meow at the Maharaja as You Leave the Mystery House to Create Golems

W. Eric Martin
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Let's check out the 2020 offerings of Cranio Creations, another publisher we'll be looking at in more detail when we attend the Spielwarenmesse 2020 trade fair, which takes place Jan. 29-Feb. 2.

• We'll begin with MEKHANE, a 3-8 player game from Roberto Grasso that plays in 30 minutes and that will likely benefit from a video overview that demonstrates in more detail what's being described insufficiently in words below:
Quote:
In MEKHANE, fate and gods tell a story involving the available characters, using the tale cards. The story is divided in rounds called chapters, and at the end of each chapter, fate decides which character will die based on how the story has developed — and that story develops through destiny cards that tell each god (player) which characters should survive (with the numbers on the destiny card referring to the position of the character cards).


At the end of the game, one of the gods wins the game if their favorite character has survived.
Hmm, more details needed, which is what the video overview is for...

MEOW is a 2-6 player card game from Reiner Knizia that doesn't sound like it has much going on — which reminds me of Knizia's LAMA, which also sounds like nothing but which was indeed something. Here's what we know about the game for now:
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MEOW is a card game in which smart cats fight for food. A player must be wise and try to collect the best bowls, avoiding fishbones while trying not to break vases!

Each game is divided into three rounds, and each round is divided into nine turns. On a turn, each player plays one cat card, then the player who played the most valuable card wins one award token. Keep in mind that not all awards are positive! At the end of the game, the player who collected the most points wins.

• At Spielwarenmesse 2019, BGG recorded a teaser video with Cranio Creations about a new edition of Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling's 2004 game Maharaja. This edition is now moving toward publication in 2020, with new graphics, new components, and other changes:
Quote:
In Maharaja, you build statues of your God of choice to please the Maharaja during their visit and score victory points at the end of the game depending on the majority you reach.

During the game, players take the role of priests who travel to different cities in India, building statues and shrines dedicated to their favorite Gods to expand their worship. To do so, they are assisted by several characters with different abilities. Every year, the Maharaja, the great king of India, will change his residence and players will receive rewards according to their Gods' worship value. At the beginning of each year, players plan their actions in a secret phase to be played simultaneously.

At the end of the seventh year or when a player builds their seventh statue, the game ends, then the player with most prestige wins.

Aside from the new graphics and components and from players now building statues instead of palaces, this new edition of Maharaja includes new characters to use during the turn that change turn order, additional ways to earn victory points, an additional bonus each time you score a city after the Maharaja's visit depending on the assistant you chose, and additional modular rules that can be added during the game and in the final scoring.

• The 2019 title Mystery House: Adventures in a Box from designer Antonio Tinto will receive an expansion in 2020 with Back to Tombstone:
Quote:
A fearless and furious Indian tribe, fast and smoking guns, a gloomy mystery under the Western hot sun — all of this awaits in Back to Tombstone, a Western-themed adventure for Mystery House. Solve all the riddles, and escape alive from the wild wild west.
• As with Maharaja, at Spielwarenmesse 2019 we recorded an overview of the real-time, sliding-puzzle game Pakal from Luca Bellini and Luca Borsa.

• Other titles coming from Cranio Creations in 2020 include Machination, a design from Matthew Dunstan and Phil Walker-Harding in which you occupy a vehicle-dismantling depot and need to chose the right cars to pile up in your warehouse. Try to be the fastest player to fulfill common objectives to receive the best bonuses, while respecting your stock requirement.

• Finally, we come to Golem from Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, and Simone Luciani, with the publisher noting that Gigli and Luciani's Grand Austria Hotel inspired some of the mechanisms in Golem. Here's a quick take on it:
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The game is based on the 16th-century legend of the Golem, an anthropomorphic creature that rabbi Loew animated starting from a clay statue to protect his people. In the game, players take the role of rabbis who create and grow these powerful and magical creatures — but if a golem becomes too powerful, it will destroy everything it encounters on its way!
Yes, the publisher knows that the forehead text needs correcting...
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Revisit Clash of Cultures in a New Monumental Edition

W. Eric Martin
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In the mid-2010s, U.S. publisher Z-Man Games went through a period of releasing expansions in print runs that seemed to be swallowed up by their audience immediately, then removed from the catalog and never mentioned again.

One particularly hot commodity was Clash of Cultures: Civilizations, a 2014 expansion for Christian Marcussen's 2012 large-scale civ game Clash of Cultures. If you look at the sales history of this item on the BGG marketplace, you'll see that it regularly sells for at least US$100, with dozens of sales over US$200. Some folks swear that this expansion is essential for the game experience, yet copies are relatively hard to find.

A solution for this situation will arrive in November 2020 with the publication of Clash of Cultures: Monumental Edition by WizKids, with this new edition of the design including the original base game, the Civilizations expansion, and the Aztecs expansion, while featuring new cover art, new graphic design, and miniatures for the Seven Wonders. Here's a brief description of the game:
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Clash of Cultures: Monumental Edition brings back the classic game of exploration, expansion, and development. Grow your civilization, advance your culture and tech, and leave your mark by building wonders.


In Clash of Cultures, each player leads a civilization from a single settlement to a mighty empire. Players must explore their surroundings, build large cities, research advances and conquer those who stand in the way. The game features a modular board for players to explore, 48 distinct advances, seven mighty wonders, and loads of miniatures and cards. The winner will create a culture that will be remembered and admired for millennia.
Clash of Cultures: Monumental Edition carries a US$140 MSRP.
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Thu Jan 23, 2020 9:55 pm
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Next Move Welcomes Killer Beez

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Not killer bees, mind you, because that would be weird and self-destructive and bad for publicity.

No, instead Canadian publisher Next Move Games is welcoming a new game titled Beez to its catalog, with this Dan Halstad design having a killer look thanks to the ever reliable Chris Quilliams. (I shared a logo- and title-free version of the cover with BGG personnel at our recent planning retreat, and all of them identified the publisher correctly. That's strong branding for you!)

As for gameplay, well, Next Move has released only this short description for now:
Quote:
Prepare yourself to take flight as a bee!

In Beez, players compete to optimize their flight plans to secure nectar for their hive. Be careful of the other bees as you will compete with them over a set of public and private scoring goals. The challenge in planning and storing the nectar will make your brain buzz!
Mike Young at Next Move notes that your movement dial also controls how you store nectar and affects how you score points. BGG will get a first-hand look at Beez at the Spielwarenmesse 2020 trade fair at the beginning of February, and I'll post more about the game then. Beez is scheduled to debut at Origins Game Fair 2020. In conclusion, insert bee pun here.


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Thu Jan 23, 2020 4:22 pm
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AEG in 2020: Race Dice, Arrange Chocolates, Treat Cats, and Split Your Time Between Atlantis and Santa Monica

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In early January 2020, Eric shared the news of Elizabeth Hargrave's upcoming release, Mariposas, and I'm sure fans of Wingspan are thrilled. Fortunately, even more enticing games and expansions are coming our way from Alderac Entertainment Group in 2020. AEG's Todd Rowland has graciously uploaded pics of a few of these new releases to give us a sneak peek.

Truffle Shuffle is a card-drafting, set-collection game designed by Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin and Shawn Stankewich, the team behind 2019's Point Salad from AEG. Glancing at the cover art below, I'm realizing I have a killer craving for chocolate all of a sudden...and this is definitely not a Goonies-themed game as I initially suspected. (We were all thinking it!)


Here's a brief description of the gameplay from the publisher:
Quote:
In the quick-playing, card-drafting game Truffle Shuffle, players take turns selecting truffles from a shared box of overlapping cards in order to make their own arrangements of chocolates to sell. Players can complete a variety of sets, using special modifiers and action cards. With so many different chocolate truffles to unwrap and different ways to combine them, every game of Truffle Shuffle is unique!

Santa Monica is a new card-drafting, set collection game from Josh Wood, the designer of Cat Lady. Here's a summary of the setting with a touch of gameplay:
Quote:
In Santa Monica, you are trying to create the most appealing neighborhood in southern California. Will you choose to create a calm, quiet beach focused on nature, a bustling beach full of tourists, or something in-between to appeal to the locals?

Each turn, you draft a feature card from the display to build up either your beach or your street. These features work together to score you victory points. The player with the most points wins!
Santa Monica prototype pic from the AEG Larkstone playtest house

• Speaking of Cat Lady, AEG will also be releasing Box of Treats, Wood's first expansion for that game. Box of Treats includes more cats, new items, boxes, and cat treats! In addition, the expansion allows Cat Lady to be played with up to six players.

John D. Clair's Cubitos is a dice-rolling, press- your-luck game in which players compete to become the Cubitos Champion. In slightly more detail:
Quote:
In Cubitos, players take on the role of participants in the annual Cube Cup, a race of strategy and luck to determine the Cubitos Champion. Each player has a runner on the racetrack and a support team, which is represented by all the dice you roll. Each turn, you roll dice and use their results to move along the racetrack, buy new dice, and use abilities — but you must be careful not to push your luck rolling too much or you could bust!
Cubitos prototype pic from Larkstone


• Like Wood, Clair also has an expansion for a well-received AEG title, with Mystic Vale: Nemesis adding new advancement and vale cards for even more combo options. Nemesis also includes titan leader cards that grant abilities with the potential to become more powerful when upgraded as well as a new variant for solo gameplay.

Jani & Tero Moliis' Lost Atlantis was first mentioned in this space in December 2017 with this brief description: a "3X game under the sea". The release date for this title is now sometime in 2020 instead of Q4 2018, but we still don't have a longer description at this point. Even so, between that description and the prototype photo below, my curiosity is piqued!

Another Larkstone prototype pic, this time showing Lost Atlantis

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New Game Round-up: Become Part of the Deep State, Grab a Carriage in Paris, and Head to the Pacific

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• A publisher contacted me after the Spielwarenmesse/NY Toy Fair 2020 Preview went live to let me know that one of their games wasn't on the list. I was not surprised given that I didn't know this publisher existed. Turns out that the publisher, Maxim Istomin, had been involved with the founding of Russian publisher Hobby World in 2010, sold that company in 2013, then founded this new company — CrowD Games — in 2015.

Other than 2017's Space Explorers, which was co-published with Moroz Publishing, CrowD Games has released only Russian-language versions of games from other publishers, but in 2019 it released the original game Deep State: New World Order from designer Konstantin Seleznev, with the English-language version of this title due out in 2020. Istomin said that he'll have this title and four other new releases that he hopes to license at Spielwarenmesse 2020, so here's an overview of these releases:

—In Deep State: New World Order, you use agents to infiltrate political, financial, and research institutions represented by objective cards; advance toward World Domination projects that give you advantages during the game; carry out covert operations that provide a lot of influence while requiring the sacrifice of agents; and make treaties with organizations both secret and overt.


—In Yuri Zhuravljov's Winter Queen, you create magical ornaments from enchanted crystals, with a turn consisting of you either placing a new crystal on the board or using already placed crystals to score victory points depending on the spell books you and your opponents have.

Ganesha, by Maxim Istomin, feels similar to the game above: Either place cubes on the mandala to score points or to save them in order to score even more points in the future. Video overviews should be useful in finding out what, if anything, makes these designs unique!


—In the deduction game Enigma: Beyond Code by Sergey Pritula, each player is a cryptology expert stuck in a mansion, but only one of you is actually trying to break the Enigma code. Each player has a unique secret mission, and in turn you look at a card that represents a room or an object inside the mansion, telling others what you see, but possibly lying about. Lying is a risk, while telling the truth may allow others to win before you by completing their mission first.

—In Windmill: Cozy Stories, another Istomin design, one player tells a story each round based on odd fantasy cards, with the other players trying to guess which card inspired the story and the storyteller scoring more points as long as people keep guessing incorrectly — at the risk of scoring no points if no one guesses. We've seen games along these lines before, so more details might let us know how it compares to others. All in good time...


• The description of Pacific Rails Inc., a Dean Morris design that Vesuvius Media is Kickstarting through late January 2020 (KS link), suffers from the affliction that I described in a links round-up in mid-January: I get a sense of what the game is about, but not how it differs from lots of other games that could be described in the same minimalist way.

Maybe this type of description is meant only to say, "Do you like this type of thing? Then look closer...", but it seems like a lost opportunity to grab the passerby who isn't sure whether this is their type of thing or not. Here's what I'm talking about:
Quote:
In Pacific Rails Inc., players are the presidents of their own railway company with a contract to build a railroad from one side of the board to the other.

To succeed, your workers need to gather resources, lobby Congress for funding, and hire specialists to help manufacture tracks. You then lay them on the map, placing bridges, tunnels, and rails to travel through the harsh terrain. You also need to build train stations and telegraph posts to connect remote cities.

Your railway adventure begins now!
The original
• In an update on its cancelled crowdfunding campaign for a new edition of Throne of Allegoria, Belgian publisher Game Brewer laid out its publishing plans for the next 18 months or so:

Paris, by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling: Kickstarter launch on March 16.
—A surprise card game, on Kickstarter in June 2020.
Rulebender, by Tom De Vandeweyer, on Kickstarter in autumn 2020.
Hippocrates, by Alain Orban on Kickstarter in winter 2020-2021.
Stroganov, by Andreas Steding, on Kickstarter in spring 2021.

Flip the seasons if you live the southern hemisphere. (Someday publishers will realize that using seasons for important dates doesn't work for everyone, but we're not there yet.)

Aside from these titles, Game Brewer plans to launch a new family line of games under the brand AMUZA: "We will organize pre-order campaigns for those games, but these games will not hit Kickstarter. Our first family game will be called Pizza and will be released in June 2020. Other titles that are coming up later this year are Bugz, Babylon, Starlit, and Circus."

So many games!

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Prepare to Fight with Ian Malcolm, Sophia Petrillo, Aggretsuko, and Superstars from the WWE

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• At the 2020 London Toy Fair, Funko Games revealed the next four titles for its Funkoverse Strategy Games, two of which are standalone games featuring characters from Jurassic Park — a two-player-only game featuring Dr. Ian Malcolm and a T. Rex, and a 2-4 player game featuring Dr. Alan Grant, Dr. Ellie Sattler, Ray Arnold, and a Velociraptor — one of which is a two-player-only game that features Dorothy and Sophia to complete the Golden Girls quartet, and one of which is an expansion for any standalone title in the line that features the character Aggretsuko from the animated series of the same name.

I've seen no release dates for these items, but I'll be meeting with the Funko Games team at NY Toy Fair in late February for an update on what's coming when.





• In a Dec. 2019 post, I highlighted the WWE Dice Masters: Campaign Box and related Team Packs coming out from WizKids in early 2019 (previously Jan. 2020, now scheduled for release on Feb. 5).

Turns out that WizKids has another WWE item on its schedule: WWE: Headlock, Paper, Scissors, a design by Josh Cappel, Jay Cormier, and Sen-Foong Lim that uses the same game system as in their 2016 release Rock Paper Wizard. Here's an overview of this May 2020 release:
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WWE: Headlock, Paper, Scissors is a game of striking, showboating, and making hand signals! Players select their favorite superstar from the twelve included in the game — e.g., Roman Reigns, Kofi Kingston, Becky Lynch, and Asuka — then work to gain the most popularity and reach the briefcase at the top of a 3D ladder while making sure their opponents don't get there first.

Each round, players select a shared technique or their superstar's signature technique, then simultaneously chant "Money!" "In The!" "Bank!" before revealing their technique and their target. Comeback cards and the Underdog token mean that you're never more than a few well-chosen techniques away from the lead!
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Publisher Diary: Dungeon Alliance: A Webcomic Adventure, or Exploring Game Characters in a Whole New Way

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Dungeon Alliance was always going to be a deeply personal project for me. Although the Quixotic Games team has been designing games for over fifteen years for other publishers, this was only our second self-published game after launching Canterbury in 2013. As I wrote in an earlier article, when approaching the design of Dungeon Alliance, my initial player experience goal was to have each character feel distinctly different from the others so that each game would require its own challenge of coordinating the actions of a group of disparate individuals.

To help me design so many different personalities, I drew upon the fantasy role-playing characters that my friends and I had created over thirty years ago. We had spent years developing this quirky mix of individuals for our own personal amusement, and now our old heroes lay dormant as little scraps of paper collecting dust in attics and basements. These characters would become the foundation for the 21 characters featured in Dungeon Alliance and its first expansion, Dungeon Alliance: Champions.

During our two successful Kickstarter campaigns for Dungeon Alliance, we focused more and more on the game's storyline, especially with the new Adventure Packs that became available in January 2020. We thought of new ways to market the game and to introduce players to the unique characters and the kinds of adventures they would embark on.

As a kid, I wanted to create comic books almost as much as I wanted to create board games, so when thinking of new ways to bring players into the world of Dungeon Alliance, it seemed natural to consider webcomics. It was important to me that these be free comics that anyone could view online and that we wouldn't subject the readers to distracting advertisements. If readers enjoyed the comics, they could learn about the board game by reading a brief article on the front page of the website and clicking "Learn More". That was it. The webcomic had to be able to stand on its own for readers.

"Kastrom's Tomb" — art by EJ Dela Cruz

Assembling the Team

I approached my brother Jim Parks, who's done art for several of my games and who used to create comics with me when we were teenagers trying to break into the comics industry. Jim was also part of our old role-playing gang, so he had created some of the characters that found their way into Dungeon Alliance.

Jim had recently created a drawing of his old character Taio that I admired very much, so when I approached him with the idea for the comic, I asked him to use this picture as the first panel of the webcomic, which he did:

"Lair of the Basilisk" — art by Jim Parks

Taio was a great character to start with since he had an intriguing backstory laid out in the card game:


After choosing some companions to join Taio, we were on our way with the first script, entitled "Lair of the Basilisk". I plotted the full storyline first so that I knew how the story would end, then I scripted the first few pages for Jim to get started on.


I was worried, however, that players might get a singular view of the types of characters who exist in Dungeon Alliance, so I got ambitious and decided to work on a second comic with an entirely new set of characters that would launch at the same time as "Lair of the Basilisk".

At this stage, I had also been in the middle of art directing the Adventure Packs for Dungeon Alliance, and I encountered many talented artists in the process. Most of the artists were actually discovered right here on BGG through the Board Game Art and Graphic Design Forum. One artist whom I hadn't had the chance to work with yet was EJ Dela Cruz, and when I visited his ArtStation page, I was blown away by the comic artwork that he had on display. I contacted EJ right away, and since he was available to work, I set about creating a script for him immediately, entitled "Kastrom's Tomb".

Several characters had a strange backstory relationship in the card game, so I thought it would be fun to explore these characters in depth. For example, Holgar the paladin hung around with a mad fire wizard named Mysterios, so we thought readers would enjoy reading about their eccentric friendship.


The game's character cards also reveal that Holgar has a brother named Krom who is a half-orc assassin. As you can imagine, they don't always get along.


Now I had two talented artists to get things started, but the team wasn't finished. Since the comic pages would be developed weekly, I had the luxury of taking my time to write each panel, but I needed someone to look over my shoulder to ensure that each character's voice was unique and that each character stayed true to their purpose. I enlisted my daughter Sarah Parks, a recent college graduate who loves fantasy writing as much as I do, to be the webcomic editor. Sarah has been an invaluable resource to me throughout the process, helping me parse every single word of dialogue and every scripted action so that we could get things just right and be true to our cast of characters.


In order to maintain the demanding art schedule, I also enlisted my niece Emma Parks to help with coloring the "Lair of the Basilisk" storyline. At first, she simply worked on the flat colors, but soon after she showed us her talents and took over as the main colorist for the "Basilisk" storyline.


The Process

Each page begins with a scripted page derived from the original story outline. After I write a set of pages, Sarah reviews them and provides feedback. After we settle on the final wording, we send the script pages to the artists.


After reviewing the scripts, the artists send sketches that allow me to suggest adjustments before the artists move on to the full inks and colors. Since the artists are using a digital medium, they are able to make changes quickly.


After receiving the finished art, I add the letters and word balloons in Photoshop. Sometimes we make small adjustments to the script after seeing the finished art.


The Readers

A popular webcomic tradition allows readers to provide online commentary as the story progresses. I love this idea because it allows us to get a sense of what the readers are enjoying as the story unfolds and also allows us to make adjustments based on what they are saying. We've enjoyed the comments we've received so far, and we hope that providing comments on the individual comic pages keeps the readers immersed in the action.


The Future

As of writing this article, 74 comic pages have been posted for both stories. Both storylines should wrap up in the first half of 2020, and we have plenty of new storyline concepts coming down the pipeline.

In the future, we plan to sell PDF and hard copies of the first two storylines as a way of funding future stories down the road. These stories will draw upon characters we've already seen and add new ones from the growing universe of Dungeon Alliance.

If you're interested in enjoying the comics yourself, please visit the Dungeon Alliance: A Webcomic Adventure site to begin your journey!

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Tue Jan 21, 2020 1:00 pm
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Collect Termites, Stack Blocks, and Change Your Species with Zoch Verlag in 2020

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• German publisher Zoch Verlag has another quartet of animal-rich games coming your way in the first half of 2020, with the games all having a relatively low suggested player age, while seemingly featuring gameplay ideal for players of all ages.

Rüssel raus!, for example, is a game by Inka Brand, Markus Brand, and Matthias Prinz for 2-4 players, aged 6 and up, that has everyone involved on every turn:
Quote:
You own four termite mounds, i.e., stacks in front of you in which to collect cards. Each round, you try to send a new termite into the right mound by showing either one finger or no fingers. All players do this simultaneously though, and the sum total of all fingers determines how the cards will be stacked. If you are the first player to collect a set of three of the same termites in one location twice, you win. Until then, be wary of the dreadful pepper spray!
Sure, we need details of how this works with only two or three players, as well as how the termites in the center of the playing area are distributed, but we'll learn such things in the overview videos that BGG will record at Spielwarenmesse 2020 at the end of January and beginning of February.


Da bockt der Bär (The Bear Bucked) from Treo Game Designers features a similar level of player interaction for 2-5 players, aged 5 and up, with you helping to determine whether your neighbor moves like a mouse, goes like a goat, or barrels along like a bear. In more detail:
Quote:
At the start of a round, you draw one card that you can either keep or give to another player. The card that you are left with then dictates whether your pawn is a mouse, a goat, or a bear. Each animal has its own die with its own advantages and disadvantages: The mouse is slow but can take shortcuts; the bear can go very fast, but sometimes is too lazy to do so; and the goat is neither fast nor slow, the reliable choice. If you are the first to cross the finish line, you win.

• Players mess with one another a different way in Einer geht noch! (Cruise or Lose), a Paco Yanez design for 2-5 players, aged 8 and up, with you trying to sink opponents, while also working with them when you end up in the same boat. An overview:
Quote:
Einer geht noch! is a family card game that lets players send their animals aboard boats that will not capsize as long as their very strict weight limits are adhered to.

You draw three animal cards per round. You play these into boats: twice face up and one time face down. Each boat holds only three animals, though. After all of them have boarded, some animals can cause others to switch boats. Any boat with passengers that, in total, are too heavy for it will sink. Animals aboard boats that don't sink are worth VPs. If you have the most VPs after four rounds, you win.

• Finally, we have a game in the "do things quickly at the same time as everyone else" bucket: Flotter Otter, a Daan Kreek design for 2-4 players, aged 8 and up:
Quote:
Flotter Otter (a.k.a. Otter Dam) is a pattern recognition game with multiple right answers per card, each of which translates to differently stacked colorful bricks.

Each round you reveal one new card for all players. You can order the objects shown on each card in two different ways, e.g. clocks might have varying sizes and display different times of the day. Since your bricks correspond with the unique colors of the objects on the card you can show one of the two possible solutions by stacking your bricks. The faster you are, the better — so long as you don't make a mistake. This also means that it is smart never to give up early, even in rounds when you seem to be lagging behind.
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Mon Jan 20, 2020 1:00 pm
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Japanese Game Round-up: Two-Headed Cards, Generous Bidding, and Kaiju on the Earth

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I thought I might finally get through all of the tweets about Japanese games that I sent myself in 2019, but I did not. Soon! Then I can get to those still waiting from 2018 — or not. We'll see.

• In a report on the May 2019 Tokyo Game Market, Japanese blogger Sugoroku-Kozo mentions a design project from publishers Arclight and Drosselmeyer & Co. called "Kaiju on the Earth" (カイジュウ・オン・ジ・アース) that will feature Kaiju-themed games from designers Masato Uesugi, Yuji Kaneko, Hisashi Hayashi, and possibly others down the line.


The first title in this series — Vulcanus (ボルカルス) from Masato Uesugi — was crowdfunded on JP site Makuake in November 2019 for retail release in December 2019. Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:
Quote:
Vulcanus pits one monster player against 1-3 teams of humans, who must co-operate in order to take down the monster.

In more detail, the monster "Volkars" has suddenly appeared from the crater of Mount Fuji, the monster being a ruthless giant that erupts lava from its whole body and that continues to evolve and grow as it creates a path of scorched earth on its way toward Japan's capital, Tokyo. The more casualties you create, the more areas you burn, and the more landmarks you destroy, the closer the monster player is to victory.

The Japanese government has set up a "Monster Disaster Emergency Headquarters", and the human players facing off against Volkars must learn how to repel monsters by evacuating citizens, extinguishing fires, deploying Self-Defense Forces, and conducting investigations. The more research you've conducted, the more options you will have for your strategy, and ultimately you will be able to manage the situation with a direct attack on the monster.

Sometimes the monster can detect the humans' operation and ruin their plans, so will Tokyo perish in the end? Or will the monster fall instead?


• Designer Reiner Knizia often talks about how he feels pressured to create games before others can steal the ideas from the universe and bring them to reality first. 翡翠の商人 (Jade Merchant) from designer 西村裕 (Hiroshi Nishimura) and publisher スパ帝国 (SPA Game) sounds like one of those would-be Knizia games that ended up in someone else's mind. Here's an overview of this 2-5 player game that debuted in May 2019:
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Players are the heads of trader caravans who try to accumulate the most valuable goods like gold, spices, and jade. Each round, they have to outbid each other backwards so that the least greedy one may choose the first cards of the current pool; more specifically, each player in turn declares how many cards they want to take, and whoever declares the smallest number takes that many cards. (A player can declare 0.5 less than the number they want to take, and if they do so, they return one card from their hand to the center.) The remaining players then bid for the rest of the cards, with this process repeating until each player takes cards.

Each treasure has its own scoring rules depending on how many you have or how they combine with other cards in your collection. After resolving all cards this way, the player with the highest value of goods wins.
• And here's one for the "should be licensed by someone in the near future" department — SCOUT! from designer Kei Kajino and publisher One More Game!, which resembles 2018's Krass Kariert from Katja Stremmel and AMIGO in that players are playing a climbing trick game of sorts with cards that can't be re-arranged in their hand. In more detail:
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Cards in SCOUT! are dual-indexed, with different values on each half of the card, with the 45 cards having all possible combinations of the numbers 1-10. During set-up, whoever is shuffling the cards should randomize both the order of the cards in the deck and their orientation. Once each player has been dealt their entire hand of cards, they pick up that hand without rearranging any of the cards; if they wish, they can rotate their entire hand of cards in order to use the values on the other end of each card, but again they cannot rearrange the order of cards in their hand.

On a turn, a player takes one of two actions:

• Play: A player chooses one or more adjacent cards in their hand that have all the same value or that have values in consecutive order (whether ascending or descending), then they play this set of cards to the table. They can do this only if the table is empty (as on the first turn) or the set they're playing is ranked higher than the set currently on the table; a set is higher if it has more cards or has cards of the same value instead of consecutive cards or has a set of the same quantity and type but with higher values. In this latter case when a player overplays another set, the player captures the cards in this previous set and places them face down in front of themselves.


• Scout: A player takes a card from either end of the set currently on the table and places it anywhere they wish in their hand in either orientation. Whoever played this previous set receives a 1 VP token as a reward for playing a set that wasn't beaten.

Once per round, a player can scout, then immediately play.

When a player has emptied their hand of cards or all but one player have scouted instead of playing, the round ends. Players receive 1 VP for each face-down card, then subtract one point for each card in their hand (except if they were the player scouted repeatedly to end the game). Play as many rounds as the number of players, then whoever has the most points wins.
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Sun Jan 19, 2020 1:00 pm
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Mergers, Splits, and Distribution Deals: Unexpected Studios, Non-United States Playing Cards, and Ducky Distribution

W. Eric Martin
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I'm still emptying my inbox of messages that piled up during 2019, but I think this post can finish off topics that fall into the "industry business" category, with my delay allowing for timely follow-up on a couple of items. Let's see how far we get:

• In June 2019, global consumer goods company Newell Brands — which owns the brands Rubbermaid, Papermate, and Coleman among many others — announced that "to make progress on its Accelerated Transformation Plan, designed to create a simpler, faster, stronger consumer-focused portfolio of leading brands" it had signed an agreement to sell The United States Playing Card Company ("USPC") to Cartamundi Group. To quote the press release: "USPC, based in Erlanger, KY is the leader in the production and distribution of premier brands of playing cards, including BICYCLE®, BEE®, AVIATOR®, HOYLE®, and FOURNIER®. In 2018 net sales for USPC were approximately $112 million."

Newell Brands followed up that announcement with another on Dec. 31, 2019 to note that it had completed the sale of USPC to Cartamundi: "This transaction marks the conclusion of the Accelerated Transformation Plan that the company had initiated in January 2018."

• In July 2019, Asmodee announced the founding of Unexpected Games, "a new board game studio centered around innovative design and spearheaded by renowned game designer Corey Konieczka". Here's more from the press release:
Quote:
The philosophy behind Unexpected Games arose from Konieczka's desire for a studio focused on innovation and idea incubation. "Our goal is to create games that are novel, fun, and accessible," he explains. "We hope to surprise people and create experiences that they've never had before." ...

The first title from Unexpected Games is expected to release in 2020. While no details about the game have been made public, Konieczka explains that it will be a multilayered experience that tells a story in a unique way.
Good timing, Eric. Here we are now in 2020 awaiting more details...

• Konieczka is leaving his designer position with Fantasy Flight Games, which he's held for more than a decade, and FFG has also said goodbye to Andrew Navaro, who left his position as FFG's Head of Studio at the end of 2019. Here's an excerpt from his farewell designer journal on the FFG website:
Quote:
FFG owes much of its creative success to the spirit of collaboration that inhabits the studio. A lot of thought, effort, and attention goes into everything we make, and while designers and developers tend to get the majority of the credit for a given product's success, they're able to achieve that success in large part due to the strength of their supporting cast. If you haven't done so already, I urge you to read the credits lists of your favorite FFG products. The artists, art directors, graphic designers, producers, writers, editors, play-testers, sculptors, managers, and many more make extremely meaningful contributions to the products on which they work — oftentimes beyond even the definition of their credited role.
• German publisher Uhrwerk Verlag filed for bankruptcy in late May 2019, which meant that an administrator would be assigned to review the publisher's economic situation and approve or disallow future actions.

On Dec. 15, 2019, founder Patric Götz posted an update noting that (as far as I can tell) all employees have been let go (although they might still do work as freelancers), the business now runs out of a home office, and many projects are still moving toward completion.

• In January 2020, Lucky Duck Games announced the founding of "Lucky Duck Partners", which is "aimed at facilitating access to distribution through our operation in North America and Europe". Along those lines Lucky Duck has signed a distribution partnership with ThunderGryph Games, with worldwide retail availability of ThunderGryph's Hats and Rolling Ranch due to start at the end of January.

By the way, Lucky Duck's Vince Vergonjeanne stated at the end of 2019 that "the company just passed the $4M revenue [mark] for 2019 alone" and now has 19 full-time employees.

Pandasaurus Games has joined the orange logo brigade — BGG welcomes you! — and in a press release announcing the new look, the publisher included this fun detail: "If you pay close attention, you'll notice the Panda bits of the logo match the color of the word 'Panda', and the Dino bits match the color of the word 'Saurus'. It's a fun nod, and breaking our name up also makes it a heck of a lot easier to pronounce and spell."

Brieger Development is a game development studio in Sunnyvale, California. Says owner/developer John Brieger, "We do contract development and production for board game publishers, refining prototypes into the final product. Our clients and licensees include Deep Water Games, Indie Boards and Cards, Tasty Minstrel Games, Thunderworks Games, and many more."

In a post announcing new hires, he writes:
Quote:
When you look at how creative work is done in other industries, you'll find studios and design agencies are the default model. The current hobby boardgame industry runs primarily by licensing designs from independent designers, similar to the book industry, with only larger companies having employees who can solely focus on design and development.

As the boardgame industry grows there are a significant number of publishers who are expanding their catalogues, but don't yet need multiple full-time employees handling development. One of the hardest things as a publisher is that your time and attention is limited — which can put a cap on executing creative work. Hiring an external development studio helps free up that time to focus on their core business. All of that is to say: this is a model that works, and demand is currently pretty good.
Developers John Velgus and Michael Dunsmore joined the company in the last quarter of 2019, and to start 2020 Brieger Development has brought on board developer Brenna Noonan (formerly of Starling Games) and producer and project manager Chris Solis (formerly of Level 99 Games).

From left: John Brieger, Michael Dunsmore, Brenna Noonan, John Velgus, Chris Solis
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Sat Jan 18, 2020 1:00 pm
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