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Designer Diary: Exploring Social Deduction Magic with Shamans

Cédrick Chaboussit
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Known mostly for the design of Lewis & Clark, which debuted in 2013 and was updated in 2020, I've been designing games for ten years and haven't had many of them published for a few reasons: designing games is not my main job; the game-publishing process is usually very long; and I keep trying to dig for fresh mechanisms, which is definitely not an easy path!

This process has led to very different published games, which have all been released in a period of twelve months: Tea for 2, which is the card game War revisited with the Space Cowboys; Glow, a beautiful card- and dice-drafting press-your-luck family game published by Bombyx; Lost Explorers, a simple, quick and brainy chip-collection race game published by Ludonaute; and Shamans, a social-deduction game using a trick-taking mechanism from Studio H that is the subject of this post.

Board Game: Shamans

So let's go with my second BGG designer diary!

Birth of an Idea and Inspiration

Shamans is by far my design that creates the most social interaction. The initial spark came at the end of 2016 after numerous plays of Time Bomb. Before that, I used to play The Resistance a lot, and when I was in college long ago — and yes, I got my degree! — traditional French trick-taking games like Belote and Tarot. They all might have had an impact on this first spark.

I thought about designing a social-deduction game that would not rely only on bluffing like most of them. The situation in a trick-taking game where you have to provide a certain color seemed to be perfect: If you are allowed to play any card, you can pretend not to have a card of the color asked and play a card of another color. This principle immediately worked very well!

Then I looked for a rarely used theme that would fit and I ended up using the Blade Runner setting (which I love) to develop the prototype. The first version of early 2017 had the same core mechanism as the final published game, so sorry everybody, I will not have many big design questions and changes as is usually the case. The first idea was strong enough.

Board Game: Shamans
Oh, you can choose the Voight-Kampff tile to prove you're a Runner!

My playtesters and I played this game a huge number of times to finely tune every possible situation. The tiles/tokens were added to create variety while respecting the setting, and the player-count scaling was also adjusted. The final gameplay is exactly what I wanted, and I saw that the game could also be enjoyable with kids aged 10+, despite some "gamer" mechanisms.

Finding the Right Setting and Art Style with Studio H & Maud Chalmel

I had known Hicham for many years at Matagot before he joined Studio H, a new publisher created by the big French book publisher Hachette. I thought Hicham was the right person to show the prototype to at SPIEL '19. A few months later, Studio H confirmed that it wanted to publish the game and to have it released by the end of 2020!

When later I played Oriflamme and Hagakure, two card games published by Studio H, I understood that my "Blade Runner" game would fit perfectly in that game line.

Board Game: Shamans

Studio H brought the thematic idea of Shamans and decided to trust the talented illustrator Maud Chalmel to give a soul to this world. She managed to transform the visual aspect of Shamans into a huge plus, and I'm really impressed by her work! She said she was inspired by a former game she illustrated, (Siggil), and also by the artists Hari and Deepti.

Board Game: Shamans
Mischievous Maud and I in the Studio H offices just before Christmas 2020

Releasing Shamans in 2021

As I wrote previously, I like to explore the game mechanisms in my designs, whatever they can lead me to. Shamans is no exception and a very good example of that. It is far from the current "satisfying" games trend as it produces some harsh interactions between players. Therefore, this is quite a risk for Studio H to release such a game now, so I'm thankful and glad they did.

Board Game: Shamans
Demoing at Orléans Joue con in August 2020

Shamans has been well received in France but is still flying a little under the radar in the U.S., so I hope that Tom Vasel's April 2021 review will give it a bit more visibility.

Closing Thoughts and Future Projects

I'm sure that Shamans will make its way among the players themselves as it is a very unique game. It's not for everyone, but the social-deduction lovers should enjoy it as much as I did designing it!

Board Game: Tea for 2
Board Game: Glow
Board Game: Lost Explorers

All the games mentioned above are already released in the U.S., except Glow, which will be released in mid-2021 in many countries after a very warm welcome in France in February. Its print-and-play solo variant (PDF) was released last week by Bombyx for its tenth anniversary.

Have fun!

Cédrick Chaboussit
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Wed Jun 9, 2021 3:03 pm
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Zip Back and Forth in TRAILS, and Hunt Humans to Satisfy The Hunger

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: TRAILS
• U.S. publisher Keymaster Games has announced a new title from Henry Audubon, designer of its 2019 hit game PARKS, with this new release having a similar look and feel thanks to artwork from the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series, but being a standalone game for 2-4 players.

Here's a quick overview of TRAILS, which will debut on June 20, 2021 at the U.S. retail chain Target:
Quote:
In TRAILS, players hike back and forth along the trail, collecting rocks, acorns and leaves; taking pictures; and encountering wildlife to gain bonuses. At trailhead and trail end, you can turn in resources to earn badges, after which you start back in the other direction.

As players visit the trail end, the sun sets over the trail. As night falls, trail sites grant more powerful actions, but they won't last forever. When the sun leaves the trail, the last round of play takes place, then the player with the most points from collected badges, photos taken, and bird sightings wins.
In more detail, each player starts the game with one of each resource (acorn, rock, leaf) and one badge card in hand that they can fulfill; two badges are visible at each end of the trail. On a turn, you move one or two spaces forward, then take the action of the space on which you land. If you land on the bear space, you roll the die, then move the bear and get the action of that space. Who doesn't want to cozy up to a bear for extra action? In this game, no one!

From gallery of W Eric Martin

You have a canteen that you can drink to move any number of spaces, but no matter what, you must stop at the end of the trail, at which point you can spend resources to collect any of the three available badges (two visible, one in hand), after which you replace those badges. Badges often give you extra resources or actions in addition to points.

As the sun moves across the trail, the tiles flip over to reveal more powerful actions — collect two acorns instead of one, take a photo action for free instead of paying one resource — so the badge collecting tends to escalate. You have an eight-resource hand limit, so you can't always get everything, and other players will get in your way, claiming the badge you were sure was yours.

I'll post a complete overview of TRAILS on Monday, June 14, 2021.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Gotta catch that bear!

• French publisher Origames and U.S. publisher Renegade Game Studios are partnering for The Hunger, a new Richard Garfield design in which 2-6 players race across the land to feed on humans. No, they're not cannibals because that would be disgusting; instead they are vampires, which somehow makes them cool. I'm not sure how that works, but here we are.

In any case, here's an overview of this September 2021 release:
Quote:
The Hunger is a race in which each vampiric player must optimize their card deck, hunt humans to gain victory points, fulfill secret missions, and eventually acquire a rose and return to the castle before sunrise. The more you hunt, the slower both you and your deck become, which will make it harder and harder to get back before daybreak. Can you become the most notorious vampire without burning to ashes at sunrise?

Board Game: The Hunger

During the game, players spend "speed" to move their vampires around the map, hunt humans worth victory points, and add new cards to their deck.

The game ends at dawn, after which the surviving player with the most victory points on their cards wins!
Board Game: The Hunger
Sample cards and missions
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Tue Jun 8, 2021 3:23 pm
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Game Preview: So Clover!, or Not Just One Clue Giver

W. Eric Martin
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Where in this grid would you place four of these five cards so that the written clues "match" the printed words on the adjacent cards?

Board Game: So Clover!
Cover and design not final

That one sentence describes the essence of So Clover!, a party game from first-time designer François Romain and non-first-time publisher Repos Production that is due out June 26, 2021 in Europe and July 16, 2021 in the United States.

Do I need to write more so that you understand how the game works? Or can you decipher pretty much all of it from the image above?

So Clover! is essentially a successor to Just One, a 2018 design by Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter for which Repos Production won the 2019 Spiel des Jahres. The details of gameplay aren't the same in the two designs, but they're both co-operative party games in which you need to give clever — but not too clever — clues so that someone can figure out what you're trying to get them to guess. (More thoughts on Just One here.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The game lasts only a single round. Each player has a secret clover board, and they place four cards at random in the center spaces. They look at the two keywords next to each a blank space, then write a single word — whether a common word, a proper noun, a number, an acronym, or a compound word — in each blank space. Remove the four cards, placing them face down and shuffling them with a random fifth card from the deck.

Once everyone has prepared their boards, someone reveals their board and five cards, then keeps a blank face while everyone else argues and deduces which cards go where. If they guess everything correctly on the first try, the team earns 6 points; if not, the clue giver removes incorrect cards from the board, and the team takes another shot, earning 0-4 points depending on how many cards they place correctly. The maximum score for a game is six times the number of players.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

In all likelihood, you will not care about the final score, another similarity with Just One, as well as with Repos' 2013 party game Concept. I've now played eight times on a mock-up preview copy from Repos with all player counts, and I have no idea how we've scored in those games — but I do know that I've had a blast trying to generate clever clues and figure out the cleverness of others.

So Clover! is one of those games that I want to play with people who I'm meeting for the first time so that I can find out what they're like. In that way, the design is much like Vlaada Chvátil's Codenames, but now with all players having the opportunity to both give and guess clues in the same game.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Another similarity to Codenames is that each time you play, you're confronted with a combination of cards that you might never see again, a situation that pushes your mind to be creative because you can't rely on what you've done the previous times you've played — and as in Codenames, your clue choices are audience dependent. You need to imagine yourself in their position to consider whether they could possibly make the backwards connection.

Similarly, when you're the one guessing which cards go where, you can sometimes reverse engineer your choices by trying to imagine whether given the two printed words next to a written clue, you would have written that same clue — or you at least understand why someone else would have done so.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

So Clover! is somewhat harder for young players to participate, with one preteen giving a clue of "IDK" in one game and not great clues another time. In Just One and Codenames, you're not in the spotlight with your clues — or you're just part of the guessing team — so you don't face the stress of giving bum clues and feeling like you've let everyone down. When teaching So Clover!, you might consider telling players that if nothing seems like a great clue for the pair of words, give a great clue for just one of the words and hope your other clues can carry the day.

I give more examples of gameplay in this video, giving you yet another set of cards to place in a grid while solving a grid that my wife created before I started recording. See whether you think I made the right placements:

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Mon Jun 7, 2021 1:00 pm
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Reconstruct Robotech, Revisit Transatlantic, and Ready Yourself for Pandemic: Hot Zone – Europe

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Robotech: Reconstruction
I see lots of stray announcements or near announcements while looking for game news, so let me round up some of them in this post:

Robotech: Reconstruction is the next Robotech title from publisher Strange Machine Games, following Robotech: Ace Pilot, Robotech: Attack on the SDF-1, Robotech: Brace for Impact, and Robotech: Cyclone Run.

In this 3-4 player game from designer Dr. Wictz, you have a half-ally, a half-enemy, and a full enemy, and you need to achieve the goals of your faction before anyone else in order to win.

Board Game: Pandemic: Hot Zone – Europe
• I wrote about Pandemic: Hot Zone – Europe in January 2021 when news of the title appeared during the online Spielwarenmesse trade fair, and in mid-May 2021 publisher Z-Man Games officially announced this Matt Leacock and Tom Lehmann title.

What was new in that announcement is that Hot Zone – Europe is the second in a series of six titles — I will stand by my prediction that Antarctica will be excluded — with each game in the series having its own characters and events. Writes Leacock: "You can play with a mix of characters and events on any board and add whatever mix of challenges you like for additional variety or difficulty." More from Leacock:
Quote:
For what's new, Pandemic: Hot Zone – Europe features Mutation cards that gradually make each disease behave in a new way until it is cured. Diseases can become harder to treat when they reach a critical mass, can appear more intensely, or cause more Infection cards to be drawn. And, if you also own Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America, you can either use these Mutation cards instead of the Crisis cards, or you can combine both the Crisis cards and the Mutation cards into the same game for even more variety and challenge. While each challenge makes the game harder, both integrate directly into the Player deck, so including them also gives players a few extra turns to eke out the win.
What's more, Leacock and Lehmann plan to include a different way to combine games with each new title in the series. Hot Zone – Europe will include rules for "Hemispheres" a two-player variant in which each player starts with a team of three characters on one of the game boards (Europe and North America). You can take charter flights to the other game board to exchange cards and take other actions, and you both share one set of cubes, with you losing the game should any color run out. To win, you need to cure all six diseases on the two game boards.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Z-Man Games has posted a print-and-play (PDF) version of Pandemic: Hot Zone – Europe should you want to read the rules and start playing now.

Board Game: Transatlantic
• Now that Mac Gerdts has finished designing Concordia Solitaria, an expansion that allows you to play the Concordia base game or any expansion on your own (and covered in more detail here), he has moved on to Transatlantic II, which is probably not the final name of this title — which might be an expansion for the 2017 release Transatlantic and which might be a standalone title.

Gerdts notes that the game has been thoroughly tested with two players, but testing with up to four players has been on hold due to COVID-related lockdowns in Germany.

• In December 2020, Pegasus Spiele announced that it would release Port Royal: Big Box in 2021, an item that would contain all things Port Royal from Alexander Pfister: the original base game, the expansions Just One More Contract... and The Adventure Begins..., the Gambler promo card, and the separate standalone game Port Royal: Unterwegs!

Pegasus Spiele has now revealed the look of this item, which features new art and graphic design.

Board Game: Port Royal: Big Box
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Sun Jun 6, 2021 1:00 pm
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Links: Final Tales of the Arabian Nights, and The Impact of Counterfeit Games

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Tales of the Arabian Nights
• In March 2021, Z-Man Games' Head of Studio Steve Kimball announced the end of the company's "Euro Classics" game line that (to date) consisted of new editions of Reiner Knizia designs.

On May 28, 2021, Kimball did another lap on the same course, announcing a final (small?) English-language printing of Tales of the Arabian Nights that will mostly be sold only through the publisher's online store, with Kimball's reminiscing and announcement sandwiching designer Eric Goldberg's history of the game in a suitably Arabian Nights-like fashion.

Kimball notes that this edition of the game is happening only thanks to a bump in the road to a rebooted version of the game with another publisher, with Goldberg hinting that perhaps this new edition will be based on the Arthurian legends. Check out the post for yourself if you want to try to read those tea leaves.

• In July 2020, designer Isaac Childres was profiled in the "news" section of Purdue University's website, Childres having gotten his degree there in physics and astronomy. An excerpt: "Isaac Childres graduated with a doctorate in physics in 2014 but his career route took an unusual turn. While working on his doctoral thesis, 'Effects of energetic irradiation on materials and devices based on graphene and topological insulators,' Childres was also working on a side project."

Another game-related excerpt:
Quote:
When asked if Childres plans to work with physics in the future, he says, "this chapter in my life has ended." But when asked if there may ever be a physics based board game, the story is just beginning.

"Last year, I started working on an independent project to publish that was loosely based on physics," says Childres. "It has a more sci-fi premise where lab workers work together to open a parallel universe. In this game, you'd work with your mirror self to close the rift and then write an academic paper. It is in the works but there's not a lot of time to put into it right now. I plan to revisit it next year."
• In March 2021, Ian Williams at VICE interviewed designer Francesco Nepitello about the second edition of The One Ring RPG, which Swedish publisher Free League funded on Kickstarter and which is due out near the end of 2021.

Board Game: Risk
• In January 2021, Variety reported that the Hasbro board game Risk "will be getting a TV adaptation as part of a multi-year television deal between the board game, toys and media behemoth's entertainment studio and Beau Willimon and Jordan Tappis' Westward."

• Australian game blog Next Player has interviewed four publishers — FryxGames, Pandasaurus Games, Steve Jackson Games, and Bézier Games — for two articles about counterfeit games, with the first on the impact of counterfeit games on the hobby and the second on what individuals can do about them.

I've spoken with a few publishers about this topic over the past few years, and their comments mirror the ones in this article. The main problems related to counterfeit games are twofold and intertwined: lost sales and loss of buyer confidence. The problem with lost sales is direct and obvious — money that would have gone to the legitimate publisher of a game instead goes to someone else.

The loss of buyer confidence relates to someone receiving a poorly produced version of a game, then swearing off items from the publisher and slamming the game in reviews, while not realizing that they have a counterfeit. This problem is more nebulous, yet possibly more damaging long term because a review like this one of Splendor on Amazon will stick around for years, making every single reader of it question whether they should purchase the game at all.
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Sat Jun 5, 2021 1:00 pm
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Upcoming GMT Releases: Dominate Roman Republic Politics, Race in Ancient Rome, Duel in Nottinghamshire, and Battle in Medieval Japan

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: GMT Games
Board Game: Churchill
Board Game: Versailles 1919
• I recently dipped my toes in the Great Statesmen Series from GMT Games, playing both Churchill and Versailles 1919 for the first time, just a few days apart. I had a blast playing both games, and I'm officially hooked on the series, so needless to say, I was thrilled to see Triumvir announced as a new P500 addition in GMT Games' May 2021 Update newsletter.

In Triumvir, from Versailles 1919 designers Mark Herman and Geoff Engelstein, 1-3 players duke it out politically as Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, using their influence to gain control over issues in 60 BCE Rome via core mechanisms from Versailles 1919 as briefly described below by the publisher:
Quote:
It's 60 BCE, and the three most powerful men in Rome form a loose alliance based on marriage, self-interest, and a thirst for power. In Triumvir, you take the role of one of these Roman power brokers as you vie for power and position that inevitably leads to Civil War.

Triumvir builds on Versailles 1919 where players use influence to gain control over issues and the path that history will take going forward. In Triumvir, you use your three-dimensional influence in popularity, money, and legions to vie for the Consulship, Pontifex Maximus, and Governorships as you try to outmaneuver your erstwhile friends on the floor of the Senate. The game can be played with 1-3 players.

From gallery of kuhnk
Box cover not final

During your turn, you perform one of three actions: Place influence (popularity, money, or legions) on issues that are being debated in the Senate, Recover exhausted influence, or Settle an issue. These actions are punctuated by elections, revolts in the provinces, and domestic unrest. As one of the Triumvirs, you have to balance your tempo of activities to ensure that you are not caught short on your ability to influence how events evolve and progress.

Although Triumvir uses many of the basic mechanisms from Versailles 1919, the design is thematically aligned to its subject. When an issue settles, your choices alter your popularity and resources where the Consul often gets his cut. Each player has a unique personality card that asymmetrically captures your personality's strengths in how they gain and recover influence. These characteristics are enhanced by your growing tableau of patrons — some of whom bring additional resources.

Revolts are intense events where the Governor of the affected province has to re-establish Roman rule. Failure to do so carries tough popularity penalties whereas success raises your stature. If you put down a particularly epic revolt in a grand fashion, you can be awarded a Triumph with extra legions, but remember—sic transit gloria. The tides of fate can often turn against you in the next election or foreign war.

This political danse macabre continues until the "Crossing the Rubicon" issue ends the Roman Republic and brings on a Civil War or one player dominates faction standing.
Board Game: Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan
• For more fun in Rome, Charioteer is an upcoming chariot-racing release for 2-6 players from Sekigahara designer Matt Calkins and is another new P500 addition that caught my attention in the GMT May Update newsletter:
Quote:
The ground trembles under a thousand angry hoofbeats. Wheels creak and reins pull as racers drive their horses forward in a panic.

You are a charioteer in the Circus Maximus, the greatest raceway in the ancient world.

A crescendo of noise builds with each lap. Chariots collide, whips crack. The crowd cheers for a surprising breakaway, rumbles as a favorite is damaged and falls behind. From the imperial box, the emperor laughs and shouts. Clouds of dust obscure the bright banners of the four factions.
Three hundred thousand fans are on their feet as you turn the final corner. This is not the finish they expected. You lead by a length, and only one rival remains; each throws the last of their energy into one final sprint. Many thousands are despondent, other thousands exultant and joyous. Their shouts become a roar, a long scream, as you surge for the finish line. Another hundred yards will make you a hero.


Charioteer is a strategic racing game that plays in one hour. Each player controls a chariot in the Circus Maximus of ancient Rome. There's lots of action, and it happens quickly, with simultaneous move selection.

Movement is determined by melding sets from a hand of cards. Every card does more than one thing, and it takes multiple matching cards to make a move. Choosing to use a card in one set means deciding not to use it in another. Timing when to make a critical move is as important as knowing what move to make.

Moves come in four colors, and each has a special advantage. Play a red move to attack your opponents, yellow to recover from disruption, black to turn a sharp corner, and green to sprint.

Each racer begins the game with different abilities, and they improve their skills as the race progresses, leading to big bonuses in their favorite types of moves. Show the emperor the kind of move he prefers, and a racer's skills will increase even faster.

Players deploy tokens to give their moves a special bonus. More tokens can be earned by impressing the crowd with large matching card plays. Players may choose to delay using their best sets until they're big enough to qualify for a fan token.

Some races will be violent and others calm, depending upon whether the players and emperor behave disruptively. Attacks cause damage, which reduces movement speed. Players who specialize in recovery moves may overcome damage quickly. Others may need to carefully deploy their shields on turns when violence is expected.

It's not always clear who's winning the race. Being in front of the pack may not be as important as developing a critical skill, collecting powerful tokens, or keeping damage low. Whip icons allow those who have fallen behind to surge back into competition.
• In an April 2021 post, I mentioned Vijayanagara, the first game announced in GMT's new Irregular Conflicts Series. Fred Serval's A Gest of Robin Hood is the second game in the series and features accessible, asymmetric gameplay for 1-2 players, playing in 45-70 minutes.

Here's a brief overview from the publisher of what you can expect:
Quote:
A Gest of Robin Hood is the second game in the Irregular Conflicts Series, further adapting the COIN system to depict peasant revolts, feudal tax collection, and outlaw activities in late 12th century medieval England. Transposing one of GMT's most popular systems into a simpler format and a more approachable setting makes A Gest of Robin Hood perfect for newcomers to wargaming. At the same time, it also offers a tight challenge for more experienced wargamers who can enjoy a tense asymmetric duel in under an hour.

Board Game: A Gest of Robin Hood: Insurrection in Nottinghamshire
Box cover not final

Highlights:
• An ideal entry point to the COIN system and the ICS series: a two player, relatively low complexity game with a family friendly theme that plays in one hour and introduces all of the key concepts found in the COIN series.
• A new hidden movement mechanic: The Sheriff will chase Robin Hood across Nottinghamshire to prevent him from organizing peasant revolts, but Robin can sneak away and hide amongst his Merry Men.
• A second new hidden movement mechanic: Carriages serve as a simple twist on Lines of Communication, transferring wealth back to Nottingham while providing a target for robbery by the Merry Men—but some of them might be a trap, containing concealed Henchmen!
• Random encounters with rich travelers: Robin Hood draws from the Travelers Deck when conducting a Rob action, then decides whether to play it safe or demand a larger 'donation' with potentially negative consequences.
• A streamlined sequence of play: Further developing the two-player sequence of play first found in Colonial Twilight, this new sequence of play is easy to understand while still presenting difficult tactical decisions.

Player Factions:
Robin Hood and the Merry Men: Robbing from the rich to give to the poor. An archetypal insurgency faction focused on undermining the Sheriff's authority by inciting peasant revolts, robbing carriages and travelers, and building a network of camps across Nottinghamshire.
The Sheriff of Nottingham and his Henchmen: In charge of maintaining order and collecting taxes for Prince John. A proto-counterinsurgent faction focusing on suppressing peasant revolts and securing roads to ensure the safe travel of wealth confiscated from the parishes.
The Pure Land is an upcoming, 1-4 player COIN game set in 15th century Japan from designer Joe Dewhurst that plays in 120-360 minutes. Based on the details below, this seems to be another interesting and unique COIN game that I'm looking forward to checking out:
Quote:
The Pure Land: Ōnin War in Muromachi Japan, 1465-1477 is Volume XIV of the COIN Series originally designed by Volko Ruhnke. It depicts a devastating civil war in 15th century Japan that reduced Kyoto to a smoldering ruin and precipitated the century-long warring states period — the Sengoku Jidai. Against the backdrop of this civil war between coalitions led by the Hosokawa and Yamana clan, the game also features peasant revolts led by the Jizamurai and religious unrest involving the Ikkō-ikki, the militant wing of the emerging Jōdo Shinshū (or True Pure Land) Buddhist sect.

Highlights:
• An innovative clan loyalty system that creates a dynamic political geography. The Hosokawa and Yamana factions form alliances with other clans, which can then be disrupted by political intercessions, peasant revolts, and assassinations.
• A tight peasant-based economy that forces all factions to compete over limited resources. Peasants generate resources for the Jizamurai, which are then taxed, tithed, or confiscated away by the other factions.
• A new approach to religious insurgency and peasant revolts using the COIN system. The Ikkō-ikki faction slowly spread their religious beliefs and are hard to eliminate, while both the Ikkō-ikki and the Jizamurai can trigger peasant revolts to further their own goals.
• Two competing 'government' factions that must nonetheless cooperate to ensure the survival of the Ashikaga Shogunate. Support for the Ashikaga dynasty is a shared goal for both the Yamana and the Hosokawa, but only one faction can control the Shogunate and claim victory!

Board Game: The Pure Land: Ōnin War in Muromachi Japan, 1465-1477
Box cover not final

Faction descriptions:
• The Hosokawa Clan represent the political establishment and must encourage support for the Ashikaga Shogunate while also maintaining the loyalty of the other major clans.
• The Yamana Clan also want to encourage support for the Ashikaga Shogunate but at the same time must gain control of enough population to establish themselves as the dominant military power.
• The Jizamurai, minor nobles and merchants, can encourage peasant revolts to build regional autonomy, while also trading to increase their own independent wealth.
• The Ikkō-ikki can preach to reduce support for the shogunate and to spread their religious beliefs, while also radicalising the population to eventually overthrow the established order.

There are four scenarios available to play in The Pure Land:
1. The main scenario, The Ōnin-Bunmei War, is five campaigns long and covers the full course of the war, from the outbreak of violence in Kyoto in 1467 to the exhausted Hosokawa-Yamana stalemate a decade later in 1477.
2. Foxes and Wolves is a shorter, three campaign scenario covering only the first six years of the war, until the deaths of Yamana Sōzen and Hosokawa Katsumoto in 1473.
3. An Empty Moor covers the final four years of the war in two campaigns, from 1473 to 1477, with an alternative setup depicting the historical situation in 1473.
4. Finally, The Flowery Capital is an extended six campaign scenario beginning at the birth of Ashikaga Yoshihisa in 1465, with the country still at peace, the Jodo Shinshu Hongan-ji temple still standing in Kyoto, and the urbanisation in Settsu province yet to begin.

The game takes approximately one hour per campaign to play, so the scenarios range from a single evening to a full day experience. For beginner players the Foxes and Wolves scenario is recommended as it covers the full narrative arc of the game in a manageable amount of time.
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Fri Jun 4, 2021 1:51 pm
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Game Overview: Cubitos, or Rolling, Regretting, and (Sometimes) Racing

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Cubitos
No matter how many times I think I'm ready to talk about a game, I always come up with more to say after I've locked my thoughts into a write-up or video. This happened again most recently with Cubitos, a John D. Clair design that U.S. publisher Alderac Entertainment Group released in February 2021.

I had played Cubitos four times on a review copy from AEG at the end of 2020, put the game aside when BGG's GameNight! released a video overview in January 2021, then revisited the game for two more plays in May 2021 before recording a video overview of my own, included below.

Then I discovered more to say, which I'll include below, only to fall short of whatever comes to mind after this post goes live.

So it goes.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Cubitos is ostensibly a racing game in which each player starts with the same set of lousy dice and tries to use these dice to reach the finish line first. Seven of your starting dice (the light gray ones) show only a single coin on one side, while the other two (dark gray) feature one coin, one foot — the currency used for movement in the game — and four blank sides. You're not going fast anywhere with that assortment of dice, so you'll need to use the coins to buy better dice.

Eight colors of dice are available for purchase, and the effects of the faces on a colored die are generally determined by the associated card in play for that particular game. (Some colored dice have feet and coins on their faces, and those abilities remain the same from game to game.) The rulebook includes seven suggested races to show off all the different cards in the game, but you're free to choose cards at random.

The game also comes with four racetrack game boards, and each track has its own assortment of bonus spaces, shortcuts, and (somewhat) inaccessible water terrain.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

On a turn, you roll some number of dice, with a baseline of nine and with you rolling more dice if you have gained fans, have fallen behind the leader, or have a die power that lets you break the rules. In the image above, for example, I used a red power on my previous turn that allows me to roll white and green dice in the current turn without them adding to my total. Look at all those feet! Well, potential feet. I haven't rolled those dice yet, so those feets might fail me now.

When you roll dice, you move non-blank results — i.e., hits — to the "Active" area, then decide whether you want to roll again. If you have at least three active dice and roll nothing but blanks, then you've busted for the turn, receiving only a notch on the fan track as consolation. Apparently they admire your willingness to try.

If you stop without busting, then you use feet to move — spending four coins as a foot, if you wish — after which you can buy at most two dice of different colors, placing those new dice and all used dice in your discard area.

As is customary in pool-building games such as Dominion, Ascension, and The Quacks of Quedlinburg, over time you hope to lower the percentage of garbage in your pool of resources and instead have things that will fuel you to success.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

What's curious about Cubitos compared to other racing games is that often you have no desire to go anywhere. Instead you might choose to bounce between bonus spaces on the game board as my opponent John was doing in the image above. He hit the "gain two fans" space, then the "lose two dice" space over and over again, trimming the fat and replacing it with blocky, colorful muscle while I foolishly(?) moved ahead on the track like someone who was in a race.

This aspect of gameplay is similar to what happens in Dominion, with you typically trying to shove as much gas as possible into your deck before you start racing for valuable (yet useless) victory point cards that will run out. Dominion isn't a racing game, but it has a racing feel since VP cards are limited and you need to accelerate the "right" way so that you don't bog down before players hit the collective finish line of an empty VP deck.

Cubitos works similarly, with you trying to find the right balancing point between improving and moving — yet you have wider variability in what happens on a turn thanks to the randomness of the dice. Sometimes you'll roll eight blanks and bust, and sometimes you'll do that multiple turns in a row — and sometimes you'll hit with nearly everything multiple turns in a row, and unlike in Dominion, you're typically not penalized for moving forward "too soon".

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Where Cubitos differs from other pool-building games is that everything you have is visible. In Dominion, Quacks, et al., when you acquire new stuff to juice your engine, that stuff goes into your deck or your bag, and no one knows when it will appear in the future. You can be surprised by what you draw and what your opponents draw. With Cubitos, your choices are all out in the open. I can see all the dice you bought, and I know what you're rolling on a turn and what's sitting on the side. I'm not surprised by what you might do, only by the specifics of what you roll — but I'm possibly not even paying attention to that since for the most part, we roll dice simultaneously and what I roll almost never affects what you can do.

What's more, what I do on the track doesn't affect you either. Unlike in most race games, in Cubitos you can occupy the same space as someone else. We're effectively ghosts who just happen to be racing one another as the only two ways we interact are via the red dice that reward whoever has the most symbols on a turn and the limited colored dice pool that might run out. (I've played only two- and three-player games, so admittedly dice shortages would probably be more of an issue with four players.)

The only time we stop trying to be clever with the dice combos and pay attention to one another is typically in the final quarter of the track when someone might be able to reach the finish line. Only then do we slow down and force players to roll in player order, typically to see whether the leader crosses the line and we need to push hard to catch up. Only then do we stop being ghosts and realize that other people are at the table. I wish the game did more to push us into one another's way because sometimes the most memorable moment of a race isn't who crosses the finish line first, but the unexpected Budd-Decker-style interactions that happen along the way.

For more thoughts on the game, including my take on the game's storage system, check out this video:

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Thu Jun 3, 2021 1:00 pm
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Put the Trains in Place in Ticket to Ride: Track Switcher

W. Eric Martin
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Days of Wonder tends to announce a new Ticket to Ride item at least once a year, but the newest announcement from the French company isn't for a standalone game or a new addition to the Map Collection expansion line. Instead the announcement is for a logic puzzle from co-publisher Mixlore — another Asmodee studio — that uses the Ticket to Ride branding.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Here's an overview of Ticket to Ride: Track Switcher from the publishers:
Quote:
Welcome to the 1900, the Age of the Locomotive! Railways connect every major city in the country, allowing people to travel considerable distances in just a few days. Trains are more popular than ever before, and the railyard continuously bustles with activity as engineers and yard workers scramble to move cars onto their departure tracks. As a railyard manager, you have an essential role to play...

In Ticket to Ride: Track Switcher, players will use cognitive skills like logic, spatial reasoning and sequencing to direct locomotives and shift trains into their correct positions. Players will direct locomotives and shift trains into their correct position based on the puzzle card to ensure every train will leave on schedule. Players will need to be precise: unnecessary moves will make them lose precious time!

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Sample puzzle

"The Ticket to Ride range of games have grown significantly in diversity and popularity over the last decade, and seeing a version that challenges players with logic puzzles is a delight", says Adrien Martinot, head of Days of Wonder. "The game is exceedingly fun to move the little locomotives in the train yard, and as you progress, the puzzles become more challenging. I admit, I had a hard time solving the last ones!"
Ticket to Ride: Track Switcher will debut in October 2021 with a price of US$25/€25 in the following languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Polish, Lithuanian, Estonian, Latvian. Head to the Days of Wonder website to download the rules in the language of your choice. (Note that this item won't have a listing in the BGG database since it's a single-player logic puzzle and not a game.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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Wed Jun 2, 2021 3:01 pm
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Complete a Wolfwalkers Story, and Group Animals in a Savannah Park

W. Eric Martin
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Wolfwalkers is a 2020 film from directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart that comprises the final film in Moore's "Irish Folklore Trilogy" following The Secret of Kells in 2009 and Song of the Sea in 2014. Here's an overview of the film, which was nominated for an Academy Award, from Wikipedia:
Quote:
Wolfwalkers follows the story of Robyn Goodfellowe, a young apprentice hunter who arrives in Ireland with her father during a time of superstition and magic to wipe out the last wolf pack. While exploring the forbidden lands outside the city walls, Robyn befriends a free-spirited girl, Mebh, a member of a mysterious tribe rumored to have the ability to turn into wolves by night. As they search for Mebh's missing mother, Robyn uncovers a secret that draws her further into the enchanted world of the Wolfwalkers and risks turning into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy.
In November 2020, Slovenian publisher Value Add Games released WolfWalkers: The Board Game, a co-operative game for 2-4 players, ages 6+, in which you're trying to collect three parts of the wolf soul in a single color, then return it to the lair before soldiers who start on the opposite side of the board reach that same location.

Board Game: WolfWalkers: The Board Game

In June 2021, Value Add Games will release a second title based on this film, a two-player card game by designer Maja Milavec called WolfWalkers: My Story. Here's an overview of how to play:
Quote:
In the game, two players compete to craft a story by using cards from a shared deck, with those cards bearing illustrations from the Wolfwalkers movie.

Board Game: WolfWalkers: My Story

Each turn, you take one of the six available double-sided cards and place it in your grid, taking either one of the two "objective" cards that indicate how you can score points or one of the four "story" cards that will help you fulfill these objectives. Objectives come in three types: shapes that reward a specific arrangement of cards, arrows that reward the placement of certain icons in the same row or column as the objective, and balances that reward the same number of certain icons anywhere in your 5x5 grid. Each card you place after the first must be adjacent to another card. After both players have completed their grid, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.

The game includes an expansion that provides more options for players and more interaction, with "permanent" cards that change gameplay in general and "opportunity" cards that allow you a special once-per-game ability. For a small change in gameplay, add one permanent card of your choice; for more advanced play, add one permanent and three opportunity cards at random. With 15 permanent cards and 25 opportunities cards, no two games will be alike.

Board Game: WolfWalkers: My Story

With a second copy of WolfWalkers: My Story, you can play the game with up to four players.
Board Game: Savannah Park
• German publisher Deep Print Games has announced its next release, with Savannah Park due out in August 2021 from Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling, designers of Deep Print's debut title Renature in 2020.

Here's an overview of how to play this tile-moving game:
Quote:
In Savannah Park, you each run your own wildlife park, and your goal is to group animals with their own kind — but everyone takes turns deciding what to move, so you might not be able to shuffle animals into the right spaces.

Each player starts the game with the same set of 33 unique animal tiles, with those tiles laid out at random in your personal wildlife park. Three bush-fire spaces and one rock space will remain unoccupied in your park for the entire game, and six tree spaces and four grass spaces are unoccupied at the start of play.

Board Game: Savannah Park

On a turn, you name a specific face-up tile that all players must pick up, flip face down, then move to a different empty space within their own park. Tiles that have been flipped cannot move again, and once all tiles have moved, the game ends with a scoring round. First, tiles adjacent to bush fires are removed if they depict as many animals as the number of fires (1, 2, or 3) on the bush-fire space. Score for each grass and tree uncovered on your board. Finally, score for each of the six animal species; the bigger the main herd of each of species and the more water holes it contains, the more points you score, e.g. a herd of five rhinos and three watering holes is worth (5x3) 15 points. The player with the most points wins.

Savannah Park includes a solo mode, a set-up variant that allows you to place the bush fires and trees where you wish, and a scoring variant that rewards you for bumping a lion out of the animals' way.
U.S. publisher Capstone Games will release Savannah Park in September 2021, with the game debuting in the U.S. at Gen Con 2021. UK publisher Bright Eye Games will release the game in English in that country.

Board Game: Riftforce
• Capstone Games has also announced that it will release Carlo Bortolini's Riftforce — which debuted in April 2021 from Austrian publisher 1 More Time Games and which landed on the 2021 Kennerspiel des Jahres recommended list — in October 2021.

Riftforce is a two-player dueling game in which players take turns drafting four of the ten asymmetrical guilds, after which they will compete to gain riftforce, attacking one another, sacrificing elementals to create combos, and prepping for the future.

Originating publisher 1 More Time Games plans to release an expansion for the game — Riftforce Beyond — in late 2021, with this item containing rules for games with one, three, and four players, along with cards for eight new guilds.
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Wed Jun 2, 2021 1:00 pm
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Coffee Traders: A Heavy Roast with Donkeys, Piggybacking, and More

Candice Harris
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Microbadge: Great Western Trail fanMicrobadge: The Great Zimbabwe fanMicrobadge: Battlestar Galactica - I am a CylonMicrobadge: COIN fanMicrobadge: Twilight Imperium (fourth edition) fan
From gallery of candidrum
Coffee Traders is big, heavy, new release from publisher Capstone Games and designers André Spil and Rolf Sagel, the duo behind the heavy, economic, oil business game Wildcatters. Wildcatters was originally released in 2013 from Dutch publisher RASS Games with a new-and-improved second edition released in 2018 from Capstone Games. In Wildcatters, players are oil barons who develop oil fields, bid for oil rights, and build rigs, oil tankers, trains, and refineries, competing to deliver more oil barrels, and collect more shares and money than their opponents.

In Coffee Traders, Spil and Sagel continue with their heavy, business-driven, player interaction-filled design formula, but this time in a completely different setting with a refreshing, unique theme focused on fair trade coffee organizations. After playing multiple games of Coffee Traders with a review copy provided by the publisher, I wanted to share some initial impressions and insight on what you can expect.

In Coffee Traders, each player represents a coffee trading company from Antwerp, Belgium in the 1970s. While the game was originally designed for 3-5 players, after the demand for two-player games skyrocketed due to the pandemic, Spil and Sagel created a special two-player variant while the game was in production, with this variant being included in the game.

Your goal in Coffee Traders is to help farmers from different parts of the world partner with cooperatives, to hire contractors to construct buildings that will help improve their communities, and to have traders in Antwerp import as much coffee as possible to meet the demand. To become the world's best coffee trader and win the game, you need to have the most victory points (VPs) at the end of the game. VPs can be earned in several different ways, and in some respects Coffee Traders can feel like a point-salad game, although it's definitely not a full-on, "main course" point salad — it's more like a point "side" salad. It's also worth mentioning that all points are scored at the end of the game; there is no VP track on the board.

From gallery of candidrum
Table set up for a four-player game

Coffee Traders is a beautiful table hog and quite a beast to set up, especially if you tackle it on your own. There are tons of components to familiarize yourself with initially, but they're all well-labeled in the rulebook and the quality is top notch across the board — the wooden pieces, metal coins, game board, and player boards are all great. Plus, there's definitely a wow factor when it's all set up.

From gallery of candidrum
Inside the rulebook
The box cover, game board, and player boards are all gorgeous and well-illustrated kudos to Daan van Paridon and John Rabou. Just about everything oozes vintage coffee trading vibes. When you open the box cover, it feels like you're opening a crate of coffee beans. The rulebook, title "The Coffee Trading Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to the Industry", even has this worn-out look and feel with coffee-themed flair and realistic-looking coffee stains on various pages that will sometimes make you think you actually spilled coffee on it. I appreciate these thoughtful, thematic touches sprinkled throughout Coffee Traders.

From gallery of candidrum
Example of Colombia and Ethiopia cooperatives mid-game
Looking at the game board, there's no denying there is a lot going on. Fortunately, everything is well-organized and the graphic design is on point. The main part of the game board features five color-coordinated cooperatives — Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Guatemala, and Brazil — where most of the action takes place. Each cooperative also has an associated shape icon to make it clearer for players when differentiating colors is an issue. A chunk of your victory points can be earned from the area-majority scoring of the cooperatives at the end of the game.

Each cooperative has a town center that starts the game with six (tan/neutral) workers which players will place on plantations in order to harvest coffee. There are also spaces in each cooperative for plantations and constructed buildings.

From gallery of candidrum
Arabica track
On the right side of the board, you'll find the Arabica track, with a track for each cooperative. These are your standard euro tracks akin to what you find in Terra Mystica and Tzolk'in. There are a couple different ways to bump on these tracks during the game to gain benefits. The tracks are identical regardless of which cooperative, and they are structured so that there are advantages to focusing on a track or two and beating your opponents to the top, and alternatively, there are also benefits if you decide to diversify and work your way up all of the tracks.

On the left side of the board are coffee bars from around the world, where you can sell coffee during the contract phase. There's also an area for the three randomly0selected milestones, which you'll be racing your opponents to achieve. I find it very interesting how differently the game plays out depending on which milestones are in play.

At the beginning of the game, players place buildings, plantations, workers, and starting resources on their player boards. The player boards are awesome, and they help make set-up and the flow of the game a breeze. In addition, each player also randomly receives contracts for each letter A through E, which are placed on their player boards. Based on the number on the E contract tile, they also receive the corresponding F contract tile. Players use their F contract tile to determine which types of coffee they start with in their warehouse, in addition to where their three starting plantations should be placed in the various cooperatives. After everything is set up on the game board and all players have their player boards geared up, you begin the game.

From gallery of candidrum
Player board set-up for a game

Coffee Traders is played over three periods (rounds), and each period has six phases:
---• Phase 1 (Work) - Players perform actions on their coffee plantations.
---• Phase 2 (Workers) - Players send their workers to plantations.
---• Phase 3 (Trader & Contractor) - Players send traders to Antwerp and hire contractors to construct buildings.
---• Phase 4 (Harvest) - Players harvest coffee from plantations and deliver to fair trade posts and traders.
---• Phase 5 (Contract) - Players fulfill contracts and deliver coffee to coffee bars around the world.
---• Phase 6 (Refresh) - Players perform end of round clean-up.

One thing I appreciate about Coffee Traders is that each phase is spelled out on your player board with excellent iconography so you can progress through each game round simply following your player board from left to right. After you play the game once, or perhaps even after your first round if you're an iconography wizard, you barely have to refer to the rulebook. This is very impressive and incredibly handy for a heavier game with so much going on.

Phase 1: Work Phase

Each round begins with the Work phase where, in turn order, you either perform a cooperative action or pass. You have four different actions from which to choose, and any of the actions can be performed multiple times. You can add a plantation to a cooperative, send workers to plantations, breed a donkey, or get income. Each time you take an action, you track it by placing a wooden cube on your player board marking the corresponding action. Your company has three action cubes, but you also have a bonus supply that includes an additional action cube you may choose to use.

From gallery of candidrum
Left half of the player board
With the first action, you can add a plantation to any of the cooperatives by taking the leftmost plantation from any row on your player board and placing it on an open plantation space in the cooperative of your choice. On your player board you have level 1, 2, and 3 plantations that correlate to the quality of the coffee they'll produce, and essentially give you influence for end-game area-majority scoring.

When placing a plantation on the game board, there are a few things to consider. First, each cooperative has three rows with a varying number of spaces allotted for plantations. You can build level-1 plantations only on the first row, level-1 or -2 plantations on the middle row, and level-2 or -3 plantations on the highest row. In order to add a plantation to the middle (1/2) or highest (2/3) row, you need a connection to your existing plantation(s) in lower rows using donkeys and pathways, or you need to have a truck. You start the game with one donkey in your company supply, and additional donkeys are hard to get. Trucks are even harder to get, but they are powerful considering they can save you the effort of needing a donkey connection (three total donkeys!) to your initial plantation on the first row in order to place a plantation on the highest row.

Some plantations have a cost (coins) and/or bonus (donkeys, workers, civet cats, Arabica track advancements) associated with placing them which is noted on your player board. In addition, if you are placing a plantation in a cooperative where you currently have no plantations, you also need to add a worker from your worker pool into the cooperative's town center.

When you add a plantation to the middle (1/2) or highest (2/3) row, you also get to bump on the Arabica track for the corresponding cooperative. Plus, the first two players to add a plantation to the highest row also get an animal or wild animal token as a bonus. These tokens allow you to bump on the corresponding Arabica track and the tokens themselves are added to a track on the right side of your player board which can lead to VPs at the end of the game.

With the second action, you place workers from the town center of a cooperative of your choice onto one of each player's plantations. As a bonus, if you add a worker to at least one of your opponents' plantations from taking this action, you immediately advance one space on the corresponding Arabica track. There is a penalty in phase 2 if any of your plantations do not have a worker on them and you start the game with only two workers in your worker pool. Therefore, this action is something you'll likely do to help yourself out, but with the bonus Arabica track bump factored in when also helping your opponents, it makes it even more enticing. Sometimes you might even perform this action in a cooperative where you don't need a worker on any of your plantations to specifically bump on a particular track.

Breeding a donkey is the third, and most expensive, action you can choose. To breed a donkey, you have to spend two action cubes, instead of one like all the other actions, then you take a donkey from your personal supply (not your company supply) and immediately place it on an available pathway in a cooperative above one of your previously-placed plantations. Breeding a donkey is a very expensive action in a game where it feels like you never have enough actions or resources, but it can be essential at times considering donkeys are so important for getting more of your plantations out onto the game board, yet so difficult to get into your company supply.

The last action, income, is simple, yet also very often necessary. You have two options when it comes to gaining income: either place a civet cat from your personal supply in Sumatra on the game board, or take two coins from the general supply and place them in your company supply. Money is pretty tight in Coffee Traders, so it's always helpful to have extra coins on hand. Each of your civet cats in Sumatra will give you 1 Kopi Luwak (wild) coffee during the Harvest phase, which is very helpful when you fulfill contracts and deliver coffee to coffee bars in the Contract phase.

Once all players have passed, it's time to start phase 2.

Phase 2: Workers Phase

The Workers phase is usually pretty quick, and the goal is to make sure all of your plantations have a worker on them; otherwise you'll get hit with a penalty which increases each round.

First, all players may simultaneously place workers from their worker pool onto their own empty plantations in any cooperative. Then, in player order, players can optionally place workers on other players' plantations if all of their own plantations have a worker. If you do place a worker on another player's plantation you advance one step on the corresponding Arabica track as a bonus as mentioned in the Work phase above. I love that Coffee Traders incentivizes you to help your opponents with this bonus. It always seems to stir up interesting conversations around the table and can lead to some light, unofficial negotiations.

From gallery of candidrum
Indonesia cooperative with workers on each plantation

Each player starts the game with two workers in their worker pool and once they're gone, it can be rough since it's not easy to get more of them. So while there might be a rush to add a bunch of plantations, you have to make sure you have a way to get workers on them, either from your worker pool, by taking the "send works to harvest" action in the Work phase, or by making nice with your opponents and getting their help.

At the end of this phase, for each of your plantations without a worker, you have to pay any combination of one coin or one step backwards on the Arabica of your choice. The amount paid per plantation is equal to the current round number, e.g., in round 2, the penalty is two coins/steps backwards on Arabica track(s) per plantation without a worker.

Phase 3: Trader & Contractor Phase

In phase 3, in turn order, each player can perform one of three different trader/contractor actions on their turn or pass. Unlike most phases, if you pass, you can still choose to perform an action on a future turn during this phase. This phase will continue until all players have passed in succession.

Each cooperative has an Antwerp trading house section and as an action during this phase, you can pay two coins and place one of your traders on the first trader position in a cooperative of your choice that doesn't already have traders. You want to place traders into the Antwerp trading house so that your traders receive coffee in the Harvest phase.

From gallery of candidrum
Cooperative w/ two traders in Antwerp Trading House
and three constructed buildings
As the active player, after placing your trader, you get a stock counter, which generates coffee income in the Refresh phase and may even help you build a warehouse in the Harvest phase. Then all other players may choose to follow your trader action without paying for it. This happens in player order from the current active player. If a player decides to follow (piggyback) your trader action, they place one of their traders in the next available trader position. However, the number of trader positions is one less than the number of players, so not all players will actually be able to piggyback and place a trader. If all players but one end up piggybacking, the player who is not present in the trading house gets a coin as a consolation prize.

As an action in the Trader & Contractor phase, you can also pay two coins to hire a contractor to construct a building. On your player board, you have warehouses, various stations (washing, drying, and sorting), fair trade posts, and a hospital. Warehouses are built in the warehouse section of your player board, while the other types of buildings are constructed on the game board in a cooperative of your choice.

Each type of building has an associated icon that dictates which spaces it can be built on in each cooperative. When placing a building in a cooperative, you gain bonuses listed on your player board and some of the cooperative spaces also allow you to bump on the corresponding Arabica track. Similar to placing traders, this action can also be piggybacked, but not quite for free. The active player pays two coins and any players who choose to piggyback have to give the active player a coffee of their choice. In addition, they have to place their building in the same area as the active player. Although when the active player constructs a building in a cooperative, the piggybacking players can place whichever type of building they choose.

The last action available is to pay two coins and remove one trader permanently from the game for two Arabica track advancements. Other players cannot piggyback this particular action.

Players start the game with three traders (four in a three-player game), and it never feels like enough for what you want to do considering you have to use a trader for all three of the actions above in addition to every time you piggyback another player's action. You can't do everything, so you have to be strategic when choosing how and when to use your traders. Thankfully, you do have an extra trader available in your bonus supply that you may be able to leverage in this phase.

I also mentioned the bonus supply in phase 1 above, so let me give a bit more context on that. Each player starts the game with a bonus supply that includes one action cube, one trader, and three coins. Each round you may freely choose to use two of these three bonus items. As an example, you could use your extra action cube in phase 1 and then use your extra trader in phase 3, but then you cannot use the three coins. Alternatively, if you use your extra action cube and the three coins, you lose access to your extra trader. There is some flexibility here, though. In the last example, if you were able to put three coins back into your bonus supply from your company supply, you then would gain access to use your extra trader.

One caveat with using the three coins from your bonus supply is that they must be paid back to your bonus supply at the end of the round or you'll lose victory points, so while the action cube and trader are true bonuses with no strings attached, the three coins are more of a temporary loan. The bonus supply is always a huge help and having the flexibility of different options really helps open up an interesting decision space as you formulate your strategy each round.

Once all players have passed or run out of traders, it's time to harvest some coffee.

Phase 4: Harvest Phase

From gallery of candidrum
In the Harvest phase, the workers on all plantations harvest coffee and deliver it to fair trade posts and traders. Each plantation with a worker harvests two coffees for the corresponding cooperative, then the coffee gets distributed as follows: first to fair trade posts, then to the first trader, and the rest is divvied up to amongst the traders.

For example, when harvesting in the Colombia cooperative in the photo on the right, 14 coffees will be harvested since seven plantations each have a worker. There are no fair trade posts built and Green is the first trader in Antwerp, so Green would get one coffee for being the first trader, and there would be 13 coffees left to distribute to all the traders starting with Green. Green would get five total for being the first trader and the others would get three coffees from this harvest. Remember, in the previous phase you have to pay two coins to snag the first trader spot, while others were able to piggyback for free, so it's only fair that you get more coffee from the harvest.

The more you understand how the game works, the more strategic and deep phase 3 can get when you're trying to balance your available traders and your money, and gauge what your opponents might do in preparation for the Harvest phase. If you leave a cooperative open and run out traders to piggyback, you might let some of your opponents get a ton of coffee to themselves.

However, there is a five-coffee limit when distributing to the remaining traders, so in the example above, if Green was the only trader in the Colombia cooperative, they wouldn't walk away with 14 coffees; they would get only six total: one for the first trader bonus, then another five max because of the limit. It would still be a pretty beefy turn especially if they managed to score six coffees and none of their opponents got any from that particular cooperative.

When you gain coffee from harvesting, adjust the appropriate cube in your warehouse on your player board. You repeat this harvesting and distribution process at each of the cooperatives that has fair trade posts and/or traders in Antwerp; otherwise the harvested coffee is wasted. Then each player with at least four coffees in all five of their warehouses immediately receives a civet cat, which is placed in Sumatra. Finally, each player receives one Kopi Luwak (wild) coffee for each of their civet cats in Sumatra, then the cats are returned to each player's personal supply.

From gallery of candidrum

Now that you presumably have your warehouse stocked with coffee, it's time to deliver it, make some money, and gain additional benefits.

Phase 5: Contract Phase

In the Contract phase, players perform actions in reverse turn order to fulfill a contract or make a delivery to a coffee bar. In either case, you spend the matching type of coffee and receive some benefit(s). Alternatively, you can pass and move your turn order marker to the unoccupied space closest to the "1" space. This gives the last player in turn order a good chance of improving their turn order position for the next round.

From gallery of candidrum
Right half of the player board

When you fulfill a contract, spend the matching coffees and remove the contract from the game, taking the corresponding money and bonuses noted on your player board. You also get to take the top Arabica counter (if available) from the contract bonus area that matches the letter of the delivered contract which allows you to advance on the matching Arabica track. These tokens will also be added to the far right side of your player board for potential points at the end of the game.

From gallery of candidrum
Coffee bars
When you deliver to coffee bars, pick an open space, spend the matching coffee, then place one of your coffee bean scoring markers on the corresponding space. Then take the coin bonus listed on the space, and if you deliver to the final spot on each track, you also get to take the animal counter, which will give you a bump on the corresponding Arabica track.

When delivering to coffee bars, you can make a second delivery the same way. If you choose not to make a second delivery in the same turn, you must immediately pass and move your turn order marker.

Many of the spaces on the coffee bar tracks are also worth points. Plus, there's a mini area-control game happening in each column. At the end of the game, the player with the most coffee bean scoring markers on each track gains 4 VPS, and the player with the second-most gains 2 VPs. If your opponents are neglecting the coffee bars, it's a great opportunity for you to swoop in and stack up some points — but the bonuses you get from fulfilling contracts are especially juicy. For example, when you fulfill your contract E, you get four coins and you can get a free build action or a truck! That particular contract is also worth 9 points at the end of the game. Then if you complete both contracts in a given row, you also gain access to another bonus.

I'll also note that at any point during your turn, you can spend Kopi Luwak coffee as any type of coffee, you can trade any combination of coffee for one type of coffee using your current trade value (4:1, 3:1, or 2:1), or you can purchase coffee, so as you're earning money from fulfilling contracts and delivering to coffee bars, you can spend money and do trades to get what you need to hopefully get more contracts fulfilled and deliver more coffee to the coffee bars. Of course, if it's not round 3, you might want to hang on to some money for the next round.

Turn order is really important in Coffee Traders, so sometimes even if you do have more coffee and/or money on hand, it might be better to pass and get a better turn order position for the next round. Also, you have to consider timing when fulfilling contracts versus delivering to coffee bars. The coffee bar spaces can get filled up quickly, so sometimes it's better to prioritize them over fulfilling contracts.

It'll also depend on the milestones that you're playing with. One game I played, we had a milestone to make a deliver of value 2+ to all six coffee bars, so most players hit the coffee bars hard, racing to snag points for that milestone. On my most recent game, there was a milestone to deliver all six contracts, so most players prioritized contracts over coffee bar deliveries. It would be interesting to play a game with both those milestones in play at the same time and see how things pan out.

Phase 6: Refresh Phase

After all players have passed in the Contract phase, there are some end of the round clean-up steps you'll perform, mainly to prep for the next round, including returning your traders/contractors and action cubes to the appropriate areas on your player board, adjusting your coffee storage based on your available warehouses, receiving coffee for any stock counters you have, and refilling your bonus supply. Remember, if you took three coins from your bonus supply, you now have to return them from your company supply. For each coin you can't refill, you have to take a -3 VP token, then you'll take the coins from the general supply.

If it's not the third round, start the next round by circling back to the Work phase; otherwise, proceed with end game scoring.

End Game Scoring

From gallery of candidrum
Milestones
Coffee Traders includes a handy dandy score pad for tallying up VPs at the end of the game. First, you score for area majority in each of the five cooperatives. To do this, at one cooperative at a time, determine each player's total quality value based on plantations and buildings, then award 16/8/4 points for first/second/third highest quality value, respectively.

Then you score points for items (i.e., workers, donkeys, trucks) in your company supply, the topmost covered VP space on your counter track, points from the Arabica tracks, fulfilled milestones and contracts, coffee bar deliveries and majorities, and points for plantations and buildings constructed. The player with the most victory points wins.

As you can see, there are a lot of different ways to score points in Coffee Traders. While the area-majority scoring in the cooperatives initially feels like the main way to get points, it usually ends up making up less than half your total score from what I've seen so far. There are many directions you can go strategically to rack up points.

It's also worth noting that because of all the ways you can score points, it's hard to tell who's winning and where you stand point-wise in the midst of the game. It doesn't necessarily bother me, though. I think it just pushes to me focus more on simply trying to do the best I can each game. Plus, I find that the mystery makes it pretty exciting when you're tallying up points at the end of the game.

From gallery of candidrum

My first game of Coffee Traders was a bit bumpy since we were all new players. I think it was a result of it being a heavy game and also a game that feels different from other games I've played, but there are also a few unclear rules in the rulebook that caused confusion. There aren't a ton of videos available on the game yet, at least at the time I learned it. Thankfully, the BGG forums came to the rescue and clarified things.

After I had the first game under my belt, my future games went much, much smoother from a teaching perspective, and I also played much better from having more experience with the game. This is not meant to scare anyone off from trying Coffee Traders; it's meant solely to set your expectations.

That all being said, I thoroughly enjoyed all of my games of Coffee Traders! There are some really hooky elements such as getting rewarded for placing workers on your opponents' plantations and having the opportunity to save your money and piggyback on other players' actions. With the piggybacking, I found it important to pay attention to what other players were doing and keep a close eye on how many traders they have left to see if you can take an action that they won't be able to piggyback on. Or heck, maybe you want to construct a building in a desirable cooperative in hopes that most players will want to piggyback and they'll have to give you some coffee.

Coffee Traders often feels like a very challenging puzzle because you need to make sure you have the right resources at the right time; donkeys, money, and traders are always tight, so you have to plan and set yourself up for success. This is something that's hard to fully grasp until you play the game once, and then the more you play, the better you'll get at it.

I love the player interaction in Coffee Traders, and the fun conversations that stem from it. Especially in the first round, players need to take the "send workers to harvest" or they'll be penalized in the Workers phase and also harvest less coffee in the Harvest phase. It's nice that you get to bump on the Arabica track if you help your opponents, but you also have to spend a precious action cube to do it. Maybe it's better to wait and see if someone else takes care of it? Or if you do, make sure everyone knows so you can badger them for a favor later.

From gallery of candidrum
Each game also plays out a bit differently depending on how your opponents play and which milestones are out. You will constantly want to be the first player to do everything, which really keeps you engaged. Most often this happens with milestones, but it also happens with the Arabica tracks since there is a space on each track where only the first player there gets a bonus donkey, and only the first player to the top gets an extra 4 VPs. You will also want to get one of your plantations on the highest level in various cooperatives since there are bonus tokens, but not everyone can get one. There are so many things you'll feel like you're racing for, and I dig the pressure and tension it adds to the mix.

There are also some opportunities to be a bit mean, if that's your thing. With your plantations needing to be connected by donkeys, if positioned right, you can completely block your opponents out of a plantation row by placing your donkey on a pathway before them. This is even more incentive to get yourself a truck and leave the donkeys behind.

The Harvest and the Contract phases are both very satisfying. Whenever we were going through the process of figuring out how much coffee each cooperative generated, then distributing the coffee to players in the Harvest phase, it felt like we were winning a coffee lottery. Then in the Contract phase, you get to cash in on all the coffee you just stocked up and get money and a bunch of awesome bonuses. With the scarcity of the spaces on the coffee bars, the different bonuses you can unlock with contracts, and knowing when to pass for a better turn order position, the Contract phase is chock full of tough decisions.

Speaking of bonuses, with the Arabica tracks and all the various ways you can bump on them in addition to contract, building and plantation bonuses, you can set yourself up for some sweet combo opportunities. I feel like each game I played, I had an "Ooo, watch this!" moment by doing something that allowed me to bump on a track or something to receive some bonus that gave me the coin or trader or donkey that I needed to do something else.

All of my games were about 2.5-3 hours with four or five players. If I had to pick a favorite player count between those two, I'd say five simply because the board gets tighter resulting in more tension. My four-player games were great, too. I haven't had a chance to play it with two or three players, so I can't comment on those player counts, but the included two-player variant sounds interesting as it adds André the bot as a third AI opponent. The additional rules for playing with André the bot are minimal, too, which is always nice, so you don't need to constantly have your head in the rulebook.

Beyond its unique theme and cute donkeys, Coffee Traders is a big, beautiful beast that has a lot of interesting things going on that makes it feels different. If you're a fan of heavier games with player interaction, you might want to give this one a whirl.
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Tue Jun 1, 2021 1:00 pm
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