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Game Previews from GAMA Trade Show 2017 II: Codenames Duet, The Godfather: Corleone's Empire, and A Song of Ice & Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game

W. Eric Martin
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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.

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Fri Mar 24, 2017 6:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Ascension: Gift of the Elements, or Transforming Old Into New

Justin Gary
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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!

Justin Gary

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Fri Mar 24, 2017 1:00 pm
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Game Previews from GAMA Trade Show 2017 I: Dice Forge, Pyramid Poker, Dinosaur Island, Wasteland Express Delivery Service, and Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game

W. Eric Martin
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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.
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Thu Mar 23, 2017 6:05 pm
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Blast Centipedes, Chase Cats, Fight Creeps, and Rebel Against Damned Dirty Apes

W. Eric Martin
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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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
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
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Thu Mar 23, 2017 1:00 pm
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Argentina's Premio Alfonso X, or How to Turn a Country into a Gaming Nation

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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:

Chernobyl
Ciudadano Ilustre
Código Enigma
Conejos en el Huerto
Cultivos Mutantes
Dinosaurus
La Macarena
Venecitas
ZUC!

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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Wed Mar 22, 2017 1:00 pm
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Flight Slack as Scott Pilgrim, Flip Ships to Defend the Earth, and Fend Off the Fox in the Forest

W. Eric Martin
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Renegade Game Studios announced a trio of new titles ahead of the 2017 GAMA Trade Show, with the most media-friendly one being Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Card Game, a deck-building game from Gloom designer Keith Baker based on the graphic novel series from Bryan Lee O'Malley, which has also been transformed into a film, video game, and animated series. Here's an overview of the game, due out Q3 2017:

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Being a grown-up is HARD and maybe not worth it? You might rather spend time tweaking your band's set list until it's guaranteed to get you that big gig opening for legit rockstars. Perhaps you're better off dating someone a bit younger than chasing a fairytale romance with the age-appropriate girl (or boy) you met at a party. Maybe the drama constantly engulfing your pals feeds you, even if it is bringing your friends down. And don't adults just sit at desks all day worrying about how bread makes you fat? Do adults ever even get attacked by random robot ruffians determined to pick a fight? Huh. Maybe there is something to getting it together…

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Card Game is a deck-building game that challenges you to grow up and prepare for your finest hour. Players assume the roles of their favorite characters in the Scott Pilgrim universe, each of whom comes with a unique starting deck.

Innovative double-sided cards let you decide whether to solve your problems with hard work and empathy, or whether to embrace the unpredictable world of gratuitous video game violence. Players will face hard choices about whether to fight or upgrade their life with each card placed into the plot line. Defeating the Evil Ex and collecting Power-Ups will help players inch their way towards victory.

• The most eye-catching title among the trio is Flip Ships, with groovalicious artwork by Kwanchai Moriya in full-on Ace Science Fiction Special mode. Flip Ships comes from frequent Renegade design partner Kane Klenko (Covert, FUSE, and the upcoming Flatline), and here's a hint of what you'll find in this cooperative dexterity game:

Quote:
"It was an ambush. That’s the only way to describe it. The mother ship appeared out of nowhere, creating a massive shadow over the city. Within seconds, wave after wave of fighters poured out of it, filling the sky."

"We're launching the ships we have ready, but they aren't much. Our pilots must fight bravely to defend the planet while we ready the rest of the fleet. Explosions fill the sky, and we've taken some hits, but we won't give up. Will you?"

In Flip Ships, players take on the roles of brave pilots defending their planet from an onslaught of firepower. Flip your ships to take out the encroaching enemies and to take down the powerful mother ship before it's too late.

I think we need more details to get a sense of what's really going on, but the demo box at GAMA was empty! Renegade was focusing on the newly released Castles of Caladale and Clank! Sunken Treasures at GAMA, so maybe we'll see more at Origins.

• Rounding out the trio of announcements is The Fox in the Forest from designer Joshua Buergel, with co-publication credit for frequent Renegade partner Foxtrot Games (World's Fair 1893, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival). Two-player trick-taking games aren't common, so it will be interesting to see how this game holds together:

Quote:
Aside from the normal ranked- and suited-cards used to win tricks, in The Fox in the Forest fairy characters such as the Fox and the Witch have special abilities that let you change the trump suit, lead even after you lose a trick, and more.

You score points by winning more tricks than your opponent, but don't get greedy! Win too many tricks, and you will fall like the villain in so many fairy tales...
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Tue Mar 21, 2017 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Madness at Midnight, or How To Be An Evil Cultist

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The pitch for Madness At Midnight is quite simple: What if you're not trying to stop ancient Lovecraftian horrors from entering our world, but rather actively working to make that happen? So instead of being heroic investigators, each player controls a gang of cultists trying to summon their specific ancient evil.

The First Prototype

From the beginning of when I started working on the game in 2013, the basic design questions were: What would cultists do? What would their goals be? How can they achieve them? What will they need? And so on. By asking those questions, I found out that they of course should be able to learn powerful spells at Miskatonic U. and that controlling powerful locations in Arkham should be one of the paths to victory.

Another inspiration was how to tackle the basic concepts of the Lovecraftian mythology. For instance, sanity (or the lack thereof) is a huge part of the Cthulhu mythos, but since you're essentially playing the bad guys, going insane couldn't just be a way for your cultists to die. Instead one of the key concepts of the game is that the madder your cult gets — that is, the more sanity you lose in order to cast spells and do sinister deeds — the harder it is to control. To put it in game terms, you take actions by spending dice that can be rerolled by gaining madness, so more madness results in fewer rerolls, which means you can't do exactly what you want but have to improvise a bit.



The first prototype used for solo testing, with minis scrounged from Chaos in the Old World


A surprising amount of the initial nuts and bolts of the game is still present in the published version. You control cultists fighting for dominance in Arkham; you can learn spells, grab items, rob graves, and fight the pesky investigators. And, yes, some of this may seem familiar if you have played other Lovecraftian games. I am a huge fan of Arkham Horror, and while I wanted something that felt very different, I wanted it to retain some of the same vibe, only turned upside down.

I approached Sean Brown of Mr. B Games, and he liked the design but felt it maybe needed that last bit of oomph and asked me whether I'd be okay having a second designer take a look at it. Now, relinquishing control over a creative project is always somewhat daunting, but as a designer you must know that this is simply part of the business. However, when he mentioned he knew Richard Launius and would try to persuade him to develop the game, I was all in — and not just all in, but a bit starstruck, really.



The final prototype I made for the Danish convention Fastaval before Richard Launius started working on the game


Co-designing

So Mr. Launius got the game in late 2015 and started working on changes. He had A LOT of ideas, and for a moment I feared the game would change dramatically. In the end, though, he came back with something that greatly resembled the original game, but had more story elements and more variety and which was simply better. I playtested the new version, and from then on out we spent a lot of time emailing back and forth to adjust things — or rather it was usually me emailing about stuff, then him replying quickly with a ton of ideas to fix or adjust things based on his years of experience with both game design and the Cthulhu mythos.

A perfect example of a small, but important change he made was in the number of minions you have. I originally decided on seven cultists for each faction because that seemed like a good number, and it worked well enough. Richard upped this number to 13 and introduced a cult leader, which really changed the pace and feel of the game and simply added more fun. He also introduced special abilities for the minions of the different cults, along with the double-sided board locations that will ensure the game doesn't grow stale even after repeated plays.



What the game looked like after Launius did his magic, but before the final layout


Work, Work, Work

The game was Kickstarted in May 2016, and from then on Sean and I worked hard on finalizing the game, which was a ton of fun but also a ton of hard work. The amount of stuff that needs to be tested, proofed, rewritten, retested, and reproofed is honestly staggering. As an example, I think we spent the better part of two months working on the rules. No, it wasn't made easier by the fact that I live in Denmark and couldn't just pop by to go over everything, but it also goes to show just how insanely difficult writing rules is.



Part of the final pre-production sample, with specific abilities for each factions' minions and a special faction madness ability


I'm very proud to have Madness At Midnight be my first published hobby board game. (I have made and am still making so-called serious games about stuff like team leadership, chain management, STDs, and other exciting subjects.) And I’m also very happy to have Richard Launius' name next to mine on the box. Ever since I was a teen and read my first story by Lovecraft, I've been a fan of the mythos. I played the Call of Cthulhu RPG, I've played the PC games, I've written a book of Lovecraft-themed nursery rhymes, and I have of course played lots and lots of Arkham Horror, so making this game feels a bit like giving something back.

Mads L. Brynnum
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Mon Mar 20, 2017 1:05 pm
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Crowdfunding Round-up: Tricking Kings and Dinosaurs to Rebuild Ad-Heavy Hives

W. Eric Martin
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I've attended five conventions in the past six weeks, and plenty of crowdfunding projects have come and gone in the interim. I'd apologize for missing all of them, but in some ways you just have to think of dipping into a stream to sample here and there because you're never going to see them all anyway — not if you want to do anything else, that is. With that in mind, here's what I've scooped up this time:

• In Solstice from Grant Rodiek and Hyperbole Games, a drafting and blind-bidding card game inspired by Frank Herbert's Dune, players vie for control of the throne, while optionally dressing up their game with wooden tokens. (KS link)

• Blind-bidding of a different sort awaits in King's Road from Reiner Knizia and Grail Games, this being a revised version of Knizia's Imperium. In each round, each player chooses three of their eleven cards in hand along with the order in which they want to play them, trying to use these cards to gain influence in the king's many provinces. (KS link)

• Another remake is Divinity Derby from Carlo A. Rossi and Ares Games, with this game featuring the "shared hand" mechanism of Rossi's Hab & Gut. Players bet on which mythological creatures will win a race, with each of them sharing information on the movement cards they hold with their left-and right-hand neighbors. (KS link)

• The revisions continue with Thunderstone Quest, the latest iteration of the Thunderstone deck-building game from Mike Elliott and Alderac Entertainment Group. (KS link)

• A remake of a different sort is Dinosaur Island from Jonathan Gilmour, Brian Lewis, and Pandasaurus Games, with this not officially being a Jurassic Park board game while still being a 1990s-inspired game in which everyone combines ancient DNA to create dinosaurs that populate their own theme park of sorts. (KS link)

Weta Workshop is normally associated with movies, not games, but the design studio had a game world that it wanted to bring to life and it partnered with Cryptozoic Entertainment to make it happen. The world of GKR: Heavy Hitters! features giant, advertising-sponsored robots battling in a post-apocalyptic world in which you're either trying to destroy the opponent or tag enough buildings to make your brand come out on top. (KS link)

• I played a few rounds of Dubai: Rebuild the Ruins from Chris Zinsli, Suzanne Zinsli, and Greater Than Games at PAX East 2017, and despite making horrible choices, I appreciated the challenge of the design. At the start of the game, players take turns placing their workers on three wheels, and on a turn whoever was at the end of the worker chain on the wheel of the current action removes that worker from the chain and places it at the nose of the chain of their choice, with each player then taking actions related to that wheel. Thus, within the confines of a familiar "collect resources and money to build stuff" design, you're challenged to get things working in the right order so that you can build better and faster. The current project is foundering, but I'm sure GTG will bring it back to market in the future. (KS link)

Ladder 29 from Ben Pinchback, Matt Riddle and Green Couch Games is a firefighting-themed, (ladder) climbing/hand-shedding game in which players choose a "Hot Spot" card each round that places some kind of condition on them (e.g., runs must be of a single color) and indicates the points they'll score based on when they go out in the round. (KS link)

• Trick-taking of a more traditional sort awaits in Half-Pint Heroes from Roland Goslar, Johannes Goslar, Søren Schaffstein, and Corax Games, with players trying to predict how many tricks they'll win while betting against the predictions of others. (Spieleschmiede link)

• Shin Wong's mafia-themed, dice-placement game Lawless Empire has you trying to meet more of your hidden victory conditions after five rounds than any other player. (KS link)

• To continue with the dice-based section of this post, we have Cara Heacock and Marcus Ross' BEEEEES! from Action Phase Games, a real-time game in which you place dice on hive tiles to grab them from stacks and build a sweet hive for yourself. (KS link)

Cosmic Run: Rapid Fire is a roll-and-write game by Steve Finn of Dr. Finn's Games in which 1-2 players roll dice to move through space, take special actions, and attack one another — unless you're playing a solo game, in which case you're not likely to be firing on yourself. (KS link)

• Another trip to space is offered by MARS WARS from Grant Wylie, Mike Wylie, and Worthington Publishing, with 2-6 players representing Chinese and U.S. space forces who compete for space on Mars, with Martians also laying claim to their own land. (KS link)

• John Wrot! of Gate Keeper Games has new sets of "halfsies" dice — sets of seven dual-color dice — with pledge levels ranging from one to thirty sets. (KS link)

• Another non-game-yet-game-related thing are orc and goblin miniatures from 3dArtDigital. Minis are hot on Kickstarter, right? Not necessarily as this project is solely for the minis and it barely has a presence on KS. (KS link)

• Also in the "that's not a game" category, logical puzzle publisher ThinkFun has hit Kickstarter with its first project: Roller Coaster Challenge. This item fits the model of many of its logic puzzles, with players being presented with a challenge card, then trying to assemble the components into the one correct pattern. In this case, players construct pillars, then add track in order to finish a roller coaster, finding out whether they succeeded by rolling a car down the track to see whether it crashes or not. (KS link)

Prototype components shown at NY Toy Fair 2017


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
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Sun Mar 19, 2017 4:37 pm
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CMON Limited Hires Eric M. Lang as Director of Game Design, Announces A Song of Ice & Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game

W. Eric Martin
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At the 2017 GAMA Trade Show, CMON Limited has made several announcements of note, starting with the news that designer Eric M. Lang has been hired as Director of Game Design. Lang will both continue to design new titles for CMON Limited and lead the publisher's development team. To quote from the press release:

Quote:
CMON's Creative Director, David Preti, has worked with Eric on several projects and explains, "Having Eric as part of the team is huge. Not only is he a friend, but I have worked with him, side-by-side, on projects like Rising Sun, Blood Rage, and The Others and seen the craft and dedication he brings to his work. As CMON's Director of Game Design, I know he will help take the company and its library of games to a new level, and I can't wait for fans to see what's coming up."

CMON Limited has also brought artist Adrian Smith (Blood Rage, The Others, Rising Sun) on staff as Lead Artist.



In addition to expanding their staff, CMON Limited has announced a new game series based on novels by George R. R. Martin. Which novels? Well, the press release doesn't say exactly, but the game series is titled A Song of Ice & Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game, and it bears this description:

Quote:
A Song of Ice & Fire: Tabletop Miniatures Game lets players take control of their favorite Houses from the novels — represented by trays of high-quality, pre-assembled miniatures — and lead them into battle against their opponents. Players can recreate their favorite moments from the series or create their own stories. What if the Red Wedding never happened, and Robb Stark assaulted King's Landing? Now fans can find out!

Battles can range from large-scale wars with hundreds of miniatures to simple skirmishes between a few units without complicating the elegantly designed rules. The game features several unique systems, including alternating activations that keep the players engaged; a Rank System that changes a unit's capabilities as the battle rages on; a Tactics System that provides strategic powers fueled by a finite resource each round; and, most importantly, the iconic Heroes, such as Robb Stark and Jaime Lannister, that can change the course of war both on and off the battlefield.

Pretty sneaky there not mentioning Ame-gay of Ones-thray.

CMON Limited plans to launch this series with the Stark vs Lannister Starter Set, which will hit Kickstarter in Q3 2017 ahead of a 2018 release date.

BoardGameGeek is at the 2017 GAMA Trade Show, and CMON Limited is scheduled to be on camera Wednesday, March 15 at 2:00 p.m. Las Vegas time (PDT, GMT -7) should you care to check out this title and others coming from the publisher.
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Wed Mar 15, 2017 8:32 am
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New Game Round-up: Become an Online Detective, Blueprint a Palace, and Build a Roman City

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• With the 2017 GAMA Trade Show kicking off this week, several publishers have announced new games in their line-ups, such as Portal Games' Detective: A Modern Crime Boardgame, coming in 2018 from designer Ignacy Trzewiczek and author Przemysław Rymer. Here's an overview of the setting and the basics of the gameplay:

Quote:
In Detective: A Modern Crime Boardgame, 1-4 players take on the role of investigators working for the government agency ANTERES. Investigators are given login credentials to the ANTERES online database that contains data about suspects, witnesses, and documentation from arrests and trials related to their case. Players are free to use the investigation manual, ANTERES database, and any other online resources they may find to help them solve the case.

Detective: A Modern Crime Boardgame brings classic puzzle-solving gameplay into the 21st century with the introduction of online elements. This story-driven, cooperative game includes five scenarios that can be played independently, or worked through as a complete campaign. The game blends printed elements, with a complimentary online component that allows players to investigate clues through their favorite internet-connected devices.

In a press release announcing this title Trzewiczek writes, "The Fourth Wall is a well-known concept in theatre. With Detective we are breaking this Fourth Wall. We offer an immersive experience like no other. Players are not playing a character who investigates crime, the players are actually investigating the crime. Players have all modern tools available. They are able to search Wikipedia to confirm some information, or check the history of World War II to verify a witness statement. At Portal, we design board games that tell stories and this time once again, we have extraordinary story to tell."

Ted Alspach at Bézier Games is revisiting a familiar location in Germany with The Palace of Mad King Ludwig, in which players collectively assemble a palace blueprint for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, a.k.a. the Swan King. This title will debut at SPIEL 2017, and here's a taste of the setting and gameplay:

Quote:
King Ludwig II of Bavaria has called all great architects to design his greatest achievement: a world-renowned palace. Only the best will do! Gorgeous appointments, white stone, surrounded by water, with swans everywhere. Oh, and the Ludwig touch? All the architects must design the palace together. The designer who shows the strongest influence will receive the order to build it.

In The Palace of Mad King Ludwig, each player builds rooms one at a time in a single gigantic palace. As rooms are completed, a moat slowly forms around the outside. Once the ends of the moat connect, the palace is finished, and the player who has contributed the most to the palace wins!

In more detail, this sequel to Castles of Mad King Ludwig shares a few similarities to its predecessor, such as tile-laying, room rewards, and the magic of watching a unique palace take shape through the course of the game, but the gameplay is entirely different, with no auction, a clever endgame timer that graphically builds pressure for players as the moat slowly closes in around the palace, and a twist on resource management with multi-colored swan tokens being used as currency, points, and the keys to new abilities.

Pandasaurus Games has picked up Hisashi Hayashi's Minerva, originally self-published by OKAZU Brand in 2015, for release in North America with a revised graphic design and new artwork by Franz Vohwinkel.

In Minerva, players manage their own cities in the Roman Empire, laying down tiles to build those cities and activating all tiles in the row or column of the tile being newly placed.

• Publishers Nevermore Games and Button Shy Games are partnering to create The Spiel Press, which it dubs "the premiere crafter of strategy roll & write game books", which is probably an easy position to hold given that it is currently the only crafter of strategy roll & write game books.

Why publish these games as books? Because The Spiel Press, according to the press release, wants to do more than simply print a block of identical game sheets. They want to have variation in their roll & write creations, with backstory and storyline events in between sessions of the game. What's more, "the book medium gives designers a lot of flexibility in design from legacy elements to creative use of the pages themselves".

The first two titles from The Spiel Press will be Bryan Fischer's Star Maps, in which a player discovers and charts a series of new solar systems, and Jason Tagmire's Blood Royals, in which the political climate of the land changes several times as you play through the game sheets, meaning that the map geography on the game sheets changes over time.

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Tue Mar 14, 2017 6:38 pm
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