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Splotter Spellen Rolls Out Horseless Carriage

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Horseless Carriage
Dutch publisher Splotter Spellen — that is, designers Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga — typically release a new game only every three years or so, and they've now planted a release date of Q3 2022 for Horseless Carriage, a 3-5 player game that takes 3-4 hours to play.

Here's an overview of the game's setting and the entrepreneurial spirit that should be driving the players as they simultaneously encourage driving by their in-game customers:
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"This year, we want the best, or nothing at all. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today." The famous founder is standing in front of his team giving a motivational speech. "You all know our first customer was a lunatic, and the second had a death wish. So they bought our brakeless bangers. So there were a few accidents. But the only mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. This year, customers demand safety. Of course, active safety features include rapid acceleration for safe overtaking! I know it will be hard to add the new motorblock section to the factory, but before you say you cannot do something, try it! To every engineer, every planner, every mechanic, and every salesperson in this great company I say: If I can dream it, you can do it!"

Horseless Carriage is a game about the dawn of the automobile, a time when cars were invented, and no one quite knew yet what this new contraption would look like and what features would be essential. Early cars sometimes used levers or pedals to steer and a wheel to accelerate. Brakes were not always seen as essential, but sometimes an outside spot to take along an onboard mechanic was. This early, super innovative period occurs in the development of many new product categories. Players are cast as aspiring industrialists trying to find out what features the public will value when buying these new, expensive, and utterly unfamiliar horseless carriages.
In a twist, Splotter Spellen has opened pre-orders on this title for delivery via blimp. Never would have expected that...
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Fri Nov 5, 2021 4:00 pm
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The Rival Networks, or The Television Network Parody Duel

Candice Harris
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From gallery of candidrum
I’m a sucker for board games with unique themes. Considering that, and all of the laughs and smiles from humorous cards, Gil Hova’s 2016 television network game, The Networks, was a hit with me.

The Rival Networks is a new 2-player standalone version of The Networks from Gil Hova and his publishing company Formal Ferret Games, which has been streamlined to play in 30-45 minutes, in comparison to its predecessor which typically plays in 60-90 minutes. Having played both versions since Gil was gracious enough to send me a copy of The Rival Networks, I wanted to share some of my initial thoughts and impressions.

Here’s a rundown of how The Rival Networks plays as described by the designer/publisher:
Quote:
The Rival Networks is a standalone two-player version of The Networks. Much of the original's gameplay is preserved, but streamlined so that it plays in 30-45 minutes. You and your opponent each have a display of 3 Timeslots, and at the start of the game, they show your starting 3 (terrible) Shows. There is also a Goal Card showing for the current Season, with 3 Goals available to hit (like winning a particular Timeslot, or having more Stars on your Shows than your opponent).

On your turn, you will pick one new Show from a display of 3, and use it to replace one of your existing Shows, which moves to your Reruns. You'll score Ratings Points for the new Show, scoring higher ratings if you put the show in its correct timeslot.

Next, you select one Star and one Ad from their corresponding display. Stars and Ads are displayed as pairs, so when you take one, you must take its matching pair. These go into your Green Room.

Then, you may attach as many Stars as you want onto a single Show (usually the Show you got this turn, but not always), as long as the Star has an icon matching the Genre of the Show. Stars add to your Show's Ratings.

You'll track Ratings for each of the three time slots independently. There are various points on each Ratings track with Viewer icons (usually between 3-5 Ratings Points). Every time you pass one of these Viewer icons, you'll score a Viewer by placing a chip into your secret bank.

Ads are worth money depending on various situations - usually whether you're leading at a given time slot. You'll pay the Ads in order to buy Network Cards (which are now marked with costs). Network Cards are one-time use power cards, similar to the Network Cards in the original game.

If you ever get at least 3 Shows of the same Genre between your Lineup and your Reruns, you'll score a Genre Bonus. Genre Bonuses are different for each Genre, but usually get you Stars or Ratings Points.

The deck of Shows has one Genre of each Show per Season. Once these are all out, you'll see an "End of Season" card. A player may take this card on their turn to trigger the end of the Season when their turn is over. They won't get a Show, but they'll still get a full turn otherwise (taking a Star and an Ad, placing Stars on Shows, and buying Network Cards with Ads).

At the end of a Season, the player leading in more time slots scores 1 Viewer for each time slot they're leading in; the other player draws 1 random Star. Then you'll look at the current season's Goals. The winner of each Goal gets Viewers or Stars depending on the goal.

The game ends after 3 Seasons. The player with more cards in their Green Room scores 1 Viewer. Then, the player with the most Viewers wins.
If you’re already familiar with The Networks, you’ll feel right at home with The Rival Networks as it also features Travis Kinchy’s delightfully fitting, comical artwork combined with Heiko Günther’s clean graphic design.

From gallery of candidrum

While I’ve never played The Networks with only 2 players, I definitely think the overall gaming experience feels very similar between both games. However, there are some streamlined aspects of The Rival Networks I thought worked well, and perhaps enjoyed even more than the original game.

In The Networks, you choose one of six actions (i.e. develop a show, sign a star, land an ad, take a network card) per turn, whereas in The Rival Networks, you take three actions per turn, which not only allows the game to progress faster, but it also makes each turn feel more meaningful.

While The Rival Networks is a lighter game, it manages to offer a decent amount of interesting decisions throughout the game. First off, I think it’s really cool that you compete in each of the three different time slots. This is reminiscent of games like Twilight Struggle or Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes where you constantly have to evaluate how much effort to exert in each area.

From there, deciding which show to develop can be a tough choice since it’s not necessarily just about choosing the show with the most ratings. You have to also consider where you want to slot the show, and if it’s worth canceling the show that’s currently in that particular slot since it’ll reset your ratings score in that particular time slot.

From gallery of candidrum

When deciding which show to develop, you’ll also be considering the set-collection genre bonuses, similar to The Networks, for having 3+ shows with a similar genre. The bonuses for each genre are pretty juicy, but there may be some you’re going for over others.

There are also different Awards cards that have multiple objectives that score at the end of each season. There are six different Awards cards for each season, but each game you only play with one card per season. This adds replay value to the game and also incentivizes players to vary their strategies from round to round, game to game.

In The Rival Networks, there’s also no actual money in the game and I dig it. Instead you spend/discard ad cards you’ve acquired to purchase Network cards. The value of the ad cards vary depending on how you’re doing in a particular time slot. For example, the Reflux Orange Juice ad is worth $4 million if you have the most ratings points in the 10 PM time slot, but if you don't, it's only worth $1 million.

From gallery of candidrum

From gallery of candidrum
At the end of the day, The Rival Networks is all about getting those viewers (victory points). I like that there are lots of different ways (i.e. Network cards, genre bonuses, Awards cards) to gain viewers and it's not solely based on the ratings of your shows. I also like that the viewers you earn during the game are secretly stowed away in your own little house, so it’s hard to tell who’s winning while you’re playing the game, and it has the added bonus of suspenseful scoring at the end of the game.

My only gripe with The Rival Networks is that each game you play with all of the same show cards, and I can see this getting stale over time, especially if you mostly play with the same opponent. Considering there are few expansions for The Networks, I’m hoping we’ll also see some expansion decks for The Rival Networks so we can keep our laughs and smiles fresh.

Whether or not you’ve played either version of The Networks, The Rival Networks is worth checking out if you’re interested in a fun, quick-playing, unique-themed 2-player game that feels competitive, yet doesn’t take itself too seriously. Plus, even if you don’t play the game, reading through the cards is likely to make you smile and chuckle if you ever need a laugh on a rough day.
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Fri Nov 5, 2021 1:00 pm
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Reboxing Furnace: Does It Make the Cut?

W. Eric Martin
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How it started...and how it's going:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

To learn how you can right-size your game boxes, check out this detailed breakdown of how I shrank Furnace to a more manageable size:


And if you are not familiar with the gameplay of Furnace, you can head to my written and video overview to learn this engaging and quick-playing auction-style game.
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Wed Nov 3, 2021 1:00 pm
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IELLO Severs Ties with IELLO USA

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: IELLO
French publisher IELLO has announced a change in its distribution policies in North America, issuing the following press release on October 29, 2021:
Quote:
The company IELLO, distributor and publisher of board games based in Heillecourt, France, has decided to rethink the distribution of its products IELLO and LOKI in the United States and in Canada.

Consequently, IELLO, through its legal advisor, terminated the distribution agreement, effective December 31, 2021, which authorized IELLO USA to distribute IELLO products in the United States, ending any collaboration with Mr. Stephan Brissaud, COO of IELLO USA.

IELLO reserves the right to communicate at a later date on the reasons which led to these decisions.

In the meantime, all business inquiries should be addressed to: sales@iellona.com

IELLO is a publisher/distributor of board games and card games based in France. Created in 2004, IELLO is known worldwide for successful games such as King of Tokyo, Bunny Kingdom, Kanagawa and more recently Khôra, and for its children's brand LOKI, with best sellers such as SOS Dino and Detective Charlie.
Asked for a response to this announcement and an overview of plans for IELLO USA between now and Dec. 31, 2021 — and after that date — Stephan Brissaud, who currently also serves as President of GAMA (Game Manufacturers Association) in September 2021, told me: "No comment."
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Wed Nov 3, 2021 2:00 am
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Designer Diary: The Adventures of Robin Hood

Michael Menzel
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In September 2020, when the last data had been sent to the publisher, I sat back and thought about the development of The Adventures of Robin Hood. Although only one name is printed on the game box, it took many, many people to create this game, and I thought a way to honor these people and their special influences would be to share this designer diary with you.

From gallery of Michael Menzel

By the Sea

In April 2017, my wife and I booked a house by the sea in Normandy, France. After finally finishing the Andor trilogy, I had some time to work on a new project, and I started thinking about something that had come to mind years ago: Robin Hood. Fortunately, we shared the house with our best friends, so during the development of that first prototype, I had the luxury of having great testers who played everything I put on the table.

Let me note that nothing from these first drafts made it into the final game, so you can imagine that these early playtests weren't too much fun at all...

Thanks again, dear Karina, Graham, Max and Jakob, for your endurance.

From gallery of Michael Menzel

From gallery of Michael Menzel

Love Is Bluntness

That same year we travelled to northern France again, this time accompanied by my son Johannes and my nephew Joel. Both were part of the development of Legends of Andor — great boys who grew up with board games — and both are great testers.

Joel in particular can be a bit harsh with criticism, but I know that's because he loves playing, and he compares a prototype to any published game. He doesn't sugarcoat his feedback just because it's a prototype. Actually, I think that's a good thing.

At the end of the holidays, I was disappointed with the results. I was still experimenting with different attempts of how to hide the grid on the board and find a new way of moving our figures. At this point it was still, as Joel pointed out, "too close to Andor, but without the fun".

However, when we packed our bags to go back home, a new idea hit me: What if I could add something to the base of each figure so that we can move as in tabletop games? That idea came out of the blue, and I was immediately thrilled. It was like opening a gate to a wonderful land in which game boards don't need grids anymore and figures can move freely, limited only by natural, illustrated boundaries!

I guess with his bluntness, Joel saved me a lot of time and stopped me from going further in the wrong direction.

From gallery of Michael Menzel


The Forest at Night

In 2018, I spent a lot of time in a small house by the forest. It was the perfect place to get into the "Robin Hood" mood, so I started painting!

As an illustrator, I'm used to offering my clients different approaches, different drafts. That's what I did when I developed my version of the famous Sherwood Forest as well. I experimented with size, lighting, and perspective. I reorganized the positions of the castle, the secret camp, and the village again and again.

In total, there have been more than twenty versions of the game board. Some may say I overdid it, but I felt like there was always something that remained from version to version. For example, for one version I illustrated the forest at night-time. Everything was painted in dark blue, and each guardian held a torch. That led to the idea that guardians can capture a player only when they're standing in the pool of light. I even considered naming the game "The Night of the Thieves".

When I playtested it with my friends Jost and Jörg, they didn't like the game — and especially not the title and the nighttime forest. They said they expected something entirely different when they thought of Robin Hood, and I knew they were right.

So after this I returned to the daytime forest — but the idea that the players can be seen only in daylight while being safe in the shadows remained. And I guess I'd never have thought of this self-explanatory rule without the detour into the forest at nighttime...and of course not without Jörg and Jost.

From gallery of Michael Menzel

From gallery of Michael Menzel

From gallery of Michael Menzel

She's Got the Book

In spring of 2018, "Robin Hood" became something playable, but I still had the feeling it could be too complex for a light family game. At that point, I used lots of cards to tell the story, trigger events, and display items and special abilities.

While I prepared the game for another playtest, my wife Steffi watched me. And because the preparation took so long, she said, "Nobody wants to play something so complicated."

I realized that the material itself was an obstacle and too much to handle. Facing this problem, it led to the solution: Instead of hundreds of cards, I'm going to use a book! It would contain almost all cards and most parts of the rules, and it doesn't have to be sorted or organized — it just has to be placed on the table. That was a game changer!

The only downside to this change was that it increased the effort to build new prototypes because after every change I made, certain pages of the book had to be updated — and because pages can be updated only a limited amount of times (otherwise paper turns into wood), we had to handicraft many, many books. "We"? Yes, we! Steffi helped a lot. She loved the book idea. She also thought that it fit perfectly to the theme of Robin Hood and that it will be great for parents and their kids to handle a book and read together. I agree. It might be old-fashioned, but reading together in a book is still something good. By the way, that's the reason why using an app was never an option.

From gallery of Michael Menzel

From gallery of Michael Menzel

A Nice Trip to Florence

In early 2019, I ended my work on "Robin Hood". The problem was that it still wasn't the game I wanted to create. There were still too many rules, and everything felt too complicated.

Now, years later, I can see more clearly what the problem was. At this point, I wanted every rule to be thematically correct. Although that's usually not a bad thing, it didn't work. It wasn't a game. It felt like a simulation...or work. Back then, I thought of quitting the whole thing, and I was glad that I hadn't announced anything yet, that there were no commitments, no deadlines, and that I could just silently let all of this go.

Of course, I couldn't let anything go. Two weeks later, I returned to the game. With the designer in me still having no idea what to do, the illustrator took over. He can be kind of rough, and he was tired of painting trees, so he simply changed the whole setting. From "Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest", everything switched to "The Thieves of Florence".

And that was a great relief! It helped me see things from a different angle. I got rid of a lot of ballast. With this new draft, I eliminated the last remaining cards that were used for items and came up with the "cubes in the bag" system. Everything felt so light and so much better.

Funny, isn't it? Only a month after thinking of surrender, the game was finally ready to be shown to a publisher.

From gallery of Michael Menzel

The Adventure Begins

In February 2019, I sat in the office of KOSMOS editor Wolfgang Lüdtke, exactly the way I did nine years ago. (Maybe not exactly as I probably gained some pounds along the way.) Again, I had a prototype with me, and again I was very nervous...

...but it went great! Wolfgang liked the game right from the start. He was surprised by the "everything in one bag" thing, which I honestly never thought could be anything special.

He wasn't sure about the Florence setting, though, and voted for the Robin Hood theme as soon as I mentioned it. The only thing he didn't like was the "story" part. At this point, information that we got from citizens lead to a rather abstract point system. It took a while for him to convince me, but then I agreed to go deeper into the story, and that was great advice because the following work — the writing of the story — was the most pleasant part of the whole development. Wolfgang even came up with a name: "The Adventures of Robin Hood".

In March 2019, the fun began! Finally* I returned to Sherwood Forest! On that short Florence holiday, the game lost a lot of weight, and that felt great. I began writing the story from the view of Prince John, the villain. I thought about different intrigues he could come up with to get the crown of England. I ended up with three stories. Two of them made it into the game, and players decide what thread they want to play.
I'm so happy Wolfgang pushed me, very gently, in this story direction. He's a great editor who gives the designer a lot of freedom, but also can be adamant when he senses that there is a better solution!

From gallery of Michael Menzel

*Above I wrote, "Finally* I returned to Sherwood Forest!" Well, that wasn't entirely correct. There was this one week in May 2019 when I thought that maybe "flying islands" would be a better setting for the game.

Honestly, I don't know what bit me back then, but for a crazy but highly motivated week, I switched everything to a new setting.

And after that, I returned to Sherwood Forest for good.

From gallery of Michael Menzel

Something to Identify With

Since starting the game's development in 2017, I had been thinking about the cover art, so whenever I got into the right mood, I started sketching but without any pressure.

When the project got more serious in 2019, I discovered that the most important thing for me was to create a really cool Robin Hood. I wanted the artwork to appeal to kids or young adults so that they could identify with the character.

As an illustrator, I've observed for years that regarding the cover art and settings of games, most German board games leave a strange gap for kids who are between 7-16. I don't want to sound precocious, but I believe it's during this period where we lose them to the PS4.

I remember when I was at this age, I was drawn to heroes to identify with and to adventure settings. I loved Star Wars, Batman and Captain Future, and it's a shame that the very few games I knew that took place in an adventure setting were just dull licensed games. Even Batman couldn't fix this. Maybe if I had encountered a good Spider-Man board game, I'd have become a player much earlier...

I guess what I want to say is that we adults shouldn't whine about our "PS4-addicted kids". We should provide alternatives. That's why I wanted the cover art of Robin Hood to look like it could have worked as a PS4 cover, too. That's why it had to be cool.

After many different approaches, I finally found a nice composition, and I was glad that everyone at KOSMOS voted for this draft, too.

From gallery of Michael Menzel

Last Playtests Before...

Early in 2020, I had the chance to take my prototype to a gathering for players hosted by Inka and Markus Brand. Over two days, I invited four different groups into my room and let them play The Adventures of Robin Hood. Luckily, I brought everything with me to adjust the prototype after each group.

The most difficult adventure to develop was the tutorial. To find out how many rules can be explained at a certain point of play, and to notice the moment when it becomes too much information is a very complex task. At the same time, you have to make sure it's interesting enough that the players want to continue. The even bigger problem was that after a group had played it once, they were "burned" because now they knew how it worked, so with every change, I had to find someone new.

But despite the huge effort, I had a great time back then. To see my game being played by experienced players, seeing them having fun and doing things I never anticipated (but that the game could handle) was very rewarding! I cannot thank those testers enough. For me and my prototype, they spent hours of their free time.

What no one could have known was that shortly after this event, the pandemic hit us and these tests would be the last ones for a long time.

From gallery of Michael Menzel

From gallery of Michael Menzel

216

The spring and summer of 2020 was an intense phase in which I had to constantly change the board, change the positions of guardians, items, and citizens. I cannot stress enough how difficult it was to develop a board that refers to a story that hasn't been written yet — and it's no less difficult to write a story that refers to a board that hasn't been painted yet. I know that some of the numbers on the board seem to be placed a little chaotically, but the reason is this highly difficult process in which everything is connected to everything and changes in one detail cause numerous other changes.

Another nerve-wracking thing was the book. KOSMOS and I agreed on 216 pages, which meant that my nine adventures had to fit exactly into these 216 pages! No more, no less!!

Here I have to say a big "thank you" to Christian Fiore and his employee Dorothea Wagner, who handled the huge amount of text professionally and carefully! If you take into account how many links there are between numbers and page numbers and tiles on the board, it's simply a miracle that they made absolutely no mistakes. And there was a lot at stake. One wrong number could have ruined a whole adventure. Chapeau!

With every day, the book and the board got closer to the final version. Once all positions were fixed, it was a pleasure to finally start with the "real" illustration. Everything until then was just prototype sketching, and I was happy to finally illustrate this world for real.

From gallery of Michael Menzel

From gallery of Michael Menzel

From gallery of Michael Menzel

Sitting by the Campfire

In September 2020, we finished the book and the board. We created the packshot and flavor texts for the box. Obviously, the surrounding work like creating the homepage, holding marketing meetings, and designing advertisements started then, but yes, the game itself was finished.

In many of the adventures, we advise the players to put their figures around the campfire when they win. Gamewise this has no deeper meaning, but as a huge fan of Asterix and Obelix, I think every good adventure should end with a feast at a campfire.

Surrounding the fire, the protagonists tell the others what they experienced on their adventure — and this is what I wanted to achieve with this designer diary. I'm so grateful for all the help I received along the way, and I wanted to tell you about it, about our "Adventures of Robin Hood".

Thanks a lot for your interest.

Micha Menzel

From gallery of Michael Menzel
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Tue Nov 2, 2021 1:00 pm
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Garphill Games Heads to the South Tigris for Its Next Trilogy

W. Eric Martin
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In a 50-minute video presentation, designers Shem Phillips and Sam MacDonald have presented an overview of their next trilogy of games from Garphill Games, a trilogy that will start with the release of Wayfarers of the South Tigris in 2022.

Board Game: Wayfarers of the South Tigris

Here's an overview of this 1-4 player game that plays in 60-90 minutes:
Quote:
Wayfarers of the South Tigris is set during the height of the Abbasid Caliphate, circa 820 AD. As brave explorers, cartographers and astronomers, players set off from Baghdad to map the surrounding land, waterways, and heavens above. Players must carefully manage their caravan of workers and equipment, while reporting back regularly to journal their findings at the House of Wisdom. Will you succeed in impressing the Caliph, or lose your way and succumb to the wilderness?

The aim of Wayfarers of the South Tigris is to be the player with the most victory points (VP) at the game's end. Points are primarily gained by mapping the land, water, and sky. Players can also gain points from upgrading their caravans, by gaining inspiration from nobles, and by influencing the three guilds of science, politics, and trade. As they make discoveries, players want to quickly journal their progress. The game ends once one player has journaled enough to gain membership in one of the three guilds.
The games in the South Tigris trilogy will use dice, in MacDonald's words "in fun and hopefully unique interesting ways". In Wayfarers, which MacDonald compares to Viscounts of the West Kingdom in complexity, you place dice only on your own player board, and an upgrade board that has six columns, one for each pip value on the die, is equipped with camels, ships, telescopes, and other instruments. When you roll a value, you get to use the items assigned to that value. The game also involves worker management and placement, with players able to collect workers from shared areas.

You can find a short summary of all three titles — each of which will contain a solo mode — and teasers for the next two titles in Garphill's "Ancient Anthology Series" (the first two being Raiders of Scythia and Hadrian's Wall, and the third being a solo-only campaign game set in China) here thanks to BGG user Technik.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

For more details, you can watch the presentation yourself, which begins at the 4:30 mark:

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Mon Nov 1, 2021 4:00 pm
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Game Overview: Anno 1800, or The Game Named After the Number of Decisions in It

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Anno 1800
The board game Anno 1800 from designer Martin Wallace and publisher KOSMOS debuted in Germany in October 2020, and following a year of turbulent manufacturing and shipping issues, copies are now available in English on the U.S. market. You could think that the slow delivery was due to KOSMOS be thematic and reverting to how production and distribution worked in the year 1800, but that would be a stretch.

This design adapts the real-time, city-building video game from Ubisoft for play on the tabletop, but I am not familiar with that video game — or pretty much any video game — so I'll comment only on the board game.

Your goal in Anno 1800 is to have more points than others, and you score points primarily by satisfying the needs of people on your island and completing public objectives. For each person on your island — which starts with four green farmers, three blue workers, and two red artisans — you have a card in hand that at top shows their needs and at bottom shows what they'll grant you should you satisfy those needs. The guy in the image below, for example, wants sausage and schnapps, and in return he'll lure a new artisan to my island. Don't ask for details — just accept it.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

You start with nine cards in hand to match your nine starting people, but if you look at that image, you'll see that I have eleven cards in hand, despite a decent stack of played population cards being on the table in front of me. Each new person you add to your island comes with an associated card, which is both blessing and bane because you can score points and get stuff by satisfying that person, but you can also find yourself in need of a fur coat, rum, or a gramophone for some entitled doofus that's now burdening your hand and it can be a pain in the butt to chase down such things.

In general, players take dozens of tiny turns over the course of play, with most actions consisting of you placing people on the appropriately colored buildings on your island to get stuff — e.g., wood, coal, steel, pigs, the aforementioned rum, etc. — that you then immediately convert into a new production building or a satisfied person. If you don't have the ability to create something needed, which can easily happen in games with three or four players since only two of each production building are available, you can use trade tokens to acquire the good from someone else, with them receiving 1 gold in return. Supply bricks? Get 1 gold. Supply a light bulb? Get 1 gold. Supply a steam carriage or advanced weaponry? Get 1 gold! I'm not a dedicated student of economics, but even I understand that system is out of whack.

You have a limited amount of space on your island, so you can either replace existing buildings with new ones — possibly removing your ability to easily get sails or coal — or expand your island by visiting other places in the "old world", i.e. other parts of Europe. The more "old world" locations you want to add, the more exploration tokens you need, which means you need warships, which means you need larger shipyards, which means you need to get engineers or investors on your island, which means you need to "upgrade" existing residents or attract new people, each of whom will come with their own card.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Endstate of a two-player game

As you can see, you need to chain together many tiny turns in order to get things done. Most of the time, what your opponent does while you're trying to line up those ducks is irrelevant, especially in a two-player game since you can always acquire whatever building you want, assuming that you have the proper items to input for it.

The challenge often comes from you trying to keep in mind all the steps of whatever you're trying to do: Do you have people of the proper color? (A teal investor won't get their hands dirty building you a level-2 shipyard, for example, as someone might mistake them for a mere engineer.) Do you have the buildings that supply the input? Do you have the buildings that supply the input for the building needed for the secondary input? Do you have trade tokens to acquire what you can't make? Do you have gold on hand to lure (read "force") people to go work somewhere else before they can rest?

Aside from meeting the needs of your people — one-time needs, mind you, because once that guy gets his sausage and schnapps, he'll never tug on your sleeve again — you should have an eye on the public objectives. Maybe you're trying to have more people on your island than everyone else has on theirs? Maybe you'll receive bonus points for buildings that produce gramophones, steam carriages, and penny farthings?

From gallery of W Eric Martin
How am I doing so far? Daniel Day Lewis laughs at my self-assessment ability

In some cases, though, the public objectives seem like gravy on top of whatever else you're doing. If none of your people require a penny farthing, for example, then the 6 points you'd receive for jumping through the hoops to get that building into play on your island are probably not worth the effort. What's more, once you have that building in play, the schmoes competing against you can now acquire penny farthings for the low, low price of three trade tokens and in return you'll get all of — wait for it — 1 gold, which amounts to one-third of 1 point at game's end.

This question of what an action is worth arises repeatedly during Anno 1800, and even after 4.5 games on a review copy from Thames & Kosmos, the North American publisher of this game, I'm still not sure how to assess what I'm doing. Grabbing the soap-production building will help me play these three people, sure, but soap is only one of their needs, so I need to also get these other buildings or trade for these goods, with me needing more trade tokens so that I don't have to hold a festival and reset my board too often — this being a "wasted" action — but to get more trade tokens, I need ships, which means I must take actions to build those.

In the end, the game is a rich, entangled web of teensy decisions, and those teensy decisions sometimes seem to weigh heavily on what's possible. If someone else can produce light bulbs, then it probably makes more sense to use theirs twice than go through the effort of producing your own — but if no one has them, would it make more sense to spend one action to swap those people for others who might have more attainable demands, or should you plot a course toward becoming a light bulb baron, a course that will take a half-dozen actions and in the end result in, say, 8 points and a bonus action that feels like an afterthought? Hmm, that second choice doesn't seem ideal, but I need to do something, right? Right?!

In this video, I go through the nine actions in more detail, give many examples of the tech trees present in the dozens of building tiles, and expound upon my conflicted feelings about the game:

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Mon Nov 1, 2021 1:00 pm
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Gen Con 2021 VI: Wyrd Miniatures, Arcane Wonders, Ares Games, and Thunderworks Games

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Vagrantsong
Let's continue with my Gen Con 2021 wrap-up posts, which essentially have a bit of con material in the background to supplement game announcements and summaries.

U.S. publisher Wyrd Miniatures is adding two self-contained tabletop games to its catalog, with Vagrantsong being a co-operative, boss battle game for 2-4 players from designers Matt Carter, Justin Gibbs, and Kyle Rowan. At the show, Rowan told me that he's a huge fan of Kingdom Death: Monster and Gloomhaven, so he decided that he wanted to do one of his own.

Board Game: Vagrantsong

In the game, you control one of six vagrants, each with their own abilities, on a haunted train, and you need to save the humanity of "Haints" while not losing yours along the way. Vagrants and Haints alternate turns, with you trying to acquire skills and collect junk cards. You can lose skills through Haint attacks, with Haints having varying effects. The game includes a book with 23 scenarios, and it's scheduled for retail release before the end of 2021.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Skills must "fit" on your vagrant card by completing the square

The other tabletop game from Wyrd Miniatures is Bayou Bash, a racing game by Aaron Darland, Lindsey Rode, and Kyle Rowan in which 2-4 people compete not to complete a certain number of laps first, but to gain the most fans. The problem, however, is that when you gain fans, they are placed on the racetrack itself, thereby becoming obstacles for you to avoid in future laps and targets for your opponents to smush so that they claim the most (living) fans at game's end.

Board Game: Bayou Bash

Board Game Publisher: Arcane Wonders
• At Arcane Wonders, the focus was on Ivan Lashin's Furnace, which was debuting in the U.S. at Gen Con 2021 — here's my overview of the game — but AW's Robert Geistlinger also gave me release dates for multiple upcoming titles:

Picture Perfect - debuted at Gen Con 2021; due out on November 10, 2021
Air, Land, and Sea: Critters at War - debuted at Gen Con 2021; due out in November 2021
Onitama: Light and Shadow - due out in December 2021
Mortum: Medieval Detective - debuted at SPIEL '21; due out in the U.S. in Q1 2022
Air, Land & Sea: Spies, Lies & Supplies - due out in Q1 2022, with this being a standalone expansion for Air, Land & Sea
—A JNPR expansion for RWBY: Combat Ready - due out Q1 2022
Mobile Markets: A Smartphone Game - debuted at SPIEL '21; due out in the U.S. in Q2 2022

Board Game: Air, Land, and Sea: Critters at War
Board Game: Mortum: Medieval Detective
Board Game: Mobile Markets: A Smartphone Inc. Game

Let me give a brief rundown of Picture Perfect, a design by Anthony Nouveau that was first released by German publisher Corax Games. The game combines memory, deduction, and logic puzzles, with everyone trying to place various people — along with a dog and a plant! — around a table so that you meet the desired conditions of each subject as best as you can.

To set up play, you shuffle 42 condition cards, then place three cards in each of the fourteen envelopes, with each envelope corresponding to one of the fourteen photo subjects. These cards will say things like "I want to stand on the right", "I don't want the dog to be visible", "I want to stand directly behind the table", "I don't want to stand next to a man", "I want to stand next to [specific object]", and so on.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Each player receives a few envelopes to start the game, and you can look the contents of one envelope for as long as you want, then put everything back before you open the next one. Over multiple rounds, you'll swap envelopes in various ways with players and the center of the table, with you manipulating stand-up figures behind your player screen to both meet the conditions that you're sure of and serve as a memory aid to allow you to piece together later information. This character wants to stand in the back row next to so-and-so, for example, but what does so-and-so want? Perhaps later you find this subject wants to be next to granddad and in one of four specific spaces at the table. Can you make that happen without disrupting how you've previously arranged subjects? Can you even remember exactly who wanted what?!

During the game, if you think you've matched someone's conditions really well, you can slip a modifier card in that subject's envelope, which will adjust everyone's points for that subject at game's end, so ideally you've kept that subject to yourself for most of the game so that no one else benefits.

Once the rounds are over, everyone locks in their subjects around the table, with you being able to place as many or as few characters as you wish. You then remove the player screens and reveal the contents of each envelope one by one, scoring points based on how well you met the conditions and losing points if you whiffed on all three — which is why you don't want to automatically place all subjects.

Here's how our boards looked in the end:

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Picture...perfect?

The items on the table were merely decorative as we didn't play with the auction variant, which uses tableware for currency.

We had a bum pair of rounds in which we first revealed the contents of the central envelopes, then we were invited to swap envelopes from our hand with the center — but since we had all just seen the central envelopes, no one wanted to swap since doing so would benefit only those players later in the turn order.

Still, the concept was fascinating, and I can imagine how you'd improve over time once you get a handle on all 42 condition cards because then you could deduce what you haven't seen and try to place subjects you haven't interacted with based on that information. After playing on the BGG library copy one night at Gen Con 2021, I bought a copy for myself the next day — and that copy has now sat untouched while I played other games for work. Hrm.

Ares Games was thwarted by a lack of inventory at Gen Con 2021 due to shipping issues, with War of the Ring: Kings of Middle-earth, Last One Alive, and the revised edition of Last Friday now all due out by the end of 2021.

Board Game: War of the Ring: Kings of Middle-earth
Board Game: Last One Alive
Board Game: Last Friday

Thunderworks Games had a bit more in stock than Ares, along with a splashier layout thanks to an entire table being filled with Roll Player Adventures and Cartographers Heroes and its three map packs: Nebblis, Affril, and Undercity, with all of these items expected to be available at U.S. retail outlets in November 2021.

Roll Player Adventures: Nefras's Judgement and Cape May should also be available in the U.S. at the same time.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The Lockup: Breakout expansion should be available in Q1 2022, with a Kickstarter project for the Isle of Cats-ish theme park-building game Tenpenny Parks from Nate Linhart due to launch in Q2 2022.

Board Game: Lockup: Breakout
Board Game: Tenpenny Parks
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Sun Oct 31, 2021 1:00 pm
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Gen Con 2021 V: Czech Games Edition, Capstone Games, and BoardGameTables.com

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Codenames
It might seem ridiculous to continue with reports from Gen Con 2021 since both Origins and SPIEL have taken place following my most recent such report on September 30, 2021, but I took copious notes at that show about new releases and upcoming titles, so let's see what's still relevant at this point. (And looking ahead to 2022, well, I'm trying to make changes so that I'm not chasing data ahead of shows, but instead actually writing posts and recording videos. We'll see whether that effort succeeds...)

• Let's start with a quick trip to Czech Games Edition, which had a massive space outside the main exhibit hall at Gen Con 2021 thanks to that publisher adding to its original floor plan the rooms that Rio Grande Games had abandoned.

I believe that CGE had set up at least one table for every title in its catalog, with full games of, say, Through the Ages, Alchemists, and Tzolk'in available for those who wanted to indulge themselves. The feeling in the room was far more relaxed than what was going on in the exhibit hall, even at its reduced size for 2021, with people playing for as long as they wanted. CGE wasn't trying to turn tables as quickly as possible to make sales of new releases — although sales were happening anyway, with Lost Ruins of Arnak seeming to be in every third bag I saw.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The environment might have been too relaxed...

Board Game: Lost Ruins of Arnak: Expedition Leaders
Board Game: Galaxy Trucker
The relaxed feeling of that demo area somewhat reflects CGE's plans for 2022, with North American sales manager Tony Gullotti telling me that the company plans to focus mostly on releasing items for Lost Ruins of Arnak and its reboot of Galaxy Trucker.

Lost Ruins of Arnak: Expedition Leaders debuted at SPIEL '21, and it should have a U.S. retail release in December 2021. (At Gen Con 2021, the demo copy of Expedition Leaders was being changed constantly as development on the expansion was still taking place in the Czech Republic. CGE prints locally, so it could continue testing until shortly before SPIEL '21.)

CGE has already released one bonus item for Galaxy Trucker — the Rough Roads expansion that's available solely in digital form. Gullotti said that this method of release allows the company to give players small extras without having to manage production, shipping, and inventory.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Giant-sized Galaxy Trucker at Gen Con 2021

Regarding its flagship title Codenames, Gullotti says that more than one million people per month play the game online at CGE's site (which has cards available in more than forty languages), and CGE is currently testing a Codenames app that would be playable on mobile devices, with players having various objectives that they could unlock.

Board Game: Ark Nova
Board Game: Maracaibo: The Uprising
• Clay Ross at Capstone Games gave an update on release dates, with Savannah Park, Riftforce, and Imperial Steam all due out in October 2021 (with preordered copies apparently having been shipped by this point); Corrosion hitting in Nov/Dec 2021; Ark Nova being available in February 2022; and Maracaibo: The Uprising arriving in Q1 2022.

Carlo Bortolini's Riftforce had arrived in the Capstone warehouse the Tuesday prior to Gen Con 2021, so Candice and I got to play once for a taste of what it offers. Candice already wrote about the game from her POV here, but I'll give it a go as well.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Candice contemplates her second play

Riftforce is a two-player dueling game in which you compete to score 12 points first, with points being scored when you eliminate an opposing card or control a field with no opposition during a reset action. On a turn, you can:

• Play up to three cards of the same guild or the same health (5/6/7).
• Discard a card to activate up to three cards of the matching guild or matching health.
• Refill your hand to seven cards and score a point for each uncontested field you control.

Board Game: Riftforce
Board Game: Riftforce Beyond
Your deck consists of cards from four guilds, and each guild has a unique power, e.g., fire does lots of damage, but injures a nearby ally because it's indiscriminate, while air moves to a new field, then scattershot hits up to three enemies. You want to combo powers when possible, say using air to attack so that you can move it away from a field and not get hit with friendly fire, but you'll probably spend your first few games going, "Yeah, this is going to be devastating! No, wait, that doesn't work like I thought it would."

In our game, my crystal goobers were worth 2 points instead of 1 when killed, but I managed to do massive amounts of damage with them before Candice could shatter my hopes for winning. I've since played Riftforce three more times, and I'm slowly starting to piece together how to draft guilds before the game begins in order to create competent combos as opposed to the nonbos I had initially. (In October 2021 Riftforce's originating publisher 1 More Time Games announced Riftforce: Beyond, which adds eight new guilds to the ten already available — which means I will never catch up with exploring all this game has to offer.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Only two points to go...

• At Gen Con 2021, publisher BoardGameTables.com won my No Prize for "best table signage" as each table was approachable on the perimeter of the booth space and featured overhead a compelling image, a short game description, and game details, not to mention being staffed by a demo person ready to roll as soon as you got there.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

At Gen Con 2021, owner Chad DeShon talked about the next couple of titles in its line-up, with those titles now being crowdfunded on Kickstarter through November 4, 2021. One of the games is Psychic Pizza Deliverers Go to the Ghost Town, a Hayato Kisaragi design that debuted from Japanese publisher One Draw in 2018. Here's an overview of gameplay:
Quote:
In Psychic Pizza Deliverers Go to the Ghost Town, players are divided into "Pizza Delivery Professionals" and a mayor (GM) who controls the ghosts and builds the town. The pizza delivery professionals have to find a pizza and deliver it to the right house in town, all while avoiding ghosts, barriers, and mystic teleportation runes. The first player to find and successfully deliver a pizza wins. Luckily for them, the pizza delivery professionals all possess mild psychic powers. They must use their abilities to sense and divine what's around them if they hope to deliver their pizzas.

Board Game: Psychic Pizza Deliverers Go to the Ghost Town

The main role of mayor is to moderate play and make the town. The mayor wins if no one is able to deliver their pizza. The game begins with the mayor building a unique town map that includes the starting location for each player, pizza, and house. On a player's turn, they may choose to move one space in any of the four cardinal directions, attack in any of the four cardinal directions in hope of banishing a ghost, or use a psychic power. The mayor then resolves the action, tells the player the location of any barriers adjacent to the player, and whether or not the player senses any ghosts/pizzas/houses in any of the eight spaces surrounding the player.

Attacking removes ghosts from the board and lets players draw one psychic card. Psychic cards allow players to make special movements on the board such as diagonal, hop step, or warp back to start.

Board Game: Psychic Pizza Deliverers Go to the Ghost Town
A peek inside the mayor's hideout

The players have only twenty turns to locate a pizza and deliver it to the matching house. The players have a gridded sheet of paper and a pencil to draw and record information about the town. The mayor has a special log sheet to track all the players moves and results.

The game also includes several variant tiles that can be added to the town to vary gameplay.
Japanese game maven James Nathan wrote about the game in detail in 2019 on Opinionated Gamers, and Nathan has been serving as a JP game scout for BoardGameTables.com, both for this title and for Dandelions, the other title being Kickstarted, with this being a new edition of Takashi Sakaue's dice game Birth that debuted in 2013 from Product Arts LLC.

Board Game: Birth
Board Game: Dandelions
Whereas Birth dealt with the creation of the universe, Dandelions presents a far more humble setting. Here's an overview:
Quote:
Transform into a dandelion, and float through clear blue skies on a pleasant breeze in this dice-rolling, area-majority game with a little direct-competition edge. Your quest is to find the best spots for your seeds to grow across a variety of vibrant, beautiful, and cozy gardens.

In Dandelions, players roll a group of dice, then choose one to move to a beautiful garden. Along the way, you can harness the power of the wind with three special actions — float, puff, and gust — to get the most points. The game ends after all the dice are used, and whoever receives the most victory points as combined from two different scoring methods wins.
DeShon says that he's already signing titles for 2023, with games typically falling into one of two box sizes and complexity levels. Nathan essentially has free reign to propose titles, suggest changes for the U.S. market, and help introduce others to these games that he loves so much. I, for one, greatly appreciate these efforts!
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Sat Oct 30, 2021 1:00 pm
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Build Railways in Chicago, the Western U.S., India, and Japan in Time for the Olympics

Candice Harris
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Board Game: Union Station
Union Station is an upcoming 2022 release from game designer/train game aficionado Travis D. Hill, and "punk rock" publisher New Mill Industries, who's all about embodying the DIY spirit of Punk by producing small print runs of games that feature clean design and quirky themes.

Union Station is a cube rails game for 3-5 players that plays in 30-45 minutes and is approaching the tail end of its successfully funded Kickstarter campaign (KS link). Here's a high-level overview from the publisher:
Quote:
From the turn of the 20th century, Chicago's Union Station rose to prominence as one of the busiest and most used train station hubs in the United States. At one point, five railroad companies each owned stock in the Chicago Union Station Co, collaborating to build the greatest train station at the time.

Union Station is a quick-playing cube rails game, focusing more on share purchasing and stock manipulation than route building. On your turn you may either buy stock and increase its value, sell all of your stock to get quick cash while also lowering the company's value, or lay track. While the shares might come out randomly, it's all about careful timing and the willingness to drop something good for something even better.

From gallery of candidrum
Union Station components photo from the Kickstarter page

The game ends immediately when all of the Shares have been bought or sold off, 20 dividends have been paid, or railroad companies cannot lay any additional track. The players add together their cash in hand to the value of each of their shares, and the player with the most money wins.
Board Game: Westward Rails
• While you're waiting for Union Station to hit the streets, Hollandspiele just announced, Westward Rails, another new cube rails game from Travis D. Hill. In Westward Rails, 3-5 players build, auction, and upgrade their way across the Western U.S. as described below from the publisher:
Quote:
Westward Rails is a stock-holding and route-building game about western expansion in the United States. Three-to-five players will bid on shares in five historical railroads, use that money to build routes, connect specific cities to satisfy demands, and develop important metropolitan areas, all with the aim of securing bigger and bigger dividends for the companies in which they are invested.

Board Game: Westward Rails
Photo by Mary Holland

Westward Rails is played on a point-to-point map, sprawling out west by connecting cities to make major profit. On your turn, you choose to build, auction, or upgrade. This continues around the table until all demands have been met or companies run out of track. Most money wins the game.
Board Game Publisher: GMT Games
• Many people tend to associate GMT Games solely with wargames, but the truth is, they publish a variety of games including euros and 18xx games. Such is the case with 18 India, a 2-5 player operational railroad game designed by Denver-based 18xx fans, TraXX (Anthony Fryer, Michael Carter, and Nick Neylon).

18 India is currently available on GMT's P500 pre-order and offers some fresh twists and challenges for experienced 18xx players, as well as being easy to learn if you're new to 18xx. Here's some historical context and what you can expect gameplay-wise as described by the publisher:
Quote:
India's railroad history began in 1837 when The Red Hill Railway used the country's first steam-powered locomotive to carry stone for road work to Madras, modern-day Chennai. In 1845, India's first railway was incorporated, the Madras Railway. Sixteen years later, on a warm April day in 1853, a 14-carriage train carrying 400 passengers was hauled 21 miles by three steam locomotives - the Sahib, Sindh, and Sultan - and passenger railway service was thus initiated in India. From there, as they say, the rest is history, and India today has the world's fourth-largest railway network.

Board Game: 18 India

18 India is an operational railroad game for 2 to 5 people that plays in about 3 hours. The game is inspired by 1829 Mainline by Francis Tresham, and while the venerable Mr. Tresham created some novel mechanics for that game, many of them are not ideal for players that eschew in-game randomness. In 18 India, those random elements are transformed into an amazing level of pre-game variability, which gives each session of the game a different character. Critically, 18 India causes players to think differently about 18XX standards such as train management and investments.

The mechanics in 18 India include: track gauge changes, "Guarantee Companies", competition for commodity contracts, shares with exclusive rights to purchase, train trade-ins, a unique IPO display, and all track upgrades being available from the beginning of the game. By the way, trains do not rust, but there is certainly still a "train rush"!

18 India offers excellent game play variability. Each session features a different mix of companies that are in play leading to variations in route development, company creation, and investment strategies.

At game's end, each player's net worth - the value of their stock portfolio, factoring in the book value of the companies, and their cash - is their final score. The player with the most wealth wins.
Board Game Publisher: Ludonova
• At SPIEL 2021, Ludonova released Shinkansen: Zero Kei, a 1-4 player railway-building game from designers Isra C. and Shei S., the design team behind The Red Cathedral and 1987 Channel Tunnel.

In Shinkansen: Zero Kei, players compete to build the historic railway line in time for the Olympics as described below by the publisher:
Quote:
The Tōkaidō line of the Shinkansen began being built in 1959 with the aim of inaugurating the fastest train of the time, just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

In Shinkansen: Zero Kei, players take on the role of its builders. They will take charge of constructing this historic railway line and all its corresponding stations. They can also help the Olympic venues in their preparation for the Games. The player who proves themselves to be the most efficient in their role will be declared the winner.

Board Game: Shinkansen: Zero Kei

In each round of a game of Shinkansen, you will build your own bullet train, each carriage card you add to your train will provide you with an action or an ability. These actions will mainly allow you to build tracks and stations, collaborate in the preparation of the Olympic venues and obtain new carriage cards. The carriage cards are associated with cities through which the line passes. If you manage to build them in the correct order you will be rewarded in victory points. After five rounds, corresponding to the five-year construction of the line, the player with the most victory points wins.
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Fri Oct 29, 2021 1:00 pm
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