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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.
W. Eric Martin
• The revivified Studio Descartes has a blog (in French) in which someone from Descartes, which is now owned by Asmodee, is detailing the redesign of Philippe Keyaerts' Evo, which will be the first title to reappear with the Descartes label. The May 4, 2011 post shows the new look for the six regular genes in the game: horns, eggs, fur, and so on. (No umbrellas this time, which is a setback to absurdists everywhere.) The post mentions that the game will include twelve new and unique genes, only some of which will be included in each game; details about those are promised in the next post.
• Mayfair Games has announced a Q3 2011 release date for Steam: Map Expansion #1 (previously dubbed "Triple Play"), with the expansion retailing for $24.
• Stronghold Games has announced a deck-building game from Andrew Parks called Core Worlds that will likely hit retail in Nov./Dec. 2011, with the game being available via preorder earlier. Head to the game page linked to in the previous sentence for a long description of the game.
• In other deck-building game news, and there seems to be no end to such announcements these days, StarTrek.com has announced that among other products coming out bearing the ST brand – 25th Anniversary Pez collector's set anyone? – deck-building games for both the original series and Next Generation will be released by Bandai in North America.
• Portal is releasing a Polish-language version of The Resistance in June 2011 and this version will include a few small changes in addition to a couple of new cards. I'm waiting for details on what those cards are and whether they will be available outside of this edition.
• A new version of Serenissima is in the works from Ystari Games, with the game most likely being released in 2011, according to Frederic Mariusse, who summed up the expected changes to the game in this BGG post. Tric Trac's Monsieur Phal posted a shot of designer Dominique Ehrhard and Ystari's Cyril Demaegd contemplating a Mediterranean-ish game board.
• Fantasy Flight Games has posted a second preview for Deadwood, due out July 2011.
• In February 2011, I posted a 2011 release schedule for Asmodee and while the schedule focused on when titles would be available in North America, it still gave a good idea of what's coming from the publisher no matter where you might be located. To follow-up on that post, here are new titles on the release list:
• Skull & Roses – yes, April is in the past, but in case you missed seeing the game on shelves, now you know it's out there.
• Double Agent – this title and the next two are two-player games from Matagot
• Expédition Altiplano
• Gosu: Kamakor – previously listed as May 2011
• Cyclades expansion – also previously listed as May 2011
• Jungle Speed Electronic – I'd like to think that the totem will be electrified to add more juice to this game, but I don't think that's the case.
W. Eric Martin
• An English version of Tanto Cuore – the Japanese deck-building game from Masayuki Kudou in which players aspire to become King of the Maids – will soon be available in U.S. stores via Japanime Games, a publishing name for online retailer Cardhaus. The game is available now through Cardhaus, with the bulk of the shipment in transit and expected to be available through distributors before the end of May 2011. Says Cardhaus' Eric Price, "We expect to have expansions later this year as well."
• Glenn Drover's Age of Empires III is getting a name change to Glenn Drover's Empires: The Age of Discovery, and along with the name change comes word that the long-delayed expansion – the Builder Expansion, with bits for a sixth player, twenty new buildings and a new specialist – will also be forthcoming.
But wait, there's more! These two items are part of a series from Eagle Games that is dubbed – wait for it – Glenn Drover's Empire Series, with the next title in the series being Glenn Drover’s Empires: Ancient Empires, which uses a similar system for Empires: The Age of Discovery but with players controlling one of the civilizations from the Roman era. I should have more info on this series the week of May 9, 2011.
• Dutch publisher White Goblin Games plans to release a Dutch edition of Adam Kałuża's K2 in May 2011, according to Bordspel.com.
• Dan Manfredini's Venture Forth has gone live as a Kickstarter project from publisher Minion Games.
• Asmodee will release two titles from Matagot in May 2011 in North America: Double Agent and Jungle.
• Wizards of the Coast has announced a July 8, 2011 release date for Battleship Galaxies.
• Fantasy Flight Games has posted rules (PDF) for Twilight Imperium: Shards of the Throne.
• Atlas Games has posted a first look at the cover of Cthulhu Gloom – a nice marriage of Edward Gorey and ultra-slimy...
• Say Anything Family has been released and should be available throughout U.S. stores. by the end of May 2011.
• New titles – well, relatively new titles – in the BGG database that might be of interest include:
-----* Redakai, a new TCG based on a cartoon series that's co-designed by the Ascension team of Justin Gary, Brian Kibler and John Fiorello. Publisher Spin Master Ltd has been posting a series of YouTube videos on the game, including this game summary which oddly appears to have been filmed in a basement.
-----* South African Railroads from Winsome Games (although all copies of the current edition have been claimed).
-----* Space Maze, with aliens making their way through doors toward the coveted relic only if the doors are properly color-coded. Snobby aliens...
-----* Lords of Baseball, which sounds hugely involved, but perfect for those who want to dig deep in a baseball simulation.
Hornet, released in September 2010, is the first published game by us, the Moliis Brothers. Hornet is also the first original game from the Finnish boardgame company Lautapelit.fi, with Z-Man Games acting as co-publisher in the U.S. and Asmodee as a distributor in Europe. With Hornet now topping 100 ratings on BGG, we thought we'd share our experiences of the full game development process of Hornet, from first idea to finished product.
We began designing board games systematically in the summer of 2007, although we have always designed games and modified existing ones. In the case of Hornet, while the game mechanisms remained relatively constant throughout, the theme experienced radical changes.
Let us begin with a short overview of the actual game: Hornet is an area-control game with simultaneous action selection and a dual-layered resource system. The game board is a modular board built of hex tiles representing a landscape with fields of flowers and hornet hives of various sizes. The players control two hornets each, which compete to collect nectar and produce honey in hives. The game is won immediately by conquering three hives or by having won two nests by the end of the game with the highest aggregate amount of honey produced. The nature of the various action cards ensures high player interaction, requires a need for pre-planning a number of turns ahead, and allows for the execution of cunning tactical moves.
As strange as it now seems looking at the box cover above, the first inspiration for the game was the U.S. presidential primaries in early 2008. We both follow world politics with great interest, and we noticed that the U.S. primary election system has a lot of elements which could make for an interesting game. There are the regularly occurring primary elections in each state, the results of which have a significant effect on the consequent primaries in the next states. The size of different states matters a lot, as it's easier to win in smaller states, but you can't ignore the big ones either. The mechanisms of mudslinging and negative campaigning were also interesting and amusing: They might give a quick benefit for the slinger, but might also turn against the negative campaigner. Additionally, the theme had a clear victory condition: to become the party's one and only presidential candidate.
Out of this mish-mash of ideas, mechanisms and conditions, we developed a playable game quite quickly in early 2008. This version already had most of the same elements as the final game of Hornet. The players, instead of controlling hornets, were politicians flying around the continental U.S.A. trying to woo voters and win as many primaries as they could.
The somewhat peculiar mechanism of having two playing pieces on the board stems from this theme. In the earlier versions of the game, each player started with only one pawn – the presidential candidate – and the other pawn could be bought (we thought of it as a campaign office/trailer) during the game to give the player a wider geographical reach. The number of pawns per player varied throughout the development of the game and many different combinations were tried. (We shouldn't forget the vice-presidential candidates after all.) Eventually, we concluded that two pawns per player, both available from the beginning of the game, gave the best balance of flexibility and control – flexibility in that a wider range of tactics could be pursued, control in that the game did not degenerate into total chaos.
It is still relatively easy to see which roles the other components in the game played in the original theme: nectar was money, honey represented voters, and the hives were different U.S. states.
With the original theme, the game board looked something like this
As spring turned to summer and the primary season dwindled and finally ended, we felt that a game in which the theme is strongly relevant only once every four years may not attract sufficient interest. What's more, even once you win the primaries, you're still not the president – only one of two candidates – which made the theme a little weak in our mind. So we sat down one evening and after throwing around many theme ideas, we came up with bees and honey. Bees later gave way to hornets, which are more aggressive and are a better match with the competitive nature of the game. (For those reading this who have a problem with honey-producing hornets, feel free to call the pawns bees, or beeples.)
The Beeples come in five great and somewhat different colors than pawns in most games – image: Markus Aranko
Fine-tuning the Game Play
The game element which required the most work was the action cards: How many cards should each player have? Should each player have the same set of cards? How should the cards impact each other? How much should it cost to play a card?
The number of cards varied between four and eight during the development process, and finding the right balance between them was definitely the biggest challenge, especially since we wanted to have a high level of player interaction, something we both enjoy in games. For example, the aggressive honey action (also known as "super honey action"), which allows you to directly change other players' honey into your own, went from being much too strong to being irrelevant to (finally) its current form. Naturally, whenever one card was changed, it had a direct impact on the other cards as well, since all of the cards needed to be in balance between each other as well. The final structure, with a logical system of one risky and one safe action for three different kinds of actions (nectar collection, honey action, movement) provides a good balance of risk and reward, while keeping the number of options manageable.
Action cards used in the first versions of the game
We quickly discovered that solitary game testing (in which one person controls all the players) did not work at all as the interaction between the different players' choices is so high. A player may often be better off trying to influence his competitors' actions through negotiation, bluffs or even with straightforward threats – this happened at least a couple of times during test games! – than with silently optimization of his own next moves. Yet optimizing your own moves certainly plays a role, due to the fact that the players know in advance the number of rounds left before a hive is scored. This forces the players to plan ahead, consider their position in the turn order, and yet again outguess what the other players will do.
In the final version of the game, we feel that all the mechanisms are well balanced. The impact of experience/skill, impact of other players' choices and, in some cases, pure luck works well in our opinion. Naturally, the importance that these different elements should play is largely a matter of opinion or taste, but we strongly feel that the combination we have created makes Hornet attractive both for a beginner or younger player as well as an experienced game strategists.
From First Idea to Publication
Once we realized that the games we developed turned out quite well in general, being functional and enjoyable, we started considering whether and how to get them published. We were not interested in self-publication, so for lack of better ideas, we simply walked into our local friendly game store – Lautapelit.fi in Helsinki – and asked one of the owners whether they were interested in new game ideas.
After a somewhat sceptical initial reaction, we eventually managed to create enough interest that the owners agreed to hold a game-testing session in the near future. When a suitable moment finally arrived in the summer of 2008, we had three different games to present and ready to play, our bee-themed game amongst them. This was the one that attracted the most interest, and only two weeks after the initial playtest session, we had a publishing contract for our game.
After signing the contract, a lot of work went into developing the graphic look of the game as well as still further balancing the game mechanisms. By the end of summer 2010, the game was finally in print. We were very excited to have a board game with our names printed on the cover available in stores around the world. While this had been our original final goal, it is only natural that, having achieved this goal, we have moved on to striving to have a new game published at least once a year. With the positive response we have received for our other prototypes so far, we are confident this is achievable and that Hornet will not be the last time you see a game from the Moliis Brothers.
And who knows, perhaps by the time of the next presidential primary season, Z-Man will want to republish the game with the original theme...
Jani Moliis and Tero Moliis
White and brown fighting for control of a hive – image: Markus Aranko
Italian publisher Cranio Creations has announced a June 2011 release date for the new edition of Horse Fever, with Heidelberger and ElfinWerks distributing the game, which now includes rules in English, German, French and Italian.
This new edition features:
• Rules for six players
• Totally rewriten rules
• A new, more compact box size (31x22x7)
• A new and bigger game board with a complete hippodrome
• Six wooden horse pawns
• New cards including actions, horses, assistants and objectives
W. Eric Martin
• Trask at LivingDice.com has posted descriptions of and links to nearly every company or individual that will have a booth at Origins 2011. Time to plan ahead if you're attending!
• The nominees for the Graf Ludo 2011 – an award focused on game graphics and artistic design – have been announced, with archetypal Eurogame artist Michael Menzel picking up three of the six nominations in the family game category (and an additional nomination in the half-dozen children's game).
• Gryphon Games is soliciting opinions on the cover design of its upcoming version of Can't Stop.
• Repos Production has released Time's Up! as an iPhone app.
• Z-Man Games newsletter #29 (PDF) is now out, with details on Palenque, Mondo and the Discworld game Guards! Guards!
• Alderac Entertainment Group is publishing a fundraising card playable in Legend of the Five Rings – "Stone of Rememberance" – with all proceeds collected from this card's sales going to the American Red Cross for Japanese recovery efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake/tsunami in mid-April 2011.
• Spanish publisher Gen-X Games, which has previously had a few of its titles distributed in North America through FRED Distribution, has signed a distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors, according to a news post on The Gaming Gang.
• Jeux'n'CO interviews designer Michel Pinon, designer of the fantastic abstract strategy game Versus (which unknown to me was released as an iPad app in Sept. 2010 – as I mentioned in another post, these games are popping up everywhere). In addition to hinting at a new large game being released in the near future from Asyncron Games, Pinon says that a new French/English edition of Le Mot le plus Court ("The Shortest Word") is in the works.
• Designer David Whitcher has passed along further details about the Protospiel Card Game Design contest, which I first covered in February 2011. The ten semi-finalists have been pared to four finalists. They are:
-----* Card Farm: Create the best farm by planting and harvesting crops to sell at market over the four seasons.
-----* Mission Control: Explore and settle the galaxy.
-----* Mow Money: Outbid your opponents to earn the reputation of the best landscaper in town.
-----* Vaudeville: Book acts to make the most money for your theater.
Says Whitcher, "The final judging will be done by the designers and guests attending this year's Protospiel held in Ann Arbor, MI, July 8, 9 and 10. For more information on attending, see Protospiel.org. The winning game will be produced in a limited run and distributed worldwide."
• Want to visit Spiel in Essen, Germany but aren't sure how to arrange the trip without ending up pantsless and destitute in a back alley brauhaus with dice wedged in your nether regions? Assuming you don't enjoy being in that situation (not that there's anything wrong with it), you might consider checking out the Spiel 2011 trip organized by Geek Nation Tours.
Despite BGG admin and all-around pain-in-the-neck Dale Yu being one of the tour guides and giving a talk about how to get the most out of your trip, the tour sounds like a winner, with time in the Netherlands sandwiching the four days in Essen. I spent six months in Utrecht way back in 1996 and still think fondly of those days. Not the ones in January when it was too cold to travel more than 100 meters without crippling pain in my joints – not those days, mind you – but all of the other ones, with Prodigy's "Firestarter" plastered all over MTV Europe, Jerry Springer subtitled in Dutch running on the television, and me surviving on an enormous intake of ontbijtkoek while getting hustled by expert Magic players on the canal banks at The Joker. Good times...
W. Eric Martin
As I discovered by chance on May 2, BGG is holding a contest in which you can win a copy of Robert Abbott's Confusion. I had already sent Abbott questions about how the game came to be and what's happened with the design over the years, so if you want to know more about Confusion, read on...
W. Eric Martin: How did Confusion originate? In a history of Confusion on your website, you mention a few other games with hidden information – Kriegspiel, Stratego and your own Eleusis. Did Confusion come about from your experience (whether good or bad) with these games or some other form of inspiration?
Robert Abbott: Actually it started with an off-hand comment by a guy I worked with at Bank of New York. He said, "In your game Eleusis, you don't know what cards can be played. Why don't you make a board game where you don't know how pieces move?" I thought, "Of course!" and I immediately started thinking about Confusion. The guy at Bank of New York was George Brancaccio, and I mention him in the original acknowledgements.
Another guy mentioned in the original acknowledgements is Jimmy Ginocchio. He saw my wife and me playing the game, and he said, "Are you going to call that Confusion?" He meant that as a joke, but I thought, "Yes, of course, that should be the name."
WEM: How did the game evolve from that first inspiration? How many iterations did the design go through, and how did you determine that you had hit upon the right configuration with 12 pieces per side, an 11x11 board, and the particular movement values of each piece? After all, the number of possible combinations of elements for Confusion is vast!
RA: I had 12 pieces from the beginning, and they were in their current configuration. The 11x11 board came about because I added extra spaces on the sides so there could be battles on the sides. And I needed a central square where I could put something that could be picked up.
The majority of the work on Confusion was in getting the right powers of movement for the 12 pieces. This involved a year of intense play and it was the most fun I ever had with games.
WEM: Have you made changes to Confusion since 1980, which is the date you give on your site for having the design in its "final format"?
RA: No, I haven't.
WEM: In general, how do you know when a game design is finished? Is any game design ever complete?
RA: I pretty much know when a game of mine is finished. Oh, wait – I did change my game Crossings after it was published. The size of the board was originally 8x8, and I changed that to 12x14. I also changed the name to Epaminondas, which was a really dumb idea. I'm not even sure that increasing the board size added all that much.
WEM: In your history of Confusion, you write: "By 1980 I had the game in a final format, and I started looking for a publisher. By 2005 I was still looking." The German publisher Franjos released Confusion in 1992, so I'm wondering whether the "still looking" phrase refers to the search for a U.S./North American publisher, or whether something went wrong with the Franjos publication.
RA: I never liked the Franjos edition, and I thought it was no fun to play. It also had the problem of having the diagram of a piece's movement permanently affixed to a wooden block. The wood, of course, had a grain pattern and a player couldn't help but remember which pattern went with which piece. So, at the beginning you already knew how some pieces could move.
The guys at Franjos are true game fans, and they publish a lot of brilliant strategy games, games that no one else had ever heard of. The only problem is their publication of Confusion left a lot to be desired.
WEM: How did the Stronghold Games version of Confusion come about?
RA: Stronghold and I (along with others) were involved with the re-publication of Code 777. At one point, I mentioned to Stronghold that they might also be interested in my game Confusion. And they were.
WEM: Were you involved with the new theming of the game, with players now involved in espionage during the cold war? Looking over your design history, your designs seem devoid of theme (other than the "Epaminondas" name) with all the focus being on the game play. From your point of view as a design, what is the purpose of a game having a theme?
RA: Yeah, I hate themes, but game companies sometimes worry that no one will buy a game if it doesn't have a theme. Stronghold came up with cold war espionage theme and added in the Double Agent rule. I could understand that something was needed, and this seemed to work well.
WEM: How does your concept of "clarity" that you wrote about in relation to Epaminondas come into play in Confusion, or does it? Can clarity be judged in every game? Is clarity always a positive value for which a designer should strive? Why or why not? (To give readers a summary of Abbott's concept of clarity, I've excerpted from his article below.)
Clarity is essentially the ease with which a player can see what is going on in a game. It is a useful idea for a game inventor to keep in mind during the development of a game, and it is useful in the criticism of games. Most important, it explains what makes a game "deep"...
What then gives one game more seeming "depth" than another? It is not the comparative sizes of the strategy trees or the number of choices available. Depth depends simply on how far ahead, or how many choices, a human can see. And how far a human can see depends simply an the clarity of the game...
A game can be simple yet lack clarity, and conversely a game can be complicated but still clear. Playing a game soon reveals its degree of clarity. The greater the clarity of a game, the farther you can see into it, and therefore the greater its depth for you.
RA: Yes, clarity was important in Confusion. I had "deduction sheets" that showed how all the pieces could move. When a player discovered that a piece could not make a particular movement, then he could cross out the square with that movement. Thus, the player always had a clear picture of what he knows about his pieces. He also has a clear picture of what the opponent knows about the opponent's pieces.
Stronghold changed the "deduction sheets" to a tablet that could be erased and re-used. I haven't seen it in action yet. I would think the next step would be to put the deduction sheets on iPads.
I'm glad you read my piece about "clarity". A lot of people didn't understand what I was saying there. I do think clarity is something all game inventors should be concerned about. Clarity was also important in my work with logic mazes. A maze should be complex and confusing, but the rules to the maze should be as clear as possible. My no-left-turn mazes are extremely clear, since it's almost impossible to misunderstand the rule that you can't make a left turn.
WEM: What advice would you give to players trying Confusion for the first time? What mistakes does a new player always make? What opportunities does he overlook?
RA: I'd advise the player that he doesn't have to know everything about his pieces before he launches an attack. Conversely, he shouldn't launch an attack if he knows nothing about his pieces. But finding a middle ground here is very hard. The basic strategy is figuring out when an attack is possible and knowing how to attack with limited information.
Thanks to Mr. Abbott for taking the time to answer my questions, and if you've never checked out his logic mazes website – and have a few spare hours – head over and take a look. Here's an easy example of a no-left-turn maze, and his overview of Theseus and the Minotaur, a maze in which you must escape before the minotaur catches and eats you. He moves faster than you, so you have to play smart. I bought the iPhone app for Theseus and the Minotaur recently and have been amazed by how good these puzzles are.
W. Eric Martin
• Voting is open for the 2011 Deutscher Spiele Preis. Vote for up to five titles in the family games category and one title in the children's game category. Deadline for entry is July 31, 2011, with a chance to win games for those who vote.
• GameSalute.com has launched Springboard, essentially a Kickstarter-style program that features nothing but games. Only one title is listed on Springboard as of its May 1, 2011 launch date, but I'm sure more titles will be springing forth in no time.
• Fantasy Flight Games has released digital versions of Hey, That's My Fish! for both iOS and Android devices, with a physical version of the game (previously published in English by Mayfair Games) coming in Q3 2011. You can check out the penguin miniatures to be included in the game in this game announcement from FFG.
• The first issue of the French-language Ystari Magazine is available for download (PDF) from the Ystari Games website.
• Speaking of Ystari, Dice Hate Me reports that the French publisher will release versions of Alien Frontiers in French, German, Italian and Spanish before the end of 2011. LocWorks will produce versions in Polish and "Eastern European" languages.
• Rio Grande Games lists a June 2011 release date for a reprint of Glen More.
• Looney Labs has two new promo postcards set to ship in June 2011 to tie into the release of Seven Dragons, a rethemed version of Aquarius with fantasy art from Larry Elmore and other tweaks.
• Designer Wolfgang Kramer has added a page of anecdotes about his games to his website. Strangely, the anecdotes are images and not text, so you'll need to know German to read them as you can't translate the page.
• Túaw reviews the Tikal iOS app from Codito/Sage Board Games. This isn't news for the review itself so much as for my continued amazement at how much coverage modern strategy games will get in mainstream-ish forums when the digital version of a game breaks out compared to coverage of the game itself. I'm old, though, so maybe my amazement means nothing. (HT: David Reed)
• In other iOS news, designer Al Newman has reported to me that he's signed a contract for an iPhone/iPad version of Dynasties, first released by Jolly Roger Games in 2005, then republished as Sun Tzu in 2010 by Matagot. Says Newman, "This will be multiplayer online, with rankings, ratings, the whole nine yards."
• In addition to Mondo now being playable on BrettspielWelt, designer Michael Schacht has created a special solo version of the game that's playable on Schacht's own website, with the time element replaced by a limitation on the number of times that a solver can exchange tiles while trying to reconstruct the landscape. You download the rules in English (PDF) or German (PDF)
The first Race for the Galaxy expansion, The Gathering Storm, was designed with both experienced and new players in mind, so we limited the number of new cards and powers and instead focused on adding goals, a drafting option, and a solitaire game.
For Rebel vs Imperium, however, we assume players are experienced. (The Gathering Storm is recommended, but not required.) The focus is on new cards (with twice as many play cards as in the first expansion), new powers, and seven new 6-cost developments, which open up new strategies. Several powers we had earlier avoided as being too complex for new players, such as "mix explore draws with your hand, then discard," now appear. Action cards for a sixth player are included.
With three new start worlds in the expansion, bringing the total to 12, two start worlds (one "red", tending towards Military, and one "blue", tending towards goods or Consume powers) are now dealt to each player. Players then receive their six initial cards and, based on these cards as well as the goals in play, decide which start world to play, discarding the other one along with two cards.
Choosing a start world makes the goals more interesting, as which goals are in play can influence your choice. This tends to equalize the luck of the draw; a player with a strong combination in his initial cards will often ignore the goals, while a player without one can often choose a start world to grab a "first" goal to compensate, while gaining new cards along the way until a strategy emerges. Rebel vs Imperium adds two new "most" goals and three new "first" goals for further variety.
Changing the card set obviously affects stategies. Military strategies receive boosts with new Imperium and Rebel 6-cost developments, as well as a 9 Defense "Rebel Stronghold" and an 8 Defense "Alien Monolith." Building "interlocking" 6-cost developments, due to the increased number of these cards, becomes a much stronger route to victory. Developments such as "Galactic Salon" (gain a VP during consumption, no good required) and "Galactic Advertisers" (gain a card during consumption) allow strategies based on placing very few worlds to be viable. The "Uplift Code" and several new Uplift worlds create an Uplift strategy, while the "Galactic Exchange" boosts consumption strategies based on diversity.
Takeovers: How Direct Do You Want Your Interaction?
In addition to new cards, Rebel vs Imperium also allows for takeovers, in which players can, under certain conditions, conquer a military world in another player's tableau.
Some players will welcome this direct player interaction while others won't. We recognize this and have designed takeovers so that they can be easily house-ruled to be always on, to be always off, or to alternate with each game in a series, starting off (the "official" rule). When takeovers are off, a small set of powers (marked with icons next to their text descriptions) are not in play and simply ignored. Everything else on these cards is still used, with these cards remaining at roughly equal strength, as their other powers are generally useful in different circumstances.
From the game's inception, some players have wondered why players can't simply apply their Military to take over worlds from other players' empires. My answer to this is partly theme based: the military strength required to conquer a small outpost or indigenous civilization is generally much smaller than that needed to take and hold a territory which possesses roughly equal technology or is a part of another empire. Consider the very small forces that Cortez and Pizarro used to conquer the Aztec and Incan civilizations within forty years of Columbus' discovery, versus the fact that no colony exchanged hands between European powers until the second Anglo-Dutch War (New Amsterdam), more than a century after the Aztec and Incan civilizations fell.
Of course, Race is a science fiction game and I could have written its "history" differently. I chose not to as I wanted to portray civilizations initially expanding without conflict and then, in the expansions, gradually bumping into each other, setting off border wars.
Many, many territorial games combine economic growth and warfare, but the primary choice in them is "guns now vs. investment in a larger economy for more guns later", not "guns vs. butter." Race, with its emphasis on setting up consumption-driven economies, allows for this higher level strategic choice. It is not uncommon, particularly in takeover games with many players, for several players to be jockeying for military advantage while another set of players are competing along non-military lines. This can create interesting tensions, particularly over how and when the end game will be triggered.
Vulnerabilities and Defenses
Georgia O'Keeffe called –
she wants her painting back
I also wanted to portray how empires slowly drift into war, another subject rarely covered in games. Thus, in Rebel vs Imperium, players can't just attack; they need an "excuse" to initiate military takeovers. If an empire sides with the Imperium (by placing an Imperium card), contains Rebel military worlds, or enters the galactic "arms race" (by having positive Military), it becomes vulnerable to a takeover power. An empire which does several of these things becomes more vulnerable. An empire which avoids these actions (by, say, using a "Contact Specialist" to place its military worlds or not having any military worlds) can't have its worlds taken over.
A frequent tactic in the base set is for empires to place a small amount of military (such as "Space Marines"), then conquer a military windfall world or two to jumpstart their growth. With takeovers, players need to reconsider this almost "free lunch," as they may later lose these worlds to other, more powerful military empires. Of course, these other larger military empires may, instead, wish to spend their Settle actions conquering more lucrative or valuable military worlds from their hands. Race, after all, is a card game, and not knowing which cards your opponents hold creates uncertainty as to their true intentions.
To take over an opponent's world (if that empire is vulnerable to your takeover power), your Military must equal or exceed the target world's defense, plus your opponent's Military. This is fixed at the start of a Settle phase (with the exception of any temporary Military that could be invoked), so the actual mechanisms of takeovers are fairly straight forward.
Develop might have been called prior to Settle that turn, however, thereby allowing players to place developments that provide additional Military that alter the balance of power among empires. Thus, the guessing game as to players' phase selections each turn, which is central to Race, continues with takeovers. Slides and cubes are provided to allow players to mark vulnerabilities and track Military totals, so that players can easily see these totals across the table. A two-player scenario, pitting the "Rebel Cantina" against the "Imperium Warlord," allows players to explore the takeover mechanics.
And the Winners Are...
The first Race expansion included both blank cards and a contest card, allowing players to submit their best idea for consideration in this expansion. We hoped to see some interesting new ideas and were pleased to receive over forty submissions.
Tom and Wei-Hwa observe
the latest playtesting session
Evaluating these entries took considerable time, as Wei-Hwa Huang and I not only judged the cards as submitted, but also debated whether their central ideas could be adapted to work in any way, given the actual card set. We ended up playtesting a dozen or so cards before picking the eventual winners. Several entries fit better with the third expansion and are already being considered for it. Rebel vs Imperium contains another contest card (but no blank cards). We are considering having up to five contest winners in the third expansion, depending on the final card mix, and look forward to seeing more submissions. (All late entries received for the first contest have been automatically entered into this second contest.)
As announced on the Rio Grande Games website, several entrants – Kester Jarvis, Dave and Meredith Mattingly, and Gary Riley – correctly anticipated features of already designed cards in Rebel vs Imperium. The winning cards were inspired and adapted from entries submitted by the German game designer Rüdiger Dorn, "Hidden Fortress," and two American players: Tom Liles and James Self, "R&D Crash Program." Congratulations!
Thanks to all those who entered this contest. Rebel vs Imperium adds a sixth player, three new start worlds (and tokens for them in the solitaire game), five new goals, takeover rules (and slides, cubes, and counters to track players' Military), and 41 new game cards to Race for the Galaxy. Enjoy!
Editor's note: This preview first appeared on BoardgameNews.com on June 8, 2009.
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