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Designer Diary: Sobek: 2 Players

bruno cathala
France
st pierre en faucigny
Unspecified
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Board Game: Sobek
Editor's note: This diary was first published in French on July 1, 2021 on Bruno Cathala's website. This English translation comes courtesy of Danni Loe, who previously worked for Pandasaurus Games, which is releasing Sobek: 2 Players in English on May 25, 2022. —WEM

In 2010, a small and clever card game called Sobek was released by GameWorks.

The game was a real success. Something like 15,000 copies were sold over two years. For a small publisher like GameWorks, this was amazing. And for me as a designer, it represented almost a month's annual salary. However, after two short years, the game stopped receiving support.

Ten years have passed since then, and Sobek has not been forgotten. Very regularly, I receive messages from game stores and players, asking me how to get a copy of this little game. Little by little, an idea formed:

GIVE SOBEK A SECOND CHANCE!

Since I didn't want to take on this project alone, I invited Sébastien Pauchon to come along for the ride. Why?

One part friendship: Whenever I spent time with Sébastien, it was always a mixture of jokes, laughter, and intense game design sessions. I always enjoyed collaborating with him, so it was a great opportunity to connect again.

Two parts loyalty and respect: He was at the helm of the first edition of Sobek, so I thought it was fair to invite him to be a part of this new edition as a thank you for his previous work.

When I proposed this collaboration, I was also pretty clear about the direction I wanted the project to go in. Basically, since the game's release in 2010, I had kept playing it again and again. I played a ridiculous number of times, particularly with two players, thanks to the digital adaptations on Board Game Arena and Yucata.

Board Game: Sobek

And that's how I discovered a way to play with two players that, while completely within the rules, went against the experience I wanted for my design. With two players, it was possible to become as corrupt as a pig by taking only the "big" cards and leaving the others for your opponent. The game would end after three rounds, and your opponent could hardly accomplish anything.

Of course, this didn't happen every time, but it happened often enough that it lessened my desire to play.

Time to Make Changes

What needed to be improved?

• Consequences for corruption needed to be proportional to its intensity.
• Try to remove the game system that every game ended after three rounds. (I think it's actually a rather inelegant design decision.)
• Make the game perfect for two players.

From this point, we started to work on a drafting system. At the time, I had just finished development on INSERT, and since I really, really loved how the board constrained players, Seb and I wondered whether it would be possible to do something similar to address our problem with Sobek.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
INSERT

INSERT is a two-player abstract game about successive constraints. When a player places a ring on a space, the line in that space shows the direction in which their opponent is allowed to play their next ring. The board and the constraints lead to a progressively-filled space that is focused entirely on alignments.

We didn't want a static board, but an idea started to form...

If we place goods tiles on an empty board...and if each goods tile has directions limiting the next player's choices...which also happen to be perfectly suited to the corruption... It was coming together! If a player chooses the first available tile in the direction, it is "free". However, if they want to choose a further, better tile, then skipped tiles are removed from the board and added to their corruption.

This limitation system was similar to INSERT, but having the board empty as the game progressed let players focus on the most profitable sets. It became a radically different gameplay experience from INSERT, even though they shared the same roots.

Eventually we ended up with this prototype.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

We made it, we played with it, and we quickly realized what a cool system it was. It still had tense decisions and added a tactical aspect to the original version. However, this system worked only for two-player games.

We were faced with the following choices:

• EITHER abandon this idea and find something else for a 2-4 player Sobek,
• OR keep this really fun mechanism, but change the theme to end up with an entirely separate game,
• OR keep the mechanism AND the theme to create a two-player ONLY Sobek, which would be similar to, yet different from the original.

After reflecting on it, we decided on the third choice — Sobek: 2 Players. Today, I think it's safe to say we made the right decision!

Sobek: 2 Players — Not a Simple Adaptation, but Something Separate

From this point on, we worked on adjusting different important elements — fine-tuning things, if you will. We primarily tweaked the gameplay so that it lasted longer than a single round. We also changed corruption so that:

• It was proportional to the level of corruption between both players.
• It rewarded the least corrupt player instead of punishing the most corrupt player. Of course from a "math" point of view, it is essentially the same thing; from a psychological view, though, it's entirely different. The most corrupted player doesn't want to be penalized, and they don't want to be frustrated. If that's the difference between them wanting to play again or not...well, it was an easy change to make.

I want to say a few final words about the production of the game.

It was our first time working with Catch Up Games, and the least we can say is that the collaboration went really well. We enjoyed working with a publisher who listened and shared all their decisions with us.

Board Game: Sobek: 2 Players

In the end, we have an amazing box full of high-quality content. We are really very happy. It looks great, doesn't it?

Bruno Cathala

Board Game: Sobek: 2 Players
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Tue May 24, 2022 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Space Station Phoenix, or Torn Down and Rebuilt

Gabriel Cohn
United States
Santa Cruz
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Board Game: Space Station Phoenix
In August 2013, while living in Peru and accompanying my wife on a research trip there, I made my first prototype of "The Space Station Game". I printed several sheets of paper in black and white (the local print shop didn't have color), cut them up, and stole some cubes from another of my prototypes, bringing the horrible-looking bundle of junk to Club Rath's Edge.

This gaming group met regularly at the home of David Ivan Salcedo Casareto, one of the most fun and generous people I've had the pleasure to meet. David and several other people joined me in the first-ever game of "Space Stations", and...it was a mess, both physically and in more than a few key mechanical ways. Still, the core game ideas worked, and I got lots of great feedback in both Spanish and English that helped launch the journey this game has taken over the last eight-and-a-half years.

From gallery of gabrielcohn
David and others at Club Rath's Edge, playtesting another homemade game in 2013

Below, I'll try to give a bit of insight into the story of how Space Station Phoenix went from concept to publication.

Note: I'll use the name Space Station Phoenix (or SSP) throughout, despite calling it "Space Stations" or "The Space Station Game" for several years and "Orbital Architects" for a few more. Thanks to William Giammona for finally coming up with a name everyone could agree on! For a list of all the names that were suggested to me, click here.

Origins

I need to go back before that first playtest in Lima to start us off. Two big ideas combined to lead me to create Space Station Phoenix.

Board Game: Exodus Fleet
The first seed came from my desire to make a thematic sequel to my first published game, Exodus Fleet. In that game, players lead a fleet of ships away from a dying Earth. When I was starting the design process for SSP, I decided that the Exodus Fleet survivors would eventually have to build a set of space stations to survive on. The story of the game took a serious 180 later in the design process — the game is now about aliens building space stations around Earth! — but if nothing else, that's where the idea of building space stations started.

The second seed came from this blog post on the Board Game Design Forum. It outlined the idea of a game based on surviving a famine. Instead of a game in which you are building an empire, you would simply try to be the best at helping your empire last through its collapse. While I came up with a number of other game ideas that more directly built on that theme, I took just one element as an inspiration for SSP: the idea of having fewer choices as the game went along. So, as opposed to many games (think worker placement games like Agricola or Troyes) in which more and more action spaces become available throughout the game, in SSP players would have fewer and fewer options as the game moves forward. In fact, they would be intentionally forced to eliminate options to make progress.

As I delved into the idea behind the game more, I realized these two ideas meshed quite nicely. An isolated fleet floating in space would lack a ready supply of resources to develop their stations. Therefore, they'd need to start cannibalizing their ships to get enough metal to build.

From the beginning, this took the form of one of the core mechanisms of the game. In SSP, players begin with a limited number of ships that serve as "action spaces" that they pay to use, but the main way players get metal to build their stations is to destroy those ships, causing them (and also other players) to have fewer options as the game goes along. At the beginning of the game, tons of ships are available, but players have very limited resources, so there is rarely a type of action a player desperately needs that is unavailable. By the end, however, there may be few ships on the board that allow players to, say, build their station or transport new residents to live there, and a competition to use those remaining ships can arise. This thematic nugget of dwindling resources fit quite naturally with the cold depths of space.

From gallery of gabrielcohn
Example from the rules: using a Dismantling Ship

Design Goals

As I started to conceptualize the story behind Space Station Phoenix, I also took time to give myself a few design parameters. First, one of my least favorite elements of Exodus Fleet was the round structure: Everyone gets a turn as "Admiral", then we move to the next round. It has no effect on gameplay except as a timer. This approach served a purpose — putting pressure on players to accomplish something by the mid-game scoring round and setting a time limit for the game overall — but it felt artificial and it was sometimes hard to remember to track when players moved from one round to another, so for Space Station Phoenix, I wanted a more fluid structure in which once the game started, players were off to the races, with short, punchy turns that would continue one after another until the final moments of the game, the timing of which is dictated by player choices.

Second, I wanted to make sure there was significant player interaction. To be clear, I love many games that get accused of being "multi-player solitaire". However, even in most of those, I find it interesting to look for the places where one player's actions impact the choices of others. That said, I aimed to exceed that minimum, and while players can play SSP focusing only on themselves, there are many crucial ways that one player's actions in the game impact others. A few examples:

• As mentioned above, the number of ship/action spaces is limited and shrinks during the game, so there is the typical sense of "blocking" that comes in similar worker-placement games, yet in SSP, there is also the converse: When a player takes the income action, all of their previously used ships become available again, so other players with the means to do so can jump on these newly free action spaces. Of course, that's another source of interaction: When you use another player's ships, you have to pay them an extra fee.

• The station parts that are required to build are limited, as is the number of residents who players can bring to inhabit their station. Points are awarded for pluralities for each different type of resident, and station parts often have unique and powerful abilities, so overall there's an element of racing or outfoxing other players to get those bonus points or grab a desirable station part.

• The cherry on top is the diplomacy board. By moving up the diplomacy tracks, players can gain resources and points when any player takes a particular type of action. Therefore, players can get direct benefits during other players' turns. I particularly like elements like this, where not only do I care what another player does because it may limit or perhaps force my own choices, but I care what they do because it can directly benefit me.

From gallery of gabrielcohn
An early version of the diplomacy board

Overall, the level of player interaction in SSP hits a sweet spot for me: Players are mostly focused on their own little world — building their station and filling it with residents — but paying attention to other players is crucial to success.

Replayability is the other key issue for me. I have limited space for games at home, so while I love learning new ones, the ones I own tend to get played to death, especially ones I can play two-player with my wife. If I wanted to playtest this game several hundred times, it had to have variation from game to game. Of course the player interaction as described above helps, but beyond that, I developed SSP to feature a huge number of station parts, of which only a small portion are available in any given game. The game also has thirteen different types of higher-level ships, of which each player gets only four, making set-up different from game to game.

Things Lost Along the Way

All that said, the game is not what it once was. It went through dozens of changes, some huge and others tiny, so let's just be honest and say it took a long time to get from concept to final product. I'm a full-time teacher, so I usually have time to work on only one game at a time, and even my top-priority games can take months from one version to the next. After the initial design was done, it spent most of the next three years sitting on a shelf before I dusted it off.

Most of the biggest changes happened over a series of playtests in early 2016 before I showed the game to any publishers. After that, it was a serious process of "trimming the fat" and clarifying where the game's main action was happening. Here are a few of the "greatest hits" of ideas that came and went:

• In the initial version, resource gathering happened on a separate exploration board. Depending on the "level" of exploration ship a player used, they would choose a random token from somewhere on the board and get what was shown there. This turned out to be slow, tedious, and frustrating — clearly not the mix of adjectives I was looking for — so this was replaced, through several iterations, with a dice-rolling mechanism. There's still randomness and variation, but within a more bounded and more generous range.

• The design of the space stations in the game also changed massively over time. In the initial versions, station parts were square chunks that had "in" and "out" tunnels in various colors. Only an "in" of the same color as an "out" could be connected. Later, the ins and outs got chucked in the trash, but the color connections stayed, meaning it was still a massively time-consuming puzzle for players. It was fun but unnecessary. Also, having only the top tile of each pile of station parts available was fine, but it didn't allow for strategic planning. Instead, I replaced this with a set-up of exactly enough parts for all the players to build. These parts are displayed at the beginning of the game, allowing players to make strategic decisions about how to build their station from the beginning.

From gallery of gabrielcohn
A rough idea of the progression of the design of the station sectors from 2013 to 2022

• Once I realized that I wouldn't be working again with Tasty Minstrel Games (R.I.P.), the theme took a big turn. Instead of humans building space stations in alien territory, I decided it would be fun if the stations were built by aliens who wanted to observe Earthlings. This thematic change also helped clarify why different groups of residents inhabit different station parts: They breathe different atmospheres. But this change has left one lingering question: When a player adds a human to their station, have they just recruited a friendly one to come live amongst the aliens, or has the poor person been abducted in an X-Files kind of scenario? I'll let you decide.

From gallery of gabrielcohn

• Of course, I wanted players to build circular stations like you see spinning in space in the movies, but since I'm a Luddite and I make all my game pieces in Excel (see the images?), that meant I needed to have players build their station out in four directions to make a circle. This turned out to make the game way too long, and it was also a pain to try to see what was happening on the station parts players played upside down from their positions. Fortunately, fellow designer Aaron Vanderbeek asked, "Why don't you just have players build in three directions?" Brilliant! That shortened the game right up and made it easier for players to visualize their situation. The art team of Claus Stephan, Martin Hoffmann, and Mirko Akira Suzuki did a great job making it look sleek, too.

From gallery of gabrielcohn
Alien ally cards that
players could purchase
• Finally, one idea that was near and dear to my heart was that humans exploring outer space would slowly cause more and more alien species to become angry with them. In other words, the main resource gathering mechanism in the game (exploration) also triggered alien attacks, which players would have to spend "defense points" or something to overcome. They could also avoid these attacks by becoming allies with one or more alien species. I layered so many mechanisms into this idea that it was a complete mess. The worst was a series of separate dice rolls, each followed by individual player decisions, that took at least five minutes and occurred about a dozen times per game. And once I revamped how exploration worked (see above), this just didn't seem like a mess worth keeping. (But I am working on bringing a tiny nugget of this idea back in an expansion — fingers crossed — that I've just begun working on. I think I've got it down to a less messy and more fun version. No promises.)

Balance in All Things

Even once a lot of the excess weight was shed, the game still needed work. This is where Ken Hill, developer for Rio Grande Games, became a major sounding board for new ideas. After pitching the game to Rio in 2016, Ken and I traded a lot of emails, had a ton of phone and video calls, and generally were in touch constantly over the next couple of years. Of course, we both had full-time day jobs throughout this whole time, so it wasn't exactly the only thing on our plates. (Seriously, I get jealous when I read the designer diaries of people who do this full time and can just put all their time into gaming, not just evenings when I should be planning lessons or grading papers.) But progress, however slow, was made.

One thing we eventually agreed on was that actions should simply be a touch more powerful. In particular, the resource-gathering actions of expeditions and dismantling needed to be slightly less painfully slow, so we simply threw more resources at the players. Boom! Game time dropped, and player engagement increased. At the same time, we realized that not all ship actions were perceived as equally valuable, so we started to play with the relationship between the GEM cost to use ships and the value they produced. This took some tinkering and guesswork, but in the end, I think we came out with a set of ships that push players to think creatively about how to achieve their goals in any given game.

From gallery of gabrielcohn
Here are minor tweaks in cost to use (orange), metal generated when dismantled (4 to 6), and resource generation (on the explore/expedition ships) — all of which produced a more dynamic game

Once all of those issues (and more) were worked out, it came down to several hundred repeated playtests to balance out all the various ship and station part abilities. I had a massive Excel spreadsheet in which each station power was described, ranked, and rated, all to plug into a formula that would generate a number showing how much metal that station part should cost. The problem was that sometimes that number was wrong. Over time, I adjusted and revamped the formula. Still, there were times when I had to give in and note that I had been wrong about how valuable one ability or another was — or how valuable players perceived them to be.

Somewhere along the way, as we closed in on a playable final product, I realized something was missing. It was good, but I needed more. After spending so much time shedding excess weight from the game, I was worried about adding new ideas. Not only would I be creating a whole new mess of things to balance, but maybe it wouldn't work at all, and I'd be wasting my time.

Nevertheless, it turns out my instincts were right. When I reached into my conceptual bag of stuff I had wanted to add to the game (but was afraid to try), I realized that players should start with asymmetric station hubs. These give players a starting bump in their abilities and perhaps a little nudge in a strategic direction. I designed a few, then designed more, and eventually ended up with 24 of them. These make the game. Now each time I play the game, my favorite challenge is to compare my various hub options to the available array of station parts and figure out, "How can I win this game?"

From gallery of gabrielcohn
Set-up for my first game with finalized components; my wife and I each have two very different hubs from which to choose

The most fun part of this phase were the nights I spent trying to balance the powers on the station hubs. I had a regular group of playtesters over at my house, and we would play SSP at a ludicrous speed three or four times in a row, often with the same arrangement other than trading those starting hubs with one another. We knew they were probably balanced as long as Kenny Tracy won by the same amount regardless of which hub he had. (He's just that much better than me at all of my games. I should also add that Kenny provided invaluable feedback on balancing the various hubs before, after, and during playtests. He's the best.)

Rio Grande Games

Board Game Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Finally, I want to end with a quick note about an incident that took place long before this game was even conceived.

In 2011, I went to Gen Con for the first time, hoping to pitch the design that later became Exodus Fleet to publishers. The first publisher I met was Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games. He generously gave me, a novice designer with no insider connections, nearly an hour of his time. While he didn't sign the game that day, he expressed serious interest and gave me a lot to think about. Without that encouragement, I might have given up on game design. Instead, I returned with a better product at Gen Con 2012, and while the game didn't get published by Rio Grande, it did get published, which kept me going. So when I returned with my next batch of games in 2016, Jay was the first publisher I contacted, and...here we are.

I'd be remiss if I didn't reemphasize the great work that Ken Hill has done, helping push me to refine the game in various ways, some of which are described above. He's a great, clear communicator and collaborator and kept me in the loop on every detail of the graphic design and production process. Scott Tepper, Robin Hill, and many others also contributed useful ideas along the way. Finally, the art and graphic design team (Stephan/Hoffmann/Suzuki) have turned it into a fantastic final product. After so many years of tinkering with it, I can't wait for this game to get out in the world.

So...here’s my game. I hope you like it.

Gabriel J. Cohn

Board Game: Space Station Phoenix
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Fri May 20, 2022 4:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Batman: Everybody Lies, or A Different Type of Detective

Board Game: Batman: Everybody Lies
Chapter 0: The Basics

Batman: Everybody Lies is a story-driven deduction game. The action takes place in Gotham, with you exploring various locations of this crime-driven city from the grim and poverty-stricken alleyways to the sycophantic and wealthy social elite penthouses.

Intended for 2-4 players, aged 14+, the game features three Episodes to investigate and a short Prologue to help players familiarize themselves with the rules and the style of play. Each Episode can be played separately, taking roughly 2-3 hours to play.

In Batman: Everybody Lies, players are challenged to solve a mystery with limited time and resources. They are presented with various clues and paths to begin their investigation, make their own decisions, and draw conclusions as they pursue different Leads. Players utilize a variety of game components to facilitate gameplay and push the narrative forward. Each Episode gives players access to up to 24 Lead cards that provide essential clues and plot points, along with a dedicated website and additional resources included in the game box for authentic investigative immersion, such as a Scene deck, Personal Goal deck, and the Gotham City Gazette archives.

Each Episode concludes with a Final Report that is processed through the website. The players must give correct answers to questions concerning the investigation, then they are presented with an Epilogue that reveals the resolution of the Case.

Chapter 1: Characters

Each player takes the role of an iconic character that lives in Gotham. We cannot have four players playing Batman, can we? We decided we will create a team of Batman's allies, the team who will support him in the investigations.

Two of these characters are Catwoman and Vicky Vale. The first one is a famous thief, a controversial ally of Batman and a complex character that walks the line between hero and villain. Her special ability in the game is access to the Batcave; she is the one character who can reach Batman or Alfred if players need to.

Board Game: Batman: Everybody Lies

Vicky Vale is a passionate journalist who works for the Gotham City Gazette. She is a strong woman who fights for the people of Gotham. She exposes politicians' schemes and fears no one, no Gotham councilmen, not the wealthy elite, not even the dangerous mobsters. She is respected by the common people of the city, and she might be one of the last hopes of Gotham. Being a reckless journalist, Vicky has the in-game ability to refresh all Locations and make them available for players to visit again.

Now, let's introduce you to the other two playable characters: Warren Spacey and Harvey Bullock. The first one is an investigative reporter working for the Gotham City Gazette. He is known as the first reporter to write an in-depth article about the Joker. Having lived in Gotham for decades, Spacey has survived countless attacks by supervillains and today, though a man with many enemies, he refuses to put down his pen no matter what criminal attempts to intimidate him. With his enormous experience and a network spreading over the entire city, Spacey's ability allows players to reach and investigate the criminal Underground of Gotham City.

The last available character is Harvey Bullock, a detective of the Gotham City Police Department. He is known for his hard-shell style of work. Criminals have little hope when Bullock is involved. Receiving as much praise as reprimands for his sometimes brutal methods of work, he is one of Jim Gordon's most trusted allies and friends. Though not the most righteous member of the Gotham City Police Department, he may be the most stubborn and reckless. His ability in the game allows him to access the criminals at Blackgate Penitentiary.

These four iconic characters work together to create a most unusual alliance and save Gotham City.

Chapter 2: Personal Agendas

Gotham is a city of mistrust inhabited by lies and corruption, the only place in the world that doesn't wake up innocent and bright in the morning. No rain can wash off all the sins rooted in these streets. Even its heroes are tainted.

While designing Batman: Everybody Lies, we knew we had to represent this dark, noir theme. That's how Personal Goals came into the rules. It's a co-operative game in which all characters work together to solve the mystery and use their skills, knowledge, contacts, and wits to achieve the common goal.

And yet, each of them has a personal agenda.
And yet, each of them wants to pursue their own interest.
And yet, each of them cares for themselves the most.

Board Game: Batman: Everybody Lies

Each Case in Batman: Everybody Lies starts with an Introduction that describes the Episode's goals and the current situation in the city. In addition to that common Introduction, there is also an additional Introduction for each character, with their own information, their own point of view on the Episode, and their own goals to achieve.

Later in the game, as the Episode progresses and players discover more and more Lead cards, they may stumble upon an unusual instruction, something like: "Spend a Catwoman token to Read card C."

If one of the players is playing Catwoman, they may spend their token and gain access to this mysterious card C. They may then read the card in silence, only for themselves — they've just learned something, discovered something, and pushed their personal goal forward.

There are 26 Personal Goal cards in the game, 26 moments when one of the players at the table does something in secrecy.

Gotham is a city of mistrust, inhabited by lies and corruption. Will you fight to unveil its sins?

Chapter 3: Comic book panels

Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, Greg Capullo, Jim Lee, Frank Miller — the list could go on and on. Batman is represented in as many great stories as he is in the stunning illustrations and visuals of Gotham. When you think of Batman comics, you see stunning art pieces and comic panels presenting the dark city and the Dark Knight.

When designing Batman: Everybody Lies, we wanted to pay respect to the comic book origins of the story. We knew players would expect some way of incorporating comic panels into the gameplay. That's how the Scene Deck came into the play.

Board Game: Batman: Everybody Lies

At various moments in the game, players will have a chance to draw a card from the Scene Deck, a big card (120 x 70 mm) with stunning artwork presented in the form of a comic book panel. Illustrated by two Polish artists, Hanna Kuik and Maciej Simiński, these cards immerse players into the scene, putting them right into the action and environment. Scene cards let players visualize the rich world of Gotham City.

But that's just part of the trick.

Some of these cards have hidden clues. Players will look carefully and search for the details, having their escape room-style fun. Why does this person point in this direction? What is this person hiding in their pocket? What lies here in the dust of the street? These will be questions to ask while playing the game and carefully examining the panels.

The Scene deck consists of thirty beautifully illustrated cards, and more than 30% of them have hidden clues. It's your task to find them.

Chapter 4: Gotham City Gazette archives

There are so many comic book runs and various Batman series over the past century. Numerous relaunches and variants of the storyline...and yet, the Gotham City Gazette is always part of the city. Its journalists, Vicki Vale being the most famous, were always part of the story. It had to become part of the game, too.

All Detective games have a small digital element. In the base game of Detective, players use a website to compare the suspect's DNA with evidence found at the crime scene. In Vienna Connection, they use it to break KGB codes. In Dune: House Secrets, they use it to watch animated introductions that present the world of Dune. For each title, our development team looks for new ideas and concepts to match the theme of the game.

In Batman: Everybody Lies, we decided the website will represent the Gotham City Gazette archives. As in all those Hollywood movies, players will get access to the archives and browse old issues archived on microfilm. As you expect, they may find some terrifying mysteries that happened in the past and shine a new light on the present events.

The feature prepared by our sister company, Portal Games Digital, makes a stunning impression. You can navigate the microfilm archives of the Gotham City Gazette and zoom in at any space to read the article or watch the presented photo in detail.

It works stunningly well.

The Gotham City Gazette archives are another element of the puzzle, another piece that adds to the final game experience. All these pieces together — the secret goals of each character, the comic panels with hidden clues, the animated Gotham City Gazette archives — make Batman: Everybody Lies another extremely immersive title in the family of Detective games.

Board Game: Batman: Everybody Lies

Chapter 5: Campaign

On March 27, 2019, the one thousandth issue of Detective Comics was released. We love Batman, both ongoing and limited. The Long Halloween, Hush, Three Jokers, White Knight — all of them present exceptional stories. If these were scenarios for a video or board game, instead of calling them limited series we'd call them a campaign. Batman: Everybody Lies is a three-story-long campaign.

The game comes with a short Prologue case that can be played in 45 minutes and that teaches the rules and presents all the characters, then the real game begins. Batman: Everybody Lies consists of three big Episodes: Guilt, Nostalgia, and Remorse. Each consists of 24 cards and takes about 2-3 hours to solve. Each can be played separately, but...

It's a limited series. You can grab one in the middle of the series and enjoy it, but why would you do that, huh? You want to be there from the first pages, from the setting of the initial plot, through the growth of the story arc till the end and the grande finale!

Each Case can be played separately, but you won't do that. You will enjoy them as a whole.

Each Case has a different goal, but they share non-player characters, villains, suspects, witnesses, and most importantly, they share a timeline; Nostalgia begins a few months after the events presented in the Guilt, and similarly, Remorse begins a few weeks after Nostalgia. The passage of time is the key here — the city evolves, some characters end up in jail, some get out, somebody switches jobs, and somebody gets killed. It's the same city, over a period of a few months.

It’s three epic game nights. Invite your friends for an amazing limited series called Batman: Everybody Lies.

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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Tue May 17, 2022 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Take a Seat

Ferran Renalias Zueras
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Board Game: Take a Seat
By designers Eloi Pujadas and Ferran Renalias

Greetings, all! Take a Seat has been published in Spain, and the game will be presented internationally at SPIEL '22. We thought it would be a good idea to post a design diary to share some background info, design decisions, art, and more.

Initial Idea

In September 2019, we started our first design as a team. We had a clear premise: Create a roll-and-write game themed on scheduling the calendar of Santa Claus, who has a busy December managing reindeer, manufacturing presents, and visiting all the continents of the globe.

From gallery of Ferran Renalias
Santa Claus calendar

Some months after the first sketch, we changed the theme in order to make a non-seasonal game. Players are now scheduling the calendar of a Shakespeare company trying to represent different characters, build the scenery, rehearse with actors, and manage the theater seats.

From gallery of Ferran Renalias

From gallery of Ferran Renalias

At this point, we realized that when we playtested the game, we really enjoyed the part about theater management, finding the rest of the game uninteresting.

Main Design Premises

We decided to start a new game using only the part that was really fun for us: managing a theater. We focused on two main points:

1. We wanted to create a roll-and-write game with its own identity. Could it be possible to suppress all the randomness coming from dice or cards?

Some inspiration came from Between Two Cities, in which you share cities with your neighbors. Perhaps we could share and strive for our target audience. We created the concept of "share-and-write", in which randomness is created through player interaction instead of by rolling a die or flipping a card.

2. We love polyominoes, and we wanted to introduce something that could not be implemented in a normal cardboard game. Writing on the board should have something special — Wait! Decreasing polyominoes, with you scratching them during the game and changing their shape.

From gallery of Ferran Renalias

We worked hard during the first quarter of 2020 in order to test it at Protos y Tipos, a prototype convention organized by Ludo, the Spanish designers association. We obtained lots of ideas and feedback to focus on the final development of the game.


Publishing with Salt & Pepper

In October 2021, Gonzalo from Salt & Pepper Games contacted us for the first time in order to see the game, and later we signed the game at SPIEL '21. That was fast!


With a clear idea of the game concept, Meeple Foundry put a vintage flavor in all the design, making bright the lights of the whole game.

From gallery of Ferran Renalias
Box cover

From gallery of Ferran Renalias
Game board

Finally! All preparations for the theater are over, and the final audience sits in their seats. Now if you'll excuse us, the show must go on!

Eloi and Ferran

Board Game: Take a Seat
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Fri May 13, 2022 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Garden Nation

Nathalie SAUNIER
France
Bois-de-Céné
Pays de la Loire
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Board Game: Garden Nation
By Nathalie and Rémi Saunier

Rémi: The story of Garden Nation begins in 2013 when watching a video about mathematics and "super noughts and crosses".

What is this? It consists of nine little grids drawn in the nine spaces of a main big grid of noughts and crosses, each of them being connected to the other places.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Nathalie: We created the first prototype to show to our gamers club near home. At this point, it is an abstract game with four colors. The aim is to do alignments of x tokens with your color and realize secret objectives. Gamers like the idea, but it is too abstract and too long. We still have a lot of work to do...

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Rémi: The board has 81 places: 9 places composed of 9 places. We decide to reduce it to 7 by 7. The theme of the game decides itself: it will be "urban".

Each board is composed of two shops, two factories, two houses, with the seventh place being the recycling center. Each ground has a value between 1 and 5 credits.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The theme helps with the idea of layering the tokens to build buildings: these are now floors.

What else has now appeared in the game:

• Money in the form of banknotes that are used to pay for the floors built.
• The opportunity to sell already built buildings to the bank or to other players.

We have the idea of a majority at the end of each round to earn money, and there are both common objectives and personal ones to earn victory points. The first tests of this version are better and give us a feeling of good hope with the mechanisms.

We go to a festival in the north of France with that brand new prototype, but players say it is difficult to read the board and the pictures are overloaded.

Back home, I do a new lighter and easier prototype to play with.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Nathalie: The next evolution comes after another festival in Toulouse. After a notably frustrating game, the idea of two actions per round for each player arrives after a debriefing.

Also during that festival, after a conversation with a publisher who doesn't like the theme, we start to think about a new one.

Rémi: I find one — hacking — but Nathalie immediately disagrees with it.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

That theme brings new ideas we find interesting. For example, it's fun to turn the different boards to gain access to the network. An AI also appears.

The game becomes half co-operative as players have to attack a system and beat the AI that protects the system, but each player also has a secret mission. Finally, we abandon that version and go back to the urban theme.

Then we try to upgrade the game with inter-zones and add special buildings and bonus victory points. Bonus actions that players can play during the game arrive at that point.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Nathalie: Here comes a new festival, and new changes in the life of that prototype. We drive to Britany for the Finist'Aire de Jeux festival, one of our favorite ones. Erwan Hascoët, the boss of Bombyx comes and tries our game. He seems to appreciate it, takes it for tests with his team, and after a few months says Bombyx wants to publish it.

At Bombyx, exchanges between the team and authors are at the heart of development. You come with a project, but it's together with the Bombyx team that the game evolves — and these years of development have been rich!

Together we decide on the difficulty level. We deconstruct the game and simplify it to keep the bits that seem to be the best. A few modifications which bring us to the final version:

• The banknotes leave room for an individual board to manage the budget and the special actions.
• Roofs related to the objectives of "public markets" appear.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Rémi: Mechanically we start to feel that the game is quite finished, but we are still searching for a more "sexy" theme.

Nathalie and I decide to explore an Asian one. An imperial city must be built. The grounds become military, religious, civil, and wasteland. We imagine common objectives with the new theme like temples, barracks, and post offices. Each player represents a family who wants prestige and wants to become the Emperor's advisor. I create and print 3D pagodas (one sort per family).

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Nathalie: Test after test, the game evolves until the fantastic day when after a memorable common game, Erwan says: "Good job, the development is over. We'll now take charge for the next step."

Bombyx is well-known for its very rich graphic universes. We can't wait to see what they are about to do with our mechanism. With Loïg at the controls, they propose different universes to us...

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Rémi: And a few weeks later we meet four little people and the artwork of Maxime Morin, who had previously done Codex Naturalis for Bombyx.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

When we signed with Bombyx, we had the ambition of having a deep and strong graphic game, but the result is incredible and amazes us. We can't tell you how fantastic this human and professional story was.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Nathalie: And the story has just begun because Garden Nation is to due arrive in an English version in the United States and England in the middle of 2022!

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Image: "Game Trotteur" and Sylvain Trabut

Nathalie & Remi

From gallery of NathalieSaunier
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Tue May 10, 2022 1:00 pm
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Publisher Diary: Ettana, or Details on a Debut

Madhumita Mani
Switzerland
Dubendorf
Zurich
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Board Game: Ettana: The Looms of Kanchi
After starting with the classic Settlers of Catan, our passion for board games has continued to grow and eventually brought us to starting Mad4Fun Games and releasing our very own board game — Ettana: The Looms of Kanchi from Madhu Sundar.

What stirred us about board games are the elements in them like luck, strategy, tactics, wit, and being economical in all your moves. If you give it a thought, you realize that it is just like your everyday life, except that it is compressed within an hour of gameplay. And the best part? You do not need to win every time — you just need to enjoy while you're at it!

Although creating a board game came with its own set of challenges, we managed to get people intrigued to know more! Our games are designed in Switzerland, made in India, and shipped worldwide. Thus, we ensure the Swiss precision in every little detail while sticking to our Indian traditions through the game name, artwork, theme, and philosophy.

Our aim with Ettana was not to get people to win, but to send out a feeling of satisfaction and fun of achieving a goal. At first, you might think it is a tough process as a first-time publisher, but we assure you that it was also enjoyable, informative, and captivating throughout our whole journey.

Board Game: Ettana: The Looms of Kanchi

While creating our board game, we were enlightened about the intricacies of the entire process, intricacies that we have shared in many posts on our "First-time Board Game Publisher" blog on BGG. This process might look complicated and long, but we have broken down every bit into a different phase to help you understand it better. It is a beautiful process to see a mere thought that randomly might have occurred to you, now being created into something real.

We like to call this process a rollercoaster of phases that must be completed while creating your own board game, which finally leads to its publication. Why a rollercoaster, if you may ask? Because although a rollercoaster has its ups and downs, it is always pleasurable the entire time you're on it. It is the exact same feeling while publishing your own board game.

We believe that sharing our experience with you can hopefully help make the board game publishing process much smoother than you'd expect. We have learned from all the downfalls of being a first-time board game publisher, but have risen up from mistakes to be better than we were a minute ago, so let us get right into it!

Each section below links to an in-depth analysis of each phase, with that analysis being available both on our website and in our BGG blog. Our blogs are detailed to take you through a board game journey, although this is just our experience, of course, and there are different ways to go about the whole process. (Feel free to comment or contact us for any information or clarifications that you might need through your publication process. We are more than happy to help with some valuable input!)

From gallery of mad4fungames

Ideation is the foundation to publishing any board game. Deciding on the gameplay, mechanisms, and your theme is crucial, without which you would not even have a real game to call your own. Just as we created Ettana with the concept of handlooms and annas, elements in your game need to stand out. How do you make sure the game does not get boring? How many players can play it? What is the game objective? We shall help you raise all these important questions in our blog.

Plus, creating the most interesting gaming components will help catch your audience's eye. If you want people to come back and tell you that they're addicted to your game, spend the right amount of time ideating! To cover these crucial base points, take your first step by reading more about Board Game Ideation.

From gallery of mad4fungames

How do you transform your thinking into creative visuals? Through a lucrative Design phase.

Your thoughts will now be put into physically creating and designing your board game according to how you'd like it to look. For the entire design process, you obviously need a good graphic designer or illustrator. In our blog, we have a few resources and websites that we came across while creating Ettana, which can massively ease the design process.

While you focus on the design, (1) remember to get the barcode (EAN/UPC) to be printed on the box, (2) you should think about shipping, and (3) factor in the "meteorological norms". We go into detail on these design hurdles in our Board Game Design article.

From gallery of mad4fungames

Don't miss out on the Legal and Regulatory Phase to extensively secure and protect your board game from IP violation. In this blog, we talk about three major chunks of legal norms that you should adhere to: general confidentiality agreement/contracts, intellectual property rights, and toy safety certification.

As a first-time board game publisher, these aspects are key as they secure your ideas and protect the development of your product. The basic requirements that we talk about are the well-defined terms and conditions, having a standard template, deciding on deliverables and quantity of the game components like the cards, tokens, tiles, and the designs of every component. We urge repeated quality checks during this phase.

Did you know people ignore getting a toy safety certification but then fall into legal trouble in the future? The "CE" mark validates your product with international standards. If you believe that it is always better to be safe than sorry, take a look at our Board Game Legal & Regulatory post on some legal guidelines.

The creativity that you put to paper will now be used to create something tangible, i.e., a prototype. Through our Prototyping blog, we explain how it validates the design of everything in your board game and how you can use testing to see whether it actually feels as expected, whilst trying to create an appeal with the audience through how it looks.

The prototypes, once finalized, are sent to other board gamers or reviewers so that they can provide their inputs. This will result in suggestions, tweaks, and changes in the game. There are many distinct ways that we will provide through which you can go about this entire phase, the most standard one is building the game using what you already have available at home. We used a few websites during the prototyping of Ettana and split this phase into three different stages for easy execution. The end result should be manufacturing a pre-production copy of the board game.

If you want to be well prepared with all your game components and designs while diving into prototypes, this Board Game Prototype post is for you!

Board Game: Ettana: The Looms of Kanchi

The Production Phase is by far the most important one as your creation is now being published for the masses. This blog will help you out with the main checklist you need during this phase. From asking for quotes from your manufacturer to confirming the answers to questions like what the components are, the sizes you need, the quality and quantity, the color patterns, the designs, and the game box assembly, we have assessed it all!

We focus the most on the idea of deciding the MOQ (minimum order quantity) with your manufacturer. Working out on a simple business case file to break down and store information on the different types of costs you will incur such as the fixed costs, one-time costs, production costs, and logistics costs are vital in this phase. The entire production process requires a final timeline that you will have to affirm. We are sure that this Board Game Production article will be of some assistance to you!

From gallery of mad4fungames

How do you get your board game copies to reach your doting supporters as soon as possible? Logistics Phase to the rescue!

Although this section might seem quite complex at first, you are going to be hassle-free once all your logistics aspects are in place, i.e., pricing, packaging, transportation, warehousing, and shipping. You need to settle on the idea of where you want to ship the board game, which countries would you like to ship to, from where do you want to ship, the quantity you will be making, and depending on that where you would like to store your inventory. Depending on the size of the game box, you will need cartons and packing materials.

You need to be very clear about who you'd want as your logistic provider. We suggest comparing many to find the right fit. It is key to estimate the shipping costs upfront, keeping in mind the tax rules, VAT, import/export, and customs duties of the place of production and destination. A lot of elements to keep in mind right? We hope you figure out a smooth sail for your logistics once you read our Board Game Logistics article.

The Marketing Phase might seem like the easiest of tasks, but just a little head's up that it can either make or break you! Thus, we would like this article to help you out as much as possible, and make your game a success.

It is always key to have a reasonable and predetermined budget for the marketing process. When it comes to the general approach to marketing, you need to find the right medium to do it, especially through social media. Each separate platform plays a different role in marketing your board game. Getting the right reviews from the right people is a task for every board gamer, but we have some insights for you.

You may also choose to go for crowdfunding campaigns through Kickstarter to bring your project into the public eye. Trust us when we say that you don't need a lot of marketing — just the right kind of marketing. If that grabs your attention, read more about this phase here: Board Game Marketing.


You are now on your final path of the Sales and Finance Phase! This article caters to all of the details from pricing to using different sales channels. The most basic thing is, of course, having your own website. We use Shopify for the same and can affirm its quality services. In addition, you need to register for a well-known payment gateway with credit/debit payments. Fun fact: Amazon has business models that we recommend all first-time board gamers tap into!

Once it comes to delivery and fulfillment, every sale and purchase needs to be properly recorded from a financial perspective by using the right accounting tools. The other option you could go for is hosting providers by paying a nominal fee and using their tools for financial management. We bet this information will be useful as well as intriguing to you as a first-time publisher. We do speak from our very own experience: Board Game Sales.

From gallery of mad4fungames

And with that, you are done with the whole process of publishing your own game! We personally feel grateful that we could share our experience as first-time board gamers through these articles to all board gamers out there! If we managed to help you out in some way, we have succeeded!

If you have the intent to grow and make more games, you need to be organized and keep this entire process as structured as possible. Although this journey might seem tough to go through, it is also extremely rewarding when you see reviews and customer feedback that will genuinely put a smile on your face. Before you know it, you will be learning, growing, and doing things you have never done before. You will definitely make your own discoveries along the way, and we urge you to share the same with all your fellow board gamers out there.

We'd like to conclude by giving you a reminder that while you're at this entire process, let this not slip your mind: "It is all about the journey, not the destination." Have a little fun and enjoy what you have created off your bare mind before preparing it to get out into the real world!

Madhu
Founder, Mad4Fun Games

From gallery of mad4fungames
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Fri May 6, 2022 4:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Cryptid: Urban Legends, or An Asymmetric Hidden Movement Game That's Neither

Ruth Veevers
United Kingdom
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Microbadge: Olga Tokarczuk fanMicrobadge: Qwirkle fanMicrobadge: Brass fanMicrobadge: Hive fanMicrobadge: Kurt Vonnegut fan
Board Game: Cryptid: Urban Legends
Cryptid: Urban Legends is a hidden movement game in which the movement isn't hidden. It's also an asymmetric game in which you do the same stuff. It sounds like a joke — and it is — but it also says something about how we got to the game we ended up with.

Get You a Game Who Can Do Both

You can broadly divide hidden movement games into two groups: active detection and passive detection. Games of active detection, like Fury of Dracula, have a hidden player leaving concealed information and "detectives" trying to reveal that information. In other words, information enters the system as a result of the detective players' actions. Games of passive detection, like Scotland Yard, instead have information enter the system via the hidden player's actions as they're forced to reveal information which the other players use to restrict the hidden player's options until they can be cornered and captured.

This is an imperfect categorization, but it's a useful way to look at the genre. In Urban Legends, we wanted to make a game of both active and passive detection in which information passively "leaks" into the system via the hidden player's movement, but where the detective player manipulates the game state to make those leaks as valuable as possible for them.

Our first prototype was a hidden movement game played on a square grid, with cubes of different colors in each square. The hidden player moved between the corners of the squares, then announced either the colors of the cubes or the numbers of cubes that they moved past. The detective in turn moved cubes between squares, trying to gather better information with every hidden move. This puzzle of arranging the number and color of pieces surrounding paths is the core of the game that survived all the way to publication — but the surrounding structure has changed dramatically!

Here's the first prototype, based on a square grid artfully constructed using face-down Carcassonne tiles. The core of the game, arranging cubes of three colors to either side of paths, is already in place here.

From gallery of Yrreboor

Where We Get Technical

You can analyze most hidden movement games using graph theory. By drawing a tree of nodes, you can plot out the possibility space of a hidden mover's possible positions. In such a tree, each node at depth n represents a position they could have occupied at the end of turn n, and that node's "children" represent the positions they could have moved to on the following turn. If the detectives find out the hidden player wasn't at a given position on a turn, they can remove that node and all its descendants from the tree. The detectives' goal is to shrink the number of leaves — the number of possible current positions of the hidden mover — down as low as possible. The hidden mover, conversely, wants to grow as many leaves as possible so they can avoid capture.

Let's consider a possible situation in Letters from Whitechapel:

From gallery of Yrreboor

The hidden player, Jack, started the night on the red circle (numbered 147). They have since moved twice, with each move taking them along a dotted black line to another circle, without crossing over either another circle or the red police pawn. For this example, let's assume that the red police pawn has stayed in its current location for the last few turns.

From gallery of Yrreboor

The diagram shows what the detective knows: Jack began on circle 147; after one turn, Jack was in one of the circles from the second level; after two turns, they must be in one of the circles from the third level.

From gallery of Yrreboor

The red police pawn searches all adjacent spaces (130, 131, 145, 146, and 161) but finds that Jack hasn't visited any of them. The diagram shows what this new information has done to the detective's knowledge. The 146 node and all of its children have been eliminated. The detective can also eliminate the 131 and 146 leaves from among the children of the 133 and 134 nodes, as whichever way Jack went, they did not pass through either of those circles.

If you think about hidden movement games in this way, then you'll see that every time new information enters the system, the detective players need to update their mental models of the tree. This is where I'd gotten stuck on the design of Urban Legends as the detective player usually wanted to keep track of all that information, often needing to take notes to do so. Doing so every time the hidden player moved took time, leaving the hidden player with a lot of downtime, and too much of the game just involved the detective trying to understand the game state without actually making any decisions.

A big conceptual change for the game came about when Ruth asked whether it would be possible to move that tree from being a mental structure to instead being represented on the table. Could we play directly on that expanding and contracting tree structure? The answer we arrived at was "sort of". We imagined a version of the game in which the detective distributed the colored cubes to either side of edges on a binary tree, and the hidden player recorded which leaf they're on and announced the cubes they moved past. The only problem with this approach was that it fits only in your imagination. When we tried to physically represent it, be it with cards or tiles or anything else, it got very wide very quickly, creeping off the edge of the table at alarming speed.

(Possibility) Space Issues

The game sat on the shelf for a long time again — until I woke up one day with an idea that turned out to work. If we couldn't represent a tree exactly, we could still have something tree-like if we allowed some nodes to have two edges pointing inwards. You could easily represent this with a checkerboard pattern of cards, and doing so let our colored cubes sit in the spaces between the cards, with the hidden player moving diagonally from card to card. That improved the width problem, with a depth n tree-like structure having n+1 leaves rather than the 2n of a binary tree, and allowing them to be evenly spaced. However, our spatial woes were not over.

From gallery of Yrreboor
Playing on a tree-like board

From gallery of W Eric Martin
A graph representation of our tree-ish structure (left) compared to a binary tree (right)

Even with our tree-like structure, the game would still overshoot most gaming tables very quickly, only now in the other dimension. We realized, however, that we didn't need to represent the full tree all of the time. After all, the hidden player was always on one of the leaves, making this layer and the next layer the focus of the game. This allowed us to shrink the depth to only two, and by alternating which side of the table the next layer was placed on, the game could be kept in the middle of the table.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The tree-like structure for the first three moves (left) and representing this only two levels at a time, with dotted circles showing which spaces are added each turn (right)

From gallery of Yrreboor
The physical representation of one of these sections of the tree

Reducing Asymmetry

A problem that had lingered since the early grid-based prototype was that the game felt less interesting for the hidden player. Where this player only moved and gave out information, the detective could choose between moving their pawns and manipulating the cubes between the different squares. We tried a variety of iterations, including giving the hidden mover special abilities or even their own currency to use on extra actions and powers. Fundamentally, though, the problem was that the interesting part of the game was manipulating the cubes, and we hadn't given the hidden player enough ways to interact with that. The game was too asymmetric, with only one player having access to the interesting part.

From gallery of Yrreboor
A version of the game — still square grid-based — in which the hidden player was a ghost who gained ectoplasm, which sometimes allowed them to move cubes

We eventually decided to switch to a turn structure in which players alternate performing one action, with each action allowing them to move the cubes in a different way. The players were now interacting with the game in a largely symmetric way, but trying to use the same tools to achieve opposing objectives, trying either to spread or shrink the places the hidden player could go. Importantly, the bulk of each player's interaction was with the most interesting part of the game.

At first, this was a system of perfect information, with each action always being available to both players. This invited a lot of calculation as you could try to parse every possible move or response your opponent would make. We eventually moved the actions onto cards in a private hand, with the aim of shortening the information horizon. You can't know perfectly what moves the opponent has available, or what you will have beyond your current hand, so the possible future states become hazier.

They're Everywhere

For the detective player in a hidden movement game, the goal is usually to work out the location of the hidden player, but the specific way of acting on that varies between games. In Specter Ops, for example, the detectives move so they're in line of sight and shoot, while in Letters from Whitechapel, they perform an arrest on the space they think the hidden player is in. Up until this point, we'd kept a similar kind of structure to Letters; at some point the detective needed to announce where they thought the hidden player was, and if correct they'd win.

From gallery of Yrreboor

The problem was that with the game becoming more and more compact, the probability of a guess being right at random became higher than we were comfortable with. At the same time, we'd started including some tokens for the detective player to place on tiles where the hidden player could be. Since the introduction of these tokens, we'd been wondering whether we actually needed to have the hidden player be in a specific place. It struck us: Could they not be at all these spots?

As it turns out, they could. In the final game, the detective — or the Scientist, rather — needs to narrow down all the possibilities to a single location, while the hidden mover — the Cryptid — needs to expand the possibility tree as wide as possible. This is exactly what they would be trying to do in a hidden movement game...only there isn't any hidden movement in the game.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

And that's how we ended up, five years since its inception, with Cryptid: Urban Legends, an asymmetric hidden movement game in which movement isn't hidden and you do the same things as your opponent.

Ruth Veevers and Hal Duncan

Cryptid: Urban Legends is designed by Ruth Veevers and Hal Duncan and illustrated by Kwanchai Moriya. It debuted in April 2022 from Osprey Games.

From gallery of Yrreboor
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Tue May 3, 2022 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Legends of Hellas, or A Legendary Quest

Pierre Knockaert
Belgium
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Board Game: Legends of Hellas
Legends of Hellas, newly released by Quined Games as of April 2022, is a reimplementation of Escape Now!, so let me start with the birth of that game.

In 2017, I was already designing tabletop games, but at that time I was mainly busy designing escape rooms, — more specifically, mobile escape rooms. With my escape room partners in crime, we were brainstorming about a small gift to hand out to players who succeeded in escaping our mobile rooms. Instead of just taking a picture of the best escape group of the month and posting them on social media, we thought of giving them a simple but challenging card game that wouldn't cost us much, but would be a recognition for their collective effort.

This game would reflect as much as possible the core idea of being in an escape room in an abstract way, that is, co-operatively solving riddles while you are limited in communication and time. Moreover, this mini escape room game needed to be replayable, unlike the other escape room card games popular at that time.

At first, I wanted the game to be whimsical, but as I worked together with graphic designer Bartel Bruneel, who also designed the cards for Legends of Hellas, the design evolved into a more visual game to emphasize its thinky aspect, while also opening it up to younger players by leaving out the text.

From gallery of IntoTheFlow

From gallery of IntoTheFlow

From gallery of IntoTheFlow

As the game evolved and more people were playtesting it, I realized that I had made a quite novel and challenging game. From that moment on, we thought of printing more copies than we would need for the escapers and selling the rest to the local board gaming community. Thus, 250 copies of Escape Now! were printed in August 2018.

From gallery of IntoTheFlow

And even though I had published the game myself under my small company Into the Flow, I decided to take my chances at SPIEL to find a worldwide publisher for the game. Among the interested publishers, Quined Games persisted and soon we agreed on publishing more copies.

Board Game Publisher: Quined Games
But of course the game needed to be adapted to the publisher's style. The escape room theme was found too generic, too abstract, and it needed a solid solo mode and more scenarios and set-ups to spice up the game.
After some brainstorming sessions, we decided to give the game a Greek heroic/mythological theme. The escape room puzzles became monsters, with the double puzzle at the end becoming a chimera. The five different traits to escape a room were changed into the five heroic traits — strength, speed, guile, courage and arms — needed to vanquish the mythological monsters. The number of scenarios was expanded from three escape room set-ups to twelve ancient Greek works. Along with that, new rules were added to reduce the amount of luck and to offer players more interesting choices.

I'm very proud of how the game evolved from a small idea to its current state. Some people who were early adopters of Escape Now! are amazed about how and why the design evolved to Legends of Hellas, but I'm convinced that this version improves on the original.

Between signing the agreement in December 2018 and printing the final copies in December 2021, the game's name has changed from "Save Hellas Now" to "Hellas Legends" to "Heroes of Hellas" and finally to Legends of Hellas. In the meantime, a lot of time and effort was put in creating a digital version of the game on Tabletop Simulator and Board Game Arena.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Sample monster cards

I'm hoping that many people will see the beauty of the game, and that these people will notice similarities with Hanabi or The Game, but mostly, that they will understand that Legends of Hellas is not just the same type of game, but triggers a novel, playful, and interesting thought process!

Pierre Knockaert

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Sample hero cards
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Fri Apr 29, 2022 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Oranienburger Kanal

Uwe Rosenberg
Germany
Gütersloh
Nordrhein-Westfalen
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Board Game: Oranienburger Kanal
The First Ideas

Oranienburger Kanal is surely one of my "heaviest" games to appear in 2022, but originally it was not supposed to be like that at all.

I can still remember how I went to my favorite café with the mere idea and a few blank pieces of paper and made notes. After that, the game was almost ready — the rules, at least. I then spent several weeks designing one building tile after another and testing them in solo play. The buildings became more and more complex and required increasing care when planning during the game.

The game had seven action spaces, no more. I knew the game would get out of hand if I didn't condense it at the outset. I took inspiration for the game from Le Havre, but I designed the buildings as squares, made them on tiles rather than cards, and had no idea that I was taking my first steps toward making the "Legespiele" — that is, the tile-laying games — with which I am now familiar.

Oranienburger Kanal is a construction game, but it borrows from the Legespiele. During the Coronavirus period, I was looking for game ideas that I could develop without any players at all. Legespiele are strongly structured, meaning I could easily extrapolate from solo games to games with up to four players, so I developed one Legespiel after another, interrupted by a few attempts to design dice games as well. To be honest, my first attempts at Legespiele were made before Corona, but I had to pay a lot of "apprenticeship money" for these games, so the release of the design that I had originally called "Traffic Routes" now falls in a year in which up to five pure Legespiele of mine will be published. I almost hope that one or another game will shift to 2023, and I'm very curious to see how the individual games do. The first one, Framework, should already be on the market by the time this article is published.

Off to Oranienburg

A game usually gets its title from whoever publishes it. The author can try to find a good title himself. He can also simply call his game "Aufbauspiel [Building Game] Nummer 17". The title doesn't matter there, not yet — a good title is just a bonus for now.

I wouldn't have recommended my title "Traffic Routes" to any publisher as it suggests a rather abstract game: lay railroad tracks, maybe build roads, evaluate, and that's it — but Oranienburger Kanal is fortunately more. Cities like Mannheim and New York were designed on the drawing board like a chessboard. The player acts similarly in Oranienburger Kanal, except that they don't just lay out roads — and that made the search for a setting difficult. Why did it end up being Oranienburg, north of Berlin? Perhaps from a touch of romanticism since the canal was built in a once picturesque region. Fortunately, the degree of industrialization expressed in the game was never achieved in Oranienburg itself.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The seven actions in the prototype

Two Hours and a Fully Written Piece of Paper

Some ideas appear so clearly in your mind's eye that all that's left is to work them out. Looking back, I have to say that for such ideas, it's good that I didn't have any other ideas in parallel because I would have abandoned those clear ideas in favor of uncertain ones. Twenty-five years ago, for example, it took several months to go from the ideas to the realization of Mamma Mia!. Uncertain ideas are more exciting for me; clear ideas seem to me like a compulsory task, like a concrete specification of what I had to work out in the following days.

The ideas for Oranienburger Kanal were as clear as day, and they grew out of a fundamental consideration, from basic research, if you will, related to my game Le Havre. In that game, you construct one building after another, simply placing the buildings in front of you. In Ora et Labora, the first sequel game to Le Havre, if you like, I succeeded to some extent in giving meaning to the placement position, although Ora et Labora was still mainly about simply creating space for one's buildings. Only occasionally did the buildings make reference to neighboring buildings.

A second thing that had moved me during the development of Le Havre was that I allowed only two ways to use buildings, either as anytime options or as separate action fields. Even for Le Havre, I could have thought of more ways to use them, and in Ora et Labora I could have made more reference to neighboring buildings. However, by doing so I would have overloaded both games. If you put too much into a game, you're getting closer and closer to brain torture — but there is a way out: a new game.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Did someone say Ora et Labora?

The first idea for Oranienburger Kanal was to occupy the four edges of a tile — with what I didn't know yet — and to measure the yield of the building following this occupation. If you put buildings edge to edge, then you effectively occupy two buildings at once, which means it becomes necessary to think about the position of your buildings...so instead of thinking about occupying the edges, I should rather occupy the gaps in between: Streets and paths were the obvious choice.

But how do you expand on the idea when you have, at best, highways or dead ends? How do I get a thematic reference to the buildings? Thanks to the need to be able to name the buildings, I came up with rails and canals because with them, there can be stations, ports, and many other buildings from this environment in the game.

How and when should the buildings be scored? The best time for this was obvious: At the moment when all four sides of the building are occupied by transport routes. (This was the umbrella term I chose.) However, this is not enough for a decent game tempo. The player should not spend several actions on the construction of a building, then have it result in only one payout. Do I allow each building to be an action space as well? But I already had to deal with downtime because I let the players decide on the position of their buildings and transport routes. It's hard to imagine what would happen if the number of action fields got out of hand as in Agricola and Le Havre...

I started looking for a second scoring point and was satisfied with the concept of scoring buildings when they were flanked by three transport routes — but then two immediate scoring points could come in a row. The problem with scoring after only two transport paths was that buildings would often be used as soon as they were built. I needed something new, a path marker that could be claimed by both adjacent buildings, just like the transport paths.

As you can see, I had the hardest time in this game re-inventing the concept of bridges. This idea must have taken me two pieces of cake at the aforementioned café.

You Must Cross Seven Bridges

I wanted to tie the game ending to the building of seven bridges by the player thanks to a song by the band Karat — "Über sieben Brücken musst du gehen" ("You Must Cross Seven Bridges") — but a good game ending has to fit the game and not be a gag.

"Survive seven dark years." I would have liked that since people in the industrial cities didn't see much sun, but "survive seventy dark years" would have been more appropriate.

For me, the bridges were the idea that made the game round. Buildings are now scored twice: once for four transport routes, and once for two bridges. "Two bridges." For a few days, that was also my title for the game — until I went to Google Maps to look for the port of Zweibrücken ("two bridges") to discover that, well, no such thing exists.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Bridges, yes, but...

In many games, the main buildings are upgraded; in my game, it is the secondary objects — the transport routes — that give added value. What I liked the most is that some buildings are valued first after four transport routes, while other buildings are valued first after two bridges.

Is Spielworxx the New Uwe Publishing House?

Board Game Publisher: Spielworxx
You may have noticed the unexpected logo on the box. For years, I've been trying to make games with the same people because we know each other, because the processes are tried and tested, and because the "other side" has learned over the years to deal with my idiosyncrasies.

It's like everything in life. Whether a multi-year collaboration develops depends upon how it develops. Every team should cover everything that goes into making games, and this team was now a completely new one for me, with Uli Blennemann as publisher, Henning Kröpke as editor, and Harald Lieske as illustrator.

What was special, though, was that I have known all three of them for many years. That's why the collaboration also had a feeling of old familiarity. At the SPIEL fair in Essen in 2019, Uli had wondered how I would fit with him when I thought of presenting a game for Spielworxx. Uli said that his publishing house was much too small for the kind of games I make, but he didn't know Oranienburger Kanal yet.

Board Game: Fields of Arle
My experiences with Arler Erde drove me to Uli. Arler Erde was a big, elaborate, two-person game that had too much downtime for three people. Arler Erde was successful in its own right, ranked somewhere between #50 and #60 on BoardGameGeek for many years. Despite this great approval, however, the sales success is more in line with those games of mine that rank between number 300 and 400.

What's more, Oranienburger Kanal is even a little more brain-bending to play than Arler Erde, and the theme is — let's say — dirtier, with no trace of the idyllic homeland of that design. It's no wonder that my other publishing partners tended to pounce on my high-volume games and unanimously recommend my "dirty gem" to wherever it fit best into a publishing program...somewhere. Fortunately, Uli gravitated toward Oranienburg, and at Spielworxx, this design will join a line of wonderful games like Ruhrschifffahrt, Kohle & Kolonie, and North American Railways.

And Another First...

Oranienburger Kanal will become my first crowdfunded game. That said, it's not a big stretch goal event. It's also not primarily a pre-funding project. It's an opportunity for Uli to make the imponderable tangible. His customers are used to his games existing exactly one thousand times. For that reason alone, every Spielworxx game has always been very special.

Board Game: Oranienburger Kanal

For a game from my pen to exist only one thousand times, Uli feared from the very first second that we could possibly cause resentment. Personally, I don't like it when my new games are hawked on eBay at three times the original price. (In the noughties this happened with Bohnanza variants.) Crowdfunding on Gamefound allows us to produce exactly as much as we need of a game where the range of possibly needed copies is quite variable.

I wish you continued fun with our shared hobby. Soon everything will be like it used to be.

Yours,
Uwe
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Tue Apr 26, 2022 1:00 pm
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Author Diary: Novelist, Thanks to BoardGameGeek

Paul DeStefano
United States
Long Island
New York
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
While I was a writer well before BoardGameGeek, it really is this very site that launched me on the path to traditional novelist. We'll skip the part of the story where I majored in writing, always wanted to be a writer, and had completed a novel-length work in high school because you hear that kind of thing all the time.

Let's start where you, the BGG user, come in. I registered way back. That's right: The Dirk Ages. (Some of you think that's a typo.) Being a writer, I wrote a ton of content. I had a hundred reviews up fairly quickly, which put me in the top 10 most prolific reviewers at the time. Lots of thumbs up, lots of notice.

Being "one of the top reviewers", at least by volume, meant companies sent me games to review. That became playtesting for a bunch of titles, like a few waves of some little game called Heroscape, which happened to be my first (and 100th) review. I was found by the designers because of my write-ups. This kind of thing spread. I think Star Trek: Fleet Captains expansions came next. Oh, and I'm the guy who figured out what flavor text goes on each card in The Lord of the Rings Dice Building Game. (I watched all of the Extended Editions over two days to do that — it nearly killed me.) This turned into game development, where people trusted me enough to tell them how to tweak their designs.

Somewhere among all these gigs writing flavor text and rulebooks, I did a session report of boutique fantasy miniatures game Nin-Gonost. I wrote it as if it were a scene in a fantasy novel.

Alain Henner, president of Adiken and producer of Nin-Gonost, read that piece. That was the catalyst. He hired me to write fiction for every character in the game, new rules, scenarios, everything — for actual decent money.

 
I've done flavor text, fiction, and scenario design for dozens of games since then. The most recent "big fish" is Oathsworn: Into The Deepwood that hit for $1.9 million on Kickstarter. Tens of thousands of words of that game came from me, along with work from NYT bestseller Aaron Dembski-Bowden of the Games Workshop Black Library. James Cosmo, who played Jeor Mormont in Game of Thrones, narrated my words. I was touring internationally, giving seminars on gaming, writing, world-building, and all sorts of fun things. I posted articles on Medium.com, earning money and the Top Humor Writer Badge for a few months. It's possible you've read a few as they're often about gaming.

Please note that you are reading this journey in a few paragraphs. This was nearly twenty years of building a writing résumé on BGG.

Fast forward to Pandemic 2020: I got COVID real bad in April, first wave. Spoiler: I survived — but with bad aftereffects. I was struck with a terrible fear of crowds and human contact. My wife asked me the important question: What do you want to do next?

The answer was easy: Become a full-time writer.

She said, "Okay."

I got some jobs writing articles remotely and ghostwriting science fiction for publishers that release tons of novels under assumed names. This gave me excellent experience with editors and the process and machinery of the publishing world at large. Time to strike out on my own. No game. No IP. No assumed name.

Of course, everyone out there jumped in to say that it's impossible to get an agent for traditional publication and that I would end up self-publishing, lost in the sea of books on Amazon where a new book is published every TWELVE FREAKING SECONDS.

From gallery of Geosphere
First, I had to write a book that would snag an agent.

I had done my ghostwriting, which is very much writing to what you know the audience wants to read. I was used to writing for games, where a huge fantasy history has to grab your attention in the single paragraph at the front of the rule book. I had written flavor text in which you had less space than in a single tweet. All this boardgaming background was serving me. My roots were firmly in sci-fi and fantasy. I just needed a hook...

The lead couple meets at a support group for the possessed.

Boom. Hook.

That line immediately tags the work in the reader’s mind as a quirky romance, urban fantasy, horror story. The title: Unlawful Possession. See, I told you I was a humor writer. I knew it needed certain elements: Monsters. Mystery. Humor. Sex. Violence. All the good stuff you see warnings for at the start of a Netflix show. I went and wrote that book.

Yes, it really is that easy. Here's the steps to write a novel: Write a word. Repeat 75,000 times.

I had gotten enough experience with game background fictions and ghostwriting that the novel was nice and easy. It took two months. I then needed an agent. Research, research, research. I sent a few messages out with that hook. I got positive responses. I sent some chapters to a handful of agencies. By the end of 2020, a hop, jump and referral later, I was signed. My agent shopped around to a few publishers and found me a traditional deal at a small press. "Traditional deal", for those not in the industry, means I pay for nothing. I get assigned editors, readers, and artists, all at the expense of someone else. This is opposed to hybrid- or self-publishing where you have to pay for your own team. I'm a new writer, so I figured that small press deal was spot on. Signed.

The publisher called me on the phone. They said the piece was kind of literary and deeply thematic — their editor wanted more. They wanted the book to be the lead-in to a series. Oh. Um. Okay? Right there, on the phone, we came up with my new series name: Riftsiders. I had to edit the book to change it a bit to be this new open-ended starter sequence. Book two was submitted to the publisher for review before book one was for sale.

That's how it all built up to Riftsiders: Unlawful Possession, with a release date of April 18, 2022.

From gallery of Geosphere

And I need to thank everyone who ever read a bit of my nonsense here on BGG, gave me a thumbs up, or said, "You write good". BGG even gets a bit of a cameo on the book as a "geeky boardgame website" that one of the characters visits. So — thank you. All of you. It's been a wild ride, and I hope to take you further along with me. Your support is deeply appreciated, whether or not you go ahead and spend your hard-earned bucks on my book rather than a game.

Paul DeStefano
Riftsiders

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Fri Apr 22, 2022 1:00 pm
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