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Friese Facilitates Fast Forward Franchise Featuring Flee, Fear & Fortress

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

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

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




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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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




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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

W. Eric Martin
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Nostalgia is a powerful force.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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Fri Jul 21, 2017 8:59 pm
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Two Robotech Board Games Prepare for Launch in 2018

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Strange Machine Games was founded in 2011 as a publisher of role-playing games and print-on-demand items, launching with the crowdfunded RPG Age Past.

Today at San Diego Comic Con, SMG announced that in partnership with Harmony Gold, it will release two Robotech board games in 2018. On the smaller side is the dice-based Robotech: Ace Pilot from SMG's Jeff Mechlinski, a 2-4 player game that bears this short description:

Quote:
The Zentraedi are attacking! Quick, grab the nearest crew member and destroy the enemy. Using luck and skill, you can become the SDF-1's ace pilot.

Robotech: Ace Pilot is a small area, fast-playing, competitive dice-based game. The game takes minutes to learn and can be played almost anywhere. Your favorite Robotech heroes help you destroy the Zentraedi Threat!




The other game is a much larger design, a cooperative game for 1-6 players that's titled Robotech: Attack on the SDF-1, with Mechlinski and SMG's Darius Hambleton handling the design, which works like this:

Quote:
In Robotech: Attack on the SDF-1, you play heroic characters of the venerable Super Dimension Fortress One, also known as the SDF-1. Players are thrown on a chaotic path as alien forces, known as the Zentraedi, attack without warning. You must defend the SDF-1 against continuous waves of Zentraedi attacks, unexpected disasters, and treachery. As a hero, you are forced to battle vicious enemies, repair damage, and manage resources. Tough decisions and sacrifices are required for you to reach home safely.

If the Heroes can keep the SDF-1 from being captured by the Zentraedi and make it to the end of the Scenario, they win. Beware as there are many ways to lose, and the Zentraedi will not give up...

SMG will be demoing both titles at Gen Con 2017 in the Indie Game Developer Network booth (#2437), so check them out during that show or watch for more details from those who have.


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Fri Jul 21, 2017 6:18 pm
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New Game Round-up: Produce Cloth in Florence, Chase Rabbits in the Field, and Roll Dice in Hexes

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• Gen Con is the next big convention in the offing, with SPIEL following two months after that, but in many ways the conventions have an increasing amount of overlap, with designers and publishers (and therefore games) showing up at both conventions. Even when games aren't publicly available at both shows, though, one convention can still feed into the next. Case in point: Developer Uli Blennemann with ADC Blackfire Entertainment GMBH will be on hand at Gen Con 2017, so he's going to present an overview of Fabio Lopiano's Calimala on camera in the BGG booth ahead of the game's debut at SPIEL 2017. (In general, we demo only released games at Gen Con, but I'm making an exception in this case.) Until then, here's a rundown of the setting and gameplay:

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The "Arte di Calimala" — the guild of cloth finishers and merchants in foreign cloth — was one of the greater guilds of Florence, who arrogated to themselves the civic power of the Republic of Florence during the Late Middle Ages. The woolen cloth trade was the engine that drove the city’s economy and the members of the Calimala were the elite of Florence.

Throughout its long history, the Arte di Calimala supervised the execution of artistic and architectural works. Most Florentine guilds performed such activities, but the Calimala distinguished itself from other guilds through the number and prestige of the projects and the sites administered, including the construction and decoration of some of the major churches of the city.

Players of Calimala are cloth merchants in medieval Florence, with a number of trusted employees that they assign to various streets within the city to carry out actions. (Each street connects two places where particular actions can be taken.) While taking these actions, players produce and deliver cloth and contribute to the construction and decoration of various buildings across the city. Employees stay on their assigned places for a while, carrying out their actions whenever the street is activated, and eventually are promoted into the city council, triggering a scoring phase.

Depending on the number of players, each player has a number of action discs. In turn order, they can put one on a space between two actions, performing both actions and activating all other discs on the same space. When the fourth disc is placed on an action space, the lowest one is promoted to the city council, which triggers a scoring. After the last action disc is placed or the last scoring phase in the council is triggered, the game ends. The positions of the action spaces and sequence of scoring phases vary from game to game, making each game very different. Secret scoring objectives and action cards add uncertainty.

Mayfair Games has announced two titles for release in September 2017, with one of them being an English-language edition of a game that first appeared in Finland in 2015. Run Bunny Run from Kees Meis and Dennis Merkx pits one rabbit against a pack of wolves, with the latter trying to catch the former, and the former trying to make it home in one piece. Gameplay is akin to Wings of War as the wolves lay down cards on their turn that show where they must play a card on the next turn, giving the bunny a chance to move in response to their intentions.

The other Mayfair title is Food Chain from Kevin G. Nunn, with each player having a set of critter cards — worms, birds, cats, dogs, and fleas — and with players laying down cards simultaneously to try to eat opponents while not being consumed themselves. Nunn dropped by the BGG booth at the 2017 Origins Game Fair to present an overview of the game:



• Belgian publisher Flatlined Games will Kickstart a new edition of Mark Gerrits' SteamRollers in late August 2017. Flatlined originally released SteamRollers in a hand-assembled edition of two hundred copies in 2015, and now this dice-based, network-building game will be available once again — sort of. In a newsletter about the state of the business and the game market at large, Flatlined's Eric Hanuise explained that he's looking for a different way to release games:

Quote:
A new business model is required for me to stay in operation in this changing market. Manufacturing games, placing them at a distributor warehouse and relying on them to do sales and solicitations requires a sizeable amount of cash on hand to start with, and is a very risky proposition. It also requires marketing and promotion efforts at a scale well beyond my reach. With the current quantity of new releases each week, no distributor can effectively promote each of my games to their retailer clients. Even them must make choices to face this flood of releases. But then what with the games that are not picked for the spotlight? Is the publisher expected to just write them off and have them destroyed? This is of course unsustainable, and more like playing the lottery than actually managing a business.

Thus, Hanuise plans to Kickstart games, selling directly to both gamers and retailers that want to carry the titles in their shops, then only if demand still warrants it, reprint the game for conventional distribution outlets. With that plan in mind, for a period of twelve months SteamRollers will be available solely via the Kickstarter campaign, from stores that back that campaign or buy directly from Flatlined, or from Flatlined itself at conventions. Writes Hanuise, "This should make SteamRollers a sought-after game, while avoiding some of the darker effects of current exclusive propositions such as overpriced resales. The one-year period should allow us to establish SteamRollers as a game worthy of a wider audience for distributors or foreign language partners."

• Oh, and here's another tease at Gen Con 2017 for a game due out at SPIEL 2017, this time from Pandasaurus Games, with this tweet actually being a tease before the announcement. This game will be available for demo at Gen Con, and I can't wait to try it out...

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Thu Jul 20, 2017 10:30 pm
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Game Preview: How Does Your Garden Grow?, or Cursing Raccoons While Praying for Carrots

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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


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Tue Jul 18, 2017 5:05 pm
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New Game Round-up: Drafting Garfield's Monsters, Reissuing Clowdus' Small Boxes, and Importing European Dojos

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• To encourage retail stores to sign up for CMON Play and hold gaming events for its titles, CMON Limited has put together two new "game night" kits that each contain exclusive material for the games featured. The Zombicide: Black Plague game night kit, which becomes available on July 28, 2017, contains a three-part mini-campaign called "Nightmares", 14 figures and ID cards of a new hero named "Bruce" (?!), and 26 custom dice. The Blood Rage game night kit, due out September 29, 2017, includes upgraded Clan, Age, and Valhalla game boards, first player horn tokens, and plastic clan tokens that replace the card tokens in the base game. Retailers are free to distribute these materials as they choose.

• In addition to these titles, CMON Limited plans to release a new edition of Roberto Pestrin's Dojo Kun, which first appeared in 2015 from Italian publisher Yemaia. In this game, due out Q3 2017, players manage a personal dojo and train their athletes to prepare for combat with those from competing dojos.

• Along the same lines and also in Q3 2017, CMON Limited will release a new edition of Max Valembois's Meeple War, which French publisher Blue Cocker Games released in 2016.



• In 2017, Spanish publisher Meridiano 6 plans to release Bedouin from Fernando Chavarria and Judit Hurtado, with the action in this game apparently taking place on some alternate Earth:

Quote:
The discovery of the Z10 gas put the planet's spotlight on all the corporations of Earth. The treasure that hides under the sand changed the peaceful lives of the bedouin tribes that inhabited the planet. Used to the hard life of the desert, these tribes soon became the most valuable allies in the gas-extraction business. You are the new leader of your tribe and must guide your people to find the gas wells and to build extraction ducts that will reshape the landscape forever. Use your people wisely to control the most strategic places on the map and keep an eye on the movements of rival tribes. Don't forget that the powerful and greedy corporations of Earth pull the strings in the shadows and are capable of helping you...or making your tribe disappear between the dunes.

Bedouin is a strategic game whose main mechanisms are area control and hand management. There is a high interaction between players as they collect the tokens of the gas fields that their tribe controls; these tokens are worth different amounts of victory points, and their value can be modified by different actions during the game. The modular construction of the desert guarantees that you will not find two games the same. Every action counts under the burning sun of the bedouin's planet!

Carnival of Monsters is a new card-drafting game from Richard Garfield and (unexpectedly) German publisher AMIGO Spiel. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:

Quote:
Carnival of Monsters is a card-drafting game in which players collect sets of land cards that allow them to capture and display strange and exotic creatures, hire talented staff to help run their enterprise, and pursue their own secret goals.

Okay, not much to go on for now, but I got a chance to play a round at the 2017 Origins Game Fair, and it was intriguing to know that this design is coming from AMIGO, which typically publishes quick-playing games with few rules. In the game, you need to manage your money in order to pay for new land cards of various types, with these land cards then supporting various creatures that give you points or powers in various ways. You see what everyone else drafts each turn (assuming that they play the card instead of holding on to it), which gives you information for future turns since you're all drafting from packs of cards that are passed among one another each turn

What's especially odd about this project is that AMIGO Spiel is taking Carnival of Monsters to Kickstarter before the end of 2017, with the goal of funding additional art for the game. The more funding the project receives, the more individual pieces of art will be used for the landscapes and creatures, with a different artist handling each environment.

Kolossal Games is a new U.S. publisher launched in 2017 with Travis R. Chance, formerly of Action Phase Games and Indie Boards & Cards, in charge of finding and developing titles. At least I think that's what Chance is doing. We spoke with him briefly about the founding of the new company at the 2017 Origins Game Fair, and I've included that video below.

What I do know about Kolossal Games is that the company has hired John Clowdus of Small Box Games to be a contract designer. To quote from Clowdus' announcement of the deal:

Quote:
Kolossal Games now owns all of Small Box Games' back catalog of games. This is amazing news for me, and for you as a Small Box Games fan. But what does all of this actually mean?

Kolossal Games will likely be releasing some of my previous designs under a broader release, with updated and upgraded components, themes, graphics, and rules. This is extremely exciting, and I can't wait to see what Kolossal does with some of my designs. Small Box Games, as a company and publisher, will continue to exist, with a focus on card-only games.

Additionally, I will be designing bigger games for possible publication through Kolossal, something I couldn't have reasonably done through SBG — but I will also continue designing card only games as well.

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Tue Jul 18, 2017 1:05 pm
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Game Preview: Vegas Dice Game, or Looking to Score at the Tables (and Shelves)

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

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

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




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

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

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




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

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Mon Jul 17, 2017 3:05 pm
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Kingdomino Wins 2017 Spiel des Jahres; EXIT: The Game Escapes With Kennerspiel

W. Eric Martin
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Nearly two months after announcing its nominees, the jury for the Spiel des Jahres — Germany's annual game of the year award, which is the game industry's largest prize as it typically leads to additional sales of hundreds of thousands of copies — has proclaimed Kingdomino from Bruno Cathala this year's winner, beating out Magic Maze and Wettlauf nach El Dorado. Kingdomino is published by Blue Orange Games, with Pegasus Spiele being the German licensee.




Minutes before announcing the Spiel des Jahres winner, the jury gave the 2017 Kennerspiel des Jahres — an award aimed at enthusiasts who already have some familiarity with modern games — to EXIT: The Game, specifically the first three titles in this series: The Abandoned Cabin, The Pharaoh's Tomb, and The Secret Lab. These titles were all designed by Inka and Markus Brand and published by KOSMOS, and three more titles in the EXIT series have already been released in Germany, with even more on the way. The other two nominees for KedJ were Raiders of the North Sea and Terraforming Mars.




The Kinderspiel des Jahres —the children's game of the year in Germany — had been awarded on June 19, with Brian Gomez' penguin-flicking game Ice Cool, published by Brain Games, taking home the prize over Captain Silver and The Mysterious Forest.


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Mon Jul 17, 2017 10:26 am
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Crowdfunding Round-up: Legendary Ascended Cats of the Serengeti Realms: Thy Will Be Done

W. Eric Martin
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White Wizard Games debuted in 2013 with Star Realms, and it's been making small, addictive, quick-playing card games ever since. Now it's launched a new standalone expansion for that game line — Star Realms: Frontiers — that allows for play with up to four players at once, along with eight expansions that can be used with this new release, the original Star Realms, or Star Realms: Colony Wars.

Six of these new expansions — The Alignment, The Alliance, The Coalition, The Pact, The Union, and The Unity — are command decks that include a custom twelve-card starting deck that uses cards from two of the four factions so that you can take on the role of a legendary commander. The final two expansions are another command deck (The Lost Fleet) and a multi-faction expansion pack (Stellar Allies), both of which are sort of Kickstarter exclusive, although excess stock will be available at conventions and they'll be reprinted later with different art. So many realms in which to star! (KS link)

• Svavar Björgvinsson's Ancient Aliens: Creators of Civilizations from Gamia Games gamifies Erich von Däniken's theories of aliens from the stars shaping the future of mankind on Earth — and now you get to be one of those alien races. Funqqqwick!, as they might say. Each player has their own power and deck of cards, and you're trying to advance humans enough that they can build monuments to your awesomeness. (KS link)

• Each round in Legendary Creatures, from Eduardo Baraf, Christopher Hamm and Pencil First Games, players draw four creatures from their individual decks, send one on an expedition, then use the other three in one of the realms on the game board to generate resources, cast spells, and more. (KS link) BGG recorded an overview of the game with Baraf when it was titled "Fantastic Creatures":




Seth Jaffee's Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done is the latest "deluxified" title from Tasty Minstrel Games, this being a Kickstarted version of a game that includes fancy metal bits and fancy wood pieces and fancy gold trim on the box and other fancy things in a fancified format. As for the game, you are not crusading in the Middle East, but rather running an order of Templar knights and trying to train troops and construct buildings to gain influence. (KS link)

Steve Jackson Games is running a short KS campaign for Munchkin Special Delivery, which might instead be called Munchkin Warehouse 23 Clearance as this mystery box contains "a core Munchkin game, a combination of expansions and/or boosters, and cool accessories and swag". (KS link)

Action News: The Game of Television News from John Teasdale and Justin Robert Young is a set-collection game in which you assemble news stories from different cards, possibly using sources on the original story in new ways to provide further commentary. (KS link)

Firelight: The Questing Card Game from HobbyHorse Games is a card-based tabletop role-playing game that allows 2-4 players to "tell complete, five-act stories with only five minutes of set-up time", according to the publisher, and its introductory nature made it seem like something appropriate for a round-up like this on BGG. (KS link)

• Nemo Rathwald's Overworld from Magic Meeple Games is self-described as "heavily inspired by the 16-bit era of role-playing and adventure video games of the 1990s". Players place double-sided tiles to create the world, with land not able to touch water except for coast spaces, and as empty spaces are create, players compete to occupy them with dungeon doors. In the end, whoever has doors that are the farthest apart wins. (KS link)

Action Cats! is a storytelling game from Keith Baker and Twogether Studios that's "made with 100% crowdsourced cats". Thankfully the game itself is not made from processed cats, but rather it contains crowdsourced images of cats, with players in the game being presented with one of these images, then challenged to create a story about it from cards in their hand, after which a judge determines which story is best. (KS link)

• Rogue Marechal's Serengeti: A Race for Life from GCT Studios is a head-to-head deck-building competition to save life in the African savannah, with players needing to manage their resources and threats to wildlife to gain majority control of the land. (KS link)

Spookre (think Euchre) from David Sheppard and Twitch Factory is a trick-taking game with players trying to grab ghosts from the graveyard, and when any played ghost has the same aura as the target ghost, then their abilities trigger. (KS link)

The Stonebound Saga, previously known as Land of Zion, has funded on its third go on Kickstarter, showing the value of persistence, branding, marketing, and who knows what else. Maybe it doesn't show the value of anything; I should let others worry about such things. In any case, this game by Eric Bittermann and Sky Kingdom Games has each player control and train three characters on their way through a valley to a final battle against an alien force. (KS link)

Ascended Kings from Jason M. Allen, Dylan Pierpont, and Incarnate Games is another KS reboot, with the 2-4 players in this game fighting one another again and again, even after death, to gain four bloodstones, then attempt to claim the Omega Stone. (KS link)

• Still another second run feature on KS is Illuminatus from Nick Crones and Dark Mushroom Games, with this title seeming like a 1980s-style game in which 2-6 players go after one another with all the conspiracies they can muster in order to complete their hidden agendas first. (KS link)

Editor's note: Please don't post links to other Kickstarter projects in the comments section. Write to me via the email address in the header, and I'll consider them for inclusion in a future crowdfunding round-up. Thanks! —WEM
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Sun Jul 16, 2017 9:56 pm
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Game Preview: Codenames Duet, or Searching for Agents in All the Right Places

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

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

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




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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

Then you flip over the word cards and try again.

•••




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

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

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

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