Candice HarrisUnited States
Trains and stock markets have been on my mind a lot lately. I've been hooked on Amabel Holland's Dual Gauge, which is a stock-holding and route-building game for 3-5 players. Plus, I played an epic and enjoyable first game of Helmut Ohley and Leonhard Orgler's 1880: China (new Lookout Games edition), which was one of my most anticipated SPIEL '22 releases. So in the spirit of trains, allow me to share a few new and upcoming releases.
Hollandspiele announced the release of Dual Gauge: Netherlands and Eastern U.S., the third expansion map pack for Dual Gauge, designed by Amabel Holland. If you're not familiar with Dual Gauge, it's a shared incentive train game system where you compete against other players building train routes, and operating and investing in train companies. It has 18xx-lite vibes, but feels unique and can be played in about 90 minutes. Each map for Dual Gauge varies up the core system in fresh and interesting ways, offering players a plethora of exciting new challenges.
Here's the publisher's description of what twists and turns you can expect in the new Netherlands and Eastern U.S. map pack:Quote:These maps introduce Star Dits, which function as normal dits for most purposes – they count as a stop but cannot be tokened – but are worth more money. Depending on the map, players may also have an additional incentive to hit these stops over others. Both maps also see players in a race to grab bonuses, which also serve as another game end trigger.Eagle-Gryphon Games is crowdfunding the Age of Steam Deluxe Expansion Volume IV on Gamefound, which includes seven new expansion maps for Age of Steam. The Volume IV maps cover a wide range of player counts (2-6 players) and each map has its own unique feel.
The Netherlands map seats up to five players and features a new gauge conversion step, allowing you to flip narrow track to its standard side. Of course, what it doesn't do is change your narrow trains. You'll need to plan your train purchases carefully, and beware of opponents who might use this tactic offensively.
That's if you have enough time, of course! The standout feature of this map is a race to complete certain Goals. Achieving one of the map's eight Goals will win you a disc. This can be traded in later, either to place a station or to buy a precious second share of stock in a single round.
The Eastern US map is for three to four, and is a bit subtler. Preprinted track segments provide awkward chokepoints to either work around or embrace. Company turn order isn't fixed, but shifts from round to round depending on company stock value. Increases in that value are gated – tied to your dividends, so you'll need to work for big routes while your rivals try to block you with aggressive token play.
At the western end of the maps, there are the destination cities of Detroit and Chicago, each containing a set of Bonus Discs. When a company ends a run there, their President claims a disc. At the end of game, you'll get a payout based on the number of discs you've claimed.
The crowdfunding campaign also includes the Age of Steam Deluxe: Acrylic Tile Set, which features transparent acrylic tiles for both track placement and new city placement, which will allow you to see the board below each track tile to read the maps easier.
If that wasn't enough, there's also a Jamaica/Puerto Rico promo map expansion available too. Jamaica is a 2-player map expansion and Puerto Rico is a solo map expansion, both designed by Ted Alspach.
Maglev Maps: Volume 1 is available at retailers after a successful Kickstarter campaign in May 2022. With Maglev Maps: Volume 1 you get a box set with three expansions for Maglev Metro (Moonbases & Mars, London & Paris, and Mechs & Monorails), and each features a double-sided map with different rules and mechanics from designers by Ted Alspach and Dale Yu and Bézier Games.
• On the 18xx front, Mercury Games announced 1868: Wyoming in a May 2023 press release. 1868: Wyoming is an 18xx game for 3-6 players from designer John Harres, which integrates the coal and oil industry boom in Wyoming to add some fresh twists to traditional 18xx mechanisms.
Here's the scoop from the press release for 1868: Wyoming, which is due out in 2024:Quote:1868 takes players on a journey through the history of the railroads during the coal and oil industry boom in Wyoming. Headlined by the powerful Union Pacific, this territory was not only born thanks to the railroads, but also saw a large influx of people and industries looking to make their mark on the immense and rugged terrain.
1868: Wyoming is novel in that it depicts the coal and oil industry boom-and-bust cycle in a way that is different each play. Railroads must decide whether a new rail line makes sense given the development level of an area and the potential for total industry collapse. All the while the Union Pacific pushes further West seeking vital connections to maximize their revenue. Variable at-start Private Companies ensure that no one strategy can be employed with any guarantee of success.
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Manage Railroads in Wyoming and Explore New Dual Gauge, Age of Steam, and Maglev Metro Maps
26 May 2023
- Age of Steam
- Maglev Metro
- Dual Gauge
- 1868: Wyoming
- Maglev Metro: Mechs & Monorails
- Maglev Metro: London & Paris
- Maglev Metro: Moonbases & Mars
- Maglev Maps: Volume 1
- Dual Gauge: Netherlands and Eastern U.S.
- Ted Alspach
- Dale Yu
- Amabel Holland
- John Harres
- Eagle-Gryphon Games
- Bézier Games
- Mercury Games
Fri May 26, 2023 7:00 am
- [+] Dice rolls
IDW Games announced Metal Gear Solid: The Board Game from Emerson Matsuuchi, stating that the game was "Coming 2019". Here's an overview of this 1-4 player game:Quote:Metal Gear Solid: The Board Game is a fully co-operative, miniatures board game. Following the story of the first Metal Gear Solid video game, players take on the roles of Solid Snake, Meryl Silverburgh, Dr. Hal "Otacon" Emmerich, and Gray Fox the Cyborg Ninja and need to use their unique skill sets to avoid detection as they complete objectives across multiple campaign scenarios. Featuring a highly dynamic A.I. system and sandbox gameplay, missions can be completed in multiple ways and always play out differently.Then more than two years passed.
In February 2021 Matsuuchi announced that IDW Games would not be releasing the design:Quote:The rights to the design were finally given back to me a few weeks ago. So I have reached out and enlisted the help of a friend that is a bonafide expert in licensing and has connections with Konami. We're working to keep this project alive and exploring possible options. While there are no guarantees that our efforts will bear fruit, I'm still optimistic that we will be able to get the MGS game to market, to the patient fans that have been kept waiting.If you are one of those patient fans, your patience is now being rewarded ...sort of, as you still have to wait at least one more year.
CMON has announced that it plans to release Metal Gear Solid: The Board Game in May 2024, with a pre-order open now for the "Integral Edition" of the game that includes a graphic novel that illustrates each mission, as well as a 13 cm tall "Metal Gear REX" miniature.
CMON notes that the game's 14-mission campaign will be the same in both the retail edition of the game and the "Integral Edition". Additionally, it clarifies that "all exclusive promos are exclusive to this Pre-Order (or crowdfunding platforms), with remaining stock available through conventions and special promotions only", so maybe "exclusive" isn't quite the right word.
For more on the game, you can check out this interview with Matsuuchi (and IDW's Spencer Reeve) at Gen Con 2019:
Thu May 25, 2023 5:00 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
KENDi is a German publisher founded in February 2023 by Franz Jurthe, who was previously the managing director at Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag (NSV). At KENDi, Jurthe has been joined by Steffen Benndorf, who designed two of NSV's biggest hits: Qwixx and The Game, and Reinhard Staupe, who had been a game editor at NSV since 2012, in addition to being a designer himself.
The goal of KENDi is to publish designs similar to what they used to do at NSV. As Staupe said in an interview with Michael Weber for Reich der Spiele:Quote:This is mainly due to my own vision: I generally like developing simple games, both as an editor and as a writer. In other words, games that use simple means to bring as many people as possible to the table and build a bridge. In terms of game mechanics, I'm always looking for a reduction to the essentials. The perfect example of this is The Mind. Almost no rules, ingenious and bold. A spectacular shared experience easily accessible to everyone.In that interview, Staupe mentions that Qwixx, The Game, and The Mind have all sold more than a million copies and they "have such great potential that they will certainly continue to be represented on the market at a very high level."
The publisher's name, by the way, originates from a shortening of "I kenn' di", which is apparently the Bavarian way of saying "Ich kenne dich", which means "I know you" — which is appropriate since the three main parties have worked with one another for more than a decade. (I have Bavarian friends living nearby, and they've mentioned that Bavarian German is almost unintelligible to Germans elsewhere, so it's almost like they speak two languages since they also speak "regular" German. I felt similarly confused when I visited southern Mississippi long ago, barely understanding anything I heard despite me living in Tennessee at the time. Dialects are fascinating...)
KENDi launched with three titles in April 2023 at the SPIEL DOCH! game fair in Dortmund.
• The short description of Benndorf's Get It!, a card game for 3-6 players, might be "Speed Hanabi Mind". To explain:Quote:Your goal as a team in Get It! is to play all of your cards in ascending numerical order. Sounds easy, doesn't it? However, you have only one minute to do so, and you are not allowed to speak...and you can't see your own cards — only the cards of the other players! Can you give the right signals and interpret your teammates' signals correctly to play everything in time?• Durchmarsch is a press-your-luck dice game from Staupe in which 2-4 players attempt to march through ("durchmarsch") a row of numbers on their player sheet:
To win, you need to complete six levels of play. For level 1, deal out ten cards from a deck numbered 1-40 as evenly as possible. Sort the cards face down (without showing anyone else) to stack the cards from low to high. Each player picks up their topmost card facing away from themselves so that it's visible to everyone else, then someone starts the timer. Whoever has the lowest card must play it. How will they know? Tell them with your eyes! If they play the card correctly, they pick up their next card, then you all figure out who plays next; if not, restart the level, losing the game if you fail a second time.
If you complete the level by playing all cards correctly, add the special cards for level 2 — smile cards — and deal 13 cards. Special cards can be stacked anywhere in a player's pile other than the topmost card. When a player holds a special card, that's considered the lowest card in play. Each level adds new special cards, such as the mirror and a second copy of some number cards, and more cards dealt to players. Make it through 25 cards in one minute at level 6, and you win!Quote:Each player has a sheet of paper with four rows of numbers from 10 to 1. If you cross off all the numbers in a row, you win!• The Choice is another dice-rolling game from Staupe, with 2-4 players choosing how to use the dice results each turn:
On your first turn, roll the eight dice, then see whether you can use two dice to sum to 10. If you can mark a 10, you either:
—Set aside one die, and roll the remaining dice, hoping that two dice add up to a 9; if so, mark the 9 in the current row, then make this decision again for the 8, and so on. You never set aside more than three dice in total.
—End your turn, passing all eight dice to the next player.
If you end your turn, on your next turn roll all eight dice and hope to mark off the leftmost unmarked number in your current row. To mark off 7-10, you need two dice that sum to this number; to mark off 1-6, you need one die that matches this number.Image: Spellenclub Incognito
If you ever fail to mark off a number, mark the "misthrow" box at the end of the current row; next turn, roll the eight dice and hope to be able to mark the 10 in the next row down. If you have marked a misthrow in all four rows, start on the top row once again, trying to mark off the leftmost unmarked number. If you misthrow again in this row, mark through the row completely. If you mark through all four rows, you're out of the game.
If any player crosses off all the numbers in a row, they win. If no one manages to cross off an entire row during the course of the game, whoever remains in the game the longest wins.Quote:In The Choice, each player receives a pen and a sheet of paper from the game pad. Each side of the paper shows an area with 13 hexagons, each filled with a number, surrounded by a ring of 16 hexagons, each filled with a color. Start on whichever side you want; you use both during play.
On a turn, the active player rolls three dice, then can re-roll any number of dice once. Each die has the numbers 1-6 with a different color on each side. After the roll, all players use these dice to mark off hexes on their sheet. For each die, you can use either the number or the color; additionally, you can sum numbers on the dice, which will be required since the numbers in the hexes go up to 12.
However, once you mark a colored hexagon, you can mark only the adjacent colored hexagons from that point on. Similarly, when you first mark a number, circle that number. The next number you mark must be in an adjacent hex; draw a line that connects this number to the circle. With each subsequent number marked, you must extend the line, never crossing it or revisiting a marked space.Image: Suzan
If the active player can't use all three dice, they mark a misthrow box on their sheet; the same is true for non-active players who don't use at least two dice. When you mark all three misthrow boxes, flip your sheet, then start marking the other side on the next turn; you can also choose to flip your sheet before you get three misthrows.
When any player has three misthrows on their second side, the game ends, and players tally their points for each side, summing those values. The more hexes you mark off, the better your score!
Thu May 25, 2023 7:00 am
- [+] Dice rolls
Days of Wonder has dropped a 28-second teaser video — only on the accursed Facebook, alas — that seems to promise a legacy version of Ticket to Ride courtesy of designers Alan R. Moon, Matt Leacock, and Rob Daviau.
The only info so far from the publisher: "This fall, embark for a once-in-a-lifetime journey!"
Screenshots from the video:
I can't help but offer a reminder that publishers should never use seasonal release dates given that fall for me won't be fall for someone in the southern hemisphere. Think globally, act locally...by timing globally!
Update: June 1, 2023: On May 30, Days of Wonder announced Ticket to Ride Legacy: Legends of the West.
Wed May 24, 2023 6:05 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
Steve Jackson Games has published its annual stakeholder report for 2022, with gross income from the year being "a bit north of $4.7 million". Notes outgoing CEO Phil Reed: "We could have booked a small profit; for tax purposes we dumped some slow-moving inventory and showed a small loss. (Let's see a Fortune 500 company give you a report that explicit, never mind doing it in two sentences.)"
Two sections of the report are worth quoting as they mimic what I hear from other publishers and go hand-in-hand with one another:Quote:Direct SalesI've written about publisher frustrations with distribution previously, but the topic was on the lips of many once again at GAMA Expo 2023, with publishers making strong pushes to retailers to place direct orders.
As distribution sales continue to...change?...we have explored more direct sales opportunities. There are few things as frustrating as hearing "when does this come out?" when the game in question shipped months ago, so we devoted more energy to growing our direct sales – to gamers and retailers – in 2022. Our new Shopify store went into testing late in the year. We put an awful lot of work into every game, and we want to make sure that you find out about it. We'd love it if you buy it, too, but first you have to find out about it.
We had another strong year on Kickstarter, running a lot of large and small campaigns and seeing success in every single one. Kickstarter the marketplace has been good to us, and Kickstarter the corporation has become a valuable partner.
A downside that didn't become apparent until the year was over: Some people saw how much we were using Kickstarter and assumed that we had to do it for cash flow. Nope! We did it because it got a lot of games into the right hands and let us control inventory more effectively. The cash flow was just a lovely bonus.
In general, distributors don't care about moving specific products; they care about moving whatever they have on hand. I've heard that a distributor needs to move 90% of an item before it makes a profit on that item, and that threshold encourages distributors to keep less of any one particular item on hand. After all, hundreds of games are released each month, so why bother restocking game A when games B-F are on the way? We sold out of A, which means we made a profit on it, so let's not re-open that door and risk having goods stuck on hand.
As a result, distributors don't have an incentive to push any particular product, which is a letdown for publishers since they would very much appreciate distributors pushing their products to retailers. Since that's not happening, publishers are promoting direct sales to retail stores — not specifically to cut out the middleman, but to ensure that a store that wants a particular item will have access to it. (I've seen plenty of stores complain that game X is unavailable from distributor Y and Z, with the publisher responding that game X is in stock at their warehouse, so...drop us a line.)
That "direct sales to store" approach would be ideal if not for three things:
1. Time: Ordering directly from publishers takes more time than ordering from distributors since you need to deal with each publisher independently. (This is one reason people order tires, honey, and socks in one go from Amazon rather than shopping at three stores.)
2. Space: Even with all the time in the world, a retail store has a fixed volume, and it can't possibly carry every game available, especially since a direct purchase from a publisher is typically for a full case (usually six or twelve copies), whereas a distributor will sell in smaller quantities. This is one advantage of ordering from distributors; you can keep a single copy of a game on hand, replacing it as needed.
3. Money: This ties into the space issue. If you order a case from a publisher, you'll likely pay less per copy than buying from a distributor — but you're buying more copies, and if those copies don't turn quickly, then you have money locked on the shelf that could be used for something else.
(A store's "turn rate" is effectively how many times it sells through its inventory in a year. If you have $50,000 of inventory on hand, and the cost of the goods you sold was $200,000, then your turn rate is 4 (200,000/50,000). To increase your turn rate, you can lower inventory on hand, carry only the top-selling products, do a better job of selling games, improve your marketing, etc. Having a high turn rate doesn't necessarily mean you're profitable since that depends on what you earned from selling those goods, what your other costs were, and so on, but better a high turn than low.)
(When I worked at a game store in the early 1990s, I vastly beefed up the miniatures and RPG section by bringing in older items that the distributors still had on hand, and while sales shot up due to the wider variety, the turn rate dropped a lot, which earned me a call from management as they wanted a higher rate. Placing smaller orders more frequently would lessen the cost of inventory on hand at any one time, while ideally still leading to more sales due to more diverse stock. This took more time on my part, but so be it.)
Thus, even when retailers do order directly from publishers, they don't tend to order everything from publishers — only high-volume games that turn consistently thanks to what's hot in their local market, promotion at game days, etc. They order the rest from distributors, and they still don't buy everything on the market...so if you're a publisher, you start looking for the even more direct route of selling directly to individuals. Hence Kickstarter.
After all, if I'm a fan of designer Y or game Z from publisher Ω, I will likely be looking from more, so why not market to me directly with whatever you have to sell. Maybe my local store doesn't carry your games, maybe I don't have a local store — doesn't matter. You don't know my circumstances; only that game Z has sold ∑ copies, which gives you some idea of how many expansions or spinoffs or similar games from designer Y you might sell, with the crowdfunding campaign giving the additional bonus of solid pre-order numbers, plus capital up front.
announced in 2022 that it would keep running annual campaigns for Thunderstone Quest expansions "as long as there's customer support". (Retailers in its "Alpha Store program" can also purchase these titles.) Apparently enough Thunderstone Quest players exist to support the design and development of new expansions, but not enough to support efforts to place those expansions in distribution.
AEG is using a similar sales tactic with a crowdfunding campaign for a quartet of expansions that I covered in mid-May 2023. I've seen comments from people who feel that AEG is too big to use crowdfunding for this campaign, that those games are wildly successful and it makes no sense to crowdfund them, but I would wager everything I own that these people have no idea how many copies of each game have been sold and what percentage of those games' owners purchase expansions. These people think they know how to run AEG's business better than AEG does, and I would suggest they are wrong.
Through this campaign, AEG can sell those expansions directly to players, get a better idea of how many to produce, and possibly pick up new players for those games thanks to the discovery process on Kickstarter. The same is true for pretty much every crowdfunding campaign out there, and it's why companies like CMON and Queen Games continue to run them. They want to boost their turn rate, so they're making decisions to improve the chances of that happening.
As PAX's Matt Morgan succinctly noted on my earlier AEG coverage: "No publisher should have to justify their use of crowdfunding. It serves an invaluable purpose for both big and small creators."
That said, naturally you have no obligation to support such campaigns. You can decide that company ∂ is untrustworthy based on past crowdfunding efforts, or it has too many open campaigns, or you don't want to pay today for games at some unknown time, or you've been burned by crowdfunding in general, or you want to actually play the game first, or whatever.
Just as companies have the freedom to use crowdfunding, individuals have the freedom to avoid companies using crowdfunding — but anyone complaining about company ∂ running a crowdfunding campaign is noise in the wind. It seems foolish to think that any of us know better than the publishers themselves when it comes to making decisions about what's best for their financial well-being...just as I would hope that others don't argue about me making decisions about what's best for my financial well-being.
• Okay, that was longer than I had originally intended, so let's close with the first video from new YouTube channel Above Board TV:
Wed May 24, 2023 7:00 am
- [+] Dice rolls
Alan PaullUnited Kingdom
Kingmaker, the classic game of the Wars of the Roses designed by Andrew McNeil, was originally published in the UK in 1974, and again in a more developed form in 1975 in the U.S. It came back over the Atlantic again for its Gibsons' inauguration in 1983, using substantially the American version. Over the years, Kingmaker not only gained a large following, it also gained a huge number of house rules, options, and variants. After many thousands, probably tens and eventually hundreds of thousands of plays since 1974, the rules, the map, the other components, and the flow of the game came under minute examination. Its passionate advocates and supporters found flaws and supplied their own solutions to problems, real and perceived, some within the context of the original design, some not.
In 2019 I was asked by Gibsons Games to re-develop Kingmaker, which I'll often refer to below as Kingmaker the Second. It was an immense privilege to be given this opportunity, and I was, and still am, very conscious of my responsibility to Andrew, as the designer of this great game, to maintain his vision, while also providing a worthy successor to past editions for its many and varied audience. I started with Andrew's quote from 1979, and in a weird way, it's still relevant today; we've learned, I hope, a great many more lessons from this superb game.
Basic Principles of the Re-development
Quoting from my initial notes, my main principle was to "retain the essence of 'classic Kingmaker'". This meant that I was neither designing a new game, nor breaking fundamental design elements, nor creating a modernized version of Kingmaker with new 2020s mechanisms. The new version had to provide a similar player experience to the older editions, but with their problems resolved.
My first job was to identify the major problems that I would have to address. To discover these, I reviewed what felt like a library of material. The advantage and disadvantage of the internet and BoardGameGeek in particular is the wealth of readily available information. The main problems were:
Perception of undue length and often stalemates
Problems with interpretation of both the rules and the map
Turtling; for example, "holing up in Calais"
Perceived impact of plague
Alliances, but no alliance victories
Attacks at weak odds, hoping to kill a major noble with a ridiculously powerless one
Sometimes, lack of player agency, owing to "random" eventsWhere do these roads into London meet? What do the dashed "boundaries" going into London mean? Can you see the little sea border in the Thames?
I considered some elements as sacrosanct, and I accept that, although I consider myself an old grognard and I was a 1970s Kingmaker player, others might have made different choices. I kept the old-style odds-based combat system based on the Event deck. In fact, I've retained almost all the old Event deck, with its much-loved "Scrope to Masham" and so on. The Crown deck, too, will be entirely recognizable by players of the older game, even though all the game components have been re-designed visually. Our artist, Mat Edwards, has completely re-designed the board, but the vast majority of the layout of roads and castles remains as in the original, and the major game effects of places — garrisons, troop protections, and road blocking — are the same, though clarified.
Nevertheless, I had to try to smooth out gameplay issues such as undue length, turtling, and some aspects of player interaction.
Kingmaker The Second: Prestige
An alternative victory condition resolves this issue. At first, I looked to Parliament for the solution, but just as with modern Parliaments, that proved complex and problematic. I wasn't keen on conditions that involved votes in Parliament for two main reasons. First, it was somewhat ahistorical; it wasn't really until a couple of centuries later that Parliament became the arbiter of kingship. In the 15th century, Parliament was a means of exercising royal power; its main purpose was to do the monarch's bidding, even though it was occasionally recalcitrant. Second, with two Houses of Parliament come two complex sets of votes to track, and this adds to housekeeping during play.
Using an approach beloved of Eurogames, I developed a more conventional victory points idea. Thematically, I felt "prestige" was a better term than "victory points", and I designed them as a very much simplified version of the classic game's Parliamentary votes: a largish number for control of a royal piece, plus a point for each Office, Archbishop, and City.
During playtesting, I worked out the dynamics of Prestige points in more detail, including points for battles and sieges. As the key here is simplicity, each card that carries Prestige has a Prestige icon or icons on it, so everyone can readily see how many each Faction has, coupled with a Prestige points track for ease of recording. I have also added bonus points for what I term "dominion" over territory (all four cities), religion (lots of Bishops and Archbishops), and government (lots of Offices) to incentivize concentration on these objectives.
Only a Faction's "best" Royal piece counts for Prestige. For example, if you have the sole King, you get maximum Royal piece points, but an additional Royal piece gives you no more Prestige — but they do operate as a spare! We needed significant playtesting to work out the various awards of Prestige points, particularly for the Royal pieces, and quite what the endgame condition should be. The Chancellor of England started out with 2 Prestige, but this proved to be overpowered as that Office is very powerful in its own right, so I decided that each Office should have 1 Prestige, which makes adding them up much easier. Each City carries 1 Prestige, so some cards that start out with control of a City, such as the Archbishop of York with York, and Constable of the Tower with London, will gain you 2 Prestige. Control of all four Cities grants a bonus of 4 more Prestige. It's hard to gain control of the four Cities, and for this reason (as well as Andrew's original decision) I didn't upgrade Coventry to a City.I particularly like this picture of Richard III, who has shaved his locks in preparation for donning his helmet and armor
"Turtling in Calais" and similar shenanigans that tend to lead to stalemates or long drawn-out endgames have been resolved by the simple expedient that a Faction cannot gain Prestige for Royal pieces that are not on the mainland of England and Wales. After all, skulking in a foreign court or wandering around at sea does nothing to persuade your potential subjects, especially your most powerful ones on whom you depend, that you can rule the kingdom.
The interplay of Prestige amongst the competing Factions meant that I was able to set specific targets for Prestige victory dependent on the number of players. To avoid a sudden death end, which felt wrong for the concept of prestige, and to increase the height of the game's climax, if you have sufficient Prestige to win, you have to take the Prestige Victory card and hold that Prestige for a round against all comers.
Part of the design of the Prestige system is its implications for alliances. In the traditional game, alliances can be difficult to establish and very unstable because the dynamic of victory is defined as a single Faction having the last surviving Royal, with no official victory for an alliance. With Prestige points, it is possible to prescribe victory for alliances as well as single player victory. Naturally, this required a lot of calculation and testing. Each Prestige Victory card specifies the final conclusion of that work.
For an alliance, only the allied Faction's "best" Royal counts, not all of them, so this does mean you cannot just add the allied Factions total Prestige values together. However, the game provides alliance markers for tracking each alliance's joint Prestige, as well as the troop strength of the main allied army.
Alliances are more stable with the Prestige points system, I believe. Although the Prestige target for an alliance is greater than for a single player, the allied Factions not only pool their own Prestige (with the exception noted above), they also pool their ability to gain Dominion bonus Prestige. Whereas an individual Faction might find it difficult to get the extra four points for holding all four Cities, an alliance might do that more easily. In addition, you can only break an alliance at the end of your turn, so your former allies have a chance to react before your next turn. This perception of alliance strength tends to hold allies together a bit more than in the original game.
Kingmaker The Second: The Board, Parliament, Random Death
Much of the nitty-gritty development work involved minute examination of the original boards and rules. This was necessary to clarify the precise geographical locations of named places and the borders of "squares", and to smooth out the inconsistent and unclear bits of wording, all of which have led to the need to interpret or re-interpret the meaning of both the boards and the rules in the past.
I could list out 26 map revisions where I have changed the position of places or replaced one castle with another, more historically accurate one. I would just note here what I stated earlier: Andrew had to combine noble houses together to make the game playable, and castles represent areas where nobles had holdings and not necessarily definitive castle ownership. I have tried to be careful to make changes only when they can be defended on historical grounds and where they don't affect game play. I regret that this still means that many noble families and many strongholds have not been included in the new version. For the board, the most important clarification is probably the road network. In the new version, London and Shrewsbury clearly control the roads in their neighborhoods. Even though the routes around London were in reality more complex than our board suggests, this solution has the merit of simplicity and gives London its historical importance. I've also moved Newark so that it sits on the Trent — it's Newark-on-Trent after all — giving it control of entry into its area by road.
When you look at the Kingmaker the Second game board, you'll probably notice immediately the purple lines on the map. These mark the boundaries of Regions for the new Regional movement method that replaces the traditional movement of nobles by "moving up to five squares". This is possibly the most radical departure from Andrew's original game. The reasons for it were fourfold: counting squares was problematic where the edges and corners weren't crystal clear; some players always found diagonal movement counter-intuitive, especially if the lines didn't join up squarely; the opportunities for final destinations were many, varied, and sometimes difficult to see, slowing down the game; and some of the "squares" were very small, too small really for a stack of pieces.
While Regional movement — i.e., go into any Area in your piece's current Region or an adjacent one — looks very different at first glance, a careful design of the boundaries results in very similar outcomes compared with five-squares movement. In other words, the number of turns of movement between the vast majority of places hasn't changed. In addition, there is now a lot of space for the game pieces in each Area because I've been able to increase their size as their role is no longer to regulate the detail of movement — just where your pieces start and end. I've also been pleasantly surprised at how well this change has been received by the vast majority of playtesters.
While I do like Andrew's Parliament system overall with its strong leaning into the power of the King or the Queen Regent, I felt that Writs of Summons cards made the ability to call Parliament rather arbitrary in too many games. Without a Writ, you cannot call Parliament, and getting one relies on the draw of an Event card or occasionally a trade with another player. In playing over the years and playtesting early in the development process, I found that player frustration suggested a revision so that negotiation about Parliament could concentrate on the spoils of the Parliament rather than Writs.
This method means that the availability of Parliament to the monarch's advisers is known within limits, but not entirely predictable. It is less likely that multiple Parliaments will be called in quick succession — though you can stack Clamour cards if needed! — but Parliament is likely to be available to a monarch's advisers at some point during the game.
Reducing Random Death
The earlier Kingmaker suffered a little from what I have termed "random death syndrome". This was caused in particular by Plague and by the random KILLED lists when drawing a card for combat results. Andrew acknowledged that death by plague amongst the upper classes in the 15th century was not as common as all that — and while a random crossbow bolt in a siege or a fatal fall from a horse in battle were genuine occurrences, as game mechanisms they lack finesse, especially if several notables are laid low through the same event.
Which Versions to Put in the Box?
A critical decision that we had to make was what to put in the box. One alternative was to publish just the new version; my working title had been "Revised Kingmaker", but that was amended to the more evocative Kingmaker The Second, as in "the second Gibsons version". However, I felt that to do justice to Andrew's game, we should make it more of a deluxe, everything-within-reason-in-it game. This would enable all players to experience the new streamlined version, but would also allow veteran players to re-play the old games they used to play, though with new artwork and new components, and with, I believe, much more clearly written rules. The game box now contains the new Kingmaker The Second; Classic Kingmaker, which is more-or-less the old basic, traditional Gibsons version; Extended Classic, which is similar to the old Advanced version; plus not only a range of options and variants, but also a new solo challenge, designed by Steve Froud.
Kingmaker The Second can be played with 2-5 players. For the two-player version, bearing in mind that there is very little scope for political intrigue with only two players, I have adjusted the game to make it more challenging and more balanced by introducing a non-player Faction that controls some critical roads. Now you can no longer get control of the road network through pure luck of the draw; you must fight for it. In addition, each player draws two Event cards each turn instead of one, thereby increasing the tempo slightly. Readers of the rules may notice that the pace of the Event deck, especially in relation to "Clamour For Parliament" cards, is a key driver of the game's tempo, so its set-up is slightly adjusted for each player count.
For this version, we provide extra Crown and Event cards to swap into or to add to the decks so that the decks are very similar to the earlier game, though I haven't reversed the subtle adjustments that I made to Raids & Revolts in the Event deck. For example, we recommend that you replace the Kingmaker The Second City and Town cards that have troops with those that have no troops, and take out the new Lord of the Isle of Wight card, replacing it with the old Carisbrooke royal castle card. Classic also uses old-style Writs of Summons instead of the Clamour For Parliament. It includes the complication of Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, as a fourth Lancastrian heir, as in the earlier game, but clarified. You may notice in the Classic rules that I have made decisions about specific ambiguities or gaps in the earlier games' rules. Of course, if your own house rules disagree with these decisions, you are at liberty to stick with your own ones.
Extended Classic Kingmaker represents the original Gibsons Games "Advanced" game and includes Ireland, the Continent, and Scotland, the Crown cards King's Pardon, Lieutenant of Ireland, Le Lucas Ship of Whitby, the French and Irish Mercenaries, as well as the special Duke of York and Duke of Lancaster cards. The Event deck has the "Advanced" cards, including Irish Revolts, French Sieges, and the Parliament Must Be Summoned cards. All these cards are explained more fully in the rules than in the earlier game. I should mention the Duke of York/Lancaster special cards in particular. The Duke of York and Duke of Lancaster cards were not well explained in the earlier game. I have implemented these as special "Plantagenet" cards, not normal Crown cards, that are linked directly to the heir of each House, representing extra resources provided by the royal households. They control specific extra castles: Fotheringhay, Ludlow, and Sandal for the Duke of York, Kenilworth for the Duke of Lancaster.
Extended Classic includes the Battle Board sub-system for detailed pitched battles that appeared in the earlier Gibsons' version, together with the use of dice rolls for the death of Nobles rather than looking at the Event deck. It has a specially designed board for the array of nobles in battles. I also included the Loyalty Table, so there is a chance that the heir to a dead Noble will immediately rejoin the Faction of his father. I hope that players will find Extended Classic to be a fun, if more complicated and longer version of the game.
As Kingmaker has accrued many options and variants over the years, I have included a range of these in the new game. This collection is by no means comprehensive, though I think it includes most of the "officially published" material that seemed to me to work particularly well. I have not included material that I believe unbalances the game too much or provides excessive "take that" opportunities. This undoubtedly means that some players will not find their favorite optional card in the game; space precluded a totally comprehensive inclusion of all house rules and extra cards. However, you will find optional rules for the following: random placement of royal pieces at the start of the game; returning from Parliament directly to home castles; Town fighting; Ambushes; rules for handling Parliament by votes in both Houses, including victory by votes in Parliament; using Writs of Summons as Commissions; re-shuffling decks when Embassy cards are drawn; and a string of additional Event cards in a twenty-card set called "Divisions and Disasters". This last set is based on cards originally published as an expansion in 1977.
Although I take responsibility for the re-development, I must also acknowledge the assistance of my brilliant team of rules reviewers and my wider group of playtesters. They have been unstinting in their help, knowledge, skills, and critical commentary. I haven't space to name them all; however, my review team includes Ralph H. Anderson, our Kickstarter manager from across the pond; Alan Beaumont, who used to rules-wrangle for TM Games back in the day; Steve Froud, who also designed the solo challenge; Mike Oliver, a veteran Kingmaker expert and historical game designer; Greg Sarnecki, designer of Bella Rosarium, a hugely detailed historical game based on Kingmaker; and Justin Thompson, Kingmaker tournament player extraordinaire.
Comments on the whole body of the rules have also been made by Paul Mason, Mike Seely, phyphor, and Ben Clayton, amongst many others. The whole process of re-development from the summer of 2019 to now would have been impossible without them, though of course I accept that any errors are mine, and these good folks will not necessarily agree with all of my decisions. I've also been very well supported by the team at Gibsons Games, of course, who have the task of translating my prototype into the fully-functional published game.
In 2019 and very early in 2020, I was able to arrange face-to-face playtesting, both locally here in Cambridgeshire and further afield at Eclectic Games in Reading. (Thanks to Becky and Darrell, who run Eclectic Games.) At this stage, I was experimenting with early (and shaky) versions of the Prestige victory concept, while leaving much of the game as it was. Fortunately, my playtesters are a very tolerant bunch. Then, as you'll know, everything came to a juddering halt; Covid struck, and the remainder of face-to-face sessions I'd organized had sadly to be cancelled.
I remained determined that a mere global pandemic would not halt this process, even though extensive playtesting was a critical part of the re-development, so online then. Initially, I used Tabletopia because I found it easier (back in early 2020) to create and upload the digital assets there, a system I had already used. Although we did have many successful playtests on Tabletopia, there were a few technical issues, and playing such a large and complex game on this platform was not the best player experience. It proved rather fiddly, and Tabletopia didn't allow for modifications "on the fly", though it was free-to-play.
A few months later, I switched to Tabletop Simulator, which proved a little more troublesome for creating the digital version, but was rather better for the players and permitted "on the fly" changes, though it was not free-to-play. I would have to admit that this whole process of digitizing the revised version was very time-consuming and slowed down the development process a great deal, and I am very thankful for the tolerance and understanding shown by the Gibsons team. I am also very grateful to my playtesters for their forbearance and ability to separate out the difficulties of using an online platform interface versus any actual game play difficulties and issues.
The development and testing of the new version was a methodical process. I absorbed ideas from many sources, including BoardGameGeek, my rules review team in particular, and playtesters in general, as well as concretizing ideas of my own. There was a lot of fundamental work on constructing the new version of both the Crown deck and the Events deck, and particularly the additional cards for pre-set Factions — balancing them sufficiently — and also for the Cities, the Royalty, and the Major Battle/Siege cards. Although I knew that the board would be re-imagined for final production, we produced entirely re-drawn versions of the new board and the Classic board for playtesting. I say "we" because I relied heavily on my wife, Charlie, an expert illustrator and artist in her own right, to help to produce the prototype versions, so they were presentable to my playtesters. She was unstinting in her time and skill doing this detailed work, with the advantage that she's much quicker than me at using Photoshop and InDesign!
For each new thing, I did a bit of solo testing to make sure that it had a basic viability, then extensive playtesting through a round of 3-6 sessions of online games with various numbers of players — it has to work with 2-5 — and after that, drafting the new section of rules and sending it off to my review group for comment. Where points were contentious, we would have extensive and frank discussions to air our opinions and chase around the issue to make sure that the suggestions were beneficial and met the design requirements. Finally, the decision on whether and how to implement would be mine. Then, more iterations, more ideas, and more checking to make sure that one change didn't throw up issues with another part of the game's model. This process was overwhelmingly fun (at least for me!), and the whole team was a pleasure to work with. It helps that I had a good mix of people: some very experienced in the industry, others expert and analytical players, still others good at detail, and everyone prepared to commit their thoughts to the process either verbally or in writing or both.
Playtesting enabled me to come to decisions about the levels of Prestige points for each player count; to experiment with tweaks on movement, combat, and alliances; and to address and check the flow of the game. One key issue was to estimate game length, knowing that online difficulties can distort these estimates. Subsequent face-to-face games, including very helpfully at The Ludoquist board game café in Croydon, have suggested that my estimate of an average of 45 minutes plus 30 minutes per player for Kingmaker The Second is reasonably accurate. We've also now successfully playtested the game with as near as possible final components.
Here I'm going to look at some Kingmaker controversies that have arisen over the years. These will be my own personal views as a result of playing the original games and the development process, and the Kingmaker The Second version reflects these. You may disagree!
Which fortified locations block roads?
"A piece which starts its move in a square which contains a Road, may move along that Road an unlimited distance, provided that the Road is not blocked by a Castle, Royal Castle, or Town on the Road and held by another player." Ariel rules
"A Noble beginning his move in a square containing any part of a road may travel an unlimited distance along it as long as he doesn't pass through a town, city or castle on the road (symbol printed over the road) which he or his faction does not control." original Gibsons rules
The controversies with roads were twofold: "Which fortified locations were on the roads?", and "Did neutral fortified locations block roads?" It didn't help that many players didn't read or didn't remember the sections of the rules (above), compounded by the fact that the rules changed between the editions.Out with the old: Ariel Shrewsbury and Tutbury at the top, Gibsons at the bottom
Typical of the first problem were the castle of Tutbury and the towns of Shrewsbury and Oxford. On the Ariel board, Tutbury clearly does not cross the road at all, whereas it does on the Gibsons board. Oxford is similar; it clearly blocks on the Ariel board, but lays over only part of the road on the Gibsons one. Shrewsbury is a well-known problem because the two roads to the east seemingly meet on the way to reaching Shrewsbury, thereby suggesting that the town doesn't cut the road, but not definitively. There are also various places on both boards where roads might, or might not, touch into an area across a boundary.
With the help of our artists, illustrators, and layout specialists Stewart, Mat, and Diane, we have resolved these geographical issues on the new boards. All the cities now clearly dominate their local road network, as seems proper. Tutbury Castle, formerly owned by Hastings (though incorrect historically), has been removed entirely, thereby resolving that problem, and Hastings' abode has been shifted to his castle at Ashby, upgraded from an unfortified town to a home castle. Technically, that's Ashby-de-la-Zouch, but the full length name didn't fit easily on the map, so it's shortened to Ashby.In with the new: Kingmaker II at the top, Classic at the bottom.Note that the Duke of Buckingham now has Stafford Castle rather than Newcastle, Hastings has Ashby rather than Tutbury, and you can just see Talbot's new Blakemere, and the new South Wingfield for Cromwell. Classic map areas are different from Kingmaker II because you're counting Areas, and there's an extra couple of purple lines on the KII map for Regional movement.
The second problem concerned fortified locations on roads that were not owned by any faction. Notice the difference between the two editions' rules above. In the first, you can move along a road unless a blocking fortified location was held by another player, while in the second, you cannot pass through if your faction doesn't control it. In the interests of more liberal movement, I have opted for neutrals to let you through in Kingmaker II, but have retained the Gibsons' edition restriction in Classic. If the location is occupied by a potentially hostile faction, you can still negotiate passage for some present or future consideration — not enforceable of course.
Where do Noble pieces end up when capturing Royal pieces in fortified locations?
"A Royal Piece is controlled by a player when one or more of his Noble Pieces occupies the same Square, Castle, Town or City." Ariel
"[After a siege] Any victorious Noble may end his turn inside the captured town, city or castle"..."A royal heir is captured by a faction when one or more noble counters of that faction occupies the same open area of a square, town, city or castle as the royal counter at the end of their move. If the royal counter is accompanied by another player's Noble(s), they must all be defeated by combat in order to make the capture." Gibsons
This was another piece of the jigsaw not well explained in either version of the rules, and it's important because of Plague. If your Noble has to end your turn inside a town or city to capture a royal, they (and their new "master") would be subject to Plague. If not, they can avoid those pesky bacteria. In the absence of a definitive answer, and in the face of corner cases, house rules abounded.
My view for Kingmaker II was that nobody likes to be forced to risk the random death of Plague, so my version enables Nobles and Royal pieces to end their owner's turn outside fortified locations that they moved into or captured in that turn. Bearing in mind that a round or turn represents a very variable duration (weeks or months at least), it seems reasonable to me that a bunch of Nobles could take London, meet and greet the King, and remove him and his entourage away from the capital without having to stay around either for the plague to catch him, or for a rival army to turn up and besiege the city.
On the other hand, I took a stricter interpretation of Andrew's rules for Classic. Here, the older rules strongly imply that a Noble has to be in the precise location (Square, Castle, Town or City) of the royal in order to capture him or her, and there's no hint of sleight of hand to move the Noble out once movement or combat has been resolved, so as in Kingmaker II, you must capture a Royal piece by entering a fortified location, but you're not allowed out at the end of your turn, so must risk Plague or siege. Discussion with a range of players shows that this was a common interpretation, though not the only one.
What the heck does a game "round" mean?
Undefined in the Ariel rules and only briefly in the first Gibsons', the word "round" becomes important when you gain royals from both houses, or when you're in an Alliance and cannot move or attack more than once in a "round". This turned out to be relatively straightforward: we just needed a definition that works.
In fact, it's even simpler for the "royalty from both houses" difficulty. Here, you must, ahem, remove from play the royals from one house at the end of your next turn (Kingmaker II) or turn after that (Classic).
Alliances are the main messy problem because you can declare an Alliance at any time, and in some options, break it at any time, too. That causes a raft of "gamey" corner cases. The main principle in all of the rules was that you cannot move or attack more than once in a "round". The problem is when does a round start and when does it finish? Some players ruled that it started when declared, so ended at the same point in the next round. That felt very unsatisfactory because it requires tracking in complex game situations, especially when you might have simultaneous or overlapping or changing alliances.
I don't believe that Andrew wanted this level of complexity and potential confusion. The Gibsons rules definition is: "When all players have taken their turn a round of play is completed." Following this guideline, coupled with a defined Starting Player (originally Chancellor or senior Archbishop or Bishop), we have a round as all players having taken a turn, beginning with the Starting Player. This has the benefits of simplicity and clarity, and with a Start Player marker, all players can physically see how a round flows. It might take a little getting used to for players who used a different method in the past, but our playtesting experience has shown that it works well.An allied Force of five Nobles led by de Vere and Stanley attempts to take London from the Duke of Buckingham and Henry VI. They can attack in either Blue or Pink's turn in a single round, not both.
Five, six, or seven players?
"...from two to a recommended maximum of 10 or 12." Ariel 1974
"... from 2 to a recommended maximum of 7 players." Gibsons 1983
My experience of playing Kingmaker with more than five was a lot of downtime and a lot more chaos. For those reasons, I've pegged back the player count of Kingmaker II to five players.
However, acknowledging that many players like playing at higher player counts, I canvassed opinions from a range of players. There was a reasonable consensus (a very strong majority) that more than six was problematic, even if technically feasible, so we decided that we would use a six-player limit for Classic. That also had the by-product of slightly reducing the cost of production because each player has their own set of pieces — a useful innovation — but that was not a factor in this decision.
Ambushes: good or bad?
In the original game, a player could attack a rival army with a solitary weak Noble (Scrope being a common example, for some reason) in the hope of killing off a tooled-up powerhouse, such as Mowbray with the Constable of the Tower of London (200 extra troops in the London region) or Neville with the Chamberlain of the County Palatine of Chester (200 extra troops in Wales), simply through them being named on the KILLED list on the combat resolution Event card. This happenstance was somewhat ameliorated by the optional Ambush rule that prevented Scrope from undertaking a full-blown battle, but allowed Scrope's owner to kill the Noble at the foot of the KILLED list only. I've left Ambush as an option, but Kingmaker II simply disqualifies Scrope from attacking at less than 1-4 odds; he's automatically captured instead. This has the merits of simplicity and reducing the very random bad stuff that can lead to a poorer player experience.
Town and City cards – troops or not? if so, how many?
I haven't delved into the weeds of making these allocations historically accurate, partly because the historical evidence is difficult to come by or in some cases completely lacking, and also because the numbers raised varied throughout the period and depended on who was asking.
Scrope to Masham: Some Comments on Historicity in Kingmaker
"It's a model, not a simulation!" Alan Paull (frequently)
The central conceit of Kingmaker is a great example of how historical accuracy is not the be-all and end-all of a historical game. Andrew's idea was that royal figures didn't have agency in the period. While this might have been true of Henry VI, acknowledged by most as a "weak" king and experiencing bouts of madness, and possibly also of Edward of Westminster, a minor for most of the period and dying when he was only 17, it could not be said of those powerful figures Richard, Duke of York, and his three sons, nor was Margaret of Anjou any form of cypher. But as a game mechanism, it works brilliantly. We as players are factions of leading nobles literally leading around the royalty for our own ends.
There are many aspects of the reality of the Wars of the Roses (not in itself a term coined until the 19th century) that have been amended in the interests of game play by Andrew McNeil, the team of developers at Avalon Hill, and myself more recently. It might be a neat little history project to ferret them out, but I'm not going to do that here. I just want to mention a few critical features of the game that make it work as an entertainment, but that a simulation style of game might want to address — ignoring the major conceit already described.
The road from Shrewsbury to York
There was no medieval or early modern road from Shrewsbury to York. There isn't even a simple current route there. A look at the map explains why: it would go through the Peak District at the southern end of the Pennines, a range of mountains with relatively few major roads even now. Okay, now there is the M62 and a few others relying on modern road engineering, but you get the point about the 15th century.
However, for the game, it really helps to provide players with two routes from London to York, and via a relatively few stops, you can control that fictional part of the network. To be fair, the eastern route from London to York is not an unreasonable representation, following the old Roman roads of Watling Street, the Fosse Way, and Ermine Street, if I recall correctly, though it really should go through both Nottingham and Lincoln — but there are problems with early modern roads in that definitive evidence of their routes is often lacking, while in game terms, more locations on them means more blocking, which isn't necessarily what we want, so we compromise.
Kingmaker noble houses
Andrew McNeil stated explicitly that unconnected or cadet branches of some families (for example, Grey and Neville) had to be merged, and some families had to be left out, including "arrivist" families such as the Woodvilles. Also, some families had to give up their titles to enable the creation of Title cards for award to other nobles during the game. Exact holdings of castles were sacrificed in order to reduce their number and to attempt to provide for "foci of power" rather than territories.
"Scrope to Masham", the famous quote from an Event card, is a Kingmaker thing. I wanted to keep it despite potential difficulties with the Scrope families. I needed to respect Andrew's decision to have the Scropes in the Masham area as a broad center of their power base, but I also wanted to be reasonably historically accurate, so I did a bit of research on Masham.
It turned out to be quite interesting. While Bolton was, arguably, more important (and I wouldn't gainsay anyone who mentions that!), there was definitely a castle or castellated manor at Masham from the early 14th century, though it was variously called Clifton or Masham. There are very few records of the original structure anywhere because it was demolished in 1806 and built over with another one. This kind of eradication was, I'm sure, quite frequent and leaves considerable gaps in the records because a researcher is then very reliant on written records with no past pictorial or archaeological evidence. It's quite possible that an old local history, parish record, or memoir mentions it, but this type of source is unlikely to have been digitized, so from the internet's point of view it doesn't exist. Besides, I'm a game designer/developer, not an academic historian.
However, "absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence". I didn’t add Bolton Castle or use it to replace Masham because it's a bit far from the road to control it (though, of course, the road is by no means historically accurate). "Scrope" the noble card was explicitly (from Andrew's notes) an amalgam and doesn't represent just the Masham branch, so it feels quite proper to me to retain Scrope at Masham.
These radical adjustments might horrify a designer of a simulation as they distort the reality and the detail of many local and regional situations, but they work for Kingmaker, which continues to retain its theme and sufficient historical authenticity to create a great player experience. I hope this brief excursion into the method I used to arrive at my decisions gives some insight into this part of the development process.
Stuff We Left Out
As a postscript in the interests of historicity, I wanted to mention some of the bits that Kingmaker leaves out. There are very few women and very few non-elite decision-makers in Kingmaker. This is not to say that these people were not important in the 15th century. It's worth pointing out that women then still made up about 50% of the people, and their lives and experiences were just as relevant and important as those of the men and are deserving of historical study and inclusion in thematic games. Only rarely — for example, Margaret of Anjou — were they recorded as important figures politically, and Kingmaker focuses on the actions of the male elites.
I would also point out that one of the most significant figures of either sex in this period was Margaret Beaufort (see image below), mother of Henry Tudor. Without the determination and force of character of Margaret Beaufort, it's unlikely there would have been a Tudor dynasty at all, and this is worthy of wider recognition.Margaret Beaufort, Portrait, 16th century. From Wikimedia Commons, provenance unknown
There are non-elite people in Kingmaker for they make up the retinues, levies, mercenaries, and hangers-on of the nobles' armies. There's little detail of what they do, other than moving from place to place and fighting battles and sieges. We've left out the details of logistics and how these armies were raised, marched, and fought, and importantly how these armies affected local populations. Again, that type of game would be more simulation than we wanted with Kingmaker.
But let's acknowledge it briefly now with an illustration of what it meant to be on the receiving end of an early modern army on the march. I should note that I've not made a particular study of the brief example I'm using; it has features similar to many of the armies' operations in the Wars of the Roses.
On 30 December 1460, the Lancastrian army of the Duke of Somerset and Margaret of Anjou ambushed and destroyed Richard, Duke of York's army at the Battle of Wakefield, and many Yorkist notables and many more unknown soldiers were killed in the battle or executed shortly afterwards. Then, as Wikipedia states: "The northern Lancastrian army which had been victorious at Wakefield was reinforced by Scots and borderers eager for plunder, and marched south." In February 1461, the Lancastrian army reached Hertfordshire and beat Warwick's army at the Second Battle of St Albans, leaving London vulnerable, but despite some pretty desperate negotiations, the city of London refused the northerners entry, and Margaret's army retreated north, eventually to lose decisively at Towton. Such is the bald narrative.
But what does this all mean for the non-elite folks of the Midlands and the South East of England? These, after all, were the vast majority of people affected, and only a miniscule proportion of the people were the nobles, like Somerset and Warwick, that we focus on.
The Lancastrian army marching south was about 15,000 strong, though whether that's their combat strength or their total numbers including up to a third or so camp followers of various types, I don't know. They were relying on foraging for food supplies as all armies of the period did, but also on "plunder" — that is, pillaging for valuables and other goods to enrich themselves — and it was for the promise of plunder that many of the "Scots and borderers" had joined Margaret's army in the first place.
In the 15th century, armies didn't have the relatively sophisticated bureaucracies, supply depots, and magazines that were developed by the 18th century. They were generally reliant on foraging for supplies from the local area, either through organized forced levies of food and other supplies, usually used in friendly regions, sometimes paid, but very often not, or through robbing the local people by the use of extreme violence, primarily using mounted troops. Here, we're going to look briefly at what these terms — foraging, plundering, pillaging — actually mean.
Food supplies were held by the local populace in towns, villages, and other smaller settlements. Foraging in friendly towns could be organized (via "requisitioning") as towns definitely did not want to be occupied by troops, friendly or otherwise, so they would pay off a local army by "voluntarily" providing food — or providing money in lieu. Foraging in smaller settlements generally meant requisitioning of the peasants' grain and frequently plundering (stealing with violence) of any other goods they had for good measure. Local populations threatened by armies quickly became good at hiding their food, goods, and chattels, even from so-called "friendly" armies.
Food supplies were generally available in the required quantities for an army at or after harvest, which took place in the months of May to August, depending on the crop, particularly July and August for wheat. It was grain that was the most important crop and the most important foodstuff for an army on the march in this period, with fodder for horses and other livestock a close second. The local peasants would harvest and store their grain, gradually consuming it during the months after harvest, and ideally having a store of grain left before the next sowing either in the autumn for a winter crop, or in March for a summer crop — but the Battle of Wakefield happened at the end of December and Second St Albans was in February the following year, so the Lancastrians were indulging in a winter campaign when logistical problems were at their most intense. An army marching in late January and February needs to forage for supplies from peasants who have already consumed at least half of their grain, more than that if they have also sown in the autumn, so the yield from foraging would have been less than during summer or autumn.
We know that the northerners viewed the southern lands as enemy territory and were intent on plunder, in addition to foraging, and there would be no amelioration of the violent effects that might happen on friendly territory. In fact, the time of year pretty much required this type of relatively extreme action, or the army would starve. It also had to keep moving because otherwise it would quickly eat the local area out of food.
An army foraged and plundered by sending out troops, usually mounted men, in a ten mile or so radius along its route of march. Typically, settlements along the route were pillaged of everything moveable in terms of food and goods, then burnt. People who were caught would be tortured so that they would reveal the location of any hidden food or other goods, then killed. Women of any age would be raped, then killed. Towns without adequate defenses would be taken, their populations massacred, then the town burnt. Often, this would happen despite the orders of those in command because the troops considered it their right to obtain booty; after all, that's what they had joined up for. The area the army moved through ended up devastated and sometimes depopulated.
In the example in question, towns such as Grantham and Stamford were pillaged, and a swathe of destruction marked the army's passage. It was so damaging that walled Coventry, a Lancastrian center, refused them entry, and this all-consuming "plague of locusts", as described by one chronicler, came to be hated on all sides despite its military victories. After defeat at Second St Albans, the Yorkist leaders fled or went into hiding, and the prize of rich and well-provisioned London seemed open to Margaret and Somerset, but despite this and after some wavering caused by Lancastrian sympathizers, London's citizenry shut their gates. This was not simply the act of a supposedly Yorkist city — many were quite prepared to open the city to the rightful king, Henry VI (released from Warwick's clutches at the Second Battle of St Albans) — but was the determination of a populace terrified by the approach of a victorious, vengeful, and undisciplined army of pillagers. It's worth noting in the back of your mind what your own siege of London might have meant in practice at the time.
I hope this post might encourage some readers to look more widely at the history of this period. It's not all heraldry, intrigue, and dastardly deeds!
For some very readable overviews of the Wars of the Roses, I recommend The Hollow Crown by Dan Jones, and The Brothers York by Thomas Penn. For Margaret Beaufort, Uncrowned Queen by Nicola Tallis is excellent. For some very good scholarly publications on some of the battles of the Wars of the Roses, see Mike Ingram's books on Northampton and Bosworth, and Graham Evans' book on Edgcote. For more on foraging and logistics before the age of railways, and much, much more, I recommend Bret Devereaux' blog "A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry", specifically this article.
Tue May 23, 2023 7:00 am
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Spiel des Jahres Nominations for 2023: Dorfromantik: The Board Game, Fun Facts, and Next Station: London
22 May 2023
Spiel des Jahres jury chairman Harald Schrapers and Kinderspiel des Jahres jury chairman Christoph Schlewinski announced the nominees, along with other recommended titles, on YouTube, with these three titles being nominated for Spiel des Jahres 2023:
• Dorfromantik: The Board Game, from Michael Palm, Lukas Zach, and Pegasus Spiele
• Fun Facts, from Kasper Lapp and Repos Production
• Next Station: London, from Matthew Dunstan and Blue Orange Games (and in Germany from HCM Kinzel)
Aside from these nominations, the SdJ jury recommended the following seven titles: Akropolis, HITSTER, KuZOOka, MANTIS, QE, Sea Salt & Paper, and That's Not a Hat.
Note that the Spiel des Jahres award is primarily aimed at family gamers, i.e., those who play games but aren't heavily into the gaming scene.
Nominations for the Kennerspiel des Jahres 2023 went to:
• Challengers!, from Johannes Krenner, Markus Slawitscheck, and 1 More Time Games and Z-Man Games
• Iki, from Koota Yamada and Sorry We Are French (and in Germany from Giant Roc)
• Planet Unknown, from Ryan Lambert, Adam Rehberg, and Adam's Apple Games (and in Germany from Strohmann Games)
The SdJ jury recommended two other titles at the Kennerspiel level: Council of Shadows and Mindbug. The Kennerspiel des Jahres award is intended for those already comfortable with learning and playing new games.
The titles nominated for Kinderspiel des Jahres 2023 are:
• Carla Caramel, from Sara Zarian and LOKI
• Gigamon, from Karim Aouidad, Johann Roussel, and Elemon Games (and in Germany from Mirakulus)
• Mysterium Kids: Captain Echo's Treasure, from Antonin Boccara, Yves Hirschfeld, Libellud, and Space Cow
The Kinderspiel des Jahres jury, which differs from the SdJ/KedJ jury, also recommended three-ish other titles: Douzanimo, Rutsch & flutsch!, and the My First Adventure game series, which currently consists of seven titles, with the first being My First Adventure: Finding the Dragon from Roméo Hennion and Game Flow. German publisher Board Game Box has released all seven of these titles in German.
The winners for all three awards will be announced in Berlin, Germany on July 16, 2023.
During the presentation, Schrapers pointed out that only one of the nominees came from a female designer — Carla Caramel from Sara Zarian — and he said that from the nearly 290 games that the jury considered for Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres, only eight of those were from female designers. Altogether, the two juries considered about 440 games, which was 10% more than in 2022.
The jury also presented two special awards — Sonderpreis — to Unlock!: Game Adventures from Cyril Demaegd, Mathieu Casnin, Thomas Cauët, Jeremy Koch, and Space Cowboys, and to Unlock! Kids: Detective Stories from Demaegd, Marie Fort, Wilfried Fort, and Space Cow.
Congratulations to all the nominated designers and publishers!
- Planet Unknown
- Unlock! Kids: Detective Stories
- Unlock!: Game Adventures
- Carla Caramel
- Next Station: London
- Mysterium Kids: Captain Echo's Treasure
- Fun Facts
- Dorfromantik: The Board Game
- Yves Hirschfeld
- Michael Palm
- Lukas Zach
- Johannes Krenner
- Matthew Dunstan
- Adam Rehberg
- Koota Yamada
- Karim Aouidad
- Johann Roussel
- Antonin Boccara
- Kasper Lapp
- Ryan Lambert
- Markus Slawitscheck
- Sara Zarian
- Pegasus Spiele
- Blue Orange Games
- Z-Man Games
- Repos Production
- HCM Kinzel
- Elemon Games
- Adam's Apple Games, LLC
- Sorry We Are French
- Space Cow
- Giant Roc
- 1 More Time Games
- Strohmann Games
Mon May 22, 2023 4:48 pm
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Walk Dogs, Ride Waves, Catch Imps, and Role Play in an Adventure Party
21 May 2023
Can I blitz through even more new and upcoming games from GAMA Expo 2023 by using only an image and a couple of lines? Of course I can because I've selected which images will be included in this post! The secret of life is to set yourself up for success, not failure!
• In Adventure Party: The Role-Playing Party Game from David Smith, Travis Winstead, and Smirk & Dagger Games, each player takes the role of a fantasy character in one of three scenarios, and you roll dice to resolve various situations — but this is a co-operative party game, not a role-playing game, with success being determined by how well you can describe the effect of your die roll on the situation and whether someone else can guess what you rolled from that description.
• Weird Little Elf was a tiny release from Maggie and Jordan Clyne and Atlas Games in late 2022. In this party game for 4-15 players, players attempt to identify the imp among all the elves who are answering questions from Santa, with the imp required to follow this one weird rule
for weight lossfor interacting with others, with the game containing dozens of weird rules.
• Designer Sean Fletcher and publisher The Op continue to roll out expansions for the battle arena game Disney Sorcerer's Arena: Epic Alliances, with Leading the Charge hitting retail in Q1 2023 — and being the best-selling pack to date, which isn't a surprise given its Elsa, Buzz Lightyear, and Scar character combo — and with At the Ready coming later in 2023 with Robin Hood, Mulan, and Mrs. Potts. Yes, the teapot is ready to inflict scalding punishment on your enemies!
• Aside from its licensed catalog, The Op is releasing several games aimed at the hobby market in 2023. I've already mentioned The A.R.T. Project, which is being licensed from Lumberjacks Studio for release in Q3 2023.
The Perfect Wave is a drafting card game in which you construct a wave from number cards, with the wave never decreasing in height and with you scoring for runs and sets in the wave you ride, not to mention tricks performed thanks to "paddle out" cards.Mock-up at GAMA Expo 2023
• Express Route is a co-operative game in which 1-4 players operate shipping technology, co-ordinate actions, and use specialist abilities to expedite vehicles and satisfy consumer demand before it becomes too overwhelming.
• Mish Match is a real-time card game in which you need to spot and slap cards that match.
• Bark Avenue from Mackenzie and Jonathan Jungck and TerreDice Games is a game of competitive dog-walking. Think pick-up-and-deliver in New York City, with you trying to earn good reviews over seventeen rounds from all the dog-walking opportunities available to you. Australian publisher Good Games Publishing is handling distribution for this crowdfunded title, with availability at Gen Con 2023, followed by a release in October 2023.
• Good Games is also handling distribution for Mercurial from David Goh and Hyperlixir, with players rolling dice, manipulating these results, acquiring spells, then using them to do various fantasy things.
• Too Many Cooks is a 2022 release from Jarrah Bloomfield and Good Games Publishing in which, like the 2022 release Décorum, everyone has secret goals and you're manipulating a shared area so that all goals can be achieved at the same time. Unlike Décorum, ]Too Many Cooks is played in real-time rounds of five minutes.
• Trickdraw is another Good Games distribution project, with this game coming from designers Blake Propach and Morteza Rohaninejad and publisher House Fish Balloon.
In this card game for 2-5 players, you can play cards face down for gold, which is worth 1 point, or face up for the action listed — but played cards can be flipped via actions, allowing you to transform a used card into gold or flip gold to take the action on the other side. Whoever has 10 points in front of themselves first wins.
- Bark Avenue
- Disney Sorcerer's Arena: Epic Alliances Core Set
- Too Many Cooks
- Weird Little Elf
- Adventure Party: The Role-Playing Party Game
- Disney Sorcerer's Arena: Epic Alliances – Leading the Charge
- Disney Sorcerer's Arena: Epic Alliances – At the Ready
- The Perfect Wave
- Express Route
- Mish Match
- David Smith
- Sean Fletcher
- David Goh
- Maggie Clyne
- Jordan Clyne
- Blake Propach
- Jonathan Jungck
- Mackenzie Jungck
- Morteza Rohaninejad
- Jarrah Bloomfield
- Travis Winstead
- Atlas Games
- The Op
- Smirk & Dagger Games
- Good Games Publishing
- House Fish Balloon, LLC
- TerreDice Games
Sun May 21, 2023 7:00 am
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Cascadia: Landmarks, Holotype, Unmatched Adventures: Tales to Amaze, and More Pics from GAMA Expo 2023
20 May 2023
As is usually the case, at GAMA Expo 2023 I took way more photos than I can get through in a reasonable amount of time, so let me drop a bunch in this post that get by with little in the way of commentary:
• AEG was showing the wooden bits — that is, the landmarks — in Cascadia: Landmarks, which is due out in Q4 2023 in both English and German, along with a few other languages.
• If it's not your turn in Star Wars: Shatterpoint, you must place your right index finger on your upper lip. This is the way.
• Grandpa Beck's Games is releasing a reimplemented version of Brent and Jeffrey Beck's Cover Your Assets in association with specialty cookie retailer Crumbl under the name Cover Your Cookies with the game currently available only via the publisher and Crumbl.
• Holotype: Mesozoic North America is the debut title from Brett Harrison, Lex Terenchin, and Brexwerx Games, with players in this worker placement game attempting to gather fossils, do research, and complete objectives.
• I covered Marvel D.A.G.G.E.R. from Dane Beltrami and Fantasy Flight Games in March 2023, but here's a pic of the game board and components.
• Agree to Disagree is a party game from Ryan Mindell and Adam's Apple Games in which you score by finding someone who holds the opposite opinion. The devices shown below are 3D-printed mock-ups, but the idea is that after hearing a statement, players hold their device to expose their answer — although the device looks the same no matter which end is out — but when you nestle the end of your device with someone else's, you'll see whether you agree or disagree depending on how they fit together.
• I feel like this image of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – The Adventure Game emphasizes its scale without revealing much of anything. It's hard to take pics of games like this in passing as you really want to climb over the table and shoot down, but convention spaces seldom have ladders on hand.
• Fortify from Jason Mack, Caleb Zwar, and Barrel Aged Games challenges two players to engage in a real-time card-laying water balloon fight, with you trying to build a wall around your base so that you can add friends to your side, which lets you throw more balloons (i.e. dice) to eventually overwhelm the opposing base.
• I recall getting an early lesson in the hidden longevity of game sales courtesy of designer Fréderic Moyersoen, who would regularly blog about sales of Saboteur, which debuted in 2004 and which has risen in sales volume each year since at least through the end of the 2010s, when I last recall seeing info. Saboteur isn't a hot game in the sense of BGG's "The Hotness", but you can make the case that it's not NOT hot given its evergreen status for AMIGO.
• Here's the component spread of Unmatched Adventures: Tales to Amaze, coming from Restoration Games. I made an effort at this show to encourage presenters to step aside so that their crotch would not be featured in images, but I wasn't able to escape the floating hand in all my pics of this game. Be amazed...
Sat May 20, 2023 7:00 am
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Designer Diary: Anatomy of a Card-Driven Wargame, or The Development of Robotech: Reconstruction
19 May 2023
Dr. Wictz(DrWictz)United States
Robotech: Reconstruction without talking about the development of the event cards that push forward the narrative and players' interaction with each other.
Why Drive Narrative through Cardplay?
Cardplay enables players to create their own narrative while preserving key historical moments from the past. I know some of you are saying, "Robotech is a TV show, not a historical event", but within a mature fictional universe like Robotech, there is a history of events within the series' canon, similar to real-world historical events. People who follow Robotech are going to treat what happens within the series as an event the same way a historian will study the impact of France's intervention into the American Revolution.
The Same Events Occur, but the Outcomes Can Differ
Like in GMT's COIN Series, which uses a card-driven format to incorporate historical events into a possible alternative history if things had played out differently, Robotech: Reconstruction uses its event deck to bring in past events from the show that might have led to a different historical/narrative outcome within the show.
In GMT's Fire in the Lake, for example, the "Tet Offensive" event card enables a historical event to take place, but the impact strategically of the event can differ due to the board state mixed with luck, enabling Fire in the Lake to explore different potential outcomes that might have happened if things had played out differently in the Vietnam War.
Similarly, the "Final Assault" event card in Robotech: Reconstruction triggers the climatic attack on New Macross City in the Robotech TV series while allowing different outcomes from the original TV series based on the state of the board. Players in Robotech: Reconstruction get to explore alternative narrative, dare I say, historical possibilities within the Robotech universe, seeing that even within the world of fiction, major events might have played out differently.
Fans of fiction, like historians, can have a hard time identifying which events are pivotal and which events could potentially have been pivotal if things had played out differently. I had to decide within a nine-episode span of Robotech which events from the show should be included within the game.
Like a designer of a historical game, I conducted research on what took place without assuming how much a particular event must determine the overall outcome of the game. Specifically, I sat down with my notebook and meticulously wrote down every event across the nine episodes known as the Reconstruction period after the First Robotech War. I did not decide whether the events were important or not; I just noted what took place and included those events within the event deck of the game. By listing all of the events alone, I created 30 of the 34 events within the Robotech: Reconstruction event card deck. To keep the game balanced for the four factions within the game, I made sure to use the remaining four event cards to ensure that every faction had an equal number of events.
That said, the most important thing I did was consciously include all events I could document so that when players later play Robotech: Reconstruction, they can discover which events are pivotal within their own game and which does not have to be the same as the original TV series.
Impact of an Event
Events found, check. Now the events have to result in a real observable action within gameplay. Because the game is designed to be played by people who have never seen an episode of Robotech, I put a high priority on ensuring that the actions triggered by an event card are connected with the title of the event card. Without such obvious cues, there is no way for players unfamiliar with Robotech to understand what is even taking place within the game, let alone develop an understanding of the show by only playing just the board game.
The impact of an event is more than just the direct actions made by the faction undertaking the action, but also by the ability of other factions to react. For me, that shows up in the Faction Reaction Column which determines which player is going next within a round. When an event card is played, players start from the top of the reaction column and work their way down until they find a faction that has yet to take their turn in the current round. The reaction column adds another layer of strategic decision to the event card that alters the impact of the event triggered by the card.
Certain factions are better at countering other factions. Additionally, other factions can be contained by putting them in a situation where they have to prioritize countering an opponent versus prioritizing their faction specific goal.
A challenge for any historical game designer is trying to put into context the history behind an event card. That is why a lot of historical wargames include additional material to provide additional context.
For me, part of that context in Robotech: Reconstruction is in the carefully selected quotes at the bottom of the event card. The quotes are direct quotes from Robotech that shed light on either the impact, emotional motivation, or emotional reaction to the event within the TV series. I relied on direct quotes because unlike historians, who can sometimes go back and interview or read the writings of the participants to the past, I have only what the characters say directly within the show. Instead of trying to provide my own interpretation of their words, I elected to provide verbatim what folks said in the show so that players can do their best to interpret the meaning behind them.
Discovering the Unknown
Player interpretation of events goes beyond just comprehending the perspectives of people living through the events; a card-driven wargame pushes you to consider elements you were unaware of that define a historical moment strategically. Minor details that seemed unimportant at first glance turn out to be pivotal once they are experienced in the context of the time.
Despite the physical violence at the forefront of many episodes of Robotech, the Reconstruction period is really a time period about persuading society to embrace competing visions for Earth's future — and the event cards enable players to explore how all events, including the violent ones, shaped that final outcome.
Fri May 19, 2023 7:00 am
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