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To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, please contact BGG News editor W. Eric Martin via email – wericmartin AT gmail.com

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Links: Anthracite is the New Red, Talk of Ninjato & How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Smaller Game Collection

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• The Spiel des Jahres jury has revealed the name of its new award that will debut in 2011: Kennerspiel des Jahres, or "expert game of the year". The nominees for this award will be announced on May 23, 2011 at the same time as the nominees for Spiel des Jahres and Kinderspiel des Jahres, with the winner being revealed on June 27 concurrently with the Spiel des Jahres. The official color of the Kennerspiel des Jahres logo is "anthracite".

• The Game Artisans of Canada has released its second newsletter (PDF), which goes by the name "Meeple Syrup". Tales of success and profiles of designers await your attention.

• The winners of the 2011 Mensa Mind Games have been announced:

-----*InStructures
-----*Pastiche
-----*Pirate versus Pirate
-----*Stomple
-----*Uncle Chestnut's Table Gype

Mensa's Mind Games site does not list all 58 games that competed at the 2011 Mind Games, which makes kibitzing a bit tougher than is normally the case for such awards.

• On his blog, designer Antoine Bauza describes one new card that didn't make it into 7 Wonders: Leaders – "The Guild of Assassins", a guild card that would force each other player to discard a leader from play. Bauza explains that such a card would have cost each other player 0-10 points depending on which leader they removed, which is mathematically equivalent to a gain of the same amount by the one who played the card – but playtesters revolted at the idea of having their leaders stripped away. In Bauza's words, "It seems that the insertion of a destructive element in a game about construction is rarely a good idea..."

In a follow-up post, Bauza reveals most of the contents of Leaders.

• The blog Dice Hate Me has an interview with designers Adam West and Dan Schnake about Ninjato, due out from Z-Man Games in June/July 2011. BGG News will run a designer diary from Adam West shortly before the game's release.

• Sage Board Games has submitted an iOS version of Kramer and Keisling's Tikal to Apple, and the app is now available through iTunes. Multiple screenshots at the link above.

• Big Daddy's Creations is working on an Android version of Neuroshima Hex! for a Q3 2011 release.

Days of Wonder is offering a free replacement token bag for Cargo Noir as the bag shipped with the game has proved friable for many users.

• Finally, Linda Holmes has an entrancing article on the NPR blog "Monkey See" titled "The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going To Miss Almost Everything". While the article is not about games specifically, you can insert the word mentally as you read. An excerpt:

Quote:
The vast majority of the world's books, music, films, television and art, you will never see. It's just numbers... [Y]ou simply have no chance of seeing even most of what exists. Statistically speaking, you will die having missed almost everything...

You used to have a limited number of reasonably practical choices presented to you, based on what bookstores carried, what your local newspaper reviewed, or what you heard on the radio, or what was taught in college by a particular English department. There was a huge amount of selection that took place above the consumer level. (And here, I don't mean "consumer" in the crass sense of consumerism, but in the sense of one who devours, as you do a book or a film you love.)

Now, everything gets dropped into our laps, and there are really only two responses if you want to feel like you're well-read, or well-versed in music, or whatever the case may be: culling and surrender...

Surrender ... is the realization that you do not have time for everything that would be worth the time you invested in it if you had the time, and that this fact doesn't have to threaten your sense that you are well-read. Surrender is the moment when you say, "I bet every single one of those 1,000 books I'm supposed to read before I die is very, very good, but I cannot read them all, and they will have to go on the list of things I didn't get to."

As someone facing the prospect of packing 1,300+ games and moving them to a new location, I'll be surrendering a lot in the months ahead. As much as I might want to have access to every game ever made – or at least to the games that I already own – I know that's neither practical nor useful. For 90% of the games I own, copies will always be available for sale from someone somewhere, so I need to focus on what I care most about playing, on what calls to me over and over again, and clear out the rest. Whether I can actually keep that focus is another matter...
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Fri Apr 22, 2011 6:30 am
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New Game Round-up: More Anima, More Game Previews & How to Attract a Publisher

W. Eric Martin
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Clever Mojo Games has announced that it plans to release a tile-laying game from designer Isaias Vallejo in Q4 2011. Here's a short description of Sunrise City:

Quote:
Players build a city with zone tiles, bid for control of those zones, then score victory points by placing building tiles on the city zones to their best advantage. Each round the players use role cards to grant them special abilities in the various game phases. After three rounds, the player with the most victory points wins.

Says CMG's W. David MacKenzie, "Sunrise City started off as an entry in the Quick Print and Play Design Challenge. I noticed that the designer, Isaias Vallejo, was a local and suggested that he visit our weekly playtest meetup and bring his prototype with him. He did and we played it several times, did some brainstorming, and came up with a few adjustments. Along the way I found that I enjoyed Sunrise City and, after a few more weeks of playtesting, Isaias offered it to CMG for publication. I snapped it up and the two of us, and his design partner Drew Sayers, started work on bringing it to a publishable state." This story points out one possible avenue to success for a designer: Live near a publisher.

• In other Clever Mojo news, the second printing of Alien Frontiers is due to hit U.S. stores around April 22, 2011, with a third printing in the works since the second printing is already sold out at the publisher level. CMG's David MacKenzie notes that the game has been licensed for two separate European editions in a wide variety of languages.

Edge Entertainment has set up a game page for Guilty Gods, a new two-player card game set in the Anima universe, yet apparently not compatible with the other Anima card games. (Just for the record, Edge released Anima: The Twilight of the Gods in 2009, with Fantasy Flight Games following with an English release in 2011. I'm not saying that FFG will release Guilty Gods in English – only that any such release might take a while.)

Fireside Games has posted a preview video of Bloodsuckers using a production sample of the game.

Ystari Games is now listing early June 2011 – instead of the previously anounced April 2011 – as the release date for Philippe Keyaerts' Olympos.

• In an April 19, 2011 post, Steve Jackson Games highlights the difference in components between Ogre of editions past and the mondo super-colossal, chrome-on-top-of-chrome version of Ogre in the works for a possible 2011 release.

• SJG has also released rules (PDF) for the newest edition – #8! – of The Awful Green Things from Outer Space, which is likely to hit U.S. stores by the end of Apirl 2011.

• Alderac Entertainment has started to preview cards from Thunderstone: Thornwood Siege, due out June 2011.

Stronghold Games plans to open preorders for Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War on April 30, 2011 on its new website.

• On Opinionated Gamers, editor Dale Yu (who has been involved with developing the Dominion empire) has posted advance pics of most of the cards included in Dominion: Cornucopia, which is due out May-ish 2011.
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Thu Apr 21, 2011 7:24 pm
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James St. Laurent Talks About Crude Beginnings & a Second Strike

W. Eric Martin
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This interview (and introduction) first appeared in the April 2011 newsletter from Stronghold Games. Thanks to Stronghold's Stephen M. Buonocore for giving permission to reprint the interview!

We are so grateful to be able to work with James St. Laurent for our upcoming rerelease of his classic game: Crude: The Oil Game also known to some as McMulti.

At the request of our customers, we took the time to ask James a few questions and we're pleased to share that interview with you here.

Stronghold Games: Jim, thank you so much for taking time out for this interview! The fans of your great game, Crude: The Oil Game, will be very happy to hear from you after so much time. Let's start with your background. Can you tell us some things about yourself, such as where you were born and raised, where did you go to school, what you are doing and/or have done for a living, etc? Whatever details that you'd like to provide...

James St. Laurent: I was brought up in a small town in Michigan. I was always interested in numbers, especially chance and probabilities. This led to a degree from Michigan State in Mathematical Statistics. Later, I got an MBA and did post graduate courses mostly in quantitative methods in the evenings at Santa Clara University. I was employed as a Research Director for a large financial company for 31 years, first in Chicago and then later in California.

SG: This question is very McCarthy-like, but... Are you now or have you ever been a gamer?

Jim: Well, I certainly do not qualify as a geek but I have always really enjoyed playing board games. I do enjoy the competiveness of strategy games, but I think I am even more interested in the mechanics of a game – I guess I would say how a designer can get things done the most cleverly. My wife and I have played games with some friends who have a son who is a gamer. He is our "feeder", recommending new games and first playing many new games with his parents. This is great because we don't have to read the rules and he is a pretty good judge of the games we would like to play. These friends date way back – in fact, they were game testers when Crude was in development.

SG: When and how did you decide to get into board game design?

Jim: I really didn't decide. It was something I just started doing, back when I was a teenager.

SG: Have you created any game designs besides Crude: The Oil Game? Any others published?

Jim: Not really. I've created many other board games but no others were ever published. I used to do mostly sports games and later moved on to war games and then later into what you might call business and economic simulation games.

SG: Stronghold Games was very excited to have found you. As we mentioned to you when we first spoke, most of the board game community thought you were either in seclusion and did not want to be found, or that you had passed. Obviously, the rumors of your demise were greatly exaggerated, but how about the rumors of your seclusion? Were you at any time trying to stay away from the board game community? There have been other board game designers that have chosen this path, so you would not be alone in this, if this were the case.

Jim: Actually, I was excited to have found Stronghold Games too. I was interested in republishing the game but being out of the mainstream for so long found it difficult to know where to begin.

But, to answer your question, after publishing Crude, my priorities just changed and I moved on to other things. The demands of my job were increasing and I wanted to devote more time enjoying and bringing up my young family. I was not hiding. Actually, I'm not too sure how hard anyone really wanted to find me. I left some clues. For example, on the last page of the Crude rulebook there was my address with a post office box in Los Altos. The post office box was closed several years later but the Los Altos city would seem to provide a pretty good clue to someone really looking for me. I still live in Los Altos and have a listed telephone number.

SG: Tell us a little about the origins of Crude: The Oil Game. Is the oil business something of which you had much knowledge or is it a great interest of yours? Was there any other inspiration behind the creation of this great game?

Jim: I was always working on games. I was trying to invent a game that involved interactions between several economic sectors. I remember that I was using Wassily Leonteif's input-output matrix. I was trying to try to find a group of about five industries that would work as a group to form an "economy". I was not having a lot of success when the oil industry just seemed to shake out on the table.

I realized that the oil industry had enough stages in the production process and as a self-contained industry could be modeled quite well. After that it took only a few days to get a basic model working. I went to a Saturday meeting at work. While waiting for the meeting to begin with three or four colleagues I said something like: Hey, I invented a game last night. I sketched it out on my blackboard and we simulated the play. That was the first time the game was played and one of the players suggested that I ought to name the game Crude. That was Saturday February 8, 1974 so the birth date of the game was Friday, February 7, 1974.

SG: Crude: The Oil Game was published by St. Laurent Games, which indicates that it was self-financed/self-published. Did you decide to self-publish from the beginning or did you first search for a publisher for this game?

Jim: I did look for a publisher at first but could not find one. I finally found a local box maker that was interested in the project and found a graphics artist that would work on a royalty basis and the company was in business. The box maker produced everything except the dice and the picture on the back of the box. Our living room became the assembly line. Every game was put together by my wife and I in our living room.

Dealing with the box maker became an ordeal. After his initial delivery of components the relationship with the box maker tanked. There were long delays in getting the parts, there were shortages of some parts and there was a drop-off in the quality of the game parts. We salvaged what we could and that became the total production of Crude. Originally, we had scheduled a production run of 3,000 units. The final output was substantially less, so if you have one of the originals you are very lucky. On the other hand, if you weren't around to pick up your copy in the 1970's, you'll have a chance to try the game with the re-print.

After the nightmare I went through with the original manufacturer and all the effort I had expended to find a supplier I just couldn't get motivated to go through the process again.

SG: Of course, the $64,000 question is around how McMulti was published and your thoughts on this. It was reported widely that Hexagames published McMulti, giving you full credit for the design, but completely without your knowledge. Is this correct?

Jim: That's correct. I even heard that they had set aside royalty money for me in case they ever found me. Too bad they didn't see the mailing address on the last page of the rules that were copied verbatim.

SG: When did you find out that McMulti was published? Was it before or after Hexagames was out of business? Did you attempt to contact Hexagames at any time?

Jim: I did try to contact Hexagames, but by the time I had become aware of McMulti, Hexagames was out of business.

In retrospect, Hexagames probably did me a favor. There were not enough Crude copies in circulation to create that critical mass to keep game awareness alive for 35 years. Without McMulti, the game would probably have faded away. Without McMulti, there probably would not have been that telephone call from Stronghold Games that led to the Crude reprint that is underway.

SG: Now that Stronghold Games and you have agreed to do a republication of this great game, are there any updates to the game that you are interested in seeing included?

Jim: Whenever I complete a project I can always think of ways it could have been done better. In the case of Crude I have had 37 years to think about it. I have also looked at all of the comments on BGG to get ideas.

There are several ways that I think the game can be updated and improved. There is some tweaking that I think will improve the play of the game and a couple of additions that I think can improve the game significantly.

My intention is to suggest changes that improve the quality of play but do not change the character of the original game. To that end I am recommending very few changes that will be hard-wired into the new game and more options that players can employ to adjust, for example, their personal risk tolerance or luck tolerance.

I am recommending some changes that will significantly reduce the possibility of stagnation in the economy. I am also suggesting some new Wildcat Journal Cards that will make the game more in line with current events. There are other suggestions that will improve catch-up mechanisms a bit, put more oomph in other strategic options, and make the game more user friendly and easier to play.

SG: Thank you Jim!

Interview (c) 2011 Stronghold Games LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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Thu Apr 21, 2011 6:14 am
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New Game Round-up: Card Tepee in Cherokee, Spielbox Freebie & a Rune Age Peekie

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White Goblin Games has announced a new card game from Fréderic Moyersoen called Cherokee that will be released on May 28, 2011. Here's a short description:

Quote:
Players try to occupy the most and highest positions in the hierarchy with their clan members. On a turn, a player chases away one member in the pyramid of cards, which represents the hierarchy of the tribe. This gap is then filled with one successor from below, with that gap being filled likewise. At the end of a turn, the player adds one card from his hand to the final gap in the base of the pyramid.

WGG has released a video trailer in Dutch for Cherokee that is long on theme and short on game play.

• Spanish publisher nestorgames has released a new version of an old game from Philip Orbanes called Realm, which with What's My Word? and Montage makes three returning titles from the 1970s Gamut of Games line. Do I hear four?

• In addition to the previously announced The Great Museum – overview hereRichard Denning's Medusa Games will feature one other title in prototype form at the UK Games Expo in June 2011: 1066: The Battle of Hastings Card Game. A short description from the new games page for UK Games Expo:

Quote:
It is October 14th 1066 – late afternoon. On Senlac Hill near Hastings the Saxon Army under King Harold II is fighting the invading Normans under William, Duke of Normandy. The battle is not going well for William. Twice he has attacked and twice been repelled and it looks as if he cannot break Harold's Lines. He calls his nobles to him and promises them gold and land if they will defeat the Saxons and Kill Harold. It is time for his Counts to make a name for themselves.

Lots of other titles listed on that page.

• Trask at LivingDice.com names Reiner Knizia's Star Trek: Expeditions, coming from WizKids in June 2011, his pick of the GAMA Trade Show held in March 2011. Details from a sample game he played at GTS are included in the link above.

• Spielbox has made Funkenschlag: Speicherkraftwerk – an unofficial Power Grid expansion card published in issue 1/2011 of its magazine – available for download from its website.

Fantasy Flight Games has posted a preview of its deck-building game Rune Age highlighting how the game is centered on scenarios that will give players a specific goal each time they play.

• A new expansion – or something – is in the works for Days of Wonder's Small World given the representative image currently in place on the BGG game page and the shadowy presence on DoW's own Small World game page. If I had to guess, I'd say Li'l Abner's Mammy is coming to bash a few interlopers in Dogpatch...

Update: Alas, no armies of Mammy – at least not yet, but DoW has revealed one of the new races players will see in whatever Small World expansion is on the horizon: gnomes.
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Tue Apr 19, 2011 6:30 am
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GameWorks' Animalia Still Smoking After Five Years

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At least this is what one or more Polish companies seem to be thinking given that they have illegaly taken Mathieu Leyssenne's illustrations from Braff, Cathala and Pauchon's Animalia and used them on cigarette lighters. Currently GameWorks is looking into ways to try to resolve this matter.


Admittedly the lighters do look beautiful...
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Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:03 pm
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From the Editor: Inadvertent Holiday

W. Eric Martin
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My apologies for the relatively quiet this past week on BGG News. The combination of:

1. Tending to an injured wife,
2. Preparing taxes, and
3. Readying a house for market

put a crimp in my ability to work. I should be up to speed in the next day or two, and if anyone is looking for a nice home in Concord, NH with a huge game room, drop me a line. Given the right buyer, I could even leave the shelves somewhat stocked!
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Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:52 pm
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Designer Diary: Race for the Galaxy

Tom Lehmann
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(Editor's note: This game preview originally ran as three parts on Boardgame News. I had planned to reprint the material on BGG News in a similar manner, but due to reader requests I'm changing gears and publishing all three parts in one post. Reprinted diaries for RftG expansions will follow in subsequent weeks. —WEM)

Race for the Galaxy is a card game of economic expansion set in space. It has two primary sources: the unpublished CCG Duel for the Stars that I designed in the mid-1990s (with assistance from Rob Watkins) and a Puerto Rico card game prototype. I designed this prototype, at alea's request, based on an idea that Richard Borg and I came up with, namely that cards could serve multiple purposes in an economic game: what you build, the money you pay, and the goods you produce.

This idea was merged by alea with Andreas Seyfarth's own Puerto Rico card game prototype to form San Juan. Players familiar with San Juan should find Race fairly easy to learn.

Race is built on the notion of simultaneous play. Unlike San Juan (and Puerto Rico), players secretly select their actions from a personal set of seven action cards. After revealing them, only the game phases chosen by one or more players occur; the rest are skipped. Thus, a round might consist of nothing but Develop, if that's what everyone selected, or – in a four player game – any four of the five phases (Explore, Develop, Settle, Consume, and Produce) could occur (in this order).

The players choosing a phase receive a bonus while everyone performs the phase's action. Two phases – Explore and Consume – have two different bonuses available (thus the seven action cards for only five phases). For example, the base Explore action is that everyone draws two cards and selects one of them to keep. The two possible Explore bonuses are: Draw five more cards to select from (still keeping just one card), or draw one more card and keep one more card (i.e., draw three cards and keep two of them). Phases are performed simultaneously. For example, during Settle, each player selects a world to place and then, once everyone is ready, they all flip these cards over and pay for – or militarily conquer – them. (The Settle bonus is to draw a card after settling a world.)

Everybody in the pool!
An icon for everything,
and every icon in its place
This phase structure not only reduces downtime but changes the game's feel. If there's an action you need to do, you can always play its action card to force that phase to occur. Alternatively, you can guess, based on your opponents' positions, that one of them will call that phase and then choose another phase that also helps you, with the risk that the phase you really need doesn't occur if your estimate is incorrect. Thus, instead of tactical denial (as in Puerto Rico or San Juan), you are faced with the "piggy-back" problem – how to most effectively take advantage of your opponents' actions while pursuing your own strategy.

Players begin play with four cards in hand and a start world – each with a different special power – in their tableau. All cards are one of two kinds: developments, placed during Develop, or worlds, placed during Settle. Some worlds have military defense and can only be placed by being conquered. (If one has the development Contact Specialist, most military worlds can be placed by paying for them instead.) Some worlds receive a good when they are first settled; others don't start with a good but do receive one every time Produce is called. Victory chips are earned by consuming goods. Empires have no inherent consumption abilities (though some start worlds have consume powers). One route to victory is to construct an economy by settling worlds that produce goods (not all worlds do) and building developments or worlds with consume powers, then turning this produce/consume "crank" over several rounds to earn lots of victory chips.

The game can end in two different ways, either when the last victory point chip is handed out or when a player has twelve or more cards in his or her tableau. Since two cards can potentially be placed each round (if both Develop and Settle are called and a player can afford both), a game can end in as few as six rounds. (Nine or ten rounds is typical.) Managing this variable tempo is one play challenge.

Developments and worlds are also worth victory points themselves. Worlds can be settled either by payment or, if they are military worlds, by conquering them (for no cost). Building a large military, by buying developments such as Space Marines or Drop Ships, then conquering valuable Rebel or Alien worlds is another victory route.

Zentastic –
but who gathers the food?
Nice highlights on the scales
Alternatively, by settling windfall worlds (those with a good placed on them upon first being settled), then selling these goods for cards, players can afford the more expensive worlds and developments that are worth more victory points. The 6-cost developments are the third source of victory points. Each one is unique and provides bonus victory points for having cards of a specific kind (such as Genes worlds for the Pan-Galactic League) or with certain powers (such as Explore powers for the Galactic Survey). Each 6-cost development also has a useful power which encourages players to build them before the end of the game. Building several "interlocking" 6s, so that your other tableau cards earn victory point bonuses multiple times, is another path to victory.

Card powers can provide discounts, trade bonuses, extra production, bonus card draws, etc. Selecting which cards to build, which ones to spend as money, and when to explore to find the cards that will work best with the ones you have are some of the skills you will need in your quest to build the most powerful and prosperous space empire. Enjoy!

Race for the Galaxy is for 2-4 players, and each of the two projected expansions allow one more player to play. Typical game length is 20-40 minutes. (Expect the game to run a bit longer for your first few games until players are comfortable with the more than 90 different cards in the base set.)

Editor's note: This preview first appeared on BoardgameNews.com on May 14, 2007.

__________________________________


Like many games, Race for the Galaxy has several sources. First was my unpublished CCG, Duel for the Stars, conceived and designed in the mid-1990s (with development assistance from Rob Watkins). In it, cards represented various things: worlds, which could be settled and developed; fleets, armies, and leaders, which could jump and fight among these worlds; and technologies (such as terraforming or cloaking) or government policies (such as free trade or deficit spending) which could be played on empires as a whole. Some worlds were unoccupied; others had alien races on them. Some races were friendly and could be economically absorbed; others were hostile and had to be conquered, unless one employed an empathic Contact Specialist to sway them to your side.

Hope that uniform
is machine washable
Each empire expanded from one world and, depending on which worlds it attacked or absorbed, could join various factions: the Imperium, Rebels, Uplift Worlds, Ancient Races, or Pan-Galactic League. Each empire could also advance its technology level, enabling the empire to decipher and play artifacts (cards that conferred advantages) left by the vanished Alien Overlords. Behind these concepts can be seen other inspirations, not only space opera, but Fred Pohl's "Heechee" books and David Brin's "Uplift" saga.

Duel for the Stars was an ambitious game, with many different sub-systems, but it was far too complex and long for the CCG market – experienced players still took 90 minutes to play it – so we never published it.

The second source was a prototype Puerto Rico card game that I developed. Over breakfast at Essen, Richard Borg and I came up with our concept for a Puerto Rico card game – that cards could be used for everything: what you build, what you pay, and the goods you sell or ship. A quick inquiry to alea publisher Stefan Brück (sitting two tables away) revealed that Andreas Seyfarth, Puerto Rico's designer, was already working on a Puerto Rico card game, so we abandoned it.

Several months later, Stefan requested that Richard and I begin work on a prototype in parallel to Andreas' work. (Stefan was concerned about a shrinking market window for publication.) After further email discussions with Richard, I began implementing, playtesting, and revising several prototypes. My first attempt was too close to Puerto Rico and unsatisfactory as a card game, but in successive versions I removed the Mayor, eliminated plantations (except Corn), turned the Settler into a card-selection mechanism, rescaled all costs to a 1-6 range, and instituted face-down discards (so that some cards could cycle through the deck unseen by players).

Aim toothpaste –
now preventing cavities
on a global scale
I don't know how many of these features were also invented by Andreas – simultaneous inventions do occur – or were "obvious" given Richard's and my original idea, but I do know that I sweated over them, spending more than 400 hours over three months revising and testing a series of prototypes (in addition to my day job).

We presented the game to Stefan and, after further revision and testing, with Stefan arguing for market slips with varying prices, we agreed for him to present it to Andreas. A month later, Stefan informed us that Andreas liked our central idea but wanted to proceed by merging it with his own card set and ideas and developing the game separately. I was disappointed, but recognized that this was Andreas' prerogative. The result was San Juan, from which both Richard and I receive a small royalty in recognition of our original concept and hard work.

For the next nine months, I concentrated on other designs. Then, I began to wonder whether some of the mechanisms I had developed could be combined with the economic expansion portion of Duel for the Stars (the part players had enjoyed the most). After seeing San Juan, I thought the two games would be sufficiently dissimilar, so I approached Stefan, described my general idea, and got his consent to proceed.

Freed from Puerto Rico's shadow, I began to make changes. First was the action/bonus system. One of my favorite games is Rommel in the Desert. I really admire the way it compresses time when both players pass to build up supplies and troops for future offensives. Rather than force a number of different actions in a round, I would allow players, if they wished, to pick the same one. This allowed me to dispense with rewards for unpopular actions and to avoid player frustration, by always having all actions available to every player.

Next, I revisited the large developments. In both Puerto Rico and San Juan, they provide only victory points, whereas I wanted them to be strategic options, as in Duel for the Stars. I made each of them unique (unlike in San Juan) and gave them useful powers. This creates an incentive to build them early, balanced by their cost and the uncertainty of whether the player will actually find the cards that mesh with a given large development.

Rabin, Clinton and Arafat
broker a peace deal
in the Mideast Galaxy
I next removed the trading house and ships. Doing this avoids a central issue in Puerto Rico, namely that calling Craftsman often benefits downstream players more than the player calling it. By placing Produce at the end of the round sequence, the player that calls Produce can always leverage the resulting goods in the following round. By making Trade a Consume bonus – and not a base action – it no longer benefits other players. The other Consume bonus doubles VPs, so a player who sets up a large economy and calls Produce can score lots of VPs on the next turn.

Finally, by adding a military expansion route (and a way around it, the Contact Specialist from Duel for the Stars), combined with the variable tempo of Develop and Settle and the two different ending conditions (tableau size or VP chip exhaustion), the game is no longer about just constructing economic engines, which tends to mitigate some of the usual rich-gets-richer concerns.

These changes move Race for the Galaxy away from Puerto Rico's essentially tactical nature (with strategic underpinnings) towards a more strategic game, closer to Duel for the Stars. The larger card set (with over 90 different cards in the base game) also gives Race for the Galaxy a more CCG-like "feel".

Make no mistake, I consider Puerto Rico an absolutely brilliant game, but with Race for the Galaxy, unlike my Puerto Rico card game prototype, I was looking to do something quite different. Despite its strategic elements, Race for the Galaxy is a card game and players are dependent on the cards they draw. In Race you have lots of selection (since most cards will be just spent as money), and Exploration – to try to find the cards you need – is always an option, but the players who make the best use of the cards they get – as opposed to having a rigid plan – tend to win. Enjoy!

Editor's note: This preview first appeared on BoardgameNews.com on June 18, 2007.

__________________________________


"I would gladly pay
you Tuesday for a
hamburger today."
In this final preview before Race for the Galaxy is released (expected release at Spiel 2007), I'll touch on some issues that arose during its development.

Race for the Galaxy's initial development was extremely smooth, mainly because I reused so many card ideas from my old Duel for the Stars prototype. In one week, I constructed the first deck, tested and revised it, and had a working game which was quite popular with playtesters. One choice I made was to have a very large card set (over 90 different cards, some with multiple powers), but not to overwhelm new players with lots of "specialized" powers. Most powers are "parameterized" – that is, variations on a theme. For example, drawing one extra card when you sell a good and drawing two extra cards when you sell a good are two separate powers, but once you've learned one of them, learning the other power is trivial. Depending on how you count variations like this, there are about 37 different powers in the Race for the Galaxy base set. For comparison, San Juan has about 20 different powers for its roughly 30 distinct cards.

Within a few weeks, the base card set was fairly stable. Most revisions to base set cards have been to balance them with respect to expansion cards. Two-thirds of the cards in the base set have not changed since that first month. My initial prototype used simple graphics, with chits and screens to select actions. Enter Wei-Hwa Huang. He really liked the game and developed alternative graphics for it, including giving each player a set of action cards to select their actions and bonuses. Eventually, we merged our graphics together.

After alea decided not to publish Race for the Galaxy, Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games expressed interest. He challenged us to develop an icon only version, for ease of translation. Wei-Hwa and I spent a lot of time devising consistent icons and reference sheets, only to find that while experienced players could still play the game, most players – many of whom had been playing the game ten times a week for over a year – now didn't want to play any more and new players found the game too hard to learn.

"Is that you, Ripley?"
Jay, however, really wanted lots of space on the cards for artwork, so we ended up dividing the powers into two groups: standard powers with card icons and no text which are briefly described on the reference sheet; and special powers, which have brief "hint text" on the bottom of their cards overlaid on the artwork (with all powers having a full explanation in the rules). This resulted in roughly half of the cards in the base set having no text at all (other than their titles). We tested this version with both new and experienced players and found it worked quite well, increasing the learning curve for new players by just a bit in exchange for more room for artwork.

One year into the project, the game was still so popular with playtesters that I devised an expansion, looking to provide enough cards for a fifth player, to introduce additional variety with new start worlds, and to flesh out some strategies which could be achieved in the base set only if a player got exactly the right cards. This expansion was well-received. Several months later, I presented it to Jay and he gave me some feedback from his own testing. To accommodate this, and to further flesh out the game, a second expansion came into being.

Why not combine these expansions into the base game? For several reasons, even ignoring commercial and art considerations – and getting all the artwork finished was already delaying the base game's publication!

First, each expansion adds a few cards that dramatically alter the "landscape" of the game, forcing players to rethink and adapt their play styles. I fully expect to hear that one card in the first expansion "breaks" the game, as I heard it from my testers until they adapted, developing a more flexible play style, at which point their complaints ceased. Combining these cards into the base game, and thereby forcing players to develop a very flexible play style right from the start, would be, in my opinion, a mistake.

Why would a game set
in space include a card
for French soup?
Oh, wait, never mind...
Second, some powers work best for experienced players who already know the card set. For example, the base Explore action is draw two cards, keep one of them. Now, consider this power: Mix the cards drawn during Explore with your hand before discarding. With this, you don't have to discard any useful cards drawn during Explore; instead, you can discard a card from your hand that doesn't fit with your plan. We observed that while new players can pick among just two alternatives (the regular Explore action) without much difficulty, picking which one card to discard from their entire hand – when they don't know the card mix – was both time consuming and a bit frustrating. By putting this power in the second expansion, however, experienced players can make use of it without slowing down the game.

Third, while variety, potential synergies, and possible strategies go up as new cards are added, the streakiness in which cards each player sees also increases. Consider the game Nuclear War. The base game, either alone or with just one expansion, works quite well. But if you combine all the Nuclear War expansions together, the streakiness in the cards that a given player draws really rises. Often, a player will have a hand of all warheads, with no missiles to launch them (or the reverse). This pitfall results from increasing the deck size, even while maintaining relative proportions, in games that draw from a central deck.

Many of the Race expansion cards are designed to work for several different strategies, to offset this increased streakiness. Despite this, the overall streakiness does increase when playing with both expansions. This both puts a cap on how many more expansions could be published without breaking the game and forces players to do more "chaos management" by being more flexible and adaptable depending on which cards they draw. Acquiring this play skill is easier for experienced players.

Despite all these reasons, based on playtesting, I believe most players will prefer to play with both expansions. That's not to say that the base game is incomplete – after all, it existed and was quite popular with several playtest groups that played it regularly for over a year before any expansion existed!

Exprès universel –
ne pas partir le système
solaire sans lui.
However, for the above reasons, I think that publishing Race for the Galaxy as a base game, followed by two expansions, is best for overall learning and enjoyment. Each expansion includes more than just new play and action cards. In the first expansion are some blank cards, so players can invent their own cards, plus a contest entry card for players to send their best card idea to Rio Grande Games. We've left two slots open in the second expansion, hoping to get a really neat card idea or two from our players.

One advantage of having the expansions already finished is that we could highlight terms (such as Imperium or Uplift) in the base set that have play effects in the expansion sets. Another is that we've been able to commission all the artwork as one long project, gaining artistic continuity. A third is that I could revisit the base game and rebalance it in light of the expansions, tweaking a few cards up in power relative to those that are more synergistic with the expansion cards. This is a luxury that few designers get!

Along the way, in the almost five years since Richard Borg and I had our initial Puerto Rico card game idea over breakfast, I've come to appreciate that the mechanism of paying for some cards by discarding others offers some of the variety and deck design possibilities of collectable card games in a non-collectible package. Players are effectively designing their "decks" as they play, by what they discard in payments and during exploration.

It's been exciting to see the very positive feedback that Race for the Galaxy has received from playtesters, and I hope that the final product is as well received. I do worry a bit about the game getting over-hyped. Some descriptions I've seen from non-playtesters on the web seem to be turning the game into something other than it is! I'd like to thank Rob Watkins, Richard Borg, Andreas Seyfarth, Stefan Brück, Mirko Mazuki, Martin Hoffman, Claus Stephan, and, especially, both Wei-Hwa Huang and Jay Tummelson for helping making Race for the Galaxy a reality. Enjoy!

Editor's note: This preview first appeared on BoardgameNews.com on October 8, 2007.
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Sun Apr 17, 2011 7:42 pm
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Designer Diary: A Game Designer’s Peculiar Pilgrimage along The Road to Canterbury

Alf Seegert
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I have always been fascinated by religious history, theology, and heresy. And for some reason I seem to enjoy taking the side of the heretic (even if I don't agree). I still think that Pelagius had a good point about free will despite anything Augustine might have insisted. In my view Marcion is underrated. And the legend that Saint Nicholas smacked Bishop Arius full-on in the face makes me pity the poor heretic. (Bad Santa!) I'm still surprised that Saint Francis' lavish expression of kinship with nature only resulted in stigmata and not, say, a literal crucifixion for charges of pantheism – for which I'm happy. The Cathars were not so fortunate.

As a college professor (literature, not theology), I often find myself discovering intriguing things like these which often end up not only in the classroom or in an article, but also in a board game design – or at least in an attempted board game design.

So, for instance, consider the weird theoretical and game-like dilemmas that emerge from the following mix of history and theology: the Roman Emperor Constantine, who issued the revolutionary "Edict of Milan" that finally tolerated Christianity in the Roman Empire in 313, was himself only baptized at the very end of his life. As I understand it, even though he was (ostensibly?) a true believer, his theological interpretation of baptism was that it washed away one's past sins only. It thus stood to reason that to get as much bang for the buck as possible (so to speak) you would wait as long as possible before "taking the plunge" (or the sprinkle? I'm not sure whether immersion was en vogue in Constantine's day or not).

As an aspiring game designer I encountered such facts as an intriguing dilemma, much like the mechanism in a board game. The idea of someone's seeking to fool God through the calculatedly deferred timing of a holy sacrament screamed "press your luck" as a basic mechanism. Thematically, it also invited satiric humor in a Monty Pythonesque vein. Imagine a game where the goal would be to play an early Christian who secretly wishes to indulge in the most sin and debauchery as possible before being finally baptized – and then dying in the good graces of God and the Church, thereby winning the game!

To quote Homer (Simpson, not the blind Greek poet): "Sacrilicious!"

The risk, of course, would be that while performing such perfidies you might get carried away and actually DIE before your baptism and last rites could be performed. Hmm....this combination of theme and mechanisms seemed like a fascinating potential game design.

But of course, it didn't work. Not for me, anyway. I'm no fan of player elimination, so the notion of having each player BE one of these debauched Roman faux Christian elites created too many problems. I then tried to have players each represent an entire family, and thus have multiple personas to douse in sin before having them doused in the waters of baptism and then safely buried. But it just didn't quite come together for me in figuring out how to kill everybody off without reprising 13 Dead End Drive in 4th century Italy. So I tried to think of logically similar circumstances, and before long, it came: the figure of the medieval Pardoner shone forth in a deranged epiphany, a naughty Virgil guiding me through the dark forest of game design into a Hell of fictive corruption....

Oh, wait, that's Dante. We're supposed to be doing Chaucer! And besides that, I'm getting ahead of myself. Before I tell you anything about my friend the Pardoner, I first need to say a little something about Chaucer's fourteenth-century literary masterpiece The Canterbury Tales.

As you might already know, in The Canterbury Tales, a company of medieval pilgrims journeys together from the Tabard Inn at the outskirts of London to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury, entertaining each other with stories along the way. Some of these tales are incredibly bawdy (and very funny). Many challenge existing social hierarchies and expose the hypocrisy of those who supposedly represent God and the church.

Chaucer makes his Pardoner into an especially striking figure of such religious hypocrisy. In the Prologue to "The Pardoner's Tale," the Pardoner's motto is "Radix malorum est cupiditas," or "Greed is the root of all evil." But he is himself the greediest member of the entire company! He brings with him a vast supply of false relics and an array of counterfeit indulgences or pardons (certificates that reduce the amount of time suffered in Purgatory as a consequence of one's sins). The Pardoner goes on to tell a tale about the deadly consequences of greed. In doing so, he hopes that the company of pilgrims will seek him afterwards and offer coins in exchange for the forgiveness he falsely promises through his relics and indulgences!

Somehow, and I'm not quite sure how, my "naughty Constantine game" underwent its own baptism and ultimately emerged sparkling in fresh guise as The Road to Canterbury. It might be just because I love Chaucer so much. In any case, in this new game, the same "press your luck" mechanism was in play, but instead of having players play the ones seeking sin and salvation, I instead let players play the ones providing the very means of temptation – and its forgiveness! (I should mention that before I ever got to this point, I had simply worked with the Pardoner as a free agent who would pardon a bunch of sinful old Italian men in my proto-design The Pardoners of Padua – and I do like the alliteration with the "P" – but the call to literary pilgrimage proved too tempting to resist.)

The premise of my new game became this: As you travel together with pilgrims along the road to Canterbury, you sell indulgences delivering pilgrims from the eternal penalties brought on by the Seven Deadly Sins. But to succeed as a pardoner, you will need to do more than just sell forged pardons for quick cash. To keep your services in demand, you will actually need to lead these pilgrims into temptation yourself! Perhaps some phony relics might help? There is one big catch. The Seven Deadly Sins live up to their name: each sin that a pilgrim commits brings Death one step nearer, and a dead pilgrim pays no pardoners!*

To help you get a better sense of what an unpleasant – but fascinating – character the Pardoner is, read this selection from Chaucer's "Pardoner's Prologue" in The Canterbury Tales (which is a modern translation of the Middle English by J.U. Nicolson):

"Masters," quoth he, "in churches, when I preach,
I am at pains that all shall hear my speech,
And ring it out as roundly as a bell,
For I know all by heart the thing I tell.
My theme is always one, and ever was:
'
Radix malorum est cupiditas.'
First I announce the place whence I have come,
And then I show my pardons, all and some.
Our liege-lord's seal on my patent perfect,
I show that first, my safety to protect,
And then no man's so bold, no priest nor clerk,
As to disturb me in Christ's holy work;
And after that my tales I marshal all.
Indulgences of pope and cardinal,
Of patriarch and bishop, these I do
Show, and in Latin speak some words, a few,
To spice therewith a bit my sermoning
And stir men to devotion, marvelling.
Then show I forth my hollow crystal-stones,
Which are crammed full of rags, aye, and of bones...
By this fraud have I won me, year by year,
A hundred marks, since I've been pardoner...
Of avarice and of all such wickedness
Is all my preaching, thus to make them free
With offered pence, the which pence come to me.
For my intent is only pence to win,
And not at all for punishment of sin."


Using such an irreverent character as the premise for a board game made me happy. As you can probably tell from the descriptions above and my sympathy for heretics, I enjoy making games where players get to play the "bad guys." In my prior two published game designs – Bridge Troll and Trollhalla, both from Z-Man Games – the players take on the role of hideous, nasty trolls who either guard bridges waiting to extort (and eat) passersby, or who plunder and pillage helpless islanders and livestock, Viking-style.

I suppose that the motivating allure I find in designing such games is much the same that I find as a film lover, reader, and in teaching film and literature. As I see it, one of the great powers of storytelling – or more generally, of play – is being able to fictively experience the world or perform as someone or something very much unlike oneself in "actual life." I really like how C.S. Lewis expresses this power of the virtual in An Experiment in Criticism:

Quote:
Literature enlarges our being by admitting us to experiences not our own. They may be beautiful, terrible or inspiring, exhilarating, pathetic, comic or merely piquant. Literature gives the entrée to them all. [...] My own eyes are not enough for me. The man who is contented to be only himself and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books, very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee. More gladly still would I perceive the olfactory worlds charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog...

In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action and in knowing, I transcend myself, and am never more myself than when I do.

Yes, C.S. Lewis is of course praising the powers of literature here, high literature at that – not board games. And I suppose that my sense of playful deviancy-via-virtuality is more Oscar Wilde than C.S. Lewis. But I understand games and stories as both inhabiting the same continuum of fictional play. Some are more rules-based, others more story-based. Like many designers, I like mixing both. I guess I see the trolls and pardoners in my games much like the characters in online role playing games, except that instead of pixels the players get to use cardboard avatars – and hopefully as a result they find a way to play as something quite UNLIKE the person they encounter in the mirror every day.

I see The Road to Canterbury as the third title in my "trilogy of villainy." (Heh, collect all three!) It works both as a continuation and as a departure from my earlier games Bridge Troll and Trollhalla. With Bridge Troll I was aiming to do as a game (in a "lite" homage) what John Gardner did as a novel with Grendel (a novel that takes the narrative point of view of the monster in Beowulf). Both Neil Gaiman's and Terry Pratchett's independently crafted "Troll Bridge" stories likewise do brilliant work making you see things from the troll's point of view. (What ARE your opportunities, really, if your big choices in life are whether to eat or extort a passing traveler who wants to cross your bridge?) And remember the vicious Cave Troll in Moria in Tolkien's (or Jackson's) The Fellowship of the Ring? Director Peter Jackson actually felt bad for him, and imagined this poor troll was always mistreated by the Orcs and that his Troll-mum was waiting for him at home, cookies and milk awaiting, but after a very nasty encounter with terrible elves, dwarves, and men, he somehow never makes it back....

I likewise felt kind of bad for my bridge trolls' limited options for upward mobility, and thus decided to send them to Trollhalla, where these trolls could happily abandon their bridges for the promise of plunder. (From what I've heard in response so far, players really enjoy the trollish "value system" involved, and express snorts of displeasure at nasty Billy Goats and grunts of glee over the pillaging of pigs and peasants.)

In The Road to Canterbury, however, my goal was not so much to actually see things from the Pardoner's perspective – for he IS a despicable hypocrite and victimizer for whom I feel little sympathy – but to instead just have fun in playing somebody so UTTERLY corrupt that few of us could imagine being like that in real life. Or so I hope, anyway....

Okay, I've spent A LOT of time explaining the development of my theme here. But I've taken enough of your time already. Instead of now diving into a discussion of the actual game play and mechanisms, let me urge you instead to watch the Road to Canterbury promotional video which debuted on Kickstarter on April 15, 2011. It does a wonderful job of SHOWING such things instead of my TELLING them!

But do let me wrap up by saying that Gryphon Games has been wonderful to work with on this game. I'm grateful that Rick Soued and everyone else at Gryphon really seems to enjoy the quirkiness and fun of The Road to Canterbury, and I'm happy that their vision for the game only made it better. The game's production follows the high standards set by Gryphon's recent game Pastiche, by Sean MacDonald, my compatriot in the Board Game Designer's Guild of Utah. (Let me take a moment to thank the BGDG at large for their helpful feedback during this game's development!)


All the art and components contribute to the theme and atmosphere: the game board is taken directly from Hieronymus Bosch's tabletop painting The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things (when I first encountered this painting a few years ago I said to myself, "I MUST make a game to play on this tabletop!"). The art for the Pilgrims and the Pardoner are from the earliest illustrated manuscript of The Canterbury Tales. Oh, and I shouldn't forget to mention that players get little cloth bags in which to store their ill-gotten gains. In short, I'm delighted at where The Road to Canterbury will finally take those who play it!

Gryphon Games is using Kickstarter for its launch of The Road to Canterbury and needs Pardoners – I mean, partners! – to ensure that this quirky title will actually be published and to give an idea of just how many copies to print. Tempting collectible incentives are available! (*Cackle*) I hope you can join in. Thanks for all your support!

Alf Seegert

*If you're having trouble imagining what my conception of Chaucer's Pardoner looks and acts like, close your eyes and brew up a really strong cup of tea. Collaborate: hold a séance and summon the genius of the late great Douglas Adams for company (or you might also contact writers Ben Elton and Richard Curtis, who still dwell in the land of the living). In any case: together, envision a brilliant new British comedy series: Black Adder Begs your Pardon. Or somesuch. Notify Rowan Atkinson! If you know Black Adder at all, then you are already aware that in the British-televised world of corruption, smarm, and deceit there is no more delightful figure than the craven and opportunistic, cackle-happy Edmund Blackadder. It's for these reasons that I would "get medieval" – in rather more the BBC's than Quentin Tarantino's sense – and cast Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder as the deliciously wicked figure of the Pardoner from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales...
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Fri Apr 15, 2011 6:45 pm
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Links: Origins Awards Nominees for 2011, Free D&D Adventures & More

W. Eric Martin
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North Carolina
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• GAMA (The Game Manufacturers Association) has announced the nominees for the 37th annual Origins Awards. The categories most relevant to BGG readers:

Best Board Game

Castle Ravenloft
Defenders of the Realm
Fresco
Lords of Vegas
Nuns on the Run

Best Traditional Card Game

Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer
Back to the Future: The Card Game
Hecho
Hex Hex XL
Railways of the World: The Card Game

Best Family, Party or Children's Game

Ligretto Dice
Telestrations
Wits and Wagers Family Edition
Word on the Street Junior
Zombie Dice

Best Historical Board Game

Catan Histories: Settlers of America – Trails to Rails
Conflict of Heroes: Price of Honour Poland 1939
Panzer General: Allied Assault
Warlords of Europe

The winners of these and other categories will be announced during the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio, U.S., which runs June 22-26, 2011.

Wizards of the Coast has released three bonus adventures for its 2011 release Wrath of Ashardalon, but you need both this game as well as WotC's first D&D Adventure System board game, Castle Ravenloft.

• The Board Game Designers Guild of Utah (BGDG) has released its Spring 2011 newsletter. Amazing to see how well-organized this group is – not to mention how well-represented its creations are among recently released games. You can download all the newsletters from the BGDG website.

• On The Noble Gamer, Ian Noble interviews first-time designer Galen Ciscell about Atlantis Rising. Very convenient having a last name like "Noble" when trying to think of a blog name...

• In his latest Postcard from Berlin, designer Jeffrey D. Allers details what went on behind the scenes when he was filmed by the German cultural station ARTE for its program X:enius on the game design process. As is typically the case, sounds like hours of time spent on interviews, demoes, in-between shots, etc. was boiled down to a few minutes. Of course that happens with every creative process as nothing bursts forth Athena-like in full readiness.

• On April 9, 2011, the non-profit organization 826NYC held its 4th Annual Scrabble for Cheaters Tournament, a fund-raising event in which players can pay money during a game to use a non-English word, add an X or Z to any word, play a proper noun, "find" a blank on their rack, and much more. Fun idea! (HT: Dale Yu)

• How much would you pay for a giant-sized inflatable Twister that fits up to ten people? If you $2,000 (or more), then Hammacher Schlemmer has the game for you. (HT: Dale Yu once again)

• Tech site Ars Technica highlights a homemade board game based on the movie Tron, complete with laser-etched acrylic game board and black light-reactive paint. The lengths some fans will go to recreating their objects of affection – now if you'll excuse me, I have to figure out how to pack the components for my House of Leaves board game into a Coloretto box...

• Ars Technica also features an interesting post titled "How Early Reviews Hurt Sales of Indie Games," by Ben Kuchera. An excerpt:

Quote:
There have been multiple independent developers who e-mail us about coverage for their games, while at the same time asking that reviews or coverage be held until the game is available for purchase. If sites review a new big-budget game from a major publisher early and give it a positive score there will be commercials, print ads, and in-store displays to remind you that you should buy the game. With an indie game, if the developer can't convert that initial buzz into sales, they may not get another chance at the audience.

The post focuses on video games, but the concept is the same for board and card games – namely that a review coming too early in a game's release cycle will be forgotten by the time the game can actually be purchased. Any thoughts?

• Finally, Scott Alden – you know who he is, right? – passes on a link to a Google Tech Talk from Sebastian Deterding titled "Meaningful Play: Getting Gamification Right" that gives a thumb's up for how BGG encourages upward thumbs from users, not to mention microbadges and other items.
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Wed Apr 13, 2011 7:53 pm
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Designer Diary: Paperclip Railways – a Brief but Fasten-ating History

Anthony Boydell
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It's Day 0 at Spiel 2010, the Wednesday set–up day when we're all supposed to be sticking up posters, assembling shelves, stacking product, writing out itty–bitty price labels, grabbing premium spots in the press room, disposing of excess cardboard, etc.

In reality, many exhibitors are often waiting for pallets to arrive, chasing down car park permits and desperately trying to drive a hired van through the maze of decoration, dump its contents and leave before the time limit expires and a €50 fee kicks in! Once that little rush is over, one can settle down to arguing about stand layout and/or wandering off to pick up an enormous sausage in a bap, your pre–orders of 7 Wonders or the latest Agricola goodies.

It was during a lull in any/all of the above that word got to me of String Railway.

There were no other details – just the name! My first thought was of little plastic trains threaded on to string and then, somehow, the shaking of the string causing the piece to move. Cute idea. As it turned out, that was (and still is) MY cute idea!

When I finally got away to the Japon Brand stand to take a closer look, all became clear: Stations are square tiles to be laid in an adjustable, geometric play area, and you score points by laying out one of your strings and getting it to touch as many stations as possible whilst avoiding obstacles – a delightful and unusual spin on an old classic theme!

Due to customs problems, Japon Brand didn't have any copies to sell at that time, so I duly pre–ordered a couple and thought no more of it. When I got my copies on Saturday during Spiel, it was first to the (dining) table that evening and much fun was had by all! Quick and quirky – and it looks GREAT on the table when the game is done!


Of course, this being Essen, String Railway got me to thinking: What if I were designing such a game? What would I bring to it? After all, this string business is just too brilliantly off–the–wall to leave alone! Let's look at what's in String Railway:

1: You play what you draw.

In SR, that's it. There's no deep thought to be had – you pick up a station (or stations since you end up with TWO to place if you draw a Countryside station first), put them down to your best advantage, then place your string.

If it were me, I'd want to have more choice about what I placed. I'd need a plan to work around or, at least, the stations to suggest a plan!

There's a small pool of station abilities in SR, but the ex–CCG–er in me (there's no such thing as an EX CCG–er) wanted many more – a whole, proper deck of stations with interactions, bonuses and "odd effects" to boot.

And with a large, variable deck comes hand management (but of course!)


2: You have only five strings to place: four short and one long.

SR is wonderful for the 20 minutes it takes to knit your playing area, but if it were me, I'd want the game to take a little longer and give me more thinking to do!

Why restrict yourself to fixed lengths of track? Wouldn't any sensible railway baron want to have short, medium AND long routes? This, of course, is where my "pièce de résistance" comes in – what can I use to show railway links that are as quirky as bits o' string but variable like tiles in Age Of Steam / 18XX?

The clue is in the name: paperclips!

Yes! Those bendy, clippy, multi–coloured, Yale–lock–breaking, paper–fastening devices.


3: You can build out of your station to ANYWHERE.

In SR, as long as you start in one of "your" garrison–ed stations, you can twist, turn, overlay and travel as much as you like given the restriction of your string.

If it were me, I'd want to make good station bonuses harder to get because the stations themselves are harder to get to! The basic types of SR – City, Urban, Suburb and Countryside – remain core to the concept, but I introduced the idea of stations showing you where they can build to; some would be open and free, allowing you to connect anywhere, while others would be closed, but more desirable!


4: Your turn is just the one action: draw, then play.

If it were me, I'd want the choice of drawing OR building a link. By standing on its own, drawing allows me to cultivate my options AND time the right builds for maximum effect / point–age.

Thus, Paperclip Railways was born. It was a surprisingly–quick process from initial light–bulb to defining the turn structure and building an initial set of abilities to put into stations.

As I often remark, first playtests can be stressful affairs, as you will often witness your ideas caving in under real player pressure. For PCR the deck obviously needed to be large – it is now almost 100 cards strong – but the basic concepts stood firm. The deck also serves as the game's time counter, and the current size suits it well in this role: If it were too small, no one would have time to make any particular progress; too large, and you're playing into the wee hours or bringing a sleeping bag to each session!

Veterans of my thought–processes have remarked that Paperclip Railways is similar to one of my previous designs – an area control, cube–shifting and card–driven affair currently "under consideration" – which will go most of the way to explaining how this all fell out of my head in such a state of near–completeness!

The initial run from Surprised Stare Games will be very limited (120 copies) and cost £20 excluding P&P. It is being launched at the UK Games Expo in June 2011, and you can pre–order a copy by sending an email with your contact details to: feedback@surprisedstaregames.co.uk

Tony Boydell

P.S Here's a little bit of fun – there are more hidden around the place, too:

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Mon Apr 11, 2011 4:00 pm
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