Archive for W. Eric Martin
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W. Eric Martin
Game designer, escape room expert, and director of the Brantford Games Network Scott Nicholson recently tweeted the following:
How true! Rare is the game that includes rules like "The player who just opened the box has won." or "Whoever has the largest hands wins." (Exception: Start Player) After all, a game that doesn't push you around is hardly a game at all. The rules of the game constitute an artificial environment, and when you undertake the playing of a game, you submit yourself to those arbitrary, yet ideally internally consistent rules that comprise that world. You lay down cards that punish you, move into spaces that deny you, and contemplate choices that discomfort you — all in the service of trying to come out ahead of your fellow travelers.
Almost every game presents you with choices, and your willingness to engage those choices is what it means to play a game. Even the simplest games — in this case Bandido, by Martin Nedergaard Andersen and Swiss publisher Helvetiq — are driven by a designer's choice to make your life more difficult. An (apparently invisible) bandit is attempting to tunnel out of jail, and you and your fellow players need to stop him.
Why would you do this? This bandit doesn't even exist, and even if he did, you're probably not employed by a law enforcement agency and have no responsibility for maintaining this person's incarceration. On the off-chance that you do belong to a fictitious police agency, you'd probably gas the tunnels with a sleeping agent or tear gas to render the bandit unable to attempt any further tunneling.
But no, that's not your way. Instead you will each take three cards in hand — cards that represent both the tunnels being created and the dead ends that prevent further movement — and you'll take turns laying down a card to extend (or stymie) this tunnel network. You might not want to play one of the cards, but you must. You have engaged this game, perhaps even on your own since solitaire play is possible, and now you must follow through.
Naturally as you take turns, the tunnels must observe some minimal level of verisimilitude. You can't abut a tunnel with a wall of dirt. If you could do that, you could negate play by stacking the deck of cards on top of the bandit and asphyxiating him. Follow the paths, narrow the routes to freedom, and hope to plug the holes.
Don't do this
As the game progresses, you realize that in some ways you're simply counting holes. How many ways can this guy reach freedom? Five? Can I make a play to cut that number down to four? Can I keep the holes close to one another so that someone else can bring that number down to three?
Bandido is a simple game, marketed for players aged six and up, and I've now played the game on a purchased copy a half-dozen times, with players counts from 1-4 and with players as young as five. You might think about figuring out the odds of making this play or that, but I've hardly memorized the deck after six plays, and you're just playing the odds over and over again anyway. Maybe the next player has a card perfect for the situation and maybe they don't.
"What now, brown cow?"
The rules are silent on whether you should talk about what's in your hand or indicate where someone might want to play, and while that absence will surely annoy some, I figure that each group will do whatever it prefers, which might be what they would have done anyway. I've played with adults in silence and with kids in total cooperation with face-up hands. It doesn't matter. You do what you want to do, and as long as all the players agree, then you're taking on the burden of those difficult lives together, each suffering the same burdens and part of the same world.
The number of tunnels shrinks and grows. You might see the net closing, then someone shrugs — perhaps you — and says, "Oh, well" as they triple the number of tunnels in play. Sometimes you benefit by narrowing the bandit's options. If everything becomes gnarled underground, you might be unable to play at all, in which case you can place your hand of cards on the bottom of the deck and draw three anew. Will you find better choices or a tunnel you'd never want to play, but must?
If your life wasn't difficult enough previously, you can give the bandit six starting tunnels instead of five. Why didn't he dig six starting tunnels in the first place? I don't know; why'd you lock him in a jail surrounded by loose dirt? I suppose you just wanted to make things difficult for yourself...
W. Eric Martin
When we think about minimalist game design, we often point to Seiji Kanai's Love Letter as the source from which a thousand envelope-sized games were delivered. While to some degree that's true, if we want to honor the grandfather of game design minimalism, we need to look to the works of Alex Randolph.
I've played only two handfuls of Randolph's games, but each of those games can be described by at most four words:
• Big Shot — use ties to attack
• Mahé, a.k.a. Die heisse Schlacht am kalten Buffet — hop on opponents
• Die Osterinsel — count the rocks
• Raj — bid without tieing
• Ricochet Robots — move efficiently
• Schachjagd — race with chess moves
• Square Off — build a path
• Twixt — build paths with horses
• Worm Up! — block other worms
• Xe Queo!, a.k.a. Museum Heist — dupe or be duped
The secret to Randolph's design principles is no secret at all, as he explained to Bruce Whitehill in a 1999 interview:
I asked him what a game needs to have in order to be good. "It must be easy to enter into the game immediately…(it must) offer surprises…(it must have) a clear objective, (clear enough so there is) no arguing or questioning…(it must be) endlessly repeatable, always different."
For some of the games above, the action described is both how to play and what will win you the game: If you move robots most efficiently, you will win. If you hop on opponents, you will win. If you build a path first, you will win. Whereas some designers take the skeleton of an idea, then dress it up before presenting it to players, Randolph offers the skeleton directly.
My latest experience with one of these atomic Randolph designs — Venice Connection — mimicked my earlier experiences with his games. Venice Connection was released in an earlier edition in 1996 by Drei Magier Spiele, winning a special Spiel des Jahres award for being a beautiful game, and now new Korean publisher OPEN'N PLAY has brought this two-player game back to market while keeping the graphic design of that Drei Magier edition.
As with the other titles mentioned above, Venice Connection has a short description: Make a loop. The first player to do this wins. If you make a move such that a loop is impossible, you lose.
Venice Connection consists of only 16 tiles, each of which features a straight canal on one side and a canal with a 90º turn on the other. On a turn, a player takes 1-3 tiles, places them in a straight line with canals not intersecting buildings, then places this line of tiles adjacent to at least one tile already in play (again, with the canals not intersecting buildings). On the first turn, you simply place the tiles on the table since you have nothing else to place next to. Possible starting positions include the following:
Some of these positions are better than others. The position second from the left is terrible since the opposing player can win instantly by mirroring these tiles and completing a canal loop:
So let's not start with a C-shape; start with something else:
If your opponent were to make the following move, you could then respond in a way that would guarantee your victory. Can you see it?
Your opponent is no fool, however, so they have actually made this move:
So what do you do now?
In case you haven't recognized it, Venice Connection uses the same style of play as Nim: You want to make moves that force the opponent to respond in a particular way. You want your hand up their back so that you control what they do and force them to make moves that are advantageous to you. Nim is an interesting game to learn because it presents this system in so skeletal a style: Have three or more heaps of objects, and take turns removing any number of objects from one heap; whoever removes the last object wins.
Unfortunately, once you learn more about Nim, the game becomes less interesting. Based on the number of heaps and objects in those heaps, a winning strategy exists for one of the two players, and it's (relatively) easy to see how if you start from the winning condition and work backwards. If only one heap exists, the active player wins, so don't make a move that leads to only one heap. If two heaps exist, the second player can mirror my moves to force me to remove one heap before they have to, which means that I want to be the second player when the third heap is removed. And so on. All the moves in Nim lead to an empty table, so the goal is fixed, and everything else is working backwards from that goal to see whether you have a winning strategy or not.
Venice Connection lacks this fixed endpoint because any closed loop wins the game for the player who made it, whether it's made from four tiles, six tiles, eight, etc. on up to sixteen tiles. If an opponent makes a move that would require more than sixteen tiles to close that loop, then you say "Impossible!" and wait for them to fail to make the loop to claim your victory.
I've played Venice Connection seven times so far on a review copy from OPEN'N PLAY, and that probably constitutes no more than twenty minutes of playing time. The game isn't something you'll do for an evening, but it does fit on an airplane tray or fill time while waiting at a restaurant. Even with its more flexible endzone, I would imagine that if you apply yourself, you can work out all the possible tile configurations and find Venice Connection as dead as Nim. Randolph did aspire for designs to be "endlessly repeatable", but with only sixteen tiles, clearly you have limits in what you can place where.
I have no idea where I might be on the scale of full knowledge of Venice Connection, but if I ever get there, I can just ship the game to someone else....
W. Eric Martin
I haven't posted a crowdfunding round-up in weeks, perhaps even months although I'm not going to check.
Let's press forward! Time to dump the inbox filled with hopeful messages from designers and publishers who wanted to tell me about something that might or might not have succeeded — messages that I shooed aside in the run-up to Gen Con 50 and the subsequent frantic buzzing of SPIEL '17 that's been expanding to fill every centimeter between my ears. Sorry, folks! You missed out on hearing about the "Lycans vs Vampires" fantasy backgammon collection, but perhaps you'll have another chance to back this game of the future in the future.
At least you can still back Fog Monster, a miniature fog machine that makes "continuous real fog that creeps and crawls across your game terrain". Every playing of Kingdomino can benefit from that!
• In any case, let's kick this off with Tim Fowers' Now Boarding, which features the damn coolest logo I've seen in recent days. Beyond that, the graphic design of the box itself is a winner, copping a movie poster look that's selling an aesthetic and not merely a game. I've seen more than my share of game covers over the years, and at this point I'm most excited by game covers that don't look like game covers. Graphic designers should take a wider variety of approaches to their work. After all, we know that something is a book because it has pages that you can flip through; you don't need every book to adopt the same style of graphic design so that you know at a glance that it's a book. Game publishers should take a similar approach. (KS link)
As for the game itself, here's an overview:
Now Boarding is a real-time cooperative game in which you work together to fly a fleet of airplanes. You must to deliver all the passengers to their destinations before they get too angry — and new passengers are constantly arriving! Upgrade your plane to fly faster and carry more passengers to handle the load. The twist: All players take all their turns at the same time! This allows for clever hand-offs of passengers. It's a whole new level of pick-up-and-deliver game.
• And even should you not care about Now Boarding, you might want to check out that project since Fowers is also funding a third edition of Wok Star, another real-time cooperative game that he first released on his own in 2010 and is now bringing back to print through his Fowers Games brand.
• Chuck Stover's Vasty Wilds from his own Made by Wombat has one of the gentler post-apocalyptic settings out there. Humans have faded away from Earth, and now tiny woodland creatures compete for space with their neighbors, apparently having learned nothing from the misfortune of man. So it goes. (KS link)
• And why might humanity disappear? You might find that subject discussed in Steve Jackson's Conspiracy Theory from his own Steve Jackson Games. This game mimics the black card/white card format of Cards Against Humanity and its endless sludgepump of copycats, but with a PG-friendly approach so that kids can also suggest reasons that Bigfoot has never been captured. (Answer: Ninja training.) (KS link)
• Our obligatory miniatures game in this round-up is Champions of Hara from Walter Barber, Ian VanNest, Andrew Zimmermann, and Greenbrier Games, with this game having both competitive (arena-style combat) and cooperative modes of play, with the latter challenging you to defeat monsters to contain destructive energy so that the world doesn't die. (KS link)
• Another competitive/cooperative creation on Kickstarter is Ragnar Brothers' Darien Apocalypse, with this being the second "Quantum" game from Dicken, Kendall, and Kendall, a Quantum game being one in which you're meant to relive multiple versions of actual history events, affecting them along the way with your actions. The history in this case is the Kingdom of Scotland's ill-conceived efforts to found a colony on the Isthmus of Panama. (KS link)
• I wrote about Flatlined Games' new edition of Mark Gerrits' SteamRollers in July 2017, noting that Flatlined is adopting a unique approach to its crowdfunding efforts. If a project succeeds, that game will not be available to retail outlets — other than those that back the KS campaign — for at least one year after the end of the campaign. Flatlined's Eric Hanuise is essentially saying that you can get it now or you can lament your reluctance to do so, although the game will be available from Flatlined directly or at conventions. Will this matter to backers? Is this a negative approach meant to spur a supporter's FOMO? A positive approach to reward those who do support the game's existence with something unavailable on the general market?
As for the game, SteamRollers is a dice-based, network-building, pick-up-and-deliver game that originated from Gerritts' attempt to make something that would resemble a dice version of Age of Steam. (KS link)
• Babis Giannios' Alexandria from LudiCreations has a great premise: The Great Library in Alexandria has been set ablaze, and you must try to save as many works as possible. (KS link) BGG shot an overview video of the game at SPIEL '16, at which time it looked far different than it does today:
• Gil Hova of Formal Ferret Games is funding The Networks: Executives, an expansion for his well-received game The Networks in which you attempt to land new programming for your television network. Now, in addition to two other modules, you'll get to have a unique executive on your team with advantages and disadvantages specific to this individual. (KS link)
• Grail Games has released several titles new and old from Reiner Knizia, most notably a fabulous looking version of Medici, and currently the publisher is funding a new version of Knizia's excellent rail-and-stock game Stephenson's Rocket, a game that will likely be new to 95% of the people reading this post. It's amazing sometimes to think of how many people have entered the hobby since this game first debuted in 1999. Heck, I didn't enter it with gusto until 2003! What's old is new again... (KS link)
• I've written to designer Naomi Clark several times to ask whether Consentacle, a two-player game "that represents consensual sexual encounter between a curious human and a tentacled alien", will ever be available again and have yet to receive a response. Imagine my surprise when I discover that Consentacle is on Kickstarter now, and if you pledge high enough, you can receive two tentacles from the game's debut exhibition in 2014. Few games offer such treats. (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
W. Eric Martin
In a post earlier today, I mentioned the second edition of Kingsburg coming from Z-Man Games before the end of 2017. Turns out that's only one of many new releases on their schedule for the next three months.
• The highlight of the Z-Man Games release calendar might be Pandemic: Rising Tide, a new standalone Pandemic game from original designer Matt Leacock and Splotter Spellen's Jeroen Doumen. Let's learn something about the setting and gameplay:
It is the dawn of the Industrial Age in the Netherlands. For centuries, the country has relied upon a series of dikes and wind-powered pumps to keep it safe from the constant threat of flooding from the North Sea, but this system is no longer enough.
In Pandemic: Rising Tide, it is your goal to avert tragedy by constructing four modern hydraulic structures in strategic locations that will help you defend the country from being reclaimed by the ocean. Storms are brewing and the seas are restless. It will take all your guile to control the flow of water long enough to usher in the future of the Netherlands. It's time to get to work.
Containing the water that threatens to consume the countryside is your greatest challenge. Water levels in a region are represented by cubes, and as the water containment systems currently in place begin to fail, more water cubes are added to the board. With water levels constantly on the rise, failure to maintain the containment system could quickly lead to water spilling across the board.
To successfully build the four hydraulic structures needed to win a game of Pandemic: Rising Tide, you must first learn to predict and manipulate the flow of water. Failing to maintain safe water levels throughout the country can bring you perilously close to failing your mission. Fortunately, water can be corralled by a strategically placed dike or slowed by pumping water out of a region. Correctly identifying and intervening in at-risk areas can get you one step closer to victory.
Why this game and this co-designer in this country? In 2016, Leacock partnered with Spanish designer Jesús Torres Castro for Pandemic: Iberia, a limited edition release set on the Iberian peninsula to coincide with the location and timing of the Pandemic Survival: World Championship in Barcelona. For 2017, the tournament has moved to the Netherlands, so Leacock and Doumen have created a "pandemic" that's more thematically appropriate for that country.
• The other big news from Z-Man HQ is the impending release of a new edition of History of the World from designers Gary Dicken, Steve Kendall, and Phil Kendall. These designers first published History of the World under their own Ragnar Brothers brand in 1991, with Avalon Hill subsequently picking up the game for editions in 1993 and 2001. Here's the summarized description of this new edition from Z-Man Games:
Take a ride through humankind's history with History of the World, a game of conquest and cunning for three to six players. Expand your empire as you command mighty empires at the height of their power from the dawn of civilization to the twentieth century. Each game offers an epic experience as great minds work toward technological advances, ambitious leaders inspire their citizens, and unpredictable calamities occur while empires rise and fall.
This remastered edition of History of the World contains a beautifully illustrated board, revised rules to streamline the experience, and everything you need to etch your name in the annals of history.
Given the mention of "revised rules" in this "remastered edition", I've created a separate listing for this new release, figuring that we can merge them later should history turn out to be 98.3% the same no matter you look at it.
This cover art is glorious:
• Z-Man Games also announced a late 2017 release for Marco Teubner's My First Stone Age: The Card Game, an English language version of what originating publisher Hans im Glück will release at SPIEL '17 in October as Stone Age Junior: Das Kartenspiel. This is a standalone expansion for the 2016 Kinderspiel des Jahres winner My First Stone Age — standalone expansions being the rage these days — and here's a barebones description of how it works:
My First Stone Age: The Card Game is a card game version of My First Stone Age. The players try to fix their houses with three different resources. These resources are hidden in grass, and the players try to find them with Martin the mammoth. The first player who builds three houses wins.
Fri Sep 15, 2017 11:00 pm
W. Eric Martin
Now that SPIEL '17 info is
mostly somewhat vaguely under control, let's run through another batch of game announcements that might be new to you and might be something I've overlooked in the past few weeks.
• At Gen Con 50, Edge Entertainment — which is part of Asmodee — had a space cordoned off for Breaking Bad: The Board Game, a space barely occupied during the show. We didn't film an overview of the game as part of our coverage, so I can offer only this overview now of the Antoine Morfan and Thomas Rofidal design due out in December 2017:
Based on the critically-acclaimed TV series, Breaking Bad: The Board Game propels you into the treacherous underbelly of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Will you play as a member of one of the criminal factions (Heisenberg, Los Pollos Hermanos, or the Juarez Cartel), trying to amass a fortune by manufacturing the biggest stash of Blue Sky while eliminating your rivals? Or will you join the ranks of the Drug Enforcement Administration, ready to slap the cuffs on the lawbreakers who would dare peddle their poison in your city?
In more detail, when playing a criminal faction, your goal is to produce Blue Sky, then sell the quantity needed to win before your opponents can. You can also win the game by taking out all of your opponents by using cards to bomb, shoot, or otherwise eliminate them. As the DEA agent, your goal is to seize the criminal factions' labs (by playing DEA Raid cards). You can also win the game by taking out all of your opponents, either by killing them or putting them in jail.
• Fantasy Flight Games plans to make good use of its purchase of Legend of the Five Rings, announcing in late August 2017 a standalone game by Tom Jolly and Molly Glover called Battle for Rokugan, the short take of which is this:
Conquer the realm and bring honor to your clan in Battle for Rokugan! This turn-based strategy game of conquest and mayhem puts players in the role of Rokugan daimyō struggling for control over the rich land of the Emerald Empire. Leaders must balance their resources, plan their attacks, and outwit their enemies to ensure their clan's victory. The land is there for the taking. The most honorable daimyō will win the day!
For the long take, click on that FFG announcement linked to above.
• Z-Man Games will release the second edition of Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco's Kingsburg in the U.S. in late 2017. This game was first released in 2007, and the new edition includes all the modules previously released as expansions as well as a new sixth expansion module. BGG recorded an overview of this new edition with originating publisher Giochi Uniti:
• Also due out in late 2017 is Specter Ops: Broken Covenant, a standalone game by Emerson Matsuuchi and Plaid Hat Games that's set in the same universe as the original Specter Ops, but it's not clear from the publisher's offered description how this differs from the original game:
Specter Ops: Broken Covenant puts two to five players in the middle of a war that's fought in the shadows.
Corporate secrets linger within the corridors of Raxxon's abandoned headquarters and, even though the base is empty, it is not forgotten. In this tense cat-and-mouse showdown, a lone A.R.K. agent stalks the shadows of the facility, attempting to complete secret objectives while hunters from Raxxon's Experimental Security Division try to pinpoint their location and destroy them. On one side, the agent must use all their skills and equipment to succeed. On the other, the hunters rely on teamwork and superhuman skills to locate their prey. No matter who you play, you must use strategy, deduction, and stealth to win.
W. Eric Martin
If you bother to take a look around, you can usually find new places you've never been, even in familiar lands. Designer Philippe Keyaerts, in combination with co-designer T. Alex Davis, has done this once again with Small World: Sky Islands, which publisher Days of Wonder will debut at SPIEL '17 in late October, ahead of a likely November 2017 release in Europe and a December 2017 release in North America.
Here's an overview of this expansion for 3-6 players, which carries a MSRP of $30/€28:
Small World: Sky Islands
introduces seven new races and powers to the Small World
base game, but it also gives those races — and all the previously released races — new territory in which to fight for control.
At the start of play, place the Sky Islands game board so that it shows either two or three islands in the sky (your choice), then use the Small World
game board as if you were playing with one fewer player, i.e., use the four-player board when playing with five players. Next, place access points to the Sky Islands — the beanstalk and the stairway — on different regions on the game board. Whenever a race stands on one of these access points, they can try to conquer the space on the sky islands that shows the matching symbol.
Races can't start their conquests in the Sky Islands unless their power specifically allows them to do so. At the end of a turn, if you control all of the regions on a Sky Island, you gain one additional coin.
W. Eric Martin
I started playing modern strategy games in the early 2000s, and one saying that sticks with me from that era is that every game is an auction game. At first glance that saying seems ridiculous, but with a little translation of game terms, you realize that tons of games meet this definition:
• In Carcassonne, you use small wooden figures to bid on landscape features. In most cases, the winning bid is 1, but sometimes you outbid another player or rejoice in your shared auction victory, with the value of the lot being determined as the game progresses. Repeat this argument for every area control game, making modifications where needed.
• In Formula D, you compete against others to be first to reach a predetermined bidding amount, but the amount you bid each turn is decided somewhat randomly — and if you bid carelessly, you can damage your credit rating, which limits your bidding ability on future turns. Repeat the argument for all racing games.
• In Wizard, you each bid one card each turn, with the player who makes the highest bid winning the pot. Repeat for all trick-taking games.
• In Modern Art, you use money to bid on works of art. (Okay, this one doesn't need much translation.)
The idea of translating all games this way is somewhat silly, but if you're a fan of topology, such transformations can prove entertaining. You're peeling away the layers of the game to reveal its core, to recognize similarities and differences with other games, to see how a designer twists a familiar formula or discovers a new approach to what seems like old news.
At heart, Emanuele Ornella's Okanagan: Valley of the Lakes is an auction game, but most people won't see it that way. They'll see the tile-laying and put it in the Carcassonne box, yet the laying of tiles during play is merely a way for you to place bids on various reward tokens — and the collection of these tokens is what the game is really about. Well, that and the desire not to waste your bids by placing them on lots that never close.
Let's look at turn six of a game in progress to see how this shakes out:
You're playing white, and you plan to place the tile shown in the lower-left so that you close out the mountain area. When you do this, everyone who has bid on this area will be looking to grab a share of the reward tokens; these tokens match the images in the mountain area, and you can see that two forests and a field have already been closed.
Each time you place a tile — matching the landscape on adjacent tiles, natch — you then place one of your wooden bidding markers on that tile. The silo grants you a bid of 1 in all territories showing on that tile, the long warehouse places a bid of 2 on two such territories, and the farmhouse places a bid of 3 on a single territory. Thus, in the mountain purple currently has a bid of 3, red a bid of 2, and yellow a bid of 1. Which piece do you want to place on this tile? That is, how much do you want to bid?
Before you answer that, let's consider why you might have placed that tile in the first place. You hold in hand — secretly, mind you — these three objective cards:
Everyone received five goal cards at the start of the game, then discarded to three. These three overlapped nicely, so no fool you, you kept them. For each set of those three round tokens you collect, you score 7 points at the end of the game. For each round fish token, you score 3 points.
The game includes one public goal card as well, with you netting 4 points for each set of four differently colored reward tokens, whatever their shape.
If you place your farm in this mountain, you'll tie purple for high bid. What's more, since you placed the tile, you can break ties however you want, so you can win the auction with a bid of 3. As the top bidder with a bid of 3, you can take any three of these reward tiles. (You always take tiles equal to your bid — except if no tiles remain, which would the case here since purple would take the remaining three tiles and red and yellow would get nothing.)
If you place your silo, you'll tie yellow for low bid of 1 while claiming a stake on the two other territories on that tile. If you choose to beat yellow, then you'll get the lone tile that remains after purple and red grab stuff. If you choose to make yourself last in the bidding, well, there's a special prize for going last:
The last-placed bidder takes the bonus action of their choice from those shown at the top of the tile stacks, with the choices here being to take a nugget card, have each other player give you one token of their choice, or take two round fish. You want fish, so that might be good. Whoever collects the most nuggets gets a 10-point bonus at game's end, so that's good. Depending on which tokens opponents have already collected, that action might be best of all! (If you're the lone bidder on a lot, you can either claim tokens or take a bonus action. No doubling up!)
Finally, if you place your warehouse, you'll be second or third in the bidding since red also bid 2 and you probably won't have the best choice of tiles, so that's probably a stupid choice. Don't do that.
After the low bidder takes the special action (then moves that tile to the bottom of the stack to bury it), and players take tokens from high bid to low, you must take a tile to place on the next turn. That one on the left looks nice since you can almost complete the lake at right, but if you don't want that one or either of the other two, you can take one from the top of a stack to surprise everyone — including yourself — with an unknown arrangement of landscape and tokens next turn.
And that was turn #2. You take 10-12 turns total in a game depending on the number of players, and at the halfway point you draw two new goal cards, then again discard down to three. If those fish haven't been flopping your way, maybe it's time to gather peaches instead. At game's end, you reveal your cards, tally points for nuggets and goals, then see who's the Okanaganest.
I've played Okanagan four times on a preproduction copy from Matagot, thrice with three and once with four, and as you might expect in an auction game like this, the randomness of the cards and the tiles can drive you bonkers. In my most recent game, I had three goal cards that overlapped perfectly — then I saw my neighbor collect eight of the tokens that I wanted before I had collected anything! Ugh, time to change courses. I took a bonus action that allowed me to draw two goal cards, then discard two. Good! A new direction!
And yet the pain continued. I was last to choose on a lot or I received less than what a bid "should" bring or the lots I had bid on never closed. I managed to place tiles around a huge field in such a way that it was impossible to close, thereby costing everyone else bids on that lot, and somehow it didn't matter as I was losing more than they were. Everything went south, and I ended the game with one-third of what the winner had — the winner being the neighbor who had been snatching my tokens and lining them up for perfectly overlapping goal cards.
My lakes ran dry
Other playings have gone my way, and I'm not sure yet whether I'm playing more smartly in one game compared with another or my opponents are playing more dumbly or the bonus actions have broken my way or I've read the minute differences in the reward token/landscape layout better — or whether it's somewhat random and that's that.
The bonus actions give you lots of avenues for advancement, so you're happy to let a silo net you something from those stacks, whether a hexagonal (round, square) tile of your choice, or the ability to swap two tiles for tiles of the same shape but different color (or same color and different shape), or a token swap with an opponent for tokens of your choice. The ability to flush the tiles on display seems like a useless ability so far, but maybe I just don't know the tiles well enough to realize that I should dig for the perfect tile for my situation. After all, sometimes the best way to win an auction is to put up for bid only the goods that you really want.
A tile-laying game on a tiled table? Next time, I'll bring a tablecloth...
W. Eric Martin
Having worn my SPIEL '17 blinders for several weeks now, I'm not sure what's new to people and what isn't any more, so let me run through a handful of game announcements and you can make use of what's useful:
• Doctor Who Fluxx will be the next standalone version of Andy Looney's Fluxx, with this item appearing in retail outlets on November 23, 2017, the 54th anniversary of the first episode being aired. Publisher Looney Labs hasn't officially announced the game yet, but the D&D Online website DDO Players somehow picked up the news early and a Looney Labs representative has confirmed the details for me.
• In other semi-BBC-related game news, six days after Doctor Who Fluxx appears — time not being relative for most of us — IDW Games will release Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: Everything Is Connected, based on the BBC series of the same name. (Mr. Pedantic below points out that the show will actually run on BBC America, not BBC itself. Good to know about this distinction!) Here's an overview of this 3-8 player design from Matt Fantastic and Arvind Ethan David:
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: Everything is Connected is the first in a series of "Everything is Connected" storytelling games in which the mysteries are only as looney as the players.
In this game, a detective and a holistic detective put together the clues, accuse a person of interest, and tell their assistants the story of the crime. The assistants then process the two versions of the case and simultaneously select which version of the truth is more believable. To solve the case, you have to think on your feet and remember that "everything is connected".
• Fantasy Flight Games has announced the impending release of a "revised core set" for Android: Netrunner, with this item containing cards from the original Core Set released in 2012 as well as cards from the Genesis Cycle and Spin Cycle series of Data Packs. For details on which card have been removed from the original Core Set and why, head to this BGG thread.
• With Conspiracy Theory, which hits Kickstarter on Sept. 13, 2017, Steve Jackson Games takes a crack at the black card/white card party game format originated by Cards Against Humanity and continued by everyone and their grandmother. At least SJG is staying true to its roots as in this Steve Jackson design, the judge presents a conspiracy-related question, then everyone else answers it in the way they think will best please the judge. (Hint: Every white card reads "It's the Illuminati".)
• Portal Games has announced a new army pack by Michał Oracz for Neuroshima Hex!, with both the HQ and some units in the Iron Gang having a new "chain" ability that allows two chained tiles to target and hit any opponent that lies on the straight line that connects these two.
• To celebrate 7 Wonders' seventh anniversary, Antoine Bauza and Repos Production are releasing two small expansion packs to add more variety to the game: Leaders Anniversary Pack and Cities Anniversary Pack, with each containing fifteen new cards for use with the base game and the expansion included in its name.
Distributor Asmodee North America has listed a November 2017 release date for these two packs, which each carry a $9 MSRP.
W. Eric Martin
I've been working on the SPIEL '17 Preview and little else the past few days, partly because I want to knock out as many titles as possible before sending out invitations to publishers to schedule demo time in the BGG booth during SPIEL '17 — something that will likely start later this week — and partly because we have guests in the house who are staying longer than expected since they were supposed to fly to Miami after visiting us. That flight was cancelled several days ago, so we're hosting them for several more days. I expect to return to regular posting soon, but in the meantime it's good to have a few more game players around the house...
W. Eric Martin
I need to start this preview of The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game with a confession. Despite my love for almost all games created by Stefan Feld, I've yet to play The Castles of Burgundy.
I know, right? How could that have happened? I love Roma, Macao, Notre Dame, and In the Year of the Dragon, and I even like Rum & Pirates far more than most people. As I recall, in early 2011 when CoB was released, my son was two and I was busy with dad things for months on end and I was still finding my way with BGG (for which I had just started working a few months earlier) and we were preparing to move, so I was boxing our life in my spare moments instead of playing. Then we moved, and I had new games to preview, so that was that. Boo hoo, poor me. New games to play instead of six-month-old games...
I did play Feld's Trajan, which was released in late 2011, then the magical quartet of Bora Bora, Bruges, Rialto, and Amerigo in 2013, then La Isla and Aquasphere in 2014, etc., but I somehow never made it back in time to Burgundy.
In any case, here we are in 2017 with The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game already available in Germany and with the game scheduled to debut in the U.S. at BGG.CON in November 2017 ahead of a January 1, 2018 retail release. This game, co-designed by Christoph Toussaint and published as usual under Ravensburger's alea brand, is labeled as a 1-5 player game, but I think that upper limit is listed solely due to the box containing only five pencils. In practice, any number of people could play this game simultaneously.
To start, each player receives a two-dimensional duchy, with the pad of scoring sheets containing four different duchy designs colorfully labeled A, B, C and D. Every player needs the same duchy design so that you can imagine yourselves competing on alternate Earths to become the duckiest Duke or Duchess of all. Naturally, you value your worth in points, and for the most part you acquire these points by filling in empty spots in your ledger, just as the dukes of old, who charted their wealth on paper while the farmers and peasants did all the physical labor behind the scenes.
To start, each player Xs a green castle (for which 1 point is already recorded in the first round area), then circles the benefit of that castle (orange, in this case). Here's how you might start in Croissant, as I've named my duchy:
Each turn, one player rolls all five dice, then players use those dice to mark off something adjacent to anything already tagged as your turf. First, though, you mark one or two spaces in the round tracker depending on whether the hourglass die shows one or two hourglasses. Here's the first roll:
So what now? Pair one color die with one number die, then write the number in the appropriate space. To fill a blue space, you need a 5 or 6, so that's out — unless you want to spend the circled orange power that allows you to change (solely for yourself) the pip value of a die. Seems early to spend your one special ability, so why not fill the adjacent orange space with a 1 or 4?
Moving along to turn 4, and the dice show nothing you can use. Hmm.
If you don't mark something off, then you circle an orange bonus for use on a later turn, but you don't want to do that if you can help it. (TCOB:TDG life lesson #1: When someone is sad, give them an orange. It might not improve their disposition, but it will protect them from scurvy.)
Thankfully you didn't waste that orange bonus earlier, so now you can change a die to 5 or 6 to mark either adjacent blue space or you can change a die to 5 to mark the green castle. Note that you can mark a castle only when the die value matches the number in any adjacent space. (They're really big on adjacency in Burgundy. No one dared mess with the Bureau d'Adjonction in the 1400s as they ruled with a perfectly formed iron fist.)
Let's go with the castle plan. This gives us 1 point for completing the castle as well as a blue commodity that we might be able to sell at some future date. You might notice underneath the round tracker is a points legend for completed regions. The earlier you fill in the all the spaces of a region, the more points you receive for that region — except for single-space regions, of course, because how much of a challenge is it to fill in a single space anyway?
Moving on to turn 6:
Turn 6 lets you complete the gray region, presumably a mine or digging pit since the image vaguely looks like a cave, but let's go with "gray region" for simplicity's sake. Completing that region nets you 4 points and lets you circle the gray bonus. On a future turn, you can X that gray nugget to use two different dice combinations on the same turn.
Every completed region gives you a bonus this way. Orangeville (each space of which must be filled with a different value) gives you an orange bonus, which as previously noted lets you change the pip value of a die. The purple bonus lets you change a die's color. Each yellow bonus scores you the value of that region twice, points being their own reward. The blue bonus is the previously mentioned commodity that still sits unused.
Turn 7 introduces something new:
The double hourglass has you mark off two spaces in the round tracker. Ah, life is passing so quickly! Little Etionette is now large enough to join you at the window as you yell at the peasants to work harder. Her high-pitched squeak gives the commands a grating quality that you couldn't previously achieve on your own. Magnifique!
With all this time at hand, every player can sell all commodities they've circled, scoring two points for each while also gaining a gray nugget in the process. Blessed nugget, it's time to put one to use to mark off two spaces at once! After crossing out the nugget, you can use the blue with one 5, then the blue again with the other 5 to mark both spaces in the blue region, thereby gaining you another commodity in addition to 4 points for that region. Progress feels good, especially when others are sweating on your behalf. After all that work, here's how your duchy now stands:
Alas, you pushed everyone too hard, and turn 8 in the first round brought this result. Each space in a yellowtown needs to be filled with the same value, and thankfully for all of our mathematical efforts throughout history (but sadly for you now), 3s are neither a 1 nor a 5, so the final turn in this round hands you an orange in compensation along with a sum of 12 points.
Rounds 2 and 3 progress the same way. You don't have much in the way of special powers at hand — only one orange and one nugget — and you haven't even seen a purple die all game, so if one does show, you had best complete the one violet space to the east of the river (or nugget that dice roll, if possible, for either two-space purple region). Time and again, both in competitive games and when playing solo, I've found myself short of a plum bonus and unable to change the color of a die, which then leads to me getting another orange, which does you no good if you don't need the colors at hand. (TCOB:TDG life lesson #2: Colors are more important than numbers.)
Did I mention playing solo? I did, and the only rule change is that each round lasts precisely eight turns (instead of varying between five and ten depending on how many double hourglasses show up). What differs when playing competitively versus playing solo? Other than the varying number of turns, not much except that everyone so often someone will shout at the end of a turn, "I've completed all of the blue", and you'll curse them for doing this before you because they'll score the higher number of bonus points for this color (4), leaving you only 2 points to scrounge up — assuming someone else doesn't beat you to second place.
As you might gather, The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game is very much a solitaire game. I'm marking things on my sheet, and you're marking things on yours, and sometimes I score a bonus first and sometimes you do and sometimes we both complete the same colored region on the same turn and we both score the higher number of bonus points. Huzzah! I've played six times on a press copy from Ravensburger — three solo and three three-player games — and the experience hasn't differed much. You might look at another player's sheet and see they've filled one orange space more than you and have as many nuggets as you, so you realize that you're unlikely to beat them to the bonus, so you fill in a purple space instead of an orange one this turn. At least you can call purple your own...
The play sheets differ in their arrangements of the land masses, but they feel the same during a game, the values and colors rolled on the dice being more important than the colored patterns on your sheet. I initially thought commodities were the way to go when choosing a starting castle, but in my most recent game the double hourglasses were constant, with the entire game lasting only 18 turns (with the full range being 15-30 turns) and therefore kiboshing my "long-term" strategy of parlaying commodities into nuggets into double turns. Super frustrating, but sometimes you just have to suffer the dice. (TCOB:TDG life lesson #3: Dice results are random.)
No matter — I have dozens of duchies still to be developed, and should I find a willing opponent, we can compete on opposite sides of the sheet at the same time, perhaps introducing a new form of head-to-head competition in the process, with me pushing my pencil through the paper to jab their hand as they attempt to write something down. En garde!
Rollin' and writin'
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