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Links: Less Crowded Conventions, Popping Publicity, and Games in the Environment

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From gallery of W Eric Martin
• On July 5, 2021, Asmodee Deutschland noted that due to the "still uncertain health situation in 2021" and despite the increasing speed with which vaccinations are being delivered in Germany, Asmodee and its studios will not have a stand at SPIEL '21. Asmodee had earlier stated that it would not attend Gen Con 2021, and Paizo Publishing will not be at that show either.

I've been compiling preview lists for Gen Con, Origins, and SPIEL — all visible here — and several publishers have responded to my outreach efforts to say that they don't plan to attend one show or another. Some have said they will exhibit in 2022 at the earliest.

When people have given reasons for not appearing at the shows, they primarily focus on health concerns (understandably), stating that they don't want to ask others to endanger themselves by representing them at conventions. Several publishers have said that due to social distancing requirements, they will likely focus solely on sales and not have demo space — or they will have only stand-up café-style tables that allow for a demo in a tight area, but not a full playthrough.

I can understand the stated health concerns, but I imagine that some publishers are taking advantage of the unique opportunity available in 2021 — a year in which you can roll over your booth fee to 2022 at Gen Con and SPIEL, despite the shows taking place — to determine how much value convention presence actually has. For many publishers, game sales in 2020 were mind-blowing, and for many titles, sales in 2021 have continued to surge faster than publishers can restock their warehouse. Given this condition, why not skip an event that costs thousands or tens of thousands of dollars/Euros to see whether sales roll along just fine anyway?

Normally you couldn't bail on a Gen Con booth without losing your place on the floor in the subsequent year, but in 2021 you can, so now's the time to experiment. Meanwhile, those publishers that do plan to exhibit can push all of their 2020 titles that lacked convention time to see whether the extra exposure makes a difference compared to sales in the previous year.

Players get to experiment as well to some degree, seeing whether they feel like they're missing out should they stay home — or perhaps realizing that they still have titles from the 2019 shows on their shelves that they've yet to play. We'll probably all have to wait until the 2022 conventions to see what, if anything, has "permanently" changed as a result...

• Speaking of Asmodee Deutschland, in March 2021 the company started handling distribution of titles from French publisher Cocktail Games.

• Canadian publisher FoxMind gets a callout in an April 2021 article in The Toy Book about the massive popularity of "fidget toys", with the company's Last Mouse Lost, a.k.a. Last One Lost, a.k.a. Go Pop! being hugely popular on TikTok.

At NY Toy Fair 2020, FoxMind's JC Dorais had told me that sales of game/toy were blowing away everything else in its catalog — and that was before the Covid-19 pandemic had led to a further surge in sales.

Board Game: Last One Lost

• In July 2021, The NY Times published an article by Ivan Nechepurenko and Misha Friedman titled "The Dark Side of Chess: Payoffs, Points and 12-Year-Old Grandmasters" that details the less-than-ideal situations in which two young players gained the title of "grandmaster".

Board Game: Hedgehog Roll
Board Game: Smart10
• While cleaning out my inbox, I ran across a few sales stats for 2020 that seemed worth sharing: German publisher Schmidt Spiele generated sales of €42.2 million in family and children's games in 2020, an increase of 37 percent over 2019. Puzzle sales for 2020 were €12.9 million, an increase of 66% over 2019.

Austrian publisher Piatnik totaled €40 million in sales, a 41% increase over 2019, with Speedy Roll — the 2020 Kinderspiel des Jahres winner — selling nearly 200,000 copies and Smart10 — the 2020 Spiel der Spiele winner — selling 50,000+ copies. I'm always curious about how the BGG audience compares to game players in general, so let me note that BGG's Speedy Roll page lists only 380 owners, which is less than .2% of what sold in Germany and Austria alone.

• In early July 2021, One Pip Wonder led a discussion on the environmental impacts of the board game industry to address comments on a June 2021 video on the same topic.


She followed up this video with one explaining how to recycle a board game.
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Sat Jul 24, 2021 1:00 pm
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MicroMacro: Crime City Wins Spiel des Jahres 2021, while Paleo Wins Kennerspiel des Jahres 2021

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From gallery of W Eric Martin
MicroMacro: Crime City by Johannes Sich and Edition Spielwiese has won the 2021 Spiel des Jahres, German's game of the year award, which is arguably the best known and most influential award in the hobby game market, beating out The Adventures of Robin Hood by Michael Menzel and Zombie Teenz Evolution by Annick Lobet.

Here's an overview of the title for those who have not played:
Quote:
Crimes have taken place all over the city, and you want to figure out exactly what's happened, so you'll need to look closely at the giant city map (75 x 110 cm) to find all the hidden information and trace the trails of those who had it in for their foes.

Board Game: MicroMacro: Crime City

MicroMacro: Crime City includes 16 cases for you to solve. Each case includes a number of cards that ask you to find something on the map or uncover where someone has gone or otherwise reveal information relevant to a case. The city map serves as a map in time as well as space, so you'll typically find people in multiple locations throughout the streets and buildings, and you need to piece together what happened, whether by going through the case card by card or by reading only the starting card in the case and trying to figure out everything that happened for yourself. Will you be able to answer all questions about the case without fail?
For a more detailed presentation of this engaging and disturbing title, I recommend checking out my written and video overview. Detective Max would appreciate a moment of your time...

•••

For the Kennerspiel des Jahres, an award intended for enthusiasts comfortable with a more involved game than the mainstream-friendly Spiel des Jahres winners, the SdJ jury chose Paleo, by Peter Rustemeyer and Hans im Glück, which means that both awards this year went to co-operative games.

Here's an overview of the game:
Quote:
Paleo is a co-operative adventure game set in the stone age, a game in which players try to keep the human beings in their care alive while completing missions. Sometimes you need a fur, sometimes a tent, but these are all minor quests compared to your long-term goal: Painting a woolly mammoth on the wall so that humans thousands of years later will know that you once existed. (Okay, you just think the mammoth painting looks cool. Preserving a record of your past existence is gravy.)

What might keep you from painting that mammoth? Death, in all its many forms.

Board Game: Paleo

Each player starts the game with a couple of humans, who each have a skill and a number of life points. On a turn, each player chooses to go to one location — possibly of the same type as other players, although not the same location — and while you have some idea of what you might find there, you won't know for sure until you arrive, at which point you might acquire food or resources, or find what you need to craft a useful object, or discover that you can aide someone else in their project, or suffer a snakebite that brings you close to death. Life is full of both wonders and terrors...

At the day's end, you need food for all the people in your party as well as various crafts or skills that allow you to complete quests. Failure to do so adds another skull on the tote board, and once you collect enough of those, you decide that living is for fools and give up the ghost, declaring that future humans can just admire someone else, for all you care.

Paleo includes multiple modules that allow for a variety of people, locations, quests, and much more during your time in 10,000 BCE.
Congratulations to all involved with these two games!
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Mon Jul 19, 2021 10:29 am
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Links: Narrative and Exposition, Exclusive Games, and Graphic Excellence in Games

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Board Game: Rocky Mountain Man
• Dan Thurot does excellent work in his reviews and essays on Space-Biff!, and I wanted to highlight his most recent long essay: "Talking About Games: Narrative & Exposition".

Although I'm doing an injustice to excerpt part of an article that coheres beautifully from beginning to end, I'll do so anyway to try to encourage you to start at the beginning:
Quote:
So is a board game more of a board game when we're playing it? It must be. And that wholeness of feeling has everything to do with something intangible, because the rules are not physical objects contained within the game, but guidelines and actions we undertake at the prompting of the game's designers.

The same is true of narrative.

A narrative is a story, a deliberate string of events that somebody spoke about or wrote down or filmed. But it's also something we can't help but create all the time, because our brains are pattern-generating engines that filter our every experience along a conveyor belt of linear time, presented like multi-course feasts for the gluttonous protagonist we call the self. Every human suffers to varying degrees from apophenia, in which we see faces in trees or objects in clouds or signals in static. Which is why we can't help but sort things into narratives, whether we're talking about the fall of Rome or throwing a busted childhood toy into the garbage. These things are not "real". They're as imaginary as the idea that the Roman Empire had more in common with its Republican past than with its Merovingian successors. But just because they're not real doesn't mean they're not meaningful or don't approach truth. Almost the inverse, in fact. Things become meaningful because we assign them meaning.

But that's where many board games slip up. Because characters and flavor text and central struggles aren't narrative. They're exposition.
In the essay, Thurot praises Rocky Mountain Man's meaningful integration of events into the game's narrative, explains how Vast: The Crystal Caverns uses memes to convey exposition efficiently, and gets the vapors over Sleeping Gods' ability to immerse you in a plot that is more than a pile of random events.

• In late June 2021, Suzanne Sheldon of The Dice Tower posted a helpful Twitter thread about "exclusive" games that covers a lot of ground that might be unfamiliar to the general gamer. Here's the leadoff tweet:


One aspect she doesn't cover is that in some cases a mass-market retailer asks a publisher to essentially make a game for them — which means that game likely wouldn't exist at all without that first period of exclusivity. The publisher wants game X, but aimed at a younger audience, set in a different location, married with a certain IP, or at a lower price point. If the publisher can make that happen, it would (probably) be foolish to refuse that order and not put its game and brand in front of that audience.

Dealing with mass-market retailers can be frustrating and involves a lot of risks should a shipment fail to arrive by a contracted date or (worst of all) the game not sell, but the potential gains from exposure to a vast audience of game players who (generally) don't attend conventions, visit BGG, or look for suggestions on Twitter are huge.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
• The nominees for the Graf Ludo 2021 — an annual award from the annual modell-hobby-spiel fair in Leipzig, Germany that celebrates graphic design in games — have been announced. The six titles recognized for "most beautiful graphics in a family game" are:

Dive (graphics by Alexandre Bonvalot, published by Sit Down!)
Everdell (graphics by Andrew Bosley, published by Starling Games)
Lost Ruins of Arnak (graphics by Ondřej Hrdina, published by Czech Games Edition)
Monster Expedition (graphics by Dennis Lohausen, Oliver Schlemmer, and Michael Menzel, published by AMIGO)
Spicy (graphics by Jimin Kim, published by HeidelBÄR Games)
Tang Garden (graphics by Matthew Mizak, published by ThunderGryph Games)

Board Game: Dive
Board Game: Everdell
Board Game: Lost Ruins of Arnak
Board Game: Monster Expedition
Board Game: Spicy
Board Game: Tang Garden

And the five titles recognized for "most beautiful graphics in a children's game" are:

Dream Catcher (graphics by Maud Chalmel, published by Space Cow)
Forest of Lights (graphics by Rolf Vogt, published by Drei Magier Spiele)
Ghost Adventure (graphics by Yann Valéani and Jules Dubost, published by Buzzy Games)
Similo: Wild Animals (graphics by Naïade, published by Horrible Guild)
Storytailors (graphics by Irina Pechenkina and Eugene Smolenceva, published by Lifestyle Boardgames)

Board Game: Dream Catcher
Board Game: Wald der Lichter
Board Game: Ghost Adventure
Board Game: Similo
Board Game: Storytailors
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Sat Jul 3, 2021 1:00 pm
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Links: Dragomino Wins Kinderspiel des Jahres, and The Power of Unplayed Games

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Board Game: Dragomino
• On June 14, Dragomino from designers Bruno Cathala, Marie Fort, and Wilfried Fort and publisher Blue Orange Games won the 2021 Kinderspiel des Jahres, Germany's children's game of the year award, beating out Storytailors and Mia London and the Case of the 625 Scoundrels.

Commenting on the winner, the Kinderspiel des Jahres jury notes that Dragomino "shows in an impressive way how to transform a family game into a children's game", with "luck and deliberation being kept in an exciting balance".

• Need an excuse to acquire more games? Perhaps you'll be inspired by Anne-Laure Le Cunff's essay "Building an antilibrary: the power of unread books". An excerpt, which can apply to games as easily as books:
Quote:
The goal of an antilibrary is not to collect books you have read so you can proudly display them on your shelf; instead, it is to curate a highly personal collection of resources around themes you are curious about. Instead of a celebration of everything you know, an antilibrary is an ode to everything you want to explore.

The vastness of the unknown can feel terrifying, which is why many people feel uncomfortable with the idea of accumulating books they haven't read. But embracing the unknown is what drives discovery. As Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell once said: "Thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science." An antilibrary is a reminder of everything we don't know.
• Sam March created his own electronic game board for Catan that rolls the dice, then highlights the spaces that pay out in resources. Man, you have to really love a game to devote that much time to creating something like this!


• In an essay titled "Review Drift" on The Splintered Mind, C. Thi Nguyen (BGG user rorschah) argues that game reviewers are failing to do justice to the material they cover. An excerpt:
Quote:
Boardgames are, one might hope, made for hundreds and thousands of plays. One of the reason boardgames are such a good value proposition is that you can slowly discover the depths of the game over years of repeat play. But the community is now getting driven by popular reviewers, often on YouTube, and getting popular requires putting out frequent and regular content — multiple reviews a week. Which means the most dominant voices, which drive the market, are playing each game a couple of times and then reviewing. And that drives the market in a particular direction. It drives it away from deep rich games that take a few plays to wrap your mind around. The current landscape of popular reviewers seems to be driving the market towards games which are immediately comprehensible, fun for a handful of plays, and then collapse into boring sameness.

So: the structure of the online environment right now seems to demand that superstar reviewers put up frequent updates. Which means reviewing lots of products in rapid succession. But if you're reviewing the kind of thing that is subtle, that takes a long time to really get to know, then the context of review has drifted really far from the context of use. So we're evolving this perverse ecosystem centered around influential reviewers — but, where, to become influential, their review-context must be really far from the standard use-context.
One could counter that the reviewers Nguyen describes probably do match the "standard use-context" of their audience, which tends to play games only a few times before moving on to another new game — which means that the experience of the reviewer is the same as that of those players, so they're doing a job that's for their audience.

I'll include my standard comment about reviewers: If they don't tell you how many times they've played the game in question, they're doing you, the reader or viewer, a disservice. I'm not saying that a reviewer must play a game X times before talking about it — but they should tell how many times they've played so that their audience can decide how much to trust their judgment.
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Sat Jun 19, 2021 1:00 pm
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Links: Final Tales of the Arabian Nights, and The Impact of Counterfeit Games

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Board Game: Tales of the Arabian Nights
• In March 2021, Z-Man Games' Head of Studio Steve Kimball announced the end of the company's "Euro Classics" game line that (to date) consisted of new editions of Reiner Knizia designs.

On May 28, 2021, Kimball did another lap on the same course, announcing a final (small?) English-language printing of Tales of the Arabian Nights that will mostly be sold only through the publisher's online store, with Kimball's reminiscing and announcement sandwiching designer Eric Goldberg's history of the game in a suitably Arabian Nights-like fashion.

Kimball notes that this edition of the game is happening only thanks to a bump in the road to a rebooted version of the game with another publisher, with Goldberg hinting that perhaps this new edition will be based on the Arthurian legends. Check out the post for yourself if you want to try to read those tea leaves.

• In July 2020, designer Isaac Childres was profiled in the "news" section of Purdue University's website, Childres having gotten his degree there in physics and astronomy. An excerpt: "Isaac Childres graduated with a doctorate in physics in 2014 but his career route took an unusual turn. While working on his doctoral thesis, 'Effects of energetic irradiation on materials and devices based on graphene and topological insulators,' Childres was also working on a side project."

Another game-related excerpt:
Quote:
When asked if Childres plans to work with physics in the future, he says, "this chapter in my life has ended." But when asked if there may ever be a physics based board game, the story is just beginning.

"Last year, I started working on an independent project to publish that was loosely based on physics," says Childres. "It has a more sci-fi premise where lab workers work together to open a parallel universe. In this game, you'd work with your mirror self to close the rift and then write an academic paper. It is in the works but there's not a lot of time to put into it right now. I plan to revisit it next year."
• In March 2021, Ian Williams at VICE interviewed designer Francesco Nepitello about the second edition of The One Ring RPG, which Swedish publisher Free League funded on Kickstarter and which is due out near the end of 2021.

Board Game: Risk
• In January 2021, Variety reported that the Hasbro board game Risk "will be getting a TV adaptation as part of a multi-year television deal between the board game, toys and media behemoth's entertainment studio and Beau Willimon and Jordan Tappis' Westward."

• Australian game blog Next Player has interviewed four publishers — FryxGames, Pandasaurus Games, Steve Jackson Games, and Bézier Games — for two articles about counterfeit games, with the first on the impact of counterfeit games on the hobby and the second on what individuals can do about them.

I've spoken with a few publishers about this topic over the past few years, and their comments mirror the ones in this article. The main problems related to counterfeit games are twofold and intertwined: lost sales and loss of buyer confidence. The problem with lost sales is direct and obvious — money that would have gone to the legitimate publisher of a game instead goes to someone else.

The loss of buyer confidence relates to someone receiving a poorly produced version of a game, then swearing off items from the publisher and slamming the game in reviews, while not realizing that they have a counterfeit. This problem is more nebulous, yet possibly more damaging long term because a review like this one of Splendor on Amazon will stick around for years, making every single reader of it question whether they should purchase the game at all.
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Sat Jun 5, 2021 1:00 pm
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Dominion Coming to Digital Devices...Again

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Board Game: Dominion
Have you heard of the card game Dominion from Donald X. Vaccarino and Rio Grande Games? A game in which you start with a tiny deck of cards and use those cards to acquire more cards?

You probably have given that the game has been quite popular since its debut in 2008. Many people want to play Dominion online, whether they don't have others nearby or they're still trying to isolate, but multiple online set-ups for Dominion have come and gone over the years for one reason or another. I can't say much about those reasons as I've never tried to play the game online and I don't follow digital game news in general, but since I know that folks would like to play it, I thought I'd dip my toe into digital game news this one time to post the following:

Temple Gates Games — which has previously released digital versions of Race for the Galaxy, Roll for the Galaxy, and Shards of Infinity — is working with Rio Grande Games to release a digital version of the game that I've already referenced multiple times in this post, i.e., Dominion, on Steam, iOS, and Android.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Promo screenshot of the base game cards

Here are excerpts from Temple Gates as to what you can expect from this adaptation:
Quote:
The app is a true adaptation of the board game, offering players the deck-building card play they love in a digital form. There are a few perks to this app that make playing digitally a snap:

• Automated score-keeping, setup & rules enforcement
• Jumbo mode for larger text
• Turbo mode to zoom through games quickly
• Neural net AI for solo play
• Async and real-time multiplayer
• Pass and play
• Cross platform compatible: Start on your phone, finish on your PC

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Another promo screenshot

Dominion is now entering a closed beta. It will launch as a free to play title. Players can play with the "Base" set of cards including 26 unique Kingdom cards, three basic Victory sets, and three basic Treasure sets. All expansions will be available for purchase at launch for five to ten USD dollars each...

The Dominion app will represent a new milestone for AI in gaming as the first commercial implementation of the techniques behind AlphaZero. Temple Gates built on the AI from Race for the Galaxy, but added a much deeper lookahead, which is important for Dominion's emphasis on over-arching strategy. This deeper lookahead is only possible to compute by using a neural network to guide the growth of the search tree. By including an embedding layer for the first time to our neural network, our AI now learns the value of components of each card, rather than the cards themselves, meaning that it can master not just the 500+ cards in existence, but also cards which have yet to be designed. We hope you enjoy this new AI, designed by Keldon Jones, renowned for the Race for the Galaxy AI.
Temple Gates Games notes that its digital version of Dominion is currently in beta for all platforms, and you can ask to be added to the beta testing, although spaces are limited. Notes the publisher, "This beta will open to a wider audience incrementally. The beta is free."

No release date for the app is included in the press release, but I believe that's generally the case for such things, yes?

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Wow, look at all those cards I don't recognize!
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Wed May 19, 2021 1:00 pm
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All Together Now — Spiel des Jahres Nominations for 2021: The Adventures of Robin Hood, MicroMacro: Crime City, and Zombie Teenz Evolution

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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Co-operative games dominated the nominee list for the 2021 Spiel des Jahres — Germany's "game of the year" award — while also finding a place on the nominee lists for two accompanying awards: the Kinderspiel des Jahres (KidJ) for children's game of the year, and the Kennerspiel des Jahres (KedJ) for enthusiast's game of the year, that is, for those already comfortable with learning and playing new games.

Spiel des Jahres jury chairman Harald Schrapers and Kinderspiel des Jahres chairman Christoph Schlewinski announced the nominees and other recommended titles during a live broadcast on Facebook, with these three titles being nominated for Spiel des Jahres 2021:

The Adventures of Robin Hood, by Michael Menzel and KOSMOS
MicroMacro: Crime City, by Johannes Sich and Edition Spielwiese (written and video overview)
Zombie Teenz Evolution, by Annick Lobet and Le Scorpion Masqué (video overview)

Aside from these nominations, the SdJ jury recommended the following five titles: Chakra, Point Salad, The Key: Sabotage at Lucky Llama Land, Switch & Signal, and Biss 20, the latter two of which also happen to be co-operative.

Note that the Spiel des Jahres award is primarily aimed at family gamers, i.e., those who play games but aren't heavily into the gaming scene.

Board Game: The Adventures of Robin Hood
Board Game: MicroMacro: Crime City
Board Game: Zombie Teenz Evolution

Nominations for the Kennerspiel des Jahres went to:

Fantasy Realms, by Bruce Glassco and WizKids (and in Germany from Strohmann Games) (video overview)
Lost Ruins of Arnak, by Mín, Elwen, and Czech Games Edition (video overview)
Paleo, by Peter Rustemeyer and Hans im Glück (video overview)

The SdJ jury recommended four other titles at the Kennerspiel level: Aeon's End, Barrage, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, and Riftforce. The winners of the Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres will be announced in Berlin, Germany on July 19, 2021.

Board Game: Fantasy Realms
Board Game: Lost Ruins of Arnak
Board Game: Paleo

The titles nominated for Kinderspiel des Jahres 2020 are:

Dragomino, by Bruno Cathala, Marie Fort, Wilfried Fort, and Blue Orange Games (video overview)
Mia London and the Case of the 625 Scoundrels, by Antoine Bauza, Corentin Lebrat, and Le Scorpion Masqué (video overview)
Storytailors, by Marie Fort, Wilfried Fort, and Lifestyle Boardgames (video overview)

The Kinderspiel des Jahres jury, which differs from the SdJ/KedJ jury, also recommended seven other titles: Dream Catcher, Hipp Hopp Hippo, Inspektor Nase, Käpt'n Kuller, Memo Friends, Swip'Sheep, and Tapikékoi.

The winner will be announced on June 14, 2021, roughly one month prior to the winners of the other awards.

Board Game: Dragomino
Board Game: Mia London and the Case of the 625 Scoundrels
Board Game: Storytailors

Aside from the overwhelming presence of co-operative games among the nominees and recommended titles — and perhaps this trend shouldn't be a surprise given the events of 2020 — Schrapers and Schlewinski highlighted the strong showing by French designers and French and French-Canadian publishers, with the husband-and-wife team of Marie and Wilfried Fort picking up two nominations in the Kinderspiel category and Le Scorpion Masqué having a nomination for both Spiel des Jahres and Kinderspiel des Jahres. Schlewinski noted that the French seem to be more adventurous in their themes, their mechanisms, and their approach to art and graphics.
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Mon May 17, 2021 10:55 am
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Donate to India Covid Relief for a Chance to Win Games

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Beneeta Kaur livestreams game demos and playthroughs on Twitch, and on Sunday, May 2, 2021, she's running a charity event to raise funds for COVID-19 relief for India. Here's a reposting of info from her initial posting on BGG:
Quote:
For the past month or so, my co-host, AnnaMaria [Jackson-Phelps], and I have been going through the BGG Top 100 and discussing them. It's been a lot of fun whilst often fostering serious discussions. This Sunday, we will also be raising money to benefit India's Covid situation. For those unaware, the situation in India is dire and there is a lack of oxygen and hospital beds.

The board game community has come together and I am excited to announce that over 50 companies have pledged a free board game or accessory. Any donation over $3 will be entered into the giveaway. Any donation over $25 will be entered into the big ticket item giveaways (ie. Tidal Blades Deluxe, Too Many Bones, etc). If you donate $35, AnnaMaria will send you an original watercolor piece of art, and those over 100$ have the option of appearing in a future stream with us to play a game. Please join us for a lively discussion and to help raise funds and awareness for this important cause

The stream will be on Sunday, May 2nd at 7pm ET, 4pm PT, and 11pm GMT. Join us here.
From gallery of Kaur

From gallery of Kaur

And here's a more detailed list of companies and individuals who have donated items for this event:

From gallery of Kaur
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Sun May 2, 2021 6:44 pm
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Unveiling 7 Wonders Mystery

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Board Game: 7 Wonders
Board Game: 7 Wonders (Second Edition)
7 Wonders, old and new
On April 12, 2021, Belgian publisher Repos Production introduced something titled "7 Wonders Mystery" with the following minimalistic tweet:


Over the subsequent week, Repos has been tweeting more teasers about...whatever this is, and things are now starting to come into focus with this announcement from April 19, 2021:


Yes, in fact 7 Wonders Mystery is not an expansion for Antoine Bauza's card-drafting, civilization-building game 7 Wonders, but instead a series of puzzle-based challenges based on the seven wonders in the game. Here's an overview from the publisher's press release of what's going to happen:
Quote:
Starting on April 26, 2021, Repos Production, the studio behind 7 Wonders, the board game with more awards than any other game in the world, will offer everyone a brand-new adventure themed around the 7 Wonders of the World.

Each week, for two whole months, a new puzzle will be introduced, with prize sets offered for the cleverest among you. This great investigation game will allow both curious and hardcore fans to test their sense of observation and thought to solve the mysteries of the 7 Wonders. This is a chance to while away the time, alone or with your family, all while furthering your general culture knowledge.
For eight weeks from April 26 to June 20, 2021, a new puzzle will be released at the 7 Wonders Mystery website, with these puzzles being created by various game industry professionals under the supervision of Cyril Demaegd, creator of the Unlock! series of escape room games from Space Cowboys. The puzzles will have multiple difficulty levels, and you can play them with or without clues depending on how much of a challenge you want.

A Repos representative mentioned to me that while the puzzles can be solved by anyone, the prizes will be available only to participants in France, Germany, Belgium, and the U.S., presumably for legal reasons. Another announcement I received notes that "Everyone has a chance to win!", so perhaps we'll have to wait until April 26, 2021 to know for sure.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Purposefully blurry teaser image

Note: I don't normally post about contests in this space, but I saw many people speculating that "7 Wonders Mystery" would be a new game release, so I wanted to pass along clarifying information.
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Tue Apr 20, 2021 3:23 pm
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Grail Games Changes Direction

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Grail Games
In an April 17, 2021 editorial following the close of a Kickstarter campaign for a new edition of Franz-Benno Delonge's game Fjords, Grail Games' David Harding gives a recap of the publisher's history and talks a bit about a new direction.

Grail Games was founded in 2014, and Harding released a handful of titles annually until he found himself burning out in 2018/2019. To excerpt his post:
Quote:
This has been my downfall: I know what games I love and I want everyone to have a chance to love them, so I kept churning them out. On average, I released 5 titles a year — mostly working on my own at nights and on weekends. If a Kickstarter campaign allowed me to print 2000-3000 copies I was excited as I was able to fulfil my dreams. Unfortunately, printing that number of copies each time does not offer a publisher the best cost-per-copy rates, nor will it give a publisher enough profits to make a living. Short of striking lightning in a bottle, a small publisher will almost never make enough to pay the bills. Grail had no marketing department, no advertising budget. Being in Australia there’s almost no conventions to attend, and flying to Essen or Indy is SO freaking expensive.
Board Game Publisher: Matagot
In September 2019, Grail announced a partnership with publisher/distributor Surfin' Meeple that would be "focused on facilitating manufacturing and distribution services with the goal of introducing Grail Games classics to more homes around the world", then in 2020 Grail Games officially joined the Matagot family of companies run by Arnaud Charpentier, with Harding overseeing all editorial decisions, while Matagot would handle marketing, finances, distribution, and production issues.

This support will allow Harding to focus on Grail Games on a full-time basis for the first time in the company's seven-year history starting in June 2021 — but it also entails a change in focus, one that mirrors a March 2021 announcement by Z-Man Games that it was ending its "Euro Classics" game line that consisted (at that point) solely of new editions of five classic titles by designer Reiner Knizia. Here's another excerpt from Harding's post:
Quote:
I am immensely proud of Grail's editions of Yellow & Yangtze, Medici and Stephenson's Rocket, but these reprints and revisions, while great at getting BGGers to notice what one is doing, just...haven't sold well. And not only are we not going to take over any of the games Asmodee [i.e., Z-Man Games] let go, but our Medici Reformation project (although it was almost ready to go) is now cancelled. The 10 games by Renier Knizia that Grail released (Criss Cross, Medici, Medici: The Card Game, Medici: The Dice Game, Yellow & Yangtze, Circus Flohcati, King's Road, Stephenson's Rocket, Whale Riders, and Whale Riders: The Card Game) will not be printed again by us and will be leaving our catalogue at the end of 2021. Allow me to say it: Grab those leftover copies while you can.

Board Game: Yellow & Yangtze
Board Game: Medici
Board Game: Stephenson's Rocket

I personally hope that Reiner Knizia will find publishers for these games that suit him better and sell more copies.
Given what a huge fan I am of his designs, I feel let down by the dual announcements of Knizia titles not being strong enough on the market to maintain a presence there, but maybe this is simply another way of recognizing that the market sees hundreds of new releases annually, so it can be tough to gain traction given all the competition. Alternatively, perhaps my taste in games is somewhat old-fashioned given that I got into hobby games in the early 2000s during an era of regular releases from Schacht, Colovini, and Knizia.

What comes next for Grail? Well, that path has already been started, as is evident in the company's two most recent Kickstarter projects: Hibachi, this being a new — and far more light-hearted — version of Marco Teubner's 2010 release Safranito and the aforementioned Fjords, which was given an expanded player count, five new expansion modules by Harding's brother Phil Walker-Harding, and a modern look by Beth Sobel. In Harding's words:
Board Game: Safranito
The original
Quote:
We still want to reprint classics and games that feel like classics, but these two games (and the ones coming up) are all games that I have been able to put a ton of myself into. We were free to make these games according to my vision. In this new chapter that is about to open for Grail, I will be moving forwards by selecting games that I both love personally, and that I can work on freely. I'll always have my Palastgeflüster, my Finca, my Thurn and Taxis, and my scuffed copies of Carcassonne and Catan. But as a publisher, while I've loved giving older games a fresh coat of paint, I have learned that I enjoy even more when the canvas is bare, or can be stripped bare before I get to work.

Moving forward, with the support of a team of helpers, you will see me have a hand in games more like Hibachi where (dare I say it) a dry game about trading spices with an amazingly fun dexterity element may actually end up on a game table down the road from your house. I mean, just look at that cat chef.
Board Game: Hibachi

Other non-Knizia titles coming from Grail Games were covered in this October 2020 BGG News post that highlighted announcements from Harding during SPIEL '20. (I will confess that Harding's taste in games aligns with mine, so I pay attention to all that he's doing.) These titles include:

• Tom Lehmann's two-player game ChuHan that I first wrote about in 2019.
• Scott Almes' Silicon Valley, in which 1-4 players hire staff for their start-up company to put out new products, with the nature of the products being determined by patterns that you build with polyominoes.
• Matthew Dunstan and Brett J. Gilbert's The Gardens, which Harding described to me as "my magnum opus" in terms of how he's been able to shape the entire package. Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:
Quote:
Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden holds a special place in the hearts of locals. World renowned for its location, beauty, and historical and scientific significance, each of its 29 hectares are not only stunning, but a calming retreat from the city's streets.

Board Game: The Gardens
Non-final cover

In The Gardens, players draft cards depicting different features of the Gardens, using them to build their own portion of it in front of themselves. Players then score points based on what their visitors see as they walk past the Gardens' various flower beds, ponds, native trees, and statues. The tableau you build will have three rows — waterside, grass, and cityside — and you add one card a turn until the area is filled.

Board Game: The Gardens
Non-final player tableau

The game is accessible and simple to learn, yet offers strategic choices. Its included modules add variability and depth for experienced players, with landmarks such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge that players can gain for extra points or special abilities, so join the picnickers, joggers, lorikeets, and bin chickens, and enjoy your day in the beautiful Botanic gardens.
Finally, Harding closed with a final teaser about future plans:
Quote:
Thanks to all my experiences and hardships running a publishing house, I felt the urge to give back to the community and we'll soon share news about how Grail will be helping another small publisher's beloved titles to carry on... It will be a fantastic project.
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126 Comments
Tue Apr 20, 2021 1:00 pm
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