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The Shores of Tripoli: Pirate Raids, History, and Naval Shenanigans

Candice Harris
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Washington DC-based publisher Fort Circle Games aims to create fun, easy to learn, historical board games and based on my experiences with its first release, The Shores of Tripoli, mission accomplished.

From gallery of candidrum

The Shores of Tripoli is a 1-2 player, card-driven, historical wargame designed by Kevin Bertram and released in 2020 that's based on the First Barbary War in which the United States and Sweden fought against the Barbary Pirates from 1801 to 1805.

Board Game Publisher: Fort Circle Games
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Kevin Bertram and I have a tidbit of history together, though we've never met in person. In February 2019, I received a message on BGG asking whether I'd be interested in playtesting The Shores of Tripoli based on the fact that my BGG ratings showed I was a fan of both Star Wars: Rebellion and Twilight Struggle. At that point I had never playtested a game, but I was very interested because 1) it was a new experience I was curious about, 2) I do indeed love Star Wars: Rebellion and Twilight Struggle so I was interested in playing any game that was inspired by them and played in under an hour (heck yeah!), and 3) at that time I had just started designing my own game, so I figured I could learn a thing or two.

Kevin emailed me all the files and I proceeded to print the map, cards, and rules. Sadly, I never got the opportunity to put it all together, learn the rules, and play it at the time — but I'm happy to report that I have finally played the game, thanks to Kevin sending me a copy of the finished product.

In The Shores of Tripoli, one player plays the American side with Sweden as allies while the other player plays the Tripolitan side representing pirates from four North African coastal regions: Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Tangier.

The Shores of Tripoli features asymmetric gameplay with each side having a unique deck of event cards, in addition to its own victory conditions, which are all based on historical events from the First Barbary War. Over the course of the game, players take turns playing event cards and taking actions to achieve one of their victory conditions before their opponent to win and end the game.

The American player can win the game either by forcing the Tripolitan player to sign a peace treaty favorable to the Americans or by capturing Tripoli for Hamet Qaramanli to take the throne. Both of these victory conditions are triggered by playing event cards: Treaty of Peace and Amity and Assault on Tripoli, respectively.

From gallery of candidrum
From gallery of candidrum

The Tripolitan player can win the game by forcing the U.S. into submitting to Tripolitania and paying tribute in one of three ways: 1) by raiding the U.S. to acquire twelve gold, 2) by sinking four American frigates, or 3) by eliminating Hamet's army. If neither player wins by the end of 1806 (the last round), the game ends in a draw.

From gallery of candidrum
American gold the Tripolitan player will be eager to pirate raid

The game board features a vibrant map with nine harbors (color-coded circles) to show which areas are friendly to the U.S. (blue), controlled by Tripolitania (red), or potential allies to Tripolitania (orange). In addition five, lightly shaded patrol zones are adjacent to five of the harbors where American and Swedish frigates can patrol against corsairs (pirating ships) leaving corresponding harbors.

From gallery of candidrum
Two-player game board set-up

Tiny wooden boats represent American gunboats (blue), Tripolitan corsairs (red), and allies of Tripolitania (orange). The larger wooden ships are American (blue), Swedish (yellow), and Tripolitan (red) frigates. Then you also have wooden cubes representing ground forces for Hamet's Army (blue and white) and Tripolitan infantry (red). Some of these pieces are placed on the board during set-up, but the majority are kept in the supply areas at the top of the board.

The Shores of Tripoli is played over six years, from 1801 to 1806, and each year is split into four seasons (turns), from spring to winter. At the start of a year, each player draws cards from their draw pile, then seasonal turns are played in which the American player takes a turn, then the Tripolitan player, then you advance the season marker. After playing the winter turn, the year is over and you advance the year marker to start the next year.

Each player has 27 cards: 21 event cards and 6 battle cards. The American player takes a turn first each season and can either play a card as an event, discard a card to move up to two frigates, or discard a card to build a gunboat in Malta. The Tripolitan player can play a card as an event, discard a card to pirate raid with corsairs from Tripoli, or discard a card to build a Tripolitan corsair in Tripoli.

The Shores of Tripoli is a card-driven game, so the event and battle cards are the heart of the game. Regardless of which side you're playing as, playing a card as an event works the same way, even though each side has different event cards. You simply play the card and resolve the event text, noting that some events have prerequisites that must be met before you can play them. After unique events are resolved, they are removed from the game, but common event cards are discarded and you might see them again later in the game.

The event cards vary but generally help players gain advantages for pushing towards their victory conditions. Here are a few examples of event cards:

From gallery of candidrum
A Tripolitan event

From gallery of candidrum
An American event

From gallery of candidrum
A Tripolitan event

From gallery of candidrum
An American event

From gallery of candidrum
Since the game has only 27 total cards for each side, after a few games, you'll be pretty familiar with them, which opens up a different, strategic hand-management aspect to the game that won't necessarily be as clear when you're not familiar with the cards. As an example, some event cards can be comboed together for a (hopefully) better effect such as The Philadelphia Runs Aground event when played with Uncharted Waters. Each year you are drawing an additional six cards, but you have a hand limit of eight cards, so you often have to make tough decisions for which cards to hold versus which to discard.

Core event cards are extra special and do not count towards your eight-card hand limit since they are placed face-up in front of you instead of being shuffled in your deck like the other cards. They can be played the same as the other event cards, but after playing core events, like the unique event cards, they are removed from the game, so you definitely want to time these powerful events well.

As the American player, core event cards are how you get the two Swedish frigates in the mix, create Hamet's Army to get ground forces on the map, and move up to a whopping eight frigates with the Thomas Jefferson event card!

From gallery of candidrum
American core event cards

As the Tripolitan player, your core event cards allow you to move the two Tripolitan corsairs from the harbor of Gibraltar to Tripoli, do some epic pirate raiding, and beef up your forces in Tripoli in preparation for Hamet's Army potentially coming for you.

From gallery of candidrum
Tripolitan core event cards

Outside of playing cards to resolve events, the American player can also discard a card to move up to two frigates or discard a card to build a gunboat in Malta. When moving frigates, you can move from any location(s) to any other location(s). If American frigates are moved to a harbor that has enemy ships, a naval battle commences and any gunboats from Malta can also be moved in to join the fight. If American frigates are moved to a harbor that doesn't contain any enemy ships, but the city has Tripolitan infantry, a naval bombardment commences.

From gallery of candidrum
Two American frigates available at the start of 1804
Naval combat is pretty simple. First, players announce whether they will play any battle cards. Battle cards are super helpful and give you juicy advantages during combat. Then both players roll their dice and tally hits. Each frigate rolls two dice, while gunboats and corsairs each roll one die. Each roll of a 6 is a hit. The players allocate hits to their own fleets starting with the active player. The small boats (corsairs and gunboats) take one hit to sink and frigates each take two hits to sink. If a frigate is hit once, it's considered damaged and gets placed on the following year of the Year Turn Track and you get these back at the start of the next year. After allocating hits, all surviving American gunboats and undamaged frigates are moved to Malta.

As an example, if you are in naval combat with two frigates and you get hit twice, you can either sink a frigate assigning it both hits and leave the other frigate intact and undamaged, or you can let each frigate take a hit, damaging them both and placing them on the following year of the Year Turn Track. Decisions, decisions, decisions. Remember, if the Tripolitan player sinks four American frigates, they win the game.

From gallery of candidrum
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the absolute bonkers Guns of Tripoli event card that lets the Tripolitan player roll an additional twelve dice! You heard me right, an additional twelve dice. Whenever this card was played, we got always got a kick out of it.

In my first game, my friend Richard played it when he already had five corsairs in Tripoli, so he rolled seventeen dice. We both cracked up! Luckily the dice are smaller than normal d6s, so most people can fit them all in one hand.

In my most recent game, Matt had six corsairs and rolled a whopping eighteen dice! As you can see from the photo on the right, he was pretty unlucky with his eighteen red dice compared to the fourteen blue dice I rolled thanks to the Preble's Boys Take Aim battle card I played. I really enjoy dice combat, so I had a blast with it in The Shores of Tripoli, but I fully acknowledge it's not for everyone.

Naval bombardment is very similar except the Tripolitan infantry does not get to roll any dice and fight back. Each frigate rolls two dice and each gunboat rolls one die, once again hitting on 6s. Each hit eliminates a Tripolitan infantry. After naval bombardment, all American frigates and gunboats are moved to Malta.

Then there's also ground combat that occurs when the American player moves Hamet's Army to a city that has Tripolitan infantry. Unlike naval combat, ground combat lasts until one force has been eliminated, so it could be multiple rounds of combat.

First, the American player may bombard with any frigates and gunboats that have joined the attack. Similar to naval combat, players announce whether they'll play any battle cards, then roll dice. Each infantry rolls one die and once again, a roll of a 6 is a hit and anything else is a miss. Players allocate hits to their troops, then check to see whether either side has been eliminated.

If the Tripolitan forces in the city are eliminated, the Americans have captured the city. If that city happens to be Tripoli, the American player immediately wins the game. On the other hand, if the American ground forces are eliminated, the Tripolitan player immediately wins the game. In the rare case where both forces are eliminated on the same roll, it is also considered a Tripolitan victory.

When the Tripolitan player isn't playing cards as events, they can discard a card to build a Tripolitan corsair in Tripoli, or take the favored action of pirate raiding with the corsairs from Tripoli by discarding a card. Honestly, if you're the Tripolitan player, it's all about snatching up that gold. Of course, the American player probably won't make it too easy for you since they can park their frigates in the naval patrol zone and try to take down some of the Tripolitan corsairs beforehand via interception rolls.

From gallery of candidrum
Pirate raid in Algiers triggered by an event card
When the Tripolitan player pirate raids, if any American or Swedish frigates ar ein the naval patrol zone outside the harbor of the raiding corsairs, the American player makes an interception roll, rolling two dice as usual for each frigate. Each roll of 6 is a hit and sinks a corsair. Then the Tripolitan player rolls one die for each remaining corsair and captures a merchant ship on a roll of 5 or 6, gaining a gold coin for each merchant ship captured. Taking advantage of pirate raids through this action and event cards is a great way to get to achieve the 12 gold victory condition as the Tripolitan player.

At the start of years 1801-1804, you draw six cards from your deck and by 1804 you will have gone through your entire deck since you start the game with 24 cards in your deck. Consequently, at the start of 1805 you shuffle your discard pile, then draw six cards from your new draw pile. If no one has won by the end of 1805, you play one final round in which you draw all cards remaining in your deck, then discard to your eight-card hand limit. If no one has won the game by the end of 1806, the game ends as a draw.

The Shores of Tripoli also includes a solo mode in which you play as the American side against an AI opponent, the Tripolitan-bot (T-bot). The T-bot is set up with two rows of cards: the event card line and the battle card line with specific cards placed in a specific order.

As the American player, you draw cards and take turns the same way you do when playing a human opponent. When your turn is over, the T-bot takes its turn checking cards in the event card line in order to see whether an event card's requirements have been met. Starting with the first card, if the requirement has been met, the T-bot plays the event card for its turn. Otherwise, it continues on to the next event card and so on.

If none of the event cards from the event card line can be played, the T-bot does the Five Corsair Check (a solitaire-only card), and if at least five corsairs are in the harbor of Tripoli, the T-bot pirate raids. If not, the T-bot draws a card from its draw pile and acts based on the T-bot card play requirements listed on the back of the rulebook. Since the T-bot uses the normal Tripolitan event and battle cards, the solitaire card play requirements will dictate how the T-bot responds to each event card.

The good news is there aren't many additional rules involved for jumping into a solo game, but you will need to keep the solitaire card play requirements handy to understand how the event and battle cards work with the T-bot. It would've been nice if there was a way to play this solo with the human player playing the pirates versus a U.S.-bot, but considering how many solitaire games I have that are designed specifically for solo play, I suspect I'll mainly play The Shores of Tripoli with a human opponent over the T-bot.

Inspired by two of Bertram's all-time favorite games, Twilight Struggle and 1960: The Making of the President, The Shores of Tripoli is a really solid entry-level wargame that covers a rare historical topic, and it manages to do so in a streamlined and accessible way to easily engage players of any experience level. You can teach this game to just about anyone and be up and running in 10-15 minutes and play a full game in under an hour. Because it plays so quickly, you'll likely want to play back to back games and can even mix it up by switching sides.

From gallery of candidrum
A successful assault on Tripoli that won me the game
Even though I love crunchy, heavy games, I appreciate how simple, fun, and exciting the combat is in The Shores of Tripoli. Big boats roll two dice, small boats and cubes roll one, and you hit on 6s. It's very simple to understand, which keeps your head out of the rulebook and into the gameplay. Of course, there's a lot of luck involved when you're rolling dice for combat, pirate raids, and other events, but I never found it to cause any bad feelings in the games I played. If anything, I found it exciting and also, often tense.

In one of my games, I was down to two gold as the American player, and my opponent had corsairs in the orange allied regions and kept raiding me, but thankfully rolled poorly. I had to pull the trigger and play the Assault on Tripoli as otherwise I might've lost the game. Thankfully I was able to swoop in with a ton of frigates and infantry and won the game that way.

I found the more I got to know the cards, the more strategic and interesting the game got. The hand management decisions get deeper the more you know the cards, although I do wonder if it'll get samey after a while having only 27 cards per faction.

I also love when games have multiple victory conditions, and The Shores of Tripoli does it well for a game that is easy to get into because of the low complexity level. It's great to have options and some flexibility to choose and potentially change up your path to victory based on the cards you draw.

The Shores of Tripoli is a great first release from Fort Circle Games, and I'm glad I finally got to play it since I didn't get a chance to playtest it when it originally came my way. I'll keep my eyes peeled for upcoming releases from Kevin Bertram and Fort Circle Games...

From gallery of candidrum
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Fri Apr 16, 2021 2:11 pm
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Black History Month 2021: A Postscript

W. Eric Martin
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In case you missed any of the shoutouts to the designers, artists, publishers, and content creators featured on BGG during Black History Month in February 2021, you can find links to all of the posts in this meta-list created by BGG admin Matthew M, a.k.a. Octavian.

My thanks to Matthew for taking the initiative on this project, pulling together the initial list of candidates, and creating a schedule framework. Thanks also to Elizabeth Hargrave for her "Black Voices in Board Games" post and to BGG user hexahedron for their "Black board game and RPG designers and artists" GeekList, both of which proved valuable as a research starting point.

I've seen a number of requests for similar coverage during Women's History Month — which starts today, March 1 — and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, but I need to take my foot off the pedal and not burn out. Before running Boardgame News on my own, then joining BGG, I worked full-time as a freelance writer, mostly for trade publications. I probably wrote 1-2 profiles a week during those years, possibly even three profiles some weeks, but never a daily profile for four weeks straight...

That said, BGG will have creator spotlights of female designers, artists, publishers, and content creators on its front page each day in March. What's more, I intend to make more of an effort to feature games from underrepresented individuals in this space and elsewhere on BGG, as with the feature image for the March-April 2021 New Game Releases catalog that's now live on the front page:

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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Mon Mar 1, 2021 4:49 pm
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Explore Space, Invade Tarawa, Complete Missions Against Nazis, and Defeat a Slasher...All By Yourself!

Candice Harris
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Playing board games solo isn't necessarily everyone's jam (yet?), but solitaire gaming is definitely becoming more and more popular in our hobby. It could be my reticular activator drawing me to them, but I've definitely noticed an increasing number of multiplayer games being released with solo modes/variants in the past year. It seems to be the new norm.

GMT Games caught on to this growing demand for solo gaming options and announced "GMT One" in its January 2021 Monthly Update Newsletter, which is a new in-house development studio dedicated to enabling solo gamers to enjoy the wide variety of multiplayer games that GMT publishes. In more detail:
Quote:
GMT One will help bridge the gap in knowledge and experience between our multiplayer designers and the skills and techniques used to craft Solitaire experiences and support these designers in creating top-notch designs. Our design group includes the designers who built the Solitaire systems in Tank Duel and Gandhi, and we will partner with designers like John Butterfield, Mark Herman, Volko Ruhnke, Harold Buchanan, Mike Bertucelli, and others to create best-in-industry Solitaire experiences for you.
In addition to the ever-growing and improving multiplayer solo options, there are a lot of exciting games coming out designed specifically for solitaire play, featuring a wide variety of mechanisms, themes, and complexity levels. There's really no better time to check one out if you've ever been curious.

Board Game Publisher: Van Ryder Games
Board Game: Hostage Negotiator
• Back in April 2019, Eric mentioned the 2021 solitaire release Final Girl from Van Ryder Games and designers Evan Derrick and A. J. Porfirio.

Final Girl is a reimplementation of Porfirio's Hostage Negotiator that plays in 30-45 minutes, but instead of negotiating with abductors to save hostages, you'll be trying to survive and defeat a horror movie killer:
Quote:
Playing on a famous horror movie trope, Final Girl is a solitaire-only game that puts the player in the shoes of a female protagonist who must kill the slasher if she wants to survive.

The Core Box, when combined with one of our Feature Film Boxes, has everything you need to play the game. Each Feature Film Box features a unique Killer and and iconic Location, and the more Feature Films you have, the more killer/location combinations you can experience!

Board Game: Final Girl

In game terms, Final Girl shares similarities with Hostage Negotiator, but with some key differences that change it up, including a game board to track locations and character movement. You can choose from multiple characters when picking someone to play and multiple killers when picking someone to play against. Killers and locations each have their own specific terror cards that will be shuffled together to create a unique experience with various combinations of scenarios for you to play!
I kept hearing good things about Hostage Negotiator, but I was initially hesitant to try it because the theme didn't really jive with me. I'm so glad I did finally pick it up and try it though! It really surprised me how much I enjoyed it, and I love how the mechanisms and theme are so well-implemented together. I ended up loading up on all of the expansions and I'm especially looking forward to trying the Hostage Negotiator: Career expansion that was released in 2020. This is all to say, based on Hostage Negotiator pleasantly surprising me, I want to play Final Girl — even though the theme, once again, has me hesitant.

• On the historical wargame front, Worthington Publishing LLC launched a Kickstarter (KS link) on January 23, 2021 for Tarawa 1943 a WWII solitaire, card-driven game on the invasion of Japanese controlled Tarawa by the 2nd Marine Division that plays in 30-60 minutes, from designers Grant Wylie and Mike Wylie:
Quote:
TARAWA 1943 is a solitaire, card-driven game on the invasion of Japanese controlled Tarawa by the 2nd Marine Division. Each turn the USMC player will activate one of their eight battalions. During its activation, it can move, attack, and attempt to regroup. The USMC player further has a three-card hand (out of a deck of thirty cards) that gives additional resources to the player (naval support, air support, engineers, tanks, etc). The USMC player can play one card during their turn and one card during the Japanese turn.

From gallery of candidrum

As a battalion is activated, it reduces its cohesion (reflecting wear and tear and exhaustion). Battalions are further reduced in cohesion due to Japanese attacks and the marines "pushing their attacks".

After the USMC player finishes their activation, the Japanese turn begins with the flip of a card. From this, the USMC player will face fire attacks, banzai attacks, bunkers, cross fires, infiltration, and more. The card engine will ensure an ever changing game and no two will play the same.

The game will give the historical starting invasion site. However, we have included the alternate "south beach" landing possibility that the Japanese had expected and prepared.

Victory is achieved by taking the island as quickly as possible while minimizing casualties. This was the first invasion of the U.S. island hopping strategy and high losses or a prolonged fight could have led to a cancellation of the island hopping campaign.
From the videos I've checked it out, Tarawa 1943 seems like it'll be a fun and challenging solitaire wargame, and with a 30-60 minute playtime, it seems like I'll be able to get it to the table more easily than some of my beefier wargames. The Player's Aid also posted a great interview with Grant Wylie if you're interested in learning more about the background and mechanics for Tarawa 1943.

Board Game Publisher: Victory Point Games
Board Game: Nemo's War (Second Edition)
Journey's End, the latest expansion and final chapter to Chris Taylor's highly thematic Nemo's War (Second Edition), was launched on Kickstarter in late November 2020 and is open for late backers. The Nemo's War: Journey's End expansion was designed by Alan Emrich, who also designed the Nautilus Upgrades Expansion Pack which was the first expansion for Nemo's War.

If you're not familiar with the game, Nemo's War is a deep sea, adventure, exploration game based on Jules Verne's classic novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in which players assume the role of Captain Nemo and travel across the seas on missions of science, exploration, anti-imperialism, and war! It's primarily a solitaire game, but also includes rules for 2-4 player fully co-operative and semi-competitive variants.

Here's what you can expect from the Journey's End expansion as described by the publisher:
Quote:
Board Game: Nemo's War (Second Edition): Journey's End Expansion
The final expansion for Nemo's War (Second Edition) includes new finale cards, a new character, additional motives and adventures, and an official 2-player variant.

A COMPREHENSIVE OPERATIONS MANUAL & BETWEEN VOYAGES GUIDE: The new Operations Manual shows how to run the ship turn-by-turn and includes many useful appendices at the end, while the new Between Voyages Guide features instruction for setup, ending the game, scoring, epilogues, variants, and more!

A NEW TWO-PLAYER VERSUS VARIANT: Joining the riveting solo and cooperative modes where players command the Nautilus, in this game variant one player will play as the Imperialists, bent on its defeat. Includes special cards and two Imperial Squadron Miniatures!

A NEW CHARACTER TILE: Entering our story is Nemo's son, Nadeen Dakkar, who crosses paths with his father after hearing news of mysterious events at sea!

NEW FINALE CARDS: Spice up your endings with The Trap, Imperialists' Catspaw, Scientific Espionage, and The Kraken!

NEW STERN MOTIVES, ADDITIONAL NAUTILUS UPGRADES, AND EVEN MORE TOKENS & MARKERS!
In addition to the Journey's End expansion, Victory Point Games is releasing an "Ultimate Edition" of Nemo's War that includes the second edition of the base game with all of the expansion content.

Nemo's War happens to be a top 5 solo game for me after playing only a single game. I highly recommend checking out Nemo's War if you're looking for an excellent, narrative-driven, solitaire game and you're not turned off by dice rolling. It's challenging, is very thematic and immersive, and features some gorgeous Ian O'Toole artwork, which all adds up to an awesome solitaire gaming experience.

Board Game Publisher: Side Room Games
Side Room Games is launching a Kickstarter campaign (KS link) on February 1, 2021 for the second edition of Jake Staines' 2013 solitaire worker-placement game Maquis.

Maquis plays in 20 minutes and the new edition will also include new missions for some fresh challenges. Here's a brief overview of Maquis from the publisher:
Quote:
Engage the Nazi occupation of France in la petite guerre to throw off the yoke of the oppressors and free your homeland!

Board Game: Maquis

Maquis is a solitaire worker-placement game with variable goals and a play time of approximately twenty minutes. The player places their resistance agents on spaces around town to achieve their goals — e.g., blowing up trains, publishing underground newspapers — but at the same time Milice collaborators and Wehrmacht soldiers patrol the area. Agents who can't make it back to the safe house at the end of the day are arrested and never seen again.
I haven't played Maquis yet, but I did recently score a copy of John Kean's Black Sonata, which is a solitaire hidden movement game from Side Room Games that's in my queue to check out. I was so fascinated by the fact that someone designed a solitaire hidden movement game that I had to get myself a copy, and now I'm also curious to try Maquis.

After reading Neil Bunker's interview with Morten Monrad Pedersen, the founder and lead designer of the Automa Factory, it was also cool to find out the worker-placement solitaire system in Maquis is what inspired the AI opponent in Viticulture!

Board Game Publisher: Giant Spider Games
Mark Chaplin, who co-designed the sci-fi, horror, survival game Lifeform from Hall or Nothing Productions, has two upcoming solo game releases that sound mighty interesting and their descriptions have me already enticed.

The first, Where Humans Don't Belong,, is a suspenseful, space exploration game that plays in 45-90 minutes and is targeted for a mid-2021 Kickstarter launch:
Quote:
Where Humans Don't Belong is a single-player, deep space exploration game in which you are trying to escape the unknown galaxy into which your damaged starship has been thrust. The fate of your ship and her crew lies in your hands!

Explore uncharted space, board derelict freighters, and land on ringworlds and other amazing locations — all while being hunted by an alien dreadnought intent on your destruction.

Board Game: Where Humans Don't Belong
Board Game: Where Humans Don't Belong
Board Game: Where Humans Don't Belong
Crew art - not finalized

Where Humans Don't Belong is a standalone game in which you get to name your ship, choose its load-out, and pick your own bridge crew. They will encounter awesome galactic horrors and fight battles in space as well as on the surfaces of strange alien planets.

Featuring innovative combat and exploration systems, the game presents a unique, suspenseful adventure unlike any you've seen before.
Then there's Deepwater, which plays in 45-60 minutes and is slated for a 2022 release:
Quote:
Deepwater is a solo game set in the year 2047 in which the player assumes the role of a tech billionaire taking over a loss-making, underwater, deep-sea research and farming facility, six months after an industrial accident at the base released a crystalline, genetically-engineered mutagen named "Zenobia" into the sea.

During each game, the player has to recruit marine biologists, deep-sea engineers, offshore operations staff, and security personnel. As the game progresses, the player also has many opportunities to build onto their facility and develop superior underwater tech and submersibles to help achieve their character-specific goals. Will the player be a philanthropist, or a greedy business magnate, for example.

Board Game: Deepwater
Concept art

Many dangerous situations will arise throughout the game, which the player will have to make tough decisions to overcome, including underwater earthquakes, superstructure fails, flooding, intrusions by eco-terrorists, and shark attacks. The multiple choice nature of these hazards will lead to the player having to sacrifice resources, cash, crew, and moral standing — with potentially devastating environmental impact.

Deepwater presents a tense, suspenseful, narrative-focused adventure with each and every game.
Both games will be published by Chaplin's company, Giant Spider Games, which is focused on releasing thematic, narrative-driven games tackling genre aspects that are typically unexplored or overlooked. I have subscribed to both game pages, and I'll be eagerly awaiting updates.
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Fri Jan 29, 2021 1:00 pm
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Check Out the Games Being Released in Jan-Apr 2021

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Spirit
The year of Spirit is upon us! Lift those game pieces with your mind!

While I'll resume regular posts before you know it, I thought I'd kick things off by pointing out that BGG's game release catalogs for January and February 2021 and for March and April 2021 are both live. I've been updating these lists with info from publishers that have completed my survey, and I'll keep adding to them as I receive info about other new releases. (If you represent a publisher and haven't received a survey link, please email me — address at the top of this blog — and I'll send it to you.)

Ideally we can all start attending game conventions once again before the year is out, and if that does happen, then I'll resume things like the SPIEL '21 Preview. Until then, however, I'll use these bimonthly release lists to highlight what you might be able to find in local stores or order from publishers and stores in places far away.

Someone — I believe El Whitcombe at Deep Water Games — said that every game delivered in 2020 was a miracle, and as you might expect, lots of games originally scheduled for release in late 2020 have found their way onto these lists for Jan-Apr 2021. I wish their publishers all the best in managing whatever unexpected situations might still arise, and I hope that you can also make the best from whatever unexpected situations you face this year.
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Fri Jan 1, 2021 3:36 pm
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Venture into the Galaxy with ISS Vanguard, Galactic Era, Sidereal Confluence, and Space Empires: All Good Things

Candice Harris
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I'm sure many of us have a game (or several) on our shelves that we just can't wait to play when it's safer for larger group gatherings. For me, one of those games is Twilight Imperium, which for some reason just plopped onto my radar recently and has really resonated with me. After reading the rules and watching an obsessive decent amount of videos, I'm beyond pumped to play my first game. My TI4 hypeness has shifted me into a major sci-fi and space board gaming mood lately, so I'm sharing some related releases that sound pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good (my Larry David voice).

Board Game: ISS Vanguard
ISS Vanguard is the big new sci-fi, co-op, campaign game from Awaken Realms, which has gotten a ton of buzz lately since Awaken Realms decided to bypass Kickstarter and launch ISS Vanguard using GameFound as a new crowdfunding platform. After checking out the first game to be crowdfunded on GameFound (ISS Vanguard GF link), I'm already loving how much easier it is to navigate the entire project because of the menu on the left side of the screen — what a concept! It's funny how such a minor thing can be such a huge improvement.

But let's shift the spotlight to the game itself. ISS Vanguard is designed by a talented blend of Awaken Realms designers — Michał Oracz, Paweł Samborski, Krzysztof Piskorski, and Marcin Świerkot — who were also involved in their previous hits Tainted Grail, This War of Mine: The Board Game, and the most recent sensation, Etherfields.

Here's what you can expect gameplaywise from ISS Vanguard:
Quote:
ISS Vanguard is a 1-4 player co-operative, campaign board game that will bring players into an epic sci-fi adventure as they play as four sections — security, recon, science, engineering — onboard the first human ship with the possibility to reach outer space.

The campaign introduces the unique story written by Krzysztof Piskorski (Tainted Grail), which is full of hard player choices, twists, and branching storylines.

Gameplay is divided into two main stages: Ship phase, and landing on planets. During the ship phase, players manage their ship (a binder with printed sleeves) where every section has to make gameplay decisions.

Board Game: ISS Vanguard
Prototype photo from the publisher

Then, you prepare your crew for landing on the next planet in search of answers to humanity's biggest questions. Together you pick a lander and customize it with modules, then each section chooses a crew member to take on a mission (with more experienced crew members having better ranks ), deck-builds a skills deck, takes equipment, and choose dice for their character.

The game comes with more than one hundred crew members, each with unique characteristics.

During all phases of the game, players will be directed to a log-book that consists of story encounters, often written in the form of action-packed dialogues between the characters.
Board Game Publisher: GMT Games
Board Game: Space Empires: 4X
• As a result of my recent sci-fi game kick, I picked up Jim Krohn's sci-fi 4X classic Space Empires: 4x from GMT Games, along with the Close Encounters and Replicators expansions. Even though I haven't even played the base game yet, I've done my research and already know I'm eXcited to eXplore and eXperience all of the eXtradordinary Space Empires content that eXists (5X!).

So I was pretty stoked to read about the upcoming third and final Space Empires expansion, All Good Things, which was announced in GMT's November 2020 monthly update newsletter as a new P500 (pre-order) addition:
Quote:
All Good Things, the last expansion for Space Empires: 4X, provides:

Master Rule Book and Scenario Books: Since this is the last expansion and completes the system, it will come with a Master Rule Book that encompasses all the goodness in all the expansions. Likewise, it will include two Master Scenario Books: one for solo/co-op, and one for competitive play.

Two new, alternate empires: Similar to existing empires, but different, with fighters that don't need carriers. If the original game had fighters that were like TIE Fighters, these are more like X-Wing. They don't have boarding ships or Titans, but have a new class of ships. The other ships have slightly different stats/costs.

Variable, but balanced home systems: Everyone has the same home system for balance reasons. However, knowing what you are going to find is something that has always bothered many people. This will fix that.

Scenario cards: About thirty total, and one or two could be flipped to change the overall galaxy conditions for the game. A couple of these are from the scenario book, but most are new.

Board Game: Space Empires: All Good Things

Missions: Missions are resource cards that can't be just played, but require a player to complete something on the map to gain a larger benefit. Think of the plot of a simple Trek episode.

Deep space planetary attributes: The NPA planets in deep space will now have a bit of personality. Some will be harder or easier to take. Some will really be worth fighting over.

Crew cards: Not everyone will always want to play with these, but they will bring even more personality into the game.

Facilities game: Two new facilities are added. This will really complete the facilities game.

Everything else: Extra cards of every type, Starbases, Defense Satellites, Cyber Armor, New Terrain, more terrain to support larger scenarios (more terrain is needed anyway to support larger scenarios so new terrain types are also included).
Space Empires:4x is at the top of my holiday gaming menu, and I already can't wait to dig into it and all its expansions!

Board Game Publisher: WizKids
• Back in an April 2020 post, I mentioned the new Remastered edition of TauCeti Deichmann's Sidereal Confluence, a sci-fi trading and negotiation game with asymmetrical alien races from WizKids.

I've since received a copy of it from WizKids, and it looks stunning! I'm really itching to play, and while realistically I won't be able to optimally play it anytime soon, that didn't hold me back from punching it, organizing it, and checking out the rules and components. I am impressed with the changes I've seen so far, so I wanted to share some photos to showcase a few of the new and improved components.

From gallery of candidrum
Beautiful new box cover art by Kwanchai Moriya

The card and tile layout was revamped with clearer iconography and color schemes.

From gallery of candidrum
First edition (left), Remastered edition (right)

From gallery of candidrum
First edition (left), Remastered edition (right)

From gallery of candidrum
First edition (left), Remastered edition (right)

From gallery of candidrum
First edition (left), Remastered edition (right)

The resources were updated so that it's easier to differentiate between the different sized cubes. I'm sure some folks may prefer wooden cubes over plastic ones, but the plastic ones in the Remastered edition are actually pretty legit. They look and feel great in my hands, though I am tempted to eat the translucent ones...and most importantly, it is indeed much easier to differentiate between the large and small cubes.

From gallery of candidrum
First edition resources
[center]
From gallery of candidrum
Remastered edition resources
[center]
From gallery of candidrum
Large and small gray cubes — first edition (left), Remastered edition (right)

The different ship tokens for each faction were replaced with common ship tokens to avoid unnecessary confusion.

From gallery of candidrum
First edition ship tokens

From gallery of candidrum
Remastered edition ship tokens

The Remastered edition also includes a nice insert tray to keep everything organized and minimize set-up and tear-down time.

From gallery of candidrum

Between the rulebook and teaching aid improvements and the significantly improved card iconography and resources, I can definitely see how this Remastered edition of Sidereal Confluence will create a much better, more enjoyable overall gaming experience for new players and experienced ones.

Board Game Publisher: Seajay Games
Galactic Era is a new, heavy, 4x space game to be released in 2021 from designer Channing Jones and his publishing company Seajay Games. Galactic Era introduces some innovative mechanisms, has ton of replay value packed in, and plays in three hours with 1-6 players. Sounds like a recipe for fun to me! In more detail from the publisher:
Quote:
Galactic Era is an epic space strategy board game with a focus on exploration, expansion and combat.

The most innovative feature of the game is that you can choose to play as the "dark" or the "light" side with the appropriate consequences. You can switch your alignment during the game though, too.

The amount of luck involved in this game is very low. Combat is deterministic with hidden information (no dice are used).

Board Game: Galactic Era

Further features:

----• Many paths to victory, from peaceful to warlike.
----• Alignment determines how you can interact with other players: "Light" (STO) factions can ally with advanced civilizations encountered but may not interfere with primitive civilizations, are peaceful towards other STO players, are peaceful with STS players unless attacked first. "Darkness" (STS) factions can be as peaceful to aggressive as they wish, and are able to subjugate primitive planets.
----• Develop your civilization in across five different technology fields: Military, Spirituality, Propulsion, Robotics and Genetics. Those who are committed a single area of specialty are rewarded with epic powers, at the highest level.
----• Cooperate with other players by trading technologies.
----• Choose from fifteen unique factions, each with a unique power, sometimes even two (one for each alignment).
----• Fog of war creates uncertainty by hiding fleets with their tactical options and advantages. Fleets have advantages over others in a Rock-Paper-Scissors fashion.
----• Secret objectives give each player a surprise power, while encouraging different avenues of play.
----• Highly variable game setup that influences objectives.
----• A detailed and rich background story, based on testimony from secret space program whistle-blowers, UFO/ET witness accounts and channeled material.
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Fri Dec 25, 2020 4:30 pm
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Should Board Game Designers Be Paid by the Hour?

Christian Lemay
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Board Game Publisher: Le Scorpion Masqué
[Editor's note: This article originally appeared in a November 2020 newsletter from Canadian publisher Scorpion Masqué. I invited company owner Christian Lemay to reprint the article in this space as it provides a helpful window into game production and financial considerations that are often invisible outside of the publisher's office. Disclosure: Scorpion Masqué hired me to edit rules for What? What! and Zombie Kidz Evolution. —WEM]

In an August 2020 article on French gaming website LudoVox, game designer Mathieu Baiget looked at what game designers actually receive from the sale of their games. One of the main points he brought up in the article was just how far away game designers were from being able to live off of their creations, even with sales of 5,000 copies of a game. (The original article (in French) is here.)

Today I would like to add the perspective of a publisher. Please note that what I say here is true only for Scorpion Masqué and that the situation varies widely from publisher to publisher, large to small.

How Much Does it Cost to Develop a Game?

Well, the answer depends on the publisher and the project. At Scorpion Masqué, we publish around three games per year, and this — along with the development, production, logistics, sales, and marketing of those games — occupies all six of us full-time. To be honest, a portion of that time is also dedicated to re-editing and maintaining the games in our back-catalogue to keep them alive and relevant, so I guess you could say that we publish 3⅓ games per year.

I estimate Scorpion Masqué's fixed operating costs to be $400,000 (all prices in Canadian dollars) per year, divided between salaries, office rental, I.T., travel and lodging during conventions, etc. This means that it costs us around $122,000 to develop a game, and this amount does not take into account illustrations or the cost of production. If I calculate a very approximate profit of $4.75 per game (sale price minus production, shipping, and royalties for the designer), Scorpion Masqué needs to sell nearly 26,000 copies of the game before it sees the first dollar of profit for this project — and this is for a game without illustrations. At this point in the process, the designer has already earned nearly $23,000 (a calculation done on a retail price of $30, before tax).

Obviously, some games require more work than others. Zombie Teenz Evolution required a significantly greater investment than a title like What? What!, so this $122,000 cost is only an average.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
One of these things is not like the other...

Because of this cost, we sign only those games that we think we'll be able to sell at least 30,000 to 35,000 copies of. There are some (very rare) publishers that can depend on certain titles selling 80,000 copies per year on a regular basis and that can therefore sign games simply because they love them, regardless of how well those games may succeed in the marketplace. We are not one of those publishers. Because of the way we are structured, a game MUST have a certain commercial potential...as well as being one we love!

The designer's article unfortunately leaves out a crucial question: How many games does a designer need to sell to earn a living on their creations? What level of success should allow them to live off their games? These questions can be answered only with reference to the price of the game as the designer doesn't receive as much in royalties from a $15 game as they would from one that sells for $80.

At Scorpion Masqué, if we couldn't manage to sell 26,000 copies ON AVERAGE of ALL of our games yearly, we'd shutter the business. We'd stop making games and find another line of work. End of story.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Let's apply the same measuring stick to a designer: If they can sell 26,000 copies of three games that they are able to create each year, working full-time (which is a completely reasonable expectation, in my opinion), will they be able to live on this? According to my calculations, this will provide an annual salary of over $65,000. That's not half bad, is it?

The other million-dollar question: Should creation, whatever the type, be paid for by the hour? I wrote a collection of poetry when I was studying. It took me four weeks of full-time work, that is, 140 hours, and I was able to sell 120 copies. (Not bad, considering that in Quebec, poetry collections sold around 100 copies on average in those days.) With royalties of 10% on the retail cost of the book (coming to $1.20 per book), this represents $144 — that is, $0.97/hour of work. And yet, royalties for authors are much higher, as a percentage of the final sale price, than those of game designers.

Nobody expects me to be able to make a living on the sale of my poetry collection, and this is the same for many writers, musicians, painters, etc. Should we treat designers who create the cultural product we call a "game" differently by guaranteeing them a salary for the hours they work? Shouldn't a designer have to achieve a reasonable level of "success" before being able to draw a salary for their work?

The video game industry gives us an interesting parallel as my friends who work at Ubisoft Montréal, making games in the Assassin's Creed, Watch Dogs, and Far Cry lines, are paid a salary as game and level designers. With sales in the millions for games like Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft can well afford to pay those salaries and still turn an impressive profit.

In the board game industry, if a publisher were to pay a designer a $65,000 annual salary for three games per year, 26,000 games would remain the threshold at which the publisher would begin to make a profit. At this point, as a salaried worker, the designer does not make any more money on their creation. Should a game sell 35,000 copies, the salaried designer is missing out on nearly $8,000 in earnings on royalty payments. If the game blows up and becomes the next Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, or Catan...well, it's not nice to think about how much the salaried designer stands to lose.

The one advantage to being paid "by the hour" is that designers' earnings are protected if they design a flop — but too many of those may mean losing their job altogether.

Christian Lemay

P.S.: If you enjoyed this article, come and check out our blog, where you can read about "The $10,000 Email" and the "Master Word Graphic Design Diary"!
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Thu Dec 10, 2020 1:00 pm
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The Zenobia Award: Improving Diversity in Historical Board Game Designs

Candice Harris
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Board Game: Freedom: The Underground Railroad
A little less than a year after I got into the hobby, I stumbled upon Brian Mayer's Freedom: The Underground Railroad from Academy Games, probably as a result of randomly rummaging through "Top 10 Co-operative Board Game" videos on YouTube. I was shocked by the bold idea of someone creating a board game focused on slavery in the United States, but then I was delighted and impressed after I bought it, played it, and discovered firsthand how tastefully it was designed for covering such a sensitive topic. Not only is it an excellent game, but it has a unique theme and it's educational and packed with historical facts.

Several months later, I picked up Joel Toppen's Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire from GMT Games when looking for a challenging solo game. I loved the idea of playing a game from a Native American tribe's point of view. It was a topic I knew little about, and it made me curious and excited to understand it better.

Board Game: Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire
Freedom and Comanchería really kick-started my love and appreciation of historical board games. This naturally led me down the wargaming path, which I've unexpectedly grown to absolutely love. If you asked me two years ago, I honestly could not have seen myself in a million years being so into historical board games, and here I am now with a game shelf full of them.

In early October 2020, Volko Ruhnke (creator of the COIN series and designer of Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?) noticed my enthusiasm for historical games and contacted me to tell about the Zenobia Award — a game design award and mentorship program targeted at designers from underrepresented groups and game designs focused on underrepresented historical topics.

Shortly after geeking out from the fact that Volko Ruhnke (one of my newest favorite game designers) PM'ed me on Twitter, I hopped on a Zoom with Volko and Harold Buchanan (designer of Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection) to further discuss the Zenobia Award. I was instantly on board with its mission and goals, and I knew I wanted to be involved.

The Zenobia Award was officially launched on November 22, 2020 with the following press release from volunteer, Dan Thurot (Space-Biff!):
Quote:
The Zenobia Award
Underrepresented Designers, Underrepresented Topics

From gallery of candidrum

History is big. So big that it belongs to everybody. Every individual, no matter their background or identity, connects to history in unique and important ways.

So why do historical board game designers seem to fit into the same mold? You know the type. White, male, straight, usually academic, often a part-time dabbler in spurious facial hair.

We've wondered the same thing. Which is why we're pleased to announce the Zenobia Award, a board game design contest for underrepresented groups.

That could mean you! Whether you're a woman, person of color, LGBTQ+, or otherwise underrepresented, the Zenobia Award is all about helping you break into the tabletop game industry. That can mean boards, cards, dice, tiles, miniatures — whatever your game requires, if it's about a historical setting, we want to help your voice be heard.

How will we do that? Good question. The Zenobia Award is more than a fancy name. It's a mentorship, intended to pair you with industry veterans who will help develop your game into its best form. It's an entry point, with partner publishers standing by to discover the most interesting titles and help bring them to print. And it's a contest, complete with a cash prize, public celebration, and genuine wooden trophy analog — that's right, a plaque!

Is there a hitch? Nope. There's no cost of entry, no obligation to list your mentor as a co-designer, and you keep the rights to your game — unless you sign a contract with a publisher, of course. That's entirely up to you. Being a game designer, you know the importance of the little rules. So take a look at the fine print over at ZenobiaAward.org, and welcome to the Zenobia Award.
I'm really excited and grateful that the Zenobia Award has launched, and even more thrilled to be involved as a volunteer. It's a great starting effort for improving diversity in the historical board games. Plus, I'm really looking forward to seeing the results of having more different perspectives and varied historical topics developed into awesome new board games for us all to explore, enjoy, and learn from in the future.

If you're interested in learning more about the Zenobia Award, you can check out all the details on the official web site. Also, Liz Davidson from Beyond Solitaire hosted an excellent roundtable discussion with some of her fellow board members that further expresses the purpose and passion behind the Zenobia Award.



[Editor's note: The logo for the Zenobia Award will be changing in the near future as board member Geoff Engelstein notes in this tweet: —WEM]
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Mon Nov 30, 2020 1:00 pm
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The Spice Definitely Flows in Dune: Imperium

Candice Harris
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Board Game: Dune: Imperium
I'm a late bloomer to the Dune-iverse and to all things Arrakeen, but as I've gotten deeper and deeper into it the past few months, I was thrilled to hear about Dire Wolf's upcoming release of Dune: Imperium, designed by Paul Dennen, the creator of Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure.

While on the lighter side of my gaming spectrum, I've always enjoyed playing all versions of Clank!, especially Clank! Legacy. You throw Dune, deck-building, worker placement, and Paul Dennen into a blender, and before I even experience what comes out, my ears are perked and my eyes are wide. Thus, I had to reach out to Dire Wolf expressing my interest in a review copy of Dune: Imperium, which they graciously hooked me up with so that I could navigate folded space, taste the spice firsthand, and share my initial impressions.

Dune: Imperium is a hybrid deck-building and worker placement game for 1 to 4 players that plays in about 60-120 minutes. Each player represents a leader of one of the Great Houses of the Landsraad, competing to earn the most victory points by defeating rivals in combat, forming alliances with the four powerful factions on Dune (Emperor, Spacing Guild, Bene Gesserit and Fremen), and cleverly establishing your political influence.

Each player starts the game with a leader board corresponding to their particular leader, which has two different abilities, unique from other players. You also have two agents (workers), a starting deck of cards (same for all players), some wooden cubes representing troops, and a few other components to form your supply. There's also a card market as expected in a deck-building game, and a general supply area of the main resources of the game: spice, solari, and water.

From gallery of candidrum
From gallery of candidrum
Leader board examples

Dune: Imperium is played over a series of rounds, with each round consisting of five phases: 1) Round Start, 2) Player Turns, 3) Combat, 4) Makers and 5) Recall. At the end of a round, if any player has reached 10 or more victory points or if the conflict deck is empty (after ten rounds), the game ends and whoever has the most victory points wins.

Round Start

You start each round by first revealing a new conflict card, then each player draws a hand of five cards. Conflict cards show the rewards you'll be competing for during the current round should you decide to deploy troops to the conflict.

From gallery of candidrum
Player Turns

Next you jump into the player turns phase, which is the meat and potatoes of Dune: Imperium, or shall I say, the cinnamon and nutmeg. In this phase, players take either an agent turn or a reveal turn in clockwise order until all players have completed their Rreveal turn. This is where the cards in your deck come into play, and you have to decide which cards (if any) you'll use to place agents on the board, versus which cards you'll save to reveal in order to gain resources and/or combat bonuses.

During an agent turn, you play a card from your hand face-up in front of you and use it to send one of your available agents to an unoccupied space on the board where you gain access to that particular location's effects. The location icons on the left side of the cards indicate which locations you can send an agent to with that particular card. Then the agent box on the card may grant you some additional bonus effects as well when you use that card for an agent turn. When you use the "Worm Riders" card for an agent turn, you gain two spice.

There's a decent variety of locations on the board with various effects that allow you to pursue a plethora of strategies as you play, especially when combo'd with different card effects. Like most worker placement games, there will be many moments where someone beats you to a spot you were hoping to use, but considering several cards have multiple location options, you're likely to find a clever back-up plan and work around it.

From gallery of candidrum

Some card and location effects allow you to gain resources, draw extra cards, trash cards, and recruit troops. There's a spot where you can spend solari to gain a Mentat (extra temporary worker) for the round, and if you're able to pony up even more solari, you can grab your third agent.

From gallery of candidrum

You can also gain devious intrigue cards from certain location effects in addition to other ways. The intrigue cards add a healthy dose of spice to otherwise familiar mechanisms and are one of my favorite elements of Dune: Imperium. There are plot, combat, and endgame intrigue cards that come into play at various points in the game, but the best part is that your opponents have no clue what type of card(s) you have and when and how it will impact them; it's so fun to keep everyone guessing. You might have a plot card that lets you spend a certain amount of spice to gain a victory point. If you reveal that at the right time, that one card could push you over the edge to win the game. On the other hand, you could have a beasty combat card that you reveal to push you ahead of your opponents during combat when someone else thought they were going to take it. The intrigue cards are mighty juicy...mighty juicy!

From gallery of candidrum
Intrigue card examples

When you place your agent on one of the four factions' board spaces, you gain the location and agent box card effects as usual, but you also gain an influence bump on the corresponding influence track. You gain a victory point when you hit the second space on each of the influence tracks, then if you're the first person to get to the fourth space on a given influence track, you gain the corresponding alliance token and get another victory point...but don't celebrate too fast.

From gallery of candidrum
If one of your opponents ever moves past you on an influence track where you currently hold the alliance token, they steal it from you — which makes you lose a victory point while they gain one. Dun-Dun-Duuuun! In a game with such a tight victory point system, this can be a literal game changer and in some cases, could cost you the game, so watch out.

You can manipulate faction influence quite a few different ways, and it adds an interesting layer to Dune: Imperium. Some players might focus on a single influence track and try to rush to the fourth space before everyone to snag an alliance token quickly, while others might try to just get to the second spot on all four tracks to lock in those 4 victory points. Some card effects are very powerful if you have an alliance token with a particular faction, and there's even a space on the board that you must have at least two influence with the Fremen in order to use. Gaining influence always seems pretty important, but how you approach it and how competitive it gets will vary from game to game and lend itself to exciting moments.

While you're thinking about gaining influence, try not to slip too much on the combat front. This is another excellent way to gain resources, influence, and most importantly, victory points.

Certain locations allow you to recruit troops from your supply to your garrison area, and also locations that will allow you to deploy troops from your garrison area into the conflict area. If a location has the combat icon in the bottom right corner, you can always deploy up to two troop cubes from your garrison to the conflict area. In addition, some locations with the combat icon allow you to recruit, and in those cases, you can move as many of the newly recruited troops from your supply directly to the conflict area, which is a great way to get more troops ready for combat. This can sometimes scare off your opponents, but if you deploy a ton of troops and your opponents decide not to deploy any, you're basically wasting troops that you could have saved in your garrison for future conflicts where they'd be better served. Figuring out when to deploy troops and how many troops to deploy is a tough decision.

From gallery of candidrum
After you finish your agent turns, you'll take a reveal turn, revealing the remaining cards in your hand and gaining the effects shown in the reveal box (beneath the agent box). The revealed effects on cards vary, but many give you persuasion that you can immediately use to acquire new cards from the Imperium Row (card market). Persuasion will be familiar if you've played Clank! as it's just like spending skill to acquire new cards. When using the "Shifting Allegiances" card for a reveal turn, you gain 2 persuasion.

During your reveal turn, you also set your combat strength for the round if you have at least one troop in the conflict area. Each troop cube has a strength of 2, and you'll add any additional strength for each sword on your revealed cards. Then you set your strength on the combat track and place all the cards you played and revealed into your discard pile. After all players have completed their reveal turns, let the battle begin!

Combat

From gallery of candidrum
At the start of the combat phase, you already know everyone's base combat strength as it's been marked on the combat track, but now players have a chance to play any number of combat intrigue cards to sneakily beef up their combat strength, so even though a player might be behind strength-wise at the start of combat, they could swoop ahead if they have combat cards that they choose to use. Once all players pass consecutively, you resolve combat. The player with the highest strength wins the first reward, second highest wins the second reward, etc.

From gallery of candidrum
Conflict card example
The conflict card deck is tiered, so the rewards get juicier and juicier as the game progresses. I dig the variety of combat rewards, so you can decide for yourself each round how much (or little) a particular combat round is worth fighting for.

Makers

After combat is resolved, in the makers phase spice accumulates on certain board spaces if no one moved an agent there that round. This is similar to some other worker placement games like Agricola, where it entices players to move to those spaces in future rounds.

From gallery of candidrum
I'm pretty sure there were multiple moments across my plays where The Great Flat piled up with bonus spice over several rounds, and you already get a base of three spice there, but it requires two water to even move there, so you're looking around at everyone's water situation, and no one has two water at the start of the round and you're feeling confident that you'll be able to swoop in to snag all that spice. You're considering turn order, looking at your hand, hoping no one else noticed the spice accumulation, and mapping out a plan to grab all that spice, but then out of nowhere, your opponent who goes before you plays a plot card which lets them gain water and they beat you to the spice mountain. Noooooooo! ...another reason I love that intrigue deck!

Recall

If the game end hasn't been triggered, you take all your agents back and rotate the first player market clockwise — but if a player has 10 or more victory points or the conflict deck is empty, you resolve any endgame intrigue cards, then whoever has the most victory points wins.

I do wish there was a better system for determining turn order other than just rotating the first player marker clockwise, with player turns going in clockwise order. It's certainly simple and perhaps that was the intention since there's already a lot to think about in the game, but for worker placement games I tend to prefer more interesting decisions when it comes to determining turn order. Turn order is really important, as you read above in my Great Flat spice pile-up story, so I do wish the players had more control over it.

I managed to play Dune: Imperium at all players counts and enjoyed them all, but if I had to pick, I preferred the two-player game the least. Solo and two-player games are played with AI opponents driven by a deck of cards with minimal rules that are easy to pick up, and therefore pretty smooth to play. There's also a handy app available that streamlines solo and two-player games, but regardless whether you use the deck or app, you'll be zipping along after a round or two with your subtly, intrusive AI rivals.

My two-player game just lacked a bit of the tension I felt playing with three and four players — and even solo. In the solo game, you play against two AI opponents and they can score points in various ways, which made me feel the pressure I feel playing three- and four-player games. The two-player game, on the other hand, adds a single AI opponent that doesn't score victory points, so you're competing for victory points only against your human opponent, which was fine, but not as exciting to me. I liked it; I just didn't love it as much as the other player counts.

From gallery of candidrum

Overall, I'm really digging Dune: Imperium. There aren't necessarily any ground-breaking, new mechanisms, but the way these familiar mechanisms are blended together is awesome and works well. I would say this is only a few clicks above the complexity level of Clank!, but it offers such a different and deeper strategic experience. No disrespect to Clank!, of course; I love me some Clank!, but Dune: Imperium feels more mature and sophisticated gameplaywise.

From gallery of candidrum
Everything is tied in well thematically, so fans of Dune will feel right at home, yet don't need to know a single thing about Dune to dig into Dune: Imperium and feel fully immersed in the gameplay.

I enjoyed the decision space of figuring out which cards to use for agent turns versus which cards to save for reveal turns, especially as you start incorporating fancier cards with juicier effects into your deck. Lots of cards synergize well together or with your level of influence with different factions, so it's fun to see what kind of card combos people pull off. I also like that you have a lot of different opportunities for drawing cards mid-round. That can open some exciting opportunities during agent turns or seriously boost your reveal turn.

I've already touched on how much I love what the intrigue cards bring to the table, but I also really love the tight victory point system and having combat rewards to consider each round. Each and every victory point is important and meaningful, and everyone knows it, so it makes the game feel tense. It's great that there are several different ways to score victory points, too, so players can pursue different strategies for scoring and it feels equally competitive in a really fun way.

There were multiple games in which I had a steady lead in the early game, then as newer players got the swing of it, their scoring discs crept closer and closer, gradually closing the gap, making me feel all sorts of anxious and stressed, but in the best way possible, all up until a climatic ending. There were many "Ohhhhhhh!" moments as we each tried to outwit each other with intrigue cards or by stealing alliance tokens. I love when a game sucks me in and makes me feel that way.

Kudos to Paul Dennen and Dire Wolf for taking control of the spice, then packing it into Dune: Imperium!
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Fri Nov 20, 2020 3:00 pm
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Cooperatively Infiltrate Human Corporations, Program Your Marbles, and Explore a Volcanic Temple

Candice Harris
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Board Game: burncycle
I'm not sure whether it's the "cold" weather in LA this week or the "shorter" days from daylight savings and winter approaching, but I can't help but think of the holidays approaching. With that comes efforts to sneakily cleverly get family and friends into board games, and sometimes there's no better way to do that than bust out a co-operative game. Here are a few 2021 co-op releases that I'm looking forward to trying:

Cloudspire, Too Many Bones, and Hoplomachus have a new, futuristic sibling on the way! In mid-November 2020, Chip Theory Games launched a Kickstarter campaign (link) for its latest co-op release, burncycle from designers (and cousins) Josh and Adam Carlson.

Here's a description of how it plays and the challenges you'll face as your team of robots tries to take down those corrupt human corporations:
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A puzzly infiltration game for 1-4 players, burncycle puts you in command of a team of robots in the far future. Their mission: taking down evil, human-run corporations responsible for subjugating AI under their heel. Your team arrives at each corporate headquarters and must sneak inside, shutting down the companies' physical operations as well as their circuitous digital networks. As you search rooms and advance to the higher floors, you'll be rewarded with new items and abilities, but you'll also be challenged by threatening guards, fatal viruses, and the architecture itself, which was built to fight off robotic intruders.

Key to this solo and co-operative experience is the idea of "creative action sequencing". During each round of play, all players contend with a randomly drawn set of programming directives that tell them in what order their bots are allowed to take physical, digital, and command actions. Players can choose to skip over directives at the cost of having an incomplete turn, or they can disobey the directions by paying costly action dice. The best players, however, find a way to work within the "burncycle" — essentially, organizing their actions so that they benefit the team while staying within the directive order.

Each of the corporate headquarters in the game uses a unique neoprene layout on a larger mat, changing the geography of the game to suit your target. Each CEO also has at their disposal a special threat meter, which will trigger new obstacles for your robots as time runs out. If you don't complete the mission quickly, you may end up leaving bots behind, the victims of immobilizing power drains or destructive counterhacking.

Your team wins the game if you complete your objectives on every floor without losing your captain or maxing out your threat level.
More glorious premium poker chips, neoprene play mats, and custom dice, but with a new theme? Sign me up!

Board Game: Crack the Code
Crack the Code is a limited communication, co-operative puzzle game from Sarah Graybill, John Shulters, and Indie Boards & Cards that's being funded on Kickstarter (link) ahead of a planned release in the first half of 2021.

Here's an overview:
Quote:
In Crack the Code, players form a hacker team that tries to build a piece of code before they run out of moves and their program is terminated. Players can see the marbles in front of their teammates, but they cannot see the marbles in front of themselves. Using a series of action cards, they work together to rearrange the marbles to build a certain sequence before they run through the deck.

In slightly more detail, each round you action cards available equal to the number of players plus one, and each player must choose a different action card to use and discard, with the final card being left on the table for the subsequent round. The game will also include a campaign mode.
Board Game Publisher: Inside the Box Board Games LLP (ITB)
Board Game: Sub Terra
Sub Terra II: Inferno's Edge is a 1-6 player co-operative adventure game with some strong Indiana Jones vibes from Inside the Box Board Games designed by Tim Pinder and Rose Atkinson.

As a standalone sequel to Pinder's 2017 hit, Sub Terra, Inferno's Edge features a new objective-driven puzzle to solve; ten new specialized explorers, each with a unique style of play; more monsters and more ways to fight back; and a thrillingly explosive finale.

Here's a more detailed overview of the heated situation awaiting you:
Quote:
Sub Terra II: Inferno's Edge is a co-operative adventure board game. You and up to five friends must explore a tile-based volcano temple to steal a legendary artifact. To get it, you must find the path to the inner sanctum, unlock the secrets within, then escape the way you came.

This is a dangerous place. You need to work as a team to avoid deadly traps, brave scorching lava and defeat the temple's mysterious guardians. Stick together to share your skills, or split up to cover more ground, but be aware that the volcano stirs beneath you, and you're running out of time...

Board Game: Sub Terra II: Inferno's Edge

In Sub Terra II: Inferno's Edge, players progressively reveal new tiles, forming the board and mapping the volcanic temple from its sunlit entrance to its fiery core. As players explore the temple, they have to overcome obstacles, avoid hazardous terrain, and face the ferocious guardians of the "artifact". After a player takes actions on their turn, a random hazard activates, making careful planning of actions essential to survival.

Players must collectively locate and obtain 3 "keys" — mysterious objects that are needed to gain entry to the chamber containing the legendary artifact. Your adventures must be quick, though, as the volcano stirs and as the game progresses you get closer to the volcano erupting, flipping tiles to completely inhospitable lava flows that will chase the adventurers from the cave.
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Fri Nov 13, 2020 9:34 pm
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Become the Roman Empire’s Next Medical Genius — or a Dominant Arthropod

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: Ion Game Design
Board Game Publisher: Sierra Madre Games
In late October 2020, Ion Game Design and Sierra Madre Games launched a Kickstarter campaign for two new 2021 releases worth checking out: Harry-Pekka Kuusela's Galenus and Phil Eklund's Bios: Mesofauna, a more accessible alternative to Bios: Megafauna.

While I have only limited experience with Bios:Origins and most of the Pax series from Ion and Sierra Madre, I can't help but be excited whenever they have new releases on the horizon. I'm especially excited because their new releases seem to be getting more and more accessible, yet maintaining the special and unique gameplay elements for which they're known, which means I possibly can get them to the table a lot easier and a lot more often — well, with the exception of High Frontier. I don't know whether another game excites me and terrifies me quite as much as High Frontier. I'll try it one day, though...one day.

In the worker-placement game Galenus, we jump back to the year 176 CE when 1-4 players compete to gain knowledge, cure patients, and publish works to become the best doctor in Ancient Rome. Here's some additional background and details from the publisher on how the game plays :
Quote:
Medicine in Imperial Rome is an art of celebrated advances, an art of showmanship and bitter rivalry between practitioners all with their own entourages. There is one doctor above all others: Galenus. The writings of this second century Greco-Roman would be the epitome of medicine for one thousand years to come.

In Galenus, the players enter this arena as doctors starting out by studying, treating patients, accumulating reputation, and competing against each other in showy demonstrations. The goal of the game is to be the best young doctor, primus inter pares, by collecting the most favor in the eyes of Galenus over five rounds and thus becoming his friend and student. Galenus looms over everything the players do, and he will crush all who dare challenge him.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Box concept art

Galenus is a worker-placement game in which you place up to six action pawns, then decide when and how to resolve them. In this way, some players can still be placing pawns while you are already resolving them. You can choose to cure patients, which will gain knowledge in one of four types of ailments; publish works based on that knowledge; show off your skills in the theater; acquire medicines to aid your work; rest to rejuvenate your own health; or adopt a new philosophy.

At the end of the round, you compete in medical contests via blind bidding that may give you more prestige. Whoever has the most points gained from these various tasks or first publishes eight works wins.
Board Game: Bios:Megafauna (Second Edition)
Bios: Mesofauna is the latest addition to the Ion/Sierra Madre's Bios series, and it was designed to be a gateway into the series since it has the easiest ruleset, in addition to varying levels of difficulty suitable for children to experienced gamers. In the game, 1-4 players duke it out as arthropods, mutating and creating new species, while vying for dominance and avoiding becoming extinct. Here's a high-level overview from the publisher:
Quote:
Bios:Mesofauna is an alternative Bios:Megafauna, that is, it starts and ends at the same time. It follows the same sort of Achterbahn environment, same climate change, same or similar creeples, same VP, same tiles, same card colors, same cratons and drift, same basic and Achterbahn games, same catastrophes, same greenhouse, cloudiness, and oxygen. Same terrestrial settings. The setting is the same — only the animals are smaller.

Bios:Mesofauna is a deliberate attempt to reach a wider audience than Bios:Megafauna by stripping away about half the rules. Monsters, tools, horror plants, kiwi, haustorium, dark heart, Mars, Venus, shelves, blooms, Offshore, and Cheshire Cat have been dropped. More significantly, marine variant and size were also dropped, and these two decisions are worthy of more discussion.

The two games integrate with each other, making it possible to play a game with a combination of player roles from the two games.
From gallery of W Eric Martin
Box concept art


I'm looking forward to the day (or weekend more likely) in which I play the entire Bios series starting with Bios: Genesis through Bios: Origins and finishing off with High Frontier to see how these games flow together back-to-back. I'm sure it'll be an epic gaming experience...assuming my brain doesn't completely fry midway through!
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Fri Nov 6, 2020 1:00 pm
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