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Links: Surveying SUPERHOT, Selling Asmodee's Brands, and Clearing Out After Tasty Minstrel

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: SUPERHOT: The Card Game
Board Game: Agent Decker
• In November 2021, Portuguese designer Manuel Correia published a post-mortem video exploring the creation and development of SUPERHOT: The Card Game, a 2017 release from Board&Dice.

It's a great overview of how the design evolved from one of Correia's earlier designs, Agent Decker, as he tried to capture the essence of the SUPERHOT video game and overcome the difference between the two forms of media: digital and analog. Correia also mentions two things that went wrong with the game, one being a rulebook that was not ideal for learning the game, which would definitely be a stumbling block for those who are attracted by the license, yet unfamiliar with modern tabletop games.


• On November 19, 2021, designer Elizabeth Hargrave tweeted that her game Wingspan from Stonemaier Games has now surpassed more than one million copies sold.

At about the same time, I ran across a press release from U.S. publisher PlayMonster that Jeff Foxworthy's party game Relative Insanity has also reached the million sales threshold.

Board Game: Wingspan
Board Game: Relative Insanity
So similar...in sales

• Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games has announced via the TMG newsletter that "the likelihood of ever making games again is extremely low, approaching zero as an asymptote type of low", and TMG is now clearing out its inventory via online retailer CoolStuffInc, including titles like Formosa Tea and Yin Yang that I don't believe ever made it onto the North America market previously.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Asmodee has gone on a licensing spree in the second half of 2021 through its Asmodee Entertainment division. In August 2021, for example, it signed a deal with Rollacrit "to further extend CATAN as a lifestyle brand, with a range of artfully designed apparel, accessories, collectibles and homewares aimed at dedicated and casual CATAN fans alike".

That same month, Asmodee Entertainment signed a licensing partnership with Source Point Press, a division of Ox Eye Media, for comics based on "[t]he best-selling game worlds of Legend of the Five Rings, Mysterium, and Pandemic".

October 2021 brought about a licensing agreement with Trends International for a line of CATAN posters that will be sold "exclusively from selected online outlets, including Trends' own ShopTrends.com site and global retailer Amazon".

From gallery of W Eric Martin
November 2021 saw at least four deals, one being the previously covered Dobble and Pandemic puzzle books, another being a licensing partnership with SD Toys for "jigsaw puzzles for some of their largest IPs: Dobble, Legend of the Five Rings, Terrinoth: Legends, Twilight Imperium, Arkham Horror, and KeyForge"; the third being with Event Merchandising Limited for an online Legend of the Five Rings store; and the fourth being with "Just Funky LLC for a range of fan-focused homewares and accessories based on the hugely successful CATAN tabletop gaming brand".

In more detail, the press release for this last deal notes that "Just Funky plans to release a range of homeware and accessories, so CATAN fans can display their passion through items as varied as coasters, glassware, wall art, throw blankets, lamps, tote bags, lanyards, stationery and more." Asmodee already has a deal with Just Funky for similar items based on FFG's Arkham Horror brand.

• To continue along these lines, Alan R. Moon's Ticket to Ride from Days of Wonder popped up on day 2 of Ellen DeGeneres' 12 Days of Giveaways, with each audience member taking home a copy of the game and a US$350 Visa gift card from Unbox Now, with this entity being part of the Asmodee Group. The TTR segment starts at 1:50 of this video.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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Interview: Miniatures Gaming with Joe McCullough, Creator of Frostgrave, Stargrave, and Rangers of Shadow Deep

Neil Bunker
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Board Game: Frostgrave
[Editors note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move in August 2021. All images provided by Osprey Games except where noted. —WEM]

Joe McCullough, creator of Frostgrave, Stargrave, and Rangers of Shadow Deep, joins Neil Bunker of Diagonal Move to discuss the relative merits of spells vs. grenade launchers and other miniatures-based wargaming topics.

DM: Hi Joseph, thank you for joining us today. Please can you tell us a little about yourself and how you became a games designer?

JM: Thanks for the invite! Looking back, two important things happened when I was in my early teens. First, I became a "gamer". This started when I found a copy of Dungeons & Dragons at a yard sale and quickly expanded to include other RPGs and miniature games.

At the same time, I started to develop a love of writing. For a long time, I thought I wanted to be a fiction writer. I spent most of my university and young adult life writing short stories, but never really getting anywhere. It wasn't until after I emigrated to Britain, took a job at Osprey Publishing, and helped in the development of Osprey Games that it occurred to me to try writing a game. Even then, it began as a fun distraction. Well, my first attempt at game writing was Frostgrave, and its success convinced me that maybe I had found my calling.

DM: You are best known for miniatures-based skirmish games including Frostgrave, Rangers of Shadow Deep, and Stargrave. How do miniatures-based wargames differ from sci-fi and fantasy themed-board wargames that use miniatures, for example Battle Lore?

JM: Board games are limited by their very nature. They are limited by the board and the pieces that come in the box. Now, this allows for much tighter rules sets because everything is governed by squares or hexes, and the designer knows exactly what the players will be using when they play. Wargames are open. Every player is likely to use different miniatures or terrain. This allows players to build unique tables and construct unique scenarios, giving miniature wargames infinite possibility. Of course, it also creates new challenges for the designer, who must create rules that can work with a degree of uncertainty with what terrain and pieces will be on the table.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: What does Frostgrave do differently from other miniatures-based games, and how did it build on the games that inspired you to be a designer?

JM: I think Frostgrave did three things that were rare in wargames at the time. First, it took a narrative-first approach to miniature gaming, meaning that the story you tell by the act of playing is more important than whether a player wins or loses. In fact, in a campaign, there are no specific victory conditions to a game. Players are left to decide for themselves whether the outcome of a game was good or bad.

Second, Frostgrave moved away from the traditional "warrior focus" of wargames, put wizards front and center, and gave them a huge list of spells from which to choose. This not only brought huge variety to the game since there are eighty spells and they all do different things, but it gave players meaningful choices to make each turn.

Finally, at every point in the game, I thought about how I could speed things up and keep players engaged. For example, combat is an opposed d20 roll, which determines both who won the fight and how much damage is done, so with one roll, either figure — or both — could end up dead. Also, each player activates only a few figures at a time, so the game moves very fast with a lot of back and forth. A player never has to wait more than a minute or two before rolling some dice or moving some figures.

DM: When designing a system like Frostgrave with multiple character attributes and equipable items and spells, how do you keep track of the "balance" of the game and ensure that one unit or spell combination doesn't overpower others?

JM: Basically, I write down all the cool stuff I can think of and sort it out later! Seriously though, I kind of set a "power level" in my mind, and I make sure when I write that everything in the game is floating around that level, so all the spells should be about "X level good". Now, obviously it is hard to compare an attack spell to a spell that turns a figure invisible to a spell that creates a wall, but it's a good baseline to approach the writing. I find that if I try to err on the side of caution when creating anything new, it's much easier to go back later during playtesting and make it slightly more powerful than it is to go back and make it slightly less powerful.

In the end, though, it's not possible to keep everything completely balanced. As the number of possible combinations reaches the infinite, there are going to be possibilities or interactions that the designer never even conceived — but that's what makes wargaming great. It's part of that infinite possibility. The wargamers who are attracted to my style of games are the ones who are willing to trade the occasional blip that they might have to legislate themselves for that huge level of possibility.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Stargrave, the successor to Frostgrave, was released in April 2021. Can you tell us about the new system and how it differs from Frostgrave?

JM: The biggest single change is that now everyone is carrying a gun! I know that's a bit flippant, but seriously, it hugely changes the feel of the game and the tactics employed. So really, creating Stargrave was about taking that fundamental change, then rebuilding the rest of the system around it. Spells that are great in Frostgrave, such as "Elemental Ball", wouldn't be that great in Stargrave where you can get the same basic effect from a grenade launcher.

Instead of spells, you have a captain and first-mate who have "powers", which can be anything from biological enhancements, cybernetics, or well-honed skills to mystical arts, psionic powers, or just plain luck. So you can build a space-wizard if you want, but you can just as easily have a cybernetic super-soldier, a slippery rogue, or a robotics master. In fact, you could have a cyborg and a rogue because unlike Frostgrave, your two characters — your captain and first-mate — can have completely different power-sets, which gives a crew access to a host of different tactics they can employ during a game.

Board Game: Rangers of Shadow Deep

DM: Can you tell us more about Rangers of Shadow Deep? How does it compare to your other games?

JM: For Rangers of Shadow Deep, I took some of the core mechanics from Frostgrave, then rebuilt the game from the ground-up to be a solo or co-operative experience. It is my attempt to push traditional tabletop wargaming as far as I could in the direction of classic role-playing.

In Rangers, you build a character, much as you would in an RPG. It doesn't necessarily have to be a ranger; it can be a warrior, wizard, thief, whatever — ranger is just your job title. Then you surround that character with some trusted companions and go out on missions assigned by your king. While the game still has a heavy combat element, it also brings in other aspects of adventuring, such as exploration and investigation. In one mission, you team up with a small group of soldiers to investigate a farm that has been attacked. Unfortunately, one of your team is a werewolf! You just need to figure out which one. In another, you are exploring the ruins of an ancient abbey, searching for an important relic. You have to choose which rooms you explore in what order, collecting clues to the relic's location.

So while the game is still very much a tabletop wargame, it has a lot of the feel of an RPG, especially if you are playing it co-operatively with other players.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: What do you attribute the popularity of miniatures-based gaming and the success of your games to? Is it the world building, the element of roleplay, the chaotic fun of rolling handfuls of dice?

JM: I think most people get into miniature wargaming because, frankly, they love miniatures. There is just something pleasing about recreating a fantasy or science-fiction world in miniature that really appeals to a lot of people. In many ways, the rules are just an excuse to fuel the collecting, building, and painting part of the hobby. I think the freedom inherent in my rules systems — the encouragement to use any figures you want no matter the producer; the unimportance attached to species, so that any figure can be an elf, dwarf, orc, etc.; and even the unimportance of scale — gives people the excuse to buy and work on the miniatures they've always wanted to get but never had a specific need for. The same thing goes with terrain. The games are so open-ended that you can craft any terrain you want for them — or if you don't like working on terrain — you can just use a bunch of blocks or rocks instead.

Beyond that, I think a large group of gamers find my rules enjoyable because there is less emphasis on winning and losing. While you still approach the game with strategies, goals, and hopes, there is less tension to them than a lot of games, and you know you are likely to have a good time even if the dice go against you!

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: The "hobby" side of miniatures gaming — building and painting the miniatures — is hugely popular and even draws in people who collect and paint models without ever playing the games. How much input as the game's designer do you have into the look and feel of the minis themselves?

JM: In my case, the answer is "as much as I want". Osprey Games and North Star include me in all the discussions about the miniatures. That said, I honestly don't think this is one of my strengths, so for the most part, I stay out of the way and let other people do the things that they are really good at!

DM: The initial and on-going costs — the vast array of expansions, multiple factions, new miniatures and rulebook editions on a regular release cycle — can be seen as both a barrier to entry for many players new to minis games and restrictive to regular players looking to try a new system. How do you feel about this, and can you suggest any ways players can reduce these?

JM: While I know some people see the hobby this way, I honestly don't think it is true. I mean, it is for certain games from certain companies, but it isn't true of the hobby as a whole. For example, if you want to play Frostgrave, all you need is the basic rulebook and a single box of plastic figures. This will give you enough figures for two people to field full Frostgrave forces. For terrain, you can use whatever you have around the house: books, boxes, blocks, cans, rocks from the garden. Believe me, you can have some great games, some great adventures, doing just that. I have! Heck, for Rangers of Shadow Deep, there are people who don't even use terrain; they just draw out the table on a big white board. That works, too!

Later on, as you get into the game you can expand. You can get expansions that give you new scenarios and optional rules, but none are necessary. You can buy a few monsters to increase the complications in your game, or a new miniature to represent your more powerful wizard. You can hand make some terrain out of old cereal boxes. One of the great aspects of the hobby is that you can start cheap and build everything up over time. There is huge satisfaction to be gained by this slow-build-up approach.

And these ideas aren't peculiar to my games. There are lots of minis games out there that require only a small initial start-up, just a book and a few figures, so never feel like you need to drop £200-300 at one go to get into the hobby. It's just not true.

Board Game: Frostgrave
Image: Marco Arnaudo

DM: If someone wanted to start their miniatures gaming hobby with one of your games, which do you suggest as an entry point and why?

JM: If you are looking for a competitive game in which you battle it out with your friends, I would suggest Frostgrave. The rules are simple and can be learned quickly, and you need only ten figures or so to start playing. A lot of people just scavenge miniatures from board games they own but don't play! As I said, you can use anything for terrain. Since Frostgrave has so many different spell possibilities, it can be quite a wild and unpredictable game that leads to a lot of cinematic moments and a lot of reasons to laugh with your friends.

If you are a solo player or are more attracted to the idea of playing a miniatures game co-operatively, I'd go with Rangers of Shadow Deep. That's exactly why I created it. While you will need a few more minis for it to represent the bad guys, you can always get some cheap paper standees or just use proxies as you work on your collection.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Can you tell us anything about what you are working on now?

JM: At the moment, I'm working on a small game called Deathship One. The idea is that a squad of soldiers has been pulled out of space and time and dumped in an alien death trap. You can use soldiers from any time period, past, present or future.

It's a solo or co-operative game, and in truth, you aren't supposed to win. It's a death trap, after all. The fun is seeing how far your squad can make it before they are overwhelmed. The whole game consists of playing through five rooms. In the unlikely event you make it through, you get to go home. I'm keeping the rules light and simple as I want the game to move very fast.

The plan is that it will be released in the next volume (#4) of Blaster, a miniature wargaming anthology series I am a part of that is irregularly released on DriveThruRPG.

DM: Do you have any advice for designers looking to create a miniatures-based game?

JM: Develop a writing habit. It doesn't matter how many ideas you have or how great they are unless you get them down on paper. Once you have a manuscript, making changes to rules is easy, but writing a complete rulebook, that's hard.

[Editor's note: You can read more about Joe on his blog: The Renaissance Troll. —WEM]

Board Game: Stargrave: Science Fiction Wargames in the Ravaged Galaxy
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Sat Nov 27, 2021 1:00 pm
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Lead Civil Rights Organizations, Rule the Assyrian Empire, Roleplay as Napoleon, and Check Out the 2020 CSR Awards Winners

Candice Harris
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Board Game: Free at Last
• Non-profit publisher The Dietz Foundation is crowdfunding Free at Last on Kickstarter. Free at Last is a card-driven, co-operative and competitive game from designer Ted Torgerson (1989: Dawn of Freedom), where 2-6 players explore the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Here's a high-level overview of Free at Last from the publisher:
Quote:
Free at Last is a game for 2-6 players. Players take on the role of civil rights organizations (SNCC, CORE, etc) as they fight for equal rights and the end of segregation in the Deep South, circa 1960-1964. It is not about Washington, DC, but the efforts of the people on the spot, whether that is Claiborne Parish, Louisiana or Mobile, Alabama.

Free at Last is a card-driven game where each card has a number (used to activate special individuals) and an event, but uniquely, the color of the number also matters and affects the type of project (voting rights, accommodations, school desegregation) that can be attempted.

Multiple-length versions can be played: 3 turns (ending with the Freedom Rides), 6 turns (ending with the March on Washington), or a 9 turn game covering this entire period in American history.
The Dietz Foundation aims to help teachers learn alternative means of education in the classroom by endowing scholarships at high schools for students going into education, endowing scholarships at the collegiate level for students pursuing teaching certificates, and teaching the general public through the play of games.

It's also worth noting that as part of efforts to make people aware of the history of the fight for Civil Rights, Torgerson is contributing his royalties from the game to the Reverend John H Scott Memorial Fund.
Board Game Publisher: Ion Game Design

Ion Game Design is crowdfunding Besime Uyanik's new co-operative game, Sammu-ramat, on Gamefound, along with Bruss Brussco's DerrocAr.

In Sammu-ramat, 1-5 players rule the Assyrian Empire as Queen Sammu-ramat in the 9th century BCE. With an estimated playtime of 60 minutes, here's a bit more detail on Sammu-ramat from the publisher:
Quote:
Sammu-ramat ruled the Assyrian Empire at a time of political uncertainty, which is one of the possible explanations for why Assyrians may have accepted her rule (as normally a woman as ruler would have been unthinkable). Her reign lasted between 811 BC – 808 BC. In this collaborative game you the players are Sammu-ramat, together with advisors surrounding the royal court and vassal states, you try to keep the Empire strong and protected against internal unrest, external threats, natural disasters and much more. All players win or lose together.

Board Game: Sammu-ramat

In this 1-5 player co-op board game, you will be one of the advisors surrounding the Assyrian royal court. Each Advisor has its own abilities and strengths. Players spend actions to play action cards and move from region to region along the paths printed on the board, trying to balance the needs of the regions (Military, Supplies, Health, and Religion). In battle with the enemy units are removed 1:1, i.e. combat is deterministic.

On each Empire card, there is a Scenario, with one or more win conditions. The specific setup of the Scenario is on the back of the Empire card. Multiple victory scenarios increase the game's replayability.
• In DerrocAr, 1-5 players compete as senators and governors to become the President of the República Argentina. In more detail from the publisher:
Quote:
DerrocAr is a game published by Ion Game Design that focuses on a short period of history with political turmoil. Derrocar, designed by a native Argentinian Bruss Brussco, is a card game about the several weeks in which Argentina had five presidents.

Are you ready to take a role in some of the most peculiar weeks in political history? Be one of the provincial governors trying to reach the presidency of Argentina in the middle of the political and economic crisis of 2001.
Board Game: DerrocAr: The Five Presidents Week

In this 1-5 player board game you play as the Senators and Governors of the provinces, all seeking to outmaneuver the others and become the next President of the República Argentina. In a country tired of politicians, you need to prove that you are the least bad option, by making sure that the provinces of the other governors are full of conflicts. By making it look like your opponents cannot even manage their own provinces, they will be even less able to manage the country. The game
ends when a player is declared President

The rounds are divided into two phases:
First, you have to choose one of the options on the board (propose a Laws, Decrees, Debt Payment, Embezzlement Fund, etc) and then buy cards from the Market. At the next phase, you play a set of cards from your hand (Make Operations, Lobby, create conflict with the Establishment, create bad campaigns with the press, etc). Meanwhile, you handle your economy, the events (Lootings, Floods, a Bush's call, more) and negotiate short alliances.

To win, you must be the player with the most Support when the game ends because other players are full of conflicts.

The game comes with a modular system that allows the players to choose the complexity level that best suits their tastes.
Board Game Publisher: GMT Games

• Two new and interesting P500 additions were mentioned in the November monthly update newsletter from GMT Games. The first, I, Napoleon, is a solitaire role-playing card game from Paths of Glory designer Ted Raicer, where you can change the course of history playing as Napoleon Buonoparte. Here's a high-level overview from the publisher:
Quote:
I, Napoleon is a solitaire historical role-playing card game in which you step into the boots of Captain Buonoparte (as he still was) in the year 1793. Louis XVI has just gone to the guillotine, the brothers Robespierre control the destiny of France, and all Europe has joined French Royalists to take down France, end the Revolution, and restore peace and safety for the hereditary principles that have underlain society for 1000 years.

As an ambitious but unknown young artillery officer, who speaks French with a Corsican accent, you would seem to be an unlikely agent of destiny. Can you harness a brilliant mind, titanic energies, and a sometimes terrifying charisma to leave your mark on history? Or will you die a minor footnote in the story of France?

Board Game: I, Napoleon
P500 cover image (not finalized)

GAMEPLAY
In I, Napoleon, your fate lies in 220 beautifully illustrated cards, divided into three decks: Commander, First Consul, and Emperor. Overlaying a map of early 19th Century Europe are a series of Card Boxes, where you play out the events of your life and career, along with various tracks and tables to record the yearly passage of time and the events affecting yourself and France. The choices you make with the cards you are dealt will determine success or failure. You will have to manage politics, military campaigns, diplomacy, and the domestic well-being of the French while pursuing the Glory that lures you on. You will also have to manage your family, your wives, your mistresses, and your children, legitimate and otherwise.

Your path may lead you from the Americas to the Near East, from Spain to Russia, from a throne to exile. You will be the target of assassins, coups, and coalitions. You will deal with bad harvests and plague, face Wellington and Nelson, Kutuzov and Blucher. You will rely on—and perhaps be betrayed by—the slippery Talleyrand and unleash the secret policemen Fouche on your opponents. As you progress, your options will increase, along with the stakes.

Lead your men into battle and risk an early end to your life? Sail to Egypt or Ireland? Sell Louisiana or send an army to hold it? Marry a Habsburg or a Romanov? Create the Duchy of Warsaw or revive the Kingdom of Poland? Invade Russia or try to pacify the Tsar? Every choice will affect your legacy.

But there is not one version of a life here, but many. Every game will provide a different narrative, based on both luck of the draw and the decisions you make. In addition, you can start the game as a Commander, as First Consul, or as Emperor, each with its own starting situation and challenges. The story is yours to discover, and the decisions you make may just change the course of history.
• Designer Francisco Gradaille's Plantagenet: Cousins’ War for England, 1459 - 1485, is not only a new GMT P500 addition, but it's also the newest addition to Volko Ruhnke's Levy & Campaign Series.

In Plantagenet, 1-2 players create and maintain a network of allied lords and nobles obtaining money and resources needed to supply and pay their armies in 15th-century England as described below by the publisher:
Quote:
England, 1459. The son of the great Henry V has not lived to fill his father's shoes. England has lost the Hundred Years War, and mighty lords amass lands and wealth rivaling the King’s own. Henry IV left the door open for any such powerful lord with good pedigree to reach for the throne, and the best candidate is Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York.

Mounting tension over the Crown leads to armed clashes, under the excuse of freeing the king from his evil counsellors, and finally ignites the Wars of the Roses that William Shakespeare would immortalize in his plays:

---• A Yorkist rebellion that succeeds in placing Edward IV on the throne and exiling the Lancastrians to Scotland and France.
---• A civil war pitting Warwick the Kingmaker and King Edward’s brother Clarence against the King and his other brother Richard Gloucester.
---• The reinstatement for a few months of Henry VI and the invasion from France by his son and wife leading to a final contest between Richard III and Henry Tudor (later known as Henry VII) and the Battle of Bosworth that ends the Plantagenet dynasty.

Treason, bravery, political maneuver, and a cast of memorable characters mark one of the most intense and divided periods of English history.

From gallery of candidrum
P500 cover image (not finalized)

In Plantagenet—the newest volume in Volko Ruhnke's Levy & Campaign Series—players lead one of the two factions across the three main periods of war, as individual scenarios or the entire Wars of the Roses.

Designer Francisco Gradaille adds overall and local political influence to Volko’s medieval operation system to reflect the ever-changing loyalties of the time while keeping play familiar to fans of the Series. Players will create and maintain a network of allied lords and nobles in order to obtain the provender and coin needed to supply and pay their armies. As ravaging and looting will damage each side’s reputation, each faction will strive to convince cites to join its side. Great battles will seek to kill or capture enemy lords—perhaps even a king. Two kinds of operational moves will be in play: the military and the political.

In the end, when the dust settles and all arrows have flown, one rose will sit on the throne. White or Red, York or Lancaster, gather your troops and banners and join the fight.
Board Game: Verdun 1916: Steel Inferno
• Lastly, the 2020 Charles S. Roberts Awards winners were announced in November 2021. You can check out all of the nominees and winners on the official announcement video posted below from No Ememies Here, or on the CSR Awards web site.

Congratulations to all of the winners, including the new Clausewitz Hall of Fame recipient Walter Vejdovsky! Vejdovsky's 2-player, card-driven WWI game Verdun 1916: Steel Inferno, from French publisher Fellowship of Simulations, won Wargame of the Year and WWI Board Wargame categories, as well as the Dunnigan Award for Design Excellence.

Verdun 1916: Steel Inferno has been on my "shelf of opportunity" for a couple months now, and I'm really looking forward to playing it soon!

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Fri Nov 26, 2021 1:00 pm
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In 2022, KOSMOS Offers Narrative Adventures Galore and a City Made of Dice

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: My City: Roll & Write
As is becoming its custom, German publisher KOSMOS is teasing upcoming releases on its game-focused Instagram channel, with almost all of the titles announced as of November 23, 2021 for release in the first half of 2022 being expansions, line extensions, and licensed versions of games released previously by other publishers.

As I speculated in my Nov. 2021 post about AMIGO's early 2022 releases, maybe KOSMOS is taking this approach due to the difficulty of in-person playtesting and development over the past two years — or maybe it has new titles not related to anything already on the market that have yet to be announced. We'll see in the months ahead...

• The buzziest new title here might be My City: Roll & Write, this being an adaptation of Reiner Knizia's Spiel des Jahres-nominated legacy game My City that carries over attributes of that earlier release. Here's the short description we have for now:
Quote:
My City: Roll & Write is a dice game in which over four chapters, each with three rounds, you create a unique city. During the construction process, you face new challenges each time. The dice roll determines which buildings players have to draw on their own sheet, and whoever scores the most points wins.
• Another line extension that KOSMOS will release in early 2022 is Die Abenteuer des Robin Hood: Bruder Tuck in Gefahr, an expansion for Michael Menzel's The Adventures of Robin Hood that consists of four new challenges: "Unknown warriors attack in the West, and old adversaries become bitter enemies once again. Friar Tuck will support the heroes with his special abilities."

Another such title is Andor Junior: Die Gefahr aus dem Schatten (The Danger from the Shadows), an expansion for Andor Junior from Inka and Markus Brand in which your young heroes attempt to protect the inhabitants of Andor from a dangerous Wardrak, facing new tasks and exciting battles along the way.

Board Game: Die Abenteuer des Robin Hood: Bruder Tuck in Gefahr
Board Game: Andor Junior: Die Gefahr aus dem Schatten

• Speaking of the Brands, in mid-2021 KOSMOS had teased EXIT: Das Spiel – Schatten über Mittelerde, a Lord of the Rings-themed entry in the incredibly popular EXIT line of escape room games for release in late 2021. That title is now scheduled for release in the first half of 2022, along with EXIT: Das Spiel – Das Vermachtnis des Weltreisenden (The Legacy of the World Traveler) and EXIT: Das Spiel + Puzzle – Das Gold der Piraten (The Pirate's Gold).

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Board Game: Adventure Games: Expedition Azcana
• KOSMOS will release another title in its Adventure Games series — Expedition Azcana — while also adding two licensed game lines to its catalog of narrative games.

Here's an overview of the Cartaventura line from designers Thomas Dupont and Arnaud Ladagnous, which originated from French publisher BLAM !:
Quote:
Cartaventura is a narrative card game in which players build an adventure using cards that can offer them different choices during play. Map cards are placed in the middle of the table. Around these map cards, players place action cards, with them consulting one another to decide the best choice to make from those available: draw a card, turn over a card, discard, etc. Urgent cards, which should be read entirely before doing anything else, can change the game in an instant. Object cards are placed in front of players and can be useful throughout the game. The game includes a tutorial to accompany the first game, and its simple and original playing system allows you to explore the scenario several times before discovering all of the game's secrets.

In Cartaventura: Vinland, you set off for the land of the Vikings in the footsteps of explorer Erik The Red. Will you succeed in proving your father's innocence? Will you take to the seas towards the western lands or command your colony in Greenland? Will you stay faithful to the Norse gods?

From gallery of W Eric Martin

In Cartaventura: Lhasa, you travel to India and Tibet in the footsteps of explorer Alexandra David-Neel. Can you find the route to the temple or escape the claws of the white tiger? Will you succeed in crossing the Himalayas on foot? Will you have enough money to finish your adventure?

In Cartaventura: Oklahoma, it's 1854 in the United States. Your name is Bass Reeves, and you are about to turn twenty-three years old. Born a slave, the son and grandson of slaves, you spent your early years working your fingers to the bone in cotton and sugarcane fields. One day soon, you know you'll escape and then...whatever happens, happens! Will you find the Indian camp? Will you become a Marshall? Can you win the poker game? Can you escape your former master? Can you find your way to freedom?
• KOSMOS also plans to release Suspects, a co-operative mystery-solving game from Guillaume Montiage, Sebastien Duverger Nedellec, and Paul Halter that originated from Studio H, with the three titles in that original release apparently being released as separate items — although it's hard to know for sure as the German titles don't match with the English ones.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• Other licensed titles coming from KOSMOS are Cascadia, Catch the Moon, and Harry Potter: Wettstreit um den Hauspokal (a.k.a. Harry Potter: House Cup Competition).

Board Game: Cascadia
Board Game: Catch the Moon
Board Game: Harry Potter: House Cup Competition

• Finally, we come to the lone original title announced so far: a card game for 2-5 players from Klaus Kreowski that bears this minimal description: "In Allie Gator, cards are placed as cleverly as possible, with special cards bringing additional fun. Simple rules to start right away."

Board Game: Allie Gator
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Thu Nov 25, 2021 1:00 pm
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Behind the Scenes with Big Potato

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Big Potato
In a departure from what I normally do in this space, I'm sharing a bit of the experience of a media person in the game industry, someone who receives sample games from publishers in the hope that said media person will publicize these games.

This publicity does not always happen in a timely manner due to the limited number of hours in the day or the lack of willing players at the table or any number of other reasons. Sometimes this publicity doesn't happen for a long time — if ever.

If you are a publisher, your prime takeaway from this video could be that Eric might not touch your package for years, and that takeaway is correct. Despite my best intentions, I can't cover everything that I wish to...but in this case I finally shine the spotlight on UK publisher Big Potato, which does a stellar job on marketing that will never be seen by most people. Watch the video and see whether you agree:

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Wed Nov 24, 2021 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Mindbug, or Four Minds, Eight Hands

Christian K
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Board Game: Mindbug

Christian's Story

In January 2020, I listened to a bunch of podcasts about game design. One I especially enjoyed was Nerdlab. Unlike many other such podcasts, it was quite focused on card games, the kind with monsters fighting, cool card combos...you know the kind. This genre has a huge place in my heart, so I wrote to the guy behind the podcast, Marvin Hegen, and we discussed making a game together. While making the first prototype, this was the recipe in my head for making a cool simple two-player game about monsters fighting with gameplay inspired by TCGs:

1) Come up with a ruleset (as simple as possible) for how cards behave while in play.
2) Come up with a mechanism that keeps the player who draws the best monsters from winning automatically. (Let's face it, if the big companies cannot balance these types of games perfectly, neither can we.) This mechanism could be, for example, draft, auction, or something else.
3) Make a bunch of cool monster cards. Try not to make them too complicated.
4) To play, players will draw some random monster cards. They will use the protocol from (2) to put them into play, and attack with them using the ruleset from (1).

I figured that if the system from (2) is "fair" enough, if the rules from (1) allow some depth, and if the monsters from (3) are not too complicated, you would probably get a good strategic game out of it.

For (1), I used the simplest thing I could come up with: Play a card or attack with a card. Highest power wins battles. This is nothing revolutionary — just a fine simple system. Keywords and special abilities are needed in this system to prevent the creature with the highest power from dominating the battlefield.

For (2), I was inspired by the secretary problem from theoretical Computer Science. In short, this is a problem in which you see a bunch of values and try to guess when you see the biggest one. In Mindbug, players are allowed — twice each game — to steal a card that the opponent plays. You have to steal it at that exact moment, though, so you are trying to guess when the opponent is playing their strongest creature.

This idea turned out to work super well in practice. Players have a lot of fun deciding whether they want to steal this particular monster or wait for something better to come along. This idea almost always results in players wanting to discuss "what if" scenarios after playing and whether they could have changed something to win.

Showing this initial prototype to Marvin, we were both surprised that it was actually fun. Normally, first prototypes need a lot of polish to get somewhere good, but I think we got lucky here and started with something really fun.

As a first-time designer, having seen this game go from idea to finished product has been a ton of fun. I was, of course, really excited when the game started getting some buzz. Some of the first coverage was this video from The Dice Tower, my beloved board game reviewers that I have watched for almost ten years.

They were not as excited as I had hoped (and the image there is the prototype artwork for some reason). They somehow initially thought Uwe Rosenberg was also a co-designer, and they mostly seemed confused about the whole thing: "..and Christian Kudahl? Who is a computer scientist? From Denmark?"

A friend of mine found it so hilarious that he made a comic about it to mock me further:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

After releasing one thousand copies of the game at SPIEL '21, we luckily had a lot more positive (and less confused) feedback from the people who bought it there. As a new designer, I am incredible humbled and excited to see where this journey will take us, and I couldn't wish for a better team to be on this journey. Having Richard and Skaff join the project with their unrivaled experience in card games, insane attention to detail, and exploding creativity has really moved Mindbug forward in a completely new way. And the cherry on top is of course getting to hear a lot of crazy old "back in the day" stories, especially from Skaff...

Christian Kudahl

•••

Marvin's Story

Board Game Publisher: Nerdlab Games
My journey began about three years ago when I decided to work more intensively on my own game ideas. The goal was clear: In the end there should be a self-developed and published card game — but the process of how to get from an initial idea to a polished product was not so clear to me at that time.

That's why I launched Nerdlab in 2018, a podcast in which I describe my journey from being a gamer to becoming a game designer and publisher. For the podcast, I conduct interviews with leading experts of the industry to get advice for myself and create value for my listeners. Through the podcast I made invaluable contacts in the industry. I met Christian, as well as Richard and Skaff, but without the Nerdlab community itself, Mindbug would never have emerged into what it is today. They actively supported me during playtesting and always motivated me to continue when times were tough. Putting yourself out there and surrounding yourself with supportive people is one of the most important things you can do.

When I first talked with Christian about the idea of a dueling card game, we had a common vision for the most part. Our basic premise was that the game should be super simple, but still feel like a classic strategy card game. Based on that simple idea, I did something I often do to prepare for my podcast episodes: I asked the community, specifically by asking the following question in a public forum: What do you like/dislike about TCGs/CCGs? From the results, I then created a Google spreadsheet (something I also love doing) and developed the core principles for Mindbug. Here are a few examples of the 50+ responses from that discussion:

• The problem that I have with TCG games is that usually the fault of all my losses is because of the deck instead of my skill.
• I like it when the outcome doesn't depend on who has the biggest collection.
• I like the incredible amount of depth in terms of tactics and strategy.
• I like when your strategy is going to change every time you play.
• It is so difficult to explain those games to someone who has never played it before, so I can basically play it only with my existing group.

I then clustered those answers and translated them into four design principles for Mindbug:

1. Easy to play
2. Fair and accessible
3. Diverse and exciting gameplay
4. Strategic depth

When I first played the new Mindbug mechanism with Christian, I immediately knew that we could achieve these goals with it. The mechanism allows a player to steal a creature from an opponent two times per game at the moment they play it. It was simple, it was elegant, and it was a lot of fun.

Later, I then told Richard about that Mindbug mechanism during a podcast interview. I said that we had developed a mechanism that allowed us to design incredibly strong creatures without breaking the balance of the game, and that we could do it without needing a resource like mana or crystals. He then said: "That must be an overstatement", which it probably was — but it got his interest, and we started playing the prototype of the game, and since then we have worked together on the development of Mindbug.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

At one point, the card above was a serious card that existed in the game. Who designed it, came up with such an over-the-top powerful effect, and matched the name and image will be a story for another time...

Marvin Hegen
Nerdlab Games

•••

Richard's Story

I was immediately interested in Mindbug based on its simple but interesting concept of each player being able, twice in a game, to steal their opponent's play. My first plays intrigued me in another, unexpected way — the very simple rules that managed to get a lot of the character of more sprawling card battling games.

One of the first things I questioned in the original was how big your starting hand was and how many cards you drew during the course of the game. We were dealt a hand of seven cards and the remaining three would be drawn when we lost lives. While I liked the way this played, and it did feel fresh, I worried that it would be too chesslike, meaning that you could plan out so much in advance. This ability to plan meant that for new players or for players who didn't want to analyze too much, they would make stupid mistakes until either the game became second nature or they relented and thought their way through the possibilities. Giving a smaller hand — five cards, with five unknown cards to be discovered as play developed — allowed players the ability to make plays more from the gut. Playing a card just to see how their hand developed and possibly lure out a mindbug was more viable.

This also led to us dropping the idea of drawing cards when taking damage. This mechanism is reasonably fresh and often feels good to beginners, but it has been done before and had some consequences that I had concerns about. The problems come when players don't mind losing life or, in fact, seek it out. Something I have seen play out with other games that have this mechanism is beginners attacking successfully, then feeling like rather than doing something good, they have simply given their opponent a card. Of course, it doesn't really matter whether this is true; what matters is how people choose to play, and making it so that attacking generally has a negative consequence will push people away from that. As a "catch-up" feature, it succeeds by making loss of life much less actual progress than it appears, and really a catch-up feature as strong as that is more necessary in a long game.

Another area that interested me with regard to how the game played was whether the game would play better with some of the cards duplicated. Is the best play environment one with all unique cards? To get a handle on that, I mixed together a dozen decks; each was 50 cards at the time, so there was a stack of 600 cards. We started to play and quickly found that the presence of duplicates often led to interesting situations for a number of reasons. For one, you couldn't count on another copy of a card not existing. Also, some cards get more interesting with multiples because whatever they do stacks well with itself.

It is my experience that multiples also help people play better faster since the environment of cards is easier to learn. Many games, and Mindbug is solidly among them, become more fun when the players get better at them, so I like any tool that helps players speed along that route.

We ran into a major hitch with the first implementation of duplicate cards, however, and it confused me until we figured out what was going on. I began by adding common cards and made the easiest cards common. From trading card games, I firmly believed common cards should be broadly powerful and easy, while the rares could be more specialized and complex.

The feedback was that the game got duller. Soon we realized that the standard shouldn't be simplicity as none of the cards were that complex anyway; the standard should be cards that become more interesting when the possibility of a duplicate is out there. For example, Gorillion, which is simply a power 10 creature, I would have made a common before this but is instead unique. It just isn't that interesting if two are floating around as often they simply cancel each other out. On the other hand, Grave Robber, which when played allows you to play a card from the opponent's discard, is more interesting if there are two because this effect going off twice can be more interesting, and if both of you play one, they don't cancel each other out in the same way.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

This new philosophy lead us to be less aggressive with the duplicated cards and also very selective of which ones contributed to the environment in such a way that they benefited with multiple copies.

Richard Garfield

•••

Skaffs's Story

I came to Mindbug later than the other three designers, so unfortunately don't have as many interesting stories to tell. I was introduced to Mindbug by Richard Garfield. He is my business partner and had gotten involved earlier in its development. He recommended very strongly that I play it, and I wasn't disappointed. When Richard recommends something, especially a trading card game, there is a guarantee that there will be some interesting aspect of the game. It doesn't necessarily mean that the game is good or will stand up to repeated play, but it always means there is something seriously worth paying attention to.

When I first heard a cursory sketch of the rules, I was intrigued, but to be honest assumed I hadn't received the full story. Shortly afterward I played and found the game to be excellent! The most surprising aspect to me, given its stage of development, was how complete it was. I had a similar feeling playing Magic for the first time — the game seemed perfectly "ready to go". Of course there was still a lot of work to be done, but the play experience felt satisfying in a way that often doesn't happen early in a game's life.

But much more important than its completeness was its simplicity. This was the thing that truly excited me in the beginning. The lack of the need for a heavy rules structure while still giving such a complete and deep game experience was inspiring. The key to the release of this structure was the lack of "casting costs", even in a generalized sense, that most card games need. This game had cards of substantially different power levels without the need for the complexity that generally makes up a large portion of card games. This is because the need for a casting cost to make a card "fair" is eliminated by the mindbug mechanism.

Board Game: Mindbug

In some sense, every card play is an auction. You are effectively bidding against your opponent and the future utility of your mindbug cards. The "fairness" enforced by a normal casting cost becomes an iterative decision on all the future possibilities of you and your opponent in a very simple play system. Simultaneously a significant portion of rules structure is eliminated while strategic depth is added. If the base system weren't so simple, this calculation would be a lot less tractable and probably a lot less fun.

The very simplicity of the play/combat system is what allows this thinking to be accessible while thinking multiple moves ahead. The low number of total turns in the game goes hand-in-hand with the low number of mindbugs, and this all works in virtuous cycles since thinking about the endgame is almost immediate. Many games use an auction system in place of explicitly balancing assets, but Mindbug might have the simplest version I've ever seen done well.

But that's all just exposition. The simplicity of the system for me was the exciting part because of what it enabled. The mindbugs freed up enough rules space that you could get a deep play experience cognitively easily. You didn't have to learn a lot of rules or memorize a lot of cards. You didn't even have to construct decks. The simplicity of the system meant that it was easy to reduce playtime. The shorter playtime coupled with the simple board state meant that the possibility for excellent team play was likely. When I first saw the game it was only for two players, but it immediately jumped out that we should be experimenting with teams. Many good trading card games have an excellent team version, but almost always this version has some major drawbacks with length of playtime and complexity of board state. Mindbug seemed like a great opportunity for a much more reasonable team game. The simplicity also seemed to open the possibility of a solo game. Almost always this is impossible for a TCG because the rules for an "enemy AI" are too hard to adjudicate — or at least not fun to do so. At this point, this case hasn't been cracked, but it's one of the few TCGs for which it seems even worth trying.

The simplicity and low rules complexity also had another immediate advantage. Almost everyone who is interested in a card game of this depth already has several other games they are playing, especially TCGs. It's a big ask to learn a new trading card game, but asking someone to learn and play Mindbug in a serious way is trivial. Mindbug isn't quite a traditional TCG, but it has many of the aspects of one — for example, many cards with many possible interactions, and an ever-expanding universe of cards. For a game with a complex system this would take a lot of time to master, but with Mindbug it was evident that anyone, even someone already deeply entrenched in a TCG, could pick this game up and start playing seriously with amazingly low effort relative to the depth returned. We always like games with this quality since players' time is so precious.

Anyway, those were my first impressions of the game. These factors immediately jumped out, and all hinged on the simplicity of the rules system. It was a big bonus that the other designers were extremely intelligent, really nice, and mainly just very fun to hang around with.

Skaff Elias

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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Tue Nov 23, 2021 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Floriferous, or Flowers Are More Than Their Parts

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Floriferous
Floriferous — a design by Steve Finn and Eduardo Baraf from Pencil First Games for 1-4 players — features a lot of design elements that you might recognize from other games:

• Over three rounds, players collect cards from a grid in a Kingdomino-style system, with the order that you pick a card next round being determined by where you picked your card in this turn's column.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Starting round two, with blue having chosen the top card and first pick next turn

• Most cards on their own are worthless, but when you combine flower cards with the scoring condition on a desire card, you gain points based on how well you satisfy that desire, similar to how in Point Salad vegetable cards are worth points only relative to how well they satisfy the scoring condition on point cards you collect.

Each column has a number of flower cards equal to the number of players along with one desire card, with the desire card being the bottommost card (punishing you with last pick next turn in exchange for grabbing a possibly valuable card). Some of the flowers near the bottom of the column bear rock tokens that are worth .5 points, and two of the topmost cards are face down to make you wonder whether you really want to go there.

• Three bounty cards are revealed at the start of play, with each card showing three icons on it that match either types of flowers (with five of those being in the game) or types of insects (with five of those as well), e.g. lily, poppy, moth. As soon as you have three cards, with each of those cards having a separate one of those icons, you score the bounty card. The earlier in the game you complete the bounty, the more points you score.

• Five of the larger cards show arrangements that feature a type of flower, a type of insect, and a color (of which there are five), and you score 1/3/5 points for having cards in your collection with 1/2/3 of the depicted items.

• Five other larger cards show sculptures, and you score 5/3/1 points for having the most, second most, or third most sculptures, with ties being friendly.

• Whoever collects the most rocks receives a 2-point bonus card.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
My final collection in a 4p game; scored bounties not shown

This familiarity is not a bad thing. Viewed together, the design choices all make sense and mesh to create a tiny game that plays out in 20 minutes, with each choice typically mattering somewhat in your final score. In the image above, for example, everything counts: 10 points for purple cards, 4 points for poppies, 8 points for mums, an arrangement worth 3 points and another worth 5, a sculpture worth 3 points since someone else had grabbed two, and three rocks for 1 point.

Sometimes you'll grab a useless tulip or a point card that doesn't pay off in the end based on what others snatch before you can get to it, actions that make the tagline of "A relaxing game" feel ironic since you are often shaking your fist at the opponent who took your flower. How dare they!

From gallery of W Eric Martin
40 points, despite several useless cards

All of the larger cards — flowers, arrangements, sculptures — are in play in a four-player game, so theoretically you'll have a shot at all of them. Only fifteen of the 21 desire cards will be played, though, so you can't go into a game collecting, say, mums or orange flowers with the goal of flooding that desire for points since it might not even turn up. In the image above, I had all five different flower types for 5 points and five cards of the same color for 7 points.

With fewer players, you put out fewer cards in each column, so potentially, say, ladybugs won't show at all, making it impossible to complete a bounty or max out an arrangement, but you won't know this until the final round — and possibly not even then since some cards are hidden.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The solitaire game is set up similar to the two-player game, but with the sculptures stripped from the deck (since a majority bonus makes no sense) and with a crow deck serving as your adversary. For each turn after the first in a round, you reveal a crow card before you choose a card; the crow will remove either of the top two cards or the desire card, replacing it with either a face-down card of the same type or 1-2 rocks. This mimics the action of another player taking what you might have planned to pick up, with the risk of stealing another card from you at the end of the round depending on how many rocks you leave behind.

The video below includes a complete playthrough of a solitaire game should you want to see it in detail. I'll note that I've now played four solitaire games and two four-player games on a review copy from Pencil First Games, with victories in both of those four-player games thanks to the tie-breaker. Despite the inviting, casual nature of the design and its colorful art from Clémentine Campardou, competition is tight!

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Mon Nov 22, 2021 1:00 pm
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AMIGO Puts Its Cards on the Table for 2022

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: AMIGO
Almost as soon as SPIEL '21 ended in October, German publishers started teasing their early 2022 releases, with AMIGO sending out this teaser image ahead of more details at the start of January 2022.

Interestingly, three of the four titles depicted are new editions of older games. Not sure what that says about the market or the quality of submissions AMIGO is seeing. Perhaps nothing because I can imagine that thanks to Covid-related restrictions regarding public gatherings in 2020 and 2021, a company might have decided to return a proven game to market rather than futz around with Tabletop Simulator. This theory might be all wrong, of course, but it came to mind anyway.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• The headliner in this batch is probably Bohnanza 25 Jahre-Edition, the 25th anniversary edition of Uwe Rosenberg's card game Bohnanza, which I've already covered in this September 2021 post. To repeat what I wrote there:
Quote:
At Gen Con 2021, head of AMIGO Games Alex Yeager passed along a few details about this title, namely that it will be released as a single large print run to ideally last for a decent portion of the year, but not stick around forever; that it will retail for at most US$25; that it will contain a new bean type (my money is on "jelly"); and that it will contain three variant games, one of which will use a collectible coin packaged in the box.
Board Game: Linko!
The original
Abluxxen is a fantastically good card game from Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer in which 2-5 players compete to score points by playing cards and stealing cards from one another. As I wrote about the game in 2014, accompanied by a poorly lit video of me explaining the game in detail:
Quote:
The first game is fumbly and awkward, with you staring at the jumble of numbers in hand and not being sure what to do — but everything clicks after a few turns once you've seen your stolen cards sunning themselves with others of their kind in an opponent's playground. "What the...? You are going to pay, sucker!" Or stuff gets stolen, and you realize that you're upgrading in the process, perhaps not making progress now but readying a high-powered card missile for imminent launch once someone else lays down a few cards that look tasty for you.
I should get this game back to the table again to see how well it holds up...and to create a better-looking video to show how much(?) I've learned(?) in eight years.

Ghosts is a Reiner Knizia card game for 2-6 players that debuted in 2005 as Im siebten Himmel (In Seventh Heaven) before being released in 2007 as Spirits!, then Capt'n Sharky: Piraten-Rauferei, then Ghosts. Gameplay seems like a mash-up between UNO and Knizia's Poison, which also debuted in 2005:
Quote:
Players have a hand of five ghost cards (with values from 1 to 3 in six suits), and on a turn you play a card, then draw a card. Keep a running a tally of the sum of cards played. If you play a card of the same suit as the topmost played card, you keep the sum the same and reverse the order of play. You cannot bring the sum above 7, and if you cannot play or choose not to play, remove all the played cards, take a ghost marker, then play a card to start a new pile. When all the cards have been played, the round ends; shuffle the cards and deal a new hand of five cards to each player. If a player collects no ghosts in either the second or third round, they discard three ghost markers from their collection.

Board Game: Im siebten Himmel
Board Game: Ghosts
Board Game: Ghosts
Board Game: Ghosts
Earlier incarnations

Whoever has the fewest ghost markers at the end of three rounds wins.
• I have no clues at the moment about Haim Shafir's Schnattergei, a card game for 2-4 players aged 6+, but you can probably expect a real-time game with a matching element given Shafir's design history.
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Sun Nov 21, 2021 1:00 pm
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Links: Playing UNO for Cash, Cheating at Bridge, and Going from Game to Puzzle

W. Eric Martin
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• UK book publisher Welbeck Publishing has already released three puzzle books based on games in the Asmodee family — Catan, Unlock!, and Ticket to Ride — and in 2022 it plans to release two more based on Pandemic and Dobble (a.k.a. Spot it!), with these being authored by Jason Ward, who wrote the Unlock! Puzzle Book.

Here are short descriptions of these upcoming titles:
Quote:
The Dobble Puzzle Book contains more than 100 visual puzzles based on the award-winning and best-selling card game. Favorite Dobble icons appear in puzzles ranging from Spot the difference and Mazes, to Odd One Out and cartoon Sudoku, including head-to-head puzzles to be played against others.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The Pandemic Escape Room Puzzle Book features images and locations familiar to anyone who knows and loves the original board games in a series of chapters containing visual cryptic conundrums for the reader to ponder over, translating the Pandemic game into a thrilling global narrative.
From gallery of W Eric Martin
• In the "old news that's new to me category", since 2018 MyMiniFactory has offered an online store for "3D designers to monetize their STL files and creations", and it's now expanded its offerings to have crowdfunding campaigns, a "stories" section in which creators write about their work, and a Tribes subscription system that has more than 60 creators promising to release new 3D content each month. MMF promises that creators receive 90% of the sales revenue generated on the site.

• BGG admin and sometimes Queen Melissa Rogerson is overseeing a survey related to playing games during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can go directly to the survey here, or you can click through her Twitter and Facebook posts, perhaps sharing them with others at the same time to expand the potential pool of respondents.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• How did 30 bridge teams respond when asked to face off against alleged cheaters in a tournament? They refused to play, as explained in this highly entertaining article by David Owen of The New Yorker. Here's an excerpt from this October 2021 publication:
Quote:
[Fulvio] Fantoni and a regular playing partner of his, Claudio Nunes, were once ranked No. 1 and No. 2 by the World Bridge Federation, but, for years, opponents suspected that they were cheating...

In 2014, videos of matches at the European bridge championships were uploaded on YouTube for the first time. Maaijke Mevius, a physicist in the Netherlands, had heard the rumors about Fantoni and Nunes — or Fantunes, as they are sometimes known — and decided to study some of their games. She wasn't an expert player, but she thought that her training as a scientist might help her spot anomalies that better players had missed. Sure enough, she noticed something odd: when Fantoni and Nunes played a card in certain situations, they sometimes placed it on the table horizontally, and sometimes vertically. She shared her observation with Boye Brogeland, a Norwegian professional player, who has been instrumental in exposing prominent cheaters. An ad-hoc team of expert players quickly cracked the code: in eighty-two of eighty-five instances, they determined, Fantoni and Nunes placed a card on the table vertically when their hands contained an unseen ace, king, or queen of the same suit, or when their hands contained no other card of the same suit; otherwise, they placed it horizontally. (Fantoni and Nunes have denied all allegations of cheating, and have declined to comment.)
From gallery of W Eric Martin
• In November 2021, as part of its 50th anniversary campaign for UNO, Mattel hosted the "first-ever official UNO Championship Series Vegas Invitational Tournament", with the champion — Sacramento State college student Aldwin Rodriguez — winning a $50,000 grand prize.

Oh, wait, a press release from Mattel notes that the event is actually "the first-ever official UNO Championship Series Vegas Invitational Tournament powered by Mobil 1" — and that "powered by Mobil 1" is an odd thing to see in a game tournament logo, but perhaps only because I don't normally follow auto racing events...although this quote from the press release doesn't make things any less odd:
Quote:
"The Mobil 1 team is thrilled to partner with Mattel for this unique consumer experience celebrating a half century of the iconic family card game, UNO," said Bryce Huschka, North America consumer marketing manager for ExxonMobil. "Mobil 1, the world's leading synthetic motor oil brand, strives to partner with other industry leaders to give fans one-of-a-kind experiences that can be valued and cherished for years to come."
The event was hosted by professional gamer and YouTuber Ninja (Tyler Blevins), who I learned about years ago thanks to a Fortnite-playing son, and internet personality Hannah Stocking, whose existence I learned of while writing this post, with tennis star Venus Williams(!) recording a TikTok video for Mattel's UNO channel.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Aldwin Rodriguez
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Sat Nov 20, 2021 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Defeat Monsters in a Shifting Labyrinth in Pathfinder Arena

Candice Harris
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Board Game: Pathfinder Arena
Italian publisher Giochi Uniti is launching a Kickstarter campaign on November 23, 2021 for their upcoming big release, Pathfinder Arena, from designers Flavio Anzidei, Giorgio Serafini, and Roberto Tibuzzi.

In Pathfinder Arena 2-4 players compete as heroes in a labyrinth-style arena to gain the most glory and be declared the Champion of the Arena . Pathfinder Arena is set in Pathfinder RPG's "Age of Lost Omens" setting and will not only will include highly-detailed miniatures of the most iconic monsters of Pathfinder, but also features awesome artwork from the prolific fantasy RPG artist Wayne Reynolds. The publisher kindly sent me a prototype copy so I could check it out and provide context on how it plays.

When you set up Pathfinder Arena, the first thing you do is assemble the game board with a variety of arena tiles. There are eight summoning tiles, four rune tiles, and four trapdoor tiles which are randomly placed in their designated starting spaces. Then the remaining arena tiles are randomly placed on empty spaces, leaving the central space, the Doom Area, open.

From gallery of candidrum
Arena tiles at setup (prototype components)

Each player chooses a hero sheet and takes the corresponding figure, card decks, and components to set up their player area. Hero sheets allow players to keep track of physical and mental abilities which can be improved over the course of the game.

From gallery of candidrum
Player area set-up for Kyra (prototype components)

The first player rolls the summoning die (d8) to determine which summoning tile the level-1 monster starts on, and then you place a number of ability tokens, element tokens, and item tokens on summoning tiles as well.

Pathfinder Arena is divided into four summoning phases which are played through a series of rounds where players take turns in clockwise order. Each turn begins with a hero phase where you spend action points to collect tokens, defeat monsters, move in the arena, and change its structure. After the hero phase, there's a monster phase where monsters attack all heroes within their reach. If there are no monsters left in the arena at the end of any hero phase, a summoning phase happens instead of the monster phase, spawning new monsters and allowing all players to level-up their heroes.

At the start of the hero phase, the first thing you do is reset your marker tokens. Your marker tokens could be on other players' hero sheets giving them temporary immunity from certain monsters, or they can be on cards you've activated, or on monster sheets. You take them all back at the start of your hero phase.

Then you reallocate your ability tokens to optimize your hero before performing actions. Over the course of the game you'll gain more ability tokens, either from collecting them on the game board, or from leveling up during each summoning phase. At this point on your turn, you have to carefully decide how you want to allocate your ability tokens, which is rarely an easy decision.

From gallery of candidrum
Ability tokens allocated on hero sheet and cards (prototype components)

On one hand, building your ability tracks up with a a lot of tokens is very helpful because you unlock other benefits with every two ability tokens you place on a given track. For example, the more constitution ability tokens you have, the more your base defense improves. On the other hand, your hero's special feat/spell cards and item cards require certain tokens in order to be activated and they can be very powerful too. This part of your turn can be really fun because you're customizing your hero, but it's usually a tough decision to figure out the best way to allocate your ability tokens for the upcoming round since you are thinking about preparing offensively for your turn, but also need to be prepared defensively for your opponents' turns.

After you've allocated your ability tokens as you see fit, you can spend action points to perform actions. Each player has a base of 4 action points, which can be increased by collecting and allocating more dexterity ability tokens. You can perform the same action as many times as you'd like as long as you have the action points available to spend.

You can spend an action point to move your hero to an orthogonally adjacent arena tile. By default, you cannot move through walls or into the Doom Area, but any number of heroes can stay on a tile at the same time. Moving your hero isn't the only way to get around the arena though. There are two different actions that allow you to manipulate the structure of the labyrinth.

From gallery of candidrum
(prototype components)
First, you can spend an action point to rotate the tile your hero is on, 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise. Even more impressive, you can spend an action point to magically, and more dramatically, change the arena's structure by choosing an arena tile orthogonally aligned with the Doom Area. You choose a tile and then shift all tiles between the chosen tile and the Doom Area toward the latter, so the Doom Area essentially replaces the chosen tile. Both of these labyrinth-shifting actions help create movement opportunities, block other heroes, bring monsters within a hero's reach, or heroes within a monster's reach.

Aside from enabling more flexible movement options for your hero, one of the ways you gain glory points (victory points) in Pathfinder Arena is having monsters attack your opponents on your turn. Therefore changing the arena's structure strategically can have many benefits, in addition to being a unique feature of the game.

Another key action in Pathfinder Arena is simply collecting a token. You can spend an action point to collect a token from the arena tile your hero occupies. When you collect a physical ability token, you also get to take any mental ability token and add them both to your hero sheet. When you collect an item token, you get to draw three cards from your hero's item deck and play one face-up in your player area to be used going forward.

From gallery of candidrum
(prototype components)
You can also collect element tokens which can be spent to modify damage from monsters (+/- 2), or modify a hero's action points (+/- 1). It's worth noting, the element tokens can be spent anytime, even during other players' turns. Meaning, you could have a whole plan for how you are going to spend your action points and then at the start of your hero phase, an opponent could play an Earth token making you lose one of your action points. You definitely have to keep an eye on which element tokens your opponents pick up and factor that into your turn decisions.

Pathfinder Arena is all about defeating monsters, so naturally, you'll want to attack monsters. You can spend an action point to strike a monster in the same arena tile as your hero. In this case, you deal damage based on your hero's strength, which can be increased with more ability tokens. You cannot attack other heroes though, only monsters.

The rest of your action choices are based on your cards. Assuming you have the required tokens allocated, you can activate a card by spending the required number of action points. Cards have very different effects, such as special movements or attacks, and each hero has their own deck of feat/spell cards.

For example, had the player allocated a strength ability token on their Powerful Leap card in the photo below, they could spend two action points to move through a wall. They can use their Sly Striker card to apply x2 damage to an attack this turn since they allocated the required ability tokens on that card.
From gallery of candidrum
card examples (prototype components)


From gallery of candidrum
Monster sheet for Ettin (prototype components)
After you perform actions in the hero phase, there is monster phase where all monsters attack all heroes within their reach. The current player gains glory points when monsters attack other heroes.

There are four different levels of monsters based on the summoning phase. The game starts with one level-1 monster, then two spawn on the 2nd summoning phase, three on the 3rd summoning phase, and four on the 4th summoning phase. For each level, there are more monsters available than you will use in a single game, so you shuffle monster sheets to randomly determine which monsters will be in play and assign their initiative order accordingly.

After any hero phase, if there aren't any monsters on the board, a summoning phase follows, instead of the monster phase. Each summoning phase, more monsters appear and they are increasingly more difficult to defeat as the game progresses. Monsters have base stats such as life points, melee and range attack values, but most of them also have a variety of special attacks and abilities that make them even more challenging.

As the monsters get increasingly more difficult, your heroes also level up each summoning phase. Players are able to choose a new feat/spell card in addition to gaining an extra ability token. Then you also reseed the board with more tokens similar to how it's done during setup.

In Pathfinder Arena, heroes and monsters fight each other repeatedly. Both heroes and monsters can attack only if their target is within the reach of their attack. In order to defeat a monster, you must inflict enough damage equal or higher than the monster's life points in one turn. Each monster grants glory points at the end of the game. If you are attacked by a monster on your own turn, you get as many misfortune points as unblocked damage you suffer from the attack. As I mentioned earlier, you can also gain glory on your turn when monster's attack your opponents.

From gallery of candidrum
Glory point & Misfortune point tokens (prototype components)

When you gain glory points and misfortune points in Pathfinder Arena, you take the corresponding tokens (value-1,3, and 5) from the supply and place them facedown in your player area, so all players can see the amount of tokens your have, but don't necessarily know the value of the tokens until you score up at the end of the game.

A game of Pathfinder Arena ends when a player defeats the last level-4 monster. When this happens, players sum up all the glory points obtained and subtract their misfortune points from the total. The player with the most points is declared the Champion of the Arena and is the winner of the game.

From gallery of candidrum
Deity card example with its corresponding shrine tile (prototype components)
In addition to each hero's unique decks of feat/spell/item cards, the game also includes five special deity cards which you can claim when you have at least 2 ego and your hero occupies a shrine tile. By collecting charisma ability tokens, you can gradually increase your ego to meet this requirement. The deity cards provide another way for players to gain special abilities in Pathfinder Arena.

Deity cards are double-sided and can be powered up and flipped to the other side by further increasing your hero's ego. In addition, the deity cards also may grant glory points at the end of the game, depending on your ego level.

If you enjoy games with miniatures where you can customize heroes and fight monsters, you should definitely check out Pathfinder Arena on Kickstarter.

It's interesting and unique how players can manipulate arena tiles to position their heroes and monsters strategically to get an edge on other players. There also seems to be a decent amount of variety between the different monsters and each hero's special feat/spell/item cards which should keep things interesting over time.

While not necessarily thematically accurate, I really liked that when other players "take damage" from monsters on your turn, you gain glory, but the other players don't actually lose anything per se. So even though it has a take-that spirit, it doesn't really feel bad when it happens to you.

I would hope that they include player aid in the finished game so that you don't have to dig through the rulebook to remember how the different element and rune tokens work. I did not mention rune tokens above, but they are a different type of token you take (not as an action) when you land on or move through rune tiles that modify damage and defense values. Between these and the element tokens, it can be a lot to remember how each one works, so it'd be very helpful to have a player aid.

The Pathfinder Arena BGG page has an estimated playtime of 60-80 minutes, however my couple of 4-player games ran well over 2 hours. I'm not sure if others who have played it were able to complete a game in 80 minutes, but I would plan for a longer game depending on how fast and aggressive players are with defeating monsters. Also, as the game ramps up, it can take an increasing amount of time for players to decide how to reallocate their tokens, so that could slow things down as well.

Even though there weren't sample miniatures included for all of the monsters and heroes in the prototype I received, the ones that were included looked solid. I suspect the finished version of the game will be pretty epic-looking, and there may even be stretch goals for more monsters, so be sure to check it out!

From gallery of candidrum
(prototype components)
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Fri Nov 19, 2021 1:00 pm
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