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W. Eric Martin
I've been working on the SPIEL '17 Preview and little else the past few days, partly because I want to knock out as many titles as possible before sending out invitations to publishers to schedule demo time in the BGG booth during SPIEL '17 — something that will likely start later this week — and partly because we have guests in the house who are staying longer than expected since they were supposed to fly to Miami after visiting us. That flight was cancelled several days ago, so we're hosting them for several more days. I expect to return to regular posting soon, but in the meantime it's good to have a few more game players around the house...
W. Eric Martin
BoardGameGeek's SPIEL '17 Preview is now live! For those who didn't immediately leave to go look at it, a few notes about the preview:
• Currently the SPIEL '17 Preview has "only" 168 titles on it. Only. That's it.
I sent out requests for information to publishers on July 31, and in the subsequent three weeks I added some of the info I received to this preview, but not nearly as much as I had hoped to do. Work on the Gen Con 2017 Preview was the usual throw-everything-at-the-wall-at-the- late-minute experience, the internet in the Gen Con hotel was terrible, and I didn't complete nearly as many Gen Con previews as I had wanted to. Cue this convention's laments. I still have designer diaries in the queue that I had hoped/planned to publish prior to Gen Con, for example, and I apologize to those designers. You'll be hearing from me with new publication dates.
• If you are a publisher who has sent me your SPIEL '17 list, I probably have your info in my inbox. If not, it's in a folder for such things. I'll get to it. You're welcome to poke me should you care to do so.
• As I noted in my preview of the new convention preview tool, comments currently don't work. You can thumb game listings, add private notes, and tag games with a personal priority status, but you can't comment publicly on the listing itself. I'm not sure when we might have comments on the preview as I'm not the tech guy doing such things.
• Users have suggested listing the game designer above the fold, adding different printing options, and doing other things with the preview format. We have read those suggestions, and we'll figure out what we want to do over the next two months prior to SPIEL '17. I want to find some way to indicate the languages included with a particular version of a game, for example, with links to rules being a dream addition. We'll see.
As noted above, the past few weeks have been consumed with Gen Con prep, so I'm running with what I have available to me right now — especially since I promised to publish the SPIEL '17 Preview on Monday, August 21 — rather than waiting until some unknown day in the future. Act now! If needed, update later! I'm trying to do more of that, both in work and in life, and so far so good.
That's it for now. Go have a look SPIEL '17 Preview, subscribe for future additions to the list, and don't burn your eyes out staring at the sun!
W. Eric Martin
When I joined BoardGameGeek in 2011, one of my responsibilities was to continue assembling convention previews for SPIEL, something I'd done on BoardgameNews.com since 2007. In that first year, I also created a preview for Spielwarenmesse, with Gen Con being added to the roster in 2012 and the Origins Game Fair and Tokyo Game Market in 2015. For all of these previews, the idea is to highlight new games that will be shown or sold at these conventions, both to alert those who plan to attend and to let those at home know what they might see in their local stores (or not see given the size of many publishers).
The convention preview format on BGG was a unique creation usable solely for me to do what I needed to do — but having been assembled on the back of the GeekList infrastructure, the preview had some restrictions for both me and users because people wanted to do things with it that GeekLists were not designed to do.
Thanks to several intense weeks following the 2017 Origins Game Fair by Scott, Jordan and Dan, that situation is about to change, and the image below highlights much of what's new about our new convention preview tool:
To start, while the games in the convention preview are sorted alphabetically by publisher by default, you can also sort the games by title, by thumbs, by price, by playing time, by rating, by which were most recently added to the preview, and by priority.
Priority is a new status created for this preview format. You can click one of the four buttons by each game to tag it for yourself as "must have", "interested", "undecided", or "not interested". When you sort the list by priority, all the titles will be sorted in that order, with the games appearing alphabetically by title within each group. (When you sort by anything other than publisher, look for the publisher's name underneath the cover image.)
Priority also comes into play through the use of filters. Click on the "Filters" button, and you'll see this:
So many filters! You can apply one or more filters, and the results will be spit back at you with around 25 titles visible and the rest hidden under a "Show More/Show All" link. (This is how the games are shown without filters as well. We don't automatically show all the titles so as not to kill our servers. Similarly, we're keeping the name, game description, etc. under a "more details" link.) If you highlight "much have", "interested", "undecided", then everything you've tagged as "not interested" will now be invisible for you; if you highlight only "not prioritized", then you'll see only those games you haven't yet classified.
Expansion status is noted on game listings, so you can use filters to show only standalone games should you not care to see expansions in the list. Alternatively you look at nothing but expansions should you want to prioritize all of them relatively quickly. The availability status of a game is also noted within the listing, and you can use the filter to show only those games for sale at the con or those available solely for demo.
This might have been the most common request for convention previews over the years, so I'll highlight this fact: You can use a filter to hide from view games available at a convention solely for demo. Please clap.
You can segment out trick-taking games that include animals or nautical. You can look for games from favored publishers that support five players. You can exclude games from the preview that you already own or have preordered. What's more, by clicking on "Add To", you can interact directly with your existing game collection on BGG. Add something to your wishlist! Take it off the wishlist! Leave a comment for yourself! Change the title! (I'm not sure how changing the title interacts with things that sort by title. I'm guessing that the system will "see" the actual title instead of your placeholder, but I don't know for sure. We're still discovering things as we go along...)
If you click on the arrow underneath a game's thumb count, you'll see different sharing tools, including a grey permalink that when visited shows only that sole title, along with a link that allows a user to see all titles on the convention preview.
Click on the arrow to the right of a publisher listing (when the preview is sorted by publisher), and you'll have a link that shows only games from that publisher. In the current (i.e., soon-to-be-old) convention preview format, each publisher had a listing, but it had no link to share and it was a pain in the butt to edit. So happy to have this option!
Once you start prioritizing titles, you'll have a line at the top of the preview that reads "You have prioritized TK titles in this GeekPreview", along with a "View My Picks" link. Click on that link, and you'll see a list solely of those titles you've prioritized, complete with your name up top:
In essence, "View My Picks" creates autofilters that leave out all "not interested" titles, presenting all the games in a thumbnail format with the "must have" titles coming first. Your username is included in the headline, along with sharing tools should you want to tell your friends what you're thinking about getting at the next con. A link at top of the header lets folks go to the full convention preview should they want to see what you're not getting and make choices of their own.
Did I mention thumbnail format? I did — click the buttons underneath the search box in the preview, and you can alternate between the full list and a thumbnail summary of games showing only cover images, thumbs, and your priority status. (Some people might also use this format to search for games lacking images or saddled with 3D images instead of the more aesthetically pleasing 2D images that tile like a dream and allow me to create thumbnail images for videos. Some...)
Other general notes about this preview tool:
• This tool will not replace the existing Gen Con 2017 Preview. This new convention preview tool will go live on Wednesday, July 26 (if no issues arise in the next few hours), and I'll update both lists over the next three weeks. It's extra work for me, but many of you are already doing stuff on the existing preview, so I'm not going to abandon that.
Instead this window gives us a chance to stress test this new tool before the SPIEL 2017 Preview goes live on Monday, August 21, the day after Gen Con 2017 ends — and at that time, I'll be using only the new tool, not the old. (I'll need to move everything from my WIP SPIEL 2017 Preview, but using this new tool is quicker than what exists now, so that's a plus in the long run.)
• Currently comments cannot be placed on the game listings in the new preview tool. I believe the comments system is being worked on right now, so rather than try to mix old systems with new, we opted to launch this without comments right now. Again, it's a test to ensure the framework is in place, and we'll get a comment system in place later, possibly along with other things, with the biggest item on the wishlist being a preorder system integrated with the BGG marketplace.
• If a game's cover image has a triangle on it, click that triangle and a video will pop up within the preview. BGG attends a lot of conventions and shoots hundreds of game overview videos each year at these shows, with many of these videos giving an early look at games that will be released in the future. This format gives us another way to highlight the material that we've created, including the preview videos that I record at home. (After the video opens, click on the square on the cover image to hide the video and make it stop.)
• In the next couple of weeks, Scott plans to add the ability to print out portions of this preview, thereby allowing you to bring a list customized to your choices to the show in question.
• Filter choices are not persistent. If you create filters, leave the page, then come back, your filters are not remembered. You can bookmark a link to the URL that saves all of your filters. We did this so that people are not surprised to revisit the preview and discover a truncated list or something other than the full boat of what's there.
• You can subscribe to this tool, and you should receive notices when new items are added to the list. We're not sure whether you receive a notice when I update something. Subscribe and find out!
I'll update this post with a link to the new Gen Con 2017 Preview when this tool goes live (and I'll tweet it and post it on Facebook). Please use the feedback link in the bottom right corner of the tool to submit bugs, and please comment on this post with suggestions or feedback. I am super excited about this tool, and I hardly ever get excited about anything, so you can intuit that I think this is a big deal. Scott's already thinking up other ways this tool can be used, some of which he talks about in the demo video below.
Many thanks to Scott, Jordan, and Dan for making this happen!
Update, July 26, 2017: The new Gen Con 2017 Preview is now live! Looking forward to your comments and feedback so that we can fix anything that needs to be fixed in the next three weeks.
W. Eric Martin
BGG's Origins Game Fair 2017 Preview is now live for your viewing pleasure, and while these convention previews normally start small and grow immensely in the weeks leading up to a convention, in this case the 2017 preview already contains 95 titles on it and the Origins 2016 Preview topped out at 110 titles.
What does this mean? Did I somehow hunt down a greater percentage of the titles showing up at Origins 2017 than in previous years? What's more likely to be the case is that a larger number of games than in 2016 will be on hand when Origins opens on June 14 in the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The number of titles being released each year seems to be ever-increasing, and since Gen Con and SPIEL are already packed to the gills, I'm guessing (but open to being wrong) that publishers will spread out their new releases to Origins as well so that everything doesn't get buried in the rush.
If you're a designer or publisher who plans to have new titles on hand at Origins 2017 — whether new releases or prototypes of games to be released in the near future — and your titles aren't on this preview, please email me at the address in the BGG News header and I'll add your titles to this list.
BoardGameGeek will be at Origins 2017 for all five days, and we will livestream game demonstrations and designer interviews from the show for far too many hours each day. We will set up demo times based on what's listed on this preview (and information about other future releases), and I'll publish the interview schedule on Friday, June 9, which is the last day I'll update the Origins 2017 Preview. Only six weeks until we're live in Columbus — yikes!
What are you doing!? I don't even know you!
What does Alfons X. of Castile, Galicia, and León (1221-1284) have to do with gaming? Well, he commissioned the "Book of Games" (Libro de los juegos), which contained game rules, chess problems, and other things and which is considered one of the most important medieval books on the subject of games. Some 730 years later, Laura and Ezequiel Wittner decided to create a game award and called it Premio Alfonso X. In 2017, it will be awarded for the second time. The submission deadline was on January 10, 2017, and the jury has started its work.
What's special about this prize, you may ask? Aren't there game awards in countless countries? Every once in a while we hear that one famous game or another is now also game of the year in Finland, Portugal, or San Marino. These awards usually aim at recommending the best games to gamers who aren't spending all their free time on BGG anyway. It is rare that a game wins a national award which the community hasn't heard about before.
But when I tell you the titles competing for the Premio Alfonso X in 2017, I will assume that hardly any of you has heard of even a single one of these games. Here we go:
• Ciudadano Ilustre
• Código Enigma
• Conejos en el Huerto
• Cultivos Mutantes
• La Macarena
There is a simple reason for this: The Premio Alfonso X will be awarded only to Argentinian designers (or those who have lived in Argentina for at least two years). The point is therefore not to introduce the best of the international gaming scene to an Argentinian audience, but to promote local design and publication efforts so that Argentinian games can compete with those from the outside world. Before now, domestic games often went entirely unnoticed, partly because the production quality and artwork were decidedly mediocre. One geek wrote that if I saw the component quality of the Argentinian edition of Catan, I would cry. For those who want to have a look themselves, here is an unboxing video. You can admire the sturdy box at about 7:45 and later the precision of the tile cutting. This needs to improve, so there is a special award for overall production value as well.
Lastly, games are admitted only if they state the names of the designers and artists — which is somewhat reminiscent of the situation in Germany thirty years ago (but the Spiel des Jahres jury didn't mention the designers in the first years, either).
So if there is a prize aimed at promoting domestic games, it doesn't seem like some nationalistic nonsense, but like an honest effort to make gaming more popular in Argentina. If I weren't from Germany, a country with a strong gaming scene, I might be grateful for something like that over here.
You might get an idea of the size of the Argentinian gaming scene when you hear that the nine titles competing for this year's prize aren't the finalists or anything, but the entire field of contestants. (Well, apart from four submissions in a separate category — games with a circulation of fewer than fifty copies — which are essentially prototypes.) In other words, that list more or less comprises what was published in Argentina by local designers in 2016. I assume many of you have purchased more than nine games in 2017 already...
There's probably still a long way to go until the vision of one Argentinian publisher comes true and gaming becomes as popular as football, but you have to start somewhere. All of these contestants have their own BGG entries, so let me give you a quick introduction:
Chernobyl is a cooperative game in which you try to rescue survivors from the destroyed reactor. To win the game, you have to bring them to the helipad. There is a competitive mode as well. Chernobyl was designed by Gonzalo Emanuel Aguetti and published by Yamat.
Ciudadano Ilustre ("Famous Citizen") was crowdfunded, easily breaking its modest target of $737. It's a trivia game with geography questions mostly about Argentina, but apparently also about some other places. The designers are Vera Mignaqui and Eugenia Pérez, with the latter doing the artwork, too.
Código Enigma ("Enigma Code") is set in WWII and of course it's about deciphering German codes. To do that, the players collect card sets and try to prevent others from doing the same. Apparently the Germans are also interfering at times. Designers are Joel Pellegrino Hotham and Silvina Fontenla, who also did the artwork. It was published by JuegosdeMesa.com.ar.
In Conejos en el Huerto ("Rabbits in the Orchard"), the players move their two rabbits through the variably set-up garden and try to collect valuable vegetables. Their position determines which type of vegetable they can reach. A watchdog is doing its best to stop them. This game was designed by Luis Fernando Marcantoni, with artwork by Celeste Barone. It was published by Ruibal Hermanos S.A.
Mutant Crops ("Cultivos Mutantes") is a short worker placement game by Sebastian Koziner that's illustrated by Rocio Ogñenovich. You use your actions to plant and harvest mutant crops and collect points. It was published as a cooperation between El Dragón Azul and OK Ediciones. An English version has been announced by Atheris Games.
Dinosaurus is a microgame with just 36 cards. Dinosaurs from different eras run around on a fantasy island and fight for food. Their favorite snacks are plants, mammals, and each other. It was designed and illustrated by Amelia Pereyra and Matías Esandi and published by Rewe Juegos.
La Macarena is a witch or magician looking for a new apprentice. The players collect cards with four elements, and whoever has the most of one kind can eventually exchange them for amulets with which they can gain La Macarena's favor. The game was designed and published by five people under the group name Maldón, with illustrations by Alberto Montt. Two of the designers were at the Spielwarenmesse 2017 toy fair in Nürnberg, Germany, so this is the only candidate game that I have played myself.
With Venecitas, Joel Pellegrino Hotham has a second game in the race (and he did the illustrations together with Silvina Fontenla as well). I couldn't really figure out what exactly Venecitas means, but the goal is to collect colors. You roll a color die, may turn it by one edge, and then everyone gets the color facing them, while the active player also gets the color on top. Certain color combos can be exchanged against victory points. Venecitas was also published by JuegosdeMesa.com.ar.
ZUC! is a party game designed and self-published by Agustin Carpaneto in which you try not to draw a bomb card (because if you do, you lose). When it's your turn, you can play cards to shield you from an explosion, force others to draw additional cards, or avoid drawing any yourself. Illustrations are by Mariana Ponte.
Those who would like to know more about the small print run category can check out the respective BGG entries for Arte de Batalla, Cerrojo, Kallat and Star Warships.
Who Will Win?
There are several votes taken into consideration to determine the winners. A jury of eight people has the biggest weight in the decision, and it includes a few well-known BGG users like lolcese, Mos Blues, and Pastor_Mora as well as last year's winner Bruss Brussco (whose "take that" game KINMO has become a family favorite in our house). Thirteen Argentinian gaming clubs also cast their votes (ensuring that the games get played by many people in the first place), and there will be some kind of public Facebook vote as well.
The award ceremony will take place at the Geek Out Festival in Buenos Aires on May 6, 2017, where more than 1,500 people are expected.
If you read Spanish, you can learn a lot about the Argentinian gaming scene on the Geek Out website. I find this initiative very impressive and commendable.
Note: If you have anything to share about new games from Latin America, please contact me. I will try to write about these games once in a while.
Aldie's Full of Love!
This is part 3 of my retrospective on The Board Room - an internet based video show that ran from 1999-2001. Check out my initial post for more info about the show.
As we are going into convention season I am reminded of the first time I heard about the NY Toy Fair on The Board Room. I didn't realize that it existed, and was excited to hear this report that comes in from Rob Placer of the Gamer's Realm. This episode originally ran in February 2000, and it was interesting to hear about the new titles from Mayfair Games - Including Quo Vadis? (from Reiner Knizia). The NY Toy Fair tends to run very mainstream, so it's a little challenging for hardcore gamers to find things they are interested it, but Rob mentions that "took home more product than he should have." Bob and Drew are on hand to conduct the interview with Rob - and ask a lot of interesting questions about the industry.
The episode titled "German Games" ran in October, 2000 and featured and interview with Keith Ammann who had recently authored a FAQ on German Games. https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.games.board/eNAx...
Keith goes into a summary of German Games versus mainstream market games, he also talks about the impact of Catan, Torres & RoboRally (which is not a German Game, but features elements of the "German Game" aesthetic).
Thu Feb 16, 2017 12:31 am
Aldie's Full of Love!
This is part 2 of my retrospective on The Board Room - an internet based video show that ran from 1999-2001. Check out my initial post for more info about the show.
I'd like to feature two games that had quite an impact on my life. Once I found the joy of modern board gaming, I also found the Spiel Des Jahres (Game of the Year) award in Germany. In 1999 & 2000,Tikal and Torres by the design team of Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling won the prestigious award respectively. In the early days of gaming, we looked to see what this mysterious jury of journalists from Germany would award the honor to each year (I still do!).
I found Tikal in a Dallas game store and was blown away by its use of action points, a mechanism that I'd never seen presented this way before. You get a menu of actions & point costs and you can pretty much do anything you want within those limits. I think the open nature of the action point system is a little hard for new players to grasp - usually you want to perform many more actions than just 10 points allow.
Both of these game episodes featured Drew Kail, a co-host that appeared regularly with Bob Schwartz. Drew offered up a soft-spoken, friendly voice that Bob could bounce thoughts off. One thing I liked about the show was that both Bob and Drew were in the same game group and it sounded like they had recently played the games. They offered up some interesting commentary on their recent game that was fresh in their memory.
In the episode featuring Torres - they invited Greg Schloesser on a call-in to provide quite a detailed amount of strategy talk about the game. I know that Torres is one of Greg's favorite games of all time.
I wish to provide legendary service to the RPG community to help grow our hobby and enrich the lives of gamers everywhere.
In this 2-part episode featuring Tikal, Bob and Drew invite call-in guest Dave Bernazzani to discuss an overview of the game and some strategy tips in part 2. Bob & Drew also offer up their "volcano house rule" to avoid getting blocked in. I also agree with their sentiments on playing "vanilla" Tikal without the auction to speed up the game and enforce the theme a bit more.
Aldie's Full of Love!
I'm starting a new article series here in the BGG News blog that is more of a retrospective than "news", but a lot of people will have not seen this before, so it will be new to them.
When I got into the world of board games, and started working on creating BoardGameGeek in 1999-2000 there was very little information online about them. (I've recently reminisced about this with Rich Sommer on Cardboard if you want to hear more.) Along with The Game Cabinet, Brett & Board and Steffan O'Sullivan's Blog was The Board Room.
The Board Room was posted on a semi-regular basis on the website USALive.com. Starting in December of 1999, the show was groundbreaking in that it was one of the first (if not the first) online video show that exclusively covered board games. It ran 85 episodes up until February 25th, 2001.
I remember excitedly watching every new episode using RealPlayer to stream them (YouTube was but a glimmer in Chad Hurley & Steve Chen's eyes). The show was hosted by Bob Schwartz, and occasionally co-hosted by Drew Kail and sometimes a call in guest - many of whom are still very active in the board gaming world.
I recently spoke with the host Bob about the show and how much it impacted my life, and he provided me with the episodes to share with everyone here. Thank you to Jerry Dzuiba for the conversion of the video source files.
I decided to start with posting a monster 6 part episode that features Bob along with Reiner Knizia(!) via phone going into an incredible amount of depth on my favorite game of all time - Tigris & Euphrates. So I think this is a fitting way to start. They finish with a quick preview of Lord of the Rings (another of my faves). So here they are!
Part 1 - Bob and Reiner give a high level overview of the game.
Part 2 - Reiner gives his thoughts on the scoring mechanism in the game and compares it to Chess, Through the Desert and Samurai followed by a discussion on leader placement and formation of a monument.
Part 3 - Reiner describes internal leader conflict, and the tactical reasons to do so.
Part 4 - Reiner describes external leader conflict and treasure tiles.
Part 5 - Reiner discusses the origins of the design of the game which started in earnest in 1995. He also talks about some ideas that he eventually rejected. Reiner also comments on the "tile-laying trilogy" label that some people had placed on Tigris & Euphrates, Through the Desert and Samurai.
Part 6 - Reiner discusses his upcoming game designs including Lord of the Rings.
I look forward to sharing my love of The Board Room with you in the future.
Sat Jan 28, 2017 10:32 am
W. Eric Martin
In early December 2016, I asked what people wanted to see in this space in 2017. Many of the answers were "more of the same" or "focus on new game releases", with lots of support for "more written posts instead of videos" and some support for "more videos", "more general articles" and "come to UK Games Expo" among other, more varied responses. (Many commenters wrote about things that are not my responsibility, such as the remainder of the redesign, so I have nothing to say along those lines.) I'm still trying to work out a weekly publication plan, but I do hope to satisfy most of the desires expressed.
I have started convention plans for Spielwarenmesse, NY Toy Fair, Festival International des Jeux (a.k.a. Cannes), GAMA Trade Show and PAX East, with more to come down the line. Still need to find hotels and by tickets in some cases, but progress is happening. UK Games Expo is probably still a miss this year as I'm already adding a couple of shows and my wife doesn't hate me so much that she wants me away from home all the time.
The convention preview for those first three shows will debut Monday, January 2, 2017 — with another post later the same day sure to produce more immediate excitement and feedback — and I thank Chad Roberts for help with additions to the BGG database to help prepare this preview. I've started a Slack group in which I share raw information early so that others can add game listings to the BGG database, similar to what I have done in this Geeklist; by doing this, I hope to get games into circulation on BGG and in convention previews more quickly. If you want to join the Slack group and help submit game listings to the BGG database, please write me at email@example.com and let me know. With a dozen or so people in the group, each person would have to take charge of only one or two publishers in order to knock everything out far more quickly than I could on my own.
As for publishing all of the videos and images that I took during 2016 before the end of the year, well, I made progress, but that plan took a tumble when a full glass of ice water tumbled across my laptop in the final days of December. It's hard to work with a blank screen and a non-responsive keyboard! I'm now back in business and hope to finish everything off in the next week or two.
Aldie, Lincoln, Stephanie and I will livestream a chat about gaming in 2016 on Thursday, January 5 at 9:00 p.m. EST (GMT -5). Not sure what channel we'll be on, but I'll tweet a link once we're close to going live.
I did achieve one solid goal: Inbox Zero. I often get behind on responses and news and other things due to messages piling up during conventions and just through my non-responsiveness while I do other things. Now I've cleared the docket and intend to keep it clear, with Chad Krizan acting as my patron saint of inbox cleanliness.
Aside from that, my 2017 patron badge is now in place. AdBlock is active for another year, and it's time to move on to other tasks — or perhaps even play a game...
W. Eric Martin
In November 2016, designer Mark Goadrich announced that a new edition of his card game Gene Pool was available through The Game Crafter, with new artwork by Ariel Seoane. Goadrich first released Gene Pool in a 200-copy edition in 2006 through his own Goadrich Games, followed by two hundred more copies in a second printing in 2009.
When I saw this announcement, Alec Guinness' voice immediately popped to mind: "Now, that's a name I've not heard in a long time. A long time." You see, before I started writing for BoardGameGeek in January 2011, I ran my own site — BoardgameNews.com — for four years, starting in November 2006 when BGN founder Rick Thornquist decided he wanted to move on to other things. At that time, I had contributed a handful of articles to BGN, these being company profiles combined with game reviews, with one of those articles profiling Goadrich and Gene Pool.
To celebrate this new edition, I thought I'd reprint that profile, first published on BGN on Nov. 1, 2006. It's fascinating to see how much work I put into this profile, which mirrors the many articles that I wrote for trade publications throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. I haven't done something like this in a long time...
Company profile—Goadrich Games / Review—Gene Pool
If you wanted to create an encyclopedia of the types of game players, you're unlikely to find a better example of the "new Eurogame fan to game designer" archetype than Mark Goadrich.
Goadrich grew up playing chess, cribbage, euchre, and the standard assortment of abstract and party games with his family. "It wasn't until graduate school when a friend showed me Ricochet Robots, quickly followed by Settlers, that I was hooked on the Euro game craze," he says.
Like most newcomers to the world of designer games, Goadrich started with the classic gateway games, then moved on to more involved titles. Gateway games are sometimes derided as being "dumbed down" for stupid people, but Goadrich — who received his Ph.D. in computer science in 2006 — has a hard time buying that argument. "By working up from light to heavy games," he says, "I'm trying to follow the way most fields of education are hierarchically organized, starting with the fundamentals and then building to the more complex advanced material."
"Games like No Thanks, Bohnanza, For Sale, and King Me! are great introductory games," he explains. "They deal with one major mechanic per game and are very quick and elegant, like a powerful short story. It's helpful to have some experience with these one-shot mechanics before mixing them together and jumping into Power Grid, Reef Encounter, or Scepter of Zavandor — great novel-length epics, but very intimidating if you have little gaming context. Of course, you can stop anywhere you like. I love the simple and elegant 30-minute fillers, but I'm also learning there's a lot to offer with a well-designed two-hour game that I never would have had the patience for had I not played the earlier fillers and Spiel des Jahres winners."
After playing Carcassonne in 2003, Goadrich awoke the following morning with a new game erupting from his head like Athena, and game design has been his hobby ever since. "I took a risk and went to Protospiel 2004 with a friend and a few prototypes in hand, not knowing what to expect," he says. "I've been back ever since because of the people I've met and the amount of knowledge about game design you can gain just by playing other prototypes."
Given his educational background, hearing Goadrich talk about game design won't come as a surprise. "In my mind, designing games is a lot like computer programming," he says. "There's iteration, game states, inputs and outputs, although compilation time is much longer... Seeing a game come to life is fascinating for me, where playtesting is an evolutionary process full of punctuated equilibrium, and the driving force of the game evolution are the elusive goals of fun and game balance. None of my games have stayed the same once they jumped out of my head and into a prototype form, and that's a good thing."
"The goal for Goadrich Games is to put out high-quality, small print-runs for my game designs while staying on a small budget; any game I publish in this format will probably have no more than 200 copies total," he says.
Gene Pool, his first published title, sold out its 200-copy print run in October 2006, and Goadrich is now hoping to find a publisher to pick up the game and deliver it to a broader audience. "While taking a game from idea to actually assembling 200 copies made me very proud, I find the game design side much more intriguing," he says.
As for future plans, Goadrich says, "I do have a few other prototypes nearing completion: one about elections on a small island (which some playtesters have called "Die Macher in half-an-hour"), and a set-collecting resource-management game about the black market antiquity trade (which used to be about collecting African violets). I hope to have both wrapped up by 2007 and either make the rounds with publishers or have them come out in another small edition from Goadrich Games; both prototypes have around 100 cards, a few plastic cubes and a scoreboard, making them very suitable for a small print-run."
Mark Goadrich's first self-published game, Gene Pool, is a simple and clever two-player card game in which you try to manipulate a sequence of genes to match combinations on your scoring cards.
"Gene Pool isn't the first game I've designed, but it is the first one which felt ready to be published," says Goadrich. "The idea for Gene Pool came on an afternoon drive from Minneapolis to Madison from my wife's suggestion to design a game about viruses. While thinking about a larger virus game with CDC, biohazards, etc, what struck me was the way that viruses can take over cells and rewrite your DNA while your body tries to fight back. This was the inspiration for having two players both modify a common sequence of DNA, which turned out to be a great little puzzle on its own and became Gene Pool."
The DNA sequence in Gene Pool mimics the one in the human body. The game includes two types of Base Pair cards: one with Adenine/Thymine and the other with Guanine/Cytosine. The cards have giant letters (A or T, G or C) in opposite corners. You start the game by shuffling and inverting three of each type of Base Pair, then laying them out in a row. Reading the row from left to right creates a gene sequence, say, GCAGTT; reading the row upside-down inverts that sequence: AACTGC.
During the game, players take actions to alter this gene sequence. You can insert a Base Pair card from your hand into the middle of the sequence and snip a gene off either end; you can add a Base Pair to either end and delete from the middle; you can mutate one Base Pair card into another by playing one from your hand; or you can invert a section of the sequence, rotating one to five cards around an axis. "The insertion, deletion, mutation and inversion actions are taken directly from how DNA really changes and mutates in our cells over time," says Goadrich.
Ready to begin play (2006 edition)
Each player starts with one of each Base Pair in hand, along with a Gene Research card worth one year. Gene Research cards have a sequence of four or five genes associated with a particular disease; cards with four genes are worth one year, cards with five genes worth two years. If at the end of your turn, part of the gene sequence in either direction matches a Gene Research card you hold, you can claim that claim; whoever claims nine years' worth of cards first wins the game.
Two other actions available to players are drawing a Base Pair card, which allows you to prepare for future turns, and drawing a Gene Research card, which seems like a desperation move because you automatically draw one if you have none in hand at the end of your turn.
Gene Pool is easy to learn and play; the listed playing time is 30 minutes, but my games rarely took more than 10. Luck of the draw can be a factor, especially when you're playing for the first time and don't know the Gene Research deck. Once you've played a few times, you can sometimes guess what your opponent is trying to create and thwart him while simultaneously working toward your own goals. You can try to hoard one type of Base Pairs, but this tactic usually doesn't frustrate an opponent for long.
Aside from the appealing game play, Gene Pool also raises the bar for what buyers can expect from a self-published game. While the tuckbox is clearly a cut-and-glue job, the cards and rules are full-color and extremely attractive. "Gene Pool is all hand-assembled by myself and my wife, without whom this game could never have been made," says Goadrich. "We decided that if we were going to make some copies, we'd make them as professional-looking as possible but at the same time not go into debt doing so, thus the appeal of the postcard printing and die-press punching option."
Goadrich has detailed his game production experience on the Board Games Designer's Forum, and his posts are recommended for anyone interested in self-publication. [Editor's note: These posts don't seem to be available any longer.] "It's much more work that I thought it would be when I started getting serious about self-publishing, and I've made mistakes and learned lessons from this that will make the next attempt much easier, such as to never use the die-press machine again," he says. "Over the 200 games, we'll have made over 2,600 punches. Next time it's off to a card-finishing place that will cut out the cards for us."
Ideally, another publisher will pick up Gene Pool and republish it for a wider audience. The game has a built-in educational appeal, but unlike many games designed for didactic purposes, Gene Pool is actually fun. Who knew such a thing was possible?
Designer Mark Goadrich with copy #1/200 in 2006
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