Thinking about WEM's controversial stance on putting games away made me recall how much I think about game setup and how much I'm willing to front load a game design. I feel it's ok to stuff things in setup because it only happens once. This first occured to me when designing Galactic Emperor many years ago. I was wondering about scoring and sorting out scoring chits. That's a lot of work. But putting it in set up makes it a one-time affair. Yes, tedious. But at least it only happens once. I factored this out of the design in Empire of the Stars because I did not like that fiddy aspect of GE. I have no idea how many designers do this.
The same goes for what you do at the start of a round - all the clean up and adjustments. Again, having it happen at the round is better than having it happen on each turn. For example, shuffling decks of cards each round or resetting a display - if you can work this in more naturally, I think it is better. In my recent design Transmissions, you add back tiles after you take them and move the respective tiles down. This happens in many games of course or even in most games where there is a need to continue to provide choices. There is a downside in that as you are offering up new choices to the players, you are also adding cognitive load (thinking time) whereas if you only refreshed at the end of the round, choices are removed. All of this plays into how fiddly a game is to play.
In fact, in a design, it is important to notice where and how fiddly events happen that cause players to reach around and do things. This can be having to reach across a table or around components. But it can also mean other players have to help on a turn. I call this 'butlering' a game.
Usually a person is tasked (or volunteers) to butler a game - to be the banker in a game, to reset a display of tiles or cards, or to hand out resources. Resources can be put in bowls and handed to whomever needs them at the moment. That works really well and keeps the game moving along. Still, other players might need to help. Who turns over event cards? Usually the person who is closest to it perhaps. Did they want to have this role? They are now the butler. The owner of the game might want to play that role. Or the teacher of the game because they would be better. I've even assigned it to an experienced player of the game or given it to myself to give others more time to focus on their play.
I suspect (although have not tried) one can measure how much 'butlering' happens and how fiddly it is to do so and so I have thought BGG should add such a measure. It would be subjective of course like all the metrics on BGG that are crowd sourced. Too much 'butlering' and too many bits equals too much sauce and sticky fingers, metaphorically speaking. The game can become a mess. A game should be as easy as possible to play.
In game design, I don't like a lot of game bits - I'm a minimalist. Kodachi was designed to be easier to set up, tear down and in general faster to play compared to its predecessor Ninjato. I think many gamers are the same as sorting and stacking bits during play isn't generally thought to be fun. Of course, exceptions abound as some like to sort their trains in Ticket to Ride or stack their components or more simply, just sort their hand of cards. I personally don't do any of that.
The size of game bits matters too and contributes to fiddliness - smaller chits or 'hobbit-sized' cards for example. Circus Train had criminally small tokens. Shuffling things is also a challenge, exacerbated by the size and number of components. Shuffling a large deck is harder than a smaller deck. Shuffling smaller cards is harder than larger cards. Shuffling tiles is the worst, isn't it? Very difficult. Juicy Fruits added two cloth bags to the game just to randomize tiles at set up. My wife made a bag for Nova Luna so we could hand around randomized tiles. Less fiddly does not make a game easier, but more fiddly certainly makes it more difficult! I factored out shuffling in Transmissions for example - you have cards and use them, but you never shuffle your cards. Again, less fiddly and smoother experience is the desire.
This brings me to prototypes during game design and reasoning about what makes a good prototype and a bad one. I believe (fairly strongly) that a prototype should approximate the final game as it is envisioned, complete with iconography and some reasonable substitute for illustrations. I realize many disagree on how final a prototype should look and feel, but I believe a prototype has various modes - early prototypes need not have all the filigree - all the icons and such. Of course also for many games, the setting or theme is not relevant and so the illustrations of a prototype as long as they are not distracting, are incidental and only become a concern for production. So far, I've not designed games like that, therefore I always care about the setting and theme.
But for later prototypes, how the game feels and functions on the table matters. Understandability matters, so attempts at clarity matters (thus iconography matters), but what needs to be handed around and 'butlered' matters. I was not as aware of this in my early designs, but I am very much aware now. Smooth play is important to me. I like to watch how players are managing their play area. Modern games have noticed this as well. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is an attempt to solve the miserable setup and teardown problems with Gloomhaven in this space with moderate success. And more games - such as Familiar Tales - are doing the same.
Fiddliness is more than just number and size of components. It's how many components are touched (and by whom) during a game. It's how those components have to move around during play from location to location and player to player. It's how often you have to manage the components in the game - to 'butler' them. This matters.
What are your most fiddly games? How does this hampern your experience at the table? How do you compensate (bowls - how large, how many)?
I've been developing and publishing games as a 'jobby' for over 30 years and am still going at it. Here's a blog to detail my progress, current work, and thoughts on the gaming scene.
- [+] Dice rolls
I think there is an easy explanation for the ratings and rankings on BGG. It is reflecting the community - i.e. BGG users like the Top 100 games the best. Why more newer games? BGG users in the whole like newer games. Newer games are not strictly better although production quality is better as art is easier to obtain (a reachable global market exists), and access to manufacturing is easier. It's akin to having CGI available to really any movie today. And more money is available via KS and GameFound. Clearly pretty doesn't equal fun, but it does lead to more games being sold I believe which in turn leads to more ratings.
Why are there a number of repeat entries or variations on a single game? BGG users who like the first one like the second one as much or even more - i.e. "Give me more of that, thank you." Why does the Top 100 move more often now than in the past? BGG users like to turn over their games faster because there are more games. There are more users as well on BGG who are rating games. This could be empirically determined, but I suspect we're getting ratings faster than in the past because the community is larger. And that would contribute to movement in the Top 100 as well.
In short, a casual use of ranking might lead one to believe these are the best games of all time. But that isn't true. It represents the most loved (popular?) games of the moment according to BGG users who rate games. I think that is true and is just fine. As long as BGG is close to my interests, the ranking is useful albeit imprecise.
However, I find I don't like several games in the Top 100.
Why is that? To find out, I thought I would examine the current BGG Top 100, from 100 to 1, and talk about why I disagree here and there. Often enough, I agree with BGG! But there are some games I'm just not going to play in the Top 100. And there are some I just don't like. The reason for me doing this is to understand better where I diverge from the consensus of BGG. Every person is different and I'm no different than every person! (Work that last statement out with pencil and paper if you will as it appears to be contradictory). But maybe you'll enjoy my journey of self-discovery too!
Let's take a look and see what we learn.
BGG Sez one of Feld's best games. I do recall when it hit and the buzz was all around the mancala action selection idea - which now has been used a few times in games (e.g. Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done which I liked). I thought it was brilliant too - and bought the game. I'm a fan of Feld although I think he has some misses too. But this one failed in a particular way: colors. I'm red-green color "challenged". I like to say that to make a point: I can see colors - just cannot distinguish them well, especially colors that have a red/green hue. It is so sad when I open a game box and find I can't tell the pieces apart. So I literally could not play this game - the pastel colors were just too brutal to distinguish. Sad, maybe, because I might have enjoyed this. Rather than mark the game up for myself or repaint it somehow, I moved it out of my collection, unplayed.
When a game requires like 12 colors, developers are confused what to do. There is an insistence to ensure player colors are separated from other component colors so they often veer off into pastel and purples and oranges and muddy browns to ensure this distinction. It ruins many a game in my experience. I don't see the need for this personally because shape and placement on the game board can also separate pieces. Several games use shapes and alternate symbols - that's always appreciated. But when a game comes up with colors I can't tell apart, I just can't play the game. Such is the case here.
BGG Sez one of the best 'party' level games (by this I mean supports a larger number of players) for gamers - recommended 4-6. That's the impression I have anyhow because I hear it mentioned (still!) in this way. Adam Sez it's a team game of deduction. I really don't know how I would get a team game for gamers to the table. My game table is usually 2-4 players - very rarely 5 and almost never more than that. If it is more than that, it is non-gamers - they don't want to really take any time to learn a game.
And also, I haven't really heard a compelling pitch for Decrypto. Why is this "the" game in this space? I don't understand. I feel similar things were said about 7 Wonders - "It's a gateway game that supports 7 players!" The last part of that statement is true, but not the first part. Is that Decrypto too? If so, I never play 7 Wonders with non-gamers and I rarely have more than 4 gamers so no Decrypto for me.
And team games. I don't know of one that I like outside of paired team card games - e.g. Bridge. Maybe some trauma when I was a kid getting picked last for kickball? I don't like imbalanced teams - that's for sure. And it's very difficult to balance a team. Then there is the forced feeling - you have to be on one team or the other. It's a bit like forced friendships ("Sit next to so and so - you'll like them!") or really anything forced and thus awkward. So team games - almost always a no from me.
96: Isle of Cats
BGG Sez Frank West is the bomb! I believe this one is popular because of tetrominos - you know, putting odd shaped things in restricted places under certain conditions. And cats. Yes, cats are wildly popular among cat people. I'm a dog person. So cats don't suddenly pull me to a game.
But I do like Frank. He seems to be an extremely dedicated designer and really does a great job. I'd like to support that for sure. I did see this game explained, and if it landed on my table with an enthusiastic explanation, I'd give it a go. Unlikely, however, as the theme doesn't pull to anyone in my gaming circle as far as I know. Sadly, I don't think I will be playing this one and have no current desire to buy it.
92: Raiders of the North Sea
82: Architects of the West Kingdom
66: Paladins of the West Kingdom
BGG Sez these various worker placement spins are wonderful - and the Mico (Mihajlo Dimitrievski) art! That last part I completely get - love it myself too. But here's my problem with all of these games: they are just coming out too fast! I have played Raiders BTW and was going to buy it but then another game came out that looked kinda the same but slightly different and then another one came out and then another one like that first one but rethemed and better (?) and then I think another one.... Hey, I love games, but give me a minute! I feel like they are coming out faster than the next iPhone.
I still might pick up one of these - I've nearly done so more than once - but I'm entirely doubtful I would want more than one. I do love worker placement games and I think this series has nearly exhausted the space. Or possibly not. When is the next one coming out? Is it better than the last one? I'm fully expecting a worker placement club like the Puffing Billy's now. Let's get on it, BGG! We need a club name!
81: Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
42: Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
2: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
BGG Sez I LOVE PANDEMIC! You might think that theme would be somewhat less popular given the last few years, and maybe if these games came out last year or the year before, there would have been a very different reception (write your own headline here). But prior to that, Pandemic (sadly sitting outside the Top 100 now) was a huge hit when it did hit. Matt Leacock did create an amazing framework for a co-op - fair to say this game established the genre that has been going strong ever since. BTW, Zev should get a lot more credit too - he brought the game to our attention. But anyhow, I do have Pandemic and have played it. In general, I'm not a co-op fan for whatever reasons.
The Legacy thing - well, not a big draw for me. Here's what I think makes that appealing: we're all kids at heart and love to open presents. That's it. That's the appeal. Call it "discovery" if you will - it's something we humans love. Me, I love it too - but this one just swung too popular too fast and am the kind of person who is just leery of popular things. I did watch a 100% spoiler of Season 1 (the first one, not the zero one). And the big reveal was rather predictable - at least for me. BTW, reviewers should post a non-spoiler and spoiler review. I do hate the coy flavor of non-spoiler review - "I would tell you more, but it would make the game worse for you." That is really annoying to me because it feels like a "I know something you don't know" childish response, not a review. I usually leave not having any idea what is in the box.
I guess as a final note on legacy games, playing with the same group over several sessions is really difficult. Games for me are events, but not repeated, regular events. I don't have a regular gaming group (nearly impossible now). I have my wife (we played Clank Legacy and did kinda enjoy it). But regular sessions lasting 10-12 times with 2-3 people - not likely to happen.
BGG Sez Richard Breese. According to BGG, he makes good games and this one is his best by a wide margin. I would play it. But I think what puts me off so far is the complicated look of it. Maybe. I mean I look at it today and think it might be something I'd really enjoy. Very Euro of course which is harder to get to the table lately. The visuals are a bit off putting honestly. Not to me personally, but again, to table it - if I plunked it down, only a few of my gamer friends would be interested in it.
So this one, I don't have much of an argument against it. It just hasn't gotten to a buy level yet for me mainly because it appears to be intimidating. I need to play this one at some point. Does it play really well with 2? If so, my wife and I might like it. What does BGG think? I think they believe it does. So maybe I'll go after this one. Anyhow, on the Wish List!
79: Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon
BGG Sez lovely miniatures and production. Story stuff! Gritty! I would chalk this one up to Kickstarter success and Awaken Realms. They had This War of Mine: The Board Game, but this one was their break out success. Production quality - off the charts. For me, it's a bit back to the Legacy reveal concept. Yes, I know this is not a legacy game, but the idea of a revealing story line - does this one reveal in a single play or do you have to play it multiple times in a campaign? I felt it was the latter for some reason. I may be wrong.
Anyhow, looks kinda good for a dark fantasy vibe. I think I was put off by the original cost and the over-the-top production - miniatures are cool, but I'm not normally willing to pay a lot more for them. I also feel this one got some 'meh' reviews from some folks. I can't remember, however. Anyhow, if you look at the cost of it - I'm just not going to pay that much myself for a game I may not get to the table very often. Dark and gritty isn't in my wheelhouse. Board games are an escape for me. And when I escape, I want it to be to a better place.
75: Agricola (Revised Edition)
BGG loved this one when it first appeared, and then there was the revised version. This is as good a place as any to stop and point out how many duplicate entries there are in the Top 100 on BGG. Yes, yes. I realize these are not exact duplicates and I'm confident I'll be told the significant difference between each entry. But please. The reason these games are both in the Top 100 is because the first "version" (that's how I think of it) is also in the Top 100 and the new "version" has significantly less votes but generally higher ratings. Why? I believe it's because fans are voting for both - and true fans moved to (or bought) the newer one. The same thing is happening I think with (say) Pandemic. I get it, but still sour grapes from me.
Anyhow, I've certainly played and enjoy Agricola. But no, I am not getting the revised version. I have enjoyed and own the original - but didn't adore it. If I adored it, I might "upgrade". If this one was dropped in front of me, I would assume it was Agricola and would play depending on my mood and time available. Alright, climbing down off my soapbox now....
67: Fields of Arle
33: Caverna: The Cave Farmers
22: A Feast for Odin
BGG Sez Uwe's games are great! Is he the designer with the most games in the Top 100? I didn't count - but he has several. Maybe the most? Where I am with this one is I already have a few Uwe games: Agricola, Glass Road, Nova Luna, Patchwork, Le Havre. So I do like his designs. But I've kinda had enough of them too. I did own Feast for Odin - but that one took the entire Uwe design too far for me. It was a tough teach (I realized each action is pretty easy, but there are so many of them). Got rid of it. Glass Road I really love, but don't get it played very often.
And in Arle, I think you're digging peat again? Uwe loves the turn over of plants and such into this and that. I like it too! But I have done it a lot - and have great versions of it! I just can't see me buying or even playing another one. Alright, alright. If someone taught me the game and it was a game convention or gathering (those still exist don't they?), I could be talked into it. As long as it wasn't too long to play....
65: Aeon's End
BGG Sez... I dunno what BGG Sez beyond loving it. I mean yes, a co-op which BGG seems to like quite a bit. Yes, a deck builder. And yes, I think it likely has some interesting takes on that genre (no shuffle, random turn order - these seems like minor advances to me). But I'm still confused. For me, not a co-op fan - but can be talked into them at times. Do indeed like deck builders quite a bit. The theme seems generic to me? Don't hate me, the illustrations are really great - but the theme just says "fantasy" to me. So that doesn't jump out too much.
But I think it is pretty much the co-op aspect that is keeping me from playing it. Why is this so highly rated? Can anyone hazard a guess? I need to be enlightened on this one. Is it the combo cards? The novel game play? The co-op aspect? Maybe this was just a hard-fought fan growth over time. For me, I would play if the table wanted to play it. I really do like deck builders!
62: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization
9: Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization
BGG Sez a great civ game with all the trimmings! I won't go on about the new "version" being higher rated, but let's talk about why I haven't played this one by first saying I've almost played this one. It was at a small convention and for some reason, we didn't get it done, but I was willing and able at the time. There was a day when I wanted to play all of the BGG Top 100 games. That's not on my bucket list any longer, but I'd still play this one if I could have a teach of it and the time to do so.
For me, however, I really like Nations which I believe is in the ballpark of Ages. I love a good civ game when I can get it - but there are few that know when to get off the table. Ages certainly has no idea with games lasting hours and hours (or so I hear). Nations is also longish, but my friends have enjoyed it and I like it - even played solo several times (an unusual thing for me). So Ages is on my list of games to play, but haven't gotten a decent opportunity yet. And this is a case where I really do want to play before I buy.
57: The Gallerist
56: On Mars
BGG Sez Lacerda make really heavy board games and BGG likey! There is absolutely a certain sector of BGG that loves the heaviest of heavy Euro games - heavier the better. It describes a few of the games in the Top 100 to me, so it's going to come up again. But this journey through the Top 100 is showing me how I differ. I love board games! Look at my stats and my collection and my time on BGG. Love board games! But heavy board games, maybe not as much?
I think the deeper reason is because of the cognitive load - I don't like having that much think time in games. I generally do very poorly in such a setting so it is more frustration than enjoyment. It's even more strange because I think I like to design heavy games (you haven't seen me do it yet, but trust me on this). I admire those who can make these system work in a design and Lacerda is among the top if not the very top - certainly at the top according to BGG. But I'm more at the Feld level. It can be a variety of things to do in a game, but if I have too many steps to complete to get to a satisfaction of points and rewards, I just faint at the attempt. My brain doesn't enjoy the journey and the finding out. And very few of my gaming friends will go there with me anyhow. And usually the teach for such games is off-putting.
Escape Plan is one where the theme nearly got me to buy into it. This is not Vital's best design according to BGG, but that theme and presentation - lovely (I feel similar about presentation with Pipeline). And here again, the weight of the game is just scaring me away. That and in this case, the 2-player version apparently isn't great at all. At least, I see that mentioned on BGG and who would know better?
I have played Vinhos years ago at a friendly local game convention and quite enjoyed it because I didn't have to teach it. Also as it turns out, I do have a friend who's son owns Lisboa and he brought it to a game gathering years ago - probably when it came out. And I turned down a play which I now kinda regret. So yes, I would play this one if I could get the chance. The cost of this one to own - never going to own it. I mean never say never, but I don't see myself buying that monster. The box is really big too. Yeow.
37: Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy
BGG Sez 4X Better than TI4! Well, some say that. Like 30,000 BGG users. The Second Dawn is absolutely the first makes the second better effect. I don't like that it occupies two spots in the Top 100 when really Second Dawn is just the first game upgraded - and yes, I am aware some rules changed and tweaks here and there. But honestly, that's what has happened again. I have played Eclipse just so we're clear. I do like it, but had issues not with the missles (ok, somewhat with that), but more with the random draw of victory points for winning in combat. I drew poorly. Felt cheated really. Didn't like that feeling. I guess the other bit is the large time investment for finishing a game (yes, I do know they trimmed off a round or two in the latest version).
I do value a well crafted 4X and Eclipse did a great job - better than I could (and I have tried!). But it's a no for me. I don't need it in my collection (either version) as a friend has the original and would probably bring it over if I ever asked to play. Which I have not. In some ways, I'm a bit 4X exhausted at the moment although I did just receive Galactic Era from KS. I really wanted to support the designer and the work - and quite excited to give it a play although I have no idea how it will happen. Give me a few months to regain my stamina! Then I might come back to it. But Eclipse - nope.
54: Star Wars: Imperial Assault
BGG Sez Star Wars, FFG, Miniatures. Take my money! FFG in its zenith could do no wrong for a number of fans. Using the Star Wars IP (which back in the day was valuable - ha!) and having a scenario based game was basically printing money. I think this one looks great actually, but I have been very wary of FFG games historically. Here you have 1 vs Many I believe? I think so. And that's really a no-go for me. I have played Descent many years ago - several times honestly. But the 1 v Many set up I don't like. There's a bit of smugness here in the "1" who is opposing many as they usually have traps and secrets to spring on opponents.
I feel these types of games are weaker D&D experiences. There are often loads of fiddly rules to ponder over - usually in unexpected situations where the rules are altogether silent or not great - FGG is famous for these gaffs although they have improved over the years on this complaint. I am a Star Wars fan so this game almost got me when it came out. Almost. But no. It also is really wanting repeat plays with the same group. Well, this all adds up to me not wanting to have it in my collection and would be somewhat reluctant to play it even once. Maybe with fully painted miniatures, a person to explain the game, and a fun table of folks with a good DM (or whatever that person is called here). Maybe.
53: Mechs vs. Minions
BGG Sez LOOK AT THOSE PAINTED MINIATURES! Full stop after that? Actually, this one was pushed very hard by the publisher when it first appeared. Must have been a huge investment. And I saw many plays of it on the YouTubes by a number of luminaries. There were a lot of videos about it and it was hyped to the moon. Which got my attention obviously but at the same time was rather off-putting. Shouting too much about one thing has that effect on me.
Past that, the game play was a co-op again which as said is not a draw for me at all. It was so pretty to look at and I think even had some interesting ideas. Isn't it a type of tower defense thing too? That's something I've never enjoyed so far. But in my view, it doesn't rise above the mundane in general. Nothing about the theme is intriguing to me. I have no reason to play this one.
51: The 7th Continent
BGG Sez a sprawlling story illustration of a size never before seen! Yes, it is all of that. Excuse me for a moment whilst I drag my soapbox over again. Ahem.
This should be a computer game.
I think that's about it for me. I love the illustrations, I love the unfolding nature of a sprawling illustrations that make a huge illustration. And mysteries. And hunt for the little hidden numbers on a small card.... well, that doesn't sound too good actually. Still. Mysteries! Again, a co-op is not for me (BGG loves these!). I have watched a few play thrus. That actually lowered my interest even further.
I recall something Walt Disney said many years ago. You need to have a reason to do animation, else why are you doing it? Just make a live action movie. Here the same holds true: you need to have a reason for making it a board game, else why are you doing it? This doesn't need to be a board game and would be better and easier as a computer game. BGG clearly disagrees in droves as the original KS and subsequent KS made huge amounts. For me, no reason to play it.
49: Kingdom Death: Monster
BGG Sez MINIATURES! And a really cool gaming system about dying brutally over and over. I guess? Ok, so the miniatures here are just terrifying horror figures. Disturbing really. It was controversial in a number of ways when it first appeared on KS those many years ago. Maybe BGG forgot? It certainly has a huge fan base. I've even witnessed the huge booth at GEN CON a few years back. Massive and crowded.
This one is all about tastes that differ from one to another. It's so grim and dark - I feel it's very deliberately dark and obscene. It wants to be the grim and dark miniatures RPG-in-a-box experience. It's also supposed to be really hard to stay alive. And I guess it is. For me, there's no way I want this game simply because of the theme and the attitude it portrays. I like to have a beam of light once in awhile shining through. KDM just says die! Hard pass.
45: Underwater Cities
BGG Sez fantastic Euro game. Vladimír Suchý has certainly grown over the years as a designer and this is one of his best according to BGG. I need to play more of his designs and would like to play this one for sure. Just haven't had the opportunity yet. Now why haven't I acquired it myself and created an opportunity? Well, as said a few times now, I'm veering more into not so heavy games. Although as I look about my collection, I need a few more smooth and great slightly heavier Euro games.
I had a pretty big strike out with Crown of Emara - it was too fiddly and twisty (literally) with layers upon layers of medium weight gaming goodness making it just too confusing for my gamers. It's made me gun shy to get another one in that ballpark of weight - this one is even rated a bit more weighty. That's the main reason I haven't just bought it for myself. So I'd like to play it first before deciding too much then I'll know if I'm still up for this level of complexity. It's all about the teach and smoothness of play.
BGG Sez despite all the mishaps, this be a good heavy game! The theme is indeed unique. Hey, I have a fun story about Barrage. I was demoing a design of mine in Playtest Hall a few years back at GEN CON. I was waiting for my table to clear from the previous game and was getting kinda annoyed because the person was taking their time putting away a bunch of wooden blocks. I mean a bunch! And it was getting really close to time for my game to start! As it turns out, I think it was Simone Luciani. Maybe? Well, anyhow they were demoing Barrage. I won't go into the trouble with production of the game - warping boards, things don't fit, etc. Sounded awful!
For me, I think this is another case of a game being too heavy and too esoteric to get it to the table. It's happening again and again in this listing. I wonder if it is truly just me with cognitive load in play or something else? Hmm. I might get a play of this one as I think a friend of mine owns it and would be willing to teach and play. I would play it I think if conditions were right.
41: Mansions of Madness: Second Edition
BGG Sez FFG plus Cthulhu for the win! Here again, a second edition. And here again, a game of 1 vs Many. I hadn't realized how I felt about them - quite strongly it seems. BGG likes them certainly. BGG likes co-ops too. And BGG likes stories with surprises. These are all things that I find just ok or even actively dislike.
Here the theme is kinda fun. I like the setup of the spooky house with traps and hidden stuff. And although it is 1 vs Many I think an app is provided in this edition? Ah that is a bit of a minus to me too somehow - yes, I'm one of those that think computers and board games are different and separate. I have a computer and love computer games and play there. Games there are amazingly complex and beautiful to play. And often relaxing albeit for me, solo affairs. Anyhow, I would play this one and see how it went. But I don't want the amount of plastic and such in my collection I guess. And I really don't want story voice overs and such on an iPad next to my board game. No thanks.
BGG Sez Pfister Euro! BGG does like a rich, cog-laden Euro game, eh? Me too. I'm with you BGG on this! Alexander Pfister is one of our greats in the space. I hope he keeps making games. This one is actually on my Wish List right now, so I definitely would like to play it or get a copy. So why haven't I just gone out and got it? I dunno.
Like a few things above, I'm a bit skittish with Euros that are just a touch too heavy and this one clocks in at almost 4 on the BGG Weight Scale. Mainly, explaining takes too long. A great rulebook makes a huge difference. I wonder if Maracaibo has a great rulebook? And a smooth system that is just intuitive also helps. I'm unsure on this and need to look harder - maybe download and read the rules or watch a run through to get a better feel. Play before buy?
39: Too Many Bones
BGG Sez What? Poker Chip Game with dice and Fantasy Theme and kinda heavy weight! Well, at this point, you might guess my reaction. The theme is ok here - I mean I don't rush after fantasy themed games, but I like them. A great dungeon crawler is still on my all time yes-please Wish List. I've tried so many but nothing has quite done it yet. Currently deep in the investigation of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion as an example and Gloomhaven itself on my Mac. So yes, I do like exploring these.
Here we have a character creation depth that is really complex and asymmetrical all based in dice. Roll them bones, eh? Doesn't Roll Player do the same thing? Maybe? Anyhow, the complexity is the stopper so far on this one: 3.84 according to BGG. I think that is a function of the asymmetry as I recall - every player board has a lengthy amount of icons and rules. But that's too heavy for me I believe. Further, I don't think I'll ever spend the current dollars being asked for this monster of a game. So a no from me.
32: Food Chain Magnate
BGG Sez Splotter makes heavy Euro games too! And the theme is cool. Yes, it is a cool and original feeling theme. Splotter does make heavy games of which I have played exactly zero. Hmm. What does that say? I think it is becoming clear - and there may even be a cutoff point - but I just don't want to play very heavy games. Maybe it's anything above 3.5 or so - this one is 4.2!
The other off putting part here (but the theme and art are so cool!) is the math. I'm arguably pretty good at math. But math in a game setting - not fun. I'm not swift at math. I'm fair at estimating, but not great. So a game where math - investments and returns - is important to play will generally not be something I want to sit and do for hours. Power Grid is at the very limit for me. I like money math quick - like Tulip Bubble - if at all. Again, if someone sat and taught me this one, I'd give it a go. If I had the time. But I'm not at all certain I would do well (likely not) and that might just be frustrating rather than fun. So for now, this is a nope.
BGG Sez the ALIENS board game we've been waiting for! Are you sure this was released in 2018? I feel like I just heard it rise to the top like last year. I think that was because there was a second KS that blew up? I mean the first one (2018) made a ton and the second one (2020) double tons. Anynow, what a production! This would have been an FFG joint back in the day. It has lovely minis, loads of dark mystery tiles, thematically perfect for what is happening. The other parts of the game amount to a semi-co-op affair with specialized cards and I suspect loads of wonderful tension. You even roll dice!
I'm certainly not opposed to playing this one and even (perhaps) owning it one day. However, here again the cost is preventing a buy - it's just too much. I am a fan of the movies (well, the first two anyhow). I had and played Space Hulk many years ago and really loved the theme there as well - although that game was 1 v 1. A semi-co-op I think is difficult to pay off well in a design, but maybe this one has solved that? If a gamer friend gets it, I'd certainly play.
11: Spirit Island
BGG Sez finally a 'gamers' co-op! It looks lovely in production, but again, a co-op is not my thing in general. So that plus it boasts being more complicated than other co-ops - which isn't a plus to me (it's a 4.03 on BGG weight scale). I'm actually a bit surprised that heavy gamers like co-ops. Spirit Island makes me think perhaps they do - at least several thousand do.
Games this heavy (and higher) are not pulling me in. Again, likely (1) the teach is too long for me to do (I'm generally the game explainer) and (2) I'm unsure I have many gamers who would be in for a long teach. Maybe said another way: complexity in a game is not attractive to me. And the theme is a bit of turn off for me as well to be honest. It is colorful, but unsure of what is happening in the game. I mean I know players are spirits and there are invaders you are trying to stop. But is that a joyous experience? Although I always thought Populous was a very cool idea, I was unsettled by it as well - calling in disasters to destroy little peoples. Is Spirit Island game silly and fun-loving or dour? It looks dour to me.
As an aside, I looked up a heavy game that I do enjoy: Die Macher. Why do I like that one? Well, it was a grail game to play and I did - thankfully taught by someone else. It was a convention event for me. Then I liked it so much I bought the reprint as it even said it was shorter (it basically just cuts off game rounds). I've now played it again and enjoyed it again. Why? Well, I don't think this one is too heavy. There are very disciplined phases in the game that are quite simple. I think the weight rating is mainly due to the length of the game and having to plan ahead. But the actions? Extremely simple. No asymmetry here (i.e. no rulebook per person). No special card rules. For me, not even mathy. Just manage your money and go for it. I won't be playing it much, but am glad to have it. Apparently I do like select heavier games.
10: War of the Ring: Second Edition
BGG Sez the best JRR game ever (although that FFG card came is pretty popular too)! I have a soft spot for all things Lord of the Rings. I've read the books many times (I have the hard to get Millenium Edition). Just read it last year in fact. So yes, a fan. I have played this one. Kinda. At GEN CON. Once. The story is the game master who was to teach the game never showed up. So those of us who signed up tried to learn it ourselves from the rules! Yeow, that was challenging. I think we played only half a game. I recall the roll of dice action selection thingy. That was pretty interesting. Hmm. Does anyone know why War of the Ring Collector's Edition isn't allowed to be ranked? Speaking of games that are expensive now - yeow! Look at the Geek Market. Anyhow back to this version.
The first edition is sitting sadly at 139 just outside the Top 100. But again, same as above (!) BGG allows new editions to be listed again and if a game was a Top 100, the newer one often is as well. Selection bias! So setting aside the price here as you do get a load of miniatures and stuff, this is a 2-player game. Ok, yes, you can play with more - but two sides for sure. Kinda like Star Wars Rebellion which I do have ironically. Hmm. Maybe LOTR isn't a big a draw as Star Wars for me? Seems like it, however I can't get Rebellion to the table either. Maybe eventually.
But I think overall, it is the sprawling, large scale and time consuming nature of this that keeps me from playing. I love the story idea and all the epic results. This is probably the best way to experience it. But for me, not something I'm going to get to the table.
7: Gaia Project
BGG Sez Terra Mystica+1. Or maybe more than +1? Or Terra Mystica in SPACE! Yeah, that's maybe it. I do love Terra Mystica. It was a complicated affair to be sure - just about the edge of what I can table. But oddly, my brother who is not a gamer really actually loves Terra. He can't explain why. It just clicks with him - which I think speaks to the way Terra Mystica's icons and phases work. Very smooth indeed. Was this the first time we saw a 'hand' icon for taking income? Feels like that is true. Nicely done.
Anyhow, Gaia. Not going to play it. I mean maybe it is better than Terra, but I don't get that one to the table very often (and haven't in many a year) due to the teach time. Sure, again, if I was at a convention and they really wanted to play, I'd go for it. Not likely to happen because (1) I don't know anyone who has it among my gaming friends (?), (2) conventions just are not happening (much), (3) Gaia is now old. That last point is kinda important: really newer games get brought out more than older games. It's just how it is. Gamers like new experiences.
3: Brass: Birmingham
BGG Sez a new board for Brass? Yes, please! I'm actually shocked this one is rated so highly. It has even more ratings that its aged elder brother. The KS of course did this. I did back Lancashire and not this one. But perhaps I was in the minority? I do like Brass as a game. It is fun - albeit the new board is really muddy and dark (thematically fine, but harder to play). I'm actually not too bad at managing my money and routes in Brass - which is odd because that's something I'm typically not great at in a game.
I'm not wanting to play Birmingham. I have the other one, have only played it a handful of times so far, so do not see the need to get the updated board. Does it even play differently? I mean does it have new rules and resources or something? I don't really want to even find out. Again, have the original, haven't nearly tired of it. Why move to the next one?
And there you go!
The other games in the Top 100 I've already played (and maybe own) and rated - so if you want to know my thoughts, you can look at my rating comments on those. The game I dislike the most in the Top 100, for example, is Battlestar Galactica. Really dislike that one. If you have comments on the Top 100, post away! Let's see if we can learn how different we are from BGG as a whole. Are you close or far? If close, have you played every game in the Top 100? If far, why are you here?
Hmm. Seems like I've written two REALLY long blogs now. I don't expect this is a trend going forward, but for those who have followed along, thanks! Let me know if I'm tiring you. Hmm. Although if you are in fact tired, you probably won't let me know. That's ok too!
Now go play some games!
- [+] Dice rolls
I love games! However, I note that these days I only find games by chance. Or really, I find games that float to the top here and there - maybe the Hot List or Hot Images here on BGG. Or perhaps I only find games that get mentioned in my feeds - my YouTube subscription mainly. I'm only hearing about games that my YouTubers hear about or filter down to. Sometimes a friend mentions a game I've not heard of, but that's pretty rare. Now to be sure, I have seen and heard about a LOT of games - so I have to go fairly deep to find things I've missed. Still, it feels like I'm missing things. I'm going to fix that.
A Quick Review for You!
This blog entry is covering EVERY GAME released in 2021. Well, not every single game mind you - I've limited myself to those that have at least 30 ratings here on BGG. That's a criteria BGG uses to officially post a rating. It helps me to eliminate or at least reduce game ideas or game prototypes or things that aren't really 'there'. Also, I'm not considering expansions. But yes, it means I likely missed a game or two that came out late or just never had 30 BGGers bother to rate it yet.
What I'm doing then is listing and sorting the games for 2021 by rank and diving down page by page until I don't recognize one. At some point, that's likely to be nearly every entry on a page (there are 8 pages at this time or nearly 800 games)! Then I'm going to check it out and post my thoughts. I will be skipping games that have no interest to me and just comment on those for which I feel I have a comment (for example, I did skip some war games because not something I seek out often enough). And there are a great number of games very far down in the listing that I had already heard about (I know about a LOT of games). But in any event, the result should be a listing of games and terse reviews from me on more unusual games - games that I've personally missed and likely are not getting a lot of buzz from board game luminaries. It's going to be a lot of work!
To repeat, if you think I missed a game, I probably (1) already knew about it (and so do many others I suspect) or (2) didn't want to say anything about it. Most are (1) but there are a good few dozen of (2).
I did find as I continued to dive past page 5 (games ranking below 10,000 on BGG), things got less interesting to me. Two reasons why I believe. First, I was getting tired of writing comments and looking at games even though I spread this effort out over several days. Second, this was sorted by rank - which means games BGG finds better are listed sooner. Now I know this is in no way perfect and is only a proxy for my personal rating or interest and even is arguably counter to what I was trying to do here (find games that didn't get a lot of attention from my feeds), but it does roughly judge games in BGG interest and favor - which is not too far away from my personal interest and favor. I do intend to write another blog on why I haven't played various games in the Top 100 here on BGG to think about how far I believe I differ from BGG in opinions.
One thing I learned from this dive is I am looking for a strong theme/setting, a great production and then (last) interesting mechanics. Although I think mechanics keep me playing a game repeatedly, it doesn't bring me to the game. Also, I think it is rather difficult for a game to present its mechanics quickly and cleanly and attract me to the game just on that. And if the theme/setting and production are weak, even if there is some curious and novel idea, it won't bring me to the game - I won't be seeking to add it to my collection.
Star Score System
- Just below me wanting to follow up.
- On my radar and might subscribe to see more.
- On the Wish List it goes!
- You shall be mine!
As a warning, this is going to be my longest blog I've ever written. Games are listed in the order I encountered them - i.e. further down games are likely lower in BGG ranking although not perfectly so. I wonder if there is a limit to how big a blog can be on BGG? Let's find out!
Ready? Here we go!
Prepare Yourself for a Very Long Blog
Codex Naturalis has a pretty box and an unusual name. Now that I look at it closer, I think Zee from the Dice Tower reviewed this one - so I have seen it. It has this overlapping card system with symbols. But nothing that jumped out at me, so never added it to my Wish List - which is how I keep track of games that I may want to come back to, but don't want to buy right away. But a very pretty box!
Jekyll vs. Hyde doesn't ring a bell. Art by Vincent Dutrait - man does that guy crank out the games! Excellent components! It did have a Zee Garcia review (preview?) and it turns out to be a trick taking game for 2-players! I had one of those (Fox in the Forest) which was designed well, but not interesting enough. Here the theme won't work for my wife and I, so a pass.
Euthia: Torment of Resurrection as an idea doesn't instantly grab me, but upon further inspection, the production (illustrations and components) looks great! I guess this was a missed KS ("4,287 backers pledged $458,009 to help bring this project to life")? And the current market price is way beyond what I'm willing to pay at this point. Sigh. I might have backed this one had it caught my eye a while ago as I was (and really still am) looking for a competitive dungeon crawler experience.
Atlantic Chase is one I'm not surprised I missed as it is a GMT wargame straight up. I'm not opposed to a classic wargame once in awhile - in fact, I at times really love them! This one looks pretty great on the surface (no pun intended). But there are so many of these games (I see this has some interesting fleet actions). For the moment, nothing for me here.
Shamans is another game reviewed by Dice Tower which I apparently missed. Very spartan graphic design doesn't instantly pull me in. And after a quick review, it's a bit of a trick taking game with some convoluted interactions with a pawn, and teams (hidden?), and some special powers that get triggered in this way and that. Nothing for me here.
Ausonia was also reviewed by Dice Tower. Hmm. I'm sensing a pattern here. I'm missing DT reviews which I follow fairly closely - or at least I thought I did. Anyhow, this was is a bare-bones deck builder, but using a Splendor-like system to put gems in front of you to power cards. Clever! Very nice illustrations and graphic design - always a plus for me and almost a must for me. This one looks quite interesting, but the theme is a bit of a turn off. And anyhow, don't I have enough deck builders in my collection?
Vienna Connection is a solo game (?) that requires a computer for certain elements - this isn't a feature that I want (yet) in my games, so a pass likely based just on that. It's kinda too bad because it looks pretty dang cool - a Consulting Detective game to a large degree. And I do like the CIA-spy theme. Something to check out at some point perhaps.
Bayonets & Tomahawks almost has me at the title. I don't know if it's a thing any more, but when I was a kid, I had little plastic soldiers. Part of that was a set of cowboys and indians. And I love playing with all of that - throwing in dinosaurs too at times! But this is another GMT wargame and as said above, I'm only at times interested in tackling one of these. But gads, this theme is really fetching!
Ugly Gryphon Inn has just alright illustrations, and the theme feels uninteresting. It's a solo game, so that's not a big attraction for me (there are exceptions). Looks like a puzzle game in many ways - put characters here and there in your inn? So at a quick glance, not a game for me.
Shiver Me Timbers looks like it is using Star Trek connect-the-planets idea - and I can't fault that because that was very clever. Here we have a pirate theme (love it - super high toy factor) with big plastic ships (love it). Strong illustrations, but first blush looks like weak graphic design - the iconography and general layout I mean. But for all that, the game play doesn't look that fantastic to me.
Aqua Garden is a game I feel like I did hear about. I believe it made bank on KS and I picked up on it because I argued it made bank because of its production values - loads of lovely fishy components. Sure enough, it did: "3,909 backers pledged ¥32,029,783" - that's about $275K USD BTW. Anyhow, the theme isn't a big one for me although yes, it does have nifty wooden fishes. But the rest of the components are not great. And the play looks pedestrian for me.
Sheepy Time was an AEG release - so pretty surprised I didn't hear about this one. What a fun theme! And it appears to have very unique ideas in it - I mean, jumping your sheep around a board, catching winks (points) and zzzz's (action resource). Fun! It did get a Dice Tower review. I really like the look of this one and it's so unique, I'm going to put it on my Wish List.
Goetia: Nine Kings of Solomon is a dark theme that is just not for me. This was a KS that funded in 2020, so good for them as it looks to be fulfilled.
Veilwraith: A Veil Odyssey Game is by Tristan Hall whom I very much respect. I do think I vaguely recall this one, appears to be a fantasy themed card game, but the theme is just too dark for my taste and it is a solo game.
Venice at first appearance is a lovely and colorful Euro looking game, so the current rating of 6.6 is a bit surprising. From the comments, it looks to have a pick up and deliver vibe (which I don't think is very popular), but more importantly has some rulebook and game board issues? Some say the components make the game unplayable and getting replacements was challenging.
My Gold Mine has a box that looks like a kids game and the BGG ages of 7+ rather confirm this. All of the video reviews are in German and there was a post asking for English rules. So probably not localized yet. A Kosmos game so the components and presentation are top notch.
Free Ride is a surprise miss for me. I would think a Friedemann Friese would receive the proper treatment from BGG. And sure enough, it did get WEM to do a take on it and now that I see the map, I think this was an example in his controversial shove-it-all in the box videos? Hmm? I really respect FF - he is quite self aware on game design - just a sharp fellow. But this one is a train game ala TtR, but with random tickets. I think that is pretty much the idea? So no place in my collection at this time, but clever.
Steamwatchers is a Mythic games joint, so again, a bit surprised I missed it as it did get a full look around the game video review circuit (and yes, that is a thing). Steam-frost (??) post-apocalyptic theme, area control game with Ameritrash (yeah, I still like that term) aesthetics and vibes. It throws me back to Game Master Series games from the 80's, so there's a nostalgia pull for me. I'm going to throw it on my Wish List, but it's going for $200 USD - too salty for me.
30 Monedas (or 30 Mondays?) is a solo (primarily) game with a very dark look to it. Yes, I am shallow and if the look doesn't grab me and nothing else appears to grab me, I pass. I think it might have some interesting story concepts... "Father Vergara is an exorcist, boxer and ex convict, who has been exiled by the Vatican to a remote village of Spain."
The Last Bottle of Rum has a lovely, joyful pirate theme on the box. It was a KS "1,972 backers pledged €81,117" in I think 2020? But for me, it looks far too close to Black Fleet - a game in my collection that I very much enjoy as a lightweight pirate game. In fact, Bottle seems to add more take-that and randomness to the experience. So not for me.
Lisbon Tram 28 looks a bit like Maglev Metro, but much simpler. It did get a Dice Tower review by Tom V himself, so surprised I missed it. It has some cute features (ringing an actual bell!) and is colorful, but I don't see it as a game that I need? I do like the production, however, even though it feels a touch busy on the colorful board.
El Valle Secreto has some lovely aesthetics visually, but it doesn't appear to have an English version? At least, there's no evidence of it. I've seen other games that have a played card grid in which you score based on some criteria. So nothing more here than lovely looks?
La Morada Maldita I think is also called Gem Hunter and is a Spot It type game where you spread out a bunch of colorful gem tokens on the table, deal a set of goal cards to each face down, then you you begin a race - flipping over a goal card one by one in front of you and hunting for the gem that matches the card. Nothing I need to have, but I think it looks pretty clever for kids.
The Golden Ticket Game from a favorite movie, Willie Wonka (not the terrible Tim Burton remake). This one did get a Dice Tower preview. The box has that golden ticket on it, but otherwise is very bland. The graphic design isn't great either, but I do like the Wonka bars and the wooden figures. I mean you literally slip a shiny golden ticket into one of the chocolate bars! And yeah, if you get the ticket, you win. Fun for matching the theme, no fun as a game. Maybe if you love the movie, you'd want this?
Tholos is a pretty wooden (?) abstract. I always have a soft spot for lovely over the top productions in abstract games and this one is no exception. Take stones and stack them into columns - black, great, and white - very colorblind friendly! But in my gaming, I can't get these abstracts played. My wife doesn't really like them and neither do (as far as I know) any of my gaming friends. I haven't asked, however. In any event, this one just looks wonderful - so if I were in the market, this one would be a great one to have. Ah, just lovely!
Mille Fiori looks quite nice to me. Colorful and busy board, but the play seems like an easy (introductory?) Feld style - everything gets you some points, progressively more each play, and you are choosing actions from a drafting of cards. That seems to be all there is here! Nice for a breezy game with competition.
Muffin Time is one of those Kickstarter games that comes from a beloved Webcomic but is a terrible game. It raised £1,051,742 from over 25K backers. Yeesh. You basically play cards at each other - yay! And that's kinda it. I don't know anyone who would play a game like this more than once, but there you go. The world is a big, broad, brawny, unbelievable place. We're all different.
Cartaventura: Lhassa is a choose-your-own-adventure card game - of which there are a number now. A really compelling story appears here along with really great illustrations and production. Unsure if an English (UK) version ever appeared? I've never bought one of these, but there are a few that really seem like it would be cool to have. Solo play really.
Nouvelle-France is absolutely beautiful in production. It got a Tom review on Dice Tower, so surprised I missed it. Love the illustrations and the huge chunky wooden blocks - sure has table presence! However, the game play? You're just choosing cards and blocks to place in these three huge buildings made of blocks. It just doesn't look that interesting to me - and also appears to be complicated by having to look around the buildings on the table while building and then figuring out positive and negative points. I dunno. Wow what table presence! But game play - not so much?
Galaxy Hunters has a nice vibe to it - large, sprawling galaxy game which has worker placement (your ships on to planets) and loads of outfitting your ship/player board. It looks pretty massive and the hook of a well-worn mechanism in this way feels fresh to me at first blush. However, as I look deeper, it falls into tropes of weapons and upgrades and special units. Reactions seem to be mixed, so something I would be very happy to play, but am not seeking to own.
Mazescape Ariadne is a solo game which really aren't my thing. Still, thematically and production, this looks intriguing. It is a flat out maze - but you fold and unfold maps to figure out how to get through it. Physically fun, probably challenging and feels like it should have been done before? If not, +1 for cleverness! Nothing I need to own, however.
Corduba 27 a.C. reminds me of a game I am developing around a similar vibe. Mine is based on decades of ancient Athenian history whereas here we're looking at early Rome. Loads of complexity is the highlight and the rulebook looks intimidatingly detailed - not at all easy to read. Still, these types of games while not easy to get to my game table are usually something that intrigues me. If I could, I would certainly be up for a game. I have no idea how good or even enjoyable it would be - looks like hours to get a game in.
City Builder: Ancient World has a bit of interest to me as a designer. I'm working on a design that has to do with asymmetry and placing tiles. Each side has a different style of play, but all are working in a similar way too. And at this point in the design, I'm stuck on how to separate 'zones' in the game. City Builder has colored areas (districts) that you create for yourself and a shared set of meeples that require certain colored districts to place - and thus score points. Nothing too mindblowing here, but an interesting and easy puzzle perhaps.
Necromolds: Monster Battles - I don't know how I missed this one. You literally use clay to make creatures in plastic molds and smash them with your plastic ring when you defeat them. How awesome is that? The rest of the game - who cares? It has dice you roll to attack and defend and it looks sensibly done. As a kid, I would have loved this - and of course, I would want every possible mold. However, for me, beyond the clay gimmick, nothing seems terribly interesting. But I do appreciate the cleverness and visceral appeal!
Dungeon Lite: Orcs and Knights - I can't tell too much. Looks like it isn't in English and there are no video reviews. Another typical dungeon crawler? But it has some very nice illustrations and standees - which feel refreshing to me anyhow as plastic miniatures are certainly more common and I feel standees are more sensible and could hold more variety. Other than that, I have no idea how this works.
Moon Adventure from Oink looks like a reimplementation of Deep Sea Adventure which I quite like, but not many other of my gaming companions do. I'm unsure why? It's straight up delightful push-your-luck. Anyhow, Moon doesn't seem to change the formula much, so although I rather like the new theme and setting, I don't think I'll be picking this one up considering Sea doesn't get enough play as it is.
Night of the Ninja - I do like Ninjas, so it nearly has me at that. This is a hidden role game - deal out the roles (well, ranks) with a few special powers along the way. Get points if your house (there are two houses) wins even if you die. Neat! So a great hidden role game I think with a theme I like and mechanics that work. But I just don't like hidden role games in general and never ask to play them. Just me here as the rest of the game looks quite good.
Momiji has beautiful illustrations and a great graphic design. The game play looks clean and easy - back to that hunt for a simple, inviting card game - I can't really have too many of those! Alas, this does not appear to be readily available. If an English version and availability is possible, I'd check this one out. Looks delightful to me.
Tucano is a bit of Sushi-Go in that you draft cards (here an open draft) and adds in that some cards are bad - i.e. you want a set of cards, but maybe you don't. Each type of card has that set collection vibe - get X, score Y - that type of thing. Again, some score negative points. Draft until the deck is done - high score wins. With improved illustrations, this game could have been something great. As it is, it's just does not stand out. I have Sushi-Go, so a light drafting game isn't needed in my collection and this seems to bring almost nothing new.
Kameloot is a very straight forward set collection game from Blue-Orange. Visually, looks great. But the game play is just a bit to pedestrian for me: draw cards, discard to use a special power (very simple things here and not many of them) and play to make rummy-like sets between players - each gains coins (points). That's kinda it! So not a game for my gamers.
Wild Assent is a game that some part of me would like to have and play, but another (more rationale?) part says no, a miniatures skirmish game (and that's what this is) just would not see the table very often. I really don't enjoy stats and dice and positioning miniatures. There are exceptions to that as I like a good adventure. But not basically a miniatures game. So looks good, might be great, but not for me. Already got some love from Board Game Co and Quack too, so curious that I missed it as I generally follow them.
Crescent City Cargo just isn't described very well anywhere, so I resorted to reading the rules. This didn't help much. The rules took you to through 8 pages of set up before having an overview of the game. And the overview didn't really add much encouragement as it seemed to be tedious - at least, the rules left me with that impression. I'd like an overview video and a review please. Then I might have a more definite opinion.
Hunted: Mining Colony 415 has some great art for sure. It's a solo game (alright, maybe a 2 player game as well?), so that's not a big seller for me personally. Unsure how I missed this one as Rahdo gave it the full treatment. Anyhow, it's based off Aliens - flip cards, find cards to flip other cards. If you have a test, you do this dexterity thing? Hmm. Not for me and feels kinda gimmicky.
Varuna is yet another flip/roll and write. I recently played Voyages and really enjoyed it. It felt different in what you did. I do know these roll and writes seem to always degenerate into shared solo games - you are really just trying to beat everyone's score. This was does look unique and interesting - the theme is a deep sea exploration idea where you're trying to discover new creatures - so I've added it to my subscribe list for the moment and await some reviews.
Clash of Armies: Medieval appears to be a cleanly built 1 vs 1 deck builder (a 2 player game). It has some very nice illustrations, very swiftly plays. It also has 6 factions of which you only use 3 in a game - so perhaps this adds to replayability. There are several 1v1 deck builders now and I don't have any of them. Unfortunately, the KS attempt was not successful so this one may not exist yet? I'll keep an eye out - it looks pretty good.
Zerywia is another 1-4 player co-op fantasy (sans dungeon?) event with a unique theme of "primeval world of Slavic myths". It looks lovely I do have to say - illustrations and miniatures. It was a KS that I seemed to have missed - raising £71,920. It appears to be a Runebound or Gloom of Kilforth type game in that you have places to journey and you draw cards (choosing a bit) to do things - working toward an overall story, following icons that lead to other things - getting to the big bad. Smartly done I suspect and loads of content. If you're looking for this type of game, this would be one to check out. For me, I just don't want a co-op in this style of game.
Nicodemus has some crazy even disturbing illustrations. Who knows what it is about? Something about machines. It's only for 2-players and the theme would be off-putting to my wife (my favorite gamer) designed by Bruno Cathala (!). Hmm. It is getting really low ratings by BGG - seems to not have much original material in the mechanisms.
Snakesss got a Dice Tower review. The box is crazy - and this is a party game. I've seen this schtick before: somebody knows the answer and they can talk others out of it. I think there's an Oink game like this called Insider which I have played and thought was ok. I don't generally like deception games, so this is pass for me.
Zoollywood is an adorable (penguin) abstract strategy game which has to be compared to Hey That's My Fish doesn't it? It's a two player affair, but the theme is very fetching. I'm not anxious to find out more here because the complexity is just a touch higher than I'd expect for a game like this one with cards and events and setups.
Dragon Parks does look cute in illustrations. It is a drafting game with transparent cards - seen that before of course. Some rate it low because it is too easy. Also, it doesn't seem to have an English version yet? No videos in English anyhow. So I have to pass even though I do have some interest.
Tiny Ninjas Heroes. I do love me some Ninjas albeit these are chibi Ninjas - so minus a star right there. It got some video buzz from KS video content providers - it did quite well raising CA$ 110,822. It's a head-to-head, 1v1 game where dice represent the ninjas and their health. Roll for damage. Cards are items. You play in the box. I dunno. Nothing I really need want.
Happy Little Dinosaurs has TeeTurtle looking illustrations, so that's fun. The idea here is a closed bidding game: bid to get the points, bid too low and get punished - complete with player elimination. You are dealt random cards, so what is there to do? I guess maybe the closed bid can be interesting and maybe there are some other effect cards. It looks cute and mean and frustrating. I just don't like these types of games and neither does BGG (much).
The Phantom: The Card Game is from the old comicstrip character of the same name. The illustrations are all of that and for me, that's a huge plus - I really like the look. It looks smart how the cards work with icons and effects. Alas, once again it is pretty much a solo game I think and I just don't need many of those in my collection (I use my computer devices for solo play). It's really too bad because I love the theme and it looks pretty smart. It got a Rahdo preview as well - kinda surprised I missed it.
Mortum: Medieval Detective has knock-out great illustrations and a dark, gritty theme. It plays 1-6 (!) and seems to be a card driven detective style game. Is it replayable? Could I get anyone to play it with me? Who knows! I don't think it is widely available or even available at all yet. But wow, I'm interested purely on the pitch and the look. From what I've seen, it looks quite original in play. I need to know more, so on the Wish List it goes. We'll see if something comes of this.
Wutaki got a bit of video material from various luminaries. It has a cute presentation and it's a worker placement joint. But it has several interesting devices - like competition for feeding workers, gaining bonuses for everyone but even more of a bonus for one player - and even some straight up take-that systems. So clever stuff here. I wish the presentation was a bit more polished, but it is quite cute. I'm a touch interested!
Spy Connection has a great look, and appears to be a family-weight game. I personally really love a good spy theme. It has straight up mechanics: a limited supply of disks that you use to build networks (place disks on the map) to connect cities. When you complete a mission, you use disks to mark that as well - so you lose disks as you gain points. Nicely done. I think it looks easy and yet aggressive at the same time which creates an interesting challenge for me to get to the table: too easy for my gamers, too aggressive for my casuals - doubt this will work well with 2-players. But does look nice. Hmm. I'll subscribe and see what happens.
Dream Cruise is difficult for me. No English information available, but the production looks quite lovely. It pitches as a family-weight game and for that it might be too easy for my gamers and thus for me to get to the table. I had the game Dream Home and I think this game might share more than just the name. That game for me was just too simple and not really good as a result.
Kim-Joy's Magic Bakeryfor some reason got significant play on BGG videos. I don't know how that happens - maybe just paid for it? It has a fetching visual feel for sure - very inviting. It has a 'story' card idea which is akin to Detective Club or Fabled Fruit which changes the rules for a given game - not really something I like so far in games. And this is a co-op game which isn't something I need much in my collection. That plus a somewhat tired cook to please customers theme makes it not interesting to me.
Dungeon Decorators did get a Tom Vasel review on Dice Tower. Again, I seem to be missing reviews! Agh! Anyhow, this looks like a light weight Castles of Mad King Ludwig - a game I've never played nor really wanted to play. It also has a drafting tiles idea like Kingdomino. I think the theme is nice and the presentation also nice. Not sure I need a game like this, however, since it likely occupies the same space as Kingdomino - but not as cleanly.
Watch has a Soviet watching your every move setting - and it looks like an action selection, money management (and gears?) into points idea with some area majority for multiplying your scores. Looks pretty clever and I do like the theme quite a bit - spy on other players which holds back scoring too many points. Has nice shiny metals gears as a component and good production over all. Has some min/max mathy stuff, however. I'm going to follow it and see.
Fired Up is a miniature pretty fight game - but you're not controlling any one of the fighters. Instead, you're scoring based on card play - this monster hits, I score. Next turn, I might want another monster to hit. Each player rolls dice, pick dice, use the action to manipulate the monsters. This got a Tom Vasel Dice Tower review - and yeah, I guess I missed it. Anyhow, this look really different and unique - lovely production and illustrations. However, several comments say this game has too much luck of the dice - can't really make happen what you want. Too bad - this looks good otherwise.
Ostium is a deck builder that was designed as a duel game, but now is 1-3 players. Hmm. I really can't tell much here as there are no videos in English, but there is a rulebook. Quick scan of that doesn't reveal much that is unique or interesting: it seems to be a bit of Summoner Wars or any number of 1v1 deck builder games (of which there are several now). The illustrations are dark, but good. But be a good game.
Roll In One has this interesting idea of being a golf simulation (?) but you select dice instead of clubs. It has colorful, thematic hexagons representing different parts of a golf course that are set up by players in turn for each hole. I'm not a golf guy, and I suspect that those who do golf would rather just be golfing? But the dice for clubs idea is clever I think - bit of push your luck as you need to roll higher and more precisely. Might be fun. Illustrations and presentation are ok, but not great. In the end, nothing I think I could get to the table.
Shards of the Jaguar is a game I believe I did hear about on KS and nearly backed - it just has lovely graphic design and production. It's a running take-that game with a clever system. You are spending action points to do various things - including deciding which row of tiles trigger a trap - and there you can kinda control how it works and who it impacts (your opponents presumably). It looks just delightful to me, love the theme, presentation and mechanics, so on the Wish List it goes!
Ruins of Mars. Is Mars just a popular theme since TM or am I just imagining this? Seems like there are several. In any event, this looks kinda interesting - kinda cool action selection system, good production and illustrations, nice scoring system. I like what I see! There are some concerns in play time, how much variety we have here, and does it stand apart? I think it might have enough to be something, but I'm not overly interest. Just barely a miss for me.
Studies in Sorcery had a respectable KS run of $33K and a preview by Rahdo. The graphic design is passable, but not glorious. It looks like a recipe card game where you need to get things to make things to gain victory. Simple play style, splash of pushing your luck, but the visuals just don't pull me in sufficiently.
Factory 42 looks like a complicated worker placement (all place, resolve in order ala Dominant Species) and a cube tower (ala Wallenstein and select later games) all themed around dwarves in a communist government. That makes it weighty, thematically original, and complicated! Maybe something I'd play, but not enough to get me over to buy it as these heavier games don't get played (much) in my collection.
Simplicity has nice visuals and straight forward game play. We have the Kingdomino tile selection again and simple rules for different types of buildings. I'm unsure if the restriction on where you can build would remove any real decision making? And it feels almost to simple and quick: only 5 rounds! I do get Kingdomino played quite a bit, but that game feels more thoughtful and engaging than this one. So not a game I need in my collection.
Blabel I think is a bit of a fun jokey type game wherein a player can only use certain words to explain what needs to be done. This has been done before in Ugg Tect and has the silly factor of (say) Bunny Bunny Moose Moose. These are fun for many people and again, not for me. Well, maybe in certain circumstances, but not in general. Am I too stuffy? Probably so. And further, BGG seems to be saying the game doesn't work at all at times? Anyhow, not my kind of game.
BIOTOPIA feels at first blush like a game trying to do what Wingspan has done. There have been several like this. I think this one was released in Danish? Much simpler than Wingspan - just play cards that require flowers already in play (the back of every card is a flower). You play to 15 points (a touch of Splendor perhaps). Lovely illustrations and what might be a fairly simple game to get to the table. Interesting!
Dunaïa has a cluttered fantasy illustration style, but it looks pretty. It's a dice drafting game - which has great interest to me (I'm researching those these days). The dice activate sections of your player board (which can be upgraded by buildings). Looks pretty easy to play, but there's a constraint on random actions available to you. This is a game where I feel the theme confuses the game play - it is so fantastical and has no relation to reality (one phase is called 'recycle', another 'prophecy'), it doesn't help understand play.
Sherwood Bandits looks just great - hugely fun loving and revolves around a placement, dice rolling, push-your-luck system where you gather loot - set collection. The push mechanic is fun loving too - where early you get more choices of loot and later you get less. This one looks pretty marvelous - and no surprise (beyond that it got little notice) as it is from a Ludus Magnus. It was a Kickstarter, but didn't do well - "491 backers pledged €23,346". However! The ratings on this one is very low and has some harsh remarks about how the luck mechanic is just too lucky. Perhaps a try before buy for this one (but I do like the way it looks).
The Path of the Adventurers has great illustrations that are a bit uneven at times, but at first blush is a typical dungeon crawler with mini cards for items, dice to roll to do things (activate items), health points, healing, skills to use - all your typical fair. This might explain why the KS only raised €26,536. Like others perhaps, this one just doesn't do enough different in the face of games like (say) Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion or Dice Throne Adventures? I dunno - it's a roll of the die (pun!) out there!
Paper Apps: Dungeon is one of those games that features portability. But here's where I am with that pitch: I take my iPhone with me everywhere and the apps there are amazing and widely varied. I generally wonder why such a thing isn't just put on an phone? The game is obviously aware of this ('Apps' is in the name), and yet didn't do much to change my impressions. Looks rather too simple for me: roll a d6, bounce around into icons, get to the end (maybe) and play again. So not for me.
Elixir Mixer is one I'd like to know more about. It has really fun and colorful illustrations and the game play looks a bit like Jaipur - my favorite 2-player game. Here you trade or play cards that match the value of your cards - super easy. First to 8 pts wins. If I could get that same feel as Jaipur for 2-4 players, it would be fantastic! Unfortunately, I don't think this one is broadly available as the BGG Market only has delivery from OUS. So rats! Maybe it will turn up in the US at some point?
Popcorn Dice looks like a simpler Martian Dice - is that even possible? Apparently so! I do love Martian Dice and play it all the time to finish an evening of gaming. The theme is ridiculously fun and there's just enough here (and yet almost nothing at the same time) to keep me laughing and interested. Popcorn Dice makes that game even easier with less die sides and less decisions. Impossible!
Erune gets a mention not because it looks like every dungeon crawler out there, but because it has an app - and it is voice activated and can answer any rules question you have. That's actually suddenly interesting to me. I don't like taking time to find a rule in a complex game. So that's clever. But other than that, I have no idea. It looks like a one vs many dungeon crawler - so needs to beat out Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) (not the third edition which I have heard is just not an improvement). Does it? I dunno.
Here It Endeth
That's it! I got through EVERY GAME released in 2021! Although this did take quite a while, I enjoyed the journey! I was surprised that there weren't more games to be honest. I was bracing myself for a month of work, but it only took about a week off and on.
Did you make it to the end with me? You're crazier than I am! But thanks for sticking with me. Did you learn anything? Any games suddenly catch your interest? Should I try this again sometime? What else could I have done to make this more interesting or valuable?
- [+] Dice rolls
Welcome to 2022 Kickstarter Analytics! As with many of the past years (and now for over 10 years), I will make some observations about how Kickstarter fared over the past year. And then over this year, I'll pop in and out on this blog, matching BGG status with KS funding. You can see all of my past KS Analytics by clicking the category under the title of this blog.
Thanks and Apologies
First, a few thank you notes. I would like to especially thank Juha Leppälä and his wonderful Geek Lists throughout the year itemizing and tracking BGG entries to Kickstarter. Without this, I could not pull this data together.
Second, I'd like to thank Kicktraq. That's where I pull the dollar figures as Kickstarter itself makes it incredibly difficult to get any consistent information.
Third, a few notes. I'm not (yet) tracking Gamefound or other board game funding sites. I realize these are becoming more and more significant over the years and I do want to look into analyzing what is happening on these other important crowdfunding services.
Although I do make an effort to get to every game, I've likely made some number of mistakes. I've been a large supporter, participant and observer of KS since it began (backed over 100 games and have run 4 successful Kickstarters). I still enjoy seeing and finding smaller efforts, new designers and wonderfully original ideas. I love the whole idea of gaining backers to support the work! I collect KS funding just for fun and for a bit of analytics for my own interests, but I'm certainly not perfect. Anyhow, please be kind.
Highlights for 2021
The total funding for 2021 was just over $138M in 2021. That's down from $151M in 2020 - quite a drop. I count 761 successful board game KS in 2021 out of 1017 attempts (74% success rate). The median amount of funding was $27K USD and the median goal was $10K. Median number of backers is about 550 and the median per backer is $55. That's pretty typical in my experience, so not much unusual there.
An example of a 'median' game in 2021 is Motif which raised just over $27K with 485 backers. This was from a first time game creator and looks hand crafted as a prototype. It has a nice clean look, an honest presentation and thoughtful craftsmanship. Good for them!
Another 'median' game is Catch Don Falconi raising about $28K with 503 backers. This one at first blush looks like a cross between Tsuro and Getaway Driver? It's another first time designer and the illustrations are fetching and fun. The game play looks to be welcoming and easy for anyone to get into - it's one vs many I think, but there are a variety of ways to play. So a fun game that was funded last year!
Of course there were some monster successes. There were 29 KS runs that were over $1M USD. Biggest one was The Witcher: Old World, raising nearly $8M from 45K backers. Surely the IP carried this one. I also saw it reviewed by several KS board game folks - likely also due to the IP and the buzz around the KS run. Tons of publishers picked it up as well (just look at the listing on BGG), so we will be seeing it show up all over the place when it releases. It's a big deal.
The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls Requiem raised $6.7M from 47K backers. Binding has a large following outside of board gaming - the video game on Steam is huge. The first KS The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls raised $2.6M from 38K backers in 2018, so this follow up was really no surprise. Edmund McMillen also raised over $1M with Tapeworm in between the two. It's one of those cases of a huge following outside board and card games carried over. It's happened a number of times and is one of the surefire formulas on KS.
I don't need to detail Everdell: The Complete Collection, Monster Hunter World: The Board Game, Zombicide: Undead or Alive, Stellaris: Infinite Legacy, Mythic Battles: Ragnarök, Primal: The Awakening and Marvel Dice Throne do I? All of these raised over $2M with obvious explanations: IP and/or Miniatures. The true KS formula. Well, maybe Everdell needs an explanation? But not really - it is based off a very successful original game and here you get an 'all in' type pledge available.
As usual, I'm not personally interested in the games that bring in the most money although I did back Marvel United: X-Men (with some regrets). The miniature load in that is just stunning and I'm a sucker for all things Marvel as I have been since I was a kid. Just love the stuff (and yes, I backed Dice Throne too). United this time out raised almost $6M from over 25K backers - that's like $235 per backer for those keeping track. Yeow!
Low Price and High Funding in 2021
This brings to mind one thing I like to check out: what was the most popular KS measured by lowest per backer at the highest backing level? I think these are games that break away from the typical formula that drives backers to spend hundreds of dollars.
Tiny Epic Dungeons is arguably the winner in low price but high funding group. Tiny Epic games have a long history of doing well on KS and this was no exception, raising over $2M with 41K backers - that's about $51 per backer. Villagers: Shifting Seasons raised $385K with 9K backer ($42 per backer) only to be topped by Mindbug (Richard Garfield name drop) with $375K from 10K backers ($37 per backer).
Verdant raised $342K from 11K backers - $29 per backer! What's impressive here is the reach of these games - the low price makes it more accessible, but I also suspect the simpler play style is very welcoming. Hidden Leaders was a game I myself backed, but cancelled before it funded. I was on the line with it - the artwork is fantastic, but the game play just didn't hook me in the end after watching a few game plays. Still, an impressive run: $300K from almost 13K backers ($24 per backer).
I do have to mention Clash of Deck which had TWO Kickstarters in 2021. If you haven't heard of this one, it certainly is worth checking out because the top note is it's completely free! Yep, you only pay a small shipping fee. In April 2021, it raised just over $79K USD from 20K backers ($4 per backer) - so maybe it wins the award! Later in November 2021, it raised over $173K from a mere 3700 backers. What happened to the free game you say? Well, still free (?), but now you're paying €8 for each expansion and there are 6 of them to get. That's how you get to $47 USD per backer! Amazing. Anyhow, such a novel idea for a KS and a very intriguing card game as well. Love clever ideas like this.
Fantasy Card Games on KS in 2021
As a last bit of investigation, I'm interested in finding out how well card games are doing on KS - specifically those with a Fantasy Theme. Why? Well, let's just say I have some interest with regard to my next KS attempt - so some market research for me. It feels like a well-worn space on first blush. Here I'm trying to limit it down to games that are just cards - not games that use cards. A bit difficult to do because BGG typically conflates these ideas - adding Card Game as a category even though it doesn't describe the game itself. I mean Flamecraft is lovely, raising over $2M, but it isn't strictly speaking just a card game.
There's about 75 or so that fit that category - Valeria: Card Kingdoms – Darksworn is an expansion for Valeria, but did very well raising $190K from about 3K backers. I'm crediting much of their success from their previous success - no shame there, but something that can't be replicated without years of success behind you. Same goes for It's a Wonderful Kingdom raised $564K from over 8k backers which surely was boosted by it's very successful predecessor It's a Wonderful World.
Volfyirion Guilds has this huge dragon miniature that likely carried the day, but it does appear to be a fantasy themed card game, raised $286K from 5K backers. It's a 2-player deck builder affair with some interesting mechanics. I think it looks quite clever and obviously a lot of others did as well.
Mage Noir was another very success card game raising $227K from 2611 backers. The graphic design is wonderful and the title for the game is really great. But from all appearances, it is a MtG styled game with some new twists in how you cast spell cards. Very lovely, very slick and clearly attracted several backers!
Dungeons Of Draggmar almost pulled me with its throwback, cool comic book vibe to the illustrations that look like Darkest Dungeon (which itself raised $5.6M in 2020). The illustrations really get most of the credit in getting eyeballs on the campaign. It raised a respectable $48K from 1438 backers. Pretty impressive! The way this creator is running things is interesting too: start with a PnP version of the game on KS (with a $10 funding goal!), then run a follow up printed version. It seems to be working? But I'm unsure how many backers of the PnP come over for the full game later?
To me, even Zun looks interesting - but I'm unsure who is backing it? Did one of you by chance? I'd like to hear why if you did. It raised $19K from 444 backers. The reason I'm confused is the game looks like a really simple almost Uno style game play, but has a fantasy theme and hit point idea - akin to MtG. No deck building here - just a single colorful deck. No big illustrations, just very simple symbols. I think it does look clever and may work well. But is it for gamers (due to the theme) or for grandma (due to the simple, clean colorful look and game play)? I dunno.
Another that is difficult to explain for rather low funding is Dungeon & Kingdom which raised only $4,108 from 167 backers. It had a view good video previews - although the game appears to be convoluted and confusing to play. The artwork, however, is charming. Sadly, it seems like the creators are not responding in KS any longer - very worrisome. Did backers worry and pull out? In any event, it didn't do very well on KS in 2021.
On a much higher note, I have to say Spire's End: Hildegard looks amazing. I believe it's primarily a solo game which isn't a large attraction to me (there are exceptions!), but was absolutely and understandably to over 7K backers raising $325K in 2021. The illustrations are amazing - very inviting and intriguing at the same time. It's pretty much a choose your own adventure in a deck, but it looks really fun and I'm quite sorry I missed it. Maybe an after release pick up?
And That's a Wrap!
Well, maybe not. Do you have particular questions for KS Analytics? Let me know in the comments below! I'm happy to try to answer the questions if you're looking to launch a KS or just want to know how things are working out there!
- [+] Dice rolls
I've never written goals as New Year's Resolutions, but I'm inspired to do so for 2022. Here's what I have in mind:
First, I have two game design books on my Amazon Wish List, so I'm going to get at least one of those and read it. If you're looking for a recommendation, there's really only one design book that has impacted how I think about game design and that's Rules of Play. I highly recommend it - but it's really more like a textbook. I also really enjoyed Playing at the World as well. Not really a design book per se, but a really enjoyable read on the history of games - mainly leaning into RPGs. But I think reading Dice Games Properly Explained by Reiner Knizia or Characteristics of Games by George Skaff Elias and Richard Garfield would very likely educate me in many important design ideas.
Second, I want to run another KS in 2022. I'm trying to push out one game a year now (twice my normal speed!) and if I get a KS done in 2022, that would be great! Of course I need to finish up Transmissions shipping early next year before getting too involved in something else. But I think I want to do a card game and I have two designs underway in that space - one of them is likely to become a finished design over the next few months. Hopefully!
Third, I want to write a large number of game reviews. More on this below.
Fourth, I want to trim down my game collection. I have blown out my Kallax shelves and I need to get rid of 20+ games. I think I might do this as as a BGG Auction. Might be fun? Another side goal here is to be a bit more careful about buying games in 2022. I need to slow down.
Fifth, I need to revamp and finish my new website. I have this about done, but I haven't pushed it out yet. It's just been a lot more work that I thought. Hopefully I can get it up and going in the first half of the year at least!
So it's that goal on reviewing games that is different from the past - just like my blog, it's time for a second thought on the topic. Up to this point, I've shied away from writing reviews because I didn't want to be 'that guy' who wrote reviews and also designed games. It might look bad I thought. I don't know of any game designer who writes reviews. But I've changed my mind. I'm going to go for it.
I'm going to attempt to do written reviews for every game I have played. I want to (1) get better at writing reviews, (2) understand what games I like and why I like them, (3) understand game design better and more deliberately - hopefully to improve as a designer.
I think I can offer a unique viewpoint as a designer, so I'm going to structure the reviews around what I find interesting in the game as a design - at least one aspect for each game. That will help me focus, and hopefully make it easier to have a distinct voice for the game. And also this way, it won't be like a 'hate or love' review. It will be more like a dissection review of what design element I find interesting in the game - perhaps around the design elements of Rules, Mechanisms, Setting and Components - maybe picking one for each game for focus.
According to BGG, I have played over 700 unique games over the past 10 years or so. If I do a review every day, that would take years to complete. That's a huge commitment and who knows what will happen over that time? But if I can write a review in an hour or two and apply myself to it each day, it will discipline me and hopefully achieve my goals: a "large number" of reviews. Maybe 100? That would be amazing.
I'm going to approach this randomly. In other words, I'm going to randomize all the games I've played and just go down the list. It's a good way to start and will take me through games I like and dislike at some even pace. I'll be hitting some games that I really don't like and have rated low - even after a single play. I want to understand why that is and deliberately hunt for something to learn from each.
Do you have gaming goals for 2022? What is your advice on my writing reviews?
- [+] Dice rolls
Making a board game is hard work. Just this past week, I've been developing a new card game framed along the lines of Kodachi. The cards have effects and there are some 200+ cards in the game so far. In the past I have printed and cut cards to play the game - and I still need to do that for face-to-face play. Over the years of making games, I have longed to have a way to just play faster and to iterate faster. I've used MS Excel to do some of this - moving cells around. I've used Adobe Illustrator too - drag things around and play. I was tempted many times to write an app just so I could have it that would do all of this right. That would let me move playing pieces and shuffle cards.
Tabletop Simulator solves this perfectly.
Certainly the Pandemic has made it a necessary tool for demoing games, playing with friends, and testing designs. But for solo testing, it has proven to be invaluable. I love it. Now with a card game, I can make changes literally in a few minutes. I can play a game and record every step of every play - bouncing between my text editor and TTS. It's a glorious thing.
As an example, I just need to create a single sheet of cards - each card for me is a seperate png file - but I paste them into a single sheet like 10 cards wide and 6 cards high (the limit is 10x7). I load up TTS, I click Content and Custom and upload the png files, set the size of the rows and columns and bam, all done. I can then scale the size to fit the table, shuffle them with the letter 'R', draw a certain number into my hand by tapping that number. It's so amazing and so fast. I can do this while playing! Although often, I take notes, continue playing hopefully to conclusion, and then go back and fix things. But the iteration speed and satisfaction of having a playable game so quickly is deeply satisfying.
And I know I can do all of that manually as well by writing on cards. But doing that quickly devolves too as notes and scratches pile up. And isn't as satisfying nor as clean.
As an added benefit, I can save all of this to the 'cloud' (TTS gives you loads of free space to hold your files) and play test with anyone who has a computer and a copy of TTS. That's really delightful.
I haven't gotten into scripting, but I know it can do that as well - making for a very complex, more professional experience for players. But for my develop cycle, it is essential now. Truly a marvel. And I may dig into that some day to give players a better experience. But again, for solo testing where I can play a 2, 3 or 4 player game by myself, it is just wonderful.
If you're a game designer, I highly recommend it!
- [+] Dice rolls
Choice space is an interesting design consideration. Here's what I know. It seems a game is more fun if the decisions are fun. Too obvious? Sure. But for me as a game designer, rather hard to figure out in practice and even harder to deliver in a design. As I have written in the past, my designs tend toward too tight or as I have said, too opaque. In the games I enjoy, the choices are both clear and interesting - if not also clever and compelling. It seems to me a choice needs to have tension in it - it has to be not too obvious what the best decision is and create a tension in your mind of this or that. Of course for that to work, there has to be more than one choice.
So it is worth considering: how many choices does a player have on their turn? No choices on a turn would be worthless. I put this at rolling the dice and moving to see the result which is almost universally sneered out around BGG. I suppose one might say this isn't a decision at all and I would agree. This type of design was acceptable for children's games where they just want an experience, not a bunch of decisions. I think today we have better children's games where the decision is light, but the fun is maximized. I should add that no choice might still result in a wonderful experience - and in fact it must if it is going to be a fun game. At some point, I want to think about why discovery in a game is fun. It's what makes a legacy game fun I believe. And it can make a game with no choices fun.
A game with two choices is something like Talisman. When you roll, you can move left or right. You can decide to go for the big bad at the end or not. You can pick up an item or not. There are many binary, two-choice decisions in Talisman. For some, this is plenty. But for me, I describe it as watching your friend on an amusement park ride. They might be having fun, but if your binary choices are bad or - even worse - harmful to you, no fun is had by you. You have to find the fun above or around the actual game to make up for it. "Ha! Sally got turned into a toad.... again!" However, don't get me wrong. Many games do this and many find these just perfectly fun. I personally do enjoy a game of Talisman with good friends who know it's silly and cruel. It can easily create memorable moments which are really a big reason why we play. Again, it must create such moments or the game would not be fun.
You have three choices in Ticket to Ride on your turn: draw cards, draw tickets, claim a route. Of course the latter then involves additional decisions: which route? Likely that was decided ahead of time prior to your turn, but it makes that decision of which card to take tense. Not too tense I would argue - you can always maybe use any card you draw. But what if you draw the wrong card? What if I need that yellow card in a few turns? I think having three choices is an acceptable number for a welcoming game or what is often called a gateway game or family game. It might even be the perfect number of choices for that type of game. I sometimes think that is true.
When you get to four or more choices, you're likely considering a worker placement game or similar. In those games, on your turn you can move to a number of places. Not an infinite amount - it has to be reasonable - although for gamers, A Feast of Odin was still just fine and it has a zillion (well, something more than four) placement spots. I'm more in the Stone Age space typically where the choices are more restricted and limited based on your dice roll. But in a design, the choices still must be clear and understood - else the choice itself is opaque - it isn't a choice because you don't understand it. This can be fun too, but I think if all of your choices are opaque - either by the result of the choice being unknown or the fact you even have a choice is unknown - the ability to find fun is limited. Such a game is less fun? I think that is true.
Generally in more complex games, choices fan out. Making one choice leads to another. Again, Ticket to Ride is a simple example where a choice can fan out, but many worker placement games allow you to first choose a location for the worker and then inside that location, make another decision. Of course these are generally made together if possible such as a location that allows a card choice from a display. You choose first to take a card then you choose which card you would like. Breaking choices down like this make them more digestible and the game more approachable. Again, clarity is paramount in such games. More choices must be met with more clarity. I'm thinking about graphic design here too - the game must present clarity of options and consequences.
And when you get to a dozen choices, you are of course into a very complex game - even a game where the choices are difficult to enumerate - as in a deep wargame. Here you can almost do anything you like. I suppose the ultimate example is a role playing game where the rules are more guidelines than actual rules. I like these as well - when I have the time of course and when I do understand the system. Good wargames use their theme or setting to make sense of the simulation. I know going uphill or through the mud would be more difficult than down a road. I have played Advanced Squad Leader and recall enjoying it. It made sense to me when we played even though it has a very large ruleset. I could not sit down and play it today without a good teacher or a lot of preparation time. Similarly, I have read the fan made edition of the rules for Magic Realm, but I've still never played. It's on my list of games to get to the table at some point. I think for these games just playing reasonably well is a success and a thrill by itself. That's where I put MR at this point: if I could just figure it out and go through it once, that would be a win.
Where are you at in gaming? Do you like games with a lot of choices or few? What is your favorite game with few choices? What makes it still tasty to you?
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I've not played Monopoly in decades. I do recall the game quite well and do have a copy (?) somewhere around my house. It isn't on the 'game shelf'. I've never been a huge fan - mainly because (as I distantly recall) it takes far too long to play. But that doesn't mean I despise it nor even desparage it. On BGG, it has a miserable rating of 4.4. Surprisingly, people still play and rate it and almost always it is described with disdain. I'm not here to defend it. What I am here to do is appreciate this particular analysis of it.
Did you watch it? No? Well, it is a bit longish - just like the game! What I loved of course was the mathematics of it all, but what I really enjoyed was the computer vs mathematician discussion. I smiled quite a bit there. I was fairly competent at mathematics in school but did not pursue it with great love or interest. I blame many things, but mainly myself for not having the fortitude to really get in and understand what math is truly all about. Now in my (much) later years, I do appreciate math more as a discipline and even as a tool for insights.
But in any event, what I did learn in school and was excited about was programming. I have programmed for most of my life (well, since the very early 1980's) including publishing a handful of computer games - and am set to work on another soon(ish) Lord willing and I get my brain into the topic. What I learned in programming has become quite the useful tool in game development.
The first time I applied it was in my game Galactic Emperor because much like the fellow in the video, I couldn't be bothered with working out the actual math of how the dice rolling changed as other aspects changed. In the case of my game, I had these technologies that would change the value rolled (modify it) and wanted to know how valuable such a technology was. So I wrote a program to allow me to run simulations of all arrangements of space ships with and without the technology and ran tens of thousands of simulations. It worked grandly and I was quite proud that even if some would say it wasn't balanced, I would know in my little technical proud heart it indeed was.
Engineering your way around board game development - I've applied it several times since then. I've written large parts of (say) Deadline to see if cards would come out in a regular way to enable solutions. I've done it more recently with Transmissions to figure out how robots would move around the board given different arrangements of cards in players hands. But that one led me to an interesting observation which of course is completely obvious: making a game work 'mathematically' does not in any way make a game fun. In fact, it can be quite a distraction.
Still, I find the tooling useful and will still use it rather than getting out a sharpened pencil and applying my studious efforts to solve the necessary equations. I can usually emulate what I want emulate with code - and run it hundreds of thousands of times in a few minutes. It lets me observe corner cases. But as said, it can be a distraction and give one false confidence.
As a final note, on Transmissions, I got to the final card set for players by physically working with the cards. I didn't use a computer at all in the end because I want to get a 'feel' for what would happen and how the cards would physically work. I need to remember that benefit as I continue to work on games. Fun isn't the same as balanced.
What games do you like that are not 'balanced' well but still incredibly fun? How important is game 'balance' to you?
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Hey howdy hey, game fans! It's time for the GEN CON BUM'S RUSH review of EVERY game on the BGG GEN CON Preview List! Surely there are other lists you could look at. But then you wouldn't have all of my commentary. And that is why you are here, right? Listen to my sagely advice! Don't follow the popular vote!
My oh my! This past year (and then some!) has been dreadful in so many ways. I think the board game community has held on, but speaking for myself, I long to be back at the table with friends and (frankly) complete strangers! GEN CON this year will not be the same as past years I believe - certainly a lower crowd count (which isn't all bad) and also a dearth of vendors as many have decided not to attend. So alas and alack! I myself almost did not attend and am only going for one day when usually I go every day all day! Nonetheless, I am going on Thursday - opening day and the day of the BUM'S RUSH at GEN CON. I can't imagine social distancing in the starting charge into the vendor hall. It would be unprecedented certainly. So GEN CON will be interesting!
In any event, putting all of that to one side (in my mind), how do I generate this list of GEN CON games? It certainly is easier as the list is significantly shorter in 2021. And those who follow my regular musing about GEN CON know I generally have to speed through hundreds of games to find the dozen or more that I need to have! This time, the resulting review quickly paired down to only 7 games! A tragedy! Sure, I'm ignoring DEMO ONLY games at GEN CON. I'm no insider or professional youtuber and I don't get early plays of unobtainable games. Well, hardly ever anyhow. And the purpose of my hunting at GEN CON is to buy games, not duck over and around trying to snap an instagram photo about a game I can't possibly buy! You should also know I'm ignoring (for the most part) expansions too - not many games are improved by them I find and in general (but not a hard and fast rule!) these are not for me (most of the time). But none of these rules are hard and fast, my friends! They are vague and flexible - like one must be when wandering the glittering majesty of the exhibit hall at GEN CON!
I did look at EVERY game in the GEN CON listing (for you, dear reader). Yet for efficiencies and because I'm shallow and hurried, I pretty much look just at pictures and play any short 'how to play' video if available (at double speed). That's how I do it! Really the visuals tell me a lot I think, but I also want to know how the game works (hence the double speed video viewing). You should also know there are turn offs for me: dexterity, trivia, bluffing, deck diving, tons of plastic miniatures - these are not deadly qualities mind you because after all I am at GEN CON in the mood to buy anything, but as a rule of thumb these qualities mean the game is just not for me. There are LOADS of games releasing - I need to be shallow and quick like a stone skipping across the lake of gaming goodness! GEN CON is mere days away! Gah!
As a final point, I also filter the potential for buying new games through my current vast (bloated?) collection. If you want to know more about what games I regard highly and what I might filter out, look at my ratings and comments. Any game that comes at me at GEN CON must be better than what I already have and certainly better than what I used to have. It needs to fit in my collection! That means if a game is pretty much like something I already have - I'll not be AS interested, but might be interested if I find it interesting! If you want to see my collection, it's here on BGG, complete with comments and ratings. Or don't bother and just trust a seasoned (aged?) gamer for knowing what he knows and probably knows enough to know what needs to be known, you know?
Got it? Good? Great! Then off we go!
BUM'S RUSH GAMES (I'll push people down for these!)
Shockingly, there are ZERO games this year that I absolutely must have. An impossibility in past years, this year there are so few truly new games appearing that I have none that make me want to run at the opening bell. I fear it will be more of a leisurely stroll. Obviously good for my wallet. Or maybe not given how I am lured in by kind words, smiles, and pretty things: "Treacle Tart and Ice Cream! All FREE Today!" Bonus points if you know the reference.
BUY WITHOUT THINKING (Like a drunkin' sailor!)
Furnace Publisher: ARCANE WONDERS Price: $36 USD Booth: 911
An auction game that I think Dice Tower played? That's where I first noticed it and thought it looked clever and very easy to play. You bid to take the card (and build your engine) BUT you also bid to use the action multiple times equal to your bid. Clever! So I'm in on it for sure and will buy it without thinking. Good price too me thinks.
Wild Space Publisher: PANDASAURUS GAMES Price: $30 USD Booth: 1219
Honestly this one was on my list prior to GEN CON, so no surprise I want it. And I really do want it quite a bit - it looks very pretty with a sci-fi theme, has a nice clean engine building concept in the design, and several layers of combo scoring (ala point salad) - set collection in several lanes. And it's just a card game! Having Zee at the Dice Tower sell me on it was the capper for sure. It will be mine (if it is available).
BUY IF A GOOD PRICE (Throwing money away!)
Khôra: Rise of an Empire Publisher: IELLO Price: $58 USD Booth: 1319
It's so dang pretty! I do have a few 'gauge' games like Hadara which I do very much like. Is this one better than that one? Might be. It is so pretty! You roll dice to take actions (simultaneously) and you get all kinds of multipliers here and there for this and that combo of that with this other thing and more points for that too! Wow! Sounds great honestly. I want to play it! The only hold back I have is it truly better than Hadara? Or if not, is it truly better? Somewhat difficult for me to imagine, but maybe? I'm thinking!
Super Mega Lucky Box Publisher: GAMEWRIGHT Price: $16 USD Booth: 2002
I'm becoming a solid fan of Phil Walker-Harding. He just makes games I like! And this one looks too simple for words and yet really great for quick plays. Something I always enjoy in my collection is an inviting game. This one has the look of Schoolhouse Rock by the way - extra points! It feels like a roll and write (well, it is a flip and write) - a dimmer version of That's Pretty Clever - which is not a bad thing to me! Oddly, the only thing that is not great to me is the dry erase boards which I don't like because it requires dry erase markers. I'd rather have pull off paper sheets myself where I can use any pencil or pen I can find. Minor quibble! I'll get this one - maybe. Most likely? Probably.
Greece Lightning Publisher: WIZKIDS Price: $35 USD Booth: 309
I have a soft spot for racing games. I haven't found one that really did it for me yet and this one appears clever. It changes the 'race track' during play! I don't think I've seen that before. And it has some other qualities that look pretty good too.
GONNA NEED A DEMO (Be nice and sell me something!)
Free Radicals Publisher: WIZKIDS Price: $60 USD Booth: 309
Again, lovely game to look at and I like the thinking behind action spots that chain and convert, but also some that are better for one player than another. It feels like that could be very fun during play. The price is a bit much for what I can see in components, but it has worker placement, shared 'ownership' bonuses, and some other features that I find interesting. So I need a demo! But that could lead me to buy it.
INTEREST WANING (There are so many games!)
Land vs Sea Publisher: GOOD GAME PUBLISHING Price: $30 USD Booth: 2447
I do like the look of this one and I can imagine how it would be a good game (pun!), but honestly I need to see it to believe it. A 2-player game that is highly competitive - directly competitive might be a better way to say it - is not great for me and my wife. We just don't enjoy taking on each other in a game. Not directly anyhow. We're ok with other games that are racing toward goals in competition for example - especially ones that obscure who's winning during that race. But direct confrontation - not so much. So we'll see about this! It is priced well and look delightful in presentation. I'm not sold on the 3 and 4 player versions - seem too different (in explanation anyhow) to be what the game really intended. Seems like it was designed as 2-player only.
And that's it, folks! As said above, I'll be watching and thinking and scrolling through games up until the big event. If something changes, I'll change it here (it's my shopping list after all)! AND if you have games YOU'RE anxious to see or play or just outright buy - let me know! Add to the comments below and tell me why the game MUST be yours!
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I've been designing games 'professionally' (if we consider professional to mean getting paid for it, I'm a professional) for quite some time. I began with computer games in the mid-80's and have been pretty much at it ever since. It's a hobby for me for the most part - it isn't my single source of income at all. At times, I'd like to think I'm improving in my ability to design a game. At least, things are becoming clearer for me in principles and ideals. Maybe my designs are getting better too?
Then came my game EMPIRE OF THE STARS.
EMPIRE was inspired by reworking my first board game design GALACTIC EMPEROR which, although ok and even liked by some, is not my favorite design. Yes, I love it for nostalgia reasons and yes, I do like playing it. But I felt I could rework it and improve it. But where I ended with the design was surprising to me. EMPIRE as it turns out is a huge experiment in game design. And I'd like to explain why. But first, a bit of game design philosophy.
As Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals explains - a book I highly recommend - there is a 'magic circle' in every game. "In a very basic sense, the magic circle of a game is where the game takes place. To play a game means entering into a magic circle, or perhaps creating one as a game begins." Now this can be implemented in many ways. Usually, this means a set of rules are laid out and agreed upon. To be sure, there are games that push this boundary from the outset or celebrate the dismissal of rules as more 'guidelines'. Role playing games are a supreme example as I recall originally D&D made clear. The rules were guidelines to fun. If the rules didn't enable fun, the Dungeon Master (in modern terms I think we say Game Master now) was perfectly encouraged to ignore them or otherwise alter them. As the book Rules of Play details, watching children play is very instructive as to what the magic circle really can be. The playground game Four-Square allows for adjustments or variations to the rules by the server. In fact, I took this to heart in a design of mine never published about playing Four-Square with a deck of cards allowing the 'dealer' to decide rules which were selected from a set of rule-breaking cards. I suppose FLUXX is similar (a game I do not like by the way) as the win conditions change dramatically during play. And there are surely many other examples.
Before going much further, I need to set out a few definitions I commonly use. One is 'The Game' which for my purposes means the rules and components. I think of 'The Game' as an entity itself. As an extreme example, a game with solo rules makes The Game into an 'automa' - a robot player and your opponent. Often this happens in co-op games of course: The Game is your opponent. Another term is 'The Table' which for my purposes means the group of players playing the game. I think of the group of players as a single entity. There is interplay between The Game and The Table as you can imagine. The Game makes determinations, and speaks to The Table. And The Table can also speak to The Game. In a great many designs, The Game has a heavy influence - very structured, very deliberate, the dictator of what happens. The Table might demand fealty to The Game: "Let's see what the rules say!". Perhaps most would argue there is no other way to play. How can we have fun without The Game declaring what fun is? We should always follow The Game! But what if that is challenged? Can play survive? What if The Game is silent or oblique? What if The Game asks The Table: "You decide how this will work." Can fun occur? More importantly, how often will fun not occur?
Returning to my design EMPIRE OF THE STARS. First, it allows for players to choose what roles happen during play and thus determines what can and cannot happen in the game. In this, I've made The Game place a critical trust with The Table. In GALACTIC EMPEROR (and many other designs before and after), role selection is quite common. The Table chooses roles in some undetermined sequence - usually incentivized by placing a coin or other value on them. Or removing roles as the game flows - cycling the roles somehow, returning them in some sequence to The Table. What if a design didn't do that? What if The Game allowed nearly any role to be chosen - even multiple times in a row? EMPIRE nearly does just that. Choose any role at any time or don't. The Table decides. Yes, coins are dropped as roles are 'ignored' by The Table - thus creating an incentive to choose them later. But that is also determined by The Table, not The Game - i.e. The Table decides what to incentivize. The Table, not The Game, decides how play flows. Is that a good idea?
A more egregious example is the combat system in EMPIRE. It is unique in a few ways - certainly to 4X games - allowing any number of allies to be called in and give their units temporarily to the attacker or defender. This allows room for The Table to gang up on a single player or cycle who gangs up where, at what time. But what if The Table decides to always gang up? What if The Table always decides to create allies? The Game could limit this of course - RISING SUN limits this to pairing only I believe - i.e. only two players can ally together. COSMIC ENCOUNTER on the other hand nearly always allows allies to occur which creates crazy moments in play. EMPIRE in play lets The Table decide how much they gather together during the game. They can pile on extremely - there's almost no limit at all. A player on the receiving end can be crushed repeatedly (you never lose your ships - they can come back out again and again). Is that fun?
Another example of trusting The Table in EMPIRE are extreme player powers. Many games have differences in starting resources or small rules advantages - a plus there, a minus over there. But EMPIRE has large differences - huge changes to what a player can do. And other powers are less so - small tweaks. The powers flip during play to even more insane advantages. Is this a good design? And on that topic of 'good', I think a better way to understand that is to think in terms of fun. How often will fun happen for The Table? How often will it not happen? If you put these three qualities - free role selection, allies in combat, extreme player powers - in a single game, will fun happen often or not?
That's why EMPIRE OF THE STARS is a huge experiment for me. I don't know the answer.
I can already see feedback on the design - and heard it during play testing as well. Some will find this design insane and even ruinous to enjoyment. Player power X is too powerful - how can anyone have fun with a player power like that? We can agree to ally all the time and all score lots of points. How can anyone enjoy that? Some roles are never chosen when we play - how can that ever be fun? I'm worried about this as I don't want anyone to have a game that isn't fun. It is a game after all - it should be a box of fun! But I hear other feeback as well - details of winning against a player power that was deemed overpowered. Arguing that combat never would happen in their play - why would anyone choose that? Saying that they always choose a certain role because it guarantees winning. In other words, I'm hearing extreme feedback on both sides. Maybe that's a good sign?
But in the end, is EMPIRE good or bad? Does it create fun more often than not? I don't know that either.
I will say it is an unusual design for me, a new lesson in how to design a game, and maybe painfully so. It remains to be seen. I have no idea how I am regarded as a designer, but I am learning about how I design albeit maybe too slowly. One thing I am trying to do better is to be clear about what a game is because I still maintain that the more you can 'warn' a potential buyer of the game - and I certainly want to alert The Table to what they are about to spend time on - the better the chance of fun will be. They are getting what they expect rather than what they do not expect (a handy and favorite definition of Quality by the way). And I do want The Table to have fun with The Game!
What are your thoughts about this topic? Do you have any games in your collection that are spectacular fun with certain friends and a tragic failure with others? Why is that do you think?
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