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Conflict Old and New to Be Found in Reiner Knizia's Yellow & Yangtze

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Australian publisher Grail Games has become a go-to publisher for designer Reiner Knizia. After releasing a new edition of Knizia's classic press-your-luck game Circus Flohcati in 2016, Grail Games released a new version of Medici, Medici: The Card Game, and King's Road in 2017, and in 2018 Grail will release the roll-and-write game Criss Cross, a new edition of the long out-of-print Stephenson's Rocket, and the just-announced Yellow & Yangtze, a sister game to Knizia's best-ranked game of all time — Tigris & Euphrates.

Let's start with the publisher's description of the game:

Quote:
The period of the Warring States (475-221 BCE) describes a time of endless wars between seven rival states: Qin, Chu, Qi, Yan, Han, Wei, and Zhao. These states were finally unified in 221 BCE under the Qin dynasty to lay the origin of today's China, with its two main rivers: the Yellow and the Yangtze.

Yellow & Yangtze invites you to replay this eventful period and to lead your dynasty to victory. During the game, players build civilizations through tile placement. Players are given five different leaders: Governor, Soldier, Farmer, Trader, and Artisan. The leaders are used to collect victory points in these same categories. However, your score at the end of the game is the number of points in your weakest category. Conflicts arise when civilizations connect on the board. To succeed, players' civilizations must survive these conflicts, calm peasant revolts, and grow secure enough to build prestigious pagodas.

The first thing to note about Yellow & Yangtze is that other than the setting, it has no relation to the Knizia auction game Yangtze that Piatnik published in 2016. From interviewing Knizia, I know that he tends to dive into an area of history or design, then explore in different directions, so perhaps that was the situation here and we'll see other Knizia designs inspired by this part of the world in the future. Grail Games publisher David Harding says that the prototype that he received included a "historical note on where the board comes from and the starting tile placements. There's a lot of thought there, and he surely did some research on the place and its history so that the game makes sense."

A short description of Yellow & Yangtze mirrors that of Tigris & Euphrates — players place tiles to build civilizations and earn points in different cultural fields, with each player's lowest standing among those fields representing their final score — but the games have multiple differences that will distinguish the newcomer from its twenty-year-old ancestor:

• The most immediate difference is that the game board is composed of hexes and not squares. Says Harding, "This is a bigger difference than it seems at first, and I think T&E players will enjoy exploring the difference. Theoretically, states are now easier to join up, harder to break apart, and a leader is more easily defended in a revolt (since it can be surrounded by up to six tiles now)."

• The game includes five colors of tiles and leaders instead of only four, with a color spread of 42 black, 36 red, 24 green, 24 blue, and 12 yellow. Consequently, players now each have five leaders to place on the game board instead of four. At the end of the game, however, players still compare only four fields of influence and not five; yellow cubes count as wild and can represent any color of your choice during the final scoring.

• After placing a green trader tile, you can take one of the six face-up tiles in a corner of the board, thereby giving you some control over the tiles available to you (although you'll still draw most of your tiles at random from the bag).

• After placing a blue farmer tile, you can place another blue tile adjacent to this previous tile, continuing this process as you wish to flow down the river, stopping only when you wish to, when you have no more tiles, or after the previous placement causes a conflict or leads to the placement of a pagoda, which leads us into...




• Instead of placing dual-colored monuments on a square of four like-colored tiles, players now place mono-colored pagodas on triangles of three like-colored tiles by discarding two green tiles as an action. Says Harding, "Pagodas work the same as monuments, but they are easier to build and harder to defend in this game. They need only a base of three tiles to be built upon, but a new action called 'peasants' riot' [undertaken by discarding two blue tiles] can remove any tile on the board, including one from a pagoda's base. Also, if someone wants to build a black pagoda (for example) and the two black ones are already built, they simply move one of the other pagodas to the new spot."

• Conflicts are conducted somewhat differently. While T&E has internal conflicts, that is, when a leader is placed into a state with a leader of the same color, Y&Y has revolts, which are resolved the same as in T&E, but by comparing support in black tiles instead of red, both those tiles adjacent to the leaders in question as well as black tiles played by the players involved.

Wars differ far more from T&E's external conflicts than revolts do from internal conflicts. Both are caused the same way — someone places a tile so that leaders of the same color are now in the same state — but in external conflicts you might have more than wave of attacks as first, say, the blue leaders compete, then the red ones, etc. until no two leaders of the same color are in that state. In a war, you compare the strength of each state's red tiles as well as red tiles played to support of one of the states in the war, but all players can contribute red tiles to a war, not just the players who have leaders in conflict. (Says Harding, "Knizia does Cosmic Encounter!") The losing side removes all the duplicate leaders and all red tiles, but then you look at the red strength of the loser and the winner must remove that many red tiles as well, starting with those played in support, but that player might lose red tiles from the state as well. Bloodshed all around...

• Four of the five leaders have a special ability as long as they're not on the game board. The blue leader can stand in for one of the blue tiles when you cause a peasants' riot, and the green leader can represent a green tile when you create a pagoda. (You might not want to use the leader if you're trying to cycle tiles.) The black leader can provide a point of support in a revolt, while the red leader can do the same in war, even if you're not one of the parties directly involved.

(If you want to compare everything, you can read the English rules for Y&Y on the Grail Games website: PDF.)

Grail Games will have a booth at Gen Con 2018 where it plans to launch Yellow & Yangtze, with the game hitting retail outlets in September 2018. Preorders for Gen Con 2018 pick-up will open at a future date.
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New Game Round-up: Cannes 2018 Edition — Save Dinos, Escape the Maze, and Set Loose the Huns

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• At the Festival International des Jeux in Cannes in February 2018, Belgian publisher Sit Down! will release Magic Maze Kids, a version of Kasper Lapp's Spiel des Jahres-nominated Magic Maze aimed at players as young as five years old. Here's the setting for this game, which is for 2-4 players:

Quote:
The king was accidentally turned into a frog! Gather your friends, stride across the forest, and find the correct ingredients to prepare a potion that will cure him.

Magic Maze Kids is a cooperative game in which everyone controls all of the heroes, but only in one direction! Tutorials gradually teach you the rules, and several levels make the game evolve with the children.

• At FIJ, Sit Down! also plans to release three new roll-and-write titles from Henri Kermarrec: The Temple of Apikhabou, The Skull Island, and The Valley of Wiraqocha. All three titles are part of a series of games collectively titled Penny Papers Adventures, and they are all built on the same engine for gameplay, with each being playable individually:

Quote:
Penny Papers Adventures is a series of small strategy games in which all of the players use the same result of three dice to explore a location more thoroughly than their opponents by writing numbers in their grid in an optimal way to make the most victory points out of it. Challenge your ability to manage space, and wisely use the special effects of the dice. Oh, and don't miss an opportunity to mess up your opponents' grids when dangers appear! The number of players is unlimited as everyone plays at the same time!

• Starting new imprints is all the rage these days, with IELLO launching LOKI at FIJ with Ludovic Maublanc and Théo Rivière's SOS Dinos, a 1-4 player cooperative game for ages 7 and up that bears this short description:

Quote:
You need to react, anticipate, and work together as a team to save the four dinosaurs in SOS Dino! Draw a tile, place it on the board, then move one of the dinosaurs closer to the safety of the mountains. Pay attention to lava and meteor showers!



• Another new title at FIJ, albeit only for demo with the release scheduled for September 2018 is Huns, a dice-drafting game from designer Fneup (a.k.a. François-Nicolas Parachini) and publisher La Boite de Jeu for 2-4 players. Here's a rundown of what you do in the game:

Quote:
Winter 453: The Huns reign supreme over half of the known world. The great Khan, king of the Huns, is suffering, and there are many who dream of taking his place. The Khan must appoint his successor. He will choose the bravest and most glorious of his generals, and you intend for that to be you! But you are not the only contender, and you will have to prove your worth.

Each turn in Huns you must choose between raiding for resources or picking a card that will grant you a special ability. In more detail, the game includes five decks of cards in five colors that feature equipment, raids, mercenaries, curses, and treasure, as well as goods cubes in the same five colors. Each player starts the game with two wagons that require specific colored goods to fill them.

At the start of a round, the active player rolls five d3 dice in the five colors, then chooses one of the dice and takes either cubes or cards in this color. If you take cards, they draw 1-3 cards (based on the die roll), keep one of them, then place the others face down under this deck. Equipment gives you an in-game bonus, raids have a one-time effect, treasure earns you points at game's end if you meet the condition listed, mercenaries give you a reusable effect once you give them goods, and curses are played on opponents, who must apply goods to them to dispel their effect. If you take cubes, you can place them on a single mercenary card, a single curse card, or any number of your wagons in the appropriate spaces. If you fill a wagon, you draw a new one from those on display. Each player takes one die in turn, choosing cards or goods, until all the dice have been chosen. The first player marker then moves clockwise, and the new active player rolls all five dice again.

When one of the cube colors or one of the decks is empty at the end of a round, the game ends. Players score points for raids undertaken, treasure achieved, mercenaries paid off, and wagons delivered, and whoever has the most points wins! Card combos, drafting strategies, and resource management is what Huns is about, set in the universe of the mighty warriors of Huns.

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New Game Round-up: Reconstructing Talisman, Expanding Sagrada, and Reading Games

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Talisman celebrates its 35th anniversary in 2018, and thanks to a license between German publisher Pegasus Spiele and original publisher Games Workshop, four new games set in the world of Talisman will be released starting in 2018. The first title – a children's game from The Dwarves designers Lukas Zach and Michael Palm — will be released in the second half of 2018, with an expandable card game, a role-playing game, and a dice game to follow at dates to be announced at a later time.

• In other news from Pegasus Spiele, the publisher will release a German edition of R. Eric Reuss' Spirit Island in September 2018.

• In Q3 2018, Floodgate Games will release Sagrada: 5 & 6 Player Expansion, which has components that allow for play with up to six players, as well as new objectives and window patterns to allow for more variety during play.

• In a change of plans, Plan B Games has announced that Emerson Matsuuchi's Century: Golem Edition, which was initially available solely through the Plan B Games website or at conventions, will be available at retail outlets in North America starting in Q2 2018.

What's more, several non-North American publishers have signed on for the reprint that's currently under way, so in that same time frame the game should be available in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and Japan. Plan B's Mike Young emphasizes that no sequels are in the works for Century: Golem Edition, so don't expect to see a golemized version of Century: Eastern Wonders, the second title in the Century series, down the road.

• In other Plan B news, Azul will move to Plan B.'s Next Move Games imprint in Q3 2018. The game is already being reprinted at the moment with that print run (bearing the Plan B logo) due out in March 2018. No changes to the game are taking place other than the logo, but the move is meant to emphasize the types of games — both in terms of design and components — that will be released by Next Move.

• Hey, remember those "choose your own adventure"-style books from Makaka Editions that I mentioned yesterday while writing about Blue Orange Games? Turns out that publisher Van Ryder Games now has English-language distribution rights in the U.S. and Canada for several books in the series, and it plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign in March 2018 to fund production of these titles under a new "Graphic Novel Adventures" imprint.

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Blue Orange Games in 2018, Take Two, with Knizia in the Blue Lagoon, Cathala in the Age of Giants, and Much More

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In early January, I covered the titles that Blue Orange Games plans to release on the U.S. market in 2018, but BOG has a European branch as well, and Blue Orange EU doesn't release the same games as their North American counterparts, and when they do, they might release them on a different schedule. I don't know why they function this way beyond handwaving a pretend explanation of "market conditions", but I do have an outline of when BOG EU plans to release which games, so let's just consider that for now.

In Q1 2018, BOG EU plans to release Pool Party, Dr. Beaker, Mr. Wolf, Who Did It? (in packaging that's 100% less brown) and Claude Leroy's Kang, the only game not previously covered in this space (although Dr. Beaker was first seen in Jan. 2017). Here's a short overview of Kang: "As a sport, these kangaroos like to rocket in the air, change sides, and impersonate trampolines or punching balls. Be the best coach for your team and make them score for victory! This is a kangaroo game that's not for roo-kies!" Sounds like this could be a themed version of Leroy's Gyges, but we might not know for sure until we see the game in Nürnberg, Germany at the Spielwarenmesse trade fair.

Bruno Cathala's Kingdomino: Age of Giants, first discussed in Dec. 2017 and due out in Q2 2018, expands both Kingdomino and Queendomino, allowing for games with up to five players in either case.

Also due out in Q2 2018 is Princess Legend, a Kuraki Mura deduction game that was first released as Tofu Kingdom in Taiwan — and that's the name of the forthcoming release from Blue Orange Games in North America as well, so while BOG EU is keeping the "prince hunting for a princess" storyline, the people no longer have heads of tofu. Pity.

Peggy Brown's Happy Bunny, a cooperative game for kids as young as three, and Thierry Denoual's solitaire logic puzzle Mindo, which will come dressed in a variety of images — dogs, cats, unicorns, and robots — are also due out in Q2 2018.

The final Q2 2018 release from BOG EU is Baïam, the description of which requires a small backstory. French publisher Makaka Editions releases "choose your own adventure"-style graphic novels that also serve as games because you can win or lose at them, and you can score points while you read/play by doing certain things within the story. Their tagline is "Comics in which you're the hero" because (as I understand it) the stories are all told from the first person to represent you, the reader, choosing which way to go within a story.

Blue Orange (EU) distributed two of those books — Captive and Knights, even releasing them in English at SPIEL '16 in addition to French — and now Blue Orange (EU) and Makaka Editions are partnering on Baïam, a cooperative comic game by Shuky for up to four players with each player having their own book, embodying one character with special powers, and progressing along with the other players on islands full of adventures and brain twisters.

I've had a lot of fun trying to finish Knights with my son, but we've died four times so far and have yet to finish. Baïam sounds like an intriguing experience, a quasi-escape room perhaps as we'll experience our own things while reading through the books, while still trying to work together. Can't wait to try this!

In Q3 2018, Blue Orange (EU) plans to release Roberto Fraga's Brain Connect, Grégory Oliver's Clouds, Jeff Lai's Maki Stack, and Cubeez from Treo Game Designers, all of which were covered in my earlier BOG write-up. Two other titles due out this quarter are Rolling Bandits by Trevor Benjamin and Brett J. Gilbert ("Roll your dice, get on the train, and plunder as much as you can!") and Eye'n'Speed by Berton, Kopec, Robson, and Wolff, this being a European edition of Eye 'N Seek, a Where's Waldo-ish spot-the-item game that BOG released in North America in 2017.

As if all that weren't enough, Q4 2018 will see the release of five more titles from Blue Orange (EU), two of which are aimed at slightly older audiences from many of the other titles listed in this post. Scarabya from frequent design partners Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc has you heading up an archaeological team to set up an expedition, establish camps, delineate areas of excavation, and collect more gold beetles than anyone else.




With its 30- to 45-minute playing time, Reiner Knizia's Blue Lagoon is the longest game of this batch, the now annual "game for the family" that BOG started in 2015 with New York 1901. Here's the short description we have for now:

Quote:
Even today, the colonization of the Pacific Islands by the Polynesians remains a great mystery — and yet it is aboard their hand-crafted boats that the Polynesians colonized the greater part of the islands over several thousand kilometers.

In Blue Lagoon, each player manages a group of settlers that spread out on the islands of this new archipelago to discover its wealth and build villages. Smart placements and anticipation are needed to win.

Other titles due out in Q4 2014 from Blue Orange (EU) are Flooping by Nathalie and Rémi Saunier ("Show off your aviator skills by making the aerobatics required with your BuzzPlane!"), O Mon Chateau (which is possibly not the final title) by Corentin Lebrat and Ludovic Maublanc ("Whoever knows how to best exploit the resources of the region will draw the most beautiful castle in the kingdom!"), and a new edition of Seiji Kanai's Brave Rats that features a new size of cards and one extra card for each clan.

Phew! You think that's enough? Is it possible for a company to release more than twenty new games in a year and see those titles survive on the market for more than a few months? When will we reach the time of peak board game releases?!


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Kolossal Games Aims to Cast a Huge Shadow on the Industry in 2018 and Beyond

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One game I left out of yesterday's crowdfunding round-up was Hervé Lemaître's Western Legends from Kolossal Games, and that's because I wanted to cover what's coming from Kolossal in one go because there's a lot to consider.

To start, let's check out the short description of Western Legends, the first game that Kolossal Games put under contract:

Quote:
in Western Legends, players will traverse the Wild West as one of the historical figures of the time (Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, Calamity Jane, etc.), playing poker, robbing banks, and avoiding the sheriff to score Legend Points. The open-world, sandbox environment allows players to shape the landscape through their decisions and become fully immersed in the landscape of the American west.

These decisions can also lead players down the path of becoming a desperado. Once a player becomes "wanted" for their devious acts, the local sheriff will be in pursuit in order to make an arrest. Players can also attempt to catch desperados in order to claim the bounty placed on them.

Western Legends has already rustled up $260K in backing as of mid-Sunday, January 14, 2018 (KS link), and while this might be the first title to be brought to Kickstarter from this new U.S. publisher, the Kolossal Games team has plenty of crowdfunding experience, starting with company founder and president Travis R. Chance, formerly of Action Phase Games and Indie Boards & Cards. (As the company states in its promotional material, Kickstarter is the reason "Kolossal" starts with a "K".)

That experience will come in handy as Kolossal has at least six other games planned for funding via Kickstarter in 2018, with Kami-sama from Kolossal developer AJ Lambeth hitting KS in late February 2018. Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game that plays in 60-90 minutes, followed by a video presentation from Chance at Gen Con 2017:

Quote:
In Kami-sama, each player takes on the role of a Kami, a Japanese spirit, and haunts a small village over the course of three years. At the end of the third year, the Kami who has done the most effective haunting will become the Kami-sama — the leader of the Kami.

Kami-sama uses area control on a rotating board to simulate four villages. Each quarter of the board is representative of a village, and players will perform actions in each of the four villages (sections of the board) before the round comes to an end. Players will also have variable player powers at their disposal to help them on the journey to becoming the Kami-sama.



The order of projects hitting Kickstarter following Kami-sama is open to some changes, according to CEO Kira Anne Peavley, but the list of games to be crowdfunded in 2018 includes:

Grant Rodiek's Imperius, this being an updated version of Solstice: Fall of Empire, which Rodiek had self-published in 2017. An overview of this 2-4 player game that takes only 20-45 minutes:

Quote:
The ruling house of the empire is in decline and in their weakness an opportunity presents itself. The throne is within the grasp of any rival faction bold and cunning enough to grab power for themselves. However, this is a nuanced conflict, one in which diplomacy cuts just as sharply as the weapons of an army, but only half as sharp as the assassin's blade. There are wheels within wheels and machinations beyond your view.

In Imperius, players represent powerful houses, each seeking to ascend to the throne. Every player has the same six cards, which provide strength, favor, victory points, and bonuses. Unfortunately, the path forward is shrouded in fog, forcing players to manage the uncertainty of the times. Every round, players draft a hand of cards, choosing a mix of their cards, their opponents', and powerful events. The key is building a viable strategy with your own cards and events, while denying key cards to your opponents. Then, cards are played to the planets, with no more than two of these cards per planet being played face down. Players are forced to make decisions with imperfect information gained during the draft and by reading your opponents. Finally, the cards are revealed and resolved. In most cases, players want to be the strongest or most favored faction to score victory points.

Imperius builds on the existing mechanisms of Solstice: Fall of Empire by adding asymmetrical factions, less secret information, and varied planet effects that can grant additional special abilities to players.

Omen: Fires in the East, a two-player game from John Clowdus. Kolossal bought the back catalog of Clowdus' Small Box Games in mid-2017, and in addition to releasing new editions of his Omen: A Reign of War and Omen: Edge of the Aegean with updated components and graphic design, Kolossal is releasing a new standalone game in the Omen series:

Quote:
In Omen: Fires in the East, players compete to control Persian and Phoenician cities in order to rule over the land. The game introduces new mechanisms and new unit types, including sphinxes and merchants.

Omen: Fires in the East is a two-player card game that features two distinct game modes: standard and draft. The standard game has players drawing cards from a collective deck, and accessing cards from a collective discard pile. The draft game allows players access to their favorite units, with each player drafting his own deck to play the game with.

Players take turns placing units into one of three cities on the table. When one player has three or more units in a single city at the start of their turn, or there is a total of five units in any city, a battle is fought. The side with the most power wins the city and claims a reward. Play continues until all rewards from all but one city have been completely claimed. Points are scored for the rewards claimed, and the player with the highest score wins.

Kolossal also plans to release a new edition of Clowdus' Neolithic, a two-player game with multi-use cards set at the dawn of mankind with you trying to create the more advanced village. Chance presented an overview of both this game and Omen: Fires in the East at Gen Con 2017:



—To continue with titles hitting Kickstarter in 2018, we have Karen Knoblaugh's Consumption: A Strategy Game About Food and Choices, a 1-4 player game that might have you reconsidering what you nosh on while playing games:

Quote:
Consumption is a worker placement/resource management game about meeting your body's food needs. Shopping and cooking or going out to various eateries is central to the strategy that is balanced by physical activity to help you burn extra calories. Points are earned by completing recipes and activities, but ultimately, giving your body what it needs to be happy earns the most points, as various diseases can sneak up on you if you're not careful.

Over six rounds, players select actions on the main game board, as well as their player board, such as cooking or going out to eat. To cook, players must first go grocery shopping for ingredients, but careful planning is needed as food can expire if it isn't used in time, and fighting your cravings may cause a few problems too. Completing recipes unlocks extra abilities, which can be very useful during the game.

Eating out is also an option, and going to the buffet or visiting the stands at the farmer's market can be tempting; decisions may depend on what they have to offer. While cooking both allows players more control over what they eat and provides points, it can be hard to resist the drive-thru when you can get so much food! All food, represented by colored cubes, goes into the player's "body" based on different food groups, and as the game progresses, it is possible that players may find they have eaten too much of one or more groups. Time to exercise!

Through a variety of activities, players may remove cubes from their body to return to a healthier state, but don't wait too long as this may require more time than you think! Completed activities offer end-game points, so don't be a couch potato! After six rounds, players see which of their food needs have been met and how many different activities they have completed, and the player with the most points is the winner!

J.B. Howell's Papillon, which bears a 2019 release date, looks at another relationship between food and consumer, albeit of a more insectile nature:

Quote:
The fields are alive. Butterflies are vying for control over the flowers in the meadow. Hummingbirds hover nearby, darting from flower patch to flower patch. Mantises attempt to prevent the butterflies from staying too long on any one flower. And all of these creatures are trying to avoid the deadly wasps.

In Papillon, players complete to build flower gardens to attract the butterflies fluttering throughout the meadow. The butterflies they attract are used to determine control of the individual flowers. Control awards points. After eight full rounds of play, the player with the highest total score wins.

Papillon uses a combination of tile-laying (for building the gardens), area control (for determining who controls the individual flowers on the shared flower board), and secret scoring objectives (with a hint of set collection) to create a quick-playing, light game for all ages. A fair amount of strategy and planning hides behind simple rules and easy-to-learn gameplay.

—We move from the pacific to the horrific with No Dawn, another J.B. Howell design which accommodates 1-5 players:

Quote:
Hordes of goblins and other terrifying beasts of the land are attempting to lay waste to the city. The various militia inside are mounting a defense in attempt to make one final stand to save the land that they love.

In No Dawn, each player assumes the role of one of these militia, defending the city from the relentless onslaught of goblins, ogres, hill giants, and other creatures who are bent on destroying the final stronghold for mankind. No Dawn is a scenario-driven cooperative game that introduces unique twists to the common mechanisms of worker placement and deck building. Players can partner up on worker spaces to assist in tasks such as recruiting others in the city to the fight, repairing damaged supply lines, and gathering food.

No Dawn introduces a unique threat level mechanism that increases the difficulty of the game as it progresses. This mechanism forces players to make tough decisions about how quickly they want to complete their scenario objectives. Complete the scenario too soon, and players may lose cards that could prove valuable assets for future scenarios.

—Finally (possibly?) on Kolossal's Kickstarter list for 2018 is Mezo, a "big box" area control game from Clowdus inspired by Mayan mythology in which players control tribes that call forth the gods to aid them as they clash for dominance, build step pyramids, and make sacrifices to gain immense power.

Aside from all of these titles headed to Kickstarter in 2018, Kolossal has plenty of other titles in the works as well. In the first half of 2018, it will release a two-player card game from Tom Lehmann originally titled "Cheng Ho" that bears this short description: "Each player starts the game with a hand of cards before taking turns to either draw cards, perform different actions or special powers, or skip and give up a victory point to their opponent."

Other titles under contract include Roberta Taylor's tile-laying Starfish Kingdoms (this being a new edition of Octopus' Garden), Jason Blake's Cysmic (in which you race to leave a doomed planet first, with the force of your launch killing everyone who remains behind — whoops!), Kathleen Mercury's scenario-based dexterity game Dirty Dragons, Clinton Morris' hidden movement game Hunt the Ravager, Tam Myaing's cooperative time-travel game F.L.O.W., and a Martin Wallace and Amanda Milne design due out in 2019 that has no public name, but a mind-blowing description:

Quote:
For centuries, heroes roamed Magnu, exploring its many dungeons, avoiding armies of evil overlords, and defeating dragons (for the right price). Those times are now long past, and a new breed of warrior bestrides the land: the rock star!

Being part of an up-and-coming rock band, you are about to embark on your first tour. Magnu is still populated by elves, dwarves, and goblins, but now they are your audience. Dungeons still exist but are just as likely to have heritage status, while dragons are a protected species. Do you have the right song to appeal to the undead, or will your gig be saved by a bunch of easy-to-please halflings? Will you lose another drummer in a bar fight? And why do the dwarves have to chuck things at you?

This innovative game combining 1960s rock-and-roll and a world of fantasy takes the role-playing board game as we know it to a whole new level. This 1-5 player game that can be played in around two to three hours creates a fast-moving, entertaining experience that will keep the most jaded gamer happy for hours.

Now, instead of killing dragons, you must slay audiences. Your band will be rated for its melodiousness and energy but remember, audiences have different tastes, and it's up to you to best entertain with the right songs. Success allows you to develop new skills and the ability to take on more demanding audiences and the money made from your record sales allows you to buy better songs and devices such as the Banjo of Protection. The latter may be of use as Magnu is still not a safe land to travel around – the Moral Majority is upset as they don't like this new-fangled "rock music".

You are not restricted to just playing gigs though. You can also embark on adventures to explore dungeons and take on the few fearsome dragons left. You can even challenge the Devil to a rock-off, but beware, failure means somebody is going to Hell!

Will you have what it takes to keep your audiences entertained?

Update, Jan. 16, 2018: In a newsletter for her own SchilMil Games company, co-designer Amanda Milne notes that she started prototyping and testing what was then named "Stoned Age" in 2014: "[T]o cut a long story.... Martin Wallace has developed the game idea into an entirely different beast. It is now known as Monster Rock." And thanks to the name, I've now given this design a listing in the database.
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Mon Jan 15, 2018 4:05 pm
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Interview with Brian Mayer, designer of Freedom: The Underground Railroad

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Notes: Brian Mayer is the designer of Freedom: The Underground Railroad and co-author of Libraries Got Game: Aligned Learning through Modern Board Games. This interview was conducted by Patrick Rael, Professor of History at Bowdoin College in Maine and was originally published on April 19, 2017, on Rael's Ludica blog.

•••


Q: How did the idea for this game come to you?

Freedom came together from a number of different places. I am a certified elementary school teacher and school librarian. For the last nine years, I have worked supporting twenty-two school districts, across five counties in rural western New York. I have built up a library of modern board and card games that often directly support curriculum and student learning. I collaborate with classroom teachers and school librarians to bring games into the classroom and use them as way for students to explore curriculum. You can see the library here.

That work extended into game design, working with students to build and develop games to demonstrate their understanding and application of what they are learning in the classroom. So, the work I did using games, as well as helping students design games got me interested in design myself. I have also been a really big fan in historical, card-driven games like 1960: The Making of the President. The way that they bring in history and let students explore and understand how people and events relate and impact is a powerful tool.




That got me thinking about areas in history that do not get as much attention as they deserve in the classroom. The idea of the abolitionist movement came up, but I wasn't sure about tackling that as a subject. I had some early thoughts on what I wanted to see in the game: card-driven with people and events with a focus on the map. It also needed to be cooperative if it was going to work. But still, the topic was really daunting.

Then I had the opportunity to see Brenda Romero speak at the Strong Museum of Play here in Rochester, NY. She was there showing her game Train and talking about the work she does with games. She talked about how games do not have to be "fun", that they can explore more dark and serious topics. This, along with the growth of the serious game movement, gave me the courage to pursue the topic for a game.


Brenda Romero's Train


I think the time is really right for this growth. In talks and workshops I do, I help people newer to the hobby understand what is happening in the hobby by comparing it to where graphic novels were ten to fifteen years ago. They really started to gel into the medium they are now, but a lot of people had the reaction like: "Oh, those are comics and for kids. They can't really talk about deep topics in the same way as books." But we know that to be wrong. I really believe that games, especially if you take into that statement video games, are coming into their own as a medium for exploring the full spectrum of narrative.

Q: How did you seek to inject history into the game through particular mechanics?

With Freedom, I started with theme and began working through ways that helped bring that theme out and support it. My goal was to engage players with the narrative, with the people and events and the story that unfolded as you play the game, to get them to care about cards and cubes. I had to try to find balance between what was present and what was abstracted. For example, "lost" slaves are an abstraction of all the loss of life from conditions and brutal treatment on the plantations to the loss of life running for freedom. I also wanted to be sure that I balanced both the immediacy of helping people find their way northward to freedom with the larger goal of bringing about more institutional change. The latter took the form of the support tokens that not only control your progression through the game, but also your ability to impact the game. As you move forward, the tokens and cards get more powerful; this reflects a stronger, more organized and impactful movement.

The hardest mechanism to get right was the slave catchers. The idea of them has always been the same — that they needed to be this tense and ever-present threat throughout the game — but how to get that across was difficult and went through many iterations.




Q: Were there aspects of the historical experience that you hoped to incorporate into the game, but found challenging or impossible?

One of the many challenges with Freedom was picking a story to tell. By focusing on the story of the abolitionists, I wasn't able to give as much agency and voice as I would have liked to those who the players are working to help. I have played with expansion materials that might do that, but I haven't been satisfied that it does it in a way that I am comfortable with.




Q: What aspect(s) of fugitive slavery did you feel was most important to incorporate? Did you see yourself as making an argument or offering a historical interpretation of the subject?

I wanted to expose players to as many of the people who were a part of that history as possible, to introduce them to stories of sacrifice, courage, and loss about people they may not have known about. As far as interpretations, I really tried my best to avoid doing that. Players are abolitionist archetypes working to help people as they make their way towards freedom, while working to help raise the strength of the movement to bring about broader institutional change. These are broad goals and brushstrokes that players get behind. The game doesn't try to create scenarios or recreate history. My goal was to try to get people to connect in a more personal and meaningful way with this very important and dark time of our past, to shed light on people and events of the past that don't always get discovered.

Q: These days, historical tabletop games such as Freedom frequently use cards with historical flavor to impart a strong feeling for the past. What were your thoughts on this? In particular, are cards sufficient to make a game function as an historical argument or interpretation?

I definitely was inspired by previous historically driven card games and the power they have to give faces and images to people and events, while also providing context to how they work and the effects they have within a system. If that system is effective in capturing some of the essence of why that history is important and meaningful, I think those pieces can come together in a way that transcends the cardboard and bits. If this sounds like I am flirting with art, it is because that is where I think games are heading. As I mentioned earlier, games are really gelling into a form of expression that can have a lasting and even emotional impact on those playing.




Q: While many tabletop games are focused on light or fantasy themes, your game is about a dark and difficult period of American history. Have you encountered any concerns that the subject is inappropriate for treatment in a game? How do you respond to this?

Yes, this has come up. I can't assume to have definitive answers for these justified questions and concerns. I do think the fact that we are having conversations around them is encouraging. I think part of this comes from our expectations and definitions of what games are and what they can be. That is definitely shifting as more games help redefine what games and play can be, that they can be engaging while also being emotional and somber.

Q: Other attempts to create games around slavery have foundered. (CNN reported on one of these in August 2016.) Clearly, you must think it's possible to treat this topic in game form. What do you think is necessary in order for this challenging history to effectively meld with tabletop games? That is, if many efforts to represent slavery in games fail, what is necessary for success?

To be frank, I can't say that I handled the subject matter perfectly. I tried my best to present the material with as much respect to the people and events as I could in the design, but there were choices and decisions that will never have a right answer. For example, I specifically chose untreated wooden cubes rather than meeples or painted cubes. I also had to pick a narrative with Freedom, and I chose to focus on abolition giving up narrative and agency for those being held as slaves. It was an approach I took, but I could never claim it was the right one.




Underneath it all, my goal with the game was to try to engage players with the people and events that were a part of that struggle, and bring to light faces and actions that are often not covered in school. To tackle that, the game presents the forces for continuing the institution of slavery as elements within the game that the players are working against. It encapsulates the forces working against abolitionism within the mechanisms of the games, so that no players take on those choices or roles.

For me, the challenge to tackling a design of this type is to strive to present the details, the faces, the things that underlie the story as best you can.

Q: Freedom occupies an interesting space in the game world. On the one hand, it plays much like a "cooperative Euro", such as Pandemic or Shadows over Camelot. On the other, it is often discussed as an explicitly "educational" game, many of which (experienced gamers complain) are often not very effective examples of tabletop game technology (i.e., they are not very good games). Did you think explicitly about balancing these two values?

Because of my background, using modern games and design in education, that was very much in my mind from the beginning. I wanted to keep my feet in both spaces. Primarily, I was hoping to design a game that would resonate and be able to stand in the hobby market. But as a certified teacher and school librarian, I was also aware of the potential uses for the game in the educational space.

Well-designed games work well in educational spaces because there is an authenticity and level of engagement that comes from the experience. It is like comparing a good novel or short story to a leveled reader. Teachers use good literature because it engages students, and the teacher can explore how the text supports and relates to their curriculum. Other texts that are written with a specific pedagogical goal often fail to have the qualities of a good text and therefore do not engage students in the same way. In the end, they do not provide the same experience and students do not go out of their way to seek them out independently. So those targeted skills only get hit when being presented in a teacher-directed activity, and you lose the reinforcement and effect of student-sought engagement.

The same is true with bringing games into the classroom. By selecting games that are created to have strong gameplay and design, you have an opportunity to leverage that engagement while also using it to support connections to classroom curriculum. In both cases, the teacher needs to help to draw or highlight those connections as the resources were not created with specific pedagogy in mind, but doing so creates a powerful opportunity for learning and growth.

Thank you, Brian, for sharing your thoughts about this important game.

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Crowdfunding Round-up: Operation Countdown for Candy, Capers, Red Death, and a Quintet of Legacies

W. Eric Martin
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• In mid-December 2017, I wrote about Adam Wyse's Masque of the Red Death, a design from IDW Games in which 4-7 players attempt to avoid the Red Death from Edgar Allen Poe's story of the same name while currying favor with the prince who's hosting the ball. (KS link)

• Another title briefly covered in this space earlier was The Mansky Caper from Ken Franklin and Calliope Games, this being a game in which you and other gangsters are ransacking the boobytrapped house owned by a mob boss, working together as needed to avoid traps, while always trying to split the loot in your favor so that you end up making it out of the house with more than anyone else. (KS link)

Last Stand sounds like an intense dose of "take that" from Trent Ellingsen of 5 Color Combo Games, with players placing cards on their area of the board, rolling dice that activate cards in slots matching the die rolls, playing more cards, then picking up used cards. As you're attacked, your hand size increases, giving you more fuel to attack back, and if you're the only one with cards still on the board, then you win. (KS link)

River Horse Ltd. has published a number of games based on movie licenses, such as Jim Henson's Labyrinth: The Board Game and Terminator Genisys: The Miniatures Game, and now it's funding Highlander: The Board Game, a design by Alessio Cavatore and Jack Caesar for up to six players in which you must be the last immortal standing. Player elimination has gone out of style in most games, but it seems essential here. (KS link)

Deja Vu: Fragments of Memory from Terry Cheung and Asteria Games combines set-collecting and tableau-building, with a mancala-like process that earns you resources, with which you then acquire cards to build an engine to propel further actions. (KS link)

• Kagan Eden's Operation Candy Bomber from Cedar Fort is a cooperative game set after World War II in which players need to deliver supplies to West Berlin, which has been cut off from the outside world by the Soviet Union. (KS link)

• Kickstarter has also become a standard way for publishers to fund new editions of previously released games, as with the third edition of Greenland and second edition of Neanderthal from Phil Eklund and Sierra Madre Games. In addition to the cards in both games being redesigned, Greenland now includes the Sea Sámi expansion previously available as a separate item. (KS link)

Steve Jackson Games is funding a new edition of Triplanetary, which "depicts ship-to-ship space combat in the solar system using a vector movement system". This game by Marc Miller first appeared in print in 1973 from GDW Games and was last published in 1981. In the KS project, Steve Jackson notes that he became a fan of the game when he was in college, and it's being republished with only light changes from the original design. (KS link)

• Lindsey Rode's Countdown: Action Edition from Dog Might Games pitches itself as a 1980s action movie in which the hero also plays the role of moderator, while everyone else chooses a character they want to play, then turns out to be a hostage or villain based on which cards they receive. Hope the hero can figure out who to rescue! (KS link)

• Marshall Britt and Andrew Toth's Re-Chord, which uses actual guitar picks as components in a game about playing chords and making songs, is having a better run on KS the second time around, with $15K currently in backing against a $7,500 goal, the reverse of the numbers achieved in its first crowdfunding effort. If at first you don't succeed, re-Re-Chord. (KS link)

• The game design firm Lynnvander Studios is attempting to fund five "Legacy" games at once, although in this case "Legacy" doesn't mean "a game to which permanent changes is made as you move through a campaign of games", but more like the "history of something being transmitted to the present day". Three of these games — Albion's Legacy, Neverland's Legacy, and Sherwood's Legacy — have appeared in print previously, while a fourth title — Gascony's Legacy — has not been released previously, and the fifth title — Red Sonja: Hyrkania's Legacy — was Kickstarted in December 2017 by publisher Dynamite Entertainment, and is being included to have all the "Legacy" line in one place. (KS link)

Hermetica from Alvarez, Grummon, Modica, and Iff Studios is a sharp-looking two-player abstract strategy game, with players wanting to move their adept to the opponent's base to win, while using three element pieces and their special powers to assist their effort. (KS link)

• I have one more KS project to write about as well, but that's going in a separate article for reasons that will become clear once that article goes live on Monday, January 15...

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 Jan 14, 2018 1:05 pm
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Changing Players: Mayfair Uses Alliance, Compass Hires Blennemann, and Game Salute Splits

W. Eric Martin
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My inbox is a deep well, one that I drain at the end of each year in preparation for fresh waters to come. Along the way, I've uncovered more mergers, purchases, distribution deals, and other behind-the-scenes interactions between publishers and on the staff of publishing companies. Before we get to those, however, let's start with fresh news:

• Turns out that sometimes speculation takes you far afield from what's happening behind the scenes. In October and November 2017, Mayfair Games released a few employees, specifically those who worked on marketing, public relations, and distribution. All signs pointed to a buyout, but on Dec. 21, 2017 ICv2 posted that Mayfair Games has merely "expanded its relationship with Alliance Game Distributors", with Alliance now handling all shipping to trade channels and individual buyers as well as assuming "an expanded sales role for non-hobby channels".

• In 2017, Game Salute launched Flying Meeple as a separate brand for light games aimed at children and families, and to start 2018 the company has created two other imprints: Sparkworks, which will release "family-friendly" games of all types, and Starling Games, which will focus on strategy games, Euro-style games, and "generally heavier" games. Starling is launching with James A. Wilson's Everdell, a tableau-building and worker placement game that's on Kickstarter through January 23, 2018.

• U.S. publisher Compass Games has hired Uli Blennemann, owner of Spielworxx and developer with ADC Blackfire Entertainment GmbH, as "Brand Manager of Board Games", leading a new "Eurogame division" within the company while Compass will continue to release military simulations as they've done since their founding in 2004. In a press release announcing the hiring, Blennemann said, "Compass is already a major
force in historical gaming; we intend to make it a 'player' in Euro type gaming as well in the next few years." Compass plans to release its first "Euro-type" games in 2018, but no word yet on what they might be.

Deep Water Games has hired designer Ian Zang as its lead game developer.

• In August 2017, UK distributor Coiledspring Games announced an exclusive distribution deal with IELLO for distribution of its titles in the UK. In a press release, Coiledspring managing director Roger Martin said, "We are investing in an extensive marketing programme, which includes in-store demos, game-changing bonus cards, and exclusive giveaways."

• In August 2017, the Spiel des Jahres jury added two members: Spielbox freelancer Harald Schrapers, who also runs the site Games We Play, and independent game reviewer Tim Koch of Spielfreu(n)de.

• In May 2017, Mighty Boards merged with Cloud Island, with the combined group keeping the Mighty Boards name and branding.
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The Trucker's Guide to the Galaxy: A Retrospective

Jason A. Holt
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I didn't know what I was doing. Oh, I thought I knew. I thought I was translating a rulebook for my friend Vláďa, but actually I was working on a game that would be Czech Games Edition's best-selling title and on a rulebook that would set the tone for what players expect from CGE.

The year was 2007, and Vlaada Chvátil had this game called "Rakety". That's Czech, but you can probably tell that it means "Rockets".

It was a silly game about building spaceships that got hit by meteors and fell apart. I had never played it.

It sounds crazy, but ignorance of a game can be an advantage when I am translating. It means I have to understand the game only from the rules, which makes it easy to spot places where a new player would have questions.

Nowadays, I get this information from the players themselves. Before I start a rulebook, I have explained it to other players at least half a dozen times. That gives me a chance to try different ways of presenting the game, and I can discover what works.

And that's the knowledge that Vlaada had when he sent me the Czech rules for Galaxy Trucker. At the time, I didn't realize that his approach was unusual, but Dave Howell has pointed out to me that it is pedagogically amazing: Vlaada tells you how to build your ship, then he says, "Go ahead and build it!"




Then he sends you out on a flight in which the deck is stacked so that you will encounter exactly one of each type of adventure. By the end of the first round, you have learned the basic rules of the game.

But Vlaada's games never stop at the basic rules, do they? There's always some little tweak that makes the game more fair, more interesting, more gamey. That's why you're allowed to look at 75% of the cards during building. Any less, and you couldn't make strategic decisions. Any more, and you would miss out on the spine-chilling consequences of flying through a sideways meteor shower when all your cannons point to the front.

His approach to explaining Galaxy Trucker was to make sure the players understood the basic rules, and only then would he explain all the little tweaks that turned a good idea into a solid game.

After working on a dozen more projects for CGE, I would eventually realize that a rulebook needs to do two very different things. When the game comes out of the box, the rules need to tell you how to play it; while you're playing the game, the rulebook needs to answer any questions you might have. The Galaxy Trucker rulebook focuses heavily on the first thing.

It's designed to be read linearly. If you want to look up a rule — about set-up, about the flight, about giving up on a flight — you have to remember whether it's a basic rule or one of those tweaks that Vlaada didn't mention until after your first flight. That can be inconvenient. If I were in charge of making this rulebook now, knowing all the things I have learned in the last ten years, I would do some things differently — and I would be completely wrong because the rulebook Vlaada wrote is the ideal rulebook for this game.

The rulebook is not just funny; it's funny for good reasons. The jokes are telling you how to respond to the game. They say, "Your ship will blow up. Don't take it seriously." And the jokes reward people who read the whole thing straight through.

Consider the running gag in the components section. Vlaada tells you, "You want to have as many cabins as possible", "You want as many engines as possible", "You want as many cannons as possible", "You will want as many batteries as possible", and then...

"Now, you are probably expecting us to say you want as many shields as possible. Of course not. You only need two shield generators. In fact, if you are gutsy (or suicidal) you can fly without any shields at all."

The humor is what made this rulebook stick in people's minds ten years ago. Paul Grogan (Gaming Rules!) told me it was a big part of what made him want to work with CGE. And it was a great reward for people who were taking the time to learn the rules.

However, Vlaada also took steps to avoid punishing people who need to look up a rule during play. Much of the humor is written as excerpts from "The Trucker's Guide to the Galaxy". These excerpts are confined to convenient yellow boxes that you can ignore if you are looking for a rule or read if you just want to skip to the funny bits.




My job, of course, was to take these funny bits and make them funny in English. I guess I did okay. The original rules are so funny that some Czech players have literally exploded with laughter, and the Czech government has been forced to classify the Galaxy Trucker rulebook as a controlled substance, but we got some positive reviews in English, too.

Vlaada even let me add my own jokes, like my suggestion for Abandoned Ship:




This translation taught me a lot about writing humor. It wasn't enough to just translate the meaning. I had to translate the timing. Honestly, I failed. Czech and English don't have the same rhythms, and Czech has a much looser approach to word order. Yeah, word order. That's important. Because when you're telling a joke, the punch line has to come last.




So in most cases, I translated the idea of the joke, then played with the English words until it was funny again.

Anyway, I assume you're reading this designer diary so that you can hear about the sordid squabbles we had during game production, so let me tell you about the great meteor controversy.

Meteors are shooting stars. That is, they occur only in an atmosphere. A lot of people think that a meteor is the big rock that burns up and makes a shooting star, but the big rock is actually called a "meteoroid". If there is no incandescent ablation, there is no meteor.

"Meteoroids" would have been a stupid name for the card and "Meteor Shower" is something that can happen only in atmosphere, so I was convinced the card should be called "Asteroids". Vlaada was dead set against that because asteroids are huge, much larger than a spaceship. We finally compromised on "Meteoric Swarm".

Honestly, I was taking the technical terms much too seriously. We changed it to "Meteor Swarm" in the app. It doesn't matter that the technical term is "meteoroid". "Meteor" is just a better name.

Speaking of names, do I have time for one last story? The name of the project was "Rakety", but Vlaada had already come up with an English name:

Spoiler (click to reveal)

I wasn't too keen on it, so I suggested these beauties:

Galaxy Run
Galaxy Runner
Transgalactic

Eventually, Vlaada confessed to me that he really wanted to call it The Trucker's Guide to the Galaxy — sort of like "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" but from the other point-of-view. The yellow-box jokes in the rulebook were very much inspired by Douglas Adams, so we decided that The Trucker's Guide to the Galaxy would be a good title for the rulebook. However, the game itself needed something punchier. And so (after a few tense hours when it looked like we were going to mess the whole thing up and name it "Galactic Trucker") the Galaxy Trucker name was born.

CGE had good success with Galaxy Trucker right out of the starting gate, and the game continued to find new players, inspiring many expansions and eventually leading to the creation of CGE digital. For me, it was the beginning of a career working on rulebooks that are imaginative and engaging. It also gave me the chance to write voices for Vlaada's funny characters in the digital app, and it inspired my first science fiction novel, Galaxy Trucker: Rocky Road.

I told you Galaxy Trucker became CGE's best-selling game, but you probably know that status wasn't true after 2015. In that year Codenames rocketed past Galaxy Trucker's fame, and that game has established itself as CGE's brightest star — but Galaxy Trucker is the game that hauled CGE to the Codenames launch point. And ten years later, like the Little Rocket Engine That Could, Galaxy Trucker keeps on trucking.

Jason Holt


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Say Hello to The BoardGameGeek Show!

W. Eric Martin
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Lincoln Damerst has been overseeing the production of the board game playthrough show GameNight! since 2012 and been involved in BoardGameGeek's convention coverage since 2009, but as BGG's new Director of Media, he's looking to do more. As BGG owner Scott Alden said when announcing Lincoln's new position in December 2017, Lincoln will be "involved in producing and cultivating other shows under the BGG media label", and now it's time to unveil one such effort: The BoardGameGeek Show, the first episode of which features Scott, Lincoln, and me discussing games recently played (Gloomhaven, Hunt for the Ring, Attack on Titan: Deck-Building Game, and more), upcoming convention coverage by BGG, and a landmark number for the site.

Our current plan is to release episodes of The BoardGameGeek Show on a fortnightly basis, alternating with new episodes of GameNight! Our line-up isn't set in stone as we'll have a fourth person on hand for the second episode (which will feature, I hope, an interesting way to compare several games that have something in common), and we've been talking with a couple of other people about show appearances in the future.

I hope you enjoy the new show, which will likely evolve as the weeks go on. If you have suggestions or comments, please let us know what you'd like to see!


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Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:03 pm
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