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Asger Harding Granerud, Daniel Skjold Pedersen, and Days of Wonder Bring the Heat

W. Eric Martin
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French publisher Days of Wonder has announced its first standalone game outside the Ticket to Ride and Small World lines since 2019 when it released Corinth and Deep Blue. In what is perhaps not a coincidence, the designers of Deep BlueAsger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen — have designed this new release, which in English will bear the title Heat: Pedal to the Metal.

Board Game: Heat: Pedal to the Metal

Here's an overview of this 1-6 player game that plays in 30-60 minutes:
Quote:
Based on simple and intuitive hand management, Heat: Pedal to the Metal puts players in the driver's seat of intense car races, jockeying for position to cross the finish line first, while managing their car's speed if they don't want to overheat. Selecting the right upgrades for their car will help them hug the curves and keep their engine cool enough to maintain top speeds. Ultimately, their driving skills will be the key to victory!

Board Game: Heat: Pedal to the Metal
Basic cards

Drivers can compete in a single race or use the "Championship System" to play a whole season in one game night, customizing their car before each race to claim the top spot of the podium. They have to be careful as the weather, road conditions, and events will change every race to spice up their championship. Players can also enjoy a solo mode with the Legends Module or add automated drivers as additional opponents in multiplayer games.
Board Game: Heat: Pedal to the Metal
Tracks on the two double-sided game boards

In a press release announcing the game, the designers wrote, "When we first started working on Heat: Pedal to the Metal in 2018, our motivation was to make a Formula One racing game that could reach a wide family audience, while remaining interesting to gamers... Not a convoluted betting game, but a racing game where first across the finish line wins. This meant we couldn't create a rules behemoth that would run long, it had to be done within an hour."

Board Game: Heat: Pedal to the Metal
Elements of the Championship System

In addition to English, Heat: Pedal to the Metal will be released in Polish under the name Turbo and in French, Czech, Japanese, Spanish, and Danish/Norwegian/Swedish/Finnish (DANOSVFI) under the name Heat.

The game will debut at SPIEL '22 in October, with a worldwide release scheduled in Q4 2022, for a retail price of US$75 / €65.

Board Game: Heat: Pedal to the Metal
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Take Pics in Yosemite, Bet on Mechs, and Dive in a Bargain Basement Bathysphere

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Atlantic Robot League
Every day I get a few updates for the Gen Con 2022 Preview that relate to shipping delays: this title will be available for demo, not for sale, and that title won't be present at all. Maybe that's why I haven't yet heard from U.S. publisher WizKids, which has a lot of games in the pipeline, but with the release dates slipping by a month or three for many of those titles as the year progresses.

In any case, I can write about WizKids titles that will hit retail outlets at some point in the future:

Atlantic Robot League is the first title from designer Camden Clutter, with this September 2022 release challenging 2-5 players to bet wisely on mech fights, while also giving them a chance to push the odds in their favor:
Quote:
In Atlantic Robot League, players place bets on the outcome of a massive mech battle the size of a dozen city blocks. After bets are placed, they get the chance to influence the battle by sliding the mechs across the arena, knocking out rivals, and buying scheme cards from the insider to bend the rules. Particularly devious gamblers might even pay the fixer to change their bets during the battle.

Occasionally your opponents will be helping a shared bet; occasionally they'll be knocking out mechs you need to survive. Since all bets are hidden, you won't know until the end and might even be able to bluff an opponent into accidentally doing exactly what you want.

Board Game: Atlantic Robot League

Five mech teams face off, each with three robots, and in each of three rounds, you bet on which team will have the most surviving mechs, which will KO the most mechs, which team will be eliminated first, and which five robots will be standing at round's end. The fewer the players who bet correctly, the bigger the payout for those who do. After three rounds, whoever has bet best wins.
• To update my WizKids-specific post from March 2022, Marvel: Remix and Marvel: Rock Paper Heroes – Enter the Danger Room are both due in August 2022, Detective Rummy is due in September 2022, Sidereal Confluence: Bifurcation is now expected out in October 2022 rather than July, and Three-Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition – Giants War — which includes more than one hundred new cards for Three-Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition — is due in October instead of April.

Board Game: Marvel: Remix
Board Game: Sidereal Confluence: Bifurcation
Board Game: Three-Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition – Giants War

• In August 2022, WizKids plans to release Bargain Basement Bathysphere, which designer Scott Slomiany first released in 2018 in a print-and-play edition. Here's the pitch for the original release of this solitaire game:
Quote:
You have recently become the owners of the leakiest bathysphere this side of Beachside Bay, but that doesn't stop your sense of adventure when it comes to exploring the depths! Well, unless you don't make it back to the surface....

Board Game: Bargain Basement Bathysphere

Bargain Basement Bathysphere, designed for the 2018 solitaire print-and-play contest on BGG, is a campaign-styled roll-and-write game with legacy elements; the game becomes more complex as you work your way through the maps. It's designed to be a "no build" game (at least initially), so once you print out the pages you can immediately jump in and play — but try not to look ahead!
Yosemite, another potential August 2022 release, leans into the "natural beauty" trend that's been in the game world since PARKS and Wingspan hit in 2019. Here's an overview of this two-player-only game from Tim Blank:
Quote:
Welcome to the Annual Yosemite National Park photo contest. It's time for you to show off your skills! Take the best pictures of our beautiful park and impress our judges to win the title of "Photographer of the Year".

Board Game: Yosemite

Yosemite is a fast-paced, competitive strategy game based on the landmarks of Yosemite National Park. In this game, you travel through the park, take pictures of the animals and the landmarks, and go camping and fishing.

Each turn, you move your photographer one or more spaces, according to the animal on your tile. These movements are all thematic to the specific animal, and dangerous animals can move your opponent as well. For example, the red fox's agility lets you move one, two, or three spaces, changing direction on the way, while the cougar moves in one direction right to the edge of the board, knocking your opponent if they're in the way. You also collect that animal tile after using its movement, which you can use for photo cards and bonuses.

Board Game: Yosemite

You and your opponent must maneuver for the best positions and the best photos, trying to impress the judges and fighting over the best campsites and landmarks.
Board Game: Fantasy Realms: Deluxe Edition
• Due out in September 2022, Fantasy Realms: Deluxe Edition puts all of Bruce Glassco's material — the original Fantasy Realms game, the Cursed Hoard expansion, and the Jester and Phoenix promos — in one box, with new art and graphic design.

• Another October 2022 release is Shapers of Gaia from designers Ian Cooper and Jan M. Gonzalez, with this game being for 2-3 players. Here's the setting and brief bit of gameplay info:
Quote:
You are a Shaper, emerging from the vault after millennia carrying the ingredients to restore Gaia and its ecosystem to its former glory! Work alongside the caretaker robot to earn prestige as you restore the ruined biomes of the land to their former splendor, repopulate species old and new, and give life to a rejuvenated ecosystem. Accumulate rare resources such as nutrients and energy to grow faster, but note that new biomes also provide resources to your rival factions.

Board Game: Shapers of Gaia

Shapers of Gaia includes six Shapers, each different, and during the game you must use your unique abilities to come out on top as you compete with others for resources and prestige. Gain prestige by arranging animals according to their established behaviors, collecting DNA samples, and unlocking new Shaper abilities. Only the Shaper with the most prestige at game's end will be allowed to permanently join the caretaker as guardians of the rebirthed Gaia.
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Wed Jun 29, 2022 1:00 pm
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Ghost Galaxy Acquires KeyForge from Asmodee

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: KeyForge: Call of the Archons
In September 2021, Fantasy Flight Games announced that new releases of Richard Garfield's game KeyForge — in particular, KeyForge: Winds of Exchange, the sixth set in the line, which was already developed and ready for production — would be on hold until future notice because "the deckbuilding algorithm for KeyForge is broken and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up".

One of the hooks for KeyForge is that in this two-player game, each player has their own deck of cards, with this deck containing cards from three factions within the larger game world, and this particular combination of cards is unique, with the deck having a unique, computer-generated name and image on the back of each card to ensure its one-of-a-kind nature. If you can't create new decks, then you can't publish the game.

Turns out that Asmodee, FFG's parent company, found a savior for KeyForge by returning to the source. As noted in this article on KeyForging.com, "Concerned for KeyForge and its players, Asmodee approached Ghost Galaxy in late '21 about acquiring the IP and game."

Who?

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Ghost Galaxy is a brand owned by Strange Stars, with Strange Stars being a venture capital company that has Christian T. Petersen as its principal investor and managing partner, Petersen having been the founder of Fantasy Flight Games.

In 2016, Petersen was President of Asmodee North America, which had purchased FFG in 2014, and that year (as explained here) he took a meeting with Richard Garfield, who pitched the concept of a head-to-head game in which each player would have a unique collation of cards in the deck they would use during the game. Petersen signed that game, and FFG developed it into KeyForge, the first set of which saw print a few months prior to Petersen's retirement from ANA.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
In 2019, Petersen founded Strange Stars, with Ghost Galaxy being one of its brands and being described as follows on the SS website, which apparently hasn't been updated in a while:
Quote:
Ghost Galaxy aims to be a premiere publisher of tabletop games specializing in gameplay with digital augmentation. The world of mobile and optical technology is rapidly advancing, and we believe there are amazing experiences where physical products and technology meet. The team behind Ghost Galaxy includes some of the early staff behind Fantasy Flight Games, as well as the software engineers and digital developers of innovative digital/physical tabletop games such as Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Road to Legend), Imperial Assault (Heroes of the Resistance), XCOM: The Board Game, Mansions of Madness (2nd Edition), and The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth.

Work is currently taking place on core technologies and product development. Ghost Galaxy expects to have products to market in early 2021.
To quote more from the KeyForging.com article:
Quote:
Ghost Galaxy had been quietly working on its own software suite that would power the next generation of procedurally-generated card games, but it was not ready, and a mature game like KeyForge was not what we had in mind for its first voyage. Also, we were not sure what the long release delay had done to the KeyForge playerbase. Was this complex and ambitious game viable for continued publishing?

Yet, we could not help to be impressed by the continued strong fan-support for the game, and by the wonderful product development that FFG has already undertaken for unreleased KeyForge products, such as the Winds of Exchange set. That is not to speak of the gobsmacking 2.7 Million registered KeyForge decks! Ultimately, we decided it was worth taking the chance.
In June 2022, Ghost Galaxy acquired the KeyForge IP and card game rights from Asmodee. Here's an excerpt from the press release announcing the deal:
Quote:
"Ghost Galaxy loves KeyForge!" said Petersen. "Given that we have already been working on a next generation software engine for creating procedurally generated card games, KeyForge is a perfect fit". The company intends to have news for KeyForge fans within a few weeks regarding its future plans for the game.

"We're thrilled to place KeyForge into the caring hands of Ghost Galaxy," said Chris Gerber, Head of Studio at Fantasy Flight Games." This is a game that requires substantial dedication to the underlying technology, which is in their DNA. There is a wonderful community of KeyForge players that are in very good hands."
The KeyForging.com article summarizes some of the issues Ghost Galaxy must work out, starting with the need to rebuild the logic and rendering modules required to create KeyForge decks, and continuing on through a rebuilding of the organized play system, a commercial release plan to reboot the line given that the most recent set — KeyForge: Dark Tidings — was released in May 2021, the transfer of deck registration and player accounts from Asmodee to Ghost Galaxy, and the question of how many languages KeyForge will survive in beyond English.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The winds will still blow some day...
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Wed Jun 29, 2022 4:49 am
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Make Some Noise for Clank! Catacombs

W. Eric Martin
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U.S. publisher Dire Wolf has announced an estimated October 2022 release date for a new standalone Clank! game from designer Paul Dennen: Clank! Catacombs.

Board Game: Clank! Catacombs

Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:
Quote:
The catacombs of the skeletal dragon Umbrok Vessna are mysterious and dangerous. Portals transport you all around the dungeon depths. Wayshrines offer vast riches to intrepid explorers. Prisoners are counting on you to free them. Ghosts, once disturbed, may haunt you to death. Despite all that, it's time to leave the board behind with Clank! Catacombs, a standalone deck-building adventure.

Each trip into the catacombs is unique since you lay tiles to create the dungeon. You can play using only the all-new dungeon deck, or you can include cards from previous Clank! expansions.

Find your fortune (and escape the dragon!) in Clank! Catacombs.
Board Game Publisher: Dire Wolf
All previous Clank! titles have been a co-production between Dire Wolf and Renegade Game Studios, but in mid-June 2022 Dire Wolf had announced that it would release future Clank! titles on its own. Here's an excerpt from that press release:
Quote:
"When we first dipped our toes into the board game waters several years ago, we weren't entirely sure what we were getting into...or just how big a part of our creative lives tabletop would become," said Scott Martins, President of Dire Wolf. "Our friends at Renegade provided some much-needed guidance and support for our early board game co-publishing efforts, and we're grateful for everything they did to help bring the game to market. Since then, Clank! has grown as a product line and we've grown as a company. We're very excited about where Clank! is heading in the future, and how it fits into the bigger picture of tabletop publishing from Dire Wolf."

"Coming from videogames, making Clank! was a whole new kind of challenge," said Paul Dennen, VP of Design at Dire Wolf, and the creator of both Clank! and Dune: Imperium. "The journey here has been a fun one, and we've got some exciting twists and turns ahead for the noisy thieves, and I think fans will really enjoy where we're heading next."
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Tue Jun 28, 2022 8:18 pm
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Designer Diary: Kittens, Beasts, and Boats Come to The Isle of Cats

Frank West
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Board Game: The Isle of Cats
The Isle of Cats was first released via Kickstarter in June 2019 and was a huge success, gaining over 8,000 backers. Thousands of extra copies of the game were ordered in the months that followed, and I started wondering what the future held for The Isle of Cats...

As a designer, I think it can be easy to design an expansion as you already have all the pieces — and with a successful game, an expansion is as guaranteed as anything can be to see some sales. The obvious path was to start work on a new expansion and get it ready to crowdfund alongside the March 2020 retail release of The Isle of Cats. After all, this is when the game would have the most hype and the biggest chance of success.

I then asked myself a simple question: How do you make the perfect expansion? Certainly not by making an expansion for a game that hasn't been released yet, so I put everything on hold.

My new plan was simple: Wait for the game to release, then monitor everything, read every review, watch every video, and see what people were saying. Rather than design an expansion from scratch, I planned to design an expansion with a list of problems ready to solve.
From gallery of TheCityofKings

The Boots Resource

A great example of this is the boots resource in The Isle of Cats, which is used to determine turn order. The intention of this resource was to encourage players to pick moments at which they wanted to be the first player, to build up speed and find the correct moment to strike.

However, while many people did play this way, there was a group that viewed boots as a secondary resource and prioritized taking fish and baskets, leaving boots as a happy extra if they received them.

This isn't a game-breaking problem, but perhaps an expansion could adjust boots just enough to raise their value in the eyes of more players.

Cat Tile Predictability

The Isle of Cats is all about looking at the options given and finding the best solution, then adapting that solution as your options change. Most players naturally play this way, and rather than hope a specific tile will come into play, they plan for a variety of options. However, some players can get fixated on a single solution and will then get frustrated with the game if the right tile doesn't get drawn from the bag, especially in lower player counts.

From gallery of TheCityofKings

Again, this isn't a game-breaking problem, but it does reduce the enjoyment for a group of players and could perhaps be tackled in an expansion?

Other Issues

My list continued to grow and in addition to the above points, I added:

Early game direction: At the start of the game, your options are completely open, and some people found this overwhelming and couldn't decide on a path to follow.

Additional complexity: A reasonably large number of players wanted to be able to take the game to another level of complexity.

Ideas started to flow, and I was feeling confident that designing a perfect expansion was becoming a possibility — until one last thing struck me. Everything on my list was about "fixing" and "improving" the game, trying to solve the issues I was seeing by creating an enhancement expansion. Yet by this point the game had already sold over 100,000 copies, was quickly approaching the BoardGameGeek top 100, and was being loved by many people.

Was this expansion going to change things too much and cause everything to tumble down?

Two Types of Expansions

I started thinking about a second type of expansion. Rather than add to the game and introduce new systems that changed the experience, I changed my approach to adding replayability without modifying the experience.

This proved relatively easy as I always wanted to experiment with new boat (that is, player board) designs, and they would be a great way to keep the gameplay the same, while changing the puzzle depending on your board.

From gallery of TheCityofKings

The Boat Pack expansion was born, and I was having a lot of fun. The game was the same, yet everything was different. Tiles worked better in different places, the point-scoring lesson cards had different values based on your specific boat board, and it felt brand new.

The Quest Continues

As I wrapped up the Boat Pack expansion, I thought back to my lists — all those notes that I had made and forgotten about while designing an expansion that I could have made on day one after all.

The answer to my original question became obvious: You can't make a perfect expansion.

Once a game has a large enough audience, people will enjoy it for different reasons. It will never be possible to design an expansion that will please everyone as some will want change and others won't.

The Solution

What if I made two expansions? The first for people who just want more of the same experience, and the second for people who wanted something new? Then, what if I broke down the something new into modules that could be plugged in and played (without complex set-up) and allowed people to experiment with the combinations that were right for their groups?

From gallery of TheCityofKings

Rather than forcing everyone to use everything, these two expansions and the sub-modules would give people the freedom to mould The Isle of Cats into the game they wanted.

With the Boat Pack ready and my lists in hand, the Kittens + Beasts expansion came to life with three new modules:

1. A simple module that tackled the boots and cat-tile predictability issues, making it likely everyone would use it.
2. A medium complexity module that gave early game direction and added a few new decisions to the game.
3. A challenging module that took The Isle of Cats to the next level for those wanting a heavier game with deeper decisions.

Kittens Module

The kittens module filled the role of a simple module. I knew thematically people would be most excited about this, so I wanted to keep it accessible. It introduces new tiles that are persistent through rounds, giving you more deterministic access to a small set of tiles and the ability to cycle through them to the colors you need. However, these are accessible only to the fastest of players, adding extra value to the boots resource.

From gallery of TheCityofKings

This module solved two of the key gameplay issues I wanted to tackle and added the missing thematic piece (kittens). It was perfect as it required only a few cardboard tokens that didn't get mixed in with anything else, and you can decide to play with or without them, without having to separate pieces from the core game.

Beast Module

The beast module introduces early game direction by giving you access to a guaranteed high-scoring piece in the first round, which had an inbuilt objective for you to work towards. By the time the objective is completed, you'll be far enough into the game that other paths will have opened and given you a clear path to playthrough.

From gallery of TheCityofKings

Similar to the kittens module, it's made up of just a few tiles in their own bag that don't get mixed with other components, making it easy to plug and play. From a thematic perspective, it also solved another problem by introducing a range of new creatures for those who are less fond of cats.

Event Module

The final module was the trickiest by far. On one hand, I wanted to add to the complexity of the game and make decisions harder. On the other hand, I didn't want to introduce lots of new rules and drastically change the experience of the game. I played around with a lot of ideas and eventually landed with events, which introduce ways of scoring during the game.

From gallery of TheCityofKings

Until now, everything scored at the end, and that means completing the game with objectives fulfilled, so I explored the idea of having objectives for each round, allowing you to achieve them, score them, then break them. As an example, perhaps one part of your player board must be empty at the start of round three in order to get 5 points, but then from round three onwards you could start to fill it.

If each of these new objectives could encourage you to do things that you wouldn't normally do, you're now pressing your luck on how many points you want to earn at the cost of making your last few rounds more challenging.

The more I played with this system, the more I liked it. While it added the layers of complexity, it didn't add much in the way of rules. You already have point-scoring cards for the end of the game, so in reality it's just new point-scoring cards that trigger at a different part of the game.

Wrapping It Up

There are, of course, other things that feature in these two expansions, but this article was written to talk about designing expansions, to challenge people to not just design expansions based on what cool ideas they have, but to see how the wider audience interacts with their games and let that feedback into the process. As with all designers, I have my playtesting groups and connections, but nothing compares to the thousands of players who'll play your game upon release.

I couldn't be happier with how these two expansions have turned out. They enhance the game, and they give players the choice to enjoy the game in the way they want.

I look forward to seeing how they are received in the months to come and whether I add any new thoughts to my lists.

Frank West
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Tue Jun 28, 2022 4:00 pm
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Recreate the 10th U.S. Election in Corrupt Bargain

Candice Harris
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From gallery of candidrum
Corrupt Bargain: The 1824 Presidential Election is a unique and accessible, political, area influence game from designer Alex Berry (High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel), published by Decision Games in 2022. “Doc” Cummins from Decision Games graciously sent me a review copy when I expressed interest after getting a sneak peak of it at Dice Tower West in March 2022.

In Corrupt Bargain 2-4 players represent one of the major candidates (Adams, Clay, Crawford, or Jackson) and their campaign organizations, competing to become the next President of the United States in the 1824 federal election. By the end of the game, if a candidate (player) obtains a majority of Electoral College (131+) votes, they win. However, if no candidate obtains a majority in the Electoral College, then the election goes to the House of Representatives where the candidate with the most states wins.

Corrupt Bargain is played over a number of Campaign rounds (depending on player count) where players resolve event cards to manipulate populace (wooden cubes) and politician (wooden octagons) influence in different U.S. regions and states, followed by a special Final Push round where players take turns playing politician and populace cards to firm up their stance before the votes are tallied.

On your campaign turn, you select one of the event cards on the event card track, resolve the events indicated on the card, and then you complete the number of actions and insights indicated on the slot you took the card from. After you finish your actions, you take the event card into your hand, then you refill the event card track by sliding cards down and refilling the 0 action points (AP) slot with a new card from the event card deck.

In a 2-player game, players alternate taking turns round after round. However, in a 3 or 4-player game, the starting player order rotates clockwise each round. Thus, the second player in the first round becomes the first player in the second round. This means each player will become the last player the round immediately after they are the first player.

This turn order rotation seemed odd to me initially, but I think it works well to balance the potential advantages of being the first player round after round. “Doc” from Decision Games showed me an easy way to keep track of this when we played Corrupt Bargain together at BGG.Spring – use a cube from each player to set the turn order, then when you move down to the next space on the round track, move the first cube to the end of the row, and voila, you have your new turn order.

From gallery of candidrum
Campaign Turn 3 of a 4-player game

There are 80 different event cards and most of them involve placing and/or removing populace and/or political tokens in different states and regions on the map. The iconography is easy to understand, albeit small, and there's also historical flavor text on each card. Some events involve adding and/or removing your own influence tokens, but there are also cards that allow you to target your opponents (rivals). In most cases, you remove some rival tokens from one region or state, and then you also add some to a different region or state. There are also events that allow you to gain politician and populace cards which are used for the Final Push.

From gallery of candidrum
Examples of event cards
Depending which slot you took the event card from, you also gain up to three action points. Each action point you spend allows you to take one of five different actions, noting no action can be performed more than once on a given turn.
1) You can campaign for political support to place one politician octagon in any one state.
2) You can campaign for popular votes to place one populace cube in any one state with a square icon.
3) You can work the back rooms to draw four politician cards and keep one for the Final Push.
4) You can get out the vote to draw four populace cards and keep one for the Final Push.
5) Or, you can take a political intrigue action where you choose a state and an opponent, then remove one of your own political octagons and two of theirs.

While these actions are all very straightforward, plus easy to learn and remember, Corrupt Bargain comes with excellent player aids which summarize all of the actions on one side, and just about everything else you need to know related to the flow of the game on the other side. With these player aids, you should barely need to crack open the rulebook after you have a game under your belt. Also, half of the rulebook is historical background information on the Presidential election of 1824, which is very cool and informative.

In addition to action points, there are two event card slots that also grant players insight. Insight is a sneaky way for players to take politician and populace cards from one another to help with the Final Push round. After you resolve an event and take actions on an insight slot, you draw two random cards from one opponent’s populace and politician cards, keep one, and return the other. If no opponents have two populace/politician cards, then you simply draw one of either type from the deck instead.

Insight is an excellent way to keep your opponents in check and prevent a player from building up a bigger stack of populace and politician cards than everyone else. I haven't explored negotiations much in Corrupt Bargain, but I'd imagine there's room to make some non-binding side deals with others to avoid targeting certain players in exchange for them not targeting you with an event or insight. This is not mentioned in the official rules, but it could be fun to experiment with when playing with gamers who appreciate negotiations.

When deciding which card to pick from the event card track, it can be a tough decision because there are several things to consider. You may want a particular event card because it gets you influence in an optimal location. You may want an event card to obtain a certain amount of action points and/or insight. You may want a certain event card solely to prevent your opponents from taking it. Or you might want a certain card because of the card suit.

From gallery of candidrum
PA is worth the most Electoral College votes and is usually locked down first...
Each event card has one of three different suits abstractly representing slavery, trade, and western expansion. If you have three event cards with matching suits, you can lockdown any one state of your choice at the start of your turn, prior to choosing an event card. When you lockdown a state, you place a black lockdown token in it and no one can place or remove tokens from that state for the remainder of the game.

I really dig the lockdown mechanism in Corrupt Bargain; it adds an underlying tension as you look around the table and see your opponents with three or more event cards in hand. You start to scan the board and try to see which state they might attempt to lockdown, and see if there's any way you can prevent it.

The potential for a lockdown also widens the decision space of choosing your event card on your turn. Lockdowns are so good, you simply don't want to miss out on securing yourself some votes when you can. Thus, you subtly try to build up your presence in a particular state and hope to secure it by locking it down as soon as you can. Inevitably, one of your opponents usually catches on, and just ahead of your turn, they add more tokens and gain the majority in the space you were targeting. You cringe inside without revealing to them that you were just about to perform a lockdown there. So there's an ongoing race to beat your opponents to locking down high-value states, and it adds a nice layer of tension to the gameplay.

Players continue taking campaign turns until everyone finishes their last turn, which is indicated on the campaign round track based on player count (10 turns for 4 players, 13 turns for 3 players, and 16 turns for 2 players). Then the player with the most populace and politician cards kicks off the Final Push round.

In the Final Push, each player plays one populace or politician card from their hand per turn and completes the actions on it. In some cases, it might have no effect due to lockdowns, but since you must play a card on your turn until you run out of cards, playing dead cards is a great way to stall so you can see what your opponents do and respond accordingly.

From gallery of candidrum
Examples of Populace cards

The Final Push round makes you realize you can't ignore getting populace and politician cards during the campaign rounds. The cards are simple since they allow you to add or remove a token or two in a state or region, but they can be powerful. They can gain you or cost you a state, which could influence the end result of the game. It's definitely something you should try to stay competitive with during the campaign rounds -- i.e. try to avoid one player having way more cards than everyone else.

From gallery of candidrum
Examples of Politician cards

After the Final Push round, you review each state to determine which player has the most cubes in the non-capital spaces, and the most octagons in the capital spaces. There are multiple levels of tie breakers, but it's usually based on who has the most politician octagons in the space or the region. There are cards for each state that you award to the player with the most influence. Then after you score each state, players tally up the votes for all the states they won. If a player has 131 or more votes, they win the game. If no player won, then you perform a contingent election in the House of Representatives.

The contingent election is determined solely by politician octagons, so at this point, cubes no longer matter. A player wins the contingent election by winning a majority of states (13 or more), regardless of how many Electoral College votes the states have.

Corrupt Bargain tends to feel abstract, but when it comes time to count your votes, you're faced with anxiety and suspense similar to real election nights. I think it's awesome that it has different ways the winner can be determined too. It reminds me of games like The King is Dead, or scoring a dominance check in Pax Pamir. I imagine the more experience you have playing, the better you'll be able to play to both potential outcomes. Either way, the ending always feels exciting as players count their votes and see how many states they've won. It's the kind of game where it's hard to tell exactly who's in the lead until you actually score it up.

While I enjoyed playing with four players most, I was happy to find that Corrupt Bargain plays well at all three player counts, and each has its own feel, with 2 and 3-player games feeling a tad more cutthroat. Beware, it has some take-that here and there with some event cards occasionally feeling brutal. Some people might take it personally when they are targeted. However, in my games, those moments usually quickly turned into jokes. I can't tell you how many times people dumped my populace cubes into Rhode Island, which is one of the north region states with the lowest vote value. Then we laughed about it when I proudly won that state card at the end of the game. It all depends on who you play with and your group dynamic.

From gallery of candidrum
Just about midway through an intense 3-player game

If you enjoy area influence games or games where you can learn about history, I definitely recommend checking out Corrupt Bargain. It's very accessible and straightforward to learn and teach, and it doesn't overstay its welcome with each game running about 90 minutes. For an abstract feeling game which may appear a tad dry-looking to many, there are a lot of really interesting and enjoyable mechanisms at work that create a fun and engaging gaming experience between the lockdowns, two different types of influence, the Final Push, two different end game outcomes, and how it everything works together.

I'm planning to keep my eye out for whatever Alex Berry works on next. In the meantime, High Treason has been on my shelf of opportunity for a while, so I hope to finally play that soon, while happily keeping Corrupt Bargain in my rotation.
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Tue Jun 28, 2022 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Cascadia, or Playing God in Northwest North America

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Cascadia
I finally got Cascadia to the table, and this design from Randy Flynn and Flatout Games does exactly what it promises to do: Gives you and your fellow players "a puzzly tile-laying and token-drafting game featuring the habitats & wildlife of the Pacific Northwest".

By chance, a friend of my wife was visiting from Seattle, saw the box, and said, "Hey, I recognize that!"

Whether you will like what you're given depends on your taste for solitairish game experiences. In my two playings, once each with three and four players on a copy from the BGG Library, we've finished the game and been like, so, what next? Cascadia is like a glass of cool water on a tepid day: satisfying at the time, but not memorable.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Landscapes that will soon be demolished

The design provides a nice challenge: Pick a habitat tile and wildlife token combination each turn, and add it to your landscape. Habitats come in five types, each tile features one or two habitats, and you want to group like habitats together as you score points for your largest forest, largest mountain, etc. at game's end.

Each habitat tile shows 1-3 wildlife symbols, and you can place only one of the indicated wildlife tokens on this tile, with wildlife scoring at game's end based on whatever scoring card you used. In one game, elk want to stand in lines, while in the next forming rings will make them happy. Foxes, on the other hand, are sociable and score based on the animals around them. Wildlife comes in five types, so you're trying to place habitat tiles to both build large regions and give you the possibility of making an elk ring, putting bears in pairs, and so on.

Gameplay has no downsides. Each turn, you add to one or two habitats, then place a wildlife token and score points for that as well. (All scoring takes place at game's end, but the only time you lose points is when you spend nature tokens to adjust what's available for you in the drafting pool.) You're not necessarily planning anything, but taking stuff as it comes and doing the best you can with what's on tap to pile up the points.

For more thoughts on Cascadia, check out this video:

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Mon Jun 27, 2022 5:10 pm
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Gather Mushrooms, Arrange Rings, and Avoid Barracuda with Helvetiq

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Kinoko
Swiss publisher Helvetiq specializes in quick-playing games, and here's a trio of them being released in 2022:

• In March, the card game Kinoko appeared from Tim Rogasch, who has previously designed games mostly for HABA. Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:
Quote:
In Kinoko, each player secretly draws a color card corresponding to a family of mushrooms — musicians, scientists, etc. — and gets a hand of three mushroom cards.

On your turn, roll the three dice, then choose one of them. The result of that die, whether a number or an icon, determines your action: exchange two cards, swap two sets of cards, pick at any card secretly, etc. To win the round, you must gather the three members of your family in one location during your turn. This reunion can happen in any player's hand or on the table.

Board Game: Kinoko

Seems easy? The trick is you can see only the cards in other players' hands, and your decisions are limited to what you roll on the dice. What's more, each round one family of mushrooms turns poisonous, and having a card of that color in your hand when the round stops earns you a negative point...

The round's winner scores positive points, and the first player to 4 points wins.
Board Game: Barrakuda
• On May 20, 2022, Helvetiq released Barrakuda, a 2-4 player game from first-time designer Isaac Pante. Here's an overview:
Quote:
Welcome to Cartagena, Colombia! The colonial houses in this historical town are a testimony to its colorful past. You, on the other hand, are more interested in old shipwrecks — more specifically, sunken Spanish galleons filled with gold. Time to embark on an old-fashioned underwater treasure hunt. What you didn't anticipate is that several of you have discovered the legends of these buried riches. To make matters worse, a barracuda is prowling through the shipwrecks.

The challenge in Barrakuda is to be the first player to have eight gold pieces in their vault, but before you can lock away gold in your vault, you need to find it on shipwrecks or steal it from others.

To set up the game, lay out shipwreck cards numbered 1-6 in some orthogonal arrangement, and give each player movement cards numbered 1-5, along with a barracuda card. On a turn, each player chooses a card from their hand, then they reveal them simultaneously. If you played a movement card, move your pawn to that shipwreck card; if you're the only player there (and the barracuda isn't), take both the special action and general action listed on the card. If more than one player is on the same shipwreck card, then whoever has the fewest movement cards in front of them has the initiative and can either take the special action or take all the gold from one player's bag; after this, all players take this card's general action.

Board Game: Barrakuda
Two-player set-up

If you're the only one who played a barracuda card, roll the distance die, then move it up to that many spaces in the direction of your choice. If a barracuda is on the same space as a player, they have to drop their gold on that shipwreck space; others can pick up that gold starting next turn. If none or more than one player play barracuda, roll the direction and distance card to determine where it goes.

Actions on cards let you pick up gold, move gold from your bag to your vault, protect you from the barracuda, take back movement cards, move the barracuda, and so on.
Board Game: Oh My Ring!
Oh My Ring! from Olivier Mahy is one of those real-time games that folks seem to love or hate. Mahy's Dexterity Jane from 2021 (covered here) is a pattern-recognition game, but for Oh My Ring! you need to build a depicted pattern by sliding colored rings from finger to finger.

In more detail:
Quote:
Each player starts with eight colored rings: two of each color, with four on each hand. Each turn, a card is revealed that shows one or two hands and a combination of colored rings. As quickly as you can, move the rings from finger to finger to recreate that pattern before anyone else. The fastest player to do so wins the card, and whoever first collects five cards wins.

Board Game: Oh My Ring!

Some constraints will make the task harder, such as treating one color as another or forcing you to switch rings without looking at your fingers.
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Sun Jun 26, 2022 3:19 pm
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Find Treasures in the Shifting Sands of Morgan's Magic Map, Then Ride Twisty Tracks

W. Eric Martin
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U.S. publisher Rio Grande Games has announced three titles for the second half of 2022, one new and two revised.

• Following the release of Glory Islands in March 2022, the company is giving you another chance to play pirate in Morgan's Magic Map, an October 2022 release by first-time designer Gian Andrea Cappuzzo.

Board Game: Morgan's Magic Map

Morgan's Magic Map won the Premio Archimede, an Italian game design award, in 2018 under the name "JAP", which stands for "Just Another Pirate Game". Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:
Quote:
After a life of raids and robberies, Captain Morgan retired from piracy. He created a magic map that would remind him where he buried his ill-gotten gains. He tore the map in many pieces to foil those who would try to find his treasures. Unfortunately for the old pirate, he was cursed by a sorceress many years ago. This curse has turned his torn-up map into a guide for others to find his treasures!

You have come into possession of many pieces of Morgan's map. Every time the fragments are rearranged, they magically point to the right place to dig! But other pirates have found parts of the magic map as well, so now you must race your fellow pirates to see who can collect the most valuable treasures before the map fades to dust forever.

Morgan's Magic Map is played over a series of turns in which players use map cards to locate where Captain Morgan has hidden his treasures. To set up, place the twenty map tiles in a 4x5 grid, with water and land edges always being adjacent to one another. Most map tiles include a reference point, such as The Tomb, The 3 Columns, or Big Nose Bay. Each player starts with two doubloons and four map cards in hand; each map card shows a reference point, a distance from the reference point, and a bonus icon.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Gian Andrea Cappuzzo collects treasure at the 2018 Premio Archimede

On a turn, you can take a map tile that has a free edge and move it elsewhere, as long as the map stays in one piece, water touches water, and no pirate is on the tile. Next, you can move your pirate — which starts in a corner of the map — up to two spaces orthogonally. Then if you meet the condition on any map cards in hand, you can play them since you've followed their directions to find treasure. If, for example, a map card shows The Tomb and has a 3 on it, then you can play that map card if you are three (orthogonal) spaces away from The Tomb. Treasure cards come in six colors, and five cards are available on a treasure board, with the more valuable cards being deeper on the board. If you play three map cards on a turn, then you can take any one of the topmost three cards. The deeper you dig, the more doubloons you earn along with the treasure!

Each map card has a bonus on it, and once you've played a map card, you keep it in front of you until you use the bonus, whether to move an extra map tile, walk farther with your pirate, or dig deeper when you locate treasure.

Once the deck of treasure cards is exhausted, the game ends. For each of the six treasure types, whoever has the most of that type earns a 6 doubloon bonus, with tied players splitting the bonus. Sum up the doubloons you collected during the game, bonuses, and the value of the treasures themselves to see who ended up the richest pirate.
Board Game: Jedzie pociąg z daleka
• In 2018, Polish publisher Nasza Księgarnia released a Jeffrey D. Allers design called Jedzie pociąg z daleka.

Rio Grande Games is now bringing an updated version of this design to print in October 2022 as Twisty Tracks. Let's get an overview of this 1-4 player game:
Quote:
Some people just want to get from point A to point B. For others, the journey is the destination. In Twisty Tracks, players are rewarded for both long journeys and arrival at point B — assuming not too many others arrived there first.

Each player has their own playing area that consists of a cardboard frame that depicts stations, loops of train track, and four train depots. Place a wooden train on each depot, and shuffle face down your personal stack of fifteen track tiles. On a turn, each player draws a tile, then places it somewhere in their frame so that they can advance at least one of their trains along the track. When you advance a train, you score 1 point each time it crosses the border between two tiles or between a tile and the frame. Try to send trains on long loopy journeys to score lots of points!

Board Game: Twisty Tracks

If a train reaches one of the seven stations on the frame, you receive the highest value for this station that hasn't yet been claimed. Wait too long, and you risk scoring nothing. If two of your trains collide while moving on freshly laid tracks, you score points for the borders they've crossed, then remove them from play. When all four of your trains have reached stations or been removed, stop placing tiles.

Once all players' trains have stopped moving, the game ends, and whoever has scored the most points wins. In a tie, the tied player who placed more tiles wins. For an easier game, you can play with only the station scoring or only the border scoring.
Says Allers, "This is a bit subjective, but [Twisty Tracks] is significantly different (and better) than the original. I worked quite a bit on it after it was published, and the strategy is different", with the number of available stations being more limited based on the player count, forcing you to decide whether you need to lock in a station early on or whether you can loop around for points first. "This tension adds a lot to the game and actually helps it fit in better with my typical designs."

• The other revised title is Dominion: Hinterlands (Second Edition), due out in July 2022, with this Donald X. Vaccarino design containing nine new types of Kingdom cards, similar to how other second edition Dominion titles have been released.

For those who have the original Dominion: Hinterlands, these new cards will be released on their own as Dominion: Hinterlands – Update Pack.

Board Game: Dominion: Hinterlands (Second Edition)
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Fri Jun 24, 2022 1:00 pm
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Prepare for a Galactic Renaissance, and Make Your Mark in Copan: Dying City

W. Eric Martin
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• Designer Christian Martinez's biggest success to date has been Inis, which debuted in 2016, and now publisher has announced what it's calling "the second installment of the Political Trilogy" from the designer-publisher combo: Galactic Renaissance.

Board Game: Galactic Renaissance

Details on the setting and gameplay are minimal for now:
Quote:
Throughout Galactic Renaissance, you build your team, adding new specialists — each one unique — to the core in your deck of cards. With this team, you discover new planets and systems, reconnect with lost civilizations, expand your influence, build embassies, and sow disorder in opposing factions — all in an effort to score victory points faster than your opponents. Sending emissaries to new planets, for example, allows you to discover new civilizations or cement relationships on known planets. Opponents may try to convince a planet to join them instead with their own emissaries, causing disorder in the process.
Note that the cover lists the player count as 2-5, whereas Matagot's website lists it as 1-4. The title isn't due out until 2023, however, so those details will surely be ironed out by then.

• Another large-scale game coming from French sources and due out in 2023 is Copan: Dying City from designers Eric Dubus and Olivier Melison and publisher Holy Grail Games, with all three entities having previously partnered on Museum, Encyclopedia, and Dominations: Road to Civilization.

Board Game: Copan: Dying City

Here's an overview of this game for 1-4 players that takes 60-180 minutes:
Quote:
Welcome to the city of Copan, shining jewel of the Maya civilization. The city is flourishing, and as one of its ruling families, this golden age holds many opportunities for you to increase your influence and wealth. But Copan is destined to fall. Dark times lie ahead, and as you work to secure your legacy over generations, you have to face the city's slow decline. Your progress will hindered by dwindling resources, crumbling political structure, natural disasters, and war.

Will your family become a part of the history of Copan, forever carved into the steps of the hieroglyphic stair? Or will your story be forgotten?

Copan: Dying City is a heavy Eurogame with both worker-placement and tile-placement mechanisms. The game features a reversed difficulty curve because when play begins, resources are plentiful, making most actions easy to accomplish. However, all resources are finite. When they reach critical levels, they trigger potentially devastating events, and once they run out, they're gone forever. Every move you make impacts the rest of the game, both for you and other players, as Copan's inevitable fate looms.
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Thu Jun 23, 2022 4:31 pm
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