Anja Wrede is a Berlin redhead who has been designing children's games for more than twenty years. She first worked at HABA before going independent and collaborating with several other German game designers — and, by the way, no, she's not Klaus-Jürgen Wrede's wife. Anja publishes some of her lighter games through her own one-person company, Edition Siebenschläfer, which is named after a German mouse that hibernates during seven months every year; before checking this, I even didn't know that mice could hibernate.
Anja has another talent, which I'm terribly jealous of because it is completely foreign to me, indeed almost impenetrable: She draws remarkably well, and she has illustrated most of her own games with various cute animals.
Since I'm much older than Anja's usual target audience, I've not played all of Edition Siebenschläfer's games. Among the ones which are as interesting with adults and children, I especially recommend Moo's Code, a fun card game about cooking in which players have to hit the table with a wooden spoon. It's not published in the U.S., but the Chinese edition from Jolly Thinkers (shown above) has English rules.
Anja is a regular at my Ludopathic Gathering, a yearly meeting in Etourvy, France that I organize with gamers, designers, and publishers I really like. We also sometimes meet in Paris or Berlin, and despite our styles having so far been very different, we had to try to design something together some day.Anja and I playing Knock Knock! in 2003; she has more hair now, while I have much less
One of the first ideas Anja and I developed when we started designing games together was a touch recognition game called "Grabbit". Since we still have hope of seeing it published some day, I won't go into details, but it's still one of my favorites. Then we made Fearz, a fun memory and reaction card game that can also be played with a tablet, and Junggle, a set of card games inspired by the "animal circle" of Chinese Animal Chess — two cute kid-friendly card games that unfortunately went largely unnoticed.
We were still toying with the idea of touch recognition and tried to use the "Grabbit" idea in a different and more thematic way. We imagined a lighter game with fewer (and cheaper) components about a shepherd looking for his lost sheep. Anja drew about thirty different sheep with slightly different shapes, and the shepherd had to find, by feeling with only one hand in a cloth bag, the sheep that was represented on a card. The set-up was cute, and the theme fit well, but it didn't appeal to the publishers who saw our prototype. A few were even concerned that this could be mistaken for a religious game — the lost sheep, the lord is my shepherd, and all that stuff. They liked the game system, though.I could not find a picture of Anja and me playing our prototype, so here's one taken in Etourvy where she is playing an old game we both really like, Klondike, with our publisher, Benoît; I think we playtested Lost in the Woods just before this, but I didn't take a picture
By chance, at my yearly Ludopathic Gathering in Etourvy, Benoît Forget of Purple Brain Creations, after playing a game with us, suggested a new setting that could make the game fit in his Fairy Tales family game series, specifically the "Little Thumb" story; this story is not that popular in the English speaking world, but it's known by everyone in France and Germany.
We were skeptical at first since the game didn't use the story's main drive — the pebbles, then the breadcrumbs that Little Thumb lets fall behind him to find his way back home. Anyway, Benoît managed to convince us, and Anja made a new prototype in which the sheep had become trees in the dark forest where Little Thumb and his brothers were trying to find the way back to their parents' cottage. (We still have those light wood sheep, all different, so maybe we'll make another game with them one of these days.)
I really like the idea and the look of the Tales & Games series, and I wanted for a long time to get one of my designs in this line. Unfortunately, when I had told Benoît that I might have an idea for a "Hare and Tortoise" game, Gary Kim's The Hare & the Tortoise was already in the pipe. It's been published since and is among my favorite ones. Anyway, I'm glad I finally made such a game with Anja and with Little Thumb lost in the woods.First sketch, final cover illustration, and board art by Frédéric Pillot
The art for Lost in the Woods was made by the French popular children's book illustrator Frédéric Pillot, mostly known for the illustrated series Lulu Vroumette and Edmond le Chien. The board and cover were hand-painted, which gives them a charming old-fashioned style that fits the game perfectly.
Anja has already published dozens of children's games; I have not, mostly because I can't work on game designs that I don't have fun playing. Memory, which I often use as a minor element in my designs, is one of the few skills in which adults are not better than children. Touch recognition is another one, and this allows older and younger gamers to play together without having the adults "cheat to lose". That's why Lost in the Woods, like all the games in the Tales & Games series, is not only a kids game but really a game for all and everyone.
Bruno FaiduttiFirst copies of the game at SPIEL '18
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(An earlier version of this diary was first published on my website on March 18, 2019.)Games by Alex Randolph in my collection
I became really interested in board game design in the early 1980s. At that time, we had a handful of games and didn't know much, if anything, about their designers. There were only a handful of names: David Parlett, the designer of Hare and Tortoise, was British; the other ones — Sid Sackson, Peter Olotka, and the Future Pastimes team — were Americans. We vaguely knew something was beginning in Germany, but no names were famous yet.
The polyglot and cosmopolitan Alex Randolph was the most fascinating character. We know that after a golden childhood in very expensive Swiss boarding schools, this scion of a rich American family, whose parents were ambassadors, had studied philosophy; had worked as a secret agent; had brought a cute card game, Raj, from India; had lived in Japan and become a first rate Shogi player; then had settled in Venice where, with friends Leo Colovini and Dario de Toffoli, he had designed Inkognito, a secret agent game during the carnival of Venice. Alex Randolph was a character just out of a European novel, and I deeply regret having never met him.Alex Randolph playing Shogi
Most of Alex Randolph's designs are abstract, if not mathy. Twixt and Ricochet Robots are often said to be his masterworks, but I've never been much fond of them — too cold for me. I have played many more games of Inkognito (Intrigues à Venise in French), a deduction game in which one must first find out one's partner before discreetly communicating with them about our common mission. Gorgeously edited, it revisits Clue with humor and subtleness. This game showed me that there was something more to do with Clue and probably motivated me to design Mystery of the Abbey.
There are many other Alex Randolph designs I played a lot and still occasionally play. Raj / Hol's der Geier is inspired by a traditional Indian game about which I'd like to know more. Ghosts is a deceptively simple tactical and bluffing game. Camel Go is one of the most original racing games. Big Shot, which just got republished by Korean company OPEN'N PLAY, is a gem of an auction game.Alex Randolph in Venice, with a copy of Veleno at lower right
In the late 1980s, I incidentally played a lesser know Randolph design, Veleno, an abstract with very simple mechanisms. Each player in turn moves a common pawn on a board, capturing a token on a neighboring space. Those who follow my creations know that, while I am wary of co-operation games, I have always been interested in games with a single pawn moved by all players, an idea I have already used in Silk Road and Isla Dorada.
The other fascinating aspect of Veleno is its perverted three- and four-player scoring system in which each player adds their left neighbor's score to their own. This clever rule gave its name to the German edition of the game: Gute Nachbarn, the nice neighbor. In Veleno, you have a good neighbor on your left and a bad one on your right, and you're the good neighbor of your bad neighbor.Italian and German editions of Veleno
For years, I had this game in my thoughts. The simple and elegant system was fascinating, the actual game play a bit lacking. The small playing board and the unbalanced values of the colored tokens often made for scripted games in which movements were obvious and the winner determined in two or three turns.
Then two years ago, on a whim, I dig up my old copy of Veleno and started to think of this game as I would like it, with a bigger board, more variety in the tokens and the scoring, and more interaction between players. I soon named my game Tonari, which means "neighbor" in Japanese, because it sounded nice for an abstract, because Alex Randolph had had a Japanese life, because it was reminiscent of the German name Gute Nachbarn and the central idea of the game, and because at that time I was trying, with little success, to learn some Japanese.First and near final prototypes of Tonari
Like a novel or a piece of music, a board game never comes out of nowhere, is never entirely new and original, and it's for the best. All my designs have been more or less influenced by other games, games I had liked or disliked, and an attempt to generate similar or dissimilar experiences. The truth is nevertheless that some games are more original than other ones, and Tonari belongs to the least innovative ones. It is not always easy, even for a seasoned game designer like me, to trace the line between minor development of an existing system and a really new game. The line is often blurred (an idea I discussed at more length here).
While I was working on what would become Tonari, I was also designing a light card game inspired by another Alex Randolph design, Raj. This game, featuring an old lady giving breadcrumbs to pigeons, was finally published as Miaui. It is after both games were nearly finalized, when playing them with friends, that I decided the pigeon game was original enough to be considered a new creation, while Tonari was only a variation on Veleno/Gute Nachbarn because while it added new pieces, it kept all the original elements in the game. Through his agent Smart Cookie Games, I contacted Michael Katz, Alex Randolph's nephew and heir, who kindly accepted that I could look for a publisher for Tonari, and that if I found one, royalties would be shared half and half.
Publishers are a bit wary nowadays of publishing abstract games. I proposed Tonari unsuccessfully to several of them, and in the end it's finally IDW Games which, probably encouraged by the success of Matt Loomis and Isaac Shalev's Seikatsu, decided to publish it. They didn't want to go full abstract, but finding the right setting wasn't easy. There were too many recent games about witch cauldrons, including Wolfgang Warsch's outstanding The Quacks of Quedlinburg.
They finally settled on fishing, with the common pawn being a trawler and the tokens of different colors different varieties of fish. Placing the action in Japan even allows us to keep the name I had chosen for my prototype, Tonari. Even though it was an afterthought, the fishing theme works surprisingly well and is well-rendered by the art of Kwanchai Moriya, an artist with a very specific style with whom I had not worked before. I am particularly fond of the cover art.
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on my website on September 30, 2018.)
Venture Angels is a bluffing and half-secret bidding game, a genre I had already given a try fifteen years ago with Corruption, a game about building contractors, and to a lesser extent with Vabanque, a game about casinos. Both were relatively simple games, but Venture Angels is even more minimalistic in both rules and components. In games in which most of the action takes place in the players' minds, there's no need for much complexity on the game table.
Each player is a billionaire who tries to invest in various ventures that will yield even more billions. There are three suits, i.e., three domains in which to invest: space, computers, and biology. The game lasts three rounds. Every round, several projects are drawn and players secretly bid tokens, with values of 0, 2, 3 or 4 billion dollars, on the projects they want. When bids are revealed, players first check which projects succeeded or failed. All the ventures for which the sum of all players' bids is lower than the funding goal fail. The single one with the most money invested also fails as some clever guy left with all the money...
The original idea in Venture Angels is the funding goal, an idea I obviously had when pledging for games on Kickstarter, something I do a bit too often. If there's not enough money bid on a project, all the money has been spent in vain. This rule is fun and logical, but it had a pernicious side effect of encouraging players to focus on the two or three most ambitious projects. This is why I balanced the design with a second rule: The project that receives the highest total funding also fails. This makes for really interesting dilemmas since players must diversify, but not too much, while always trying to check their opponents.
Of course, the game was first called "Kickstarter: The Game", and the categories were technological gadgets, video games, and board games. Among the latter were "Cohen the Barbarian", "The 7th Incontinent", "Cards Against Humidity", and "Exploding Mittens". Unfortunately, the crowdfunding game didn't work that well since a Kickstarter campaign is not really an auction with one winning bidder. I had to change the theme while keeping the core funding goal idea, and the next idea was Silicon Valley billionaires.A first game of the Venture Angels prototype in Seoul, with Kevin Kim, Vincent Dutrait, and Yohan Goh;well, I think it's his back in front of the picture — if one can see a back in front
I brought a first version of Venture Angels with me to Gen Con in 2017. Publishers were interested, but nothing was firmly decided. A few weeks later, I spent a few days in Seoul and showed a more developed version to Kevin Kichan Kim of Mandoo games, who almost at once decided to publish it. The development was fast and easy, consisting mostly of adding catch-up mechanisms so that all players can still win until the third and final round. Players in the lead must now play their first tokens face-up, and there's even a small bonus token for the last player in the last round. My prototypes used cards, and the publisher replaced these with poker-like chips, which make the game really feel about money and bidding. Ian O’Toole's art, as minimalistic and light as the game, fits perfectly.
Kevin brought the very first copies to the SPIEL '18 fair and, for once, I almost look tall in the picture.
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on my website on August 7, 2018, in both French and English.
Citadels was first published in 2000 by a small French publisher that didn't really believe in it and that saved money by recycling art originally used in an occult-themed CCG set in Renaissance Europe. That's why the original art is more Renaissance than medieval and is sometimes relatively dark for a game about city building. This strange and beautiful art helped a lot towards the game's success.
In 2016, when Fantasy Flight Games decided to publish a big box with many new building and character cards, they also ordered new art by several U.S. fantasy artists (a story previously told on my website), the result being much lighter and more in line with standard American fantasy. Two complete sets of art for Citadels — one very European, one very American — was already a lot, and now there's also an oriental version, one that might be harder to get, especially in the U.S. where it theoretically cannot be sold.
Ten years ago, an Indonesian publisher started working on "Kraton", a localization of Citadels illustrated by local artists. Eventually this project was cancelled, and all that's left is a few graphic files on my computer; in the end, the Indonesian edition of the game is identical to the western ones. I regret this a lot because I would have liked to own a few copies of this very exotic Citadels. You can read more about this story in an older blogpost on my website.
More or less at the same time, a Mormon version was also considered, which would have qualified as extremely exotic in Europe, but not so much in the U.S.Cards from "Kraton", the Indonesian Citadels that was never published
The oriental Citadels is finally coming from another, and much nearer, East. In 2015, I was contacted by Alireza Lolagar from Houpaa, who wanted to publish Citadels in Persian.
Modern boardgames are becoming popular in Iran, at least in big cities. Game cafés, such as cafeboard, are also on the rise. Those interested might read, or at least like me have a look, at the main Iranian board game website: Roomiz Games. The main local publishers are Houpaa, which is doing Citadels, and lbmind, which mostly imports games from Europe.
As I do every time I am contacted by someone willing to publish Citadels in some country where it isn't available yet, I first forwarded Alireza to Fantasy Flight Games, which already deals with localization of the game in twenty or thirty languages. This time, things were more complicated than they are usually, and my friends at FFG answered that U.S. commercial sanctions against Iran forbid them from dealing with an Iranian publisher. Yes, it looks like board games are that strategic.
On the other hand, there was no problem with me dealing directly with Iranians, providing that they didn't use the art owned by FFG. All the best for me, I was going to be one of the few people to benefit from the United States' inconsistent foreign policy and to have an oriental Citadels — and a completely different one than what I nearly got in Indonesia. I must also thank Maryam, a friend of Alireza who was living in Paris at that time and who helped a lot with this project.
All the art for Dej, a.k.a. دژ, the Persian edition of Citadels, is by Iranian artist Hassan Nozadian, whose Instagram feed features illustrations from the game. I appreciate the way he managed to make something both different from and very true to the original. Places and characters are not that different from the orientalist clichés I discussed on my short essay on this topic: desert landscapes with the occasional cedar or cypress, massive temples or caravanserais with wide arcades. Colors, on the other hand, are bright and fresh, quite different from the browns and beiges that western game illustrators always use when depicting the Middle East, as if forgetting that while there's indeed desert there, there's also sea.Sketches and final result for the King card
Even the crown has been redesigned, with a bulb inspired by Sasanian models.Western and Eastern crown
The card mix in Dej is the same as in the first basic edition of Citadels, which has now become the small square box. The box of the Persian edition is clearly oversized, but this will leave room for a possible future expansion with the cards added in the U.S. fourth edition should this game ever become a classic in Iran.
Citadels fans have already asked me how they can find a copy of this specific version of the game. Alireza plans to be at the 2018 SPIEL game fair in Essen — he obviously can't go to Gen Con — and will have a small booth there to sell a few games. The Irianian rial has collapsed these last months after the U.S. sanctions, so I bet even a few sales in strong currencies will help a lot. The game will also be sold online by nicegameshop, a German game shop that specializes in seriously exotic stuff. U.S. buyers, however, will probably have to ask for discreet packaging...The publisher team and the illustrator of Dej; I'd like to visit them some day,but I just got a new passport and don't want to lose my ESTA
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on my websiteon June 16, 2018 with a few more pictures and better formatting — or so I think — but it looks like I get more readers here. [Editor's note: I changed the formatting from how Bruno submitted this post, so perhaps now it passes muster. —WEM]
Players in Dragons are not impersonating common and greedy adventurers, eager for gold and dragons' heads to hang as trophies over the fireplace, but proud, noble, winged and fire-breathing dragons.
In any case, dragons might be fantastically ancient, but this doesn't make them much wiser and virtuous, and their main preoccupations are very similar to the adventurers' ones. They spend the summer flying over the countryside, attacking castles and abbeys for gold, gems and jewels. When winter comes, they fly back to their caves, high in the mountain, where they love to display the weapons and armor of knights they have defeated. They spend their time counting and recounting their treasures, and polishing it so that it shines under their fiery breath. Auri sacra fames — so much for the ancient wisdom of these creatures who like to think they are still kings in the world.
Dragons is a risk-taking card game, double or quits, in which one plays less against luck than against the other players' nerves. Each player on turn either adds one more card to a treasure pile, or yields and take one of the piles, letting other dragons keep on rampaging the kingdom. Adding cards to a pile is tempting, but risky because some other dragon can always steal it just under your big fiery nose. It is also, though to a much lesser extent, a memory game in which one tries to discreetly spot and focus on the most interesting piles. Last but not least, it's a tactical game because there's some subtleties in the scoring. Nothing revolutionary, but an easy, fun, light and tense card game.
After three or four summer and winter cycles, which amounts to a few days in dragon time, Glaurung, Fafnir, Rhaegal, Falkor, Melusine and their kind meet to check who has the biggest and shiniest hoard.
Mighty dragons, like us petty humans, are weak creatures. They can get so enthralled by wealth that they forget about the really important things in life, like food. Even dragons must eat, and they even must eat far more than we do. Dragons who didn't stock enough food are out of the game. With five or six players, one must even keep a balanced diet with cows and sheep.
Surviving dragons — that is, those who kept enough smoked meat for the coming winter — then compare their hoards. Though gold coins are the base asset, jewelery is extremely popular with dragons. The saying goes that male dragons collect royal crowns and scepters, while females prefer women pieces such as necklaces, torques and bracelets, but we're actually not even sure there are male and female dragons. No one has ever seen a dragon from near enough to ascertain it and come back to to tell the tale.
Dragons also enjoy bragging that they defeated proud and well-born knights who wanted to kill them and steal their treasure. To support the story and the dragon's reputation, one must show the knight's equipment: helmet, breastplate, shield, and sword.
The legend of the one ring is one of the oldest stories in dragons' tradition, and what is old for dragons is indeed very old. Every dragon fancies having one ring, specifically the one ring, in its treasure. Of course, two same rings cannot be unique, and there are three in the game. Last but not least, owning a treasure is not enough, one must also make it shine under its owner's flames, and that's where polish comes in handy.Playtesting Dragons
Designing a game is not always hard work. Some games spend years in development, tests, thoughts and tweakings, sometimes for no avail. Other ones play well at once, and Dragons is one of them. There were only a few days between the idea and the first playtests, a few weeks between the day I showed the game to the Matagot team in a Parisian game café, and a few months more until the game was published. I would like things to always go that smoothly.Two of David's first sketches for Dragons
Things went very fast as well with my friend David Cochard, with whom I'm working a lot in recent times. David already made the graphics for Waka Tanka and for Kamasutra, and now he is working on my "Jugglers and Minstrels" game to be published in 2019.
David had enjoyed drawing dragons, years ago, for Vlaada Chvatil's Dungeon Petz and was glad to be back at it. Plastic dragon miniatures like the one in my prototype would have made what is basically a card game far too expensive, so David had to draw six dragon cardboard stand-ups, front and back. He then decided to draw dragons on the jewels, the crowns, the weapons, and the pieces of armor. In a kingdom whose daily life is being disrupted by dragons for centuries, the image of the mighty animal ought indeed to be everywhere.
I wasn't conscious of it while working on Dragons, but the mechanisms of this game were probably inspired by an older card game I designed with Alan R. Moon, a game which hasn't been published in English, even though we had found a name for it; For a Few Orcs More. The two games feel very different, though, since For a Few Orcs More was a real time and rather chaotic game. The core idea of Dragons — cards accumulating in face-up piles placed in a circle, and players trying to remember what is where to determine the best pile and seize it first — was already there.A few dragons from older games of mine
I'm the world specialist on unicorns, not on dragons, but while my Ph.D. in history is about unicorns, my games more often involve dragons. Dragon's Gold, first published in 2001, is about adventuring parties attacking dragons to steal their treasures, which is relatively easy, then dividing up the booty, which is much more complex. This game has recently been republished by IDW and White Goblin.
In Fist of Dragonstones, adventurers are back at the local tavern, drinking beer, discussing their adventures and playing some games. A new and updated version of this game was published in 2018 by Stronghold Games. There are few and discreet dragons in Citadels, there's one in Castle, and there's one in King's Life, published in 2017 by Pandasaurus Games. There are a few more in games I'm working on at the moment. I've just checked, since I wasn't certain, but there's no dragon in For a Few Orcs More..."There has been lots of controversy between writers about winged dragons. Are there really such animals in nature,or do they appear only in fables and fairy tales? We have long been undecided on the question of the existence of dragons.After having not only read many respected authors, but also listened to first hand testimonies by trustful people, we have set aside our doubts.These monstrous animals indeed make their nests and breed their young in underground caverns, which are the topic of this book."Athanasius Kircher, Mundus Subterraneus, 1665
My interest in dragons comes from my youth, largely spent reading fantasy novels and playing RPGs, even though I soon moved into LARPS where, for obvious technical reasons, giant flying and fire-breathing reptiles are scarcer. But I also occasionally met dragons while researching unicorns, for example in the books of a very baroque character, Athanasius Kircher. This colorful polymath, if one can say this of a Jesuit priest, has an impressive bibliography.Contrary to what this engraving from China Illustrata suggests, Athanasius Kirchner is not certain that there were living dragons in China.He is far more confident about Switzerland, whose highest mountains are infested with dragons, and where the action of my game probably takes place.A Swiss dragon
In his Mundus Subterraneus, published in 1665, the Jesuit father carefully distinguishes the different species of dragons living in the high mountains, as well as in the lava rivers joining all the volcanoes in the world. That's only one side of his works. In Arca Noe, Kircher unveiled the plans of Noah's Ark, with its exact measurements, and of course a room for two unicorns — well, actually four, but that's another story. Similarly, in Turris Babel, he gave the exact measurements of the Babel Tower, as well as the materials used.
One hundred and fifty years before Champollion, Kircher published Oedipus Aegyptiaticus, three heavy tomes of hieroglyph translations. It's all wrong, but he had some clever intuitions. China Illustrata is a vast encyclopaedia of the far east, written by someone who traveled a lot between France, Italy and Germany. Last but not least, in Musurgia Universalis, the SJ father was the first to discuss a revolutionary musical instrument, the cat organ, still very rare because it requires well-tuned cats.The Ethopian crookbacked dragon, described in Ulysse Aldrovandi's Draconum et Serpentum Historia, 1588
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17 Aug 2018
Faidutti.com is not as visited as it was these last years. I have only an average of three hundred daily visitors in 2018, half of what I had three years ago. As a result, I've decided to post the English versions of my new game design diaries on BGG as well. From what I've seen with the first diary, about Greedy Kingdoms, it seems to attract more readers, or at least more comments.
This designer diary first appeared on my blog on July 24, 2018. It has a few more pictures, and it's also in French — for those who care!
There are more and more new games — and mostly good new games — published in recent times. This is why I've been a bit surprised to get, for two or three years now, several offers for republishing older games of mine, including a few whose first version I thought had been forgotten. Queen’s Necklace, Mission: Red Planet, Diamant, Dragon's Gold, Smiley Face (now King's Life) and Vabanque have all had a new version, with updated rules and art. Success has been extremely variable. Mission: Red Planet and Diamant have been great success, selling better than the original versions, while King's Life and the remake of Queen's Necklace went almost unnoticed.
Anyway, if publishers are reading this post, I have a few more which I think could deserve a new edition, such as Boomtown, Draco & Co, Castle and Ad Astra. Serge Laget and I have even already developed new and improved versions of the latter two games.
For now, though, it's Fist of Dragonstones that's come back in a re-developed and revamped edition, courtesy of Stronghold Games. Fist of Dragonstones was one of the three games that Michael Schacht and I designed together in the early 2000s, the other two being The Hollywood Card Game and the aforementioned Draco & Co.
Citadels is still by far my best-selling game. Since it was first published, almost twenty years ago, publishers have regularly asked me for a new Citadels, though I never really know what they mean by this. Not wanting to repeat myself, I've usually asked fellow game designers to help me revisit this classic.
The first way to do this has been to more or less recycle the character selection system of Citadels, adapting it to different settings and other game systems. The results have been Mission: Red Planet with Bruno Cathala, an area majority game on Mars, and then Lost Temple, a light racing game in the jungle of Indochina.
The second way has been to keep the medieval fantasy setting and to try to generate similar emotions and feelings as the ones in Citadels with different game systems. The results have been Fist of Dragonstones with Michael Schacht, and more recently a collaboration with Hayato Kisaragi to revisit one of his older games, Greedy Kingdoms.
The Lore of the Dragonstones
The setting of Fist of Dragonstones is inspired by old European legends about fairy gold, or fools gold, with this enchanted gold being paid during the day by fairies to humans for goods and services, then disappearing at night from the humans' purses and returning to the fairy land.
In the game, players are adventurers who buy the services of the various inhabitants of the magic forest: dragons, trolls, fairies and wizards of all kinds, each one of them working for the highest bidder. The goal is to find magic gems, the dragonstones, which then will be used to craft even more magical amulets, etc… Nothing new, I know. In the first versions of the game, players were collecting dragon eggs and using them to make magical omelettes, but this was not politically correct enough.
The cards in Fist of Dragonstones look a bit like those in Citadels. There's a witch, a thief, dragons of course, and a bunch of fantasy characters. These characters, however, are not drafted by the players as in Citadels, but recruited one after the other in a special kind of closed-fist auction. In their fist, players can have common gold, fairy gold, sometimes silver, and various enchanted or cursed coins. Even when it's technically an auction game, Fist of Dragonstones plays and feels more like a bluffing game. The real point is not to reckon the exact value of every card, but to outguess the other players.
The rules for this new edition — Fist of Dragonstones: The Tavern Edition — have been reworked a bit to make the game faster, to make the gameplay more dynamic, and to add variety. Fifty new characters, with very different abilities, make every game of Fist of Dragonstones a fresh experience.
In 2016, Stronghold Games published a tavern brawl game designed by the Engelstein family, The Dragon & Flagon. When developing this game, the publisher and designer obviously couldn't chose between two settings which both made sense: pirates and medieval fantasy. They finally decided to do both, and even added some oriental characters to round it out. Since I'm becoming every day more wary of authenticity, I can only rejoice in this fun and colorful mix and in this hat which looks a bit out of place in a vaguely medieval tavern.
Fist of Dragonstones is the card game that adventurers play, before or after the brawl, at The Dragon & Flagon tavern. It recalls old legends of forgotten realms, enchanted forests, elves and goblins, witches and wizards, and of course dragons. Whatever the bartender says, the gems it is played with are probably just glass beads, but one can dream they are the precious dragonstones of yore.
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Faidutti.com is not as visited as it was these last years. I have only an average of three hundred daily visitors in 2018, half of what I had three years ago. I'm not sure if it's because everything is moving on Facebook, Twitter and, when it's about board games, BGG, or just because I'm getting older and less relevant. It's probably a bit of both.
Anyway, I've decided from now on to post at least my designer diaries also on BoardGameGeek, which has always been a very friendly place for my games. I'll start in the coming days with my most recent games: Greedy Kingdoms, Fist of Dragonstones, Dragons, and the Persian language edition of Citadels. This doesn't mean I'm abandoning my blog, which will still be the place to read about my games before I post here, and the only place where I'll post reflections that are not designer diaries. I even have some hope that this will bring me some more visitors.
This designer diary first appeared on my blog on July 25, 2018.
I still consider Citadels to be at its best with four or five players, and I've never been really fond of the two-player rules. Many players like them, so they must not be really bad, but they're not for me.
In 2016, after having finished work on the new edition of Citadels, I discovered Greedy Kingdoms, a small two-player card game designed by Hayato Kisaragi and first published in 2009. I owned the game for quite a long time, but hadn't looked at it before. Mechanically, Greedy Kingdoms has little in common with Citadels, but both games are based on character cards, are about building buildings (can you say this?), and rely on the same psychological dilemmas. As a result, they feel somewhat similar.
With a Japanese friend, I played Greedy Kingdoms a lot, and in the end I took it over to make my own version. I didn't change much with the hero abilities, but I largely redesigned the other cards: buildings, citizens, and magical items. There is a specific and relatively lazy pleasure in designing, one after another, cards to fit an already existing system. I had the same fun working on Greedy Kingdoms that I had on Warehouse 51 and on revisiting older designs such as Castle or Fist of Dragonstones. This is so much easier and rewarding than creating a brand new system.Greedy Kingdoms first edition
We've never actually met, but it's not the first time I worked with Hayato Kisaragi since he designed the Japanese Mythos cards for my Battle of Gods / Mythos game that was published in a Japanese game magazine and in the French comics magazine Lanfeust. (There's no English version yet, but there has been some talk about it.) I haven't played Hayato's best know games, Grimoire and Lost Legacy, but I've read the rules. In many ways, they seem to be a bit like my best designs, with lots of bluff, fun card effects, and more tactics than strategy.Two Japanese cards from my Mythos game
At Gen Con 2017, I talked a bit here and there about Greedy Kingdoms, which I decidedly enjoyed, and I finally decided to contact the first edition's designer and publisher to see what could be made from my tweakings and ideas. They answered me that a new edition was already in the works, to be published by AEG, but that my developments were welcome. I wrote down all my ideas and sent the files to Hayato. He discussed a few things, but in the end agreed on almost all of my many minor changes. The idea was to keep the basic systems but to make the game clearer, more dynamic, and to tweak the balance to make it less unforgiving. I hope all those who enjoyed the first version of the game, of which there was only a hard-to-find bilingual Japanese/English edition, will appreciate the changes. With a big publisher and nice components, I also hope this will be an opportunity for this so-far hidden gem to find new players.
Greedy Kingdom's players are rival kings. Every round, one of them is the attacker and the other one the defender. The attacker plays face down three of their nine hero cards — King, Knight, Traveler, Painter, Baron, Cook, Witch, Bandit, Thief — sending them to battle in order to win the resources — gold, food, honor and land — required to develop the kingdom. Of course, the rival king, the defender, tries to prevent this and also plays face down cards to block and neutralize these possible attackers. Only unblocked heroes can use their abilities. Hard earned resources are used to promote heroes and give them extra abilities, to hire citizens, to build buildings (once more, this sounds strange) and even to buy useful but fragile magic items.
Greedy Kingdoms is a development, tactical and bluffing game, and in the end something relatively involved and sophisticated for a light two-player game. If you like Citadels, but like me don't really enjoy it with two players, you will like Greedy Kindoms. And if you're among the few people who like two-player Citadels, you might find it even better.
My great fear was that the U.S. publisher would want to move the game's action into their homemade pseudo-Renaissance universe, Tempest, which I find bland and unconvincing. I was ready to fight a bit on this, but luckily it wasn't necessary.
Working with AEG was fast, efficient and enjoyable, and I'm happy they decided to keep the original Japanese graphics, and to order the graphics for the new cards from the same graphic team. As a result, Greedy Kingdoms feels like an ironic mirror image of what I have described a few years ago in my essay about orientalism in boardgames. Greedy Kingdoms is indeed "occidentalist", the setting being western Middle Ages as imagined and drawn in Japan. Seen from Europe, the result is cute and fun, with a mix of buildings and costumes from very different periods (and hairstyles from none at all), and even a courtesan who looks like a cheerleader. Dangerous fantasies of authenticity are on the rise again, and that's why this kind of humorous mix is more necessary than ever. I'm all for cultural appropriation as long as it is done lightly, by everyone and in all directions, and the result is fun and colorful.
Bruno FaiduttiAt the Osaka Game Market in April 2018
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