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New Game Round-up: Craft a Magical Engine, Combo Guilds’ Elementals, and Battle for Lost Lights

Candice Harris
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Los Angeles
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Board Game Publisher: Grey Fox Games
Card drafting + <<insert any game mechanism>> is typically a winner in my book. I love that mental struggle of wanting or needing to keep a card to help myself, and at the same time wanting or needing to hold onto a different card because I don't want to pass it to my opponents. It doesn't matter whether card drafting is a main feature of the game, as in Bunny Kingdom, Among the Stars or 7 Wonders, or a less prominent feature or variant in games like Capital Lux or Terraforming Mars.

Drafting cards in a game tends to create more strategic choices, mitigating some of the randomness of drawing cards, and makes games more interesting in my opinion. As you might expect, my ears always perk up when I hear of new games with card drafting, so I figured I'd share three upcoming fantasy-themed, card-drafting-ish releases that I'm looking forward to hearing more about.

Grey Fox Games will launch a Kickstarter campaign in August 2020 for Tim Armstrong's Arcana Rising, a card-drafting, engine builder for 2-6 sorcerers that plays in 20-60 minutes. In more detail from the publisher:
Quote:
Arcana Rising invites up to six spellcasters to participate in a competition to acquire arcane artifacts and cast mighty spells in an effort to gain knowledge and power. As they gather their mystical relics, they note the passing of the moons which amplify the power of certain schools of magic allowing wizards to cast spells at the peak of their power!

Board Game: Arcana Rising

Arcana Rising is a drafting and engine-building game in which players compete over three rounds to craft a magical engine that will power their collected artifacts and generate points for them at the end of the game.

On a turn, players select a single card from the pile they are passed. Once a card has been selected, players pass the remaining cards clockwise, then choose whether to add the newly acquired card to their tableau or discard the card in order to run their engine and cast their spells. Randomized moon tokens tell players which of their spells may be cast. Therefore the timing of executing your powers is nearly as important as the powers themselves.

The cards fall into schools of Charms, Herbology, Blood Arts, Potions, Alchemy, and Artifacts. Only a single type of spell can be cast each turn, depending on a randomized order for that round.

After three rounds of drafting, players calculate their scores based on the unique set of artifacts they have collected and the player with the most victory points wins!
After checking out a demo of Arcana Rising during the BGG livestream for Comic-Con@Home, I suspect this will be an instant hit for fans of Res Arcana and It's a Wonderful World — but you don't have to take my word for it as Arcana Rising is currently available on Tabletop Simulator, so you can play it and decide whether it's something for you.

From gallery of candidrum
Spell cards from Tabletop Simulator

The box cover and card art by Yaroslav Radetskyi is beautiful, and the style might be familiar if you've played Reavers of Midgard as that game also features Radetskyi's artwork. In Arcana Rising, each of the three rounds uses its own deck of spell cards, and I dig the way the images progress from round to round for common spells. It's a nice touch and helps make the theme pop.

Board Game Publisher: 1 More Time Games
• Vienna-based 1 More Time Games is launching a Kickstarter campaign in September 2020 for its first release: Riftforce, a deep, yet accessible duel card game designed by Carlo Bortolini and brought to life by Miguel Coimbra's vibrant illustrations (7 Wonders Duel, Cyclades, Small World).

Riftforce intends to fill the gameplay gap between conventional duel games and LCGs, without the expensive buy-in and need to learn a tons of different abilities. Here's the backstory and a brief overview of what you can expect from this 20-30 minute, hand management, deck construction battle for two:
Quote:
The Rifts changed our world. Villages were torn apart, then Riftforce emerged from it and spread across the land. What seemed lifeless before started to rise and wake. Flames left campfires, and waves poured out of their riverbeds. Even the sun and moon leave their footprints in the ground.

We learned how to control those living elementals and formed guilds to perfect this knowledge. While competing for Riftforce the guilds forged temporary alliances to share their unique abilities and guard the access to the Rifts.

Now it is your time! Choose your guilds, combine their powers and rush into battle. Gain Riftforce from the land you control and all the elementals you destroy until you have enough to ascend into a higher state of power.


Board Game: Riftforce

In Riftforce, each player starts by drafting four of the ten different guilds, each with a unique power, to forge their own asymmetrical alliance. Every game of Riftforce gives you a chance to discover new synergies between guilds, which will greatly influence your overall strategy and strengths. Can you combine the flexible and mobile water guild with the all-consuming fire elementals who even harm their allies and unleash their full potential?

The guilds' elementals are the lifeblood of the game; they are your troops and at the same time the resource necessary to attack. Soon you will find yourself wondering how to use them best. Each turn you are torn, choosing one of three possible actions. Do you want to strengthen your position at the Rift, sacrifice elementals for powerful combo attacks or gather support for your next turn?

Gain Riftforce by destroying the elements of your opponent and by controlling locations along the Rift. Only then will you ascend and win the game.

Discovering new synergies between the different guilds, clever gameplay combos and the deeper layers of strategy will keep you coming back to enjoy the game again and again.
Board Game Publisher: Board Game Circus
Lost Lights is a two-player, hand management, area control game from Julius Hsu and Board Game Circus that's coming to Kickstarter in October 2020. As a reimplementation of Hsu's self-published 2017 release Cube War, Lost Lights plays in 15-25 minutes beginning with an interesting "draw 2, keep 1 and pass 1" card draft and features card-driven, dice-rolling battles for area control.

Here's an overview from the publisher:
Quote:
A certain something filled the air. While energizing the magic crystal in his wand, Orly suddenly felt a change he couldn't name. Usually this ritual took only seconds before the crystal power kicked in. Not today...it took him minutes to obtain the desired power required to load his wand for the adventurous travel ahead of him.

While waiting for the blessing of the crystal power, he noticed something dark. Something was lurking in the mist absorbing the essential and much needed crystal power from the crystal fragments orbiting around their world, Amanaar. In light of the immense threat to their habitat, Orly decided to set off on a journey, visiting some of the remarkable creatures of Amanaar in order to seek out the dark power that threatens their very lives. Never in his humble existence would he have imagined that some of his friends would turn against him in a battle for the Lost Lights of Amanaar...

Board Game: Lost Lights
Non-final box cover

In Lost Lights, two players battle with their party of diverse animalistic characters for control over the Regions of Amanaar. During set-up, each player drafts 10 of 27 beautifully and individually illustrated cards.

On your turn, you play a card from your hand and take a number of actions equal to the action point value on the card. Actions allow you to reinforce your party with new followers or move your followers between the areas on the map. In areas where both parties meet, you battle. To resolve battles, both of you secretly choose one character card from your hand as a leader in this battle, using their special ability. After the special abilities are resolved, your combined battle strength is summed. If you lose the battle, remove your party from the contested area; if you win, you are now the dominant force in that area.

The game ends immediately if one of you has no party members left on the map or if both of you run out of cards. When the game ends, you add up your scores for each area to see who has the higher score.
Board Game: Lost Lights
Rendered 3D mock-up with prototype components
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Thu Jul 30, 2020 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Undaunted: North Africa, or Taking the Fight to the Desert

Board Game: Undaunted: North Africa
Greetings, all. July 2020 marks the release of Undaunted: North Africa, the second game in the Undaunted series. We thought it would be a good idea to post a design diary to share some background info, design decisions, art, and more.

The Initial Concept

Undaunted: North Africa's origin is directly tied to that of its predecessor. At SPIEL '17, Trevor and I met with the folks from Osprey Games to officially sign Undaunted: Normandy. During that same meeting, we were asked to start thinking about a sequel. In fact, the design for the sequel needed to be completed before Normandy was even released in order to have the sequel ready for mid-2020.

We tossed around a few ideas. We knew we wanted a different theater and preferably different nationalities. There were tons of great options, but ultimately we settled on North Africa. It seemed like an interesting topic with lots of room to explore new thematic elements and gameplay concepts.

But What Role Do the Players Take?

Once we had chosen the setting, we needed to decide what roles the players would take. In our earliest discussions, which dated to February 2018, I had proposed to Trevor that we use either the Special Air Service (SAS) or the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). The SAS had the benefit of being better known, but the LRDG were interesting in that they were more closely linked to their vehicles, which we knew we wanted to be part of the game. The LRDG was also a more interesting Commonwealth melting pot, including Brits, Scots, Indians, Southern Rhodesians, and New Zealanders.

We also briefly considered basing the game almost entirely around tank-on-tank combat. That would have meant a rather significant change in scale, and it would have also meant shifting the focus from people to vehicles. More important, the wide open tank battles in the North African campaign weren't an especially good fit for the Undaunted system. In the end, we came back to the LRDG as our focus — but now we needed their adversary.

During the North Africa campaign, the LRDG encountered both the Italian and German armies, but most of their skirmishes were with the Italians and their Libyan allies. After researching all the main LRDG engagements, we settled on the Italians as our second faction in the game.

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics
Men of the LRDG

Vehicles!

From the beginning, we knew vehicles were going to play a critical role in the game. This is an excerpt of an early email discussion Trevor and I had about the vehicles. Here Trevor is laying out his vision for how vehicles should work:
Quote:
Here's the basic picture: There are no cards directly mapped to vehicles. Instead, vehicles are objects on the board which soldiers (Scouts, MGs, etc.) can use. Each vehicle has one or more positions: Driver, Gunner, Radio, etc. Soldiers spend an action to enter a vehicle, picking an unoccupied position in it. They can then spend a card to perform the action associated with that position — move, attack, etc. — or to leave the vehicle, or to switch positions. I have some more ideas around vehicle damage/repair, cover bonuses, and around position-based bonuses/restrictions (some soldiers could be better drivers than others), but that is the basic picture. It's super flexible, not too complex, and it allows us to maintain our thematic, narrative focus on the soldiers.
What's remarkable about this is that it almost perfectly describes the way vehicles ended up being used in the final design. Typically Trevor and I work through countless iterations of ideas before finally settling on something we're both 100% happy with. In this rare exception, the initial conceptual sketch proved spot on.

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics
Early art by Roland MacDonald

An Issue of Scale

Unlike in Undaunted: Normandy, players do not have symmetric decks in Undaunted: North Africa — far from it. Both the LRDG and the Italians feature individuals, each with their own unique set of actions. In Normandy, tokens on the board represent small groups of men, with each man (generally speaking) tied back to a single card. In North Africa, each token on the board represents an individual soldier, and that soldier has four associated cards. The cards represent everything from the soldier's morale to their health.

We discussed this issue of scale for a long time during the design process. It was important because it tied back to our concept that each member of the LRDG was an individual with unique characteristics, but it meant that the two games would be a different scale and would not be compatible. In the end, we decided a better experience for North Africa was more important that trying to force compatibility across the two games.

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics
LRDG soldier art by Roland MacDonald

From Design to Development

The actual design process for Undaunted: North Africa moved fairly quickly due to the fact that it was based on an established core. For the second half of 2018, we researched LRDG and Italian army skirmishes and crafted scenarios that evoked those battles. We pushed the Undaunted system in new directions, incorporating new victory conditions (such as escaping from the board) and new ways to claim objective points (through demolitions). Of course, introducing tons of new asymmetry required even more testing, but it was worth it in the end.

We delivered the initial design to Osprey in early 2019, then we shifted to the development process. Filip Hartelius and Anthony Howgego — the lead developers at Osprey — began putting the game through its paces and making suggestions for gameplay improvements. During this time, we primarily focused on getting the balance right for vehicles and soldiers who had an anti-tank capability, as well as improving the synergy for the Italian's tank crew.

Board Game: Undaunted: Normandy
The Finishing Touches

Trevor and I delivered the final version of the design to Osprey in the middle of August 2019, right as Undaunted: Normandy was launching at Gen Con. It was awesome to see Normandy received so positively just as we were putting the final design touches on the second game in the series.

So that's the story of how Undaunted: North Africa came to be. It was a joy to see Roland MacDonald's gorgeous art throughout the design process, and it was great working with Filip and Anthony on the game. For more details, you can take a look at the rules in this video from Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules!

David Thompson

Board Game: Undaunted: North Africa
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Wed Jul 29, 2020 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Renature, or From Badgers to Bushes, From Turtles to Trees

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Renature
The designers Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling have released many classic games over the years, both individually and as a team. In 2020, their credits can be found on a new version of Maharaja (first released in 2004), the large strategy game Paris, the domino-based game Jubako, and a second domino-based game — the subject of my preview today — Renature from new German publisher Deep Print Games.

While new, Renature feels like a classic game from the early 2000s, with simple rules and abstract gameplay wrapped in a setting that makes no sense from a narrative point of view.

On a turn, you place one of your three dominoes on the game board, either on one of the four starting spaces or next to one or more dominoes already on the board so long as all the pieces match. (One critter at a time is a joker and can be placed next to whatever you want. The butterfly starts as the joker, and you can see multiple uses of butterflies this way in the image below.) The game includes ten types of critters, and each pairing of critters appears once on the 55 dominoes.

Board Game: Renature

After placing your domino, you can place a plant in an empty dirt space next to that domino, scoring 1 point for that plant and 1 point for each plant of the same size or smaller in that dirt area.

If your domino placement surrounded an area, as in the upper-left area shown above, then you score that area. (The domino currently being placed doesn't close an area since a 1x2 space remains open to the right of the snail.) Plants come in four sizes, and you sum your "plant strength" in an area to determine who scores it. Whoever has the most plant strength scores the larger value on the area tile, and whoever has the second most strength scores the smaller value.

As in the Rüdiger Dorn game Las Vegas, ties are unfriendly, with the tied colors in an area being treated as not present. Another similarity to Las Vegas — well, to an official variant of that game — is that each player has plants in their color as well as neutral plants, and you can try to use these neutral plants to engineer ties to keep other players from scoring. Even better, if the plant strengths in an area end up as, say, 4 for blue, 4 for neutral, and 1 for orange, then the orange player is treated as the only player in that area — and if you're alone in an area, then you score both the larger and smaller point values on an area tile. Whatever you do, you want to place all of your plants on the board because you're penalized at the end of the game for each plant unplayed.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
End of a three-player game

Each player starts the game with six cloud tokens, and on a turn, aside from your regular action, you can spend:

• two clouds to change the joker animal,
• three clouds to take another turn, or
• 1-4 clouds to reclaim a neutral plant or one of your plants (in the appropriate size) from the board as long as you have space for it on your personal player board.

A few spaces on the game board contain cloud tokens, and when you place a plant on a cloud, you place it in your reserve if you have room.

Renature reminded me of Michael Schacht designs from the early 2000s, designs like Hansa and Web of Power that have a strong tactical element, designs in which your turn often risks giving the following player a large advantage. (In Hansa, you might refill empty ports with goods, which gives others things to buy, and in Web of Power, when you're the first in a region, you can place only one piece while after that everyone can place two pieces if they have the right cards.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Kramer's own games Wildlife Adventure and Expedition contain a similar piggybacking element as in those games players share three expeditions around the world, with each new segment of an expedition being placed after the most recent one. You want an expedition to reach secret locations in your hand so that you can score them, but ideally you can let someone else spend their turns getting an expedition close to such a location, then you can profit from it with little effort.

In Renature, which I've played twice on a mock-up copy from Deep Print Games, once each with two and three players, with each domino you place, you have to consider where your opponents might go next. If you place the first plant in an area, can they follow you with a larger plant, superceding your growth? You want to claim all the areas, of course, but you don't have the plants to do so, which means you need to grow with care — although sometimes a throwaway plant will prove profitable if everyone lays dominoes in other directions and doesn't return to that area. After all, each area not surrounded still scores at the end of the game based on the division of plant strength; the area tiles are discarded instead of being awarded, but even a small area can be worth the effort if you collect both rewards yourself.

The only drawback to the game's design — aside from the setting, as I'm not sure how placing critters on brooks leads to plant growth in bare patches of dirt — is that the neutral pieces are easily confused for the white pieces. In the image above, you can see that the white pieces are oriented in one direction while the neutral pieces are at a 90º angle to the white pieces. In both games, which were played with different people under different lighting sources, it was next to impossible to distinguish the two colors. Maybe these will differ in the published version of the game, but if not, you'll likely want to mark one set of pieces to make them stand out.

As for the game's availability, Renature will be released by Capstone Games in the U.S., and the game will be available in eight languages overall, with a debut during SPIEL.digital in mid-October 2020 and a retail release date of October 28, 2020.

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Thu Jul 23, 2020 1:00 pm
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Developer Diary: Spicy, or Three Years Full of Half-Lies

Roland Goslar
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Miltenberg
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From gallery of RoGo
Our little bluffing game Spicy from HeidelBÄR Games, which was recommended by the Spiel des Jahres jury in 2020, stands out not only because of its simple rules, but also because of the long-lasting process it took to get the rules down to that size.

First Contact: Multiplied Tension

In 2017 at the annual SPIEL convention in Essen, my colleague Sabine and I had an appointment with our old partner and friend Zoltán Aczél from the Hungarian publisher Gém Klub. Zoltán showed us an already finished prototype with the title "Rossz Cicus!" (Bad Kitty!) by his friend Zoltán Győri.

From gallery of RoGo
This prototype was already decorated with cat illustrations, but these cheeky kittens differ greatly from the final SPICY illustrations

After Zoltán explained the game, I thought: "This I already know! A schoolyard classic known by various names: Bullshit, Cheat, I Doubt It, Lies, Cheating, etc." On a turn, you should play a card of the proper type that's higher than the previous player's card, but you can play what you want and say what you want at the risk of being called out by others. Get caught, and you take the played cards, losing points.

Nevertheless, we started playing. At the first challenge when I accused another player for lying, I felt a strange, new, stronger emotion than with the cheating classics — I had to announce what was wrong: color or number? The tension didn't disappear with the calling of a lie. Indeed the moment of doubt became stronger on both sides. On one side: What do I doubt? On the other side: What if I fall for a half-truth?

Apart from that element, the game was very simple: five suits with numbers from 1 to 14, with each card appearing once and with the main objectives being to get rid of all cards and receive as few penalty cards as possible. I wanted to take it with me and work on it.

First Frustration and Research

After tests in various pubs and with my children, I was quite frustrated. With five suits, the last card usually turned out to be the wrong spice. With anxious players, the card pile in the middle grew fast, which made them even more anxious. Those who took a big minus pile were frustrated and hopelessly behind. The middle ranks felt meaningless — yet there was still this moment of doubt after you had announced that something was wrong: suit or number?

From gallery of RoGo
For research, our publishing team played their way through the bluffing sector landscape; this is only a small selection of titles that a new bluff game must be able to stand next to

I wondered whether the question "Correct suit or number?" had been asked in other bluff games. It's so simple, so seemingly compelling. I went through the bluffing category on BGG, browsed Hugo Kastner's Kartenspiel-Enzyklopädie [url][/url] (this being a German card game encyclopedia), and skimmed various books in our archives. Nothing was exactly like that. The closest game that came to the idea was MammuZ from Hobby World, a game in which you claim to play several cards of the same type with the challenger revealing only a part of them, but I was not sure.

In 2018, I took the prototype to the Hippodice competition and played it with eight other editors in the evening. No one was familiar with this concept of the half-lie, but I sensed that they liked it, which encouraged me to push the game release by all means.

First Variations

We tested additional chips that could be used to change the number or the suit of a card. It was way too brain-locked. Then came the wild cards: We didn't want to have wild cards that were always right as in Uno or MauMau. You should always keep a certain amount of risk. We tried the game with two suits without numbers and four numbers without a suit. They were too weak.

From gallery of RoGo
Sticheln from our old friend Klaus Palesch is my favorite game when it comes to repurposing a card game to build a prototype. I bought at least twenty copies. Here we tested wilds with two suits without numbers.

The first real progress was the reduction to three suits and numbers from 1 to 10. Thus the suit of the last card was wrong in only two of three cases — and probably less if you had started the round yourself. With three suits and numbers from 1 to 10, we could triple the quantity of each card, which made memorizing superfluous.

A second advance was the introduction of trophies for the successful playing of your final card in hand. These trophies prolonged the game, and the game end did not seem so random anymore.

From gallery of RoGo
Here are trophies with ascending values or the ability to kill penalty cards of a certain color, along with 2VP markers for correct challenging to encourage it

With this set-up, we played the game again with Zoltán at Spielwarenmesse 2018, with Zoltán being our middleman to the author, Zoltán Győri, a.k.a. the second Zoltán.

Superpowers, a.k.a. Spice It Up Cards

Zoltán Győri's original game contains special cards and special effects. We wanted to have these "superpowers" in the game, too, but just as an addition.

Only the Copy Cat — which allows you to play the same card as the previous player — was integrated into the basic game for a long time because it creates wonderful moments and for larger rounds, it ensures constant participation of everyone. The important thing was that it had to be riskier than a normal announcement because otherwise you could constantly jump in with half-lies, and chaos arose, but it was exactly this different kind of challenge that always caused confusion and mistakes by newbies, which is why we finally removed it from the basic game.

From gallery of RoGo
In the end, six variation cards made it into the game, and all variants can be combined with each other without causing problems

Unsolved Problems, and a Surprisingly Positive Winter Turnaround

We tried to cancel the frustratingly large minus point piles through the use of positive points for correctly announced challenges, either in the form of chips or by allowing you to throw away penalty cards. But this never felt right, and the game could still run dead if nobody wanted to risk a challenge, which meant the minus pile would just become bigger and bigger.

In the winter of 2018/19, the fine-tuning was about to start. The Zoltáns tested intensively, especially the superpowers. There were tests with a single superpower for everyone, and tests with special superpowers that only one player could use; tests with positive special effects such as Copy Cat, and tests with handicaps in which the player of a card had to be declared a "man of honor" or "honor taken" to avoid a penalty. The handicaps often caused laughter but were too silly for all of us in the end.

Even worse still was that in the Zoltáns' test groups of pro-players, the game kept getting stuck on large piles — and the game got fun again only when one player sacrificed themselves.

Then our long-term intern Christoph had an idea during another round of bluff in a Bürgstädter Heckenwirtschaft, which is a local tavern with restricted seasonal opening: "Let's try the game with positive points!"

A quick test worked. Not only was the angst gone, but we could also simply turn any cards left over in your hand at game's end into negative points. The problem that had caused us to search for additional positive incentives vanished into thin air.

After one week, the new rule was ready, the superpowers were adjusted, and we waited for feedback from Hungary. It was, as hoped, pleasantly positive. The only small flaw was and still is that the (negative) emotions are much stronger when you collect negative cards than when you collect a few positive cards — but creating an overall positive mood is much more important.

From gallery of RoGo
Our "final" prototype, without illustrations or card design

Along the way, the punishment for the loser of a challenge got much easier and was compensated with a bonus: The challenge loser draws two cards (which are minus points while in hand), then starts the next pile. Thus, the former loser can get rid of one card right away and can also choose the suit of the next pile, which is very strong.

In retrospect, I can only wonder why it took us so long to find this positive twist for such a little bluffing game.

No Elimination for Long-Lasting Tension

Many well-known and successful bluff games use player elimination down to the last man: Bluff, Coup, Poker, Werewolf, and Skull. When a bluff game is all about survival, players often make passive announcements and just hope that someone else is caught. The bigger the round, the more pronounced this behavior is.

We are very happy to have found a way for Spicy that creates enough tension without player elimination. Often the game is not decided until the final trophy. Apart from the trophies, you can score points only if you actively doubt correctly or lure another player into a trap. Both of these actions are possible only when it's your turn, which is why we allow anyone to doubt at any time. (If you play with Copy Cat, you can even play a card at any time. Doing so is combined with the risk of being called out so that the game does not collapse.)

I am proud of how these rewards, punishments, and risks work together in Spicy, and I am glad that my boss Heiko Eller-Bilz gave Spicy the time to mature.

The World's End Card

From the beginning, the game ended in one of two ways: One player gets rid of their cards, or the deck is empty. We had replaced the former condition with several trophies being in play, with three trophies working best as winning the game with two trophies felt really huge.

Ending the game via an empty deck unfortunately sometimes led to tactical doubting and to small extra rules for who had to draw which cards at the end.

The typical shuffling in of a "game end" card was too uncontrolled as it led to games that felt too short or too long. I then remembered Tiefe Taschen by Fabian Zimmermann, which we had tested intensively in Heidelberger times. I asked Zimmermann about the authorship of that game's ending condition, and he told me: "An editor showed to me during a game set-up at the game designer convention Spieleautorentreffen in Göttingen how he does it at home: 'Just slide it in!'"

In the final game, you slide the "game end" card at an approximate height based on the number of players. You all have an idea of when the game will end, but cannot know for sure.

From gallery of RoGo
Many thanks again to Fabian for the great tip with the end of the game card!

Gold

For many years, Heiko has been a fan of Coup, the successful bluffing card game by our old partner Indie Boards & Cards. This is one of the reasons why he was critical of the concept of Spicy for a long time as Coup attracted him more. Not only the bluffing but also the silver box fascinated him — yet the path from silver to gold was not a difficult one.

Theme Selection

For a long time, my favorite theme was "Chuck", based on various "facts" about Chuck Norris: A few wannabe daredevils meet for a wooden board, brick, anything else smashing contest: I finish "3 boards", I break "7 boards", and the 10 is Chuck because "Chuck finishes all", and then the claims have to start all over again. After the challenge, the loser gets all the junk in front of their hut.

With the new, positive game experience, the search for a fitting theme and the development of the graphics went into a new round. The brainstorming led us from fire-breathing dragons, strange unicorns, etc. finally to cats once more, which pleased the Zoltáns as they had cheered from the beginning for "Bad Kitties".

From gallery of RoGo
Various preliminary versions of the box design

Heiko and Marina were on fire for big cats in combination with traditional Asian cat pictures. Our Korean partner Thomas from UBO CnC arranged contact with Jimin Kim, an artist from Busan who at first could not believe we wanted a bunch of crazy twisted cats on our golden box. In the end, the big cats found their fans, with a special thread on BGG for the Spicy illustrations.

Learn to Lie?

Bluffing games are a controversial genre, but Heiko and I have enjoyed them for a long time. Bluff has accompanied me for decades. You can play Spicy as soon as you can hold a hand of cards, count to ten, and mischievously lie, so five years and up is fine.

But beware: I have experienced some educators who refused Spicy outrageously, especially for children because it would teach them to lie. I think that's nonsense. To me, acting, tricks, probabilities, trash talk, and the assessing of gestures are wonderful at any age, especially if you can laugh as much as you can with Spicy. To take freely from Nietzsche: "He who cannot lie doesn't know what playing is."

Roland Goslar

Board Game: Spicy

Board Game: Spicy
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Tue Jul 21, 2020 5:19 pm
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Pictures Wins Spiel des Jahres 2020; Die Crew Claims Kennerspiel des Jahres 2020

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Pictures from designers Daniela and Christian Stöhr and publisher PD-Verlag has won the 2020 Spiel des Jahres, German's game of the year award.

Each round in Pictures, you recreate one of the sixteen images on the table as best you can with an odd set of artistic equipment: two shoelaces, six wooden blocks, four sticks and four stones, 2-5 symbols on cards, and colored cubes placed into a 3x3 grid to create a pixelated image. The image you must recreate is determined at random by drawing a token from a bag, and each token appears in the bag three times. You score points for guessing which image matches other players' artistic creations and for them guessing which image inspired your work. For a more detailed overview of the game, both written and on video, head to my write-up from January 2020.

Pictures beat out My City by Reiner Knizia and Nova Luna from Uwe Rosenberg and Corné van Moorsel for the Spiel des Jahres, which is probably the best known and most influential award in the hobby game market.

Board Game: Pictures

For the Kennerspiel des Jahres, an award intended for enthusiasts comfortable with a slightly more involved game than the mainstream-friendly Spiel des Jahres winners, the SdJ jury chose The Crew from designer Thomas Sing and publisher KOSMOS.

The Crew is a co-operative trick-taking game for 2-5 players in which one or players are given a task to complete for whatever mission the group is currently attempting, such as capturing a trick that contains a particular card, taking no tricks at all, or winning a trick with a 1. The co-operative nature of the game — and the particular challenge of whichever of the fifty missions you're undertaking — forces you to re-evaluate whatever trick-taking skills you have since you all win or lose the game together. For a more detailed overview, both written and on video, head to my write-up from December 2019.

Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine

Congratulations to all involved with these two games!
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Mon Jul 20, 2020 11:14 am
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Game Overview: Finished!, or Clear Your Desk Before the Day Is Done

W. Eric Martin
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I want to write many things about Friedemann Friese's Finished!, a title he released in 2017 from his own 2F-Spiele, but time has been tight this past week, so for now I must let this playthrough video stand on its own.

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Mon Jul 20, 2020 3:05 am
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Stefan Feld's Bruges and Macao to Be Reborn as Hamburg and Amsterdam

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Queen Games
After weeks of teasing, German publisher Queen Games has unveiled the first two titles in its "Stefan Feld City Collection", a collection that "will be a multi-year project comprised of 8+ games", according to Queen — "8+" presumably because Feld and Queen have planned out that far, but who knows what he'll create down the road.

Here's an excerpt from the press release announcing this series, which will contain "re-implementations of beloved titles previously released, as well as newly-designed titles specifically for the collection":
Quote:
Each previously released title is being meticulously re-examined, tweaked, and improved with new gameplay elements, and will include existing expansion material as possible. In addition, these games are being moved to a new setting, which has been carefully chosen and gameplay elements altered to match the setting. Cities will be featured from all over the world, and we consider it important to represent these beloved cities well, showcasing their unique beauty and features. Each game will feature unique artwork from an assortment of well-known artists, but with a similar style to tie them together, including a painstakingly created cityscape panorama that will run across the sides of the boxes.
Board Game: Bruges
Board Game: Bruges: The City on the Zwin
The first title in the series is Hamburg, with this game being not a reimplementation of Die Speicherstadt, which actually is in Hamburg, but a reimplementation of the 2013 release Bruges, along with the expansions The City on the Zwin and Pets, the latter of which I didn't even know existed until this point. No wonder I felt a tiny furless hole in my heart whenever I played Bruges...

In any case, here's an overview of Hamburg:
Quote:
Hamburg is a card game in which each card has five different uses, and players must cleverly choose the best use for each one, all while avoiding disasters and racing for different objectives.

In the game, players act as mayors of the city of Hamburg in the late 19th century. The game is played over eight rounds. At the beginning of the round, six colored dice are rolled, with players receiving a threat marker in the color of any die that rolls a 5 or 6. The black die is a "wild" threat, with players drawing a threat token with one of the other threat types hidden on the back. If a player ever has three of one type of threat, they receive a penalty.

Next, players have the opportunity to pay a number of coins (equal to the pips on all dice
showing a 1 or 2) to advance on the mayor's track. The black die also activates the clergy in St.
Michael's Church, which serves as a round counter and awards points for certain building types at the end of the game.

Board Game: Hamburg

On their turn, players play five cards from any of five stacks of cards, one for each of the five colors in the game. These cards are in thirteen categories, each representing a different location around Hamburg, with seventeen individual cards within each category. Each card in a player's hand may be used for a number of purposes, including building the city wall, activating boats (if a 3 or 4 is rolled), starting a building plot, and constructing a building (card) on the plot, with this building granting a new ability or endgame scoring condition.

Players receive points for various accomplishments during the game. In addition, they may receive bonus points by being the only player to have achieved one of five conditions for that round. Whoever scores the most points after eight rounds wins.
Board Game: Macao
The second title announced from Queen is Amsterdam, which is a reimplementation of 2009's Macao "with a new setting, improved card balance, and new gameplay elements".

Here's an overview of gameplay for those not familiar with the original game:
Quote:
Amsterdam challenges players to build combinations of abilities, as well as to correctly calculate the advantage of delayed gratification for actions.

In the game, players are merchants in Amsterdam near the turn of the 20th century. At the start of the game, two district cards are placed on each of the twelve spaces on the designated board. At the beginning of a round, the next two district cards, as well as two building and two profession cards (each from a deck of 54 of each type) are drawn to form the offer of six cards. Each of these cards has a cost in colored action cubes and grants a new action, special ability, or way to score points. In turn order, each player takes a card from those on offer. Finally, a market card is revealed that allows players to exchange money for victory points on their turn.

Board Game: Amsterdam

Next, the six colored dice are rolled. Each player decides which of the six dice they would like (players may choose the same die), then takes as many action cubes in that color as the number of pips. Players place their new action cubes on their rotatable windrose as many spaces in the future as the number on the dice. Finally, the wheel is spun, so that players gain access to all cubes that were located on the 1 space of their windrose.

Action cubes are used to purchase cards that a player has taken, claim one of the nine types of goods around the city of Amsterdam, and ferry goods or workers through canals to warehouses. Players earn points for delivering their goods, as well as for bonuses on cards they purchase, and the player with the most points at the end of the twelfth round wins.
Queen Games plans to launch a Kickstarter project for these titles on August 18, 2020, with shipping to occur to backers in Q1 2021. Future titles in the "Stefan Feld City Collection" will be launched on Kickstarter in pairs, with the next two titles being New York City (an apparent reimplementation of a previously released title) and Marrakesh, a new design.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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Fri Jul 17, 2020 6:00 pm
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Tekhenu Sheds Serious Light on Clever Dice Drafting

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: Board&Dice
While I've played Tzolk'in, Teotihuacan, and Trismegistus only a handful of times collectively, I'm well aware that when Daniele Tascini designs a medium-heavy euro with a "T" name, it's bound to have interesting mechanisms and mesmerize my mind. Then you pair him up with Dávid Turczi and there's a high chance for cardboard gold. Enter Board&Dice's July 2020 release, Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun, a strategic dice-drafting game for 1 to 4 players set in Ancient Egypt.

Rainer Åhlfors from Board&Dice was kind enough to demo Tekhenu for me and a couple of friends on Tabletopia, then graciously sent me a physical copy of the game hot off the press, so I wanted to share my initial impressions since I've been playing it quite a bit.

Board Game: Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun

In Tekhenu, players take on the roles of nobles in Ancient Egypt as they build the Temple of Amun-Ra and the area that is to become Ipet-Isut. Players will draft sixteen dice from a nifty, rotating, obelisk wheel over the course of the game, using them for one of six different god actions or to simply produce resources.

Each round, players take one action in turn order. Every two rounds, there will be a rotation and restocking of dice. Every two rotations, there will be a Maat phase in which you check the balance of your scales and reset turn order. Then every two Maat phases brings a scoring round, and after two scoring rounds, the game ends, and the player with the most victory points wins.

From gallery of candidrum

Off the bat, the game board has a lot going on, and I got the same initial overwhelming feeling I got when I sat down to play Teotihuacan the first time. Similar to Teotihuacan, it's really not that crazy once someone gives a high-level overview of what you're looking at, then it gets even easier to digest after playing a round or two.

In the case of Tekhenu, the god action areas are conveniently positioned to line up where they are located on the obelisk wheel, which makes it easy to comprehend once someone explains it to you. I think it's pretty impressive that something so chaotic looking initially can make so much sense within minutes. Kudos to the team behind the art and graphic design: Jakub Fajtanowski, Michał Długaj, Zbigniew Umgelter, Kuba Polkowski, Aleksander Zawada.

From gallery of candidrum
Obelisk wheel
Tekhenu is centered around the rotating obelisk, which has sunny, dark, and shaded sides representing how the obelisk casts its shadow as it moves clockwise. During set-up, you roll and place three dice in each section of the obelisk wheel. Every two rounds, more dice come out, but depending on their colors and how the obelisk shadow falls, it might be slim pickings — so turn order is extremely important. At my table, dramatic sound effects are highly encouraged each time we rotate the obelisk.

Depending on the position of the obelisk's shadow, different colored dice will be placed on either the outer ring of the circle as pure, the middle ring as tainted, or the inner ring as forbidden. Dice are pure when they match in brightness. For example, on the sunny side white dice are considered pure, yellow and gray dice are considered tainted, while black and brown dice are forbidden. Alternatively, on the dark side, black dice are pure, brown and gray dice are tainted, and yellow and white dice are forbidden.

Each turn, players take exactly one pure or tainted die (not forbidden) from anywhere around the obelisk wheel. The chosen die is placed onto the corresponding scale (pure or tainted) on your player board. This is a key concept of the game since at the end of every four rounds during the Maat phase you check the balance of your scales — the total value on pure dice vs. total value on tainted dice — to determine the turn order for the following round. I'll say it again, turn order is extremely important in this game. The earlier you are on the turn order track, the better. When you're drafting a die, not only are you thinking about which action you want to take and in some cases, what the value or the color of that die is, but also which side of your scales it will be on since you want your scales to be as balanced as possible when a Maat phase is triggered to hopefully get the best turn order position for the next round.

From gallery of candidrum
Play board

After drafting a die on your turn, you perform either a god action corresponding to the area you drafted the die from or produce resources based on the color of the chosen die. Here's a summary of the six god actions available, some of which feel like mini games within the main game:
Quote:
Horus
Taking the Horus god action allows the building of statues, either in honor of one of the gods or for the people. Building a statue in honor of a god grants you benefits when other players perform actions associated with that god. Building a statue for the people grants favorable benefits during scoring.

Ra
When taking the Ra god action, you add a pillar to the Amun-Ra temple grid, scoring victory points and gaining resources and possibly powerful bonus actions.

Hathor
The Hathor god action results in the construction of buildings around the Amun-Ra temple complex, providing rich resources and considerable influence during scoring. This action also increases the current population.

Bastet
By taking the Bastet god action, a festival takes place, increasing the happiness of the people. However, the happiness marker can never overtake the population marker, making it necessary to strike a balance between different actions. Keeping your people happy unlocks powerful one-time benefits as well as bonus victory points during scoring and more options when taking the Thoth god action.

Thoth
The game includes three types of cards: blessings, technologies, and decrees. Taking the Thoth god action allows you to gain these cards, the type of which is determined by the happiness of your people. Also, the happier your people are, the greater the selection of cards available from which you can choose.

Osiris
Taking the Osiris god action allows you to construct workshops and quarries, each of which increases your production of one of the four resources: papyrus, bread, limestone, and granite. During scoring, you are rewarded for having the most workshops or quarries of each type.

From gallery of candidrum
Temple Complex
Tekhenu has many interesting mechanisms in play, and it's awesome that each game will be a bit different depending on the players and which strategies everyone pursues. For example, in the temple complex, whenever you build pillars performing a Ra action, you get points when you match the color of the edges of the tile borders. The value of the die you take dictates which tile you can take to place your pillar on, and if the tile you choose matches the current shadow lighting of the Ra action on the obelisk wheel, you get the bonus on the tile, too. You have to make sure you have the right resources to pay the cost of a tile that you want, in addition to having it aligned with the right dice value that corresponds to one of the dice available for that action.

Once all those stars align, then you can start thinking about placement to maximize your points by matching the edge colors. You can also gain resources depending on where you place the tile and pillar, so sometimes you have to decide whether it's more important to get more resources or more points, etc.

From gallery of candidrum
Osiris action area
With the Osiris action, it's essentially an area control battle with placing your buildings. The value of the die you use for the Osiris action dictates which row you can place your building on. While higher value dice give you more production and resources, the lower value spots at the top position you better for potential ties since the player with the building or statue closest to the top of each column breaks ties.

Instead of performing a god action, you can choose to take any pure or tainted die and produce, generating resources based on the color of the die (yellow = papyrus, brown = bread, white = limestone, and black = granite) and the current production value of that resource, which is tracked on your player board. Gray dice can never be used for production since they don't correspond to any of the resources, but they are also always tainted and never forbidden, so they're typically more available for drafting, which often makes them essential.

One little caveat with producing resources is that any resources you produce in excess of your production level will be added to the tainted side of your scale — which can be a whole nother monkey wrench to deal with when trying to keep your scales as balanced as possible. Producing isn't the most optimal option, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta to do to gain some extra resources or potentially to snag the right die for balancing your scales.

You can also gain scribes throughout the game that you can spend to modify the dice you draft +/- 1 or 2. Even better, you can spend two scribes to perform a powerful Anubis action. With this action, you can draft a die from anywhere on the obelisk wheel, including forbidden dice, and perform any action. It's quite awesome when you can perform an Anubis action. I can't tell you how many times there have been only forbidden dice left in areas where I needed to take an action. It's really helpful to have this option and flexibility with the scribes, but of course, they aren't easy to come by when you're trying to do a million other actions throughout the game.

Tekhenu has three types of cards that you can gain by performing a Thoth god action, and they all seem juicy, even potentially a bit swingy, though it's too soon to say. You have blessing cards that are one-time use, technology cards that provide ongoing effects, and decree cards for endgame scoring. In two of my games, I was able to snag the card that doesn't require you to pay bread for your buildings during the scoring phases. There are also many sweet combos to be made with some of the cards, e.g., Matt had a decree card that gave him 3 VP per statue at the end of the game in conjunction with a technology card that gave him 2 VP and 1 granite every time he performed the Horus god action, which lets you build statues! The cards can be very powerful.

We did misinterpret some of the decree cards because their wording wasn't clear. One card, for example, says, "Gain 2 VP per Statue and 2 VP per Pillar within the Temple Complex", so when scoring, we totaled all of the statues and pillars at the temple complex. Seems obvious, right? Turns out the card is supposed to score only the statues and pillars of the player who has the decree card. The game board uses an icon in multiple places that indicates something scores only "your" buildings/pillars/etc., so I'm not sure why they didn't include that icon on the decree cards or at least make the verbiage crystal clear: "Gain 2 VP per Statue you have built and 2 VP per Pillar you have raised within the Temple Complex". The good news is that the rulebook is excellent and has an awesome appendix clarifying all of the cards and now that we know it, we won't make that mistake again.

One of the many things I dig about Tekhenu is that it plays fast for a meatier, thinkier game. We knocked out a casual three-player game in just under two hours, and I can see it playing even faster the more experienced the players are. Player count-wise, I would say four players feels toughest, especially if you end up last in turn order, but timing-wise, it doesn't drag unless players are getting bogged down with AP. In all cases, the ending of the game sneaks up on you, so beware. Every time I've played, I always end up thinking I'll have more time to do this or that, but then all of sudden, we're drafting our final two dice and it's crunch time.

Tekhenu also includes a great solo mode, designed by Dávid Turczi and Nick Shaw, in which you compete against the Botankhamun bot, choosing one of three difficulty levels (easy, medium, or hard) for it. The Botankhamun bot's turns are driven by ten action tiles placed randomly in a pyramid shape during set-up, and again at the end of the first three Maat phases. You take your turns as normal, and when it's Botankhamun's turn, you flip the Deben token to determine where the progress token moves on the pyramid of action tiles, either to the right-side-adjacent tile or the top-right-adjacent tile. This dictates which action Botankhamun performs next. Just like a human opponent, Botankhamun scores points during the game from certain actions and also during the scoring phase.

From gallery of candidrum
Botankhamun action tile pyramid

You'll likely have to reference the rulebook for most of Botankhamun's turns as I did with my first solo play, but the system is straightforward, which made the game move along. More importantly, I felt the same struggles I've felt from my previous games against human opponents. This is not one of those solo modes in which you're trying to just get a high score for giggles; you are working hard to beat Botankhamun's score just as if it were a human opponent. You get just as frustrated when Botankhamun takes a die you needed, or grabs a technology or decree card you were hoping to nab, or simply takes an action that jeopardizes your position for scoring, especially right before the scoring phase.

Overall my solo Tekhenu experience on medium difficulty was challenging and stressful in the best way possible. I honestly enjoyed the gameplay as much as I do when I play with human opponents, minus the lack of social interaction.

While Tekhenu doesn't necessarily feel thematic from a gameplay standpoint, the art and graphic design pushes it in the right direction, and the mechanisms are so fun I don't even care that the theme isn't quite popping. What does help, though, is the right music. A couple of times I played, we put on some mellow Ancient Egyptian music in the background, which enhanced the game experience, then followed it up with the original The Mummy soundtrack which intensified moments of the the game quite a bit.

Tekhenu comes down to clever mechanisms, a wealth of interesting decisions, plenty of different strategies to explore, and consequently, many paths to victory. There are lots of things to juggle and think about every turn. You can roughly plan ahead each round, but you have to be able to adapt because it's very likely someone may take that die you really needed.

Every action you take feels rewarding since you're usually getting points, resources, or both. It's one of those games in which you want to do everything, but you're better off focusing on something and doing it well to maximize your points vs. dabbling a little bit all over the place. From my four plays so far, I typically find it best to build my strategy around my initially selected decree card (the secret endgame scoring objective) because I feel it gives you focus. Otherwise, you could be overwhelmed by all the options and fall down the AP rabbit hole.

While your mind is working through optimizing each separate action, again you also have to spend attention balancing your scales from round to round. I think that helps give players some focus since you're going to more than likely target certain dice to help keep your scales balanced and that limits your options. It can definitely get super puzzley...

Overall, I've been enjoying playing Tekhenu, and I'm looking forward to trying to figure it out even more. It could be that Tascini and Turczi make a killer game design duo, or maybe I just love clever dice-drafting games. I'm sure it's a bit of both. Either way, Tekhenu is worth checking out, especially if you're already a fan of any of Tascini's other "T" games: T'zolkin, Teotihuacan, or Trismegistus.

Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
Board Game: Teotihuacan: City of Gods
Board Game: Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula
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Fri Jul 17, 2020 3:40 pm
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Game Preview: Pandemic Legacy: Season 0, or Into the Red Zone

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
Following a teaser in early July 2020, Z-Man Games has announced the forthcoming release of Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 from Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau, the final title in the Pandemic Legacy trilogy, albeit one that takes place decades before the other two. Here's a quick overview of the game from the publisher:
Quote:
1962 — The Cold War continues as a new threat looms on the horizon, a deadly new Soviet bioweapon, something called "Project MEDUSA". You and your fellow medical graduates have been called up to the CIA for the critical mission of investigating and preventing its development. Travel the world using carefully constructed aliases to move swiftly between Allied, Neutral, and Soviet cities. Your missions will require you to eliminate Soviet operatives, acquire specific targets, and set up other CIA agents on location to execute your operations without a hitch. As you complete objectives over the course of twelve months, each success or failure will bring you closer to the truth.

Combatting this dangerous new pathogen is of utmost importance, but it's not the only threat you'll encounter in the field. Soviet agents are taking root in all parts of the world, and it's critical to your mission that you keep them contained before they can escalate international tensions. Luckily for you, you won't be without backup. Coordinate with other covert CIA operatives for assistance — they're particularly effective at making Soviet spies disappear...quietly. Make strategic use of CIA teams at different locations to clean up the board and keep your eye on your main objectives.

Board Game: Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
Midgame during the prologue game — no spoilers!

Designed as a prequel, Pandemic Legacy: Season 0 does not require you to have completed Season 1 and Season 2 before diving into this Cold War spy thriller. As in the first two Pandemic Legacy games, each time you play brings new cards, rules, and conditions that affect future games. Each alias you create will gain contacts and other assets to execute your plans more smoothly. And, of course, the CIA will be watching and evaluating your performance in the field. Work together with your fellow agents to prevent this new bio-threat — the fate of the world depends on it. Can you save humanity once again?
Something nice about Season 0 is that it contains a prologue game ahead of the year-long campaign that will last 12-24 games depending on how well you do. You can play the prologue game as many times as you like, and by doing so, you'll get a handle on what's taking place in 1962 and how you can take actions to confront and reveal the activities of the Soviet Union.

Another nifty element is that Soviet agents serve the role of diseases in this game, and when you would place a fourth agent in a location, instead of them spreading to adjacent locations, you pull the bottom location card from the deck, then carry out the "incident" described on it, with you possibly losing a safehouse, being shipped back to Washington, having agents show up in other places, or losing cover for your alias.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Lots going on in this pic, but with no spoilers!

I've played the preview game twice with two players on a review copy of the game from Z-Man, losing the first and winning the second. In the prologue, you must complete two objectives in order to succeed. (Having one failed objective still lets you advance in the campaign with a rating of "adequate", with you increasing funding along the way; failing two or more objectives is the only way to truly fail.)

One of those objectives requires you to have a Soviet team (which is under your control) in Novosibirsk at some point during the game to hunt for a missing agent, while the other is a deduction game of sorts. You know that a sample of "Project MEDUSA" is somewhere in Europe, but not which specific location. You can spend Europe cards to discover that location or you can see which locations are revealed in the player deck and therefore cannot be the hidden location, then hope for the best by assigning teams of the appropriate affiliation to whichever locations you haven't eliminated as a possibility.

In the video below, I cover the prologue game in more depth, while not revealing any spoilers about the campaign itself. I mean, I show sealed components from the campaign, but what's inside those packages while remain a mystery to both me and you for now:

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Thu Jul 16, 2020 7:44 pm
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Game Preview: Whale Riders, or Pearls Before Orcas

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Whale Riders
Whale Riders from Reiner Knizia and Grail Games is an early 2021 release that's being funded now on Kickstarter (KS link), but the game is new only in the sense that it hasn't existed previously.

What I mean by that is that the game feels like a Knizia design that could have been released at any point during his career. Knizia game designs often reference other games that he's released in the past, but if you removed the names and publication dates from his games and presented them to people who are unfamiliar with his work, they likely could not deduce which titles were released in which order. Lost Cities feels old to me only because I've been playing it for almost twenty years; the design feels timeless, however, because the gameplay is as much as what you bring to the table as it is the game itself.

Knizia designs feel like they're all being pulled from the same point of origin — which, of course, they are — and they largely share characteristics from the same pool of game design elements: simple choices, a slow progression toward goals, a shared game space in which your choices impact what's available to others, and the occasional radical event (under a player's control) that changes that game space.

Whale Riders does this by putting players in competition for goods laid out at ports along the coast. Over the course of the game, you will ride your whale from the sun port at the top of the board to the lobster port and back, buying tiles along the way in order to complete contracts. Each player has a hand of three contracts, and when you complete one, you receive coins immediately — which can help you buy more stuff and therefore complete more contracts — and pearls at the end of the game. Pearls are points, and that's all that matters in the end. No points are scored for stylish whale riding, alas.

Board Game: Whale Riders

Each turn in the game you take two actions from the five actions available to you, repeating actions if you like:

• Move one port. You cannot backtrack, but must move toward the lobster port, then back.
• Buy one tile at your current port.
• Take a 1 coin from the bank.
• Discard 1-3 contracts from your hand.
• Complete 1-3 contracts, discarding tiles to satisfy the demands of each contract individually.

In the image above, you can see a contract requiring two pieces of pottery and two slabs of tuna. If you discard tiles having at least that many items, you then collect the coins and set the card aside for scoring at the end of the game. No change is given, so you want to be efficient with your contract fulfillment, but occasionally you're going to toss extra goods because what's one blob of kelp here or there.

At the end of your turn, you slide tiles on the board to fill empty spaces, then draw new tiles from the bag to fill gaps, sometimes placing storm tiles that simply take up space. Eventually those tiles will slide into the 0-cost slot at a port, permanently blocking that space and making 1 the minimum cost for a tile. You also refill your hand to three contracts at the end of a turn.

Board Game: Whale Riders

The game is about efficiency and cycling, as many games are, with you trying to complete contracts to gain coins to buy more stuff to complete more contracts — all while keeping an eye on what opponents are doing so that you don't dump three shells in the lap of an opponent who's been collecting shells for 0 coins or allow someone to grab two crystals (which can be any non-pearl object).

Whale Riders ends when all the pearls in the sun port have been purchased, so the clock of the game depends on what players do: Are you cycling through tiles in a port without moving? Are you racing down (or up) the board so that you don't have to compete with someone else? Are you in the lead and want to head to the sun port to end the game? Are you giving up opportunities to complete contracts if you do?

I've played Whale Riders twice on an advance production copy from Grail Games, once with two players and once with three, and the game feels like a classic Knizia design, with lots that you want to do each turn, but only little that you're allowed to do, with others getting in your way, taking the things you need, and forcing you to make adjustments. The victory margin in both games was relatively close, and I can see how the games could vary greatly depending on what players choose to do and how many people you have at the table and who those people are. Ideally I'll be able to get more whale riders around the game board in the future once it's safe to ride whales together again...

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Wed Jul 15, 2020 8:00 pm
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