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W. Eric Martin
At PAX Unplugged today, designer Rob Daviau and Wizards of the Coast president Chris Cocks announced the forthcoming release of Betrayal Legacy from WotC's Avalon Hill brand.
As you might guess, Betrayal: Legacy is a new take on Betrayal at House on the Hill, a 2004 title that Daviau contributed to when he worked full-time for Hasbro. Avalon Hill released a second edition of that game in 2010, with an expansion for it — Widow's Walk — appearing in 2016 and a Dungeons & Dragons-themed standalone version — Betrayal at Baldur's Gate — being released in 2017.
Betrayal Legacy marries the concept of that first game — exploring a haunted mansion — with the permanency and multi-game storytelling exhibited by Daviau's Risk Legacy and other legacy games that followed. Betrayal Legacy, which will be released in Q4 2018, consists of a prologue and a thirteen-chapter story that takes place over decades. Players represent families, with specific members of a family participating in one story, then perhaps an older version of those characters (assuming they lived) or their descendants showing up in later stories.
Why would people keep exploring a haunted mansion for decade after decade, especially when horrible things happen there? Curiosity, I suppose, or perhaps an ignorant boldness that comes from the belief that we know better than those who have come before. Look at all that we've learned, marvel at the tools we have at hand! Surely we'll all exit safely this time...
As with other Betrayal titles, the game is narratively-driven, with elements that record the history of your specific games. The tools mentioned earlier, for example, become attached to specific families. This isn't just a bucket; it's my bucket, the Martin bucket, the one my grandpappy used to feed his family's pigs when he was a boy, and while you can certainly use that bucket, I know how to wield it best from the time he spent teaching me how to slop. Yes, it's an heirloom bucket, and when kept in the family, I get a bonus for using it.
Daviau served as lead designer on Betrayal Legacy, with others contributing elements, designing haunts, and developing the material. He says that while Betrayal at House on the Hill played with a lot of horror movie tropes, Betrayal Legacy is built more around horror stories, with players creating their own story over the course of the game as they encounter roughly one-third of the fifty haunts included. Once you close the final chapter, you'll have your own unique version of Betrayal Legacy that can be played again.
Calimala is a Euro-style game in which players are members of the guild of merchants in foreign cloth, in Florence, around the 13th century.
The game has a few twists on the classic worker placement genre. The main idea is to have nine main actions in a three-by-three grid, randomly arranged at the beginning of the game. These spaces are connected by "streets", and players take turns placing one of their workers on a street and executing both actions. Since the actions are placed randomly, the possible pairs of actions available change from game to game.
These actions allow players to collect basic materials (wood, bricks and marble); use them to build workshops, ships and trade houses; produce cloth and deliver it to various cities; contribute materials for the construction and decoration of churches; etc.
Another aspect of the game is that workers (discs) are always added and never retrieved: Players have a fixed number of workers (15 with three players, 12 with four, 10 with five), and when placed on an action space, they stack on top of each other. Whenever one disc is placed on a stack, all discs in that stack perform the two actions in order from top to bottom (so extra actions can be triggered in other players' turns).
When the fourth disc is placed on a stack, only the top three discs are activated, while the bottom disc is "promoted" into the city council, triggering a scoring. The city council has 15 seats that are filled in order when workers are promoted (i.e., when stacks grow to more than three discs). Each seat has a scoring tile (assigned randomly at the beginning of the game) that determines which category to score (e.g., most contributions to a given church, most deliveries to a given city). Majority scoring is used for all categories, awarding 3, 2 and 1 victory points to the first, second, and third player respectively.
Where to place your early workers becomes an important decision because if well placed, they will be reactivated by other players two more times.
Seats in the city council also break ties, so when choosing an action space where to place a disc, players have to be careful about which scoring can trigger it and how the balance in the city council will change.
At the beginning of the game, each player receives two scoring cards and secretly picks one that will be revealed at the end of the game and that will score for 5/3/1 points. Each player thus knows of one city or building that will score again at the end (the card they picked), and one that will not score (the card that they discarded).
The game is very tight, and players have to choose what to focus on, especially since with more players it's not really possible to participate in all categories, and these scoring cards add tension, as well as the possibility of bluffing (with people trying to guess other players' scoring cards).
What follows is the story of how I designed this game.
Calimala is my first board game design, although I've been regularly playing board games for more than fifteen years.
When I moved to the UK in 2013, I joined London on Board, a board games club with a few thousand members, with daily meet-ups in various locations around the city. There I met a few game designers and somehow I got the design bug and I started thinking about making a board game of my own.
The basic concept was some variant on the worker placement mechanism in which the available action spaces would change from game to game. The players would then have to come up with a different strategy on each new game.
This is probably the only thing that survived from that inception to the published game.
The idea was to have the action spaces on eight cards in a three-by-three grid (with a hole in the middle). Players would then place a worker between two cards and take both actions. The optimal sequence of actions to achieve the various goals would therefore change from game to game.
The first prototype was just eight handwritten cards, some workers (gray cubes), and a bunch of colored discs.
On your turn, you could either place some cubes on a space between two cards (equal to how many cubes were already there) and take the actions on the cards, or collect all the cubes between two cards. This allowed a continuous flow of play (with no need to collect your workers at the end of a round). The actions on the card would provide discs or convert discs into other discs or into victory points.
It was very boring and uninteresting, but it showed some promise, so one evening I brought it to a Playtest UK meet-up where I played it with a few other designers and where it fell apart very quickly.
After more iterations, I started thinking about a theme and, maybe not too originally, I went for medieval Florence.
The game was still card-based then, with the eight basic cards providing materials like wood and clay or allowing you to hire specialists, along with a set of advanced buildings (more cards) in construction that required those materials.
Players would take actions to contribute materials to the advanced cards, e.g., by taking the "clay" action, I would put a cube of my player color to a clay slot in the building. Once a building was complete, players who contributed to it would score points and the complete building would go into play. (There was some kind of rotation mechanism in which action cards would move in and out, and each new building would enter that rotation.)
This still had several problems, but it's the origin of the buildings in Calimala (like the Cathedral and the other churches).
At this point I took a step back and started studying a bit more in detail the historical period when these buildings were built. There are several Eurogames set in medieval Florence, but none of them really tries to be historically accurate: There were no princes in Florence, and the Medici didn't really trade in spices...
I wondered who built these great churches and why, and I found out about the guild of Calimala.
In the Middle Ages, Florence was a mercantile republic, and the various trades were organized in guilds, whose elder members would take turns ruling the city. The most powerful among these guilds was the guild of Calimala. This was the guild of traders in foreign cloth; during the late middle ages, they were buying rough woolen cloth from all over Europe (England, France, the Flandres, etc.), bringing it back to Florence where they would refine and dye it, then selling it back for a much higher price.
They were producing very high quality cloth, in colors that were not otherwise available in other places. The members of this guild quickly became extremely wealthy, and moving all that gold across Europe and back to Florence was not practical, so they ended up establishing a more permanent presence in the major trading centers where they held their business, keeping the gold there and instead using letters of change to move money, giving birth to the first banks.
Incidentally they also started lending this money to various kings, financing the wars between England and France in that period. (The first bankruptcy happened when the king of England defaulted on his debts.) At home they would then use the money to build palaces and churches and sponsor art works (which would eventually lead to the Renaissance).
The Medici were among the most influential families within the Calimala guild, and within a couple of generations they managed to take full control of the city. (Lorenzo il Magnifico was never formally a prince or a ruler, but with his influence he controlled the majority of the city council.)
Back to the Drawing Board
This research provided some new ideas for elements to add to the game. I decided to focus on the cloth production and the trade network.
I started working on a proper board, with streets connecting thirteen different action spaces, each street with three spots for workers. I didn't come up with the idea of triggering previous players when stacking discs until quite late in the game development; players didn't even need discs in different colors at the time as each street had three slots and by placing in the second or third slot, players would get a better action. More specifically, placing the second or third disc you would do some actions two or three times, while some other actions would be more cost effective.
This allowed for doing more stuff with fewer discs. As the game proceeded, actions became more powerful so that four players with just twelve rounds could be able to complete buildings and fulfill cloth demands from cities.
I had one more building material (stone) and various actions that eventually went away. Each player had an artist meeple, for example, that would move around the city, with an action to move the artist and another action to make an artwork (with a certain number of slots for artwork in each neighborhood of the city).
A "recruiter" action would let you hire an employee (i.e., a card that could be used once at any time matching one of the twelve other basic actions), while a "prestige" action would let you draw a bonus card for endgame scoring.
The scoring was different at the time: Points were awarded right away when delivering a cube to a slot, and extra points were awarded on completions or at the end of the game.
Needless to say, all this was very complicated and playtests revealed many issues, especially with the random placement of action tiles. It was sometimes extremely tedious to do even simple things (collect one marble, then move the artist somewhere with a free slot, finally take the artwork action, etc.). Also, having an artist meeple on the board in addition to the actual workers confused players.
I needed to streamline and simplify; I cut the number of actions down to nine (on a three-by-three grid), and various actions went in and out until I settled on the final ones.
I also simplified the scoring, using majority scoring everywhere. (When an area was completed, points were awarded to the players who contributed the most.) Even artworks were gone, although they eventually came back at a later stage; I instead kept the "recruiter" action that provided an action card to play at any time.
Majority scoring is tricky to get right. Two important design decisions are about when to trigger the scoring and how to handle ties. Some games do scoring at the end of specific turns, but that didn't really fit with the game. I wanted the scoring to happen in a more flexible way because depending on how the action tiles are set up at the beginning of play, some areas might fill up faster than others.
Another important decision is about how to handle ties (more on this later).
I also had another issue: Having fewer action spaces meant fewer slots available to place discs, so I had to revisit the idea of having at most three workers per pair of actions. Instead of having a fixed number of slots, I introduced the idea of placing workers in a stack; in order to keep the stack from growing too much, when the fourth disc was placed on a stack, the bottom disc was removed.
Initially I placed that disc as a "statue" in one of the four quarters of the board (to commemorate the career of the worker who just retired). Each quarter of the board would then trigger the scoring for one category: port cities, trade cities, buildings, and most artwork. Each category would score at most four times per game.
Another concept introduced around this time was that of triggering other players' actions when placing discs. In the initial iterations, when players placed their second or third disc on a slot, they would carry out both actions two or three times in a row. (This helped in maintaining a high number of total actions per game so that there would be enough to make progress on all fronts.) This had a drawback, though, as lots of things could change between one player's turn and their next turn (e.g., in a four-player game, the other three players towards the end of the game could take a total of 18 actions).
That's when I had the idea to invert the flow; now when a player placed a disc on a stack, each disc is activated in order from top to bottom and the owner of each disc performs the actions. The total number of actions per space doesn't change. What's more, the first player to place a disc on a spot will now benefit from three pairs of actions, spread over time. This greatly improved the flow of the game, and players were engaged on everyone's turn.
Playtest, Playtest, Playtest!
Something that came up with more playtests was that players tried to place their discs so that other players could benefit less from their moves, e.g., playing a build action when the owner of the previous discs didn't have enough building materials to benefit from it.
My first attempt to compensate for that was to introduce a "Feld" track, that is, a track used to break ties in scoring; whenever a player couldn't perform an action, they would advance on that track. This maybe overcompensated as players then tried to advance on that track by setting themselves up to not be able to take actions.
With more tweaks and lots of playtesting, I fixed a few problems at once:
I removed the recruiter action; instead players would gain an action card whenever their worker was not able to perform their action. (So that the total number of actions per player didn't change, the action card would let them do another action at any other time.)
I replaced the recruiter action with the "artwork" action (and the "stone" resource with "marble") and added extra slots for artwork in the buildings.
Then I introduced the city council. Now when the fourth disc is added to a slot, the eldest worker (at the bottom of the stack) is promoted to the city council and triggers a scoring. (Scoring tiles are randomly placed during setup in the city council.) In case of a tie, the city council decides the winner (the player with most seats). All this tied together very nicely and made thematic sense.
Playtesting was extremely useful, and every week I would come back home with a new problem and a deadline to solve it before the next playtest session. Slowly but surely, a few more tweaks were introduced over time, such as the white discs which when placed perform each action twice, but are not triggered again later and the scoring cards (which add some more uncertainty, provide a longer term goal during the game, and allow a player to keep contributing to areas that already scored, which was sometime an issue in the last rounds).
By the end of mid-2015, I was quite happy with the game: It played smoothly and within 75 minutes, even with five players. (The total number of discs doesn't change much between player counts: between 45 and 50.)
The game had undergone several playtest sessions, and I was now focusing on writing the rules, including going through a few "blind playtests" (where players learn the game from the rules and play without me, while I watch in silence and take notes). After a few iterations, the rules were clear enough.
In October 2015, almost by chance, I heard about the Hippodice competition when another designer from my playtest group mentioned it in conversation.
I checked online, and I thought that it could be a good way to do some actual blind playtests: Hippodice is a board game club in Germany, and every year they organize a competition for new designers where they play some prototypes for a few months and at the end, in the summer, they provide feedback to the authors.
So I applied (that was just a couple of days before the deadline) and sent the rules, and after a few weeks they asked for a prototype.
The winner is decided by a jury made mostly by German publishers, and every year one or two games among the finalists get usually published. I didn't really think I had a chance, and I was mostly interested in the feedback from the players, so when in March 2016 I got a quick message from a German email address telling me that my game won the competition, I thought it was some kind of joke from one of my fellow designers, moreso because it said that six publishers were interested and they couldn't agree on who should take my prototype, so they asked if I had a preference.
In the following days, a few publishers contacted me directly, and only then was I assured that this was not an elaborate prank. I quickly made a couple of prototypes and mailed them.
Eventually I signed a publishing contract with ADC Blackfire; Uli Blennemann (their main developer, who is also owner of Spielworxx) was very excited about the game and eager to publish it in time for SPIEL '17. Harald Lieske worked on the art, Uli kept me in the loop during the development, and I was able to provide input and feedback.
The game was well received at SPIEL. ADC Blackfire had a large booth with several tables, and Calimala was played constantly on at least six tables at a time during the whole fair. I had the chance to play it a few times with various people, and it was a lot of fun!
W. Eric Martin
• Elder Sign, which debuted in 2011, has a new expansion due out in early 2018 from Fantasy Flight Games: Omens of the Pharaoh, which as you can tell from the cover are not good, but that shouldn't be surprising given that no one ever perceives omens that deliver ice cream or offer back massages. An overview of what you'll find:
An eternal tyrant struggles to return to life from beneath the scorching sands of Egypt in Omens of the Pharaoh, the newest expansion for Elder Sign, a cooperative dice game that takes a team of investigators into the dark corners of H.P. Lovecraft's terrifying mythos. Based on the ''Dark Pharaoh'' expansion for the ''Elder Sign: Omens'' app, a team of investigators must travel to Cairo and join an expedition to stop the rise of the Dark Pharaoh Nephren-Ka. This dread ruler seeks to return from beyond the grave and continue his blood-soaked reign of terror. What otherworldly forces have preserved Nephren-Ka for all this time, and how can such a being be stopped?
• In 2013, then-new Hong Kong-based publisher Marrow Production ran a Kickstarter campaign for Journey: Wrath of Demons, shipping the base game in 2015 (a year after the previously announced release date) and posting somewhat monthly updates since that time about progress on two expansions that were part of the original crowdfunding campaign.
Now Edge Entertainment, which Asmodee acquired in early 2017, will release the base game anew in February 2018. Here's a description of the setting and gameplay:
In a world overrun by demons, four pilgrims chosen by fate risk their lives to undertake an arduous journey across Terra to find the lair of the Bull Demon King. Each is driven by their own motives, but together they share the same goal: to banish the demons from this world.
Welcome to ''Journey: Wrath of Demons'', a cooperative game for 1 to 4 players. You play as the four pilgrims, while the game AI controls your enemies, the fearsome Bull Demons. You experience the pilgrims' misfortunes and victories as they battle the Bull Demon King and his Demon hordes on their journey across Terra.
Rooted deep in Chinese mysticism, the karma system allows for different playing styles, rewarding the virtuous, but corrupting the wicked. Will your pilgrims gain the skills, weapons and magic items they need to defeat the mighty Bull Demon King in Volcano City?
The sell sheet about the game from Edge mentions that "Upcoming expansions expand gameplay to include new characters, monsters, and adventures", so apparently those long-delayed expansions might finally see the light of day.
• Space Cowboys will release a somewhat new Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective collection in early 2018: Carlton House & Queen's Park. I say "somewhat new" as some of the cases have appeared in print earlier, such as The Queen's Park Affair, which Ystari had revised and reprinted in French in 2014 but which had not appeared in English. The publisher notes that these cases have been "revised and updated".
• In March 2018, Devir will release Gretchinz! from the Captain Sonar design team of Roberto Fraga and Yohan Lemonnier, with this being a card game set in the Warhammer 40K universe. An overview from the publisher:
Gretchinz! is a hilariously violent card-driven racing game in which the cards become the very track on which the Gretchins drive. In the game, players fill the shoes of crazy Gretchin drivers behind the wheels of insane contraptions that could barely pass as vehicles in a deadly race on a deserted alien planet.
At the start of play, players choose which Klan they belong to, each one granting a unique special ability. Each contestant has a vehicle and a bunch of tarot-sized cards in hand. One side of those cards — the side that the player holding them sees — indicates the type of attack card that they can play, while the other side — which everyone else can see — tells what sort of danger lies ahead in front of their racing devices.
W. Eric Martin
WizKids has partnered with Wizards of the Coast to produce a handful of Dungeons & Dragons-related games, such as the D&D: Attack Wing miniatures game, the various D&D Dice Masters dice games, and the Temple of Elemental Evil, Tomb of Annihilation, and Assault of the Giants board games.
Now WizKids has announced a larger partnership with Wizards of the Coast in which it will release both a miniatures line and a board game set in the world of Wizards' Magic: The Gathering collectible card game. From the press release:
The initial pre-painted sculpted miniatures will focus on token creature card favorites, adding a premium touch to the player's table top experience while the board game will pull from the original trading card lore. Players will play as Planeswalkers, exploring the landscape of Dominaria as they establish connections to their mana sources, gathering power before their opponents do and building their hand of spell cards.
"We're introducing a long-time, beloved brand to an all new medium," said Justin Ziran, president of WizKids. "Producing high-quality miniatures and bringing to market captivating board games is at the heart of WizKids. We could not be more excited to extend our relationship with Wizards of the Coast with Magic: The Gathering."
Both the miniatures line and the board game are currently scheduled for release in late 2018.
W. Eric Martin
• Designer buddies Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier (Abyss, Kanagawa) have a new title scheduled to debut in early 2018, most likely at the game festival in Cannes, France at the end of February. Micropolis from Matagot is a 2--6 player game in which you control ants in a shared anthill and dig new tunnels each turn to work toward whatever goals your antlike mind might perceive. An overview:
The game board features a central location surrounded by ten tiles that are connected by a series of tunnels. Over ten rounds, players draft tiles that will adjust the contents of the shared anthill, then explore.
Each round, the player with the largest army goes first. They can take the first tile in line, or place an ant on each tile they want to pass to get to something better. The tiles have various roles on them: Queens who if alone can improve their space; Nannies who give you extra ant soldiers; Architects who let you take any tile for free; Warriors who attack the first player; Generals who manage the movement of your ant soldiers; and Fruit gatherers who collect fruits, whic score based on the variety you have.
Ants at the end of the game are worth one point each, and whoever has the largest army earns an additional 5 points.
Co-designer Bruno Cathala at SPIEL '17 (image from Matagot)
• On November 25, 2017, Games Workshop will release Necromunda: Underhive, a reworking of its 1995 title Necromunda, as well as Necromunda: Gang War, a supplemental volume that includes a campaign system for the game as well as details on how to incorporate 3D terrain into the game. As for the game itself, here's a rundown:
Necromunda: Underhive is packed with content to get you started: a full board representing the sewers and confines of the underhive, a rulebook, character cards, templates, dice, and your gangs.
There are two full gangs in the box: one set of nimble warrior-women from House Escher and one set of gene-crafted brutes from House Goliath. Each of these miniatures is detailed, characterful, and true to the classic spirit of Necromunda — hairstyles and all! These gangs are multi-part kits, with an enormous level of customization. There are weapons for any situation, from classics like the stub gun to more esoteric choices like the repurposed industrial equipment of House Goliath or the chem-weapons of the Eschers.
The set's gaming tiles and simple bulkhead scenery allow you to play games quickly and easily. As well as the underhive style of play covered by the boxed set, there will also be ways to play Necromunda with the multi-level skirmishes that defined the classic version of the game.
• If you're unsure about whether the purchase the Agricola miniature+card expansions from WizKids as all you care about is the cards and not the figures, feel free to wait a couple of years as Lookout Games' Hanno Girke notes that the cards included in these six mini-expansions will be included in the C and D expansion decks to be released in 2019 and 2020. (The Artifex Deck, a.k.a. A-Deck, debuted at SPIEL '17 in October, and the B-Deck is due out in 2018.)
• Girke also notes that Farmers of the Moor for the revised edition of Agricola should be out in 2018.
• Designer Alexander Pfister notes in passing that if you want a heavier game from him, keep an eye out for Adelin, possibly in 2018. (Update: Or don't, as that's not the name of the game. See the first comment below for details.)
• Flying Lemur Game Studio is a new publisher that will release a new edition of Peer Sylvester's North American Railways, first released by Spielworxx in 2016, in the North American market in Q1 2018.
Along the same lines, in 2018 Tasty Minstrel Games will release a new edition of the 2015 Spielworxx release Dilluvia Project from Alexandre Garcia, and a Spanish edition of Stefan Risthaus' Gentes will be released.
W. Eric Martin
• Designer Vital Lacerda has been wowing game fans since he arrived on the scene with Vinhos in 2010, and his next release with frequent publishing partner Eagle-Gryphon Games has been in the works since before that time. In Escape Plan, which will hit Kickstarter in 2018, 2-4 players have committed a heist together, but now it's every thief for themselves as the police start closing in. In more detail:
Non-final cover by Ian O'Toole
After a successful bank heist, the robbers retreat to a quiet city to lay low and enjoy the good life. Having largely hidden the cash, they have invested the rest in locations throughout the city. All is going according to plan until the police get a break in the case. Accusations are made, fingers are pointed, and everyone is a suspect.
Chaos ensues as the police call in the SWAT team and close the city’s exits. Life is no longer easy for the thieves. The only choice now is to escape the city as soon as possible, but the robbers need a plan — a good route that allows them to escape the city while recovering the money they have invested and, if possible, all the money they have hidden.
Time is short, and with the police and SWAT at their heels, it will be necessary to pull some strings to calm the situation. To accomplish this, time and money must be spent to hire the city’s gangs to create diversions. Bribing the cops isn't cheap, either. Disguises may help, but they will not fool everyone. Setting the cops on the trail of the others will allow you a better chance of escape, but the other thieves are thinking the same. Which player will make the best plan to escape with the most money and be the winner? Or will the cops foil the robber's plans and lockdown the city before the thieves escape?
In Escape Plan, players are the thieves, but they may influence the cops' moves every turn. The robbers move on a modular board trying to reach the best spots to recover their loot and escape from the city with more money than the other thieves. The cops are trying to thwart their escape plan — by force if necessary. The players play cards to aid their escape and slow the other players down. The players take actions that allow them to move and to engage gangs, mules, and snitches.
As a tactical game with no direct conflict, it contains asymmetric roles set by missions that players may achieve during the game while avoiding the police. The players' roles as thieves are individual with every player for themselves. In the end, only the player who escapes with the most cash wins.
• Another game along similar lines — a gang of thieves theoretically working together while worrying only about themselves in the end — is Robin Hood and the Merry Men, a game from Krstevski, Krstevska, Matovska, Poole, Toshevski, and Final Frontier Games that will also come to Kickstarter in 2018.
• Stealing is also required in Professor Treasure's Secret Sky Castle from Jason D. Kingsley and Level 99 Games, with this being a two-player competitive puzzle game in which you're trying to take back precious items stolen and hidden by Professor Treasure. Level 99 Games had originally announced this title in April 2016 along with two other two-player games, and it's now moving toward release in February 2018.
• More thieving takes place in Ship of Treasures, which was designed by fourth-graders Olivia Wasilewski and Brynna Siewers and which won the 2016 Chicago Toy & Game Fair's annual Young Inventor Challenge. As part of their prize, Pressman has now published the game, which is being sold exclusively in the Target U.S. retail chain. Here's an overview:
Grab a treasure map, hide your treasure chests, and start your search for hidden treasure in Ship of Treasures. Lift up trapdoors to reveal loot to plunder from the other pirates, but beware — you could end up with cannonballs instead of booty. You need a good strategy and some lucky rolls of the dice to be the first pirate to capture treasure chests from each of your fellow pirates and win the game!
• Alessio Cavatore and River Horse Ltd., who released Jim Henson's Labyrinth: The Board Game in 2016, are back with a new title in a similar vein: Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal: Board Game. Description for this 2-4 player game due out in early 2018 is minimal: "Will Jen and Kira manage to find the Shard and heal the Dark Crystal?" To keep in line with the other games in this post, they will ideally pocket the Shard, then fence it for enough to retire in the Bahamas.
• To close out our special thieving edition of BGG News, in June 2018 IELLO will release Raids, a Viking-themed game from Brett J. Gilbert and Matthew Dunstan. I received an overview of the game at SPIEL '17 and offer this possibly accurate description, as well as pics of a mock-up copy that features final art, but not final graphic design:
In Raids, players sail from island to island to collect vikings and viking-related paraphernalia, using them fight one another for good spaces and fight monsters for points.
In more detail, the game lasts four rounds, and at the start of each round tiles are laid out at the various locations on the path that all players must follow. On a turn, a player moves to either an empty spot on the path to claim one of the tiles located there or to an occupied spot. In the latter case, the attacking player must sacrifice a viking, then the defending player must sacrifice two vikings or vacate the space; if they sac two vikings, then the attacker must remove three or leave. Eventually, someone must leave.
You can collect runes with an eye toward having lots of the same type or collect goods to sell at the end of the round. You might gather axes to give you better odds against monsters. You can collect more vikings for your crew.
At the end of each round, players score majority bonuses depending on the tiles that were revealed before the round started. After four rounds, whoever has the most points wins!
W. Eric Martin
• Monster Slaughter from Henri Pym and Ankama might suffer from a bit of confusion given the title as the monsters are not being slaughtered but are the ones doing the slaughtering, with the victims being the teenagers that we've all seen in horror movies since the 1980s and with the players trying to off the teens in a certain order to score the most points. Gruesome stuff that's lightened somewhat by the 3D box bottom that functions like a child's dollhouse — except that all the slaughtering takes place within those walls, so the gruesomeness still abounds! (KS link)
For more details on the game, check out the game overview I recorded at the Cannes game festival in February 2017:
• I meant to check out Li Hsiao En's Dragon Canyon at SPIEL '17 as Sweet Lemon Publishing was working on a new version of this Chinese release from 2016, but as often happens at SPIEL, I didn't. Now it's being crowdfunded, so we can all learn about this skirmish game that requires temporary alliances on the path to long-term dominance of the kingdom. (KS link)
• Another battling game on KS right now is Shadow Strike: Melee from Benjamin, Buel, Muckell, and Pure Fun Games, with the game challenging you to knock out others while being able to see only the cards that they play and not your own. (KS link)
• Yet another battling game is Chris Faulkenberry's Battle for Biternia from Stone Circle Games, which marries the familiar 8-bit look of old video games with the battle arenas present in modern video games. (KS link)
• Demons: The 9th Circle of Hell UNLEASHED from Aaron Antonich of Award Winning Games has not won any awards of which I am aware, and the description — a "card based, role playing, kingdom building, adventure game with dice" that has "Replay Value out the wazoo" — sounds overly optimistic, and the art isn't doing anything for me, but the game has cleared its low $5k bar, so I guess it will be coming to print in the future. How about that? (KS link)
• In the same spiritual realm as Demons, we have Sorcerer, a deck-building game that Peter Scholtz started designing in 2012 before eventually connecting with White Wizard Games, which is stepping out of its small box, Star Realms comfort zone to publish this larger game. The gist of the game is that you battle opponents to capture battlefields, but the hook is that before play you create your character RPG-style by combining three separate decks, which determine the spells you can cast, minions you can summon, and enchanted items you can use. (KS link)
We recorded an overview of Sorcerer at the 2017 GAMA Trade Show, but even before that we recorded a 16-minute overview with Scholtz and White Wizard's Rob Dougherty at SPIEL '16, a video that I have only just now found in our queue and published. (You wouldn't believe how much stuff I have in the hopper that's not published. Time is the enemy...)
• If you don't want to build decks, you can build dice with Kapow! from Bogucki, Hettrick, Van Ostrand, and L4 Studios, with this being a dice-building game along the lines of Rattlebones, except that you're a super-powered individual who wants to thrash another such person. (KS link)
• And if neither decks nor dice are your thing, you can build a bag instead in Chris Peach's Tabula Rasa from Kid Loves Tiger Games, an adventure game in which you customize your own bag of crystals to power actions or allow for specialized abilities as you attempt to reseal barriers to unstoppable evil. (KS link)
• Another adventure game is on its second KS go-round for a reprint, this being Folklore: The Affliction from Nick Blain, Will Donovan, and Greenbrier Games, which originally funded to the tune of $500k in 2015. (KS link)
• A game making a longer trip between printings is Medieval, a Richard H. Berg design from 2003 in which you attempt to control various parts of Europe that's been entirely retooled for its new edition from HGN Games. (KS link)
• At SPIEL '17 I received a quick rundown of Kai Herbertz's Albedo from his own Herbertz Entertainment UG, a sci-fi deck-builder that lets you flip cards around to use the side that works best for you in whatever situation you're currently confronting. (KS link)
• We'll close with something that isn't a game at all, but rather the raw materials of such: the Board Game Creative Kit from Polish publisher Games Factory. Should you feel like designing a game, yet don't want to get crafty or tear apart the games you own to scavenge them for parts, you can instead spring for this kit, then scavenge it. (KS link)
Editor's note: Please don't post links to other Kickstarter projects in the comments section. Write to me via the email address in the header, and I'll consider them for inclusion in a future crowdfunding round-up. Thanks! —WEM
W. Eric Martin
• The Toy Association, a non-profit association that represents manufacturers and distributors of toy and "youth entertainment" products, has announced its nominees for their "toy of the year" awards, and the nominees for the TOTY game of the year include Happy Salmon, Beasts of Balance, and ThinkFun's Roller Coaster Challenge (which isn't a game, but which is as excellent as most other ThinkFun solitaire puzzles). Four other titles are nominated as well, including Hearing Things, which is yet another Hasbro title based on viral video activity, specifically "The Whisper Challenge" on Jimmy Fallon's The Tonight Show.
Two other games show up in the "innovative toy of the year" category: Hasbro's DropMix and Competo's KLASK, which is distributed in the U.S. by Buffalo Games. Until January 5, 2018, you can vote for a nominee in these categories or any of the other categories, with the winners being revealed on Friday, February 16, 2018, the day before NY Toy Fair opens.
One interesting aspect of these awards is that in previous years The Toy Association had categories for "boy toy of the year" and "girl toy of the year", something I called out back in 2016:
I'm pleased to see that these categories no longer exist. We don't need to place fences around who can play with which toys (just as we shouldn't place such fences around which games are appropriate for which segments of the gaming audience), and kudos to The Toy Association for recognizing this.
• In mid-October 2017, Richard Gottlieb of Global Toy News profiled Thames & Kosmos, which began as an independent company in 2001 and which now serves as the English-language publisher of games from German company KOSMOS. An excerpt from the interview with T&K president Ted McGuire:
Kosmos invested in and became the majority owner of TK in 2013. Along with this transaction, TK got access to most of Kosmos's board game and magic kit catalog. We have closely aligned our product portfolio and strategy with Kosmos (of course, with variations for difference in the markets). Kosmos has extraordinarily successful board game and magic lines, so it naturally makes sense to offer those in the North American market as well.
Beyond that, board games and magic kits are another way for us to teach kids important skills — in fact, entirely different sets of skills than what we can teach through science kits. So, with board games we can teach kids about strategic thinking, math, logic, and social skills, and with magic kits, we can teach kids presentation skills and eye-hand coordination skills, for example. Every product Thames & Kosmos puts out into the market has an educational aim behind it. At our core, we teach people how to learn and to be curious.
• In mid-October 2017, Variety reported that Sony Pictures was in negotiations to adapt Catan into a film, with Gail Katz — who acquired the film rights in 2015 — serving as producer. From the article: "We're excited to be working with Sony to bring the iconic world of Catan to life," Katz said. "As huge fans of the game, we're struck by the endless possibilities of stories that it could inspire. It's not every day that you have the opportunity to work in a world beloved by millions of people, and expand its story for the screen."
W. Eric Martin
[I wrote a decent number of game previews prior to SPIEL '17 — twelve in October 2017 and ten in September — but I played far more games than that, and further previews were thwarted only due to a lack of time. So many things to do ahead of SPIEL! Not content to throw that experience away, I'll run a series of postviews over the next couple of weeks. Sure, some people acquired these games at SPIEL '17, but they'll still be new to most people, so let's have a look! —WEM]
What do obsessive types like to do with their wooden bits when playing a game? Stack them, arrange them, make sculptures of them, create dioramas with them, catapult them into empty glasses — all sorts of activities that distract them from the serious business of playing a game, which perhaps is what inspired designer Cédric Millet to decide to make a game out of such activities.
The resulting publication — Meeple Circus from French publisher Matagot — gives you a juicy hot pile of wooden bits that certain parties will want to obsess over and press their eyeballs against.
As for the game in the box — for there is indeed a game inside — you draft these wooden bits over three rounds and use them to perform "circus acts" to gain applause, a.k.a. points, at the end of each round. Which acts, you might ask? The acts visible at the top of the four decks of act cards, with each deck focusing on a particular type of scoring action, such as one or more acrobats doing something with a ball, or an acrobat interacting with an animal performer (either an elephant or a horse).
At the start of a round, players take turns drafting twice: once from a set of round-specific cards and once from six face-up tiles; the game includes 18 such tiles, and with six available each round, you (and the designer) know that all of the featured items will be available at some point during the game. The round-specific tiles give you a set of objects in the first round, a guest star who scores in a very particular way in the second round, and a performative act in the third round.
You can draft either item first, but you then must draft the other type of item second. You keep all the bits as the game progresses, giving you more and more things to do in your circus ring once it becomes time to perform.
Draft set-up in round one for three players
After drafting your bits, you put on the circus music — yes, really — whether online or through the Meeple Circus app, then build whatever seems best to you in the two minutes that follows, racing against everyone else since the first two players to finish can grab bonus applause.
Once everyone has finished or time has run out, you score points for being quick, for completing the depicted acts, for using your guest star properly, for performing feats in the third round (more details on that below), and for using your acrobats properly. Blue acrobats are beginners, so they need to stand on the ground to score, while yellow regular acrobats must be off the ground and red daredevils score based on how high off the ground they are.
You score after each of the three rounds, then whoever has accumulated the most applause wins.
Performances at the end of round two
I've played [Meeple Circus twice with three players on a demo copy from Matagot, and one group raved, while the other couldn't wait for the show to pack up and leave town.
The challenge with this design is that it's taking what's essentially a solitaire activity and atempting to transform it into a shared experience — yet much of the action remains solitaire. Yes, you're drafting from a shared pool of resources, but in general you can always take something that's going to score in some manner. If you miss out on the horse, you can take a plank; if someone takes the plank, you can use a ball. You might have items that you want to get, mostly for aesthetic reasons, but not getting them doesn't keep you from scoring.
Guest stars available in round two; cards are double-sided with two ways to score
Much of the fun of a building/stacking game like Junk Art, Jenga, or Make 'n' Break comes from watching others do stuff. You want to watch them fail because it means you have a better chance of winning — and when they do pull off some feat that you thought couldn't be done, you have the joy of watching that amazing thing happen in front of you, with you sharing in their joy despite it lowering your odds for victory. They did something cool — neat!
In Meeple Circus, all of the stacking takes place simultaneously, so you start the timer, put your head down, then see what others have done only after you're finished. Sure, sometimes you hear curses, complaints, and crashes during the building round, but if you take your eyes off your own work, you risk disaster yourself.
This tendency toward solitaire building makes the performative feats in round three mostly pointless. These feats might require you to circle the ring with your animals prior to adding them to an act, or do a drumroll on the table with one hand while adding certain pieces to your ring with the other. As you're doing these things, you realize that no one is paying attention to you, so you feel foolish. Why am I bothering? I'll just take the highest-valued feat tile because the details don't matter.
Updated Nov. 10 to add: I'm a dope. As Dustin pointed out in the comments below, the third round is not played simultaneously, but one player at a time, starting with whoever has the fewest points. You do get to put on a show for everyone else. I had read the rulebook at least three times and hadn't noticed that detail, so the paragraph above is based on my incorrect playings of the game. I'll need to give the game another go with the correct ending performance to see how that compares to my previous experience. —end update—
Some of the feats available for drafting in round three
As for the act cards on display, they aren't as interesting as they could be because they're mostly the same throughout the game. Whoever has the fewest points at the end of rounds one and two removes one act of their choice, replacing it with the next one in that same deck — but the acts in each deck mostly use the same components in a slightly different arrangement, and since only one of the four is changed, if you made something and scored in round one, you can likely make it again in rounds two and three to score again. Having new acts each round would force you to figure out new ways to put your bits together, keeping the later rounds from feeling like repetitions of the first.
Four different scoring cards
I get why the game includes this rule for changing act cards. You want to give the player in a last place some ability to affect what scores in order to give them a chance to catch up, but you can replace an act that allows you to score with a plank only with a different act that scores with a plank, so I'm not sure what's gained. (At the same time, you want to keep all of these types of goals available so that people don't feel like they've wasted a draft pick taking something that turns out to be worthless later.)
In the end, the secret to success with Meeple Circus seems like the secret to success for a real circus: Know your audience, and make sure you're delivering what they want. Some folks are happy to build stuff and marvel at what they've built; some are not.
W. Eric Martin
When I first looked around the games pavilion at the 2017 Lucca Comics & Games festival, I had flashbacks of the just finished SPIEL '17 event, the massive convention in Essen, Germany that had ended only three days before Lucca opened. Many of the new games from that earlier show were on the demo tables once again, but this time in Italian, such the Cranio Creations' title A Tale of Pirates (which I had meant to preview ahead of SPIEL '17, but didn't as I ran out of time — still embarrassed about that...):
Cranio Creations also had the Italian edition of Gaia Project on hand, even though Lucca seems more oriented toward a family audience and casual play than SPIEL, which is itself very family-oriented, albeit with a rich vein of geeks running through that mainstream crowd.
As with designer Eric M. Lang, who I had highlighted in my first report from Lucca, Photosynthesis designer Hjalmar Hach had traveled from SPIEL '17 to Italy, with the main difference between the two being that Hach is from Italy, so he had a home-turf advantage when it came to signing copies and talking with game fans.
Dungeon Digger from Tin Hat Games was a title that I had added to the SPIEL '17 Preview, then forgotten. I had thought the game was brand new at Lucca until I started looking into it. Perhaps I have reached the limit of what my brain can hold.
HABA had its standard child-friendly set-up, with more Rhino Hero: Super Battle ready for action.
While Placentia Games had sold out of Danilo Sabia's Wendake for its debut at SPIEL '17, more copies were in reserve to ensure that the game could debut at Lucca as well. Plenty of publishers operate this way, and it's understandable why they do. You want to make a splash at each show, creating fresh buzz for a game in each territory it's available, with a limited number of copies getting into the hands of buyers now in order to (ideally) drive retail sales down the line.
Along that line of thinking, copies of Ares Games' Hunt for the Ring were in short supply, while...
...the new Hamilcar game hadn't quite made it to the finish line in time for Lucca after showing up at SPIEL in multiple non-Italian languages.
While not new at SPIEL '17, Balance Duels is a SPIEL regular, with designer/publisher Bum van Willigen (in the yellow shirt) having appeared at that show year after year since he debuted the game at SPIEL in 2005. Apparently he makes the rounds to other European game shows as well.
Not everything proved to be an echo of shows past as numerous publishers featured titles that were new on the Italian market, new to me, or both. When I didn't recognize games, I snapped pics, figuring that I could investigate them later. Cranio Creations had an Italian version of Piotr Siłka's deduction game Kryptos, for example, with this game having been first released by Trefl in 2014. Into my camera you go! And now you're in the BGG database, too.
Tolomeo is a new release from designer Diego Allegrini and relatively new Italian publisher Dal Tenda. Here's a description of the game from the publisher:
In Tolomeo, players demonstrate their knowledge of astronomy to observe the sky and anticipate the planets' movement. Be careful because the speed of each planet differs in line with the Ptolemaic model, and you should consider the sun and moon as well. If you want a shot at victory, you have to spot astral conjunctions, make the best use of the comet, and take advantage of the planets' influence on each other.
Did you know that Shanna Germain's No Thank You, Evil! from Monte Cook Games is available in Italian? No? Me neither! Someone please investigate and add a version listing for this item to the database, please.
We already have Prestige and Dwarfest from Il Barone Games S.r.l. in the database, but not Stupido Umano. Another cry for action!
I was previously familiar with neither Italian publisher playagame edizioni nor Russian publisher Simple Rules, which is the originating publisher for all the kids' games being sold by playagame at Lucca 2017. This might not matter for you, but I aspire to know as much as I can about who's doing what where, partly out of self-interest but also out of curiosity to see what's happening in the industry at large.
War Titans: Invaders Must Die! from Crawling Chaos Games has been on Kickstarter twice without funding, but this title from a half-dozen Italian designers was being previewed at Lucca 2017 all the same, perhaps to gear up for Kickstarter attempt #3.
Misantropia is a design from Francesco Stefanacci and CosplaYou in which you try not to hate your fellow humans too much. From the description on BGG:
In this game, you are a modern worker with an average job, particularly unlucky. Gradually it will happen the most different things during the day (round of play) and your patience will decrease. When you finish the patience your hatred for humanity (misanthropy) will increase and you will begin to develop psychosis and phobias of all kinds. To win you must be totally sane after a fixed number of turns. This is quite difficult, so the player with less "insanity points" will win.
Apparently Misantropia Express challenges you not to hate your fellow humans too much in a shorter amount of time. All the Italian text made this a non-starter in terms of investigating further, alas.
Other new titles from CosplaYou in 2017 include Tié, a party game in which you set rules for everyone to follow, and Sushi War: All You Can Hit!, in which you try to get the right sushi ingredients in the right places to complete orders, using only chopsticks to maneuver the dice.
CosplaYou had plenty of other titles on display as well, all of them published since 2015 when they started and all of them new to me.
I thought that one more post about Lucca would be enough to cover everything, but with so many pics to publish, I'm splitting my final wrap-up into its own post and leaving you for now with a few more random pics of games available for purchase at the show.
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