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KublaCon and Prototypes (Part 2)

Brian Pilnick
United States
San Jose
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Since I am apparently incapable of brevity, this is Part 2 of my KublaCon writeup. Part one can be found here.

The next things I wanted to get down all involved Martin Wallace. I saw him around the convention a couple times but never even heard him speak until I went to his "What's new with Martin Wallace" talk.

I need to pause for a moment here to set my expectations because it's what was immediately and continually on my mind when interacting with him. If you're unfamiliar with Martin Wallace's games, click his name and take a look. Beyond immediately noticing he has seven games in the top 100, you may notice that most of his games are relatively heavy wargames or economic games. This was never a conscience thought but due to the nature of his games and him being British (don't judge me, I don't know) I expected a very serious, maybe even intense, individual. Basically I was imagining him as German. Back to the story.

I was running a few minutes late to the talk and hopped in an elevator to head upstairs and just before the doors close, into the elevator pops Martin. I do a small double take and check his badge to make sure I actually know what Martin Wallace looks like. He comments that lunch ran late and I sarcastically reply that I'm relived I'm not late to his talk. He responds that I'll have to walk in first so he can be fashionably late. My expectation of an exacting individual is already shattered.

His talk covered many topics and upcoming games but I will not go through it all in detail since I didn't take notes and I don't believe there was much that was unknown. I did find it particularly amusing that he started his description of Mythotopia as describing it as a cash-in game. Mythotopia (not the final name by the way, apparently it means some naughty things in some European languages) is a reimplementation of his system in A Few Acres of Snow. Mythotopia supports multiple players (four I believe) and has elements, namely randomized starting decks and locations, to prevent another Halifax Hammer. (Jesse Dean has a good summary of that here.) It also struck me how freely Martin admitted that A Few Acres of Snow is broken. He outright admits that the game is broken and it is impossible to fix because, as he explains, fixing it would require changing the initial state of the game or completely removing the actual way the British won the war. Both options would destroy the historical accuracy that the game was designed around.

The other upcoming games Martin mentioned were an unnamed Civil War game with some interesting mechanics, a game called P.I. (which is a combination of Clue and Mastermind) and of course Doctor Who: The Card Game. This immediately got the attention of my girlfriend, Candice, as she is a huge fan of the current series.

Later that day, after getting embarrassingly lost, Candice and I attended a playtest session with Martin. Once he set up a couple people with the Civil War, he sat us down with Doctor Who! There's not much information I've seen on this game yet (other than this thread) so I'll give a brief rundown of the game. Please excuse any mistakes as we only played once and it was now several days ago. We also played with a prototype deck and although the game was finalized, I may use different terms than the final graphics use. Feel free to ask for more info on anything though.

In the game, each of the three to fours players (note: I asked him about two player and he admitted it may work but it hadn't been playtested) play both as attackers and defenders. Each player starts with one location card in their play area and will (hopefully) gain more as the game progresses. These locations are all places and times from the series that fans will recognize, of course. The players will defend the locations in their area while attacking the locations in other players areas. Each location is worth a certain amount of points for the owner which is either the player whose area the card is in or, if an attack against it still exists at the end of the game, the owner of that attack.

The goal is fairly straight forward but the card play is a little more involved. At the start of your turn, you should have five cards. You can play as many as you like as long as you have three cards remaining. (Yes, I know that sounds like "play two cards" but be patient.) Once you are done, you pass three cards to the player on your right and draw two cards. Martin freely admits he took this drafting mechanic from 7 Wonders. This of course has the effect of forcing you to decide what cards you want to play just so your opponent doesn't get them. The other thing you can do instead of playing cards is banking them. (I forget what the actual game term is.) You have a limit of two cards banked but it effectively lets you have a shorter turn earlier so a better turn later. For example, on your first turn, you bank two cards then pass the other three. You've taken no actions. Next turn however, you have your two drawn cards, the three passed to you plus the two in your bank. If you don't want to bank anything this turn, you can play up to four cards this turn!

The cards generally fall into four categories: attackers, defenders, locations and support cards. Attackers and defenders are obviously played onto location cards and are used in a very simple blind combat mechanism that I won't go into detail on unless asked (basically which facedown stack has the higher total). Attackers are series enemies such as daleks or cybemen while the defenders are the doctor, Amy Pond, River Song and Rory. The simple resolution felt right for the game and actually has some interesting play with stacking rules and facedown bluffs.

Location cards are what they sounds like and are played to your play area as new locations. Support cards are special actions that might reveal an attacker, enlarge your bank or gain you some time points. (More on that in a second.) Martin is very proud of getting a Jammie Dodger card into the game that cancels any attack. He obviously a fan of the show was very excited when Candice and I got the reference. Yet another time when my expectation of him was very wrong.

Time points are rewards for certain actions in the game. Many locations give a time point or two when placing it and there are many support cards that grant them. The primary purpose of them is that five time points may be exchanged for a card draw. This is yet another way to get a larger turn than two cards.

While the theme is far from inseparable from the game, it's also far from pasted on. Many small touches, like Rory having a 'run away' ability or the Jammie Dodger, make it obvious the game was designed for Doctor Who. There's even a Pandorica card that immediately defeats the Doctor but is immediately defeated by Amy or Rory. For those curious, the vast majority of the cards are from the 11th Doctor. There are a handful of enemies that I didn't recognize but that was it. Martin is hoping the game is successful enough to warrant a 50th anniversary edition next year featuring classic Doctors and companions.

Let me wrap this up with explaining Martin's intent with licensed games as he described during his talk. First, only half-jokingly, he said he was tired of being poor and wanted to make some money off his games. Then he explained that his goal is to expand the gaming hobby. He wants to take geeky licenses, like Doctor Who or Discworld, and make decent games about them. Apparently the vast majority of licensed boardgames, besides being junk, are bought as gifts then played only once, if that. Martin instead wants to make a game that these fans will want to play over and over and potentially expand into 'mainstream' boardgames. And maybe some gamers will like the game too because it's not half-bad. I think this is a fantastic plan as everyone wins. We get a decent if not terribly deep game, the license fans get a great game by their standards, we introduce new players to our hobby, and Martin Wallace get paid.

And I honestly think he has succeeded. I know Candice wants this game already and I won't be embarrassed to have it in our collection. Plus, I'm sure it'll be a great game to suck some unsuspecting fans in with.

Sidenote: While at KublaCon, we sat in on a recording of the Garrett's Games and Geekiness podcast with Martin Wallace, Susan McKinley Ross, and Scott 'Aldie' Alden. Part 2 of that episode was just posted here. The podcast will definitely give you a good idea of Martin's sense of humor. Plus, you'll actually hear me towards the end ask a question on ripoffs vs inspiration.
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