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Game Previews at Origins 2013 I: Freedom: The Underground Railroad, Conflict of Heroes: Solo Expansion, Spyrium & Council of Verona

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game: Freedom: The Underground Railroad
• Time to start the video coverage of Origins 2013, and despite having many problems with the camera and its audio recording – some of which I discovered only after returning home and checking out the files – I do have more than a dozen game preview videos to share with you over the next few days, starting with Brian Mayer's Freedom: The Underground Railroad, which publisher Academy Games plans to bring to Kickstarter for funding in Q3 2013. In this overview video, Academy's Uwe Eickert sings, speaks German, and also relays a fair bit of information about the game.

From gallery of uweeickert
• Eickert also described the long design and development process for Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear - Solo Expansion, which he designed together with his son Gunter and John H. Butterfield. No singing this time, but Eickert does yell at someone who bumps our camera. Quite a performer, this guy, despite later claiming to be no good on film.

Board Game: Spyrium
• At roughly 4:00 p.m., after I had finished a sample game of William Attia's Spyrium and as I was preparing to record an overview video of the game, half the lights went out in the hall, then the alarms started blaring: "Please leave the building! Please leave the building!" Turns out that a fire had started in the basement of the Columbus Convention Center, apparently due to a blown transformer, so everyone had to skedaddle outside for a few hours while the firemen came, checked out the situation, and looked for deals in the exhibitor hall.

Did this situation deter me from recording an overview video? It did not! Although it did change where I recorded the video. Here I am on the floor of the Hilton across the street from the convention center. The lighting might actually have been better in that location than in the center.

Note that in our game, we were not playing with the final rules as the French rules were unclear as to how the bonus tokens should be used. Thus, we went with one interpretation and assumed it was correct rather than not being able to play the game at all. The final details of gameplay might differ. Note also that I won the game and am current Spyrium champion of the U.S. I'm open to rematches once this game hits the market, with Ystari Games releasing it in France and Asmodee releasing it elsewhere, and I fully expect Eurogame fans to go gaga over it at that time.

Board Game: Council of Verona
• Still locked out of the exhibitor hall, I convinced Crash Games' Patrick Nickell to crash with me on the floor to talk about Michael Eskue's Council of Verona. Nickell had sent me a prototype version of the game earlier, so I took it upon myself to do the game overview, figuring that Nickell could then follow up with details of the expansions and the related nanogame Where Art Thou, Romeo?, which he did.

One thing I forgot to mention on camera and will instead mention now is that while the gameplay in Council of Verona is decent, the game needs to be longer. How, you ask? Well, watch the video first so that you know how to play the game, then I'll get to my suggestion, which can still be implemented as the game has not yet gone to print:

Board Game: Love Letter
Let's step away from Council of Verona for a second to talk about Seiji Kanai's Love Letter, a microgame that has gone over like a tasty tidal wave since AEG debuted its English version at Spiel 2012 in October.

While each round in Love Letter is short – lasting only 1-2 minutes unless you're playing with slugs – you must play several rounds, anywhere from four to thirteen, in order to determine a winner, and the impact of playing those multiple rounds is part of the reason why the game succeeds as well as it does. Bluffing and deduction are huge parts of the game, and because you play multiple rounds, you get to bluff and deduce over and over again in the same (or similar) situations: "Last round he used Priest on me, then followed up with a Baron. Is he holding a Baron after this Priest, too?" "She threw Countess away last round while holding a low card. Is she doing it again?" "He seems to always play Handmaid on the second turn, so let me guess that he has it in hand now." And so on.

Even better are moments when the unexpected happens – then happens again. In a game with four players, for example, Jon was one of two players left in the round, but was forced to Prince himself with the Princess in hand as the other player had laid down a Handmaid to protect himself. Boom! Jon's out, too, and we go to the next round. Once again, Jon was one of two players left in the round, but was forced to Prince himself with the Princess in hand! What are the odds?!

Actually, I don't care what the odds are. The point is that I don't recall who won that game, but I do recall that moment with fondness, and it happened because the game experience in Love Letter builds on itself round after round. You get those fun moments again and again because you find history repeating and twisting and reinventing itself and because the experience is more than a single pass through the cards. This is what Council of Verona needs, ideally with the simple solution of requiring three rounds of play with three players, four rounds with two or four, and five rounds with five. You'd then tally the scores afterward to see who's best at composing the Council and bringing Juliet and Romeo together. Sure, this change would lengthen the game time, but in the process you build an experience that's currently lacking. You'd now have multiple card drafts, giving you the opportunity to deduce (rightly or wrongly) who has taken which cards; you'd have extended bluffing and deduction, with players using your actions in previous rounds to try to figure out what you're doing now; you'd have multiple chances to get it right, even if only in one round so that you could then feel like you have something to build on next time. There's still time to make this happen, Patrick, should you find this suggestion helpful.

Maybe I need to start a new side career in game development...
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