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Following its 2010 debut title Munera: Famillia Gladiatoria, Italian publisher Albe Pavo will take a stroll in another direction of game design with Winter Tales, a storytelling game that seems to inherit a lot from Fabula but which also has new and interesting mechanisms. Winter Tales, which is still in the playtest phase at this point, has been developed with Janus Design, an Italian group that has a lot of experience with RPGs. Here's an overview of theme and game play from the designers:
Winter has tightened its grip on the country of fairy tales. Powered by hatred and fear, Winter aims to smother the flames of love with ice and snow, forever obscuring the light of hope in the eternal darkness of the winter night.
In the winding streets of the village and in small houses built on the hill, the fairy tales stand afraid and move only in the shadows, but they know they can not leave Winter all hope for the future and they are prepared to fight to bloom again come spring.
Winter Tales is a narrative board game for 3-7 players, who will create a different shared story on each playing. During each game, the players act out a duel between characters in fairy tales, who are full of good feelings and hope for the future, and the soldiers of Winter, who embody the evilness and ruthlessness of the season. Each player will control elements of both sides of the duel and will fight for either the return of spring or the suffocation of hope and an endless winter.
At the beginning of the game, players secretly determine which faction they wish to support: spring or winter. Each turn, players choose which characters – Tales and Soldiers – will be used, activating them in clockwise order. Each activated character can perform an action, such as turning on the power of a location, facing a quest, or resolving a conflict.
The Tales will try to solve quests for Spring Victory Points, but the Soldiers will attack Tales for Winter Victory Points. As missions are resolved, you will create memories that will be positive (if the missions are completed successfully) or negative (if you are bankrupt). After completing the fourth mission, players start to narrate the epilogue that will include all the memories and lead to the victory of the Fables and the arrival of spring or to the triumph of the Soldiers and the eternal continuation of the cold winter. Once the Epilogue has been told, players reveal their factions and determine the scores, influenced by the outcome of the Epilogue.
W. Eric Martin
Even more games are making the analog-to-digital conversion, but I would never have expected to see the video included below:
• Tasty Minstrel Games is organizing "Eminent Domain Preview Nights", a program for brick-and-mortar retailers to receive the game ahead of regular distribution (but after Kickstarter supporters) in order to hold special showings of the game. For details on how to get your retailer to participate – and for a chance to win a games bundle for getting that retailer involved – read TMG's March 2011 newsletter.
• John Yianni's Army of Frogs will be released as an iOS app by Big Daddy's Creations in May 2011. Head to the app developer's website for screenshots of the design in progress.
• On a related note, Big Daddy's Creations has a Caylus app in the works for release in September 2011. The developer's Caylus page has little for show now other than the promise of an app to come.
• Issue #17 of Świat Gier Planszowych will include a unique, new card for 51st State, according to designer Ignacy Trzewiczek.
• Lookout Games has announced that starting in mid-March 2011 a new edition of Agricola will be available. The only changes to the content will be revisions to two cards, which will later be available for download through the Lookout Games website and "probably" available as promo cards at Spiel. Other cards have had their text revised by designer Uwe Rosenberg to remove anything unclear, and the bulky fence pieces will be replaced by thinner ones.
• Hydravision has unveiled a video promo of Dungeon Twister: The Video Game, which is coming for Xbox LIVE and Playstation 3. As one might expect from Renaissance man Christophe Boelinger, the DT designer has both composed and arranged music for the video, in addition to choreographing the characters' dance moves. That's right – dance moves. You probably never thought the Mechanork could bust a move like this.
• For those who lack the budget of a Hydravision, designer Jay Cormier explains the bargain basement approach used for the homemade Train of Thought commercial.
• The annual UK Games Expo, which takes place June 3-5, 2011, has been updating its list of games that will be new for the show, some of which will debut at the convention and some of which are merely new since the previous Games Expo.
• Stephane at 5 Minutos por Jeugo has compiled a video summary of the Cannes 2011 game festival, complete with disturbing pop music accompaniment.
W. Eric Martin
Apologies for the silence over the past few days. Being a good grandson-in-law sometimes takes more time than you realize...
• French site Jedisjeux gives a rundown of the first issue of Ystari's new company-specific magazine, which debuted at the Cannes game festival in late February 2011 and will be available at some point on the Ystari Games website. The hightlights:
— Emanuele Ornella, whose Assyria was released by Ystari in 2009, will have a new game coming in 2011, a card game set in the world of the Wizard of Oz that can be learned in five minutes and played in ten.
— Ystari will release a new edition of the 1985 Spiel des Jahres winner, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, with the mysteries rewritten to match the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This game will likely appear in 2011, with both a regular and a deluxe edition.
— Alyens is another title coming from Ystari, that being the new title of Star Edge, a semi-cooperative design from Gildas Sagot, Yann Clouet and Vincent Arnoul that was one of four winners of the 2008 Boulogne-Billancourt game design competition.
• LEGO will take its board game line in a new direction with Heroica, which was on display at the 2011 Nürnberg Toy Fair. Here's a write-up from Hilko Drude, who attended Nürnberg and wrote about the experience in February 2011 for BGG News:
Heroica is a board game series from LEGO, due out in August 2011. There are different sets which can all be combined into a larger game.
Heroica is a classic dungeon game. The players move through tunnels, collecting treasure and fighting enemies. Conflict is resolved by dice rolls. The die results can be a number or a symbol, for example allowing the player to use a special weapons. Instead of a character sheet, the players have little equipment "backpacks" which can be filled with weapons, potions, keys, etc., depending on what they find in their adventure.
The sets have different themes, like different landscapes. They can be combined so that the players complete a "level", then advance through doors into the next level. Draida Bay, the smallest set, is for two players. Nathuz Cave and Waldurk Forest are for two or three, and Castle Fortaan, the largest set, is for two to four players.
A couple of notes: Hilko submitted info on all these titles to the BGG database, but we're trying to figure out whether to list them separately or as versions of the same game. The August 2011 release date he cites is most likely for release in Europe, as all of the LEGO games have appeared on that continent first, only migrating to North America 6-12 months later. German site Spieltest recorded an explanation of the Heroica line at Nürnberg, a German-language explanation mind you, but it shows off the new bits.
• Designer John Clowdus has a few interesting releases from his Small Box Games, starting with a new edition of the unusual deck-building game Cartouche that includes larger cards. Bhazum: Ksari is set in the city of Bhazum from his earlier card game of the same name, but plays differently. Finally, Clowdus has Omen: A Reign of War, in which two players represent the sons of Zeus and naturally need to wreak havoc on puny mortals in order to determine which of them best takes after dad.
• Bob Carty, VP Sales & Marketing for Mayfair Games, has announced that the publisher's new version of Francis Tresham's 1830 "is delayed in production due to issues beyond the scope of our control. We expect with this setback that it will not ship till May." The 1830 game page on the Mayfair website lists a street date of May 19, 2011.
• Fantasy Flight Games has now posted information about Rune Age, a deck-building card game set in Terrinoth, the fantasy setting of FFG's Runebound. Here's an overview of the game from FFG:
Rune Age is a unique deck-building game in which players choose a scenario that establishes the game’s victory conditions. With four included scenarios, Rune Age gives you many different obstacles to face while also setting establishing the players' allegiances. Some scenarios pit the players against one another while another unites them against a common foe, creating a fully cooperative deck-building experience. These different scenarios challenge players to develop new tactics every time they play.
• Designer Seth Jaffee has posted a draft version of the Eminent Domain rulebook and is looking for feedback ASAP before the rules head to print.
• Queen Games released a small expansion for Fresco at Spiel 2010, and now Fresco: The Scrolls will be released through retail channels, with the expansion arriving March 2011 and retailing for $25.
• The Toy Vault version of 51st State carries a $40 price tag and should hit U.S. shelves in March 2011.
• The Jeffrey Neil Bellinger/Playroom Entertainment Killer Bunnies mega-punathon will continue to grow in 2011 with the release of Killer Bunnies and the Conquest of the Magic Carrot, which is both a standalone game and an expansion for the original Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot series. Here's an overview of the new game from the Killer Bunnies website:
Can you keep from being attacked by the exotic Xanadude, or the outraged Lordzilla? Players may defend their bunnies with Raisin Hell or use Dragon Of Doom to devour an opponent! Full of comical spoofs, humorous parodies and hysterical pop culture references, Killer Bunnies Conquest will have you managing your resources, bartering with your enemies, and plotting your strategy (not to mention your revenge) on every turn!
Killer Bunnies Conquest is a follow-up to (and completely compatible with) the popular Killer Bunnies Quest card game series. You'll be surprised by an entirely new array of wacky weapons, risky P-cards and wince-worthy Terrible Misfortunes! Morden's Metals Exchange is a new market where a player may buy and sell precious metals to earn Dolla. Kaballa's Market Two will sell you the Radish and Milk you'll need to feed your bunnies! Some things are different, but the goal is still the same; survive long enough to claim the Magic Carrot and win the game!
W. Eric Martin
A short round-up of links this time to contrast with the huge number of new game announcements being posted here on BGG News:
• Want more Neuroshima Hex, even when you don't have an opponent on hand? You'll be glad to hear that iOS app creator Big Daddy's Creation will introduce Neuroshima Hex: Puzzle in March 2011 as a $3 app with Game Center support. The app consists of one hundred NH game scenarios in which you need to figure out how to play two of the three tiles presented to you in order to crush the enemy. Head to the NH: Puzzle page for screenshots.
• Trias has been added to online gaming site Yucata.de.
• Designer Andrea Meyer was interviewed as part of a "golly gee, can you believe all these games exist in Germany?" report on an Australian radio station (MP3).
• Designer Dan Weaver talks about the origin of the card game FlipOut on Gamewright's blog.
• Antoine Bauza's 7 Wonders, published by Repos Production, has won the 2010 Swiss Gamers Award, the first such award from Ludesco, which is both the name of an annual game festival in La Chaux-de-Fonds and a conglomoration of more than a dozen gaming clubs in Switzerland who assembled votes from their 700+ members to determine what Swiss gamers think is tops from games published in 2009 and 2010.
• Days of Wonder won the 2011 Pocket Gamer Award for best strategy/simulation game for its iPad implementation of Small World.
• Fantasy Flight Games has posted two scenarios for Battles of Westeros that were previously available only on a limited basis.
• Issues 419 and 420 of WIN: Das Spiel Journal are available for download in English and German from publisher Österreichisches Spiele Museum and editors Dagmar and Ferdinand de Cassan. Issue #419 covers the 2011 Nürnberg Toy Fair, with more than 650 new games from 145 publishers, while issue #420 includes reviews of 56 games.
• JogoEu features a video of a two-ball Labyrinth expert. It's not what it sounds like.
• Here's an old link from something announced during my sabbatical, but the deadline for entry is April 30, 2011, so you still have time to enter: Spielmaterial.de is holding a "design your own game piece" contest, with the winner receiving one cent for each piece sold (in addition to a penny donation per sale to a charity of the winner's choice). The game piece must be manufacturable in wood and can be either flat like a meeple or rounded like a traditional German poppel.
W. Eric Martin
And the games keep on coming. Here's the latest report on what's coming when:
• German publisher intellego holzspiele has released yet another fabulous-looking coffee-table game, this one titled Zaunkönig ("wren"). Players take turns placing rings on the game board; if a player creates a tower four piece high, he distributes the rings orthogonally, possibly creating more four-high towers. For each tower created, he scores a point. To end a turn, a player blocks a tower with a marble, which means he automatically captures any ring that would be placed on this space.
• Richard Denning of Medusa Games will be showing a prototype of The Great Museum at UK Games Expo in June 2011. Here's a game overview from the Medusa website:
Players take on the roles of the owners of the world's great museums. They vie with each other to build the best museums in the world by collecting artefacts – jewellery, statues, sarcophagi, inscriptions, weapons and pottery. These are collected in the regional Halls of the museum: one for each of the continents.
You also build special global collections such as weapons from round the world and regional collections such as pottery from Asia. You also will be able to collect one main attraction for your museum – an artefact of global significance such as the Complete Works of Shakespeare or the sword of Julius Caesar.
Finally each museum will be aiming to complete their own unique display dictated by their benefactor. All of these activities brings your museum prestige to set it above the rest. The best managed museum will win the game.
• According to publisher Hans van Tol, Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler's Fortuna will be out in September 2011 from The Game Master.
• In a March 1 press release, NG International says that Letters from Whitechapel and Dakota should be available in U.S. game stores on March 16, 2011, with Magestorm going on sale before the end of March. In Europe, Dakota is already on sale, Magestorm is headed to distribution, and Letters – well, Letters is stuck in an unusual situation: "[T]he container ship which was delivering the game to Italy has been sequestered by the Chinese government on a humanitarian mission to bring Chinese citizens out of Libya, and is currently in Bengasi. Now NG International is following how this situation develops to know when the game will be finally available in Europe and will publish the information updating here."
• Flavio Jandorno and Antonio Marcelo's Galáxia S.A. – called Cosmic Mogul when I talked with Antonio about the prototype in 2008 – has found a publisher in Portugal's Runadrake, which expects to release the game in 2011 in English, German, Spanish and Portuguese. Here's a brief game description:
Galáxia S.A. is an exciting game where player will build an intergalactic economical empire! The players will dispute every single piece of the galaxy by acquiring the right to explore planets that produce several goods. These are to be sold at the intergalactic market. But the galaxy is a dangerous place and your opponents will use cunning and intrigue to make your journey harder. Come aboard this adventure and become the most successful cosmic tycoon!
Disputing every single piece of the galaxy sounds like it would take eons, but the playing time is only sixty minutes. Guess some people dispute more quickly than I do...
• U.S. publisher Z-Man Games expects to release an English-language version of Junta: Viva el Presidente! by April 2011. (Pegasus Spiele first released the game in German in late 2010.)
This game will be followed by three games due out by May 2011: Andreas Steding's Firenze (released by Pegasus in German in late 2010), Michael Schacht's Mondo (due out in German from Pegasus in March 2011) and Alan D. Ernstein's Palenque, which isn't currently scheduled for a release by anyone else.
• Several years ago, Italian publisher Stratelibri had an interesting-sounding game in Ventura, which was demoed at both the PLAY and Gen Con game conventions in 2008. I received an overview of the game from co-designer Silvio Negri-Clementi at Spiel 2008 (or perhaps Spiel 2009 – details are hazy this far removed), and the game sounded like a winner, with lots of action and interaction packed into an hour-long strategy game.
Then the game vanished from everyone's radar.
Until the 2011 Nürnberg Toy Fair, that is, when Italian site Gioconomicon snapped several pics of the game, including one bearing both the Stratelibri and Fantasy Flight Games logos. Thus, there's still hope for the game's release some year...
• Mayfair Games has announced a May 26, 2011 street date for Robert Żak's Strike of the Eagle, the first title in Academy Games' "Fog of War" series of games. Here's an overview of the title from Mayfair, which distributes games for Academy:
The year is 1920. WWI has ended, but the battle for Europe has just begun. Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin plan to spread the workers' revolution by blasting through Poland in order to support the growing communist movements in Germany, France and Britain. Only the armies of Poland stand in the way of the Bolshevik tide.
Strike of the Eagle is a strategy game that simulates the tenseness of the Polish-Soviet War of 1920. This war featured a return of sweeping cavalry attacks combined with new weaponry innovations such as planes, tanks and armored cars. Gone was the static trench warfare of WWI where front line changes were measured in yards. Instead, the gains of this war's campaigns were measured in hundreds of miles from Kiev and beyond Minsk in the east, to Warsaw and the German border in the west.
• Fantasy Flight Games has attached May 2011 release dates to these previously announced items:
– A Game of Thrones: The Card Game - Called by the Conclave
– A Game of Thrones: The Card Game - Queen of Dragons
– Arkham Horror: Miskatonic Horror Expansion
– Battles of Westeros: Tribes of the Vale
– Black Gold
– Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game - The Gleaming Spiral
– The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game - The Hunt for Gollum
– Warhammer: Invasion - Signs in the Stars
W. Eric Martin
Lots of ground to cover this time:
• BGG user Scott Weber attended a Realms of Terrinoth event at the Fantasy Flight Games Event Center, and he reports that during the event FFG unveiled a new title set in the Terrinoth universe, a deck-building card game titled something along the lines of Rune Age. He gives a great overview of the game in his post and mentions that the release date given at the event was Q3 2011 – which suggests a Gen Con release in August.
• Even with Nightfall still in the wings awaiting its March 28, 2011 release date, Alderac's Todd Rowland has announced that an expansion – Nightfall: Martial Law – is due out June 2011. A second expansion is also in the works.
• White Goblin Games has released a hipper-than-thou video preview of its Get Nuts card game, which has a March 12, 2011 release date. The Dutch version of Matt Leacock's Forbidden Island – Het Verboden Eiland – comes out that same day. WGG notes that Rattus, Rattus: Pied Piper and Hotel Samoa will also be back in stock on that date.
In April 2011, White Goblin Games will release Piraten & Kooplui, the Dutch version of Merchants & Marauders, and a reprint of Jambo.
• In its February 2011 newsletter, Stronghold Games notes that niggling production details have pushed back the release of Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War yet again. From the newsletter: "Stronghold Games takes great pride in producing top-quality components, and though the last batch of samples we received were super-cool, they just weren't up to our standards. We've sent them back for a small tweak and redesign, and now expect them to be approved late this month." As a result, Stronghold is giving May 2011 as a tentative release date, with the game's preorder window opening in April.
As for other titles from Stronghold, the new version of Outpost is expected for Q3 2011 and the new version of Crude: The Oil Game for Q4 2011.
• To follow up this Feb. 9, 2011 post from Jeff Wolfe on BGG News, Looney Labs has shifted its release schedule for the rest of 2011. IceDice and the Aquarius-like Seven Dragons are still due for release on June 24, 2011. The new version of Treehouse – packaged like IceDice in a pyramidal zip bag and previously due out on the same date as that game – now has a U.S. street date of September 30, 2011. Another pyramid product will be released on June 24, however, the Looney Pyramid Booster; the Booster comes in two varities – rainbow (red, green, blue, yellow, black) and xeno (purple, orange, clear, white, cyan) – with three pyramids of varying sizes in each color. The Looney Pyramid Booster retails for $10.
• FRED Distribution has opened preorders on a handful of titles, starting with Richard Launius' Defenders of the Realm: Hero Expansion #1, #2 and #3 – each of which includes four new heroes that can mixed with those of the base game or used on their own or with other expansions. These sets also contain new Global Effects – half good, half bad – that can be mixed with those of the base game.
Two titles previously unannounced from FRED's Gryphon Games brand are Number Please! – a collection of games in which you roll dice and make equations – and Jacob Davenport's Mirror Mirror, in which you're trying to intercept a letter headed toward your beloved by using mirrored pieces that can spot the hidden identity of your opponent's pieces.
Two other titles coming from FRED – Pastiche through Gryphon Games and Railways Through Time through Eagle Games – are due out in the near future as the container carrying these games has arrived. Pergamon will be another Gryphon Games release in North America.
• Other new games hitting U.S. stores recently include Trollhalla, the new edition of Junkyard Races, Hive: The Ladybug, Age of Steam: Time Traveler, Tide of Iron: Fury of the Bear, and BattleLore: Code of Chivalry
• Mere days after announcing that the new edition of Stronghold is clearing customs and on its way to stores, Valley Games has announced that it will release Stronghold: Undead, possibly before the end of 2011.
• Polish design team Los Diablos Polacos has launched its own website in English and Polish to provide information about its projects. Previous releases include Boże Igrzysko – the four-player spin-off of Martin Wallace's God's Playground – and Conflict of Heroes: Price of Honour. Projects currently in the works are Teutons and Carolus, both coming from Phalanx Games Polska.
• New entries on BGG that might merit your attention include:
— War of Honor, a board game set in the world of Legend of the Five Rings
— Paperclip Railways, which will debut from Surprised Stare Games at the UK Games Expo in June 2011 in a limited edition.
— Pitch'n Dunk from flicking design king Daniel Quodbach.
— Battleship Galaxies, which looks like Hasbro's replacement for the Heroscape-buying "niche" market.
— China: The Embassies, a small expansion for this Michael Schacht design that will be sold through the BGG store.
— Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts, the next arc in the RftG universe from Tom Lehmann.
— Conflict of Heroes: Blitzkrieg - France and the Lowlands 1940, coming from Academy Games in 2012.
— Schnappt Hubi!, a cooperative deduction game coming from Ravensburger that includes electronic bits along the lines of Wer war's?
The Heavens of Olympus is the culmination of my first major attempt at designing a game. Because of this, I learned a lot of hard lessons about game design while iterating from version to version. Looking back, it's obvious now how many of my early ideas were doomed before they started from a sound game design standpoint, so feel free to learn from my experiences as I give you a complete tour (warts and all) of the evolutionary history of this game.
In The Beginning
The genesis point for this game came from trying to combine two simple concepts:
1. a bell curve, and
2. the diminishment of an ignored resource.
With respect to the second concept, two games I would consider influences are Power Grid and an old game I played once called The Stock Market Game, due to the prices of items rising and falling in both games. However, I was thinking of a "diminishing mechanism" along the lines of the advertising world paradigm in which one puts money into a promotion, but over time interest in the promoted product dies without continued investment. This idea would manifest itself in a manner similar to those other games in that something was rising and falling, but the marker would fall on its own and rise only when the players caused it to.
I set up a basic game board with columns of varied heights in the shape of a bell curve and had an advertising marker that advanced and fell, causing spaces to be active. Pieces were placed on the board in the squares of the columns. The advertising marker moved on smaller squares between the columns. At various times in the game, the marker would either drop to a lower space or fall back to a space to the left. I also had a separate round tracker as the number of rounds in the game differed for differing numbers of players (so as to somewhat equalize the total number of turns). Players scored points for having the most pieces in a column and for connecting their pieces in horizontal or vertical lines.
Theme, Theme, Where's the Theme?
These early designs had barely any suggestion of a theme. Instead, they were very much mechanical manifestations of an attempt to simulate some sort of abstract "business" growth...and an advertising venture...thingy. My first attempt at ascribing theme was to say that the pieces on the board represented business locations. (Selling what I didn't know.)
Early Problems and Lessons
I quickly ran into the difficulty of effectively scaling a game for differing numbers of players. If I made a board big enough for a larger number, it was too big for a smaller number and vice versa. My early solution was to introduce different boards to the table for multiple players. This was an atrocious idea because having different boards resulted in players focusing on only one board and ignoring the others so as to maximize their efforts. If a player tried to divide his efforts, he would lose. I also attempted to say – very embarrassingly, I might add – that the different bell-curved boards represented different cities in which the players were building.
Initially, the advertising marker caused spaces to be active, referring to the spaces being available for the placement of new markers (which I quickly realized was too restrictive). I then changed it to refer to whether an item was eligible for scoring purposes.
At this time, the design had only one advertising marker instead of each player having his own. This created a problem with players not wanting to be the one to raise the marker's value because all of the players after them would benefit from their efforts.
The columns each had two numbers at the bottom: the left number showing how much a player earned for placing a piece in that column, and the right showing how much it cost to buy out another player - that is, to remove one of the opponent's pieces from the board and replace it with one's own color. Over time, I realized how problematic it can be to give players the ability to remove another player's piece because whoever got picked on the least was often the winner and not necessarily the player who planned the best.
These early problems gave me a crash course education on basic game design principles.
A Theme! (Sort of...)
I eventually decided that having different column heights with some spaces being shaded would be how to scale the game. (This decision was somewhat influenced by how scaling is handled in Ingenious.) I put everything on one board. I portrayed the columns as different cites on their own and the pieces on the board as "Toy Stores" (which was a weak attempt at infusing some sort of fun in a themeless game). I put in a score track and included the round tracker. By now, the game had taken on the name "Market Share".
After a while I became convinced that I needed to get serious about a better theme, so I looked for various things in the world that were shaped somewhat like the bell curve columns as a source of inspiration. I decided on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and the game became a travel agency game called "Agents of Paradise".
This gave rise to the pieces on the board being "tourists" and I came up with various and sundry explanations (most of them weak) for what was going on in the game, such as calling the scoring of connections of pieces "positive customer feedback". Additional actions were added, with players having a dial to select an action (not unlike the dials in Maharaja). By this time I had learned that the economics of the game promoted a runaway leader problem, and I implemented a wonky fix called a "Tax Bracket" system (because, hey, taxes are high in Hawaii). I also bought knick knacks to add for thematic purposes and put together a more formal prototype.
Game Night Games and The Board Game Designers Guild of Utah
Throughout this time, I was frequenting (and eventually working as a part-time employee at) a local board game store in Salt Lake City called Game Night Games. The manager of the store at that time, Greg Jones, gathered contact information from customers interested in game design and organized an initial meeting for these people in January 2007.
We got together at the store and discussed forming a club for the purposes of playtesting each other's designs. (By this time, my game bore the Hawaiian travel agents theme.) The group would eventually be known as The Board Game Designers Guild of Utah. Little did we know what kind of group we had formed. Several people at that initial meeting would go on to become published designers, with Sean MacDonald's Pastiche and Alf Seegert's Trollhalla being the most recent releases from this group.
After several meetings of BGDG, Greg happened to be at a game convention where he talked with Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games and informed him about what was going on with our group. Jay decided to attend a summer board game convention in Utah in 2007 and look at many of our game designs with the understanding that, a year later, he would come back, hold a formal contest, and publish the winning design.
When Jay came in 2007, he looked at a number of our games. After sitting down with me and letting me explain how my game worked, he asked me a series of questions that went something like this:
Jay: "Why is it that a tourist in this city would just so happen to be able to communicate with a tourist way over here in this other city such that 'customer feedback' increases?"
After a few more questions like this to which I had no viable answers, he left. I was devastated.
I was also in denial for a while afterwords. Instead of accepting Jay's criticisms and acting on then, I continued to pitch the game as it was. Zev Shlasinger from Z-Man Games took a look at the design, but turned it down due to the game, as he put it, having too many components compared to the level of play it offered (among other things). Again, I was devastated. After all my hard work and hours of toil working over the numbers and pondering ideas, two different publishers had each found separate fundamental problems with my game.
Beginning to See the Light
After some time, I accepted that my theme needed to change and that I needed to simplify the component count. I also met my future wife during this time. Her maiden name is Starr, and that name inspired me to imagine that the connections between similar pieces in the columns could actually be construed as constellations. That realization led to more changes and the introduction of the game's final name: The Heavens of Olympus.
Despite that breakthrough, I was still in denial and mired in the paradigm of my own design. I was thinking about nothing more than cosmetic changes to components and the theme. The problematic runaway leader fix was still in place, players still had six different actions from which to choose (which was overly complicated for this type of game), and the columns on the board hadn't really changed.
Jay's questions continued to eat at me as I thought about him returning to Utah and judging the upcoming game competition. I finally came to an important decision:
Every aspect of the game would have a plausible thematic explanation – even if I had to scrap all of my efforts and start from scratch.
This lead to me asking the following: "What kind of board would plausibly involve stars and constellations?" The answer was a solar system-style board, so I began with a brand new board concept. I kept the idea of earning points for having the most things in an area, only now players wanted circular orbits instead of vertical columns. This scrapped one of the two core concepts I had started with - the bell curve - but the game was finally starting to come together.
The lesson here:
Be willing to cut something fundamental from the game if it interferes with the game becoming good.
Zev's feedback also continued to eat at me, and I eventually accepted that I needed to start looking at my game from the standpoint of it being a potential product and not just a game - meaning that I needed to both simplify the components and make sure the components were easier or less expensive to produce from a publisher's perspective. I also tried to make sure everything in the game was handled with symbols instead of text to facilitate potential multi-lingual considerations.
With this new board concept came the next obvious step, which was to represent planets with small discs instead of the cubes I had used in previous versions of the game. (After all, punch-out discs would be a lot less expensive than cubes if the game were published.) I then looked at the different actions and stripped out those that were creating complications. This simplified the design to what are now the four basic actions, a change that allowed me to use four cards as the player interface instead of a more complicated/expensive dial.
With respect to scaling, I decided to divide this new solar system game board into five regions and use a number of regions equal to the number of players (similar to how Power Grid uses more or fewer sections based on the number of players).
During different rules iterations, I had used various sets of coupled numbers at the bottom of each column to show money gained or spent. For this new board, it occurred to me that I could also use a left and a right number - but to set up a scaling amount of points based on most and second-most planets in an orbit and have the right number double as a minimum requirement for earning the higher points.
In previous versions, I had set up varying costs for actions based on others selecting the same action in the round. In this new version, I simplified the costs to be a one-for-one payment for every other player who selected the same action for the round, a system much easier to remember. Also, when a player places a new planet, he now earns money based on the number of planets in that region of the board.
I set the game at five rounds and made each round a "day" comprised of three phases (morning, afternoon, and evening). Scoring occurs during the night phase when Zeus comes out, looks upon the heavens, and awards prestige points. This change simplified the rounds and phases of the game, while simultaneously reinforcing the theme.
The advertising marker is now a torch marker and is located on the side of the board (thus recalling an archaic, yet fun take on how the planets "shine" during the night). I made each planet double-sided, with a light side and dark side. Now players have to choose which of their planets aren't eligible for scoring if they don't have enough torch light to keep all of their planets "lit" throughout the night, thus creating an additional and consequential decision point.
I took out the previous runaway leader fix and – thanks to playtesting with other BGDG members – received feedback on thematic additions, such as having points for the biggest constellation. The sum of all of these changes resulted in this being the new game board:
Meeting Jay Again
When Jay came back to Utah in 2008, I presented him with a very different game that had undergone fundamental changes. The theme was interesting, the game mechanisms more streamlined, and everything that happened in the game made sense within the theme.
My game won, and he accepted it for publication.
Heavens then entered the development stage, with some numbers being adjusted and tweaks from Rio Grande improving the overall game. I also added in a new runaway leader fix that was more intuitive, simple, and fair with respect to the torches dropping. Mirko Suzuki, Claus Stephan, and Martin Hoffman – the guys behind the artwork for Race for the Galaxy – were enlisted by Jay to do the artwork and I was blown away by what they came up with:
Keeping the Good
Now The Heavens of Olympus is approaching its release and in spite of the many revisions throughout its history, a number of early concepts I implemented have remained in place in some way throughout the iterations of the game:
• Players buy pieces from a supply and first place them on an individual player board. Later, these pieces are eligible to be placed on the main game board.
• Putting pieces on the board awards the players money, which they can use to buy more pieces, which can earn them more money...
• Points are awarded for having the most pieces in an area and for "connections" of pieces of the same color when scoring occurs.
• The game uses a "go first" piece for the round (similar to the Governor card in Puerto Rico) and a "go first" piece for the phase, which rotates through some of the players before the round ends.
• The diminishing marker stayed in place in some form or another throughout the various prototypes.
• Players decide to take actions during a phase via simultaneous action selection.
Though I kept some things along the way, the most important thing I learned in this process was figuring out how to let go of or change those things that weren't working, even if I was emotionally or intellectually attached to them and even if they represented one of the key motivations behind designing the game in the first place.
My hope is that players will enjoy the game that has emerged.
W. Eric Martin
A game news round-up to kick off your weekend, starting with a surprising award winner that hits the market the same day it took home the prize:
• The winners of L'As d'Or 2011 – the game of the year awards given out at the annual Festival International des Jeux in Cannes, France – have been announced. According to Jedisjeux, Hervé Marly's Skull & Roses won the l'As d'Or – despite the game not being available for sale until the opening of this year's Festival! Clearly this game has something special going on if it's already attracted this much love. S.O.S. Octopus won in the children's category, and 7 Wonders took home the jury prize.
• Richard van Vugt at Gamepack.nl has posted his Nürnberg 2011 report, which includes overviews of upcoming releases from twenty publishers. Richard always takes nice shots at conventions, and he has additional details about Hans im Glück's Pantheon along with the awesomely bizarre cover of Queen's Paris Connection. Lots of good stuff here.
• Tric Trac has posted 125 images from the 2011 NY Toy Fair, kicking off with an unusually pensive shot of Roberto Fraga and ending with Ken crying out to the public to convince Barbie to take the stiff back as a boyfriend.
• As reported on TricTrac, French publisher Ystari Games will release a magazine focusing on its line of games, with the first issue on display at the Cannes game festival at the end of February 2011 and available in stores and via the Ystari website in April 2011.
• Valley Games reports that the new printing of Ignacy Trzewiczek's Stronghold is shipping to retailers.
• GMT Games will start shipping reprints of both Dominant Species and Battle Line the week of Feb. 28, 2011.
• Gaming site FatherGeek.com is giving away three copies of Tasty Minstrel's party game Train of Thought. Deadline for entry is March 7, 2011.
• Online gaming site Brettspielwelt will add 7 Wonders to its offerings as of February 27, 2011, according to Spielbox.
• Pearl Games is apparently distributing four new cards for its debut release Troyes at the Cannes games festival. Those who can't make the show can download an English version of the cards (PDF) and start cutting.
• Daniel Solis is trying to inspire designers to think long-term by presenting them with The Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge. Here's a summary of the challenge: "The game can be of any theme or genre you desire, but there is one restriction: You're creating a 'new classic', like Chess, Tag or card games. So, create a game to be enjoyed by generations of players for a thousand years." Deadline for entry is July 31, 2011.
• Abacusspiele is holding a contest for three copies of Michael Schacht's new card game Gold! To have a chance of winning, you need to figure out the best plays to make in a game situation presented by Abacus' Matthias Wagner. As an additional prize, one participant who answers correctly will receive 50 GeekGold.
• No link for this item, but Chris Comeaux passed along the following note: "This month Wired has a one pager featuring, wait for it... Dominant Species, Race for the Galaxy, and Twilight Struggle. This is noteworthy to me if only because of the games covered."
• Perhaps this is old news to y'all, but Gamification.org has a nice PDF of The Gamer Brain, a chart showing "seven types of reward centers" in the brain and how those centers related to gaming and a gamer's personality. Rob Beeson gets the credit.
Ralf zur Linde
TIS DA PIMP
People have always been enchanted by mnemonics as they help us memorize things that might otherwise be forgotten. If you look closely at what mnemonics are, you realize that they are often nothing more than short stories – and the more outrageous, funny or bizarre these stores are, the better we can remember them. Some stories will never be forgotten and will be carried with us for a lifetime.
Game designers tend to monitor their environment for things that can be turned into board games, and sometime in 2007 the idea came to me to capture the essence of mnemonics – that is, mini-stories – in something exciting and fun for the game table. The aim was to have players invent in the first stage of the game their own mini-stories, preferably in an exciting way so that other players would be able to remember the stories in the second stage, with some time passing between the two stages. What could more challenging than to take everyday objects that at first have nothing to do with one another, then wrap them together in mini-stories!
And so I started drawing images that I then pasted onto small cardboard tiles. The resulting 120 image tiles would be placed face-down at the edge of the table. On a player's turn, he would reveal two image tiles, then tell a mini-story about the two objects that would ideally allow players to recall the two images as a cohesive unit later in the game. If, for example, the player revealed tiles showing "stool" and "beer bottle", he might invent the following mini-story:
In my youth, we had an infamous dare in which we'd challenge someone to hold a beer bottle steady in one hand for ten minutes while standing on a stool balanced on only one leg. Few survived that dare as they'd drink the beer first, then could hardly stand on the stool using both legs.
The two tiles "stool" and "beer bottle" would then be placed face-down in separate stacks in the middle of the table. After 20-30 tiles were placed into each of these stacks, the first part of the game would end and no more stories would be added to the players' bulging memories. Now would begin the resolution stage of the game. On a turn, a player would reveal a tile from either of the two stacks, then would have to name the second matching tile still hidden in the other stack. So if you revealed "stool", you'd have to say "beer bottle", earning a victory point chip if you did and losing one if you goofed.
The basic concept of the game was already quite apparent, but somehow it felt too light and trivial. All the players who tested the game found the resolution stage incredibly easy as the previously told story had anchored "stool" and "beer bottle" firmly in their memories. It's hard for a player to forgot a mnemonic, and weeks or even months later we were able to recall mnemonics created during a game. For this reason, the game idea disappeared into the drawer.
More than a year later, now in 2009, I dug out the prototype and showed it to my friend Stefan Dorra, with whom I had once again begun to develop games. Stefan was as excited by the mnemonic/mini-story foundation as I was, so we decided to work on the game more. Stefan also quickly realized that the way players resolved the two stacks in the second half of the game was much too simple. While I had never considered anything other than players revealing two tiles at once, Stefan thought that players should instead reveal three tiles. I was skeptical of the idea and had doubts that players would be able to remember everything, but I learned a lesson. While the difficulty of the game did increase, players were still able to name the missing tiles in most cases – but not always, and that's the way it should be. The right mix of fun and challenge seemed to be in place.
But Stefan then realized another problem, namely the lack of interaction. This problem was solved in a major breakthrough due to one additional mechanism, namely the common resolution of the mnemonics. Now all players other than the one who created the mnemonic would have to resolve it!
To make this happen, the storyteller would distribute the three tiles to the other players in clockwise order, with each player receiving one tile and keeping it secret from others. The players, some of whom had a piece of information about the story, would have to name a tile held by another player. Thanks to this breakthrough, we shifted from one player resolving a story to everyone doing it. This new system was wonderfully interactive because the distribution of tiles across the table had the effect of creating partnerships among the players. Getting other players to work together in a joint effort to recreate a tale placed a lot of responsibility on the storyteller, so to reward the successful remembering of a story, we decided the storyteller would receive an additional victory point chip.
The last major problem to be solved on the way to a finished game involved the rigidity of play. The game still had a strict separation between the two halves of play, with mnemonics being created in the first half, then resolved in the second half. Then the game ended. Thus, it was imperative that the two halves merge with one another in some way. This cross-penetration was achieved by overlapping the two actions – creating and resolving – starting in the third round of play. Starting in this round, a player would do two things on his turn: 1) Build a new mnemonic and 2) Resolve the oldest mnemonic he had created. Using this structure, we determined that the playing time should be seven rounds, with rounds 1 and 2 being devoted to mnemonic creation (building the "three-stack" of tiles), rounds 3-5 involving both creation and resolution, and rounds 6 and 7 resolving the final two series of mnemonics. Since we kept noticing that players still resolved the mnemonics all too easily, we decided to raise the stakes. Thus, while the first two rounds would still involve the creation of three-tile mnemonics, in the next two rounds players had to create stories with four images and in the final round with five images.
To track the seven rounds and the actions in each of them, we used a round marker set on a game board in the center of the table. Then we realized that the scoring system we had been using, one that tracked the successes and failures of players during mnemonic resolution, could be incorporated into this round tracker as the victory point chips were of little practical use. Now every player was represented by a pawn on a linear scoring track, a track that was an ugly scrawl to begin with but quickly beautified. Whoever was able to resolve a mnemonic would move his pawn ahead two spaces, while the one who had told the story would advance one space. Whoever got the story wrong would fall back one space.
It was now Autumn 2009, and after numerous tests we were extremely pleased with our game, so we brought Eselsbrücke – that being the German word for "mnemonics", the literal translation of which is "donkey bridge" – to Spiel 2009 in Essen, Germany to show to Thorsten Gimmler from Schmidt Spiele. Thorsten liked the basic idea of the game, and we were delighted when a few weeks later he offered a licensing agreement for the game.
Nevertheless, the game at that time had not reached its final form. Many other tests had shown that all too often players forgot to advance and move back their pawns on the scoring track. This was due to the enormous amount of emotion coming from players due to wacky stories and the thrilling moments when a mnemonic was resolved. It was clear that the scoring had to braided into the game play so that it would happen without players even noticing.
So we did further editorial work on the game and devised a new and much more practical scoring system. As a result, the game board and pawns disappeared and the image tiles themselves become the score indicator. This new scoring mechanism is far more clever: When a player names an image tile held by an opponent, that opponent hands over the tile and the player adds that tile to his stack of VPs on the table. Anyone who messes up a story resolution has to discard one or more tiles. To reward the storyteller, a newly introduced image tile is placed on his stack whenever a story is resolved correctly by the other players.
This additional tile represents a victory point for the storyteller, but it also serves a second function. If a player has to give up chips due to an incorrect guess – with the penalty for mistakes rising from one tile to seven as the game progresses – he can now stop handing in chips after discarding a Stop Tile from his stack. (If he must lose five tiles, for example, and a Stop Tile is the third tile down in his stack, then he loses only three tiles.) Thanks to this bonus, Stop Tiles are extremely popular in the final game, and they inspire players to create really inventive mnemonics so that others can remember them with ease. To make it easy for players to stack their tiles between rounds and help them recall which stack is for which mnemonic and how many tiles must be paid for a false memory, we introduced a new player board to track all this information.
The final version of the player board, showing stacks of tiles from completed stories to be distributed on future turns
In the many other tests that followed, the only changes to the rules came from special cases that occasionally occur, such as a player needing to name the last tile in a mnemonic while holding that tile in hand. Thus, our main focus for the final phase in 2010 was the graphical implementation for the game, and thankfully Schmidt was able to get Michael Menzel to handle the design and artwork. Schmidt had also decided to include 180 tiles in the game – 50% more than were in the prototype – so there was much to do, but eventually we did have 180 images with no duplication.
Over the summer of 2010, we received about a half-dozen new images each week for review, and once again we realized how excellent Michael is, for not only are the pictures clear and meaningful, but they also play a part in the creation of a mini-story. The tile for "Autumn", for example, shows not only the brown leaves you'd expect, but also a walker whose leashed dog is being carried away by the wind; the tile for "gap-toothed" shows a victorious boxer who would be better off wearing a mouth guard in future fights. These "primed" illustrations help players to create mnemonics more spontaneously.
In closing, I'd like to offer special thanks not only to Thorsten Gimmler for his outstanding editorial work, but also to Michael Menzel for the particularly accomplished drawings.
Ralf zur Linde
(This diary was translated from the German by BGG News editor W. Eric Martin, with assistance from my conveniently German exchange student, Bahar Mahzari. I take responsibility for any mistakes added to the diary. Any improvements, too. —WEM)
W. Eric Martin
When you talk about a release schedule for publisher/distributor Asmodee, you have to be clear which part of the world is being discussed as Asmodee has outposts across the globe. Spain, France, Germany, Canada – Asmodee is akin to SPECTRE or KAOS in its reach and penetration of the game industry, but it's delivering games and not attempts at world domination or nude bombs, so an international presence is nothing to fear.
Now without further ado, here's the current North American release schedule for Asmodee. Note that more titles will likely be added to the list as the year progresses. I've noted the original publisher of a title when possible if Asmodee is serving as distributor.
• 7 Wonders – restock from a new printing of this Antoine Bauza/Repos Production hotness.
• Dixit – restock of this Spiel des Jahres winner from Libellud.
• Bugs & Co – a new Libellud title from Bruno Faidutti and the designers behind Jungle Speed.
• Identik expansions #1 & 2 – presumably Identik expansions Bleu and Rouge (released in Europe in 2010) with new names for a new market.
• 7 Wonders – yet another restock from yet another printing.
• Gosu – restock of this Moonster Games release.
• Cyclades expansion – for details on this item, take a listen to co-designer Bruno Cathala in this video from Asmodee.
• Felinia – a new Michael Schacht design from Matagot that appeared in extremely small numbers at Spiel 2010 due to production issues.
• Galapa Go! – a new title from MJ Games, a publisher which never responds to my requests for more info. Bummer.
• Gosu: Kamakor – an expansion for Kim Satô's fantastic card game, introducing five new goblin clans.
• PIX – a game from Swiss publisher GameWorks in which players emulate old school video games by trying to render images with as few pixels as possible.
• Sultans – another new title from MJ Games.
• Vizia – still another new title from MJ Games.
• Dice Town expansion – the Cathala interview linked to under Cyclades has info on this title, too.
• Dixit 2 – restock
• Dixit Odyssey – a new expansion/stand-alone game from Jean-Louis Roubira and Libellud.
• Fame Us – a party game from designer Christophe Hermier and Moonster Games.
• 7 Wonders: Leaders – undoubtedly only the first expansion for this addictive title from Antoine Bauza.
• Claustrophobia expansion – Croc's short description of the expansion: "Lots of scenarios and a bit of everything: tiles, cards, minis for both humans and demons."
• Dr. Shark – a new title from Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala being produced by Hurrican; for a, um, highly evocative (but not very informative) take on the game, check out this video on Jeux sur un Plateau, recorded at Nürnberg 2011.
• Evo – as mentioned in this BGG News post, Asmodee has ressurected the Descartes brand, and a new edition of Philippe Keyaerts' Evo will be the first release in the new line.
• Timeline: Inventions – the Frédéric Henry design released as Timeline by Hazgaard Editions in late 2010.
• Ghost Stories: Black Secret – as noted in this BGG News post; nothing more than a title from this Repos Production release at the moment.
• Texas Zombies – a new version of Ryo Kawakami's Cat & Chocolate from Moonster Games, with zombies replacing the spirits and haunted house elements of the Japanese production.
• Timeline: Discoveries – a sequel/expansion to the first Timeline game, which is due out May 2011 in France.
For comparison, you might be interested in checking out the 2011 releases from Asmodee Ibérica – the Spanish wing of Asmodee – as reported on JugamosTod@s. Some of the titles on that list might still show up in North America, whether from Asmodee or other publishers.
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