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W. Eric Martin
• While at the 2017 GAMA Trade Show, I noticed a second new title for 2017 from Bézier Games (aside from the recently announced The Palace of Mad King Ludwig), but we had no slots in our broadcast schedule, so I took a pic and made a note to look into it later — only to find out that Bézier's Ted Aslpach had sent me a press release weeks ago. Ha ha, so much for my tidy inbox!
In any case, Scott Caputo's tile-laying game Whistle Stop is set to debut from Bézier at Gen Con 2017 in August. Here's a rundown of the setting and gameplay:
With the driving of the golden spike in 1869, the first transcontinental railroad was completed in the United States — but really it was only the beginning of a rapid expansion of railways that would crisscross the entire country.
In Whistle Stop, you make your way west across the country, using your fledgling railroad company to build routes, pick up valuable cargo, and deliver needed goods to growing towns, creating a network of whistle stops that you and your competitors can leverage as you continue to expand your networks. Along the way, you gain shares in other railroads and watch your reputation soar with each successful delivery before making a final push to complete long hauls to the boom towns of the West.
This design is a new twist on pick-up-and-deliver games. As players move their trains west and pick up goods, they can deliver those goods to small towns to gain shares in railroads, or hold on to them for a bigger payout when they reach the west coast. At the same time, they try to optimize their actions (and gain extra ones), lay down new track tiles, block the other players, gather and use valuable whistles for special moves and abilities, and carefully manage their coal resources.
• Another title that's been lurking in my inbox is Shop 'N Time from Daryl Andrews and Mercury Games, with this design featuring an app that allows for a The Price Is Right-style "guess the price of this stuff without going over" game that avoids any calculation. Here's an overview of the gameplay:
How about some nice aftershave from 1949? Or maybe you're looking for a fancy fly swatter from 2014? You just found a magical store that has all of these products and more! All it takes is a good eye and a fast hand, and these bargains can be yours!
Shop 'N Time is a real-time, app-assisted card game with simple rules. In the basic game mode, "Price Target", each player is given the same budget, then dealt a hand of seven cards. You pick one to purchase, pass the rest, possibly pick another, then pass, etc., and you keep going until you have at least three cards but think the price of those items is still within your budget. Once everyone passes, each player scans the items they've purchased to see who's come closest to spending the budget without going over.
Shop 'N Time includes four different games to play with two different playing modes: real-time and strategic.
• UK publisher Surprised Stare Games has announced a new release for the 2017 UK Games Expo, which opens June 2, with The Cousins' War from David J. Mortimer being a two-player game on a big topic that clocks in at thirty minutes. Klemenz Franz supplies the artwork.
The Wars of the Roses were fought between the Houses of York and Lancaster for over three decades during the 15th century in England. The houses were both branches of the royal family, therefore the Wars were originally known as "The Cousins' War". Each player represents one of the houses as they fight battles and gain influence to control England.
The Cousins' War is played over a maximum of five rounds, with each round representing between five and ten years of the conflict. Each round involves gaining influence across England and preparing for a climactic battle.
In each round, the players decide where the current battlefield will be, playing action cards to deploy troops to the battlefield, while also increasing or decreasing their influence in the regions, after which they fight. Players resolve the battle by engaging in bluff and counter-bluff, using three dice, until only one side has troops remaining on the field. Winning the battle helps to consolidate your house's influence on the board.
You win The Cousins' War either by dominating all the regions of England or by controlling the most regions at the end of the fifth round.
• White Wizard Games has something new in the works for its well-loved card game Star Realms. Star Realms: Scenarios is a pack of twenty scenario cards, with each card changing one or more rules — or introducing new rules — for that particular game. WWG has posted an overview of different ways you can put the scenario cards into play should you not want to opt for the simple option of shuffling the deck and revealing the top card. We talked with Star Realms co-designer Rob Dougherty about the scenarios pack at the 2017 GAMA Trade Show.
W. Eric Martin
Let's continue with more preview videos from the 2017 GAMA Trade Show. We have 32 videos in our GTS 2017 playlist on YouTube, and I haven't even finished publishing everything from day one. We sliced nine hours of video on day one into 52 videos, which seems a bit crazy, to be honest, especially since a number of the videos feature multiple games. We just jammed out as much as possible, which barely left us time for eating at the end of the day. Such is convention life.
One new title I'm happy to see announced is Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – The Monster Box of Monsters Expansion from USAopoly as my son and I have had a ball playing the Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle base game. We haven't lost yet through five games — and we've come close to losing only once — but we're playing with only two players, so the dark arts events don't hit us the same way they hit people in a four-player game, which seems like a developmental miss.
I can overlook that uneven player count scaling, though, as he's a Potter fan who's enjoying himself greatly and I get to do all my silly voices while playing. Maybe after we finish, we can go through the game again with three players to up the challenge — or we can jump into this instead the material another way.
• USAopoly showed both HP:HB–TMBOME and the Munchkin: Rick and Morty standalone game (and many other things) at NY Toy Fair in February 2017, but I couldn't take photos in their booth. Such are the restrictions that come from working with licensors to transform their stuff into games. At GTS 2017, Andrew Wolf from USAopoly could now talk about Munchkin: Rick and Morty — as well as a Munchkin: Deadpool expansion — while still not revealing any of the cards themselves.
• USAopoly also teased Donald X. Vaccarino's Nefarious: Becoming a Monster, an expansion for Nefarious that existed in prototype form when the Ascora Games version of Nefarious went to market in 2011, but which never previously saw print.
• Let's make a licensing sandwich with a creamy Nefarious middle by taking a look at Evil Dead 2: The Official Board Game from Space Goat Productions. Some people have looked at this release and the next one and wondered how this company they never heard of landed these licenses (as well as one for The Howling), and the secret is that this "new" company has existed for a decade, having been founded in 2006 as a "talent management agency and production studio" for the comic book industry.
• SGP collected more than $200,000 for The Terminator: The Official Board Game on Kickstarter in March 2017, and the ideas in the game sound like what you'd want to see in an adaption of The Terminator, but we won't see what the final result is until the game hits the U.S. market at the end of 2017.
In an attempt to bring BGG users coverage of the 2017 Kobe Game Market, which took place March 12 at the Kobe International Exhibition Hall, Saigo — who frequently translates game rules from Japanese to English and who tweets a lot about new JP games — has translated a report from JP board game journalist Nico, who runs Nicobodo. With Nico's permission, here is Saigo's translation of Nico's report from the 2017 Kobe Game Market. —WEM
Here is my brief report of my visit to the 2017 Kobe Game Market.
About the Venue
The venue for this event was the same as in 2016, the Kobe International Exhibition Hall, which is a few minutes' walk from the Shimin Hiroba (Convention Center) Station on the Port Liner.
Approximately 300 people were waiting in line by 8:00 in the morning — two hours before the fair's opening time — under the Port Liner railway viaduct.
Translation of the caption:"About 300 people wait in line at 8 o'clock for Game Market."
Inside the Venue: Board Game Shops
DDT had various rare games in stock, being a likely candidate for many visitors in line to visit their booth first.
Trick Play is the boardgame store located closest to the Game Market venue. At this Game Market, their stock of The Colonists and The Networks seemed to have gathered attention.
The manager of Gamestore Banesto poses.
Inside the Venue: Publisher Booths
Hobby Japan sold their latest games, along with expansions available only here at the show. Their game lottery also seemed well-received.
At the Oink Games booth, colored uniformly blue, they released their latest game: Startups.
At the booth of Group SNE, which is based in Kobe, some tabletop role-playing games were being promoted.
Inside the Venue: Used Game Booths
There were three booths mainly selling used games:
(Pricing note: To roughly convert from yen to U.S. dollars, take off the final two zeros, then subtract ten percent from the total, e.g., ¥2000 ~ US$18. —WEM)
The Nihon Board Game Taisho Award (Japan Boardgame Prize) was announced, with the people's choice being Codenames and the Yuumoa Award (U-more, or stores' choice) being Karuba.
Next to the Japan Boardgame Prize table was a kids' game section, where many families were playing games.
The board game "Kami no Kiseki" (Miracle) originated from the TV program "Derugeetsu" from the Hiroshima Home Television Co. The TV staff was filming the booth and table for a long time from the start. The details are expected to be aired.
The congestion peaked just before noon. The venue was just the right size, allowing one to view the entire venue.
A food court of about four stalls had many customers since there aren't many shops or restaurants nearby. Approximately fifty people lined up to wait before the kebab stall.
The gate at this section of the Exhibition Hall was left open so that people could move in and out of the hall, and the exhibitors at C booths near the gate looked cold. The exhibitor Puninokai told me to write on this blog that it was really cold, so let me emphasize that!
Lastly, let me report on the Joynt Game Factory booth. Taking advantage of their location at a corner, they used a large board to present a steampunk-ish decoding game. I was impressed by this idea, which constantly brought crowds around their booth.
What I Bought
Since my chances to play games have been declining, I bought more books than games. Still, I hope to play them soon.
So that's my brief report on the 2017 Kobe Game Market. I hope that the atmosphere of the show somewhat comes across though this.
This year, I visited board game shops and other places on the previous day. Having enjoyed board gaming for two days, it was a very satisfying trip.
Thanks to those of you I met during this trip to the Kansai region! I hope to make a visit next year again.
For more news and reviews on boardgames in Japan, you can visit the Nicobodo website.
W. Eric Martin
• Designer Corné van Moorsel of Cwali is hitting Kickstarter once again to fund his annual SPIEL release, this being Powerships, a new version of his (in my opinion) excellent racing game Powerboats that keeps the same dice-driven, press-your-luck system but moves the action into outer space. As with other recent Cwali titles, this game will be available solely through crowdfunding or at conventions. (KS link)
• A more traditional "build spaceships and launch them" design on KS right now is Farlight from Nick Sibicky and Game Salute. (KS link)
• You can also build in Castle Dukes from Dominic Michael H. and Medieval Lords as you buy room cards, pillars, tables, and so on, then use those to assemble a three-dimensional castle which will ideally (1) attract guests that start showing up during the game and (2) withstand assaults from a dragon who will also pop up to say hello. If you knock things over while building or otherwise suffer structural damage, you take crumble tokens that reduce your score at game's end. (KS link)
• If you'd prefer to build low instead, Julien Charbonnier's DIG from Mangrove Games is a press-your-luck card game in which you want to dig tunnels in a hill to collect ten gems before anyone else. (KS link)
• "Will you become a hero or an evil scum?" I suppose that you could ask yourself that question at any time, but in this case the question is prompted by Crossroads of Heroes, self-published by Pat Piper. In the game, you represent a virtuous character from one of the five most venerated sects of Chinese Wuxia, and you can train and fight in duels — but if you take too many actions of a questionable nature, you turn evil and must take the dark path to victory. (KS link)
• From the title of 878: Vikings – Invasions of England, you might be inspired to take on the role of said invading vikings, seeing as they get top billing, but in this design from Beau Beckett, Dave Kimmel, Jeph Stahl, and Academy Games — which uses mechanisms similar to those in Academy's "Birth of America" game series — you can also try your hand as the English nobles to, as the press copy goes, "defend your Kingdom and Christendom from the pagan hordes". Top billing doesn't always equal respect, mind you. Despite the focus on the English, versions of the game are available in English, French, German, and Spanish. (KS link)
• Nations co-designer Rustan Håkansson is taking you back a bit further in time with Tribes: Early Civilization from Tea Time Productions, with 2-4 players reliving the Paleolithic, Neolithic and Bronze ages for the safety of their dining room table. Even at the dawn of time, though, man knew all about the 4Xs of gameplay, which you'll find in this game. (KS link)
• We can then slingshot back to the present for Richard Gurley's self-published Urban Tribes, with players representing hipsters, soccer moms, and another modern faction that wants to win City Council seats so that it can build the city as it deems best for itself. (KS link)
• LudiCreations is releasing not one, but two new editions of Long Live the Queen, first released in 2014 by Japanese publisher Circle 3D6. In this game, two players compete to place their princess on the throne, either by collecting enough prestige of multiple types or by removing the competition — possibly even through assassination. LudiCreations is offering a version of the game with the original artwork for those who want that as well as a "dieselpunk" edition with new artwork because, as the LudiCreations owner told me at SPIEL 2016, "I like the way it looks." (KS link)
• Sebastian Koziner's Mutant Crops, first released in Argentina as Cultivos Mutantes by El Dragón Azul and OK Ediciones, is a worker-placement, resource-management design from Atheris Games in which all the foodstuff has bizarre powers that you'll try to use to make as much money as possible. (KS link)
• The cooperative deck-building game Aeon's End was a big hit for Indie Boards & Cards and Action Phase Games in 2016, and now those publishers and designer Kevin Riley are back on Kickstarter with Aeon's End: War Eternal, a standalone game that also serves as an expansion for the original release. (KS link)
• Grimslingers from Stephen Gibson and Greenbrier Games has the more traditional "just an expansion" expansion in Grimslingers: The Northern Territory, which somewhat nebulously "refines and redefines all aspects of the game, while adding more of what players love", according to the BGG description. (KS link)
• Nicolas Sato's Tiki from Ôz Editions is a quick-playing battle for pineapples — that's right, pineapples — on a 3x3 grid. I recorded an overview of the game while at FIJ 2017 in Cannes, France should you want to see it in action. (KS link)
• In Greg Scratchley and Luke Wilkinson's card game 5ive: King's Court from GameStax, you need to play a card that has a certain action on it in order to take that action and you want all five actions in your court in order to win, but other players' actions might keep that from happening. (KS link)
• Thomas Eliot's Murder Most Foul from Sixpence Games is described as an "infinitely replayable murder mystery dinner party game", which is a switch since those are usually one-and-done. (KS link)
• Somme: Life in the Saps is a two-player, quick-playing card game of World War I trench warfare from Aditya Gaggar and reCreatives. (Indiegogo link)
• Mission Selfie London from Jacky Declerck and JP Declerck is an odd duck of a game, with its goal being to help young players learn and use English better while playing a game about traveling around London and seeing things during the journey. (Ulule link)
• Omen Quest from newcomer Relephor is a trick-taking game of some sort, the description of which isn't entirely clear to me. I get something about managing coins and needing to burn havens to draw more cards or manipulate your hand, but it's a fuzzy cloud of rules that I'm unwilling to wade through. (KS link)
• Let's end with a project that I'm even fuzzier-headed about: Tasty Minstrel Games is on equity crowdfunding investment platform MicroVentures looking for investment in the company itself. Why? Well, I can understand why a company might want people to give it money, but I'm not sure what those giver receive in return. Here's the statement under the "Use of Proceeds and Product Roadmap" header:
TMG plans to use the proceeds from this raise for marketing to build up the brand of TMG, manufacturing, and new hires. TMG has a number of different games in its pipeline. There are three games currently in development, including the title Trading on the Tigris. There are 15 games currently in artwork production including Downfall, Exodus Fleet, Samara, Orléans: 5th Player, Okey Dokey, Eminent Domain: Oblivion, Harvest, Crusaders, Pioneer Days, and Homesteaders: New Beginnings, among others.
Okay, sure, but what's in it for me as an investor? TMG owner Michael Mindes is answering questions on the project page, but I'm ignorant of most things related to shares and company ownership, so I'll decline to summarize anything here other than to say I don't get it. (MicroVentures 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
• CNN has a short article on how the CIA uses board games to train staffers, based on a presentation at the 2017 South by Southwest festival, with quotes from both senior collection analyst David Clopper and intelligence educator (and freelance game designer) Volko Ruhnke. An excerpt:
In "Collection," Clopper's first CIA game, teams of analysts work together to solve international crises against a ticking clock. His second title, "Collection Deck," is a Pokémon-like card game in which where each card represents either an intelligence collection strategy or a hurdle like red tape or bureaucracy.
For instance, a player could lay out a card to collect intelligence via satellite photos, but an opponent could block them by playing a "ground station failure" card. It's meant to mimic situations analysts might run into in their actual work.
• In La Lettura, Michela Lazzaroni attempts to summarize and visualize board game data in a new way:
Each game is arranged from left to right by the score, and from bottom to top by year of production. The height of the pieces specifies the maximum number of players allowed, the black triangles identifies the games that can be played solo, whereas the color shows the game’s setting (Ancient History, Middle Ages, Modern History, Industrial Revolution, Contemporary Period, Sci-fi, Fantasy, Abstract).
• Designer Gil Hova of Formal Ferret Games writes about "gamer fatigue" and how it might impact the long-term health of the game industry. An excerpt:
When people first enter the hobby, they buy games aggressively. If they like something, they'll purchase it right away.
This "honeymoon" period lasts for about 1-3 years. But at some point, a gamer realizes that they can't sustain that pace. They run out of space to store their collection. They realize, via a life event or other need for frugality, that they can't spend so much money on games. They realize that half their collection is still unplayed. Many times, they even start to find new games bland. They pine for a time when games were "better," which tends to align with the exact moment they entered the hobby...
[In] terms of pure buying power, it's the people new to the hobby who are driving the industry's growth. As long as we have more people entering this "honeymoon" period than leaving it, we will see industry revenue grow.
If, for some reason, the flow of new gamers slows, we'll see it in the bottom line. We'll see convention attendance level out and revenue flatten out. It could be for a number of reasons, like the global economy suddenly tanking. Or the hobby hitting a point where board games get so mainstream that the only people discovering it are teenagers who are getting their first disposable income. Or the number of new games per year growing so huge that discovery becomes impossible for all but the biggest game companies and brands.
I get what Gil is saying here, but I'm not sure the numbers would work out that way because it depends on the size of the gamer base that already exists. If that base is large enough, then even if those people buy only a few games annually, collectively that translates into a huge number of games sold. Heck, that's probably what already happens given that most people buy only a couple of games each year, yet mainstream companies stay in business and sell tens or hundreds of thousands of games.
And I don't think that "discovery becomes impossible for all but the biggest game companies and brands" rings true either given the number of folks who search the spaces away from the spotlight for the many, many creations that would never make it to market from the biggest game companies. Heck, almost the entirety of the hobby game industry qualifies as being not by produced by "the biggest game companies and brands"!
• Matt at Creaking Shelves attempts to answer the question "Can games be bad?" by first detailing various qualities that make a game good, then finding quantifiable measures that go against these qualities. An excerpt:
To my mind the most important factor is the presence of Quality Decisions, which as noted above draws in a lot of other factors. How do you spot a Quality Decision? I would describe it as one where you sit and think about it, are unsure of the correct choice, and are tempted by multiple (2+) options. These decisions should matter and have some affect on the outcome of the game. Note you don’t have to be thinking about it on your turn, and the best games let you do your thinking during the time between turns.
If a game offered you zero decisions then it would be a bad game. Hell, it would be a film or a book, not a game. But how many decisions are enough? How many decisions are too much? That will depend on the player, and on what sort of game you are playing. In an hour long game, you would want more than one quality decision. That suggests the idea of a “quality decision density”: the number of quality decisions per unit time.
So a bad game would be one where the quality decision density is “too low”. That’s still a little vague, so I would say a game needs at least 1 quality decision per player turn, on average. That ensures you always have something to think about. I’ll allow some flexibility here but it’s a solid starting point. In addition to this, those decisions should vary over the course of the game (if the game is long enough for this to matter).
• On Polygon, Adam Saltsman gives a nice overview of games that have succeeded with his four- and six-year-old children, highlighting one of the key differences to keep in mind when choosing games for this type of audience:
The three- and four-year-old players, in our experience, can play tactically but cannot play strategically. What I mean by this is, there is a difference between taking your turn correctly and planning out a series of turns to accomplish a goal. We’re finding our four year-old can engage in a surprisingly complex single turn, but just doesn’t plan over multiple turns. Which is totally fine! But it means that games where opportunistic local play can keep up with long-term strategic play have a broader age range where we can all really play together.
River Dragons, Machi Koro, and Tokaido all get nice shout-outs, and I learned of a new game myself in Latice!
W. Eric Martin
Time for another round-up of upcoming games that were on display in the BoardGameGeek booth at the 2017 GAMA Trade Show, starting with an overview of Codenames Duet, a cooperative version of Vlaada Chvátil's massive party game hit from 2015. Now two players — or more should you want to play in teams — work together to try to identify all their spies in the field. You think these guys would keep better notes by this point!
I played Codenames Duet once at PAX East 2017 with CGE's Joshua Githens, and the game presents an interesting challenge, especially since three of the spies are shared among the pair of you. This makes it impossible for you to guess only those words that don't show on your side of the card, yet you don't know which three are shared, so you're then considering everything on the board when given a clue — which is as it should be. (One word of advice: Just try to remember when you do identify a spy that's also part of your "half" of the team since that will help you narrow down choices in the future.)
During play, you're both staring at the board and either of you can yell out a clue and a number, but since each of you has spies unique to your side, you can't only throw or receive; you need to do both. Sometimes, though, you're happy for the other player to give a clue as the answers might eliminate something troublesome with a clue that you wanted to give — which mimics the nature of the original Codenames.
As Josh mentions in the video, CGE is still working on the timing mechanism at this stage of their development. We played with a stack of green "found spy" tiles, along with a row of individual spy tiles. When you gave a clue, you'd pick up the stack, cover any spies guessed correctly, then place the rest of the stack on the first individual tile of the row (thus increasing the size of the stack by one). If you need to place the stack back down but no individual spies remain, then you've run out of time and you lose; if you ever place the final tile in the stack and have nothing to put back down, then you win immediately (as the gamemakers presume that you're smart enough to guess any remaining spies on a 1-1 basis at worst).
• At GTS 2017, CMON Limited announced that it had brought on designer Eric M. Lang full-time as Director of Game Design as of April 1, 2017, and we spoke with him at the show about his responsibilities for the publisher and what this entails for future designs from him. Rising Sun was on the table, so we talked about that a bit as well.
• Lang then stuck around in the BGG booth to preview The Godfather: Corleone's Empire, which will be released in July 2017, presumably to avoid the money crunch that gamers will experience at Gen Con 2017. We actually recorded an overview of this game at GTS 2016, but now the design and components are final, so you can see the game as it will hit the market.
• And there was still more from CMON Limited as Lang and Jared Miller stuck around to present an overview of plans for Michael Shinall's A Song of Ice & Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game, part of which will launch on Kickstarter in Q3 2017 and much of which will unwind in monthly batches once the initial starter set hits the market in 2018.
Hello, BoardGameGeek! I've already written a "first look" article on Ascension: Gift of the Elements (which debuted on March 20, 2017) on the Ascension website, but I wanted to do a deeper dive into the mechanisms and thinking behind the design.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ascension, it is one of the first deck-building games, released in 2010. As a former professional Magic player, I have always had a natural affinity for the strategy in collectible card games. My favorite way to play CCGs is draft, and in a draft, players must select from a limited number of cards, then pass the remaining cards around the table for others to select from.
My initial vision for Ascension was to put the best parts of collectible card game drafts into a single boxed experience that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg. I approached this goal by creating a moving "center row" in which six cards are available for purchase, and new cards are revealed each time a card is acquired or removed. Unlike more static deck-building games (e.g., Dominion), this creates nearly limitless permutations and makes every game different. This forces players to evaluate cards against each other based on what you've already selected, what other players might select, and the time remaining in the game.
The initial game was a hit, and seven years later Stone Blade Entertainment has now released over ten expansions, free apps on Android and iOS, and a virtual reality game available on Steam and the Occulus Store.
Gift of the Elements is the first expansion to revisit our most popular mechanism: events. Events are cards that change the game rules for all players as soon as they are revealed in the center row. Only one event can be active at a time, so when a new event shows up, the old one is removed and play can change dramatically in an instant. There are, however, always challenges when revisiting an old mechanism...
Challenge #1: Complexity and Design Space
When revisiting old mechanisms, the most obvious design space has usually been claimed. Our team spent nearly a year working on the designs for Storm of Soulsand Darkness Unleashed (now featured in our Year 2 Collector’s Edition), and we spent most of that time finding the most impactful designs without unnecessary complexity.
The first thing I did to reduce complexity was to remove the "Fanatic" references from events. In Storm of Souls and Darkness Unleashed, the Fanatic was an "always available" card whose power changed based on the current event. This idea was great in theory, but in practice I believe too complex for the value it generated.
The complexity-to-game-depth tradeoff is the fundamental axis that most designers deal with. Everyone wants a game that is "easy to learn, difficult to master". Unfortunately, those two goals are generally opposed to each other. Every additional mechanism added to a game makes it harder to learn, but (hopefully) adds strategic depth and fun. Finding good tradeoffs is the key skill of good design.
Adding a new "always available" card is a high cognitive burden for players. While I still enjoy playing with the Fanatic, looking back, I don't believe the complexity cost was worth the amount of fun the mechanism provided.
Once I removed the Fanatic from events, I had room to add more complexity to new events. Unlike the original events, events in Gift of the Elements can influence costs in the center row. This can be tricky for players to remember, but the discount makes the events more meaningful and can create some pretty epic turns, allowing players to get high cost cards much earlier in the game.
Challenge #2: Same, But Different
The second challenge with reintroducing a beloved mechanism is to balance the familiar with the new. This challenge is part of any expansion design. You need to keep the game similar enough to what players liked about the original game, but different enough to justify a new purchase. (I talked about this issue in my 2015 article on Gamasutra if you want to dig deeper.)
With the reintroduction of events, I decided to solve this problem by combining it with another beloved mechanism: transform.
By paying the transform cost on an event — 8 runes for the card shown above — you can transform it into a powerful hero for your deck. As a designer, I liked this approach for two reasons:
1. I could be more aggressive with the power level of events that transform into heroes because the previously designed cards that let you acquire cards for free from the center row don't work on events (since events are removed from the center row once they are revealed). Players have to actually earn enough runes to pay for the card, making it harder for the powerful effects to show up early and let someone run away with a game.
2. Players can now interact with an event in a new way. Before, if you didn't like an event, the only hope you had to remove it was to reveal more cards from the center row and pray for a new event to show up. Now, you have the option to transform the event and turn a card that used to work against you into a powerful hero for your deck!
The mechanical advantages are significant, but I also really enjoyed the story behind the events. In Gift of the Elements, the events are represented as mythic, almost god-like figures that influence the whole realm. Being able to recruit those creatures and make them mortal heroes in your deck felt really cool and got a great response in playtesting.
Much More to Explore!
Gift of the Elements isn't just about bringing back favorite old mechanisms. It also introduces two new keywords:
-----• Infest: "You add dead cards (Monsters) to your opponent's discard pile."
-----• Empower: "You can remove (banish) a card you have already put into play."
You can probably imagine why these two mechanisms were paired together in this set. Infest represents a pretty big departure for an Ascension expansion.
I was often frustrated by the "kingmaker problem", games in which a player who can't win gets to decide which other player wins the game based on who they choose to attack or aid. I prefer that a game is won based upon the skill of the players combined with some uncertainty from random chance. Part of the design goal for Ascension was to remove as much direct player attacking (and the opportunity for kingmaking) as possible. It's impossible to entirely remove this problem from a multi-player game, but I did my best to minimize it. Since Infest allows you to choose which player receives a dead card, it introduces a bit of direct player attack into the game.
Direct attacking has its advantages, however. For one, it helps address the runaway leader problem. Deck-building games are inherently susceptible to this concern. As you acquire better cards, the odds of acquiring even better cards increases, increasing the gap between a single player and the competition. Now if one player is far ahead, Infest gives others a chance to catch up by throwing a few dead cards at the leader. Moreover, some players really enjoy the ability to knock down their friend in a more direct way. As this is our eleventh expansion, I felt it was time to throw those players a bone (beyond our "Samael Claus" holiday promo).
That being said, my design instincts couldn't let Infest show up without some tools to combat it. Empower is a great way to get rid of Infest cards, along with the weaker starting cards that clog up your deck late in the game.
Getting rid of cards in your deck — which we call "banishing" in Ascension — is a critical and challenging part of deck-building games. If you can't get rid of weaker cards, then your deck stays diluted and you limit the opportunities to draw powerful cards acquired late in the game.
However, too much banishing can make decks too efficient, creating very long and complicated turns that make other players want to leave the table. Empower is a fantastic tool because unlike other banish cards, you can use it only a single time. This means that most players will be able to banish a few cards from their deck, rather than run away with the game through massive early banishing.
Empower also has other design implications. Since an Empower card usually replaces a weak (or dead) card, the barrier to acquiring them is very low. The Ascension center row mechanism requires that most cards we create are desirable. If no one wants to buy anything in the center row, the board becomes static and the game won't progress. Empower cards allow us to create cards with weaker effects that are still desirable to purchase because they are an automatic "upgrade" of the cards in your deck.
To that end, the original playtest name for Empower was "Upgrade" and it initially required you to banish a card when you bought it to solidify this theme of one card upgrading into another. We shifted the mechanism after playtesting proved that players didn't like the mandatory banish. We also made the decision to change the name from Upgrade to Empower since it was no longer a direct upgrade of a card.
I hope you enjoyed these insights into Ascension: Gift of the Elements!
W. Eric Martin
BoardGameGeek was at the 2017 GAMA Trade Show for two days in mid-March 2017, and we streamed game demos over both YouTube and Twitch for nine hours one day and eight hours the next. Since you possibly don't want to sit through more than seventeen hours of video to find the overviews that interest you, I've started posting the individual game demos on YouTube (in this GTS 2017 playlist) and on the individual game pages here on BGG.
Most of the videos highlight games due for release later in 2017, and while some don't contain much more than a teaser, as with this short clip on Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game—
—many of the videos show off the finished look of a game, as with this pre-production proof of Wasteland Express Delivery Service from Pandasaurus Games—
—while others sometimes show the entire game being played, as with this nine-minute video of Pyramid Poker from R&R Games.
Some folks had mentioned that the Dice Forge overview that I shot at FIJ 2017 in Cannes was unclear or didn't give them enough information about the game, so here's another take from GAMA.
As might be expected, many games currently on Kickstarter or scheduled to be funded via Kickstarter showed up at GAMA, as with Pandasaurus' Dinosaur Island. They do have a pandasuarus promo as part of the KS campaign, right? Right?!
We tried a new microphone set-up at GAMA. Instead of having wireless mics that attached to the collars of host and guest — a mic that needed to be placed onto, then removed from each guest — we instead had wireless microphones on tripods that projected over the demo table, yet out of view of the cameras. I feel the guests sound great, while I sound like I'm speaking from inside a large vase, but maybe that's just me hearing my voice outside my head.
W. Eric Martin
While in the BGG booth at the 2017 GAMA Trade Show, Bryan Merlonghi from IDW Games sprang a huge number of upcoming releases on us. You can watch a runthrough of those games around hour eight of our nine-hour broadcast from day 1 of GAMA, or you can wait until we parse that video into individual game and publisher segments, or you can check out the minimal details presented below.
The splashiest announcement from IDW Games came with perhaps the fewest details, this being a trio of games — Centipede, Asteroids, and Missile Command — based on beloved Atari video games. All three of the games are credited to the design trio of Jonathan Gilmour, Nicole Kline, and Anthony Amato, and all carry the same stats — 2-4 players aged 12+ with a 30-45 minute playing time — but beyond that we have only the claim of them being "fun, intense and fast-paced".
Game display at the 2017 GAMA Trade Show
• In addition to the trio above, Merlonghi gave an overview of Stephen Sauer's pun-filled Purrrlock Holmes: Furriarty's Trail, a June 2017 release that features this relatively comprehensive description:
Furriarty is terrorizing London, and it's up to Purrrlock Holmes to stop him before he completes his plans and escapes! However, Purrrlock cannot do it alone and you, as a newly inducted Inspector at Scotland Pound, must help bust members of Furriarty's gang in order to help Purrrlock get closer to the bewhiskered baddie that's been bullying all of Baker Street.
In more detail, each player in Purrrlock Holmes: Furriarty's Trail draws a hidden suspect card. Players take turns making guesses using a "clock" mechanism about their unknown suspect’s identity. The other players (who can see every suspect but their own) will tell you whether you've got a lead on your suspect; if not, it's a dead-end. Figure out enough leads to deduce the suspect's identity, and you get to snag a clue that leads to Furriarty. Each clue is labeled with a variable number of victory points. Every round, Furriarty pads his way closer to escape, putting tension on the players to guess — quickly! — to solve the case. If you can deduce enough suspects and collect enough paw print tokens, you may be able to overtake Furriarty before he scrams.
Get ready, Inspector, as the game is officially afoot — or a-paw, if you will...
• Another title previewed was Jon Cohn's arena-battle game King of the Creepies, which was originally announced as a Keyhole Games production and which will now be a co-publication between IDW and Cohn's Keyhole Games. This title is also due out in June 2017, and it plays as follows:
In King of the Creepies, up to six players try to build their ultimate teams by collecting creepie cards and outfitting them with gear and special abilities to fight in fast-paced battles. Players bet their hard-earned monies in the hope of buying the perfect cards to crush their enemies, but goblins are always hiding just out of sight to cause all sorts of mischief! Bet, bribe, and battle your way through the marketplace and the arena to become the King of the Creepies!
Each round of the game is played in three phases. In the market phase, players buy and sell cards to try to assemble a team of well-equipped creepies. In the match phase, players reveal their chosen combatants, then bet their monies on the outcome; after bets have been placed, a mischief card is drawn, which affects the battle in an unpredictable way. The battle phase is where the majority of the game takes place. Players battle each other using one of thirty unique creepies, using gear, items, and special abilities to help their cause. The winner earns a victory crystal, and whoever collects five crystals first wins!
The game includes a variant ruleset for "poker mode". In this version of the game, players draw an entirely new hand each round and go through a series of rounds of betting before battle, with the combat winner gaining the pot. Players then draw a whole new hand and try again until one player has all the monies!
• Other titles coming from IDW Games include Random Encounter: Seas of the Sea Chicken, a co-publication with Jamie Keddie of Joyride Games; Matt Loomis and Isaac Shalev's tile-laying game Seikatsu, of which we had filmed an overview at Origins in 2016 before the game had been announced; a cooperative Planet of the Apes game for 1-4 players from Richard Launius; and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Showdown from Daryl Andrews and Adrian Adamescu. Merlonghi might have slipped in a few more titles as well, but I think that's enough for now.
Game display at the 2017 GAMA Trade Show
What are you doing!? I don't even know you!
What does Alfons X. of Castile, Galicia, and León (1221-1284) have to do with gaming? Well, he commissioned the "Book of Games" (Libro de los juegos), which contained game rules, chess problems, and other things and which is considered one of the most important medieval books on the subject of games. Some 730 years later, Laura and Ezequiel Wittner decided to create a game award and called it Premio Alfonso X. In 2017, it will be awarded for the second time. The submission deadline was on January 10, 2017, and the jury has started its work.
What's special about this prize, you may ask? Aren't there game awards in countless countries? Every once in a while we hear that one famous game or another is now also game of the year in Finland, Portugal, or San Marino. These awards usually aim at recommending the best games to gamers who aren't spending all their free time on BGG anyway. It is rare that a game wins a national award which the community hasn't heard about before.
But when I tell you the titles competing for the Premio Alfonso X in 2017, I will assume that hardly any of you has heard of even a single one of these games. Here we go:
• Ciudadano Ilustre
• Código Enigma
• Conejos en el Huerto
• Cultivos Mutantes
• La Macarena
There is a simple reason for this: The Premio Alfonso X will be awarded only to Argentinian designers (or those who have lived in Argentina for at least two years). The point is therefore not to introduce the best of the international gaming scene to an Argentinian audience, but to promote local design and publication efforts so that Argentinian games can compete with those from the outside world. Before now, domestic games often went entirely unnoticed, partly because the production quality and artwork were decidedly mediocre. One geek wrote that if I saw the component quality of the Argentinian edition of Catan, I would cry. For those who want to have a look themselves, here is an unboxing video. You can admire the sturdy box at about 7:45 and later the precision of the tile cutting. This needs to improve, so there is a special award for overall production value as well.
Lastly, games are admitted only if they state the names of the designers and artists — which is somewhat reminiscent of the situation in Germany thirty years ago (but the Spiel des Jahres jury didn't mention the designers in the first years, either).
So if there is a prize aimed at promoting domestic games, it doesn't seem like some nationalistic nonsense, but like an honest effort to make gaming more popular in Argentina. If I weren't from Germany, a country with a strong gaming scene, I might be grateful for something like that over here.
You might get an idea of the size of the Argentinian gaming scene when you hear that the nine titles competing for this year's prize aren't the finalists or anything, but the entire field of contestants. (Well, apart from four submissions in a separate category — games with a circulation of fewer than fifty copies — which are essentially prototypes.) In other words, that list more or less comprises what was published in Argentina by local designers in 2016. I assume many of you have purchased more than nine games in 2017 already...
There's probably still a long way to go until the vision of one Argentinian publisher comes true and gaming becomes as popular as football, but you have to start somewhere. All of these contestants have their own BGG entries, so let me give you a quick introduction:
Chernobyl is a cooperative game in which you try to rescue survivors from the destroyed reactor. To win the game, you have to bring them to the helipad. There is a competitive mode as well. Chernobyl was designed by Gonzalo Emanuel Aguetti and published by Yamat.
Ciudadano Ilustre ("Famous Citizen") was crowdfunded, easily breaking its modest target of $737. It's a trivia game with geography questions mostly about Argentina, but apparently also about some other places. The designers are Vera Mignaqui and Eugenia Pérez, with the latter doing the artwork, too.
Código Enigma ("Enigma Code") is set in WWII and of course it's about deciphering German codes. To do that, the players collect card sets and try to prevent others from doing the same. Apparently the Germans are also interfering at times. Designers are Joel Pellegrino Hotham and Silvina Fontenla, who also did the artwork. It was published by JuegosdeMesa.com.ar.
In Conejos en el Huerto ("Rabbits in the Orchard"), the players move their two rabbits through the variably set-up garden and try to collect valuable vegetables. Their position determines which type of vegetable they can reach. A watchdog is doing its best to stop them. This game was designed by Luis Fernando Marcantoni, with artwork by Celeste Barone. It was published by Ruibal Hermanos S.A.
Mutant Crops ("Cultivos Mutantes") is a short worker placement game by Sebastian Koziner that's illustrated by Rocio Ogñenovich. You use your actions to plant and harvest mutant crops and collect points. It was published as a cooperation between El Dragón Azul and OK Ediciones. An English version has been announced by Atheris Games.
Dinosaurus is a microgame with just 36 cards. Dinosaurs from different eras run around on a fantasy island and fight for food. Their favorite snacks are plants, mammals, and each other. It was designed and illustrated by Amelia Pereyra and Matías Esandi and published by Rewe Juegos.
La Macarena is a witch or magician looking for a new apprentice. The players collect cards with four elements, and whoever has the most of one kind can eventually exchange them for amulets with which they can gain La Macarena's favor. The game was designed and published by five people under the group name Maldón, with illustrations by Alberto Montt. Two of the designers were at the Spielwarenmesse 2017 toy fair in Nürnberg, Germany, so this is the only candidate game that I have played myself.
With Venecitas, Joel Pellegrino Hotham has a second game in the race (and he did the illustrations together with Silvina Fontenla as well). I couldn't really figure out what exactly Venecitas means, but the goal is to collect colors. You roll a color die, may turn it by one edge, and then everyone gets the color facing them, while the active player also gets the color on top. Certain color combos can be exchanged against victory points. Venecitas was also published by JuegosdeMesa.com.ar.
ZUC! is a party game designed and self-published by Agustin Carpaneto in which you try not to draw a bomb card (because if you do, you lose). When it's your turn, you can play cards to shield you from an explosion, force others to draw additional cards, or avoid drawing any yourself. Illustrations are by Mariana Ponte.
Those who would like to know more about the small print run category can check out the respective BGG entries for Arte de Batalla, Cerrojo, Kallat and Star Warships.
Who Will Win?
There are several votes taken into consideration to determine the winners. A jury of eight people has the biggest weight in the decision, and it includes a few well-known BGG users like lolcese, Mos Blues, and Pastor_Mora as well as last year's winner Bruss Brussco (whose "take that" game KINMO has become a family favorite in our house). Thirteen Argentinian gaming clubs also cast their votes (ensuring that the games get played by many people in the first place), and there will be some kind of public Facebook vote as well.
The award ceremony will take place at the Geek Out Festival in Buenos Aires on May 6, 2017, where more than 1,500 people are expected.
If you read Spanish, you can learn a lot about the Argentinian gaming scene on the Geek Out website. I find this initiative very impressive and commendable.
Note: If you have anything to share about new games from Latin America, please contact me. I will try to write about these games once in a while.
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