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Designer Diary: Gods Love Dinosaurs, or Making Mechanisms Mesh

Kasper Lapp
Denmark
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Board Game: Gods Love Dinosaurs
I have never played the game Silk — but I heard Shut Up & Sit Down's review of the game, and they really liked the moments when the monster ate worms. ("Nom, nom, nom!")

That made me want to make a game in which animals eat other animals, too. This then turned into an idea of making an "ecosystem manager" — a game in which you have to keep the balance between populations of animals in an ecosystem.

I decided to use dominos to build the ecosystem. My aim became to make "Kingdomino, but where your kingdom comes alive." (I have a special relationship with Kingdomino because it won the Spiel des Jahres the same year that my Magic Maze was nominated, but that's another story.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The inspiration — Kingdomino image by Henk Rolleman

I chose the first animals that came to mind for the ecosystem. Rats, rabbits and frogs are all at the bottom of the food chain, and they are all eaten by tigers and eagles. I chose them because...well, because they are cool. But what would eat tigers and eagles? Something even cooler, hmm...

Dinosaurs, of course!

From gallery of Kasper Lapp
I never imagined that all the animals I chose would make it into the final game, but I think the fact that these animals don't make sense with each other in a zoological sense has a certain charm to it — and this mismatch fit what ended up being the narrative: Crazy gods building ecosystems.

The goal I wanted players to have in this game was to keep a fine balance in their ecosystems, but how do you measure this balance in a simple way? I realized that a balanced ecosystem would be one that allows a lot of top predators (dinosaurs) to live. If, for example, there were too few tigers and eagles, the dinosaurs would starve, but if too many tigers and eagles existed, they would eat all the prey and end up starving, ultimately making the dinosaurs starve as well.

Initially, points were given based on how many dinosaurs you had alive in your ecosystem at specific moments of the game. Later, I decided that you would score a point each time a dinosaur ate a tiger or eagle because then points were tied directly to the most exciting moments of the game: When your dinosaurs come ravaging down from the mountains to eat. (I don't think dinosaurs actually lived in mountains, but again, it just seemed cool.)

During the game, players draft tiles with two different (or similar) terrains and often with a new animal on one of those. That didn't change during the design process, except that I changed the spaces to hexagons instead of squares. That made the placement of tiles less frustrating. It can be surprisingly hard to keep similar area types together using square dominos, but it became a lot easier with hexagons. In Kingdomino, keeping area types together is a central part of the challenge, but in Gods Love Dinosaurs the challenge lies elsewhere, so I wanted to make that part easier for the players.

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

The most important development of the game was the flow. In the first version, the game consisted of a set number of rounds. In each round, players were presented with tiles and picked one each to add to their ecosystem, then a card was drawn that dictated which animals would move, e.g., rabbits and tigers.

There were two problems with this. First, it was often obvious which tile would be best for your ecosystem. Second, you didn't get any chance to plan ahead since you wouldn't know which animals were going to move.

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

Even though the game didn't really work, the playtesters clearly enjoyed the "eating moments" of the game a lot, so I knew the game had potential and set out to fix those two problems.

First, I tried less random movements. You now knew ahead of time that the rabbits were going to multiply soon, or that the dinosaur would have to eat in a few turns, but you still didn't have any control over it, and it still didn't solve the issue that your best tile choice during drafting was often too obvious.

I needed more reasons for players to want one tile instead of another, and then it came to me: I could perhaps solve both my problems at once by introducing five columns of tiles, one for each non-dinosaur animal. Whenever the last tile in a column was taken, that type of animal would move.

Suddenly, you have a lot more to think about when choosing tiles. It might still be obvious which tile would be best for your ecosystem, but what if it were in the wrong column? Players now have to balance the choice between "which tile is best" and "which animal should move". Problem one was solved! At the same time, players now had control (collectively) over which animals ended up moving instead of it being decided by random card draws. Problem two was solved as well!

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

I love the moments when a rule change suddenly makes a game "click". This was one of those moments. The rest of the design process was just about getting the details right, and it ended up being my fastest idea-to-contract-proposal process yet (three-and-a-half months).

Pandasaurus Games did an amazing job with the visuals and made ani-meeples for all the animals, so I can't wait to get my own copy once it's released on October 21, 2020.

Kasper Lapp

Board Game: Gods Love Dinosaurs

Board Game: Gods Love Dinosaurs
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Tue Oct 20, 2020 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Praga Caput Regni

Vladimir Suchy
Czech Republic
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Board Game: Praga Caput Regni
Starting Point

For only the second time in my game design history — Last Will was the first — theme was the starting point for the design process for my latest game: Praga Caput Regni in this case, with the title being Latin for "Prague, capital of the Kingdom".

So how did the city of Prague become the focal point of this new game? Well, the seeds of it were probably sown when, as a schoolboy, I'd go on many walks in this beautiful and fascinating city with my best friend at that time. I was fortunate enough to be born in this exceptional city, and from a young age I wanted to find out as much as I could not just about its famous historical sights, but also its lesser known ones.

It was clear to me even then as a youngster that, especially when viewing the panoramas of Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I absorbed its history on my regular walks through its streets and that had a great impact on me in my formative years, and those walks gave me many unforgettable memories and experiences that I look back on fondly even to this day.

From gallery of sucd
Prague's famous Charles Bridge and its gaming equivalent

In the intervening years since my childhood, inevitably the ups and downs of family and working life got in the way of my ability to explore the city as often as I did in my youth. However, my love of the city did not diminish, and I continued to learn more about the history of Prague from a wide variety of books that I read on the subject.

Board Game: League of Six
So when I started making games, it was no surprise that I was keen to introduce a historical element to the design process whenever I could. You can see this clearly in the first game of mine that was published, League of Six, a game set in 1430 about a group of wealthy Lusatian towns that banded together to defend their commercial interests and the stability of this region, which is situated in the present day on the borders of Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic). While I often considered Czech history as a potential source of theme for my games over the years, the city of Prague (and its special history) has had to wait its turn.

After having finished designing Underwater Cities and its expansion, I was casting around for themes for my next game. I had an urge to design a historically themed game — my favorite type of game — and it suddenly occurred to me that it might finally be the right time to fulfill one of my dreams, that is to say, to design a strategic Eurogame based around my hometown: the royal city of Prague.

From that point on, some thoughts started rattling around my head about designing a game in which the main goal was to build up the medieval city of Prague during the period of the reign of Charles IV (1316-1378 CE), king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. This was a time when the city flourished and a great many of the iconic sights of today's Prague were constructed. I was intent on including as many of those real historical sights and buildings as I could in the game, places such as Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, and the Charles University to name a few, all of which you can still see today of course.

From gallery of sucd

From gallery of sucd
The Hunger Wall and its gaming equivalent

Mechanisms

The next step in the design process was trying to find a way to incorporate as many of those historical buildings and events from the Charles IV period into the game as possible through appropriate mechanisms. It was inevitable that I would have to make compromises as it wasn't possible to include everything!

As I write this, we are at the point where the game is very nearly finished and requires only minor tweaks to balance and the odd minor mechanism. However, even now, when I think of some lesser known historical sight in the city I think to myself, "Why didn't I include that square on the main board?" or "Why didn't I include this church?" But as much as I wanted to, I just couldn't include them all. While I did have some initial concerns about connecting this theme with more complex game mechanisms in a smooth and streamlined way, I also wanted to do the city justice by how it was represented in the game. In the end, I think I managed to fit a good selection of the most interesting parts of Prague into the game.

This historical era, one of the most famous periods in the history of both Prague and the Czech kingdom, provided a lot of rich design possibilities right from the outset. In 1346, the young and able Charles IV of the Luxembourg dynasty ascended to the throne and became King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. One of the first steps he took was to order the building of the New Town (Nové Město) next to the Old Town (Staré Město). During this period, he also initiated the construction of the famous Charles Bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral, and many of the buildings connected to the University of Prague, which was founded in 1348 and would eventually become known as the Charles University of Prague, one of the oldest universities in Europe. By the end of his reign, Prague had become one of the largest and most important cities in Europe.

Board Game: Praga Caput Regni
Prototype components

The main goal of the game is, obviously, building. At the start of the design process, I tried to incorporate these historical elements into the fabric of the game. You can see this clearly on the game board where the Old Town and the New Town are separated by the King's Road (Královská Cesta). Players also help construct the City Walls, as well as the Hunger Wall (which was built during a famine in the 1360s and is reputed to have been ordered by Charles IV as a way of providing jobs and food to the affected citizens and their families), in addition to the aforementioned Charles Bridge and St. Vitus Cathedral.

One of the main mechanisms of the game involves players selecting an action to carry out in order to help with the construction of these locations. They do this by gaining resources and upgrading those actions. When I modeled out possible turns in my head, I tried to interconnect the mechanisms as much as possible through this core action-selection mechanism. My main aim when designing this central mechanism was to encourage players to not select the same action repeatedly so that they would have to combine different action choices to make their overall strategy succeed. Although the game's mechanisms seem very logically connected to me now, I found the mental exercise of keeping tabs of the possible permutations of players' actions to be one the most demanding challenges I have ever experienced while designing games.

I like using dice in my games a lot, and they were the main component of the central mechanism in the first versions of the game. Players would roll three dice to choose their actions and the accompanying bonus actions. However, after testing this at home with my family I realized that this was not the best choice of mechanism to be at the center of this game. I tried several ways to adjust the dice mechanism so that it not only worked but was fun, yet I just wasn't happy with it; the dice were too random to base strategic decisions on.

This led to me having a new experience as a game designer. In my previous games, I've started by determining the main mechanism, then building other mechanisms around it. I sometimes had to adjust the central mechanism a bit, but generally it stayed fundamentally similar to how I first envisaged it. Realizing that my central mechanism didn't work as I wanted it to was something new that I had to deal with. I decided to keep the secondary mechanisms, but come up with a completely different core mechanism.

In the end, I decided to use a mechanism I had come up with years ago in which tiles with two actions on them are inserted into a central wheel. There are also bonuses on the wheel itself so that you get to take the bonus when you select an action tile. From the action tile itself, you choose one of the two actions indicated on it.

From gallery of sucd
The first version of the action crane

I refined this mechanism to work in the context of this specific game, and it eventually turned out to be the most suitable central mechanism for Praga. From a design point of view, I thankfully managed to find a way around the initial design challenge of having to completely change the central mechanism without having to majorly change the secondary mechanisms.

Further Development

I felt good about the change of the central mechanism at this point, but it still needed some refining. I reduced the number of possible main actions to seven and experimented with them on the wheel. I came up with different bonus actions for each slot on the wheel connected to the secondary mechanisms of the game. This led to players having to choose from a veritable smorgasbord of actions, each of which provided different bonuses depending on its location on the wheel.

Also, the bonuses on the wheel, which thematically became the wheel of a builder's crane, get increasingly more advantageous as they travel round. In more detail, when the tiles start out on the wheel, a player has to pay more resources to get the more frequently used action tiles that end up back at the start of the wheel more often, but as the action tiles move round the wheel, the bonuses to take them get better until a player eventually decides they are just too good to pass up. At this point, I was really happy with how this core mechanism worked.

Board Game: Praga Caput Regni
Final design of the action crane

The next thing I had to deal with was reducing the amount of time it took to take a turn. I didn't want it to be too long. I tried reducing it by simplifying the main actions and the complexity of the bonus actions. Initially the variety of bonus actions was too wide, which led to analysis paralysis and slowed the game down.

Following discussion with playtesters, I decided to get rid of the main action that allowed players to move on the cathedral or wall tracks and turn that into a bonus action you get when constructing certain wall tiles, thereby reducing the number of main actions to six. This turned out to be the final number of actions in the game. These discussions also led to the decision to simplify how it was possible to get an additional movement on the cathedral and wall tracks — by spending two white windows — which sped up the flow of the game considerably.

Numerous playtest games helped to balance the design. Through those tests, it became clear that it was necessary to strengthen the "upgrade actions" action. (I settled upon a bonus of advancing on the University track to provide additional motivation to do this action.) The production tracks also needed strengthening as there were other ways to gain resources without actually moving on these tracks, so I made the benefits of going up this track more enticing and together with the large endgame scoring bonuses possible at the end of them, this turned the "production" strategy into a viable one.

One of the things I'm really pleased about with Praga is that the number of players playing the game doesn't affect the flow of the game too much. Apart from the starting set-up, there was little need to adjust the game according to the number of players.

From gallery of sucd
Graphic development of houses

There are a LOT of hex tiles in this game, too, and balancing these to ensure that none of them were too powerful was a demanding part of the design process.

The increasing popularity of solo modes in games (especially in this time of COVID-19) was a motivating factor for me to include this in the game as well. I carried out a lot of testing during lockdown periods at home, so I played solo a lot, which helped me hone the game and this particular mode. This didn't replace playing games with playtesters and getting their feedback, but it was definitely a useful supplement to that process in these difficult times. I have noticed recently that solo players tend to prefer modes in which they have a "dummy" opponent. However, I still tried to make the simulated opponent as realistic as possible and less of a dummy! The rules for this version of the solo game will be published through our website at the same time as the game.

In the end, I'm very happy with how Praga Caput Regni has turned out. In my opinion, it is the most complex game I have ever created, and I believe it is a worthy successor to Underwater Cities.

Vladimír Suchý

P.S. Thanks to Mike Poole for the language corrections.

From gallery of sucd
Old Town Hall with the inscription "PRAGA CAPUT REGNI"
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Sun Oct 18, 2020 1:00 pm
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Lookout Sows Fields to Produce Hallertau, More Agricola, and Patchworks Galore

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Patchwork
Uwe Rosenberg's two-player game Patchwork was a hit when it debuted in 2014, and it's continued to find new fans in the intervening years. (Here's a quick overview of the game if it's still unknown to you.)

Publisher Lookout Games has released a few Patchwork spinoff titles, and now it has three more in the works for those who prefer the gameplay of the original but not its graphics. Note that all of these new versions differ from the original only in their graphics, with the exception of one non-game related element.

The most widespread of these new versions will be Patchwork: Winter Edition, which features red, green, and blue-and-white patches, in addition to a patch-shaped cookie cutter for those who'd prefer to eat patches as much as play with them. This version will be released initially in separate English and German editions.

Board Game: Patchwork
Board Game: Patchwork
Board Game: Patchwork

The other two editions are dubbed Patchwork: Folklore Taiwan and Patchwork: Folklore China, and they feature imagery by artists local to the regions being depicted: Gru Tsow for Taiwan and Rex Lee for China. This artwork was created for licensed versions of Patchwork that will be released in Taiwan and China by local companies, but Lookout liked the style of these versions so much that it's releasing a 500-copy limited edition version of each one, with these being available through the Lookout online shop starting on October 22, 2020.

Board Game: Agricola: Dulcinaria Deck
Board Game: Nusfjord: Salmon Deck
• Lookout Games has three other items due out in Germany on that same date, with two of those items being expansions to existing games: Agricola: Dulcinaria Deck, which contains 120 new occupation and minor improvement cards for use with the revised edition of Agricola (and the original one if you can gloss over differences in terminology), and Nusfjord: Salmon Deck, the second expansion deck for Nusfjord, which contains 44 new building cards for players who have a good understanding of the base game, as well as 25 metal coins to replace the coins from the base game.

• The final title debuting from Lookout on Oct. 22, 2020 is a giant one: Hallertau from Uwe Rosenberg. In this 1-4 player game, players each have a field in which they'll plant and harvest crops, a stable in which they'll tend to sheep, and five craft buildings that they'll progress in order to "expand" their community center, which gives them more workers to use each round.

Twenty actions are available on a shared central game board, and the cost to use an action escalates based on how many times it's already been used in a round; card-drawing actions can be used at most twice in a round, and other actions at most three times. Players manage nine types of goods, planting barley, flax, hops, and rye in the fields. Fields that remain empty will be more productive in future rounds, but the game lasts only six rounds, so sometimes you'll just have to get what you can. Sheep provide hides, meat, milk, and wool, and you'll need a varied mix of goods in order to use the cards you acquire to trade resources, gain additional resources, or spend resources for points.

For all the details of this 24-page rulebook, head to the Hallertau page on the Lookout Games website.

Board Game: Hallertau
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Fri Oct 16, 2020 3:39 pm
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Designer Diary: Lost Ruins of Arnak — The World, The Language, The Art

Mín
Czech Republic
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Lost Ruins of Arnak
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Board Game Publisher: Czech Games Edition
My husband Elwen and I work for Czech Games Edition, where we develop and playtest games and organize playtesting events for CGE's upcoming titles. This year is special for us as the game that we have developed is also a game that we designed. It was quite an adventure!

The game design of Lost Ruins of Arnak was an exciting journey, and I think we will write a separate article just about that, but today I want to let you peek behind the curtains of the Arnak world-building process and its art, which I think is quite special.

Board Game: Lost Ruins of Arnak

Elwen and I believe that Eurogames can both be clever and have a strong theme that helps you intuitively grasp the rules. That was one of the goals we tried to achieve with Lost Ruins of Arnak. We wanted to introduce unique gameplay that combines worker-placement and deck-building with some extra twists. We also wanted to let players experience the thrill of leading an adventurous expedition to an uncharted land, and we hoped for the game mechanisms to enhance the thematic feel, not diminish it. A huge part of this feeling is also in the game's visuals — which is why we gave a lot of attention to it.

From gallery of Minmyska
The whole world-building process started with the decision to set the game in an alternative history of the 1930s where a mysterious island was discovered, so we embarked on a quest to create an ancient culture that we could watch rise from nothing, only to let it fall to ruin, then bury it in the jungles of Arnak. World-building was a new experience for us, and we never expected to go into as much depth and detail when we started.

I cannot stress enough how lucky we were to put together a team of amazingly gifted Czech illustrators who worked on this project. They all brought something unique to the mix, and the results far surpassed our wildest expectations.

In the beginning, we had many long calls with our graphics team in which we brainstormed about how the island would look and who the people that once lived in Arnak were: their lifestyle, their beliefs, the stories pictured in the art they left behind.

From gallery of Minmyska

History of Arnak

I began to write a lengthy document called "History of Arnak" while Ondřej Hrdina started to sketch scenes from the past. This was one of my favorite parts of the process — letting the drawings inspire me to write, or to see my thoughts materialize in the illustrations.

We knew that we were not creating art that we would use in the actual game, but I hoped that the attention to detail would make the place look more real, and these concepts would become a cornerstone on which we would continue to build the world of Arnak.

Our team members Jakub Politzer, Filip Murmak, and Ondřej Hrdina were essential when discussing the civilizations that lived in Arnak throughout its history. They provided valuable information about the steps to take while building a world as well as great ideas and valuable feedback.

We kept adding details (and drawings!); we described the island and its geography, climate, fauna, and flora; and we described people who once lived in Arnak, their myths, lifestyles, materials, technologies they used, architecture styles, trading customs... The list goes on.

From gallery of Minmyska

From gallery of Minmyska

The mythology and religion was an important part of the culture, and you can see it reflected in the artwork they left behind: the artifacts you find, the sites you discover, the stories depicted on the walls of the Lost Temple...

From gallery of Minmyska

From gallery of Minmyska

Forgotten Language

Jakub Politzer led one part of the process that I found fascinating: how oral stories turned into myths, myths into drawings, and drawings into symbols that the people of Arnak used to write their sacred texts — symbols which later, in turn, permeated their architecture and artifacts.

From gallery of Minmyska

In the end, this evolved into a hieroglyphic script that you can see scattered on the illustrations throughout the game.

I promised you a peek behind the curtain, so here is a link to a small part of my notes if you would like to dig deeper into the meaning of different drawings in the game: Mín's notes.

After months of work, Arnak, with all the little details, felt alive to us. That was the moment when our actual work on the board game art began. We had to move centuries ahead, bury everything we knew and start looking at the island with the eyes of the explorers arriving for the first time to uncover Arnak's great mysteries...

From gallery of Minmyska

Discovering Arnak

Finally, Ondřej Hrdina started to sketch Arnak and how it looked when the explorers found it. The old temples and cities, all in ruin, overgrown and deserted. The jungle hungrily took over anything that was left, hiding the statues and sacred places.

We decided to capture two main biotopes on the game map: the vast rocky plains where the most efficient means of transport would be an off-road car, and the large river delta surrounded by dense jungle where the ideal way to get around would be a boat — although, of course, you can get anywhere with amphibious aircraft!

From gallery of Minmyska

Guardians

Jiří Kůs and František Sedláček joined our team and got the task of sketching, then finalizing the artwork for the ancient Guardians. These mysterious beasts stalk the abandoned cities, and the explorers who disturb their peace must face their wrath or find a way to pacify their anger. Below you can see the birth of one Guardian, from the first sketches to the final illustration.

From gallery of Minmyska

Ondřej Hrdina also put together some sketches of explorers making their first discoveries...and meeting their first Guardians. One of the sketches eventually evolved into the image you can see on the final box's cover.

From gallery of Minmyska

Cards

Designing the cards was a part of the game design that I, but especially Elwen, really enjoyed. Trying to come up with interesting effects that would also make thematic sense. Admittedly we were tired when we designed the Ostrich and the Sea Turtle. Still, everyone loved those cards, and as a result, we ended up with far more animal companion cards than we originally anticipated.

From gallery of Minmyska

During that time, Milan Vavroň joined the team, and he started to work on the card illustrations. He originally thought that he would have just enough time to illustrate the items, but he ended up illustrating all the artifacts as well. When we saw his first cards, we were blown away! Milan has worked on several CGE projects, but he seemed to really outdo himself in this game.

Designing the artifact effects was also fun! Jakub Politzer made beautiful concept art, and we tried to pick the right effect that would best fit the illustration, or we even created new effects based on the concepts. Milan Vavroň then took the concept art and set the artifacts in atmospheric environments.

From gallery of Minmyska

It was a fascinating journey to slowly watch Arnak materialize from nothing.

As I am writing these lines, we have just received the first samples from the printer. To be fair, we loved the game from the early drafts — we designed it to have fun playing it together — but seeing it with the final art is one of the nicest gifts we have ever received. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to the process, and we hope that you will enjoy our game as much as we do!

Mín & Elwen

Board Game: Lost Ruins of Arnak
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Thu Oct 15, 2020 1:00 pm
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Academy Games Takes Us One Small Step to Team-Based Worker Placement Awesomeness

Candice Harris
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Los Angeles
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Board Game Publisher: Academy Games, Inc.
Academy Games has a solid reputation for tastefully blending entertainment and education to deliver engaging historical games, such as its area-control hit 1775: Rebellion from its Birth of America game series.

I caught a short, but enticing glimpse of its latest 2020 release One Small Step on BGG's livestream for Gen Con Online 2020. It looked and sounded super interesting, so I was naturally very curious to experience how it played. Uwe Eickert and the Academy Games team graciously sent me a copy so that I could race to space and share some thoughts with the BGG community so that you can determine whether One Small Step is a game to keep on your radar.

From gallery of candidrum
One Small Step is a 2-4 player team-based, engine-building, worker placement Eurogame designed by James DuMond and Gunter Eickert that's based on the U.S. & Soviet space race and that was fittingly launched on Kickstarter on July 16, 2019 — exactly fifty years after Apollo 11 launched to start its journey to land the first men on the Moon. In One Small Step, players split up into two teams of one or two players, and play as either the United States or Soviet Union space agencies competing to develop their space programs, launch missions, and be the first to achieve a Moon landing.

One Small Step is played over a series of rounds until the end of the game is triggered. Players collect various resources and optimize their engines to launch satellite and crewed missions, increase their agency's knowledge, and advance along the Moon path. The first team that reaches the end of the Moon path receives bonus victory points and triggers the end of the game. The team with the most VPs wins the game and represents the nation that progressed humanity's knowledge for the future most.

Each team has a player board (Agency board) for storing and organizing resources, workers (two Engineers and two Administrators), personnel cards, advancement cards and most importantly, mission cards. Successfully launching missions gives you all sorts of rewarding bonuses, upgrades, victory points, and advancements on the Moon path.

Each round of One Small Step is split into seven phases that will be repeated until a team lands on the Moon and triggers the end of the game:

(1) In the first phase, Countdown, both teams simultaneously advance their missions one space toward the Launch stage. There are three stages on each team's Agency board that hold mission cards in a launch queue: T-Minus 2, T-Minus 1 and Launch. As a result of the countdown phase, players will be attempting to launch any missions shifted to the Launch stage at the end of the round.

From gallery of candidrum

(2) Next, in the Replenish phase, each team refreshes their permanent resources and places four new event cards on the board. Now's a good time for me to talk about the resources in One Small Step.

There are nine different types resources split into three thematic categories: Agency resources (funding, material, personnel), Satellite resources (boosters, navigation, sensors), and Crew resources (capsules, landing, life support). Most often, you gain resources from rolling special resource dice; there's one die for each resource category. We did have some bad luck here and there with the die rolls, but nothing that was ever too detrimental. There are different actions in which you can spend any type of resource, or you can convert resources, or you just stock up because you'll likely need them at some point.

From gallery of candidrum

For each resource, you can gain temporary resources (white circular tokens) that are discarded when they're spent or permanent resources (black square tokens) that are reusable each round. A chunk of the engine building in One Small Step involves efficiently upgrading temporary resources to permanent resources since permanent resources give you way more bang for your buck when playing cards and launching missions.

(3) After the Replenish phase, each team will Draw 2 Cards. The Administator department/player can draw either a Satellite Mission card or a Crewed Mission card, whereas the Engineer department/player can draw a Satellite Mission card, Crewed Mission card, or an Event card from the Event deck. On each team, you can draw one card and then decide which card you want to draw next.

Whenever you draw a Mission card (Satellite or Crewed) you will immediately place it on either the T-Minus 2 stage or T-Minus 1 stage on your Agency board. There's no limit to the number of Mission cards that can be placed on each stage, but strategically it's an important decision as you are penalized for failed missions. For each Mission card added to the T-Minus 2 stage, you also get to roll the red (Satellite) resource die and get a free resource.

From gallery of candidrum
Earth spaces
There are two types of Event cards you can draw: Development and Personnel. Development cards are always placed in your team's shared hand while Personnel cards are played face up to the right of your Agency board. You can have only three Personnel cards at a time, but you can have unlimited Development cards in your hand.

(4) Next you'll jump into the Workers phase where teams alternate taking turns in placing workers on either Earth action spaces or Event cards on the board. A là traditional worker placement, your opponent(s) will inevitably beat you to an action space you are needing to use and it's not uncommon to experience lots of cringing and groans during this phase.

Each team has two Administrator workers and two Engineer workers, and the majority of the action spaces can be taken only by the specified type of worker. If you place a worker on a card, you immediately take the worker action on the card, and at the end of the round, you also get to keep the card...again, Development cards go into your hand and Personnel cards go face up to the right of your Agency board.

The Earth action spaces also have an area for specific types of workers, but they are also upgradeable so they get juicier and juicier as the game progresses. One of the bonuses for successful mission launches is to upgrade Earth action. This is always a tough decision because you're not just upgrading it for yourself, but your opponents also have access to the stellar spaces as a result of your upgrade benefit.

From gallery of candidrum
Card spaces

One Small Step comes with handy action summary sheets that summarize each Earth action and the corresponding upgrades, but the iconography is so well done that it will probably be easy to remember after you play the game once.

The action spaces, whether on card spaces or Earth spaces, vary and give players plenty of options. Many allow you to gain resources, convert or upgrade resources, play Development cards at a discounted cost, gain bonus tiles, place hazard cards on your opponents' missions, advance on the Media track, and even take an action on a space that's already occupied with another worker.

I should note that all but one Earth action space has one action for an Engineer worker and a separate action for an Administrator worker beneath it. This means if you place an Engineer on a space, no one else (including your team) can place an Administrator on the action beneath it. This lends itself to tough decisions, as if it wasn't already challenging managing the limitations of having only two of each type of worker and how to best place them based on your available options. It's great!

I mentioned hazard cards and the Media track above, so let me briefly explain how the Media track works and I'll save the hazard cards for later. The Media track thematically represents how supportive your country's population and government are of your space agency's ventures, but in terms of gameplay it determines who has initiative in the phases of the game that aren't played simultaneously.

From gallery of candidrum

The Media track ranges from -3 to 8. If your Media value is 5 or more, you may reduce your Media by 5 to gain a Media bonus tile that usually provides resources and/or a special ability. If your Media value is at 8 and you need to gain Media, you must reduce it by 5 and take a Media bonus tile, then continue gaining Media as usual. This loop creates some interesting decisions because turn order can be very important especially in the worker placement phase and during the last phase of the round when you're launching missions.

(5) & (6) In phases 5 and 6, teams can use their Personnel cards and/or Play Development Cards from their hand respectively by spending the indicated resources, then taking the corresponding action. Since the Personnel cards are face up by your Agency board, your opponents may have some idea of what you might do, but the Development cards are in your hand which can create some suspense and sneak attack power plays in later rounds. Personnel and Development card actions usually involve gaining some resources, or gaining Media, but some cards even allow you to draw a mission card and immediately attempt to launch it which could be powerful for jumping ahead on the Moon path and snagging benefits before your opponent(s). Resources can be tight so sometimes you'll lean toward passing on one or both of these phases to save your resources for launching your missions.

(7) ...which brings me to the final phase, Launch Missions! This, ladies and gentlemen, is what you've been prepping all round for. In the Launch Missions phase, teams alternate launching one mission at a time from their Launch stage in initiative order.

As I mentioned earlier, there are satellite missions and crewed missions. Each mission card has a minor success requirement and reward, as well as a major success requirement and reward. If you don't have the resources necessary for the minor success, the mission fails and you'll have to take the penalty listed at the bottom of the card. Alternatively, if you are successful with the minor success requirement, you can optionally choose to spend the resources needed for the major success in which case you'll receive the mission rewards for both the minor and major success.

From gallery of candidrum

Successful crewed missions will allow you to progress on the Moon path, which is the timer for ending the game, but usually you'll want to start with mainly satellite missions to build up resources and your engine a bit. Each space on the Moon path has a bonus tile for the first player to land there, so timing can be important if you want a leg up on those bonuses.

From gallery of candidrum
Satellite mission card with a revealed hazard
At different points in the game, you might have to gain hazard cards which you'll have to place on your mission cards, and sometimes you'll get to draw them, take a peek, and place them on one of your opponents' mission cards. They're just enough of an unexpected element to make you sweat a little, but it's rarely catastrophic. You might need to spend an extra resource or lose one of your minor success rewards, assuming you're successful. But if you do have any hazard cards on a mission, you will need to spend the required resources in addition to the minor success requirements or else you fail the mission. The good news is that if you can survive the hazard(s), they usually come with a victory point which is a nice way to balance out the sting of having to spend extra resources.

After both teams have attempted to launch all missions in the Launch stage, you jump back to the Countdown phase and do it all over again but gradually improving your engine and working through three eras/tiers of Event cards that are increasingly more interesting. Between that and upgrading worker placement Earth spaces, the game definitely builds up and progresses well.

There are also Advancement cards you can purchase with resources and special Advancement tokens which either grant you a one-time benefit or on-going special ability which can spice things up even more.

From gallery of candidrum

All-in-all, I found One Small Step to be extremely enjoyable. It's a great two-player game, but from my experiences it especially shines when played with four since the team interaction is refreshing, unique, and challenging in a different way from most Eurogames. I'm sure some will love the team play and others won't be into it.

Playing with teams does tend to make the game run a bit longer since there's a lot of discussing and strategizing on both sides, but that doesn't bother me if everyone is engaged and having fun the whole time, which was the case each time we played with teams. I also found it surprising how competitive it gets when playing with teams. I felt myself caring more about winning when I had a teammate than I usually do playing games in general. A few rounds in you'll see people on both teams using their player aids to cover up their mouths and be discrete while plotting moves like football coaches covering their mouths with their playbooks as they relay a critical game plan in the final minutes of a tight football game.

I got some Manhattan Project vibes from One Small Step with the different types of workers and also the feeling of racing to progress on the Moon path ahead of my opponents. I really loved the decision space when choosing which worker placement spaces to upgrade — and having upgradeable worker placement spaces combined with the different types of workers really spices things up.

I didn't touch on it much, but I also really appreciated all of the historic facts and flavor throughout the rulebook and on the cards. If I can walk away from the table with learning something new and at the same time grinning from having an excellent gaming experience, I'm generally going to be a fan...and that is the case with One Small Step.

Here's the Gen Con Online 2020 demo hosted by Eric if you're interested in hearing more about One Small Step from the mouths of the creators:

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Wed Oct 14, 2020 3:17 pm
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Designer Diary: The Long Road to Kitara

Eric Vogel
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Hayward
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Microbadge: Kitara fanMicrobadge: The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game fanMicrobadge: Cambria fanMicrobadge: Zeppelin Attack fanMicrobadge: Don't Turn Your Back fan
Board Game: Kitara
Board Game: Armorica
In 2010, my game design career was just starting to take off. A new game company, Sandstorm LLC, had bought the rights to my games Cambria and Hibernia and seemed interested in seeing more work from me. I started thinking about a game that would be a natural follow-up to Cambria and Hibernia, another Celtic-Nations game that would fit in the same box and have roughly the same number of components, but a higher level of complexity.

A comment by one of my regular playtesters, Jon Spinner, came back to me — something about "a card game and a board game that interface at one end". I don't remember the exact words he used, but it got me thinking about the self-published card game I had released earlier in that year, Armorica. It struck me that Armorica's central card-drafting mechanism could be combined with an area-control board game, similar to Hibernia.

Board Game: Armorica
Sample cards from Armorica

I came up with a prototype set in the Celtic Iberian peninsula in which players drafted a card every turn to build up a card display that gave them varying amounts of per turn victory points and the ability to choose from a wider array of cards each turn (as in Armorica), as well as movement points and new units for the board. I moved the ability to support cards from the cards (as in Armorica) to the board, requiring players to hold onto particular board territories each turn if they wanted to retain their cards. Other territories allowed players to score points. This mechanism created the need for dynamic expansion each turn and prevented players from just playing defensively, serving the same function as the multi-colored score track in Hibernia, but in a very different way.

The resulting game was a little larger in scale than Hibernia and Cambria, but I sent the design off to Sandstorm for playtesting anyway. When I went to the GAMA Trade Show for the first time in 2011 to demo my forthcoming games, Sandstorm told me they liked my new design and wanted to publish it. Unfortunately, Sandstorm ran into financial difficulties later in 2011, and by the time I was demoing the newly released Cambria and Hibernia at Gen Con, they told me it was unlikely they would be publishing anything else.

From gallery of erichv
Looking for Publication in All the Wrong Places

I took advantage of being at Gen Con already and showed the new game to some folks from a much larger publisher, who tested it and expressed interest in it. I left a prototype with them. Eventually, after some subsequent interaction with them, it was suggested that they might like the game better if it were dice-based instead of card-based, so I went off and created what ended up being a quite different game. That version got me all the way to a meeting with the publisher's actual decision-maker at next year's Gen Con, but he ultimately passed on it.

That dice-based game eventually evolved into my forthcoming game Lost Empires, which will be released by Sand Castle Games sometime in 2021; however, that is a story for another designer diary.

Meanwhile, I went back and took another look at the original card-based game. The two games were different enough at this point that I felt I had two separate designs on my hands, but I wanted to make the card-based game even more distinct from the dice-based game.

Board Game: Kreta
Board Game: Kreta
I had been playing Kreta quite a bit at that time, which gave me the notion of adding multiple unit types to the card-based game. I took the functions that the units were already serving in the game and divided them between three different types of meeples: units that let you keep cards when they were in particular territories, units that scored you points when they were in a different kind of territory, and units that you needed to have in combat or you would lose 3 VP. This change added a significant new decision point to card drafting, as well as a lot of tactical considerations when attacking and retreating.

In 2013, my friend Cedric was working for a French company called MyWitty Games that used a novel crowdfunding approach. I spent some time developing the game with an eye towards having them publish it. The game was recast in a fantasy setting in which the unit types became humans, dwarves, and ogres. The movement mechanism was also changed to use movement actions that would move a group of pieces at once instead of having movement points that moved only one unit at a time; this change differentiated the design even further from the dice-based version.

However, MyWitty also went out of business before we got to the point of signing a contract. I pitched the game to Evil Hat Productions in 2014, but they passed on it in favor of Kaiju Incorporated.

A Home at Last

Family: Organizations: Forgenext
In 2016, I became a client of the Forgenext Agency, and my agent Gaëtan Beaujannot started representing my games to publishers instead of me (which was a great improvement as I am not a great salesman or negotiator). He and his wife Martine played the game with me during a visit they made to the San Francisco Bay area in 2017; I remember I made some changes in response to feedback he gave me on the game at that meeting, but I don't remember precisely what the changes were.

Gaetan began pitching the game to publishers at that point. We negotiated with another large publisher that had expressed strong interest in the game, and I did some development at their request during the contract negotiations. In particular, I developed an alternative card deck that used a different pattern of icons across each card to increase the variety of gameplay. In the original deck, cards always provided meeples, and no card ever provided multiple types of meeple; in the new deck, cards could provide multiple meeple types, and a few cards did not provide meeples at all. My playtesters seemed to like this new deck better, so it became the default deck, while the original deck became the alternate. However, I was unhappy with some of this publisher's plans for the game, and ultimately we could not come to terms.

Board Game Publisher: IELLO
It was then that Gaetan got me a contract for the game with IELLO, a publisher I was really excited to work with. IELLO proposed using an Afro-fantasy setting for the game, that is, a fantasy setting developed from African history and mythology.

I thought that was an awesome idea. Most games set in Africa are either about WWII battles in North Africa, European colonialism, or ancient Egypt. The rest of the games set in Africa were about exploration, travel, conservation, and postcolonial warfare. There are very few games about ancient Africa.

How to Design Games about Africa

From gallery of erichv
I found the prospect of creating an ancient sub-Saharan African setting for the game a little daunting. I am not African, nor am I of African Diaspora descent. I wouldn't call myself an expert on Africa, although I do take an interest in African history, current affairs, and cultural theory.

However, I am a professor, and I know how to do a thorough review of the literature. As I began to research possible settings for my game, I remembered a line from the late Binyavanga Wainaina's 2005 satiric essay "How to Write About Africa", which is actually a set of criticisms of how non-Africans tend to write about Africa: "In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country... Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions."

I knew I wanted the game setting to be in a specific place, culture, and era in African history; IELLO wanted the game to have fantasy elements, so I was also looking for a setting that straddled the line between history and mythology, like the Trojan War.

Board Game: Kitara
I identified a couple of promising settings, which I may come back to for later games. However, eventually we decided to theme the game around the break-up of the Kitara Empire, located in the great lakes region of East-Central Africa, in the 14th century AD. Scholarly sources on this empire were not easy to find, but I eventually did track a few down.

Scholars differ as to what degree the ancient Kitara Empire was historical or mythological (Doyle, 2006; Uzoigwe, 2012). The empire may have covered most of the interlacustrine region of Central-East Africa for an unknown period, up until the 14th or 15th century AD. According to legend, the empire was consolidated from an older, loose confederation by the Abachwezi dynasty of kings. According to folklore, these kings had magical powers and introduced important new technologies and practices to the region. The Abachwezi kings eventually were supposed to have become angered by their people's disobedience and disappeared into the great lakes. Their empire then fragmented into several kingdoms, including the still extant kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara in western Uganda.

The game is set in the period when these successor kingdoms were forming. Historically, kingdoms in the region of the former empire tried to enhance their prestige by associating themselves with Kitara and the Abachwezi dynasty in a variety of ways; this led to the idea that the players in the game gained victory points by occupying Kitaran ruins with their magical creatures. According to folklore, the Abachwezi kings introduced ironworking and the herding of Ankole cattle to the region. Historians believe these innovations were introduced to the region in this period, leading to population increases, more centralized states, and a better armed warrior class who skirmished over cattle and grazing land.

However, some historians also suggest that ancient Central Africans used a traditional form of restricted warfare, wherein practices limiting the destructiveness and lethality of warfare were administered by elders (Reid, 2012). The period after the collapse of the Kitara Empire may have been one in which more frequent conflicts between expansionist kingdoms were still mitigated by traditional practices that limited the destructiveness of military conflict. This fit well with the mechanisms of my game, which involve a high level of conflict and territorial acquisition, but no loss of units from combat.

Overall, the regional history and the mythology of the Kitara Empire let me create a very evocative backstory for the game. If Kitara were a heavy game, with a lot of representational detail in the mechanisms, I might have had trouble finding enough specific myths and history about the Kitara Empire to set the game there; however, what is known about Kitara is a good fit with the streamlined mechanisms of the game, and the gaps in scholarly understanding of the Kitara Empire allow for some needed artistic license.

From gallery of erichv
Miguel Coimbra, meanwhile, had created beautiful art for the game, with some really interesting fantasy elements. The cheetah-centaurs he created in particular have sparked a lot of early interest in the game. Cheetah-centaurs aren't a part of any African mythology to my knowledge; however, there are part-human, part-animal creatures in African folklore, and there are many varieties of sentient animals across several African mythologies. I used "master animal", a term applying to sentient mythological animals I found in The Hero with an African Face (Ford, 1999) to refer to the cheetah-centaurs in the rules. I since have discovered that I may have misunderstood this term; however, everyone just calls these pieces "cheetah-centaurs" — or "chetaurs" — anyway.

I was also very pleased that Miguel made the character art for two of the players depict armies of female warriors. I don't have any sources speaking to the presence of women warriors or leaders in the region of the Kitara Empire, but there are documented traditions of women as warriors, war leaders, and rulers in different parts of precolonial sub-Saharan Africa (Kaur, 2017; Moreira Ribeiro et al. 2019; Nwanna, 2012).

From gallery of erichv

I made a couple of other changes to the game mechanisms at IELLO's request. They wanted a new alternative deck that would reduce the pressure to support cards. I created a third deck, with yet another pattern of icons, that included a set of self-supporting cards; this made the game more similar to my card game Armorica, from which this design had originally sprung. The first card deck I created for the game was not included in the final game, although it may return as a promo item or part of an expansion.

IELLO also wanted some secret victory points added to the game. I modified the combat mechanism so that combat with a hero unit provided secretly drawn, variable-value victory point chips; a player can keep only one chip per turn, so fighting multiple times a turn provides a better chance of drawing a high-value chip. This change made the game outcome more suspenseful, added a new tactical consideration, and made the scoring elements in the game more diverse.

Throughout this time, the team at IELLO in France and the U.S. were great to work with. They let me do a lot of the specific theming of the game and consulted me in regard to all the decision-making about the game's production. Gaëtan was also active during the game's development process, particularly when it came to proofing the French edition of the game. (I don't really speak French, sadly.) I was also very impressed by how IELLO adapted to lockdown and was able to keep to its timetable for Kitara throughout the pandemic. That it's able to release this game in 2020 is a testament to how well its team works.

Board Game: Kitara
Kitara in the IELLO media room at SPIEL '19
As I write this, I have just received my first copy of the finished game, delivered to the doorstep of the apartment in which I have been locked down for six months. I think Kitara has the highest production values of any game of mine published to date, with lots of cool custom wooden bits and other top-notch components. Miguel's artwork for the game looks fabulous.

Any published game is a team effort, reflecting the work and creative input of several people. Miguel, Gaëtan, and everyone at IELLO did wonderful work on this game. It is hard to know just how the ongoing pandemic is likely to impact how Kitara does in the marketplace, but as for the product itself, I could not be happier with it.

Eric B. Vogel

Sources Referenced

Doyle, S. (2006). From Kitara to the Lost Counties: Genealogy, Land and Legitimacy in the Kingdom of Bunyoro, Western Uganda, Social Identities, 12:4, 457-470, DOI: 10.1080/13504630600823684

Ford, C. (1999) The Hero with an African Face. New York. Bantam.

Kaur, M. (2017). Mother of Nations and Kali's Daughters: An Empirical Study on Amazon Dahomey Warriors and Indian Queen Warriors. Military Science Review / Hadtudományi Szemle, 10(4), 126–141.

Moreira Ribeiro, O., Torres Moreira, F. A. & Pimenta, S. (2019). Nzinga Mbandi: from story to myth. Journal of Science and Technology of the Arts, 11(1). https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.7559/citarj.v11i1.594

Nwanna, C. (2012). Dialectics of African Feminism. Matatu: Journal for African Culture & Society, 40(1), 275–283. https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.1163/18757421-040001019

Reid, R. J. (2012). Warfare in African History. Cambridge University Press.

Uzoigwe, G.N. (2012). Bunyoro-Kitara Revisited: A Reevaluation of the Decline and Diminishment of an African Kingdom. Journal of Asian and African Studies. 48(1) 16–34.

Wainaina, B. (2005). How to write about Africa. Granta, 92, 91.

Board Game: Kitara
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Tue Oct 13, 2020 1:00 pm
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Escape a Flailing Octopus, Unknown Disasters, and Lethal Goddesses

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game Publisher: itten
• Tokyo Game Market is currently scheduled to take place Nov. 14-15, 2020, but perhaps due to the COVID-19 situation that will allow for few people outside of Japan to travel to the show, several Japanese game publishers are turning to Kickstarter to make their games available to a wider market.

Crash Octopus, for example, is the second game that itten is funding via Kickstarter, with Stonehenge and the Sun (which I covered in Dec. 2018) having been its first. Designer Naotaka Shimamoto often creates highly interactive games that simultaneously function as interactive art exhibits, and Crash Octopus seems to fall into this same category. Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game that is being funded on KS (link) through October 27, 2020:
Quote:
In Crash Octopus, players race to collect cargo that's floating in the ocean, while surrounded by a horrifically giant octopus. The first player who collects all five types of cargo on their ship wins.

Board Game: Crash Octopus

The game is played by using the table as the landscape, with a string perimeter around the playing area. To set up, place the octopus head at the center of the playing area, surrounded by the tentacles spread out at an equal distance, then the player ships and anchors outside of the tentacles near the perimeter. Finally, you drop all the cargo onto the playing area by bouncing it off the octopus' head.

On a turn, a player uses their flag to either navigate — by flicking the anchor next to their ship, then moving their ship to touch the anchor — or flick cargo. Cargo comes in five types — goblet, chest, gem, gold, and captain (yes, really!) — and you can flick any type of cargo that's not on your ship toward your ship. The only exception is that you can't flick the single cargo item closest to your ship. If the flicked cargo misses your ship, your turn ends; if it hits your ship, you load that cargo, then advance the cargo tracker, which is a string of beads on the perimeter.

Board Game: Crash Octopus

If you advance a black bead on the cargo tracker, the octopus attacks! Each player takes a turn dropping a die and bouncing it off the octopus' head, possibly moving the head or a tentacle to get in the way of others picking up cargo and possibly knocking cargo off a ship. What a setback!
Board Game Publisher: Raw Potions Publishing
Board Game: ラストダンスは私に (Save the Last Dance for Me)
• Not quite in the same category is Dangerous, a design from たつがわ けんご (Kengo Tatsugawa) that was first released in 2018 by オトコマエゲームズ (OTOKOMAE GAMES) and is now being localized by Raw Potions Publishing, a U.S. publisher specializing in localizing JP games.

(Raw Potions' first release is Save the Last Dance for Me, a game from Geno and Seisyun Koubou Shirayuri in which 4-8 players try to hold either the "Princess" or "Prince Edward" card at the end of the game so that they can dance together and win.)

As for Dangerous, which is being Kickstarted (link) through October 9, 2020, it's a small quasi-deduction game in which you're trying to assemble the right hand of cards in order to score:
Quote:
The world is about to end, but nobody is quite sure exactly how it's going to happen. In Dangerous, your goal is to save as many innocent lives from certain doom as possible. To do so, you must outsmart your rival investigators and correctly deduce which apocalyptic predictions are true and which are false. The player who saves the most lives wins.

Board Game: Dangerous

In each round, shuffle the twelve prophecy tiles, then lay out three rows of four tiles: the top row (face down) are true prophecies, which players must deduce; the middle row (face up) are false prophecies; and the bottom row (face down) are hoax prophecies. Below each hoax prophecy, lay out a column of four cards face up. The cards come in five prophecy suits, with values 1-3. Among the tiles are two of each prophecy and two 2x.

The lead investigator for that round places one of their two personal tokens by a hoax prophecy tile, looks at that tile, then chooses a card from that column and places it face up in front of themselves. Each other player then chooses a card from this column. If a hoax prophecy tile has two player tokens next to it, don't refill it; otherwise, do refill it. The next player becomes the lead investigator, and this process continues until each player has chosen eight cards, which they now take in hand.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Now you evaluate how well you predicted which disasters will take place. The lead investigator reveals one of the true prophecy tiles, then all players simultaneously reveal two cards from their hand. For each card that matches that revealed prophecy, you score positive points equal to the value of the card; otherwise, you lose points. If the prophecy tile instead shows 2x, you score positive points if you lay out two cards of matching value, but different suits; any other combination loses you points.

Record your scores for the round, and after a total of four rounds (with four players), whoever has scored the most points wins. (With two and three players, you make adjustments to the number of cards and prophecy tiles used and rounds played.
Board Game: Sakura Arms
Board Game: Sakura Arms
• And here's another licensing-related post along the lines of what's above: U.S. publisher Level 99 Games has announced that it will Kickstart the Sakura Arms game line from designer BakaFire, who releases titles under the brand BakaFire Party, with the KS campaign (link) launching on October 27, 2020.

Sakura Arms, which debuted in Japan in 2016, has been hugely popular in that country, and when a new expansion was available at the Tokyo Game Markets I attended, the line was vast. U.S. publisher AEG released an English-language version of the Sakura Arms base game in 2017, but that was the extent of its licensing.

Level 99 Games, which specializes in two-player dueling games and which seems like an ideal partner for this line, has stated its edition of the Sakura Arms game line will be released as three standalone games, with each containing six goddessess. That statement will make more sense once you know something about the game:
Quote:
Sakura Arms is a two-player dueling game in which players first choose two of seven megami (Japanese goddesses), each of which has a different keyword that empowers some of their cards. Players then see what the opponent chose before assembling a deck of ten out of 22 cards, with the players choosing cards both to take advantage of their own megami powers and to exploit their opponent's weaknesses. Players then duel to see who will be victorious.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The game uses a single kind of token to represent life, distance, aura (defense), and flare (special energy) based on the zone these tokens occupy. By moving tokens between zones, you attempt to gain the ideal position and set up as many attacks as possible — or be prepared to avoid attacks.
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Thu Oct 8, 2020 3:00 pm
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Core Worlds Finds a New Home at Quixotic Games

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Core Worlds
In July 2018, Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games tweeted about the "(not-officially-announced) 'Core Worlds: The Board Game'".

In December 2018, I posted about the confirmed-yet-still-not-officially-announced Core Worlds: Empires — "a standalone board game set in the very thematic, rich Core Worlds universe" — that was being developed by CW designer Andrew Parks and his Quixotic Games development team.

Then...nothing. (Well, other than people asking about the status of the game.)

Board Game Publisher: Quixotic Games
As of October 7, 2020, however, Quixotic Games has obtained the exclusive publishing rights to the Core Worlds universe, including all past products as well as whatever might come in the future, and the first title the company plans to bring to market is the long-awaited Core Worlds: Empires, which is effectively a sequel to the events of the original Core Worlds game. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
Quote:
Six empires have risen from the ashes of the Galactic Realm. Still cemented by the alliance that enabled their unprecedented conquest of the galaxy, the six independent kingdoms now seek to consolidate their power, each hoping to carve out the strongest dominion in the cosmos. Conflicts among the young realms are inevitable, but will the galaxy return to a state of civil war?

Board Game: Core Worlds: Empires

Core Worlds: Empires is a worker placement game for 1-5 players. Each world in the galaxy occupies a board space that ambassadors (workers) can visit during the game. The worlds that appear during each game are variable. Each player starts with a certain number of worlds under their control, and more worlds enter the game as play proceeds.

At the start of the game, each player controls one unique worker that represents their faction leader (Chancellor Augustus, Baron Viktor, Prince Aaron, Empress Elona, Simon the Fox, or Lord Banner), as well as two generic ambassadors. All players periodically receive new generic ambassadors, but each player always possesses the same number of "workers". Players may upgrade their generic ambassadors into unique heroes in order to increase the quality of their individual workers.
Quixotic Games plans to Kickstart this title, which is co-designed by Parks and Christopher Guild and which plays in 90-300 minutes, in early 2021. A press release from Quixotic notes that "The Kickstarter will also provide backers with the Core Worlds Solo Deck, which includes official solo rules for the original Core Worlds game and all of its expansions [Galactic Orders and Revolution], as a thank you to the thriving Core Worlds solo community." Quixotic also plans to release other games in the Core Worlds universe, in addition to fiction.

Here's the rest of the press release from Quixotic, which details some of the history of the game and how it found a new home:
Quote:
Board Game: Core Worlds: Galactic Orders
"Back in 2009 at the World Boardgaming Championships," said Parks, "I sat down for a beer with Stephen Buonocore, the founder of Stronghold Games, while the two of us dreamed of bringing the Core Worlds universe to life. Stephen has been a marvelous shepherd for Core Worlds over the years, bestowing Stronghold's dedication to quality components and artwork to what has become a critically-acclaimed, award-winning series of games. I am so grateful to him and to the entire Stronghold team for all their hard work over the past decade."

Board Game: Core Worlds: Revolution
"I would also like to thank Travis Worthington, the CEO of Indie Game Studios, for working with us so closely to make this a smooth transition for the fans of Core Worlds," continued Parks. "Thanks to Travis and Stephen, we will be able to draw upon the beautiful illustrations and graphic design that have given Core Worlds such a unique sci-fi look over the years."

"Core Worlds was one of the most significant releases in the early Stronghold Games catalog," said Stephen Buonocore, retired President of Stronghold Games, "and remains one of the most innovative deck-building games on the market. I am very excited for the future of this IP under Quixotic Games, and I will be backer #1 for Core Worlds: Empires!"
Board Game: Core Worlds: Empires
Galactic grunts from Core Worlds: Empires
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Wed Oct 7, 2020 1:00 pm
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Shining a Light on Stefan Feld's Bonfire

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Bonfire
Board Game Publisher: Hall Games
Starting on Oct. 22, 2020, BGG will livestream game demos for four days to cover dozens of new titles being featured at SPIEL.digital 2020 — you can check out BGG's broadcast schedule here — but before BGG.CONline starts I plan to demo a few new games in this space, starting with Stefan Feld's Bonfire from Hall Games and Pegasus Spiele.

Bonfire is not an engine-building game in the traditional sense, but as with so many other Feld designs, playing Bonfire feels like you're tinkering with an engine. The game has lots of elements to it — tasks you need to complete to become bonfires; guardians you need to collect from islands; paths and portals that you must build before the guardians can walk to the bonfires; fate tiles that you must optimize to ensure a supply of action tiles, which you must allocate with care along with the game's six resources; specialist cards that tweak all the possible actions in various ways — and everything intermeshes like an engine.

Or at least it does when you play well, which you will undoubtedly not do in your first game.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
End state of our first three-player game, with the sun creeping across the game board; add 50 to each of those scores

All of the elements have a purpose in Bonfire, but your primary focus will be on the tasks, with the board featuring 20-30 tasks (depending on the player count) from the 66 included in the game. Tasks come in three levels of difficulty, with more points being awarded for more difficult tasks, and to complete a task you need to collect one or more items, say three red path tiles, four gold resources, an offering on each of the "herb" islands, fate tiles arranged in a certain pattern, or three medium-difficulty tasks.

Ideally you can scope out tasks that work well with one another — say, medium-difficulty tasks on the herb islands that have similar tasks so that you could complete both the "offering on herb islands" task and the "medium-difficulty" task — but everyone has access to all the tasks in play (as long as they have the resources and action tiles required), so how are you going to get to them first? Or maybe you need to focus on something else?

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The winner's board, with guardians at three bonfires

Like many other game, Bonfire starts with a turn 0, although it's not called that in the rules. Everyone sees the tasks available and the action tiles available to all players. You can form a few general plans of which tasks you might want to go after, but that plan consists of nothing more than placing some stakes in the ground, with the rest of the game consisting of you figuring out (1) whether it's possible to connect all those stakes in a reasonable timeframe, (2) what you need to do to connect them, and (3) how to adapt based on what everyone else is doing.

On a turn, you take one of three actions:

• Take one of two fate tiles and add it to your personal board to collect action tiles. The more colors you match while placing a fate tile, the more action tiles you receive — but you can place a fate tile only if you have at most one action tile in reserve.

• Ignite a bonfire by flipping over a completed task on your personal game board, with you then choosing one of eight bonus actions.

• Spend action tiles to take an action, with the game including six types of action tiles (along with a seventh "joker" tile) and with you being able to spend varying amounts of tiles for actions of varying strengths.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Two-player game immediately after the game above, again with 50 being added to each score; look how much better we scored!

Invisible strings connect everything in Bonfire, and some of the choices you make might seem meaningless, but they usually matter down the road. When you add a path tile to the outside of your personal board, thereby creating the path upon which guardians will walk, you have a choice of four tiles, each showing a crystal in one of three colors (matching the three colors of the tasks) and one of the five non-gold resources (gold being a joker resource). If you match the color of a crystal and a lit bonfire — as with the three bonfires in the image above — you score 2 points, which seems like nothing, but we would probably all walk a minute out of our way to pick up a $1, so you might want to make the effort here, too.

The choice of resource on a path tile might seem irrelevant — or you can decide that since you'll have those coming in at some point thanks to guardians moving onto those spaces — you might as well re-examine the tasks on the islands showing the matching resource since you need to pay resources when acquiring a task. What's more, some of the simple tasks even require you to have a path tile depicting a certain resource. One little herb or root icon might send your ship in a different direction, depending on whatever else is happening on the board.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Winning board (top) and my board (bottom); two tasks completed, but not lit into bonfires as time ran out

When you light a task into a bonfire, you place the minion guarding that task onto the game board to claim one of the bonus actions you haven't already taken, such as claiming a guardian for free, turning the Great Bonfire to any location (with portal tiles otherwise being acquired only via the Great Bonfire action tiles), or grabbing a specialist or path tile for free.

Five common goals can be scored by any player, but the first player to complete one of these goals takes the neutral token associated with that goal and places it on a bonus action. As a result, near the end of the game you might find yourself lighting a bonfire, taking the bonus action, completing a common goal, then taking another bonus action and possibly completing yet another common goal.

In Bonfire, everything starts simple and escalates over time, just as you'd expect from a real bonfire. Ideally you can put all the pieces together in just the right order so that you peak at just the right moment: every task completed and lit with no resources or actions wasted.

In the video below, I go into detail about all the actions of the game, in addition to covering solo play against the AI.

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Tue Oct 6, 2020 4:13 pm
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Designer Diary: The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game

RYAN MILLER
United States
PUYALLUP
WA
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Board Game: The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game
I'm sure I'm not alone here, but I love The Princess Bride. It is easily one of my all-time favorite movies, a timeless classic that I've watched countless times. Heck, I even played Westley in an improvised comedy version of the film. It's a highly quotable masterpiece, from the writing to the filming to, of course, the unforgettable performances. It's a dweam wifin a dweam!

So how in the name of the Guilder Frontier was I supposed to design a game for it?

Once Upon a Time...

Right from the start, I wanted this game to be a love letter to the movie. I wanted to make sure that anyone who played the game knew that its designer was a huge fan and wanted to do justice to this amazing film. Simple, right?

Picking a theme was the first task. Many years ago, I had joked with my friend Luke that a game based on The Princess Bride should be a co-operative game in which you're trying to keep Fred Savage from getting bored. That was the whole idea, and I dropped it after that.

While I was working up the theme for this game, that memory popped back into my head. Was it crazy? Would it work? Would people enjoy it? I decided to find out.

The adventure book idea was something I had been toying with for a different unreleased project with little success. While thinking about this game, suddenly a book of boards made complete sense and felt like a nice connection to the source material. It would call back to the original book, and also allow me to zoom in on various parts of the story without having to make a huge board that encompassed everything.

So, a co-operative game with a book full of boards. I felt I had something, and it was time to give it a try!

You think it'll work? It'll take a miracle.

We'll Never Survive

Co-operative game design is something I'm really passionate about. I love the experience it tends to generate, with everyone working together, coming up with plans, fighting the clock. It's a blast!

Designing co-operative games also comes with a unique set of challenges. In a competitive game, we designers can rely on your opponents to add things like surprises, pressure, and fun. In a co-operative game, the challenge itself must provide the lion's share of these aspects.

For The Princess Bride, I attempted several avenues. At one point, it was a dice allocation game. Dice are fun, and people understand them quickly. The problem was that there wasn't enough control over the variance. Getting the difficulty level right with that much randomness was taking up too much rules space.

I switched to cards, and things started to click. I'm a fan of hand-building, especially when it comes to co-operative games, so I came up with a basic "recipe" style game in which you had to get the right cards to the right players so they could overcome challenges in the story.

The book also added some interesting design elements. I could start with chapter 1 having only the basic rules, then in each subsequent chapter, I could fold in another rule or concept, while others may take a break. This allowed for great accessibility since you can use the first chapter to teach the game.

Finally, every co-operative game needs some sort of "clock" to keep the action going. This is where Fred Savage — or rather his character, the grandson — came into play. If you don't tell the story correctly, he will interrupt. Each chapter has its own ways of making this happen, but the second time the grandson interrupts the story, you lose.

This mechanism also came with some unique challenges. Since each chapter is a twist on the main mechanism, the clock had to morph with the game. A simple set of "event" cards wouldn't do since you couldn't control in which chapter an event would be drawn, forcing the events to be generic and a bit bland. Having a different deck for each chapter also has its problems; asking players to find each deck every chapter, and adding more points to possibly confuse them was too risky.

The solution I chose to go with was to have a plot deck that has cards numbered 1-20. Each chapter has a plot table, so at the end of each player's turn, you discard a plot card and consult that card's number on the plot table. This allowed me to have a single deck across all chapters, but to have the effects tailored to each one.

I might one day go as high as 50, but I really don't know what that would do to you.

Board Game: The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game

This game went through round after round of playtesting. The people at Ravensburger really worked with me to make sure the experience was as good as we could get it, and that involved lots of playtesting on both sides. Gamers across the spectrum, from hardcore to relative newbies, each got a chance to give the game a go. Getting playtest feedback is a vital part of any game design, but it's how you implement it that really makes the game shine.

Playtesters, especially the veteran gamer variety, are generally quick to propose solutions, but I try to keep the questions to how the experience felt. Ideas for solutions are great, and sometimes can be right on the money, but as the designer I am responsible for the entire play experience, so I must carefully decide how to fix problems without creating new ones.

Skip to the End...

Once I was done with the game and handed it off, Ravensburger continued to playtest the game, often coming back to me with feedback and seeking potential solutions. They also went to work on the art, and I have to say, they have produced a stunning game. The attention to detail is superb, from the layout to the icons to the original art. This game was truly made by people who really love the source material!

The result is The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game, a game that I feel captures the swashbuckling whimsy that the movie is well known for, while being accessible enough for newer boardgamers to grasp. I hope you and your group enjoy it!

Ryan Miller

Board Game: The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game
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Tue Oct 6, 2020 1:00 pm
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