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Destroy Rebel — or Empire! — Bases, Then Build Squads for Star Wars: Shatterpoint

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game
In case you thought that the number of games based on the Star Wars franchise was two short of the ideal number, then you'll be pleased to know that the gap will be filled in 2023.

Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game, due out in March 2023 from Caleb Grace and Fantasy Flight Games, takes a straightforward approach to the central Star Wars conflict, with two players each trying to eliminate the other as a force in that universe:
Quote:
The Rebel Alliance fights valiantly against the tyranny of the Galactic Empire. Each new victory brings the Rebels hope, and each heroic sacrifice strengthens their resolve. Still, the Empire's resources are vast, and the firepower of its Empire Navy is unmatched. With neither side willing to accept defeat, their war rages across the galaxy...

In Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game, a head-to-head game for two players, the galaxy-spanning war between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance comes alive on your tabletop. In this easy-to-learn game, you and your opponent each choose a side, playing as either the Empire or the Rebels, and as the game progresses you both strengthen the power of your starting decks and work to destroy each other's bases. The first player to destroy three of their opponent's bases wins.

In more detail, each player starts with a unique ten-card deck, with seven of those cards providing only resources to acquire new cards. Six cards from a galaxy deck are always on display, with Rebel cards facing the Rebel player, Empire cards the Empire player, and neutral cards turned sideways. You can spend resources to acquire cards in the galaxy row that don't belong to the opponent, and you can use attack power to take out cards that do belong to them, gaining a reward in the process.

Board Game: Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game

Each player starts with a base that lacks abilities (Dantooine for the Rebels and Lothal for the Empire), but when that base is destroyed, you get to choose a replacement from your base deck, with each base having a special ability. Choose wisely to counter your opponent's plans! In addition to having special abilities, capital ships absorb damage meant for your base.

Players also fight for control of a Force track to gain additional resources or make use of "If the Force is with you..." abilities on their cards.
The other title is Star Wars: Shatterpoint, a two-player miniatures skirmish game from Atomic Mass Games, which also publishes Star Wars: X-Wing (Second Edition) and Star Wars: Legion. Here's an overview of this June 2023 release:
Quote:
Star Wars: Shatterpoint lets players alter the fate of the galaxy from the Core Worlds to the Outer Rim.

Board Game: Star Wars: Shatterpoint

To start, each player builds a strike team of iconic Star Wars characters, whether thematic squads straight from the Star Wars galaxy such as Ahsoka Tano and Bo-Katan Kryze, or Lord Maul and his loyalist super commandos, or a custom squad that's optimized to complete the various mission objectives for the current game. You then pit your squad against another one, using your characters' special abilities and diverse combat skills to control the flow of battle as you race to complete dynamically evolving mission objectives.
And here's a teaser video from Atomic Mass Games that shows off miniatures from the game:

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Tue Nov 15, 2022 5:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna 1683

Robert DeLeskie
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Microbadge: Warriors of God - The Wars of England & France, 1135-1453 fanMicrobadge: Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage fanMicrobadge: War of the Ring fanMicrobadge: Leica fanMicrobadge: Hollandspiele fan
Hi! I'm Robert DeLeskie, designer of Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna 1683. I want to tell you a bit about the game and share a little about my design process.

Board Game: Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna 1683

As a player, I find I'm often drawn to games that are steeped in history as well as being fun and entertaining. My day job is as a writer and director in the TV industry, so dramatic and emotionally-rich storytelling is really important to me. When I design, my goal is to try to combine these different elements into games that reflect history in an accessible and hopefully illuminating way, while also creating exciting stories that will stay with players after the game leaves the table.

How It Started

From gallery of rdeleskie

In fall 2018, I read Andrew Wheatcroft's The Enemy at the Gate, a book about the 1683 siege of Vienna. The siege pitted the full force of one of the greatest empires in history (the Ottomans) against a weaker rival (the Habsburg dynasty). The Ottomans outnumbered the Habsburg defenders 10:1, but Vienna was well protected with modern fortifications and the outcome was far from certain.

From gallery of rdeleskie
Ottoman and Habsburg soldiers fight amidst the rubble during the siege

For more than two months, both sides fought with muskets, cannons, grenades, mortars, swords, spears, arrows, and mines packed with explosives, often from trenches mere meters apart. The Ottomans made it right up to the final line of defense and were only hours from breaching the walls when a German-Polish relief force arrived and swept the attackers away.

The book was a compelling read, and it got me thinking about how I could create a game based on the siege that was fun, dramatic, and even educational.*

(*It goes without saying the siege was a nightmarish experience for the people who lived through it. It's only with the privilege of more than four hundred years of historical distance that we can look back and find the topic an entertaining or even appropriate subject for a game. I discuss some of the issues with representing the siege, along with the politics surrounding it, in my designer's notes for the game.)

Questions Get the Ball Rolling

To proceed with the design, the first question I had to answer was what the game's focus would be. The geopolitics surrounding the siege, with international alliances and power struggles? The large-scale sweep of armies traveling and fighting across hundreds of kilometers? The logistics of moving and provisioning tens of thousands of troops, and supplying and feeding the besieged population of the city? Or the fight in front of the city walls, where attackers and defenders struggled for every inch of ground gained or lost?

I decided to concentrate on the final option because I felt it offered rich possibilities for difficult decisions and dramatic results, and hence player engagement. Also, the details of gunpowder-era siege attack and defense are fascinating and haven't often been covered in games, and I thought they might appeal to historically-minded players.

The next decision was how to focus and depict the physical and decision-making spaces of the game. Traditional wargames often use maps with lots of hexes and counters that let you move your troops around on the board. Since sieges are contests of attrition rather than maneuver, typically focusing on specific, well-chosen weak points in a city's fortifications, I didn't feel this traditional "hex and counter" approach was right.

Instead, I decided to try a "climb the ladder" structure in which the Ottoman player would have to capture a series of key locations as they moved up each "rung" towards the city wall. Each of these key locations would start with a certain number of hit points that could be worn down by the Ottoman player through bombardment, mining, and assault, and restored by the Habsburg player through defensive actions. There would be benefits to capturing or recapturing a location, measured in morale, which would be one of the currencies in the game.

Here's what an early prototype of the game looked like in November 2018:

From gallery of rdeleskie
Hmm. Not much to look at yet. Maybe it will turn into something?

The game utilizes a card-driven mechanism. Each player draws a hand of five random cards from a unique deck, and each card can be discarded for actions, played for special events, or used as bonuses during battles. I felt a CDG (card-driven game) approach was a good fit because it simplified various "expenses" (money, supplies, ammunition) into decision-making points for players as they weighed the opportunity cost of using a card for short-term gain versus saving it to advance their longer-term strategic goals.

I also decided that, unlike many wargames, there wouldn't be chits or miniatures on the board to represent troops. There were a few reasons for this. First, I liked the idea of hidden information. By using troop cards instead of counters, players wouldn't know how powerful a force they were facing was until the battle began, so they'd have to make educated guesses about their opponent's capabilities, intentions, and even psychology. For example, a player could launch a weak attack to force their opponent to exhaust their good troops, then follow up with a strong attack. The cards also allowed me to introduce a third economic element: Once troops were spent, they could not be used again until a new round began, so players would have to carefully plan their attack and defense.

From gallery of rdeleskie
Map of the siege, showing Ottoman trenches running right up to the inner wall; this map became the inspiration for future versions of the game board

Another crucial design question was how to deal with tunneling and mining, which were important tactics used during the siege. I decided to try a kind of "hidden movement" mechanism in which the Ottoman player could put cards of different values face down to form a tunnel. Once a certain number was reached, the player could blow up the tunnel, removing fortifications from key locations. Of course, the Habsburg player would have ways to counter this.

The final question at this stage was deciding how long play should last. Since the game covered a limited scenario, I wanted it to be relatively fast playing in comparison to some epic wargames, so I decided on a set number of rounds, after which the relief army would arrive and the game would end. Initially, I allowed both players to manipulate this clock through the use of cards, either increasing or decreasing the amount of time remaining. I later abandoned this idea because it felt unrealistic and "gamey", and it fell outside the scale I'd chosen for the game (tactical rather than grand strategy).

I playtested this rough prototype with a small group through October, November, and December 2018. The feedback was positive, but my gut told me something was missing, so I put the design away. I figured I'd get back to it in a few weeks.

•••

Two Years Later...

Board Game: Stilicho: Last of the Romans
Fast forward to October, 2020. My second game, Stilicho: Last of the Romans had just been published by Hollandspiele, and I felt the itch to get working on something. I'd continued reading about and researching early-modern siege warfare and the history of the Ottoman-Habsburg conflicts, and I started thinking about my Vienna design again.

One day, while I was out for a run, something clicked. Various ways to simplify the game began to occur to me. I also had the idea to make the game modular, so that the pieces could be combined in different ways to model different historical sieges. When I got back from my run, I grabbed my art supplies, design kit, and a retractable blade. After a bit of work, this was the result:

From gallery of rdeleskie

From gallery of rdeleskie
Hexes but no counters!

I'm a firm believer that you need to create a physical prototype of a game as soon as possible. Handling the pieces and moving them around can be very inspiring! Sometimes, I'll take random bits of wood or meeples and just put them on cards or maps to see what ideas they spark. The result of messing around with the physical components was this:

From gallery of rdeleskie

From gallery of rdeleskie

The hit points (formerly represented by the dice) are gone, replaced by wooden pieces that stood in for different kinds of fortifications. This got me thinking about new ways to use the fortifications other than as stacks of hit points. For example, I decided the cylinders, representing permanent stone defenses, couldn't be added to or repaired once the game started, and could be removed only through the use of artillery or explosives. Seemingly small changes like this began to really add to the game's tactical sophistication.

I was excited to start playtesting again, but Covid meant face-to-face games were out of the question. I created a Tabletop Simulator version of the design so that I could continue playtesting online with folks from my gaming group.

From gallery of rdeleskie
I call this the Klingon Battle Cruiser version of the game

In three months, the game progressed more quickly than it had in two years. Development often happens like that, especially when you are a part-time designer. Overall, I was very encouraged by my playtests, and after numerous experiments, tweaks, and tests, felt I had a solid design in terms of mechanisms and theme. I began to think about approaching a publisher.

Out of the Blue

Board Game Publisher: Capstone Games
As fate would have it, I got an email from Clay Ross, president of Capstone Games that December. He told me he'd played and liked Stilicho, and he wanted to know whether I had anything similar in development. What great timing! I pitched Clay on Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna. After several conversations and playtests, we decided to work together.

The importance of collaborating with a supportive and thoughtful publisher and developer can't be overstated. To begin with, we both agreed the design was a solid foundation but could go further. Clay had some great feedback, which I felt showed he really got what I was trying to do. We also saw eye-to-eye on what we felt the appeal of the game could be: a tense, relatively rules-light game steeped in history that could appeal to folks who don't normally play wargames, as well as gronards who really know their way around a paper battlefield.

Clay recommended we move away from a modular approach so that the game could capture more of the specifics of the history and be fine-tuned for the specific scenario. He also suggested some changes to the game board, which I agreed with. The new board created new possibilities, such as the inclusion of cannons as physical game pieces, and rules for the control of adjacent spaces (which in the game increase the offensive power of the Ottomans).

From gallery of rdeleskie
Early conversations and playtests with the publisher/developer resulted in an expanded game board

Playtesting and Final Changes

Working with Capstone meant I could playtest with a larger, more varied group, and I spent the next several months collecting data and tweaking the game in response to comments and survey feedback we received from online players.

Sometimes, what isn't said in the feedback can be just as important as what is. For example, I wanted the battles in the game to be exciting and tense, and while nobody said anything negative about this aspect, players weren't singling it out as highpoint either, so I decided to make combat into a kind of mini-game, with less math and tighter integration between the physical components and the outcomes. Once I made the changes, I started getting great feedback about the battles, which I feel have become one of the game's highlights.

During this time, I connected with a group of gamers in Istanbul who joined the playtest. It was really important to me to make a game that "Western" and Turkish players could enjoy and feel represented the history and culture fairly and accurately. With their help, I was also able to clarify some historical fine points and terminology. I also made some new friends, and I'm really grateful for their contribution.

Graphic Design Is More than Pretty Pictures

Board Game: Red Flag Over Paris
During the late phase of playtesting, Domhnall Hegarty came onboard as the graphic designer. I first saw Donal's work on Fred Serval's excellent Red Flag Over Paris. In addition to being an amazing graphic designer, Donal has a love and respect for history I feel is super important for a game like this.

Donal did more than just give the graphics a sophisticated, professional makeover; he actually influenced the design in some places. For example, Donal suggested tiles instead of cards to represent the tunnels dug by the Ottoman and Habsburgs. This was a terrific idea because it simplified the game interface in a logical and meaningful way, while also making the game more interesting. Plus you get to draw tiles from a bag, which is always fun! I love ideas like that, and I'm excited when they come from collaborators and partners.

By mid-summer 2021, the game had almost taken its final form. On TTS, it looked like this:

From gallery of rdeleskie

Wait! We're Not Done Yet!

Of course, a game isn't finished even once design and graphics are completed. Jonathan Bobal came onboard to polish the rulebook and player's aid, and did a great job at organizing and presenting the rules in a clear and easy-to-follow way. I also spent several weeks researching and writing the historical notes and essays that accompany the game. Because this game is about the clash between two empires (Ottoman and Habsburg), I felt it was crucial it depict the history in a truthful and balanced way. Alongside Western European sources about the siege, I sought out works by Turkish authors and translations of Turkish military and social history.

From gallery of rdeleskie
You might end up owning a pile of books when you design a game based on historical events!
The game is named in part for the book
Fire & Stone by Christopher Duffy, a classic history of siege warfare.

The Home Stretch

By mid-summer 2022 everything was finally done. Clay received a factory prototype of the final game:

From gallery of rdeleskie

Board Game: Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna 1683
The final game components — a long way from
handwritten notes on scraps of paper!

After four years of research, design, development, playtesting, art directing, and editing, the game is finally ready for its launch at SPIEL '22!

My Design Process

With three published games and several more at various stages of development, I've started to think about my design process in a more systematic way. If I had to describe it, I'd say it's hourglass shaped. Once I have determined the general scope and scale of a game, I collect all the ideas I think are interesting or that I want to try out, then stuff them into the initial design. What follows is a process of reduction, of stripping things away until I get down to the game's essence.

For me, the "North Star" to finding that essence is simplicity. Note that simplicity is not the same as simplistic; for me simplicity implies logic, economy, and elegance. When designing a game based on a historical situation, these qualities must also align with my understanding of the actual events.

How do you tell if you are achieving simplicity? Playtesting. Playtesting is kind of like telling a story. Players' reactions tell you what's working and what isn't. Even solo testing can be really helpful. If you find something confusing or boring, or you notice you keep skipping over a part of the game, it's more than likely your players will feel the same. Like I mentioned before, sometimes what isn't said by players is just as important as what is.

At a certain point, I find the game starts to get almost too simple; in other words, it verges on simplistic. This usually means I'm through the narrow part of the hourglass, and it's time to start expanding things again, but this time in a more directed, focused way. By now, hours and hours of developing, collecting data, and listening to feedback have given me a good idea of what belongs in the game and what doesn't, and decisions I make from this point forward start to feel more natural and "right", and less like shots in the dark. To me, this signals the game is approaching its final state.

•••

Thank you for taking the time to read this diary! I hope you found it interesting, and if you design your own games that you take some encouragement from it. Remember that "two steps forward, one (or two) steps back" is par for the course, and inspiration can come from many places: a book, going out for a run, a few wooden pieces randomly placed on a board, an out-of-the-blue email, and most importantly, input from trusted collaborators.

I'm excited this part of the journey is finished, and I can't wait for Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna to finally make its way into players' hands.

Robert DeLeskie
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Tue Nov 15, 2022 7:00 am
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Game Overview: AEOLOS, or Put the Wind at Your Back

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: AEOLOS
I marvel at the conflict that gamers constantly face, wanting to play something new, while at the same time wanting to playing something familiar. If a particular game is giving you thrills, you want to get it to the table more often, whether to share it with others, try out new approaches, or just top a previous high score — yet we also want to explore new designs, to see what else a favorite designer has done or to wander into lands unknown.

AEOLOS from designers Guido Eckhof and Arve D. Fühler and publisher SPIEL DAS! Verlag gave me the new and old combined, with the game featuring the old-school German design style of Fühler — who has designed Pagoda, Monasterium, and El Gaucho, among other titles — and a simple game mechanism that felt novel in how it bound the players together. (At SPIEL '22, Fühler told me that Eckhof had come up with the central game element, then they worked together after that.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The gist of the game is that you're sailing around islands to collect gems and establish yourself at temples to gain blessings from the gods. Each turn, you play a card from your hand onto the discard pile of the matching color — gray or purple — then take an action in the harbor associated with the sum of the topmost two cards.

The cards range from 0 to 5, so you're somewhat limited in what you can make that sum. The total drifts from low to medium to low and so forth, with the players collectively shifting the environment of the game. Two caveats: (1) If your played card has the same symbol — cloud, water, sun — as the other top card, you collect a wind token, and (2) you can spend as many wind tokens as you like, with each spent token adjusting the sum up or down by 1.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Two complete sets of gems = 50 endgame points

In the harbors numbered 3-9, you can collect gems of four colors, gain new ships, build settlements on islands, gain "Favor of the Gods" cards, collect wind or points, and advance a prophet up a tiered stairway to gain points based on what else you've done in the game.

If you spend enough wind or use the power of the #3 harbor, you can move ships onto or down the five rivers towards temple spaces that offer a huge number of points or a combination of points and other stuff: wind, gems, Favor cards, and a special purple gem not available elsewhere. Reaching the end of the river gives you a huge reward, but your ship must remain there — sayeth the gods, "No backsies" — so you need to bring new ships into play in order to keep doing things.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

You play through the card deck one, one-and-a-half, or two times based on the number of players, then you score a smattering of points for unspent wind and Favor cards and usually far more points for collected gems. As is typical for such games, as with Fühler's own Glory Islands, the more different colors you collect, the better — and you can score for multiple sets of gems should the other players let you get away with hoarding them.

Gameplay in AEOLOS, which I've played five times on a purchased copy, three times with three players and once each with two and four, is straightforward in that you have clear goals — get gems and reach temples — with limited play options available to you. You start with a hand size of three, so each turn you have only three choices of what to play...except that you can tweak your card play with wind to adjust the total and you can play one or more Favor cards for bonus actions and you can place settlements to increase your hand size to give you more choices. You're limited, but not to an extreme.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Hmm, which gray card should I play?

Placing settlements also allows you to gain points with your prophet or take a harbor action without having a ship present, but I've yet to see them used effectively in five games — or rather I've won three of those five games without placing a settlement on the board, while other players seem to placing them to no real long-term benefit. I don't know whether my experience with the game is giving me an edge or we just haven't figured out how to best use them or whether they're not useful at all, which would be a shame since they are not a peripheral element.

AEOLOS includes a few expansions that I've yet to explore, such as each double-sided player board having an asymmetric power. You can shuffle harbor tiles and place them out randomly to mix up the actions available, or you can add a Poseidon expansion that adds additional actions to harbors once all the settlement spaces on them have been filled. Not sure whether I'll ever explore those or not, but they're on hand to make the familiar new and satisfy that gamerly desire.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

In the video below, I go into the game actions in more detail, show off all the "Favor of the Gods" cards, and talk more about the playing experience:

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Mon Nov 14, 2022 7:00 am
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Links: Stonewall Uprising Risen, and Shipping Costs by Container or Individual Box

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Stonewall Uprising
I send myself a ton of notes about game-related happenings, and they sometimes pile up like compost in the inbox, new covering old until the old disappears completely — or until I turn the inbox over and the old comes back to light, as with today's round-up:

• In June 2022, Dan Thurot of Space-Biff! posted a phenomenal overview of Stonewall Uprising, a two-player game by Taylor Shuss and Catastrophe Games in which one player takes the role of Pride and the other The Man as they fight for or against equal rights.

Thurot always does fantastic work, but the personal experience woven throughout this overview really got to me.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
• Also in June 2022, I ran across a favorable review of About Jenga: The Remarkable Business of Creating a Game that Became a Household Name from Jenga designer Leslie Scott and said, hmm, I should check that book out myself sometime.

And only now when I'm writing this have I discovered that About Jenga was published in 2009! Still, the review got me interested, so it's on my list to read at some point. (I post mini-reviews of books from all different decades on my personal Twitter account, so the age of the book doesn't bother me. After all, those books are still new to most people. The same is true for games, of course.)

Board Game: Keystone: North America
Keystone: North America, the debut title from Rose Gauntlet Entertainment, was released on the U.S. market in August 2022, but ahead of that release company co-owner Lindsey Rode shared information in a May 2022 Kickstarter update about that project's shipping costs:
Quote:
Before launching Keystone: NA we did our best to anticipate these challenges by giving ourselves more time and increasing our shipping costs. The additional time we estimated for fulfillment served us well and it looks like we'll fulfill exactly on schedule. Unfortunately, we sharply underestimated how shipping would cost. A few things caused this:

—There's no easy way to obtain an accurate container quote so we had to do our best when judging what costs would be. When fulfilling my last game, a container + transit cost around $3,000. Bracing for the worst I anticipated the cost increasing x3 to $12,000. The actual final cost ended up at $22,000 which is x7 higher than my last game and double the worst-case scenario.

—The fulfillment center quotes we received in 2022 were noticeably higher than the ones we had received in 2021. This is understandable since our fulfillment partners are dealing with increased costs as well, but it makes it hard to anticipate accurate costs.

Overall, we undercharged shipping by around $30,000. Thankfully Keystone was successful enough for us to be able to cover these unexpected costs.
From my understanding, container costs have fallen in 2022 compared to 2021, yet they're still far higher than what publishers were paying pre-Covid. Many component costs have risen, often due to shortages, and labor and energy costs are generally higher, which means publishers either have to eat margins — thereby earning less on each copy of a game they sell — or raise prices, which frustrates buyers who are used to paying $X for a game that looks like such-and-such.

Board Game: Steve Jackson's Munchkin Presents Batman
• On a similar note, in July 2022 Phil Reed, CEO of U.S. publisher Steve Jackson Games, explained why the company was eliminating international fulfillment for its crowdfunding projects:
Quote:
Our last Kickstarter campaign to offer international shipping — Steve Jackson's Munchkin Presents Batman — set the shipping costs higher than we would have liked. Backers in the EU, for example, were charged $32 for shipping their $50 reward. Worse still, that $32 did not include local taxes or fees; that was the raw cost of prepping and sending the game to the EU.

Not surprisingly, many were disgusted by the cost of shipping relative to the cost of the game, but that was a reality we had to face. Little did we know, though, that even that price wasn't enough to truly cover the cost of shipping the game to another nation.

As the warehouse in Georgia packs and ships the international Kickstarter rewards, we're left with a fulfillment bill that exceeds what we charged for shipping the game to international backers.

Our average cost per package for the games sent to Canada, the EU, and the UK, is roughly $40. And this is working through the best rates our primary warehouse — a fulfillment service that ships tens of thousands of games every month — could secure.

Making matters even more terrible for everyone involved, that $40/package does not include any local fees. So when our project supporters in other countries receive their rewards, they'll have to pay a percentage of the overall cost (the game plus shipping) to receive their game.
Game publishers that run crowdfunding campaigns are in a bind: Charge actual shipping costs to backers and get yelled at for being ripoff artists, or don't charge actual shipping costs and lose money on every copy relative to what you thought you'd make.

In September 2022, Suzanne Sheldon of Restoration Games posted a poll on her personal account that indicated no clear direction for how publishers should resolve this problem:

So half of the people out there want to feel like they're getting a bargain on the game and paying a reasonable shipping price, while the other half is fine paying more for the game and getting nearly free shipping. What's a publisher to do with this information?! Either approach will likely be disfavored by half of the potential audience, even though a backer is paying the same amount in both cases.

Board Game: Crossing Oceans
Games coming! Don't ask about the shipping bill...
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Sun Nov 13, 2022 7:00 am
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Rebuild Seattle, Remodel Transylvania, Rewrite Tragic Loops, and Relive the X-Men's Age of Heroes

W. Eric Martin
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U.S. publisher WizKids tends to announce lots of games, then the release dates for these titles shift back on the calendar bit by bit. With that in mind, here's what WizKids currently expects to release before the end of 2022:

Super-Skill Pinball: Holiday Special, by Geoff Engelstein
Bargain Basement Bathysphere, by Scott Slomiany
Atlantic Robot League, by Camden Clutter
Featherlight, by Sabrina and Hanno von Contzen

Board Game: Super-Skill Pinball: Holiday Special
Board Game: Bargain Basement Bathysphere
Board Game: Atlantic Robot League
Board Game: Featherlight

Marvel: Rock Paper Heroes – Enter the Danger Room, by Josh Cappel, Jay Cormier, and Sen-Foong Lim
Marvel: Damage Control, by Omari Akil
Detective Rummy, by Mike Fitzgerald and Ralph H. Anderson

Board Game: Marvel: Rock Paper Heroes – Enter the Danger Room
Board Game: Marvel: Damage Control
Board Game: Detective Rummy

Board Game: Beyond the Edge
Looking ahead to 2023, Kenneth C. Shannon III's Beyond the Edge, which I first covered in January 2018, is now scheduled for release in January — update, Nov 15: WizKids Director of Board Games Zev Shlasinger tells me that in fact Beyond the Edge has been cancelled — and that same month WizKids plans to publish Rebuilding Seattle, a 1-5 player game from Quinn Brander:
Quote:
The great fire of 1889 has burned down most of downtown Seattle, and you are the city planner tasked with rebuilding it. Manage economic resources to improve neighborhoods, erect new buildings and iconic landmarks, and address the needs of an ever-growing population to make Seattle better than ever!

Board Game: Rebuilding Seattle

In Rebuilding Seattle, you're responsible for managing the zoning and expansion of a major neighborhood! Each round your population grows, and you can either build a new building, expand into a new suburb, activate an event, or build a landmark, before earning profit based on your neighborhood's commerce. You'll buy building types from a shared market, looking to find shapes that fit your grid and types that fit your strategy. Triggering citywide events can change the tide of the game, offering points, money, and expansions for the players ready for it. You can even enact laws to give yourself the advantage! At the end of the game, whoever's neighborhood has earned the most points wins.
• March 2023 will see the release of Marvel: Age of Heroes, which WizKids first teased at GAMA Expo 2022. This is a 2-5 player worker-placement game from Rodney Thompson, best known as co-designer of 2012's Lords of Waterdeep. An overview:
Quote:
Marvel: Age of Heroes is an epic strategy game in which each player commands a duo of X-Men who are dispatched to defeat villains and complete objectives.

Board Game: Marvel: Age of Heroes

Your team will collect resources and power-ups before embarking on dangerous missions in one of the three uniquely challenging scenarios included in the game. The most effective team will manage their skills, train their mutants, and outpace the competition in the Institute and Mission Phase. Scenarios, asymmetric abilities, new abilities, and scoring conditions all serve to provide uncanny playability!

Board Game: Marvel: Age of Heroes

Player are heroes are represented by a set of striking full-color acrylic standees. Teams include fan-favorites like Wolverine and Jubilee, Jean Grey and Cyclops, Forge and Storm, and more! Cards and player boards have a gorgeous dreamscape art effect as if a powerful telepath is seeing them through Cerebro.

Board Game: Marvel: Age of Heroes

The deck features dozens of iconic X-Men characters and events that are available through a shared market. Players will be jockeying to collect and influence the heroes that are most useful for their strategies. As the board and scenarios evolve, your characters will, as well. Special evolution cards add new abilities and scoring conditions.
• Another GAMA 2022 teaser from WizKids was Tragedy Looper: New Tragedies, a new standalone version of the Tragedy Looper game from designer BakaFire, and this game is also due out in March 2023. Here's a gameplay summary for those new to this series:
Quote:
In Tragedy Looper: New Tragedies, 1-3 players are Protagonists attempting to escape a time loop engineered by one player acting as the Mastermind. The Mastermind player selects a script, either one of the 13 scripts included or one created themselves, and sets up the game accordingly. The Protagonist players don't yet know the details of the tragic events about to unfold.

Board Game: Tragedy Looper: New Tragedies

Protagonists and the Mastermind will play cards, activate abilities, and trigger incidents to uncover (or hide!) information and move the events forward. Players will interact with different characters and build relationships with them in order to unlock and activate those characters' helpful special abilities, but of course the Mastermind is attempting to trick and mislead the Protagonists. At the end of each loop, if the Protagonists haven't guessed correctly, they rewind all game components back to the start and try again with more information. If they don't guess correctly on the final loop, the Mastermind wins!

The Tragedy Looper system creates a unique game of deduction in which players begin each new loop better prepared, but the Mastermind player will know what they've learned and can alter their strategy accordingly.

Board Game: Tragedy Looper: New Tragedies
Sample character cards

Tragedy Looper: New Tragedies is a standalone game that brings content from original publisher BakaFire into English for the first time, collecting 13 scripts and 30 characters. This game includes a teaching guide for the Mastermind and a "First Steps" tragedy set for the first two scripts to help players get more comfortable with the gameplay loop. Experienced masterminds can also create their own scripts.
I'm unsure which of the Tragedy Looper expansions might have ended up in this release, but we can update the game page later as needed.
SiliconVania is due out in April 2023 from designer J.B. Howell, who's previously worked with WizKids on Chiyo's Secret, Flotilla, and Gates of Mara. The title already gives you an idea of what's going on in this game, but in more detail:
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The Vampire Council is looking to hire a new city planner to turn Transylvania, the most legendary vampire town in the world, into the world's newest tech haven! You and your rivals are competing to land a job that will ask you to create a diverse cityscape for vampire and animal life, provide plenty of blood banks for your citizens, secure contracts, and bring aboard the best specialists in the industry. The race is on to present to the Vampire Council the most organized plans for the city to renovate Transylvania into Siliconvania!

Board Game: SiliconVania

In SiliconVania, players bid on building tiles and multi-use specialists that provide either one-time bonuses or end-of-game scoring. Players take the building tiles they win, and place them in their 4x4 city grids, juggling different scoring opportunities, and collecting vampire and pet meeples that are looking for places to live! Each round you:

—Bid on a pair of building tiles to add to your grid. Be careful as once they're down, they're hard to move.
—Bid a specialist card for its ability and to get a new specialist card. Cards with stronger bids have weaker abilities, and vice versa.
—Commit a specialist card for its scoring condition, earning points, but revealing to your opponents which kinds of buildings you really need.

The game ends after eight rounds, at which time everyone's city grid will be full. You score points for having each of the seven building types, a wide network of blood banks, and proper housing for the vampire meeples your specialists bring to town. The vampires also want to make sure all this technological advancement doesn't destroy the biodiversity of their home, so you get points for having a variety of animals and animal meeples on your tiles.

Board Game: SiliconVania

Your specialists also provide special scoring conditions. Players will also be competing to develop innovations, find artifacts, and build castles and train stations to make their cities even more attractive to the rising vampire population.
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Sat Nov 12, 2022 7:00 am
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Travel Through Time to Make Clocks, Complete Quests, and Detail Women's History

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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HerStory is the latest release from Underdog Games, which sells games either directly or via Amazon.

Board Game: HerStory

This 2-5 player game was designed by Danielle Reynolds, Emerson Matsuuchi, and Nick Bentley, with Bentley telling me, "We designed it in an attempt to create something non-gamers and gamers would enjoy playing together, so inviting for non-gamers, but with a little subtlety under the hood for gamers." Here's an overview:
Quote:
In HerStory, you're an acclaimed author, writing a book to tell the stories of remarkable women of history. Players take turns doing research, drafting chapters, and completing them for points and possibly for research symbols or special powers. The game ends when a player has written eight chapters, and the player with the highest scoring book wins.
In more detail, on a turn you either draft a research token that shows some combination of reading, thinking, interviewing, and searching symbols; draft a chapter card and score 2 points; or complete a chapter card (whether from your personal board or the shared idea board) by discarding research tokens that cover the "cost" of that chapter. If you discard exactly what's needed instead of wasting research symbols, score 3 bonus points.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

When you complete a chapter, you score the point value listed on it, then place that card in the bottommost open slot of your book. If that card shows research symbols, you can use them to complete other chapter cards in the future; if the card has text, you gain a bonus each turn or have a way to score bonus points at game's end.

• U.S. publisher Plaid Hat Games is cementing its claim on the "small animal protagonist" market with word of Hickory Dickory from first-time designer Sawyer West.

Board Game: Hickory Dickory

Here's a quick take on this 1-4 player game that takes 60-120 minutes to play and is due out in Q4 2022:
Quote:
In Hickory Dickory, players control a team of mice competing in a royal scavenger hunt hosted by Lord Cuckoo. The mice will ride on a cuckoo clock's minute hand as they search for items that match their hunt card. The adorable mice will jump off the hand to collect item tiles and perform various actions that will help them gain berries, a.k.a., victory points.

Once the clock strikes midnight, the hunt is over and the mice will show off their scavenger hunt cards to Lord Cuckoo. Berries will be rewarded for rows and columns completed on their hunt card, and the mice team with the most berries wins!
In more detail, the game lasts five rounds, with a round consisting of the minute hand moving from 12 back to 12. Each time the minute hand moves to a new number on the clock, first the mice riding the minute hand either stay where they are or jump to the outer ring of the clock to take the tile or the action located there (or both). After this, the mice on the inner ring can either take the tile/action on the outer ring or hop onto the minute hand to move somewhere else.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Each of the four mice on your team has a special power, with Scurrier being able to jump off the minute hand and land up to two spaces "in the future", as it were, while Scavenger takes up two spaces on the minute hand, giving you the possibility of pushing others off the minute hand and wasting their action.

• And to complicate things, U.S. publisher Elf Creek Games has a similarly-named game hitting Kickstarter in February 2023: The Clocks of Hickory Docks, from designer Robert Fisk:
Quote:
The sun rises over the ocean, and the fog lifts from Hickory Docks. A bell chimes, and the workshop comes alive with the sound of tiny, scurrying feet. The clock mice are awake and already hard at work.

The Clocks of Hickory Docks is a strategy board game of time-track management. Play a team of industrious mice that is building and marketing mechanical timepieces. Speed is of the essence...but build too quickly, and your clocks won't impress the collectors who value quality over quantity.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Take the mantle and see your masterpiece atop the newly built clock tower. Scurry to it! The world of innovation waits for no mouse.
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Fri Nov 11, 2022 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Nacho Pile

Ken Gruhl
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Board Game: Nacho Pile
Nacho Pile has had a longer journey than most of my other games. The game was originally called "Loot the Lair" and was about stealing gold from a dragon's lair. The game was mechanically pretty close to how it is now, but with more components and less swagger.

This first draft was fairly simple. Each player starts with a stack of chips, and your goal is to score as many of everyone's chips as you can by the time someone's chip stack runs out. Each turn, you roll a die, then add a chip onto the board on that number. If you press your luck, you can do this again as many times as you like, but you bust if you roll a number that you already rolled that turn. If you bust, return all of your newly placed chips from the board; when you safely stop for your turn, for each number, move your chip on top of the stack for this number, whether you're starting a new stack or covering one or chips already stacked. At the start of your turn, score any stacks that have your chip on top.

Board Game Designer: Ken Gruhl
"Loot the Lair" prototype

The mechanisms of the game created a great ebb and flow of timing of when you wanted to press your luck, especially when one or more of the stacks started growing higher. It was obvious that the game had something special based on how quickly it got the playtesters cheering or groaning with each roll.

In early 2018, I had polished up the game enough to show it to publishers, but it never got serious attention. I received some great feedback from my friend Nick Bentley, who was working at North Star Games at the time. Nick could sense the fun in the gameplay and pushed me to explore the game more thoroughly, including finding a better theme and hook to get the game to stand out in the crowded marketplace.

I went back to the drawing board, thinking about what theme could pop a bit more. I landed on a casino theme and called the design "Big Stacks". The name captured the tension that builds as chips stack higher and higher on the board — and as someone who enjoys poker, I could strongly feel the emotional appeal of winning large stacks of chips. I also added some small clay poker chips to give the game a premium feel. The game immediately came alive, and publishers could feel that, too. The updated edition had a much warmer reception at Origins in June 2018, and I ended up sending prototypes to a few publishers, including Pandasaurus Games.

Board Game Designer: Ken Gruhl
"Big Stacks" prototype, version 1

One of the publishers that ended up not signing the game did make great development notes. They made the small change of adding special actions to the game, which turned out to be awesome and was something that I ended up keeping through the rest of development with what became the four types of spicy chips.

While I liked the casino theme and the emotional territory of winning big stacks of chips, I had received feedback that it might be a hard sell for families in the mass market.

Board Game Designer: Ken Gruhl
"Big Stacks" prototype, version 2

That summer, I decided the game needed one more pass of development. I always hammer out my games to streamline them, and one aspect of "Big Stacks" that was nagging me was that each player had their own chip color. Because of how the game worked, you needed to see which player was in control of each stack of chips, so players were putting a chip of their color on top of a stack to show just that.

After brainstorming, I realized that if players simply moved the stacks they controlled in front of them, then different colored player chips were no longer needed. It was at this moment that I realized I could also remove the die and have players draw chips randomly from a bag. Each chip would just need to have a number on it to mimic the die roll. Everything clicked into place, without tarnishing the original fun factor from the press-your-luck element.

With this breakthrough on the gameplay and the streamlining of the game components, my final hurdle was updating the theme. I regularly struggle with finding the right themes, but this one came easily: Pulling chips out of a bag immediately sparked the idea of tortilla chips, and piling stacks of tortilla chips high on a plate reminded me of nachos. Hence, Nacho Pile was born.

Board Game Designer: Ken Gruhl
Nacho Pile prototype

I signed the game with Pandasaurus as I have always admired its creative product design and it has a great track record. It's been a pleasure working with the team, and I can't wait for the game to be on shelves in November 2022.

Ken Gruhl
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Fri Nov 11, 2022 7:00 am
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Summon the Great Inky One, Explain Weird Human Objects, and Fund Mysterious Small Boxes

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game Publisher: Small Box Games
Given the number of crowdfunding campaigns hitting my inbox, I'm going to devote only a sentence or two to all of the ones included in this post to fit in as many pitches as possible.

John Clowdus of U.S. publisher Small Box Games is taking an unusual approach to crowdfunding, offering a four-game subscription package to be delivered in 2023, with each game being a new design and with a bonus print-and-play copy of every title that SBG releases in 2023, whether old or new.

Board Game: Aloha Earth

• In Aloha Earth from Heather and Chris O'Neill and Gravitation Games, you are an alien "Expert of Human Things" and you need to explain to your dimwitted colleagues what a newly discovered human object was used for, ideally winning them over and gaining tenure. (BackerKit (BK) link)

Board Game: Cosmoctopus

• In Cosmoctopus, designer Henry Audubon and publishers Paper Fort Games and Stone Sword Games challenge you to move an inky, tentacled otherworldly being through an array of tiles to gather cards and resources, with which you will then collect tentacles. Summon eight first, and the Great Inky One will visit you in person to celebrate. (Kickstarter (KS) link)

Board Game: Tesseract

• Extra dimensions also come into play in Tesseract from James Firnhaber and Smirk & Laughter Games, with players removing dice from a cube, then manipulating them and using special powers to create sets of three (akin to the game SET), with you needing to collect one die of each color/number combination before dice shed by the cube create too many breaches. (KS link)

Board Game: Tabriz

• In Tabriz, Randy Flynn and Crafty Games challenge you to move assistants through a marketplace to acquire wool, camel hair, silk, plant dye, and carmine dye so that you can complete commissions and improve your skill as a master carpet weaver. (Gamefound link)

Board Game: Pest

• In Pest, from Thomas Nielsen, Kai Starck, and Archona Games, 2-5 players each control a house of a once great empire that's been struck by plague, a plague that players must work around as they attempt to rebuild their status over seven rounds. (KS link)

Board Game: Tiny Epic Crimes

Tiny Epic Crimes adds a deduction game to a game series known for only three constants: designer Scott Almes, publisher Gamelyn Games, and a backpack-friendly box size. In the game, the player detectives must tackle various crimes while also using a decoder system to focus on the main goal of figuring out who committed murder. (KS link)

Board Game: Chicken!

• Almes is also behind Chicken!, a press-your-luck design from Keymaster Games in which players attempt to keep scoring chickens and avoiding foxes, with more dice entering play as eggs are hatched on rolled dice. (KS link)

Board Game: Explosion in the Laboratory

• In the 27-card, press-your-luck game Explosion in the Laboratory from Corey Andalora and Weird Giraffe Games, players mix chemicals for points, scoring more when they add more substances to their flask...up until the point they cause the eponymous explosion. Eventually someone will push things too far, starting a fire that ends the game and leads into the game Fire in the Library, which is being reprinted as part of this project. (BK link)

Board Game: Slay the Spire: The Board Game

Slay the Spire: The Board Game from Gary Dworetsky, Anthony Giovannetti, Casey Yano, and Contention Games is a co-operative, deck-building game based on a video game of the same name. As usual, I have zero experience with the original creation, so I can only point and say, here's a thing! (KS link)

Board Game: Zoo Tycoon: The Board Game

• Similarly, Zoo Tycoon: The Board Game from Marc Dür, Samuel Luterbacher, and Treecer adapts the video game series to the tabletop, with each player creating their own zoo that contains food booths, gift shops, and (of course) animals, with 34 different species represented by wooden tokens. I have to say, that bear does not seem to be well-contained. Ideally you can also purchase insurance policies! (KS link)
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Thu Nov 10, 2022 7:00 am
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Teasers for More Living Forest, Mille Fiori, Lords of Vegas, Myrmes, and Stefan Feld

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Living Forest
• Ahead of winning the 2022 Kennerspiel des Jahres for Aske Christiansen's Living Forest, publisher Ludonaute teased a few cards from the Living Forest: Kodama expansion due out in 2023, noting that you can buy these new kodama cards with your flowers...

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Board Game: Myrmes
• On October 26, 2022, Erwan Hascoët from Bombyx posted the following image on Facebook, noting that, "We won't be unemployed next year at the office..."

Yes, that's apparently a new edition of Yoann Levet's Myrmes, first published in 2012, on the Bombyx calendar for 2024, but everything else below Takenokolor (covered here) is a mystery for me.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Board Game: Mille Fiori
• German retailers are listing Mille Fiori - 1. Erweiterung as being due out in March 2023, but no details are given for this expansion to Reiner Knizia's game Mille Fiori, which debuted in late 2021 from Schmidt Spiele.

Lone Shark Games has set up a landing page on Kickstarter for Lords of Vegas: Americana — a new expansion for Lords of Vegas from James Ernest and Mike Selinker — along with a reprinting of the base game, albeit now for up to six players, which means perhaps the UP! expansion from 2014 will also be included. Details to come...

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• During SPIEL '22, Queen Games revealed games #7 and 8 in its Stefan Feld City Collection: Patliputra and Nassau, with the former being a new design set in an Indian city founded in 490 BCE and the latter being, according to Feld, a complete reworking of an earlier game that keeps the core mechanism and little else.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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Wed Nov 9, 2022 7:00 am
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Designer Diary: Creature Feature

Richard Garfield
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Microbadge: I play with Yellow!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: Conway's Game of LifeMicrobadge: Poker playerMicrobadge: 2012 Golden Geek Winner
Board Game: Creature Feature
The basic structure of Creature Feature is that players have a hand of cards, choose two every round, then have a poker-like competition to see who wins what points. Each player chooses one card to reveal from the pair they have chosen to play, and which cards are revealed and how a player behaves will guide decisions on whether to compete or back down.

If a player reveals their lower card, then they will beat any other player in a showdown who revealed their higher card (or who played a pair). This means that revealing the higher card, called "playing a twist", is a bluff. You are presenting power, but any other player can beat you if they did not play a twist. Winning with a twist is not a secret; you show the cards and score more points as well...and the other players will generally know that if they had competed against you, they could have won — as long as they had chosen not to twist themselves.

There are eleven ranks of monster from Puny Human (1) to Abomination (11). The value of the hand is the sum of the cards, so the best "twist-free" hand is 21: Vampire (10) + Abomination (11). About half the cards have special abilities, with the same special ability for the entire rank. For example, the Ghost (4) allows a player to play their hand as if it had no twist, so when you see a face-up Vampire (10), you know that the player has a 21, has a 14, or is playing a twist.

This approach makes bluffing feel satisfying. The power is almost always in a player's hand to "not bluff", and, in fact, just like in poker a player can win with honest and straightforward play provided they get reasonable cards and read the other players fairly well. However, any time a player wins without being challenged, that player could have earned more points by playing with a twist. This leads to a temptation to bluff even when you may not need to...but that leads to players with inferior cards realizing that they could have won if they challenged the players with better cards.

Rather than betting, calling, raising, and folding, Creature Feature has a system in which each player in sequence has the option to drop to a lesser prize and compete for that. In a 5-6 player game there are two lesser prizes; in a 3-4 player game there is one lesser prize. After a player has dropped out of all competition or folded, they score a small score for their cards, which they would have lost if they competed and failed to win.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

This system makes reading the board a constant consideration. Players early in the play order will be tempted to stay just because they want to see how things play out, banking on the fact that later players will make an action that will allow them another chance to act. This adds nuance to later players' decisions; they may not have the luxury of a reliable second chance since all players passing ends the round. Did the earlier players choose not to drop to show a sign of strength, or were they simply waiting because they didn't want to be the first to drop? The system is, on one hand, much simpler than betting in poker, but on the other carries its own depth and character.

In addition to monsters, there are action cards that do a variety of things. All action cards, when played or discarded, allow the player to draw a replacement card. This guarantees that a player will have enough monsters to play out all the competitions, although they may find that to field a team toward the end requires them to dump some action cards. This can lead to interesting hand management problems. For example, the nurse allows players to add +1 to their total in a showdown. There is every chance that this will not be relevant, that the player will have no showdowns that are close enough to be swung with a +1. However, if it is relevant, it can be a very big effect. Quite often the player with a nurse will find that they must get rid of it on the last hand to get a monster to play — and that player will wonder how much better they would have done if they had dumped the nurse right at the start so that they could manage their hand more effectively.

Once players are familiar with the cards that are out there, it will affect how the hands play out quite a bit. For example, four "Igor" cards allow a player to draw an extra card provided they folded. Since extra cards are going to be worth more earlier in the hand, this will be something to consider in early rounds — and I have found that I can get good points with weak cards while other players are getting rid of their worst cards in order to score an Igor.

Board Game: Creature Feature

The flavor of the game being monsters from the golden age of monster movies was inspired by the publisher being Trick or Treat Studios. The flavor was not adapted to the publisher's needs, but designed along with the game. I was pretty excited by this as it reminded me how much I loved these movies growing up. They were, of course, before my time to see in the theater, but I was at a perfect age to see them on TV every weekend.

It was a pleasure to work with Terry Wolfinger on the art. His portfolio showed that he had a similar love for these characters, and we talked about which to include, what style they should be, and what the appropriate ranks were. He would present options, and it was always an embarrassment of riches. I always like to give a lot of flexibility to artists for my games because I want to have them participate in a creative fashion, and working with Terry in this way was really rewarding.

I didn't know what to expect with Trick or Treat Studios as they have not done many games. I was pleasantly surprised, and the product they put together was everything I could have hoped for. Chris Zephro was attentive to what I wanted to deliver and pulled it together effectively. Jody Henning supported the game with flavorful and effective graphic design. I found myself listening seriously to the product manager, Andy Van Zandt, who made many insightful suggestions and comments along the way that improved the final game.

Richard Garfield

Board Game: Creature Feature
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Tue Nov 8, 2022 1:00 pm
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