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Ten Exciting Designers Doing Exciting Things--On innovation in indie design / development

Nate Straight

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n.b. I have not played games from all of these designers, but I've been watching all of their output. I can't recommend a particular game from all or even most, but I think [from reading comments from others and seeing growth from the designers] that I can recommend them in general.

I had this idea for a post quite some time ago, but never got around to putting it together. Mostly, I wasn't sure I'd quite be able to come up with enough content to make it happen. I think it's a valuable idea, however, especially with the meteoric rise of Kickstarter / indie popularity. I'll give it a shot.

What I'd like to do is introduce you to ten [actually, twelve] game designers / developers who I think are going places and are worth watching.

None of these designers [that I know of] have been seeking major publication [though some are published], instead choosing the independent route.

From gallery of NateStraight
1. P. D. Magnus
Major designs: Decktet, The Blue Sea Deck, Colour Bazaar, and Goblin Market.

No surprises here for anyone that's been following me. I still consider the Decktet, P.D.'s magnum opus, to be a wonderfully compelling game system, and it's clear that it hasn't finished showing its potential yet.

This past month, the Decktet was reviewed in Games! magazine, Goblin Market was released for Android devices, and I myself playtested a Decktet stocks-and-trains pick-up-and-deliver board game.

P.D. is a professional philosopher in "real life", but a brilliant artist and imaginative designer in his gaming pursuits. The Decktet, if you haven't heard, is a deck of cards in traditional 52-card style based on the idea that most of the cards have more than one suit, with the suit-pairings all mixed up throughout the asymmetric deck. It's illustrated beautifully, in the style of an other-worldly Tarot deck, and is available freely as a print-and-play project or for purchase.

Another recent project along similar lines is the Blue Sea deck, which is P.D.'s artistic interpretation of an Empire Deck [six-suited Bridge deck]. In terms of games designed, P.D. has crafted what I consider to be two of the Decktet's best games, Colour Bazaar and Goblin Market. Both are economic filler games, Colour Bazaar being a more complex version of Knizia's Wildlife Safari and Goblin Market being a mash-up of Schacht's Serengeti and Coloretto.

Why you should be watching: I don't think the Decktet is done growing yet. We've already seen two editions of the Decktet book, compiling some of the best games for the system, with the latter including nearly double the number of games in the original edition.

The Decktet doesn't just play traditional-style card-games, either. There are auction games, tableau-filling / tile-laying games, resource management games, and "pawns moving on a track" games, not to mention the excellent pick-up-and-deliver board game still under playtesting.

2. John Clowdus
Major designs: Omen: A Reign of War, Irondale, Bhazum, and the company Small Box Games.

Here's a guy who I have not played any games from, but still think you should be aware of and watching. John's company, Small Box Games, was founded to bring his mostly card-based designs to market and to combat [as the name suggests] the wasteful over-packaged, over-published ways of the hobby at large.

For a guy who nobody knows and a company that is still a start-up, he's been remarkably productive; in the past 4 years, Small Box has published nearly 40 different titles. The games are nearly all card games, with the majority being 2-player exercises. The themes and mechanisms are varied, but are usually a mix of historic and esoteric.

Bhazum and Omen are card-drafting games played in two phases, a draft first and then a head-to-head combat, following in the style of Magic: The Gathering or Campaign Manager 2008. They are each quite well regarded, with average ratings well over 7.0; Omen has even managed to reach rank #13 in the [admittedly sparse] Customizable Games subdomain.

Irondale is a city-building game for 2-4 that looks to have some similarities to Cambridge Games' Barons which was published 1 year after Irondale. It's not as well-regarded overall, but it seems to have quite a few fans, and has generated a number of expansions. If Agnes likes it, it can't be that bad [whistle]. At the very least, invoking its name gives you instant gaming hipster cred.

Why you should be watching: John's company is designed to meet the oft-requested criteria of portable, fun, 2+ player games. He seems to be putting out a much wider variety of styles for that audience than, say, the Series: Two-player games (Kosmos) has [how many "Compare sums across 3-5 columns" games do we really need?]. That, and his design chops seem to be improving, with his most recent titles much better received than his older ones.

I don't think he's done designing yet, and the basic concept behind his company is compelling. I think once he hits upon a real winner, a "killer app" for his company, that his catalogue and renown will really take off. There is a huge market for the types of games he's designing, and the only real missing piece to the puzzle is for him to pin down a publisher's dream game with the quality, replayability, and expandability of something like Dominion or Race.

Board Game Publisher: Double-O Games
3. Helmut Ohley & Leonhard "Lonny" Orgler
Major designs: Poseidon; and 1844: Schweiz, 1848: Australia, and 1880: China under their company Double-O Games.

Helmut and Lonny are among the more ambitious and more well-regarded designers working in the Series: 18xx series of train games that Francis Tresham invented. 1844 and 1880, in particular, [neither of which I've played] seem to be all but universally loved by 18XX diehards, while 1848 is no slouch either. Among 18XX games with a substantial pool of raters [50+], these would rank #1, #2, and #4 in the series [1860 is #3], with average ratings astoundingly high at 8.52, 8.44, and 7.95.

Their entry-level game, Poseidon, was an adventurous attempt to do what had been attempted many times before: Provide a playable, accessible introductory game to the 18XX series. In large part, it was successful [certainly much more successful than prior attempts like 18EZ]. It is rather far removed from the family, but is decidedly recognizable as a member. The chief differences are the use of the strange "discovery" track-laying mechanism from the original 1829, the hard limit on number of rounds, and the relatively stable stock market.

Still, Poseidon is [I think, and I have played it] an interesting game and definitely a reasonable introduction to the mechanisms and general feel of the series. Unlike some of the other commonly suggested introductory games [the many print-and-plays built around US states, for instance], it is available in an easily found, professionally produced edition from Mayfair / Lookout Games and finishes in an amount of time that suits most evening / weekend game groups used to playing 1.5 - 2 hour economic Euros like Age Of Steam, Brass, Container, etc.

Poseidon isn't going to set the 18XX world on fire, nor likely even the general economic gaming world on fire, but it serves its purpose well while maintaining reasonable replay value, and it does it in style with nice art and great components [something that can't be said for most 18XX titles]. At #597 in the rankings, it's outpaced only by the other Mayfair-produced titles, 1830, 1856, and 1870. I could see Helmut and Lonny producing a follow-up to this game, set in some other non-rail historical period, and offering more 18XX newbies a relatively easy start.

Why you should be watching: Helmut and Lonny have been releasing large, well-received 18XX titles on a regular basis for over a decade now and don't seem poised to stop anytime soon. Poseidon was an exciting new direction [for some fans of the series, myself included] that was well-conceived and reasonably well-executed.

A follow-up that fixes some of the complaints from 18XX fans [complaints from newbies to the series are much different in substance] could be really exciting. Seems like they've been on a 2-3 year development cycle for awhile now, and Poseidon was a 2010 title... so keep your eyes pealed for late 2012 or 2013?

Board Game Designer: Patrick Stevens
4. Patrick Stevens
Major designs: The Last of the Independents, Popular Front, Blockade Runner, Bullfrog Goldfield, and the company Numbskull Games [publisher of Divided Republic].

Patrick makes mostly risk management games with pseudo-simulative historic themes, kind of like a doppelganger of Martin Wallace. He seems to do very small print runs [or at least attract a very small number of customers], so the number of ratings [115 at most] for his games keeps them relatively unrecognized in the rankings / hotness, despite very good ratings overall. He's the first designer on this list that I'm pretty sure most of my readers will not have heard of.

The games have had marginal success within their target niches, but none have really even approached "cult classic" territory yet. Bullfrog Goldfield gets a mixed response, some seeing it as a decent alternative to 18XX in the stocks-and-trains genre, while others pan it for being too random. Blockade Runner is the game that brought the designer to my attention, when I saw it described as one of the best economic simulation games available, whereas I'd written it off as a wargame from the cover.

In general, his games are hailed as being highly thematic, historically accurate hybrid games, mixing elements from Eurogames, wargames, and economic games like Brass: Lancashire, Container, or 18XX. It seems a territory ripe for exploitation, as the only major designers really following this trinitarian tack are Wallace and perhaps Chad Jensen [remains to be seen if he'll do another economic game, or a true hybrid] or Mac Gerdts [whose games aren't quite wargamey enough to rival Wallace].

Patrick's company, Numbskull Games, might actually have the most success with a game that isn't his own creation, the upcoming Divided Republic designed by Alex Bagosy. It's a card-driven election / political game set in a time period [1860 in US history] that allows 4 players / parties rather than the usual 2 [as in 1960: The Making of the President and Twilight Struggle]. The game was successfully Kickstarted back in October, which indicates it has some requisite level of hotness to build on.

Why you should be watching: Patrick really seems to have a handle on how to design, develop, and produce a richly thematic game that remains highly playable [something that can't always be said for other designers I'll introduce on this list]. And by "thematic", I don't mean nuking the shit out of zombie trolls.

If you're a fan of Wallace or thematic economic games, I suspect that Patrick and his company should be on your watchlist. I'd seen and written off Bullfrog Goldfield on account of the mildly cartoony art and name [admittedly a poor filter], thinking it to be a Dark Horse clone / cousin, but I suspect I was quite wrong.

Family: Game: Aether Captains
5. Todd Sanders
Major designs: The Game: Aether Captains, the Game: Shadows Upon Lassadar, Bibliogamo, and Ragnarök: Aesir and Jötunn [soon to be published, probably under a different name]

If you follow print-and-play design trends at all on BGG, you'll have encountered Todd's work. His graphic design style is unmistakable and permeates all of his 30+ designs. The thread documenting his current design projects is 43 pages long as of this blog, consisting of over 1,000 replies, and that's in only 1 year's time since it was posted.

He has a rather unique design oeuvre, with his works consisting primarily of 1-player or 1-2 player designs, all print-and-play, nearly all card-based, mostly set in a hybrid steampunk / medieval / mad scientist world, and illustrated in his instantly recognizable minimalist style. The games are mostly light Euro designs, but run the gamut of mechanisms within that genre.

The two that I own and have played, Steam Lords and Capek Golems, are respectively a worker placement / "building shit" game in its essentials and a rather bizarrely themed light economic set collection card game. Both have some issues, but are compelling enough that I feel comfortable recommending his designs in general. He's constantly tweaking and revising his games based on continual playtests, which means that no flaw goes undiscovered or unresolved for long.

If I wanted to get into solitaire gaming, his Shadows Upon Lassadar series [and the solo Aether Captains titles] are probably how I would do it. Lassadar is a quest-based fantasy game that mixes in a number of hex-and-counter mini-wargames. Most of his games seem to have this kind of mechanical hybridization, being a sum of their parts and having multiple different styles of play going on simultaneously. He's decidedly not locked into following any dime-a-dozen design tropes.

Why you should be watching: Todd's artwork, at the very least, is worth investigating his games on account of, if only to peruse the galleries. His games don't seem to have any particular target market in mind [unlike the last three designers on this list], instead just being what they are and hoping to find demand somewhere. There are appeals to both Ameritrashers and Eurogamers.

More than anything, I find his design approach compelling. All of his games are print-and-play [for now], and most he makes available for easy purchase on-demand from ArtsCow. The games don't require specialized components to play, only a few cubes and the decks of cards or printed boards. The consistent theming links otherwise unrelated games, which is neat.

Board Game Designer: Néstor Romeral Andrés
6. Néstor Romeral Andrés
Major designs: Nestortiles, OMEGA, Adaptoid, Coffee, Hippos & Crocodiles, and the company nestorgames.

Not only does Néstor have over 30 game designs to his own credit, his company nestorgames has published well over 100 different traditional and modern titles in the abstract strategy genre. The games [nearly] all share the signature nestor quirk of being stored in canvas pencil cases, using floppy / rollable mousepad-like boards, and pieces made of laser-cut acrylic. Néstor's self-proclaimed goal for the company is "to publish every game that can be produced with this method" and he's well underway in that pursuit, with no signs of slowing down.

The games are increasingly popular with the abstract crowd, but the relatively high price [for abstracts] of $25-35 or more has, I suspect, kept outsiders of the genre away. When you can buy stuff like Hey, That's My Fish!, Hive, or even Through the Desert for under $25 from most online merchants, the unproven nature of nestorgames' products isn't a compelling value to most buyers. I myself have quite a few of them on my wish-/watch-list, but haven't pulled the trigger yet because I'm not a huge abstract player but also partly because of the price.

Néstor's own designs range from the very traditional OMEGA, Coffee, Pentactic, and TAIJI to the rather more imaginative Adaptoid, Hippos & Crocodiles [& Hippos & Crocodiles: Buffalos], Gardens of Mars, and Feed the ducks. He's also designed quite a few games for his own nestortiles game system as well as the Series: Shibumi game system, which is among the smallest and most concise game systems, consisting of nothing but a 4 x 4 board [with recessed spaces] and 3 colors of stackable marbles / balls. Many of his games are well-rated, so he seems to have some chops to go with his obvious knack at publishing.

Obviously, you'd have to be a fan of abstracts to get into most of these games. They're nearly all 2-player, perfect information affairs, but the production and theming [at least in Néstor's own titles] is quirky enough that it might be sufficient to draw some folks in who like the "strategy" portion of "abstract strategy" gaming, but not the "abstract" part so much. On my own personal wish-list from Néstor and/or his company are Hop It!, Jin Li, Feed the ducks, Sugar Gliders, Hello, Dolly!, and Adaptoid. I suspect most gamers could find something of interest in the nestorgames catalogue, too.

Why you should be watching: Néstor is single-handedly, though slowly, changing the face of modern abstract game publication and design. Bizarrely, he doesn't have a single game original to his company in the top 100 abstracts as ranked / categorized by BGG, but that just shows the oddity of BGG's subdomains more than anything having to do with nestorgames' output.

Folks like self-proclaimed "abstract rat" reviewer Bruce Murphy have an almost fanatical obsession with the nestorgames' lineup. Other GeekBuddies whose opinion on abstracts I trust unquestionably also praise many of the games. Abstract fans who are in the know almost universally appreciate these games and the simple beauty they provide in design and packaging befitting a modern abstract.

Board Game Publisher: Splotter Spellen
7. Jeroen Doumen & Joris Wiersinga
Major designs: Bus, Roads & Boats, Antiquity, Indonesia, and the company Splotter Spellen.

Around 1999, Splotter launched with an initial catalogue of about 6 or 7 games, championed by Bus and Roads & Boats. Together, these two probably created the genre we now recognize as the resource management / worker placement Eurogame. Bus, with Keydom, is among the earliest games to make explicit use of the exclusive action-drafting mechanism we now know as "worker placement". Roads & Boats is perhaps the earliest example of a "resource conversion" Euro [i.e. cube-churner]. These are the two halves that together created Caylus [by conscious design choice on William Attia's part or not].

Later Splotter designs like Antiquity directly influenced the creation of the other huge worker placement resource game, Agricola, as described by Uwe Rosenberg in his "advent calendar" design diary. And the dynamic design duo of Jeroen and Joris hasn't stopped innovating and creating exciting games, with the brilliantly nasty Indonesia following Antiquity by a year, and the Merchant of Venus reboot Duck Dealer and satirical [and timely] Greed Incorporated following shortly after. The Splotter team seem to have left behind the smaller titles that spotted their catalogue early in their history, and this has been a really good thing.

Jeroen and Joris are currently playtesting a new heavy civilization-building game [to complete the trilogy with R&B and Antiquity?] that looks exceptionally promising. Of special note is that the title / theme, The Great Zimbabwe, is remarkably refreshing in its focus on an area of the world other than Medieval Europe or Ancient Mesopotamia / Near East, where nearly all other [historic] civilization games are set. Inca Empire is the only comparably themed civ game I can think of, but the actual civ-building in the game is very light. Great Zimbabwe promises to be a really good economic / tech-tree style development game.

A huge plus is that Great Zimbabwe looks to be considerably more directly interactive than either of their prior two civ games, Roads & Boats or Antiquity, which were largely multiplayer-solitaire optimization exercises, or at least tended that way with non-aggressive players. Reports that players are forced to interact in Great Zimbabwe through the pricing / market system are promising. The monetary / production system almost sounds like Container's. "Civ lite" is a dead genre [in fact, except for length, the original Civilization is a remarkably light / simple / clean game]; what we need are more heavy civ games, and this looks to be one.

Why you should be watching: It remains my contention that much of what we recognize as modern Euro design [resource management, production chains, worker placement, etc] is due in large part to Splotter's early and continued influence on the hobby. Jeroen and Joris are silently shaping these genres, and don't seem intent on stopping. Their games are uber-, proto-Euros that stretch the limit of what the genre can do.

There aren't many designers or companies out there that are putting out the kind of games that Splotter makes [much less as reliably as Splotter does]. These are huge, all-afternoon affairs that present extraordinarily complicated puzzles to players unlike those they face in most other games. Things like Ora et Labora / Le Havre or the games of the next designer on this list are close, but Splotter's output still maintains a charm all its own.

Board Game Designer: Phil Eklund
8. Phil Eklund
Major designs: High Frontier, Origins: How We Became Human, American Megafauna / Bios: Megafauna, and the company Sierra Madre Games.

Not many people's résumés begin "____ is a game designer and rocket scientist" as Phil Eklund's does. [Then again, not many people wear funny hats and handlebar moustaches, but Phil is the second designer on this list to fit that description.] Phil produces games that are quite literally unlike those of any other designer. Whereas the Splotter duo's differences are of scope and size, the difference between one of Phil Eklund's games and any other designer's is one of dimensional planes of existence.

The following is an excerpt from one of his rulebooks:

"Examples: 1. A comet impact has the extinction calculus " >3 AaBGHMS ". An immigrant with BBBa would be killed, because it has more than three of the fatal DNA. A genotype with AAPPS is spared. 2. A solar flare has the extinction calculus "size > 4". A size five sea cow is doomed; a size four tyrannosaur is safe. It also has the calculus " >2 Aa ". This will kill off triple-armored turtles." I defy you to find the term "extinction calculus" [or "triple-armored turtle", for that matter] used by another designer.

Phil's rules have actual, academic bibliographies attached to them, and excerpts explaining the geological timescale [often given in millions of years] of a turn. In Origins, your player mat represents the brain development of your tribe. In High Frontier, the rather busy map is based on the actual science behind traveling between orbiting celestial bodies. As if to make Randall Munroe even more paranoid, the logo for Phil's company, Sierra Madre Games, is a velociraptor hunting with a bow and arrow.

Suffice to say that he is no ordinary game designer.

But the games seem to be meeting with gradually increasing critical acclaim. They've always been interesting for their educational / simulation value [and sheer oddity], but recent entries like High Frontier and Bios: Megafauna actually appear to be playable games. On a recent episode of Ludology, Phil described his playtesting process, which he basically described as putting together the simulation and then asking playtesters to tell him how to score it as a game. Strangely enough... this works?

Why you should be watching: Phil is a sort of Renaissance man among game designers, with all the eccentricity you would expect from a true polymath. There is quite literally nobody [that I'm aware of] doing what he is doing in hobby game design [i.e. outside of academia, where I suspect there might be a few "serious game" designers doing similar work]. In fact, there's not even anyone trying.

His vision for game design is completely unique; his themes stretch time scales unbelievably large and incorporate vastly detailed simulations; his games are [I hear] somehow actually playable despite their inscrutability. His is the type of work that makes you believe this is a legitimate hobby for "serious" minded people, and not just something you do for fun in your mother's basement.

From gallery of NateStraight
9. Daniel Solis
Major designs: Happy Birthday, Robot!, Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, Velociraptor! Cannibalism! [speaking of; coincidence?], and creator of the Thousand Year Game Design Challenge.

Daniel is primarily an artist [the t-shirt / logo I used here is one of his designs] and RPG designer, but he does have a scattering of completely unknown, mostly abstract, board games to his credit. He also has a game design blog that is very nice and has more than a few interesting insights. I've chosen Daniel for this list because of his ad hoc, brainstorm, catch-as-catch-can approach to game design. His blog is littered with games and game ideas made up on the spot for no reason other than to try something.

I don't think he tries [or even intends to try] to develop most of the ideas and game skeletons he puts up at his blog. It's more an exercise in game design processes and inspiration. And he has some incredible flashes of inspiration, like the recent Minoquar, a solitaire maze game playable using any arbitrary QR code the player has handy. His "wabi sabi" method for "designing" an asymmetric deck of cards is another flash of elegant genius. Then there's the Thousand Year Game Design Challenge.

The concept behind the challenge was to design a game that could potentially have the longevity of something like Chess or Tic-Tac-Toe or even Hide-and-Seek or Tag. The only restrictions were that it had to be able to be explained [cutely] in 1,000 words / 1,000 seconds or less, and that it had to have broad-ranging accessibility and appeal. A couple of BGGers sent in entries, but the winner was Take-Back-Toe designed by James Ernest of Cheapass Games fame [a choice apropos to this blog topic, given James' approach to design and publication].

Whether Take-Back-Toe is a "great game" isn't really the point; the design challenge wasn't about making great games. Tic-Tac-Toe isn't a great game. It's broken. It's still played millennia after it was first devised. The idea of the challenge was to try to identify and embody those qualities that give a game or pastime [social activities / parlour games were also entered to the contest] truly lasting appeal. Daniel explains in the final announcement of the challenge winner what appealed to him about the game. The game itself is sort of a Pachisi / Kalah hybrid.

These types of abstracts--Pachisi, Mancala, Checkers, Tic-Tac-Toe, Nine Men's Morris, etc--are clearly in a different style than things with comparatively more complicated rulesets like Chess, Shogi, or even Go, much less the "modern" abstracts like those produced by nestorgames or in Series: GIPF Project. They have a sort of banal simplicity and smallness that nevertheless leads to [often] interesting play value. Daniel's own board game designs seem to come down more aligned with this "folk game" trajectory than with the "serious" trajectory other abstract designers follow.

Finding / making games in the stupidest / simplest of places [QR codes] is something that appeals to me. I'm one who will sit and stare at a tiled floor attempting to discern a pattern in the color choices of the tiles, or trace / walk a particularly interesting path through the tiles. This is considerably more enjoyable when the pattern isn't symmetric. In redoing the flooring in our house recently, we were laying down laminate that came in about a half dozen different stickered "veneers". I made a game [which my in-laws made fun of] out of making sure there weren't discernible patterns on our floor.

Why you should be watching: I'm not entirely sure, honestly. His two biggest successes are RPGs, which I'll likely never play and know absolutely nothing about. More than anything, I think Daniel's approach to and thoughts on game design are compelling. His "big" card game under development, Belle of the Ball, looks vaguely interesting, but isn't really my style [from what I can tell].

But, I think we need more game designers willing to take the organic, human, asymmetric, serendipitous approach to game design that Daniel seems to be taking. Sometimes, the best art is found [see also], not made. The unexpected rhyme in a natural speech pattern. A pun you didn't intend. A shadow or cloud that takes a sudden unmistakable form. Surely there can be games made like this.

Board Game: Maria
10. Richard Sivél
Major designs: Friedrich and Maria, and the company Histogame [publisher notably of König von Siam].

[This is where I really start to feel I'm running out of content I can speak knowledgeably on, but I'll just barrel through.] Richard is the designer of two of the most successful wargame-Eurogame hybrids in recent memory, Friedrich and Maria. His company, Histogame, is the publisher of record for both, as well as the extraordinarily difficult King of Siam from Peer Sylvester and the German co-publisher of the gargantuan Napoleon's Triumph from Bowen Simmons [whose company Simmons Games is another indie outfit of note, serving as the distributor state-side, as I understand it, of all of Histogame's titles in a sort of partnership].

Friedrich and Maria both use the same "tactic card" mechanism that Richard developed for Friedrich, the earlier of the two games. It bears a resemblance to the card mechanism in Condottiere and even to some extent the conflict resolution in Tigris & Euphrates. Each battle is fought in a particular "suit(s)" [yes, the traditional French ones] and players play cards from their hand in the matching suit looking to lay down the highest total whenever one or the other player drops out. The remainder of the game is a very elegant, nearly austere [only a few dozen "armies" are ever on the board], system of maneuver and positioning.

What makes Richard's designs compelling and interesting is the way he's managed to bring together three completely diverse influences: the random "make do" hand management aspect of traditional card games [the cards in Friedrich / Maria are simple poker decks], the elegant mechanistic positioning of early Eurogames [like Tigris, Torres, Carolus Magnus, or Kardinal & König], and the historic simulation value of grand scale wargames. Other games, like Twilight Struggle, have pulled off similar feats, but Friedrich / Maria are much more divergent from the typical design tropes of the genre. They are radically revisionist interpretations of what a "wargame" is.

It's also worth nothing that Richard has seemingly teamed up with another radical wargame designer in Bowen Simmons and his own company Simmons Games. Simmons' similarly highly maneuver-focused games Bonaparte at Marengo and Napoleon's Triumph are also similarly innovative in their radical departure from typical wargame design [both form and function]. I struggled through a game of NT once after borrowing it from a friend who wanted to learn to play; it is not the same kind of elegance as Friedrich / Maria, to be sure, but it was quite interesting to me how so many variables were handled without the need for a bunch of charts or unit statistics.

Why you should be watching: There will probably always be heavy-handed, rule-intensive wargames out there for the die-hard grognards. If you're like me, that doesn't appeal to you. It's just not my thing. What is my thing, however, is the positioning / maneuver / deployment-of-force decisions integral to wargaming. Richard's [and Bowen's, it seemed] games capture this without the high overhead.

I just picked up Friedrich, so haven't had a chance to play through it yet, but it's been recommended to me quite a number of times, and I see why after perusing the reviews and rulebook. It's a refreshingly different take on how to structure a game about war. It makes a huge number of abstractions, but that appeals to me as a card gamer and Euro-abstract / Knizia fan. Maybe it would appeal to you, too, if you like these genres.

[Dis]honorable mention: David Sirlin. Major designs: Yomi, Puzzle Strike, Flash Duel, and the company Sirlin Games. It's clear Sirlin has a unique vision. It doesn't really appeal to me, and I'm not knowledgeable enough to speak on it. I think it's interesting enough that you should read up on it. CS Hearns' recent blog entry on Sirlin should provide good reading material.

Hopefully this entry has introduced you to at least one new designer who I think is providing a fresh voice in the hobby.

More than anything, I hope it's convinced you that there is real diversity in the hobby if you bother to look outside "The Hotness".
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