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Game Production and Shipping Woes: A Round-up

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Each week, BoardGameGeek publishes a "Gone Cardboard" newsletter that highlights titles that have reached widespread retail release in the United States. To do this, we automate data that we receive from online retailer CoolStuffInc. You can subscribe to "Gone Cardboard" or any other BGG newsletter by completing this form; you can also see this weekly data on BGG here. (By contrast, I assemble BGG's bimonthly game release catalogs — such as this one for July-August 2021 — by hand based on publisher surveys and whatever I see in passing, which includes the CSI data.)

The past several "Gone Cardboard" newsletters have listed fewer titles than normal, yet another indication of the production and shipping problems afflicting the game industry — not to mention industries everywhere. These issues are perhaps most succinctly summed up by Steve Jackson Games' CEO Phil Reed in an August 10, 2021 Illuminator post titled "Freight: An Extinction Level Event" that I reprint here with Reed's permission:
Quote:
Global shipping is a nightmare. We have already posted a few Daily Illuminator entries about the state of freight (May 23, June 29), and things are not getting better. Freight costs were once a part of the business; now those costs threaten to devastate publishers.

As an example of how freight is impacting games, our Car Wars Sixth Edition project required five containers (all on the water, and slowly making their way to our primary warehouse) that each cost over 3x more than they would have if the game had shipped in 2020. As many of you know, 2020 was the planned shipdate...and then a global pandemic decided to enter the picture and completely disrupt our plan and the manufacturing schedule.

These freight costs are tearing into already-thin margins for many publishers, and some publishers are being forced to make decisions between shipping now and losing money, or holding inventory at the factory — and losing money. If there is such a thing as win-win options in game publishing (or for any small businesses who rely on global trade), we're now as far from those options as we can get.

Board Game: Illuminati (Second Edition)
Who's to blame? The Illuminati, of course, since they hold every string pulled

We, Steve Jackson Games, are fortunate that we have evergreen sellers and that we took steps late last year to stock up on some of those top titles for the 2021 holiday season. Munchkin Deluxe, Zombie Dice, and Illuminati Second Edition are in the warehouse, and deeper inventory levels on those top titles will help us weather the next six months or so. But unfortunately, the day is fast approaching when the freight costs will force our hand and we'll have to take steps to mitigate the excessive (and increasingly painful) impact of freight. (Not to mention rising overhead costs in other facets of the operation. As you may have noticed, everything is getting more expensive these days.)

If you have a small game publisher or two who you want to see survive to create new games, please visit your favorite local game store* today and buy a game or two. The publishers and retailers will appreciate the show of support.

— Phil Reed

* And yes, we mean visit a physical store. Because as bad as things are for the small publishers, several of the small game stores are also facing tough times and can use your support if they're going to be here next year. If you're not sure of where your nearest local store is located, please visit our store finder. If you're a retailer who is not already in our store finder, please email retailers@sjgames.com today and we'll get you added to the list.
For another post along these lines, as well as details of how shipping impacts both the availability and cost of games, here's an excerpt from an August 16, 2021 Kickstarter update for Return to Dark Tower by Justin Jacobson of Restoration Games:
Quote:
[T]here is a severe container shortage. When a company manufactures goods outside the U.S., such as in China, [the goods] need to go in a container, get loaded onto a ship, and make the long trip across the ocean. Normally, finding a container takes a couple of weeks. These days, it can take much longer, months in fact. (I'm talking about China to U.S. here, but the problems are worldwide regardless of route.)

Related, container prices (well, the price to rent the container and put it on a boat bound for the U.S.) are skyrocketing as a result of the disparity between supply and demand. Normally, a container runs us $5,000. These days, we're seeing prices north of $20,000.

I'm not providing this information to discourage you. But these are the facts on the ground, and we have to deal with them...

Board Game: Return to Dark Tower
The dark tower is where goods sit while awaiting completion...

So where are we with this project? In the last update, I mentioned that Tower production had started and that Panda were forwarding their components to Capable for final assembly. One of the effects of the container shortage is that the factories are having to store more completed goods because they can't make it on to boats. We ended up in a situation where Panda had finished the goods and wanted to get them out of their factory, but Capable didn't have room in theirs. We ended up having to rent an off-site warehouse near Capable to store the Panda components so Capable can draw from them as need them. That has now happened, and the first 2,000 finished games should be ready to leave the warehouse this week. Capable estimates 3,000 completed games per week from here on out.

At this point, we have a steady stream of completed games that will be coming off the line. So really it is now just a matter of when we can get the containers to ship them in. I had previously mentioned that we would likely start Asia fulfillment by the end of this month. Given the uncertainty with the containers, we've decided we need to be a bit more nimble in our approach. We're going to basically take every container we can get and continue moving the games to fulfillment hubs as they become available. If we hit a lull, where we can't get a container for a shipment, that's when we'll send a batch to the Asia fulfillment hub. So, as a practical matter, we don't know yet where that first batch will go.

Related, some of you have asked about how the rise in container cost will impact the project. It's not ideal, of course, but we will not ask you all to bear any of that additional expense. This was one of the factors in raising the MSRP to $190.
Board Game Publisher: Board&Dice
In an August 15, 2021 BGG blog post, Andrei Novac from Board&Dice details both the increase in shipping costs — with a container from Shanghai, China to Oakland, California rising from $2,900 at the end of 2019 to $18,000 today, while a similar container to Hamburg, Germany rose from $1,600 to $16,500 — and how those shipping costs relate to the price of a game, with Teotihuacan: City of Gods having a per copy shipping cost go from US$.48 to US$3 — which means the publisher will make US$2.52 less per copy on a game that might have averaged a profit of US$4.10. This is, as Novac understandably writes, "a pill rather hard to swallow". Expect to see price increases on games — along with many other products — in the months ahead as shipping costs are carried down the line to distributors and retailers.

Novac also notes this: "[E]ven at the ridiculous rates that shipping companies are asking nowadays, the space is severely limited. For our latest container to USA (containing Teotihuacan: City of Gods, Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun, and Tawantinsuyu: The Inca Empire) we had to wait for 85 days to find a free spot on a vessel, after paying a high-season fee of 50% of the shipping cost on top."

Aside from container shortages, other slowdowns in the production chain occur due to health concerns and their ramifications, with Bloomberg News reporting on August 12, 2021 that "China partly shut the world's third-busiest container port after a worker became infected with Covid, threatening more damage to already fragile supply chains and global trade as a key shopping season nears." More from that article:
Quote:
All inbound and outbound container services at Meishan terminal in Ningbo-Zhoushan port were halted Wednesday until further notice due to a "system disruption," according to a statement from the port. An employee tested positive for coronavirus, the eastern Chinese city's government said.

The closed terminal accounts for about 25% of container cargo through the port, calculates security consultant GardaWorld, which said "the suspension could severely impact cargo handling and shipping." Germany's Hapag-Lloyd AG said there will be a delay in sailings.

This is the second recent shutdown of a Chinese port due to the coronavirus, after the closure of Yantian port in Shenzhen from late May for about a month. That led goods to back up in factories and storage yards and also likely lifted soaring freight rates, which are at record levels and a source of inflation.
What else can go wrong? Glad you asked. In an August 16, 2021 Kickstarter update for P'achakuna, Marc Dür from publisher Treecer quotes Frank Jäger from German manufacturer LUDO FACT as follows regarding the production of replacement parts:
Quote:
The pandemic still has an impact on the world and on the games industry as well. Paper is a commodity which is in high demand. On August 11, NPD group reported an increase in sales for games and puzzles of 17% to 2020 and 31% to pre-pandemic times (that is for the U.S., but the rest of the world is no different). At the same time, global shipping is erratic, containers are scarce, and prices soar. That leads to the unexpected situation that we cannot get all the paper and cardboard we need, especially not on short notice; we even face a shortage of wooden pallets and a tripling of the price for them! Yesterday Ningbo harbor in China was closed again for an unspecified time span, so things are going to get worse before they get better.

Board Game: P'achakuna
Perhaps game delivery via llama is the wave of the future!

We are trying to get paper as soon as possible as well as the new cutting die. Right now we have tentatively scheduled the new boards for somewhere around mid-September, but that is without having confirmation from the paper suppliers. There will probably be several weeks (from now) without change and without new information, as the paper suppliers now talk to the paper mills, and they need to check if enough raw material will be available and when the paper machines will produce the paper and cardboard required.

This week, we were supposed to receive north of 60 tons of grey cardboard from one of our suppliers. On Monday, we received the message that we would get none — like in ZERO! tons — this week. Now, two of the three lamination machines are standing still and in spite of being completely full, we had to send some machine operators home because we had no work for them.
I emboldened the important part of that note because it mirrors what I've heard from other publishers: Shortages are occurring for paper and cardboard, with their prices being bumped up just as the prices of everything else are being bumped. Steve Jackson's Phil Reed told me, "I've been trying to make some deals to pre-pay for projects to lockdown raw materials", something the company first did at the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic was just getting started.

And when I tweeted an excerpt of Jäger's statement today, designer Benoit Turpin wrote:


In response to these situations and others, many ask U.S. publishers, "Why not produce games in North America?" In the Kickstarter update, Restoration Games' Jacobson answered a similar question from a backer: "RTDT literally could not be manufactured somewhere other than China. Full stop. Also, if you're suggesting manufacturing in the USA, that just changes the direction the shipping issue; it doesn't eliminate it. We have lots of backers in places outside the USA."

Other publishers have made similar statements: The production facilities required to manufacture games comparable to what is possible in Europe and China do not exist in the United States. (And if you want plastics in a game, you're going to China, even if all of the other material is produced in Europe.) Production alternatives in the U.S. would be possible only if someone shelled out millions to make it happen – and even if that did happen, games would not be produced in the U.S. anytime soon and the final price of those games would be far higher than the retail price of games produced in China. (Games produced in Europe also tend to cost more per copy than those produced in China. Novac writes, "For a future product we plan to release next year, the best offer in Europe is $5.25 most expensive than our usual price in China. This is a game with a $50 price point. If we made it Europe, we'd also have to compromise on quality a little bit. Overall, still better for us to make it in China.")

Yes, I suppose this situation could be viewed as an opportunity, a need waiting to be fulfilled — and if that is truly the case, perhaps someone is already moving their millions toward the establishment of a board game production facility.

Perhaps not, though, because all of these difficulties might simply be a multiyear hiccup that will resolve themselves in time. After all, who's the say what's "normal" at this point, and what game production will be like in 2023, and which publishers will still be around to place orders at that time? I can't offer any answers along those lines — only a suggestion of patience for anything that you are anticipating. You can be assured that publishers want to get you games as much as you want to receive them; they just need to ensure that they don't put themselves out of business in the process of doing so, and taking those types of protective measures might require a bit of time and innovation to carry out. Be patient for now, and perhaps play something else already on your shelf while you wait...
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Mon Aug 16, 2021 7:30 pm
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Sophie Gravel to Again Lead Z-Man Games

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Z-Man Games
In 2016, Sophie Gravel sold F2Z Entertainment — a Canadian publisher/distributor that owned the Z-Man Games, Filosofia Éditions, Pretzel Games, and Plaid Hat Games studios — to Asmodee.

Less than a year later, she had launched Plan B Games, which debuted with Century: Spice Road, then struck gold at the end of 2017 with Michael Kiesling's Azul, which has now sold more than two million copies.

In March 2021, Gravel sold Plan B Games — which had acquired eggertspiele in mid-2017 and which included the studios Next Move Games and Pretzel Games (yes, again!) — to Asmodee. The press release issued at the time included this quote from Stéphane Carville, CEO of the Asmodee Group: "We are very pleased that Sophie Gravel and her teams, with whom we have developed a close partnership through the years, will be joining our group and participating in the development of our games catalogue."

In a return to the way things were before, as of August 5, 2021, Gravel is Head of Studio at Z-Man Games, with former Head of Studio Steve Kimball taking a new position as Asmodee's Director of Special Projects to work on various publishing efforts across all the Asmodee Group studios. (In Kimball's final post on the Z-Man Games website, he relays his history through the game industry, starting with his time at Fantasy Flight Games and ending by noting that one of his first tasks is "assisting Corey [Konieczka, head of Unexpected Games] with various odds and ends that are simply too much for any one individual to tackle. Ideally this allows Corey to spend less time administrating and more time designing.")

In a press release announcing the change of leadership, Gravel said, "I look forward to driving the continued growth of not only our iconic games like Pandemic, Carcassonne, and Love Letter, but also to take Z-man's signature approach of building games that are different, unexpected, and special into new games and projects." Gravel will continue to oversee Plan B Games in her new position with Z-Man Games.
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Thu Aug 5, 2021 5:09 pm
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Links: Less Crowded Conventions, Popping Publicity, and Games in the Environment

W. Eric Martin
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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

W. Eric Martin
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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

W. Eric Martin
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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

W. Eric Martin
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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

W. Eric Martin
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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

W. Eric Martin
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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

W. Eric Martin
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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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