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W. Eric Martin
In recent years, a number of hobby titles have made their way into mainstream markets, whether directly through distribution deals as with Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic or indirectly through a licensing deal or some kind of exclusivity arrangement. In 2016, for example, the U.S. retail chain Target released Codenames: Deep Undercover (based on Codenames) and Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City (based on Machi Koro), with both of the original games appearing on Target shelves as well. In mid-July 2017, I wrote about the Hasbro Family Gaming Crate, the first example of which will contain versions of games that originated in Germany (Leo Goes to the Barber), Romania (Three Wishes), and Japan (Mask of Anubis).
One of the titles that has won the mainstream lottery in 2017 is The Chameleon, with this new version of Rikki Tahta's self-published game Gooseberry from UK publisher Big Potato being destined to appear exclusively in Target (and at conventions) for the time being.
This party game falls into the "clueless player" genre, something that includes A Fake Artist Goes to New York and Spyfall. All players but one know what they're trying to do, and Clueless Joe needs to tag along and fake it 'til he makes it. (God, it's like being back in high school again.) In The Chameleon, everyone but the chameleon knows the secret word or phrase from among the sixteen listed on the topic card, and everyone — including the chameleon — needs to think of a single word to say related to this word or phrase. After everyone is ready, you blurt out the words one after another, then vote on who the chameleon might be.
If you fail to guess the chameleon, this player wins the game; if you guess the chameleon, but this player identifies the correct word or phrase on the topic card, they still win! Thus, you need to be sneaky when choosing your word, selecting something that those in the know will recognize as being legit while leaving the chameleon dumbfounded.
Doing this is sometimes trickier than you might think! How do you reveal that you know the secret word "economics" from among a list of school subjects without blurting out something obvious like "money" or "budgeting"? I've had two play sessions on a review copy in which we just played over and over again — not keeping score, which is optional in the game — and all too often the chameleon knew what we were talking about. You have to do your part not to get called out as the chameleon (because then the team loses), but you also can't be open. Tricky!
One other issue with the game is that sometimes players look at the wrong word or phrase on the topic card, so they make up a non-sensical code word. When the topic was "board games", one player thought the secret word was "chess" when it was actually "Clue", so his clue word of "touching" threw everyone for a loop. (He was the first person to speak for the round, and he looked horrified as the rest of us gave our code words, so he then tried to give another word, which then made it obvious he wasn't the chameleon. You just have to own your mistakes in this game! No backsies!)
Another time one of the players read the number on the d8 as 1 instead of 7, despite me reading out the numbers. Oops. She ended up saying "grass" for the word "beef", but it wasn't totally off as the woman right after her said "milk" for the actual hidden word "chocolate" — and you need grass to make milk, right? It all fit together, but only by chance and some still called her out as the chameleon.
I give more examples of gameplay and this "omega player" problem in the video below:
W. Eric Martin
If I've learned one thing about designer Friedemann Friese, who publishes his designs under the 2F-Spiele label in Germany, it's that he loves to experiment with game design simply to see what's possible. You can see this experimental nature in a GeekList he created to detail the origins of some of his games (a list unfortunately not updated since 2011). Foppen came about from thinking about trick-taking games and the notion of someone losing their ability to play each round. Fische Fluppen Frikadellen was born from the notion of having people play multiple games at the same time on different tables. A children's flip book in which you assemble a creature with mismatched head, body, and feet provided inspiration for what became 504, which meshes rule segments from different types of games into a single game.
In 2016, he released Fabled Fruit, which functions akin to a legacy game in that new elements are added to play over successive games, with players saving their place after each game — using a bookmark, as it were — in order to start with the "right" set of cards next time. You have lots of individual games which last only twenty minutes that collectively form the larger game of Fabled Fruit, which Friese dubbed an example of a "Fable Game" — that is, a game that changes over multiple playings, but one that you can reset at any time in order to start over with a different group or just explore again.
Now for 2017, he's gone even farther with the Fable Game system, introducing three new titles that will debut at SPIEL 2017 in October under the label "Fast Forward". These games are all Fable Games in that they start with an ordered deck of cards, with which you'll play multiple games — saving your position when you stop should you want to start in the same place next time, while also having the option of starting over from scratch — but beyond that, Friese has embedded the rules within the deck itself. You read nothing prior to play other than perhaps an instructional card that tells you not to shuffle the deck. You place the deck on the table, read the top card, and begin.
Fast Forward title #1 is FEAR, which is for 2-5 players and plays in 15 minutes. The description on the BGG page is brief: "Do you fear ghosts? Or are you confronting the danger and scaring your opponents? FEAR is a fast-paced and straightforward hand management game of tension-filled ghost chasing."
Thankfully I played the game in prototype form, so I can fill in a few more details. (Please note that all of the games described in this post might have changed since I played them.) Your goal in FEAR is twofold:
1: Don't make the total of cards in the middle go over a certain number because if you do, you lose the game.
2: If you didn't lose, have the highest total of cards in your hand because then you win!
On a turn (at least initially), you either draw a card from the deck or play a card to the center of the table. If you have three cards in hand, then you must play something. Gameplay is super simple, and the turns fly by. When someone loses, their cards are removed from play, then all of the other cards are shuffled and placed on top of the deck. Thus, you shrink the deck by a few cards each game, which means you'll start digging into new cards as each game progresses — and as you dig, you discover new cards with different numbers and (more importantly) new rules! When you uncover a rule, you read the card, set it aside, and the rule immediately takes effect, both for the current game and any subsequent games — until that rule is replaced, as might be the case.
I don't want to detail any rules, partly because I don't want to spoil the fun and partly because I played the game three months ago and might misremember things. If you've played games — and you probably have — then you can likely imagine what some of those rules (and numbers and effects) might be.
I played FEAR twelve times in a row at a convention with designer Joe Huber and 2F-Spiele's Henning Kröpke, and I loved every minute of it. I already dig playing short games multiple times in succession to see how gameplay evolves as players learn how to play better and how to react to opponents, but now the game was changing as well. It was like rearranging the furniture in a room that spontaneously changed in size, then grew new windows. And if I recall correctly, Kröpke said that after you finished the deck, you could keep all the existing rules in play, shuffle only the number cards, then play the game that way.
Ta-dah! A new way of learning how to play a game, something perhaps akin to placing a video game in a console, then mashing buttons to figure out what you're doing on the fly. I've often said that the need to learn rules is the biggest obstacle to people playing games. You, that person out there reading BGG, are probably comfortable reading rulebooks and teaching others how to play a game, but much of the general public hates doing that, which is why retreads of old games continue to dominate mainstream retail shelves year after year. People want to grab something they're pretty sure they already know how to play, so they grab a spinoff, figure out what's new this time, then start playing. FEAR and the other Fast Forward title try to short-circuit that nervousness about learning rules by giving them to you one card at a time.
Whether that nature of these games is transmitted clearly on the box — and therefore to potential players — is unclear at this time, but that's my hope. Why? Because I want more people to play games. Why? Many reasons, but mostly because it increases the odds of me finding others to join me in a game.
FORTRESS is title #2 in the Fast Forward series, and this 15-minute game for 2-4 players is "about taking risks and out-witting and bluffing your friends to become the dominate ruler of the kingdom", and (initially) you become dominant by possessing the lone fortress.
Each game, you build a hand of cards, and (if I recall correctly) on a turn you either draw a card or attempt to claim the fortress by playing one or more cards onto the table. If no one owns the fortress, then it's yours and those cards represent your strength; if you're attempting to take it away from someone else, they look at your cards and either hand over the castle (which is occupied by your cards) or shake their head disdainfully, keeping one of your cards as their prize. You've now gained information about what's in the fortress, but can you make use of that info before the round ends?
As with FEAR, some cards are removed from play each game in FORTRESS, which therefore introduces new cards and new rules, which again I'll leave you to guess. You can probably guess the obvious first twist, but what next? I played FORTRESS a few times before being stopped by dinner plans, and the game is partly about reading others (a skill that eludes me) and partly about the luck of the draw and partly about throwing yourself at targets because that's the only way to score in the end. Take chances! Take action!
FLEE differs from the first two Fast Forward titles in that it's cooperative (for 1-4 players) and it bears a listed playing time of 75-90. This is not the time needed for a single game as those take only 5-15 minutes (based on my experience), but perhaps for the entire experience to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Here's the short description:
"Quickly, we must flee!", you tell your companions. "THE MONSTER is almost upon us! Look to all sides for help as you never know where it will be!" Can your team survive long enough to finish all chapters of this exciting story?
FLEE is a cooperative game of escaping for ambitious puzzle solvers.
I played FLEE in less than ideal conditions, with Friedemann walking into a convention at far-too-late in the morning and asking whether I wanted to play a game. Instead of going to sleep as I should have, I gathered a couple of other people and we played. We lost, so we played again, then we lost — over and over again. Either we weren't thinking clearly, or the lateness was hitting us hard; I'm still not sure which is correct.
In FLEE, someone gets a monster card when you start going through the rules, then players take turns drawing cards and doing things and if the active player has the monster in front of them, then you all lose. Initially the choices are straightforward. I can play this card to make someone skip their turn, so clearly that's Paul with the monster card — but things quickly start getting tricky, with cards that move things and reverse turn order and much more, with all of you continually trying to figure how to keep that monster out of the spotlight. The description mentions multiple chapters in the game, but we never made it past chapter 1, so I can restart this game anew once it becomes available in October 2017, with each of these three games being released in English, German, Dutch, French, and Spanish. How fortunate!
W. Eric Martin
Nostalgia is a powerful force.
Weeks after the end of the 2017 Origins Game Fair, I'm still uploading the game overview videos we shot there, but a funny thing I've noticed is that the videos for games based on some kind of IP —for example, Big Trouble in Little China: The Game or Planet of the Apes — have three to ten times as many views as "regular" non-IP games. This shouldn't come as a surprise to me, yet it did. Perhaps in my old age I'm forgetting what I've already learned.
Cue me receiving a review copy of Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game, a design from Prospero Hall and Big G Creative that will be available exclusively at the Target retail chain in the U.S. starting in October 2017. The game arrived while I was traveling, and my wife texted me a pic of the game along with the sole comment: "WTF?" I played with a friend who immediately texted the cover to his wife as he knew that she would be ecstatic about its existence. I played with someone else who had just started watching his show The Joy of Painting through some streaming service.
Bob Ross probably isn't someone you think about on a daily basis — or ever, really — but give people the chance to play a game associated with him, and more people than you think will be more excited than they'd be to play some other non-Bob Ross painting game.
As far as I recall from my meager experience with the show, all the elements you might expect from The Joy of Painting are present in the game: you paint, Bob says amusing things, you paint some more, and you drink and eat snacks while doing so. As for the gameplay, you can watch the video below or read this description:
If you want to paint with Bob Ross, you need to be chill, so whoever reaches maximum chill first in Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game wins.
In the game, each player starts with three art supplies cards, with each card showing one of seven paints and one of four tools. (Some cards are jokers that serve as any color, but no tool.) Take one of the large double-sided painting cards, place it on the easel, and place Bob on the first space on the painting track.
On a turn, the active player rolls the die and either draws an art supplies card, plays a paint to their palette, receives an extra action for the turn (four total), or both draws a "Chill" card and advances Bob on the painting track. Chill cards give all players a bonus, set up conditions that could give players extra points, and more.
The player then takes three actions. Actions include drawing an art supplies cards, discarding two matching cards to claim the matching technique card (which is worth 2 points and 1 bonus point when used), sweep the art supplies card row, place a paint on their palette, wash half their palette, or complete a section of a painting. To take this latter action, the player needs to have all of the paint needed for one of the painting's three sections on their palette with no unneeded colors mixed in! The player scores points equal to the number of paints used, bonus points if they're the first or second to paint this, and additional points if they've painted this feature before Bob (i.e., did you paint this before the Bob figure reaches this space on the painting track.
When someone has completed all three features on a painting or Bob has reached the end of the painting track, this work is complete! Remove it from the easel, and start a new painting. Players continue to take turns until someone reaches a maximum chill of 30 points, at which point they win the game instantly.
W. Eric Martin
Strange Machine Games was founded in 2011 as a publisher of role-playing games and print-on-demand items, launching with the crowdfunded RPG Age Past.
Today at San Diego Comic Con, SMG announced that in partnership with Harmony Gold, it will release two Robotech board games in 2018. On the smaller side is the dice-based Robotech: Ace Pilot from SMG's Jeff Mechlinski, a 2-4 player game that bears this short description:
The Zentraedi are attacking! Quick, grab the nearest crew member and destroy the enemy. Using luck and skill, you can become the SDF-1's ace pilot.
Robotech: Ace Pilot is a small area, fast-playing, competitive dice-based game. The game takes minutes to learn and can be played almost anywhere. Your favorite Robotech heroes help you destroy the Zentraedi Threat!
The other game is a much larger design, a cooperative game for 1-6 players that's titled Robotech: Attack on the SDF-1, with Mechlinski and SMG's Darius Hambleton handling the design, which works like this:
In Robotech: Attack on the SDF-1, you play heroic characters of the venerable Super Dimension Fortress One, also known as the SDF-1. Players are thrown on a chaotic path as alien forces, known as the Zentraedi, attack without warning. You must defend the SDF-1 against continuous waves of Zentraedi attacks, unexpected disasters, and treachery. As a hero, you are forced to battle vicious enemies, repair damage, and manage resources. Tough decisions and sacrifices are required for you to reach home safely.
If the Heroes can keep the SDF-1 from being captured by the Zentraedi and make it to the end of the Scenario, they win. Beware as there are many ways to lose, and the Zentraedi will not give up...
SMG will be demoing both titles at Gen Con 2017 in the Indie Game Developer Network booth (#2437), so check them out during that show or watch for more details from those who have.
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W. Eric Martin
• Gen Con is the next big convention in the offing, with SPIEL following two months after that, but in many ways the conventions have an increasing amount of overlap, with designers and publishers (and therefore games) showing up at both conventions. Even when games aren't publicly available at both shows, though, one convention can still feed into the next. Case in point: Developer Uli Blennemann with ADC Blackfire Entertainment GMBH will be on hand at Gen Con 2017, so he's going to present an overview of Fabio Lopiano's Calimala on camera in the BGG booth ahead of the game's debut at SPIEL 2017. (In general, we demo only released games at Gen Con, but I'm making an exception in this case.) Until then, here's a rundown of the setting and gameplay:
The "Arte di Calimala" — the guild of cloth finishers and merchants in foreign cloth — was one of the greater guilds of Florence, who arrogated to themselves the civic power of the Republic of Florence during the Late Middle Ages. The woolen cloth trade was the engine that drove the city’s economy and the members of the Calimala were the elite of Florence.
Throughout its long history, the Arte di Calimala supervised the execution of artistic and architectural works. Most Florentine guilds performed such activities, but the Calimala distinguished itself from other guilds through the number and prestige of the projects and the sites administered, including the construction and decoration of some of the major churches of the city.
Players of Calimala are cloth merchants in medieval Florence, with a number of trusted employees that they assign to various streets within the city to carry out actions. (Each street connects two places where particular actions can be taken.) While taking these actions, players produce and deliver cloth and contribute to the construction and decoration of various buildings across the city. Employees stay on their assigned places for a while, carrying out their actions whenever the street is activated, and eventually are promoted into the city council, triggering a scoring phase.
Depending on the number of players, each player has a number of action discs. In turn order, they can put one on a space between two actions, performing both actions and activating all other discs on the same space. When the fourth disc is placed on an action space, the lowest one is promoted to the city council, which triggers a scoring. After the last action disc is placed or the last scoring phase in the council is triggered, the game ends. The positions of the action spaces and sequence of scoring phases vary from game to game, making each game very different. Secret scoring objectives and action cards add uncertainty.
• Mayfair Games has announced two titles for release in September 2017, with one of them being an English-language edition of a game that first appeared in Finland in 2015. Run Bunny Run from Kees Meis and Dennis Merkx pits one rabbit against a pack of wolves, with the latter trying to catch the former, and the former trying to make it home in one piece. Gameplay is akin to Wings of War as the wolves lay down cards on their turn that show where they must play a card on the next turn, giving the bunny a chance to move in response to their intentions.
The other Mayfair title is Food Chain from Kevin G. Nunn, with each player having a set of critter cards — worms, birds, cats, dogs, and fleas — and with players laying down cards simultaneously to try to eat opponents while not being consumed themselves. Nunn dropped by the BGG booth at the 2017 Origins Game Fair to present an overview of the game:
• Belgian publisher Flatlined Games will Kickstart a new edition of Mark Gerrits' SteamRollers in late August 2017. Flatlined originally released SteamRollers in a hand-assembled edition of two hundred copies in 2015, and now this dice-based, network-building game will be available once again — sort of. In a newsletter about the state of the business and the game market at large, Flatlined's Eric Hanuise explained that he's looking for a different way to release games:
A new business model is required for me to stay in operation in this changing market. Manufacturing games, placing them at a distributor warehouse and relying on them to do sales and solicitations requires a sizeable amount of cash on hand to start with, and is a very risky proposition. It also requires marketing and promotion efforts at a scale well beyond my reach. With the current quantity of new releases each week, no distributor can effectively promote each of my games to their retailer clients. Even them must make choices to face this flood of releases. But then what with the games that are not picked for the spotlight? Is the publisher expected to just write them off and have them destroyed? This is of course unsustainable, and more like playing the lottery than actually managing a business.
Thus, Hanuise plans to Kickstart games, selling directly to both gamers and retailers that want to carry the titles in their shops, then only if demand still warrants it, reprint the game for conventional distribution outlets. With that plan in mind, for a period of twelve months SteamRollers will be available solely via the Kickstarter campaign, from stores that back that campaign or buy directly from Flatlined, or from Flatlined itself at conventions. Writes Hanuise, "This should make SteamRollers a sought-after game, while avoiding some of the darker effects of current exclusive propositions such as overpriced resales. The one-year period should allow us to establish SteamRollers as a game worthy of a wider audience for distributors or foreign language partners."
• Oh, and here's another tease at Gen Con 2017 for a game due out at SPIEL 2017, this time from Pandasaurus Games, with this tweet actually being a tease before the announcement. This game will be available for demo at Gen Con, and I can't wait to try it out...
Thu Jul 20, 2017 10:30 pm
Everything started back in 2013, at the end of October, soon after the yearly SPIEL game fair in Essen, Germany. I was chatting about Dobble's great success with Roberto Corbelli, CEO of dV Giochi. Dobble has many perks: It's extremely easy to explain; it quickly allows the players to check who won a given round; it's unpredictable due to the random combination of cards in play; and it can be played by many players at once. I, too, wanted to write something as accessible as that, so I started working on several ideas, trying to focus on graphic elements as one of the main components of the game mechanisms.
I recall the eureka moment: I had loads of colored pieces of paper and cards, looking for a use, scattered about on my extremely messy desk, and I stopped to look at two identical cards. What if they had not been totally identical?
Did someone already come up with a game in which the player must spot slight differences between two illustrations? It's a rhetorical question: Of course they did. This is a well-known game, in Italy as well as abroad, appearing on countless game magazines, including extremely popular ones such as La Settimana Enigmistica, which has run it weekly for decades.
It would have been interesting to have a never-ending "Find the Differences" game in which one could always find a given number of differences between two randomly selected cards. In a couple of days, I had found a technical solution to this effect, one that I will discuss later. There still was another Dobble characteristic that I wanted to reproduce: The way in which one could instantly find out who had won a hand. A game in which the players must spot differences was not ideal for this because the control phase would have been too slow. I decided to base the game on the count (or the estimate) of the number of existing differences.
The first draft of the idea was called "Almost". Drawing is not my forte, so I decided to create a prototype with pixel art. I found apt images from my favorite TV series, Doctor Who, on http://pixelblock.tumblr.com and prepared a prototype deck of cards of "Almost: Doctor Who" (with my best regards to BBC solicitors!) to show would-be publishers that the game could easily be adapted to any license.
The game was based on an extremely simple idea: Picking two random cards, there are N differences between them. Try looking for them here:
Turning the cards, you discover the position and the number of these differences:
The rules of this first prototype were minimal: The players would look at the two cards, and one of them could stop the round in any moment, giving their estimate. A player, for example, could say "Almost 3!", stating that they thought there are approximately three differences between the images. If the player was exactly right, they could take two cards. If they were almost right, e.g., the estimate was one less than the real answer, they could take only 1 card. If they were wrong, i.e., in any other case, they had to give one card to the player on the left and one card to the player on the right. The game would continue until the deck was exhausted, after which the player with the most cards won.
The first round of playtesting was… well, a disaster. The starting idea was good, but its realization — glossing over the issue of "placeholder" graphics — left a lot to be desired. The main flaws were:
The round cards were too small, which made it difficult to spot the differences.
The player with the cards in front of them had an unfair advantage against those on the other side of the table.
Each round of the game lasted either too long (waiting for someone to talk) or too little (when players with few points tried to answer randomly, having little or nothing to lose).
The cards, even with all their little differences, looked "all the same", making for a repetitive and boring game after a while.
During the 2013 Christmas holidays, I thought the game over, with its pros and cons. I became increasingly convinced that the basic idea had to be developed better and that all the various issues could be solved. I also realized that if the game were to be proposed to a publisher, its strong focus on illustration demanded the help of an artist.
Luckily, I knew an excellent illustrator: cartoonist Benny Gemma, whom I had already worked with for the production of both my Globetrotter game and a series of illustrated mysteries for a renown puzzle magazine, a relationship that had lasted every week for over an year. The protagonist of these mysteries was the brilliant Inspector Crosby, one of our original creations. It must have been for this reason that, reasoning with Benny, I came up with a theme that seemed perfect.
The images of the game had to depict a scene of crime, seen from above. In the middle of the scene, a chalk outline of the corpse, with several objects scattered around it, the result of a messy fight. Benny has a humorous style, and the scene would have never looked gory.
The first sketch drawn by Benny Gemma
The cards would have been bigger and more detailed, about the size of a photograph; we could have added many funny or quirky items; the blank corpse in the middle added a bit of space to the image, so that it no longer looked like a random assortment of objects. What's more, now that the scene was shown from above, there would be no impression of being on the wrong side of the card if you were sitting on the other side of the table.
For a couple of months, between working commitments and other duties, Benny and I worked together to create a set of forty cards; this seemed like the ideal number to have enough variety while allowing us to play on the differences. On the back of each card, one could find up to five differences. Thus, in this version of the game, there were between one and ten differences between two random cards.
Two cards from the prototype, drawn by Benny Gemma
The work was really easy because it was based on a non-trivial scheme in which I indicated the changes to make on each card for each box of the grid. "What's this grid?", you might ask. It is the basis of the mechanism that makes the game work, together with the "template" card. In order to explain it, let's create two cards for a hypothetical "Almost BoardGameGeek".
Let's start creating a grid. The cards are really small in this example, so a 3x3 grid will suffice.
Let's then design the "template card": It must have drawings on about half the boxes of the grid, with drawings being allowed to occupy more than one box. Starting from this card, we can design other cards by adding, subtracting, or modifying objects.
The template card.
We added the chess king and subtracted the die.
We modified the meeple (turning it upside down), modified the diamond sign (turning it into a heart sign and moving it), and added a Go stone.
As we create new cards, the differences among these and the template are shown on the boxes of a common grid. The modifications to the new cards must be made on different boxes:
The result is the creation of the first two cards of the BGG edition of the game:
On the back of these cards we have something like this:
The back shows at a glance the total number of differences between these two cards (a number equal to the total number of green circles — five in this case) and their location. Note the little trick: We have effectively shown the differences between these two cards while we actually marked the differences between each card and the template.
Coming back to our story, I now had a prototype with forty richly illustrated cards. During the development, however, the new "crime" theme had inspired me to come up with another improvement on the first prototype. Instead of interrupting a round as soon as a player gives their estimate of the number of differences, now there are ten evidence markers in play, numbered 1 to 10.
Each player can take one at any time, and once they have, they cannot change their mind. Points are awarded to those who guessed correctly, or (if no guess was right) to those who came closest, whether high or low.
In addition, in order to add variety, I added a special die whose faces showed the position in which the cards should have been tiled for the current round:
* Lined up next to one another (like the "Find the Differences" puzzles)
* Placed opposite one another
* Tiled by the short side
* Thrown randomly on the table (!)
With these materials and a score track, the new prototype looked good in its box. The old title, "Almost", wasn't representative of the game anymore, so I renamed it "Crime Scene". I then started to print, cut, and pack the cards and the various game pieces. The best opportunity to show the game would be at SPIEL in October 2014. I had appointments with some publishers that might be interested in producing it, not knowing that a disturbing surprise and a great stroke of luck were just around the corner.
As usual, the months leading to SPIEL flew away fast. Time reserved for game developing was never enough, curtailed as it was by day-job deadlines and hard-earned vacation time. I was trying to test "Crime Scene" thoroughly with various friends and with members of Finibus Terrae, a game association and shop in my town.
It was then that a friend gave me a piece of news that made me groan: BGG's "Gone Cardboard" had featured a game by Christophe Boelinger called Difference, coming out for Gigamic. The game seemed to have something in common with mine. Worse still, the game was a new edition of a design from 2010 published by Z-Man Games called What's Missing. During the creation process, I had looked on BGG for games similar to mine, but I had focussed on obvious keywords such as "spot", "difference", "appears", and others.
I... ehm... had completely missed What's Missing!
Boelinger's game and mine definitely had an idea in common: In Difference, choosing two cards at random, one can find differences between them. In that game, the differences are always exactly two. It was therefore clear that the author had started, like I had, from a template card, then designed other cards with only one difference in each of them. The players of the game had to find, as quickly as they could, the two differences between the card on the table and the card they have in hand.
For a bit, the news discouraged me. The two games seemed too similar. Then, all things considered, I realized that they shared only one common idea, namely trying to answer this question: How do you create a "Find the Differences" game that can be played indefinitely?
From there, Boelinger and I diverged in our approaches. His is a pure "difference game" based on spotting and reporting the differences, while mine is more similar to an "auction game". It's not necessary to list the exact differences between the two cards as long as one gives an estimate of their number. In my opinion, this fact was the basis of having an original game, even compared to the classic "Find the Differences".
Armed with this conviction, I did what professional courtesy dictated: I wrote to Boelinger, explaining the genesis of my game and sending him the rules. He very politely replied that the two games could coexist peacefully, but he urged me to seek a second opinion from Gigamic. The publisher quickly answered my query, giving me a cordial and encouraging reply. They had compared the rules of the two games and judged that the only similarity (the "Find the Differences" core idea) was actually in the public domain. For the rest, they had found Difference and "Crime Scene" to be profoundly distinct.
Isn't it ironic that we spent time looking for differences in two "Find the Differences" games? Anyway, that's why Christophe Boelinger and Gigamic are thanked in the manual.
I was back in the saddle, but before I could fully concentrate on SPIEL in October, there was another fair fast approaching. It was much (much!) smaller, but just as important as far as I was concerned. September 2014 would have seen the third edition of BGeek, the comic and game fair of my city Bari, located in the Puglia region in southern Italy. The main guest of the game section was Spartaco Albertarelli, the author of games like Kaleidos, Coyote, Magnifico, and several official variants of the classic Risk! (S.P.Q.Risiko!, FutuRisiko!, Risiko! Master, etc.). Spartaco had worked extensively with Editrice Giochi, the publisher that had introduced in Italy classics like Clue and Dungeons & Dragons, and it had been just a little over a year since he had founded his publishing house, KaleidosGames.
Spartaco's timetable at BGeek was rather busy, with several meetings on different themes. In one of them, he discussed the synergy between board games and video games. On that occasion, Spartaco talked about some of the issues of a video game adaptation of his iconic Kaleidos game, which is based on the careful observation of rather rich and elaborate images. One of the problems was to create a wide variety of different images, featuring objects shown in perspective, while avoiding "collisions" of said objects. As Spartaco talked, I thought a possible solution couldn't differ too much from the "grid" I had used with "Crime Scene", and I told him I could show it to him.
So, the next day, bringing Spartaco back to the hotel, we played a couple of rounds of "Crime Scene" and... boom! He immediately liked the game so much that he considered the possibility of publishing it under his KaleidosGames label, which until then had released only games designed by him. I told him that I would have loved the arrangement, but I was already going to show the game to other publishers. Spartaco wished me luck, saying he expected me to sign a contract when still at SPIEL.
Ever since I've met him, that's the only prediction he made that turned out wrong. Everyone liked the game in Essen, but for various reasons no deal got through. The last rejection came a few months after the end of the fair. Strangely, I felt relieved; my hands weren't tied anymore, and I could go back to work with KaleidosGames.
The protagonists of the game were now police inspectors who are glancing at a picture, so I decided to change the title to "Blinkspector". Spartaco reluctantly accepted the change. To be fair, nobody really liked it, not even me… but for the moment it stuck.
Due to various real life contingencies, it took a whole year to see any further progress. I met Spartaco again during SPIEL 2015 and, together, we reasoned on how to produce the game. The outlined production team was nothing short of phenomenal, with Chiara Vercesi and Paolo Vallerga to focus on graphics and visual design of the game. Chiara started to draw the final version of the cards from the prototype design (a necessary step, given the structure of the game), while Paolo took care of the rest: cover, game pieces, rule booklet, etc.
One of the actual cards of the game, illustrated by Chiara Vercesi
Spartaco really disliked one of the rules of "Blinkspector": If a player guessed the correct number of differences, they were the only one who scored points that round. Running the game with six players and counting on having only ten rounds in the whole game, this rule was frustrating for those who couldn't get any points for several rounds, despite begin close to the correct answer. As editor (and publisher), Spartaco asked me to sort out this problem. I was also to remove the die from the game as it caused too much unpredictable randomness.
I once heard Reiner Knizia giving really good advice to game designers: "If you have two problems, try to find one solution that works for both." With three days of relaxation in a wellness center in Salento, I managed to find that kind of solution.
The new rules of the game stated that three medals — worth 1, 2 and 3 points — would be up for grabs in each round, and the 3-point medal (drawn at random) would show how the cards should be displayed during that round, giving the same variation previously obtained with the use of the die. With this method, we could control how many rounds of each type there were — we decided upon two of each of the five possible layouts — making sure that the right amount of variety was achieved in every game.
The new scoring system assigned:
* A red medal (1 point) to the player who guessed closest to the right answer, but was higher.
* A yellow medal (2 points) to the player who guessed closest to the right answer, but was lower.
* A green medal (3 points) and any unassigned red or yellow medal to the player who guessed correctly.
This system, while simple, had a number of positive effects on the game. You may have noticed, for example, that those who approach the right answer but are too high earn fewer points than those who approach it from below; this happens because if between two cards there are, say, six differences, one thing that might happen is that a player sees four or five differences and gambles on there being a few more and taking the 7 or a higher number. In this case, it is obvious that at a certain point we just guessed. If we came close to the truth, we are good, but we do not deserve a hefty prize.
The correct answer earning the unassigned medals was a nice idea that came to Spartaco while talking on the phone. This gives a bigger prize to those who win the rounds in which the solution is at the extremes (i.e., 1, 2, 9 or 10 differences), which are the most difficult to guess right. Furthermore, this solution made giving the exact estimate more desirable, granting up to 5 points (3 + 2) to the correct player. At the same time, the rules discouraged random answers, allowing for a more tense game.
The most attentive investigators among you have noticed that the tokens had now acquired a yellow hat with an unmistakable shape. The reason was obvious: the name "Blinkspector" didn't win any sympathy from anyone, and we all decided that a catchier name was needed. Staff brainstorming led to several suggestions:
• C.S.EYE: Nice pun, unfortunately lost on non-Anglophones
• Photocop: Again, a nice play on words between photo, cop and photocopy, due to any given card being almost identical to the others
• Police Line, Do Not Cross: Obviously too long, but it would have been nice to have a box with this title on a yellow ribbon running through its entire length
• Luminol: Sounds good, but it is actually not too relevant to the game
• And finally... Sherlook!
I must say that I am really proud of coming up with this title, being a great fan of the Sherlock BBC series (just as much as I am of Doctor Who... remember the origins of the game?). The play on words, suggesting a detective who looks — it is SherLOOK, in case you missed it! — immediately won everyone's heart. The final graphic design of the game started from this new and definitive title. Chiara Vercesi drew some sketches of the cover, each better than the previous one. I'll show you only four of my favorites below.
All of the mock covers were evocative, but in the end we decided to choose the one "displaying" the game better, the one with the two pictures on which the detective is working. Starting from that idea, Paolo Vallerga cast one his spells and pulled out this cover and this logo, hitting the bull's eye, as far as I'm concerned.
The work on the graphics of the game would deserve its own little diary, penned by the three talented illustrators (Benny, Chiara and Paolo) but lacking that, I invite you to look for the many little classy touches that Paul hid in his illustrations. For example, can you find the five references to Sherlock Holmes hidden in the logo of the game?
This story is almost over, even if the actual making and final playtesting took another year, and we didn't manage to complete it on time for SPIEL 2016. The game will be out very soon, anyway, and I want to salute those of you who have endured this long article with one last little secret.
As you may recall, the playtest of "Almost" had been a disastrous affair, and one of the flaws of the original prototype was that the images were too similar, soon boring the players. How did we solve this problem in Sherlook, which contains forty cards that look "almost" identical? Benny and I had the idea of placing many small inside jokes on the cards in order to keep the viewer's attention up and to entertain those who wanted to try to find them.
As an example, take a look at a snippet from these two cards. The first image shows a stain of blood, but... are we sure it actually is blood? The second image, apart from removing the nose profile from the silhouette of the victim, shows a fallen bottle of red wine. No blood spilled in this game then!
Actually, a careful examination of all the cards in the game may suggest to you that there is not even a real victim! And who knows, perhaps, as you play, you will notice that there are:
Multiple references to a renowned board game
A single reference to another board game that's extremely famous in Italy
An artistic, surrealistic reference
A veiled allusion to a 1988 videogame
An acknowledgement to a great football team
A bad joke that risked being censored
A belated cure
A play on words for musicians
The initial of the main suspect
And, last but not least, a quote from Doctor Who, to go full circle and go back to "Almost"
I wanted to write these designer's notes mainly to thank all of those who contributed to help Sherlook see the light. A game such as this one, in which graphics and game design are so closely entwined, just couldn't be produced without the help of Benny Gemma, Paolo Vallerga, and Chiara Vercesi. I would like to give them my full appreciation, and to thank all of those who had fun playing with me and beating me almost every time (after initially saying, "All right, we'll play, but you know all of the cards… you'll win for sure!").
The story of the design of this game has been a long one, and if I didn't risk boring you, I could add many more anecdotes to the ones I shared here, but now there's no time. There's a case to solve, and two pictures of the crime scene with revealing details. Take your pipe and hat, Sherlook: The game is afoot!
P.S. Thanks to Simon Mas for the translation into far better English than mine!
W. Eric Martin
Yesterday I previewed Rüdiger Dorn's Vegas Dice Game, one of nearly two dozen games that will appear exclusively at Target when that U.S. retail chain refreshes its game section at the end of July 2017. Today I'm looking at a far more typical mainstream release, one aimed at the youngest of players and one that exemplifies the constant challenge of getting people to enjoy playing games.
How Does Your Garden Grow? is from designer Gina Manola and U.S. publisher Mudpuppy, which previously had produced only public domain titles such as dominoes, bingo, and chess. This design features all the tropes that one might expect of a game aimed at four-year-olds: bright colors, call-outs to educational benefits ("Color Matching", "Strategy"), and an oddly-shaped box complete with a handle. As for the gameplay, here's an overview:
In How Does Your Garden Grow?, players want to tend to their garden, avoid pests that will eat their crops, and plant one of each of the six fruits and vegetables in the game. Whoever does this first wins.
To start the game, each player draws six seeds from the seed pouch at random and places them on front of the six slots on their 3D game board. On a turn, a player draws and reveals the top card. If it's a fruit or veggie and they have the matching colored seed, they can place this card in their game board in the slot next to the seed. If they lack this colored seed, they can swap one of their seeds with a seed drawn at random from the bag; if this now matches the card, they can plant it; otherwise they must discard the card.
Players might also draw a "Pick it!" card that allows them to steal a card from another player's garden, a "Pest" card that eats one card in your garden, or a "Helper" card that allows you to draw two cards, after which you play both.
Players continue taking turns until one of them has all six fruits and veggies in their garden, winning the game instantly.
All that seems straightforward enough, but the rules don't reveal that one important detail — needing all six fruits and veggies to win — until the final line when previously the object of the game was stated as follows: "[P]lant 6 fruits/veggies in your garden row. The first player to complete his/her garden is the winner!" The rules aren't long, but even in this game for kids I played twice (with a four-year-old and eight-year-old) before re-reading the rules and discovering that one detail I had missed earlier. Even in a game for children with almost no rules, the rules were initially unclear because the winning condition was stated two different ways. Sigh.
In our first games, we played until someone placed six cards in their garden, then called it. The four-year-old had fun with each revelation of his cards (and with winning the first game), while the eight-year-old was filled only with sighs. (A two-year-old observing the game had fun stealing seeds from the bag and playing with them on the remaining game board.)
Once I discovered the correct rules, I coerced the eight-year-old into playing again in order to check whether that color restriction would bog down play. What if you drew two tomatoes to match the two red seeds on your board? Would you then need to cycle through cards until you finally drew a pest so that you could discard one of them, then keep cycling until you drew the missing color? In two games, neither of us had this issue as drawing new seeds from the bag is optional, and both of us drew until we had all six colors, then stopped drawing and just let the deck do its thing.
As you can tell from the description, there's not much to the game itself. You shuffle the deck, then (for the most part) things happen without you having a say in anything. The extra complication of needing a rainbow of produce might cause games to go longer than they would if you needed only to fill your board, and you'll need to judge the patience of your young audience to see whether the complication is worth the trouble. As a designer of kids' games recently told me, sometimes you don't worry about the rules, but just put the components on the table and see what happens...
W. Eric Martin
• To encourage retail stores to sign up for CMON Play and hold gaming events for its titles, CMON Limited has put together two new "game night" kits that each contain exclusive material for the games featured. The Zombicide: Black Plague game night kit, which becomes available on July 28, 2017, contains a three-part mini-campaign called "Nightmares", 14 figures and ID cards of a new hero named "Bruce" (?!), and 26 custom dice. The Blood Rage game night kit, due out September 29, 2017, includes upgraded Clan, Age, and Valhalla game boards, first player horn tokens, and plastic clan tokens that replace the card tokens in the base game. Retailers are free to distribute these materials as they choose.
• In addition to these titles, CMON Limited plans to release a new edition of Roberto Pestrin's Dojo Kun, which first appeared in 2015 from Italian publisher Yemaia. In this game, due out Q3 2017, players manage a personal dojo and train their athletes to prepare for combat with those from competing dojos.
• Along the same lines and also in Q3 2017, CMON Limited will release a new edition of Max Valembois's Meeple War, which French publisher Blue Cocker Games released in 2016.
• In 2017, Spanish publisher Meridiano 6 plans to release Bedouin from Fernando Chavarria and Judit Hurtado, with the action in this game apparently taking place on some alternate Earth:
The discovery of the Z10 gas put the planet's spotlight on all the corporations of Earth. The treasure that hides under the sand changed the peaceful lives of the bedouin tribes that inhabited the planet. Used to the hard life of the desert, these tribes soon became the most valuable allies in the gas-extraction business. You are the new leader of your tribe and must guide your people to find the gas wells and to build extraction ducts that will reshape the landscape forever. Use your people wisely to control the most strategic places on the map and keep an eye on the movements of rival tribes. Don't forget that the powerful and greedy corporations of Earth pull the strings in the shadows and are capable of helping you...or making your tribe disappear between the dunes.
Bedouin is a strategic game whose main mechanisms are area control and hand management. There is a high interaction between players as they collect the tokens of the gas fields that their tribe controls; these tokens are worth different amounts of victory points, and their value can be modified by different actions during the game. The modular construction of the desert guarantees that you will not find two games the same. Every action counts under the burning sun of the bedouin's planet!
• Carnival of Monsters is a new card-drafting game from Richard Garfield and (unexpectedly) German publisher AMIGO Spiel. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
Carnival of Monsters is a card-drafting game in which players collect sets of land cards that allow them to capture and display strange and exotic creatures, hire talented staff to help run their enterprise, and pursue their own secret goals.
Okay, not much to go on for now, but I got a chance to play a round at the 2017 Origins Game Fair, and it was intriguing to know that this design is coming from AMIGO, which typically publishes quick-playing games with few rules. In the game, you need to manage your money in order to pay for new land cards of various types, with these land cards then supporting various creatures that give you points or powers in various ways. You see what everyone else drafts each turn (assuming that they play the card instead of holding on to it), which gives you information for future turns since you're all drafting from packs of cards that are passed among one another each turn
What's especially odd about this project is that AMIGO Spiel is taking Carnival of Monsters to Kickstarter before the end of 2017, with the goal of funding additional art for the game. The more funding the project receives, the more individual pieces of art will be used for the landscapes and creatures, with a different artist handling each environment.
• Kolossal Games is a new U.S. publisher launched in 2017 with Travis R. Chance, formerly of Action Phase Games and Indie Boards & Cards, in charge of finding and developing titles. At least I think that's what Chance is doing. We spoke with him briefly about the founding of the new company at the 2017 Origins Game Fair, and I've included that video below.
What I do know about Kolossal Games is that the company has hired John Clowdus of Small Box Games to be a contract designer. To quote from Clowdus' announcement of the deal:
Kolossal Games now owns all of Small Box Games' back catalog of games. This is amazing news for me, and for you as a Small Box Games fan. But what does all of this actually mean?
Kolossal Games will likely be releasing some of my previous designs under a broader release, with updated and upgraded components, themes, graphics, and rules. This is extremely exciting, and I can't wait to see what Kolossal does with some of my designs. Small Box Games, as a company and publisher, will continue to exist, with a focus on card-only games.
Additionally, I will be designing bigger games for possible publication through Kolossal, something I couldn't have reasonably done through SBG — but I will also continue designing card only games as well.
W. Eric Martin
Rüdiger Dorn's dice game Vegas was a departure for the alea line when the game was released in 2012. A pure dice game? That rates only a 1 on alea's difficulty scale? What's happened to our beloved alea?!
Yet Vegas is tremendously entertaining. This game about gambling actually feels like gambling because you're placing stakes on casinos in the form of dice that you roll, and sometimes you increase your stakes (by adding more dice to the casino later) and sometimes you lose your wager, ending up with nothing but broken dreams while an opponent brings home the jackpot. You're not in control of what happens because you can place dice only in one of the casinos that you roll — and when you do so, you must place all the dice of a single number — and you must place at least one die each turn. Turn by turn your die resources are allocated until it's the end of a round and you're hoping against hope to roll the one number you need with your lone remaining die in order to break a tie in that casino and go from bupkis to a huge payout. The odds are against you, but it could still happen!
Vegas went on to be nominated for the Spiel des Jahres, Germany's game of the year award — after which it was renamed Las Vegas — but it lost out that year to Kingdom Builder. In 2014, Dorn and alea released Las Vegas Boulevard, an expansion that consists of several individual modules that can mix up gameplay in multiple ways, from larger bills to more players to large dice that count as two normal dice to a new seventh casino that works differently from all the others.
Now Vegas is being repackaged again, this time as Vegas Dice Game, with this new version being available from Ravensburger solely through the Target retail chain in the U.S. A game buyer from Target contacted me a while ago about taking an early look at this game and several others that will start appearing in stores and online at the end of July 2017, and I said sure for two reasons. First, I want to preview games in this space, and here was an opportunity to do so — although I initially had no idea what I might be previewing. Roll those dice and see what turns up! Second, I want to help more gamers discover BoardGameGeek, and having previews of games that will appear solely at Target might lead them to discover BGG when searching for more information. We'll see whether that actually happens in the months ahead.
Seeing Vegas Dice Game as one of the titles headed to Target shelves makes sense to me. I've brought Vegas to picnics and gatherings of "regular" people — you know what I mean, people who play games but aren't obsessed by them — and they took to Vegas immediately. The game takes at most a minute to learn, and it plays in game space that's familiar to most people. After all, more than 75 million people visit U.S. casinos each year, and they're all comfortable with rolling dice and trying to work the odds in their favor. Heck, most of us do that every day of our lives — just without rolling actual dice.
We played the game over burgers and chips and sodas and beer, players coming and going throughout the evening with new people picking up the game immediately by watching others. That's a gaming success — but whether it will translate directly from the store shelf is another matter. I worked in a game store in the early 1990s, and I learned over and over again that you can put a game out for display on a table and sell dozens of times more than you can from a game sitting on a shelf.
In any case, here's a video overview of Vegas Dice Game for those who haven't already played the game or those who want to see what this new version looks like:
W. Eric Martin
Nearly two months after announcing its nominees, the jury for the Spiel des Jahres — Germany's annual game of the year award, which is the game industry's largest prize as it typically leads to additional sales of hundreds of thousands of copies — has proclaimed Kingdomino from Bruno Cathala this year's winner, beating out Magic Maze and Wettlauf nach El Dorado. Kingdomino is published by Blue Orange Games, with Pegasus Spiele being the German licensee.
Minutes before announcing the Spiel des Jahres winner, the jury gave the 2017 Kennerspiel des Jahres — an award aimed at enthusiasts who already have some familiarity with modern games — to EXIT: The Game, specifically the first three titles in this series: The Abandoned Cabin, The Pharaoh's Tomb, and The Secret Lab. These titles were all designed by Inka and Markus Brand and published by KOSMOS, and three more titles in the EXIT series have already been released in Germany, with even more on the way. The other two nominees for KedJ were Raiders of the North Sea and Terraforming Mars.
The Kinderspiel des Jahres —the children's game of the year in Germany — had been awarded on June 19, with Brian Gomez' penguin-flicking game Ice Cool, published by Brain Games, taking home the prize over Captain Silver and The Mysterious Forest.
Mon Jul 17, 2017 10:26 am
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