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Game Preview: The Chameleon, or Hiding in Plain Sight, Sometimes Terribly So

W. Eric Martin
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In recent years, a number of hobby titles have made their way into mainstream markets, whether directly through distribution deals as with Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic or indirectly through a licensing deal or some kind of exclusivity arrangement. In 2016, for example, the U.S. retail chain Target released Codenames: Deep Undercover (based on Codenames) and Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City (based on Machi Koro), with both of the original games appearing on Target shelves as well. In mid-July 2017, I wrote about the Hasbro Family Gaming Crate, the first example of which will contain versions of games that originated in Germany (Leo Goes to the Barber), Romania (Three Wishes), and Japan (Mask of Anubis).

One of the titles that has won the mainstream lottery in 2017 is The Chameleon, with this new version of Rikki Tahta's self-published game Gooseberry from UK publisher Big Potato being destined to appear exclusively in Target (and at conventions) for the time being.

This party game falls into the "clueless player" genre, something that includes A Fake Artist Goes to New York and Spyfall. All players but one know what they're trying to do, and Clueless Joe needs to tag along and fake it 'til he makes it. (God, it's like being back in high school again.) In The Chameleon, everyone but the chameleon knows the secret word or phrase from among the sixteen listed on the topic card, and everyone — including the chameleon — needs to think of a single word to say related to this word or phrase. After everyone is ready, you blurt out the words one after another, then vote on who the chameleon might be.

If you fail to guess the chameleon, this player wins the game; if you guess the chameleon, but this player identifies the correct word or phrase on the topic card, they still win! Thus, you need to be sneaky when choosing your word, selecting something that those in the know will recognize as being legit while leaving the chameleon dumbfounded.




Doing this is sometimes trickier than you might think! How do you reveal that you know the secret word "economics" from among a list of school subjects without blurting out something obvious like "money" or "budgeting"? I've had two play sessions on a review copy in which we just played over and over again — not keeping score, which is optional in the game — and all too often the chameleon knew what we were talking about. You have to do your part not to get called out as the chameleon (because then the team loses), but you also can't be open. Tricky!

One other issue with the game is that sometimes players look at the wrong word or phrase on the topic card, so they make up a non-sensical code word. When the topic was "board games", one player thought the secret word was "chess" when it was actually "Clue", so his clue word of "touching" threw everyone for a loop. (He was the first person to speak for the round, and he looked horrified as the rest of us gave our code words, so he then tried to give another word, which then made it obvious he wasn't the chameleon. You just have to own your mistakes in this game! No backsies!)

Another time one of the players read the number on the d8 as 1 instead of 7, despite me reading out the numbers. Oops. She ended up saying "grass" for the word "beef", but it wasn't totally off as the woman right after her said "milk" for the actual hidden word "chocolate" — and you need grass to make milk, right? It all fit together, but only by chance and some still called her out as the chameleon.

I give more examples of gameplay and this "omega player" problem in the video below:


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Sun Jul 23, 2017 8:43 pm
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Friese Facilitates Fast Forward Franchise Featuring Flee, Fear & Fortress

W. Eric Martin
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If I've learned one thing about designer Friedemann Friese, who publishes his designs under the 2F-Spiele label in Germany, it's that he loves to experiment with game design simply to see what's possible. You can see this experimental nature in a GeekList he created to detail the origins of some of his games (a list unfortunately not updated since 2011). Foppen came about from thinking about trick-taking games and the notion of someone losing their ability to play each round. Fische Fluppen Frikadellen was born from the notion of having people play multiple games at the same time on different tables. A children's flip book in which you assemble a creature with mismatched head, body, and feet provided inspiration for what became 504, which meshes rule segments from different types of games into a single game.

In 2016, he released Fabled Fruit, which functions akin to a legacy game in that new elements are added to play over successive games, with players saving their place after each game — using a bookmark, as it were — in order to start with the "right" set of cards next time. You have lots of individual games which last only twenty minutes that collectively form the larger game of Fabled Fruit, which Friese dubbed an example of a "Fable Game" — that is, a game that changes over multiple playings, but one that you can reset at any time in order to start over with a different group or just explore again.

Now for 2017, he's gone even farther with the Fable Game system, introducing three new titles that will debut at SPIEL 2017 in October under the label "Fast Forward". These games are all Fable Games in that they start with an ordered deck of cards, with which you'll play multiple games — saving your position when you stop should you want to start in the same place next time, while also having the option of starting over from scratch — but beyond that, Friese has embedded the rules within the deck itself. You read nothing prior to play other than perhaps an instructional card that tells you not to shuffle the deck. You place the deck on the table, read the top card, and begin.




Fast Forward title #1 is FEAR, which is for 2-5 players and plays in 15 minutes. The description on the BGG page is brief: "Do you fear ghosts? Or are you confronting the danger and scaring your opponents? FEAR is a fast-paced and straightforward hand management game of tension-filled ghost chasing."

Thankfully I played the game in prototype form, so I can fill in a few more details. (Please note that all of the games described in this post might have changed since I played them.) Your goal in FEAR is twofold:

1: Don't make the total of cards in the middle go over a certain number because if you do, you lose the game.
2: If you didn't lose, have the highest total of cards in your hand because then you win!

On a turn (at least initially), you either draw a card from the deck or play a card to the center of the table. If you have three cards in hand, then you must play something. Gameplay is super simple, and the turns fly by. When someone loses, their cards are removed from play, then all of the other cards are shuffled and placed on top of the deck. Thus, you shrink the deck by a few cards each game, which means you'll start digging into new cards as each game progresses — and as you dig, you discover new cards with different numbers and (more importantly) new rules! When you uncover a rule, you read the card, set it aside, and the rule immediately takes effect, both for the current game and any subsequent games — until that rule is replaced, as might be the case.




I don't want to detail any rules, partly because I don't want to spoil the fun and partly because I played the game three months ago and might misremember things. If you've played games — and you probably have — then you can likely imagine what some of those rules (and numbers and effects) might be.

I played FEAR twelve times in a row at a convention with designer Joe Huber and 2F-Spiele's Henning Kröpke, and I loved every minute of it. I already dig playing short games multiple times in succession to see how gameplay evolves as players learn how to play better and how to react to opponents, but now the game was changing as well. It was like rearranging the furniture in a room that spontaneously changed in size, then grew new windows. And if I recall correctly, Kröpke said that after you finished the deck, you could keep all the existing rules in play, shuffle only the number cards, then play the game that way.

Ta-dah! A new way of learning how to play a game, something perhaps akin to placing a video game in a console, then mashing buttons to figure out what you're doing on the fly. I've often said that the need to learn rules is the biggest obstacle to people playing games. You, that person out there reading BGG, are probably comfortable reading rulebooks and teaching others how to play a game, but much of the general public hates doing that, which is why retreads of old games continue to dominate mainstream retail shelves year after year. People want to grab something they're pretty sure they already know how to play, so they grab a spinoff, figure out what's new this time, then start playing. FEAR and the other Fast Forward title try to short-circuit that nervousness about learning rules by giving them to you one card at a time.

Whether that nature of these games is transmitted clearly on the box — and therefore to potential players — is unclear at this time, but that's my hope. Why? Because I want more people to play games. Why? Many reasons, but mostly because it increases the odds of me finding others to join me in a game.




FORTRESS is title #2 in the Fast Forward series, and this 15-minute game for 2-4 players is "about taking risks and out-witting and bluffing your friends to become the dominate ruler of the kingdom", and (initially) you become dominant by possessing the lone fortress.

Each game, you build a hand of cards, and (if I recall correctly) on a turn you either draw a card or attempt to claim the fortress by playing one or more cards onto the table. If no one owns the fortress, then it's yours and those cards represent your strength; if you're attempting to take it away from someone else, they look at your cards and either hand over the castle (which is occupied by your cards) or shake their head disdainfully, keeping one of your cards as their prize. You've now gained information about what's in the fortress, but can you make use of that info before the round ends?

As with FEAR, some cards are removed from play each game in FORTRESS, which therefore introduces new cards and new rules, which again I'll leave you to guess. You can probably guess the obvious first twist, but what next? I played FORTRESS a few times before being stopped by dinner plans, and the game is partly about reading others (a skill that eludes me) and partly about the luck of the draw and partly about throwing yourself at targets because that's the only way to score in the end. Take chances! Take action!




FLEE differs from the first two Fast Forward titles in that it's cooperative (for 1-4 players) and it bears a listed playing time of 75-90. This is not the time needed for a single game as those take only 5-15 minutes (based on my experience), but perhaps for the entire experience to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Here's the short description:

Quote:
"Quickly, we must flee!", you tell your companions. "THE MONSTER is almost upon us! Look to all sides for help as you never know where it will be!" Can your team survive long enough to finish all chapters of this exciting story?

FLEE is a cooperative game of escaping for ambitious puzzle solvers.

I played FLEE in less than ideal conditions, with Friedemann walking into a convention at far-too-late in the morning and asking whether I wanted to play a game. Instead of going to sleep as I should have, I gathered a couple of other people and we played. We lost, so we played again, then we lost — over and over again. Either we weren't thinking clearly, or the lateness was hitting us hard; I'm still not sure which is correct.

In FLEE, someone gets a monster card when you start going through the rules, then players take turns drawing cards and doing things and if the active player has the monster in front of them, then you all lose. Initially the choices are straightforward. I can play this card to make someone skip their turn, so clearly that's Paul with the monster card — but things quickly start getting tricky, with cards that move things and reverse turn order and much more, with all of you continually trying to figure how to keep that monster out of the spotlight. The description mentions multiple chapters in the game, but we never made it past chapter 1, so I can restart this game anew once it becomes available in October 2017, with each of these three games being released in English, German, Dutch, French, and Spanish. How fortunate!
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Sat Jul 22, 2017 1:05 pm
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Game Preview: Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game, or Happy Painting in the Almighty Mountains

W. Eric Martin
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Nostalgia is a powerful force.

Weeks after the end of the 2017 Origins Game Fair, I'm still uploading the game overview videos we shot there, but a funny thing I've noticed is that the videos for games based on some kind of IP —for example, Big Trouble in Little China: The Game or Planet of the Apes — have three to ten times as many views as "regular" non-IP games. This shouldn't come as a surprise to me, yet it did. Perhaps in my old age I'm forgetting what I've already learned.

Cue me receiving a review copy of Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game, a design from Prospero Hall and Big G Creative that will be available exclusively at the Target retail chain in the U.S. starting in October 2017. The game arrived while I was traveling, and my wife texted me a pic of the game along with the sole comment: "WTF?" I played with a friend who immediately texted the cover to his wife as he knew that she would be ecstatic about its existence. I played with someone else who had just started watching his show The Joy of Painting through some streaming service.

Bob Ross probably isn't someone you think about on a daily basis — or ever, really — but give people the chance to play a game associated with him, and more people than you think will be more excited than they'd be to play some other non-Bob Ross painting game.

As far as I recall from my meager experience with the show, all the elements you might expect from The Joy of Painting are present in the game: you paint, Bob says amusing things, you paint some more, and you drink and eat snacks while doing so. As for the gameplay, you can watch the video below or read this description:

Quote:
If you want to paint with Bob Ross, you need to be chill, so whoever reaches maximum chill first in Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game wins.

In the game, each player starts with three art supplies cards, with each card showing one of seven paints and one of four tools. (Some cards are jokers that serve as any color, but no tool.) Take one of the large double-sided painting cards, place it on the easel, and place Bob on the first space on the painting track.

On a turn, the active player rolls the die and either draws an art supplies card, plays a paint to their palette, receives an extra action for the turn (four total), or both draws a "Chill" card and advances Bob on the painting track. Chill cards give all players a bonus, set up conditions that could give players extra points, and more.



Quote:
The player then takes three actions. Actions include drawing an art supplies cards, discarding two matching cards to claim the matching technique card (which is worth 2 points and 1 bonus point when used), sweep the art supplies card row, place a paint on their palette, wash half their palette, or complete a section of a painting. To take this latter action, the player needs to have all of the paint needed for one of the painting's three sections on their palette with no unneeded colors mixed in! The player scores points equal to the number of paints used, bonus points if they're the first or second to paint this, and additional points if they've painted this feature before Bob (i.e., did you paint this before the Bob figure reaches this space on the painting track.

When someone has completed all three features on a painting or Bob has reached the end of the painting track, this work is complete! Remove it from the easel, and start a new painting. Players continue to take turns until someone reaches a maximum chill of 30 points, at which point they win the game instantly.


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Fri Jul 21, 2017 8:59 pm
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Game Preview: How Does Your Garden Grow?, or Cursing Raccoons While Praying for Carrots

W. Eric Martin
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Yesterday I previewed Rüdiger Dorn's Vegas Dice Game, one of nearly two dozen games that will appear exclusively at Target when that U.S. retail chain refreshes its game section at the end of July 2017. Today I'm looking at a far more typical mainstream release, one aimed at the youngest of players and one that exemplifies the constant challenge of getting people to enjoy playing games.

How Does Your Garden Grow? is from designer Gina Manola and U.S. publisher Mudpuppy, which previously had produced only public domain titles such as dominoes, bingo, and chess. This design features all the tropes that one might expect of a game aimed at four-year-olds: bright colors, call-outs to educational benefits ("Color Matching", "Strategy"), and an oddly-shaped box complete with a handle. As for the gameplay, here's an overview:

Quote:
In How Does Your Garden Grow?, players want to tend to their garden, avoid pests that will eat their crops, and plant one of each of the six fruits and vegetables in the game. Whoever does this first wins.

To start the game, each player draws six seeds from the seed pouch at random and places them on front of the six slots on their 3D game board. On a turn, a player draws and reveals the top card. If it's a fruit or veggie and they have the matching colored seed, they can place this card in their game board in the slot next to the seed. If they lack this colored seed, they can swap one of their seeds with a seed drawn at random from the bag; if this now matches the card, they can plant it; otherwise they must discard the card.

Players might also draw a "Pick it!" card that allows them to steal a card from another player's garden, a "Pest" card that eats one card in your garden, or a "Helper" card that allows you to draw two cards, after which you play both.

Players continue taking turns until one of them has all six fruits and veggies in their garden, winning the game instantly.




All that seems straightforward enough, but the rules don't reveal that one important detail — needing all six fruits and veggies to win — until the final line when previously the object of the game was stated as follows: "[P]lant 6 fruits/veggies in your garden row. The first player to complete his/her garden is the winner!" The rules aren't long, but even in this game for kids I played twice (with a four-year-old and eight-year-old) before re-reading the rules and discovering that one detail I had missed earlier. Even in a game for children with almost no rules, the rules were initially unclear because the winning condition was stated two different ways. Sigh.

In our first games, we played until someone placed six cards in their garden, then called it. The four-year-old had fun with each revelation of his cards (and with winning the first game), while the eight-year-old was filled only with sighs. (A two-year-old observing the game had fun stealing seeds from the bag and playing with them on the remaining game board.)

Once I discovered the correct rules, I coerced the eight-year-old into playing again in order to check whether that color restriction would bog down play. What if you drew two tomatoes to match the two red seeds on your board? Would you then need to cycle through cards until you finally drew a pest so that you could discard one of them, then keep cycling until you drew the missing color? In two games, neither of us had this issue as drawing new seeds from the bag is optional, and both of us drew until we had all six colors, then stopped drawing and just let the deck do its thing.

As you can tell from the description, there's not much to the game itself. You shuffle the deck, then (for the most part) things happen without you having a say in anything. The extra complication of needing a rainbow of produce might cause games to go longer than they would if you needed only to fill your board, and you'll need to judge the patience of your young audience to see whether the complication is worth the trouble. As a designer of kids' games recently told me, sometimes you don't worry about the rules, but just put the components on the table and see what happens...


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Tue Jul 18, 2017 5:05 pm
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Game Preview: Vegas Dice Game, or Looking to Score at the Tables (and Shelves)

W. Eric Martin
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Rüdiger Dorn's dice game Vegas was a departure for the alea line when the game was released in 2012. A pure dice game? That rates only a 1 on alea's difficulty scale? What's happened to our beloved alea?!

Yet Vegas is tremendously entertaining. This game about gambling actually feels like gambling because you're placing stakes on casinos in the form of dice that you roll, and sometimes you increase your stakes (by adding more dice to the casino later) and sometimes you lose your wager, ending up with nothing but broken dreams while an opponent brings home the jackpot. You're not in control of what happens because you can place dice only in one of the casinos that you roll — and when you do so, you must place all the dice of a single number — and you must place at least one die each turn. Turn by turn your die resources are allocated until it's the end of a round and you're hoping against hope to roll the one number you need with your lone remaining die in order to break a tie in that casino and go from bupkis to a huge payout. The odds are against you, but it could still happen!

Vegas went on to be nominated for the Spiel des Jahres, Germany's game of the year award — after which it was renamed Las Vegas — but it lost out that year to Kingdom Builder. In 2014, Dorn and alea released Las Vegas Boulevard, an expansion that consists of several individual modules that can mix up gameplay in multiple ways, from larger bills to more players to large dice that count as two normal dice to a new seventh casino that works differently from all the others.




Now Vegas is being repackaged again, this time as Vegas Dice Game, with this new version being available from Ravensburger solely through the Target retail chain in the U.S. A game buyer from Target contacted me a while ago about taking an early look at this game and several others that will start appearing in stores and online at the end of July 2017, and I said sure for two reasons. First, I want to preview games in this space, and here was an opportunity to do so — although I initially had no idea what I might be previewing. Roll those dice and see what turns up! Second, I want to help more gamers discover BoardGameGeek, and having previews of games that will appear solely at Target might lead them to discover BGG when searching for more information. We'll see whether that actually happens in the months ahead.

Seeing Vegas Dice Game as one of the titles headed to Target shelves makes sense to me. I've brought Vegas to picnics and gatherings of "regular" people — you know what I mean, people who play games but aren't obsessed by them — and they took to Vegas immediately. The game takes at most a minute to learn, and it plays in game space that's familiar to most people. After all, more than 75 million people visit U.S. casinos each year, and they're all comfortable with rolling dice and trying to work the odds in their favor. Heck, most of us do that every day of our lives — just without rolling actual dice.

We played the game over burgers and chips and sodas and beer, players coming and going throughout the evening with new people picking up the game immediately by watching others. That's a gaming success — but whether it will translate directly from the store shelf is another matter. I worked in a game store in the early 1990s, and I learned over and over again that you can put a game out for display on a table and sell dozens of times more than you can from a game sitting on a shelf.




In any case, here's a video overview of Vegas Dice Game for those who haven't already played the game or those who want to see what this new version looks like:

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Mon Jul 17, 2017 3:05 pm
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Game Preview: Codenames Duet, or Searching for Agents in All the Right Places

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We've already published two preview videos about Codenames Duet: one from the 2017 GAMA Trade Show when the game was still being developed, and another from the 2017 Origins Game Fair when the design was pretty much complete and just waiting to be sent to production before the game's debut at Gen Con 2017 in August. Thus, I thought I'd avoid creating another video about the game and instead write something up.

Vlaada Chvátil's Codenames is only two years old, but the game already feels like an established classic, something that will be with us for decades. The game design is so minimal — teams take turns trying to identify their hidden secret agents, which are known only by their visible codenames — that its framework can be filled with almost any content, and the gameplay itself will still work just fine; designer Bruno Faidutti, for example, has noted that he's played the game with people guessing rubber ducks, empty beer bottles, board game boxes, novels, Dixit cards, Cards Against Humanity cards, Unusual Suspects cards, and actual people. Multiple versions of Codenames exist or have been announced, and many more are sure to come in the years ahead.

Codenames Duet already functions as another version of Codenames. The box contains two hundred new double-sided word cards, so even if you ignored the new way to play the game, you'd have four hundred new words to use when playing Codenames. (You're on your own when it comes to acquiring rubber ducks as publisher Czech Games Edition doesn't sell them!) These words are a bit more out there than in the original game, with "Joan of Arc" and "Hercules" showing up amongst more common words like "soup" and "hose". I've spoken with CGE's Josh Githens at multiple conventions this year — including at PAX East, where we played a still-in-development Codenames Duet — and he said that they tried to assemble a mix of words in which some serve as hubs (with tons of potential connections) while others have a smaller range of connections.




In practice, some of those more limited words can still be guessed the old-fashioned way: creative clue-giving combined with the process of elimination. In one game, my partner gave the clue "queen - 2", and it was easy to guess "King Arthur" as one of the two words matching "queen", but I scanned fruitlessly for its partner — until I suddenly realized that she probably meant "Joan of Arc", simply because this card was the only one in play with the name of a female human. Success! (After the game, she confirmed that line of thinking. Joan of Arc wasn't a queen, but that clue would likely get me to that card, and in the end that's all that matters.)

Codenames Duet differs from Codenames in that this new game is fully cooperative instead of being played with competing teams. You lay out 25 word cards in a 5x5 grid like normal, but you place a double-sided code card (one side shown at left) between the two players. I see the nine agents (shown in green) that I want my partner to guess and three assassins that I want my partner to avoid (in black). Either player can give the first clue, then players alternate after that, trying to identify all fifteen agents within nine turns.

The tricky part is that my partner's side of the card also shows nine agents and three assassins, and of those three assassins, one of them is an assassin on my side of the code card, one of them is an innocent bystander (shown in tan), and one of them is an agent. This last one is a double agent, I suppose, since I'm trying to get my partner to guess this card, yet if I choose the card on my turn, we lose the game.

Thus, Codenames Duet often puts you in a bind. You know that at some point you'll need to correctly identify one of the three assassins you see as an agent — but which one? The cool part about this bind is that once you do guess the right assassin, you know that the other two assassins shouldn't ever be guessed since they're worthless to you. Your partner doesn't know that you know this since you're not supposed to share info, but you can feel satisfied internally and leave it at that.




You each have nine agents depicted on your side of the code card, but three of those agents are shared; each of us knows those three agents, but we don't know that we both know. This (unwitting) sharing of information gives you another chance to interact in subtle ways. Your partner gives a clue that might work for a few different cards, but one of them is an agent on your side, so that gives you an incentive to choose it — although one of those agents is an assassin, so hmm...

Another challenging aspect of Codenames Duet is that you want to track guesses and information in a way that records who did what. We place the agents and bystanders on the cards so that they face the person who guessed them. If someone is facing me, that means I discovered their identity on my partner's side of the code card; my partner, however, knows nothing about their identity on my side of the code card. Is this revealed agent also an agent on my side? I know it is, which means I have one fewer agent to clue, but that's my info, not theirs. The person I see as a bystander might actually be an agent that they have to guess.

I've played more than twenty games so far on four-fifths of a copy that Czech Games Edition gave me after the 2017 Origins Game Fair. One strong difference from the original game is that Codenames Duet is a lot quieter. When playing Codenames, teams trying to guess words tend to discuss things openly, which gives information to both cluegivers as well as the other team, but in Codenames Duet you know information that the other player doesn't, so you can't say, "Well, it can't be 'scarecrow' because that's an assassin on my side and I've already guessed the 'fog' assassin." You just sit and stare and eventually guess.

And sometimes you die. In Codenames when a team guesses the assassin, the other team breaks out in huzzahs and cheers; in Codenames Duet, you both slump in the chair, defeated. If Codenames were Star Wars, with two factions facing off against one another with one sure to win in the end, Codenames Duet is Rogue One, with the two of you in a race against time, often cowering on the beach as the world blows up around you.

Then you flip over the word cards and try again.

•••




One new addition to Codenames Duet — something not in the original design from Scot Eaton (which was heavily developed by CGE) or in the original Codenames — is a campaign mode that allows you to increase the difficulty of the game. In my 20+ playings, we've won only 3-4 times, with two of those wins coming in sudden death. (If after nine rounds you haven't identified all fifteen agents, then you enter sudden death. Either player can finger one of the word cards, and if it's an agent from the other player's perspective, then you mark it as such and continue or win; if it's not an agent, then you've lost the game.) Thus, we've stayed away from the campaign mode so far.

How campaign mode works: If you've won the normal Codenames Duet set-up, which starts with nine bystander tokens on the side of the playing area with players having nine rounds, then you can mark off Prague on the map and travel to an adjacent city. Maybe you'll go to Moscow where you start with only eight bystander tokens and have only eight rounds in which to identify the fifteen agents. If you survive Moscow, you can travel to Bangkok where you have only seven of each — or you can head to Yakutsk, where you have eight tokens, but only four bystanders.

During the normal game, if you voluntarily stop guessing after one or more successes, then you take one of the bystander tokens and flip it over to show a file. (Thus, whether you hit a bystander or stop on your own, one token is removed from play.) The number of tokens thus indicates how many turns remain in the game. If you go to Yakutsk, then you start with four bystanders and four files. If you stop voluntarily, then you take a file; if you finger a bystander, then you place a bystander; if you can't place a bystander token (because you've already placed them all), then you must take two file tokens, flip them to the bystander side, and place both of them on the word card. Boom — two turns lost in one go.

Maybe I'll get to travel the world of secret agents at some point, but I need to improve my clue-giving before that can happen!
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Sat Jul 15, 2017 3:30 pm
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Game Preview: Sentient, or Dieing to Assemble Awesome AIs

W. Eric Martin
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Renegade Game Studios had advance copies of a number of upcoming releases at the 2017 Origins Game Fair — Flip Ships, The Fox in the Forest, and the game I'm talking about today, J. Alex Kevern's Sentient.

As I note in the video below, Sentient feels like one-third of a Stefan Feld game. It features a solid drafting and dice-manipulation system, with each player drafting four AI cards each round, with each card being placed between two dice on your individual player board. The values of those dice determine whether you score points for the card, but the cards themselves often change those values unless you spend one of your handful of assistants not to make that change.

As you use agents to draft cards, you're also trying to use those agents to gain control of investors that will (possibly) give you extra points at the end of the game. Can you combine the right investors with the right AI, while also triggering all of the AI to score? Sometimes things just fall into place for you — the perfect AI triggering massive points while you simultaneously sway just the right investors — but that's the beauty of the future. You never know exactly what will happen...


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Thu Jul 13, 2017 3:00 pm
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Game Preview: Skyward, or Reaching for the Heavens One Card at a Time

W. Eric Martin
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Gen Con 2017 is only five weeks off, so I plan to start posting several individual game previews in this space for titles that will debut at that show or otherwise be more widely available than they are now. Some will be written, some on video — depends on whether we already recorded videos at recent cons and whether I have more to say or show!

I will still be posting game round-ups and updating BGG's Gen Con 2017 Preview during this time, so if you know of upcoming games that aren't listed on the preview — or are publishing games that aren't listed — please contact me with that info via the email address in the header above. I plan to start contacting designers and publishers the week of July 17 to arrange demo time in the BGG booth during Gen Con 2017. Lots to do before that show opens, including more preparations for the Hot Games Room!


•••

Everyone is familiar with the concept of "I cut, you choose" in the real world, but few games have made use of this concept. Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum's San Marco might be the best known example, with players splitting cards into piles as they fight for control of districts within Venice; the related Canal Grande card game ditches the game board, but retains the "I cut, you choose" mechanism. Jeffrey D. Allers' …aber bitte mit Sahne places the mechanism in its anticipated habitat as players split cakes and tarts onto different plates; as with San Marco, that game has similarly been reborn, with New York Slice now challenging you to slice pies of a different sort: pizza pies.

Brendan Evans' Skyward from Australian publisher Rule & Make, which will be distributed in North America by Passport Game Studios, takes "I cut, you choose" and makes that cutting and choosing the heart of the game. Each round, one player takes the role of the warden, then splits cards into as many piles as players (with the warden being added to one of the piles), then players choose cards and launch buildings into the stratosphere, trying to put together strong scoring combinations from whatever they manage to scrounge together during the game.

I've played thrice thanks to a review copy from Passport at Origins 2017, and in this video I show off several of the cards and share some of the challenges of the game.

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Tue Jul 11, 2017 6:36 pm
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Origins Game Fair 2017 III: Lisboa and Immortals

W. Eric Martin
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Two of the longest game demonstration videos recorded in the BGG booth during the 2017 Origins Game Fair involved passionate designers who had a lot to say about their giant creations.

• Designer Vital Lacerda went into extensive detail about Lisboa, both the game itself and the city from which the game was inspired. It was great to have him on camera, especially since we initially thought he might not make it due to travel delays and lost luggage. The hazards of convention life...





Mike Elliott is co-designer of Immortals with Dirk Henn, with Queen Games planning to debut the game at Gen Con 2017. The design was inspired by Henn's Wallenstein and Shogun, but with players controlling two races of creatures that battle in two lands, with killed creatures returning to battle in the other world.

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Fri Jun 30, 2017 6:00 pm
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Origins Game Fair 2017 II: Edge of Darkness, Alien Artifacts, Star Realms: Frontiers, Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar, and Rob Daviau Randomness

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• As many people know, Mystic Vale introduced John D. Clair's "card-crafting system" — in which plastic cards with bits of information on them are overlaid in card sleeves to craft unique new cards — but that game was not what Clair first showed publisher Alderac Entertainment Group when he approached them. Instead he first showed them Edge of Darkness, a sprawling design in which the card-crafting was just one part of a larger whole.

At the 2017 Origins Game Fair, AEG's CEO John Zinser showed up with a copy of Edge of Darkness in public for the first time, noting that he's bringing the game to multiple conventions over the next several months to both test the design among new players and show off something different from what AEG normally releases. For those waiting for more info about the game, I think this is finally giving you what you want to know.





• Rob Dougherty of White Wizard Games dropped info on Star Realms: Frontiers, a standalone game in the publisher's wildly successful Star Realms line with eighty new cards that accommodates up to four players. This title hits Kickstarter on July 11, 2017.





• Dougherty also went into detail about Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar Campaign Deck, which takes the tiny Hero Realms game and spins it into something far larger.





• I played the 4X card game Alien Artifacts from Marcin Senior Ropka and Viola Kijowska at BGG.CON 2016 and wrote up the experience on BGG News — or did I? The game as it exists today is not the game that I played six months ago, and it's likely not exactly what will appear in print from Portal Games before the end of 2017, but this overview can still give you the basics of the gameplay and we'll worry about the details once the final rulebook is released.





• One of the odd things about the 2017 Origins Game Fair is how much time we have to fill. I can schedule game demos with more cushion time around them so that we don't have to hustle people on and off camera so quickly — but that means that when someone doesn't show, we have a lot of time to fill. Thankfully Origins has lots of designers walking around, so we grabbed Rob Daviau from the aisle (for the second time as we had him on camera on Wednesday as well) to talk with him. JR Honeycutt, who develops some of Daviau's designs, snuck onto camera as well. Maybe this will be interesting for you...

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Tue Jun 27, 2017 3:16 pm
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