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Make Way for More Mind — to the Extreme!

W. Eric Martin
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I am somewhat of a fan of The Mind, Wolfgang Warsch's simple card game that German publisher NSV released in early 2018, and my obsession has continued into 2019, with me having played that game twice as much as anything else so far.

That might change come October 2019 thanks to the release of The Mind Extreme, which features the same gameplay as the original design, but now with two 50-card decks instead of a single deck of cards numbered 1-100 and with players discarding cards onto two separate discard piles, one in an ascending order and the other in a descending order. What's more, sometimes you need to play on one of those piles with the cards face down so that you can't see what others have played.

Needless to say, I'm in. Find me at SPIEL '19 to give it a go with me!


Promotional image from NSV
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Tue Aug 27, 2019 5:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Ka Pai

Mads Fløe
Denmark
Aarhus C
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Getting My First Game on Contract, or Raiders of the Lost Motivation

In early 2012, I went directly from knowing and playing games like Settlers of Catan to sitting down with my girlfriend to learn and play Arkham Horror. It was way too big a leap for us at the time. We were exhausted after five hours, and we didn't feel like we "got" the game even after that.

Coincidentally, I had just discovered BoardGameGeek, where Arkham Horror was listed and ranked among the top 100 best board games at the time. I (very naively) thought to myself: "If this is supposed to be one of the best board games out there, I think I can do better."

As it would soon turn out, I was wrong — well, on relative short term at least.

Designing a board game is not as easy as it seems at first glance. It's not until you make your first prototype that you realize how difficult it actually is. It's somewhat easy to make a game system that's playable, but designing a game that is fun and something you want to play again and again is not.

After a couple of tries, I did manage to design a decent mid-weight euro, and I went to SPIEL in 2013 with two meetings booked: one with Z-Man Games and another with Czech Games Edition (CGE).


Overview of "Dig for Victory", the prototype I pitched in 2013


With puddles of sweat under my arms, I somehow made a convincing pitch to the Z-Man himself. He took a copy.

When I met with CGE, the owner called for a guy to come sit with us. At the time, I could tell you the names of only a handful of designers, and of those, I would recognize only a couple in real life — but here was Vlaada Chvátil sitting down with us, and my focus went from pitching my game to focusing on breathing. I dropped pieces left and right trying to explain the game, while they alternated between asking me questions and conversing with one another in Czech, me sitting there like a deer in headlights trying to read their facial expressions.

It was a no (go figure).

Z-Man also responded with a rejection about six months later.

Highs & Lows

The high I had been riding until then had passed, and now I felt like I didn't know what I was doing. It made me quit — for a while at least...

Some time passed and another joy — the biggest of my life — would soon occupy my time as my girlfriend and I got pregnant. Our son is now almost four years old and a board gamer to be for sure!


One of my favorite pictures of our son


In the meantime, I would still engage with the local design community, but my excitement for making games was not in full gear. It would only slowly begin to rise as I was asked to run a board game design competition at the biggest role-playing and board game convention we have in Denmark. Over the years, I've had designers like Jason Matthews, Asger Harding Granerud, Jeppe Norsker and Tina Christensen co-judge the competition with me. I even helped Asger with prototype "artwork" for his first released game, Flamme Rouge, back in the day, and the small online designer community I started on Facebook is now the second biggest board game related group in Danish.

My role, I felt, was in the encouragement of other rising designers, and not so much my own designs.

The Change

That changed in 2017 when I went to the SPIEL game fair in Essen on very short notice with exactly one of my recent designs in my luggage. I didn't have any meetings set up, but I wanted to give it a shot, so I did the cumbersome work of going booth to booth, asking whether anyone had time to take at look at my game. Needless to say, nothing came of it, even though I did get to sit down with a couple of publishers to pitch my game.

Going home, I was disappointed and I felt like it was a missed opportunity. I thought: "Next year, I will come back, and I will come back prepared!"

I already started designing in my head on the car ride back. I needed to come up with something original and exciting, thinking: "In the games that I like to play" (mostly mid-weight euro-style games) "what would be an original twist?"

One idea: "What if every space on a scoring track had a resource or special action on it?" I had Lords of Waterdeep in mind as an example. Then you would not only have to think about scoring many points, but also the pace at which you scored them as smaller scoring missions would be more attractive and larger scoring missions more risky.

I knew it would be way too much to create an entirely new mid-weight euro game just to put bonuses on the scoring track, so I tried to refine the game to be ONLY the scoring track. Of course, if you have a game with only a scoring track, you effectively have a racing game — but in this case a racing game in which you not only needed to get ahead quickly, but also land on the right spaces as you went along.

This was the birth of "Banana Jones", a game in which players took control of an adventurer, exploring and raiding a temple for gems of different value and rarity. The gems would be worth points only in sets of three, emphasizing the need to hit the right spaces as you went along.


Overview of "Banana Jones"


I worked on that game for about six months. It gave me so much inspiration and energy to design again that I've done a multitude of prototypes since then, even a mid-weight euro game that I co-designed with Allan Kirkeby.

The Twist

Then one day, an idea struck me like lightning, and within twenty minutes I had drawn and tested the entire layout for "Banana Jones: The Dice Game". It worked!


Overview of "Banana Jones: The Dice Game"


"Banana Jones" and "Banana Jones: The Dice Game" did not have similar mechanisms, but the scoring was done with the same gems of different rarity and in sets of three. I knew from playtesting at the time that "Banana Jones: The Dice Game" was the home run of the two, but I wanted to push them both, so I kept them in the same theme, thinking a publisher might pick up both.

Full Sails

Fast forward to SPIEL '18, where Allan and I had booked 23 meetings to show off ten games: four from me and one we had co-designed, with the rest being Allan's. We had a very good show, handing over twenty prototypes in total, with further requests from publishers to mail them some of the prototypes that we'd run out of.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself here as I think this success had two major factors:

1) Going to meetings with Allan by my side really helped the otherwise introverted me be in a much more comfortable situation. (He's previously been CEO of a computer games company, and his first board game, Itchy Monkey, debuted at that show.) No puddles of sweat under my arms this time! Before the convention ended, I surprised Allan with a big box game as a present to say "thank you". Sometimes just being you can make a huge difference for someone else. Allan surely did for me in this case!

2) A couple of months before SPIEL '18, we sent out requests to publishers for meetings along with our sell sheets. A few of them responded with an immediate request to have one or two of our games sent out before SPIEL, so we did that. Thursday morning, before the convention openedWhite Goblin Games, I woke to a text from White Goblin Games saying they'd played the game on Wednesday evening and they wanted to publish it!

At that instant, I no longer felt like an imposter. I was now a full-fledged game designer, and I walked into each and every meeting over the following days with that confidence in mind. I made sure to thank White Goblin Games when we met on Friday to discuss the details going forward. I'm still very thankful for it. The timing could not have been better!

Getting to Ka Pai

Now, what is the game about?

First, the theme was changed from Banana Jones (my self-imagined setting) to a story about the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. In Māori, "Ka Pai" means "Well done!", which is exactly the feeling the game inspired in players when I playtested it.

Doing some research on Māori culture, we decided first on the name, then on the thematic story told by the game:

As players, you host a social gathering of different Māori tribes, each represented by their own symbol. Placing the same tribes next to one another will increase their power (in sets of three to score points) and can potentially also spread the stories written on the totems in the corners and center of the player sheets. These totems were historically put up by the Māori to show their connection with the land and their ancestors, so the more of them you connect, the further the knowledge goes, and the more you will score.

As a little twist, one of the tribes — the one represented by the symbol / — does not have a base score when completing sets of them, but each time a set of them is formed, they allow a player to increase the score of sets of any tribe (symbol), including themselves.

The mechanism of how, where, and when players gets to write the different symbols is also fundamental to the gameplay experience. The game comes with two custom dice, each with a different distribution of symbols, and each round they are rolled (by any player). All players then use the result to write on their own player sheet.

If the dice show two different symbols, each player can choose to draw either one of the symbols, but not both. However, if the dice show two identical symbols, all players must write both symbols, and they must be placed next to one another. This, paired with a hierarchy in how rare the different symbols are and how many points they score for getting them in sets of three, presents the players with interesting choices each round.

Players can write their first symbol in any free space, but going forward, all new symbols must be placed next to an existing one. The interesting choices come from deciding which symbol to write, where to write it, and how much of a risk you are willing to take. Every so often, a double roll will challenge players with what I call an extra-frustratingly-fun challenge. Maybe you were already hoping for that exact double roll to come up? Or maybe you will seize the opportunity and rethink your strategy?


A completed player sheet


As the game goes along, players will be more and more devoted to what they are already doing, building up the tension towards the end. This is when I realized during playtesting that Ka Pai was going to be a hit. I've never done a game before that made players spontaneously express themselves to such a degree. Comments like "Yes! Just what I needed!" or "Roll double squares, please!" or "Oh no! That's not what I needed. Where do I place these?" have been consistent throughout all games I've witnessed since the first playtest. These expressions grow as the game progresses.

Fifteen minutes later, the game is over and inevitably someone says, "Who wants to try again?"

This is something that I've always aspired to achieve, and it brings me great joy to experience it, each and every time I bring Ka Pai to the table. I know that it will bring fun and joyful moments to a lot of people in the future. That is worth the world to me, so I promise this will not be the last game you'll see from me.

Thank you for reading!

Mads Fløe
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Tue Aug 27, 2019 4:03 pm
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SPIEL '19 Round-up: Make Plans to Travel in Wayfinders and Rebuild Arrondissements in Paris: New Eden

W. Eric Martin
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• Believe it or not, I'm still catching up on announcements made during Gen Con 2019, with one of those announcements being for Wayfinders from designer Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance and publisher Pandasaurus Games. Wayfinders will debut at SPIEL '19 and hit retail stores on Oct. 30, 2019, and it bears this brief description:

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Engines purring, goggles down — the seaplane is set for take-off! Welcome to the whimsical world of Wayfinders in which intrepid explorers race to chart new paths through the skies.

You will need to think on your feet and outfit your planes with the right gear to arrive safely — but building hangers on islands and stocking them with parts can help you zip around with ease! Be sure to be keen in your planning and you will unlock the charms of the islands. Wheels up — adventure awaits!
Zippy route building from the designer of Decrypto? I'm curious to learn more — and thankfully I have an advance review copy from Pandasaurus, so this will be one of the items I preview in the next two months.

• At SPIEL '19, Pandasaurus Games will also demo Godspeed from designers Clayton Hargrave and Adam Hill, with this game bearing only this tagline for now: "The 'space race' was a lie."




• Another new title coming for SPIEL '19 is Paris: New Eden, a dice-drafting game for 2-4 players from designers Florian Grenier and Ludovic Maublanc and publisher Matagot that presents a different look at an apocalyptic landscape:

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The dazzling boulevards and historical monuments of Paris have been enveloped by lush vegetation. The once bustling city hub has been hushed to stillness following an apocalyptic event and your goal is to forge a new future. Equip your shelter, manage your resources, and rally a community of various survivors, all while making your way through the jungle cityscape.

Paris: New Eden features a clever dice-drafting mechanism that allows you to recruit survivors. Over the span of one year, you will endeavor to build your shelter and overcome the array of obstacles that you encounter along the way. The dice allow you to recruit survivors of different types: tinkerers, brawlers, healers, sages, farmers, jacks-of-all-trades, or even useless survivors. At the end of each season, your survivors allow you to bid to improve your shelter. These survivors are recruited in five key areas and central squares of the Paris that we know, each one with different abilities:

—The train station, which lets you grow your community faster
—The restaurant, to collect food to feed your community
—The tower, to choose the goals you can fulfill
—The center, which gives you access to special equipment
—The bridge, to gain access to new missions

Players score points by recruiting survivors and feeding them, by fulfilling objectives from the tower, and by completing secret missions acquired at the bridge. At winter’s end, the player who has accumulated the most victory points wins. The future of Paris is in your hands!
WizKids has picked up Serge Macasdar's Seeders from Sereis: Exodus, first released by French publisher Sweet Games in 2017, for release in English in the first half of 2020. Here's an overview of the world in which this game is set, as well as a summary of the game itself:

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Seeders from Sereis is a trans-media science-fiction universe that's been created over five years by Serge Macasdar and Charbel Fourel and which contains post-humans, space opera, extensive journeys on space arks, lost empires, exo-biology, genetic evolution, android developments, and more.

Seeders, Series 1: Exodus is the first game of a serial of ten set in this universe. When an unknown force threatens to render their home uninhabitable, the Seeders must build arks — giant colony ships — to ensure their survival. Players work to create the most promising design to be chosen for production. Each turn players draft cards into their hands as cards are laid out on the board. Players strategically place negotiator chips between the cards they want, using their alignment and position to determine who has the most influence over a desired card. Once all negotiators and tokens are placed, influence is calculated and the winners of each card is determined.

Once obtained, cards can be played for points, adding value to your ark, or discarded for resources. Each card represents a different component of the ark — locations, items, personnel — and players will find unique synergies between cards as well as their player color's unique power. Asymmetry and complex interactions add layers of strategy that lead to a unique experience each time you play.
BGG visited Festival International des Jeux in 2017, and I spoke with Macasdar and Fourel about the game:

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Tue Aug 27, 2019 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Blokus Dice Game & UNO Dice Game, or Roll-and-Writes Go Mass Market

W. Eric Martin
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At Gen Con 2019, the U.S. toy and game giant Mattel gave a sneak peek at a quartet of roll-and-write games coming out in November 2019, all of them based on games currently residing in the Mattel catalog. I'm not sure whether this represents peak roll-and-write — although I suppose that would be Roll to the Top! — or whether this is just another example of what the game market is today, with more of everything all the time from everywhere.

I've played the UNO Dice Game from Emmorie Jossie a couple of times, and it feels UNO-y without playing anything like UNO. On your turn, you roll all the dice, with one optional re-roll, trying to create chains of dice connected by color or number so that you can fill your grid first. A pair of wild dice let you match anything, while +1 and -1 faces let you add additional spaces to an opponent's grid or remove their most recent number. Can't be an UNO game without the opportunity for jerkery....

The Blokus Dice Game from Brian Yu mirrors the feeling of its parent game, with everyone trying to fit as many of their squares into play as possible. Unlike in Blokus, however, in Blokus Dice Game everyone is playing on their own board, and everyone places pieces of all four colors instead of just one.


Results from our first game


On a turn, the active player rolls a number of dice equal to the number of players still in the game, then everyone drafts a die. You then pick a piece from those available in the row that matches your die, then you draw it in your grid; if it's the first piece of a color, you must cover one of the four corner squares, and if not, the piece you're drawing must touch a square of the same color diagonally (and cannot abut that color). If you've used all the pieces matching the number on your die or you don't like any of the pieces that are available, you can cross out one of your three Xs, then choose any unused piece.

After drawing a piece, you pass your marker clockwise, getting a different color to draw on the next turn. The challenge of the game is that pieces of different colors can nestle against one another, while pieces of the same color can't, so you effectively have four growing tree branches that will interlace on a two-dimensional plane, ideally leaving space for each branch to grow past one another — but in practice you'll draw only three or four pieces of each color before you run out of room.

As soon as you can't place a piece, you're out of the game, and you remove a die from play. Once everyone is out, you count the number of empty spaces, and whoever has the lowest number wins.

I've played Blokus Dice Game five times on a review copy from Mattel, and it feels much like Blokus, but with a co-operative edge since you're trying to make all four colors play nice on your 9x9 grid instead of cutting off opponents to carve out space for yourself. All the meanness of the game is pushed into the drafting of dice, with you trying to stick others with bad choices so that they have to use Xs or use the tiny pieces early in the game to stay alive. You don't have to play mean, of course, but blocking others is still the point of the game, so don't feel too bad about it...


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Mon Aug 26, 2019 9:04 pm
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Designer Diary: Oh, Fox!

Hurby Donkers
Netherlands
Helmond
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Nuts to the Dumb Fox

"I want to watch Peter Rabbit!", my two-year-old son requests...for the hundredth time. Full of excitement, my son immerses himself in the woodland world yet again. At the edge of his seat, he wonders, "Will the fox capture the rabbit this time?" The obvious answer is no, of course he won't as was the case the 99 times before this because the dumb fox never learns. It's a story with a fixed outcome, and once you know what's going to happen, it's not exciting anymore — but board games are different.

Oh, I'm sorry, who am I again? My name is Hurby Donkers (yep, that's my name), and I'm a Dutch boardgame designer. I like all the good stuff in a board game: Challenge, depth, player interaction, and most of all, suspense.

The latter is something a woodland setting has plenty of. It must be thrilling to have to go out there in the woods looking for food, not knowing what dangers might lurk behind the trees, so I set out to translate this excitement into a board game, to have players feel what it's like to be that scared tiny animal. But make no mistake: In a board game with player-controlled animals, the fox does learn, so next time you set out to eat that nut, be sure that he'll be awaiting you. You'll be screaming "Oh, Fox!" before you know it.

A Tough Nut in a Soft Shell

My goal was to create a game that draws you in and keeps you immersed in the world it presents. In other words, I aimed to have all mechanisms be as elegant as possible so as not to subtract from the experience. To bring the concept of the hunter and the hunted to life, I wanted players to have to crawl into each other's minds in order to not merely guess but actually to predict their actions — a game that is soft on the outside and tough on the inside, if you will, or, you know, easy to learn but hard to master. With that in mind, the first draft was made about a year ago.

A fox in squirrel-clothing
There was always going to be one predator animal hunting down multiple prey animals. I didn't want players working together as holding hands would have made the prey animal players feel too safe, so they were all going to play for themselves, looking to save only their own skin. Each player would receive one face-down role card, of which one is the predator. The predator player then reveals themself by taking the predator token so that others know whom to watch out for. In older versions of the game, any player could be the predator, which is heaps of fun but turned out to be a bit too hardcore for most players. Don't worry, though, as this is still included in the game as an expert variant.


The progression of the animal card
Each animal could use its trigger ability a different number of times in the first version on the left, but this was quickly discarded. While the general concept of the animal card stayed the same, their abilities did not, and we tested tens of ability ideas before settling on the ones you can find in the final version of the game.


The forest for the trees
To have a sense of environment and adventure, I felt that the game needed a spatial element, so I created a board with different locations in a forest that players could move to. These locations would hold the different food types that the prey animals were after, to give the players a sense of direction as well as valuable information to deduce each other's identity with.


The progression of the board
Since creating the first version on the left, I must have tried over fifty different configurations. Artwork aside, it is ironic that the board is almost exactly the same. Sometimes the first idea really is the best idea.


Foxing around
Prey animals would need to be able to hide themselves, so the movement over the board was going to be hidden. I guess the obvious first thing that would come to mind is hidden movement with pen and paper, with players secretly writing down their location. However, I wanted none of that. It's been done before, but more importantly, I think it's fiddly and not pretty to look at. Furthermore, the movement should not be completely hidden as there is no suspense if you don't have the faintest clue about where everyone is and you give up trying to find out. That would just be random.

Hang on, let me interrupt myself again by stating something important to me in game design: I generally don't like it when lots of random stuff happens to you. Event cards and dice rolls that determine an outcome are common perpetrators of this. I love to get outplayed by another player, but having aspects of a game determined by randomness keeps me from feeling invested in it.

Right, sorry, moving on. Because my goal was to have players be as scared as possible, they needed to feel the possibility that they were figured out, while also entertaining the thought that they were not. You know, suspense. For the predator to figure out anything, as much information as possible should be out in the open. I felt that simultaneous action selection was especially important for this game because the last thing I wanted was downtime between turns taking away from the immersion I so carefully tried to craft. Thus, players would have a hand of movement cards, from which they would simultaneously play one face-up card each round for all players to see. The cards were square and could be played in four directions. All cards that are played remain on the table for the remainder of the game so that players can always look back to see what others played in previous rounds.


A full set-up of the game
Your identity is one of a composed set of five animals above the board, so immediately you can see the possible identities and abilities of other players. The action cards you play form a face-up row in front of you, which allows you to easily track the actions of each player.


So that's how it works — but how does it feel?

By analyzing a player's movement cards, you could deduce that player's identity:
"That player is visiting a lot of locations with nuts, so they must surely be the squirrel!"

However, you can also put your opponents on the wrong track:
"Even though I'm not the squirrel, I'm visiting a lot of locations with nuts, so they'll surely think that I am!"

And most importantly, it creates suspense:
"Do I have the nuts to eat that nut over there, or is the predator onto me?"

As sly as a squirrel
Still, the game needed more, and I haven't yet explained the most important part. To allow for true mind games, I gave each animal a special ability that could be triggered only by playing a trigger movement card. Others don't know your identity, so when playing such a card, they also don't know which special ability you just activated. On one hand, this made deduction a fair bit tougher because it wasn't as straightforward, but on the other, it made deduction deeper because it gave away more information.

Furthermore, by giving each animal a special ability, the animals each had their own feel, further increasing the sense of immersion. Also, I really really wanted to include special powers just because, so there's that.

Anyway, the addition of trigger cards meant that the player pawns would not move as that would immediately give away their positions on the board. When I explain the game, most players look at me funny when I say that the pawns don't move until the very end of the game. They don't move. They don't. Nope.


The trigger card



That Dutch Nut with the French Name

Up until 2018, I designed games as a hobby. Sure, I entertained the dream that one day I would see my games published, but it felt like a mountain to climb, so I procrastinated, repeatedly choosing to start a new project over seeing a finished one to the end. I did go to gaming clubs, though, where this life-saving guy named Michel Baudoin took an interest in my prototypes. When I showed him Oh, Fox!, he thought it was the mutt's nuts. As a boardgame designer turned graphics designer with an ambition for marketing, he suggested we publish it together. Yeah, let's do it! Cinnamon Games became a reality, and I never looked back.

And with that, I knew that Oh, Fox! was going to make it. Oh, by the way: The game wasn't to be called Oh, Fox! back then. I had "Froschlest Faschlad" as the title — or "Forest Facade" when properly pronounced — but as you can see, we imagined it a tad difficult to pronounce well, especially for non-native Dutch speakers like ourselves. I leave it up to you to imagine what sparked the idea of "Oh, Fox!" as the title, okay?




The Nutcracker

Together, we proceeded to polish the game. We playtested as much as we could, visiting friends, boardgame clubs, and boardgame conventions. While Michel was busy illustrating the game and getting it out there into the world, I worked on processing feedback and nutting out mechanical problems.

In a nutshell: The core mechanisms felt very much carved in wood and held up to the end, but getting everything else just right appeared to be quite the tough nut to crack, as I imagine it often is with a lot of game designs. In the case of Oh, Fox!, for the majority of its development, it was too difficult — not so much to learn the rules, but to play the game successfully.

So the biggest challenge was to have the game be more accessible, without sacrificing any of the deeper gameplay that I love so much about it. We tested and tweaked and tweaked and tested and tested and tweaked the game, making sure to gather as much feedback from as many people as possible in the process. To any of you reading this: Thank you! Eventually, after having turned everything about the game upside down and inside out, it all magically fell into place. Looking back, I fully believe that we crafted the best version of Oh, Fox! that we possibly could, and I'm very proud of the result.

So, what's next? At the time of writing, Oh, Fox! is in press and will be available at SPIEL '19, ready to kick nuts. I very much hope to see you there. Thank you for reading!

Hurby Donkers

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Sat Aug 24, 2019 4:04 pm
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Reiner Stockhausen Invites You to Relive Orléans Stories for SPIEL '19

W. Eric Martin
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Listing #700 on BGG's SPIEL '19 Preview is Orléans Stories, a huge release from designer Reiner Stockhausen through his own dlp games.

Stockhausen debuted Orléans in 2014, and the game has been in print continually since that time with versions in more than ten languages and with more than twenty large and small expansions having been released. The shorthand description of Orléans is that it's a "bag building" game. Each player has their own bag of tokens, and over the course of the game, you can add more tokens to your bag. This allows you to shape your long-term strategy by focusing on particular types of tokens, but you're drawing them at random from the bag, so you're must adapt to what you have since you're not guaranteed to get what you want. Seems like a life lesson snuck in there...

Like the original Orléans, Orléans Stories is for 2-4 players and features artwork by Klemens Franz, but it bears a playing time of 60-180 minutes since the conditions for each game will vary, as described here:

Quote:
Orléans Stories is based on the bag-building mechanism known from Orléans, with this mechanisms having been further developed into a storytelling experience in which players go through different eras and face different challenges. Broadly speaking, instead of focusing on the city of Orléans and trade with the surrounding villages, player are now settling the Loire Valley. Players must farm and produce, found villages, and build fortresses and churches. They will experience times of prosperity and success, but also times of deprivation; they must defy hunger and plague, fight for their land, and perhaps conquer foreign lands to secure the lives of their settlers. In the end, however, there is peace and the joint administration of territories and villages.

The game includes two stories: "The First Kingdom" and "The King's Favor". "The First Kingdom" is an epic story that spans eight so-called eras, and each era features different conditions and emphases. Sometimes knights settle down, with whose help you can conquer foreign territories, sometimes the plague threatens to decimate the population of settlers unless all have worked together to develop medicine.

"The King's Favor" is shorter, simpler, and more suitable as an introduction to the game. Over five eras, certain tasks have to be fulfilled by the end of each era, and those who fail to do so will drop out mercilessly. The threat of having to end the game prematurely provides a constant thrill, but all tasks are achievable, so that (usually) all players experience the end of the fifth era — but those who have concentrated only on the tasks will be punished because at this point everyone's achievements will be compared in the king's castle, and you will receive victory points for territory size, buildings, goods, and coins.

The different eras affect the parameters of play as well as the rules of the game, creating new strategic possibilities. This challenges players to constantly adapt to current conditions, giving you the impression of experiencing a story, but unlike in legacy games, these stories can be repeated as often as you like. The changes from era to era require a new way of looking at things from a distance, but this is made easier for players by a story booklet in which players will find not only all relevant information and rule peculiarities, but also hints of how to prepare for the upcoming game in the form of a narrated story.
Publisher dlp games will debut Orléans Stories at SPIEL '19 in separate English and German versions, with the game selling for €70 at the fair instead of its normal €75 MSRP. You can preorder the game through the dlp games website, but not for shipment to North America as publishing partner Tasty Minstrel Games will make the game available in that territory.
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Fri Aug 23, 2019 8:37 pm
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Game Overview: Super Cats, or Feline Finger Fighting

W. Eric Martin
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My role as BGG news editor and database manager sometimes consists of me throwing games into the database with the expectation that we'll hear more about the game later — then the game vanishes from a publisher's schedule and you hear nothing about it because the game was small or not highly anticipated by a huge number of people.

Such was the case with Sentai Cats, a 3-6 player game that IELLO had announced as a late September 2017 release as part of its mini games line. The game design was credited to "Tokyo Boys", a group that consists of Antoine Bauza, Corentin Lebrat, Ludovic Maublanc, Nicolas Oury, and Théo Rivière, with the nickname coming from their fondness for visiting Japan and attending Tokyo Game Market.

As far as I know, the title never appeared in print, and now new French publisher GRRRE Games has released the title under the name Super Cats.


Moving into phase two


Game play is super simple: Players simultaneously throw a number of fingers from 0-5, and the person with the highest unique number of fingers visible receives a reward, with the lower numbers getting better rewards. Your goal in the first half of the game is to flip over your five "regular" cat cards to reveal their "super cat" incarnations.

The first player to do so fights Robo-Dog in the second half of the game, with everyone else working against this player. Players once again simultaneously throw 0-5 fingers each round, with the super player removing a number of cards from Robo-Dog equal to the number they threw — but only if no one else matched them. If they were matched by one or more players, then they must flip that number of cats back to their normal sides. If all the cats are normalized before all the cards are removed from Robo-Dog, that player loses the game and everyone else wins; otherwise, that single player wins.

I've played Super Cats five times on a review copy from distributor Blackrock Games, and the game is as straightforward as it sounds: Throw fingers with everyone else, then do it again, then keep doing it until you either win or lose. Believe it or not, I go into much more detail about the game in the video below:


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Fri Aug 23, 2019 1:00 pm
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Enter Ever-Changing Dungeons in Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated, Then Settle a New Planet in Circadians: First Light

W. Eric Martin
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I jumped straight from previewing Gen Con 2019 releases to working on our SPIEL '19 Preview with lots of game announcements getting sidetracked along the way, seemingly half of them from Renegade Games Studios, which previewed a number of these new titles at Gen Con 2019 itself.

The biggest of these announcements is for Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated, designed by Andy Clautice and co-published by Dire Wolf Digital and Penny Arcade. This title had the unusual distinction of being preceded by its own expansion, Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated – Upper Management Pack, as that item serves as an expansion for the Clank! base game, as well as all other things Clank!

As the name suggests, Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated is a legacy game in which your successes and failures in exploring the dungeon carry over into future games, with you being able to play through a 10+ game campaign that will result in you having "a unique and fully replayable Clank! game". In this game, everyone represents a franchise of the Acquisitions Incorporated adventuring company, with AI having started as a podcast collaboration between Penny Arcade and Wizards of the Coast in 2008.

Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated will first be available at PAX West in late August 2019 ahead of its retail release in September 2019.


Component spread of Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated at Gen Con 2019


• Should you prefer a more traditional (sort of) take on Clank!, Renegade and Dire Wolf will release Clank! In! Space!: Cyber Station 11 in November 2019. This expansion for Clank! In! Space! from Evan Lorentz and Tim McKnight includes a new game board representing Cyber Station 11, a new boss to avoid in Commander Preon, and cyberware upgrades that you can install for benefits throughout the game.

• After Raiders of the North Sea, Architects of the West Kingdom, and the October 2019 release of Paladins of the West Kingdom, Renegade is continuing its collaborative publishing efforts with Garphill Games with S J Macdonald's Circadians: First Light. This worker-placement game is due out in September 2019 and bears the following description:

Quote:
We were light years from our home, galaxies away, when we first discovered this ancient celestial body — a planet filled with intriguing, intelligent lifeforms, not too unlike our own. Some built kingdoms below the surface of the green seas, while others controlled the desert-filled plains and cliffs. Among them we found scientists, inventors, farmers, traders and fighters. While our presence has been unsettling for some, we have had very few incidents with the locals. Still, we Circadians, Earth's famed explorers, must do what we can to ensure peace. We must respect this world and its hosts. The heads of Moontide passed down orders from above. We are to open negotiations with the three clans, in hopes of gaining their favor, along with our own security while on the planet. We must also collect organic samples for the depository on Moontide. This is new ground for all of us, but we must be brave and resourceful. The future of the Circadians depends on it.

The aim of Circadians: First Light is to lead a team of researchers on the planet of Ryh. Players need to manage their crew (dice) to visit various parts of the planet for trade, farming, construction and research. Players score points for negotiating with the locals, harvesting resources for the depository, upgrading their research base, exploring the planet, and collecting gems. The game is played over eight rounds. At the end of the final round, the player with the most points wins.
• On a far smaller scale lies the game ClipCut Parks from Shaun Graham and Scott Huntington, a "roll-and-cut" game for 1-4 players due out in Q4 2019 in which a die roll determines how many cuts of which lengths you must make in the current round.

When bits of your individual player sheet fall to the table, either you place them on the park cards in front of you in matching spaces – this space needs an animal shelter, this one a playground, and these three must be placed all at once — or you place them aside as waste, which could penalize you later. Race to complete five parks first to win!


Ready to play at Gen Con 2019!


ClipCut Parks was the one game I played during the Renegade media event at Gen Con 2019. Everyone starts with the same sheet of paper that's subdivided into tiny squares, and you have two unique "blueprint" park cards that show what you need to place where. If the die shows 3/3, you must make two cuts that are each three squares in length. You could, for example, make a cut of three squares on one side of the paper, then rotate the sheet and make another cut of three squares elsewhere, whether perpendicular across the first one to "release" some squares or somewhere else completely.

When you complete a blueprint, you receive a bonus of some sort, maybe an animal token to satisfy the requirement on a particular space or a bonus cut on your sheet. You then take a new blueprint card and continue.


Victory!


That was only about half of what's coming from Renegade in 2019 and 2020. More to come!
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Wed Aug 21, 2019 5:17 pm
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Designer Diary: Yukon Airways, or Designing from Memory

Al Leduc
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This game was inevitable: I grew up in the Yukon, my father was a bush pilot, and I like to design games.

We Welcome You to Yukon Airways

The real-life Yukon Airways originally began as a small charter outfit in 1927 when Andrew Cruickshank bought the Queen of The Yukon. This plane was the sister plane to the more-famous Spirit of St. Louis, which was flown by Charles Lindbergh on the first non-stop, transatlantic flight from New York to Paris on May 20, 1927. Today the Queen of the Yukon is still on display in the Aviation Museum in Whitehorse. When I grew up in the Yukon, my father was the owner and operator of Yukon Airways, so I was pretty familiar with bush planes from a young age.

When I started working on this game, I knew several places that had to be included: two-thirds of the Yukon's population lives in Whitehorse, which is the territory's capital. It serves as the communication/transportation hub in the game, as it does in real-life. Plus, that's where I was born and raised, so my ego required its inclusion.

Dawson City is most famous as the setting for the Gold Rush. When gold was discovered near Dawson City in 1896, word quickly spread across the world, which brought an unprecedented number of gold-seekers to the Yukon. Over 100,000 prospectors stampeded to the Klondike region, which led to the establishment of Dawson City and, eventually, the Yukon Territory. Dawson City quickly became known as the "Paris of the North" and in 1898, it was the largest city north of Seattle and west of Winnipeg.

Old Crow is the most northerly community in the Yukon and the only one that is not accessible by road.

Cinnamon Strip is famous in the Yukon because you can land your plane beside Braeburn Lodge to pick up cinnamon buns that are almost as big as your head!

Taco Bar is known to local bush pilots and outfitters but you won't find it on any map. Despite the name, it's not a Mexican restaurant; rather, it's a small gravel island, the end point for canoe trips along the Snake River. The waters here are deep and straight enough to allow a float plane to land. It was named after a memorable dinner made there.

You'll find some personal touches in the objective cards, too. "Paid with Gold Nuggets", which was not an uncommon practice, reveals that yellow dice represent miners. "Better Safe than Sorry" rewards you for having fuel left at the end of your flight; it was also one of my father's favorite expressions. "Love is in the Air" is a nod to how my parents met. My mother was a doctor who used to work in small communities around the Yukon, and she was often flown around by my dad. These cards also hint that red dice are mounties, green are adventurers, pink are tourists, and blue are doctors.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Buckle Your Seatbelt

I recall the day I decided to try to design Yukon Airways. It was June 2016 when I was driving back from a Protospiel with Gerry Paquette talking about themes we'd like to design games around and mechanisms we'd like to use. I had been trying to make a game using dice drafting in which the board location from which the dice were drafted was important, but hadn't come up with a good theme that worked. Once I realized the dice could represent passengers at a terminal, I was off to the races.

I knew that managing fuel and passengers would be the crux of the game as fuel management is a bush pilot's most important skill and any error can be fatal. Because I didn't want to include player elimination in the game, there is an assumption that you always reserve the necessary fuel to return to Whitehorse. Now you only need to worry about having enough fuel to get all the way to Old Crow. As you can imagine, the further you want to travel, the more fuel you'll need to carry. That said, this is a game, not a simulation, so there are other ways to increase your range.

Passengers limit the distance you can fly. A plane can carry only a fixed weight, and when you're flying solo, you can use all that capacity for fuel and travel a longer distance. If you've got passengers on board, then you can't take as much fuel and consequently you can't fly as far. I wanted to invoke the importance of fuel management without unnecessarily burdening the players, and the trade-off between passengers and fuel seemed like an elegant way to do that.

My first ideas included helicopters and airplanes. It was overly complicated, and involved players having a small fleet of unique aircraft at their disposal.




It took only a few months of iteration for the game to start looking like its present form. The map board geography looked the way it does now, the dice-drafting system operated smoothly, and there were a deck of destination cards and colored cubes used in conjunction with locations. Of course, the details of these elements evolved over time, but none of them were changed much in outline.




We Will Be Experiencing a Little Turbulence

In September 2016, after three months of progress, I started working on the engine-building aspect. I like to add things that increase variability to a game only after the core design is stable; otherwise it's difficult to tell which elements are causing the game to crash, and whether changes implemented over time are genuine improvements or simply patches to a shaky design.




I started by giving players a bonus when flying different types of passengers. This was a bit dull as it just gave a scoring bonus and wasn't engine building at all. You could get better at scoring for certain colors of dice, but you didn't get better at actually doing things in the game.

I also tried giving players skill cards that gave them unique bonuses. Ultimately, this proved to be too fiddly and increased the cognitive load of new players. A simpler and ultimately more satisfying solution was to give all players access to the same objective cards. This fostered competition between the players since they both raced to complete the objectives and vied with each other to gather and use the elements required for their completion. It also increased the variability from game to game without accidentally giving any player an unfair advantage.

You can also see in this photo that the player aid was a part of the player board and that I recorded a player's fuel using discarded cards. I was pretty darn happy with my cleverly efficient use of the cards.




Things Look Different from the Air

I thought the game was on the right track — until I went to Europe for a vacation. I find that traveling helps with creativity as a change in surroundings can give you a new perspective on old problems. Being captive on an airplane (or in an air terminal) can sometimes do wonders if you choose to use the time creatively. Several new ideas started to rattle around in my head while I was away, and I was excited to get back to work.

The first thing I did when I got back was to totally rework the player board. The dashboard look fit the theme of the game perfectly, and the dials granted flexibility to the engine building. As an added bonus, it was very clear to read and easy to use. Later on I added "switches" that gave players a bonus once they were turned "ON".




Shortly afterward, I reworked the dice pool board to differentiate each terminal. At this point, I tied player order to the terminal number. The pairing of a special ability and turn order was inspired by Viticulture, but the choice has a bit more weight in Yukon Airways as it also dictates which dice are available for you to draft — a decision central to your turn.




By the start of 2017, I had fleshed out the map board, too. The cubes and cards worked quite differently than they do now, and they would go through a few iterations before the final version. At first, cubes of your color were placed on a location when you dropped a passenger off there. The cards told you which color of passenger you could drop off at the indicated location.




In addition to game design changes, I also made improvements to the game's look and feel over the next three months, including the addition of my old family photos to the plane cockpits.






On Your Right, You Can See Niagara Falls

In April 2017, I attended Alan Moon's Gathering of Friends convention in Niagara. It is attended by designers, publishers, and other game industry professionals, so it represents a staggering wealth of game knowledge. I talked with friendly, intelligent people about the game and made almost daily iterations (having brought my laptop and printer to the hotel).

The most notable change was changing the whole turn structure from drafting dice and delivering them on your turn to a two-phase system in which each player drafted dice in turn order, then all players delivered them in the new turn order dictated by the value (1-6) of the terminal from which they had drafted the dice. Another significant change was the addition of barrel, card, and improvement symbols to the destination cards, a set of which could be turned in for a bonus. This set collection added some interesting depth without much complexity. (Truth be told, it resulted in more complexity than I personally like, so I don't focus on them too much when I play, but when used well, they allow for epic turns.)




I gave the almost-final version a few playtests in the Yukon when I went home for a visit in the summer of 2017. Here we see my mother and sister playing a game:




We Will Be Landing Shortly

The game was signed by Spanish publisher Ludonova in November 2017 and will debut at SPIEL '19 in October. They've done a great job of the artwork while generally adhering to the look of my prototype. While I was happy with the graphic design of my prototype, they wisely chose to hire a professional artist and graphic designer, so their version is orders of magnitude better. Have a look at the new player boards; each one even has a recreation of one of my old family photos:






These are samples of the new ticket and plane cards:






This is the map board with the seaplane dock on the left:




Thank You for Flying Yukon Airways

While I'm very pleased with how Yukon Airways turned out, I'm saddened that my father — who passed away in 2014 — will never see it . His life provided the impetus for the original design, and I hope you will enjoy this little tribute to the man who taught me how to soar. I think he would have. Have a nice flight!

Al Leduc
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Tue Aug 20, 2019 1:00 pm
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SPIEL '19 Game Preview: Similo, or Let the Characters Clue You In

W. Eric Martin
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If you've played Mysterium, then you're already 70% of the way toward learning how to play Similo, a co-operative card game from Hjalmar Hach, Pierluca Zizzi, and Martino Chiacchiera that Italian publisher Horrible Games will release in two editions — Fables and History — in late 2019. These editions play independently, but can also be combined into a single game.

Each edition consists of a deck of thirty characters, with lush artwork courtesy of Naïade. If you're the clue giver in the game, you look at one character in secret, then shuffle this character with eleven other cards and lay them out in a grid.

You want the other players to identify your secret character, but since games exist only thanks to obstacles that make normal activities much more complicated than they need to be, you can't simply tell others which character to choose. Instead you'll take a hand of five character cards, then play one of them next to the grid as a clue, with this card played vertically if it's similar to your character and horizontally if it differs from your character. The other players will bicker amongst themselves for some time, then choose one character to remove from play. If they haven't removed your character, then you refill your hand to five cards and lay down another character card as a clue, whether vertically or horizontally — but this time the other players must remove two cards instead of one.


Trying out Similo at Gen Con 2019 — so many blues clues in hand...


In the next rounds, assuming your secret character hasn't been removed, the other players must remove three cards from play, then four. If all has gone well, only two characters will remain in play. You'll then reveal one more clue, and (fingers crossed) your fellow players will remove the final fake and leave only your character behind.

As you might imagine, the challenge of the game is figuring out which card to give as a positive or negative clue, and what to remove when presented with said clues. In some ways, this game is a mash-up of the previously mentioned Mysterium and the party game Whozit? that I covered in this space in July 2019. In that latter game, one player describes how well two characteristics match their secret character, then everyone else tries to remove all other characters in order to score the most points. Similo replaces the text descriptions from Whozit? with evocative images and escalates the tension by increasing the number of fakes to remove after each clue.

I've played Similo ten times on advance preproduction copies from Horrible Games, with the History version proving tougher for me as my knowledge of history is worse than my knowledge of fairy tales. Hmm. You can combine the two versions of the game, with all the characters in the revealed grid being from one set and the clue cards that you present being from another set. My fairy tale character is not like Abraham Lincoln, so should you eliminate the Big Bad Wolf (since he's hairy), The Giant (since he's tall), or Tinkerbell (since Abe sprinkled Mary with fairy dust on Saturday nights)? You can imagine lots of other Similo sets joining this line-up in future years, giving you many more mash-ups to ponder...


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Mon Aug 19, 2019 1:00 pm
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