Boardgame News - Mon, 09/27/2010 - 1:00am
Heart on the Pitch
Initially the prototype doesn't work. It's ugly and boring, and it crashes often. It takes a lot of effort to find people willing to play and test it. Friends try to avoid it, preferring other games from their collections. It starts working after a few months. It doesn't crash. You are happy with it, after many weeks it's finally there – your game works. You start thinking about sending the prototype to a publisher.
Stop – before you do that, you need to answer a question.
Before you send a prototype to a publisher, answer this question: Is my game the best game in the world? If the answer is "No," you can throw your prototype away. I'm being serious. If you yourself don't consider the game to be excellent, outstanding, the best in the world, then what are you counting on? Do you think others will? You don't love it, so what do you expect from others?
Every time I sat down to work on Stronghold, tinkering with rules, drawing boards, castles, in every moment, every afternoon, there was one thought in my mind: "Here comes Stronghold, the best board game in the world." I would create new Invader's actions, or design new Defender's actions and mutter: "Agricola, you are about to lose your crown, Stronghold is coming." Everything I did for the game, I did believing that I was creating the best board game in the world. I would sit awake at night wheeling and dealing how to make it even better, so it could beat Puerto Rico and other top games.
I'm a realist. I know that Stronghold won't ever reach #1 on the BGG charts. I knew it even when I was creating the game – but being realistic has nothing to do with it. When you design a game, you clench your teeth and do everything you can to create the best game on this planet. There is no other way. Your game will revolutionize the market, it'll get you both Spiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis together and your name will be the synonym of genius. That's all that matters to you.
And it's a bit like in a basketball match. When you face the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan on the pitch, you realistically estimate they'll win 96-72 or 101-78. But down in the changing room you believe in victory. You've trained to the limit, your team is tuned, your coach is good, and so you believe you can win. You have to believe you can defeat everybody. The game starts, you lose two quarters, and before halftime it becomes obvious that you've failed. But it doesn't matter. Training, heart on pitch, hope and strength matter.
Stronghold came out and didn't reach BGG's No. 1, and that was to be expected. But back then, when I was sitting up all night, creating it, preparing it for publication – I believed it was the best board game in the world. I believed that it was excellent, that people would love it, and that it was unlike any other released game – original, interesting, thrilling.
If you've finished working on your prototype and plan to send it to a publisher without being able to describe it as original, interesting and thrilling, without thinking that it's the best game in the world and it's going to BGG's top 10, then you take that game and bin it.
There are thousands of average games in the world. Publishers expect the best of the best and won't settle for less.
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sun, 09/26/2010 - 11:19pm
Carson City: A New Beginning Designer: Xavier Georges Publisher: Quined Games — October 2010
Featured at: Spiel 2010 Publisher: Huch! & friends — October 2010
Featured at: Spiel 2010
Dutch publisher Quined Games has a new expansion for its 2009 release Carson City coming at Spiel 2010 – Carson City: A New Beginning – and this expansion, as with the Indian expansion at Spiel 2009, will be free for anyone who purchases a game at the Quined booth or a Quined-Huch & friends branded game at one of the Spiel retailers.
A New Beginning allows players to customize their starting resources: cowboys, revolvers, money and roads. It also includes a few other items, about which details have been sketchy. More info later...
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sun, 09/26/2010 - 10:01pm
String Railway Designer: Hisashi Hayashi Publisher: Okazu Brand — June 2010 Publisher: Japon Brand — October 2010
Featured at: Spiel 2010
Here's a minimal description of String Railway from Japon Brand, which will distribute this title at Spiel 2010 for publisher Okazu Brand:
String Railway is a unique and unusual train game that uses colorful strings. Strings not only represent the railway lines, but also the mountains, a great river and the rest of the playing field in the game. Your table is the stage of the game.
You are the manager of a railway company. Your objective is to place station tiles and connect them to one another with strings that represent railways. Create a great network of railways by using as many station tiles as possible.
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sun, 09/26/2010 - 9:37pm
R-Eco Recycle Designer: Susumu Kawasaki Publisher: Kawasaki Factory — June 2010 Publisher: Japon Brand — October 2010
Featured at: Spiel 2010
Here's a cryptic description of R-Eco Recycle from Japon Brand, which will distribute this title at the Spiel 2010 convention in October:
This game is a sequel of R-Eco. Even if you have never played R-Eco, you can enjoy this game.
Every day, four disposal facilities receive many kinds of trash. Sometimes, trash which cannot be sorted and identified is dumped together. Each player is a company that does the trash separation and recycling. Your objective is to acquire the title deeds to facilities receiving legal trash so you can get more victory points. After each round the truth about what is in all of the trash will be revealed. If your facility has too much illegal trash, you will receive negative victory points. Do you carry trash to the proper facility, or do you throw it away illegally? Sometimes, you need to bluff. However, the bluff is always risky.
The four kinds of trash are the same as in the prequel game R-Eco, but the playing style and the playing system is totally different. Please enjoy the many dilemmas created by this simple system.
Hope to get rules for this soon as I'm currently at a loss for how to play the review copy I've received...
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sun, 09/26/2010 - 9:19pm
Reviewed game: Guardians of Graxia
To check out my review of Panzer General: Allied Assualt, which shares many of the game mechanisms of Guardians of Graxia, head to my August 2010 review of that game here on Boardgame News.
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sun, 09/26/2010 - 2:20pm
As I noted in August 2010, preorders are open for Bernd Eisenstein's Porto Carthago, with the preorder price being €35 and separate preorder listings for those in Germany, those elsewhere in Europe, and those outside the EU. The preorder deadline is Oct. 16, 2010. Rules for the game are linked to on the Porto Carthago game page; click the tag below to get there. For details on how Porto Carthago came to be, Eisenstein has posted a game history on his Irongames website.
In that post, I quoted Eisenstein as saying that the first 300 people preordering Porto Carthago would receive a free mini-expansion for his 2009 release Peloponnes – an announcement which irked a few people since the ability to receive an expansion for one game was tied to the purchase of an unrelated title. Eisenstein has now sent along the following clarification: "Whoever owns the first Peloponnes Expansion from 2009 can bring three of his 'Irongames'-Chits to the booth at Spiel (5/92) to get the brand new and secret Mini-Expansion for Peloponnes in trade."
Finally in news from Irongames, rules for Peloponnes: The Hellas Expansion have been posted in German and English on the game's page on the Irongames website.
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sun, 09/26/2010 - 8:00am
Discussed game: Grand Cru – A Game for Wine-y Players
It all starts very unpleasantly. In October 2004, two days before the eagerly awaited Spiel convention in Essen, I was hit by a car whilst riding a bicycle. Several, partially open fractures of the leg, four operations, and six weeks of hospital and rehab later, I found myself at home on two crutches. The healing process would take approximately a year, so the doctors said, a year in which I couldn't work in my usual jobs as actor and cook. Now, idleness may very well be a tempting thought, only it wears out rather quickly. I was in need of an engagement.
I don't recall how it crossed my mind, I think it wasn't even a conscious decision, but at some point, there was this idea for a game. I played a lot of Age Of Steam back then and was rather taken by it. I liked that the game poses a real challenge. I have a good recollection of my first time playing; by the end of the game we were all drenched in sweat, we had struggled that hard, trembled and hoped that our plans would work out. Inspired – less by the actual mechanisms then by this demanding experience – I decided to design a game.
It was supposed to be an economic game where long term strategy plays a big part and the players should be pressured by interest from loans. For a while, I wildly toyed with different ideas. At some point I had the idea that you would have to plan actions ahead. You decided in the current round what you wanted to do in a forthcoming round. The further ahead you planned, the more powerful the actions became.
I found this idea to be rather interesting, although at this point, I was fed up with the purely abstract trading of commodity A, B and C to deliver to company X, Y and Z, so I reflected about what we were doing here. We place actions face down in front of us; these become active only at a later time; the longer I wait, the stronger the actions become. So I am planning over a longer period of time... I have to foresee how the market will present itself in several years... So we are in a market sector, not thinking in quarterly figures, but in longer periods. Which sectors work like that? The classic branches of industry don't; it would have to be a commodity that has a more long term value… Diamonds? Well, they simply get prospected and sold. Maybe it's not the planning of our actions that is long term, but our products that would gain in value the longer we wait? What increases in value over time? Antiques? But they're already old by the time they become interesting. Wine? Wine! Yes, wine ripens with age and increases in value while doing so. Many varieties can only be sold, reasonably, after they reach a certain age. Furthermore, when I am pressing the grapes, I already have to be concerned about selling the wine in a few years time.
That was the subject! Vintners we were. What a vintner has to do is rather straightforward. First, he has to build up a vineyard. Then he has to harvest, press the grapes, carefully store the wine and eventually sell it as profitably as possible. By taking out loans, different strategies should be available. Do I take out a small loan and have a small but nice vineyard with small interest charges, or do I take out a large loan and build myself an empire, but face enormous interest?
Also the idea about the ripening wines was clear immediately. I think it's the only mechanism that has not changed – or has changed only in minor ways – throughout the whole process of development. In the wine cellar there are several barrels. Newly harvested wine is allocated in the barrel to the very left. With each passing year the wine is moved one barrel to the right. After a short or a long aging, depending on the variety, the wine becomes ripe enough to be sold. Similar in the contrast between large loans and small, a strategic contrast between quick and cheap versus slow and expensive would be made possible.
So I had a basic concept. Now it was all about filling these procedures with mechanisms and to mold them into an interesting game...
(For a German version of this section of Ulrich Blum's Grand Cru designer diary, head to this page on Reich der Spiele.)
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sun, 09/26/2010 - 1:00am
Discussed game: Magnum Sal
(In Part 3 of this designer diary, co-designer Marcin Krupiński talked about tired workers and why you won't find foremen on this work site. Now, Filip Miłuński finishes the tale of how Magnum Sal came to be...)
In the previous sections we have described for you exactly how extracting salt in Wieliczka works. You have learned about making money by transporting the salt extracted by other players, and about the money-making assistants. Today I will tell you about the buildings in the city, selling salt in the castle and the market, and a few words about testing the game.
On the beautiful game board drawn by Piotr Nowojewski we see seven different buildings. Only one of them is purely for decoration. That is the building over the mine shaft. In the others, we can perform a variety of actions and gain tangible benefits.
The first and probably most important building is the inn. Here we find miners eager to work, who are waiting to be hired. By visiting the inn, we can hire a miner, who will work for us until the end of the game, but each subsequent miner demands higher pay. In all three phases of the game in the inn new miners appear, but the rising price means that the quicker we hire them, the better. Of course all players want to be here first. The inn used to have a place for an assistant, but during testing it was quickly apparent that he always earns the most, so we got rid of him.
The second essential building is the pump house. By visiting it, we can pump out one or more water cubes from any mine chamber where I have a miner. Pumping out a single cube is free, but for additional cubes you need to pay a steep bill. An assistant in pump house can bring a lot of profit, but you need to pick the right moment to place him.
Another of the key buildings in the game is the castle. Here we fulfill the royal orders for salt and earn the most money. However, in order to gain the king's favor we must first wait in line. When visiting the castle we put one of our miners into the queue. Before our next turn, our miner automatically moves one square forward, and before the following turn, he enters the castle. Then we must fulfill one of the face-up royal orders by giving a specific set of salt cubes in order to receive payment from the king. Fulfilling the fifth order in a given phase triggers the end of the phase, so the race to the castle is one of the areas of fierce competition between players. Especially in the last phase of the game, when those who won't get to sell their extracted salt will lose the most. Here an assistant will always earn at least 5-6 cents, but he must stay in the castle for almost the entire phase.
The second building which allows players to earn money from salt is the market. Here we can sell or buy salt, but in much smaller quantities than in the castle. The market is governed by the law of supply and demand: by selling a lot of one kind of salt we can "glut the market" so it won't accept any more, or we can buy all the salt and leave the other players no chance to buy it on the surface. We conceived the market as an aid for people who weren't able to get to the castle to fulfill a royal order. Initially, the market gave us a lot of headaches because it took a lot of time balancing the appropriate prices. When the prices were too good, people were selling all the salt in the market, neglecting the royal orders, which measure the passage of time in the game. The game was almost deadlocked. When prices were too unfavorable, players didn't use the market, and it was a dead location on the board. After many tests, we managed to achieve balance in the market by allowing players to do two transactions at once, and using one of the tools which I'll describe in a moment. An assistant at the market can also earn quite a lot, especially in the last phase of the game, when the players want to sell all of their hard-gained salt at any price.
The fifth building is the workshop. Here players can buy tools, one of the game mechanisms which I personally may like the most (along with the chain rule). There are seven types of tools, and each of them enhances some specific action or lets you bend some game rule. In his turn, a player may use any number of tools, but each of them can be used only once per phase of the game. This means that setting up and launching an interesting tool combo at the right moment can enable spectacular plays.
The tools include: rope that lets you move two miners in one action; a cart for carrying extracted salt for free through two chambers; royal and commercial privileges, letting you bypass someone in the castle queue or to make better deals in the salt market; a pickaxe which strengthens the extracting power of miners; food which revives two fatigued miners; and finally a bucket which allows you to "bail" a cube of water to a neighboring mine chamber. An assistant in the workshop can also earn quite a lot and is a good choice, especially in the first and second phases of the game.
The last and simplest building is the town square, which Marcin already mentioned. We simply earn one cent in the town square, playing dice with other foremen.
So as you can see, a lot is going on in Wieliczka, and very often success in the dark corridors of the mine is decided by the appropriate equipment and planning of actions on the surface. Both of these areas permeate the game on several levels. For both of them a key factor is time and the right moment to execute specific actions.
At the end of our designer diary, I would like to say a few words about testing the game, which lasted over a year, from February 2009 to May 2010. We are very grateful to all those who helped us test the game. Magnum Sal is a sufficiently complex game that there were a lot of tests. Special thanks are due to the members of the Warsaw group of designers and testers: the Monsoon group. Without your commitment and help this game and others would probably not have been made! We thank you very much for the long hours that you give every week to test our projects!
That's all. I hope that Marcin and I satisfied your curiosity and that we interested you in "Great Salt". We sincerely invite you to the Polish board game conventions where we will present the game in autumn, and above all to Spiel in Essen. We'll be there along with Magnum Sal, and we'll be happy to teach you the game rules and answer all your questions!
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sat, 09/25/2010 - 2:45pm
In a September 13, 2010 note on the front page of the Pfifficus Spiele website, the Ostertags mention that Gold der Karibik will not appear in time for Spiel 2010 as the game still needs polish in order to really shine. No word on what the game is about – only that it's hiding from public view while recovering from Botox injections and a skin peel. Once the swelling goes down I'm sure we'll all get a good look...
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sat, 09/25/2010 - 2:36pm
Kaivai (second edition) Designer: Anselm Ostertag Designer: Helge Ostertag Publisher: Pfifficus Spiele — June 2010
Featured at: Spiel 2010
Anselm and Helge Ostertag released Kaivai through their company Pfifficus Spiele in 2005 to generally good remarks – except for the size of the box that the game came in. Apparently gamers would tuck a blanket inside, then tape the box closed with them inside in order to save money getting it home.
Well, those days are now over as the Ostertags have released a new, smaller version of Kaivai that will be available at Spiel 2010 in addition to being currently available on the publisher's website. Here's a game description for those coming to the title for the first time:
More than a thousand years ago the Polynesians began to colonize the Pacific Ocean. Kaivai (Water Eater) was the name they gave to the navigators who guided them across huge tracts of empty sea. The navigators' secret wisdom was based on observing natural phenomena, from the stars to the shape of the crest of a wave. It was accumulated over centuries and passed down orally. Learning the skill of reading the ocean was reserved for only the most worthy kin.
In the scattered world of Polynesian islands, the players take part in exploration to discover new homelands for their people. Fish must be caught to exchange for shell-money or glory. Shell-money is used to pay for the building of huts on the island-villages, to gain more glory at the end of the game. Shell-money decreases in value each round, so wealth is short-lived and money should be invested as quickly as possible. Only the player who skilfully navigates through the dynamically growing islands, who is clever in managing fluctuating resources and who knows how to use the favour of the fisherman’s god, will gain enough glory to be initiated into the secret wisdom of the Kaivai.
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sat, 09/25/2010 - 1:34pm
Reviewed game: Time to Act Up with Freeze
Times played: Twice with seven players
For over a decade, I've enjoyed watching improvisational comedy both live and on television. There was a time, in fact, when I was so addicted that I requested my parents send me videotaped episodes of Who's Line is it, Anyway? from the U.S. I took notes on the different improv games and situations, and soon hosted improv parties with my friends and youth group in Berlin. There was, of course, the occasional over- or under-acting among the amateurs I assembled, but I was always astounded by the creativity and humor that almost always emerged from each skit. Rarely did anything fall completely flat, and we often laughed so much, we were literally gasping for air.
I have often thought about how one could turn one of these improv games into a successful party board game and can happily report that a new game – Freeze, to be released at the Spiel 2010 convention – has done just that. Fellow Berlin designer Andrea Meyer has teamed up with Hans-Peter Stoll – himself an improv actor in an amateur theater group – to create what will arguably be the game most likely to draw a crowd in Essen this year.
I was able to borrow a demo copy of the game this week from the Spielwiese games café and tried it out with the gaming group I host at the community center where I work. We had a mixed group of three men, two young women and two teenage girls, all of whom enjoy playing a large variety of games.
Freeze includes ten plastic actor and actress badges for each participant to wear. Numbers are printed along the sides of the badges and paper clips are provided to keep track of a player's score by attaching it to the appropriate number. For a game in which the players are always moving about dramatically, this component works very well.
The game also includes a deck of cards, a sand timer, and a four-sided die. The rules to the game are laid out in a beautiful, full-color booklet in German, French and English, and the English translation is top notch – something uncommon for smaller German publishers.
To set up the game, a small table is needed, along with a larger area where the improv players can have room to move. A "stage" card is placed in the middle of the table, with an "audience" card (showing theater seating) placed below it. Four actor cards are placed above the stage card to show which players will form the first comedy troupe. The others are placed below the audience card, as they will watch the skit and one of them will try to guess the situation being acted.
A deck of situation cards is shuffled, and the top card is drawn and shown only to the actors. Each card has four different situations (for example: "in the castle" or "at the cash register") and the die is rolled to see which one on the card will be acted this time.
The final preparation is the distribution of "rank" cards, which are the heart of the game. The ranks range from 1 to 4, and each actor will receive one, keeping it secret from the audience AND from the other actors. After the skit, each player wins or loses points based on her ability to guess which actor has a chosen rank. The actors also gain or lose points depending on whether or not at least one other person guesses her rank.
When the sand timer is turned over, the skit begins, and the players must act out the scene while trying to play out his or her "rank" within that scene. For example, if the scene is a hospital, and you have the rank of 1, you will probably try to play the part of the head doctor. If you have the rank of 4, you might be a patient, while the other ranks could fill out the roles of assistants and nurses, etc. None of the actors are allowed to mention their ranks or the situation specifically during the skit, but they are otherwise allowed to speak and act as much as they like, even incorporating nearby objects as props.
This would all be a bit too easy, except that the designers included a nice mechanism to make it possible for two actors to have the same rank, in which case one of the ranks is completely missing! This is accomplished through the use of two sets of four rank cards each. One set is shuffled, after which a card is drawn from it without looking at it and added to the other set. Those five cards are then shuffled, and one is drawn and placed face-up, while the other four are distributed secretly to the four actors. This sounds a bit complicated in the rules, but is actually quite easy in practice, and makes the game much more interesting. The face-up rank card gives everyone a hint as to which rank will only be in the skit a maximum of one time – and possibly even be missing altogether.
After one minute of improv, the sand timer runs out, and the audience shouts "Freeze!" The audience member with the lowest score gets one guess at the situation. If correct, she wins 2 points, which is very helpful as a catch-up mechanism.
Then, the die is rolled again, and all players (actors and audience) simultaneously guess which actor – if any – had the rank shown on the die. Players hold both hands in the air, and on the count of 3, point to the actor or actors thought to have that rank. For example, if you thought only one actor had that rank, you point to that person with one hand and keep your other hand in the air. If you have the rank indicated, you point to yourself with one hand – and use the other to point to someone else if you think another actor had the same rank. Again, this seems a bit complicated when reading and explaining the rules, but after a round or two, all the players are completely comfortable with it.
Players receive 3 points for each correct guess and lose 1 point for each incorrect guess, thus it does not make sense to "play it safe" and just keep both hands in the air each time, at that neither wins nor loses points. An actor who has the rank indicated receives 3 points if at least one other player guesses her rank correctly, and loses 1 point if no one did (and, of course, that actor can still get points by correctly guessing which actor had the same rank, if that is the case).
Once all players have updated their scores using the paper clips on their badges, some of the cards from the stage are shifted to the audience, while some from the audience are moved up to the stage area to determine the next group of four actors. Freeze is for 5-10 players, and I can imagine that it works fine with five, although the game naturally wants an audience of more than one person.
During the first round or two, the rank cards and the guessing/scoring system take a little more time as the players learn the game, but thereafter, they breeze through these elements quickly, and the improv acting takes center stage.
The acting aspect of the game is laugh-out-loud fun, as the situations are well-chosen, and even the most introverted gamer can find a humorous role to play that might fit his rank. But this game also has plenty of depth to explore, and as the mechanisms become more transparent, the actors noticeably improve in how they respond to the rank distribution and how they interact with each other onstage.
One of our first situations, for example, was a "Film Set," but none of the actors had the Rank 1 card. Consequently, no one took charge of the scene, playing the role as director. I had the rank 4 and tried to play the part of an "extra" off to the side, but the other actors mistook me for the director, and I had to quickly adjust, grabbing a house plant and taking a more lowly position on the set. The other actors were not sure what to do, however, and the skit was a bit of a flop.
We learned from this experience that the situations in which there is no Rank 1 are the most challenging to pull off, but by the end of the game, we all had gained the skills necessary to make even these scenes work. The ranking system is wonderful in requiring an awareness of the other actors, especially as the rank distribution is never fully known. And as the game progresses and the actors become more comfortable with the system and each other, the skits improve both in their clarity and hilarity.
The game ends after about a half-dozen rounds, when one player reaches 16 points. Even the more introverted strategy gamers in our group enjoyed the experience, and several asked me how they could acquire copies of the game for themselves.
For those who are looking for a party game with some creative and communicative depth to it, or even an interesting filler to get your game group moving about in between cube-pushing sessions, I can heartily recommend Freeze. If you are attending Spiel 2010, I can also recommend visiting the BeWitched Spiele booth, as you are probably in for one of the most entertaining demos at the fair – and you might even be persuaded to join an impromptu comedy troupe in the process.
Now I only need to figure out how I can squeeze a game of Freeze into the crowded Spielwiese for our After-Essen Party in Berlin…
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sat, 09/25/2010 - 10:23am
Geschenke für den Radscha Designer: Florian Isensee Publisher: Isensee Spiele — October 2010
Featured at: Spiel 2010
No, alas, for the Rajah's soul is empty and he requires physical objects to fill the void within himself. That's good news for you, though, as you have a chance to deliver what the Rajah thinks he needs to overcome the pain of being chosen last for the kickball team in tenth grade at Vidyapur High.
In Geschenke für den Radscha, you need to make your way through the desert to find a magic lamp and a flying carpet and get them in the hands of the Rajah before he cracks entirely and refuses to take showers anymore or eat anything that isn't liquified. Problem is, the roads that you use disappear in sandstorms, so you need to find new ways home – while avoiding your fellow flying carpet finders naturally as they fancy themselves to be Freud as well...
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sat, 09/25/2010 - 8:23am
Last Call: The Bartender Game Designer: Kris Gould Publisher: Wattsalpoag Games — October 2010
Featured at: Spiel 2010
Kris Gould's Last Call: The Bartender Game invites you – nay, demands – that you play it while drinking, mostly because that would give folks like me a huge advantage over everyone else.
In this game, each player represents a bar that needs to make certain drinks by mixing various liquors. Four bottles of each of the six types of liquor start on one of the six bartenders in the game. A dealer reveals cards one at a time from a shuffled deck of bartender cards, and whenever another player (not the dealer) wants to move a bottle from one bartender to another that player yells "Order!" A bottle can be moved only if both bartenders have at least one card in front of them or if one bartender has three cards in front of it. You then remove all face-up cards from in front of these bartenders, something you also do if a bartender ever has four cards in front of it. (If two players call "Order" at once, ties are broken based on a priority chart a la ZooSim.)
After a bottle is moved, all players (including the dealer) have the opportunity to make one or more drinks. To make a drink, one bartender must have all the required liquors shown on one of the drink cards in your hand. You place this card face-up on the table and take one ice cube as penalty for each bottle of liquor on that bartender that's not required for your drink. Whoever called "Order" drops to the bottom of the priority chart and becomes the next dealer.
Once one player has completed all four drink cards in hand, the other players complete their drinks in order of priority, moving bottles as needed and taking a penalty cube for each move. Whoever ends the game with the fewest ice cubes wins.
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Sat, 09/25/2010 - 12:07am
Reviewed game: Dominant Species
Once in a while, wargame publisher GMT Games decides to zig when everyone else zags, and prints a game that doesn't fit its usual lineup. The publisher did it years ago with titles like Winds of Plunder and Conquest of Paradise, and more recently with the cute Leaping Lemmings.
This time around, GMT takes out the big guns: Acclaimed wargame designer Chad Jensen (of Combat Commander fame), one of the biggest boxes and boards ever to roll off its assembly line, and a mammoth leap back in time to present us with Dominant Species, an evolutionary battle that's roughly 90,000 years old. Talk about a different breed of conflict simulation!
Each player takes control of an animal class (insect, arachnid, amphibian, reptile, bird, or mammal) and tries – through adaptation, migration, or outright competition – to dominate their habitat and thrive in an ever-changing environment.
The game is played on a big hex grid that starts out empty except for the six hexes in the center of the map that are occupied by terrain tiles: mountain, savannah, desert, forest, jungle, wetland and the menacing tundra. Elements (in the form of little cardboard discs) are placed on tile corners, making it possible for a single element to touch (and thus affect) up to three different hex tiles.
Animal species are represented by cubes on the hexagonal tiles – but before you throw them to the four winds and exhort them to Reproduce! be aware that species fare much better when they're sitting on tiles with elements that match their own. See, each animal class comes with a little display board that not only summarizes every action you can take in the game, but also displays the elements your animal needs to thrive. Some of those elements are built-in – printed on the display – but others will need to be acquired along the way.
The game's main concept is that of dominance. On a given tile, an animal is considered dominant when it matches more elements than any other animal present, where a match is a correspondence between an element on the animal display and elements on the tile it occupies.
So in a contest between reptile (with two sun elements printed on its display) and amphibian (with three water elements printed on its display) sitting on a tile that sports a water element disc and a sun element disc, amphibian will dominate (three matches against two).
Such dominance is planned and executed through clever use of the Action Display, where players program their actions for any given turn. Each player is handed a number of cylindrical markers that they place (in initiative order) on any free action space on the Action Display. Once every marker has been placed, the Action Display is resolved, one action after the other.
Without going too deep into the rules, available actions (or consequences through lack of action) are as follows:
- INITIATIVE: Change the initiative order (to play earlier).
- ADAPTATION: Add an element to your animal display.
- REGRESSION: Lose a specific element from your animal display.
- ABUNDANCE: Add an element to the board (on a tile corner).
- WASTELAND: Remove specific elements that touch a tundra tile.
- DEPLETION: Remove one specific element from anywhere on the board.
- GLACIATION: Add a tundra tile to the board (with several effects, such as earning bonus points and returning a bunch of species – wooden cubes – to their owners).
- SPECIATION: Add species to the board in a particular pattern.
- WANDERLUST: Add a terrain tile to the board (thus expanding the playing space, i.e. "earth").
- MIGRATION: Move your species around.
- COMPETITION: Eliminate opposing species in certain situations.
- DOMINATION: Score selected tiles (based on the relative number of species on each).
Players can't do everything on any given turn; selecting where each action marker will be placed is one of the agonizing aspects of the game. Plan correctly, and you shall live. If not – well, there's always the next game.
Dominant Species also features a deck of 26 dominance cards, each one packing a powerful effect (good or bad, depending on what side of the table one is sitting). Five of them are laid out face up on the board; each time a tile is score via a Domination action, whoever is dominant on that tile gets to choose one card and execute it.
At the end of every turn, played dominance cards are replaced. When someone plays the Ice Age card (always set up at the bottom of the deck), tiles are scored one last time and the game ends. Highest VP total takes the evolutionary cake.
As has been mentioned before, the board is large: a mounted, heavy leviathan of a playing surface, with the linen finish GMT fans are growing accustomed to. Every useful tidbit of information is present and accounted for (including the food chain chart, handy for breaking scoring ties), with plenty of space to lay out tiles and move cubes on them.
I do find the board a bit bland, though. The decision to use earthy tones and somewhat washed-out colors make for a good thematic fit, just like the unassuming terrain tiles create a nice, even useful contrast with the herds of cubes that get dropped on them. But it certainly doesn't make for an eye-catching display, which is a bit unfortunate. Compare this to the gorgeous box cover art; the board almost looks like it doesn't belong to the same game.
Speaking of the box, it's a beast unto itself: double deep and sturdy like there's no tomorrow. (Connoisseurs will recognize the packaging from the C&C: Ancients line.)
The cards are fine, with clear text and nice illustrations, and should last well into the next ice age. But wargamers beware: This game comes with a metric ton of wooden components! Cubes and cones and cylinders galore, in six colors, and with a nice, smooth finish. I like me wooden bits.
Chad Jensen was lauded for his rules writing in Combat Commander, and his mastery of that arcane art is abundantly clear in Dominant Species as well. But at 20 pages, it makes for a daunting foray off the beaten path. However, players of so-called Eurogames will be comfortable with most of the concepts presented here, and the slew of illustrated, full-color examples shouldn't hurt the proceedings.
The rulebook is very much organized like that of a wargame. Far from turning into a nuisance, such military precision actually helps the learning process.
Additional rules are provided for those who'd like to shake things up with a random "starting earth" set-up, as well as optional variants for two- and three-player games (with each player controlling several different animals). The each-player-controls-several-colors variations are usually not my cup of tea – and I do prefer the standard Dominant Species rules – but they work well enough here.
After playing the game several times, I can testify that Dominant Species is great fun. There is a lot of stuff to do, but each action is simple and one flows naturally into another. Actions are also very thematic; the evolution of each animal class and the ebb and flow of the entire game somehow feel right.
Howerver, even though individual actions are easy to understand and use, the repercussions of said actions are complex and spill over pretty much everything. The removal of a single element from Earth, for instance, can create a major upheaval, so be prepared for decisions that might get fairly complicated to make – even though implementing them is easy.
In most cases, however, the hurdle will be the play time, which the box lists as three to four hours. While a four-hour gaming session is cotton candy to the average wargamer, I suspect many a Eurogamer might have a problem with that. (Yes, some Eurogames do take entire days to play through, but those are the exception and not the rule.)
In my experience, actual game length for Dominant Species goes something like this: Take a basic game time of 1.5 hours and add 30 minutes for each player. This gives you 2.5 hours for a two-player match, and 4.5 hours for a six-handed slug-a-thon. And do factor in additional time with newbies around the table.
Still, time is a concern of relative importance. While some gamers will relish sessions that take a long time to develop and come to a head – I'm certainly one of them when the game is right, and this one certainly is – others will refuse to play anything over an hour. To each his own.
So if I had to expose one flaw in Dominant Species, it would be that it's engineered to bring out a nasty case of Analysis Paralysis in the best of us. Because a single decision can affect so many different things (spread over several turns!), some decisions simply require a lot of numbers to crunch. There's no going around it.
But it's worth the extra work!
Dominant Species is an excellent, meaty game that requires an entire evening to play through. For some this will be a fatal flaw; for others, a coveted special feature.
There is a simple way to shorten the game, though: Remove some of the dominance cards from the deck. Since the game ends once the entire deck has been played through, a thinner deck will mean a shorter playing time. Yes, the absence of a few cards might create a slight unbalance (I'm mainly thinking about Intelligence and Parasitism, both of which grant an additional action cylinder to certain animals), but their showing up late in the game also screws the players concerned. To be as fair as possible, if I decided to trim the deck by removing a handful of cards at random, I'd probably make sure that these two are either both in or both out.
Reading the rules will give you the impression that checking for dominance (which changes constantly and more times than you'll be able to count during a game) will be a bore. It does get repetitive, but it becomes second nature after very little time, so don't let dominance scare you.
Another first impression to put aside: When you first read the dominance cards, you'll get the feeling that some of them are really overpowered. This is not the case. After just a couple of plays, it'll become apparent that each card can be devastating if played at the right time (just as each of them can also have next to no effect, if played at the wrong time.)
And a final word about the number of players. I was afraid the standard two-player game would be merely an adequate learning tool, but it turns out to be a vicious and tense affair. Don't let those seven actions per player and wide open Action Board deceive you. And if you get into a six-player game, be prepared for a truly epic adventure!
Now go out there and dominate.
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Fri, 09/24/2010 - 2:51pm
John Yianni of Gen42 Games has produced a stop-motion animation for an unboxing and demo of the new version of his Junkyard Races, which will debut at Spiel 2010 in October. For details on the game, you can head to the Junkyard Races game announcement here on BGN or take a look at the video below:
In other Gen42 news, Yianni has signed a distribution deal with Barnes & Noble for Hive, his highly-regarded two-player strategy game. The game has already appeared in dozens of stores in the U.S. with further rollouts scheduled for 2011.
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Fri, 09/24/2010 - 12:01am
Adam Kaluza and K2
One day in the early 1980s, Rhode Island College sponsored a trip to New York City for students to see theater. While all of my friends went and saw a play called Slab Boys starring the young Sean Penn and the young Kevin Bacon, I saw the opening night of the play K2 by Patrick Meyers. I can still remember the remarkable set which depicted an icy mountain wall that rose out of the theater's basement and ascended out of sight in the rafters. During the play, one of the mountain climber/actors actually used his ice axes to climb up and out of view. Later, a simulated avalanche dusted me with Styrofoam snow (I was sitting in the front row).
Anyway, the word K2 has had a certain magic for me ever since.
So when I learned that Polish game designer Adam Kaluza was designing a game about K2, I decided to contact him and see if he would do an e-mail interview. This week he sent me some responses to my questions, but he also sent a semi-designer diary kind of document, and suggested that I cut-and-paste from this to answer a couple of my more detailed questions. This document (or parts of it) were recently published on BGG, so this is hardly an exclusive.
Still, it makes me eager to play the game...
Kris: What inspired you to make a game about climbing K2?
Adam: For many years I was into rock climbing, caving, and hiking in mountains (not tall ones). I also read everything I could find about tall mountains...and an inspiration was the film K2, which I saw a dozen or so years ago. It was then that the idea appeared, the first attempts, but I only returned to the game a couple years ago.
Kris: Can you describe a typical turn for us? What do players do?
Adam: The players do the following actions in a turn:
- They choose three cards to play from the six in their hand (all secretly and simultaneously).
- They reveal their cards and check who put the lives of their mountaineers most at risk – this player receives a risk token.
- In sequence from the starting player, they perform their actions based on the played cards and the risk token.
- They check how much the weather and the location on the mountain affects the climbers.
- Pass the starting player marker to the left.
- Draw new cards.
Kris: How do you simulate the various dangers of K2?
Adam: Each player has their own mat with two tracks which each show the current level of acclimatization of a team (mountaineer). Each starts at level 1, and if it goes below that level, the climber dies. In the mountains real climbers get acclimatized by hiking to the base camp, then slowly climbing higher and higher, setting up intermediate camps. In my game it is similar, although players start the game at the base of the mountain; in subsequent turns they can gain acclimatization by hiking in the lower parts of K2. By the way, each of the climbers gets 1 point of acclimatization, and also 1 victory point, just for showing up. This symbolizes having already overcome the first obstacles connected with getting climbing permissions and reaching the base.
The player can - if he wants - "rush" immediately to the higher parts of the mountain, but 99% of the time this will end tragically for him. You have to reach an adequate level of acclimatization, and only then can you climb further. The board of K2 is divided into areas in which the players raise or lose their acclimatization. As you can guess - the higher you go, the harder it gets. Along with acclimatization, I decided to use another concept, namely intermediate camps.
Each climber (team) has one tent which can be pitched during the climb. If he stops in this space, his acclimatization level increases by 1 compared to what's indicated on the board. Appropriate tent placement can decide the outcome of the game. In the game there is a concept of a maximum acclimatization level. From the start I knew that there must be a maximum value - a true climber cannot "stock up" and easily climb to the top ... in the game it had to be similarly realistic. Deciding on the appropriate maximum acclimatization level was very difficult and took a lot of testing. The level had to be high enough so that it was possible to reach the top, but on the other hand small enough that it wasn't too easy. Acclimatization can also be raised in one more way ... by playing cards (let's call them cards with oxygen), which players have in their hands ...
Kris: How does the game simulate dangerous mountain weather?
Adam: Weather is a very important element in the high mountains, and more than once it has determined whether mountaineers reach the summit, or quite the opposite. I wanted that the weather would also be important in my game, but that it is possible to overcome it. It must be a random element, but still partially predictable. Initially, the players drew a weather card, which showed how conditions would change in a given area of the mountain, and the effect on acclimatization and movement. This solution was very random, so I started thinking about visibility of a few days at a time ...
I decided on a sequence of 3 days. The rule is simple: one card shows the weather for the next 3 days, and you can see two such cards. A player knows the weather forecast for 5 days at most, or 3 days at minimum. Thanks to this, players can now plan their attacks on the summit, knowing more or less what awaits them ... but only more or less. Of course with time you can learn the weather cards (there are two decks, summer and winter), but if the players choose to mix them, then you will never know until the end what the weather will be.
Kris: How is the winner decided?
Adam: Victory Points - or glory, is one of the basic elements that decide the winner in Euro-games. In K2 it's similar. The higher a climber goes, the greater the glory which awaits him after his return home. What counts is always the maximum height they reached. The sum of the two climbers (teams) is the final score of the player. If a climber dies ... then his points are reduced to 1. In the case of a tie, the winner is the player who was the first (from among the tied players) to the summit. Not everyone likes this approach, but the greatest honor is exactly for the first one...
Kris: How long does the game take to play?
Adam: That depends on the number of players... from 30 minutes (solo) to around 1.5 hours with 5 players.
Kris: When will the game be available in the USA?
Adam: I'll be able to answer this question after Essen.
Kris: Thanks for the interview.
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Thu, 09/23/2010 - 11:41pm
Reviewed game: Glen More
I'd seen some of the buzz for Glen More early in 2010 and picked up one of the German copies from my FLGS as soon as they had it. The early descriptions mentioned a tile-laying game with a resource engine building aspect which instantly appealed as suitable for several of my game groups.
Glen More is a light to medium game that combines several mechanisms with a sufficiently broad scoring system to reward both opportunistic play and a willingness to try different strategies. If you can avoid people crippled by analysis paralysis (or five-player games), the downtime is minor and the game moves along at a good pace.
During the game, every player builds their own tableau of tiles around a starting village. Tile placement is lightly restricted: tiles with a river can be placed only along the north-south river, while tiles with roads can be placed only along the east-west road. Players must also place tiles in one of the eight spaces surrounding one of their black clansmen meeples. During the game, choosing when to obtain more clansmen from villages and castles and how to move them is critical.
Turn order is also slightly unusual. The player figures sit in a chain of available tiles which are dealt out from four numbered stacks. In a way that's strongly reminiscent of the time-track in Thebes, as it is always the turn of the player at the rear of the chain. They make their move by moving their coloured chieftain figure forward on to any available tile. It's possible for a player to take several turns in a row, but extra tiles are penalised at the end of the game.
There are several different types of tiles available. The grey village and castles provide extra population in the form of a new clansman figure. Yellow or green production tiles produce one of the five resources, while the brown tiles provide ways to generate points, either directly or by providing a way to convert resources such as the fair (where you can sell sets of different goods) or the butchers (who buy cows or sheep). In addition, the castle and lake tiles grant the player a bonus card used in scoring. The bonuses range from additional items and end-game scoring points, through to the powerful lakes Loch Ness, which permits an extra tile to be activated every turn at the cost of the monster eating a clansman when it is first placed, or Loch Oich, which activates every tile in the turn it is placed.
The heart of the game is the activation system. Each turn, when a player places a new tile, that tile and any tiles in the eight surrounding spaces are activated in any order. Production tiles produce a cube and the conversion tiles can be used once to produce victory points or whiskey. This restriction imposes strict limits on how often and how efficiently powerful tiles can be activated and makes player choices of tiles and placement critical.
Finally, there is a simple closed market which permits goods to be bought and sold as they are needed to build or activate tiles. Each time a good is purchased from the market, the purchaser must deposit some of their coins to pay for it. Later on, another player with excess of that resource can exchange one cube for the coins. The closed economy – save for a castle granting three more coins, each player has exactly six – provides a way for players with extra resources to gain some points at the end of the game as well as potentially lock up the coins to leave players with less efficient production stuck.
The requirement that a clansman be standing by each placed tile makes their positioning crucial. Of course, clansmen are needed for other things as well. Each activation of a village or castle allows one of your clansmen to be moved one step or this activation can be used to promote a clansmen to a chieftain who counts in the three scoring rounds. Once promoted, they are no longer available to help place new tiles.
As with most Euro games, victory requires points. There are actually several different ways to do this: During the game, various brown tiles provide a way, when activated, to convert resources to points, or in the case of the Tavern, score points directly. Ensuring that the brown tiles are activated only when you have the resources is the key here.
There is a scoring round when each of the piles of tiles numbered 1-3 is completely placed on the chain. In these rounds, the numbers of chieftains, bonus cards, and whiskey barrels are compared among players with players possessing more than the player with fewest can receive up to 8 points.
The end of the game is triggered after the third scoring round (when all tiles have been placed out on the board). Players receive a point per coin, receive points for the special scoring tiles which grant end-of-game bonuses for yellow or green tiles or for villages, and are penalised three points for every tile in excess of the player with fewest. As per tradition, the player who has accumulated the most victory points wins.
When playing the game with two or three players, a dummy player is added to tighten and speed things up. This takes the form of a 3-2-2-1-1-1 die which acts as a player marker. Whenever it is the dummy player's turn, the die is rolled and the player moves forward that many free tiles, and removes the tile it lands on from the game. Naturally, the die provided is cursed and knows exactly which tile you need.
Some folks hate dummy players, but I think the implementation in Glen More is great. The three-player game felt nice and tight. (And the dummy player helpfully played their turn really fast!) The pre-seeded market also added some variety to the early game. The 2p game is less tense, but also a far more confrontational struggle over each of the points categories because a single runaway category can be worth up to eight points per scoring round.
I really like Glen More as a relatively fast-playing, medium-light game that appeals to engine-building game fans as well as those who prefer lighter fare. The range of ways to get points, spiced up by the special tile powers, invites different approaches to building your engine and I was really impressed by the three rounds of differential scoring that ensure that players have to be always aware and reactive to the actions of other players. Even if there is no direct conflict between players, there are many opportunities to thwart your opponent's plans.
Glen More is currently available in German from alea in its medium-box line. My own translations of the rules, cards, and reference cards are available on BoardGameGeek, and Rio Grande Games should be releasing an English edition later in 2010, hopefully in time for Essen.
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Thu, 09/23/2010 - 1:37pm
Hard to know what to make of Katas given the minimal description on publisher MJ Games website, but here we go:
Katas is designed for the true card game aficionado. Fun and strategic, it embroils four players, in two teams of two, in an intense struggle for victory. To start each round, the players bid to decide the attacking team, the trump and the target number of points. Next, the hand plays out in 12 turns, during which the defending team will do its utmost to prevent the attackers from accomplishing their goals. Though the structure is classic, the rules are unique and exceptionally well-balanced.
The game play sounds familiar, but perhaps that's only because the description is so generalized. As always, the proof of the pudding is in the pud...
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Thu, 09/23/2010 - 1:24pm
Gosu Designer: Kim Sato Publisher: Asmodee — September 2010 Publisher: Moonster Games — August 2010
Featured at: Spiel 2010
Build up goblin armies, then fight, fight, fight! Well, build up the armies anyway – sometimes fighting will be optional depending on what everyone else is doing. Gosu includes 100 goblin cards, with goblins coming in five clans/colors and three levels, with fifty cards at level 1 (two each of 25 cards), 35 cards at level 2 (all unique), and 15 cards at level 3 (again, all unique). Players start the game with seven random cards and two activation tokens. On a turn a player can start building an army, with level 1 cards first, or use activation tokens to draw cards or use the powers on goblins in play. Once a player passes, he's finished for the round, and the round ends once everyone passes. The player who has the most powerful army at that point wins the round; winning three rounds wins you the game.
Players can duck out of rounds at any time, and they'll frequently want to do so as they draw cards only by spending activation tokens (and you have only two each round) or by using goblin powers (which also requires tokens). In addition, if you want to play level 1 cards for a clan not already in your army, you must first discard two cards to do so, making it expensive to recruit new forces – but you can't play level 2 and 3 goblins without a level 1 goblin of the same clan in play. As in life, goblin management is the key to long-term success.
Those looking for feedback on how the game plays should check out Bruno Faidutti's rave review on his website. An excerpt:
The "goblin wars" setting is original and humorously rendered. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous. The game is both easy to grasp and highly challenging. Gosu is one of the very best two players battle card game I've ever played, and I bet it will be a world hit.
Categories: Game News
Boardgame News - Thu, 09/23/2010 - 1:00pm
In August 2010, Eric Franklin, who demoes games and does rules editing work for Asmodee, tweeted about an expansion for Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc's Cyclades. Says Franklin, "More Gods. More mythological creatures!"
Update, Sept. 23, 2010: Someone who has played the prototype of the Cyclades expansion, presumably someone who attended an Asmodee event in mid-September, has spilled the beans about ideas currently in the works, including the appearance of Hades and the introduction of heroes and new creatures. As of this is all a work in progress, so don't go painting your Cerberus before it's been produced...
Categories: Game News