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Survive a Delicious Plague in Messina 1347

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Delicious Games
Czech publisher Delicious Games has existed only since 2018, but it's already produced two highly regarded games from designer/co-owner Vladimír Suchý: Underwater Cites and Praga Caput Regni.

For 2021, Delicious will release another title with Suchý's name on the front cover, but this game is actually a co-design with Spanish author Raúl Fernández Aparicio that has a bit of a history. The game in question — Messina 1347 — was originally added to the BGG database in 2017 with a different publisher attached, but Aparicio and the publisher parted ways in 2018.

"While we were visiting the November Boardgame Convention in Malaga 2019," says Delicious co-owner Katka Sucha, "both authors met for the first time. We had the opportunity to play Raúl's game there, and Vladimir immediately had ideas of what to do next and how to improve the design of this game. He also liked the historical theme of the game."

Board Game: Messina 1347
Non-final hex tiles

Delicious brought the game back to the Czech Republic for more testing, says Sucha, and "after common agreement with Raúl, it was reworked to give it the 'weight' of the Eurogames that DG publishes." The two designers then worked together to balance the design, which will be released before SPIEL '21 in mid-October 2021, whether that event takes place digitally or in person.

As for what the game is about, here's an overview:
Quote:
Messina 1347 takes place during the introduction of the plague epidemic (a.k.a. the "black death") and the spreading of its infection through town. During this time period, merchant ships delivering luxury goods to Europe brought to these countries an unprecedented epidemic — and one of the first affected cities was Messina, Italy.

Board Game: Messina 1347
Game board

In the game, players take the role of important Messina families who are leaving town and moving to the countryside out of fear of being infected by the plague. While doing this, they are focusing on saving other inhabitants and helping to fight the plague infection in town. They must also endeavor to prosper in their countryside residence, where they are temporarily accommodating rescued residents. They are all waiting there for the epidemic to subside, then they return to Messina to take over and dominate particular districts in the town.
For more on the history of this event, I invite you to start with the Wikipedia entry for "Black Death in Italy".
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Thu Apr 22, 2021 1:00 pm
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CGE Relaunches Galaxy Trucker in Q3 2021

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Galaxy Trucker
Vlaada Chvátil's Galaxy Trucker was the first title released by publisher Czech Games Edition, hitting the market in 2007, the year after Chvátil's Through the Ages had debuted from Czech Board Games — and the contrast between the two games was fascinating.

Galaxy Trucker was very successful, spawning multiple expansions and giant anniversary edition in 2012, with rulebook writer Jason A. Holt noting that it was CGE's most successful board game until Codenames rocketed to previously unimaginable sales heights in 2015.

In mid-2021, CGE plans to relaunch Galaxy Trucker in a new edition, with gameplay staying largely the same — and yet not. For those not familiar with the game, here's an overview of gameplay, followed by a summary of what's changed in this new edition:
Quote:
In the fast and goofy family game Galaxy Trucker, players begin by simultaneously rummaging through the common warehouse, frantically trying to grab the most useful component tiles to build their spaceship — all in real-time.

Board Game: Galaxy Trucker

Once the ships are launched, players encounter dangerous situations while vying for financial opportunities, each hoping to gain the most valuable cargo and finish with as much of their ship still intact as possible. Of course, that's easier said than done since many hazards will send pieces of your ship, your cargo, and your crew hurling into the depths of space.

The goal is to survive the trek — hopefully with at least some of your crew and ship intact — and have at least one credit by the end of the game. (Profit, yay!) Players earn credits by delivering goods, defeating pirates, having the best-looking ship, and reaching their destination before the others.

This version of ''Galaxy Trucker'' is a relaunch of the original 2007 release by Vlaada Chvátil that features new art, more ship tiles, tweaked card effects, and streamlined gameplay that consists of only a single flight through space. That said, should you want a longer, more challenging experience, you can play a three-flight campaign known as the "Transgalactic Trek".
This new edition of Galaxy Trucker will be released in Q3 2021, with the game being packaged in a smaller box than it was previously and selling for $/€30.

Board Game: Galaxy Trucker
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Wed Apr 21, 2021 2:00 pm
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Unveiling 7 Wonders Mystery

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: 7 Wonders
Board Game: 7 Wonders (Second Edition)
7 Wonders, old and new
On April 12, 2021, Belgian publisher Repos Production introduced something titled "7 Wonders Mystery" with the following minimalistic tweet:


Over the subsequent week, Repos has been tweeting more teasers about...whatever this is, and things are now starting to come into focus with this announcement from April 19, 2021:


Yes, in fact 7 Wonders Mystery is not an expansion for Antoine Bauza's card-drafting, civilization-building game 7 Wonders, but instead a series of puzzle-based challenges based on the seven wonders in the game. Here's an overview from the publisher's press release of what's going to happen:
Quote:
Starting on April 26, 2021, Repos Production, the studio behind 7 Wonders, the board game with more awards than any other game in the world, will offer everyone a brand-new adventure themed around the 7 Wonders of the World.

Each week, for two whole months, a new puzzle will be introduced, with prize sets offered for the cleverest among you. This great investigation game will allow both curious and hardcore fans to test their sense of observation and thought to solve the mysteries of the 7 Wonders. This is a chance to while away the time, alone or with your family, all while furthering your general culture knowledge.
For eight weeks from April 26 to June 20, 2021, a new puzzle will be released at the 7 Wonders Mystery website, with these puzzles being created by various game industry professionals under the supervision of Cyril Demaegd, creator of the Unlock! series of escape room games from Space Cowboys. The puzzles will have multiple difficulty levels, and you can play them with or without clues depending on how much of a challenge you want.

A Repos representative mentioned to me that while the puzzles can be solved by anyone, the prizes will be available only to participants in France, Germany, Belgium, and the U.S., presumably for legal reasons. Another announcement I received notes that "Everyone has a chance to win!", so perhaps we'll have to wait until April 26, 2021 to know for sure.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Purposefully blurry teaser image

Note: I don't normally post about contests in this space, but I saw many people speculating that "7 Wonders Mystery" would be a new game release, so I wanted to pass along clarifying information.
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Tue Apr 20, 2021 3:23 pm
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Grail Games Changes Direction

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Grail Games
In an April 17, 2021 editorial following the close of a Kickstarter campaign for a new edition of Franz-Benno Delonge's game Fjords, Grail Games' David Harding gives a recap of the publisher's history and talks a bit about a new direction.

Grail Games was founded in 2014, and Harding released a handful of titles annually until he found himself burning out in 2018/2019. To excerpt his post:
Quote:
This has been my downfall: I know what games I love and I want everyone to have a chance to love them, so I kept churning them out. On average, I released 5 titles a year — mostly working on my own at nights and on weekends. If a Kickstarter campaign allowed me to print 2000-3000 copies I was excited as I was able to fulfil my dreams. Unfortunately, printing that number of copies each time does not offer a publisher the best cost-per-copy rates, nor will it give a publisher enough profits to make a living. Short of striking lightning in a bottle, a small publisher will almost never make enough to pay the bills. Grail had no marketing department, no advertising budget. Being in Australia there’s almost no conventions to attend, and flying to Essen or Indy is SO freaking expensive.
Board Game Publisher: Matagot
In September 2019, Grail announced a partnership with publisher/distributor Surfin' Meeple that would be "focused on facilitating manufacturing and distribution services with the goal of introducing Grail Games classics to more homes around the world", then in 2020 Grail Games officially joined the Matagot family of companies run by Arnaud Charpentier, with Harding overseeing all editorial decisions, while Matagot would handle marketing, finances, distribution, and production issues.

This support will allow Harding to focus on Grail Games on a full-time basis for the first time in the company's seven-year history starting in June 2021 — but it also entails a change in focus, one that mirrors a March 2021 announcement by Z-Man Games that it was ending its "Euro Classics" game line that consisted (at that point) solely of new editions of five classic titles by designer Reiner Knizia. Here's another excerpt from Harding's post:
Quote:
I am immensely proud of Grail's editions of Yellow & Yangtze, Medici and Stephenson's Rocket, but these reprints and revisions, while great at getting BGGers to notice what one is doing, just...haven't sold well. And not only are we not going to take over any of the games Asmodee [i.e., Z-Man Games] let go, but our Medici Reformation project (although it was almost ready to go) is now cancelled. The 10 games by Renier Knizia that Grail released (Criss Cross, Medici, Medici: The Card Game, Medici: The Dice Game, Yellow & Yangtze, Circus Flohcati, King's Road, Stephenson's Rocket, Whale Riders, and Whale Riders: The Card Game) will not be printed again by us and will be leaving our catalogue at the end of 2021. Allow me to say it: Grab those leftover copies while you can.

Board Game: Yellow & Yangtze
Board Game: Medici
Board Game: Stephenson's Rocket

I personally hope that Reiner Knizia will find publishers for these games that suit him better and sell more copies.
Given what a huge fan I am of his designs, I feel let down by the dual announcements of Knizia titles not being strong enough on the market to maintain a presence there, but maybe this is simply another way of recognizing that the market sees hundreds of new releases annually, so it can be tough to gain traction given all the competition. Alternatively, perhaps my taste in games is somewhat old-fashioned given that I got into hobby games in the early 2000s during an era of regular releases from Schacht, Colovini, and Knizia.

What comes next for Grail? Well, that path has already been started, as is evident in the company's two most recent Kickstarter projects: Hibachi, this being a new — and far more light-hearted — version of Marco Teubner's 2010 release Safranito and the aforementioned Fjords, which was given an expanded player count, five new expansion modules by Harding's brother Phil Walker-Harding, and a modern look by Beth Sobel. In Harding's words:
Board Game: Safranito
The original
Quote:
We still want to reprint classics and games that feel like classics, but these two games (and the ones coming up) are all games that I have been able to put a ton of myself into. We were free to make these games according to my vision. In this new chapter that is about to open for Grail, I will be moving forwards by selecting games that I both love personally, and that I can work on freely. I'll always have my Palastgeflüster, my Finca, my Thurn and Taxis, and my scuffed copies of Carcassonne and Catan. But as a publisher, while I've loved giving older games a fresh coat of paint, I have learned that I enjoy even more when the canvas is bare, or can be stripped bare before I get to work.

Moving forward, with the support of a team of helpers, you will see me have a hand in games more like Hibachi where (dare I say it) a dry game about trading spices with an amazingly fun dexterity element may actually end up on a game table down the road from your house. I mean, just look at that cat chef.
Board Game: Hibachi

Other non-Knizia titles coming from Grail Games were covered in this October 2020 BGG News post that highlighted announcements from Harding during SPIEL '20. (I will confess that Harding's taste in games aligns with mine, so I pay attention to all that he's doing.) These titles include:

• Tom Lehmann's two-player game ChuHan that I first wrote about in 2019.
• Scott Almes' Silicon Valley, in which 1-4 players hire staff for their start-up company to put out new products, with the nature of the products being determined by patterns that you build with polyominoes.
• Matthew Dunstan and Brett J. Gilbert's The Gardens, which Harding described to me as "my magnum opus" in terms of how he's been able to shape the entire package. Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:
Quote:
Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden holds a special place in the hearts of locals. World renowned for its location, beauty, and historical and scientific significance, each of its 29 hectares are not only stunning, but a calming retreat from the city's streets.

Board Game: The Gardens
Non-final cover

In The Gardens, players draft cards depicting different features of the Gardens, using them to build their own portion of it in front of themselves. Players then score points based on what their visitors see as they walk past the Gardens' various flower beds, ponds, native trees, and statues. The tableau you build will have three rows — waterside, grass, and cityside — and you add one card a turn until the area is filled.

Board Game: The Gardens
Non-final player tableau

The game is accessible and simple to learn, yet offers strategic choices. Its included modules add variability and depth for experienced players, with landmarks such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge that players can gain for extra points or special abilities, so join the picnickers, joggers, lorikeets, and bin chickens, and enjoy your day in the beautiful Botanic gardens.
Finally, Harding closed with a final teaser about future plans:
Quote:
Thanks to all my experiences and hardships running a publishing house, I felt the urge to give back to the community and we'll soon share news about how Grail will be helping another small publisher's beloved titles to carry on... It will be a fantastic project.
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Tue Apr 20, 2021 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Snake Through the Water to Block Ness

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Block Ness
After a couple of months away from the gaming table, I'm finally playing games again, me with my COVID-19 vaccination, my fellow players with theirs. We're still playing outdoors while masked for now, but we'll adjust over time.

In any case, to kick off my weekly video game overviews once again, I chose Block Ness, a quick-playing design from Laurent Escoffier and Blue Orange Games that I've now played six times on a review copy, twice each with two, three, and four players.

Gameplay is reminiscent of Bernard Tavitian's Blokus in that you're trying to place as many of your pieces on the board as possible. You start the game with your shortest — that is, your not-tallest — piece in the deepest part of the loch, with your head on one end and your tail on the other. On a turn, you place one of your pieces orthogonally adjacent to either your head or tail, then move that head/tail to the end of the piece you just placed. If you have no free spaces next to your head, then your head is stuck and can't dive into the water again to surface in a new location, leaving only your tail free to do so.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
End of a three-player game

Each player has a set of ten "Nessie" pieces; those pieces come in six heights and different lengths, with your set differing from each other player's set in small, but meaningful ways. You can place a piece that crosses or completely covers a shorter piece (or multiple pieces), but you can't place a piece under an existing piece, and you can't cross someone's head or tail because that would violate the social norms of Scottish culture.

You use a larger or smaller part of the game board based on the player count to keep space limited, so you must ensure that you don't cut off your own avenues for escape when moving around — but if you can cut off avenues that other players might use, then go ahead and do that, as I somehow managed to do in the four-player game depicted below.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Respect the purple wall!

In the end, whoever has placed more of their pieces wins, and if players tie — as was the case in the 4p game above as Orange and I both managed to place all of our pieces — then the player whose head rises highest wins. This rule is a nice kicker on the simplicity of everything else because it makes you hesitate on "wasting" the single tallest piece available to you.

Aside from the smart, simple gameplay, publisher Blue Orange Games has made smart choices with the packaging, dressing up a perfect-information abstract strategy game in bright colors and a fun setting that will likely get it to far more tables than if the design looked like the archetypal "serious" abstract strategy game. Besides, I doubt you could reasonably recreate these pieces in wood in a functional way.

For more thoughts on the game and see examples of play, check out this overview video:

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Mon Apr 19, 2021 2:51 pm
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Industry News: New Hires for Arcane Wonders, Pandasaurus Games, and Renegade Game Studios

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Arcane Wonders
In case you hadn't noticed, in March 2021 BGG expanded the credit section of game listings so that we can highlight more of the people involved in making the games that you play. If you look at the full credits for Lost Ruins of Arnak, for example, you'll see this:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Obviously most of these credit fields will be blank on most game listings until folks start submitting corrections for past work, but in the spirit of highlighting extended credits, I thought this post could highlight some of the folks in new positions behind the scenes.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
• In April 2021, U.S. publisher Arcane Wonders hired Nicole Cutler as its Director of Projects — a title that is admittedly not on our list of credits, but "Editor" might be the equivalent. Hmm, maybe we need one more credit, something we've been saying to ourselves internally while working this out.

Thankfully, Arcane Wonders has its own job description:
Quote:
Nicole will be responsible for developing and implementing new systems for tracking and communication between Arcane Wonders' partners both internally and externally. With her breadth of experience in different roles within the industry, Nicole will work interdepartmentally to expedite projects, resolve problems, and help make our games the best they can be. Additionally she will assist the sales & manufacturing directors in the acquisition, execution, and logistics of our international partnerships.
Cutler previously worked as Operations Manager for Jellybean Games and Production Manager for Pandasaurus Games, and not too long before this pandemic started she and her husband moved to my neck of the woods, so with vaccines now rather plentiful in the U.S. perhaps we can finally play a game together before too many more months pass. We'll see...

From gallery of W Eric Martin
• U.S. publisher Renegade Game Studios has brought several people on staff over the past six months, starting with the hiring of Elisa Teague in October 2020 to serve as Senior Producer for Renegade's role-playing line-up, which will include titles set in the Power Rangers, My Little Pony, GI Joe, and Transformers universes following a September 2020 deal with Hasbro. (Teague designed Renegade's D&D 5E-compatible Wardlings Campaign Guide, which was released in 2020.)

In January 2021, Renegade hired Matt Holland as Sales & Marketing Program Manager to "oversee new community oriented projects". Holland was previously Community Coordinator at Fantasy Flight Games, where he helped manage organized play for games such as X-Wing, Star Wars: Destiny, and Legend of the Five Rings.

Along those lines, in February 2021, Renegade announced an organized play program for its Vampire: The Masquerade – Rivals Expandable Card Game, with small kits for stores and in-home use and community kits "slated to begin in late 2021 or early 2022".

From gallery of W Eric Martin
From left: Holland, Fox, and Le

Also in February 2021, Renegade brought on Trivia Fox as Associate Producer: Roleplaying Games and Jimmy Le as Associate Producer: Board & Card Games.

• In February 2021, U.S. publisher Pandasaurus Games brought on Anne Kinner, formerly with Asmodee North America, as Production Coordinator and Mike Young, previously in charge of communications with Plan B Games, as Project Manager.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
From left: Kinner and Young
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Sat Apr 17, 2021 1:00 pm
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The Shores of Tripoli: Pirate Raids, History, and Naval Shenanigans

Candice Harris
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Washington DC-based publisher Fort Circle Games aims to create fun, easy to learn, historical board games and based on my experiences with its first release, The Shores of Tripoli, mission accomplished.

From gallery of candidrum

The Shores of Tripoli is a 1-2 player, card-driven, historical wargame designed by Kevin Bertram and released in 2020 that's based on the First Barbary War in which the United States and Sweden fought against the Barbary Pirates from 1801 to 1805.

Board Game Publisher: Fort Circle Games
Fort Circle logo
Kevin Bertram and I have a tidbit of history together, though we've never met in person. In February 2019, I received a message on BGG asking whether I'd be interested in playtesting The Shores of Tripoli based on the fact that my BGG ratings showed I was a fan of both Star Wars: Rebellion and Twilight Struggle. At that point I had never playtested a game, but I was very interested because 1) it was a new experience I was curious about, 2) I do indeed love Star Wars: Rebellion and Twilight Struggle so I was interested in playing any game that was inspired by them and played in under an hour (heck yeah!), and 3) at that time I had just started designing my own game, so I figured I could learn a thing or two.

Kevin emailed me all the files and I proceeded to print the map, cards, and rules. Sadly, I never got the opportunity to put it all together, learn the rules, and play it at the time — but I'm happy to report that I have finally played the game, thanks to Kevin sending me a copy of the finished product.

In The Shores of Tripoli, one player plays the American side with Sweden as allies while the other player plays the Tripolitan side representing pirates from four North African coastal regions: Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Tangier.

The Shores of Tripoli features asymmetric gameplay with each side having a unique deck of event cards, in addition to its own victory conditions, which are all based on historical events from the First Barbary War. Over the course of the game, players take turns playing event cards and taking actions to achieve one of their victory conditions before their opponent to win and end the game.

The American player can win the game either by forcing the Tripolitan player to sign a peace treaty favorable to the Americans or by capturing Tripoli for Hamet Qaramanli to take the throne. Both of these victory conditions are triggered by playing event cards: Treaty of Peace and Amity and Assault on Tripoli, respectively.

From gallery of candidrum
From gallery of candidrum

The Tripolitan player can win the game by forcing the U.S. into submitting to Tripolitania and paying tribute in one of three ways: 1) by raiding the U.S. to acquire twelve gold, 2) by sinking four American frigates, or 3) by eliminating Hamet's army. If neither player wins by the end of 1806 (the last round), the game ends in a draw.

From gallery of candidrum
American gold the Tripolitan player will be eager to pirate raid

The game board features a vibrant map with nine harbors (color-coded circles) to show which areas are friendly to the U.S. (blue), controlled by Tripolitania (red), or potential allies to Tripolitania (orange). In addition five, lightly shaded patrol zones are adjacent to five of the harbors where American and Swedish frigates can patrol against corsairs (pirating ships) leaving corresponding harbors.

From gallery of candidrum
Two-player game board set-up

Tiny wooden boats represent American gunboats (blue), Tripolitan corsairs (red), and allies of Tripolitania (orange). The larger wooden ships are American (blue), Swedish (yellow), and Tripolitan (red) frigates. Then you also have wooden cubes representing ground forces for Hamet's Army (blue and white) and Tripolitan infantry (red). Some of these pieces are placed on the board during set-up, but the majority are kept in the supply areas at the top of the board.

The Shores of Tripoli is played over six years, from 1801 to 1806, and each year is split into four seasons (turns), from spring to winter. At the start of a year, each player draws cards from their draw pile, then seasonal turns are played in which the American player takes a turn, then the Tripolitan player, then you advance the season marker. After playing the winter turn, the year is over and you advance the year marker to start the next year.

Each player has 27 cards: 21 event cards and 6 battle cards. The American player takes a turn first each season and can either play a card as an event, discard a card to move up to two frigates, or discard a card to build a gunboat in Malta. The Tripolitan player can play a card as an event, discard a card to pirate raid with corsairs from Tripoli, or discard a card to build a Tripolitan corsair in Tripoli.

The Shores of Tripoli is a card-driven game, so the event and battle cards are the heart of the game. Regardless of which side you're playing as, playing a card as an event works the same way, even though each side has different event cards. You simply play the card and resolve the event text, noting that some events have prerequisites that must be met before you can play them. After unique events are resolved, they are removed from the game, but common event cards are discarded and you might see them again later in the game.

The event cards vary but generally help players gain advantages for pushing towards their victory conditions. Here are a few examples of event cards:

From gallery of candidrum
A Tripolitan event

From gallery of candidrum
An American event

From gallery of candidrum
A Tripolitan event

From gallery of candidrum
An American event

From gallery of candidrum
Since the game has only 27 total cards for each side, after a few games, you'll be pretty familiar with them, which opens up a different, strategic hand-management aspect to the game that won't necessarily be as clear when you're not familiar with the cards. As an example, some event cards can be comboed together for a (hopefully) better effect such as The Philadelphia Runs Aground event when played with Uncharted Waters. Each year you are drawing an additional six cards, but you have a hand limit of eight cards, so you often have to make tough decisions for which cards to hold versus which to discard.

Core event cards are extra special and do not count towards your eight-card hand limit since they are placed face-up in front of you instead of being shuffled in your deck like the other cards. They can be played the same as the other event cards, but after playing core events, like the unique event cards, they are removed from the game, so you definitely want to time these powerful events well.

As the American player, core event cards are how you get the two Swedish frigates in the mix, create Hamet's Army to get ground forces on the map, and move up to a whopping eight frigates with the Thomas Jefferson event card!

From gallery of candidrum
American core event cards

As the Tripolitan player, your core event cards allow you to move the two Tripolitan corsairs from the harbor of Gibraltar to Tripoli, do some epic pirate raiding, and beef up your forces in Tripoli in preparation for Hamet's Army potentially coming for you.

From gallery of candidrum
Tripolitan core event cards

Outside of playing cards to resolve events, the American player can also discard a card to move up to two frigates or discard a card to build a gunboat in Malta. When moving frigates, you can move from any location(s) to any other location(s). If American frigates are moved to a harbor that has enemy ships, a naval battle commences and any gunboats from Malta can also be moved in to join the fight. If American frigates are moved to a harbor that doesn't contain any enemy ships, but the city has Tripolitan infantry, a naval bombardment commences.

From gallery of candidrum
Two American frigates available at the start of 1804
Naval combat is pretty simple. First, players announce whether they will play any battle cards. Battle cards are super helpful and give you juicy advantages during combat. Then both players roll their dice and tally hits. Each frigate rolls two dice, while gunboats and corsairs each roll one die. Each roll of a 6 is a hit. The players allocate hits to their own fleets starting with the active player. The small boats (corsairs and gunboats) take one hit to sink and frigates each take two hits to sink. If a frigate is hit once, it's considered damaged and gets placed on the following year of the Year Turn Track and you get these back at the start of the next year. After allocating hits, all surviving American gunboats and undamaged frigates are moved to Malta.

As an example, if you are in naval combat with two frigates and you get hit twice, you can either sink a frigate assigning it both hits and leave the other frigate intact and undamaged, or you can let each frigate take a hit, damaging them both and placing them on the following year of the Year Turn Track. Decisions, decisions, decisions. Remember, if the Tripolitan player sinks four American frigates, they win the game.

From gallery of candidrum
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the absolute bonkers Guns of Tripoli event card that lets the Tripolitan player roll an additional twelve dice! You heard me right, an additional twelve dice. Whenever this card was played, we got always got a kick out of it.

In my first game, my friend Richard played it when he already had five corsairs in Tripoli, so he rolled seventeen dice. We both cracked up! Luckily the dice are smaller than normal d6s, so most people can fit them all in one hand.

In my most recent game, Matt had six corsairs and rolled a whopping eighteen dice! As you can see from the photo on the right, he was pretty unlucky with his eighteen red dice compared to the fourteen blue dice I rolled thanks to the Preble's Boys Take Aim battle card I played. I really enjoy dice combat, so I had a blast with it in The Shores of Tripoli, but I fully acknowledge it's not for everyone.

Naval bombardment is very similar except the Tripolitan infantry does not get to roll any dice and fight back. Each frigate rolls two dice and each gunboat rolls one die, once again hitting on 6s. Each hit eliminates a Tripolitan infantry. After naval bombardment, all American frigates and gunboats are moved to Malta.

Then there's also ground combat that occurs when the American player moves Hamet's Army to a city that has Tripolitan infantry. Unlike naval combat, ground combat lasts until one force has been eliminated, so it could be multiple rounds of combat.

First, the American player may bombard with any frigates and gunboats that have joined the attack. Similar to naval combat, players announce whether they'll play any battle cards, then roll dice. Each infantry rolls one die and once again, a roll of a 6 is a hit and anything else is a miss. Players allocate hits to their troops, then check to see whether either side has been eliminated.

If the Tripolitan forces in the city are eliminated, the Americans have captured the city. If that city happens to be Tripoli, the American player immediately wins the game. On the other hand, if the American ground forces are eliminated, the Tripolitan player immediately wins the game. In the rare case where both forces are eliminated on the same roll, it is also considered a Tripolitan victory.

When the Tripolitan player isn't playing cards as events, they can discard a card to build a Tripolitan corsair in Tripoli, or take the favored action of pirate raiding with the corsairs from Tripoli by discarding a card. Honestly, if you're the Tripolitan player, it's all about snatching up that gold. Of course, the American player probably won't make it too easy for you since they can park their frigates in the naval patrol zone and try to take down some of the Tripolitan corsairs beforehand via interception rolls.

From gallery of candidrum
Pirate raid in Algiers triggered by an event card
When the Tripolitan player pirate raids, if any American or Swedish frigates ar ein the naval patrol zone outside the harbor of the raiding corsairs, the American player makes an interception roll, rolling two dice as usual for each frigate. Each roll of 6 is a hit and sinks a corsair. Then the Tripolitan player rolls one die for each remaining corsair and captures a merchant ship on a roll of 5 or 6, gaining a gold coin for each merchant ship captured. Taking advantage of pirate raids through this action and event cards is a great way to get to achieve the 12 gold victory condition as the Tripolitan player.

At the start of years 1801-1804, you draw six cards from your deck and by 1804 you will have gone through your entire deck since you start the game with 24 cards in your deck. Consequently, at the start of 1805 you shuffle your discard pile, then draw six cards from your new draw pile. If no one has won by the end of 1805, you play one final round in which you draw all cards remaining in your deck, then discard to your eight-card hand limit. If no one has won the game by the end of 1806, the game ends as a draw.

The Shores of Tripoli also includes a solo mode in which you play as the American side against an AI opponent, the Tripolitan-bot (T-bot). The T-bot is set up with two rows of cards: the event card line and the battle card line with specific cards placed in a specific order.

As the American player, you draw cards and take turns the same way you do when playing a human opponent. When your turn is over, the T-bot takes its turn checking cards in the event card line in order to see whether an event card's requirements have been met. Starting with the first card, if the requirement has been met, the T-bot plays the event card for its turn. Otherwise, it continues on to the next event card and so on.

If none of the event cards from the event card line can be played, the T-bot does the Five Corsair Check (a solitaire-only card), and if at least five corsairs are in the harbor of Tripoli, the T-bot pirate raids. If not, the T-bot draws a card from its draw pile and acts based on the T-bot card play requirements listed on the back of the rulebook. Since the T-bot uses the normal Tripolitan event and battle cards, the solitaire card play requirements will dictate how the T-bot responds to each event card.

The good news is there aren't many additional rules involved for jumping into a solo game, but you will need to keep the solitaire card play requirements handy to understand how the event and battle cards work with the T-bot. It would've been nice if there was a way to play this solo with the human player playing the pirates versus a U.S.-bot, but considering how many solitaire games I have that are designed specifically for solo play, I suspect I'll mainly play The Shores of Tripoli with a human opponent over the T-bot.

Inspired by two of Bertram's all-time favorite games, Twilight Struggle and 1960: The Making of the President, The Shores of Tripoli is a really solid entry-level wargame that covers a rare historical topic, and it manages to do so in a streamlined and accessible way to easily engage players of any experience level. You can teach this game to just about anyone and be up and running in 10-15 minutes and play a full game in under an hour. Because it plays so quickly, you'll likely want to play back to back games and can even mix it up by switching sides.

From gallery of candidrum
A successful assault on Tripoli that won me the game
Even though I love crunchy, heavy games, I appreciate how simple, fun, and exciting the combat is in The Shores of Tripoli. Big boats roll two dice, small boats and cubes roll one, and you hit on 6s. It's very simple to understand, which keeps your head out of the rulebook and into the gameplay. Of course, there's a lot of luck involved when you're rolling dice for combat, pirate raids, and other events, but I never found it to cause any bad feelings in the games I played. If anything, I found it exciting and also, often tense.

In one of my games, I was down to two gold as the American player, and my opponent had corsairs in the orange allied regions and kept raiding me, but thankfully rolled poorly. I had to pull the trigger and play the Assault on Tripoli as otherwise I might've lost the game. Thankfully I was able to swoop in with a ton of frigates and infantry and won the game that way.

I found the more I got to know the cards, the more strategic and interesting the game got. The hand management decisions get deeper the more you know the cards, although I do wonder if it'll get samey after a while having only 27 cards per faction.

I also love when games have multiple victory conditions, and The Shores of Tripoli does it well for a game that is easy to get into because of the low complexity level. It's great to have options and some flexibility to choose and potentially change up your path to victory based on the cards you draw.

The Shores of Tripoli is a great first release from Fort Circle Games, and I'm glad I finally got to play it since I didn't get a chance to playtest it when it originally came my way. I'll keep my eyes peeled for upcoming releases from Kevin Bertram and Fort Circle Games...

From gallery of candidrum
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Fri Apr 16, 2021 2:11 pm
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Craft Magic Items for Adventurers, and Overwhelm Your Fellow Witch

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Whirling Witchcraft
• Like many people, I'm a sucker for particular artists, but as much as I like Weberson Santiago's work, I never would have expected to see it on a game from Alderac Entertainment Group as their styles didn't seem to overlap — and yet here we are, looking at the cover of Erik Andersson Sundén's Whirling Witchcraft, a 2-5 player game that AEG plans to release in August 2021.

As for how the game works and exactly what's whirling, here's an explanation:
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Being a witch is all about wielding powerful magical ingredients — but a witch can wield only so much power before everything blows up in their face. Choose your recipes wisely to clear your workbench and stick others with too much raw material because the first player to overflow their nemesis' cauldron with enough ingredients wins!

In Whirling Witchcraft, you start with a hand of four recipe cards, as well as a number of ingredients on your workbench; ingredients come in five types, and you have a limited number of spaces for each type on your workbench.

Everyone plays simultaneously during each round. You all choose and reveal a recipe from your hand at the same time, then you can use as many recipes in play in front of you as you wish to convert and transform ingredients. Maybe you'll turn a mushroom into the harder-to-find mandrake, then you can turn two mandrakes (using an older one and the one you just created) to make three mushrooms. You can use each recipe at most once a round, and when you're finished, place all of the final ingredients into a cauldron, then pass it to your neighbor on the right. They must then fit all of these ingredients on their workbench — and if they can't, they must return the "extra" ingredients to you for placement in your "Witch's Circle".

Board Game: Whirling Witchcraft
Recipe cards, with the ones on the end being playable in either direction

If you now have at least five ingredients in your Witch's Circle, the game ends and you win; otherwise you all pass your recipe cards in hand to the player on your left, refill your hand to four cards, then start a new round.

The game includes personality cards you can use to give each player a unique power, in addition to a different set of starting ingredients. Some recipes can be played in either of two directions to help you customize how you transform ingredients, and recipes might also have arcana symbols that give you bonus powers when you collect enough of them.

Board Game: Whirling Witchcraft

Can you put together the right cookbook to land your neighbor in hot water?
Board Game: Merchants of Magick: A Set a Watch Tale
• And let's pair the previous title with another magic-based design, specifically Merchants of Magick, a 1-8 player design from Clarence Simpson and Rock Manor Games that features a striking cover from Boris Stanisic and that's set in the publisher's fantasy universe of Set a Watch games.

Here's a quick taste of how to play:
Quote:
In Merchants of Magick, you are the owner of a magic item shoppe, crafting items and research­ing spells to sell to the Adventurers of the Watch.

Each round, four polyhedral dice are rolled, then you select two of them to craft items or research enchantments for your shoppe. As you craft items and research spells, you start stocking items and earn potions that let you manipulate the dice. Adventurers travel from shoppe to shoppe, so you need to stock the exact items on the order cards in front of you. If you have an item an Adventurer needs, you earn coin — but if you wait too long to fulfill an order, Adventurers will become impatient and visit your competitor next door!

After ten rounds, the player who has earned the most coin wins.
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Thu Apr 15, 2021 1:00 pm
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Visit Every Biome in Subastral, and Empty Your Hand in Aggretsuko: Work/Rage Balance

W. Eric Martin
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North Carolina
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Board Game: Aggretsuko: Work/Rage Balance
• In 2020 Ben Eisner and Steve Ellis designed Gudetama: The Tricky Egg Card Game for Renegade Game Studios and Oni Games, and in Q2 2021 they'll have another IP-based card game on the market from those same publishers: Aggretsuko: Work/Rage Balance.

Here's an overview of this 3-6 player ladder-climbing card game:
Quote:
Your goal in Aggretsuko: Work/Rage Balance is to get out of work as quickly as possible — that is, to rid yourself of all cards in your hand. The game lasts five workdays (i.e., five rounds), and whoever has the lowest score once the weekend arrives wins.

The deck consists of 86 cards, with two cards each numbered 1-10 in four suits, along with three 11s, two 12s, and one 13. Each player starts with a hand of thirteen cards. The leader of the round plays a combination of 1-5 cards, then each subsequent player can play the same number of cards but of a higher value or pass. Once all but one person has passed, the cards are cleared from the table, then the last player to play leads something else.

Once per round, when you pass, you can rage, placing your rage card on a card that's currently on the table. When these cards are cleared, you can place the claimed card in your hand.

Note that a "Rainbow Bomb" — four consecutive cards with each suit represented — can be played on your turn no matter what's currently being played, and this can be beaten only by a higher Rainbow Bomb.

When one played voids their hand, the round ends. Everyone with cards in hand then scores 1-3 points per card based on how many they have, then you shuffle for a new round unless the weekend is here.
Board Game: Subastral
• Forgive the déjà vu, but in 2020 Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle designed Stellar for Renegade Game Studios, and in Q2 2021 they'll have another card game on the market from that same publisher: Subastral.

Here's an overview of this 2-5 player game:
Quote:
In Subastral, you collect cards that represent your notes on eight different biomes: subtropical desert, savanna, tropical rainforest, chaparral, temperate grassland, temperate forest, taiga, and arctic tundra. You start the game with three random cards in hand; each card depicts one of the eight biome types and is numbered 1-6. Eight cards are placed onto six clouds in the center of the table, with the deck to the left of the #1 cloud and a sun card to the right of #6.

On a turn, play a card from your hand onto the matching numbered cloud, then collect any pile of your choice to the left or right of the pile on which you played. If you choose a cloud to the left toward the deck, you add the cards on that cloud to your hand, then draw an additional card from the deck and add it to your hand. If you choose to the right toward the sun, you add those cards to your "journal", which is your collection of cards. Cards from the same biome go in the same pile, and you build piles from left to right in your journal as you collect cards from new biomes, with those piles being numbered 1-8. To end your turn, you draw a card from the deck to fill the empty cloud space.

When you hit the "game end" card in the deck, complete the round, then play one additional round. Each player then scores for their journal in two ways: Score for your two biomes that have the most cards, with each card in those biomes worth as many points as the number of the pile. (In other words, whatever two biomes you start collecting last, you want to collect a lot of them since those cards will be worth the most points.) Next, you remove one card from each biome left to right until you hit an empty space or run out of biomes; the set is worth 1-36 points depending on the number of cards in it. Then you create another set collecting cards from left to right, etc. until your leftmost biome is empty. Whoever has scored the most points wins!

Will your journal of research notes on the planet's biomes be deep and diverse enough to stand out amongst your peers?
Ties for the number of cards in a biome are broken in favor of the leftmost biomes, so ideally you'll have X cards in your first six biomes and (at least) X+1 cards in your final two biomes to maximize both types of scoring. The scoring of these piles is similar to that of Mandala (which I covered in December 2019), with the cards having no value initially and acquiring value as the game progresses, with each player valuing cards differently depending on where they land in their journal.
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Wed Apr 14, 2021 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Umbra Via

Connor Wake
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California
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Board Game: Umbra Via
At the start of 2018, Inis had become my new favorite game. What I really liked about it was how it was an area-control game, but you didn't always want to kill all of your opponents. One of the win conditions is to be in control of regions where at least six other player units are present. You can't kill everyone. You can't brute force your way through it. You have to keep an unsteady peace with your opponents.

I wanted to make a game that took that idea from Inis a bit further, something where you weren't allowed to remove all of your opponents' stuff if it wasn't exactly where you wanted it to be, something you'd have to deal with and work around instead. This is where the key point of Umbra Via came from. Players would be in direct conflict with each other, but not able to use direct force.

I also wanted players to be able to do well playing off of instinct and have a good time against people who are thinking through every possible outcome. Oftentimes when playing, I'm either tired or stressed and not up for having a good time only if I can out-compute whoever I'm playing against — so I decided I wanted pure logical thinking to cause the player to get a bit stuck, to force people to go with their instinct instead and level that playing field. This is why I wanted to add a constrained, hidden bidding element to the game.

Figuring out someone's intentions is tricky, and some people will even write it off as random, but to me, that's the most interesting part of playing games with other people. If you try to just logic your way through a blind bid, you can end up with the classic Princess Bride poison cup scenario. If you take a step back and don't get sucked down the logical rabbit hole, you have enough information to figure out the fuzzy probabilities of what someone might do. Also, I simply prefer those types of decisions in which there is no exact answer and things are fuzzy, but you've still got a lot to go off of!

Since Umbra Via isn't a big box game, there was a lot of swapping out of a lot of mechanisms, scoring systems, etc. to make it work with my goals. The iterations of the game were often unrecognizable. (I could fill another few designer diaries with all that.) Through all of those versions, those overarching goals were how I eventually settled on the core gameplay of Umbra Via:
Quote:
Each round, players receive six tokens to secretly bid on four different tiles over two rounds of bidding. The player with the most cubes on the tile gets to choose where it goes, determining the shape of the paths you're building and trying to control. However, everyone's cubes stay on the tile, so you're picking where that tile and everyone's cubes go. When paths close off, players are rewarded based on how long the path is, as well as how they ranked in the path.
From gallery of connorwake

The two rounds of bidding came out of trying to help players feel informed enough to be able to go off of instinct. When I first brought the game to my housemates Jevin and Jordan to test, I was stuck about how to handle getting the players' cubes onto the tiles. On the one hand, you could have players bid one cube at a time — which was very slow, but let you see the other players' intentions. On the other hand, you could allocate and bid all of your cubes at once — which was quick and exciting, but didn't give the players much to go off of, so it felt more random.

From gallery of connorwake

I brought this up with my housemates and how I wasn't happy with either of them. Then Jordan simply said, "Well, why don't we do two rounds then?" This turned out to be perfect and never changed after that first playtest. Players get six total cubes, then bid on the tiles three cubes at a time. Bidding in the first round is a chance for surprise, and when bidding in the second round players have made their intentions public, so you get to respond to that.

From gallery of connorwake

You'll probably notice how I haven't talked about the theme yet. What got me into board game design was the idea of crafting an experience for players. With Umbra Via, I specifically thought about making a game my partner and friends would enjoy. During the design process, it did exactly that, hitting all of the experience notes I wanted it to: conflict without violence, and being able to play off of the other players and your gut feeling. However, these goals never inspired a theme that lined up with the mechanisms.

I tried all sorts of changes to the game to make a theme fit, but it always seemed to take away from that core experience. In the end, wrapping Umbra Via in the dressings of a mysterious ritual felt fitting. The game has you advocate for painted tokens with no pretense. It works because everyone agrees these tokens are important, that they represent you and your interests. This felt very similar to spells to me, in which the objects used are meant to represent so much more.

From gallery of connorwake

Keeping the theme more abstract allowed for simpler art that was easier to read. Ultimately, it's the feeling of playing with the mechanisms and the other players around the table, trying to carefully balance all the different parts of the game, that makes Umbra Via what it is. I love what Pandasaurus Games did with the design. It's amazing seeing it brought to life. I can't wait for more people to try it out!

Connor Wake

From gallery of connorwake
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Tue Apr 13, 2021 1:00 pm
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