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Designer Interview: Matthew Dunstan on Game Design and More

Neil Bunker
United Kingdom
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[Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move. —WEM]

Matthew Dunstan, designer of Monumental and co-creator of the Adventure Games series joins Neil Bunker from Diagonal Move to discuss his approach to game design:

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Celebrating the release of The Great City of Rome (image: Matthew Dunstan)

DM: Matthew, thanks for joining us today. You have created many games. Can you tell us a little bit about how you first started your game design career?

MD: I started designing when I was still in Australia, around 2010 roughly. Only the year before I had rediscovered board gaming. I was playing all these new games, and I guess I was inspired by that to begin making little prototypes, replicating things I had seen already.

There wasn't really a playtesting group in Sydney, so I tried to set one up. I went to the annual Protospiel event — I had one prototype to show people — which was where I first met Phil Walker-Harding.

In 2011, I moved to UK and met Brett Gilbert, who had just signed a contract for his first game. He also lived in Cambridge, and we started to meet regularly at a pub. We weren't part of Playtest UK then — in fact, that wasn't a national network at that time — but we did regularly go to London for the Meetup events that were taking place.

Through that frequent interaction, and from the benefit of Brett's experience, I was able to become more "professional" or, at least, finish a design. I find that finishing a game is the hardest part of game design.

Once I got a design to a point that I was happy with, I entered a competition called Europa Ludi. It was a combination of events usually held separately in France and Spain. I think 2012 was the only year that they held them jointly.

Both Brett and I were finalists. Neither of us won, but later that year I found out — I wasn't aware at the time — that my game had been presented to publishers. Shortly after SPIEL that year, Days of Wonder emailed to say they were interested in publishing my game, which they did under the name Relic Runners the following year.

I guess my route into the industry isn't the easiest to replicate. However, I do recommend entering design competitions. Publishers do get involved in competitions sometimes, and there are more competitions than ever before.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Evidence of international success (image: Matthew Dunstan)

DM: There doesn't appear to be a single mechanism, theme, or even degree of complexity running through your portfolio. What do you believe is the thread that links all your games?

MD: Ha ha, I really don't know the answer to that question!

I think, ultimately, I just don't want to make the same game again. Some designers do iterate on the same idea or concepts. Personally, I don't enjoy doing that. I enjoy the puzzle-solving involved in "finding" a game.

I'll have some idea of how I can manipulate pieces and I'm interested in how I can "crack the code" and make an idea work. If I have already solved a problem on a previous game — perhaps how a certain distribution of cards will work, for example — I'm not interested in looking at that same problem again.

Family: Series: Good Little (Good Little Games)
That isn't to say there are no linking elements in my games. The titles in the Good Little Games line are examples of an imposed component limitation — some cards and a few tokens.

There is also a series of games in which Brett and I took the concept of a classic 110- or 120-card game and added an element of geography. The games themselves were quite small, but through the placement of cards on the table, a board began to develop.

We kept coming back to that idea of combining cards with geography. How could we mess with it? How could it be different each time? In Pyramids, there are two decks of cards, and players make a pyramid over the course of the game. Raids came from the idea of arranging the cards in a circle, which made gaining cards a much more interactive process. The Great City of Rome used a grid of cards. We currently have a game in development with Inside the Box games in which cards are used in rows, almost as outer and inner walls.

Outside of those mini component-led challenges, I wouldn't say a specific driving force links my games together other than that I like to experiment. If I had to pick something, I guess it's the intellectual curiosity needed to answer: "How do I go about making this?"

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Chocolate Factory before... (image: Matthew Dunstan)

DM: Can you give us an insight into your design process?

MD: I'm a lot better at the start of the process than I am towards the end. I have a digital notebook that I'll write in at least once or twice a day — a theme, a mechanism, or one or two sentences outlining an idea. From those notes, there is usually an idea that sticks with me. It's not necessarily related to the act of writing it down, but something about an idea will capture my imagination.

Once I have that first idea, I'll start making a prototype. My graphic design skills are horrible, but I'm able to put something together quickly. I usually use a computer for that. Sometimes making a prototype by hand gets you more involved in a game, but for me, making cards on the computer is fairly easy. I'm quite good at churning through to the point where a game can be played.

Once I have a playable prototype, playtesting and iteration begins. Currently I have ten or fifteen games in development. These are actual playable prototypes, not just ideas. I have far too many games on the go...

I'm a lot less skilled at playtesting my own designs — which, I think, is why I enjoy collaborating with other designers. It's an excuse to playtest with somebody else right from the very start. It also means that I don't need to rely so much on my own judgement to decide whether a design is worth continuing.

I find it frustrating when my mind sees a game much further along than it actually is, and if I had to rely only on my own feelings in the early stages, I probably wouldn't finish many things. An idea always seems better before the first prototype is made.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Chocolate Factory after! (image: Antony Wyatt)

DM: You have collaborated with many other designers. What is it about that approach that appeals to you versus a single designer game?

MD: Most of my games have been co-created with other designers. I find that being able to bounce ideas off another person in a collaboration really helps with the process of iteration.

Having two opinions makes it possible to identify what it is that is interesting about a design, not only to puzzle through the challenge of making a design work. Right from the start, there is feedback from the other designer who is saying what they do or don't like about the design. Maybe we keep this part, maybe we throw another part out. Just being able to talk it through is, I find, an easy way to move things ahead.

There are some ideas that I do keep for myself — Monumental, for example. These become what I tend to think of as my "style" of game. They take a lot longer to create because although I know what I want to achieve, I don't have the back and forth from a collaboration to help move forward.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Brett Gilbert, one of Dunstan's key design collaborators (image: Matthew Dunstan)

DM: The Adventure Games line stands out as being quite different from other games in your portfolio. What is unique about designing a story-driven, co-operative game versus a more traditional competitive game?

MD: It is both easier and harder. Often you just need one element that changes the structure of the experience, a mechanical twist if you like.

Maybe the structure changing element is more evocative of another medium. The Adventure series itself is inspired by the point-and-click video game genre. In that instance, it's a case of transferring the genre into mechanisms more suited to the tabletop.

Regardless of the mechanisms, narrative games quickly let you know whether they are working or not. Mechanically, they typically don't require as much playtesting as other designs. They still go through the playtesting and refinement process, but feedback regarding the nature of the experience they are delivering is quick to see.

Narrative games are ultimately about player choice. In that sense, they are not so different from a strategy game. A strategy game will present several different choices, and they need to be interesting choices. In a narrative game, those choices relate to the story being told, and that is where the difficulty increases.

The storytelling narrative side is not my forte. Narrative game designers are essentially authors, and that is an entirely different skill set. A game design approach doesn't necessarily lead to the best stories. I think that is apparent in the varying quality of narrative games on the market. They may have an interesting way to move through the story, of making the game mechanisms flow nicely, but the pedigree of the narrative doesn't always match.

The narrative needs memorable characters, the classic three act structure — this is where collaboration becomes important, so much so that future Adventure Games will be created in collaboration with published authors. It will vary by author; some are writing a synopsis, others are creating detailed text that Phil and I will weave the mechanisms around.

One criticism of the Adventure Games is that they have "game" elements — points scoring and so on — but a significant portion of the audience doesn’t care about the "game". They want it to be an experience, one that is natural enough that the game feels like you are exploring a story. To achieve that, the mechanisms, no matter how clever they are, almost need to be forgotten by the players.

This becomes even more challenging if the narrative game features a strong element of puzzle, that is, where there is an answer to find as well as a story to experience. Narrative game design is a unique skill set and one that I believe will eventually branch off into a new school of game design.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Monochrome Inc., one of the Adventure Games designed in collaboration with Phil Walker-Harding (image: Antony Wyatt)

DM: Your current release, Monumental, has been a huge success. Can you tell us more about how Monumental was brought to life?

MD: Originally, Monumental was a card game. When I first showed it to Funforge, it was an entirely card-based deck-building game. Funforge, however, had a vision for Monumental that soon outgrew that format. It was such a large vision that Monumental spent a further two years in development before being announced.

We started with the map. As that developed, further ideas were incorporated resulting in the interesting hybrid that Monumental is today. The cards are what drives the game, the engine where the decisions are made. The map opens interaction between players and creates a sense of progression that would not normally be available in a card game. There is also a tactile and tactical side that, through the combination of cards and a map, is both more appealing and less fiddly than some other civilization-building games.

The action selection/activation grid was inspired by Innovation by Carl Chudyk, which is one of my favorite games. In that game, cards can be played in different positions relative to each other. This allows the cards to have variable and upgradable actions. I wanted to look at that idea of aligning cards to create combinations in an interesting way.

Eventually, I created the grid-based action selection system in Monumental, which I believe is quite original. Of course, nothing is ever truly original and independent co-creation happens all the time, which is why certain themes and mechanisms suddenly appear at the same time in games that were created independently of one another. Something in the water, I guess.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Playtesting Monumental (image: Matthew Dunstan)

DM: Monumental has several expansions available. In general, what do you try to do when designing an expansion? Is it more challenging to find something that works well with an existing design?

MD: I find it easier than creating a new game because there is an existing system to work with.

I love expansions that do not necessarily add more to a game but instead subvert existing mechanisms. One of my favorite examples of that is the changing use of corruption in the Lords of Waterdeep expansions.

In African Empires, the new expansion to Monumental, one of the civilizations subverts how an existing resource, gold, is used. Not only does this civilization have a new way to use this resource, it requires other civilizations to re-evaluate their use of gold to effectively deal with that change. By altering a single thing, all sorts of wonderful new decisions are now possible. It's a new way to contextualize the mechanisms without needing to add more "things" into the game.

Having said that, the introduction of new elements can be very satisfying. Magic: The Gathering does this extremely well. Each new card released may require you to re-evaluate how you are using cards originally introduced years before. It's a nice sweet spot where players can look at new ways to play within the framework of a game, without need to learn a whole new framework.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
"Polygonia", one of Dunstan's many prototypes (image: Matthew Dunstan)

DM: What games do you have in the pipeline?

MD: Being an independent designer is a funny spot to be in sometimes. I'm never quite sure what I can talk about and what should be left to the publisher. It's also quite difficult to know what is going to happen in a post-COVID world. Some games may get lost in the shuffle...

In terms of games that have been announced, Brett and I have a game called Web of Spies due for release with Pegasus Spiele later in 2020.

It is a game at the "Spiel des Jahres" level of complexity, for want of a better description. In many ways, family games, and particularly children's games, are hard to create because they have to be intuitive and simple to understand without you being able to keep adding more stuff. This will be my first game of this type as I'm typically into more complex card combos and so on; however, this is Brett's forte.

Web of Spies is a route-building game with an evolving network of routes. How your opponents place their spies will affect the cost of your route as it's more expensive to go to a location where someone has already been. It's a game I'm very pleased with as we have distilled the essence of it into a quick to play, simple to understand format.

Oh, I nearly forgot! The Monumental expansion, African Empires, is out on Kickstarter as we speak.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
Professor Evil cards (image: Antony Wyatt)

DM: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to design a board game?

MD: Enter design competitions!

Seriously, though, at the beginning of your career, it is better to finish a design than it is to make a good design. What I mean by that is that the act of finishing one game will make you a better designer than a collection of half-finished designs ever will.

Game design requires a range of skill sets. Some parts you will be great at — maybe the graphics, maybe the playtesting — but other parts will need work. That may mean you spend more time working on those areas you are not good at, or it may mean collaborating with someone who is good in those areas.

It can be extremely frustrating to have a game that doesn't work, and you can't figure out why. Finishing a game will help you identify the parts of the process that you are not very good at. At least then you will know what the problem is.

Also, try not to be constrained by what has gone before. Don't be afraid to try something wacky or that breaks the rules. Design rules are a guide to making a game, but they are not a guide to making a great game. Breaking those rules results in innovation and drives the hobby forward.
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Sun Jul 5, 2020 1:00 pm
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Links: Diplomatic Computing, Modern Games in Mainstream Media, and Gaming Easter Eggs

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Diplomacy
• DeepMind, the AI research and development company behind the AlphaGo AI that mastered Go, is now attempting to train an AI how to play Diplomacy. Here's an excerpt from an article on TechRepublic by R. Dallon Adams:
Quote:
AI systems have proved to be far superior to even the best human beings at zero-sum games like chess and Go. In this type of gameplay, there can only be one winner and one loser. Dissimilarly, Diplomacy requires agents to build alliances and foster collaboration.

"On the one hand, it is difficult to make progress in the game without the support of other players, but on the other hand, only one player can eventually win. This means it is more difficult to achieve cooperation in this environment. The tension between cooperation and competition in Diplomacy makes building trustworthy agents in this game an interesting research challenge," said Tom Anthony, a research scientist at DeepMind.

The ability to expeditiously vanquish a human player in a zero-sum game is certainly impressive, however, a richer layering of skills opens up another world of AI potential. Our day-to-day lives involve an intricate patchwork of balanced synergies; our individual needs often packaged within a larger group effort. That said, this research could enhance agents' ability to collaborate with us and one another, leading to a vast spectrum of real-world applications.

"In real-life, we often work in teams and have to both compete and cooperate. From simple decisions such as scheduling a meeting or deciding where to eat out with friends, to complex decisions such as negotiating with suppliers or clients or assigning tasks in a joint project, we constantly reason about how to best work with others. It seems likely that as AI systems become more complex, we'd need to provide them with better tools for effectively cooperating with others," said Yoram Bachrach, a research scientist at DeepMind.
From gallery of W Eric Martin
• Starla and Miklos Fitch from the YouTube channel Our Family Play Games were featured on the U.S. morning television show Good Morning America in late June 2020, highlighting a few games — Ticket to Ride, Catan, and The Great Heartland Hauling Co. — and talking about the value of modern board games.

• In The Strategist, a section of New York magazine, Jenna Milliner-Waddell spoke with Liz Davidson, Eric Yurko, and Scott McNeely to highlight the best one-player games for folks who happen to be socially distancing on their own.

• Game blog For Chits & Giggles details dozens of easter eggs hidden in game boards, cards, covers, and other components.
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Sat Jul 4, 2020 1:00 pm
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The Return of the King: Knizia's The Lord of the Rings Being Released in Q4 2020

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: The Lord of the Rings
U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games has announced that in Q4 2020 it will release a twentieth-anniversary edition of Reiner Knizia's classic co-operative game Lord of the Rings under the new title The Lord of the Rings: Anniversary Edition.

For those not familiar with what is arguably the second most influential co-operative game of all time, Pandemic being the first, here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
Quote:
Lord of the Rings is a co-operative game in which the object is to destroy the Ring while surviving the corrupting influence of Sauron. Each player plays one of the Hobbits in the fellowship, each of which has a unique power.

Over the course of the game, you make your way across four conflict game boards, representing some of the most memorable conflicts from the entire trilogy: Moria, Helm's Deep, Shelob's Lair, and Mordor. Each conflict board tests your small Fellowship to the utmost as you must play your quest cards to advance along multiple tracks. These tracks represent fighting, hiding, traveling, and friendship, and by playing quest cards from your hand with matching symbols, you can keep moving forward and push closer to victory.

Board Game: The Lord of the Rings
Cover of the anniversary edition

The master game board indicates both the physical progress of the fellowship across Middle Earth and the corrupting influence of Sauron on the hobbits. If you're able to slip past your foes, you can hope to escape with minimal corruption, healing your hurts at safe havens along your path, such as the forest kingdom of Lothlórien. By playing your cards right and advancing quickly, you can collect powerful runes, unlock legendary cards to aid your journey, or find life tokens to help stave off corruption — not to mention advancing quickly through the conflicts. As you travel, the One Ring can be a crucial tool in your journey, allowing you to hide from sight, but repeated use will draw the attention of Sauron and corrupt the heart of the Ring-bearer.

Your journey leads you deeper into the darkness with each passing conflict, and safe havens become few and far between. You must carefully watch the corruption track because if the Sauron miniature ever meets a Hobbit, that player is eliminated — and if the Ring-bearer is eliminated, all players lose as Sauron reclaims the power of the One Ring. To win, throw the One Ring into the volcanic fires of Mount Doom.
FFG notes that the gameplay of this new edition hasn't been altered from the original release, but some of the punchboard components are being replaced by miniatures:
Quote:
The Hobbits setting out on their journey are shaped with careful attention to detail, from their hairy feet to the top of their sturdy walking stick. The Sauron token has now been replaced with a menacing Black Rider figure, racing forward at a dead gallop and representing the constantly growing threat of corruption. The threat die now represents Sauron's power in a menacing black. And finally, the One Ring is now a beautiful miniature, graven with Elvish script and perfectly sized to fit over the Ring-bearer's miniature when they choose to use the One Ring.
Board Game: The Lord of the Rings

FFG doesn't mention whether any of the expansions — Friends & Foes, Sauron, and Battlefields — will return to print. I'll update this post if I receive a response to my question about their status.
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Fri Jul 3, 2020 5:39 pm
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New Game Round-up: Undaunted Awaits Reinforcements, Powerwolf Hunts Again, and a Llama Turns Pink

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Undaunted: Normandy
Board Game: Undaunted: North Africa
• In 2019, UK publisher Osprey Games released the two-player, deck-building game Undaunted: Normandy from Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson. In November of that year it announced a sequel game taking place on a different continent — Undaunted: North Africa.

Now one week ahead of the delayed release of that second game, which was originally due out in May 2020, Osprey has announced an expansion for both games — Undaunted: Reinforcements, with this title due out in August 2021. Yes, that's more than a year away, but you haven't even touched North Africa at this point, so ideally you'll have plenty of time to prepare for this modular expansion. Here's what's coming:
Quote:
In North Africa, the Long Range Desert Group is a thorn in the sides of the Italian forces, disrupting vital lines of communication and striking at strategic targets ranging far and wide. In Normandy, U.S. forces brace against German counterattack, determined to maintain their foothold in the region. The fighting is intense, and the outcome hangs on a knife's edge. With everything at stake, you desperately need reinforcements!

Board Game: Undaunted: Reinforcements

Undaunted: Reinforcements introduces a range of new rules, scenarios, and units. Unleash the might of the German and American tanks and see how your new squad options fare against them in Undaunted: Normandy, or make use of mines, assault aircraft, and other new units as you attempt to outfox your opponent in Undaunted: North Africa. Whether you have one Undaunted game or the other, with Reinforcements you can play for the first time in a four-player mode, or test your mettle in a solo mode by Dávid Turczi.
Board Game: L.A.M.A. Party Edition
Board Game: Steven Universe: Beach-A-Palooza Card Battling Game
• As part of its fortieth anniversary celebration, German publisher AMIGO is releasing special editions of various titles in its catalog, with the newest such announced title being L.A.M.A. Party Edition, a new version of Reiner Knizia's 2019 Spiel des Jahres-nominated card game L.A.M.A.

This version of the game includes a single pink llama card that can be played on top of any card, but which is worth -20 points in hand at the end of a round; number cards with pluses, e.g., 4+, that allow you to take another turn immediately when played; and pink tokens worth 20 points, which means your luck can turn around quickly if you win a round and ditch one of those! For details on how to play L.A.M.A., check out my wildly enthusiastic overview video.

Cryptozoic Entertainment had announced Steven Universe: Beach-A-Palooza Card Battling Game from Erica Bouyouris and Andrew Wolf as a Q1 2020 release, but plans changed for what is likely to be any number of COVID-19-related reasons, and instead the game will now be Kickstarted starting on July 14, 2020, with the game being advertised as a "Kickstarter exclusive".

Board Game Publisher: Scribabs
• German publisher Pegasus Spiele has picked up the Paolo Vallerga and Marco Valtriani design Armata Strigoi — which debuted at SPIEL '19 from Italian publisher Scribabs — for release worldwide, with the second edition of the game hitting the market in September 2020.

Armata Strigoi is inspired by and set in the world of German power metal band POWERWOLF, which co-designer Valtriani explained in detail in a BGG News designer diary in October 2019. For an overview of the setting and gameplay, you can watch this overview video recorded at SPIEL '19 or read the following:
Quote:
The eternal struggle between vampires and werewolves is coming to an end. The last Vampire Master and his Apprentice, Strigoi from Wallachia, are dwelling in the ancient fortress of Tismana: a stronghold haunted by evil undead creatures. Nevertheless, the POWERWOLF — sons of the Legends of the Night and the Armenia Savage Army — the defenders of the "Real Truth", prepare for a last frantic assault knowing there are no alternatives to victory!

Armata Strigoi is a game in which the Powerwolf win or lose as a team, but each player makes their own decisions about their actions and movements. Each player represents one of the Powerwolf heroes which assault the Strigoi's fortress as a single pack. In order to win they have to defeat both Vampires. However, the two foes are initially invulnerable and their vitality is intrinsically linked to their dwelling fortress, thus, upon the demise of the first vampire the whole structure will start to crumble and collapse on itself, making the victory a race against time!

Board Game: Armata Strigoi

The Powerwolf act collectively, but a pack of werewolves during a furious assault is not known to be a highly organized band that can devise and set up high-profile strategies and tactics. Hence, the players are forbidden from sharing details about their cards, though they can talk to each other, propose joint actions, or heal a comrade.

Victory is achieved by defeating both Strigoi. To make them vulnerable, the Powerwolf must first collect Blood Points by decimating the fellow Creatures of the Night who haunt the fortress. During their quest, they can also collect weapons and magical artifacts.

If one Strigoi perishes, the other immediately turns into a Supreme Master Vampire, making them even more lethal. At the same time, the fortress starts to crumble and collapse room by room. If both Strigoi are defeated, the Powerwolf pack wins the game. It is not an easy task, but let the hunt begin!
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Fri Jul 3, 2020 1:00 pm
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Stonemaier Games Announces Pendulum; Viticulture Digital Now Available

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: Stonemaier Games
• In a July 2020 update from Stonemaier Games, Jamey Stegmaier announced an upcoming new release, Pendulum, designed by Travis P. Jones featuring art from Robert Leask.

Pendulum is a competitive, turnless, asymmetric worker placement, time-optimization game for 1-5 players. In more detail from the publisher:
Quote:
In Pendulum, each player is a powerful, unique noble vying to succeed the Timeless King as the true ruler of Dünya. Players command their workers, execute stratagems, and expand the provinces in their domain in real time to gain resources and move up the four victory tracks: power, prestige, popularity, and legendary achievement.

Board Game: Pendulum

Players must use actual time as a resource in managing their strategy to best their opponents, using time on different action types and balancing it with time spent planning and analyzing. The winner will be the player who manages and invests their time most effectively and who builds the best engine, not the player who acts the quickest.

Pendulum is the highest-rated protoype in the history of the Stonemaier Games Design Day.
Pendulum will be available to preorder from Stonemaier Games in early August 2020, with all preorders being shipped in August from fulfillment centers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the UK. I can't wait to check out Pendulum when it's in full swing!

• Stonemaier Games' wine-making, worker-placement classic Viticulture has gone digital! A full-AI digital adaptation of Viticulture is now available from Digidiced on iOS and Android, and it will be coming soon on Steam. I'm really hoping we'll also see the Tuscany expansion integrated digitally soon, too.

From gallery of candidrum

Board Game: My Little Scythe
Hoby Chou and daughter Vienna Chou's Pie in the Sky expansion for the family-friendly, adventure game My Little Scythe is now available directly from Stonemaier and retailers. My Little Scythe: Pie in the Sky features more adorable art from Katie Khau and adds two new pairs of Seeker miniatures (owls and arctic foxes), an airship, special abilities, two new kingdoms, and more. Here's a small taste of Pie in the Sky as described by the publisher:
Quote:
Pie in the Sky begins on the eve of the 3000th Harvest Tournament, where stories are retold of Pomme's ancient animals venturing into distant lands to establish their own kingdoms. To accomplish this, Pomme's founders worked together to build the legendary Airship Kai, imbuing it with the best knowledge from all nine animal species. Sharing the ship's powers and speed, each kingdom established its foundations. But one year, the airship and its Fox and Owl passengers journeyed into the far frontiers and were never seen or heard from again...until now.

Board Game: My Little Scythe: Pie in the Sky

As animals gather for the milestone tournament, the fabled lost airship emerges from the horizon, carrying Seekers from the Fox and Owl kingdoms. As if this reunion isn't reason enough for celebration, Pomme's Seekers realize that Airship Kai still responds to each animal species. The stage is set for the greatest Harvest Tournament in 3000 years!
Board Game: Rolling Realms
• Jamey Stegmaier posted a survey in early July 2020 to gauge interest for a more official, produced version of his roll-and-write game Rolling Realms.

Stegmaier released Rolling Realms in April 2020 as a free print-and-play game to play with people around the world via Facebook Live during self-isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rolling Realms features nine minigames, each inspired by a different Stonemaier Game, and you use three of these realms per game, adding up the scores of three consecutive games to determine the overall winner.
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Thu Jul 2, 2020 2:18 pm
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Designer Diary: High Rise, or Building Skyscrapers and Contemplating Lepidopteran Body Horror

Gil Hova
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Board Game: High Rise
In 2017, I held an event at a private convention for some fellow game designers in which we brought out some very early games of ours. My thought is that we would share a bit of a laugh at them and see how far we've come.

That didn't happen. Instead, we played a bunch of earnest games with genuinely good ideas in them that were buried in awkwardly-designed mechanisms and naive ambitions.

One of them was my beleaguered auction game called "Wag the Wolf", which I wrote about in my designer diary for The Networks. It features an amazing auction mechanism that failed to work in two different games (The Networks and Battle Merchants). If you're not familiar with that saga, I highly recommend reading that designer diary first. I won't go into detail about "Wag the Wolf"'s auction mechanism here as I described it at length there.

We all agreed that the auction mechanism was really cool and the rest of the game was pretty crummy. One of the designers at the event, Jonathan Gilmour, encouraged me to move forward. By 2017, I was, in all modesty, a fairly decent game designer. Knowing what I know now, could I take Wag's auction mechanism and actually make it work?

If you've played High Rise, you know the answer: No. No, I couldn't.

Still, the journey produced what I think is the best game I've made so far — even if it almost killed me.

The Eggs are Laid

These days, I begin making a game by looking for an interesting intersection of theme and mechanism. Once I find that join, a lot of design questions seem to answer themselves.

In this case, I knew from the jump that the players had to be greedy, wealthy players, so the first draft of the game was about stock acquisition. Players bid on a mix of cards: some face-up that were always good, some face-down that were a mix of good and bad. Most cards offered valuable stocks, but some cards did nothing (I called them "meeting" cards), and some cards were PR crises that lost the players points.

Players who folded in the auction could mitigate PR issues. Players who won the auction outright got to take two face-up cards; other players got a mix of face-up and face-down cards.

From gallery of IngredientX

This was a decent start, but as I tested it, I realized that skyscrapers were a better theme. In a couple of months, the game was about constructing huge buildings, so unlike my early designs, the game's theme was stable from the start and that helped speed up the design process.

With the new theme, I thought "Bedrock" would be a cool name, but later I realized that I had missed an excellent opportunity for a pun and switched to the name the prototype would take for a year: "Bidrock".

The Caterpillar Hatches

At this point, "Bidrock" continued leaning into the "Wag" auction mechanism. There was now a building deck with cards that came out face up and a fate deck (containing random money cards and negative-effect cards) that came out face down. The buildings had various characteristics that would award set collection bonuses. As the bidding increased, more cards came out.

Players would lap cards on each other so that a "tall" building was a series of overlapped cards. At some point, based on the style of building, the player could consider the building "done" and score points for it.

Players would place buildings in one of four neighborhoods that would give money, add floors to buildings, or create a building multiplier. There were also bonuses for being the first in the neighborhood, for having multiple types of buildings in a neighborhood, and for having the tallest building in the neighborhood.

From gallery of IngredientX

While the guts of that game were still wildly different than what's in the High Rise box, you can start to see some glimmers of the final game here. There are multiple neighborhoods, a feeling of constructing tall buildings, and tallest-building bonuses in each neighborhood.

In fact, from here through the rest of the design process, I would hang onto the feeling of constructing a building — height, verticality, dimension — as a core experience of the design.

But still, the game was far from being a gorgeous butterfly. It was still an ugly, hairy caterpillar.

The Caterpillar Munches on a Leaf

Bidding for individual buildings wasn't interesting enough. I split up the building requirements into resources that players received at auction. High bidders would receive first choice and the most materials.

From gallery of IngredientX

I had a conversion of resources to floors originally, so, for example, some buildings would require three concrete and two steel per floor, and the buildings had wildly different VP values. Thankfully NYC-Playtest hero Rocco Privetera suggested a vital maxim: Each resource corresponds to one floor, which corresponds to 1 VP. That immediately wiggled its way into the core of the game and never left. It helped the transparency and clarity of the design tremendously.

The Caterpillar Begins Spinning Its Cocoon

The "Wag" auction is a hidden-money auction. In the original game, you can't bid more money than you have. This is an okay rule; it's hard to enforce, but I've seen several games that have the rule, and player cheating isn't usually an issue.

Still, it was a loose end. I wondered: What would it be like if players could take out loans?

So I introduced a loan mechanism through which players would take out loans if they were short of money, with the loan being represented by loan cubes. This completely changed the dynamics of bidding as players could bid far more than they had. It also made bluffing interesting as a player bidding far too much money could fold for an amount they could afford and perhaps force other players to overextend.

From gallery of IngredientX

In practice, however, this change created crappy dynamics. Players would bid the maximum amount and accept a bunch of loans, and the other players wouldn't have any meaningful decisions for that auction. I tried disincentivizing this behavior, but this was the beginning of the end for the "Wag" auction mechanism in the game.

Even so, from this point onward, the game always had a negative currency. Loans were just the beginning, and even though the form and name would change, that would become a critical component of the game.

The Caterpillar Dissolves into Goo

At this point, I had a game that was working decently. Each round of the game had a "bid" half and a "build" half. The bottom of the board was the bidding track; it had lost the "Wag" bid pointer at this point, but your position on the track at the end of the auction mattered. Buildings went into the top half of the board, but you were limited in the number you could place in each neighborhood.

From gallery of IngredientX
Blueprints were across the top of the board. Anything with a bag icon was a colored cube pulled out of a bag. The "shrug" icon indicated a resource of any color could be used, and the futuristic icon at the bottom of the leftmost two blueprint spaces was a new mechanism: Elastoplastic, a fancy new resource. At the time, Elastoplastic could stand in for any resource, but you needed Elastoplastic for the blueprints that called for them.

My friend Daniel Newman, an excellent game designer who studied architecture in school, suggested the name as something architects use as a generic term — the architect equivalent of Unobtainium, if you will.

You'll also notice the big square in the bottom-left of each blueprint box. That was a neutrally-colored floor that the first player to construct a blueprint took. Another idea that survived to publication!

Up until now, I'd tried to stay thematic and give a name for each resource — concrete, steel, glass, and so on — but at this point, I just gave them colors. To handle the buildings, I took Rocco's maxim to heart and had the players actually construct the buildings out of the wood squares I used to represent the resources. One resource equals one floor equals one point.

Oh, Gil, if only you knew the trouble you were setting yourself up for...

I had tried to address the maximum-bid issue by introducing a mechanism in which as you bid various amounts on the track, you would pass boxes with bonus components. You could pick from only one box, regardless of how many you passed, so you were incentivized to make smaller jumps, not jump all the way to the end. If you've played High Rise, this should sound very familiar!

The game was...okay. It just wasn't amazing. Finally, my friend (and ridiculously good playtester, and even better designer) Ryan Courtney told me what I needed to hear: It was time to drop the auction mechanism. But maybe it would work as a Tokaido-style time track?

The Pupa Bubbles and Burbles

No designer likes to make such massive, fundamental changes to their designs so far in, but this was worth a shot. I tried a few different boards; the board pictured below is an early attempt.

One playtester suggested that removing the auction meant that I could also remove money from the game. I was intrigued by this and modeled the game currency as debt instead. Most actions would cost "favors", which modeled debt that the players could pay back by visiting spaces with the gray box and red X.

Players would start at one of the four spaces at the top and move clockwise around the board, landing on a space that gave them stuff in a one-way track. The first space (at the top-left) would give players three random resources and a favor cube. The next space gave a yellow resource, a random resource, and a favor cube.

From gallery of IngredientX

For the actual mechanical implementation of the favors, I "borrowed" the poverty mechanism from Martin Wallace's London. I didn't feel too bad about this because I figured I'd have to twist the mechanism so much during testing that it would assume its own identity — and I was right. That problematic loan mechanism eventually turned into one of the core parts of High Rise's identity: corruption.

You can also see the bonus spaces survived the auction purge. Players who crossed those spots first would get to take everything out of one box.

The white squares on the box represented Elastoplastic, which was also represented by the futuristic icon. I don't know why I had two different icons for the same thing, so don't ask. But deep inside the cocoon, the butterfly was forming.

Almost Ready to Emerge

They say that when a caterpillar becomes a pupa, it actually disintegrates inside its cocoon and reforms as a butterfly. It sounds painful. It sounds intense. And it sounds like my design process for this game.

From gallery of IngredientX

The board above shows a fundamental change I attempted. Instead of fixing spaces on the board, I shuffled cards and dealt them to spaces on the board. I later settled on a hybrid approach with some spaces being fixed on the board and others as modular "tenants" that would differ each game.

While I always had "neighborhoods" in the game, this was the first time they were implemented as modular tenants that you could build on and get powers from. Another big part of High Rise's design settled into place here.

And it's about here that another critical mechanism emerged that separates this game from other one-way track games. I noticed a lot of players waiting for other players to jump ahead, then annoyingly taking all of the spaces ahead of them one-by-one. I tried out a rule that forced players to do only one action in each block, and what do you know? It worked perfectly, serving as the stick to the carrot of the bonus spaces, and it makes the game feel really different.

I also had one more problem: I could no longer justify calling the game "Bidrock" since it was no longer about bidding. I thought about switching back to "Bedrock", but people kept thinking it was a game about The Flintstones.

I cast around for a new name (pointedly ignoring Ian Moss' repeated suggestion to call it "Buildrock"), and it was Manuel Correia who gave a name that suggested tall buildings as well as escalating tension: High Rise.

A few people have since asked me whether the game is about the J.G. Ballard novel of the same name, but far fewer than The Flintstones folks.

The Butterfly Emerges, But with Wings Too Wet to Fly

Daniel had a big hand in laying out the board below, when he semi-seriously refused to test the game unless I let him help me make the board more readable.

This board is actually close to the final board, mechanically speaking. Players would start in the upper-left of the board and travel clockwise. We have fixed spaces and modular "tenant" spaces. We have bonus spaces. We have favor tokens that will soon become corruption. We have areas that cost extra favors to enter if you're not the first one in. And in the early spaces, you get a predetermined resource, and you may draw a random resource for a favor.

From gallery of IngredientX

Most importantly, the blueprints under the game title no longer have a "shrug" icon. Some clever playtester suggested folding that into Elastoplastic's abilities. It was now a two-way wild, and if players matched it exactly, they'd get an extra floor in their building. The only thing that would need to change for that part of the game was the name.

At this point, it's easier to point out the differences that still remained. Blueprints were still determined by random cube pulls, which was time-consuming and fiddly. I didn't have the trading spaces quite down; at the time, I allowed players to trade resources of one color for that number of a different color, and they could get an extra resource for a favor. And you can get resources only in the first half of the board (although Uptown still had many tenants who offered resources).

And if you look at the Construction zones, you'll see they're placed a bit weirdly. The first one is all the way at the bottom-right corner of the board. The three neighborhoods listed show the neighborhoods you were allowed to construct in from that spot. This was difficult to parse and annoyingly restrictive.

But the biggest difference was the City Center.

The Butterfly Gingerly Feels Its New Body

I wanted it to feel different than the other neighborhoods. In fact, you'll notice that the neighborhoods and the resources share colors. That's because each neighborhood was "tilted" towards a specific resource. You can see this a bit in the final game; there's at least one tenant in each neighborhood that gives a floor of a specific color.

From gallery of IngredientX

I originally wanted the City Center to feel completely different. Its buildings did not follow standard blueprints. Instead, each building in the City Center took three blue resources and as many floors as you could supply of a single different color. I wanted those buildings to be tall.

At Dice Tower 2018, Marguerite Cottrell played the game and told me at the end that if they played again, they would have focused exclusively on the City Center. I wasn't 100% sure about this, but I tried it in a playtest later that night. Another player saw me doing it and followed my lead — and we ran out of resources halfway through the game. Maggi, bless them, had broken the game. I had to pull the City Center back into line with the rest of the game!

You can see the stacks of resources standing in for buildings. At this point, I made a fateful decision: I asked Daniel to design stackable plastic pieces that I had 3D-printed to stand in for the dull wooden squares.

The Butterfly Spreads Its Shimmering Wings

The new plastic bits looked awesome. The prototype, even without art, had amazing table presence. I realized that this could be a hook for the product. It looked so good! Sure, sometimes players had to swivel their heads around past the buildings to study the board, but that was worth it, right?

From gallery of IngredientX

There was also the tiny issue that the design of the game necessitated almost three hundred plastic bits. After all, players were using the same game components for both resources and buildings, so I needed enough to last the game! But people would see how awesome the game looked, and they'd be fine with it, wouldn't they?

Other game design elements and conventions presented themselves. Favor finally got renamed corruption. The above photo shows a tile that says "13" — that's the height of the corresponding building, and I turned those tiles into flags that players could insert into the caps of their buildings, which was both more functional and looked better.

You'll notice the blueprints were now small rectangular tiles instead of cubes. I tried this to quicken set-up, while still preserving some randomness. The tiles "bunched" several cubes together, but setting them up still wasn't trivial. Finally, my playtesters pointed out that the size of the random space the blueprints offered was not important enough to require so many tiles. The blueprints became a total of 15 large cards, which made set-up infinitely easier.

The construction spaces got a huge improvement when I realized how much better it would be if players could construct on any space, but they got corruption unless they built in one specific neighborhood. It also fixed a nagging problem I had with the City Center. Until then, I had required players to gain one corruption to build in the City Center, which was an easily-missed rule. Now, players were free to build in the City Center, but the game rules elegantly forced them to take Corruption anytime they did so.

Heiko Günther, my longtime graphic designer (and quite a good game designer himself), tried the game at SPIEL and pointed out that a lot of my tenant powers were active for the duration of the game, which added a lot of complexity. With his encouragement, I made the game less of an engine-builder and more combo-riffic, with a bigger proportion of one-use and once-per-round cards. This might sound disappointing to fans of engine-building games, but it was absolutely the right call; it decreased the game's cognitive load and better focused the core challenges of the game. It was a critical improvement.

Heiko also helped me streamline the corruption track. Previously, each space on the track had three numbers: the points you lost if you had most corruption, the points you lost if you had second-most, and the points you lost otherwise. Instead, we split the first- and second-place points elsewhere and inserted gaps in the numbers in the track so it would go up faster than a plain linear progression.

Even so, the game length was starting to run very long with all my changes, almost three hours. I enjoyed this way of playing, but realized I needed a way to play in less than two hours, so I created a "standard mode" that lasted only two rounds instead of three. I've since found that several players vocally prefer one or the other, so I'm glad I put both in.

I discovered that "elastoplasticity" is actually a thing, so I decided to give Elastoplastic a fictional name, which is how UltraPlastic got its name.

I also created a three-player side of the board and started focusing on the one- and two-player game. Soon, the game was in great shape. I had people excited to back the game on Kickstarter. It was time to push the button and bask in praise of my next great game.

The Butterfly Smacks Head First into an 18-Wheel Truck

That Kickstarter lasted one day. I canceled it when potential backers balked at the US$100 price tag I had settled on to pay for all the awesome bits I thought would sell themselves.

From gallery of IngredientX
Image by Johi Smedberg from Pixabay

It was a silly unforced error. I didn't have enough art in the game and did a terrible job of communicating my vision to the public. "This is an excellent game" is not a game hook, and no amount of positive reviews and excited buzz could get backers past my ugly prototype graphic design, even though I'd already announced that I'd contracted the hugely-talented Kwanchai Moriya to handle the art.

Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

What if I replaced the cool plastic bits with punchboard buildings in plastic standees? The game would keep its awesome verticality, I could better frame Kwanchai's art, and I could probably cut the game's price close to half.

The cool factor of the game would definitely drop. I wasn't sure what people would think of plastic stands. Wouldn't they harm the bottoms of the cardboard buildings? And that core hook of the game was gone. Would it work?

Only one way to find out. I put together a prototype with chipboard and label paper.

The big moment of relief came early on. During a game, my friend and sparkling game designer Adi Slepack asked, "What space is that building on?" Before I could answer her, she lifted up the building in the way, read the space, and placed the building back where it belonged. A plastic building would have fallen apart, and this was so much more intuitive.

Cardboard buildings also handled the issue of reading a building's height. We wouldn't need separate "flags" to fly from the top of a plastic building; they came right on the card.

It worked. I relaunched, this time with a US$60 pledge level.

The Butterfly Gingerly and Cautiously Takes to the Wind Again

The new campaign started well, but when we hit the well-known "trough of despair" a few days in, people started doubting whether we would fund. I had launched the campaign at a time when I went to three conventions in the span of two weeks — Granite Game Summit, GAMA Trade Show, and GDC — and I dedicated myself to tirelessly showing off the game at all three. Thankfully, Heiko had come up with a prototype board in the meantime, so people no longer had to stare at my hideous abomination of a board featured in the original campaign.

From gallery of IngredientX

The campaign was touch and go. For three weeks, I had no idea whether the game would fund or not. I'm glad I was on the road; relentless demoing isn't as effective as you think it is — it's a lot of work to communicate to a relatively small amount of people — but it was great at taking my mind off the stresses of the campaign.

Towards the end of the KS campaign, Kwanchai's art for the buildings and board came in, and...my god, Kwanchai, you're amazing! Posting that art gave a bunch of people confidence in the last few days of the campaign.

High Rise hit its $50,000 funding goal six hours from the end of the campaign. The Kickstarter wasn't the smash success I was hoping for, but it was a success. Despite all the doubt and frustration, the game would get made.

It was just a matter of making it.

The Butterfly Slowly Finds Its Strength

Below is a hilariously out-of-focus selfie of my friends at the Variable Player Power podcast trying High Rise at SPIEL '19 that my friends rightly gave me grief for. Somehow, it's the only photo of High Rise I can find on my social media — but it was also at SPIEL where I made an awful discovery.

From gallery of IngredientX

You remember those plastic stands I was worried about? The most critical part of this whole enterprise was ensuring those stands didn't chew up the bottoms of the building tiles, but every sample that the manufacturer sent seemed to be too thin. Finally, I gave the go-ahead when I tried a set and it worked.

However, when I tried that set again at SPIEL, it didn't! Oh, no! What happened? I frantically begged my manufacturer to stop and take a look. Thankfully, I work with Panda Games Manufacturing, and they are absolutely amazing. They wound up custom-molding bases for me that fit the buildings perfectly.

Several months later, Tom Vasel did an unboxing video of High Rise. He punched out a building and put it into a plastic stand. I held my breath.

The building fit perfectly in the stand.

It may go unnoticed by most people, but that was my proudest moment of the year.

The Butterfly Finally Soars

Three years after Jon encouraged me to adapt my auction mechanism into a new game, High Rise is now available in stores.

I'm incredibly satisfied with the end product. It's the best game I've designed so far, and I'm so grateful for all the people who helped pick me up every time I got knocked down during this whole journey.

Will I ever go back to this auction mechanism? I doubt it. I think High Rise's one-way track nails the feeling I wanted to evoke with the auction. You can go fast and pick up bonuses, but not get as many turns as others. You can go slow and be precise, but miss the bonuses. I think that's as close to the original mechanism idea as I will ever get, and I'm more than satisfied with the end result.

This print run won't be available for long, I think. There's a lot of positive buzz about the game, but because of the Kickstarter's modest success, the print run had to be pretty tiny. It will sell out very quickly, but thankfully, I have this idea for a new Kickstarter for High Rise with stackable plastic pieces...

(Thanks to Karen C. for the inspiration for this post's title.)

Gil Hova

From gallery of IngredientX
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Wed Jul 1, 2020 7:00 pm
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BGG Will Livestream Game Demos and Interviews during SPIEL.digital 2020

W. Eric Martin
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BoardGameGeek to Broadcast Game Demos Galore for SPIEL.digital

Travel to Essen online to check out new board and card games


Dallas, Texas, July 1, 2020 — Tabletop gaming site BoardGameGeek (BGG) will partner with Friedhelm Merz Verlag — which runs the annual SPIEL game convention in Essen, Germany — to livestream demonstrations of dozens of new board and card games from publishers around the world during SPIEL.digital on October 22-25, 2020.

Each year, tens of thousands of gamers travel to Essen to check out the 1,500 or so new tabletop games that debut at that fair, and each year since 2009 BGG has been livestreaming interviews with designers and publishers about the games they're debuting at SPIEL.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

For 2020, however, the worldwide COVID-19 situation has made it impossible for gamers to gather at Essen like normal, so Merz Verlag is instead hosting SPIEL.digital, an online event that will feature hundreds of exhibitors showing off their new releases. As part of SPIEL.digital, BGG will once again livestream game demos and interviews, bringing together designers and publishers to show off their new games to all players worldwide.

Expect more than thirty hours of game demos from BGG, with details to be announced as to with which games and which publishers that will be taking part in SPIEL.digital. You will be able to check out the broadcast schedule — not to mention watch and comment on the livestream — on BGG here. Get ready to bring the world of games to your home on October 22-25, 2020!

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Wed Jul 1, 2020 6:00 pm
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Stephen Buonocore to Retire from Stronghold Games; Sydney Engelstein to Become Stronghold's Director of Game Development

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Stronghold Games
Stephen Buonocore, founder and president of Stronghold Games, has announced that as of August 1, 2020 he will exit that role and take on a new role with far different challenges: retirement.

Here's the publisher's press release on this change:
Quote:
Hobby game entrepreneur, game media personality, and game industry veteran Stephen Buonocore will be stepping down from his role as President of Stronghold Games, effective on August 1, 2020. Buonocore, 59, founded Stronghold Games in 2009 and served as its President for most of that time.

Board Game Designer: Stephen Buonocore
Buonocore in 2011
Stronghold Games and Indie Boards & Cards merged in mid-2018 to form Indie Game Studios, where Buonocore continued in his role as President of Stronghold Games, as well as in the role of Spokesperson for the merged company.

Stephen Buonocore is also the cohost of Board Games Insider, one of the most popular hobby game podcasts, and he has appeared in interviews on television, radio, and numerous game media outlets to promote both the company and the game industry. Buonocore also serves on the Board of Directors for the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund, the purpose of which is to provide financial assistance to members of the gaming community who have suffered personal hardship.

"After over ten years with Stronghold Games and the merged company of Indie Game Studios, I have seen incredible growth and change in this fantastic industry", said Stephen Buonocore. "Even through the adversity that has been this year, our small industry remains strong. Let us all focus, both from within the industry as well as through the grassroots of gamers, on the growth of an inclusive, diverse community. This must be the future of gaming for us all."

Board Game Designer: Stephen Buonocore
Buonocore in 2020
"It is now time for me to hand the reins of the Stronghold Games brand to a new generation of amazing people within Indie Game Studios. I look forward to playing the games that are made by these great people as they manage the brands of Stronghold Games and Indie Boards & Cards."

"Please make no mistake, my retirement has been in the making for years as I worked through a smooth transition with the CEO of Indie Game Studios, and my good friend, Travis Worthington. Under his guidance, the company will continue to achieve great things in the future."

"I leave to focus on family, friends, interests, and the enjoyment of life. I will continue to produce the Board Games Insider podcast, where I share my knowledge, views, and love of the hobby game industry. I plan to be involved in additional game media outlets as well in the future."

Board Game Designer: Sydney Engelstein
Sydney Engelstein
"I cherish the wonderful relationships that I have forged through Stronghold Games, both with industry people and fans of the company. Rest assured that you all will most definitely see me at many future game conventions and shows. I greatly look forward to that for years to come."

While President of Stronghold Games, Stephen Buonocore provided vision and guidance for hundreds of game titles, both developed within the company and in partnership with publishers around the world. Indie Game Studios CEO Travis Worthington will continue to direct the merged company. Sydney Engelstein will become Director of Game Development for Stronghold Games.
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Wed Jul 1, 2020 5:00 pm
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Discover the Lost Ruins of Arnak with Czech Games Edition

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Czech Games Edition
In addition to Under Falling Skies, a solitaire game by Tomáš Uhlíř due out in Sep/Oct 2020 that BGG previewed at GAMA in March 2020, Czech Games Edition has one other title due out in 2020, a 1-4 player design from newcomers Elwen and Mín titled Lost Ruins of Arnak.

Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay in Q4 2020 release:
Quote:
On an uninhabited island in uncharted seas, explorers have found traces of a great civilization. Now you will lead an expedition to explore the island, find lost artifacts, and face fearsome guardians, all in a quest to learn the island's secrets.

Lost Ruins of Arnak combines deck-building and worker placement in a game of exploration, resource management, and discovery. In addition to traditional deck-builder effects, cards can also be used to place workers, and new worker actions become available as players explore the island. Some of these actions require resources instead of workers, so building a solid resource base will be essential. You are limited to only one action per turn, so what will benefit you most now and what can you wait to do under the assumption that someone else won't do it first?

Board Game: Lost Ruins of Arnak

Decks are small, and randomness in the game is heavily mitigated by the wealth of tactical decisions offered on the game board. With a variety of worker actions, artifacts, and equipment cards, the set-up for each game will be unique, encouraging players to explore new strategies to meet the challenge.
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Wed Jul 1, 2020 2:00 pm
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Replay the U.S. Suffrage Movement for Women in The Vote and Votes for Women

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Board Game Publisher: Hollandspiele
• The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteed women — or more generally, people other than men — the right to vote in the country's federal and state elections:
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The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
A version of this amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1878, but it didn't pass until 1919, with Tennessee becoming the 36th state to approve the amendment on August 18, 1920 (with 50 of 99 members of the Tennessee House of Representatives on the razor's edge of the "Yes" side) and with the amendment becoming law on August 26, 1920.

Ahead of the one hundredth anniversary of that date, two publishers have announced games based on the suffrage movement, with one of those titles — The Vote: Suffrage and Suppression in America — coming from Tom Russell of Hollandspiele. Here's an overview of this two-player game that plays in 90-120 minutes:
Quote:
The Vote: Suffrage and Suppression in America is a game about voting rights in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One player, called Equality, advocates for the passage of two amendments to the constitution. The seventeenth amendment transforms the Senate into an elected body, while the nineteenth secures the rights of women to vote. The opposing player, called Supremacy, not only opposes this, but also seeks to entrench racist methods of voter suppression, intimidation, and discrimination — structures that will still be in place after the game ends and for decades longer. Equality's victory will be incomplete; it still remains incomplete today.

This game is something of a companion piece to the same designer's 2018 release, This Guilty Land. It shares many of the same mechanical features: Cards are dealt into and played from a face-up events display, with the function of the card depending upon its type rather than a one-off event. Once used, cards can be taken into a reserve, forming a sort of permanent hand that can be used to act and react. Cards are drawn and kept in reserve according to a player's organizational capacity, which is increased over the course of the game through play of an organization card.

Board Game: The Vote: Suffrage and Suppression in America
Front cover of The Vote

Special attention is paid this time around to the tension between federal and state politics. It is through legislative victories at the local level that Equality will make passage of its amendments inevitable. Supremacy not only will attempt to oppose these gains, but can even reverse them through judicious intervention of the Supreme Court. Two elements that separate this game from its predecessor are the presence of passive abilities that trigger when a card in reserve remains face-up at the end of a turn and the use of region cards to perform free "bonus" actions.

If This Guilty Land was about systems that broke in the face of a clear moral evil, then The Vote sees those same systems functioning as intended. Equality can achieve its aims within the system, but so can Supremacy, making the game one of both triumphs and failures.
Russell wrote about the game in a series of tweets on June 14, 2020, which I've excerpted here:



Board Game Publisher: Fort Circle Games
• The other 2020 release based on the passage of the 19th Amendment is Votes for Women from lead designer Tory Brown, historical consultant Kyla Jean, and publisher Fort Circle Games. This 1-4 player game that plays in 45-75 minutes has less detailed information than the title above, but here's a summary of gameplay:
Quote:
Votes for Women is a card-driven game covering the American women's suffrage movement from 1848-1920, culminating with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. The game provides competitive, co-operative and solitaire play. Players can play cards for their events, discard cards to campaign in states, or discard cards to organize for suffrage.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Promotional image

The game plays out over six turns: two turns in 1848-1890, two turns in 1890-1919, and two turns in 1919-1920 (during the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment). The Pro-Suffrage player must get 36 states to ratify the Amendment before the Anti-Suffrage player (or Anti-Suffrage bot in the solitaire game) gets 13 states to reject the Nineteenth Amendment. Two players may also play co-operatively against the Anti-Suffrage bot.
In a June 17, 2020 tweet announcing the design, Brown highlights the image from which Hollandspiele derived its front cover:


Brown gave more details about the game in comments on this tweets: The game is played on a map of the 48 U.S. states that eventually voted on ratification. Players line up support or opposition over the course of distinct eras, starting in 1850, then that support/opposition translates to a vote for or against ratification during the 1919-1920 endgame. Ratification requires any 36 states to support.
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Tue Jun 30, 2020 7:16 pm
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