Gaming for a living

When one designs and published board games for a living, one tends to rant a lot about it. This is where we do that, the folks involved with Board & Dice and our special friends and supporters. We'll post here our ideas about gaming, about life, about gaming more often than not, about the specific challenges of making a business out of a hobby and... did we mention games?

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Praetor - a worker placement board game

Andrei Novac
Poland
Warszawa
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I've been asked countless times what the story of NSKN focusing so much on civilization or empire building games and when will we come to our sense and do what every typical start-up board games publisher does and make a simple worker placement game which would potentially reach a much wider market. Every time I answered the same thing, "when the time is right, our Euro-game will come to be", maybe with less fancy words, but you get the idea.

Well, it looks like that time has finally come and we're working on a Euro-game!

The working title of our board game is Praetor, it has a setting in the Roman Empire - pretty obvious I would say - and a number of players, most likely up to 6, are competing to become a Praetor. They're all in charge of building a new new Roman settlement together, each responsible for his own part and in the end, the most skilled of them will be appointed Praetor by the Caesar/Emperor.

As Euro-games go, this one aims to be either middle-weight Euro. That means it won't be addressed to absolute beginners - it looks like I am simply not capable of designing easy games - but it won't be too complex for the average gamer to enjoy and it won't last more than 90 minutes.

So far the theme is a bit different from the typical worker placement game (Agricola, Pillars of the Earth, Caylus, Fresco, Le Havre, Ora et Labora) but this is just the beginning.

Since we're in the early stages of development and the game has undergone just a few tests, we can't reveal all the details, but just to stir your curiosity... the most important 'trick' this game bring is that your workers gain experience over time, becoming more efficient in building and collecting resources. However, once a certain amount of experience is accumulated, they retire so you must recruit new ones.

Moreover, instead of being a simple worker placement board game, Praetor will combine this mechanic with city building. You will start with a simple settlement and you will develop it by placing new tiles. In a nutshell, each game will look different, simply because the order of available building will be different.

Most Euro-games have a scalability problem, if they work well with two players they become messy in 4 or 5, or if they work well with many players they will become dry with only two. We plan to overcome this problem from the very beginning by changing the modular map setup according to the number of players.

I guess these details will do so far, as soon as we're convinced and start massive play-testing, we'll come back with many more details and pictures.

Until then, it looks like the winter is the season of great board game ideas. Stay tuned!
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Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:54 am
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Technology in games and real life

Andrei Novac
Poland
Warszawa
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In many modern board games and especially in the empire building games, the games is won by accumulating Victory Points. There are usually many ways to do that, conquest, exploration, economic and technological development.Warriors & Traders and Exodus: Proxima Centauri fall under this category, of civilization games, where players compete on several "layers" and each direction brings Victory Points.

Board Game: Exodus: Proxima Centauri

Exodus: Proxima Centauri tech tree
While play-testing Exodus: Proxima Centauri, several people asked me why are there no VPs awarded for developing their technology tree. The same things happened to a lesser extent with Warriors & Traders. I gave an answer to each person, but I feel it would be useful to elaborate on this a little bit more.

The topic I am going to debate is the reasoning behind our technological development and how are we benefiting from that.

First of all, what drives us - humans - to research. There's curiosity on one side, our constant need to discover and to find answers and on the other side there is the need to improve our lives, our existence, the need to prosper, but also the need to expand or defend.

I have read research (I cannot quote though) that most technological advancements in the history of humanity were achieved during the time of war or while preparing for war. Just think about World War II or the Cold War. Also, during the time of peace, most of our technology was not a purpose but means to achieve a greater goal. What I am trying to say is that we rarely research for the sake of science, but we have a purpose, a goal to achieve.

It is possible that I am over-simplifying things, but I have this image in my mind of the first man on the moon. This was a peaceful technological achievement, but the technology that stood behind it was driven by the Cold War Space Race, which has mostly (if not solely) military purposes.

My point is that developing technologies, research in general is the path to achieving a goal, not the goal itself. Moving back to board games... in Exodus: Proxima Centauri, there is no VP award for learning any specific technology, although researching is an important part of the game. It may be an obsession of mine to make games (even sci-fi ones) realistic, but every technology gives an advantage and just waiving one's achievement in front of the opponents won't bring extra power, it would be just a threat at most. And this is exactly what happens during the game when a player has reached a technology that would potentially give him an outstanding advantage: his opponents see it, fear it and react.

Imagine that during the Cold War the US would just tell the Soviets "we know how to make nuclear weapons" and the Soviets would suddenly say "you the greatest, you win". History proved that both sides had to actually make nuclear weapons and threaten to use them to get a strategic position. The technology served as means, not as purpose. I followed the same rule. In Exodus, most technologies bring some military or civilian know-how. Then, the players have to build the weapons or the ships to take advantage of the successful research. Nobody says that they have to actually use the weapons, just like the Soviets never attacked the US, but they can be used to build up influence and to score indirect points.

Maybe I've taken the comparison too far, it is just for the purpose of exemplifying a concept that I believe in - technology is not greatness but it serves as a path to greatness.

Now I might be accused that I did not follow the same principle in Warriors & Traders, where the most advanced player on each of the three tech paths gets a direct award of Victory Points. The reality in the Dark Ages was different. The intelligence was not as developed as we are used to and enemies had to severe difficulties in spying on each other and gather relevant information. Hence, there was a short path from reality to myth and a big discovery could easily transform into a legend which would simply keep the enemies away.

So, to keep the long story ...not so long, I am concluding my debate on technologies here wishing that people will simply enjoy playing our games.
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Thu Aug 16, 2012 2:50 pm
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What's so special about board games?

Andrei Novac
Poland
Warszawa
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From gallery of anovac
I've seen recently a picture on Facebook that really inspired me. The day-to-day life is somewhat boring if we don't spice it up a little bit. Many say that the little things are the ones that make a difference. Well, for some of us, those little things that make a grey day bright are the board games.

What brought me in the board games world at first was the amazing combination between having fun and using my brain. It sounds funny, I know, but it is true. Once we graduate from college, most of us get so sucked in the working world and we forget that there are books around - and I am not talking about Freakonomics, C++ or Excel for Dummies - or theater or museums. I know that it happened to me. After a certain age, it become increasingly difficult to keep learning new things, to stay open minded and to use our brains outside work.

This is where the board games come in. If you don't have enough time to go to a museum, or don't want to be alone with a book or cannot afford an evening at the theater, play a board game! There are so many choices, from 20-minutes abstract game to enormous empire building games that take up the whole weekend, there are nowadays more than 10,000 decent (and above) board games on the market and at least 500 new ones get published every year. With this much diversity, it is impossible not to find something you like. So, instead of watching brainless TV, get you friends together, spread a board game on the table, talk, make strategies and enjoy a great time.

Besides stimulating our brains and the obvious social role, board games stimulate our creativity. I guess that one of the reasons I started developing them instead of just playing. After many evenings of gaming, I realized that there a whole universe that has not been explored yet and there is an infinite number of things that could still find their way inside a game box. So, following the motto from the picture, I dug inside my head and I started putting all the ideas on paper. It turns out that there are a lot, many more that I could ever develop into games. So I must choose and even this little process of deciding what is worth developing and what isn't keeps me thinking.
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Tue Jun 26, 2012 11:03 pm
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Greece, politics, board games, live long and prosper!

Andrei Novac
Poland
Warszawa
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I was writing a few weeks ago about the political situation in Greece and how it affects the world of board games. Yesterday, a new round of elections took place and, although I am trying to stay as far as possible from politics, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on this.

From gallery of anovac
Antonis Samaras-live long and prosper!
The whole Europe and most of the world have focused on Greece for the past few weeks, not due to their impressive come-back in the Euro 2012, but due to the importance of these elections for the future of the Euro-zone and EU itself. The fear was that, should the radicals win, Greece would no longer respect the bailout agreement with the EU and IMF and would be forced to default on their debts, thus causing an extended crisis throughout all the countries which share the Euro as their currency and the other countries surrounding the Euro-zone.

But that's just some political talk, right? How would we - the common people - feel this directly? Well, just the perspective of the Greek default cause the Euro to lose some 3% against the US dollar and other relevant currencies, the oil price dropped with more than $10. For all those who are doing business across borders and currencies, this lack of stability is causing stress and even panic. For those who have saving or credits in various currencies, this prolonged instability is a source of nightmares and for the rest it is simply a nuisance ready to become a serious issue as soon as the price are going bazinga once again.

Fortunately, the (almost final) results of the Greek elections show that ND, a moderate right hand party won and will form a government which will work with the EU and IMF to get the country out of the brown situation and respect all the international agreements that Greece had signed. The political leaders in Europe are having less cold sweats, they can now focus once again on hiding their own dirt under the carpet.

For the board games world there isn't much of a change. But there is some change. The quotation I got this morning for international shipping was 7% lower that the one I got last week, in spite of the slight increase in the oil price (everyone in the shipping business blames crazy prices on the oil and gas market), so there is hope for better.

Overall, I guess the outcome of the last political weekend looks positive and most people have less to worry about. I am just wondering what will happen when the reality hits and one of the countries which are always under the magnifying lens of the EU, IMF and the rating agencies will not make the "right" choice.

Live long and prosper!
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Mon Jun 18, 2012 10:22 pm
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    Is anyone still playing real games?

    Andrei Novac
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    Warszawa
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    Every year, board game designers from Germany and the countries around gather in Göttingen for two days to present their latest creations to publishing companies. Most of the new games go by unnoticed, some of them become big hits. Yesterday I witnessed - as a designer - this gaming fair which is supposed to bring together the most innovative ideas in board gaming. After almost ten hours, I got to the hotel disappointed and unwilling to return for the second day.

    Don't get me wrong, the event is perfectly organized, German quality all the way, and for most designers this represents a unique chance to be seen by the trend makers in the industry. My amazement and disappointment come from the request of the public. I was talking today with a representative from one of the biggest publishers in Germany and I was shocked to find out that games like Catan or Carcassonne are considered today too complex! I am not kidding, he was looking for games that people can play without even reading the rules and they can finish in 20 minutes.

    So, are there any people out there playing real games? Games that make you think, that can be played over and over again? Games that you can re-discover a few years later and still enjoy? Games that last a whole evening?

    I am not saying that abstract games and children games are not important and they should be ignored, I am just asking are these the only games people play today? Some say I am obsessed with counting and they might be right. Today, in the main hall of the Göttingen fair, about 65% of the games were abstract and/or for kids and another 20+ % were simple worker placement games. Compared to them, Agricola and Puerto Rico seem super-complex, something that only a little genius would play.

    I did not have a real goal or any expectations from this visit to the Göttingen fair. I am now returning with some questions in my mind regarding the future of board games. Will people play simpler and simpler and simpler games? The more board gaming moves from a niche hobby to mainstream, the quality and complexity of the games decreases, but to which point?

    Last year I played some very good new "gamers' games". In Spiel '12, we will see last year's designs. Based on what I have seen now, I am curious and a bit scared of what this market will look like in 2013.

    I will end this with a question, how long are you willing to spend in front of a game board one evening? One hour? Two hours? 20 minutes? Or maybe the whole evening?
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    Sun Jun 3, 2012 8:10 pm
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