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To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, please contact BGG News editor W. Eric Martin via email – wericmartin AT gmail.com.

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Lucca Comics & Games 2017 II: Putting the Play Into Cosplay

W. Eric Martin
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As I mentioned in my first report from the 2017 Lucca Comics & Games festival, the event attracts tons of cosplayers, many of whom circle the pedestrian walkway around the center of town posing for shot after shot by other fairgoers. The level of effort and realism varies widely from model to model, but I'm impressed and appreciative of all of them as I'm unlikely to ever attempt such an effort myself.

Here's a sampling of the cosplayers I saw during the festival, with many more pics not making the cut (like the Ghost Rider who had a great flame collar but was too small in my pics) and still more people not photographed at all, such as the one hundred Harley Quinns and fifty Jokers pacing the walkway. I'll follow this fun post with one centered on games at the show to wrap up my coverage of Lucca 2017.

•••


Fantastic work, but what do you do when you need to use the bathroom?!


Fancy steampunk couple with bonus Roger Smith(?) on right


Carl and Ellie Fredricksen with bonus Sandy Olsson on right


Melisandre and Robb Stark(?)


A trash can with dreams of being a Dalek


Not sure how mobile this set-up was


Saw several camo guys; probably missed seeing many more


She looked giddy to pose with this guy


"Hey, how you doin'?"


"Let's-a go!"


Professional(?) Star Wars cosplayers along with a few amateurs


The TV, skateboard, and more were all part of their props


A skeleton, two Deadpools, soldiers, and some actual EMTs


Someone from Dragon Ball Z, I assume


Cosplay for the older audience


Professors Sprout and Trelawney


The only person was stopped for photos more than Paul Stanley (who was shown in my first report)


No idea who these six might be


No clue on this trio either


Zabuza and Kakashi from Naruto, and Roronoa Zoro from One Piece


Taking a picture of someone taking a picture of someone taking a picture of two jedi


The last thing you'll see at the Lucca Comics & Games festival...
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Sun Nov 5, 2017 1:00 pm
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Lucca Comics & Games 2017 I: Walking the Landscape

W. Eric Martin
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For years, I had heard about the annual Lucca Comics & Games festival in early November, mostly from Italian publishers and designers who planned to highlight new games at that show in the wake of the SPIEL game fair in Essen, Germany. While the fair sounded fascinating, I never had a reason to attend. Come 2017, however, when SPIEL took place at its latest date ever (October 26-29), when Lucca ran November 1-5, and when my in-laws wanted to take a trip to Rome in November, and I suddenly found a reason.

The easiest way to describe Lucca to U.S. residents is to ask you to picture a state fair — those annual events in which fried food galore is sold on sticks and miniature vendor booths hustle all manner of tchotchkes that you'd never consider buying any other time of the year — spread out across an entire city, and you'll need a city to accommodate all the people who show up. Attendance is huge, with an estimated 400,000 visitors over five days in 2016!

Lucca, a city of 87,000 residents located in central Italy a half-hour train ride northeast of Pisa, has hosted this annual fair since 1966. (More specifically, the Salone Internazionale del Comics ("International Congress of Comics") started elsewhere in 1965, moved to Lucca in 1966, and changed its name to "Lucca Comics & Games" in 1996.) Central Lucca is still surrounded by the brick and dirt walls from centuries past, and this defensive rampart now serves as a pedestrian walkway: the Passeggiata delle Mura Urbane, or "Walk of the Urban Walls". You'll find most of the food vendors on this raised walkway, which is accessible by a few places around town where the walkway dips down toward the town center, along with multiple walkways in the side of the hills, some paved and some little more than patches of stones.


One of the shallowest and widest walkways (on the right)

A view over the wall to the right...

...and to the left

Looking over the wall into the central city


Fried foods aren't the main offering at Lucca, but you'll find plenty of other treats to grab and eat, whether you decide to mosey around the four-mile circumference of the walkway or sit on the wall to watch all the cosplay. Gen Con has plenty of cosplayers on hand, but Lucca easily has that show beat in terms of number of participants, ranging from the simplest (dozens of people wearing fuzzy onesies featuring unicorns, Pikachu, Jake, Mike Wazowski, etc.) to incredibly elaborate creations that barely allow them to move, whether due to their legs being largely immobilized (as with a mermaid who had her legs wrapped in a tail and a couple of minotaurs that walked on raised metallic "hoofs") or due to them being so awesome that everyone wants to take pictures of them.




I shot pics of dozens of cosplayers while circling the town, none of whom turned down my fumbling, miming efforts to show that I wanted to take a picture of them. Everyone seemed pleased to pose for pictures, and why not? They were putting on a show for thousands of attendees, street actors in a performance that began and ended with how enthusiastically they embraced the role. (I also walked halfway around the town filming passersby, cosplayers, the fair booths, and the surrounding town, but you'll have to wait until I get better wifi coverage before you can experience my shaky cam directorial efforts.)




At a certain point, it became difficult to tell exactly who was cosplaying and who was merely dressing in a fancy manner. That person is definitely living the steampunk dream with their gear-laden golden armband, but what about that person's top hat? Do they just think they look good in it? Is that woman dressing in a Victorian manner or simply wearing European fashion unfamiliar to me? That person is clearly a jedi, but that person might authentically be a monk.


Bulbhead is clearly a costume, but of what?!


The lines of "cosplay or not?" have became blurred, highlighting the way that geek culture has become more mainstream over the past decade. We're not yet to the point that someone wearing a Pikachu onesie around town would be ignored, but we're getting there, and I can't help but celebrate. Everyone should feel comfortable enough and safe enough to do their own thing, and everyone else should be cool with folks doing their own thing as long as you can do the same, without anyone getting damaged in the process. (The same applies to your choice of games played, books read, movies watched, and so on. You don't owe anyone an explanation for what you enjoy, and if they don't like it, I encourage them to go find their own things to enjoy.)

I spent hours circling the walls of Lucca — 10.5 miles walked that day! — and when I wasn't walking, I was sitting to people-watch. So much effort spent on dressing up to have fun!


One of the most photographed cosplayers I saw;
he could barely move ten feet before someone else asked him to pose


Aside from being a watcher on the wall, I visited a few sections of town to check out the displays. Whereas Gen Con and SPIEL (and pretty much every other convention) take place in a hotel or convention center, the exhibitor halls and vendor booths at Lucca are spread throughout the town.


Keep this map handy while walking! (PDF and real-life version)


Want to see what's in Japantown? Start walking east! Curious to learn what Blizzard has on hand to play? Head north! All of these halls and booths are behind fenced-off areas in town, and you must show both your bracelet and ticket to enter them.

What do the residents of Lucca do during the fair, when hundreds of people fill the streets from 9:00 to 19:00 and you can't drive or shop where you normally would. Many of them rent their apartments or homes to out-of-town visitors, similar to what people do when the Olympics take place, and they head elsewhere. Along the same lines, non-geek shops and restaurants sometimes don the trappings of geekdom to attract fairgoers and participate in the spirit of the event.




The comic areas featured hundreds of titles that weren't familiar to me and which I couldn't read, so I didn't spend much time there, although I'll note that western comics still seem to be popular in Europe, something that I recall from managing a comic store in the late 1980s when Marvel Comics issued translated versions of Moebius' Lt. Blueberry. Japantown featured a dozen booths filled with the otherworldly , highly elaborate statues of animé characters that you'll find throughout the Akihabara region in Tokyo (minus all the neon), along with manga in Italian, plush manga characters galore, and plenty of other collectibles.






The Netflix show "Stranger Things" seems to have a strong following in Italy as two booths devoted to the show had huge lines throughout the day. (I've never seen it, and that lack combined with a similar absence of Italian language skills made it easy for me to head elsewhere.)

Naturally I devoted a decent chunk of time to walking the board game pavilion at Lucca, but despite being on par with "comics" in the name of the event, the game pavilion is small relative to the amount of space devoted to comics. (If you add in the video game booths elsewhere in the city, then the two topics might have the same amount of space devoted to them, but I don't do video games, so I saw those booths only in passing.)




The main takeaway for anyone thinking of visiting Lucca to check out the board games is that you need to be fluent in Italian. A couple of vendors had small sections devoted to games in English or multilingual titles that had been imported, but other than those, you had to search carefully to uncover games that even included English rules in addition to Italian.

One of those finds was Mucho Macho, a card game by Evin Ho that is sort of the official game of Lucca 2017. Each year since 1994, the Lucca fair has held a card game design contest — Gioco Inedito ("Unpublished Game") — and since 2004 when publisher dV Giochi became a contest partner, the winner has their design released at the subsequent Lucca (and at SPIEL in the weeks prior). Each year, the competition features a theme or setting, which helps give designers a focus around which to build their creation.



The 2017 finalists


An interesting aspect of Lucca is that the game publishers you think you know from Gen Con, SPIEL, or (in my case) Spielwarenmesse take on a very different look at Lucca. When I think of dV Giochi, I think of them as being responsible for BANG!, the new Deckscape escape room games, and a handful of other titles — but when you see dV Giochi at Lucca, their booth is enormous and they have a huge range of titles that you've never previously seen. This shouldn't be a surprise, given that you'd never expect them to promote the Italian versions of Amun-Re, Happy Salmon, or Above and Below at Gen Con or SPIEL, but I never knew previously how many games they had licensed for the Italian market, so indeed the surprise was there.



An all-kids Tikal table!


The same was true for publishers like Cranio Creations and Giochi Uniti, although for the latter publisher I had a greater awareness of their breadth, given that they're often the Italian partner for Fantasy Flight Games.

Giochi Uniti also had a separate clearance booth outside the main exhibition hall for both its own games and titles it distributed, and I was astonished by the huge range of titles inside for bargain prices, including the second edition of Fury of Dracula (which wouldn't bring big bucks on eBay since it's in Italian); big box games like Magestorm, Venetia, and The Mystery of the Templars that had been highly anticipated a few years earlier; dozens of expansion packs for A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (again, only in Italian); and even a stack of twenty-year-old copies of Alex Randolph's Twixt from KOSMOS.



Even knights like to find bargains


Elsewhere in the main exhibition hall, I discovered who released Italian versions of titles from IELLO, what's been happening with Warangel designer Angelo Porazzi (who hasn't visited SPIEL in a few years), and what happens when you encounter Eric M. Lang in Italy. (He makes bunny ears on people, just as he does everywhere else.) As in Germany and other non-U.S. locations, Asmodee distributes CMON Limited titles in Italy, so Lang had made the trek from SPIEL to Lucca just as I had — on the same plane even! — to be a special guest at the show. One thing that Lucca had that SPIEL lacked as the presence of real-life Zombicide zombies. Maybe next year?


Bunnying others, and being bunnied in return

You'll have to imagine the shambling, which this performer did with gusto


I saw that while Italian publisher/distributor/retail Uplay.it has created straight translations of some games in its catalog, it's altered others to meet the tastes of its market. Machi Koro and Medieval Academy come packaged in tins similar to Sushi Go Party, for example, while Mysterium was given a more gothic, less cartoony look as Il Sesto Senso, Glory to Rome was blessed with a more professional cartoony look in Sit Gloria Romae, and Guildhall was transformed with a nautical theme as Seven Seas: il canto della sirene.





As is the case around the world, certain games are already in the mainstream, and they have an audience. Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! had multiple booths devoted to selling new and used cards, and Monopoly Tex (another western!) had a spot near the entrance to catch those just entering the pavilion.




The prime spot in the exhibition hall, however, was devoted to Bruno Cathala's Kingdomino, which had won Gioco dell'anno (game of the year), just as it had won Spiel des Jahres in Germany in July 2017 and been nominated for As d'Or in France in February 2017. Whatever our individual tastes in games, good distribution partners often allow for the same game to hit multiple markets around the world at roughly the same time, and some games hit the spot for more players than other games do.




I spent a couple of hours walking the hall, taking pics, noting what was new to me (both the games themselves and versions of existing games, although I'm unlikely to spend time adding game versions to the database when other projects are still in the docket), and surveying what folks were playing, then I walked through again with the video camera running. Again, I'll post that video later once I can.

While I'm taking home only a few games from Lucca, such as the Italian edition of Tichu from Uplay.it, I loved having the chance to see the fair firsthand and experience what I've heard about from afar so many times. I'm curious to think about what this fair would look like in a U.S. city, but none of the ones near me are centralized in the way that Lucca is. Any suggestions for cities that can be taken over in the future?

I'll post another round-up of pics from Lucca in the near future, both of games and cosplayers. For now, you can just imagine yourself being part of the crowd...


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Fri Nov 3, 2017 1:05 pm
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At SPIEL '17, Portal Games Teases Monolith Arena, Detective, Robinson Crusoe: The Lost City of Z, and More

W. Eric Martin
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At SPIEL '17, Ignacy Trzewiczek of Portal Games held a press conference to highlight the company's game and expansion releases scheduled for 2018. I tweeted pics from the conference during SPIEL, but now it's finally time to put everything in place.

We already knew about one of the titles — Detective: A Modern Crime Boardgame from Trzewiczek and Przemysław Rymer — as we recorded an overview of the game at the GAMA Trade Show in March 2017. Trzewiczek described Detective as a modern take on Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. Here's our current game description, followed by the GAMA presentation:

Quote:
In Detective: A Modern Crime Boardgame, 1-4 players take on the role of investigators working for the government agency ANTERES. Investigators are given login credentials to the ANTERES online database that contains data about suspects, witnesses, and documentation from arrests and trials related to their case. Players are free to use the investigation manual, ANTERES database, and any other online resources they may find to help them solve the case.

Detective: A Modern Crime Boardgame brings classic puzzle-solving gameplay into the 21st century with the introduction of online elements. This story-driven, cooperative game includes five scenarios that can be played independently, or worked through as a complete campaign. The game blends printed elements, with a complementary online component that allows players to investigate clues through their favorite internet-connected devices.


Start at 7:10 for the overview of Detective


Portal Games plans to release Detective: A Modern Crime Boardgame at SPIEL '18 in October, and you better believe that I have already started the SPIEL '18 Preview. Gotta stay on top of these things!

The other big box title coming from Portal Games, with this one due out at Gen Con 2018 in August, is Monolith Arena from Michał Oracz. This game was pitched as a kind of fantasy-based Neuroshima HEX!, with the base game coming with five factions, only 2-4 of which will be used in any single playing on the hexagonal game board. To quote from my own write-up:

Quote:
Each player has a monolith that serves as their headquarters, and each player seeds their monolith with three tokens that provide special abilities. When an opponent damages your monolith, you remove the top layer to expose the first token, gaining its special ability, so being attacked can actually make you stronger — albeit while still moving you toward defeat...

• Speaking of Neuroshima HEX!, in 2018 Portal will release the Iron Gang Hexpuzzles Pack, which consists of logic puzzles you can solve based on specific game situations as well as a bonus army tile for the Iron Gang army pack.

Imperial Settlers: We Didn't Start The Fire continues the song-based names of the first two Empire Packs for Imperial Settlers. As for what's inside the box, WDSTF contains fifty new cards along with (if I understood correctly) borders that are placed between each pair of players. I'm not sure what the borders do, but I'm sure you can imagine effects that would matter for such things.

Alien Artifacts: Discovery adds fifty new cards to the Alien Artifacts base game as well as a new type of card featuring alien resources.

• Let's close by wrapping around to Trzewiczek once again, this time with Robinson Crusoe: The Lost City of Z, the second large expansion for Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island. From the press release:

Quote:
Like its predecessor, Voyage of the Beagle, this expansion follows another great explorer, Lieutenant Colonel Percy Fawcett. His expedition went deep into the Amazon rainforest in the search for a hidden civilization, the mythical Lost City of Z.

Robinson Crusoe: The Lost City of Z introduces new mechanisms of horror and sanity into the game! Discover new characters, beasts, and mystery deck cards! The expansion includes five missions that form a long and epic campaign!

Aside from this expansion, Portal Games plans to launch a Robinson Crusoe app that functions along the lines of its First Martians app in that it will introduce new events and adventures to the base game without requiring additional components.

No release dates were given for any of the expansions other than sometime in 2018. Trzewiczek promised more details at the 2018 GAMA Trade Show in March, and he stated that other items might be added to the release calendar as well, although they'd likely be promos and other small goodies.
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Thu Nov 2, 2017 1:05 pm
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New Game Round-up: Renegade's Stacking People and Dreaming Dice, While Privateer Tries to Induct Players in a Company of Iron

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Renegade Game Studios might have had issues getting games on site at SPIEL '17 (and logistics and custom issues hampered many companies during the show), but their game publicity processes are working just fine, with Aaron Vanderbeek's Castell being announced for release in March 2018.

This game, as with Castellers and Castellers! before it, is based on the Catalonian tradition of building human towers during festivals. What differentiates this game from those earlier designs is that it broadens the focus from creating merely a single tower. From the description: "Visit Catalonian cities, expand your team of castellers, learn tower-building skills, and show off your tower-building prowess at local performances and festival competitions."

• Due out in Q1 2018 from Renegade Game Studios is Lucidity: Six-Sided Nightmares, which was funded by Australian game publisher Fox Tale Games on Kickstarter in early 2017 and will now get a wider North American release via Renegade. Lucidity is a press-your-luck dice-roller in which the dice represent dreams that can either give you the symbols you need or possibly turn you into a nightmare that will then stalk other players.

• Renegade also plans to release three titles that originated from Finnish publisher Lautapelit.fi, with Emanuele Ornella's bidding card game Byzanz, Mikko Punakallio's exploration-based Dokmus, and the Dokmus: Return of Erefel expansion all due out in Q1 2018.

• Finally, in early 2018 Renegade will release a new version of Danny Devine's Topiary, which debuted from Italian publisher Fever Games in April 2017. In the game, players visit a topiary garden and try to get good views while the garden gets filled in as the game progresses.

Privateer Press has released a ton of material for both Warmachine and Hordes over the years, with me following none of it as I'm not a minis guy. Perhaps the company has heard of folks such as me and decided to try to lure us to the table as in late October 2017 it released Company of Iron, a squad-based skirmish game that contains two 20-point armies and rules compatible with most Warmachine and Hordes miniatures, while being streamlined enough to make the game an entry point to those larger universes.

• Privateer Press has also launched a new direct-to-consumer product line bearing the brand "Black Anchor Heavy Industries" to make its "high-end, large-scale Warmachine and Hordes models" more available. The line launches with the Dracodile, which carries a $110 MSRP; future releases include "the Northkin battle engine Hearthgut Hooch Hauler for a January release and Skarre, Admiral of the Black Fleet, and her Ghost Ship in early spring 2018".

Mayfair Games has announced that Michael Kiesling's Riverboat and Uwe Rosenberg's Agricola: Artifex Deck, both of which debuted from Lookout Spiele at SPIEL '17 in late October, will be released in English in the U.S. in late November 2017.
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SPIEL '17: The Day After, and Plans for Lucca

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SPIEL '17 is over — but you knew that already, didn't you? All the tweets have ended, and the #SPIEL17 hashtag is being used only by those like me who still need to filter through hundreds of images taken and not yet shared.

Everyone is posting pics of the piles of games they took home from SPIEL '17 in order to prime their gaming groups in anticipation and establish a playing agenda for the next few weeks or months. I'd share pics of all the games that BGG is bringing to BGG.CON — which opens in just over two weeks on Wednesday, November 15 — but I don't have any as we did things differently this year. In years past, we'd box games and palletize them in the back of the BGG booth, carting them out only on Sunday after the fair ended.

For 2017, the time between SPIEL and BGG.CON is the shortest it's ever been, so we brought BGG.CON co-organizer Jeff Anderson to SPIEL '17 to serve as an extra pair of hands. Jeff used a handtruck during the day to move stacks of boxes to a truck in the parking lot, where he then further prepared them for the trip to Dallas. On the Monday following SPIEL, he planned to drive the truck to Frankfurt, where they would be air-shipped on Wednesday for arrival in Dallas by Monday, Nov. 6, giving the con crew roughly one week(!) to process 47 giant boxes filled with hundreds of games. That number is a bit misleading as a few boxes contain only promos that will show up in the Geek Store and one box consists of games I shipped home for myself since I'm still on the road (see below), but in any case, we shipped hundreds of games that will be available to BGG.CON attendees.

In addition to those boxes, we've asked a few publishers to ship games directly to Dallas for use in the BGG Library. We ask publishers who demo games on air in the BGG booth during SPIEL to donate games for use in the Library, but sometimes publishers sell out their stock without having set aside copies for BGG or the person who agreed to donate games doesn't tell the presenter to bring copies or the originating publisher can't get us copies in English or a dozen other things happen. This happens every year, of course, because SPIEL prep is a messy business, but we've already talked about how to put better processes in place for SPIEL '18 to ensure that we'll have all the new games on hand for attendees of BGG.CON 2018 in November. Failing to plan is planning to fail, and all that.

As for our SPIEL '17 coverage, you can see all of the material recorded on our Twitch channel, albeit with labels that don't match reality, given that we have four videos labeled "Day 3" and three labeled "Day 1". Whoops. Go by the day of publication instead, and cross reference that with our posted broadcast schedule, keeping in mind that "Day 1" for us was actually Wednesday, October 25, the day prior to SPIEL '17 opening. Many thanks and much Geekgold to MentatYP for posting summaries of the daily broadcasts with timestamps in that schedule thread. We'll post the individual videos on our YouTube channel and the BGG game pages as soon as possible, but I'm not sure how much we'll be able to edit given our need to prep for BGG.CON. That job is in someone else's capable hands, so we'll see...

As for me, I left Düsseldorf far too early on Monday morning and headed not west to the U.S., but south to Italy to attend the Lucca Comics & Games fair for the first time. I've seen pics of the incredibly crowded streets, and I know the fair is more about comics than games, but given that the fair starts on November 1 — only three days after SPIEL this year! — I thought it made sense to attend. What's more, I'll meet my family and in-laws in Rome afterwards for a few days of actual vacation. Woot!

Naturally I kept my eyes open for games during my travels, stopping into a toy store in the Munich airport to see this array of games:




This display features what might be considered a standard line-up of hobby games with the mainstream offerings, with many of those same titles appearing in an Italian toy store in Pisa:








"8-legged stretchiness"


As in Germany, advent calendars are a big deal in Italy, such as this very special one from Ravensburger in which children are taught all the scientific principles they'll need to know in order to kidnap Santa Claus. Educational!




Pisa also has some impressive graffiti along the tunnels that separate rows of houses and apartments:





Although far more common than images are tags reminiscent of my teenage years in which you felt that you had to publicize your cause the only way you knew how:


Clockwise from upper left in my rough translation: "Better no lying than lying", "No GMO", "Too much order creates disorder"


And since I was in Pisa, I took a walk around town to see You Know What:




While there, though, I mostly took pictures of other people taking pictures, finding it fascinating to see other people take this one idea they've seen others do and re-enact it:





Of course some people have different models for the fantasy images they want to recreate:


Wishful thinking, dude!


My approach to gaming conventions mirrors my attitude here. At conventions, I'm often content to walk around watching others play games instead of playing games myself. I observe their experience of the thing and their interaction with it, often because I've played the game myself and am curious to see whether they respond to the game similarly. How well did I read the gameplay and the experience that the designer and publisher tried to create?

In the end, though, I gave in and posed with the tower with the standard pose that everyone else does:


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Tue Oct 31, 2017 2:00 pm
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Crowdfunding Round-up: The Downfall of the Sleepy Rooted Cowboys

W. Eric Martin
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Cole Wehrle's John Company from Sierra Madre Games made a splash at SPIEL '17, and he has a very different looking game making a splash on Kickstarter as well, with cute animal artwork disguising an involved game that pits up players against one another in control for the woodland in Root.

As with 2016's Vast: The Crystal Caverns, this design from Leder Games gives each player control of a unique faction in an asymmetric design that also allows each player to win in a unique way. Leder Games has now done this twice, so clearly I need to mention this design element in order for it to be a thing that will hang around their neck forever. (KS link)

• Another faction-based game, but along far simpler lines, is Fightlings: The Card Game from Thoughtfish. This game is a different take on Ye Olde Memory as players create 17-card decks from two factions, add a wild card, shuffle, lay the cards in a 5x7 grid, then try to find pairs to beat up on the other player. (KS link)

Steve Jackson Games has been dipping into Kickstarter somewhat regularly these days, with its latest project being a ten-day affair to get the word out about Andrew Hackard's Munchkin Starfinder, which takes seven classes and six races from Paizo Publishing's Starfinder Roleplaying Game and sets them in the familiar Munchkin milieu of doors being kicked and treasures grabbed. (KS link)

• The tag line for Chris Solis' Temporal Odyssey from Level 99 Games is "Draft the future!", which is a funny thing to say given that of course you're drafting for the future since you can't very well play a card at the same instant you're drafting it — but the saying works two ways here as Temporal Odyssey is a drafting game in which you battle the other players, rewinding time should you lose in order to take a different path and see whether it works out better for you. (KS link)

• The world has ended — again. While you might mourn the loss of most of Earth's population, your more immediate concern is making the best of what you have in hand to survive. More specifically,
John D. Clair's Downfall from Tasty Minstrel Games is a card-drafting game — yes, more drafting! — in which all players simultaneously play a card from their hand to lock in their action, then they carry these out, then they pass the cards and a new card to their hand before drafting again. (KS link)

Jagged Alliance: The Board Game from Marko Jelen, Jan Wagner, and Underground Games GbR is a 1-4 player tabletop adaptation of Jagged Alliance the video game franchise in which you hire mercenaries and shoot lots of stuff. At least that's my initial high-level take on the game... (KS link)

Gangs of Brittania from Daniel Feeny, Joel Livermore, and Chris Winterhoff puts 3-5 players in the role of gang boss, with them having "prisoner's dilemma"-style face-offs during the game to determine who gets what during a deal. (KS link)

• Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" seems like a creative work that exists now only to fuel creations from others. I could be wrong, of course, and legions of "Legend" fans might read and reread the short story each year, but I doubt it. In any case, the design team of Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback has created Legends of Sleepy Hollow, a cooperative, scenario-based design from Dice Hate Me Games for 1-4 players in which they will enter Sleepy Hollow to uncover secrets, while trying to avoid fear as that keeps you from completing other actions. (KS link)

• Designers Craig and Jeff Van Ness of Soaring Rhino are having better luck in their second attempt to fund Shifting Realms, in which 2-4 players battle and build in three of five realms until the game-ending conditions in two realms are met, but having a goal one-third as much as your previous goal is one way to make that happen. (KS link)

Worthington Publishing is bringing back its 2007 release Cowboys: The Way of the Gun in a new edition titled Cowboys Rebranded that includes 35(!) scenarios for 1-10 cowboy players. (KS link)

• Another game returning from the past is Zhu Rong's Kanzume Goddess, which Japanime Games released in 2012. In that earlier game, you were a mythological god, and you used your unique powers and a deck that you built to blast the energy from other gods to leave only you standing. Kanzume Goddess has been revised as Kamigami Battles: Battle of the Nine Realms, while Kamigami Battles: River of Souls is a standalone game that plays the same way, but with new gods and cards. (KS link)

• Designer Diane Sauer of Shoot Again Games showed off Bigfoot vs. Yeti during our 2017 Origins Game Fair coverage (see below), and now the game is looking for funding. Should you desire to be a cryptozoologist who is hunting for legendary creatures like those in the title, check out the video below for an overview of the gameplay. (KS link)




Editor's note: Please don't post links to other Kickstarter projects in the comments section. Write to me via the email address in the header, and I'll consider them for inclusion in a future crowdfunding round-up. Thanks! —WEM
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Tue Oct 31, 2017 11:05 am
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Designer's Diary: Age of Thieves: Masters of Disguise

Slawek Stepien
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Thieves entered the dark while unaware city guards were waiting impatiently for the end of their duty, not knowing how many things would change for the Empire by the time this night was done.

Hello, my name is Sławek Stępień, and I am the designer of Age of Thieves, an adventure and strategy board game released by Galakta in 2016. Following the game's success, 2017 will see the first expansion called Masters of Disguise along with base games published in German, French, and Spanish. However, you can learn a lot about such things from the official materials; in this short article, I wish to focus on my work on the expansion itself.

The expansion was being developed even before the base game was ready. A very thankful subject, flexible mechanisms, and many possibilities to create interesting solutions resulted in new ideas flooding my head every time I playtested Age of Thieves. More often than not, the question was not how to enrich the gameplay or how to expand a given element of the game, but rather what to choose from the things we already had so that the game would not be overburdened, but more exciting. Everyone who knew the base game well was tempted to add lots of elements to it, so the fact that some people were able to say "Stop!" and keep things in balance turned out to be a true blessing. Certain ideas returned to the drawer to wait for their time, while others were chosen to be highlighted.

The actual work on the first expansion started in January 2017, about two months after the game's premiere. The game's warm welcome and very positive reviews motivated me and the Galakta development team to get to work immediately. The first thing to be decided was the main theme of the expansion. We exchanged tons of ideas, but finally settled with one: If the game is about thieves, stealing, burglaries and such, we should focus even more and expand upon this. A few weeks later, the basics of the Masters of Disguise expansion were set. This way we could return to the streets of Hadria to prove once again that no doors are locked and no treasure safe.

We also wished players to experience even more deeply the vibrant, yet somewhat dark setting of Age of Thieves. Hadria is so much more than the magnificent Emperors' Jewel and the city guard patrolling the streets. Hadria is full of people from various walks of life: law enforcers, women both pious and base, wealthy nobles and stinking poor, artisans and merchants, but most of all, masters of thievery with their unique personalities and motivations.

Therefore, Masters of Disguise introduces two new characters: Julien, Disturbed Actor, who is able to adjust his strategy to every situation, and Delilah, Humble Scavenger, a woman who can make a strange contraption even from rubbish. These characters could not be more different; the actor feels right at home improvising on the stage, while for the scavenger, garbage dumps and gutters offer a plethora of opportunities. When Julien basks in glory of his talent, Delilah is shunned and avoided, left to her cursed traps and mechanisms. Both hale from completely different worlds, yet they are connected to the city where everyone can find their place as long as they are capable and resourceful.

Another new concept we focused on was the burglary. You can enrich the game by using two new game modes: Palace and City Burglaries. With two specialized decks and dedicated burglary mechanisms, every session will be even more strategic and engaging. Additionally, all cards are full of flavor text, making your Hadria adventure both epic and fun.

A third thing worth mentioning here is the Sewers Deck. No longer will you easily "teleport" yourself around the city every time you enter the sewers. From now on, you must be willing to take certain risks as the Undercity is dangerous even for the most cunning of thieves.

Finally, we chose to expand upon the main idea of the game, to change the goal and the gameplay itself, thus enabling players to experience Age of Thieves on a completely new level. In order to do this, we created the first scenario, an alternative game mode giving players a chance to focus on different kinds of tasks — tasks perhaps not as spectacular as stealing the Emperors' Jewel, but no less rewarding and exciting. I am sure that after the Night of Broken Shutters scenario featured in Masters of Disguise that utilizes completely new game components, such as Burglary Markers, many other scenarios will follow, so that every thief will get a chance to use their abilities in many creative ways. Experienced players in particular should think of scenarios as new fields on which to test their wits and knowledge of the game.

To sum up, I just can't wait to lay my hands on the final box of Masters of Disguise. I hope that those past months full of brainstorms and testing will result in a product that will appease your rogue appetites as much as it does mine.

[Editor's note: My apologies to Sławek for not publishing this designer diary prior to SPIEL '17; I ran out of time before I ran out of things to do. —WEM]
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SPIEL '17 News: Two New Alea Titles in 2018, More Questing for El Dorado

W. Eric Martin
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During SPIEL '17, Ravensburger hosted its first "Lunch & Play" event for the media, and during that presentation the German publisher revealed teasers for a few upcoming releases.

Designer Reiner Knizia was on hand to announce that a first expansion would appear for his Spiel des Jahres-nominated game The Quest for El Dorado in 2018. Beyond that, he is working on a companion game of sorts that would start with the players now in El Dorado and on the hunt for the treasure to be found there.


Reiner Knizia (middle) hints at what's coming


A new Stefan Feld game will be released in Ravensburger's alea line, with the title expected to debut in English at Gen Con 2018 in August, while appearing in German and French at about the same time. No details were released other than this game's pending existence.


Stefan Feld (second from left) teaches attendees how to play The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game


A second title coming from alea in 2018 is wildly unexpected compared to what's been released under the brand since, oh, 1999 when the line was launched with Ra. The game is The Rise of Queensdale, and it's a legacy game from Inka and Markus Brand that features dice management. The German version of this game will be released in March 2018, while the English version won't debut until August 2018 at Gen Con. As for the difference between the two release dates, Ravensburger's André Mack explained that the game is extremely text heavy — think Legends of Andor — so it will take far more time than it normally does to create a fully English version of an alea design.


Inka and Markus Brand at right; André Mack at left


Mack said that more details will be revealed for this title (and the two above) at the Spielwarenmesse fair in Nürnberg, Germany at the start of 2018, but he did state that a full playing of The Rise of Queensdale will take about 25 game sessions and he clarified that this game is competitive, not cooperative. While talking about the evolution of legacy games from the time of Risk Legacy, Mack said that they had learned a lot from the reception of SeaFall, noting that they had aimed to have each game session last about an hour.

A bigger challenge was balancing the need to reward the winner of a game in some manner, while preventing the runaway leader syndrome that would result from a winner being rewarded too much. Mack didn't go into details about how they addressed this problem, leaving it as one of many unresolved questions from this event.

Note that The Rise of Queensdale is in a new box size, and yes, the number on the side of the box is "1". This box size is equal in length and width to a standard Ravensburger long rectangular box — think Make 'n' Break — while being twice as thick.

Finally, Ravensburger stated that as of January 2018, the company would once again distribute alea titles in Germany rather than continuing to have them distributed by Heidelberger Spieleverlag. In a press release announcing the change, chairman of the management board Martin Stöwahse said, "We want to keep growing in the area of games and in all segments, from children's titles to demanding titles for strategy players. Therefore, it is only consistent to bring the sale of alea back into our own house." Stöwahse mentions that sales of alea through the U.S. branch of Ravensburger has been "a very positive development".


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Sat Oct 28, 2017 11:45 pm
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SPIEL '17: Pics from the Press Room — Charterstone, Gaia Project, and More

W. Eric Martin
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The first day of SPIEL '17 is over, but as is often the case for me at conventions, I'm not even caught up to date after SPIEL's 0th day, that being the press day in which you get to take pics of all the new games in the press room. Here's a sampling of the 250 pics that I took on Wednesday, a ridiculous amount of photos to take given that I can hardly post them all publicly in a reasonable amount of time — yet not taking them also seems wrong given the opportunity. Hmm...


Charterstone


Frank Heeren from Feuerland Spiele told me today that their line on opening day stretched from their booth (about one-third of the way into Hall 3) to almost the back wall of Hall 3, a distance he estimated at 200 meters. Charterstone above and Gaia Project below were among the most anticipated new titles at SPIEL '17, and the Fields of Arle: Tea & Trade expansion further down hasn't been a slouch either.

Gaia Project


Fields of Arle: Tea & Trade


The 2016 Brettspiel Adventskalender came in two formats: one giant box in which each item was packaged in an individual space and a compact box in which all the promos were stacked togethere. The 2017 Brettspiel Adventskalendar is once again giant, and Matthias Nagy of Frosted Games told me that the large size is due to a special The Castles of Burgundy promo that can't be folded, which means that a small size box would still have been roughly two-thirds the size of the large box, which means it wasn't worth the hassle to offer in two sizes.

2017 Brettspiel Adventskalendar


You know what photographs terribly most of the time? Card games. They look somewhat lifeless or the light glares across them, obscuring the faces. In any case, here's one of Alexander Pfister's new titles at SPIEL '17, co-designed by Dennis Rappel and published by Österreichisches Spiele Museum e.V.

Tybor der Baumeister


One month ahead of the Justice League movie, Spanish publisher ABBA Games has brought its Justice League-themed game (which we previewed at SPIEL '16) to market.

Justice League: Dawn of Heroes


Another title that's not in the BGG database, must less on our SPIEL '17 Preview, is Terraformer by Russian publisher Rightgames. We'll see whether I can manage to discover what the game's about in the next few days.



Looking forward to running through these scenarios, whatever they happen to be, and Space Cowboys has already stated that they're working on more.



Simple yet appropriate decorations on the 2F-Spiele table.



Not sure what to make of this as "Pylos Brexit" seems like a joke, yet someone went out of their way to number boxes as if these were part of a limited edition production run and demo them in the press room. Bizarre.

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Thu Oct 26, 2017 11:15 pm
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Designer Diary: Flamme Rouge: Peloton, or From One to Twelve Racers

Asger Harding Granerud
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If you have at all followed Flamme Rouge's life here on BGG, it should come as no surprise that an expansion would be coming. From before the base game released in late 2016, I had released extra print-and-play expansions in the files section. Since then, fans from around the world have helped develop these things and provided lots of input that has inspired me — not least the awesome Benoît Gourdin from France, who contacted me out of the blue and asked whether he could turn the Grand Tour campaign mode into a completely free companion app (Android and IoS). This is just one example where a fan vastly improved upon what I was doing, and personally I haven't looked back. However, the community has also worked on solo play, lots of stages, velodrome rules, mountain and sprint jerseys for the tours, and much, much more.

Therefore, the hardest choice was to decide what to include and what to cut (for now!) in the Flamme Rouge: Peloton expansion — and I am certain that whatever I chose, there would be some who wished I had prioritized otherwise. Nonetheless, I decided early that I really wanted to expand the player count of the base game. I hated the idea of Flamme Rouge staying on the shelf simply because five people had turned up for game night. If you like the game, I want to give you as many opportunities as possible to bring it to the table, so we added two new teams: white and pink.

From One to Twelve in...One Box

We didn't stop there, though. We also added official solo rules with two different types of AI directly developed by ideas from fans here on BGG. It is fantastic to see how the solo community here has embraced the game! These AI teams can be added to other player counts, too. Add a peloton team to a two-player game, or add two different AI teams to your four-player group and experience the full twelve riders on the road.

The official variant included in the expansion also allows you to play with up to twelve players, all playing free for all! This twelve-player game still plays in 30 minutes because each player has to consider only one rider. Since you can't coordinate your two riders, this variant emphasizes that you have to second guess what everyone else is doing. Of course twelve players also means that on average you will win only 1/12 of the games played, so as in real-life cycling, you have to learn to lose MUCH more than you win and still love it just for the chase! WARNING: You might need a very large table or have all players stand for the entire game.

Design Challenges

When I first designed Flamme Rouge, I actually had it as a 2-5 player game — so why was it released as a 2-4 player game? The explanation is quite simple. During the first year, I introduced the game to a lot of people. If there were 2-3 of them, I almost always joined (because I enjoy playing it myself, and still do!). If there were four players, I started skipping and staying out simply to watch. To me, the game got a little worse at five players for a primary and a secondary reason. First, breakaways were harder to pull off, and they provide a lot of the game's tension. Second, congestion meant that riders could end up losing several movement points out of the blue.

These are what I see as the key design challenges in expanding the player count here: congestion and randomization.

CONGESTION: In Flamme Rouge, the road is only two lanes wide. This means that any third rider trying to access a square is blocked and loses movement. Each point of movement is important, so this is a big deal, particularly because losing movement can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and can escalate. You start at the back, try to leapfrog ahead, get blocked, and find yourself in the same position. The issue increases just at the foot of ascends as that terrain feature further blocks your move. With four players and eight riders (two per player), this effect is already present, but at this player count it is a feature, not a bug — something occasional that catches unaware riders out.

However, with twelve riders on the track at the same point, this effect greatly increases, and the risk of chained blocks where you can't even fit on the next free space but end up losing 2-3 squares at once explodes.

Solution? The first solution to this problem is pretty straightforward. Widen the road with a third lane, and the risk of blocking declines dramatically. We tested and found that having these at the start of the stage where riders are most bunched, then at a few key other points of the stage, was again enough to make this congestion a feature and not a bug — well, once we included the solution to the randomization issue explained below.


When you are used to seeing at most eight riders on the track, twelve looks intimidating


RANDOMIZATION: I'll explain the main crux of this problem by first exaggerating it. If you roll a single die, there is a 1/6 chance any result will show up. If you roll one thousand dice, the average will be very close to 3.5. Why is this important in Flamme Rouge? Because the game needs random outliers or else breakaways will never happen. Regardless of how wide we make the road, if we gather one hundred riders in a pack, then breaking away will be almost impossible because somebody in that sample will play (or be forced to play) a card that catches you immediately.

The game lives off the tension created by chases, with the chased trying to stay ahead, burning high cards to do so and knowing they now can't compete in a sprint, and with the chasers trying to spend just enough energy to catch them, but save enough to beat the rest in the sprint. Tipping that balance one way or the other can quickly remove some of the key tension.

Solution? The idea I came up with is to reduce the number of dice I roll, or rather reduce the number of riders in the pack. That idea goes counter to the stated goal of the expansion, which is to increase the riders in the pack, but what if we split the pack from the start of the race by taking 1-2 of the riders that would otherwise add to the congestion problem and moving them ahead of the pack. We do this from the start when the congestion problem is largest, and thus minimize it. In a 5-6 player game, up to two riders can go into a breakaway, but the rules also transfer to lower player counts where you send only one rider ahead.

Of course this idea needs balancing to ensure the breakaway has a shot at winning, but not too big a shot. Initially I tried to brute force this balancing, which never quite worked 100%. Then the game's graphic designer Jere Kasanen suggested the perfect solution: Bid for it! This means that the "correct" bid can change based on the stage layout (as some are more suitable for breakaways than others), your starting position, or any starting exhaustion (from handicap or Grand Tours). If you've ever seen the start of a cycle race — and I don't mean when the broadcasting normally starts two hours into a race — there can be quite hectic "bidding" to get away. This solution was less clunky than my first attempts, and it also benefits from mimicking the existing round structure, now just translated into a two-stage bid/auction.


Whenever I do get into the breakaway, the lead always seems so fragile, and the peloton so large


Regardless of whether or not you envision Flamme Rouge as only the last kilometer or as the last one hundred, the narrative holds, and all we've done is to speed forward a few turns from a normal race in which a breakaway succeeded.

However, the best part of these breakaways to me is that they also create tension from the beginning. Yes, they help solve a mechanical problem of occasional congestion at larger player counts, but they always add drama at any player count by injecting asymmetry from the first round. I've seen breakaways hold all the way because the peloton didn't agree to chase or split up into multiple minor packs themselves. I have also seen breakaways fail to cooperate or attempt to get greedy with low cards initially, then be caught within the first round or two.

Unfamiliar Roads

The Peloton expansion also includes two new tile types, aside from the breakaway tile, namely the cobblestones prominently featured on the cover of the box and the supply zones that are also three lanes wide to accommodate the congestion issue. I enjoy how I have been able to change gameplay just by manipulating the tiles and using the already introduced rules in slightly new ways.

SUPPLY ZONES: Supply zones in the Peloton expansion introduce a new rule, or rather an old rule as it has a minimum speed of 4. They work almost exactly like the descends, but the reduction in speed is much more important than you would think at first glance.

From a micro-level perspective, these zones are an abstraction, but only in timed delay. The effect of supply/feed zones in a real race is that you get a small burst of energy if exhausted. In Flamme Rouge, the effect is immediate, whereas in real cycling the effect is in the following kilometers. Despite the delay, these rules achieve just that, and everything in Flamme Rouge is already compressed timewise.

Second, feed zones open the possibility for unsportsmanlike attacks, while everyone is predictably taking supplies. These rules also achieve just that. The peloton is going slow and predictably enough that an attack can be easy to get through — unless of course someone else reads your move.

Finally, these rules slightly favor the sprinters over the rouleurs. This is not super important in the base game, but in Grand Tours or in the three square extended 5-6 player stages, it is a good counter balance. (Yes, the 5-6 player game is longer than you're used to.)

I can understand how it can look like "just" a slower descent, but it was one of many solutions considered, and it was picked because it achieves the macro level feel of real life supply zones in the smoothest way. I hope you will agree once you try it.

Crashes, Why Are There No Crashes?

The last tiles we have in Peloton are the cobblestone tiles. Again, these use existing rules — no slipstream, but any max speed allowed — and otherwise "just" manipulate the number of lanes. So far we've done a lot to minimize the issue of blocking by widening the road, but cobblestones are their own beast.

The cobblestone sections range from 6-11 squares of length and are mostly just a single lane wide, with a few exceptions of two lanes. This dramatically increases the chances of getting blocked, and though there are no added rules for crashes, the macro level effect is almost the same. I've seen sprinters shoot off a nine (their best card) and end up moving only 3-4 squares, effectively removing them from contention.

As a result, much like in real-life cycle races, everyone is quite eager to zoom ahead and be the first to enter the cobblestones as that effectively eliminates the risk of "crashing" too hard. This also means that once entering cobblestones, players seem to get a little more timid for fear of riders ahead of them slowing down, which opens up the possibility for riders in the lead to break away (taking advantage of the lack of slipstream). Cobblestones can make or break your chances, and sometimes it breaks simply because you get unlucky. For me, they are usually some of the most uncomfortable sectors of a stage to navigate, sweaty palms and all.


A shot from testing, illustrating how cobblestones can split the peloton into fragments


New Stages

We have included six new double-sided stages as well, with each side slightly different as one is adapted for 2-4 player games and the other for 5-6 player games. Of course you can always build your own stages; my only concern is if you attempt to overdo it. The more I play, the more I'm growing fond of the simpler stages with just 1-2 sectors of hindering terrain features.

The Finish Line

As you have probably guessed by now, I can keep talking about Flamme Rouge indefinitely. I still love playing it to this day and have played 67 games so far in 2017 — and that accounts only for physical games; the awesome Play By Forum organized by Almarr here on BGG isn't included, nor are stages 14 to 21 in our six-player 21-stage Grand Tour that I finished on the Saturday just before SPIEL '17.

The new expansion has only added to my and my friends' enjoyment, with the breakaways creating tension from the start and the new terrain types providing new challenges. I love playing the game at twelve riders because the pack becomes so massive that it really starts feeling like a peloton. I tend to root for the breakaway, but nonetheless there is something satisfying about seeing a ten-rider peloton charge after them on the final finish, with most of their riders having no exhaustion and plenty of energy. It just feels right, too...

As always, I think Ossi the illustrator has done an outstanding job catching a tense moment on the cover of the box, and it tells a story that is easy to find in the game.

If you're attending SPIEL '17, you can find me signing copies of the base game and expansion in the Lautapelit.fi booth on Thursday (13:00-14:00) and again on Sunday (10:00-11:00). Do come say hi!

Asger Harding Granerud

P.S.: Of course I'm lobbying the publisher to commit to a 2018 expansion, too, as we've already tested new tiles, new card distributions for the riders (including special abilities), Grand Tour rules, weather, and much more! If you are as enthusiastic about the Peloton expansion as I am, then it should be easy getting them on our side...

In this shot, the crashes are just looming in the air...
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