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Designer Diary: Beta Colony, or It All Started with Space Vikings!!!

Matt Riddle
United States
Oxford
Michigan
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Ben Pinchback here, one of the co-designers of Beta Colony. I'll be doing the main writing on this designer diary, with Matt Riddle, Beta Colony's other designer, chiming in with his comments, such as this:

Did you hear the one about the monk who walked into the bar? Ouch!

For real, hey everyone. In this post, Ben spends about five thousand words exploring the journey that brought us to one of our 2018 releases — Beta Colony from Rio Grande Games, with Piepmatz and Fleet: The Dice Game being the other two — and I will pop in randomly to break up the monotony of Ben's prattle.

Also, it is interesting how themes change over time. Each step, we did work to make sure the current theme is integrated and made sense. Even though this game is a Euro, there are thematic elements throughout Beta Colony — even a cool backstory written by our buddy Mike Mullins.


If you've heard of me and Matt up to this point, it's most likely from our card game Fleet from 2012 or from our 2017 post-apocalyptic romp Wasteland Express Delivery Service (a.k.a., WEDS). WEDS is kind of like a sibling to Beta Colony in that they both share the same parent — "Space Vikings!!!". Technically Beta Colony is from "Space Vikings!!! 2.0", as we had dubbed it, so I guess that makes Beta Colony a nephew or niece to WEDS with "Space Vikings!!!" proper being the granddaddy. The "Space Vikings!!!" family tree also includes unpublished sibling "4 Brothers of Love", who begat published cousin Morocco, as well as crazy cousin "Alcazar" and his sister "Wolf and the Fox", both of which have been committed to the shelf of misfit protos.

So why do you care about "Space Vikings!!!" and all of Aegir, God of the Sea's children and grandchildren? Well, you don't and you shouldn't. It's just the long way of explaining where the central idea for Beta Colony — the "Rolldel" — came from. In short form, the Rolldel is a dice rondel. Players use sets of rolled dice in pairs to first move their token around the action circle with one die, then activate the spot with the other die.

But we're getting way ahead of ourselves. To properly explain the Rolldel, we need to start back at the beginning, with the vikings in the Baltic sea when Chief Forkbeard passed on and his five worthless sons were left to carry on his legacy. (We'll soon be getting to voyagers constructing colonization pods on the chosen planet, Victus, I promise.)

Get it? Roll... like dice... plus rondel = Rolldell! Boom. You're welcome. Also, the "Space Vikings!!!" tree is like the Belichick coaching tree: mildly successful, but better in theory than in practice.

Back in the Baltic Sea, the brothers Forkbeard went about their business pillaging and expanding with great abandon, forgetting their roots and also forsaking tribute to Aegir, God of the Sea. Enraged by their behavior, Aegir banished them to space, where they would be forced to work their way back into his good graces on their quest home.

This was 2012, and Matt and I would spend the better part of 3-4 years trying to make this ridiculous premise into an actual functional game. Mechanically it had this cool octagon- and square-patterned modular board with an action-selection player mat and upgradeable ships, but thematically it was a mess. I can't imagine why. Also, if this sounds kind of like Wasteland Express Delivery Service to you, then you've cracked the code — but that was not until waaaaay later.




During this journey, we took a left turn at one point and created "Space Vikings!!! 2.0". We had decided that the Forkbeards needed dice to spice things up and that gameplay needed to be cut down to 60 minutes tops. "Space Vikings!!!" was inherently a pick-up and deliver game, and 2.0 would be the same, but instead of a sprawling modular board, the game would take place on a circular array. Players would use dice to move around the galaxy clockwise in a circle and stop on the different planets to perform actions. Players would use dice in tandem; one selected die would move a player around the circle, and a second selected die would be used to perform the action at that location. The Rolldel had been born!

Even so, the Forkbeards were not doing so well. The pick-up and deliver in a circle was a little too on the nose and lacking in dynamics. Everyone who played the game loved the dice mechanism, but the game as a whole was just not working. And, shockingly enough, the theme wasn't making any sense. But again, everyone loved the dice thing.

The dice thing then went on to spawn a few other games that didn't quite make it to the finish line, crazy cousins "Alcazar" and "Wolf and the Fox" among them, but in the end it became just a cool idea in our tool belt, waiting for the proper time to come out again.

I really liked "Wolf and the Fox", which is still my favorite shelved proto. It even has cute art courtesy of Eric J Carter (the now retired Fleet artist). It is just a simple rolldell game — pick a die, move that many spaces around the rondel and take cards where you land — then later the cards score Ra/Sushi Go-style set stuff. (PWH isn't the only one who can borrow from the good doctor. He just does it way, way better.) Seriously, though, "Wolf and the Fox" is a totally fun 20-30 minute family game, but alas, it just never quite found a home.




In a parallel world, Matt and I traveled to Baltimore in January 2013 to attend our very first Unpub convention. Unpub is an amazing event in which rooms full of designers play their prototypes with the general public, who show up in droves to test these games and give critical feedback. In the winter of 2013, Matt and I were showing off/working on Monster Truck Mayhem (which deserves a Shakespearean tragedy written completely unto itself) and a mid-weight Euro called "Bagan".

"Bagan" used a hex grid, tiles, and a little resource acquisition mechanism to have players control monks building a temple. The tiles had fun powers on them when built, and the tile-laying had a cool double area control type of scoring. Throughout the weekend, players super enjoyed the tile portion of the game but were continually left feeling flat regarding the resource acquisition. It was too direct and didn't feel clever at all. The game needed a slick layer to pair with the fun tile building...

Fun note: The resource acquisition in "Bagan" was the draw mechanism in Fleet Wharfside. Two piles/queues of three cubes (cards in Wharfside) and you can take two but from only one of the piles. I do not honestly know whether it was in Wharfside first or "Bagan" first — but it worked way better in Wharfside.

Matt and I generally don't add more content to "fix" game designs. Our typical pattern is that we start with way too much fun stuff and end up sculpting the final game down like a statue as opposed to building it up from different pieces. "Bagan" was different. It totally worked but was begging for another layer. It was begging for what Matt and I call "The Feld", that is, the first part of most Stefan Feld games, the clever thing you do which then allows you to do the basic Euro stuff later. Think of the mancala in Trajan, the card drafting in Strasbourg, the dice placement in Bora Bora, the dice trick in Macao, the card play in Bruges. All of these slick things define the games they're in, then give way to otherwise familiar Euro mechanisms. "Bagan" had fun, familiar Euro tile-laying, but it needed — say it together now — the Rolldel.

Combining "Bagan" with the Rolldel made perfect sense to us. Once united, the game began to sing and players were having a blast. The puzzle of the dice selection with movement around the circle, then activation coupled with the tile-laying was perfect. We continued to work the game and ended up with three different areas to in which to build, each with a unique rewards track as players level up in those particular areas. Everything was making sense except the theme. We were still monks building a temple, but for some reason...three areas of the temple. We kinda liked the theme though, so we stubbornly stuck with it when we started to pitch the game around 2015-ish.

It was a pretty good theme. We even explored a two-phase mechanism in which an earthquake happens and the second phase builds off the remnants of the first phase. It was interesting and worked and was historically-based as Myanmar is located in an earthquake zone, but it was not salable as it turns out and, in retrospect, not socially something that Ben and I would embark on now. We have learned a lot over the years from our great gamer and Twitter friends about social consciousness and something with the depth and history of this theme should be handled carefully, if at all. Also, yes the monks have guns in that proto.




Matt and I had always dreamed of having a design published with Rio Grande Games. After we got deep into the hobby as players, seemingly half or more of our initial collections were Rio Grande titles — all the huge ports from Europe like Power Grid and Puerto Rico, plus favorite originals like Dominion. Add to that Rio Grande's presence at conventions like Origins and Gen Con, and they always felt like the big leagues to us.

Adding to this dream was the fact that Rio Grande's owner, Jay Tummelson, was always very responsive to Matt's inquiries for meetings at those conventions. We pitched Jay a minimum of twice a summer for years. He had taken some of our games overnight to further evaluate, but we had never reached the finish line with him and his team. Ever persistent, we showed him "Bagan" in the middle of 2015. Jay liked the game enough to keep it overnight and have his team evaluate it. The next morning we came back, and his basic response was "Pretty cool game, but it needs some development. Oh, and it should be in space."

Space monks!!! No, not this time. We'd play it a little more straight this time around, especially since space made total sense in this context. The Rolldel was an orbit around a central body stopping in at the moons, etc., and the tile-laying created different settlements. It was a perfect fit, so we worked on integrating the new theme and changing things around over the next year.

You read that correctly: the next year. A year sounds like a long time, but consider that for a 60-ish minute game, two designers working full-time jobs who get together once a week are getting one, maybe two, reps a week. When you start making changes and need the plays, it just takes time. During this time, we had loose contact with the developer from Rio Grande, Ken Hill, who encouraged us to keep working the changes and bring the game back in 2016 to show Jay and the team.

The summer of 2016 went well. We showed the new game to the Rio Grande team, and they were very excited about it. Ken began his development, and we embarked on another period of testing and changes. Like the sculpture mentioned before, extra tasks and scoring opportunities that we felt were fun got chipped away as Ken and the dev team trimmed the fat. (We had additional contracts to complete that you could pick up at the Ridback and a convoluted auction for player powers.) When as a designer you play some form of a game for the better part of four years, you get really good at it. As you get better, the tendency is to add more and more to keep it challenging, not realizing that you've outpaced your audience. This is why testing at events such as Unpub as well as with the dev team are so important. You get the impressions from real players playing for the first time. Inevitably you end up trimming things out you thought you needed.


All the bits


I miss the contracts...maybe for an expansion if it sells well? They were basically dice puzzles that you had to complete while doing other things, so you needed to, say, drop off an orange cube at The Ridback with a green die range 4-6. I realize that unless you've played the game that makes no sense, but they were fun — and unneeded for the target audience. But honestly, super fun, at least for me...

Also, I want to piggy back on what Ben said and thank Ken Hill. He did make some great strides on Beta Colony. Originally the tile-laying influence was disappointingly mathy. It was similar to the system in Santiago (tiles • your markers), but you had to do it constantly instead of just at round's end. It worked and added some nice depth, but was work. Turns out not everyone likes doing algebra.


Ken did a great job over that next year working with his testers and going back and forth with us, and we got the game nailed down enough to begin art assets, graphic design, and production talk. A long story short on this effort is to say that this took longer than we expected for Beta Colony. There were some specific challenges with the tiles, colors, the Rolldel, symbology, clarity, the board layout, and tracks that required a couple go-rounds.

To Ken and Rio's credit, they never settled with good enough. When it was determined that the board wasn't going to be usable by most players, they went back and worked it to make it better. The end result is that Beta Colony is a beautiful production with nice, chunky wooden bits and bright colors reinforced with fun symbols. The dice puzzle leading into the tile play has been well received, and we super hope you enjoy it, too. From "Space Vikings!!!" to "Bagan", Forkbeard to the Rolldel, to the marriage of it all on Victus — our new chosen planet to colonize — thanks for reading and enjoy the game.

Yes, thank you to everyone who read this, or even lightly skimmed it, or just read my parts. Consider checking out Beta Colony as it is in retail now. If you ever have any questions, hit us up in the forums or on Twitter because we will always answer. Matt = @mdriddlen, Ben = @pinchback21


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Mon Jan 14, 2019 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Wasteland Express Delivery Service, or Roaming Across a Post-Apocalyptic World and Trying Not to Die

Matt Riddle
United States
Oxford
Michigan
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"Wasteland Express Delivery Service includes an emergent narrative story that takes place interactively over the course of eight games. Alternatively, players can dive in with a randomly generated scenario that will play out over the course of a single story-driven game session for infinite replay possibilities."

Plus, in case it wasn't totally clear there are a bunch of SWEET minis. Like super, awesome ones where you can actually load the goods right in the back. IN THE BACK. Even the goods are minis because why the heck not.




Hi! This is Matt Riddle. I am generally no one of consequence, but I am kicking off this 4,000+ word designer diary because I am one of the three designers. Buckle up.

Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons. At least compared to the sheer talent, will, and stunning good looks of the designers assembled to create Wasteland Express Delivery Service (WEDS), the new hotness coming soon from Pandasauraus Games. Ridbackmour? Gilbackddle? Pinchmouridle? Manbearpig? Whichever celebrity name you prefer for the trio of Jon Gilmour, Ben Pinchback, and Matt Riddle and wherever you intend to get it tattooed on your body doesn't matter so long as you do not forget to check out this game.



I mean, look at that sexy; there is literally SOOO much of it


At some point nearly five years ago, Ben and I started kicking around the idea of doing a train game. We played a lot of Steam, but we wanted to actually pick up and deliver goods, not just build routes. At the time, we had just seen Fleet released to moderate success, so we were totally prepared to take on Martin Wallace and a top 100 game and make it better — also, not really, as Steam and WEDS have almost zero in common beyond the BGG mechanism classification. Still inspiration is just that, inspiration. Ben is the designer notebook guy. He sketches and doodles and jots down ideas. One of those ideas was octagons with different movement patterns that left squares in the middle that could be cities. As it turns out, not completely original since Keythedral did it ten years earlier among others, but it was very underutilized. Let me turn it over to Ben to discuss some of the initial design.



Early octagonal action... in space — SPACE VIKINGS!


Ben
Before I get to that, I want to talk about Jon. I'll never forget the day I first met Jon Gilmour. It was a great day for him. Not so much because he met me, but rather because it was Thursday of Gen Con 2014 and well over a hundred people were wrapping around the Plaid Hat Games booth and down the aisle waiting in line to buy his new game, Dead of Winter. And by down the aisle, I mean so many people that it was blocking the entrance to some other pretty major publishers' booths.

(Matt: Like Queen Games, their booth was completely surrounded. How were gamers going to rush to grab Cubo or Orcs Orcs Orcs…)

The Plaid Hat crew was king at this moment. So Matt says to me, "Hey let's see if Jon's around. I want to say hi." I of course had no clue they had ever talked but apparently they had. This is why I keep Matt around, mind you. Sure, he can design games, but he's also not afraid to make friends with absolutely everyone.

So we walk up to Jon and he's sporting quite a grin. He was just standing there soaking it all in. My first thought was, someday I want this feeling he is having right now. We talked some and I walked away telling Matt how genuinely nice I thought Jon seemed and Matt told me that Jon actually lived only about four hours from us. Huh.




Matt did his thing and within a month or so, we were Skyping with Jon and talking about working on something together, which quickly led to day trips and all day Panera sessions with Jon. Matt does what Matt does — but what Matt doesn't do is sit around on his couch sketching shapes while thinking, "You know the octagon is a very under-represented shape in board game maps today. And wow, when you put octagons together, you get squares left in the voids. How is this not a thing everywhere already!?"

(Jon: Even before I laid my hands on it and did awesome Jon Gilmour theme integration and play experience game design magic, this was already one of the best pick-up-and-delivers I had ever played. Okay, this was actually Matt again, but Jon really said that on multiple podcasts and such.)

Back in 2011, Matt and I were prepping for our first ever game design, Fleet, to Kickstart in the spring, and we were already neck deep in a handful of other designs. The bug had bitten us badly, and there wasn't a spare moment when I wasn't thinking about games themselves or, more likely, game design. So as mentioned above, the simple act of randomly sketching shapes on a notepad while watching TV led me down a pretty serious rabbit trail. A 4×4 map of octagons as terrain with cities/outposts/strongholds being the square voids and the edges was a very quick progression for me that night.

By the time I showed this to Matt probably a week later, I had already decided that we were going to do a pick-up-and-deliver train game using this set-up. My paradigm for train games in 2011 was mostly Age of Steam/Steam, and I thought a game in which you actually hump the goods across the board physically seemed like a novel idea.

It turns out this form of goods pick-up and delivery was actually commonplace, but the board wasn't. As I researched it, I did find some games using octs and squares, but not as many as I thought I might. This map with different octs being different terrain, using squares as cities, and the system of moving around these shapes was there on the couch in 2011 and it's still the backbone of Wasteland Express Delivery Service five years later. It's really cool to see an idea like that come to fruition and better yet to realize you never could have done it right on your own. What I was going to do with this system is a thousand times lamer than what came out of working with Matt, Jon, and the eventual greater creative team Pandasaurus assembled.




The other gameplay element that developed over the next five years that would survive countless thematic changes and mechanical iterations was this idea we had of a player action mat.

If you can remember ever counting to ten a thousand times over and over during two hours of Tikal (a game that I love,by the way), then you can understand the desire to come up with an action selection game in which the game held your hand a little bit more and guided you to the actions you could do and even kept track of them.

Eventually Matt and I came up with the idea that each player has an action mat that lists the actions available to them and has boxes next to these actions for activation with action cubes. Each player has the same amount of action cubes to spend over a series of rounds, and the cool thing we found quickly was that this action cube allocation allowed us to not only present the available actions to the player, but also to limit the amount of times players can take a certain action in a certain timeframe organically because the action cubes do not clear and refresh until they're all spent.




One other thing we loved about this system was that it kept the game moving and the downtime was small because a player's turn is to play one cube to their mat and take that action. Turns then become very quick, and the game hums around the table: Move, Buy a good, Attack, Take a job, Deliver, Visit a shop, etc. Now mind you, I could have never imagined the levels of awesomeness our little player mats would be taken to after we met Jon. Safe to say when we met Jon, we had a very solid system that worked well mechanically, but it was far from awesome. Really, really far from awesome as it would turn out.

Side note: Jon has a rule when talking about design direction. The rule is, "Which one is more fun?" That's it. It seems simple, but so often we aren't wired to think this way. We're so worried about balance and all these other things that we miss out on something as important as, "Which one is more fun?" And the coolest thing is balance came even after choosing fun time after time. The lesson here is that you can balance later; make it fun first.

Mechanically there's the backbone. The octagon and square terrain/cities/outposts works amazingly well for trucking around goods, fighting, and performing missions. The player mats/action cube system has given players a nice and easy way to maneuver through our world. What we've done with this system is add an absolute mountain of special missions to accomplish. The three main factions in the game each have unique decks that give agendas to push, tasks to complete, and possible crazies to join your truck riding shotgun. But for a huge thematic game, the turns seem shockingly simple, and that's probably the thing I'm the most proud of from the mechanical side. Often I feel like I'm playing an RPG questing-style video game on the tabletop. The game mechanisms literally get out of the way and let people focus on the adventure at hand.

Matt
ZZZZZZZ... Oh, hi! Did Ben just write 2k words on a shape? Exciting stuff. That wall of text is why I have to write all the rulebooks, or if the publisher will spring for it, pay someone awesome like Dustin Schwartz to write them. Writing rules suuuuuuucks.

As designers, Ben and I are pretty quick to proto and even quicker to cut and run on a game if it's a fail bomb. If a proto sucks or is meh or is even just pretty good, we broom it and move on to something else. We do not hack at games endlessly that aren't working. We have plenty of ideas worth pursuing, so why try to polish a turd? WEDS was the exception — not that is was a turd, but that we would shelve it but never fully quit on it. We knew that in the bones of this sprawling pick up and deliver was a great game.




As I mentioned in passing above, WEDS had so many implementations: train game, soul gathering, regular Vikings, then for the longest time… SPACE VIKINGS! (You have to say it with a 1980s rock screech or the ol' 1980s toy commercial announcer guy voice: SPACE VIKINGS!!!!) I mean, it SEEMED like a really good idea with two awesome things mashed together. When we decided on space vikings as the official theme, I even wrote up the following opening story:

Quote:
As the 9th century dawned on the Baltic Sea, the Viking Era was in full swing. Viking expansion was rampant and, in the way of the forefathers, the great Viking chieftains of the age were increasing their territories and holdings through hard work, pillaging, trading…and more pillaging! Well, most of the chieftains, that is. Clan Forkbeard did not have a chieftain. It had five. Sort of. Each one was more worthless than the last. Things had been going so well for so long that the five sons Forkbeard had been born with the proverbial amber spön in their mouths. The brothers took from the great Baltic Sea with no regard, no respect, and certainly no tribute. This behavior angered Aegir, the god of the sea. After a score of years with naught a monument built nor an offering left, Aegir had enough. Watching Clan Forkbeard move from island to island in the great Scandinavian archipelago with indifference, leaving destruction and waste in their wake, Aegir decided it was time to teach them a lesson. In his righteous indignation, he would restore the glory of his magnificent Baltic Sea and banish Clan Forkbeard…TO SPACE! Space Vikings!

Clan Forkbeard must restore their honor and earn Aegir's favor if they are ever to return to the only home they have ever known. Spread across a small but habitable system of planets deep in Ridback Galaxy, the brave and suddenly motivated Vikings have rallied their clan and are conquering the solar system the only way they know how — as Space Vikings!
Ya, that was a thing. At one point it even had a Quantum Leap joke about trying to get home and righting what once went wrong, dunno where that went. All that to say we had shelved the game but never stopped thinking about it.

Fast forward in time and I am tweeting away looking for anyone willing to print and test a print-and-play of our then-upcoming card game Eggs and Empires. Lo and behold, I get a DM from Jon Gilmour. Now understand this was pre-DoW, so he was just Jon Gilmour, not JON F@#$ING GILMOUR. Hell, thanks to Fleet Ben and I were considerably more "famous" at the time. (Famous in the context of an incredibly small and obscure corner of the internet…so not famous, but whatever the equivalent is for a couple of tier 3 hobby game designers.) Jon plays E&E and likes it. He and I chat a bit, find out we are pseudo local, and become Twitter friends, eventually leading to this collaboration.

As we turned Space Vikings into WEDS, so much stayed the "same": the player mats, the movement, the action system, and the economy. I am proud of the economy. It is not ground-breaking, but it is clever and works very well. Initially it was a very linear chart-y looking thing.




But the idea that the good in demand would set the price has persisted. We did a lot of work to make it simple and non-maintanence-y. I acutally think it was friend of the team, dicehateme himself Chris Kirkman who first suggested the wheel layout that we ultimately ended up with.

Another area we spent a lot of time on was the combat. We went down some major rabbit holes working on different combat systems that were sometimes clever, sometimes fun, sometimes neither. The more we did this, the more we decided it wasn't helping the game. We knew we were designing in the "mid-atlantic" or "Eurotrash" space, and the folks that play those big, sprawling thematic games are completely cool with a full page of conditional combat rules. We tried some systems that we came up with and a few we borrowed, but WEDS is a Euro pick-up-and-deliver at its core, and they just did not feel right. The closest my Eurogamer heart comes to enjoying combat is the displacement system in Hansa Teutonica. The other end of the spectrum is the simple yet effective X-Wing — roll X dice vs Y dice and hope you win! I think we ended up at a simple yet effective middle ground. It was what worked. We have notes for a few combat variances we are going to try in the inevitable expansion.

The biggest change of all that came through the development with Jon and Pandasaurus was getting rid of victory points. In every iteration pre-WEDS, you would play for two hours, roll some dice, have fun…then count to sixty-something. Again, I LOVE counting victory points. LOVE IT. As a designer, I love the granularity you can put into a game giving out points here, points over there, MOAR POINTS IS MOAR BETTER.

But for WEDS, it didn't make sense and it was NOT thematic. As we spent months working on making WEDS as thematic as possible, the points continually got in the way. Another buddy of ours from The Geek All-Stars podcast, Dan Patriss, had played an early version at Unpub 5 and mentioned in passing we should consider a Twilight Imperium-style system of goals. He is my boy, but I totally blew him off. Fast forward to a Panera Bread in Lansing, MI and Jon, Ben, and I are having that exact conversation, so we did it, and Priority First Class Contracts were born. That change, more than anything else, changed the feel and elevated the gameplay to what it is now.



Look at that super boring Euro-y scoring: blah blah blah monuments, set collection, space bucks! 1vp for $5, how original!


Jon
First, I want to say that, while we joke about me coming on board and "fixing" WEDS, that is not something I can take credit for. When I first played the game (when it was "Space Vikings"), I was a bit leery about what I could bring to the project. I don't really have great self-confidence, and to think of how I could possibly come on and make this project better, was a bit overwhelming. I took some time to digest it, think about it, and come up with some proposals for Matt and Ben.




I feel that one of my strengths is knowing what I like in a game and trying to further enhance that, so that is what I focused on. How could I help them make the things that were already great in this game better? The biggest was really theme. Some gamers feel that theme doesn't matter. There are great debates between designers about theme-first vs. mechanism-first design. My philosophy is Experience First. I ask myself what experience I want the players to have, and how I can best evoke those emotions.

When I played "Space Vikings", I tried to ask myself what other themes would fit and what kind of experience did I feel the game was already evoking, then I spent time trying to bring that experience further to life. I feel that when I came to Matt and Ben with a rework of the game, it was really only about 15% different. I cut some things, I swapped some things around, and I put a new coat of paint on it — but the heart was there, beating in this gritty post-apocalyptic shell.




Next, I want to talk about collaboration. It's something I love to do. I really think I work best when I'm not in a vacuum. Matt and Ben are not collaborators. They are much more of a symbiosis. They operate as a single unit, and it's amazing to be a part of it. They eat math and crap out great Eurogames unlike anyone else I've ever seen.

So when we started talking, it was easy to form a new rhythm with them. When I first got married, my father-in-law told me about the concept of an "emotional bank". In a relationship, you deposit into the emotional bank, and sometimes you withdraw, but you want to build a bigger and bigger positive balance. I feel like that is the key to good collaboration as well. I apply this concept to everything I do, so working with Matt and Ben was no different. Some days we would go back and forth on things we were passionate about. Some days I would win them over with my cries of "MOAR FUN", and on other days they would drop math bombs unrelentingly. In the end, we were all passionate about the game, so it helped us all stay invested in building a really good emotional bank account, and I feel like the game shows that love.

Finally, I want to talk about failure. Every game sucks at some point. If you don't feel like your game sucks, you are not being honest with yourself. I am a huge proponent of the "fail faster" school of design, and luckily Matt and Ben are fans as well. While hanging at Panera, we would mark on, tear up, and change things with abandon. You have to be willing to try new things with your designs and explore them. Your prototype doesn't need to look pretty. Don't be afraid to mark it up, scribble on it, and try things that dont make you comfortable.

(Matt here again. We are going to let Nathan chime in here. He and his wife Molly are Pandasaurus Games. They are the ones that decided to go all in on WEDS and make it awesome. They rule.)

Nathan
This, I suppose, is the part where Molly and I (Pandasaurus Games) enter the picture. I was goofing off at my desk back when I still had a day job and saw a Twitter post from either Matt or Ben — it doesn't matter which one as they are a single legal entity — asking who wants to sign their new co-design with Jon Gilmour about delivering goods in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I replied yes, thinking it was a total lark and figuring that some way-cooler-than-me publisher would get the game.

Then I got a message back from one of Ben and Matt asking whether I was heading to Unpub that weekend. I was in fact not heading to Unpub at all, but was probably heading to Brooklyn to have brunch and watch a bad movie with our friends, so I did what any smart person would do and lied. Of course I was going to Unpub! Plans were cancelled, hotels were booked, and a rental car was procured. Molly, our dogs and I then proceeded to drive through the start of a blizzard from Manhattan to Baltimore.




When we got there, the first thing we did was grab Matt, Ben and Jon and a table outside the main hall where they gave us a five-minute elevator pitch of what was at the time called "Wasteland Truckers". (It would keep this name until about six weeks before we announced the game.) We were absolutely floored by the mechanisms and systems of interaction that were being described. Upgrading your vehicle, delivering goods, taking on jobs for factions — we knew all of those systems would present interesting choices for the players. At the time, the game still had a score track attached to it, but the plan was already in place to move them to the contracts.

Molly and I did not play the game there, but we would get our first hands-on with the game a few weeks later when we got a prototype copy of the game. We were already about 70% sold on the concept, but we obviously had to make sure the game was fun and balanced and all of the things that actually matter for a game to be a good game. About ten turns into our first game, we stopped and looked at each other and our grins were clear what we were both thinking: We were playing something super special.

As a publisher, you see a ton of prototypes, and many of them are good. A very few of them make you want to play the game again right away. Very, very, very few of them feel immersive or thematic when they are white foam core with chicken scratch on them. This one did.



Look at that white foam core! This is much later in the process, but still. So white.
Also, you can see Jason Kinglsey almost. He did the awesome player mat.


From there we knew we needed to throw the right artwork behind the game. One of my favorite comics from about fifteen years ago was a book called DMZ that was put out by DC's Vertigo imprint and had fantastic edgy artwork. I started out looking for art in that style and wound up getting put in touch with the actual artist from DMZ, Riccardo Burchielli, who was available and excited to work on the board game. Cue cartwheels at Panda HQ. This would be the formation for the rest of the graphic design. We wanted everything in the game to feel cobbled together from the leftover remnants of the world from before. Jason Kingsley nailed that exact aesthetic. We then turned towards making sure the graphic design was clear and easy to read, which meant multiple print-and-play iterations being playtested for absolute clarity and smoothness of the play experience.




It was at this moment we realized we had a real problem on our hands. Set up and tear down of Wasteland Express was taking far too long — like 30-40 minutes. I have games in my collection that I love that have really long set-up times, and I know they never hit the table. I asked the design team what could be done about this. Jon put me in touch with Noah Adleman at Gametrayz, and the rest is, as they say, history. Noah came up with the most insane insert solution I have ever seen for a game — not just something used for storage or quick set-up, but also trays that you actually use during the game that label different cardboard chits for easy location. Set-up is down to about 5-8 minutes now, and the experience is vastly improved for it.

I feel really weird being the guy ending this, but I will say that I think the job of a designer is to see the statue in the block of granite. The publisher's job is to smooth out the rough edges and make sure the statue gets placed somewhere for it to be seen. I hope that the miniatures and the graphic design and the Trayz do justice to what is, I think, our best published game to date.

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Tue Aug 15, 2017 5:18 am
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Designer Diary: Back to the Future and The Goonies, or The Fleeples Go to Hollywood!

Matt Riddle
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Hello, Ben Pinchback here once again writing the main sections of a designer diary, while Matt Riddle will chip in his comments in green. We all know from his mysterious absence in writing BoardGameGeek crowdfunding round-up articles as of late that Matt is clearly out of jokes, so it should be interesting to see him play this straight — and by "out of jokes", of course I mean he finally did us all a favor and ceded his throne to an actual professional writer, Dustin Schwartz of The Rules Forge fame. Seriously, Dustin is a great writer and a rising rulebook writer/editor guru. Game makers, contact this guy and use him.

Well!! Looky, looky, here comes hooky. Finally Ben does all the writing and I can pipe in with witty repartee and insightful comments. Or balls jokes. We will see. I can either go high class or play this Louie style: "I'm gonna dip..." Oh, and a little foreshadowing since we are now two paragraphs in and haven't yet mentioned the games: This is the designer diary for Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time and The Goonies: Adventure Card Game. Hence the "go to Hollywood" thing.

So if you actually have any clue who either Matt or I am, it's either because of Matt's admittedly solid run as W. Eric Martin's crowdfunding write-up nemesis or because you've played one of our previously published games, most likely Fleet. Fleet had a beautiful run into the BGG top 500 and has since slid a few spots outside, which actually isn't that bad because now we can appear on all of those "best games outside the top 500" lists.

It was almost certainly Fleet. While Ben and I are poised to have a very nice 2016, if there were a pie chart of "Games of ours people have played", it would look like Pac-Man with Fleet starring as Pac-Man and everything else the mouth.

We've had some other nice projects with Eagle-Gryphon Games such as Eggs and Empires, Floating Market, and Fleet Wharfside, but safe to say not a transcendent megahit yet. So how did these two relatively new designers from suburban Detroit end up with the keys to two of the absolute cornerstones of your childhood? And what is a Fleeple?

First thing's first: A Fleeple is an absolutely terrible name coined by Dan Patriss of The Geek All-Stars that somehow stuck because it's kind of funny. Fleet guys + fish meeples? Either way, Ridback is just as bad and Dan is the best, so we roll with it.

Ya, I suggested "Matt Riddle Games feat. Ben P" but was shot down. Honestly, Ridback Games sucks, but we honestly do not have any better ideas.

How we came to work with both IDW Games and Albino Dragon is basically the same. Fleet being so well received opened the doors for us. For IDW, it was a Nathan-to-Nate introduction as Nathan from Pandasaurus knew us from Fleet and had actually just begun working with us on another recently announced project, Wasteland Express Delivery Service co-designed with Jon Gilmour. How's that for a name drop? Gilmour. Jon Gilmour. Dead of Winter. Gilmour, Jon. Worked with us. He's a great guy. That Jon Gilmour.

Where was I? We're gonna do more together, too. Us and Gilmour. From Dead of Winter. So anyway, Nathan from Pandasaurus introduced us to Nate from IDW, who was looking for a card-based Back To The Future engine, so we started talking. They gave us a shot to show them an idea at Gen Con, and we enthusiastically accepted. Needless to say, the meeting went well and full-on development ensued.

Like most people in their 30s, I love Back to the Future and was SUPER excited to jump in on that one. Also, I HATE the stupid "break the internet" BS exaggeration that people use, but did you see the buzz WEDS has gotten? Crazy. Like the art. But Back to the Future, ya, super excited. Oh! Also, as Ben and I head down Eurotrash lane, we are working on a Sleepy Hollow game that will have minis and characters and co-op pumpkin dude, fighting dice stuff in it. That will be with Greater Than Games/Dice Hate Me Games later in 2016. As it turns out, we have fully embraced our mid-Atlantic designs.

With Albino Dragon, it was a very similar story through a mutual friend. Once again Fleet was the catalyst as Erik from Albino Dragon was looking to do a card-based Goonies game and his real-life friend Scott Morris (Tox) from Crits Happen and Firefly: Shiny Dice had become a friend of ours through Fleet, then through hanging out at conventions. (Free tip for designers: Go to every single convention you possibly can.) So Fleet opened the doors for us to work with these companies that were looking for card-driven experiences for Back To The Future and The Goonies, but how would Matt and I approach the designs?

Carefully but with gusto. You know what I loved more than BttF? The Goonies. I own a DVD of The Goonies and made my daughters watch it. I forgot how 1980s PG it was, but still totally worth it. I wanted to be a Goonie so hard when I was a kid.

The very first thing we had to talk about with each design was scope: the project scope vs. the scope of the game experience. It was obvious to us in both cases that card-based was not going to lend itself to a straight-up simulation. Neither of these games were going to be 45 lb. (20.4 kg) sprawling monsters with minis and scenario books. It wasn't our gut reaction then to try to walk players linearly through the storylines, and frankly I'm not sure I'd want to do that anyway. If I'm playing a Back To The Future game, I know I want to fly around in the DeLorean time-traveling; I don't want to play for hours and only actually fly the dang thing two or three times. People absolutely love the characters in the movie, and they love the DeLorean, so that was set for Back to the Future. The soul of the game was going to be using the characters in thematic ways and time-traveling in the DeLorean as much as possible.

For The Goonies, the answer came to us quickly, even if we didn't want to admit it at first. This game had to be a co-op. Neither of us could imagine doing anything else but making a game in which you team up as the Goonies and run the adventure, avoiding the Fratellis and searching for One-Eyed Willy's ship and treasure. It just wouldn't sit right with us to have something like Mouth competing with Chunk to get the most treasure. It just doesn't work.

It is a not-so-secret secret that neither Ben nor I terribly enjoy co-op gaming. I like winning. I like defeating the other players, especially Ben. While we knew it had to be co-op, it was a mental hurdle to accept that. That said, I have recently begun to appreciate solo gaming and that community. I have been able to enjoy co-op gaming with my girls and parents. I was excited.

But Back to the Future is competitive. How does that work? For us, that was an easier abstraction to make gameplay-wise. With The Goonies, you have one of the most famous ragtag teams of all time on an epic adventure together. Goonies never say die, etc. In Back to the Future, the team is really Marty and Doc...and the other Doc. It didn't seem that natural to form a team-up like that and have players work cooperatively. The idea that you'd use these characters to progress the story and fix the timeline seemed more in tune with the movie to us because that's what Marty's doing the entire movie series: Trying to put people in the proper situations and fix the timelines to ultimately get his life back in order. This is exactly what we have players doing, and we loved it. Just like Marty is able to position George to stand up to Biff, players will do similar things with all of the main characters from the movie.

That's where the role selection came in. Turn to turn, players can use Biff for their nefarious plans to try to hose other players. Lorraine can be selected for a clever time shift at just the right moment. Need some help flying the time machine? Doc is your Guy. Every character we used felt to us exactly how they feel in the movie. Being the best at getting everyone right where (and when) they needed to be at just the right time felt good. It feels like Doc just crashed into your trash cans shouting "Marty! We gotta go NOW!" Side note: Doc, you have a time machine. You could slow down just a tic. Maybe come back five minutes earlier and calmly explain what's going on vs. Lightning! POW! Crash! "Marty! NOW! Get in the #@%#ing car!!" I totally stole that joke from Chris Leder btw. (Roll For It. Fun game. Kind of a bossy title, though. No, you roll for it. Fool.)

Chris Leder is the best! Great dude, playtester, and designer. Character usage in both games was very important to us. We wanted to curate the player's game experience to feel like they WERE the characters. With The Goonies, that meant picking a character and being that character throughout the game. You ARE Data. With BttF, that wouldn't really work. No one wants to be anyone other than Marty. MAYBE Doc. No one WANTS to be George, though, or Jennifer. Well, maybe furries want to be Einstein. Either way, everyone wants to be Marty.

Back to The Goonies: It's a co-op. How are we going to separate this from all the other co-ops? The answer is the team turn. We wanted to give players a sense of working as the Goonies, so the team gets four actions every round. Those actions are used to navigate around the locations, clear obstacles, search for treasure, avoid the Fratellis, discover the ship, etc. How the team chooses to spend these four actions is entirely up to them: One player may contribute multiple cards for multiple actions in a round, one player might hang back and save cards, two players may team up for one action. It's entirely on the team to figure out how best to manage four actions a turn amongst themselves, given that every player also has both a special gamelong ability and a one-shot power to use at the optimal time.

When we started testing this system, the coolest thing started to happen. We noticed that the alpha player syndrome — the table general, if you will — was very much reduced, if not eliminated altogether, because in a team turn every player has enough options of their own to process that you don't have time or mental capacity to micromanage everyone else.

Here's an example of this in a standard co-op: When it's Matt's turn, we all sit there and stare at Matt analyzing his hand of cards and urging him not to mess it all up for us. We hold Matt's hand for him because we have time to babysit him and make sure he doesn't end the world accidentally. In The Goonies, with the team all taking four actions together, I'm looking at my own hand of cards, my power, my ability, and I'm lobbying for how I best think I can help the situation. Okay, there's a problem over there, I can help with this. Oh, you can do that? Great. You think I should use this power? Etc. The problem-solving immediately becomes a team engagement and everyone feels like they're helping. Even Matt. I love that after a game of The Goonies, win or lose, you and the other members of the team really feel like you went on that adventure together.

Sigh. High Road.

So the DeLorean is flown around a ton, but how did we actually handle time travel in Back to the Future? The first thing we did was take a page from Fleet and give the cards in the main draw deck a few different stats. One of these stats you can use a card for is the listed power (think watts, not ability). Of course it takes 1.21 gigawatts to time travel, so each card has some portion of that or maybe the entire amount to spend. Cards are discarded as needed to reach 1.21 gigawatts, after which the time machine may be moved to any of the three time periods: 1955, 1985, or 2015. Once there, cards can be played to place characters in the different time periods to try to recreate the major events from the movies with which players will be familiar.

In this game, time is money, so each character played has a time cost that must be paid for with other cards using their listed time. What's more, because of the ripple effect that comes with altering the past, characters played in the past cost greater amounts of time than those in the future. This extra ripple effect takes more time to pull off, but the effects will come back to benefit players at game's end once the effects are totaled.

The real key to all of this, though, is that players are using the familiar characters to thematically help them on this journey. Doc is your key to moving the time machine efficiently. Jennifer does appear at first to be under-utilized and just dragged around the entire time...until she comes up huge for you in a pinch! Biff. Man, I hate when you choose Biff! But of course. Should you be happy when another player is using Biff? No way! He's a pain!

Lorraine is great. You will not use her every turn, but when you do, she is important. Some people are going to not like the way Biff works, but that was the point! Biff is a jerk. He is totally the kind of guy that pushes you down and takes your lunch money. Like Ben said, we wanted to make the character powers feel like the characters. Each power gives you sense of the character.

Which characters are you the most happy with of the two games? First off, I am completely excited that we were able to get all of the memorable faces into each game. It wouldn't be much of a story if we didn't properly represent Doc, Marty, Data, or Mikey. There was a time when we weren't sure Brand was going to happen on account of contracts, etc., but alas, we got him! One of my favorites from The Goonies is the Andi character we devised. She's really fun because she's totally thematic. One of the symbols on the cards in The Goonies is a musical note, and for Andi those musical note cards are wild. It's a simple power, but thematically so perfect for her character. I love that things like that fell into place. In Back to the Future, my favorite has to be Biff. He's a jerk. He's powerful. And just like in the movies, if you don't manage the Biff situation, he's going to hurt you.

Of course Ben likes Biff. I mean, I know he puts on nice face to all of you, but the jerk store called and they're running out of Ben.

Winding this thing down, I want to say that each of these games has been an absolute honor to work on, so thank you very much for checking them out. I hope you're able to give them some plays and enjoy the adventures we've designed for you using these two wonderful stories that mean so much to us all. In addition, I'd be remiss not to especially thank Chris Leder for his work on Back to the Future and Jon Schultz for his work on The Goonies. The games wouldn't be what they are without these two major assets. Oh, and make sure to look for Matt sometime soon on a red carpet near you. —Ben

I will be the fat dude with the beard rocking the velvet skinny-fit tux with high peak satin cuffs...or sweat pants. Thanks to everyone who read this, and please consider checking out both games. The Goonies will be out later in 2016, and BttF was released in April 2016. —Matt
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Mon May 9, 2016 1:00 pm
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Crowdfunding Round-up: Monster Trucks, Dark Lords, Planets Go Kablooie, & ZombicidapocalypseZ (Or Something Like That)

Matt Riddle
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Con season is here! I love the summer because my lovely wife is a teacher, so she and my girls are home and everything decompresses for a couple of months. More vacation, more hanging out, more fun. I love summer — and I love cons! Origins was a blast and Gen Con is right around the corner. I had a chance to play a few copies of games — or at least witness plays of a few games — that are live on KS right now. Also, I bought Monstertorte at Origins and it's amazeballs. Luckily my daughters like it, too.

• Up first is Monster Truck Mayhem from Dice Hate Me Games and world class designers Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback. (KS link) Yay for shameless self promotion! One of the advantages of writing this thing is that I get to pick the games and so yeah, I mean I am covering my own game but will do so with my normal journalistic, objective detachment... MONSTER TRUCK MAYHEM IS THE BEST GAME EVER DESIGNED OR PLAYED ANYWHERE EVER. Like for reals. Monster Truck Mayhem is real-time, dice-rolling, monster truck madness. It is a true race in which the first person to compete a lap around the SuperMegaDome wins. There are car crushes, bus jumps, mud pits, death chasm, monster truck announcing, and more. I am SUPER happy how this game turned out. The art is from Benjamin Raynal of King of Tokyo, and the bits are great big and chunky and high quality. There is a lot in the box. That does mean the price ended up a bit higher than was expected — $39 + shipping – but it's worth it. MTM is off to a decent start but could use some love, so check it out.

Quote:
In Monster Truck Mayhem, players simultaneously roll their dice to race around the SuperMegaDome track, and the winner is the first player to cross the finish line!

SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! Monster Truck Mayhem is invading the SuperMegaDome! Brought to you by Ridback Pub, 101 The Animal, and Big Al's Sound Emporium, this thrill show spectacular will BLOW YOUR MIND! All your favorite trucks and more will be there...AND SO SHOULD YOU! Car crushing, mud sliding, bus jumping, and general mayhem for only $39! Less than FORTY BUCKS gets you the whole seat...but you will only need the edge Edge EDGE!
It is a TON of fun, I promise. Dice Hate Me went with a "no stretch goals" approach that I think is pretty cool. Any thoughts on that?

 
• KS vet Nevermore Games is seeking funding for Dark Dealings. (KS link) I did not get a chance to play this, but it was played near me. Everyone seemed to be having a great time. It is For Sale–ish: filler but with good decisions. It is a very well put together package.

Quote:
In Dark Dealings, players take on the roles of Dark Lords. You've managed to annoy the locals just enough for them to muster heroes bent on evicting you from your dark tower. Now you must impress your Dark Masters, beings not meant to be known by ordinary man, by taking on the most fiercest of heroes. Doing so will get you mighty defenses you'll use to hopefully evade eviction. Last longer than your fellow Dark Lords (other players) and you will win Dark Dealings.
Most fiercest? I think that is the most worstest English in this post. Well, except all the barely intelligible crap I wrote. Have fun editing this one, W. Eric! (Editor's note: I'm used to it by now. —WEM)

Cosmic Kaboom is being published by Minion Games and is the second game from them and designer Matt Loomis. (KS link) It was nice of Kit Fisto and Star Fox to agree to be in the game. Good celebrity endorsements! I have played Cosmic Kaboom several times and truly enjoy it. It is flicking, so you can only be as good as your index finger allows, but there are very well done and fun powers and enough strategy and luck to keep everyone – even terrible flickers – engaged.

Having played it, I really expected this game to be doing much better. It is on pace to fund, so it will get out there to backers and that is important. A friend was discussing this game and Monster Truck Mayhem and speculated that it may be difficult to "show the fun" of games like these with an important physical or speed element via the interwebs. These are the kinda games that you play at a con or demo at a store, then buy immediately. I can tell you this game is fun, so check it out. The components are great, the art is well done — if maybe the cover is a bit overdone for what the game is, but better overdone then underdone.

Quote:
Cosmic Kaboom is a dexterity flicking game in which players fly around space collecting energy to power up space bombs which are used to eradicate the planets of their enemies. The dynamic play area allows you to play on any size surface.

Each player controls three planets in their color scattered throughout the board. One of these planets houses an energy crystal that supplies players with an energy cube of that color when their ship is flicked into this planet. After an energy cube of each player color is collected, you may toss the space bomb onto the board in an attempt to blow up the other player's planets. Each planet is worth points (shown on the back of the planet) that you earn when blowing it up.

Advancement cards that provide player powers or bonuses to aid in your conquest are given to players throughout the game. The game continues until either one entire color of planets has been destroyed, or the majority of the planets have been destroyed. Whoever has the most points becomes the ruler of the universe!
The guy with ram horns looks pissed. He must suck at flicking.

• I wouldn't want to miss out on my quota of farm animal related games this month, so here is Zombicide: Black Plague from Cool Mini or Not. (KS link) Well, okay. I kid. It is not actually farm animal related. Honestly, this is probably the first month in a long time there wasn't at least one farm-related game I could find to cover. People love cows, so it is an easy mark. Too bad.

But you know what people love more? Zombies! And minis! Zombicide is KILLING it. It has already made a bajillion dollars and seeking more. Zombies and minis are both pretty far off my gaming radar, but I know this is the preeminent zombie minis game series going right now. Based on their backer total, you have already checked it out!

Quote:
Zombicide: Black Plague is a standalone cooperative boardgame for 1-6 players that brings the relentless zombie-killing action of Zombicide into a brand new fantasy setting! Players control a party of survivors as they fight to rid the land of an invasion of zombies controlled by the game itself. Survivors find weapons, learn spells, battle zombies, and gain experience. The more experienced they get, the more powerful they become, but the more zombies rise to face them!
Are all Zombicides co-op? I feel like I should play one just so that I can say I have. I used to get it mixed up with Zpocalypse.

Quick Hits

HOPE from Morning Players is a very attractive looking game. I HOPE they get more backers. (KS link)

Quote:
HOPE features a multi-dimensional board (an optical illusion) with an ever-shifting frame of reference, asymmetric player powers, and semi-cooperation between players. (Only one player will win, but if the universe collapses, all players lose.) As an elite member of the Human Organization to Preserve Existence (H.O.P.E), you are tasked with saving the universe by jumping to the far reaches of space, terraforming hostile planets into habitable worlds, and seeding new civilizations with life.
• Hold on! I found my farm animal themed game: Sheep Happens. It's about sheep and goats. Sheep Happens? Get it, you know cause instead of the other s-h word it is sheep! Hey-o! People must love goats. They are the new zombies. (KS link)

Quote:
Sheep happens is a brand new card game about the endless war between sheep and goats. The game is quite simple, but despite the simplicity of the game rules, the strategies that can be used to beat your enemy are really varied.
MONSTROUS is a card-throwing game with good art. (KS link)

Quote:
MONSTROUS is a tactical dexterity game. Every turn you need to choose the best monster card to throw and combine with location powers — and the monstrous mayhem on the table. Can you spot the best combinations? Do you go for that long shot worth more points, or play it safe with an easy throw? Do you lay a Gorgon as a trap in the thick of the action or punch through a scrum of monsters with your Hydra to reach the mortals beneath? Then you hurl your mythic monster down at the mortals. The fate of the Pantheon is in your hands.
Mare Nostrum from Academy Games is a grail game that is killing it on KS with a reprint. Sometimes grail games are not reprinted for a reason, but clearly there was a demand for this one as it is raking it in. (KS link)

Quote:
Mare Nostrum is all about the expansion of one's lands, the construction of new cities, and the dispatching of caravans to take advantage of rare commodities that can either be traded or exploited to build constructions and eventually wonders of the world.

Diplomacy and trade are but one path to greatness. The expansion of your navy and armies can take what should be rightfully yours. Hiring great leaders will further expand your boundaries in quick time.

Controlling a combined total of four Wonders and/or Leaders or being the first to build the Pyramids will assure victory — but there are many hurdles to overcome to achieve such heights.
Epic from White Wizard Games was already covered in detail by W. Eric Martin. Not my bag, but it IS pretty and has a good pedigree. (KS link)

• Last but not least is Apotheca from Andrew Federspiel and Knapsack Games. (KS link) This is another great looking production. It looks abstracty in a good way. When I started writing these things about two years ago, not every project looked good. There were plenty that were shaky. I am sure there still are plenty that are awful to look at, but overall KS creators have really stepped up their game.

Quote:
Apotheca is a 30-minute, potion-crafting strategy game for 2-4 players ages 14 and up.

Devise your plans by hiding ingredients in the marketplace. Reveal secrets to collect precious gems. Recruit powerful apothecaries to do your bidding. The first apprentice to make three potions becomes a member of the secret potion society!

Only clever folk can navigate this mysterious market. Can you master the world of Apotheca?
Going, Going, Gone

12 Realms: Bedtime Story from MAGE Company is the newest game in the 12 Realms series: a family-oriented storytelling game with top notch production values. (KS link)

Quote:
12 Realms is a co-op adventure game, letting whole families determine the fate of imaginative worlds where anything is possible. 12 Realms offers players the chance to act as fairy tale heroes—everyone from Sinbad and King Arthur to Red Riding Hood, Nutcracker, Robin Hood and beyond.
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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Sat Jun 20, 2015 8:48 pm
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Crowdfunding Round-up: Cars, Cows, Goats, and Xenon, Master of the Automotive Ruminants

Matt Riddle
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Hi there. After the ridiculousness of February and March 2015 – I think I backed, like, six projects – I did not pay attention to Kickstarter much in April. By the time I write another one of these, it will be Origins! Holy cow! My 9yo was waxing poetically yesterday on how she had only like twenty days of school left, which is crazy. Summer is nearly upon us and that means Origins and Gen Con are here. I LOVE Origins and Gen Con. If you see me at either, please say hi. I won't have a BGG jersey or anything since I am not a mod or staff or anything; plus they prefer I associate myself with the mothership as little as possible.

• Up first is Xenon Profiteer from Eagle-Gryphon Games and designer T.C. Petty III. (KS link) I like this game a lot. It is fun, it is different. As weird as it sounds, it is even pretty thematic. Somehow, the game actually makes you feel like you are building a Xenon distillery. Oh, and it won the Ion Award which is like the third most prestigious game design award in Utah, so grats to T.C. on that! The overall style of Xenon Profiteer is sharp, and it is game #something of the Eagle-Gryphon Bookshelf series. I backed it FWIW, so go check it out.

Quote:
In Xenon Profiteer, you take the role of entrepreneuring engineers striving to specialize and optimize your Air Separation Facility in order to emerge as a titan of the emerging market for Xenon. Others are racing to achieve similar prestige, however, and only the best among you will be victorious.

In a decidedly different take on the classic deck-building format, Xenon Profiteer not only actively encourages players to remove cards from their decks; it is a core mechanism in your goal of isolating Xenon. Each turn begins by strategically removing cards from your hand (and deck) through distilling based on the real-world hierarchy of elements. The goal: Have only Xenon remaining in your hand. The problem is, of course, the only way to gain more Xenon is to bring in more air — and air is composed of all kinds of other pesky elements that make isolating Xenon difficult.
Step 1: Isolate Xenon. Step 2: ?? Step 3: Profit!

• KS first-timer Aporta Games is seeking funding for Automania. (KS link) I think every game designer at some point goes, "Wait, I make only how much per game? Really? WTF? Where does the rest go?!?" While some of us press on to make dozens of dollars and attempt to win the admiration of our peers as just payment for our efforts, others like Kristian Amundsen Østby embrace the entrepreneurial spirit and give it a go at self-publishing. I like the "assembly line" mechanism in games. Kanban has been very popular in 2015, and I bet Kristian was a little disappointed when he first saw it and felt like maybe Kanban drank Automania's milkshake, but I think there is room for plenty of games in such a cool thematic setting as an automobile factory. I will be looking into this one.

Quote:
In Automania, you run a car factory, trying to produce the most popular cars on the market. To achieve this, you buy tiles to upgrade and customize your factory, and hire specialist employees that provide a variety of advantages.

Central to the game are the factory boards: Each player has a factory with three assembly lines, and each line produces one type of car. You can put machine tiles along your lines to change the specifications of your cars. However, your three assembly lines intersect, so each machine tile placed might affect more than one type of car. Therefore, you have to think carefully about where you put those machines.

When you produce a car, it must be shipped to one of two markets. Choosing the right market is crucial, as one market provides more money, while the other provides more prestige. Each market has some demands, and the better your car matches these demands, the more popular your car will be in that market. The most popular cars will sell first and reap the highest profits.
Overall, the art and design is a little cartoony for the theme IMO, but it is bright and colorful and well done overall.

Have a Cow! is being self-published by N20 Games. (KS link) Cartoon cows are fun and cute, so I am never surprised when I see a game themed around them. Have a Cow! is no exception, featuring a lot of the aforementioned bovine. Do you know what a cow's favorite subjects in school are? Moosic and cowculus. Ha! Boom.

Quote:
Have a Cow! is a competitive card game of hand management that requires timing, ingenuity, and strategy. Your goal is to make hay and attract cows while thwarting your opponents' attempts to do the same.
It's whimsical and humorous, yet strategic and thoughtful. You'll use cards in combinations, like pickup trucks and tractors, dogs and farmhands, or even UFOs and dragons to accomplish your goals, all while trying to be the first player to build a herd of four cows.

The game has taken time, effort and an exhausting number of mouse clicks to become what it is today.
You know who won't be backing it? Bart Simpson. Get it? Cause "don't have a cow man". :rimshot: Ha! Wooooooo. Ya, that is high comedy right there.

• Now for a completely different farm animal... Gruff is an offering from KS virgin Studio Woe, so when I read "tactical card game of mutated monster goats", I immediately assumed the worst. (KS link) I understand: It is IMPOSSIBLE to be unique. Everything has been done before. Simpsons did it. I get all that. Mutated monster goats felt like maybe the publisher was trying a little too hard, but as I looked at the KS page, Gruff began to win me over. It is incredibly well done. The art is fantastic, the box is cool, and the theme is completely embraced throughout. Take a closer look if you are interested in a beautifully packaged 2-4p card game.

Quote:
Gruff is a tactical card game that can be learned in a few minutes but has a tremendous amount of depth. Find your strategy, customize your team, build your combos, and crush your enemies! Gruff's combat mechanisms create a constant state of counter-play. When an enemy attacks, you have your entire turn to dodge out of the way, mount your defenses, and launch a counterattack!

It's all about the goats! Create a team of three goats that begin the game in play and stay in play throughout the game. They are your source of damage, defense, and resources.

Gruff is complete! The game has been in development for over three years and is polished to glorious luster! We are very pleased with it, and are excited to get into your hands.
That last statement actually hits on one of my pet peeves: "...development for over three years" as if time somehow makes something inherently better. I get the idea that it means this game wasn't thrown together, but it doesn't actually mean it got better. Stuff can suck for a long time. Not to say Gruff sucks as it actually looks pretty damn cool. Anyone follow me on that one?

Quick Hits

• In Wordariffic, each player gets 11 letter cards and tries to make a word that best relates to a random theme. The last player to put down a word loses their chance to play this round and becomes the judge. The player(s) with the longest word gets 1 point. The player with the best word (as judged by the judge) gets 3 points. The game ends when the 32 point chips have all been handed out. (KS link) (Editor's note: Sorry, Jeff! Matt submitted his write-up a couple of days ago, and I missed posting this before your project ended. —WEM)

The Small Viking Axe Game is a game about small viking axes. SMALL F-ING VIKING AXES! Amazeballs. (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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Wed May 13, 2015 12:00 am
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Crowdfunding Round-up: Zombies a Cookin', Dice a Tumblin', Treehouses a Buildin', and A Few Other Games That Do Not Fit This Pattern

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So EVERY month is big on Kickstarter, but February and March 2015 seemed to have a million projects that caught my attention. I backed more than I intended and steadfastly ignored a few I might have otherwise considered. One of the biggest I did not back was Thunderbirds because I don't even know what the heck that is.

• I love the art style on Best Treehouse Ever from Green Couch Games and designer Scott Almes. (KS link) Artist Adam Mciver killed it. It's cartoony and "young" in a good way. I love the Euro send-up with the kids holding the plans looking up at the tree, an approach that made it eligible for this amazing GeekList. Gamewise, it is a filler-ish family game that can be enjoyed by adults as well. I trust Jason and Scott, two of the best dudes in gaming, so I assume that the drafting isn't too much for younger gamers. I love anything with spatial analysis, so I am in.

Quote:
Best Treehouse Ever is a small box card game that appeals to a wide audience. This game will satisfy gamers and families looking for a quick, easy-to-teach experience that provides player interaction on every turn.

Have you ever dreamed of building a super awesome treehouse? Now it's time to live that dream! In Best Treehouse Ever, players compete to build the best treehouse in the neighborhood. Players will outfit their treehouse with the coolest rooms, all while making sure their tree doesn't tip over and that their rooms are the most impressive at the end of the game.

Building takes place over three weeks/rounds, and at the end of the third week the winner will be the player with the best treehouse ever!
Scott Almes is EVERYWHERE. Great dude. He has taken over as the king of Kickstarter.

Tumblin’ Dice from Eagle-Gryphon Games is gigantic. Like super big. (KS link) Some games are just fun and Tumblin' Dice is one of them. I have played it only a few times, but it was always a blast. Seriously though, it is soooo big. Where do you store it? If I bought this, it would end up on the kitchen table after we played it, then I wouldn't want to take it down to the basement to the island of misfit toys because it would get forgotten about or stomped on by box trolls, so I would end up shifting around the kitchen and living room with it constantly being in the way until one day my wife sets fire to it after the umpteenth time she asks me to take it to the basement with me saying I will but not actually doing it. Needless to say I won't be backing it, but hopefully someone I know does because it's fun.

Quote:
Tumbln' Dice is a dexterity dice board game consisting of a multi-colored playing field with four sets of colored dice that a player can slide, roll, and flick down its stepped surface. After each person or team has thrown their four dice, points are tallied and totaled.

A player can score a multiplier with each die roll, gaining up to 1x, 2x, 3x, or 4x depending on which area of the board the dice rest in. (Dice which land in the 0x region are immediately removed from play.)

Just like shuffleboard or curling, high-scoring rolls can become targets for opponents who may hope to knock the die out of the game. After four rounds, and the player with the most points wins!
This box is so big that when I accidentally set it on an iPhone, it turned into an iPad.

Cheapass Games is back with Lord of the Fries from owner James Ernest. (KS link) I am always down for a humorous theme, and this one sure is. This one looks interesting even though I am not inherently a zombie guy. It's only cheapass-ish at $30 for 100 cards or so, but it looks like they have some cool plans if it blows up like Pairs did.

Likely no one else cares or notices, but Cheapass is the 12th entry in the BGG publisher database; Green Couch Games above is the 27,497th. Even before Kickstarter there have been a TON of companies coming and going in our little hobby. I mean, there are like forty game companies that have "Green" in them.

Quote:
In Lord of the Fries, you're a zombie working in a fast food joint, and you must build combo meals from a hand of random ingredients.

That's the deal in Lord of the Fries, one of Cheapass Games' most beloved games, which was introduced in 1998 as the sequel to Give Me the Brain. It has had several versions since then, and now it's out of print. We want to make the new edition better in many ways, including a second complete restaurant deck: McFrye's Coffee Shop.
I do love fast food. Too much probably.

Bad Decisions is being self-published by Ian Price. (KS link) This game is "a new storytelling twist on card-matching party games for teens and up [that] focuses on the humor in the questionable life choices which some people make when the going gets tough". That is pretty good copy IMO. It cuts to the chase in a good way. Frankly, though, I hate these types of games, so I have no idea whether Bad Decisions is different than the current crop of "read cards and trick your friends into thinking you are actually funny" games. Maybe someone with more experience can let us know in the comments.

Quote:
Bad Decisions can be played for a few minutes by 3-4 people on break, or for an entire evening by a dozen or more friends. The bare-bones (no art, half the final deck size) original prototype has been very popular with players at sci-fi, anime and furry conventions as well as at Gen Con 2014.

Because of the storytelling character of this game, each story card can set up literally hundreds of different situations. All players have hands with five of each player card category. The bard plays cards for whichever of the categories (Fool, Crisis or Bad Decision) come up as the first two blanks on that story card. The other players complete the story by anonymously playing a card for the remaining blank from their own hands to fill the final blank. The bard chooses the winning ending to complete the story, then passes the role of bard to the player on the left.
Well, if furries love it, then you'd better go back it.

• Now for something completely different, Hylaria from Fablesmith. (KS link) Honestly, I got nothing. I glanced through the page but couldn't really figure out what was going on. It looks like there is a memory-ish version, then another harder one with a code you devise? I was even lazier than normal, so W. Eric spoonfed me a few links. I think he purposely chose games that would make my brain go numb out of spite.

I like the kitschy art style as the game looks like Dixit on acid. I don't have anything else to add, BUT the crew over at "A roll of the dice" LOVED Hylaria: "A clean sweep for us. I have never rated a game a ten, and that is just because I do not believe any game to be perfect. This one is darn close though. The fun of fooling your friends, while secretly conversing with your team is awesome. Some of the codes we came up with made no sense, at all, to anyone, and we couldn't help but laugh the night away trying to decipher our own code, let alone the other team's."

Quote:
Hylaria is designed with one thing in mind: creating the perfect game to have a wonderfully hilarious time with friends and family. And this is what you will find in this box. A game that is a breeze to learn, quick to set up and a joy to play. Hylaria uses a very powerful tool at its core: the limitless creativity of human beings. When this is combined with cartoony art and unavoidable miscommunication, hilarity is guaranteed. But it gets even better!

With all the components you will find in the box, you'll be able to play Hylaria Quest, a fun and colorful game for everyone aged 6 and up. No matter what type of company you find yourself in, it's always a good idea to put Hylaria on the table.
See, it wasn't merely ineptitude; there just isn't any actual gameplay info on the page. There is a link to the rules but ain't nobody got time for that. (Actually the rules are short, so I probably have the time, if not the desire.)

Quick Hits

• The super awesome Richard Ham (Rhado) is seeking funding for season four of Rhado Runs Through. There is a lot of good board game media these days, but Richard remains one of the best. His channel is both prolific and well done. Check it out. (KS link)

Going, Going, Gone

Its closed now, but I backed Bottom of the 9th and not just because I am a character in it...though I am. And it rules. Feel free to get a copy and desecrate my likeness as you see fit. That is it for now. W. Eric is going to cover the other 748 projects that are live right now soon enough and I have Hearthstone to play.

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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Mon Mar 30, 2015 3:32 am
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Crowdfunding Round-up: Fruit, Cops, Goblins, Magicians and Ferris Wheels, or All Things Found in W. Eric's Bedroom!

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Apparently I missed posting anything in January 2015, yet SOMEHOW Kickstarter managed to generate funds without my help. What's more, while I know a TON of games are always on KS, it felt like even more than normal, with so many going sooooo big. Hopefully some backer dollars are left over for February, especially since I, you know, I could, ahem, use some, errm... self-serving a-hole alert!

Before that though, I wanted to mention Unpub 5, from which I have just returned. If you are an aspiring game designer or just like to play still-developing games, check out Unpub and get out to an event. Sure, W. Eric gets to go to Essen and BGG.CON and Nürnberg...and I went to Baltimore. It was great, though, with tons of new and established designers showing off protos and getting feedback — absolutely great. Now on to business...

• First up is Trickerion: Legends of Illusion, a self-published title that has really caught on on KS. (KS link) My first reaction was weird name and the cover art magicians are a little...off — BUT it looks neat mechanically and I love the board. The stage area is super cool-looking. It's weird to me that magicians have become cool. When I used to try to practice magic tricks during lunch in middle school, I would get wedgie-ed and swirly-ed. By my teacher. Now though, magicians are cool! Fear not DMs — your day too shall come!

Quote:
In Trickerion: Legends of Illusion, 2-4 players, playing as rival magicians, clash in a grand contest for fame and fortune. Starting out with just a simple trick and a handful of helpers, you will embark on a journey to become the greatest illusionist alive.

Inspired by movies like the ''Prestige'', ''Now You See Me'' and the Houdini mini-series, we created a world where magic and illusion are part of people's everyday lives. Most of the magic tricks in the game are part of the repertoires of real world illusionists, past and present, but a pinch of supernatural was also added to the mix – just so you can never be sure whether those spiritual tricks are really merely illusions...

Each turn, you will visit Magoria's various Locations – the Downtown, the Market Row, the Dark Alley and the Theater – to expand your team, learn more and more intricate magic tricks, get components for them, and prepare them in your Workshop. Each turn concludes with a Performance phase in the Theater, when players may perform a breathtaking magic show for Fame points and money. After the sixth Performance phase, the player with the most Fame points wins the game, and becomes the next Legend of Illusion.
Speaking of magician movies, I like the Batman one better than the Wolverine one.

•Next up is the bestest game ever, Floating Market from Eagle-Gryphon Games and designers Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback.(KS link) Ya! I mean, there is no way I could possibly be objective or even not completely annoying discussing this game, so I will keep it brief. It has great art, top notch production values, and a huge pile of really neat polyhedral dice all for $29 + shipping! Polyhedral dice in a euro?! I know, right!

There is a trend I like on KS. I give credit to Tasty Minstrel Games for doing it first (at least that I noticed) and that trend is the "discount". KS projects from established companies ultimately end up in retail – most of the time — and as a backer and a project creator I constantly see the following COMPLETELY legitimate complaint: "What the #@$! I paid $45 for this game on KS and two weeks after it delivers, it's only $35 on Amazon, Coolstuff, MM, etc.” Yup. That is annoying. Sure, stretch goals...but still. I am glad more companies seem to be taking the discount route, including Eagle-Gryphon with Floating Market. I remember the first time I walked into Origins or Gen Con three years ago. I was shocked that all the games were MSRP. I assumed that buying straight from the publisher would be cheaper. False.

Quote:
Floating Market utilizes polyhedral dice, worker placement, and dice speculation to create a unique and accessible experience for gamers of all levels. The rules and turns are simple and intuitive, making it perfect for families and casual players. Experienced gamers will appreciate the unique blend of new and familiar mechanisms and the quick, fun gameplay that uses polyhedral dice in a new and interesting way.

In Floating Market, players each control customers (Ama's grandchildren), which they will assign to fruit boats (to collect fruit) and to buildings (to receive special abilities). Each player will also add a die to the dice pool each round in an attempt to influence a die roll that determines which fruit boat will hand out fruit. Players race to collect mango, banana, papaya, guava, grapefruit, rambutan, and the famous starfruit – from the constantly shifting boats around the Khlong Damnoen Saduak Canal of Thailand.
I mean, what’s not to love?

• First-time publisher Phoenix Rising Games has launched Rolling for Amusement, which is off to a bit of a slow start. (KS link) It looks fun, and designer Garrett Herdter is a good dude. His table was near mine at Unpub 4. Hopefully this catches on.

Quote:
Rolling for Amusement is a dice game for 2-4 players in which players compete to build the best theme park. Each player draws a combination of five cards from either theme deck, Blue being extreme attractions, and Green being smaller attractions. In turn order, starting with the first player, you will roll custom dice trying to match the symbols needed on the attraction you are trying to build. You may use the Clover symbols on cards in your hand to help your rolls at any time, and may re-roll the dice for a total of three attempts per park.

Before rolling begins, your opponents can try to undermine you by playing cards from their hand that will make your attraction harder to roll. If you succeed, you can push your luck and try for more parks (and your opponents can play even more dirty tricks on you) or pass the dice and keep what you have built. If you press your luck and fail, you lose all progress you have rolled this turn.

Play continues until the desired number of rounds are over. Players add up points earned for all completed attractions, and the player with the highest point total wins!
Unpub alumni!

Overworld Game is back with Good Cop Bad Cop: Bombers and Traitors, an expansion to the very popular Good Cop Bad Cop. (KS link) Good Cop Bad Cop really started picking up buzz last year. It is a great deduction and hidden role card game for a larger group. It is a small box, inexpensive game that is fun and has good replay. The expansion add more roles and new gameplay.

Quote:
Bombers and Traitors expansion still facilitates the wild and exciting gameplay of Good Cop Bad Cop, but opens the door to new strategies. If you eliminate a Bomber or do not eliminate a Traitor, everyone but them will lose, so Crooked and Honest cops alike must momentarily put their differences aside to work together and avoid these threats.

In addition to adding new gameplay experiences, Bombers and Traitors expands Good Cop Bad Cop to support as few as three players. Since the base game is required for this expansion, we are looking forward to a stretch goal that will increase the size of the box so that it has enough room to hold a first-edition copy of Good Cop Bad Cop. It holds all cards either sleeved or unsleeved.
Plus you can sing bad boys, bad boys whatcha gonna do all night while playing so that is cool. This is a great game that has been a hit with my group.

Quick Hits

Pretense from Jason Tagmire is a "meta game" game with very nice art. (KS link) In his words, "It's a game that you play throughout the course of the ENTIRE game night. You pass out role cards when everyone arrives, and then you tally the score when everyone leaves. As a player you have one job: fulfill your duty as stated on your card. Maybe you are the Glutton. All you need to do is make sure someone hands you food or drink. It's easy enough to say 'Can you pass me those chips?', but at the same time is it too obvious to say that? Other players can call you out, which will eliminate you from the game, so you better be slick about it. It's all about setting up your agenda in an unsuspicious way. That's Pretense for you."

• I am interested to watch the progress of Capture. I can't tell if there is a BGG entry because a TON of games are called Capture. (Ed. note: Matt is either lazy or inept as not that many games are called "Capture", the full name is Capture: A Medieval Wargame, and you can always search for a publisher's name, then sort the titles by year of publication. —WEM) The reason I am intrigued is because it looks neat, but it's from Game Salute and people HATE Game Salute. It is also catapults and people LOVE catapults. (KS link)

• My favorite name of the month goes to Goblin's Breakfast. (KS link) Here's a short description: "In this card game, players take the role of Goblins at the breakfast table, scrambling to eat as much food as they can while simultaneously keeping food from others. Players select which food and makeshift weapons they are going to snatch from the table in a small arms race of theft and chaos. Eat the most, so that you can be the biggest goblin! The game plays 2 to 6 players with the base deck. It takes only about five minutes to learn and only about 15 minutes for a single game."

Epic Dice Tower Defense has a TON of cool dice in it. Check it out as it's a strategic, all-dice game that combines your craving for dice rolling and your love of tower defense games with over 120 dice. (KS link)

Queen Games is back with Kansas Pacific. I am not really a train game guy, but the train meeples they show are very cool. (KS link)

Happy Mitten Games has launched its first project with Aether Magic. The art is sooooo gorgeous, and the game looks fun, so take a look. They also have a great podcast. (KS link)

Going, Going Gone

January was HUGE. Even taking out the insanity that was Exploding Kittens from the equation, Orleans made a lot, Tiny Epic Galaxies made a ton, and Conan made a metric crap ton. Crazy month for Kickstarter...

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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Sat Feb 14, 2015 10:54 am
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Crowdfunding Round-up: Natives, Witches, Monks, Pirates and Viceroys (Is That the Plural of "Viceroy"? WTF is a Viceroy Anyway?)

Matt Riddle
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• As 2014 comes to a close, I like to take a look back at all the great games that I have played with all the great people, and I realize it was an awesome year. I would like to thank each and every person and game and gaming experience, good or bad, for making it a brighter year — except Amazonas.

First up for this round-up is Taluva Deluxe from Ferti with an assist from Eagle-Gryphon Games. (KS link) I am an unabashed Taluva fanboy. It is one of my favorite abstracts of all time, so much so that I traded for a copy with the racist cover and ugly brown box, but for some reason I do not have a lot of interest in a deluxe version. That and a HUNDO. Jeez. I know it's deluxe, but $100 for a 20-30min abstract is tough to swallow. It looks awesome, mind you. I work a job I barely like so that I can afford to blow $100 on crap like this without having to worry about it, but I still thought it seemed a bit much. Apparently several hundred other people disagree. It is very, very nice looking.

Quote:
The Taluva story: In bygone days, clans were challenged by Mother Nature to use their ingenuity to build villages on volcanic islands in a constantly-changing tropical environment. On Taluva island, players represent those ancient clans and play tiles which extend out and build up the surface of the island.

This constant alteration and expansion of the topography of the island may allow one clan's villages to be glorified by adding temples and towers, while simultaneously it might destroy other clans' villages, postponing or perhaps permanently preventing their quest for glory!
That is a lot of words to say "abstract tile layer".

• Steve Finn of Dr. Finn Games is back with a dice version of his smash hit Biblios, appropriately called Biblios Dice. (KS link) In a rarity for a dice version of an existing game, Biblios Dice actually appears to be longer and more complex than its original version! Crazy! I don't know a ton else about it, but it has custom dice and the Biblios brand, so it should do well. It was a bit of a slow start, but the campaign is picking up steam. I like Biblios quite a bit for what it is, so this one interests me, but I have not pulled the trigger.

Quote:
Biblios Dice is a dice adaptation of the popular game Biblios. As in that game, players assume the role of medieval abbots seeking to establish the most prestigious scriptorium by reproducing and illustrating valuable manuscripts. The artwork contains a wide variety of brilliant colors and the dice will be etched, providing an aesthetically pleasing effect to a fun and thoughtful gaming experience. It is for 2-5 players and it lasts about 40 minutes.

The game's mechanisms are simple. In each round, the starting player rolls the dice. The player then chooses one type of dice from the "dice pool". In most cases, this will be a "resource", such as ink, quills, or scrolls. The player then moves his track marker up the corresponding resource track. In clockwise order, the other players choose dice from the dice pool until all the dice are gone. In addition to resources, players may choose the gold die (which provides gold) or the adjustment die (which can change the value of the resources).

At game's end, players score victory points based on their resources, but the values of the resources change during the game. Also, periodically through the game, players auction for resources using their gold. As with Biblios, players must make some hard choices about which resources to choose and, during auctions, about how much gold to spend.
Any other dice games that are harder than their predecessor?

• Now to a game I did back: Viceroy from Mayday Games. (KS Link) Ummmmmmmmm, errrrr ya. I have no idea what this game is, but I backed it anyway. I fell for the hype and backed in a moment of weakness. I have since decided that I will learn nothing about this game so that it's a complete surprise when I get it at some point down the road...likely long after it was promised. I am in a Viceroy bubble. I know it is Russian. An even hackier hack would do an "In Russia..." joke right here, but not me. I am above that. And I couldn't think of a good one which aided my decision to take the high road.

Quote:
Viceroy is a board game of bidding and resource management set in the fantasy universe of the famous Russian CCG Berserk. As the players struggle for control over the world of Laar, they recruit a variety of allies and enact various laws. These cards allow players to develop their state's military and magical might, increase their authority, and get precious gems they need to continue expanding their nation.

As the game progresses, each player builds his own power pyramid using character and law cards. Each card has its own effect that depends on the level of the pyramid where the card is played. These effects may give more resources, more cards, or victory points. The player who has the most power points at the end of the game becomes the ruler of entire Laar and the win.
•Next in line from 8th Summit Games is Coven. This one actually just closed, but check out the BGG page if you want to know more.

Not a theme I am terribly interested in, but 8th Summit has done some good stuff, so if you are fan of witches or minis or both, then check it out. I just don't like witches all that much. I cannot really say why...maybe some latent Judeo-Christian guilt from my early years in Catholic school. Dunno.

Quote:
Covenis a game of secret alignments for 3-5 players in which each player represents a Witch serving either the darkness or the light. Not only is your starting alignment a secret, but each of the five non-player Goddesses has an unknown alignment as well. Deducing which Goddess(es) and which other player(s) share your alignment will make your strategy clear and victory easier to achieve, but not guaranteed by any means.

Gameplay is deceptively simple, with five possible actions as players traverse a circular board with an inner pentagram rotating widdershins changing tactics with each rotation. Coven presents an interesting strategic challenge: the side (Light or Dark) that scores the most Balance defeats the opposing side — but on the dominating side, only the Witch that scores the most Power can win, so players must be careful not to invest too much in one while neglecting the other.

Coven includes five playable characters (along with their miniatures) – Witches of Earth, Water, Spirit, Air and Fire. The game also includes a Goddess Power/Balance board, Black and White magic crystals, hidden alignment tokens, "reversal" alignment crosses (for players who dare to change sides), Artifact Cards and Balance cards, a Goddess Board, and a two piece circular playing board with a rotating pentagram.
How come modern witches are always so comely? When I put Bugles on the end of my fingers and cackle, I still picture the Wicked Witch of the West, not one of these modern "oh look, my robe sheet thingy barely covers my expansive...um, features 'cause it's easier to cast spells and such" witches.

Quick Hits

• Not really a KS, but an ongoing crowdfunding sort of thing — Scott "Tox" Morris over at Crits Happen has a patron-esque funding PayPal button. If you are a fan of his work like I am, please consider donating. He also recently wrote a very interesting blog post as to why he will no longer be doing Kickstarter previews.

I often see threads about what makes a good video review and the answers always vary, but for me it is simple yet not truly measurable: Be entertaining. Guys like Scott and Rhado and Joel Eddy and Tom Vasel get views because they are entertaining. It's hard to quantify that into something measurable other than you have it or you don't. That is not to say that more people shouldn't try. Please do. The more, the better even.

Going, Going Gone

I was sad to see the demise of a project that I had supported and was interested in, a project that I thought would do quite well. It goes to show that like I always say, no one knows anything about anything. The market wants what it wants. Clearly the market wants a pirate game with minis though. (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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Wed Dec 24, 2014 9:36 am
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Designer Diary: Eggs and Empires — No, Really, That's the Name. For Reals.

Matt Riddle
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Hi! I am Matt Riddle, and this is the story of Eggs and Empires, a card game from Ben Pinchback and me courtesy of Gryphon Games. You may remember us all working together on Fleet and, errrrr, Fleet: Arctic Bounty and also... Well, probably just that, if at all.

Eggs and Empires sprang from a conversation between Ben (herein writing in red) and me about how we liked blind bidding as a game mechanism because, well, it was just fun. We loved For Sale and other games like it. As it turns out, we also REALLY like card powers. Who doesn't right? So, what if...

Blind bidding + card powers = Fun. I mean, it had to! That is sound math right there. With no further ado, we decided to make a blind bidding game that used awesome, interactive card powers. So we did. The design cycle went surprisingly fast. If you read the designer diary for Fleet, you know that design took a long, LONG time. With Eggs and Empires, we brainstormed card powers and within a few days had proto cards mocked up and played a hand or two.

Matt is being too kind with his version of the story. He deserves much more of the credit on this one than he'll give himself. The conversation above we did have, multiple times even, but it was Matt who showed up excited at my house one day and said, "Here it is, our new game. Blind bid plus powers. Every player has the same ten cards, pick one, bam." Immediately the idea of positive and negative goal cards emerged and the powers to avoid/discard/pass those negative cards soon followed. Funny enough, at that time we had never even heard of Raj and some of the other big games in the genre. Having positive and negative goal cards in the pool is a staple of some of those as it turns out. Who knew? Great minds think alike, I suppose.

We began playing the next week at lunch as we often do and right away the game was fun. It was early in the process still, but we knew we had something here. We began tweaking powers, adding new ones, discarding ones we didn't like. We played and played and played. Very soon we had ten powers that we liked and that worked and were good. Those would become the Empire Deck.


Most of the final powers in the game are pretty close to what we came up with early on. By now, we seemingly have a decent grasp on what makes an interesting decision turn to turn, so powers that were too lame or too obvious in use were weeded out quickly. It wouldn't be a fun game if it were overly apparent each turn which card you should play. Therefore each card has some sort of opportunity cost or risk built in that makes the player think twice before choosing. I know one of our personal favorite choices is when to sneak in the Merchant (5) card. Avoiding an egg and getting that 6 VP from him can be a huge boon, and it's a really satisfying play.

We had been playing for VP cards without defining the exact values, so it was time to do so. We knew we wanted "good" and "bad" VP. We designed several of the powers with that in mind. Boring math and lots of brute force later, we had a nice spread of positive VP cards and negative VP cards. The negative VP cards — not wanting to win a hand or trying to figure out how high to go to get the good card but not get hosed into taking the bad card — drove good decisions.

That is when we started the best part of game design: playing the game a LOT. We spent the next months using our company mandated lunch periods just playing the game. We would play, then iterate, then play some more. A 15-25 minute game was perfect to play at lunch. We could play 2p or each run multiple hands or get our buddies to play. We could get several plays in one lunch period. We played over and over tweaking a bit here and there. It was so much fun. Over the course of all that playing, and having a good time doing it, we realized that maybe we had accomplished another goal we had set for ourselves.

GOAL: We should make a game that truly anyone can play, but we still enjoy.

This is true. I wasn't sure we had it in us, but I think with plenty of luck and brute force we stumbled upon it. Now onto my next big goal: a party game. Make a party game; rule the world. Actually my design bucket list does include a party game, along with super heroes, time travel, something regionally themed to Michigan/Detroit, and a heavy thematic adventure game.

Now, LOTS of games say "Fun for new AND experienced gamers!" As often as I hear that, I cannot actually say that I have played many that deliver on the promise. It is a difficult balance to achieve. I tend to think it is more achievable in a filler length game and those tend to be the games that indeed are fun for everyone. Eggs and Empires definitely fits perfectly into that mold. Ben and I generally prefer heavier games, so if we made a light, fast-playing, easy-to-teach game that WE liked, it had to be good right? (Hint: IT IS ninja )

If Matt sounds a little big-headed here, it's because he is, both physically and figuratively. I'm generally the voice of reason in this outfit. At least I'm claiming so in my section after he's already done writing his part.

Sigh. Honestly.

One of the reasons that we wanted to make a game like this is because of how successful Fleet has been. Fleet and Fleet: Arctic Bounty have been incredible. We are blessed and humbled by its success. Fleet is a gamer's card game that is not terribly difficult IMO, but it does take some time to learn and to teach and is generally enjoyed by more experienced gamers. Our family and friends, many of whom are non-gamers, were incredibly supportive of Fleet through development and the KS. It has gotten many of them into gaming and we could not be prouder. With that said, there are many that have a copy or two of Fleet sitting proudly on a game shelf or in a closet on top of Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit...still in the shrink. That motivated us to design a game that those family members would actually play. We realized that Eggs and Empires could be that game, and we kept that tenant in mind as we designed and tweaked.

I tease my lovely wife all the time that she doesn't like Fleet. She would never admit it, but she does not. At all. Fleet just is not for her. She likes lighter, gateway games like Settlers of Catan, Compounded, and Takenoko. We play Takenoko with my 10yo daughter, and it IS a blast.

We have played hundreds of games of Catan with my family, and it is still fun. She still requests it. I wanted Ben and me to make a game that she would request, that she would WANT to play, not just begrudgingly agree to play. Eggs and Empires has been that game. She truly loves it. She makes her family play it. It was the first time they agreed to play something other than UNO or Kids of Carcassonne (which is the BEST kids game BTW), and it went smashingly! They came over a few weeks later, and my nephew and mother-in-law asked to play it again. It was so cool.

It's all true. Fleet was kind of a sucker punch for lots of our extended family and friends. They were ever gracious and supportive in our efforts, but for many of them, being non-gamers, the game was too involved. It's really great this time to be able to put out a game with such a low barrier to entry. *insert mandatory: And gamers will love it too!!!* (It's true though, you will.) *support the troops*

Somewhere in there we argued about theme and probably tried 25 different ones that we didn't like until we found one we did. I wish there was a more exciting story, but that is the truth of it. If you know Ben and me at all or read any of our blogs or tweets, you know that theme does not come naturally to us. In the case of Eggs and Empires, it was simply that we thought the idea of dragon eggs was pretty cool and could imagine adventurers from different kingdoms, or empires, fighting over them. And that was that. It worked and it was fun. Plus, it ended up leading to some really awesome art work as a bonus.

To be fair to us, at this point we did tweak some of the powers to better integrate the theme once chosen. Theme usually seems to drive home the last 25-30% of the game and gives it the character that makes the game what it is. Our design process is basically mechanisms for a long time, find a suitable theme, then allow the theme to guide us to the finish line while making adjustments as needed — unless we're talking about monster trucks. Then it's theme all the way from day one.

That Eggs and Empires was picked up by Gryphon Games is very exciting. We know they will do a bang-up job. We showed it to Gryphon Games at Origins 2013 and they were immediately interested. After several months of development and art and planning, it is finally here. Well, almost here. Here any day now....

The art turned out amazing. Cristian Chialhala has been outstanding. Our vision was something a bit lighter, silly even, but when he showed us his vision we were hooked.

Thank you so much for reading this little stream of conscience.

Agreed. I hope you at least mildly enjoyed this read, and if it sparked your interest, please check the BGG page. We think E&E turned out great, and it has been complimentary to see it compared to Coup and Citadels and Love Letter. I admit that I did NOT see any of those comparisons coming, but it is cool with us as they are all great, great games.

Matt Riddle
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Mon Dec 1, 2014 4:57 pm
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Crowdfunding Round-up: Whales, Dragons, Nazis, Strippers, and Joel Eddy for $100. What Is "All Things Best Seen From Afar"?

Matt Riddle
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All right! Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la lalalala and such. I figured we could check out some projects that will be done just in time for Christmas...2016! Not that anyone reads this crap, but in case you do, yes, I used that joke last year. It is, ummm, recycling and such — or composting depending on what you think of my write-ups.

This month I am going to cover some games I have actually played thanks to the summer convention season. I played DragonFlame at Origins and New Bedford at Grand Con, and I played a game or two with Joel Eddy at Gen Con, so I guess that counts for his thing.

• First up is DragonFlame from Minion Games. (KS link) This is the first published game for designer Matt Loomis, and it is about burninating villages. Players are the dragons making sets and, again, burninating villages, burninating the thatch roof COTTAGES... COTTAGES. Trogdor — errr, DragonFlame! I was hoping for a beefy arm on the cover dragon and some consummate Vs but no such luck. Missed opportunity right there IMO. I backed it anyway, though.

All that said, DragonFlame is a good game featuring a pile-drafting, you-cut-I-choose thingy reminiscent of Coloretto but with some hidden information. It drives the game and is really neat. Check it out.

Quote:
In DragonFlame, players take turns stocking Castles with valuable treasures, beautiful princesses, pesky knights, and powerful relics.

At the end of each round, players will choose which castle they want to attack, one dragon per castle. However you must make your choices wisely. Although castles have rich treasures, they also determine turn order for the next round. To make matters worse, some cards may be played face down, so your opponents can seed a castle with nasty curses or knights that will cost you glory points — or you can do the same to them! Mitigated card luck gives players meaningful choices, and the rounds are quickly resolved but with undercurrents of bluffing and deeper strategy.
Trogdor was a man! I mean, he was a dragon-man, or maybe he was just a dragon...but he was still Trogdor! Trogdor comes in the NIIIIGGGGHHTTTT!

• Another first time published designer, Nathaniel Levan, has teamed up with KS veteran Dice Hate Me Games to bring us New Bedford. (KS link)
New Bedford is a medium-lightweight thematic Euro about mid-1800s New England, and it has a unique and frankly risky theme in that it is about whaling. The game handles the theme in an appropriate and careful way that does not glorify or even condone whaling — merely represents a historically accurate time period. All that said, there are a certain percentage of people who will simply not play it or give it a chance. This is an obvious spot for the old "people play war games and drug games and kill bbarrrrhhhhhh" argument, but I respect that people have sensitivities. The good news is that New Bedford is a smooth and accessible Euro. I liked it a lot and will be backing it.

Quote:
Set in the mid-1800s, the age of whaling, New Bedford gives 2-4 players the chance to build the Massachusetts town of the same name into a thriving community. Gather resources to add buildings with new actions and launch ships to go whaling. Go out longest for the best choice, but wait too long and the whales become harder to catch. And don't forget to pay your crew when ships return! Carefully balance time management and timing to earn the most points in this medium-weight worker placement and resource management game.
Also, the cover is AWESOME. In my best Dumb and Dumber, I like it a lot.

Speaking of risky themes, up next on stage, please put your hands together for Lap Dance from Artipia Games. (KS link) Ummmmmmmmm, errrrr ya. I see what they did there. Well, I had no idea what a lap dance was, so I had to Google it and stuff being the fine upstanding married man that I am. I have no particular issue with this theme. It's not a game I would ever buy since I share my game shelf with my lovely 9- and 10-y.o. daughters, but I would play it at a con, I guess. I will say, the banner ad with the young ladies @ss hanging out the bottom of her skirt was a surprise. I thought I clicked on Caylus not Caylass. :rimshot: I mean, amiright or amiright?

Is this game any good? I know nothing about it. I know I was not a fan of Among the Stars but was in the minority as everyone else seems to like it. Has anyone ever put together a Keynesian visualization for "risky theme publicity" against "lost sales because of said risky theme"? I must have missed that day in macroeconomics. Also, I hear if you back soon, you get a limited W. Eric Martin card in which he sports a cut-off BGG jersey and a banana hammock. Back now!

Quote:
In Lap Dance, 2-4 adult players compete in getting the job position of club manager in the most prestigious strip club in town. To achieve that, they will need to make sure each customer walking in to the club leaves with a big smile on their face. Each customer has different desires — dancers, drinks and various luxuries — and places a number of orders. Players try to fulfill those orders as well as possible. To achieve that, every player has access to different dancers, drinks and luxuries as well as the help of a personal assistant. If things get rough, favors can be asked from other staff members of the club.
It's weird, but the KS page says you have to pay in all singles...

Following up on the wildly successful Draco Magi, Robert Burke Games is back with Operation F.A.U.S.T.. (KS link) It's funny, but after all the theme talk so far, THIS is a theme that I don't like. I just find war themes unappealing. I simply do not enjoy historical war themes. Luckily for Robert, I am in the minority. This game is a stark contrast to Draco Magi which featured gorgeously illustrated dragons as Operation F.A.U.S.T. is very gray. Robert is a great dude and the campaign has funded and is hitting stretch goals, so go check it out.

Quote:
In Operation: F.A.U.S.T., a highly social bluffing and deduction game, players find themselves in occupied France during World War II, tasked with a mission to recover Europe's most valuable pieces of art before they are looted by Hitler's Third Reich. Operation F.A.U.S.T. (Fine Art Underground: Stolen Treasures) supports 3-8 players and takes about 30 minutes. To win the game, you must gather intelligence, locate Europe's most at risk treasures, and recover them before your opponents. Use your network of spies, double agents, art dealers, French resistance members and Allied soldiers to achieve your goals, but take care not to reveal information to others. With stakes this high, no one can be trusted!
Hey, it's like that movie with the WWII art in it! George Clooney and some other dudes save a church window and a bunch of cool paintings and statues. I liked that one.

All-around good guy and prolific video reviewer Joel Eddy is back on KS gathering funding for Season 5 of Drive Thru Review. Joel has quickly become one of the most viewed reviewers going, even after we had to see him in color. He has a cool bonus for backers this time around, exclusive promo cards for some of his favorite games like Robinson Crusoe, Eminent Domain, Mage Wars, Mice & Mystics, and the best of all Fleet! Several more games, too, so check out the KS page. (KS link). I don't care what anyone says: I think it's cool that Joel still lets his mom cut his hair.

Quick Hits

Clever Mojo Games is double-dipping with two separate KS projects for expansions: King's Forge: Queen's Jubilee (KS link) and Sunrise City: Nights!. (KS link) King's Forge was a game that I backed and played but did not really enjoy. I did appreciate the design and could see how many people that are not me would enjoy it, and the campaign is booming. Sunrise City: Nights! is "the first full expansion for this much loved game. Isaias Vallejo, the designer, set out to bring a little bit of the night-life and casino flavor to the base game and to add a couple of fun mechanics to what many have called a 'New Classic' board game." Ah, the old "many". Non specific "many" loves everything! "Many" gave a good review to a piece of pizza it found under the couch. I have actually heard good things about the base game, and the KS gives you the chance to grab both if you desire.

MAGE Company is seeking funding for Raid and Trade (KS link), which is "a post-apocalyptic game of negotiation, exploration, and tough decisions", which is better than obvious and non-engaging decisions, so good for them!

• I'll just leave this here. (KS link)

Going, Going Gone

Spiel 2014 was last month and since no one in my group is buys-all-the-new-stuff-right-away guy, I have played precisely zero of the hot Spiel games. Which is the best?

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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Sat Nov 15, 2014 6:00 am
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