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W. Eric Martin
• In a May 13, 2011 post on the Wizards of the Coast website titled "New Frontiers: D&D and Board Game", Bill Slavicsek writes about a few titles that gamers will likely already know about – the cooperative-play trio of Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizzt (due out October 2011) as well as the June 2011 release Conquest of Nerath (with pics of that game) – then goes on to write: "Conquest of Nerath and the Adventure System games are just the beginning. We're experimenting with games for younger fans, Euro-style board games, and other fun ideas that take the D&D brand to places it's never been before."
• In the category of "unexpected promotional opportunity", I present this post on The Puzzler, which features designer Louis Perrochon soliciting event card ideas from readers in exchange for a chance to win a copy of his Startup Fever, currently active (and fully backed) on Kickstarter. Now that's an original marketing approach...
• Colby Dauch has posted rules (PDF) for the new edition of Dungeon Run being published by Plaid Hat Games.
• Seth Jaffee gives an overview of Phil Eklund's Bios Megafauna, an October 2011 release from Eklund's Sierra Madre Games that's current available for preorder.
• Steve Jackson has posted an update on Ogre, 6th edition, with the summary being that the game will retail for $100, be published in an edition of 3,000 copies, be available through distribution and be released at some undetermined date.
• Gamewright will launch its new Port-a-Party line of games – no, really, Port-a-Party – in May 2011 with the release of Joe Name It and Who Would Win, the latter game first having appeared from Gorilla Games in 2009.
• Alliance Game Distributors has a May 2011 release date for the English version of Richard Garfield's King of Tokyo.
• Mayfair Games has announced a June 2, 2011 release date for The Struggle for Catan,
the English-language reboot of Klaus Teuber's two-player Catan card game the new Catan-themed card game for 2-4 players.
• A revised edition of Arcana is coming in Q3 2011 from Fantasy Flight Games with two new guilds (for a total of six) and six new rule options.
• Airlines Europe has been released in the U.S. from Rio Grande Games. Ascending Empires and Junta: Viva el Presidente! from Z-Man Games are at distributors and heading to U.S. stores.
• The 2011 card game Eat It! has simple game play that seems to stall in practice – at least in the online version, which has rules that are terribly lacking – but perhaps the time needed to figure out how to explain the game was instead spent making this promo video:
A few weeks ago I finally finished – and I do mean finished – PostHumous Z. I packed up the pre-orders and shipped them out myself. There was much rejoicing.
For those of you new to this whole project, PHZ is a team-based zombie survival horror game designed to scale from one-on-one play to five against five, with one side playing the human survivors, and the other controlling the zombies. The game is massive, containing enough stuff for ten players, including 120 zombie playing pieces, player aides and 295 cards, each with unique artwork...
And the kicker: This was a solo project from inception to finish. It's been two years from alpha to playtests to artwork to publication. And now that I've thoroughly earned this designer tag under my name, I'm writing this diary. The question is, what do I want to say?
Well, if you just want to read about the game and what you do in it, you'd be better off visiting the game page here on BGG. I don't have nearly enough space to detail the titanic task and all the little issues I've had to deal with, such as getting the Boss mechanism to work, designing the look of the H and Z cards, and finding an ever elusive box. Besides, I've already told that winding, long-winded tale in this thread over multiple posts.
So I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about my favorite parts of the game. The Top Five begins now!
1. Random characters and themes
Okay, this usually ends up first on everyone's list, and I'm no exception.
Posthumous Z has two distinct teams: the humans and the zombies. Players on both sides get three cards to make up their character or zombie theme. Humans get a YOU, WITH, and BUT card, generating something like "You are a beat cop" "with a gun" "but you have an alcohol problem," or "you are a hot waitress" "with a sweet ass" "but you have a stupid kid." Similarly, each zombie player has a THEY THAT and HUNGER card, making combinations such as "zombie ninjas" "that just appear" "and hunger for destruction" or "zombie cheerleaders" "that scream" "and hunger for control."
So every game starts with its own randomly generated teams, with their own strengths, weaknesses, and amusing names. It adds an incredible amount of variety when compared to having, say, a list of characters. Additionally, the players (myself included) get more attached to their particular character or theme. Rather than forcing a pre-existing name and history onto the player, the player is naturally inclined to explain whatever combination he gets – sort of like a bad B-movie version of word association.
Making a random generation system that was thematically appropriate, balanced, and simple was a challenge, and I'm quite happy it turned out so well.
2. Distinct teams, but balanced
The human and zombie teams function completely different from one another, but all their elements are connected and ultimately balance.
The humans play sort of like an RPG: They get a single character, some starting gear, and a set amount of life, but must scavenge the town to get any more. The zombies play more like a strategy game. They don't start with much – just some zombies on the board – but they accumulate resources and numbers for free over time. The zombie players' perception quickly shifts from individual to one of time, opportunities, and hordes.
A lot of games get their balance by putting everyone in the same boat. Everyone has the same starting materials or pulls from the same pot or deck, with maybe a little push going to whoever gets to go first. Making two completely different kinds of teams balance was not simple; it took me a good year of dedicated work to make happen.
3. The cards all look like stuff
PHZ has 295 cards, which are used for character generation, plot twists, items, random events – well, just about everything. Each is unique, with its own artwork, and this is what took the other year.
The graphic design of each type of card looks like something. The YOU, WITH and BUT cards look like Polaroid shots with Post-it notes, while the THEY, THAT and HUNGER are various types of manila folders with a "secret government file" look to them. The items are all on flattened shipping boxes, the events are on scraps of a newspaper (appropriately titled "The Event", which is a great name for a newspaper), and so on.
The line between card art and the card's graphic design is blurred. For example the "BUT screwed everything up" is splattered with blood, covering the "art" area of the photo, plus dripping down and staining the "text" part of sticky note. Likewise, the "BUT you have a stupid kid" has a crinkled five-year-old style drawing of a stick figure kid, savior, and zombies taped over the photo itself.
A couple of Z cards, themed as blood-splattered missing posters. The face side often has a composite photo or something busting through; the "On Fire" card is one of my favorites.
Many of the cards have little Easter eggs, for those OCD enough to look for them.
We could go into a big spiel about theme and immersion and other psycho-design babble, but let's just call it cool.
4. Low downtime
Nothing kills a game like downtime, especially a game designed to scale up to ten players. People get bored during downtime, pull out a smartphone or some other kind of apparatus, and dink around. When it finally gets to their turn, they're completely lost and have to spend more time catching up, then deciding, then acting – ballooning the downtime for all the other players, who then pull out their phones...
PHZ was designed to keep things moving. The game play is near simultaneous. The actions of a turn are quick, unfiddly physical movements, with most of the time being strategy discussions between the members of one team, while the other team watches closely for an opportunity to exploit.
One of many five-on-five games
There aren't time wasting elements such as deck searching, deck shuffling, "special" tokens that get used in only one particular instance (I'm looking at you, Fantasy Flight!), cards that make you draw a particular other card, etc. What's more, the game comes with a player aid, and the cards re-explain common terms to reinforce the rules and reduce the need to flip open the rulebook.
A big portion of that year of playtesting was spent watching – and timing – the people playing. If ever a rule, card, or other element caused confusion, slowed down the game, or was physically tedious – e.g., stacking three tokens and putting a playing piece on it to make a "big zombie" was a stupid idea – that element was reworked or culled.
The end result is fantastic – a fast-paced game that's easy to pick up and learn and that can have as much going as most "big" games have in six hours, while playing in only two.
5. I actually still enjoy playing it
On my journey, I studied and tried to learn from other designers. One thing I picked up as a common thread was that most designers, after finishing a game, are bored of it.
I've worked on this project for two years, and now finished, I'm taking it around to conventions and trying to show it off, which means I have to play it often. Heck, at the last convention, I ran 27 hours of games over three days.
Even after countless games, playtesting and demoing, the game still plays differently. Even if I'm not playing, I still set up, explain, and watch. And even in this passive role, the plot of the game ends up better than most horror movies.
I think it's pretty cool that even after the thousands of hours spent with this game it can still surprise and entertain its creator.
That said, I don't want to draw more zombies anytime soon. I've had my fill for a while.
for the love of the game
This Is a Cow
W. Eric Martin
• On Purple Pawn, Yehuda Berlinger has surveyed successful and failed board game funding projects on Kickstarter and compiled feedback from more than a dozen designers/publishers. Lots to mull over for anyone considering something along these lines.
• Although focused on video games and not board games, a series of articles on Gamasutra on "How to Design Effective Achievements" – part 1 and part 2, with part 3 to come – might be of interest to those who care about game design as some of the principles can be ported to analog games. (HT: Tim Moore)
• Tom Gurganus at Go Forth and Game interviews designer John Clowdus about his one-man publishing empire Small Box Games.
• One more sign of how BGG ≠ all gamers: In a Spielbox news item on game sales by Ravensburger in 2010, Schlag den Raab: Das Spiel is credited with sales of 200,000 copies, with 2008 Kinderspiel des Jahres winner Wer war's? notching the second-highest sales total. Number of owners of Schlag den Raab: Das Spiel on BGG? 27.
(If you've never seen Stefan Raab's performance of "Wadde hadde dudde da?" at Eurovision 2000, you are missing something. Not sure whether you'll think it's good or bad, but it's certainly something.)
• Bohnanza is now available via iTunes for play in both English and German on the iPhone or iPad.
• Sage Board Games flashes a screenshot of the Puerto Rico iOS app, while noting that Ravensburger is now reviewing the app.
• In other Puerto Rico news, with 2012 being the tenth anniversary of this Andreas Seyfarth design, some folks have been clamoring for a special anniversary edition, one that at a minimum gussies up the artwork and at a maximum includes land deeds for property on the island. In a May 2011 interview on Brettspielblog.ch, alea developer Stefan Brück says that the company will have a "gepimpte" (i.e., pimped) anniversary version of PR at Spiel 2011 to mark the game's tenth anniversary at that convention (as PR was previewed at Spiel before being released in 2002). Rio Grande Games' Jay Tummelson has also expressed interest in doing something special for PR:
I too like the idea of a special 10yr anniversary edition. If we do one, it will certainly have upgraded graphics and components. I suspect it will be a limited edition and not replace the "standard" PR. I also expect it will be much more expensive than the regular PR. Also, we will not make the upgraded components available separately. As soon as I have information on whether and what we will offer, I will make an announcement.
(HT: EndersGame, who is one of those calling for pimpage)
• And finally a note of possibly little interest to all but the grammarheads out there: In case you haven't noticed (and I wouldn't be surprised if you haven't), I've adopted the UK standard of punctuation in relation to quotation marks for BGG News – that is, all punctuation is placed outside the quotation marks unless the punctuation is part of the quoted material. Turns out that I'm riding the wave toward "logical punctuation" that's been developing online, a topic discussed in this Slate article from Ben Yagoda. For years on BGN I stuck with what I had been taught and what was standard in U.S. media, but I changed gears during my sabbatical. Why? To quote from the article: "For some, though, logic is more compelling than tradition." Logic for the win!
My design history extends back to 1974. In that long span of time, I've designed dozens of games — board games, children's games, action games and computer games, some of which were freelance-assigned projects for which I received only a fee and no design credit on the box, such as Pokerkub. Most designs required quite a few months or even years of work to function as well they were originally envisioned. Typically, a game would evolve over the course of several iterations, as components were added or subtracted, the board modified and the rules changed. The process could be relatively quick, meaning perhaps six months, or it could be long, meaning as many as a few years as the prototype might sit in a box on a shelf for awhile awaiting further inspiration.
Fastest from start to finish? Wacky Wizard Game (Western Publishing 1977), which was targeted for children. The game began life as a simple chase game to which the ingredients to make potions were later added. Since it was so simple, the game took perhaps four months to hone and off it went to the publisher. Amazingly, it looked nothing like the original prototype. The only part of the original game that was left intact was the potion making wizardry.
And the slowest? Dynasties/Sun Tzu (Jolly Roger 2005, Matagot 2010). The game began life as a tug of war contest titled Stress and was submitted to Parker Brothers back around 1982 and then again as Brain Drain two years later. As you might imagine, Parker had a bit of a problem with the negative aspects of a design that was intended to promote stress. The design was fiddled around with on and off for a few more years and was finally disassembled and filed in a drawer for almost 20 years before again seeing the light of day. Many more months of brainstorming were required to turn the game into a themed contest and playtesting consumed still more time. When finally published, the game had taken probably close to 24 years from start to finish and ironically, in its final state, Dynasties won critical acclaim and is now headed to iPhone/iPad before the end of 2011.
Dark Minions has been quite another design story indeed. I've always loved dice – their feel, their sound, and especially their potential for turning random rolls into possibilities for skillful decisions. Although my Super 3 game is often thought of as just a simple tic-tac-toe derivative, the addition of die-rolling added decision trees that extended out far ahead. Consequently, knowledge of the odds meant Super 3 had become a game of skill and if one added a doubling cube, it was on a par with Backgammon. While favorable dice rolls were still important, good decisions were now a key element. The game proved immensely popular as a result and sold over 500,000 copies in Europe alone. A mere 32 years later and my love affair with dice provided the inspiration for Dark Minions.
Let's call it a brainstorm. My passion for territorial games (e.g., El Grande) and my infatuation with dice proved irresistible. So, the first step was an immediate decision that dice would be used to attack territories. That took ten seconds. Next, I decided to go for a modular set up, rather than one board, just to make it a little different. That took another ten seconds. Rather than having nation versus nation or something pedestrian like that, I thought something horrific minions and monsters attacking medieval towns would be fun. (Warped sense of humor, I know.) That took literally another ten seconds and made the modular concept viable. The total time for building a base concept was probably less than one minute.
Prototype of a town and the final image
In 37 years of designing games, that had never happened before. I immediately sat in front of my desktop, opened a spreadsheet and began to play around with the math. That took a few days, trying to figure out how towns would be attacked and captured and how to award victory points. The first prototype was constructed the next day and played that weekend. Meh.
It all worked, but tossing only two dice seemed to leave the playtesters flat. While you could eventually add another die by leveling up, there was just not enough tactile satisfaction in rolling only two dice. Thus, a third die was added. I briefly considered adding more dice but there was a problem. If only three towns were in play (usually the case), then adding more dice would likely be overkill. To make the process of leveling up more meaningful, three red dice with higher numbers were introduced to the mix for those who were able to level up. The red dice sides were numbered from 3 to 8, which meant average rolls of 5.5, compared with 3.5 for the black dice, a substantial improvement. In addition, since rolling 1 on a black die was so disadvantageous, I made the 1s into +1s, which could be added to any other die. The math and the spreadsheets were taking on a life of their own. However, at this point, I was still only about a week into the design.
The base design worked well enough but was almost too simple. It needed another layer of complexity. Since the base mechanisms worked just fine, there was no way I was going to layer complexity to the base, so I needed an external layer of complexity. Enter the Overlords. The Overlords all break the rules of the game in different ways and allow various tactical and strategic approaches that would otherwise be impossible. Since they all came with a cost, players would now have to judge if an Overlord was fairly priced given his/her situation. The 15 Overlords took another two weeks to design and a few playtests were needed to adjust costs and powers.
Before a month had passed from the original brainstorm, the game had almost completely taken shape. A series of regular playtest sessions were initiated with LI-game group members and when my youngest son had his college buddies over, they were immediately drafted to playtest. Naturally, there were a few tweaks here and there, but after a dozen playtest sessions, I was convinced Dark Minions was ready for primetime. Coming up just a few weeks away on the calendar was Alan Moon's The Gathering of Friends and since there would be publishers attending, I did not contact any publishers, instead waiting and fine-tuning the game before packing it up and flying to Columbus. Needless to say, the game was well-received. From start to finish, including Zev Shlasinger's commitment to publish Dark Minions took roughly eleven weeks. Incredibly, Z-man Games' prototype already had the first expansion in the box and a second was already being designed.
From left, Herb Levy, Greg Daigle, Karl Heinz-Schmiel and Georg Wild playing a Dark Minions prototype at The Gathering of Friends, April 2010, ten weeks after the idea for the game was conceived
W. Eric Martin
Mayfair Games has announced a new release from designer Martin Wallace – Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861, which is due out July 21, 2011 to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the first land battle of the American Civil War. Here's an overview of the setting and game play:
July 21, 1861: the raw untried armies of North and South meet for the first battle of the American Civil War. Will you take the part of General Beauregard of the Confederate States of America defending Virginia or the part of Union General Irvin McDowell seeking to stop the rebellion of the south and re-unite the nation?
Command opportunities are determined by dice and action cards. To achieve victory the Union Army of Northeastern Virginia must seize Manassas Junction or rout the Southern Army to achieve victory. The Confederate Army of the Potomac & Confederate Army of the Shenandoah win by routing the Union army, avoiding rout, by seizing the Northern town of Centreville, or simply denying the Union victory.
Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861 – for two players, ages 10+, with a playing time of 45 minutes and $30 MSRP – is the first game in a series of American Civil War themed games scheduled to be released by Mayfair Games and designed by Martin Wallace.
Check out Island Siege!
Geekmail me for a Venture Forth promo!
Venture Forth, to be released by Minion Games in late 2011, is my second published game. The publisher, Minion Games, has set up a Kickstarter campaign to help fund its printing, so I thought I would share a bit about how the game works and the inspirations for some of the mechanisms.
A Journey Begins...
Venture Forth has many inspirations, but it all started with Talisman. I have always admired that game because of its grand scale. It creates a rich world for players to explore and allows for lots of different interactions. I wanted to make a game in the same vein but incorporate modern design principles, such as reducing the time frame to an hour and adding control to the encounters that players face instead of relying on random card draws. In addition, I wanted to explore a reward system that didn't involve grinding (killing monsters to get stronger so you can kill more monsters).
In Venture Forth, you assemble a party of adventurers in a mythical ancient Greek world. You start the game with a single character that you pick from your starting hand. This character will give you direction as to what your goals are since he has ambition – that is, a description of how you can score points in the game. For example, the Philosopher has this ambition: "Encounter an adventurer desiring knowledge". His ambition will be fulfilled every time you encounter another adventurer with the knowledge icon. Unlike other adventure games, not all of the heroes have the ambition of killing monsters – although there are still quite a few of them who do!
Each time your character achieves his ambition, you consult his level card to see what your options are; the level card (starting at level one and going to level three) describes ways to turn your adventurer's "will" into points (and possibly level up). As the game progresses, your adventurers will gain and lose "will" and you must try to have enough will on that character when his ambition is met. Just like real life, when an opportunity arises you must be motivated to act or else you gain nothing!
So, now you know what your adventurer wants, but how do you help him to achieve it? Well, luckily you have a hand of cards full of enemies and adventurers that you can play to the board. One of the basic actions in the game is to just play a card onto one of the path spaces between two sites. Ideally, you want to create a nice route from one site to another that is full of opportunities for your adventurers. In addition to filling in a route, when you play your card, you can collect resources depending on the space the card is played - this is the main way to gain will and gold.
Hellhound - Art by James Denton
Once there is a path filled with cards, you can venture forth! This means that you get to travel down the path with your party and encounter each card along the way. There are two types of encounters: adventurers and enemies.
If you come across an adventurer along your path, you have the option to recruit him for gold or leave him there. You have a limit of five adventurers in your party, so recruit wisely. Sometimes you want to recruit an adventurer whose ambition compliments someone else in your party. Sometimes you need that extra power to defeat monsters. Sometimes you want the guy because he will help you score treasure at the end of the game. You can amass a strong party that can defeat anything in the game or play with just a party of a few - both ways can be competitive. The trade-off for a big party is that it takes time and resources to recruit those guys while the trade-off for a small party is that the monsters will hinder your options.
Enemies are the other things that you can encounter on your journey. Enemies are pretty simple in this game, having a power number and a desire. The power number is how much total power your party must have in order to defeat it. If you don't defeat it, you will lose whatever it wants to take from you (like will or gold). The adventurers powers range from 1 to 3, while the enemies range from 4 to 12. Those seem like pretty steep odds of survival. The fact is that you will be defeated at some point - you must decide when it is acceptable and when it is not. Besides the base power of the adventurers, to increase your power you can also exert (discard one will per adventurer per encounter) to double that guy's power. You can also use the abilities of some treasures that you collect along the way to help boost your power.
Speaking of treasure, some paths that you travel along will have an explore token that you can pick up after your journey is done. Most of the tokens give you a reward of some kind, like a treasure card or gold. Treasure has two uses. First, each treasure has a one-use special ability that can help you with your strategy. Second, each treasure has a point value that can be scored if you hold onto it until the end of the game. However, you can score only one treasure for each adventurer you have and that treasure must be desired by that adventurer. For example, an adventurer who desires knowledge (scroll symbol) like the Philosopher is able to score "Map of the Underworld" which is a knowledge treasure.
In your downtime between travels, you can make an offering to the temple at your site. There are varying benefits to doing this depending on which temple you are at. Some benefits include gaining extra actions or moving to a different location.
In Venture Forth, your success will depend on several factors. You must plan ahead and be prepared for what lies before you. Be wary that the path you create may be taken and spoiled by an opponent. If you pay attention to your opponent's adventurers, it may give you clues as to which actions he may take. The board may be full of terrifying monsters, but sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and venture forth!
Resources: In order to gain gold or will, you have to place an encounter card on the board. For example, if you play a card on a space with a gold symbol, you gain one gold. This is a very simple idea but it seemed to work with this game for several reasons. In an early prototype, players gained resources automatically at the beginning of their turns. However, during my playtests it seemed that players were inclined to forget to take their income. By making them gain the resource by placing a card, it connected the player's action with the resource generation so he was more inclined to remember. As a nice benefit to this system, there are a lot of interesting decisions to be made based on which resources you need and where you want to place your cards on the board.
Level Cards: Each adventurer starts the game at level one and can potentially move up to level three. The level cards determine how they can turn their will into points. The level system in this game has changed over time, but eventually it turned into the following three-level system. At level one and level two, the level cards are identical. When moving to level three, you choose a level card with a unique ability. Originally, there were unique abilities at each level. However, there were many issues with balancing the power levels of those abilities. Also, the amount of special abilities in play at one time was daunting to manage. Ultimately, having a unique power come out at level three added to the specialness of the situation and allowed the player with fewer special powers to manage.
Gorgon - Art by James Denton
Wandering Encounters: After you venture forth, any encounter cards that aren't defeated or recruited will become wandering - the card is turned sideways. If the card is already wandering, it is discarded instead. This system arose because the board would inevitably become filled with huge monsters like krakens and dragons that nobody could defeat. I wanted there to still be a threat, but not something that would make for a frustrating game experience. The wandering system allows for the game board to refresh itself over time, and it also prevents the players from taking the same lucrative paths over and over.
Explore Tokens: Explore tokens are seeded along paths on the board by playing cards (similar to the resource generation method). After venturing down a path, you can take the explore token along the path and take its reward (like a treasure or gold). The pile of explore tokens acts as the timer for the game - when the pile is empty, the end of the game is near. This system was developed to do a few important things. First, all players can get a sense of when the game will be coming to a close so they can plan accordingly. Second, it allows for a fairly consistent game time as well as an adjustable one - you can make the game longer of short by adding or removing tokens from the pile. In addition, the system adds more spice to the decision making for the player. If the path you are planning on venturing down next turn doesn't have an explore token, you will need to figure out where best to place your card in order to seed an explore token on that path.
Despair: Whenever you are defeated by an enemy, you must give up what is shown on the enemy card, sometimes will, sometimes gold. There was a problem with this system - what happens when you don't have what they want? Ultimately, I came to the idea of despair. For each will or gold that you can't give up, you must gain a despair. Despair is the crushing sadness that lingers with your adventurers after they have been thoroughly defeated - at the end of the game, despair makes you lose points. Now I had this extra "anti-resource" that heroes were gaining, but I had no way of getting rid of it. So I thought about it a bit thematically. As in life, your sadness may go away whenever you have an uplifting moment. I came upon the idea that whenever you level up, you can get rid of one despair. I was able to create a system where despair both entered and exited the game through normal game play, but also affected your decisions in meaningful ways.
Where There's a Will, There's a Way...
I'm very excited to see the final product coming together, and I appreciate everyone who has come out to chip in at out Kickstarter campaign. Venture over there to check us out, and thanks for reading!
W. Eric Martin
• Tom Rosen at Opinionated Gamers has a loooong preview of four new games coming from Czech Games Edition in 2011 – Dungeon Petz, Last Will, "Galaxy Trucker Expansion #2" and Pictomania – along with a Vlaada Chvátil design from WizKids called Mage Knight.
• Designer Michael Schacht highlights a preview of the PC/Wii adaptation of his Zooloretto. Amazing how long the legs are on this animal...
• And for more on modern strategy games seeping into mainstream culture, check out this clip from CollegeHumor.com on Settlers of Catan: McDonald's Edition.
• Dice Hate Me interviews designer Konstantinos Kokkinis about Drum Roll, which he co-designed with Dimitris Drakopoulos and which will debut at Spiel 2011 in October.
• Publisher Cryptozoic Entertainment is starting a traveling game convention that will be held in various U.S. cities each year. Head to the Epic Con website for details on the Las Vegas and Philadelphia cons being held in 2011.
• As further commentary on the "games as art" debate, an article on The Escapist notes that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) – a U.S. government agency that funds art projects "to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities" – has adjusted its criteria for projects that can receive federal funding in 2012 to include "interactive games". Cue Congressional investigations into whether certain games qualify as multiplayer solitaire and are therefore off-limits for NEA grants. (HT: Matt Carlson)
• In 2010, UK publisher Mattel released a version of Scrabble - the special "Shameless Bid for Attention" edition – in which players could legally play proper nouns. (Details in this BBC article.) For 2011, Toronto's The Globe and Mail reports that Collins Official Scrabble Words has added almost 3,000 new words to the long list of legal plays, including "grrrl", "webzine" and "thang". (HT: Wild thang Dale Yu)
• To follow up on an earlier note about Haggis now being playable online at Board Game Arena, Indie Boards and Cards publisher Travis Worthington is giving away five copies of Haggis; to be eligible for entry in this giveaway, you must be ranked higher than designer Sean Ross on June 15, 2011. It's on!
• A similar challenge is underway on igGameCenter with a copy of nestorgames' Hippos & Crocodiles up for grabs. Beat the bot continuously, then strut your stuff.
W. Eric Martin
So in the category of "things that I thought I had posted about but instead overlooked on the desktop for ten days" we have exhibit A: the July 2011 releases from U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games, summarized in the list below:
• Red November (new edition in a larger box that no longer resembles the squishedness of the game's setting)
• Rune Age
Expansions for LCGs
• A Game of Thrones: The Card Game - Mask of the Archmaester
• Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game - Spawn of Madness
• Lord of the Rings: The Card Game - A Journey to Rhosgobel
• Warhammer Invasion: Fiery Dawn
Ventura is the real surprise in this batch of releases as I thought the game had been buried in the sands of time. Here's what I had written about the game in my Spiel 2008(!) report for BoardgameNews.com:
Silvio Negri Clementi also talked a bit about Ventura, of which he is the co-designer with Alberto Menoncin. The short description is Risk crossed with The Settlers of Catan. Players have their own town and build up kingdoms on hexagonal tiles, taking resources and money from those tiles in order to hire and maintain troops and armies that can be used to attack others. Take control of an enemy town or be the first to score 30 VP from fighting armies and other activities and you win.
Clementi showed me lots of advance artwork at that convention and everything had sounded like the game was just over the hill, but apparently as with so much else in life, things happen. I know I got sidetracked after that show...
Of course FFG has already announced a few more new releases in the past ten days, such as The Adventurers: The Pyramid of Horus (announcement), a free variant for Cadwallon: City of Thieves called "A Gamble in the Dark" (PDF) and more expansion packs for the various LCGs. Expect to see most of these items announced as August 2011 releases in the next few weeks.
W. Eric Martin
• Designer Bruno Faidutti has posted a report of the XVIIth Ludopathic Gathering, an event he organizes annually in Etourvy, France, which looks like the nicest countryside setting you'd ever want to play games in. If you think packing for the trip home from Spiel is tough, you should take a lesson from the wünderkind who packed this car.
• Steve Jackson has posted designer notes for Munchkin Zombies on the SJG website.
• Designer Andy Looney spoke at Savannah College of Art & Design in February 2011, talking about his approach to game design. Looney's write-up of the talk in The Looney Labs Fan Club includes a handout titled "How I Design a Game" that includes straightforward advice like "simplify", "repeat until fun" and the ever-popular "get defensive and brood".
• U.S. publisher Tasty Minstrel Games is importing Spiel 2010 releases Magnum Sal and Sun, Sea & Sand, but making the games available only as a direct purchase through TMG for the moment. For details, head to this link for Magnum Sal and this link for SSS.
• Sean Ross' Haggis is now playable online at Board Game Arena, where Ross is currently ranked #2 in the standings. Sign up and try to knock him down.
• Laurent Escoffier and Marc Tabourin's Photo Party is available as an iOS app, which seems like an ideal blending of game design and technology.
• Scott Nicholson is featured in an article in The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY) about his efforts to have games available in libraries as a community resource.
• In his blog Talking Game, Eric Franklin explains the benefit of breaking through your game preferences: "When we reach past our preferences, we sometimes find games we would otherwise have missed. And some of these games may become favorites, if we give them a chance." Sometimes, of course, we just waste our time and reinforce why we have those preferences to begin with, but not always – and those odd counter-tidal finds are sometimes more enjoyable for being so unexpected.
• James Sheahan has started recording Gaming World Records on his MetaGames blog following a trip through the Himilayas in Nepal. While you might not be able to top his "World's Highest Altitude Boardgaming Record", Sheahan invites you to submit gaming-related world records of your own.
• Even The New York Times dishes out a thimbleful of hate for Monopoly in its review of Under the Boardwalk, a documentary about the game from Kevin Tostado: "Monopoly, slow-moving and dependent largely on chance, is no spectator sport." Still haven't watched this movie as I appear in it and am not eager to see myself on screen – someday I'll take the plunge...
The first two expansions for Race for the Galaxy – The Gathering Storm and Rebel vs Imperium – expanded the game by adding start worlds, new cards, more players, and two new but optional mechanics: goals and takeovers.
The Brink of War (which requires both previous expansions) adds Galactic Prestige, which is woven throughout the entire expansion. Galactic Prestige represents the relative standing of each player's empire and is gained by placing certain cards (with that symbol) or using various powers. With the appropriate powers, prestige can be spent to attack, enable certain powers to be used, or become cards or VPs. In addition, the Prestige Leader (the empire with the most prestige) receives a bonus each round, and any unspent prestige at game end is worth 1 VP apiece.
Thematically, I had the political brinkmanship before World War II in mind, where countries – by playing on old grievances – could use their international standing to both extract territorial concessions and to rally and unify their populace. The first card I designed was "Casus Belli", which allows its owner – with previously gained prestige – to either attack any player (and, if successful, gain more prestige) or convert prestige into VPs. This second power creates a new strategy (whether takeovers are being used or not): garner lots of prestige, and then Consume:2x one prestige for a net gain of 5 VPs each round.
While 37 of the 48 TBOW game cards involve prestige, this is only ~20% of the combined deck. One challenge was making sure that players who drew only a few prestige cards didn't feel hopelessly behind a player who got an early prestige lead. If the Prestige Leader bonus was too small, then vying for the prestige lead wouldn't matter; if it was too large, then gaining prestige early on would dominate. Our solution was to vary the per-round Prestige Leader bonus: 1 VP, plus a card draw if the Leader earned a prestige on the previous round; otherwise (or if tied), just 1 VP (which is nice, but can be easily overcome by other game actions).
We also added a benefit for getting just a single prestige, namely being able to use the new "one-shot" Prestige Opportunity action card that every player starts with. By spending a prestige, a player can get a "super" action once per game (for example, turning Consume:2x into Consume:3x for one round). This action card also has another use, namely, Search, which doesn't require a prestige, so players who don't earn any prestige can still benefit from it.
Search: Looking for a Needle in a Draw Stack...
As the card deck gets larger and larger, while the overall variance remains the same (given that we maintain the proportions of worlds versus developments, various powers, etc.), the variation in the subset of cards that any given player draws increases. This can lead to player frustration, particularly if a player is pursuing a strategy that depends on a small number of cards.
Despite adding new explore powers in the expansions, the card variance was still too high, so we added two new mechanisms: draw then discard powers (in which a player draws two cards, then discards one card from hand) and search.
A player may search once per game, flipping cards from the deck to find a card that matches a selected category. There are nine possible search categories, so a player who needs just a bit more Military, for example, could search for a development granting +1 or +2 Military, while a player pursuing an Alien strategy could search for an Alien production or windfall world. When the player finds a matching card, they can either take it in hand or continue searching. If they continue, they must take the second matching card they find. The other flipped over cards go into the discard pile, so searching also increases the odds that the deck will reshuffle in games with just a few players.
The one-shot Prestige/Search, and your search choices
Takeovers: Our Dream of Safety Must Disappear...
The second expansion, Rebel vs Imperium, introduced takeovers, in which players could, under certain circumstances, conquer a military world in another player's tableau. The Brink of War extends this mechanic, portraying the descent of a galaxy further into warfare. With "Casus Belli", a player with both prestige and a powerful Military can now potentially take over any military world, and if a player also discards the "Imperium Invasion Fleet", even non-military worlds can be attacked. No empire is completely safe.
However, using the "Invasion Fleet" is expensive (though, if successful, prestige is gained), so aggressive players need to balance their potential gains against their costs. The Brink of War also introduces new defenses and incentives. The owner of the "Pan-Galactic Security Council" can, by spending a prestige, block one declared takeover attempt (against any empire) each round. A new 6-development, the "Universal Peace Institute", rewards players who pursue peace by giving an endgame bonus for having negative Military. And, as before, takeovers are optional, so players who don't enjoy this type of player interaction need not play with them.
Goals, Uplift, Aliens, Terraforming, and more...
Prestige and the tension of "guns vs butter" are reflected in the five new goals supplied in this expansion, including goals for most prestige, most consume powers, and the first to have two worlds and either a takeover power or negative Military. The "Uplift Code" was discovered in the previous expansion, so The Brink of War details the split between those who wish to breed and exploit the Uplift races and their victims, who rise up in revolt against this.
With the discovery of an "Alien Burial Site" and the "Alien Departure Point", galactic interest in the long-lost Aliens reaches a new peak (or low point), with the "Alien Tourist Attraction". Meanwhile, the Golden Age of Terraforming emerges, with "Terraforming Engineers" upgrading existing worlds and various cards with powers that allow players to use goods for discounts, increased Military, etc...
This expansion includes four new start worlds for players, plus rules and counters for using them in the solitaire game introduced in The Gathering Storm. The drafting variant now supports up to six players.
And the Winners Are...
This time, we received well over a hundred contest card submissions. Three winning cards were chosen, plus a record 32 honorable mentions for those entrants who correctly deduced various features of already designed cards. For a full list of the winners, plus the winning cards, see the Rio Grande Games website. Thanks to everyone who entered this contest!
The Brink of War adds four new start worlds (and tokens for them in the solitaire game), five new goals, prestige markers and a Prestige Leader tile, six search/prestige opportunity action cards, and 44 new game cards to Race for the Galaxy. Enjoy!
Editor's note: This preview first appeared on BoardgameNews.com on March 22, 2010.
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