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W. Eric Martin
• I've been checking on a release date for Risk Legacy in the U.S. and finally got word back from the PR agent I deal with regarding Hasbro, in addition to a note from co-designer Rob Daviau. The game will be released in U.S., Germany and Mexico in 2011. That's all for now.
• Canadian publisher Le Scorpion Masqué has posted an evolution of the cover for Québec, a Philippe Beaudoin and Pierre Poissant-Marquis design that it will release in coordination with Ystari Games at Spiel 2011. So many visions of Québec!
• Mayfair Games has announced that the new version of Francis Tresham's 1830 is now being printed and expected to arrive in the U.S. in mid-October 2011.
• What's inside Poseidon's Kingdom from Fragor Games? These guys...
Fish from Fragor – fresh, not fried! (12mm die for scale)
Not to mention starfish and octopuses, too. Gordon Lamont reports that more than 300 preorders have been placed in six days out of a maximum of 900. That's what a track record and limited edition will do for you. Actual game details still to come.
• With so many Fs above, it seems natural to seque into news of Friedemann Friese's second announced title for Spiel 2011, following Freitag, that game being Funkenschlag: Die ersten Funken, aka "The First Sparks". This game recreates the game dynamics of Power Grid in the Stone Age. Here's a brief game description:
The order of phases during a game round, the player order, the technology cards: you know all these parts from Funkenschlag. But what is new? What is different?
The First Sparks is much faster and far more direct. You are immediately part of the action. Each turn, each decision is important. As a clan leader you decide on the well-being of your clan during the Stone Age. You need to develop new hunting technologies and get new knowledge – to successfully hunt food or to learn to control fire. With the help of these skills, you will harvest enough food to feed your clan and spread it far enough to reach new hunting areas.
In a game of The First Sparks you are always confronted with many decisions: Which technology cards offer you the biggest advantages? When is the right time to spread your clan on the game board? Which hunting areas will grant the most food? Reaching new hunting areas or trying to secure parts of the game board for your own clan are important factors for your strategy. Empty spaces are cheaper for you to settle compared to spaces in which other clans are already settled. If you are the first to increase your clan size to 13 clan members, you win The First Sparks.
• Designer Phil Eklund of Sierra Madre Games notes that discounted preorders for Bios Megafauna and the reprint of High Frontier will not be available after August 2011.
• The number of board game projects on Kickstarter is astounding. Here's a selection of open projects awaiting your support:
-----—Sunrise City, a tile-laying, city-building design from Isaias Vallejo and Clever Mojo Games. (KS project)
-----—Divided Republic, a 2-4 player game about the 1860 election. (KS project)
-----—Board 2 Pieces Comics Compendium, Volumes 1 & 2, with each volume containing two hundred B2P comics by Ted Alspach and only a small percentage of those strips making fun of me. (KS project)
-----—PongCano: The Game of Sacrifice, a transformation of the ball-bouncing drinking game into a ball-bouncing drinking game with LAVA! (KS project)
I don't know about you, but when I watch a great movie there is this small portion of my brain (not hijacked by fantasies of perfect Scandinavian boardgame storage systems) that triggers a potential idea for a game design. I know, it's kind of annoying – especially when you are watching an arthouse Ingmar Bergman-style drama and subconsciously try to find a mechanism to simulate the psychological frustration of the main protagonist, but this obsession surely can be an inspiration when you are watching, say, a John Carpenter movie. Prince of Darkness anyone?
And yes, it struck me while watching Carpenter's The Thing for the sixth time, without reservation his absolute pièce de résistance: Why isn't there a game that simulates the intense paranoia of this classic? Sure, I know Battlestar Galactica comes close paranoia-wise, but it's still far away from the claustrophobic feel of Carpenter's icy survival trip.
Five weeks of no sleep, midnight brainstorming sessions in my backyard with my insomniac neighbor, and at least four gallons of politically correct Ikea-water – you have no idea what that Swedish stuff does with your head – later and I had a rough draft for a game. The working title had haunted me right from the start, and I wrote it in large cinematographic capitals with a marker on the cover page of my notepad: PANIC STATION.
Add another five weeks of almost no sleep and there it was – the first rough prototype of the game.
And boy, did it look ugly. It was very minimal and used some primitive clip art that even the clumsiest child would run away from. It looked like a first grade project gone awry, but I figured that if people enjoy this version, then I'm on to something.
What I wanted to simulate with the game was the idea of a team of people being trapped in a situation where they had to share the same location, but weren't exactly sure that they could trust each other, while needing to find out soon who was okay and who was actually malicious – all in order to survive the harsh circumstances they needed to confront. A sort of balancing act of having a healthy dose of mistrust without getting overtaken by paranoia as players who do will not be able to complete the goal of the game, since the tools for defense are the same as those needed to complete the mission of the game.
At heart Panic Station is relatively easy to play: 4-6 players control two characters each: a trooper send by the government to a desolate army base and a mind-controlled android that's helping this trooper track down a deadly parasite that has overtaken the location and wiped out the entire crew to create a hive to breed offspring. Sounds creepy? Good!
Players use a limited set of Action Points to guide both characters through the "station", which is built on the table while exploring. Along the way they perform search actions in rooms to gather equipment and eliminate roaming parasites that appear out of the dark. There is some tactical decision-making right from the start as the placement of the rooms is crucial and the positioning of your characters opposed to the encounters will make the difference between life and death.
From clip to hip
While the android has the ability to eliminate the creatures, the trooper must try to locate the hive and destroy it. This is done by playing three Gas Can cards (to fill his Flamethrower) that are part of the search deck containing equipment cards. But, now comes the trick, the little wicked twist that makes the game:
During the first turns of the game while exploring the unmapped rooms of the station, one of the players will secretly receive a "Host" card that represents him being infected by the alien life form.
Enter: 40 minutes of intense paranoia.
From now on he will do anything possible to prevent the team from locating and destroying the hive. This is done by "infecting" other players, turning them one by one to his side. As you can imagine, right from the word go the game is riddled with paranoia as nobody trusts anybody but must at the same time work together to complete the main mission.
When I started to design the game, it was crucial to find a mechanism that forced interaction between the players, but the interaction could not involve open information. I wanted to follow the hidden information-path to create a feeling of uncertainty that the game desperately needed and that made me think of a blind trade system that players perform during their explorations. During such a transaction, players pass a face-down item card to a team member in the same location. At the start of the game, however, each player has received a set of "Infection" cards; since these cards share the same card back as a regular card, the host and the other infected players can play this card at any time instead of a regular item.
Because of this blind trade mechanism, it is crucial for both sides to carefully consider their next steps. The infecting members of the team need to play low profile first, gaining trust by doing some innocent trades, then striking at exactly the right moment. The humans need to closely watch the behavior of all the team members and use the tools of the station to gain information, such as a heat scan system that allows them to scan the entire base and determine the number of infectors present. A well-timed scan could be enough for a member to know whether those soldiers two rooms away are okay or are in fact planning a brutal ploy.
Room by room, players explore the station
When you write down a theoretical mechanism, there is this part of you that dreams about the potential for this idea to work, but it's not until your first playtest that you get the raw proof as to whether it actually does. To my own amazement, this worked; five minutes into the first test with some gaming friends there was already nervous laughter, fierce accusations and the pure unfiltered paranoia you find in a girls-only Catholic school after a valuable piece of jewelry is stolen during the night.
In short, the core system did what it needed to do: Created intense paranoia that grabbed player by the throat and never let go.
Panic Station is all about identifying the alien players through behavior, and doing efficiently timed heat checks of the building that offer team members crucial information of how many human and alien players are currently active. The main dilemma comes from the sparse Gas Can cards; players need them to both fend off infection attacks and destroy the hive, so too much paranoia can seriously lower the chances of the human side winning the game.
What I learned design-wise with this project is that interaction between players, even if it is non-verbal, is crucial for the future of boardgaming. If board games stand a chance against the ever-increasing technological advancements in the field of entertainment, it will be because board games offer a social structure in which players can interact with other players. An environment in which what happens on the table is only part of the appeal; the meta-game is just as important.
Panic Station, debuting at Spiel 2011 from White Goblin Games with Stronghold Games taking it under license for a North American release, is my attempt to incorporate this human factor into the reigns of cardboard and dice.
From reactor room to storage room to a team search location to the parasite hive – it's a long walk...
Game preview, by W. Eric Martin
David has succinctly described Panic Station above: One human character must collect three gas cans to power a flamethrower in the hive room to destroy the parasites and win the game. The parasite host, on the other hand, must prevent this from happening in order for him and any other infected parties to win.
One nice aspect of the design of this cooperative game is that no one starts as the parasite host, yet the host will definitely come into play within a certain number of rounds. How this works is that the host card is shuffled among the top 8-12 search cards, depending on the number of players, and everyone gets to enjoy a brief feeling of camaraderie before the situation heads south.
What's more, once the host is determined, the infection spreads from that character and not an outside force, as in Battlestar Galactica, through the blind trades David described above. What David didn't mention, though, is that players are forced to trade whenever either of their characters enters a room occupied by another player's character. The forced trade makes sense as anyone in a claustrophobic environment isn't going to just give a chin wave and keep walking, but would instead ask what the other character has seen and learned while checking out the station. And that's when an infection would strike – not that I'm speaking from experience or anything. Honest, I'm not infected!
The Infection cards are color coded, and a player can give someone else an Infection card only if it's his color. Thus, if you discover a heat scanner while searching the rooms and use it on another player – looking at that player's cards – you'll not only learn whether that person is the parasite host, but how many Infection cards he holds, which tells you how many other players have been infected. If the player holds an infection card of another color, then you know that person is infected as well as the person who gave him the card. But will you get everyone else to believe you when you drop that info on the group?!
Each round, once the parasites move and attack anyone in the same room, each player has 1-4 action points (APs) depending on the health of his characters, and he can spend those points to:
1. Explore, adding a new room to the station, with most rooms having something distinct about them: a parasite trigger, storage of extra goods, a run icon to show you get extra movement through this room, security doors that can be passed through only with a keycard, and so on. You must place the room adjacent to you, if possible, and doors must line up with doors. The parasite hive will be one of the final five locations in the deck of twenty, so you better stay in good health until you find it.
2. Move, with each room costing 1 AP to enter.
3. Fire the android's gun, either at parasites or other players. Weak parasites appear first and require only one shot to kill, while the double-tough parasites appear later.
4. Search a location, which gets you a search card from the deck, representing additional gas cans, better weapons, ammo, parasite attacks, armor, grenades, first aid and more. The storage rooms hold more material, and the team search rooms give something to everyone in the room, which may or may not be good. After a location has been searched once, it's flipped over to reveal a red icon instead of black, indicating that the next time this room is searched, the noise attracts a parasite, which is randomly placed in one of the adjacent rooms.
5. Activate a computer terminal, which lets you add a location anywhere in the station, open all locked security doors until the end of the round, or perform a heat scan. For this latter action, each player places one "check" card (showing infected or clean) in the truth pile and discards the other. Someone shuffles these cards, then reveals them, showing everyone how many infected players are currently in the station.
6. Heal in the sick bay, which boosts your health points and give you more actions and less death.
7. Use one of the items you've acquired, with some items requiring an AP cost or being a one-shot effect. A player must have at least five cards in hand at all times, so if playing a card would drop you below five, you can't play it, which means you need to search more, which means you're probably attracting parasites, which means you're doomed.
Okay, maybe you're not doomed.
No, I'm sorry. You are.
W. Eric Martin
In February 2011, Days of Wonder announced a Ticket to Ride Map Design Contest, with the winner receiving $10,000 and the joy of having his or her creation on game tables around the world.
Now the winners can be revealed. Yes, "winners" collectively as Days of Wonder chose two winners from among the 612 submissions received from designers in forty countries. The first such winner is François Valentyne with "Legendary Asia", which will be paired with "Team Asia" from Alan R. Moon in Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 - Asia & Legendary Asia, which will debut at Spiel 2011 and reach retailers in late October 2011.
The main twist in "Legendary Asia" is that some of the routes through Asia are labeled mountain routes, with one or more spaces on the route bearing an X. Whenever a player claims one of these routes, she must place a train from her reserve in the Mountain Crossing area of the game board, earning two points for each such train but losing access to them for the rest of the game. The player who connects to the most cities in a single network earns a ten point "Asian Explorer" bonus.
As in Ticket to Ride: Europe, each player receives one of six long routes at the start of the game in addition to a few other destination tickets.
For Moon's "Team Asia", four or six players compete as two-player teams, with teammates sitting next to one another at the table. Each player has her own secret hand of cards and tickets, in addition to some cards and tickets being placed in a shared cardholder that either player on the team can access.
When a player draws cards, she must place one card in the cardholder and the other in her hand (unless she takes a face-up locomotive, in which case it must be shared); when a player draws tickets, the first ticket kept must be placed in the cardholder and any additional tickets kept added to her hand. A player can spend her turn to add two tickets from her hand to the cardholder. A team's points are tracked collectively. Each teammate manages her own supply of 27 trains, and when one team has four or fewer trains remaining, each player takes one final turn, then the game ends, with the team who scored the most points winning.
While the tunnels in "Team Asia" are short, note that they bear a number from 4 to 6; this indicates the number of cards that must be revealed when building such a tunnel, so while you don't travel far, the effort required could be must larger than you expected.
The second winner in the design contest is Ian Vincent, whose "India" will be paired with a reprint of Moon's Ticket to Ride: Switzerland in Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 2 - India & Switzerland, due out worldwide in December 2011. Each of these expansions retails for $30/€28.
In "India", for 2-4 players, in addition to scoring points for claiming routes and completing tickets, a player can also score points in two other ways. First, the player with the longest continuous path of trains receives a ten point bonus.
Second, each player scores bonus points for connecting the cities on one or more tickets with two distinct routes. Thus if you connect Dhubri and Mangalore with two separate routes (and you hold the destination ticket connecting these two points!), then in addition to scoring 12 points for the ticket, you score bonus points. The first two such tickets earn five additional points each, and the next three earn ten points each for a maximum bonus of 40 points.
And completing this expansion is a reprint of "Switzerland" for 2-3 players. Instead of connecting only cities, some destination tickets connect a city to a country or one country to any of those surrounding Switzerland; a player who completes such a ticket scores the highest point value for which she qualifies. Unlike most other TtR games, discarded tickets are removed from the game instead of being returned to the ticket deck. Also, Locomotives can be used only to build tunnels.
Ticket to Ride: Switzerland has been out of print for a couple of years, so I expect to hear equal amounts of groans and huzzahs that it's available once again, yet one is perhaps forced to buy a second copy of Switzerland in order to acquire India (despite Switzerland costing $25 when it appeared on its own four years ago). Which collective sound will be loudest in the end?
Castle Dash is a testament to simplicity over complexity. I'm a bit ahead of myself, though. First, a bit of background on the game.
Castle Dash is a quick-playing worker placement battle game that has players working to steal treasure and rescue captives from each other. The first player to steal three treasures from her opponents is the winner.
The game started as Castle Capers, a print-on-demand title about rescuing your king from your opponents. In designer Trevor Clifford's own words:
I was originally inspired to make Castle Capers
after reading about Stronghold
for the first time. Stronghold
looked great but seemed way too heavy for the people I play games with. I tried to come up with something much lighter that supported more players, while also limiting myself to the components available on The Game Crafter's website.
Castle Capers' original game board
That core vision still remains. The game Castle Dash from 5th Street Games is a clean descendant of Castle Capers as it has only two key rules changes, has new bonus cards to be claimed, and is now scalable to six players.
It took a few iterations to get there, though. Originally, Castle Capers had walls that could be built to protect your castle by blocking one soldier per brick in the wall. These were removed to speed up play, but made stealing too easy. What to do? Add more things to steal with variable weight, of course!
The idea was this: After battle, any soldiers left over could steal items only of weight equal to or less than the number of soldiers raiding the castle. That wasn't enough, though; the treasure also had to be carried back to your castle over several turns by your soldiers. However, if you stole something that weighed less than what your soldiers could carry, you would get a movement bonus. Players would now make choices of what to steal, right?
Wrong. Playtests quickly revealed the optimal play was to steal stuff you could get back to your castle in a single turn, freeing up the soldiers to be used immediately. Paradoxically, players liked the concept of the soldiers carrying back the treasure and being unusable as they did so. o_O
With the game becoming more and more complex in an attempt to fix the movement system, it was hit upon that the loss of the soldiers as assets was what people liked. Progress is made toward victory at the cost of fewer options. Why not just remove movement and have the soldiers attack the castle walls? Say in those little slot things from the original version?
This change worked like a charm and even led to the creation of new Armory cards that fit this form of play. It also kept closer to Castle Capers' original concept, which I liked. Bonus. After minor tweaking for three- and five-player play, Castle Dash was done. It just took a few extra turns to be carried there.
Sample Armory cards
Game Preview, by W. Eric Martin
As a short description, Stronghold boiled down to its simplest elements does seem an apt description.
Each player starts with 8 or 9 soldiers with two or three opponents holding hostage one other soldier of theirs. Each round, after revealing twice as many special-powered Armory cards as there are players, each player takes turns either placing one soldier on an Armory card to claim it or 1-6 soldiers in battle against the opponent to the left or right (or straight across in the four- and six-player game). Once soldiers have been placed in a battle, the player cannot add forces later that same turn.
Once all the soldiers have been placed, players claim Armory cards, using any that immediate effects. Then the battles are carried out between the various players, with each player rolling a d4 and adding that number to the number of soldiers in battle. (Players can also use Armory cards and their cannonballs to affect battle.) Whichever player has a higher sum places soldiers equal to the difference of the two values on the wall of that opponent's castle. If that player has three or more soldiers on the wall, that player reclaims his soldiers, then either rescues his soldier held hostage or takes a coin from that opponent; if that player has only one or two soldiers on the wall, those soldiers sit on the wall for next round, threatening future theft but useless in the next battles.
Be the first to steal three or more coins and you win the game.
The story begins with a board game night with Cédric Lefebvre and his wife Anne-Cécile, a.k.a. the publisher Ludonaute, sometime between July and October 2008. (I must confess that I have a terrible memory for dates.)
We are just ending a game of Offerings, called "Offrandes pour Troie" in the prototype at this time, when Cédric proposes a friendly but challenging offer: "How about designing a game together?" For my part, I do not feel like a game designer at all, so I answer, "Bah, I am a game reviewer, a game tester. I make a lot of things about board games, but I am not a game designer through and through!" Cédric does not take into account what I am saying and stresses that he has experience with board game design. At this date, he has a huge number of prototypes in differing states of progress.
I eventually give in, but on one condition: The design must be a cooperative game – I love co-op games! – based on Norse mythology. Cédric immediately subscribes to this theme because he is also keen on it. What remains to be done is to find a mechanism...
From the Beginning There Were Dice
A basic game mechanism soon arises from Cédric's productive mind, which is able to invent mechanisms almost non-stop! The game will be based on loads of dice. Every player rolls these dice at the beginning of his turn; he can keep them in groups in order to use them advisedly on the game board. This game board already represents Yggdrasil, the cosmic tree and its nine different worlds on which the players can perform different actions.
There is also a die that fixes, at the beginning of a player's turn, which Enemy is active and another die that is used when you want to move in Midgard, the world of mankind in which the players can perform sagas. (The idea of the bags in which you take resources blindly is already present.) Naturally, the players are the Norse gods – Odin, Frey, Thor and so on – and they must resist the enemies by balancing the good and evil forces on a power track before the end of the game.
At this stage, the game is mainly based on the dice; the blind taking in the bags is already in place, as Yggdrasil is in the center of the game board. But several things bother me: First, there are too many dice rolls that give a feeling of repetition and carry a lack of pressure among the players. Second and more importantly, the action on Midgard, which is critical because the players get troops there through sagas, is tedious. Progress on Midgard takes a long time. To cut a long story short, the game is boring!
Enter the Card-Carrying Serpent
At this point we're questioning the main game mechanism, so we decide to keep the ideas of the bags and the "tree board game" while saying goodbye to the dice. Instead, the evil forces will now be managed with cards, which allows us to control the probabilities of each enemy's action. (Nevertheless, the use of cards can allow one enemy to act several times in a row.)
Nidhögg, the big serpent who poisons Yggdrasil and whose actions announce the end of the game, becomes much more important because he gives precisely the time of Ragnarök. Let us add that the Gods, who were present on the board in the form of miniatures, dematerialize – they are divinities after all! – and lose their individual power. We think they are useless at this stage.
When Time Becomes the Heart of the Game
We like this mechanism, and the game flow already resembles what turned out to be the final version of Yggdrasil, but that doesn't mean that nothing changed after this point.
The main change would be the addition of a stopwatch. At my insistence about the lack of pressure when Ragnarök is about to occur, we decide to adopt Anne-Cécile's proposal and add a stopwatch to the game. Now the action of Nidhögg reduces the time remaining in the game. This "stopwatch" shortens the duration of the game permanently and creates a devil's pressure for the players!
This works perfectly, and the other changes we make are just details by comparison.
Nidhögg rises from below...
But What About Dialogue?
While all of these changes work and are validated during a subsequent playtesting session with six players, something bothers me. As I am thinking, I don't realize how my face looks – but that worried look drives Cédric to ask me what's wrong.
The problem is that the stopwatch is too effective. The players are under such huge pressure from the stopwatch that they have no time to talk to one another anymore and make rought mistakes as a result. In the end, cooperation is not the heart of the game anymore, and that is really a problem.
A long discussion, an adjournment of the "time system" and a change to Nidhögg's action follow, and since changes never come singly or without other repercussions, we said goodbye to the good-and-evil power track, goodbye to the Nidhögg ladder, and welcome shared pathway for the advancing enemies. From that point in, the enemies will put pressure on the players all together.
Even after that last big change, other details are added later, such as the dwarf tokens you discard to get weapons (removed from the final version of the game), the giants with negative effects whenever Loki is taken; and the individual powers of the Gods. (What were we thinking? Gods without power is unbelievable!) We are now at March 2010, two years after the start of this challenge.
Three turns in during a later playtest game
Ludonaute and the Show Must Go On
Designing a game that I liked with my friend Cédric was a great adventure – but that adventure moved from a pleasant dream to real life when Anne-Cécile decides to create her game publishing company.
Ludonaute was born, and the first release under the brand was Offerings, an auction board game designed by Cédric. The second one is Yggdrasil, originally scheduled for release at Spiel 2010 in October, then postponed to March 2011 in order to have time to get the right distribution deals, such as Ludonaute's partnership agreement with Z-Man Games.
Hats Off to the Artist!
To bring that dream to life and make it complete, the artwork must match the game itself. Pierô was already a friend of mine at that time, and even though I hoped that he would be able to use his talent to bring Yggdrasil to life, I knew that he was very busy at the moment.
We started to ask other artists about creating illustrations for the game, but during the 2009 Cyberludiques as we are playtesting the Yggdrasil prototype, Pierô tells us that he'd appreciate creating artwork for the game as the Norse myths inspire him! In the end, he gave the game a strong and original graphic personality. Without his work, Yggdrasil would not be the same at all!
As you can see, Yggdrasil is above all a friendship story, and this story is still going on. I hope that lots of people will enjoy playing the game as much as I enjoyed designing it with my friends.
W. Eric Martin
Stefan Feld's Trajan is the first release from new German publisher Ammonit Spiele, but if you didn't see Feld's name on the box, you'd probably recognize his design style once you learned more about the game.
At heart, Trajan resembles Feld designs like Notre Dame, In the Year of the Dragon and Macao in that players each manage an individual tableau while also competing in a shared space and indirectly affecting other players. Each of those games has a design hook – card drafting for actions in Notre Dame, action shuffling and selection each round in Year of the Dragon, the funky cube-distribution wheel in Macao – and Trajan has a similar design hook, that being the use of Mancala-style bit distribution to govern a player's choice of actions.
In Trajan, a player has six possible actions – building, trading, taking tiles from the forum, using the military, influencing the Senate, and placing Trajan tiles on his tableau – all depicted above iconically. At the start of the game, each player will have two differently colored pieces in each of the six sections of his tableau. On a turn, the player picks up all the pieces in one section and distributes them one-by-one in sections in a clockwise order. Here's an example from publisher Rüdiger Beyer:
The green player's tableau at the start of his turn
Choosing and distributing pieces, with the location of the final piece determining the player's action for the turn – the Forum, in this case
To explain the last image further, one of the possible actions is to place a Trajan tile on your tableau. If, on a later action, your final piece is placed next to a Trajan tile – and the colored pieces on that action space match the pieces shown on that tile – you take the special action on that tile, which in this case is receiving two goods cards. This action is in addition to the Forum action itself.
"Good planning is essential," says Beyer. "This is a new mechanism for determining actions, which requires skill to plan two or three turns ahead, and because each player has his own 'Feld-Mancala', learning to use it well takes pure strategy. And if you prepare your movements in the circle well, you can possibly take the same action 4-6 times in a row, if you really want to, of course..."
Given the final situation above, for example, the player could next move the green piece on space V in order to take the build action on space VI in addition to the Trajan tile action on that same space. The player might next move the pieces on space II, dropping the yellow piece in IV, so that on the following turn he could move the pieces from space VI in order to take two actions in space IV.
So what are trying to do with all these actions? Acquire victory points (VPs) in whatever ways are available to you – and since this is a Feld design, you try to avoid being punished, too. At the Forum you try to anticipate the demands of the public so that you can supply them what they want and not suffer a penalty. In the Senate you acquire influence which translates into votes on VP-related laws, ideally snagging a law that fits your long-term plans. With the military, you take control of regions in Europe, earning more points for those regions far from Rome.
Oh, did I not mention that Trajan is set in Rome? From the basic game description here on BGG: "Set in ancient Rome, Trajan is a development game in which players try to increase their influence and power in various areas of Roman life such as political influence, trading, military dominion and other important parts of Roman culture." That said, I've never felt that I was in Paris while playing Notre Dame or living the part of a European explorer in Macao, so I don't expect to relive the days of the Roman Emperor Trajan. Feld's strength in game design isn't recreating the nuances of whatever setting surrounds the game, but rather creating compelling game systems that challenge you as a player to outthink and outplay everyone else in this artificial world that he's created. I expect nothing less in Trajan and look forward to exploring the Feld-Mancala at Spiel 2011.
Prototype of the shared central game board
I like all the games I've tried from Portal Publishing and I've been thrilled by almost all of Ignacy Trzewiczek's designs, but I was surprised when I first saw his Prêt-à-Porter – released in Polish in 2010 and due out in English at Spiel 2011 – as the setting is a far cry from the post-apocalyptic worlds one expects to see in a game from Portal. That said, perhaps Portal is savvier than I thought as my daughter and wife were delighted to try a game about fashion shows.
The cover artwork is striking, and the rest of the materials and artwork match the Portal standards exhibited in prior releases. The game includes more than 70 small cards used for buildings, employees, contracts, loans, credits and fashion shows; 50 normal cards for designs; a variety of cardboard counters (Quality, Trend, Public Relation, Star); 60 wooden cubes (materials in six colors); wooden tokens; and money and player aides.
While the theme of the game is style and fashion – surface qualities, for many people – the game itself is a deep economical design, with high interaction and the ability to adopt aggressive strategies. Players run clothing companies and must design and produce the best collections possible by using contracts, buildings and talented employees in order to compete in fashion shows.
The game lasts twelve months (rounds), and each third month is a show (scoring round). During the preparation months, players acquire buildings, get employees and contracts, prepare new designs and buy the materials to complete the collection.
During the fashion show months, they display collections and sell them to earn money, and the player who has the most money at the end of the game wins. What constitutes a collection? One or more finished designs that share a common style: Sports, Boho, Vintage, Kids and Evening. The collections are evaluated for quality, trend, public relation and quantity of design. The order (and the value) of each trait depends on the month and the city where the show takes place. The most valued collections based on current trends in the market receive stars, which both provide additional income when selling the collection that month and earn additional money at game's end.
Each of the preparation months consists of an action planning phase, an action execution phase, a training and development phase, and finally a maintenance phase.
The game board features nine actions available to players, and each action can be selected 2-3 times depending on the number of players in the game. A player can choose the same action twice, but as with all such games you always want to do far more than the three actions per month you are allowed. New contracts, buildings, employees and designs are available each month, and the first player to select an action naturally has first choice to what's being offered
Buldings, employees and contracts (shown above in this order) offer special benefits at a "cost", with buildings and employees staying with you for the rest of the year but requiring a fixed maintenance cost each month. Buildings have construction costs, too, but you want them as you are allowed a maximum of three employees, plus one for each building you have. Contracts, on the other hand, cost only the action itself to purchase, but they last for only one show, so you need to keep going back for more.
The range of possible combinations and abilities is huge, and buildings and employees can be upgraded to provide even more options – but you need to keep maintenance costs under control or else you'll have no money for anything else, and that's not good.
Money is both the key to victory (since the player with the most money wins) and essential for buying buildings, paying employees and lest we forget purchasing materials needed to make the collections themselves. Every design card shows the two colored cubes (always different) needed to complete that design, and unless a design is finished, you cannot display and sell it when the show arrives.
You can purchase materials in three locations: the local manufacturer for cheap one-off materials of low quality, the warehouse for medium-quality materials of all types, and importers, which offer expensive materials of only the finest quality. These quality counters, along with public relation and trend counters, are all placed on the company board that also displays the type of design in which the company specializes, with your specialty allowing you to create trendy designs of that type.
Finally, you can visit the bank to be credited money or the preparation field which offers a sampling of quality, trend, PR or money.
Despite the "light" theme, Prêt-à-Porter is a deep strategic economics game, with a huge number of possible plays and combinations as well as big interaction between players and companies. Walk strong and look fierce, and maybe you can strut to victory on the catwalk...
Okay, not really – but if you could somehow merge the two new releases coming from Swiss publisher GameWorks – TSCHAK! and Bonbons, both debuting at Spiel 2011, which takes place October 20-23 – you'd have something matching the description above.
For the "fighting monsters" half of this mutant game, we look to TSCHAK!, a trick-taking game of sorts from designer Dominique Ehrhard for 2-4 players that plays in 30-40 minutes. Each round in TSCHAK!, players will make three teams, each comprised of three characters from the ten cards in hand, to confront what awaits them on the three levels of a dungeon. Whoever has the strongest team collects treasure, earning positive points, while the weakest team gets attacked by a monster, costing points and making them feel like losers. After the three levels, each player will have one card in hand, and these cards are compared as well, with more gold to be gained.
At the end of a round, each player passes his hand left, which means that over multiple rounds of the game you will play with each set of adventurers, which means that every game will come out to a tie, right? No, of course not – you'll make better decisions that your opponents and scoop up all the treasure for yourself. I have faith in you.
Monsters and heroes
For the "candy" portion of this game we'll take inspiration from Bonbons, a memory game with a twist by newcomer Marc André for 2-6 players that takes 10-20 minutes to play. Mathieu Leyssenne, illustrator of Animalia and Jamaica, supplies the delectable artwork.
Eight types of candies, each in four colors, are hidden in the central 6x6 field on square tiles, along with four special tiles. Each player receives a set of four round tiles. On your turn, you try to pair one of your tiles with one from the center. When you succeed, both tiles stay face up. The first player to turn all of his tiles face-up wins.
Sounds familiar, yes? Well, the little twist is that on your turn you can also rob candies from your opponents if you can match them with candies from the center.
Well, I don't know about you, but I'm heading down to the store to buy me some candy. At least there I'll know where to find what I'm looking for without having to fight monsters – although perhaps then I'd have enough energy to face the monsters and loot some more candy...
I just want to eat them – could they possibly taste as good as they look?
Ice-choked tower, Mondavia, Nanglangka.
Greetings to ya. Let me take your coat and hat, pilgrim – then pull up a pew while I have fetch ya some sarsaparilla to chase away the bitin' cold, but mind, I don't take me any sass.
Shucks, I don't get me many visitors this far up the creek, especially when accounting for the "injuns". Could be that hereabouts I'm as popular as a wet dog at a parlour social. I've been up here in the mountains so long that I know all the bears by their first names.
So, you folks wanna hear me talk about my card game? Must be crackers – I doubt you could cut a lame cow from a shade tree. You'll not live long in these wicked parts. Saying that, prolonged life has ruined more men than it ever made.
[Spits, just missing your boots]
Well, unless you is planning on joining me for a rendition of "Green Grow the Rashes", I suggest we get started.
Hello, and welcome to my designer diary for Revolver: The Wild West Gunfighting Game.
This feels like an unnatural thing for me to write, a diary that isn't a diary and all that. Also it's a bit of drawing back the heavy velvet curtain revealing the guy pulling the levers, and demonstrating that he's not a great and powerful wizard after all – secrets laid bare for all eyes to spy.
Anyhow, before I recount the tale of making a card game about Old West heroes and villains, I must drag you back two years in my life.
[Steps inside the TARDIS]
So, about two years ago I decided to make a game about the movie Alien, which was directed by Ridley Scott, as I'm sure you know. Many, many ideas flew about inside my brain, and I spent some days mulling over how the whole shebang would work - how to make it great to play as either "team" (alien or Nostromo crew), and how to maintain an element of tension, surprise, and fear of confronting the perfect organism (Kane's son).
The main two "problems" to solve are the alien's hidden actions, and most importantly the "lack of action" the film has. Let me explain: Alien is one of my all-time favourite films, no question, but there are no true confrontations in the film that would make for interesting game play. Yes, Parker attacks the alien, only to be swiftly and easily despatched. Not much fun there. Thinking on these lines made my mind struggle to comprehend a complete game that I would want to play and that featured the theme of Alien while being true to the source material. You know, I'm still trying to make up my mind how that game should be made. Board game? Card game? Both? I have a prototype board with Commercial Towing Vessel Nostromo mapped out upon it and a deck of action cards that look like ALIEN collectable film cards sitting in my office.
The only idea that was concrete, at that stage, was to have all the Nostromo crew on cards, laid out in front of one of the players. Pictures and stats of Dallas, Ripley, Ash, etc., with the order of death different from the movie and decided by the actions of the game players. I planned that anybody could be the incubator for the alien creature, and anybody could be the Company android, and anybody could blast the alien out of an airlock. You get the idea. The cast would be "life points" and when the final crew member died, the alien would win. I couldn't decide on anything else, and, obviously, that was a problem.
This thinking brought me to James Cameron's film, Aliens, the best science fiction sequel ever made, and in my top five films, unquestionably. Part of me wanted to do Alien first, and then tackle Aliens; it should be done in the same sequence as the films, I supposed.
Now I had a choice: Struggle over Alien endlessly and probably never get anything finished, or tackle Aliens.
I chose to go with Aliens. Immediately two problems were solved: I no longer had to worry about hidden actions, and I no longer had a "lack of action" - Aliens is an all-action war movie in space!
Cannibalising my own idea, I decided that the crew members on cards – which was the only thing that worked for my Alien game project – would be perfect for Aliens. The game would be played all on cards and feature battlefields that were cards turned sideways. This was a cheap and portable option and easily solved by my hugely limited graphic design experience and facilities.
Probably the biggest hurdle to making a film-game is that it has to stay true to the source material. This is key. If you can't do that, don't bother making the game. I strongly think that you cannot have too much theme in such a game, as long as the game is still fun to play and plays fairly briskly. I had also never played a decent Aliens game, or, for that matter, a film-linked game with movie images. It's commonly accepted that all film tie-ins are crap, and mostly they are. Mostly. The cost of buying the licence must drain the publisher of the monies that would otherwise be spent on a decent game-design – I really don't see any other reason, other than cheap cash-ins by folks who couldn't care less about the brand. I very much do care about the Aliens brand. I don't much care, and largely ignore, all but the first two Alien films (and wait expectantly to be disappointed/amazed by Ridley Scott's Prometheus). But I didn't want to put my name to an Aliens game that was rubbish – even if I was "stealing" the IP of an amazing film from the 1980s that I endlessly watched in my youth on an ex-rental VHS tape, whilst I should have been out chasing skirt.
Okay [puts hands in the air] – I admit that using someone else's IP is wrong. Yes, it is. You have to realise, however, that when I made the Aliens: This Time It's War game, it was for my friends and I to play. No one else. It was not for sale. I was to make no money from it. This was a private project to be enjoyed by folks in Nottingham and York and not much further. Then, when it was done, I decided to share the creation on the Internet. There was a largely positive response, and only a few pointing out that I should not have done what I had done. They were correct, and I had every intention of de-rezzing the whole lot if someone objected. (They still haven't.) The main thing, for me, was that I had made a game I had always wanted to own, but nobody seemed willing or able to make for me to buy. I had always wanted a non-CCG Aliens game. I shared it on BGG, and that winding path has brought me to penning this "diary".
Once I had pushed myself to completing an Aliens game, I knew that each deck of cards had to be different, so the game was to be asymmetrical. I didn't want both sides spawning alien drones or firing pulse rifles; that just would not be seemly. So this was the birth of two separate decks, and the battle to keep them equal but different. I also wanted there to be a huge amount of card-killing – removal of game elements on a quick-fire basis. For those of you who have played Magic: The Gathering, I wanted that it to feel like both players had a hand of "Lightning Bolts" and "Swords to Ploughshares" and were constantly blowing away the other player's cards. Soon I had two decks on cut-in-half index cards that featured titles and powers only, with the Colonial Marines on blank credit cards. Here's a taste of the original prototype:
Oh, I forgot to say, the biggest design hurdle a decent card game must leap is that of card construction cost. To be clear, I mean how much it costs a player to put a card into play. If that's wrong, you have no game – or at least not a very good one.
I have a few ideas on how players should pay for "casting" or “building” or "playing" a card from their hand, and they all suit different themed games. To my mind, however, the system used primarily in San Juan is the Emperor of resource cost design decisions. I first saw this used years before San Juan in Magic, with two of the first "pitch" cards being "Balduvian Horde" and "Force of Will". You could cast one of these for "free" or at a discount if you discarded another card when you played it. When Wizards of the Coast first introduced this concept, a lot of players I knew didn't rate the cards as they put you at a card-count disadvantage. What they didn't consider early on was these cards' utility and speed of play. Most resource cost systems rely on luck of the draw, and if you don't draw the resource-producing cards you're screwed. And, later in the game, if you draw too many resource cards you are also screwed.
Now I adore many games that feature these systems, but I prefer the San Juan method. You are never hosed. Players can always do something on their turn. It also adds more interesting decision-making to the game. What do I discard to pay for this card? Do I wait? The only fault of a game built on this architecture is that if you make too many, or any, of the cards easily identifiable as weak, they simply become "coin cards", a phrase conjured up by a playtester friend of mine. Any cards that were regularly used as coins were beefed up (to make the decision of discarding them more difficult) or trashed from the game.
Balancing asymmetrical sides, and taking into account first-player advantage and different players' style of play, was the hardest part of making the game. Playtesters groupthink can cripple an embryonic game – but saying that, if everyone plays a game one way, and you want it to play another way, something is wrong with the game's design. I created a points system, known only to me, keeper of potions and cantrips, to balance the two decks. It's not an exact science, but it's my balancing apparatus and it seems to have worked. Early to middle feedback was that the aliens were too strong. Late FB said the opposite. Now it seems on a knife edge. A little turning of gears here, and oil applied there did the trick. Oh, and changing numbers on some of the cards worked, too.
I have been brought to task on many an occasion by people saying that I should design a game with a theme of my own creation, clear blue water separating it from all other themes. Come up with your own damn ideas, they say. Well, if folks only ever made things based on their own IP, then we wouldn't have Cameron's Aliens in the first place. I can see this point of view, but discard that methodology of design. The essence of me and my
shadow philosophy is that I want to play a decent Lord of the Rings game; or a decent The Thing game; or a decent Jaws game; or a decent Watchmen game; or a decent Salem's Lot game; or a decent Thunderbirds game. I want to play all those far and above my desire to play any game, based on my own universe, that I might be bothered to create. I will never craft anything as wonderful as Tolkien's Middle-earth, I know this. So why try? Better to spend my time building a miniature version of Moria's Hollin Gate, the Chamber of Mazurbul, and the Hall of Trees. (Yes, I have done this.) Here's the geek-proof:
I design games, based on films, in the same manner that Martin Wallace or Bowen Simmons create games based on historical events. We all research the subject matter exhaustively, then use that information to marinate the game structure. They make games about Napoleon, whilst I make games about Antarctic bases assaulted by protean alien beasts, or about shark-hunters called Quint, or about Doctor Who. I regard the films as historical happenings.
So, that outta the way, to make a bug-hunt space marine card game, I think if it isn't based on Aliens or Starship Troopers, you shouldn't even bother. (Space Hulk is an exception, but it's really Aliens in drag and lipstick and fools no one.) For me, they're the high watermark, the gold standard. If folks had made truly brilliant games set in the universes of the films I love, then maybe I might have looked to doing my own thing. Maybe. Actually, no, I'd just play those games with my posse.
What people who haven't designed a game don't know, or don't care – or do know and don't care! – is that a game with no theme or theme that is thinly spread on has no "wrinkles". Abstract games don't need wrinkles – they are pure and elegant, and slightly boring because of it, but they do have a purity of design. A game-wrinkle is an element in the design that you would not have considered putting in if it weren't in the source material. Some of the game-wrinkles in my Aliens game are the way that Burke works against the good guys, but is a team member; or that the grenades cannot be used in the Reactor battlefield; or the card that allows the Alien Queen to move battlefields; or the airlock mechanism at the end of the game. These wrinkles make a good game great, I think. You would not have these, mostly, in a theme-less game.
A good deal of the fun I had creating the "real" cards came after the game was finished - choosing the screenshots that would grace each card. I just had to have a different alien exploding for each pulse card (that was tricky!) and other silly birds of thought that flew inside my head, squawking. Naming the cards was done during playtesting – Aliens is filled with quotable lines, and I never ran short. Not once. One of the reasons I love James Cameron's films so much is the design detail he puts in, and the fetishist naming of every bit of kit the cast use. This all went into the card game. M3 grenades: check. M41A pulse rifle: check. On and on I went. It has to be right and correct or you might be beaten to death by fat geeks with paddles in the street.
Suffice to say, a lot of love and care went into the making of the Aliens game. It's a game-homage to that science fiction classic. Side note: I have yet to see a CGI showdown that matches the alien queen melee with the powerloader for look and intensity and "realism". I'm not a CGI-hater – far from it as I loved the look of Avatar – I'm just saying.
Aliens: This Time It's War is a heavily disguised Euro, so I am informed by my learned friend (a master of wooden cuboids, and keeper of hens, and player of games set in Medieval Italy about growing cabbages). This accusation could be levelled at any card game, I might add (and I'm not sure I wholeheartedly agree). My game has an Ameritrash theme and is played using decks of cards. Crucially the game utilises no dice, and follows a loose blueprint from what I think are interesting two-player card games with slim themes from the good Doktor Reiner Knizia: Knights of Charlemagne and Battle Line. Games in which numbered cards are played in columns. Wow, that sounds like fun!
Anyhow, sometime after the game had been released into the backwaters of the internet, I was asked to send a copy of my game to the Netherlands. The nice people of White Goblin Games, specifically CEO Jonny de Vries, decided that my Aliens game would fit snugly into their 2011 schedule. Would I be interested in selling them my game? Hmmm, let me think about that for a nanosecond. Okay, yes, that is something I would like, Mister De Vries. (Also, interestingly, that's the name of the only super-villain who gets to thwart Inspector Morse of the television series of the same name in the episode Masonic Mysteries, but now I really am rambling.) They promised that the artwork would be amazingly good (it is) and that they would produce a fantastic product that gamers will want to buy (they, and you, will). The only initial bugbear was the theme - this is the part where I gallop the diary's direction around to the Old West – I knew we'd get there eventually! – and make sense of the title and intro.
The theme! No one was ever going to contact Fox about buying the doubtless, hugely expensive brand, so we have to broach that elephant in the room, the words folk don't like to hear, especially under midnight trees: RE-THEME. The game had to be re-themed. Of course it did. WGG initially wanted to make the game a clone-like bug hunt with buzz-cut space marines. I had to steer the pony around to some alternate options. (And about some of them, some of you will no doubt say: "It should have been that! If it had been 'that' it would have been brilliant.") Here are some of the discarded ideas:
-----• Zombies vs. Survivors: I happen to like zombie games and felt a massively bloodthirsty urban zombie game could do very well. WGG did not agree.
-----• Pulp WW2 Soldiers vs. Nazis: I likened this to The Dirty Dozen meets The Guns of Navarone. Cigar-chewing All-American heroes mowing down hordes of Nazis in a Nazi-infested mountaintop castle in Nazi-land. WGG did not agree.
-----• Dungeons & Dragons Style: A fellowship of dwarves, muscle-bound barbarians, and chainmail-bikini-wearing warrior ladies fighting their way out of (or into) a suitably imposing dungeon complex, while being hassled by goblins and dragons – probably because nobody built toilets or restrooms in their workplace... Could have been brilliant! WGG did not agree.
The best choice was always a The Good, Bad, and the Ugly-style Old West shootout game, and this is the theme you will be presented with when you buy the game in November 2011. WGG loved this idea, and the CEO seemed to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Wild West six guns equal to my geek-lore of Aliens, The Thing, Doctor Who, Lifeforce, Halo, and Fright Night – which helped.
So that is how Revolver was calved. The gameplay is 95% the same as when the game was based on Aliens, and the Old West theme is a snug fit, in my opinion. The main changes were for clarity. A WGG chap named Jeroen Hollander cleaned up the game's wordage and did a stunning job rewriting the rules. If folks still have questions (and they will, they always do), it won't be for lack of trying on the part of Jeroen to shave off the game's rough edges. All that will make the game-playing experience as smooth as it can be. Three new cards were also added.
With some incredible help from one of the playtesters, I created backstory for all the characters and the locations featured in the game, anchoring them in a fictionalised West that feels like it may have come from the real gunslinger legends that inspired a Hollywood genre. Where Revolver differs massively from Aliens: This Time It's War is in the motivations of the two sides. In Aliens it's perfectly obvious who the bad guys are. That would be the acid-for-blood xenomorphs, if you hadn't guessed – Burke not included.
In Revolver, I wanted the sides to be equally "badass". Yes, Colty's gang have done bad things, but the posse chasing them are not as white as snow. Also I wanted some perceived genre inequalities to be addressed. Revolver has a large number of strong female characters, and Native Americans are present on both sides. White Goblin Games agreed.
Now fast forward roughly two years and we arrive here and now with you reading this, wondering whether to subscribe to the Revolver game page (you should) and also counting down the days when so many stupid questions are asked on the forums that you unsubscribe from the game. Mansions of Madness go stand in the corner of the class! And, yes, you too, BattleLore!
One thing that I am really pleased about (and why I'm attending Spiel this year) is that I will now finally get to play my game again. "Eh, what are you on about?" you ask. Well, imagine you are me. You have designed a game you really like and enjoy playing it. When game night comes around, people ask "What should we play?" I will not suggest my own games. Who would? It's so egocentric. "Yeah – you can come over and play, but it's got to be a game I've designed!" That would make me a mighty prat, so I don't get to play them much. Boo-hoo. Me. Me. Me. Now that the game's to be released, it adds weight to the chance I might get to play, especially if I don't tell people who I am (nobody of consequence in the world really, except to my family).
So I urge you to support this card game (buy it) in a largely unsupported gaming genre (the Old West), and you may very well see a rather interesting stand-alone expansion for Revolver – and possibly more games from me – if it sells well enough. And I also hope for the nice people in the Netherlands that it does.
Nice chatting with you, partner.
Waitin' for this game to be published, friend, has made me as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
Hope you liked my tale. Thankee.
Game preview, by W. Eric Martin
Mark has done a fantastic job above of laying out the game's backstory, but what does that mean for you as players? In Revolver, the Colty gang (one player) has just robbed the bank at Repentance Springs and is heading for the Mexican border, with Colonel McReady and his posse (the other player) racing to catch and kill them before they can escape. The storyline is played out over a series of five locations, with at least two turns taking place in each location. If Jack "The Crow" Colty lives to the final turn of the final location – 3:15 Express from Rattlesnake Station – or twelve markers are removed from the Mexican border card, then the crooks escape and Colty's player wins. The only way for Colonel McReady to stop the crooks is to kill them all.
On a turn, the Colty player advances the turn marker, draws two cards, and plays any number of cards that he wants to play and can pay for. He's limited to playing three firepower cards into any location, presumably because cramming any more firepower into a single location would make the entire gang easier to find. (One-shot effects can still be played in a full location.)
After this, the McReady player draws two cards, plays any number of cards that he wants to play and can pay for, then attacks in the current location, comparing his firepower against that of the Colty gang. If McReady has more firepower, then Colty must lose a bandit, with the lowest-valued bandits being removed from play first. Some bandits have penalties for the Colty player when they die, so even the lesser members of the gang aren't simply expendable. If McReady doesn't have enough firepower, one of the Mexican border tokens is removed.
While the turn marker advances automatically, it can also be affected by card play and bandit death. For example, if "Kittens" Mackenzie is killed before the gang reaches the 3:15 Express, then players undergo two additional turns in Rattlesnake Creek. (I'm guessing that Kittens was the snake expert in the gang, and now they must tread more carefully and slowly through the creek.) Other cards move the turn marker directly – but since players must pay for them by discarding other cards, they need to weigh the merits of advancing/rewinding the clock versus more direct actions that could have an immediate impact. (To continue Mark's references to Magic, actions that affect the turn marker are akin to "milling" effects that move cards from an opponent's deck to the graveyard. Milling often has no impact on game play on a turn-by-turn basis, but do enough of it and you kill the opponent when his deck runs out.)
Some characters bear True Grit tokens, and a character can gain True Grit through card play. When one of these characters dies, the token is removed and the character lives on, gritting his teeth and holding the wound closed with one hand while continuing to shoot with the other.
Once whatever is left of the Colty gang is aboard the 3:15 Express, the Colty player has a special one-shot "Derail the Train" action that removes all cards in play from that location and kills all of the bandits still alive at that point. Wait, killing bandits is a bad thing for the Colty player, right? No worries – the Colty player can discard any number of cards from hand and save one bandit for each card discarded. This desperation measure gives Colty one final chance of escaping from the posse. Will it pay off? Time will tell...
W. Eric Martin
• Ystari Games will release an Olympos Expansion at Spiel 2011, and as Cyril Demaegd describes it, the expansion is along the lines of a Small World expansion as it is by no means essential to game play, but rather something extra.
"A game with those new tiles is really different from a game without them," he says. "For exemple if you introduce just Slavery – [Text: This discovery grants 1 Sword. When the player takes a territory away from someone else, he takes a new settler from the general stock and puts it in his personal stock.] – it has an impact on the game at different levels. The player with Slavery will solve all his problems with settlers. As a consequence he may concentrate on other bonuses, but will he do this as it will help his opponents? On top of this Slavery introduces new combo possibilities. For example it works really well with Medicine obviously, but there are other things less obvious."
The expansion includes new discovery and wonder tiles that can be mixed into those of the base game, as well as a set of objective tiles, two of which are chosen at random each game, should you choose to use this module. Olympos Expansion contains twenty tiles in all, and a bonus discovery tile will be available at Spiel 2011.
• The Lamont brothers have announced their Spiel 2011 release: Poseidon's Kingdom. Here's a game overview from Gordon and Fraser:
Poseidon has lost his treasured trident, and your friends have disappeared while trying to find it. It turns out they have been captured by evil Hans the Kraken. Suckers! The Kraken plans to make a nice stew out of them. Can you prise open his tentacles, release your friends, and defeat him? You had better hope so. Oh, it's probably not a good time to mention the shark...
The game features cool animal bits, waves that crash dice on the beach, and terrible fish puns, with only one thousand copies of the game being available. The preorder price for Poseidon's Kingdom is €45. To preorder a copy from Fragor Games, email email@example.com; place "Poseidon's Kingdom – E" if you plan to pick up the game in Essen, and "Poseidon's Kingdom – (country)" if you want the game mailed to you. Regarding shipment, Gordon Lamont says, "We will know shipping costs nearer mid-October."
• Moonster Games has posted rules for Spiel 2011 release Hattari in English, French and German.
• White Goblin Games has announced Spiel 2011 preorder packages with free mini-expansions for just about every title appearing at the show.
• Chris James and Stratus Games are organizing Eruption Preview Nights, along the lines of the Eminent Domain Preview Nights in which a retailer receives an advance copy of the game and shows it off to all the cool kids before anyone else has a chance to play the game. If you're a retailer, or want to encourage a retailer to sign up, head to this news post on GameSalute.com for details.
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