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PAX Unplugged 2018 II: Previews of Godsforge, Wavelength, Ubongo! Fun-Size, and Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Following BGG.CON 2018, I had thought that I was through with con coverage for the year, but then I asked Scott about attending PAX Unplugged, which took place in Philadelphia from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, and he said sure, so off I went.

I hadn't attended PAX Unplugged when it debuted in 2017 as it took place the same weekend as BGG.CON 2017, so this was new to me — and new to many other people as well based on the size of the crowd. The exhibitor space had roughly doubled in size from 2017, but the crowd seemingly hadn't — or at least that's what some publishers told me, with them estimating that the increased competition for attendee dollars hadn't been matched by a corresponding increase in attendees. Of course maybe the other exhibitors just had better things for sale. So many factors play into such things that it's hard to know for sure, and PAX has not released attendee figures as of this writing.

When can be said for sure is that publishers both announced new titles at the show and had upcoming games available for previewing, but they had done little in the way of marketing them ahead of the show — or perhaps I'm just no longer hep enough to track all of the social media platforms on which publishers do things these days. (Using the word "hep" is probably a good indicator of this.)

For example, the first sign of Godsforge on Atlas Games' social media accounts that I see is a tweet that was posted on the second day of PAXU only twenty minutes prior to me tweeting about the game after having played it. Weird.

In any case, Godsforge is a 2-4 player game from Brendan Stern with hypnotic otherworldly art by Diego L. Rodriguez that would ideally be on a six-foot-tall banner in order to attracts the eyes of passersby. Each player starts with 20-30 life depending on the number of players, with everyone attacking left and defending right in order to be the last one still in the game.

On a turn, everyone simultaneously rolls four dice up to three times using standard Yahtzee rules, then each player lays one of their four cards face down in front of them. In any order you want, players reveal those cards, paying the cost of them via specific numbers on rolled dice, the sum of rolled dice, veilstones, or a combination of the above. On the dice, 1s can be any number you wish, while an unused 6 can be spent to acquire a veilstone. Spells provide one-shot effects, while creations go into play in front of you, with some of them providing one-shot "enter play" abilities in addition to possible attack and defense values and sacrifice abilities.

Once all the cards have been resolved, players assess damage comparing their attack value against their target's defense. You then ditch any cards you don't want, then refill your hand to four. Once a player is eliminated, everyone still in the game starts taking damage from them each round in order to hasten the endgame.

I played a shortened two-player game with an Atlas representative and enjoyed the back-and-forth of play, the call-and-response of cards as my opponent attempted to chain out multiple creations in order to take advantage of special abilities, while I tried to keep him in check, boosting my health through spells, then digging for veilstones in order to put out a powerful creation that required the sacrifice of veilstones or one of my creations each turn. This style of gameplay is familiar from other games, but the art and graphic design is not, and Atlas would do well to highlight this as much as possible.

Sample cards in Godsforge

• Designer Elisa Teague was in the Ultra PRO booth for much of PAXU to demo her new dice game Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!, which debuted at the show from UP's Playroom Entertainment brand.

The game includes 25 dice, and each of the 2-5 players in the game start with the same number of dice, which show a lion on one side, a blank on the opposite side, and a bear and a tiger twice each on the other four faces.

All players play simultaneously within a round, starting by rolling all of their dice on the table. Each player then chooses one of the three animals from among their rolled dice, with lions being worth four points each, tigers three points, and bears two. After choosing an animal, the player sets aside all of the matching dice, then decides whether to roll again. If they roll the right animal, they'll score more points, with non-matching animals being irrelevant; roll any blank sides, though, and those dice are returned to the box. As soon as all players stop rolling in a round, whether voluntarily or due to them having no more dice to roll, they score points for their chosen animal, then a new round begins.

As soon as a player loses their final die, they're finished, and once all players have lost all of their dice, the game ends, and whoever has scored the most points wins.

Earring dice not included in the box!

• Thames & Kosmos, the North American branch of KOSMOS, debuted Grzegorz Rejchtman's Ubongo! Fun-Size Edition, which is yet another take on the Ubongo family of games that debuted in 2003 and that has sold more than five million games according to the cover of this particular item.

As in Ubongo, players of Ubongo! Fun-Size Edition compete to solve individual puzzles as quickly as they can. Each player has a set of eight polyomino pieces, each a different color. Players decide before the game begins whether they'll use the A- or B-side of the puzzle cards, with the A-side puzzles requiring exactly three pieces to complete and the B-side puzzles requiring exactly four. Which pieces? Well, you have to figure that out for yourself, with each puzzle having at least three different solutions.

At the start of a round, each player receives a new puzzle card and must race to fill in the blank spaces as quickly as possible. As soon as one player has done this, they start counting down to zero and everyone else must complete their puzzle before time is up. Whoever completes their puzzle card in time keeps the card for a point; the player who started the countdown both keeps their card and earns a gemstone worth one point. After eight rounds, the player with the most points wins.

To even the playing field between adults and children in Ubongo! Fun-Size Edition, the adults can play without the yellow piece — a straight line that covers three spaces. All of the puzzles can be solved without this piece, but doing so will be more difficult than normal...

Wavelength is the creation of designers Alex Hague, Justin Vickers, and Wolfgang Warsch, and a prototype of this 2019 release from Palm Court was available for playing in PAXU's First Look area beside the exhibitor space.

Wavelength is a party game in which you try to get your teammates to correctly guess where to place a dial along a spectrum, the endpoints of which are defined for the round by two bipolar concepts, such as "mysterious — expected", "round — square", or "useless emoji — useful emoji".

In more detail, the cluegiver looks at a card that shows two pairs of bipolar concepts, then chooses one of them and places the card in the device's holder. They close the window on the device, then spin the wheel to randomly determine where the target will be — all the way at one end of the spectrum, in the middle, or somewhere between the middle and an end. They close the window and give a clue to their teammates, who then move the red dial to where they hope the yellow bullseye target is located. The other team then guesses whether they think the first team is on target or to the left or right of the target.

Teams score points depending on how well they do, but as with many party games, the points are kind of beside the, um, point. Ideally everyone is giving clever and amusing clues, and the table gets to feel what it would be like to have hung out with Oscar Wilde.

We had only three players, so we fudged teams and did round-robin sessions of clue-giving, guessing, and counter-guessing. Overall the game delivers on what it's trying to do — assuming that the cluegivers can do their part, of course — but the turns in which the bullseye falls at the far end of a spectrum are disappointing because there's no mystery about them, nothing to discuss or puzzle out. If you have a spectrum of "evil — good" and the cluegiver says "Adolf Hitler", then you dunk for the round, shrug, and move on. The middle 80% of the spectrum is the interesting part because that gives everyone trickier challenges, and I'd prefer the device be reworked so that you can have a bullseye only in that range.

The game is still in prototype form at this point with a somewhat wonky device, so we'll see what it all looks like some months from now when it's actually coming to market. (By the by, bipolar concepts like "ugly — beautiful" are used in semantic differential questions to measure how individuals evaluate words and phrases. Psychologist Charles E. Osgood started this line of research in the 1950s, and people still use such studies today because they're sometimes viewed as less loaded or more meaningful than questions that pose more of a agree/disagree option. This latter style of question is the Likert scale, and you might see a statement such as "This game is challenging", then you're asked to fill in a circle: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree. By contrast, a semantic differential question might have a direction such as "Please rate this game", then confront you with something like "challenging ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ easy", giving you something to bounce off the word "challenging" rather than you considering it in a vacuum. More on Wikipedia...)
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