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Play 2011: New Releases & Demo Games

Andrea Ligabue
Italy
Modena
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On March 26-27, 2011 the Italian city of Modena will host PLAY: The Games Festival, the largest Italian gaming event and one that differs from festivals like Lucca Comics & Games in that the main focus is on games and the playing of those games. With more than 270 gaming events and 100+ tables dedicated to open gaming, PLAY is the ideal place for gamers who want to sample the new Nuremberg releases, in addition to getting a look at what will be released in the future.

Here's a rundown of the Italian publishers that will present new and upcoming releases at PLAY:

Angelo Porazzi Games will present Assist, a new game designed by Porazzi and Marco Donadoni.


• In addition to previewing Winter Tales and Sake & Samurai, Albe Pavo will present a demo copy of MUNERA: Ars Dimicandi, an expansion for MUNERA: Familia Gladiatoria that can be downloaded for free. Here's an overview of this expansion:

Quote:
MUNERA: Ars Dimicandi is focused on fighting and gives to each lanista a new way to manage the duels of his champions. It also offers a new approach to the managerial system, promoting a more accurate managerial planning of the game.


Asterion Press will show off the Italian versions of 7 Wonders and Tikal 2 and will perhaps have preview copies of expansions for 7 Wonders and Dixit.

• Ghenos Games will have copies of the newly released Pamplona: Viva San Fermin!.

Giochi Uniti will bring Cargo Noir from Days of Wonder and Italian editions of several games, including Battles of Westeros, Water Lily, A Games of Thrones LCG, The Lord of the Rings LCG and Egizia.

• After launching its first roleplaying game – Project H.O.P.E. – the publishing house Limana Umanita Edizioni will take on the challenge of designing card games with War of Wonders, a living card game based on the characters in Project H.O.P.E. An overview:

Quote:
1941: the Second World War is at its climax and the Axis powers dominate Europe with their armies and their Meta-Humans, superheroes created in the Third Reich's laboratories by mutation chambers. The Free World might seem doomed, but...

There's still hope. A Polish Hebrew scientist who was forced to work in Nazi labs escapes to Great Britain and creates the first mutation chambers for the Allies. Thanks to him, the Allies now have a chance to stop the Nazi tide. It's time to combat for freedom, it's time for the War of Wonders.

War of Wonders is a living card game for two players who will take control of two factions: Allies and Axis. Every faction must gain victory points by accomplishing missions of three kinds: Combat, Intelligence and Sabotage. To reach their targets, players must develop their facilities and use them to create and recruit Meta-Humans to unleash in battle. With accurate planning you can build a powerful army of superheroes, or with fast raids you can try to achieve a sudden victory.

War of Wonders will be previewed at PLAY and available from March 30, 2011.


NG International will present, after a long wait, Letters from Whitechapel and Magestorm. Piero Cioni will attend PLAY, presenting demo copies of expansions for both Magestorm and Dakota.

Red Glove will preview Ristorante Italia.

Scribabs will show a preview version of 011 with designer Marco Valtriani on hand for the event.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg as most publishers, big and small, will attend PLAY with new games, demos, previews and prototypes. Most Italian game designers will be present, including Andrea Angiolino, Leo Colovini, Emanuele Ornella, Paolo Mori and Piero Cioni.

Finally, at the Club TreEmme booth two preview copies of Ankh-Moropork, the new Martin Wallace game due out for Spiel 2011, will be available for play.
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Fri Mar 25, 2011 5:30 am
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New Game Round-up: Sins and Redemption, Wu Feng and Boomtown Return & More

W. Eric Martin
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Let's start with a "You want theme? I'll give you theme!" challenge:

• On his State of Play blog, Thomas L. McDonald gives an overview of Alf Seegert's The Road to Canterbury, coming in Q3 2011 from FRED/Gryphon Games. An excerpt of the game description:

Quote:
In The Road to Canterbury, you play a medieval pardoner who sells certificates delivering sinners from the eternal penalties brought on by these Seven Deadly Sins. You make your money by peddling these counterfeit pardons to Pilgrims traveling the road to Canterbury. Perhaps you can persuade the Knight that his pride must be forgiven? Surely the Friar's greed will net you a few coins? The Miller's wrath and the Monk's gluttony are on full public display and demand pardoning! The Wife of Bath regales herself in luxury, the Man-of-Law languishes in idleness, and that Prioress has envy written all over her broad forehead. And the naughty stories these Pilgrims tell each other are so full of iniquity they would make a barkeep blush! Pardoning such wickedness should be easy money, right?

Anyone looking for a theme previously untapped should be keen to hear more about this one.

• On Jeux sur un Plateau, designer Antoine Bauza gives a ten-minute video overview of Ghost Stories: Black Secret en français. Lots of new stuff going on, but I won't pretend to have understood everything I heard on the video. One thing Bauza notes in the article accompanying the video is the Black Secret completes Ghost Stories, with nothing planned for the future except perhaps fun one-off cards like Chuck No-Rice.

• Designer Bruno Faidutti has announced a new edition of Boomtown from him and Bruno Cathala – but only in Polish for now. Check out the Piraci page on Faidutti's website for the new graphics that go with a new theme from this Egmont Polska release.

• In the annals of high-minded game presentation, I'd be hard-pressed to name something that tops the approach taken by designer Rui Alípio Monteiro and design company Criações a Solo for his Trench. I feel enriched having looked over the website, pondered the many quotes and watched the metaphorically-rich video presenting the game – but I still don't know how to play the darned thing...

Fantasy Flight Games has produced an elaborate video tutorial for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Fantastic atmosphere created by the voice-over artist!

• Another day, another few expansions from FFG: The publisher is releasing a new version of the Arkham Horror expansion The Curse of the Dark Pharaoh. Details on what's being added to the expansion in this [url=news post on the FFG website. FFG will also release The Horned Rat Expansion for Chaos in the Old World (details) and a Legends Expansion for Warhammer: Invasion – The Card Game (details).

• Brett Gilbert compiles pics of LEGO's forthcoming Heroica series of games.

Munchkin Zombies and two expansions for Summoner Wars – the Jungle Elves and Cloaks reinforcement packs – all have a U.S. street date of March 30, 2011. My Kind of Town from Your Move Games is headed to U.S. stores, as is The Heavens of Olympus from Mike Compton and Rio Grande Games.

• New entries in the BGG database include Liberator (an expansion for Mali Powstańcy from designer Filip Miłuński and publisher Egmont) and Drôles de Mamans, in which you "collect and assemble parts of moms". And don't go thinking anything weird, mind you – it's a kids game!
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Thu Mar 24, 2011 7:21 am
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Designer Diary: Evolutionary Lessons Discovered on Chimera Isle

Kevin Lanzing
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Buford
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Author's Note: The purpose of this designer diary is twofold. First, I'd like to chronicle the somewhat haphazard trajectory Chimera Isle took going from concept to published game. Second, I'd like this to be a primer for other aspiring game designers who could benefit from my hindsight. Interspersed with this story are five hard-learned lessons which can be applied when designing any game, not only this one.

As themes go, natural selection is as ambitious as they come. All the elements are there for a truly epic game: growth, evolution, migration, domination, natural disasters, extinction. The magnitude of the theme is staggering, but therein lies the problem. How could any game hope to bring together all of these grand elements in a way that is coherent, playable, and fun? Many games have tried, with varying degrees of success.

All of that just made me more determined to put my own mark on the "natural selection" theme.

Lesson #1: Don't get married to your concept.

My first concept for what would eventually become Chimera Isle was hopelessly complex. Anything and everything you might expect to find was there. Evolution – check. Migration – yes, over a large board representing the entire Earth! Climate – but of course, and naturally the effects of long-term climate change would transform the board. My game also modeled a food chain, in which every creature had to eat a nearby plant or animal, or starve. It was an absurdly cluttered, mostly incoherent system that would have been a disaster to actually playtest. Thankfully, I came to my senses before investing too much of my time into what would have been a train wreck of a game.

Had I seriously pursued my original concept, it would have looked and played a lot like Dominant Species – no offense intended to that game, which from what I hear is pretty good!

Especially at the start of any game design project, a designer must be flexible. Almost every game I have designed ultimately became something very different from what I originally set out to create. It is easy to start with one idea and let it snowball over time into something ponderous, technical, and dry. It's similarly easy to get attached to your game mechanisms, and forget that they are all more or less disposable.

I had to take a big step back and reassess where I was headed. Did I really want to create the last word on epic ecological adventures? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that natural selection is actually pretty straightforward. There are species, and there are stresses. The species best adapted to the stresses it encounters will thrive at the expense of others. To borrow a popular phrase, it's "survival of the fittest".

The first thing I did was get rid of the board – which was a hard choice, but most of the bookkeeping and component sprawl came from managing tiny bits and pieces on a gigantic board. To justify my decision, I chose to scale down my setting. Rather than a supercontinent (Pangaea Ultima, to be precise) the species of my game would compete for resources on a small island. Issues like migration, continental drift, and geographical separation wouldn't even be relevant on such a scale.

Even if I no longer had a board, I knew I had to model the environment in some way. I decided to make the many habitats of my small island the stresses that species would overcome. The struggle for territory would become the central conflict of the game. Species that failed to claim territory would decline in population and significance. Eventually, entire species might go the way of the dodo. I don't usually favor player elimination as a mechanism, but here it felt appropriate. Life is tough, and only the strong survive. No natural selection game worth its salt would accept anything less.

Lesson #2: The simplest solution is often best.

It occurred to me in a flash of insight that the game that was developing now strongly resembled a poker game. The species were the players, and their population the chips. When species risked their population for the sake of claiming a habitat, they were "anteing in". When one species claimed a habitat, it "won the pot". The analogy was solid, and I knew that this sort of conceptual overlap would help in introducing new players to the rules.

What about the species? They needed to be easily distinguishable and different. Early on, I considered an auction mechanism for "winning" genetic characteristics: things like spines, wings, claws, and fur. That was fine in theory and presented a good way to model evolution in-game. But by this point I was beginning to think that evolution added layers of complexity the game didn't really need. Anyway, the auction mechanism would only add play time to a game I was trying hard to shorten and streamline. What else was there?

Apparently American Megafauna has already filled the niche for "auction-based evolution game" – I've been scooped again!

A childhood memory supplied the breakthrough. I expect almost everyone has seen this or something similar. A book of animals is split into three sections: head, body, and tail. By mixing up the pages, the head of the lion can be attached to the body of a hippo and the tail of an iguana. Kids like to mix and match the parts and laugh at the bizarre results. Like the best toys, it rewards creativity and can be understood immediately without explanation.

I could do something similar with cards. Not only would the art be fun to look at, but it would have a direct significance to the game. Creatures with furry bodies would be adapted to the cold, while creatures with long necks could reach fruit from the tallest trees. Forget climax communities and biomes; this was way more exciting. Upon making the mental connection between my own bizarre animal cross-breeds and creatures of myth, I finally had a working title for the game: Chimera Isle.

This is completely ridiculous.

Lesson #3: Player interaction is the heart of a great game.

I presumed at first that some sort of symbology would have to be created to reflect the characteristics of the "chimeras". A cactus symbol in the corner would indicate fitness in desert settings, while a water droplet would indicate fitness in wetlands. This system was a sensible approach to the problems I faced. While it would have worked and was easy to read, it failed to leave much, if anything, to the imagination. If the game decided which chimeras developed and thrived, what was left for the players to do?

A game called Lifeboats supplied the answer. In that game, players are crewmen on a sinking ship who must escape to nearby islands on their leaky lifeboats. The tension and fun of the game comes from the voting mechanism it uses. Which boat moves forward? That depends on which one players vote for! Which boat springs a leak? Which crewman gets pushed out of an overcrowded boat? Vote! It's an exquisitely brutal game, for the reason that you must trust other self-interested individuals not to stab you in the back. I felt this was a nifty concept which could be effectively applied to my own game. Which chimera is the best swimmer: the one with the streamlined body or the one with webbed feet? Everyone votes, and the chimera with the most votes wins it all. It's a simple solution to a complicated problem. Rather than deciding myself which chimera is good at what, why not let the table decide?

Don't let the art fool you: Lifeboats is a cutthroat game.

I'd like to say that the voting mechanism for Chimera Isle emerged fully-formed and perfect on my first try, but as you must know by now that never happens. Originally players used a regular deck of playing cards, in addition to a hand of color cards. Players would conceal one color card representing their choice of creature, and a second playing card representing the strength of their vote. A single player with a "10" voting green would defeat two players voting red with a "5" and "2", respectively. Except for the Ace (value: 1), all cards played were discarded at the end of the turn. Only players who voted for the winning creature would themselves win new cards and a point at the end of the turn. The King, Queen, and Jack had special powers of their own which I won't go into.

Suffice it to say that I went overboard again and added needless complexity to what should have been a straightforward voting process. I quickly learned my lesson and pared down. Now players get one colored card for each creature they can vote for, and each vote is worth one point. The lead player breaks ties. Simple!

At this point the players still more or less represented the chimeras in the game. Each player was the secret patron of a specific chimera. Players won points whenever they voted for the winning chimera (whether or not it was their own), but also when their chimera did well. It was fun in a light and fluffy way, but all too quickly players recognized who favored what and adjusted their strategies to compensate. The "secret patron" game lives on as an optional variant, for younger players and those seeking a fast and light party game.

An early prototype of Chimera Isle – the game is starting to take shape.

Lesson #4: Nothing is ridiculous if it works.

By this point I was pleased with the direction of the game but dissatisfied with its depth. I tried all kinds of crazy things to make Chimera Isle both easy-to-play AND strategic.

Probably my craziest idea was to turn the game into an investment simulation! The points players won in the voting round were now a form of currency. Players could spend their points to buy "shares" of the chimeras, or even steal shares from other players. My chief inspiration here was Acquire, a game in which players influence and invest in hotel chains which they don't technically own. Does the idea of an investment game based around the animal kingdom sounds preposterous? Maybe so, but the mechanisms clicked right away and opened new avenues of strategic depth. I never looked back.

Shareholding and the animal kingdom are kind of an odd pairing, but if the shoe fits...

Lesson #5: Collaborate with others whose strengths match your weaknesses.

Chimera Isle was quickly shaping up to be both playable and fun. One problem remained, and that was the art. I am no artist, and my prototype was literally completed with Sharpie pen drawings on a cardboard canvas. That's fine for a prototype, but if I wanted to share this game with the world I needed the services of a real artist.

Don't laugh! The original art was serviceable, but nothing more.

A friend of mine introduced me to the work of "Bogleech", aka Jonathan Wojcik. He had a website showcasing strange things, creepy things, cute things, inexplicable things. Some of these were the product of his own imagination, such as his coloring book Old-Fashioned Nightmare Fuel for Children You Don't Love. His style could be described as "creepy-cute", sort of a "Tim Burton does Pokemon" kind of thing. It seemed like a good fit for Chimera Isle, but what sealed the deal were his articles on the many real-world misfits of the animal kingdom. An artist and naturalist all in one? He's like a John James Audubon who does cartoons! I sent him an email, he responded, and the result is Chimera Isle as you know it today.

Original art by Jonathan Wojcik – only the strange survive on Chimera Isle!

Kevin Lanzing
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Wed Mar 23, 2011 5:31 am
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Links: Why Games Aren't Art, Interviews Galore, Squirrels & More

W. Eric Martin
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Let's kick off this link round-up with a heady post that spins in a different direction than what I normally cover:

• Brian Moriarty goes to the mat to argue that "video games can never be art" in "An Apology for Roger Ebert", a speech he presented at the 25th Game Designer's Conference in March 2011. Movie reviewer Roger Ebert caught flak from thousands of gamers after making statements along this line in 2005 and again in 2010 – yet Moriarty points out that Ebert was correct in noting: "No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers."

Moriarty delves into the history of art in many media, draws classic games into the argument to broaden the scope – "If Chess and Go, arguably the two greatest games in history, have never been regarded as works of art, why should Missile Command?" – and discusses the nature of kitsch and Arthur Schopenhauer's world view in order to get at the heart of why Ebert's statement is true. From Moriarty's essay:

Quote:
In my "Digital Game Design I" class, I define "play" as superfluous activity. I define a "toy" as something that elicits play, and a "game" as a toy with rules and a goal. Games are purposeful. They are defined as the exercise of choice and will towards a self-maximizing goal.

But sublime art is like a toy. It elicits play in the soul. The pleasure we get from it lies precisely in the fact that it has no rules, no goal, no purpose.

A brilliant essay that provides much to ponder, no matter where you fall on the games are/can be/never will be art spectrum. Check it out!

• Spielbox has opened voting for its "Guess the Spiel des Jahres" contest. Enter early for your best chance at winning. Oh, and choose the right game, too.

• Codito Development has posted screenshots of the Tikal and Puerto Rico iPad apps that it has in the works.

• As for other cardboard-to-digital developments, I had previously overlooked this Geeklist from Maciek Kasprzyk and others, which looks ahead to all the iPhone/iPad conversions coming in 2011.

• Designer Richard Garfield was interviewed about Netrunner at the Cannes game festival in February 2011. Netrunner, for those who don't know, was a collectible card game created by Garfield and published by Wizards of the Coast in 1996 in the unbelievably large wake of Magic's success. Fifteen years on, Netrunner still has a pool of devoted fans who would love to see the game return.

• Matt Morgan from MTV Geek interviewed Steve Jackson at PAX East in March 2011.

• On his Board Game Back Room blog, Matt Stevenson interviews Sean Ross, designer of Haggis.

• Issue #421 of WIN: The Games Journal is now available in English and German. The issue can be downloaded for free from the website, or ordered through the website with a bonus Ö-deck for Agricola.

• German publisher DDD Verlag has sold out of its Spiel 2010 release 1655: Habemus Papam. DDD is making small changes to the graphic design, while leaving the game play untouched, for a new edition to appear in April/May 2011.

• Check out this ridiculously detailed 3D version of Forbidden Island. Do it make you jealous or inspired?

• Designer Seth Jaffee pontificates on the nature of deck-building games, starting with granddaddy Dominion and ending with a current design project of his – Alter Ego, a superhero-based deck-building game that Jaffee has been brainstorming and testing since mid-2010. (Thought on Jaffee's Eminent Domain are also in the mix.) From Jaffee's post:

Quote:
I think the single most interesting thing about deck building is that the iterative small scale decisions you make throughout the game have a direct relationship with your late game position. Every card you add to or remove from your deck has a lasting impact on the game for you. Which means that you need to consider long term ramifications of short term decisions, making even somewhat trivial choices more interesting.

What does this mean in terms of designing a deck building game? It means that for one thing, the end game goal should be clearly stated from the outset, so you have some way to reasonably know what cards you'll want in your deck later on.

Has he diagnosed the pulse of deck-building games the same way that you would?

• Courtesy of Thomas L. McDonald, I present to you squirrels playing cards.
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Tue Mar 22, 2011 6:26 am
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New Game Round-up: Jason Hill on Fortune and Glory, More Rolling Freight & More

W. Eric Martin
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Video demonstrations of two games take up a lot of space in this post. Get something to drink before starting the second one...

Rio Grande Games will release its own edition of alea's Die Burgen von Burgund, despite the alea version including rules in three languages. As for alea's Artus – due out at the start of April 2011 in Europe – RGG will distribute the tri-lingual alea version.

Kevin G. Nunn's Rolling Freight – which has passed the halfway mark in funds raised via Kickstarter – has a number of expansions in the works, as often seems to be the pattern for train games. Kevin Brusky from APE Games shows off a preliminary map from the first expansion, which will feature Great Britian and India.

• The rules for Fantasy Flight's Lord of the Rings: The Card Game LCG have just been made public (PDF) in anticipation of the game's release in April 2011, but FFG has already posted info about the first two adventure packs, the second one being Conflict at the Carrock.

Hans im Glück has posted rules ([url=German rules on the Hans im Glück website]PDF[/url]) for Pantheon.

• French publisher Gigamic has two new abstract strategy games coming in June 2011: Kabaleo, in which players want to have their secret color atop the most pyramids when the game ends, and Cubulus, with players trying to create a square of their color in a 3x3x3 playing area. Video demonstrations of both games are linked to the appropriate game pages.

Jason Hill at Flying Frog Productions gives an overview of Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game at the GAMA Trade Show in March 2011:



• Designer Michael Schacht has posted additional variants for Mondo, due out before the end of March in Germany and most likely by May in the U.S. Schacht promises "something bigger" for the game in his April 2011 newsletter.

• Italian publisher Cranio Creations will release a second edition of its initial 2009 release Horse Fever in June 2011. Changes to the game include a six player upper limit, a rewritten rulebook, a larger game board, six wooden horse pawns and new assistant, horse, objective and action cards.

• Beasts of War posted a 30-minute overview of Dwarf King's Hold: Dead Rising in early Marach 2011:



• Recently released games include Néstor Romeral Andrés' self-published Coffee from nestorgames (an n-in-a-row game playable on either a hex or square grid in which the active player forces the opponent to play in a particular direction) and Runebound: Essential Collection (lots of individual Runebound expansions packaged together). Alderac's Nightfall and Nexus Games' Magestorm should both arrive in U.S. stores the week of March 21, 2011.
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Mon Mar 21, 2011 8:43 pm
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Preview: Philippe Keyaerts, Ystari Invite Players to Mount Olympos

W. Eric Martin
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Designer Philippe Keyaerts scored a success with Vinci, which he later transformed into an even bigger hit with gamers, namely Small World from Days of Wonder. Small World has seen a handful of expansions since its debut in 2009, and the system can accommodate many more additions that challenge players to re-evaluate the game each time they play, but at heart each turn in both Small World and Vinci boils down to a simple choice for players:

Expand or decline?

Use your civilization's special abilities to claim new territory and dislodge opponents, or else step away from that civilization and prepare to launch a new empire on the following turn. For all the details about where to expand, how best to use your abilities, who needs to be attacked, which territory will be easy to defend or not counter-attacked, and so on, each turn starts with a (sometimes) simple binary choice.

Keyaerts follows that same design model with Olympos, coming in April 2011 from French publisher Ystari Games, with each turn inviting a player to either expand or develop, expand or develop, expand or develop. As in Vinci and Small World, random elements come into play in Olympos – specifically in the revelation of Olympos cards and the use of Desinty cards – but for the most part everything is determined via player actions, with the board open to expansion in all directions and the developments waiting to be claimed by those who profit well from expansion.

Expand

As you might expect from a game titled Olympos, the action is set in Greece, with players representing tribes who are trying to control certain territories in order to gain resources with which to develop their culture and build wondrous structures.


If you choose to expand, you either add a new settler token to the game board for a cost of 2 action points – in the Northern region or a territory you already control – then move it, or move one of your existing settlers. You can move as far as you like, passing through occupied territories if needed, with movement into a land space costing 1 action point and movement into water costing 2. Land on an unoccupied space, and you can claim it; land on a territory owned by someone else, and you take it away from that player at a cost of 1-3 action points depending on the relative strength of your military. In either case, you then take possession of the appropriate territory token, which shows one of four resources in the game.

Certain territories are marked with a star; by defeating the tribes that start in these lands (or taking control of the territory later in the game), you receive a tribe token showing one star.

At the end of your turn, you move your marker ahead on the time track equal to the total number of action points spent. You can spend as many or as few as you like, with the player who has spent the fewest over the course of the game taking the next turn.

Develop

Why expand – or rather why expand into one territory over another? Because you want to develop particular abilities for your tribe. In Vinci and Small World, players draft special abilities in combination with a civilization or tribe, and your success or failure in the game will often depend on your skill at valuing a certain ability at a certain time in the game based on what everyone else is doing.

In Olympos, every tribe starts with nothing more than four settler tokens that have all the power inherent in being a plain colored wooden disc – that is, they have nothing. They can change that, however, by developing and making a discovery of astronomy, religion, surgery, metallurgy or other skills.


At the start of the game, discovery tiles are laid out semi-randomly on the development board. (All red-backed discoveries are placed in the top row, for example, but in random order; all yellow-backed discoveries are placed randomly in the second row; and so on down to the wonders in the sixth row.) The development board has costs printed on it, so the discovery tiles will cost different combinations of goods each game. Each territory token you hold provides a particular resource whenever you want to develop; during the game you might also acquire resource cubes that provide a one-shot resource.

To develop, you pay the cost of the tile you want to acquire, then claim one of the bonuses (if any) underneath the tile, with the bonuses being points, resource cubes, time (hourglasses) and additional settler tokens. Making a discovery costs 7 action points. (If you hold hourglasses, you must spend them instead of advancing on the time track. Time stands still, possibly allowing you to take two turns in a row.)

Instead of making a discovery, you can develop by founding a wonder, which requires 4-6 stars. You claim stars during the game by controlling particular territories, and you can acquire additional stars by discovering architecture or engineering or by claiming discoveries in the same column on the development board as the wonder itself. (In the image above, for example, claiming engineering in the fifth row on the left both earns you a star from the tile and provides a star toward the Lion Gate wonder in that column. Halfway there!) Founding a wonder also costs 7 action points.

Destiny, the Gods and You

Expansion and development are under your control – well, as much as they can be given the actions of other players – which means that you advance on the time track on your own schedule. But not everything is in the hands of the players. At various points during the game, the gods will step in to reward or smite players based on their piety.


The time track includes positions with one or two lightning bolts on them, and when any player reaches one of these spaces, an Olympos card is drawn and its effects carried out. Half the gods reward the player or players with the most lightning bolts – which are acquired by controlling Olympos on the board or making certain discoveries – while the other half punish those with the fewest lightning bolts. On the plus side, players might earn resources, military strength, and settlers; fail to show proper obeisance, and you might lose points, time or the ability to cross the ocean. (For spaces with two bolts, a second Olympos card is revealed when the last player reaches this space.)

Each time a player reaches or crosses a lightning space, he receives a destiny card that can be used immediately or on any later turn. Destiny cards provide resources, hourglasses, points, stars and lightning bolts.

Once a player passes the final lightning space on the time track, on his next turn he can either pass (and take no further actions in the game) or take one final action. Once everyone has passed or taken their final action, the game ends and players tally their scores, earning points for their position on the time track, prestige earned during the game, the number of territories held, wonders and discovery tiles acquired, and destiny cards still in hand.

Civilization simplified – that's Keyaerts' specialty...
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Mon Mar 21, 2011 4:54 am
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Designer Diary: Hey Waiter! Ready to Serve You the Goods

Anthony Rubbo
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So...

The idea started one day while I was playing around with a Sticheln deck and a set of poker chips. Sticheln decks are great for game design: a bunch of ranks, a bunch of suits, no artwork – just the simple building blocks of a potential new game. Also, I like poker chips. I like stacking them. I like throwing them into the middle of the table. It's a fun feeling! These elements could be merged in an enjoyable way, was what I thought to myself. After spending time tinkering with some basic ideas, I eventually came up with the following:

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Components: A deck with 15 cards of four colors, each with no ranks, and a bunch of chips in the same four colors. Players receive two random stacks of six chips and some number of cards. The first to get rid of all his chips wins.

There would be two main options on your turn:

-----• Play a card to shift a color of that chip (in a number of different ways), or
-----• Play three cards of the same color to get rid of all chips of that color on top of everyone's stacks.

That was it. It was sort of amusingish. Something was there, not sure exactly what, but perhaps an idea worth pursuing. But what should be the next step?

What I sometimes do with my designs is I wind up taking a scoring system from one game and an engine from another game, then combining the two. This is what happened next in the design process of Hey Waiter! (The exclamation point is present as part of the title, not for excitement – though I guess this part of the process did turn out to be pretty exciting as well.)

I enjoy the many games these days that have the goal of VP optimization, including the majority of my all-time favorites: Tichu, Race for the Galaxy, Crokinole, the alea/Stefan Feld designs, etc. However, for variety's sake, I'm always on the lookout for games that have something other than VPs as the goal. Sure, you can say in Hey Waiter! the winner is the first to score 12 points (with "removal of a chip" = 1 point), but it feels different to me. Like LotR: The Confrontation, To Court the King, Dog, and the majority of the cooperative games that have come out lately, the progression through which players are taken during the game is a slightly different experience than in a VP-based scoring system – not necessarily better or worse, but different.

I felt my new design had a nifty and unique scoring system (deplete a stack of multicolored chips by fighting for color domination); the problem was, it did not have particularly inspired game play. At the time, though, I was simultaneously working on another design, which I felt had a solid game engine – create play effects by combining two cards in hand – but a rather dull scoring system. I decided to merge these two to make the guts of what is now the finished product: Using chips and cards of four colors, combine any two cards together for 4x4=16 different actions, with the goal of depleting your personal stack of chips.


Now, let me get back to the elements of the initial game. I briefly mentioned the ability which would "get rid of all chips of that color on top of everyone's stacks." This effect – known now as the Green "Everybody Serve!" action – is the only action that remained constant through the entirety of the testing process.


It felt simple, but elegant. Within the simplicity arose a number of interesting decisions:

-----• If I have a one chip advantage, do I wait to try to gain a two chip advantage or pull the trigger now?
-----• If I'm tied on a color but winning overall, is it worth pulling the trigger now, just to get to my endgame faster?
-----• If I serve a particular set of chips, which chips will then become visible underneath?

All of these interesting little questions emerged from a very straightforward concept. This was what I clung to through the entire design process, and the action ability of one color (Green) was officially set.

One down, three to go.

From the beginning there were abilities present which could help manipulate your stack in different ways – pulling chips from the bottom to the top of your stack, trading the top chip of your stack with the stack of an opponent, trading chips with the bag, etc. All types of methods were tested throughout the design process, until I settled on being able to split your stacks / manipulate your stacks based upon the color of the bottom chip moved. This was a drastic change as up until then, every iteration saw each player possessing exactly two stacks for the entirety of the game.


The reason I had resisted the idea of splitting a stack in earlier testing was that being able to split your stacks is a very powerful ability with little downside – yet like the green "Everybody Serve!" action, it was elegant and fun, and presented a great many decisions within a simple concept:

-----• Should I split so that the top of the new stack will help cut into the lead of a color the opponents want to serve?
-----• Should I split to increase the lead of a color for my team?
-----• Should I split my stack directly in the middle, so that the split will remain as long as possible?
-----• Should I split my stack to try to align the color order of my stacks as close as I can with my partner?
-----• Should I split my stack based on action color? That is, this game I'm going to take an attack-based strategy. Specifically I'm going to try to serve all my pizzas at once, so I can focus my future red cards on attack. (More on attacks in a bit.)

These decisions were just too delicious to pass up, so the concept of splitting stacks had to stay.


But what about the power level? Various methods were employed during the design process to attempt to solve the problem of Blue being too strong. Meanwhile, among other issues, I was grappling with the issue of how to deal with the players' hand size: Should it be fixed, or should it fluctuate? Fluctuating seemed more interesting for this game, but, exactly how to incorporate it?


The answer to both: the more stacks you have, the fewer cards you can hold! Having the sum of cards in hand plus stacks in play always equal seven made for a nice spectrum of strategy that different players can try. It immediately felt right, and it stuck. The "Move Dishes" action was complete.

Two down, two to go.

The third action had gone through multiple incarnations, but for the most part, it was an "attack" of some sort. There was already a great deal of interaction in the game in the battle for color lead, but having an additional way to muck with opponents' plans was the extra spice needed to make the interaction feel complete. For a large portion of the testing process, the attack revolved around forcing players to discard cards or recombine their stacks. The problem was that those actions were very frustrating for the victim, and while the game worked, the "fun factor" that was generated by the rest of the game elements had suffered greatly.

While the design was well received in this edition, it just didn't feel right to me, so I went back to work. What emerged was the addition of four colored pawns (i.e., the four tray covers). These represent four calamities that can occur within a restaurant, causing a dish to no longer be eligible for serving until the issue is resolved (by the victim on his turn playing a Red card in response). This "attack" fit the bill nicely as it was a temporary way of increasing a player's lead in a color / decreasing the opponents' lead in a color in a non-intrusive manner (by not messing with the fundamental structure of a player's stack or hand).


For me, direct attacks are typically a negative in games due to the politics involved with who you choose to hit. However, that issue disappears in two-team partnership games, so I was happy with the situation as it applied here. (The game includes rules for 2v1 play for those looking for a three-player partnership experience as well as rules for individual play for those who do enjoy such politicking.) The Red "Move Cover" action was complete.

Three down, one to go.

The fourth ("White") action always fluctuated simultaneously with the Red action. For each bubble in the wallpaper I pushed down with the Red action, a new bubble popped up with the White action, and vice versa. It was a lengthy process. With this latest edition of the Red action, however, it seemed that I reduced the number of issues to the following:

-----1. There needed to be a secondary way to serve chips – on an individual basis – to avoid undesirable endgame situations that could emerge. For a good deal of the testing process, this action was achieved by the rule "Discard three matching cards to serve any one chip." Under the newest set of Green, Blue, and Red actions, however, this was no longer possible.
-----2. There needed to be a way to make the game progress after an attack / defend cycle would occur.

Enter the Busboy.

He's so happy to help!


When the White "Call Busboy" action is played, two separate events can occur. First, the player can return the tray cover of the indicated color from one of his stacks to the center of the table. Second, the player activates his Busboy card of the indicated color.


Four Busboy cards, one in each color, are given to each player at the start of the game and placed Face-side up. The first time a player's Busboy card is activated during the game, it simply flips over. The second time it is activated, however, it serves an individual top dish of your choice from one of your stacks. (The Busboy is then flipped Face-side up, so he requires two more activations to serve another dish. He's a bit of slacker actually...)


Remember, this dish-serving action is in addition to the cover-defense action listed above. With this, both of the issues were solved. Individual chips can be served by activating a Busboy twice, and the game progresses after an attack-defense cycle (since the defense and Busboy card activation occur at the same time).

This is the most complicated action of the four. Now, I was trying to keep the actions simple and elegant, and admittedly the White action does stretch the definition of "simple" just a bit. Nonetheless, I am very happy with its implementation, and the decisions which emerge from it being in place, such as:

-----• I don't have any White cards. Do I want to use a Red card to remove the tray cover that is on my stack, or do a different action, hoping that I'll draw white and be able to also activate my Busboy card as well?
-----• I have no Covers on my stacks. Should I use my White card now, just to flip my Busboy card to Serve side up, or should I wait to see whether an opponent will play a cover on me?
-----• I have "Soup Advantage" – two white "soup" chips atop my stacks, while my opponent has only one. His Red and White Busboys are Serve-side up, while his Green and Blue Busboys are Face-side up. I have Red / Red / Green in my hand and want to attack. Do I play Red / Green to move the Green Cover (since his Green Busboy is Face-side up and not yet ready to serve)? Or do I play Red / Red (risking that the opponent can serve, but keeping my Green card which I can use to serve the Soup if I draw a White)?
-----• My teammate has her Blue Busboy Serve-side up, and all her other Busboys Face-side up. She's got a Blue Cover on her stack. I have the Red / Blue card combination needed to free her, but maybe I should leave it there since if she does have the White / Blue combination, she can both free her stack and serve a chip. But if she doesn't, then she might be stuck for another turn! (Rules note: Players can use Red cards to move Covers from anywhere – including partners' stacks – but Busboys will serve only a player's own set of chips, not his partner's set.) What to do?!

In the end, this action works well, and due to the iconography used on the cards, I don't feel the complexity is much of an issue at all. The White "Call Busboy" action was set.

Four down – Everybody Serve, Move Dishes, Move Cover, Call Busboy. Simple mechanisms, interesting decisions, and that indescribable "fun factor" all appeared to be present, and I was happy. After further testing across varying numbers of players, and testing minor tweaks and variants here and there, the game was complete. R&R Games signed it for a 2010 release, and the rest is history.



That's pretty much the story of Hey Waiter! It's an abridged account – listing every change and test would probably be as painful to read as it would be to type – but I hope you now have a nice idea of the background of the game.

Thanks for reading, and happy gaming!

Anthony Rubbo

(This designer diary was first published on BoardgameNews.com on Oct. 13, 2010. —WEM)
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Sun Mar 20, 2011 4:49 am
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Links: Hippodice 2011, Another Eric Martin & More

W. Eric Martin
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Another edition of links for weekend reading:

• Designer Reiner Knizia has started a Twitter page, with tweeting to commence on April 4, 2011. The good doctor can turn out new games in a flash, but good tweets take time, I suppose...

• Designer Alexander Pfister offers a new two- and three-player variant for The Mines of Zavandor.

• Speaking of Herr Pfister, his Africa 1830 design took first place in the 2011 Hippodice design contest. Head to the Hippodice site for a complete rundown of winners, a listing of the jury members, and pics of the best-ranked games.

• Solve the four "hex-aches" presented from the about-to-be-released Neuroshima Hex Puzzles app, and you'll have a chance to win one of ten copies of the app. Deadline for entry is March 18, 2011.

• Issue #27 (PDF) of the Z-Man Games newsletter has been released, featuring overviews of Yggdrasil and Mermaid Rain.

• On Illuminating Games, Chris Farrell writes about the problem of creating narratives in board games:

Quote:
Mansions of Madness is trying to tell stories that are narratively mysteries while using the standard boardgame tools of conflict, risk, and resource management. In my opinion, this is a case of "when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail". The common core mechanics we have in boardgames (and RPGs) are simply not amenable to mystery stories, and Mansions of Madness ends up being a nail, in this case a glorified dungeon crawl.

• In his blog Death of Monopoly, Eric Martin – no, not me; another Eric Martin – pushes back against the negativity directed at Friedemann Friese's Black Friday – "a great game, brilliant even, and one of the most cunning market simulations I've ever seen" – while agreeing that the game is unplayable with the rulebook provided.

• On the "iOS Board Games" blog here on BGG, Brad Cummings writes about why board game publishers must embrace digital media. I know to whom Cummings refers to in his "one of the largest board game publishers" anecdote and can practically hear the sound of those executives laughing at the need to digitize and repackage the games they publish. The publisher's record of success is solid, though, so perhaps they have reason to laugh.

• DiceHateMe features an interview with Trollhalla designer Alf Seegert, who drops word of his next release – The Road to Canterbury, from Gryphon Games in 2011 – in addition to talking about being a literature professor and guitarist.

• In other cardboard-to-digits announcements, Christian Freeling's abstract strategy game Crossfire is now playable online at Boardspace.net; Martin Schlegel's Bangkok Klongs has been added to online game site Yucata.de; and Earth Reborn can now not be played on Vassal. (Update, March 18: Gaëtan Beaujannot from the Vassalforge team informed me that the author of the Earth Reborn module did not get approval from the editor, so links to this module have been removed. In other news, Gaëtan says, "VassalForge will do the module of Québec from Le Scorpion Masqué for Essen.")

• G4 reports on the tabletop gaming that took place at PAX East in March 2011.

• Game historian and translator Bruce Whitehill has overhauled his Big Game Hunter website.
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New Game Round-up: More Penny Arcade Games, Cthulhu Gets Gloomy & More

W. Eric Martin
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Another sampling of what's new, newish and too new to actually exist:

• Want an overview of Waldek Gumienny's Teutons? Michał Ozon of Phalanx Games Polska — which will publish Teutons — has finally finished his months-in-the-making Tannenberg 1410 AAR (after action report) loaded with images of this 90-minute game that has taken more than six months to document – kind of like a movie production company in reverse, come to think it, with six months of work compressed to an hour-and-a-half of screen time.

• U.S. publisher R&R Games expects to release Stephen Glenn's Pigskin in 2011, possibly in Q3, although the release date probably won't be set until April. Here's a brief game description from R&R's Frank DiLorenzo:

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Welcome to the game! Pigskin pits two football teams in a classic gridiron match. Players call plays using the cards available in their hands. Yardage gained or lost is determined by the roll of the dice, and strategic play-calling makes all the difference as to which dice you get to roll for each play. The right offensive play might get a lot of yardage...unless the defense sets up correctly to stop it. After that, it all comes down to the roll of the dice...

Fumbles, interceptions, sacks, penalties, deep passes, breakaway runs...it's all here. The game comes with three Running Dice, three Passing Dice, a Defense Die, a Play die, a Referee Die and a Penalty Die. Card decks include 60 Offense cards and 60 Defense cards.

Playing time for Pigskin is 60 minutes, and DiLorenzo says that four "division" packs, each with six unique expansion teams, will also be available for the game.

• U.S. publisher Atlas Games will release Keith Baker's Cthulhu Gloom – which is both a standalone card game and an expansion for Gloom – in August 2011. Players try to drive their own characters to insanity and death, while keeping opponents' characters chipper and (at worst) alive, through the play of modifier and transformation cards as well as by claiming story cards in play from the start of the game.

Cryptozoic Entertainment will release The Lookouts Board Game in 2011, The Lookouts being characters from Penny Arcade. Here's a brief description of the game from the Cryptozoic website, which also features sample images:

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With this hybrid role playing and board game, you can make your own Lookouts character and experience the magic of the Eyrewood forest. Each player will gain abilities and skills based on the merit badges they earn, becoming more powerful as they cross difficult terrain, face menacing creatures and encounter other challenges. Do you have what it takes to survive?

Cryptozoic will also release Penny Arcade Deckbuilding Game – previewed on Cryptozoic's website with no release date set – and Food Fight – also previewed on the Cryptozoic website, with a Q4 2011 release date. Here's an overview of Food Fight:

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Food Fight is an exciting step for Cryptozoic as the company begins to develop its own unique worlds and characters. The game will release concurrently with a digital version for the iPhone, iPad and Android. Both will be available this fall.

Plan out your meal and prepare to battle your opponents. Enlist Major Weiner and Private Pancake to team up with Mean Burrito...but will they stand a chance against Bad-Ass Bacon? With Food Fight, up to six players draft entrees and side dishes to build a meal that will devour the competition. As their "troops" go into battle, garnishes and condiments can provide back up. But beware: if a Dog enters the melee, your meal could be in jeopardy!

• Seth Jaffee writes about a possible late 2012 release from Tasty Minstrel Games.

• Designer Jeffrey Neil Bellinger describes how Killer Bunnies and the Conquest of the Magic Carrot, due out late April 2011, came to have the structure it does and previews Morden's Metals Exchange, a stock market element in the new game.

Fantasy Flight Games has posted rules (PDF) for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

Steve Jackson Games plans to release Munchkin Deluxe in June 2011 – which includes a game board and nice pawns with the basic Munchkin game – and more Munchkin items throughout the remainder of eternity. Details and pics on GameSalute.com.

• Recently released games in North America include Pamplona: Viva San Fermín! from new Canadian publisher Tartan Grizzly Productions, 51st State from Toy Vault, Spring Fever from Filosofia, Carcassonne: The City (the new version in a cardboard box), Letters from Whitechapel and Dakota from Nexus Games, Munchkin 7: Cheat with Both Hands, Say Anything Family and from Fantasy Flight Games Battles of Westeros: Lords of the River and Runebound Essential Collection.

• New games added to the BGG database that caught my eye include Ouro de Tolo (due out April 1, 2011 in Brazil), Equilibrion (from the designer of Onirim), Ascension: Return of the Fallen (which can function as a two-player game or an expansion for Ascension), Proch i Stal (a cooperative game about an interesting event in 18th century Poland) and Fortune and Glory, The Cliffhanger Game, another big release from Jason Hill at Flying Frog Productions.
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Thu Mar 17, 2011 5:36 am
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Designer Diary: BattleCON – Design Philosophy and Game Breakdown

Brad Talton
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Battle Connection — or BattleCON, for short — is a game that I've wanted to design for about as long as I can remember. It's a character-based, head-to-head dueling game that works in layers, with simple foundations that support multiple levels of customization and decision-making. It is themed and designed with the most compelling features of 2D console fighting games in mind. Two players (or three or four) can sit down and play a game in 10-20 minutes, and it's just a lot of fun.

I'm currently running a Kickstarter project to fund the publication of BattleCON, but let's first see how the game came about...

You Are Who You Play

When I was 15 years old — that's eight years ago at this point, wow — I started work on a collectible card game called The Anime Arsenal, after the name of an anime club that I belonged to in high school. Though I'm not a big anime fan anymore, we had a great time, and this club still operates in North Carolina.

Anyway, The Anime Arsenal was a collectible game along the lines of Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon or Legend of the Five Rings. I was the main card designer, and I would print the cards at the local OfficeMax, use spray adhesive to glue the fronts to the backs, cut them out, and distribute them to friends for free. (You couldn't squeeze money out of these guys with a vise because they spent it all on anime, naturally.) The game included around 400 different cards, with perhaps 2,500 cards printed in total, so OfficeMax made a bundle off of us.

The Anime Arsenal card game — one of my first large-scale projects


Everyone in the group played their own, unique deck. Curiously enough, players began to come to me with card requests: "Brad, you know Gerald's vampire deck? Well, it's way too strong for my giant robot deck. I need something to deal with this." Even when all the cards in the game were free and shared property, players didn't want to just adopt the most powerful deck available — they wanted their chosen deck to be the most powerful. A sense of identity was attached to what they were playing, and winning their way was more important than winning at any cost.

The Anime Arsenal card game gradually died out, mostly because everyone left for college, but the idea of that game stuck with me. What I learned — aside from a bit about game mechanisms, game balance, and prototype production — was that players in a competitive game identify with their side, much like people watching a sporting event. They want to win their way, and not just by using the commonly accepted tactics or the single most powerful option.

I have developed a lot of games between then and now, and the one thing that I was always looking for in a game was a way to bring players that sense of relationship with the side they are playing, to rally the player and get him excited about his particular army or team or character. I called that excitement "immersion", though the word means a lot of things to a lot of players, and strove to create games that would form an identifying relationship with their players.

Making More from Less

In the business of small game development, especially short-run games that you plan to play only with friends, you learn to do more with less. Card printing is expensive for personal use (about 11 cents per card), so you try to get the maximum use out of the fewest number of cards. You can't afford to playtest a 250 card CCG base set knowing that it might go through ten different iterations (which you have to print in triplicate if you allow multiples of a card).

Plus, the process is just too unwieldy. In MTG, I'd venture that 70% of the cards in the game don't see high-level play, and why settle for anything less? Part of good game design is that there should never be a suboptimal card, so you distill out every element that you can until you get the game down to its minimum. At most, I wanted a 20- or 30-card deck for a character. The deck wouldn't be customizable, but rather tuned to be the best and most competitive deck possible for that character, while also being balanced against other characters and ready to play right out of the box — a perfect high-level gaming experience. But 20-30 cards per character still makes for a 300-card game. These were pre-Dominion days, so a boxed game like that was pretty much unthinkable. I needed to stretch individual cards even further, but ten cards didn't seem like enough to make for a compelling character.

One day, I was playing my favorite fighting game, BlazBlue, and I was thinking hard about what made that game compelling. In the middle of a match, something occurred to me: Every character has a heavy attack; just about every character has a ranged attack; and just about every character has a feint of one kind or another. When they use the light, medium, or heavy versions of these attacks, they just change their stats a bit, becoming faster or stronger, or having more range.

Then it hit me.

All the characters were using the same tactics, but each had a different way of using them — the game had divided play style and tactics. Two distinct ideas were being merged into each attack seamlessly. Because I know in BlazBlue what a punch is intended to accomplish, or how to input a certain special move command, I can use just about anyone in the game decently. However, to use a specific character effectively, I have to master their individual quirks. I have to put the strengths of their style to work.

Suddenly, the mechanism I needed was staring me in the face, the base mechanism for what became BattleCON. And it wasn't just saving space either — it actually made each character easier to play! With the tactics all included in the base character cards, once a player understood those six cards, he could use anyone in the game decently. With five personal styles and one personal base, each character could have a completely different play style.



So with the basic mechanism in place, I had this hugely flexible game that was easy to teach and play with a ton of design space. And a new character consisted of only seven cards! The entire two-player game included about 96 cards total, while having a massive amount of variety with the 12 available characters. What's more, it let players create their own attacks via card combinations. When you pulled off something brilliant, the move wasn't luck of the draw — it was insightful decision-making and good hand management.

Bringing Characters to Life

After I stopped being an anime fan, I became a CCG fan. I played Magic almost religiously and had a singles set (one of every card) of 80% of the game. Under the influence of friends, I gradually got out of that and into board games. Having played only CCGs, I was blown away by the variety of mechanisms and conventions present in modern board and card games: trick-taking, resource management, hand management, chit-pulling, area control, time management, worker placement — the design space was nearly limitless. I once joked to a game designer friend that we should make a Mechanics Quest board game, in which each player got to utilize a different mechanic to try to win. At the time, we laughed it off and couldn't think of any good way to tie all of the mechanics together in a fair contest. But I never forgot about Mechanics Quest...

So after a few playtests of alpha BattleCON, I liked where the game was going. It just needed something... more, something that made the character's strategies not just present but integral. In addition to a handful of moves, I wanted each character to have something that made them unique. Somewhere, out of the murky depths of my cluttered game designer's mind, Mechanics Quest floated to the surface. I could use a different game mechanism to power every character!

As soon as I started considering board game mechanisms, things fell into place like magic:

• "Space Controller" can set a trap on the board to prevent enemy movement or punish them for moving into his territory.
• "Worker Placer" can get a bunch of minions onto the field to fight for him – if his opponent is in the right spots.
• "Risk Manager" has tokens that he can spend for power, but the more tokens he holds on to, the easier it is to get even more.

The mechanisms felt natural, and the system was clean and streamlined enough at this point that they just fell into place. I was using only 96 cards, after all, so I had tons of extra room to include the bits and pieces that would power all these mechanisms, while still keeping the game at a reasonable cost.

Including unique abilities made the characters even more personalized. Now it wasn't just a different matchup when two characters met, but a different game! Unique abilities added an additional layer of macro-strategy on top of the beat-by-beat tactical conflict occurring on the field. Could Resource Management beat Space Control? Would Modular Parts triumph over Worker Placement? The characters didn't just feel like two play styles clashing; they were now whole ideologies of game design fighting it out with one another!

The Elements Combine...

During conception and design, BattleCON had inadvertently separated the three major elements of competitive gaming — tactics, play style, and macro strategy — and boiled them down into modular parts that could be adjusted and tweaked.

The result was a nearly limitless design space that was light on components and extremely deep in game play. It had all the personal appeal of a CCG as your character could reflect your personality and grow in power the more you mastered him or her. The design also had all the production appeal of a boxed game: a reasonable production cost, tons of replayability, and a finite product that didn't necessitate expansions. It was the perfect launch title for Level 99 Games.

Making the Game a Reality

We've created a lot of games — video games, print-and-play, some through other publishers — but this is going to be Level 99 Games' first boxed board game. I'm a game designer because I like to see people having fun, and I decided to move forward and mass produce BattleCON because I think it's a game with universal appeal for both casual and competitive gamers.

One thing I believe in is trying before you buy. I hate opening a box and realizing that you didn't get what you were expecting, so I try to release a free version of every game I create. Thus, there's a free version of BattleCON with only six color pages to print (if you do the rules in black and white) that lets you play four of the characters in the full game. In the free preview game, you can check out:

Khadath Ahemusei, the space controlling trapper, who can manage the advances of his opponents and force them to stay where he wants.
Kallistar Flarechild, a risk-return striker, who sacrifices her own ground to try to take even more from her opponents.
Hikaru Sorayama, a resource management pressure-fighter, who uses different elements to give additional powers to his attacks.
Cadenza, a limited supply managing robot, who has the ability to shrug off his opponents' attacks, but can do so only a few times before he runs out of this incredibly useful power.

The full game includes 12 characters with five different play modes. You can also support four players with tag teams, hold 2v2 matches, and even play a 3v1 "Boss Mode" for players who want a cooperative challenge.

So, that's where we are! It's been a long road to create this game, but the results have been well worth it. I hope you'll give BattleCON a try, and support our Kickstarter project to make it real!

D. Brad Talton
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Tue Mar 15, 2011 3:19 am
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