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Archive for Andrea Ligabue
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It's not simple to write something about a game just from the rules, but when I learned that Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello were working on a new title, I asked the publisher, Stratelibri, to give me the opportunity to read the rules as soon as possible. After all, I really admire the creativity of this designer team, and I've found something precious in all of their games, from the worldwide celebrated War of the Ring down to the kid title Micro Monsters.
Venetia is an interesting strategy game with a solid core mechanism and a strong theme, something the designers have gotten us used to. I'll try to concentrate most in this preview on what a reading of the rules has impressed upon me rather than a detailed overview of the rules step by step, something you can do yourself by downloading the rules from the Stratelibri website.
In Venetia, players control patrician households in Venice, the "Queen of the Mediterranean", along a historical path starting with its ascendance in the 9th century up to its struggle in the 18th century. Over these nine centuries, divided in three epochs, players must acquire as many victory points — in the form of clout and fortune — as possible while driving Venice through his history.
The first thing that impressed me was the detailed map, which organized the Mediterranean region into ten land areas and eight sea areas. Each land area has three minor colonies and one major colony, and the sea areas each have a value. During the game, players occupy colonies and sea areas with influence cubes, and mark the possession of a colony with Podestà tokens; sea areas can be sometimes controlled by Venice or by an enemy's fleet.
The scoring phases arrive randomly, but with a certain amount of predictability, as they're driven by what's on the threat cards drawn during play, which means that players must plan their strategies well.
Three scorings take place during the game, once at the end of each epoch, and players earn points for having influence cubes in major or minor colonies and for Podestà tokens on the map; in addition, players earn points for tokens they collected while being the Doge. At the end of the game, players earn points for the number of different treaties they achieved, that is, for Kingdom tokens collected during the game, with a player acquiring those tokens when he has a naval route from Venice to a foreign land.
The core mechanism involves the use of action dice, something we've seen used before by Maggi and Nepitello. This time players use seven action dice in three colors — gold, silver and bronze — with each dice having 2,2,3,3,3,4 on it. The 2s also have a white card, which means that you can draw an action card, while the 4s have a red card to show that all ''other'' players can draw an action card. The number indicates the actions point that a player can use on his turn: Pick a die, take the actions, then let the next player take a turn. Actions are used to place influence cubes on sea areas (as long as they're not under the control of Venice) or to take actions in colonies already connected to Venice by a sea route. In particular:
• The gold dice are used to take commercial actions, that is, placing one influence cube on one or more different colonies.
• The bronze dice are for political actions, placing one or more cubes in a single colony.
• The silver dice are for military actions, which are more flexible as you can place influence cubes in one or more areas, but the number you place depends on the battle tiles you draw. Military actions can be also used to destroy enemy fleets blocking sea areas.
At the end of each player turn's, minor colonies with three or more influence and major colonies with four or more influence are checked for Podestà placement: If a single player has more influence than each other player, he places a Podestà token on the colony.
Influence cubes can be removed from the map due to the effects of threat cards (both for the rise of kingdoms or for the arrival of enemy fleets) or due to riots caused by an excess of influence cubes; "overbooking" a colony is the only real opportunity a player has to change the equilibrium in a colony, and thereby change the Podestà.
Around this core mechanism are 45 action cards that can be played as actions, offering players different strategies and providing votes for the election of the Doge, which seems an important part of the game. Each player has the same deck of family cards, valued 1-6, and whenever the current Doge has no Doge tokens remaining, an election for Doge takes place, with each player playing one family card and three action cards. Win or lose, most family cards are discarded each election, forcing players to bid well or bow out. The benefit of being Doge are the Doge tokens you receive, allowing you to take extra actions or score bonus points.
From the rules, Venetia looks really interesting. Determining which die to choose each turn and where to place influence looks like a real challenge, and the threat cards seem to drive the game down a difficult path with the right amount of randomness and predictability. The "draw a card" compensation (on the 2s and 4s) looks like a guarantee: Dice are a sort of common pool of resources and not a factor of randomness.
The game displays the right amount of connection with the theme, but the core mechanism looks streamlined enough to let players concentrate on strategy rather than lose time in micromanagement. I'm quite sure I'll like this game, and as soon as I get a copy, I'll go for a detailed review.
Welcome, soldier! If you are reading this document, it means that your physical or mental capabilities are excellent and our planet needs you! You are joining a secret agency whose mission is detecting and blocking alien activity on Earth. Read further if you dare, but keep in your mind two simple truths:
-----• They are already here.
-----• And they are not friendly!
You will be part of an elite squad formed by up to five agents involved in several critical, tactical missions. You will encounter hostile aliens, so be prepared to fight them and fire with no mercy.
That's your introduction to Galaxy Defenders, and it's followed by a huge list of game components, including plastic figures, dice, sheets, cards, tokens and markers. Looking over the materials and considering the theme, if I didn't already know that the designers – Simone Romano and Nunzio Surace – and publishers – Ares Games and Gremlin Project – were Italian, I'd swear that I was holding a new big box game from Fantasy Flight.
Due to my work covering the Italian game industry and organizing an annual convention in Modena, I was lucky enough to receive a preview copy of Galaxy Defenders. The rules and materials that were included are final versions of what will be in the box, but most of the plastic figures were missing (since they need to be produced once the final contents of the game are determined), the map tiles were only single-faced, and I didn't have all of the missions/maps from the final product. Still, I had enough to take me through two missions included in the preview game – Mission 1: Close Encounters and Mission X-play – and I've now played Mission 1 three times.
Contents of the base game
Galaxy Defenders is a pure collaborative game, with we, the players, being the Agents – that is, the protagonists – while the game system itself moves the bad guys, the Aliens. The base game includes at least twelve missions that you can play as standalone scenarios or (in what seems a much better option) as a full somewhat-linear campaign. I've seen some of the missions that have yet to be revealed, and the campaign flow looks intriguing with the different missions apparently providing vastly different play experiences.
To adjust the game's difficulty level, you can toggle certain optional rules on or off. Since I'm a gamer at heart but new to this game, I played my initial games at normal difficulty level, which means that I encounter no friendly fire and no in-campaign real pain – that is, the death of the Agents. The unpaginated rulebook that I received ran close to forty pages that are filled with examples and figures. (A final cleaning of the rulebook still needs to take place as I estimate the rulebook to be 90% okay at this point.)
Galaxy Defenders is played over a variable number of rounds, with the number being defined in each mission. Each round is subdivided into phases:
The battle phase is played in turn by each single operative (i.e., living) agent, while the other phases are played all together.
The refresh phase is an upkeep phase similar to the strategy phase, and the main part of these phases is electing the Alpha Agent who will be the leader and the first player to operate in the battle phase. It's an important choice as the Alpha Agent is the only one sure to be able to act before any aliens on the map can move – and since play goes clockwise around the table, the choice of Alpha Agent combined with seating order seems real important. I'm sure that after playing the game enough times you'll be able to play different strategies depending on the agents' playing sequence.
The battle phase is the core of the game. On his turn, an agent can move, combat, and take one action (use an ability, use a skill, use basic or improved tactic, use a device) in the order he prefers, with the most common combinations being the attack/move and move/attack. Using a device is also important as some devices, such as flash grenades or biotech droids, can have a big influence in the game. In most cases, you can also take an action to perform special activities related to the mission; in the first mission, for example, you have to use an action to destroy the aliens' teleport doors.
After the Alpha Agent goes, the aliens move according to a card-driven AI, then the second agent takes her turn, then the aliens move again, and so on. Mission 1 featured nothing more in the way of terrain other than a lot of desert, so it was easy to move around but still needed a lot of planning. The aliens' AI rules are simple but well-conceived, with close-attack aliens that rush to engage Agents and long-range aliens that can fire from long distance. Since aliens act after each Agent turn, sometimes a badly positioned agent suffers from multiple alien attacks in a round. Aliens are intelligent creatures and usually move to kill wounded agents. If you are playing Agent Titanimu (a.k.a. Hulk), you can resist in the middle of the battle but nothing is worse than moving Thorium (Bio-tech) or Mercury (infiltrator) in close combat.
Finally comes the event phase in which a lot can happen. The event deck is built according to the mission set-up, so what will happen is thematically related to the mission. More importantly, you know what's in the deck, but you're not sure what will happen when and the same mission can have vastly different outcomes depending on when events occur. In addition, some events trigger effects listed in the mission rules. In mission 1, sometime during the mission a Xeno-alpha alien will appear. You know that you'll have to deal with this when it appears, but you never know when it will appear to confront you!
Other events change weather conditions, with the conditions remaining in effect until a new weather card is drawn. Other events have effects that are balanced according to the number of agents and aliens in play. Nothing will ever be too easy!
Hand-painted sniper agent
The real core of Galaxy Defenders are the agents: their powers, their weapons, and the way they level up during the game. In more detail, your agent is depicted on a hex-shaped board that grows during the game, with you attaching new hexes to that agent's board to provide new abilities and devices, tactics and replacement weapons. The agents differ a lot and learning how to best utilize their peculiarities is the key to victory. In the games I've played to date, Agent Thorium - BioTech seems essential for the group as he's the only agent capable of healing – and he has to start with the Drone device that can help the group with extra firepower. As the designer told me, "What's a fantasy character party without a cleric?"
Knowing how to equip your agents at the start of the mission is also crucial, and items like flash grenades and med-kits look like interesting choices.
The game's combat system is reminiscent of Doom, being a good oiled system with the right amount of randomness. You roll green (or blue) dice and get hit (strike) results and sometimes special lighting bolt results that trigger a weapon's special effects. Weapons, by the way, differ in range, attack dice, and abilities, with some weapons being able to hit more than one Alien at the same time.
The defender then rolls a blue die for each strike result, canceling a hit for each shield result and triggering armor special effects with bolt results. The dice also include icons for jam, ammo outages, and critical failure – this last one being an alien face.
How range is calculated is great and simple. The hex-based maps are divided into hex-shaped areas, with each area being comprised of a hex and the six surrounding hexes. Ranges and alien movements are area-based, making them easy to see and compute with only minimal management. As a result, the game is fluid, quick and tense, and your attention is focused on how best to use your agent's abilities and how to cooperate with the other agents in the team. Who moves first? Where should you go? Which aliens will be able to attack me? Which ones should we attack first?
I'm not normally a fan of purely collaborative games, but as with Robinson Crouse you have a lot to discuss with one another while trying to solve problems and that leads to great interaction. Will the game survive over time? Who knows? I have played Mission 1 three times with different agents and a differing number of players, and every time a different game has developed. That's a good start.
PLAY: The Games Festival took place in Modena, Italy on April 6-7, 2013, and it was another great success, with more than 25,000 visitors (an increase of 15% from 2012) for an event dedicated entirely to games: no comics, no handcrafts ... just games!
Many interesting new releases were available at PLAY, including Augustus by Paolo Mori, Dungeon Venture by Marco Barbarti, and C.O.A.L. by Stefano Castelli. Interesting, soon-to-be-released games were also at the show for gamers to test, such as Galaxy Defenders, Carnival Zombie and Concordia.
Of course given the location of PLAY, naturally it was the right place to present Italian editions of new games like Kemet, River Dragons, Anno Domini: Avvenimenti bizzarri, Náufragos, and many others. In addition to these releases, many Italian designers – such as Mario Papini, Andrea Chiarvesio and Pierluca Zizzi – presented prototypes, and a few non-Italians did as well, including Ignacy Trzewiczek and Mac Gerdts, our guest in PLAY.
Self-publishers showed up in the expected numbers in the great Area Autoproduzione, coordinated by designer/publisher Angelo Porazzi. It was really great to know that seventeen years after his first release, Porazzi was still able to sell all the copies of Warangel at PLAY during the event.
PLAY was also full of meetings that involved gamers, designers, publishers, teachers and universities — all on the topic of games — but what made PLAY a real heaven for gamers was the more than one thousand tables of games: demo tables from publishers, tables managed by gamer associations, and a lot of tables for free boardgaming. Some data points related solely to the area managed by La Tana dei Goblin, which represents more than two dozen Italian game associations:
• 160 games available in the game library with 130 different titles
• 361 games lent over the two days that were used by more than 1,500 gamers
• 60 tables of ready-to-play games
• 25 tables of ready-to-play games for kids
In the LEGO Games booth alone, more than 4,000 people played games, while in the Cornhole area players made more than 40,000 throws!
PLAY: The Games Festival will next take place in April 2014, and by this time the PLAY website will be fully bilingual in Italian and English.
Ludoteca Ideale is about the closest thing we have in Italy to a "Game of the Year", with hundreds of gamers from more than fifteen different associations and clubs – along with a jury of experts – voting on which games released in Italy during a calendar year rise above all the others. Here's the list of the best ten family/strategy games, followed by the top four children's games:
• A Game of Thrones (second edition) (Giochi Uniti)
• Goa (Asterion Press)
• Legends of Andor (Giochi Uniti)
• Mondo (DV Giochi)
• Ora et Labora (Uplay.it)
• Seasons (Asterion Press)
• Sheepland (Cranio Creations)
• Takenoko (Asterion Press)
• Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar (Cranio Creations)
• Village (Uplay.it)
• Acchiappamostri (Red Glove)
• Caccia al fantasma (Clementoni)
• Dobble (Asterion Press)
• Geistesblitz 2.0 (Giochi Uniti)
These game will be demonstrated – with three tables devoted to each game – during PLAY: The Game Festival, held April 6-7, 2013. Ludoteca Ideale will also be present at other Italian gaming events and conventions during the year.
Speaking of PLAY, with which I am involved, the program for the fifth annual PLAY convention is growing day by day, with almost all Italian publishers scheduled to attend the event. Many of these publishers will show new releases at PLAY, with prototypes and ready-to-be-published games being playable as well, including Dungeon Venture from Stratelibri and Galaxy Defenders.
Several tournaments will be held, including ones for Carcassonne, 7 Wonders, Dominion, Settlers of Catan, A Game of Thrones: The Card Game LCG, Warhammer: Invasion LCG, Dust Tactics, Android: Netrunner LCG, Risk and Combat Commander. PLAY will also host the first round of Italy's Twilight Struggle championship. The finals will take place September 13-14, 2013 during the Asterion Gaming Days, a special event focusing on titles from this publisher, with the winner (and the runner-up) being offered a weekend in New York or Moscow.
People interested in more news related to this convention can sign up for updates on the PLAY Facebook page.
Sails of Glory, the tactical "Age of Sails" game from Ares Games, is now on Kickstarter.
Inspired by the acclaimed Wings of Glory system, Sails of Glory features assembled and painted ship models that are ready to play out of the box, and a game system designed to accurately represent battles at sea between the large sailing ships of the past centuries. The first series of Sails of Glory is set in the Napoleonic Age, an iconic period for naval wargaming. The initial release, scheduled for August 2013, will consist of the Sails of Glory starter set – an all-in-one starting point to begin playing, including four fully painted and assembled ships – and twelve additional ship packs, some of which are named in this preview post from March 4, 2013 on the Ares Games website. (A second preview post from March 6 covers how to plan and execute movement of the ships.)
I've been able to acquire a preview copy of Sails of Glory – without miniatures as they've yet to be produced – so I hope to be able to write a real preview of the game soon.
The designers of Galaxy Defenders, Simone Romano and Nunzio Surace, passed along details about the "Rank-Up System" for agents in that game, as well as examples of how to customize agents with class templates in order to maximize their efficiency on the battlefield. I've paraphrased the information below.
Fighting aliens can improve the abilities of an agent; more specifically, during the strategy phase, if at least one alien was killed in the previous round, each agent may try to enhance his rank by rolling three green dice to obtain X icons, with X dependent on the rank to be reached as shown on this table:
A standard agent starts his career with a GD-Wings rank of Copper, which means that he can count on nothing more than his starting abilities as printed on the Agent Profile Sheet. During the story campaign, each agent may gain a maximum of one GD-Wings rank for each mission. When playing a single, standalone mission on the other hand, there are no limits to rank enhancement; each agent will start the mission with the rank stated in the mission briefing and may reach Platinum GD-Wings status. As he gains ranks, the agent will gain access to advanced powers, which are divided into three categories:
• Basic Tactics & Improved Tactics: Quick aid in battle, represented by minor powers that be used a couple of time for each mission.
• Skills: Greater powers that usually can be used once per round.
• Elite Agent Profile Sheet: When an agent reach the Palladium Rank, he becomes an Elite Agent with more Life Points and – most importantly – a new Armor characterized by the Rechargeable Energy Shield Defense [R.E.S.D.].
In addition to his powers and capabilities, any GD Agent can use technological gadgets in the field because a secret agent without weird devices is like Earth without the Sun – it cannot exist! An agent can use his action phase to activate one of his devices once per mission; the used device will then be returned to the GD Warehouse (the game box), to be available again only if the GD agency sends it back on the battlefield during the reinforcements phase.
The next section includes examples of agent customization. In order to better understand these strategies, we need to briefly explain the different powers. Powers and items can be divided into three categories:
• Standard: The power or item can be used once during the agent turn by spending the Action phase.
• Passive: The power or item is always active and does not require any Action phase.
• Reaction: The power can be activated outside of the agent's turn without needing an Action phase. When used, it will still be turned face-down or discarded.
Powers and items can be tied to a specific class or available for all; to identify the latter, look for the keyword "general", which means that it can be used by any agents, without class restrictions.
We will now peek at two different agents: the Infiltrator (on the left) and the Hulk (on the right); by accurately selecting each power and item during each rank enhancement, the player can build up the perfect agent template for the desired role.
These examples show two different templates for each agent, both based on a Platinum Rank that includes:
• Elite Agent Profile Sheet (B-side of the Agent Profile Sheet)
• 1 Basic Tactic
• 1 Improved Tactic
• 2 Skills
• 3 Devices
All the templates are presented with standard weapons, but keep in mind that each weapon can be upgraded twice by searching for Alien Technology during a mission.
The Infiltrator Spy template (on the left) creates the perfect stealth spy, very useful for investigative or search-and-recovery missions. A player with this configuration should try to avoid any direct hostile involvement, attempting to sneak away or kill enemies with the deadly satellite strike.
The Infiltrator Assassin template (on the right) creates a deadly close combat fighter. The assassin can deal a lot of damage to a single target, but at the same time must be careful because the stealth ability will not work while in close combat with an enemy.
The Hulk Tank template (on the left) creates the perfect defender; his job will be to lure the enemy aggression in order to protect the other members of the GD squad as the Tank does not deliver a lot of damage, but he can stand as a Wall against the alien menace.
The Hulk Smasher template (on the right) creates an impressive damage dealer; the smasher can unleash incredible firepower by using his MG Weapon, discarding ammo to add additional damages.
These templates represent only a few of the combinations that can be created during the game.
Simone Romano and Nunzio Surrace, two long-time gamers from Italy, have decided to start a new design company – Gremlin Project – which they describe as follows:
Gremlin Project is an Italian board game designer studio established in 2011 to create and develop high quality board games products for the international audience. By focusing on creating well-designed, highly enjoyable board game experiences, Gremlin Project aims to be a company made by board gamers for board gamers...
The first game designed, developed and illustrated by Romano and Surrace will be Galaxy Defenders, a cooperative tactical sci-fi miniatures board game in which up to five players fight together against an incoming alien menace that will be co-produced by Ares Games. Here's a somewhat lengthy description of the game:
Galaxy Defenders is a cooperative tactical board game in which up to five players fight together – each taking control of one agent with unique powers – to defend the planet from an alien invasion. The battle for Earth against the aliens will develop in a series of missions organized in a story-driven campaign. Missions are based on modular maps designed by 0OneGame and are played over a variable number of rounds; each mission may have multiple endings and the outcome of any mission will change the flow of the story. The agents will gain experience during the missions, and this experience can be used to transform a good soldier into a perfect Galaxy Defenders Agent with multiple skills, basic and improved tactics, and the ability to use new devices, advanced human weapons, and Alien technology.
The battles themselves will be carried on round after round, with a tactical combat system that uses custom d10 dice and with each player playing in sequence his agent turn, then one alien turn. After that, the game passes to the Event phase that will bring the players to the next round.
In Galaxy Defenders the aliens are controlled by the game itself through an artificial intelligence system based on two objects:
-----• Alien cards, which represent the A.I. of the alien, with its movements, skills, life points and weapons. Each alien figure on the map will be bonded to a specific card to keep track of its powers and life points.
-----• Close encounter cards, which are drawn by the active player at the beginning of each alien turn to determine which aliens must be activated.
This system grants a different A.I. for each alien species, in addition to simulating the chaos of battle because the agents will not know in advance which alien will be activated during the next alien turn. In order to save our planet from the incoming aliens, no matter which one is doing what, the players may choose up to five agents:
-----• Marine: Coming from U.S. Special Forces, the Marine is an excellent soldier who can manage different combat situations, especially against multiple enemies; he has an average movement ability and firepower.
-----• Hulk: The Hulk was a successful mercenary and now is one of the best GD agents; although slow on the battlefield, he enjoys an extraordinary resistance to damage and has a high firepower.
-----• Infiltrator: A deadly woman who can perform stealth actions, and a lethal weapon who hides in the shadows, she has fast movement and good short-range combat ability.
-----• Sniper: A silent sharpshooter, expert in camouflage and ranged combat; the sniper has excellent long-range firepower.
-----• Biotech: The Biotech is the most technologically adept agent in service. He can use nano-technology to heal wounds or to control war drones. He also likes old-fashioned style; in fact he has always his faithful shotgun for close encounters!
Hulk and a character sheet
The level of difficulty will scale dynamically based on the number of operative players in the game. This system grants the right level of difficulty with any number of players. In this way, a player who wants to play alone is not forced to use more than one agent at the same time due to the lack of difficult balance. Even in the event of some players dying during the game, the system will recallibrate the difficulty to a reasonable and enjoyable level.
Gremlin Project expects to launch a Kickstarter project for Galaxy Defenders on April 16, 2013 with the game being released later in the year.
Italian publisher Dast@Work has announced a new game from Stefano Castelli that will be released in time for PLAY: The Games Festival, which will be held April 6-7, 2013 in Modena, Italy, home of the famous balsamic vinegar canteen.
C.O.A.L.: Combat-Oriented Armored League involves battles between giant robots called Steambots in a steampunk setting in which people can get great energy from coal – but nothing else. As Stefano described the game to me, picture something set in Europe at the start of the twentieth century, with Steambot battles being so common that it was possible to give birth to C.O.A.L., an official league to manage the fights. Here's a short description of the game:
In a world where computers have never been invented and coal is the most precious resource, a group of brave pilots board their armored Steambots, take their place in the pilot seats of these 30-feet-tall, steam-powered fighting machines, and drive them into fierce arena battles.
This is C.O.A.L.: Combat-Oriented Armored League, a two- to four-player card game with a steampunk setting. C.O.A.L. uses an original game mechanism that combines resource management, bluffing, and memory to simulate the heat of a real battle. The game includes four Steambot models – each with its own features, attacks, and defensive maneuvers – and eight different pilots, which have special piloting abilities of their own.
C.O.A.L.: Combat-Oriented Armored League includes customized rules for two-player games, for battles with three or four players, and for two-vs-two partnership games. Deck-building rules are included for advanced players who want to combine parts to build different Steambot models. Duels are quick, typically ending in about ten minutes.
The four models of Steambot are comprised of two British (the Lancelot and Merlin) and two German (the Gunther and Siegfried). The game includes rules in Italian and English, while also being language independent. (The ability of the pilots are noted by symbols on the cards and explained in the rules.) Rules and cards in other languages are currently being negotiated.
Two of the eight pilots
To win C.O.A.L., you have to inflict ten points of damage to the opponent's Steambot, and the deck of cards includes both offensive moves (such as punches and special attacks of various kinds) and defensive ones (blocking, dodging, countering, etc.).
Unlike other card games in which you play cards and they go into effect right away, in C.O.A.L. you first play the cards, then you use your pilot's actions and skills to move energy onto the cards and activate them.
To simulate the tension of a battle, Stefano has implemented a game system that requires you to play the moves face-down, thus triggering a kind of meta-game that requires both bluffing and memory. Each game lasts about ten minutes with two players and fifteen minutes with 3-4 players, making C.O.A.L. a filler that can be played up to any number of rounds that players wish.
The game cover and card illustrations are the work of Alan D'Amico, who has worked for Games Workshop previously. (You see his wide range of artistic styles on his website.) Additional images from the game have been posted on Facebook.
C.O.A.L. is the first international production from Dast@Work, which hopes that it can gain a presence with the game outside of Italy.
The huge Spiel 2012 issue of ILSA Magazine (#19) is now online on Amazon and Lulu. The free PDF version can be downloaded from the ILSA Magazine website.
As mentioned before, PLAY: The Games Festival takes place April 6-7, 2013 in Modena, and the event will cover more than 18,000 square meters with more than 800 tables of board games, with all the Italian game publishers in attendance and presenting their novelties. If you've ever wanted to travel to Italy, you'll want to be sure to stop in Modena along the way to play a few games with the locals!
Here's my November news about what's going on in Italy. Lucca Comics & Games – an annual comic book and gaming convention in Lucca, Italy – is over, and gamers and publishers are already looking ahead to PLAY: The Games Festival, the next great Italian gaming fair.
Best of Show
The following games were named "Best of Show" at Lucca, with this being our country's greatest award. Emanuele Vietina of Lucca Games announced that great things are planned for the next edition of the awards in 2013, hopefully going in the direction of a real "Game of the Year" award. For 2012 the winners are:
Family Games Category
• Sheepland, by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini (Cranio Creations)
The other nominees were Legends of Andor, by Michael Menzel (Giochi Uniti) and Pinguin Pescatore (a.k.a. Hey! That's My Fish!), by Alvydas Jakeliunas and Günter Cornett (Giochi Uniti). I think Sheepland is a good choice and another good hit for Cranio Creations as it's a real little jewel with simple rules but deeply strategic. I reviewed the game in July 2012 if you want more details about it.
Expert Games Category
• Trajan, by Stefan Feld (Asterion Press)
The other nominees were 1969, by Andrea Crespi, Lorenzo Silva, Lorenzo Tucci Sorrentino and Aureliano Buonfino (Cranio Creations) and Village: La vita è un gioco, by Inka and Markus Brand (Uplay.it edizioni). Trajan, which was also the IGA 2012 multi-player winner, is another great choice by the committee members.
Best Card Game
• Fotosafari, by Tranja Timineck (Red Glove)
With the other nominees being two titles aimed at older players – Libertalia, by Paolo Mori (Asterion Press) and LIKE: The Social Game, by Marco Almini and Michele Pierangeli (Cranio Creations) – this award for a nice kids card game was a great surprise for Red Glove.
And the list of side awards at Lucca:
Side Award for the Best Artistic Profile
• Seasons, by Régis Bonnessée (Asterion Press)
Side Award for the Best Project
• Le Leggende di Andor (a.k.a. Legends of Andor, by Michael Menzel (Giochi Uniti)
Side Award for the Best Mechanism
• The role-playing game L'Amore al Tempo della Guerra, by Mario Bolzoni and Luca Veluttini (Coyote Press)
Gioconomicon, Italy's greatest game news site, did an excellent job reporting on everything that was happening at Lucca, and you can check out the site's Lucca 2012 photo gallery for a huge hit of pictures from the show.
Italian Games at Spiel and Lucca
Here's an overview of all the titles from Italian publishers that I was able to check out at either Spiel 2012, Lucca 2012 (held two weeks after Spiel), or both. The other main date for Italian game releases aside from Spiel is PLAY: The Games Festival, which next takes place April 6-7, 2013. I've previewed a number of these titles on Opinionated Gamers (OG) – preview #1 and preview #2 – when I've received copies or rules in advance of their general release. I've noted individual previews and reviews in the list below, as well as titles released at other times:
• 1969 – Cranio Creations – review on OG
• Ark & Noah – Placentia Games
• AstroNuts – Mücke Spiele
• Al Rashid – Yemaia
• Asgard – What's Your Game?
• Aztlán – Ares Games
• Bang! 10th Anniversary – dV Giochi
• Beer & Vikings – Albe Pavo
• Bookmaker – Giochi Uniti
• Collapsible D: The Final Minutes of the Titanic – Sir Chester Cobblepot – released during PLAY: The Games Festival 2012
• CO₂ – Giocix.it
• Fairy Land – Lo Scarabeo – rules preview on OG
• Gladiatori – Giocix.it – rules preview on OG
• Jungle Brunch – Giochi Uniti
• La Loire – Mind the Move – video explanation from the designer and preview on OG
• Legend: History of the 1000 Miglia – WBS Games
• Legend: The 1000 Miglia Action Game – WBS Games
• Libertalia – Asterion Press
• Like: The Social Game – Cranio Creations
• Lumacorsa – Red Glove – released early in 2012 with the international edition at Spiel
• Lupin the 3rd: The Expansion #1 – Ghenos Games
• Movie Trailer – Oliphante
• OddVille – What's Your Game?
• Out of Gears – Red Glove
• Samurai Sword – dV Giochi
• Sheepland – Cranio Creations – review on OG
• Swordfish – Ghenos Games – first impression on OG
• The Doge Ship – Giocix.it
• War of the Ring: Lords of Middle-earth – Ares Games
• Wild Oltrenatura – Ghenos Games] - released in 2012 with the international edition at Spiel
• Wings of Glory: WWI Rules and Accessories Pack – Ares Games – first impression on OG
• Winter Tales – Albe Pavo
• Yummell – Das Production
And now a few "two cent" remarks about the titles on this list and the Italian market in general:
• Simone Luciani had three different games released in 2012 from three different publishers: Sheepland, Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar and Urbania, with Daniele Tascini being co-author of the first two titles. He also took first and second place in the 2012 Archimede Prize for best unpublished games. Perhaps we're looking at the rise of a new star?
• Spiel 2012 marked the first time that Angelo Porazzi Games has missed going to Essen in the last nine years, but it also marked the re-emergence of Emanuele Ornella under his Mind the Move label.
• Italian publishers such as Giochi Uniti, Ghenos Games and Cranio Creations are now both producing their own games and making localizations.
• Libertalia, which Asmodee debuted at Gen Con 2012 in the U.S., is the first game developed by Asterion Press, a great new Italian publisher.
• Cranio Creations will release three new games in 2012 and only one will be a party game!
• Bang! marks its tenth anniversary in 2012, and designer Emiliano Sciarra celebrates the birthday of his "kid" with a new game: Samurai Sword.
• In 2012, for the first time in many years, Ghenos Games will not release a sports-based game – unless, of course, you consider swordfish fishing a sport!
• Small companies, floating close to self-publishing, are still there with great new titles from Albe Pavo and Placentia Games.
• Some Italian companies – such as Ares Games, Yemaia, What's Your Game? and Mind the Move – are actually more international than Italian and sometimes they don't include Italian rules in their games!
• Some titles first released in Italy are now going international, a reverse of the usual pattern. What does it mean?
• Many Italian publishers nowadays are releasing games in partnership with other publishers.
As part of the celebration for the tenth anniversary of the card game Bang!, designer Emiliano Sciarra and publisher dV Giochi will bring to Spiel 2012 the first non-Bang! game from the famous designer: Samurai Sword.
Looking at an advance copy of the rules of Samurai Sword from dV Giochi, I found a lot of the mechanisms and distinctive features that make Bang! so famous – hidden roles, easy rules, different characters, and fighting – with all of this being much more condensed in a deck of 120 cards.
Of course we are now no longer in the Old West, but rather in the age of the Samurai. At the beginning of the game, each player receives a secret role card: Shogun, Samurai, Ninja or Ronin. As with Bang!, the number of cards for each role varies depending on the number of players. I'm quite sure that the game has its light shine brightest with 5-7 players.
Each player also receives a face-up character with a special ability and a number of resilience points specific to that character. The Shogun then reveals himself to all players, with the Shogun taking 5 honor points and all other players taking 3-4 honor points (again depending on the number of players).
Three teams exist in Samurai Sword: Shogun and Samurai(s), Ninjas, and the Ronin. (With fewer than five players, the Ronin is not in play.) The problem is that you don't know who is your friend and who is trying to kill you! During the game you can – actually, you have to! – talk with other players and bluff about your intentions, but you can never ask another player about the cards he has in hand or how a card that you would play would effect him.
The game is played in clockwise order, with each player taking a turn that will be familiar to those who have played Bang!: draw two cards, play as many cards as you'd like or are able to, then discard (if you have more than seven cards). One big difference from Bang!, though, is that the first action each turn is recover. In Samurai Sword you are never out of the game completely if your resilience points fall to zero; instead you're deemed "harmless" until the start of your next turn and you can't be attacked with weapons and are essentially invisble. At the start of your turn, however, you recover all of your character's resilience points and can now fight again!
Samurai Sword includes three types of cards: weapons, actions and permanent cards. Actions are discarded after use, while permanent cards are placed in front of you. Like "Bang!" cards, weapons are used to attack other players and you can use only one each turn.
The analog to distance in Samurai Sword is difficulty. Each weapon has a difficulty number, and you can use that weapon against an opponent only if he is not too difficult to hit. Your nearest neighbors, for example, have a difficulty of 1, the players on the other side of them a difficulty of 2, and so on. A player bearing Armor is more difficult to hit, so you'll need a stronger (or longer) weapon to reach them. Unless parried by the person attacked, each weapon will do damage equal to the value listed on it, removing resilience points from that player.
The main novelty of Samurai Sword are the honor points. Each time you lose your final resilience point, you're not out of the game (as described above), but you must give the player who "killed" you one of your honor points. Honor points serve as both victory points and a game clock. First, every time you shuffle the discards to form a new card deck, each player must remove one honor point from the game. Second, the game ends as soon as one player has no honor points left.
At that time, players reveal their role and tally points for their team, with some players applying a multiplier to their score based on the number of players. The Ronin, for example, works alone, so in a five-player game the Ronin's honor score is doubled, while in a game with six or seven players the score is tripled. Daimyo cards in hand for everyone but the Ronin are worth one point each. If the game ends because you killed a teammate, your team loses three points. Very dishonorable of you...
Alternatively, if at any time only one player has resilience points, the game ends and that player's team automatically wins – except if the game ended because this player killed one of his teammates. In this case, you score points as you normally would.
So is Samurai Sword just Bang! in Japan? I think not. There are some real improvements in this design, such as all players being in the game until it ends, as well as the damage value of the cards, which provides more variability than the single wound guns in Bang! Does the game work as well or better than Bang!? Who knows without playing it. Clearly, though, there's a lot of Bang! in Samurai Sword, and I think it likely that Emiliano Sciarra has not betrayed his dearest son, but just given him a brother for his tenth birthday!
A new round-up of news from Italy! Some news from Italian companies – such as Ares Games (BGGN link) and dV Giochi (BGGN link) – has already been covered in this space, so I'm going for something really new.
DaS Production: Yummell
DaS Production, an old Italian company from Florence, has announced the September 2012 release of Yummell, a game about fantasy races racing in the ironic fantasy world of Kfoorp, which was created and illustrated by Paolo Chiari, also known as Quercelfo (which in Italian means something like "Oak Elf").
Yummell, designed by Alessandro Ivanoff and Massimo Chiari, includes eight different fantasy races, and each player has a different character to use and a special random advantage. To win the race, you need to run, fly, or use magical powers – or perhaps a mix of all three.
Game board tile, one of the races, and an advantage card
The real engine of the game is a 90-card deck with creatures, events and artifacts that can be used during the game to provide various advantages for you or stumbling blocks for opponents.
Yummell is for 2-8 players, ages 12+, with a playing time of 45 minutes. All of the game components are bilingual in Italian and English, but the box will include only Italian rules, with English rules to be available as a download on the Yummell website.
In fact, the Italian rules (PDF) are already available online, and I plan to write a detailed preview soon as I recently received a preview copy of the game.
ILSA Magazine: Rudiger Dorn Issue
ILSA Magazine #17 will be soon online, first the .epub version via Amazon and Lulu, then a free PDF version on the ILSA website.
This special issue includes an interview with Rüdiger Dorn for The Art of Design interview series I've been conducting. (This interview is also available on OpinionatedGamers.com.)
Magnifico: Da Vinci's Art of War
Spartaco Albertarelli, designer of Magnifico, Dust and other titles, has announced that he's working on a tablet version of Magnifico with a group of experts, including some professors of the Milan Politecnico.
A Facebook page now exists for Da Vinci's Art of War, as the game is being called, and Spartaco's personal blog should have information about the app as well.
WePlay: GetGamers App
Since I've been involved in the creation of the GetGamers app from WePlay almost from the beginning, here's a designer diary of sorts about this app.
While talking with some friends from Modena about gamer communities and associations, we realized that there are many more gamers around than we initially realized, with these gamers being reachable through forums, online resources, and associations. The problem, however, is that sometimes these people live relatively close to one another and share the same interests, but they're unaware that the other party exists.
We started to research on the net for a resource or site specifically for gamers that could help, but we discovered only that the problem was much bigger than we had been thinking. We found lots of threads with requests along these lines: "Are there any gamers in my area?", "I'm looking for people in my town for a game session.", "Do you know associations/clubs near [town name].", "I'm on holiday in Rome. Can someone help me find games shops, gamers and associations for a evening game session?"
So we decided to think about a possible solution, specifically about an app since smart phones and tablets are, day by day, ever more common. We are not app designers, however, so we searched for a company that would be able to fulfill such a project. It would likely be really expensive, but we decided to try.
Of course to do this, we needed to make a plan to (hopefully) cover some of the costs and create something that could survive in the years ahead.
-----• First, we decided it had to be a geolocalized app since the main idea is to find people close to you.
-----• Second, the app needed to be widespread to work well, so we wanted to have a free version with almost all of the functions as well as an inexpensive version.
-----• Third, we needed to include associations, shops, and publishers, so we decided to design a special PLACE add-on.
-----• Fourth, it needed to be useful for gamers, so we would try to integrate it with Twitter, Facebook, BGG, and Game Center.
With this plan, we started to press the developer to have a working release before summer to have the time to contact clubs/associations and give them a free PLACE version ahead of the major release at the start of September after fixing bugs.
This has been an hard project! Developing something that you are not able to develop yourself is not easy, and making non-gamers design something for gamers is also really hard. If you plan to design an app for gamers, think a lot about that!
The main idea throughout the project was to create something that we could be proud of, since – as we've written on the WePlay website:
WePlay is a company founded by a group of gamers with the aim to offer products of interest for gamers. We are not looking for money, but we want to get as many Prestige Points as possible. In the "game of life" money is just a medium, but Prestige Points are VP.
The free version of the GetGamers iOS app is now available, as is a version of the app for Android. We are still offering the PLACE add-on for free to all gamer associations that contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org (or email@example.com), both to assist the gamer associations themselves and to help the app spread and become known.
We are still awaiting the 1.0.1 release in September 2012 that should fix most of the problems/issues to date, and we hope to have done something really useful for gamers and, perhaps some day, to get back some of the money spent...
Small World Realms is an expansion that goes in a different direction from almost all the previous expansions for Philippe Keyaerts' Small World. The main idea of Small World, for those who don't know the game, is that many different races fight for supremacy in a world too small to hold everyone peaceably. Every game is different because the races are different, with each race being combined with a randomly determined power. The expansions have added new races and new powers, which has created ever more combinations for each game.
This time publisher Days of Wonder has gone in a different direction by changing the world itself, offering a package of large land "hexes" (which actually aren't regular hexes) that can be combined in any number of ways for use in pre-printed scenarios or maps of your own creation. The hexes are double-sided with the terrain types from Small World on one side and the terrain types from Small World Underground – a sequel to SW that plays the same, but with different races and terrain – on the other.
The 26 double-sided hex-shaped terrain tiles are the core part of the expansion, and each tile contains 1-3 regions, with the regions being particular terrain types or water. Mountains are one of the normal terrains, but for SWR the mountains come on 12 separate tiles that cover one-third of a normal tile – a nice idea that allows for more variability in how you create maps. Naturally caves, mines and magic areas – special locations that interact with particular races – are displayed in some of the regions. To make construction of the playing area easier when using one of the scenarios, each hex is marked with a different letter.
Also included in SWR are six chasm tiles and four peak tiles; you can place a peak on a mountain tile to make it taller and therefore even harder to conquer, requiring four units to conquer an empty peak! Eight special counters – e.g., Rusted Throne, Castle, Mill, and a Yeti-like monster – are used in particular scenarios. Six tunnels, along the lines of those included in the free Small World: Tunnels expansion distributed at Spiel 2011, are included as well.
First game with my
Small World Realms includes 12 pre-made scenarios, along with rules and hints for how to create your own maps. My greatest concern with this release was how the constructed maps would look and whether they would be "solid" once assembled. Turns out that the "geomorphic hex-shaped" tiles are quite stable with no real problems – and I'm used to playing with kids, who are the best testers for solidity! The scenarios offer a fair amount of variability, with some optimized for 4-6 players, others for three players, and five playable by two. The "river rule" from Small World Underground – in which a player can cross a river for only one token, which is then redeployed at the end of the turn – is used here, which makes sense as you can create multiple rivers with the material included.
The rules for creating your own maps suggest that you have an average of nine regions per player with each terrain type and map symbol making up one-fifth the total number of regions in play. For a two-player game, we prepared a map with 20 regions with four of each terrain, seas and two peaks, to see how they'd work. The overall impression was really good – the old known Small World with a new freshness.
We then moved to the prepared scenarios "Adrift" (in which the map changes during the game) and "Crops of Power" in which control over some regions gives you additional power. Both scenarios was fun and tense; again, the overall impression was the same already loved Small World with something new. Of course, the scenarios presented in the box are just the tip of the iceberg as I'm sure DoW and fans will create new scenarios using the great range of possibilities offered by this expansion.
I'm not sure Small World will ever again be so small in the future.
(Disclosure: I received a review copy of Small World Realms – which is already out Europe and coming out in the U.S. on July 3, 2012 – from Days of Wonder.)
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