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The Crew Wins the 2020 Deutscher Spielepreis

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From gallery of W Eric Martin
The co-operative trick-taking game The Crew from Thomas Sing and KOSMOS has won yet another award — the 2020 Deutscher Spielepreis.

The DSP is determined by the votes of gamers, who rate their top five games from the previous year, in addition to naming their favorite children's game. Those votes are then tabulated, and here's the list of games that received the most votes:

1. The Crew, from Sing and KOSMOS
2. Cartographers, Jordy Adan and Thunderworks Games
3. Maracaibo, from Alexander Pfister and Game's Up
4. Barrage, from Tommaso Battista, Simone Luciani and Cranio Creations
5. Cooper Island, from Andreas Odendahl and Frosted Games
6. Glen More II: Chronicles, from Matthias Cramer and Funtails
7. Crystal Palace, from Carsten Lauber and Feuerland
8. PARKS, from Henry Audubon and Keymaster Games
9. Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Khan, from Simone Luciani, Daniele Tascini, and Hans im Glück
10. Paladins of the West Kingdom, from Shem Phillips and Garphill Games

Andor Junior from Inka Brand, Markus Brand, and KOSMOS was voted best children's game by DSP respondents.

Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
Board Game: Andor Junior
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Mon Sep 14, 2020 6:00 pm
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Check Out the Games Being Released in September and October 2020

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With the calendar rolling over to September 2020 and the expectation this month of (consults runes) lava faucets and chairs with teeth, I'd like to highlight something "game news" related that kind of runs in the background of this site and might be easily overlooked: BGG's Sept/Oct 2020 game release catalog.

SPIEL, like all other game conventions, is not taking place in its usual manner, so rather than create a SPIEL '20 Preview that highlights all of the games that you could have seen — but won't see — in Essen, Germany, I have instead assembled the aforementioned Sept/Oct 2020 game release catalog, which as of this moment lists more than 270 new and upcoming games due out during these two months.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Now, regardless of whether you would have been in Essen, would have had someone mule games to you from SPIEL '20, or would have ignored the whole thing, you can see which games will be hitting retail shelves somewhere in the world during this period of time. What's more, you can experience a bit of ye olde SPIEL '20 mojo by going to the catalog, clicking the "Filters" button, then clicking the associated SPIEL.digital 2020 event. Here's a link to that filter set-up, which at the moment has only 17 titles on it as I've just received the SPIEL.digitalexhibitor list from Merz Verlag and now need to tag participating publishers.

Admittedly this Sept/Oct 2020 catalog is far from complete, but I'll keep adding games to it as publishers submit and I discover more game release dates, just as I've kept adding to BGG's June-August 2020 catalog despite that period of time having ended.

I also have a Nov/Dec 2020 catalog that's already live, albeit sparsely populated right now.

Candice and I will continue to post about new games in this space as frequently as we can, but since we don't have time to write about everything, these catalogs are another source of information as to what's being released, such as the bizarre action game Captain Wonder Cape in which you attempt to "pull the longest possible cape (i.e., strip of toilet paper) out of the box without ripping it" while other players "perform dirty tricks" with plastic poo piles to thwart you. Your life would be poorer for its absence.

Board Game: Captain Wonder Cape
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Fri Sep 4, 2020 9:08 pm
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Mergers, Splits, and Distribution Deals: ÎLO307 and Luma Merge, Poketto Emerges from Five24 Labs, and Eric Catches Up on Old News

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From gallery of W Eric Martin
• Canadian game distributors ÎLO307 and Luma Games, both based in Montréal, Québec, are merging as of September 2, 2020, with the ÎLO307 name to be used across Canada and Luma's "Luma Imports" name to be used in the United States and other English-speaking territories. Here's an excerpt from the press release announcing the merger:
Quote:
"This is a new and exciting era for Luma, and we look forward to this merger," says Jules Vautour, CEO of Luma. Vautour bought into Luma in October of 2018, having served as COO of CMON USA and Sales Director of Asmodee USA, and he has overseen several new publishing partnerships, notably Horrible Guild, Brain Games, and Hurrican, in addition to the creation of Luma Imports, a new branch designed to serve the American market.

"I've known France and the ÎLO307 team for over two decades now," says Vautour, "and the synergy of both our philosophies and plans for the future made this a natural fit. I look forward to building the new group with the ÎLO307 and Luma teams. This will give us the opportunity to broaden our market share in multiple territories, as well as offer an even more complete catalog to our clients, existing and new. We believe this merge will offer greater opportunities for our suppliers, clients, and team members."

Îlo307 was founded in 1995 and distributes both games and toys throughout all of Canada. In addition to representing notable publishers as Blue Orange, Bombyx, Studio H, and Matagot, they are also the official Canadian partner for Djeco, the internationally acclaimed toy company.

"The partnerships that we have been building with US distribution, retail, and media will not be impacted," says Colin Young, Assistant Director of Luma Imports. "Luma Imports will continue to grow and serve the needs of the American marketplace."
Board Game Publisher: Five24 Labs
• In August 2020, U.S. publisher Five24 Labs, best known for Mint Works, rebranded itself as Poketto. In the publisher's words: "The new Poketto brand maintains the company's focus on fun, portable games, while opening the door for new products outside the Mint Series branding and design structure. The new branding showcases how our games are easy to travel with and how they take gamers on a journey by providing big gameplay in small packages."

After making the announcement, Poketto revealed a few details about the first three titles that will be released under the Poketto brand:

Starforge, a two-player game from Jason Greeno that was previously announced as a release from Epic Endeavor Games. Each player starts with an asymmetrical faction of constructible ships made from custom acrylic game pieces, and players build their ships to conquer and mine location cards for resources, possibly destroying a few enemy ships in the process.

Board Game Publisher: Poketto

The Blessed Dark is a 2-4 player game from designer/artist Nathan Meunier that he Kickstarted in 2019. In this press-your-luck game that includes "take that" elements, players try to build a grimoire of spells, gather blood resources, and conduct rituals (by rolling dice) to see which primordial energies they can harness to summon demons or trigger spells.

Castle Siege is a tower defense game played no on a table, but in the players' hands.

•••

While assembling a post about the previous two announcements, I discovered a half-written post from March 2020 with news of other such deals. Better late than never, I present these to you now:

Board Game Publisher: Calliope Games
• In a bid to "protect and maintain control of its intellectual properties", U.S. publisher Calliope Games has decided to use only two distributors in the U.S. as of mid-March 2020 — Alliance Game Distributors and ACD Distribution — and only one distributor in Canada: Universal Games Distribution. Retailers can also purchase titles directly from Calliope, and the publisher is reviewing international markets. Here's how the publisher explains its reasons for this decision:
Quote:
Since its inception over 10 years ago, Calliope Games has taken the necessary steps to protect its assets and brands, including such classic games as Roll For It!™ , Hive Mind™ and Tsuro - The Game of the Path™. Trademarks, copyrights, and patents are all part of the process, and in early 2017 a firm Intellectual Properties Policy was implemented.

These combined actions, with the support of its customer base, have grown many valuable brands and assets for Calliope Games. However, those assets remain at risk and are jeopardized by negligent marketing tactics and counterfeit products. According to Ray Wehrs, President of Calliope Games, "Managing those risks has been tedious and costly, and not executed as effectively as we would like."

Currently, Calliope Games utilizes two independent services that work in conjunction with its staff to support and protect its intellectual properties. The high monthly cost of those services is well worth the expense, according to Wehrs. "However, additional action needs to be taken by Calliope to maintain and strengthen the brand."
Board Game Publisher: CMON Limited
• In February 2020, CMON Limited co-founder David Doust was named co-CEO. Here's an excerpt from a press release announcing the move:
Quote:
David Doust is a native of Hong Kong, speaks fluent Cantonese, and will be primarily focused on expanding CMON's presence in Asia.

"When David and I founded CMON, we always had global ambitions that encompassed Asia. I am glad that David Doust has agreed to lead CMON in its vigorous Asia Pacific expansion, a region which we believe will come to rival our other major markets in size and profitability", said Chern Ann Ng, chairman and CEO of CMON Limited.
RPG Publisher: Schmidt Spiele
• After eighteen years with Hans im Glück, developer Georg Wild moved to Schmidt Spiele in January 2020 to serve as product manager for family and connoisseur games. (Schmidt recorded sales of €45 million in 2019, a 13% increase over 2018.) Similarly, after working at Hans im Glück since 2012, Jasmin Weigand has become product manager of Drei Magier Spiele as of January 2020.

Along those same lines, Thorsten Gimmler, who used to oversee the game line at Schmidt Spiele, moved to Ravensburger at the start of 2020 to help cultivate design talent. (Update, September 1, 2020: Matthias Karl, who oversaw product management at Schmidt, has also now moved to Ravensburger.)
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Wed Sep 2, 2020 1:00 pm
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Eric M. Lang Leaving CMON to Return to Freelance Game Design

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Board Game Designer: Eric M. Lang
In March 2017, publisher CMON Limited brought game designer Eric M. Lang on staff as Director of Game Design (BGG News post).

As of September 1, 2020, Lang will leave that position to return to being a freelance game designer once again. In an August 28, 2020 Facebook post, Lang writes:
Quote:
First things first: this is not sudden (has been in the works for awhile), and I leave CMON on the best possible terms. I will, in fact, still be making games for them (check out the announcement for some teasers) and you'll be seeing games that I worked on as Game Director for years to come. Our relationship continues actively in the long term as valued partners and friends.

It's been an incredible last three years, and one Facebook post can't possibly summarize all the amazing things we've done together. I'm likely to just gush about these experiences piecemeal over the next few weeks as they come to me.
 I owe a debt of immense gratitude and friendship to the team at CMON, particularly my tireless developers; we've grown together tremendously, and y'all are on track to become absolute rock stars.

I will talk about my future stuff (including game projects and advocacy work) later. For now I'm focused on celebrating the last three years with so many amazing people. THANK YOU CMON! I MISS YOU ALL ALREADY
Board Game Publisher: CMON Limited
Lang's sentiments are echoed in a press release from CMON about his change in status:
Quote:
"The last three years have been fantastic, both professionally and personally," commented Eric. "Over the past few months, we drafted a long-term release plan with some truly great titles, which will continue to bear fruit for many years to come. Now felt like the right time for me to return to my roots; focusing on game design and public advocacy for our amazing hobby."
As for what some of those future projects might be, CMON said this: "Eric's upcoming CMON games include tabletop adaptations of Cyberpunk 2077, a Blood Rage sequel, a family game co-designed with Mike Elliot codenamed 'Barrrge', as well as more than a dozen other projects in different stages of development."
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Fri Aug 28, 2020 10:28 pm
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Pandasaurus Games Hires Danni Loe, Changes Distributors, and Reveals a Pro-Dinosaur Agenda

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Board Game Publisher: Pandasaurus Games
From gallery of W Eric Martin
• U.S. publisher Pandasaurus Games has hired Danni Loe as marketing manager, making her "responsible for promoting new releases and the current Pandasaurus catalog, growing relationships with customers and media, and creating engaging event experiences".

Loe has previously worked with GAMA, Renegade Game Studios, and IELLO USA, and she's done a fantastic job in all of these situations, especially with GAMA where she oversaw the rebranding of both GAMA and the Origins Game Fair; she managed social media for both GAMA and Origins — neither of which have tweeted since she's left — and she oversaw a new GAMA newsletter sent to members. Honestly, every game organization would benefit from having their own Danni Loe.

As for joining Pandasaurus, to quote Loe from the press release announcing this hire: "I can't express how happy I am to join this team! I've been impressed by their growing presence and enjoyed many of their games over the years. My first days have already inspired me. I can't wait to see what we accomplish together!"

Board Game: The Game: Quick & Easy
Board Game: Robots
Board Game: Ohanami

• Loe is already on the job for Pandasaurus, uploading images on BGG for the titles the publisher is releasing in the latter half of 2020, such as the three titles depicted above that originated from German publisher NSV. The Game: Quick & Easy, which I covered in January 2020 and Robots, which was nominated for the 2020 Kinderspiel des Jahres, are both due out from Pandasaurus on October 14, 2020, while Ohanami, for which I should still record an overview, is due out on October 28, 2020.

• Sandwiched in between those releases on October 21, 2020 is Gods Love Dinosaurs, a 2-5 player game from Kasper Lapp (Magic Maze) that acknowledges the specialness of dinosaurs compared to all other critters:
Quote:
How do you make an ecosystem flourish with just enough of every life form in the chain to supply you with dinosaurs to dominate the lands? Resources are scarce, animals can go extinct in an area, and everyone must eat to survive — so moves must be cunning. Life hangs in the balance...

Board Game: Gods Love Dinosaurs

In Gods Love Dinosaurs, a cheeky, wild, and timeless take on the scientific tale as old as life itself, you are a god who has been tasked with designing an ecosystem with a sustainable food chain of predator and prey animals. But you just love dinosaurs, so all you really want to do is to make as many of them as possible!

Each turn, you'll add one tile to your ecosystem, which will add new animals and give them room to grow. Every so often, your dinosaurs will tromp around your ecosystem eating all the animals. The more they eat, the more eggs they lay — and the more points you score! Just be careful not to overeat, or there won't be enough food to keep your dinosaurs alive the next time.
• Pandasaurus also gave a first overview of upcoming games Dinosaur Island: Roar & Write and Dinosaur World during its Gen Con presentation, with info on these titles starting at about the 30:00 mark and more info on Gods Love Dinosaurs following:


• In other Pandasaurus news, as of July 28, 2020 titles from the publisher will be available within the hobby market solely through ACD Distribution and Alliance Games Distributors. The first title released under this new distribution arrangement is a new edition of Doug Eckhart's Tammany Hall, which carries a September 16, 2020 release date.

Board Game: Tammany Hall
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Mon Aug 10, 2020 1:00 pm
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Links: Thoughts on Virtual Conventions, and Game Sales During a Pandemic

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From gallery of W Eric Martin
• Having experienced both Virtual Gaming Con and Gen Con Online, designer Gil Hova details what didn't work in these virtual cons and what he hopes to see in the future. An excerpt:
Quote:
This gets to my biggest issue with virtual conventions, as they're implemented right now: they are too decentralized. A convention is, at its lexical and literal heart, a place where people convene. It's a place where we serendipitously bump into people we haven't seen in years. It's a place where we meet old friends and make new friends, where we go out to dinner at local restaurants to catch up and talk about stuff.

None of that stuff is possible at a virtual convention right now.
Another:
Quote:
The big thing is that the whole convention must be in the same Discord server. This is vital for the convention to work — it's what makes the convention feel like "convening," instead of just a place to organize games.

I think this is where the Gen Con experience didn't work great for me. Gen Con forbade gaming on their Discord server (with one exception, which I'll get to). Instead, everyone who ran an event was responsible for running it on their own platform — Discord, Skype, Tabletop Simulator built-in chat, etc.

This meant that as you moved from text channel to another in Gen Con's Discord, you saw...no gaming. People talking about games, maybe planning games, asking for help with games, but no gaming.

This is so far removed from the in-person Gen Con experience, it's almost breathtaking. Gen Con is predicated on gaming. Gen Con Online kept gaming very far out of sight, almost as if it was a shameful, unsavory thing.
I didn't participate in VGC, and I'm still not sure what to think about Gen Con Online. I was as tired afterwards as I am following an in-person Gen Con and I played no games (which is typical), but I did appreciate the short travel distance I had to navigate to reach my broadcast space...

Board Game: Catan
• On August 4, 2020 on NPR, Rob Schmitz highlighted a 144% sales increase of Catan in the first five months of 2020, crediting folks looking for things to do indoors courtesy of the coronavirus.

• Along those same lines in late July 2020, People magazine spotlighted "12 Board Games to Keep You Occupied and Entertained at Home", including Azul (best new board game), Splendor (best strategy board game), and Codenames (best for adults). Lots of old-school mainstream titles on that list, too.

Board Game: Fluxx
• On July 24, 2020, designer Andy Looney posted his original design notes for what become Fluxx, with those notes being twenty-four years old. Short description: "I have an idea for a completely wacky and unpredictable card game that would be the ultimate in easy to learn."

• On July 27, 2020, Hasbro reported Q2 2020 revenue of $860.3 million, "down 29% on a pro forma basis" from Q2 2019 when revenue was $1.2 billion. This announcement led to Hasbro's share price falling 8% that day.

That said, Hasbro Gaming revenues for Q2 2020 were up 11% compared to the previous year. Two excerpts from its Q2 2020 financial report:
Quote:
• Hasbro's Gaming revenues grew 11% and gaming point of sale was up globally over 50% (Note: Point of sale does not include Wizards of the Coast brands). JENGA, CONNECT 4, BATTLESHIP, MOUSETRAP and TWISTER were among the top revenue increases in the quarter. Supply chain disruption led to in stock levels below normal thresholds and limited shipments in the quarter.

• MAGIC: THE GATHERING revenues declined as expected in the quarter, reflecting a difficult comparison with a major release in the second quarter of 2019 and the previously disclosed accelerated shipments into Q1 2020 to minimize disruption from COVID-19. Digital revenues for MAGIC: THE GATHERING, including Arena, increased slightly in the quarter. Strong analog and digital releases are expected to support the brand in the second half of 2020.
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Sun Aug 9, 2020 1:00 pm
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Pictures Wins Spiel des Jahres 2020; Die Crew Claims Kennerspiel des Jahres 2020

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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Pictures from designers Daniela and Christian Stöhr and publisher PD-Verlag has won the 2020 Spiel des Jahres, German's game of the year award.

Each round in Pictures, you recreate one of the sixteen images on the table as best you can with an odd set of artistic equipment: two shoelaces, six wooden blocks, four sticks and four stones, 2-5 symbols on cards, and colored cubes placed into a 3x3 grid to create a pixelated image. The image you must recreate is determined at random by drawing a token from a bag, and each token appears in the bag three times. You score points for guessing which image matches other players' artistic creations and for them guessing which image inspired your work. For a more detailed overview of the game, both written and on video, head to my write-up from January 2020.

Pictures beat out My City by Reiner Knizia and Nova Luna from Uwe Rosenberg and Corné van Moorsel for the Spiel des Jahres, which is probably the best known and most influential award in the hobby game market.

Board Game: Pictures

For the Kennerspiel des Jahres, an award intended for enthusiasts comfortable with a slightly more involved game than the mainstream-friendly Spiel des Jahres winners, the SdJ jury chose The Crew from designer Thomas Sing and publisher KOSMOS.

The Crew is a co-operative trick-taking game for 2-5 players in which one or players are given a task to complete for whatever mission the group is currently attempting, such as capturing a trick that contains a particular card, taking no tricks at all, or winning a trick with a 1. The co-operative nature of the game — and the particular challenge of whichever of the fifty missions you're undertaking — forces you to re-evaluate whatever trick-taking skills you have since you all win or lose the game together. For a more detailed overview, both written and on video, head to my write-up from December 2019.

Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine

Congratulations to all involved with these two games!
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Mon Jul 20, 2020 11:14 am
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Giochi Uniti Signs Distribution Deal with Asmodee USA

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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Giochi Uniti International, which represents the Giochi Uniti board game line on the global market, has signed a distribution deal with Asmodee USA Distribution.

Here's an edited excerpt from the press release announcing the deal:
Quote:
Giochi Uniti is well known in the U.S. market for the Kingsburg and Letters from Whitechapel game lines. Giochi Uniti is excited to bring new board games to American players, including Bar Barians, Smiles & Daggers, Royal Wedding, Midnight Brunch, and Guilds.

Moreover, American Kingsburg's fans will soon have the opportunity to play Kinsgburg: Roll & Write, a new standalone game based on the famous long-selling game.
Kinsgburg: Roll & Write is the title listed in the press release and the Giochi Uniti catalog, but the game depicted is Kingsburg: The Dice Game, so perhaps this title is being re-branded for a new edition.

Most of these titles have already been released in Italy (and perhaps elsewhere), but Smiles & Daggers from Gianluigi Giorgetti and Andrea Marchi was just announced at the start of July 2020. [Correction, 5 Aug 2020: This game was released in 2018 in Italy, and somehow I overlooked past evidence of the game.] Here's an overview of the game:
Quote:
Smiles & Daggers is based on one of the most famous dilemmas of game theory. The term counter-competition, a neologism invented by the authors, describes the main mechanism of the game. It is a competitive game in which victory is more achievable through co-operation, but there can be only one winner. In other words, keep your friends close, but your enemies closer!

The Lady kills the Knight, the Lord kills the Lady but gets killed by Knights. You have to choose one card to put face down in front of you. Your opponent will do the same, whilst other players are betting on the outcome. Each card has two sides: one smiling that gives you money, the other kills (if possible) the opponent.

Which side will you choose? And most importantly, which side is under your opponent's card?
Board Game: Smiles & Daggers
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Tue Jul 7, 2020 8:06 pm
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Links: Diplomatic Computing, Modern Games in Mainstream Media, and Gaming Easter Eggs

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Board Game: Diplomacy
• DeepMind, the AI research and development company behind the AlphaGo AI that mastered Go, is now attempting to train an AI how to play Diplomacy. Here's an excerpt from an article on TechRepublic by R. Dallon Adams:
Quote:
AI systems have proved to be far superior to even the best human beings at zero-sum games like chess and Go. In this type of gameplay, there can only be one winner and one loser. Dissimilarly, Diplomacy requires agents to build alliances and foster collaboration.

"On the one hand, it is difficult to make progress in the game without the support of other players, but on the other hand, only one player can eventually win. This means it is more difficult to achieve cooperation in this environment. The tension between cooperation and competition in Diplomacy makes building trustworthy agents in this game an interesting research challenge," said Tom Anthony, a research scientist at DeepMind.

The ability to expeditiously vanquish a human player in a zero-sum game is certainly impressive, however, a richer layering of skills opens up another world of AI potential. Our day-to-day lives involve an intricate patchwork of balanced synergies; our individual needs often packaged within a larger group effort. That said, this research could enhance agents' ability to collaborate with us and one another, leading to a vast spectrum of real-world applications.

"In real-life, we often work in teams and have to both compete and cooperate. From simple decisions such as scheduling a meeting or deciding where to eat out with friends, to complex decisions such as negotiating with suppliers or clients or assigning tasks in a joint project, we constantly reason about how to best work with others. It seems likely that as AI systems become more complex, we'd need to provide them with better tools for effectively cooperating with others," said Yoram Bachrach, a research scientist at DeepMind.
From gallery of W Eric Martin
• Starla and Miklos Fitch from the YouTube channel Our Family Play Games were featured on the U.S. morning television show Good Morning America in late June 2020, highlighting a few games — Ticket to Ride, Catan, and The Great Heartland Hauling Co. — and talking about the value of modern board games.

• In The Strategist, a section of New York magazine, Jenna Milliner-Waddell spoke with Liz Davidson, Eric Yurko, and Scott McNeely to highlight the best one-player games for folks who happen to be socially distancing on their own.

• Game blog For Chits & Giggles details dozens of easter eggs hidden in game boards, cards, covers, and other components.
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BGG Will Livestream Game Demos and Interviews during SPIEL.digital 2020

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BoardGameGeek to Broadcast Game Demos Galore for SPIEL.digital

Travel to Essen online to check out new board and card games


Dallas, Texas, July 1, 2020 — Tabletop gaming site BoardGameGeek (BGG) will partner with Friedhelm Merz Verlag — which runs the annual SPIEL game convention in Essen, Germany — to livestream demonstrations of dozens of new board and card games from publishers around the world during SPIEL.digital on October 22-25, 2020.

Each year, tens of thousands of gamers travel to Essen to check out the 1,500 or so new tabletop games that debut at that fair, and each year since 2009 BGG has been livestreaming interviews with designers and publishers about the games they're debuting at SPIEL.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

For 2020, however, the worldwide COVID-19 situation has made it impossible for gamers to gather at Essen like normal, so Merz Verlag is instead hosting SPIEL.digital, an online event that will feature hundreds of exhibitors showing off their new releases. As part of SPIEL.digital, BGG will once again livestream game demos and interviews, bringing together designers and publishers to show off their new games to all players worldwide.

Expect more than thirty hours of game demos from BGG, with details to be announced as to with which games and which publishers that will be taking part in SPIEL.digital. You will be able to check out the broadcast schedule — not to mention watch and comment on the livestream — on BGG here. Get ready to bring the world of games to your home on October 22-25, 2020!

###
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