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A Quintet of Games from Cathala and Friends: Kyudo, 1001 Islands, Raptor, Orichalque, and MOW

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Kyudo
• French publisher Offline Editions debuted in 2020 with an edition of Magic Fold from designers Bruno Cathala and Yohan Goh, and Cathala — along with Ludovic Maublanc — is on the design team of the company's second project: Kyudo.

In this 2-4 player game, you roll dice and mark things off on a personal score sheet, but Kyudo is not a friendly roll-and-write game! No, you are trying to eliminate other players through your sharpshooting. Here's a detailed rundown of the gameplay:
Quote:
Whatever you do at today's archery contest, try to keep the spectators satisfied so that they don't wander off to watch someone else. Lose all of your spectators, and you can't win!

Each player in Kyudo takes one of the four role cards and a scoring sheet that depicts the central target, five flags (one in each of the five colors on the dice), and twenty spectators. The starting player takes the four dice, and other players mark off 1-3 spaces on flags.

On a turn, roll the four dice up to three times, re-rolling dice as you wish. The dice show five colors (that match the flags and the colored rings on the target) and an arrow. For each arrow, you can assign it to a color that you rolled, then mark off a space on the central target. With two arrows, one blue, and one red, for example, you can mark off two blue spaces, two red spaces, or one blue and one red space. Once you've marked off all the spaces in a colored ring, any additional "hits" on that color cause your opponents to lose spectators — because you're clearly far more awesome than they are!

If you roll two or more dice of the same color, you can mark off an equal number of spaces on the flag of that color; when you mark off the final space in the corner of a flag, you receive that flag's bonus, such as marking off any two spaces, or taking a token that lets you change a die to the face of your choice, or taking a different token that allows you not to lose spectators during a turn of your choice.

Board Game: Kyudo

If you roll four arrows, all opponents lose four spectators, and if you roll four different colors, you use the special power of your role, such as forcing others to use only three dice for a round or adding a green or blue circle to opponents' targets.

If you lose all of your spectators, you're out of the game. If you're the last archer in the game, you win! Alternatively, if you've marked off all the spaces on your target and you have the most spectators, you win.
Board Game: The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet
Board Game: 1001 Islands
• In other Cathala news, French publisher Ludonaute is re-releasing 2013's The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet, co-designed by Cathala and Antoine Bauza, as 1001 Islands.

Gameplay remains the same in the new design: Each round, if you're the active player, you draw as many tiles as players, draft a tile and add it to your 4x4 game board, then pass the remaining tiles to the player of your choice. Whoever is last in the round must take the tile they're given, but they start the next round. After sixteen rounds, you score points for how well the island tiles on your board match your dream tiles.

For more on the game, you can check out my video overview from 2013 or Cathala and Bauza's designer diary in which they explain that the game finally came together once they abandoned what made them create the game in the first place.

Board Game: Raptor
Raptor from Cathala and Bruno Faidutti is also getting a new edition, with publisher Matagot noting that this July 2022 release will have a fresh cover, a brighter look, and some rebalancing in the gameplay. Here's a summary of gameplay:
Quote:
Mamma Raptor has escaped from her run and laid her eggs in the park. A team of scientists must neutralize her and capture the baby raptors before they run wild into the forest.

Raptor is a card-driven board game with tactical play and some double guessing. Players use their cards to move their pawns — with the scientists on one side, Mother and baby raptors on the other — on the board. Every round, the player who played the lowest ranked card can use the corresponding action, while their opponent has movement or attack points equal to the difference between the values of the two cards. The scientists can use fire, can move by jeep on the tracks, and can even call for reinforcements, while the mamma raptor can hide in the bushes, yell to frighten the scientists, and call for her babies.
A video overview of the new edition is available in French here.

• I wrote about the Cathala/Johannes Goupy title Orichalque coming from Catch Up Games in an April 2022 post, and now the publisher has revealed the final cover for this game in which you draft action cards and land in order to build temples, fight monsters, and win favors from titans.

Board Game: Orichalque

• Finally, let's talk about an older Cathala title that is still selling: MOW, which debuted in 2008 from Swiss publisher Hurrican, and which hit 200,000 copies sold in 2021, according to this article from the designer. That averages out to more than 15,000 copies annually, and these "slow burn" titles are a huge part of the game industry, selling constantly despite no one making a fuss over them, typically because they are small, un-flashy designs.

Board Game: MOW
MOW returned to print in a somewhat updated edition from Hurrican in mid-2021, with fresh art from Cyril Bouquet, the return of a sound chip that makes the box "MOO!" when you open it, and the addition of a few variants that Cathala has developed following an estimated three thousand games played since the game's debut.

Aside from the regular edition that plays with 2-10 people, publisher Accessijeux released its own version of the game in 2021, a version for 2-5 players with features such as large numbers, high-contrast art, ergonomic form, and Braille encoding of the numbers and flies on each tile-like card. Additionally, the point tokens come in different sizes and shapes to make it easier to track your score.

In case you are not familiar with MOW, here's my somewhat edited review from November 12, 2008 from the old Boardgame News site I ran, a review that covers a similar-playing game at the same time:
Quote:
The more games you play, the more familiar new games will seem to you. You'll hear the rules for the brand new, never-before-seen Game X and immediately parse the game as 60% Claim the King's Throne, 30% Control the Galactic Empire, and 10% new stuff. Whether this development is good or bad will depend on the tastes of your game group, your desire for newness, your outlook on life, whether you were breastfed as an infant, and various other factors.

I've already seen MOW, a new card game from Bruno Cathala that was released in limited numbers at SPIEL '08 in October from Hurrican, being referred to by several people as similar to 6 Nimmt!, but Reiner Knizia's Escalation! is much closer to being MOW's cardy cousin. Here's an edited description of that earlier game from a first impression that I published in March 2007:
wrote:
Board Game: Escalation!
Escalation! includes 56 cards; most of the cards are numbered from 1-13, with a single 1 card, five 2s, a half-dozen 3s through 6s, then down to two 13s. The game also includes two neighborhood awatch cards and three wild cards, numbered 1-7 because they can represent any number in that range.

The theme of the game is suburban warfare, and the cards represent this through the artwork, such as a child with a Super Soaker, an old man in a scooter with a gun rack, and grenade launcher-wielding grandma. In gameplay terms, you want to keep ahead of the Joneses by playing more valuable cards than they do.

Players start with a hand of six cards. On a turn, a player plays one or more cards to the center of the table; if you play multiple cards, they must all be the same value. You announce the total value of the cards you play — a single 7 is only "seven" while three 2s would be "six" — and the total that you play must be higher than the previously announced total. Alternatively, you can play a neighborhood watch card and announce the total played by the previous player. After playing, you refill your hand to six cards.

When a player can't or chooses not to beat the previously announced value, they take all of the cards from the center of the table, turn them face-down in front of themselves, and start another round of play. Play continues until one player runs out of cards. The game ends immediately, and anyone with cards still in hand places them on their face-down stack. Players then count the number of cards in their stack (ignoring the values), and the player with the fewest cards wins. You can also play multiple rounds, one for each player, summing the totals as you go.
MOW plays like a two-dimensional Escalation! as instead of simply piling up numbers and trying to be king of the hill, players lay out numbered cards in a line and on each turn, you are trying to play a card that's higher or lower than the cards already in play. If you can't do so (or choose not to), you must take those cards, then start a new line. The cards in the deck range from 1 to 15 with a slight bell curve in terms of their distribution: a single 1, two 2s, three 3s, three 4s, and so on with a peak of four 7s, 8s and 9s. These cards have 0-3 flies on them, and your goal is to collect as few flies as possible. The game lasts multiple rounds, ending when one player collects 100 flies, and whoever has the fewest flies wins.

Board Game: MOW
Sample MOW card in the Accessijeux edition

As with Escalation!, MOW is an exercise in card counting, hand management, and probability: Have the highest and lowest cards been played? Am I stifling myself in future rounds by playing high/low cards now? Would it be better to eat a few flies now in order to start a new line and ditch a three-fly 9 that otherwise can't be played? Whereas in Escalation! you weigh the merits of playing, say, a 10 versus two 5s — How many of each have been played, and what are the odds of drawing a match compared to opening two spots or one in my hand? — in MOW you're deciding whether to ditch cards in the center of the number line before they become unplayable (despite giving opponents more playing potential) against playing a card near the end of the line to shut down their hand. Small decisions all, but the decisions are there.

The end of the round punishment in MOW matches that of Escalation! — add the cards in your hand to your pile of collected cards — but since those cards vary in point value, you have more to consider once the end of the round nears.

Just as Escalation! has its neighborhood watch and wild cards, MOW has a half-dozen special cards that break the basic number line of the rest of the deck. Those cards are:

—A 0 and 16, which serve as endcaps on the line.
—A 7 and 9, which can be played only on top of a 7 or 9 already in play.
—Two cards that can be played between two others in line, assuming there's a gap.

Each of these cards features five flies and allows you to reverse the turn order when you play it. This last element is a huge plus as you have more control over which players can get slammed with a pack of flies — assuming they don't have an out of their own. Being able to throw five flies on the pile at once is a huge plus, and the end of the round punishment of keeping cards you don't play creates a nice tension in terms of when to play them. Wait too long, and another player might take the line, end the round, and leave the flies in your hand.

Board Game: MOW

Wags have summarized the strategy for both games in simple terms — "draw high cards" for Escalation!, for example — but after more than forty playings of Escalation! and 20-30 rounds of MOW I can say that there's more to the game than good drawing. As mentioned earlier, memory, probability, and hand management all come into play, making it impossible to fall into default strategies of always playing particular cards in particular situations. What's been played previously, how much of the deck remains, who's taken the most points in this round and over the entire game, how much do your opponents gamble — all of these factors come into play to determine what you should play when.

One drawback of MOW is that the two-player rules graft a slot machine feel onto the game. Instead of a head-to-head duel, the two players add an imaginary third player to the game, flipping a card from the top of the deck to represent its plays — if the card fits into the line, you add it; otherwise, you pile it on the side. Whenever one player does take the line, they also take this extra pile of cards.

Board Game: MOW
Cards in an early edition of MOW

While players can make unexpected plays in MOW — jumping far down the number line, or breaking out a special card in the early part of the round — the random card play by this stand-in derails your efforts to set up future turns. The game feels more arbitrary and less strategic because it is, unlike Escalation! which sticks to the duel format that you'd expect with two players, a format that lets you count cards more effectively and anticipate moves from the other side of the table with greater accuracy. I've played two-player MOW with the imaginary player and with a strict duel format, and the latter is much preferred for all the same reasons that make 2p Escalation! enjoyable. Yes, one player might score more special cards, but those don't guarantee success, just as they don't in Knizia's game.

Both Escalation! and MOW are light and move quickly, and luck does play a factor as you'll sometimes draw (or not draw) precisely the card that you need on the next turn. Accept that as a given, as is the case in many card games, and you'll have a fun time fighting off the flies or loading up the weaponry to outshine your neighbors.
Ha, yes, I really used the word "wags" in a game review. It was all The New Yorker I was reading at the time. I still love that magazine, but our library system doesn't carry it, so now I catch its articles only occasionally online. Too many things to read, and not enough time...

Board Game: MOW
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Grow Wildly and Greenly in Evergreen, Treeblox, and Tinderblox Sunset

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I've seen plenty of "green" games announced by publishers recently, with green taking on multiple meanings even within the same game. Such is the case with Evergreen, a 1-4 player game from designer Hjalmar Hach and publisher Horrible Guild due out in Q4 2022.

Board Game: Evergreen

Evergreen seems to carry over elements from Hach's 2017 title Photosynthesis, but with each player now having their own game board to develop as they wish. Here's a short description:
Quote:
In Evergreen, your goal is to build a lush ecosystem by planting seeds, growing trees, and placing other natural elements on your planet, trying to make it the greenest and most fertile of all.

Board Game: Evergreen

You choose biome cards from a common pool to determine which area of your planet you'll develop in a round. The cards not chosen make those regions more fertile, and thus more valuable. To create a huge forest, you want to grow trees, plant bushes, and place lakes, while using the power of nature to gain extra actions. Ideally you can concentrate your trees in the most fertile areas, but without them overshadowing one another as you also want them to collect as much light as possible.
Horrible Guild's Alessandro Pra' confirmed the connection between Evergreen and Photosynthesis to me, noting that in both games the sun rotates around the board with players trying to ensure that their trees gather light, but otherwise they differ greatly: "Photosynthesis is a cutthroat game where you compete for space on a shared board, whereas Evergreen has competition for the card-selection phase, but becomes a more relaxed experience when you develop your (personal) board. In some ways it is similar to Railroad Ink in that regard."

In its promotional material, Horrible Guild notes that "all the components of the game are developed to be as sustainable as possible", and "Evergreen supports Trees for the Future, a humanitarian and nonprofit organization training communities and farming families across nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa on sustainable land use, so that they can grow vibrant economies, thriving food systems, and a healthier planet". Pra' notes that Horrible Guild made an initial donation before settling on the size of Evergreen's first printing — a donation that equals "over 4,000 trees planted" — and on top of that "we plan to periodically make further donations to support their sustainability endeavors".

Board Game Publisher: Alley Cat Games
• UK publisher Alley Cat Games has launched a "pre-order party" for two titles due out in Q4 2022: Tinderblox Sunset and Catstronauts.

The former title is a new version of Rob Sparks' 2020 fire-building and -stacking game Tinderblox that contains a marshmallow mini-expansion — roast marshmallows by stacking them on the wood without letting them touch fire! — and (more importantly for this post) is Alley Cat's first FSC-compliant release, with FSC being the Forest Stewardship Council. This release will contain wooden pieces from officially approved sources, have FSC-approved stickers on the lid of the tin case, and no single-use plastic, i.e., no shrinkwrap. (The game does include plastic tweezers that are essential for gameplay and used repeatedly.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The Tinderblox line

Board Game: Catstronauts
Catstronauts comes from designers Caezar Al-Jassar and Simon Milburn, who released the real-time, cat-stacking game Kittin in 2020, and Catstronauts features similar gameplay, with you racing to place your feline explorers on planets in the correct order.

What is a "pre-order party", you might ask? Alley Cat Games is cutting out the middleman of a crowdfunding site and instead taking orders directly, with that cut going to ecological purposes: "For every pre-order party purchase over £10 (excluding shipping), we will plant three trees, with our partners: Ecologi. Back at our highest level for this campaign and we will plant 6!" As orders are placed, a "virtual forest" will grow on ACG's Ecologi page.

• And we'll close with another game about building greenery, albeit with this one having plastic pieces: Treeblox from designer Philip Olenyk of publisher Emergent Plant Life.

Board Game: Treeblox

Here's an overview of gameplay:
Quote:
Treeblox is an abstract strategy board game in which two trees compete for sunlight in three-dimensional space.

The game starts with an empty board. Players then take turns placing cubes that represent leaves and branches. Unshaded leaves — that is, leaves that are visible when the board is viewed from above — count as active and supply their tree with energy to grow further. Your goal is to shade your opponent's leaves while keeping your own leaves open to the sun.

Each player starts with one leaf in a space on the 4x4 game board. On a turn, if you have 1-2 unshaded leaves, you place one piece on the board, whether a branch or a leaf; if you have three or more unshaded leaves, then you place up to two pieces. You can place nothing in a leaf, so a leaf serves as an endpoint for growth. If you place a branch, however, then you can add a branch or a leaf to any available side of that branch. You can have multiple branches growing on the game board, and the branches and leaves can extend outside of the 4x4 game board. If you build high enough, you can shade an opponent's leaves.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

When a player has placed their final piece, whether because they've placed everything or they have no legal placements available, the other player goes through a "final growth" phase in which they place everything they can. At that point, whoever has the most unshaded leaves wins. If you ever have zero unshaded leaves during play, you lose immediately.
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Settle the Stone Age Again in CATAN: Dawn of Humankind

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• Catan is both an island and the entirety of the universe throughout time. The latest example of this all-encompassing game design is CATAN: Dawn of Humankind, a game for 3-4 players from Klaus and Benjamin Teuber that KOSMOS and Catan Studio will release in Q3 2022 in both English and German.

Board Game: CATAN: Dawn of Humankind

Here's the pithy description from the publishers:
Quote:
Guide the first humans on their journey as they migrate throughout the world while developing their technology and culture.

CATAN: Dawn of Humankind is a reboot of The Settlers of the Stone Age, with gameplay rooted in the original CATAN, while featuring new elements, strategies, and adventures to discover.
It's not clear what has changed from The Settlers of the Stone Age to this upcoming title as the game boards for both titles seem nearly identical, but I'm sure more details will emerge in the months ahead.

Board Game: CATAN: Dawn of Humankind

• KOSMOS and Catan Studio are following the 2021 release of CATAN: 3D Edition with the expansion that you would pretty much expect them to release given the history of the CATAN franchise — CATAN: 3D Expansions – Seafarers + Cities & Knights.

Board Game: CATAN: 3D Expansions – Seafarers + Cities & Knights

This expansion is due out in Q4 2022, and now you can increase your time spent in Catan while simultaneously spreading Catan to new Catans both near and Catan.

Board Game: CATAN: 3D Expansions – Seafarers + Cities & Knights

Board Game: CATAN: 3D Expansions – Seafarers + Cities & Knights
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Tue May 24, 2022 3:00 pm
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Game Overview: First Empires, or It's Nothing Personal, But Get Out

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Board Game: First Empires
In a designer diary on BGG News about First Empires, Eric B. Vogel wrote, "I really dislike wargames that reward defensive play — 'turtling' — because aggression is what is fun in a wargame."

Having now played First Empires seven times on a review copy from Sand Castle Games, I'll say that Vogel has succeeded in creating a world conquest game that encourages you to be aggressive. Each of the 2-5 players takes charge of a civilization on an alternate Earth, and over the course of 7-8 rounds, you are rewarded for controlling regions that match the dice rolled at the start of your turn (which typically requires you to kick someone out of those regions), for meeting the requirements on achievement cards (typically by picking on others), and for conquering opposing cities or having your own cities on the board at game's end, both of which require you to move into new regions.

You are rewarded for acting selfishly and taking whatever regions suit you best. If others lose their land, well, they haven't lost any people on the board because opposing forces retreat instead of being removed from play — and sometimes you can use a retreat to your advantage since you retreat to any one region where you already have a presence. As in Beyond the Sun, a "loss" in one region allows you a free teleportation to somewhere else, which can be a great thing in a game that initially limits you to 2-3 movement points at the start of the game.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Combat in First Empires is a simple thing: If I can move more people into a region than you have there, you must leave. The dice I roll (and possibly re-roll) at the start of my turn feature five colors that match the colors of Earth's regions and a sword. Should I have one or more swords on a turn, those swords stand in for my people — one person with three swords = four people — allowing me to conquer a region by sending in fewer people (and therefore spending fewer movement points). How does one person wield three swords? Presumably by spinning them really fast like a propeller, but that is left as an exercise for your imagination.

So swords are great, right? Except they often aren't, especially in the first couple of rounds when everyone is huddled in their starting city and plenty of empty land lies available for the taking with only one person. What's more, by holding regions that match the color on rolled dice, you advance on civilization tracks, which gives you better stats and more endgame points — and swords are not a color, so they allow you to take over regions more easily at the expense of not having as many colors on hand to boost you on tracks.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
My board at the end of game #1

You can choose to discard an achievement card from your hand to change a die to a sword or a sword to a color of your choice, and the rules encourage you to do the latter in the opening turns because your civilization is initially feeble. Every advancement on a civilization track boosts your chance for future growth by giving you more dice, more re-rolls, more movement, more people, or more achievement cards. Yes, you can discard an achievement card to get an achievement card, earning points in the process, and this realization is critical for you to overcome the trap of valuing potential points in hand more than actual (but fewer) points in reality.

While combat in First Empires isn't random, other elements of the game are, with the die roll at the start of your turn being the most prominent. If you roll (or re-roll) colors that match regions in which you already have a presence or can reach or take over easily, then great, you'll advance on your civ tracks, which will boost you in future turns. If not, well, you can throw away your starting achievement card to ensure that you advance on two tracks in the first round — which means you're down a card compared to lucky opponents.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Nearly every space is occupied in this five-player game

After seven games, I'm still not sure how large a role the rolls play in someone's success as the game is relatively short, and the general feeling is one of trying to maximize the opportunities available to you rather than developing a plan and sticking to it no matter what. You might have a general plan, sure, and that will determine which dice you re-roll, but you need to focus on advancing somewhere as the game lasts only 7-8 rounds, so you don't have a lot of time in which to progress.

For details on how to play, what changes based on player count, and more thoughts on the gameplay experience, check out this overview video:

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Spiel des Jahres Nominations for 2022: Cascadia, Scout, and Top Ten

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From gallery of W Eric Martin
The nominees for the 2022 Spiel des Jahres — Germany's "game of the year" award — have been announced, along with nominees for the Kinderspiel des Jahres (KidJ) for children's game of the year and the Kennerspiel des Jahres (KedJ) for enthusiast's game of the year, that is, for those already comfortable with learning and playing new games.

Spiel des Jahres jury chairman Harald Schrapers and Kinderspiel des Jahres chairman Christoph Schlewinski announced the nominees, along with other recommended titles, during a live broadcast on YouTube, with these three titles being nominated for Spiel des Jahres 2022:

Cascadia, from Randy Flynn and Flatout Games (and in Germany from KOSMOS)
Scout, from Kei Kajino and Oink Games (and originally from One More Game!)
Top Ten, from Aurélien Picolet and Cocktail Games

Aside from these nominations, the SdJ jury recommended the following six titles: 7 Wonders: Architects, echoes: The Dancer, Magic Rabbit, My Gold Mine, So Clover!, and Trek 12: Himalaya.

Note that the Spiel des Jahres award is primarily aimed at family gamers, i.e., those who play games but aren't heavily into the gaming scene.

Board Game: Cascadia
Board Game: SCOUT
Board Game: Top Ten

Nominations for the Kennerspiel des Jahres 2022 went to:

Cryptid, from Hal Duncan, Ruth Veevers, and Osprey Games (and in Germany from Skelling Games)
Dune: Imperium, from Paul Dennen and Dire Wolf
Living Forest, from Aske Christiansen and Ludonaute (and in Germany from Pegasus Spiele)

The SdJ jury recommended three other titles at the Kennerspiel level: Ark Nova, Khôra: Rise of an Empire, and Witchstone.

The winners of the Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres will be announced in Berlin, Germany on July 16, 2022.

Board Game: Cryptid
Board Game: Dune: Imperium
Board Game: Living Forest

The titles nominated for Kinderspiel des Jahres 2022 are:

Auch schon clever, from Wolfgang Warsch and Schmidt Spiele
Mit Quacks & Co. nach Quedlinburg, from Wolfgang Warsch and Schmidt Spiele
Zauberberg, a.k.a. Magic Mountain, from Jens-Peter Schliemann, Bernhard Weber, and AMIGO

The Kinderspiel des Jahres jury, which differs from the SdJ/KedJ jury, also recommended four other titles: Fröschis, Golden Ei, Honey, and Die Villa der Vampire.

The winner will be announced on June 20, 2022, roughly one month prior to the winners of the other awards.

Board Game: Auch schon clever
Board Game: Quacks & Co.
Board Game: Magic Mountain

Congratulations to all the nominated designers and publishers!
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Mon May 23, 2022 10:25 am
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Explore Strange New Worlds in Starship Captains

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Publisher Czech Games Edition has unveiled a new title that it plans to debut at SPIEL '22: Starship Captains from first-time designer Peter B. Hoffgaard, with the game's general release in Europe and North America coming a bit later in Q4 2022.

Board Game: Starship Captains

Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game that will retail for US$60/€60:
Quote:
Welcome aboard and congrats on the promotion! Your "new" starship is ready to embark on its first big voyage. Just scrape off some of the rust, and she'll do fine. And that crew? Might look a little green around the edges, but they're your crew now. Make us proud. The stars are calling...and adventure awaits!

As newly promoted Starship Captains, players are in command of their first starship and hungry to prove themselves in a galaxy full of space pirates, grumpy old androids, ancient artifacts, and interplanetary adventures.

In this game, which mixes action selection and engine building, you'll manage a diverse crew of cadets, ensigns, androids, and officers — each with different special roles and capabilities. By earning medals, you can promote and train your crew for even greater effectiveness. Similarly, you can upgrade your ship with powerful engine building technology for maximum synergy.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

What will you do with this enhanced crew and ship? Explore an ever-shifting galaxy full of dangerous pirates and interplanetary missions in order to boost your reputation with three distinct galactic factions for bountiful rewards.

Do you have what it takes to deftly command your crew and become the best captain in the cosmos? We'll see. Now go — boldly!
Board Game Publisher: Czech Games Edition
That closing line in the publisher's description is no accident, as is clear in this excerpt from a profile of the designer by CGE:
Quote:
[J]ust in case anyone was still wondering, there's absolutely no denying where a lot of the game's thematic influences are drawn from. "I am a big Star Trek fan," says Peter. "I never wanted to make a Star Trek game, as such, but I wanted to make a Star Trek-inspired game."

Growing up a huge sci-fi fan in the 1990s, Star Trek: The Next Generation in particular is his favorite go-to TV series of the storied franchise. "The Next Generation has this very idealistic and bright view for the future of mankind in general," he adds, noting it was important to find ways to incorporate this theme and also celebrate diversity among the game's characters.

The message in Starship Captains is that it isn't all about material possessions. You won't find any monetary resources or currency in the game, which is intentional. Instead, the game's lens and mechanics revolve around the captains, their crew, and their relationships with the game's distinct intergalactic factions.

"It is a very important thing for me to have the theme and setting of the game convey that we all, as humankind, can stand together and be better than we are if we see beyond gender, religion, and economy, even," he says. "That's why I fell in love with Star Trek, and that's also what I want to try and convey in the game."
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Mon May 23, 2022 6:00 am
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Mount Damasks, Resist General Franco, and Lie to Friends about Christmas Gifts

W. Eric Martin
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After highlighting a few high-profile crowdfunding projects earlier this week, let me shine the spotlight on several projects from smaller publishers:

Resist! is a solitaire design from Trevor Benjamin, Roger Tankersley, David Thompson, and Spanish publisher Salt & Pepper Games due out before the end of 2022. (Gamefound)

Board Game: Resist!

This description covers the setting in detail while touching on the dilemmas you'll face while playing:
Quote:
Spain, 1936: General Franco and his troops advance through the territories of Spain, giving way to a long period of civil war and repression. After the Spanish Civil War, a group of loyalists to the Republic continued the armed struggle, forming resistance groups better known as "Maquis". Hidden in the mountains, these men and women risked their lives to defend the ideals of democracy and freedom.

Fighting against them were the Army of Franco, the Civil Guard, and the Armed Police, but the Maquis perfected their guerilla warfare in France during the second World War and were determined to take back their homeland. In the head of each Maquis resonated the echo of the desire of many compatriots: Resist!

Resist! is a fast-playing, card-driven solitaire game in which you take on the role of the Spanish Maquis, fighting against the Francoist regime. Over a series of rounds, you undertake increasingly difficult missions, and completing missions earns you the points needed to win. Failing to defeat missions and enemies may cause you to lose. At the end of each round, you must choose whether to end the resistance or risk it and take on another mission.

Board Game: Resist!
Image: zillablitz

At the beginning of the game, you assemble a team of twelve Maquis, which are represented by a deck of cards. At the heart of the game is the tension between keeping your Maquis concealed from Franco or revealing them to unlock their full potential. Unfortunately, revealed Maquis are removed from your deck, and you likely won't be able to use them for the rest of the game. While Resist! does have some minor deck-building elements, it is primarily a "deck-destruction" game in which you have to manage your deck, balancing the decision of defeating the immediate threat with trying to move on to the next mission.
Board Game: Bah Humbug: A Twelve Days of Christmas Bluffing Game
Bah Humbug: A Twelve Days of Christmas Bluffing Game from Emily Willix and Small Furry Games kind of lays it all out in the title. The setting is Christmas, and you're giving gifts to your true love...although possibly not what you say you're giving. (Kickstarter)

The game includes a pyramid deck (one 1, two 2s, up to twelve 12s), and in player order you take turns laying down cards from your hand next to the numbers 12-1, saying "Twelve drummers drumming", "Eleven pipers piping", and so on. If you think someone is lying, call them out, with a holly berry going to whoever is correct, then reveal all the other played cards; anyone who successfully got away with at least one "incorrect" play earns one coal. Keep playing rounds until someone has collected five coal or three holly berries to win.

Board Game: Pilgrim
Board Game: Fableland
• I covered Nick Case's Pilgrim from Spielworxx in August 2021, and now this game is being funded on Spieleschmiede ahead of a planned November 2022 release. (Spielworxx also ran a c.f. campaign on Gamefound.)

This design is a perfect information game that lasts 26 rounds, with players using a mancala-style movement mechanism to elevate serfs to acolytes, give alms to the poor, build pilgrimage routes, and more.

Another title on Spieleschmiede is Fabelland from Moritz Schuster and Mirakulus, with this being another amusement park-themed game, but with a somewhat different palette from its 2021-2022 brethren.

• Let's close with Damask, a 1-4 player game from Barbara Burfoot and Radical 8 Games with strong graphic appeal that mirrors the subject matter. (Gamefound)

Here's an overview of the setting and detailed summary of gameplay:
Quote:
From the great trading center of Damascus, via the Silk Road, ancient weaving techniques and motifs made their way to the famous textile houses of Venice. Master weavers used draw looms to create richly woven fabrics that became known as damasks. For centuries, these luxurious silks lavished the wardrobes and halls of mansions and palaces across Europe.

Board Game: Damask

In Damask, players play the roles of these master weavers, trying to make the most money, while also gaining the favor of the Weavers' Guild. In more detail, the game includes 72 damask cards, with the damasks being two of six colors and one of four patterns; place 26 cubes (which come in six colors) at random on the spinning wheel, lay out a pattern and color card at random for each "season" that the game will be played (two in a short game, three in a normal one), then lay out six damask cards at random. Each player drafts a damask card, then you refill the display.

On a turn, either you take a damask card and place it in front of you, or you draft cubes from the spinning wheel by choosing a cube, then going clockwise or counter-clockwise until you hit the second cube of any color. Collect all of those cubes, placing them on damask cards as you wish and keeping the remainder in your overstock. Each damask card requires three cubes of one color and two of another to complete. After the required action, you can take one of two optional actions: Take all cubes of one color from an opponent's overstock (with them receiving a guild favor in compensation), or mount a damask by returning the five cubes on it and standing it in your personal holder. You earn 1 coin when mounting a damask and 1 additional coin for each color or pattern it has that matches the previous damask you mounted, i.e., at most 4 coins.

Board Game: Damask

If a mounted damask also matches the season's color or pattern, you gain guild favors. Each guild favor has a color or pattern on it, and you can use them to mount damasks in place of missing cubes, replace damask cards available in the display, mount an additional damask, or avoid paying taxes for extraneous cubes left in your supply at the end of a season. Three guild favors are worth 1 coin at game's end, and in addition to coins earned during the game, you receive bonus coins at game's end for having all six colors or all four patterns among your mounted damasks. Whoever earns the most coins wins.
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Sun May 22, 2022 1:00 pm
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Tile the Amygdala, Leave the Church in the Village, and Welcome the Return of the Rats

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Amygdala
• It's often difficult to provide a hook for abstract strategy games, but designers Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer and publisher Game Brewer might have found a winner in Amygdala, which the publisher plans to demo at various conventions such as Gen Con 2022 and SPIEL '22 ahead of its release in 2023.

Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:
Quote:
Life is full of emotion, and the region of the brain primarily associated with processing these emotions is the amygdala.

In the abstract strategy game Amygdala, players vie for control of different regions, each associated with an emotion. They must collect and store emotional resources in their memory bank which they will use to unlock emotions from their mind, then place these emotion tiles on the main game board.

Board Game: Amygdala

Emotion tiles can be connected in networks of like emotions to score points. The player with the most emotions in each region can score big points at the end of the game, but only if they manage to unlock and place a claim tile belonging to the region they wish to score.
Kramer and Kiesling had two domino-laying games published in 2020 — Renature, which I found intriguing, and Jubako, which I liked but didn't play enough to cover — so I'm curious to see what this design does differently.

Board Game: Lass die Kirche im Dorf!
• For a different take on theme in an abstract strategy game, let's look at Lass die Kirche im Dorf! ("Leave the Church in the Village!") from Dieter Stein, which German publisher Clemens Gerhards released in 2021.

Well, Clemens Gerhards first released this game in 2016. Stein told me that Gerhards was asked to develop a game for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017, and Gerhards in turn invited Stein to design something. The requirements: The game should be called "Lass die Kirche im Dorf!", and it should include a priest figure. The game was originally available exclusively through the evangelical online outlet chrismonshop, but now Gerhards can sell it anywhere. As for how it plays:
Quote:
The challenge of Lass die Kirche im Dorf! is to complete your town before the other player does. Don't hesitate to call on the clergyman for help as needed!

To set up on the 7x7 game board, place the clergyman in the central space, then each player places the church steeple and nave of their color in opposite corners of the board, with the ridge of the roof pointed in the direction of their choice. Players then take turns placing their seven houses on the game board; each house must be placed in an empty space that's not orthogonally adjacent to any of your other pieces.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

On a turn, move one of your pieces in a straight line in the direction of the roof ridge as many spaces as you wish. You cannot cross over occupied spaces. To end the move, rotate the piece 90º. Alternatively, you can call on the clergyman for help. If a piece's movement is blocked on both sides, whether by the edge of the board or other pieces, you can swap the locations of this piece and the clergyman; to end your turn, rotate the piece 90º.

To win, you must have all of your pieces connected orthogonally; additionally, your steeple must be orthogonally adjacent to your nave. Finally, neither the steeple nor the nave can stand on a perimeter space on the game board. As soon as your pieces have met all of these conditions, you win.
Stein notes that aside from the literal interpretation of the name, "Lass die Kirche im Dorf!" also means "Don't get carried away." He adds, "It's an often used idiom in German".

Board Game: Rattus
Rattus, which debuted in 2010 from designers Åse and Henrik Berg and publisher White Goblin Games, was sometimes accused of being an abstract game, but very important parts of the gameplay involve hidden information, so it was not really abstract at all.

White Goblin Games is bringing the game back to market in mid-2022 in the form of Rattus: Big Box, which consists of the Rattus base game, the Pied Piper, Africanus, and Academicus expansions, promo role cards such as The Judge, The Jester, and Boccaccio, and previously unpublished materials, modules, and bonus cards, such as the new "Guilds & Inns" and "Bonus" modules.

Z-Man Games has announced an October 2022 release date for the game in English.

Board Game: Rattus: Big Box

Not familiar with Rattus? Here's an overview I wrote in January 2010 following my first game:
Quote:
In case you didn't guess from the name and the furry faces on the box cover, Rattus is themed around the Black Death, with player cubes dying off again and again as the plague travels throughout Eurasia.

One face-down rat token starts on each region of the board. On a turn, a player adds one or more cubes to one region, with the upper limit of new arrivals being the number of rats in the area; optionally takes one of the six special characters; optionally uses the powers of any characters they hold; then moves the plague figure to a new region of the board, most likely spreading more rats along the way.

If the plague figure — being the personification of death — stands on a region that contains both rat tokens and player cubes, the rat tokens are revealed one by one. Each rat token has a limit value showing the number of cubes (1-6) that trigger an outbreak and symbols that show who dies in the event of an outbreak. Those symbols are M (meaning the player who has the most cubes), A (meaning all players), and the six symbols that represent the special characters; if you hold the special character shown on the token — or have the most cubes in the event of an M, or exist at all with an A — you lose one cube for each matching symbol. If rats and cubes remain in the same area, you keep revealing rat tokens until one group or the other dies off. Whoever has the most people on board at game's end wins and gets to bury the dead.

Since the rat tokens are placed face-down, you're playing in the Dark Ages for much of the game, running the odds mentally for how many dudes you might potentially lose — but not really knowing because you didn't memorize all the rat tokens prior to the game anyway.

Board Game: Rattus: Big Box
Mock-up image of board and bits in Rattus: Big Box

Rattus presents you with the dilemma of taking characters in order to gain powers while simultaneously setting yourself up for future death. If you have no characters, after all, you die only when facing M or A on the rats. I've played only a single two-player game, and my "awesome" strategy consisted of piling three dudes a turn into a single region while holding only one character. I was gambling on not losing too many guys when that region was ratted at the end of the game, and my opponent let me do it because he had no idea whether that would work either. He beat me by one, but given the turn of the rats either of us could have won.

One game of Rattus played by stupid players doing obvious, semi-random actions means I can't say anything conclusive about the game. I've seen enough people dismiss Qwirkle as an obvious game with no room for strategy or thoughtful plays to know that I should keep my mouth shut at this point, so I will — except to say that I'm charmed by the rules referring to a player's pieces as "cubes", instead of people or tribes or any other such descriptive word. Probably best not to think of the dying oozing pus and blood. Don't think about it, I said!
I've now played Rattus a half-dozen times, with the Pied Piper expansion also hitting the table three times, and I recall it being a lot of fun, despite all the death. As you can see in the mock-up image above, the cubes have been replaced by vaguely human-shaped pieces, so...I'm not sure what to think of that.
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Sat May 21, 2022 1:00 pm
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Bid for Land on Mars, Quest More for Thunderstones, and Revisit Middle-earth Again

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Zillionaires on Mars
Board Game: Zillionaires on Mars
Let's follow up a recent post about spinoffs and sequels with another set of titles seeing new life:

• Designer Mark Corsey's auction-based The Game of 49 has been reborn as Zillionaires on Mars thanks to UK publisher Big Potato.

Here's a quick overview for those unfamiliar with this 2014 release:
Quote:
Starting with $49 apiece, players in The Game of 49 bid to buy spaces on the 49-square (7-by-7) game board. Randomly drawn number cards are auctioned one at a time, with the highest bidder placing a chip on the matching board space. Wild/Payoff cards give players a choice of where to place their chip and also award cash to all players for their chips on the board: $7 per chip, with a maximum payoff of $49.

The first player to claim four spaces in a row, in any direction, wins.

Zillionaires on Mars keeps the same gameplay as in the game's original release, but with dollar values now in the zillions as players bid for lots on Mars.
Board Game: Cleocatra
• Designer Ta-Te Wu released the tile-laying game Cleocatra through his own Sunrise Tornado Game Studio in 2020, and now U.S. publisher Chronicle Books has released the game in a new edition.

Here's an overview of how to play this 2-4 player game:
Quote:
Each player has a team of three cat rescuers. To set up, the starting player flips a pyramid tile at random, then places a rescuer on it. Each other player in turn draws and places a tile, then adds a rescuer to it.

On a turn, either take a tile action (add a tile or move a tile), then a rescuer action, or take two rescuer actions. Rescuer actions allow you to place a rescuer on the tile you just moved or placed, place a rescuer next to one of your rescuers (so long as not more than two rescuers are on a tile), or rescue cats to score, earning one point for each different colored tile in the area around your rescuer, along with a bonus point for each of your rescuers in the area; you then remove your rescuers from the board and add an inspector to the central tile you scored, marking that tile as off limits until the inspector is pulled elsewhere.

Board Game: Cleocatra

Once a player hits 23 points, you complete the round, then see who has the most points. The tiles also contain bonus powers, and you can choose to use those to add more challenges to gameplay.
• I've seen mentions of War of the Ring: The Card Game for many months, with this 2-4 player game being the work of designer Ian Brody and publisher Ares Games and carrying this brief description:
Quote:
War of the Ring: The Card Game is team-based and asymmetric. Each player controls one or more of the factions in War of the Ring, either on the side of the Free Peoples or of the Shadow Armies, using a unique deck, reproducing the strengths and weaknesses of their specific factions.
Board Game: War of the Ring: The Card Game

Ares Games has announced that it will demo this design at UK Games Expo 2022 on Saturday, June 4 at 14:30, with the game due out in late 2022. For more details, check out this preview article on Dicebreaker from December 2021.

Board Game: Thunderstone Quest
• U.S. publisher Alderac Entertainment Group re-launched the Mike Elliott deck-building game Thunderstone as Thunderstone Quest in 2018, and the line is being re-worked again in 2022.

On May 17, 2022, AEG launched a Kickstarter campaign for what it's calling "Deepwood Defenders", with this offering fans of the game two new quests: Nature's Wrath as quest #12 and Rotten Roots as quest #13. Additionally, AEG is repackaging the base game as Thunderstone Quest: Starter Set, with quest #1 being included in this box and with quests #2-11 being re-packaged into their own individual boxes.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

In a comment on BGG, AEG's Ryan Dancey notes that "we are not going to be continuing retail sales of any Thunderstone product after this year's Kickstarter (although stores who buy directly from us via our Alpha Store program will have access to these products for their stores)", which is an interesting approach to take, similar to what Plaid Hat Games is doing with Ashes Reborn as described in this August 2020 post.

In a separate comment, Dancey added, "[W]e will keep doing an annual Kickstarter as long as there's customer support..."
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Thu May 19, 2022 1:00 pm
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Bring Sweets to the Table with Azul: Master Chocolatier and The Great British Baking Show Game

W. Eric Martin
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• Publishers unveiled two sweet-looking games on May 17, with Next Move Games announcing Azul: Master Chocolatier for release in late 2022, with a debut at SPIEL '22.

Board Game: Azul: Master Chocolatier

What's new in this release? Azul: Master Chocolatier includes double-sided factory boards. One side of the factories is blank, and when using this side the game plays exactly like Michael Kiesling's classic Azul. The other side of each factory tile has a special effect on it that modifies play in one way or another, putting a twist on the normal game.

Additionally, the tiles are modeled to look like chocolates and other treats, despite remaining as inedible as the tiles in the original game.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

It's not clear from this brief explanation how much these factory tile effects will change gameplay, but I posted about this title on Twitter, and tons of folks seem excited for the new look, if nothing else. Perhaps Azul: Starburst will follow in a few years, with Azul: Ritter Sport coming after that.

• Continuing its trend of releasing licensed games, Ravensburger has announced an August 2022 release date for The Great British Baking Show Game from designer Frederica Scott Vollrath.

Board Game: The Great British Baking Show Game

The game description is somewhat minimal, but this appears to be a real-time design that would nicely mimic the frantic nature of The Great British Bake Off, a.k.a., The Great British Baking Show. Ideally you have to carry your card creations from one table to another to introduce the possibility that the whole thing will tip over, but we'll have to wait to know for sure. Here's a short take on the game:
Quote:
In The Great British Baking Show Game, players take the role of bakers on the show and race each other to recreate the configuration of baking cards shown on the recipe cards. Players need to choose whether to move quickly at all costs, or whether to take more time to select the best flavors for their bake and avoid the dreaded "soggy" cards.

Board Game: The Great British Baking Show Game

To capture the sportsmanship demonstrated when bakers step in to assist others, players can use "Help!" cards to select wild cards from the center of the table. A "Bin" token allows players to throw out elements of their bake once per round.
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Wed May 18, 2022 4:00 pm
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