Board games that tell stories

You can follow me on Twitter at @trzewik. This is BGG copy of my blog BoardgamesThatTellStories.com

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Imperial Settlers: Rise of the Empire - Managing provinces (GDJ #2)

Managing provinces in the campaign mode

Rise of the Empire introduces three pillars that add new gameplay elements to the Imperial Settlers. The first one is well known for all fans who played Imperial Settlers solo variant I published as a free expansion back then in 2014. I will discuss this element today as an opening material for this short series of articles.

Playing Imperial Settlers in the solo campaign mode (free PDF can be found on BGG) or with the Rise of the Empire expansion, you'll have a series of games that conclude with a special phase at the end of the game - Managing your Provinces. In terms of the theme, it's the time to manage the growing Empire - taxes, investments, new constructions, and others!

When playing Rise of the Empire campaign, each player receives a dedicated sheet that represents their domain. On this sheet, there is a map where you mark lands and provinces you already conquered. After each game, you mark one new territory. Each of these has a different cost - the cost you must pay to support and keep the province in future games. That's why the first thing you must do after finishing the campaign game is paying the maintenance cost of each Province you already have in your Empire.

It's the first of many important choices you must take. When playing Rome, will you conquer the Provinces that have a stone in the maintenance cost? It's easy to pay for you, sure, but if you spend stone on keeping Province, you won't have a stone to score points during the game.

As the campaign progresses and you must pay a dozen of resources to keep the Empire intact and keep all Provinces under control, you start to feel like these Roman Emperors, who struggled when the Roman Empire reach the point, when the collapse was the only answer.


After you pay the maintenance cost, the much more fun stuff happens - you draw a new Province card. In the Rise of the Empire, you will find 55 new cards that represent different Provinces. All of them are Production cards, so they boost the Empire's resource engine. When you play the campaign, you start with all your Province cards already on the table, so the more Provinces, the more strong start in the first turn. The cost, in the end, balances it out in a big way, though...

That's the first pillar. Gain new Provinces after each game. Get them into play right from the start and have a fantastic start. Have Japanese faction start with the production of Gold and Stone. Play Barbarians who produce a ton of Apples. Command Romans that have a few additional Swords in production from the start... It's time for your Empire to rise. Eager to find out how it ends!
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Sat Jun 27, 2020 11:08 am
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Rise of the Empire GDJ 1 - Feel at home

It was October 7th, 2018, when I played Imperial Settlers for the last time. Since then, I released Empires of the North, Imperial Settlers R&W, and Roman Banners and Japanese Islands expansions. Things happened, I'd say. This weekend I put my old box of Imperial Settlers on the table again, and I had a game with my wife Merry. We played Rise of the Empire expansion. Before we go into details, let me put this straight - I loved it.

It's hard to believe it's been six years already. I remember it as if it was a few weeks ago. Debates over the layout of the game. Playtesting for hours in the food court in Katowice's biggest mall. Solo variant designed in the last moment. Solo variant winning Golden Geek award. Selling the whole stock we brought for Gen con 2014 in less than half an hour. Playtesting Atlanteans in the hotel during Gama Trade Show 2015. Accepting proofs for Aztecs during Gen con 2016. Pure joy when the very first prototype of Amazon faction worked smooth and playing it was a blast from the very first test game. Fans making fun of me because I couldn't pronounce the word 'amazons'...

Over these six years, we released six expansions. Including promo items, the whole set now has about 800 cards. It's quite the history I have with Imperial Settlers. I play, and memories of all these amazing events are here. All the combos, all the cards, all the tricks I know.

I really enjoyed my weekend with Imperial Settlers. We played three games over the two days; our Empires grew, our little civilizations conquered new Provinces and made some epic Inventions. I played Japanese faction, and on one hand, I did what I always loved in this faction - traded a ton of Apples and hired an army of Samurai meeples, but on the other hand, thanks to new cards - Provinces, Inventions, Goals I was pleasantly surprised with new combos and abilities that changed the way I usually played this faction. After these three games, I cannot help it - I know you will enjoy this expansion.

This article is not the most pathetic marketing piece in the history of the board gaming industry. It is not the lamest way to promote a new product. It is not a shameful plug written by the designer himself.

It's a warning.

I warn you - this summer you gonna play Imperial Settlers. I know you haven't played it for a long time. I know you have Empires of the North on the shelf. I know there are so many new cool games on the market now. I know it all.

But I tell you this - you gonna play Imperial Settlers. Because East or West home is best.
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Fri Jun 19, 2020 8:35 am
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It's a terrifying thought

Boston has seen better days. Lots of protests. Civil unrest. Racial tensions.

This fragment comes from the blurb section on the back of the box of Dig Deeper, the expansion for Detective that takes players to 1970s Boston.

The street date of the expansion is set for June 18th. A few thousand copies already sent to distribution in North America and Europe. More than 10.000 copies of local editions sent to our partners in different countries, including France, Spain, Italy, Germany and more.

You'd probably say it's unfortunate timing for this release. I'd say I am not that sure. I'd say it is terrifying that the story that takes place in 1970 is relevant today, in 2020. I am devastated that 50 years later, we still need to use #BlackLivesMatter to explain fundamental human rights.

I'd say maybe it's not that unfortunate timing. Perhaps it's time to realize that over 50 years not much changed.

It's a terrifying thought, I know.
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Fri Jun 5, 2020 8:57 am
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Why Signature Series makes a difference for Detective line

‘I hate you.’ said Rob Daviau when he approached me at Gen con 2018. ‘I played Detective. You know I was thinking about designing a story-driven game like that for a long time, and you did it. It is everything I wanted my game to be. I hate you.’
I look at him, confused, and he burst into a laugh. ‘Congratulations. You designed a great game Ignacy.’
‘You played it? Finished the whole campaign?’ I asked
‘Oh, yeah. I invited friends for a game retreat weekend; we played the whole thing. That was the game of the weekend. The only game of the weekend to be precise. Brilliant. I hate you.’ he patted my back, winked, and left. I smiled.

The idea behind the Signature Series was very simple. Invite the best storytellers in the industry and ask them to play with the Detective system. Ask them to write their own unique cases for the game. The fact that the game spoke to the storytellers was a good starting point. Few months after the release of the game, I reached Rob Daviau and Mike Selinker and asked them if they are interested. They both were.

The script
When you work with legendary designer, the icon of the industry, like Rob Daviau, designer of Betrayal on the Haunted Hill, or Pandemic Legacy, you might be in an awkward position. What will you do, if the material you get won’t meet your expectations? Will you pat Rob on his back and tell him to try harder? Really?

I was waiting impatiently for a script for his case. Finally, I received the email. At that very same moment, I got a Twitter notification. I checked it. It was Rob’s tweet.

I sent @trzewik something. I hope he likes it.

I took a deep breath and opened the attachment. Read the thing. Read it and loved it. Rob took real-life locations and places, real-life events, and build around them a fascinating crime story. It felt so real and so convincing. He moved the action to 70′, changed the setting of the base game, but kept the spirit and the heart of Detective – solving crimes that feel so real because they are hooked in the actual places and events. It was a load off my mind. No patting Rob on his back and asking him to try harder. His reputation is no joke. He is one of the best storytellers in the industry. That’s a fact.

The twist
‘I want to change how the questioning works in Detective.’ he said to me when we met at Grandcon. ‘Can your team change the way the Antares website works for my case?’
‘What do you have in mind?’ I asked.
‘I want players to actually ask questions. Type them into the website and then get appropriate answers.’
‘OK’ I said and greenlighted the idea. We started play-testing – players were able to bring in suspects or witnesses and ask them questions about these particular topics. The questioning changed from reading a pre-constructed transcript into a real discussion with the suspect. Play-testers loved the idea. Portal Games Digital team who was supposed to code it and upgrade the website, not so much.

New rules
In Dig Deeper, Rob introduced a few new rules and, by a few, I mean, the exact perfect amount. Not too much, so players won’t be confused and, at the same time, enough to make everybody excited about playing this new expansion.
It’s 70′, it’s Starsky and Hutch, it’s police chases. Here is the Gun It rule – players can spend Authority token and ignore the time cost of moving in the city. It’s a one-sentence rule, and at the same time, so much theme enchanted in it and added to the game (you turn on your sirens and slam on the gas pedal!). Rob added few more small tweaks to add flavor to the game, searching libraries or turning in witnesses. With just a few well-designed rules, he changed Detective: Modern Crime Boardgame into Detective: Starsky and Hutch edition!

The conclusion
Having icons like Rob Daviau joining the Detective line is a game-changer for the whole series. It not only gives the game a new audience and exposure but also adds new ideas and approaches to the game system. We called this small boxes line ‘Signature series’ because it is what they – great designers – do, they put their signature on the game, their very own stamp.

Dig Deeper is a fascinating new take on Detective: A Modern Crime Boardgame and a great promise of what can be done with this line in the future! I tell you this. I have on my desk script from Mike Selinker, and yes, he puts his stamp on the game too!




Board Game: Detective: Signature Series – Dig Deeper




****
Dig Deeper is a new expansion for Detective.
Dig Deeper is on pre-order now.
It releases on June 18th.
You can learn more here!
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Fri May 29, 2020 8:29 am
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The Library feature in Dig Deeper or why somebody can hate Rob

There are two teams at Portal Games HQ. There is team #RobIsAwesome, and there is team #IHateRob. I must admit that #RobIsAwesome team is much bigger. Frankly speaking, it consists of most of my employees. The opposition, the #IHateRob team consists of only Portal Games Digital, and after all those delays they procured in the past months, I can openly say that I am, and I always was in the #RobIsAwesome team.

I need to give you some context, huh? OK, let’s get back to the beginning. I think it was Gen con 2019…

***


‘The case takes place in Boston in 70′ and…’ Rob does the pause, looks at me and continues ‘…and there is no Antares database. It’s the seventies. People used libraries back then.’

Libraries. Books. Mystery. Lovecraft. I love Cthulhu. Man, I miss Call of Cthulhu games. Maybe when I get back from Gen con, I could… Rob notices he lost me on ‘library’.

‘Ignacy, focus!’

I am back. ‘Yeah, library. I get it.’

‘If players need files, need dig deeper, need to find something in the archives, they’ll go to the library.’ he smiles ‘And then they wait!’

‘You mean?’

‘You fill in forms, and that’s it. You wait. You get an answer the next day. If you are lucky…’

***


Rob introduced to the Detective the delay mechanism – you fill in the form, you put a library token on the time track, and you will be able to get the result a few hours later when the time token meets it.

It’s smart, it’s thematic, it changes the game and the way you approach the case, as players need to think ahead and follow different leads without some important data that they’ll get a few hours later from the library. With Antares and modern crime it was so different. The change in pace here was significant.

I loved the idea, I green-lighted it. And then Portal Games Digital entered the scene. You’d think if the mechanism is called ‘delay’, they’d love it.

Nope.

***


I don’t want to spoil too much. I don’t want to ruin the surprise and the experience, so let me be very subtle here and just tell you this.

Rob is crazy. Instead of giving us files that players find in the library, he wrote the whole damn dialog lines with the library employe. Each time you visit the library, you have different dialog scene, different things happen additionally to the basic file you were looking for. Just a small spoiler, look at this:

Gary, the librarian, is a hippy. Ponytail. Beard. Glasses. He’s reading a book called the Master Dungeon Guide or something. You mentally note to keep an eye on this guy. Gary looks at you with a twinkle in his eye. “Hello adventurers! Here to pick up your loot? That’s my word for ‘research’.” Gary is a hippy and a nerd. Great.

So Portal Games Digital was ‘very happy’ to code all these dialogs, write the whole code to recognize which dialog you already saw, which one to show next and all that jazz. You can imagine.

***


And that’s why, dear detectives, Portal Games Digital is in #IHateRob camp. That’s why the rest of the company is in #RobIsAwesome camp. And that’s why I have no doubts – I can already produce tees with the logo. Because as I said, I have no doubts – you’ll be in the #IloveRob team.



****
Dig Deeper is a new expansion for Detective.
Dig Deeper is on pre-order now.
It releases on June 18th.
You can learn more here!
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Fri May 22, 2020 7:15 am
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The Interview feature or How Rob Daviau changed Detective

I am with Rob Daviau at Grandcon, and he goes like 'I have this idea for a new Antares feature, but I am not sure if this is possible...'
'It's possible.' I promptly say. He didn't even manage to finish the sentence, but let me tell you this - when the industry icon has a new idea for Detective, you say you can do this, period. You just have to keep in mind that long conversation with whining Portal Games Digital team is your first step when you get back to Poland.

Rob wanted to give players the feeling, the sentiment of old school adventure video games, those in which you choose some pre-constructed dialog sentences, and you choose one to move the story forward. Instead of reading the transcript of questioning like in the base game of Detective, you'd actively pick the questions you wanted to ask.

The idea was brilliant, but I was not surprised. I greenlighted it, so obviously it had to be good.

Over the months of designing and development, the system was evolving, and Rob was sending me updates. He prototyped the Interview feature, and we were able to play-test it. It turned out Rob went even further with immersion and putting players in the shoes of Detective - there were no pre-constructed questions anymore. There was a blank space and simple instruction: What do you want to ask about?

I typed: KNIFE.

The system reacted: I have it from my father. It's a family item. What's the problem?

I typed: ALIBI

The system reacted: I was with my buddies. We were watching baseball. I have a dozen people who can confirm that.

I typed: TRZEWICZEK

The system reacted: I don't know anything about that.

Strange. But that was a clue. The guy was not a boardgamer.

***

Dig Deeper expansion is a single case that takes players to Boston. Not only it is a new amazing story to discover, not only a new case to crack, but you must understand - this is a new expansion designed by the industry veteran. And with the small tweaks in the system like the Interview feature, you can appreciate and understand what industry icon means. It's not a blurb on the book. It's a sign that you will play good old Detective and yet, you will experience something absolutely unique.

I am happy for you. You are gonna love it.





****
Dig Deeper expansion is on pre-order now.
It releases on June 18th.
You can learn more here!
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Wed May 13, 2020 4:20 pm
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The platform

That day we stayed longer in the office. I decided to give Marek ride home.

'I missed Detective.' he said when we were in the car. A few hours earlier, they were play-testing a new case for the game. It's been more than two months since the previous one. 'I really missed it.' he repeated silently, staring through the window.

Marek’s honest and surprising words struck me deeply. That evening, when I was driving home, I was thinking about the future of the game. Detective is a very unique design. It's a board game; you invite your friends, you have your goal, there are rules, and you win or lose in the end. And at the same time, Detective is not a game; it is a system, it is a portal to tell different stories. To some extent, it's closer to Netflix, Disney+, or HBOGo than to a board game.

Detective is a platform that my development team uses to invite you to experience amazing stories. And that being said, what's a long-run future for the game? We are not tired of watching new movies, aren't we? We are not tired of watching new TV Shows, and, I guess, we won't be tired of experiencing new stories presented through the Detective platform. The ideas I have for new campaigns, the scripts I have on my deck with new plots and stories are wonderful, and I can not wait for you to discover them.

If there is more gamers like Marek, people who love stories, the future of the game is safe. Detective will be your platform for years. That day I was late at home, but I was in a great mood.

The next day I came to Marek's desk and told him how he inspired me with his words the day before, and I told him how I see the future of the game and how motivated I am and with excitement, I asked him what he thinks about it.

'I don't know, man.' - he shrugged his arms. 'I just said I missed Detective.'
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Fri May 1, 2020 10:15 am
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My beloved hobby!

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Boardgaming is a ton of work. I look at any of these free weekends, and oh my God, I've been busy all day long.

Let's discuss last weekend. It all began with the new Arkham Horror expansion that I got. The suitcase, where I keep all my cards said enough, no space dude, you need to come up with a new solution.

So I came. I took all cards from expansions I already finished and moved them to separate boxes - lucky enough, I had these "Return to..." boxes that FFG has in offer for crazy dudes like me.

It went smoothly, and I looked at my collection with pride. That was time spent well. Then I decided to move all cards from all other campaigns to a new place and keep in the suitcase only the one expansion I am playing at the moment, along with tokens, rulebooks, and other stuff, and by stuff I mean all these custom bits I hide in the box.

I was in a pretty awesome mood already, so when I finished moving all the cards to a new place, I put on my desk all cards for my characters and looked at the deckbuilding options I was postponing it for some time already. This Saturday seemed like a perfect time for that. So I built a brand new deck for one character and then brand new deck for the other one.

Fun time.

Then some sleeving. Then reading rules for the new expansion. OMG, this new scenario - exciting stuff. I was about to play it, but it was a late-night already. Well, it turned out I spent the whole day preparing.

***


As with every hobby, board gaming is about everything except the actual hobby - that is, playing the game. We spend countless hours painting minis, we spend nights building new decks, we customize our games, and we spend day and night on BGG reading about the hobby.

The percentage of time we spend on actual gaming versus the time we spend on the hobby is not in favor for game time.

My wife Merry makes fun of me when I spent all weekends preparing for playing the game. And I guess, many of you are just like me. We smile and we have one honest response:

"Didn't play the game. Had a blast anyway."
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Fri Apr 24, 2020 10:24 am
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I had this crazy idea - I decided to play Detective.

Last year, in November, almost one and a half years after I finished writing all of the Detective cards, I invited my old friends to the Portal Games headquarters. I used to play RPGs with them many years earlier. We sat in the conference room. I launched the Antares website on the TV hanging on the wall. “Welcome to the agency,” I said. “I have the first task for you…”

I will remember those five evenings for the rest of my life. We finished the whole Detective campaign in less than two weeks. All the boards in the conference room were filled with notes, conclusions, theories, dozens of notes with the details that could be useful in the future. We were the agents. We were solving the unbelievable, vast, mesmerizing case.

Yes, I played with them. Yes, I knew the plot. Yes, I was its co-writer, I was the author of most of the text on the cards, and yet I played together with my friends. I had lots of fun. I was the narrator, I was reading all the cards aloud, I was the devil’s advocate, I was controverting their theories, I was supporting the players who were outshouted, and I was encouraging them by confirming that their theories and ideas are completely sensible. I was also managing all the mechanics, tokens, time marker. I let my friends take care of the plot, and I was responsible for the rules.

Playing the game when you know all the plot inside out might seem the stupidest thing in the world. But it was better than I could imagine. I saw my friends solving the case, listened to their conversations, ideas, watching them as their theories start to make sense, and when they experience all those ‘wow’ moments. I saw their faces when they found the van. I was hanging out with them in the conference room till midnight when they were tracking down the suspect on the cameras and they refused to take a break in the game and continue the next day.

I knew the plot, and yet I played with them. It was so exciting. I cheered for them and kept my fingers crossed, hoping that they would find all the breadcrumbs I hid on the cards months earlier.

***

Invite your friends. Open Skype, Discord, or Zoom. Surprise not only your friends, but also yourself. Play Detective once again. The whole campaign. Take on the role of the narrator, manage the board, the tokens, and show them what this game has to offer - hours of debates, conversations, deduction. I promise you. Those will be the evenings you’ll never forget, even though you’ll spend most of the time just listening. Believe me. It will still be amazing.
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Thu Apr 16, 2020 2:36 pm
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Introvert has time of his life!

NOTE: I am not a psychologist. It's a crazy thesis. Everything I wrote below is probably false. Probably. You read. You smile. You have some reflection. Respect other people and our differences.

Extroverts rule the world. Everything here is built around them. Everything that is important for humans on this planet is built to please extroverts. Let me give you just a few examples—for instance, December 31st.

Every 365 days, the world celebrates New Year Eve. It's an important social event for the whole planet, and let's face it, extroverts told the world how we must celebrate it. There is a party, there is dancing, there are crowds on the streets—terrifying night it is.

And that's just beginning. When two people love each other and decide to marry, they must extrovert it - that's how the world is built. They must invite other people (often some they never met before, but apparently are part of the family) and they must share the joy with them. There is always a party and dancing and singing. And there are people, a lot of them. People all around. They smile and talk to you. You can't marry a loved one without that.

Even the most personal event—birthday is run under the extrovert terror policy. It's your own birthday, but you cannot spend it alone. You must meet those other people and extrovert it. Otherwise, you are a weirdo.

For the whole life, we introverts are forced to consume every critical event in our lives in an extrovert way, being stressed and under pressure for the whole time. Whenever it is my very own birthday, my very own wedding, or, granted, my very own funeral. I will be extroverted by force.

Well, well, well...

For the first time, extroverts are forced to live the other way. For the first time, the world makes them live a way that suffocates them, put under stress and pressure. Kept at home by social distancing rules, they are sitting alone in front of the TV, closed in four walls and it drives them crazy and nuts to be kept away from other people. No dancing, no crowds, no other people around. They suffer.

Dear extroverts! I know this pain. For the past 40 years, I felt it every time you made me party. Be strong. Yours sincerely, introvert Ignacy.
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Wed Apr 8, 2020 11:09 am
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