• Designer Diary: Panic Mansion, or Waiter, There's a Rolling Eye in My Haunted House

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/696…ion-or-waiter-theres-roll

    by Daniel Skjold Pedersen

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3710491_t.png] Panic Mansion

    — a big box design from me, Asger

    , and Blue Orange Games

    — is debuting at SPIEL in October 2017. We are very proud of it and hope you will have as much fun with the game as we do.

    Panic Mansion

    is a shaky dexterity game for families and kids ages 6 and up in which you want to place your adventurer into the room with all the gold crates while not letting in ghosts, snakes, or the odd rolling eye. The twist is that you cannot touch the game pieces, so you must shake and tilt that haunted house.

    No Pictures, Please?

    When I sit down to write designer diaries, one of the first things I do is go through old pictures of prototypes. It gives me a sense of accomplishment looking back at the early and very rough stages of what is now a published game, and to be honest it also serves to refresh my memory. It is not uncommon that my game design work is completed 12 to 24 months before a game hits the shelves, sometimes even longer. That is just the nature of this industry.

    So I started scrolling through old pictures to look for Panic Mansion

    almost in vain. This is very unusual. I have dozens of pictures of A Tale of Pirates

    , Gold Fever

    , Frogriders

    , and most of my other published and upcoming titles. Why the sudden lack of pictures? Well, Panic Mansion

    is fast and furious. It is easy to get carried away and forget to take pictures. Also, this is not the type of game in which I could analyze a picture of the mid-play game state afterwards for any great benefit. Finally, the development cycle was actually very short before Blue Orange Games signed and took over. I think we managed to demonstrate the fun gameplay and our vision with a basic prototype. To our luck, Blue Orange saw the potential.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3771800_t.jpg]

    The prototype we pitched at the Spielwarenmesse Toy Fair in Nürnberg in early 2016...

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3771802_t.jpg]

    ...and what it looks like now in Panic Mansion

    A Vision for Two

    When Asger and I look for a publisher for our games, we take a lot of factors into consideration. I don't want to derail this diary too much with boring business talk, so let me just boil all those factors down to the bare bones. Essentially we are looking for publishers who share our vision for the game and who are able to deliver a quality product.

    I like to believe we have been fortunate so far, and Panic Mansion

    provides an excellent case in point for why such care matters. Let's turn the box over and look at the back:

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3773130_t.jpg]

    You can take the box from the shelf, turn it over, and play to see whether this is something you'd enjoy

    The Blue Orange team did a wonderful job of tuning our prototype and the vision we shared into what I believe is an amazing game and product. The ability to play the game while still in shrink is a wonderful gimmick for which I can take absolutely no credit. However, the crawling spider and all the other pieces inside the box is anything but a gimmick, but now I am getting ahead of myself.

    Components Matter — and Not Just for Bling Bling

    Components matter. Some of you will probably read that statement and disagree; others will say it is obvious. As a gamer, I have been back and forth on this subject myself over the years. I like nice aesthetics but not at the expense of functionality. As a game designer, I have learned that components really matter but not just for the toy factor or for the ability to set up games on a table so they look like pieces of art.

    In Panic Mansion

    , components matter. They are, in fact, a large part of the core gameplay. It is a dexterity game, after all. As you shake and tilt the haunted house to move your adventurer through the maze, you will see that the adventurer, ghost, snake, and all the other pieces serve a purpose. They support the setting of a mysterious and haunted house AND they all have interesting shapes, sizes, weights, and even textures that add to the challenge.

    The twisty snake blocks the door. The eyes roll around frantically messing up your plans. And the ghost — my archnemesis when playing this game — is a nightmare to get rid of. If this is all nonsense in your ears, I will just say that you will know what I'm talking about when you try the game.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3771804_t.jpg]

    Comparison of game pieces: published game (top) and prototype; if the adventurer looks like a certain fictional character,
    it might be that the Blue Orange team was tired of all my talk about how great that IP would be...

    Thinking Inside the Box

    I do not recall the exact origin of the idea that became Panic Mansion

    , and unfortunately the lack of photos doesn't help me here, but I do know the idea came sometime in the autumn of 2015. At that time, we explored different ways to create games around the game box. After all, in most board games, you take out the contents, then put the box away, which is a shame. The box is an interesting component that rises above the table, and aside from that, it's one of the most expensive parts of producing a board game, so why not integrate it? Our prototype used both the box lid and bottom as haunted houses.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3771820_t.jpg]

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3771821_t.jpg]

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3771817_t.jpg]

    Ironically in the published version of the game, you now take the contents out of the box, then put the box away. That was the small price we needed to pay to reduce set-up time and allow for up to four players in the game.

    Panic Mansion

    is the first game to be released that was born out of that period of thinking inside the box, and there will be more chapters to write in the next years. For now, Asger and I will demo and sign Panic Mansion

    at SPIEL '17 on Thursday and Saturday 12:00-13:00 at the Blue Orange Games booth (3: M107). Come by and say hi!

    Daniel Skjold Pedersen

  • SPIEL '17 Preview: King of the Dice, or Rolling and Rueing

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/697…ice-or-rolling-and-rueing

    by W. Eric Martin

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3757332_t.jpg]"New games are for new gamers." I've said this before

    , and I'll say it again. In fact, I just did.

    What do I mean by this? Hundreds of new games hit the market each year. Our SPIEL '17 Preview

    , for example, is nearing one thousand listings, and unless you are a crazy person with an endless bag of cash and time, you will not play all the games listed on the preview. Heck, you likely won't play even 10% of the games listed. If you did manage to do so, however, you would likely discover that many of the games listed on it are like other games that already exist.

    Take, for example, my preview choice for today: King of the Dice

    , a.k.a. Würfelkönig

    , by designer Nils Nilsson

    and publisher HABA

    . At heart, King of the Dice

    is a dice-rolling game in which you want to create certain combinations on the dice in order to claim cards and score points. Perhaps you already know of such games? I think you do. King of the Dice

    is not new in this regard, and those who have already played games along these lines might view the design as more of the same. Those who haven't, however, will find a delightful little dice game with lots of "ooh!" and "aah!" moments as you succeed or opponents fail.

    To set up, lay out the village cards as shown below, with each village having cards worth 2, 3, and 4 points. Shuffle the citizen cards, then place one under each village, with the deck placed on the left. Place the shuffled penalty card deck nearby, then give someone the six dice and start taking turns.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3780258_t.jpg]

    On a turn, you roll the dice up to three times (so familiar!), setting aside any dice that you choose not to reroll. You can stop whenever you wish (and must stop after three rolls), and if you've rolled a dice combination showing on one or more of the citizen cards, you can claim one of the cards. If the color of the citizen matches the color of the village above them, then claim the top village card as well. If you can't claim a citizen card, then take the top penalty card; if you do this, discard the rightmost card in the line. Place your citizen and penalty cards in a single stack so that only the most recently acquired card is visible. End your turn by sliding all the citizen cards to the right to fill the gap, then flip the topmost card of the citizen deck into the empty space at the left of the line.

    Keep taking turns until one village pile is empty, the penalty deck is empty, or the citizen deck is empty. When this happens, the game ends and everyone counts their points to see who wins.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3780260_t.jpg]

    Pre-production components; you probably won't have a serial number on your cards

    That's it. Well, that's mostly it, but in those short two paragraphs, you now know everything needed to play King of the Dice


    Each color of characters has similar requirements to claim them. All of the blue cards require some number of dice that are the same color, while the brown cards require some number of dice showing the same number. Green cards require number combinations: two pair, three pair, full house, four-of-a-kind, etc. Purple cards require color combinations similar to the green cards, but with specific colors instead of allowing you to fill in the symbols as you wish.

    Yellow cards differ from this pattern by coming in two types: three requiring a numerical sequence, and two requiring either all odd or all even dice.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3780259_t.jpg]

    Each fairy is worth as many points as the number of fairies you collect

    Some cards have bonuses that give small twists during play. If you claim a card with a star, you take another turn immediately; the yellow cards with an arrow leaping a square allow you to roll the dice up to four times on your subsequent turn. The magician lets you claim the card to the right of it in addition to the magician itself, and the dragon, once claimed, is gifted to another player. Here's fire in your lap, pal!

    I've played King of the Dice

    three times on a pre-production copy, twice with two and one with three, and the game delivers exactly what's promised by the components and short description: Tension and angst as you try to complete die combinations of varying complexities, merged with a tetch of thumb-twiddling as you wait for your next turn. This isn't an issue in the two-player game, even when playing with a hammy eight-year-old who loves to tell complete stories between every single roll of the dice, but I can't imagine playing with four or five players except during a party situation in which you get up to refill your drink and mingle between turns. Maybe that's just me.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3780262_t.jpg]

    Warning: The purple looks similar to the brown in dim light

    The different colors on the dice — with red, blue and green spread evenly across the pips — do a nice job of pulling you in different directions during play, similar to the dice used in Thomas Sing's excellent dice game Kribbeln

    . As in so many games of this type, after the initial roll you're weighing probabilities of what to shoot for, and sometimes the colors pull you one way and the pips pull you another. You make choices and often have a back-up card in mind that you might still be able to land should plan A not come to pass.

    Of course sometimes no amount of planning will save you from what the dice hold...

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3780349_t.jpg]

    Awesome performance in my most recent game with a final score of -1
  • Designer Diary: Warriors of Jogu, or Inspired by an Accident

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/695…jogu-or-inspired-accident

    by Tony Chen

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3712491_t.png]Some things happen through inspiration; some things happen by accident. Warriors of Jogu

    , my second game design, is a combination of both. Inspired by Liar's Dice

    and Poker

    , the core idea for the game was developed in a couple of days in March 2009, and for a little over five years existed as a microgame. What prompted me to fully flesh out this microgame into a card game was an accident that happened in late 2014.

    The Accident

    My then girlfriend Jane had just gotten into board gaming, and I told her about this microgame I had designed. Well, she said she wanted to try it, so one day after work we went to a café and played it. The game takes only about five minutes, hence we were able to play it over and over and over again that night.

    Jane had the toughest time playing the game. The game was so simple that she felt she had "nothing to do", yet the game had enough things going on that she could tell that she was missing out on something she could be doing. I had never seen her so paralyzed before in a game, and it wasn't analysis paralysis. Analysis paralysis is when you have too much

    stuff to think about and can't focus on the important choices. This was kind of the opposite: Jane wanted to think about something, but had seemingly too little

    to work with! (She was the one who kept suggesting that we play the game over and over again. I think she was traumatized and really needed to figure the game out before going to bed that night.)

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3767487_t.jpg] The Core Concept

    Here is the game that we played that night. In each round, each player draws one location card and secretly looks at it. The board has six locations (numbered 1-6) corresponding to the location cards. A player has only two warrior cards in hand: a warrior 1 and a warrior 2. On their turn, a player either plays a warrior 1 to one of the six locations, a warrior 2 to one of the six locations, or passes.

    Each location has a capacity limit of three, that is, each location can accommodate at most two warrior 1s, or a warrior 2 and a warrior 1 (from either player).

    If a player passes on their turn, they cannot play any more warrior cards for the rest of the round. Theoretically, a player may pass on their first turn without having played any

    warrior cards. Once both players have passed, they flip over the two location cards they received at the start of the round; these locations are the battle locations for the round. All other locations (and the warriors thereat) are ignored. For each warrior a player has at a battle location, they gain a strategy rating of X times Y, where X is the warrior's strength (1 or 2), and Y is the number of the location (1-6). If, for example, I have my warrior 2 at battle location 5, and my warrior 1 at battle location 3, then my strategy rating is 2*5+1*3 = 13.

    Whoever has the higher strategy rating wins the round and some victory points. The number of victory points won is equal to one plus the total value of the warrior cards played by the losing player, so if my opponent played a warrior 1, then loses the round, I'd get 2 victory points for winning the round; if instead they had played both warrior 1 and warrior 2, then lost, I'd get 4 victory points for winning the round. Whoever reaches 10 victory points first wins.

    At its heart, this game is about bluffing. The warriors are analogous to poker chips. The more chips you play, the more likely you are to win the round. However, if you lose, you'll end up giving away more to your opponent.

    The Accident (Continued)

    Games like this can be very abstract, very mathematical, and seemingly very random. Jane couldn't get into it. It was too basic, too raw. A little bit about Jane as a gamer: She got hooked on gaming with Cosmic Encounter

    . It was a five-player game, hidden aliens, and she revealed Mirror on the final turn to claim a solo victory. She likes to hold a hand of cards, she likes to use special abilities, and she likes to win.

    I went home that night thinking that there is nothing wrong with my microgame per se, but how do I make it a game that Jane would like to play? And it hit me. Make a card game out of it with different decks like Summoner Wars

    , with special abilities on each card! This way, Jane would have something to strategize over. She loves having a hand of cards, and picking when and how to use them.

    However, I didn't start haphazardly slapping down abilities. As a designer, I have a particular procedure

    . I wanted the core of the game to be the master and not the slave, to be that Interesting Problem and not a mere tool for moving things along. Therefore, all the cards and abilities were designed to highlight the core of the game in a complementary way, thereby keeping the decision-point to game-time ratio extremely high.

    Within one week, I made the first two faction decks for Warriors of Jogu

    , and after trying it out we knew we had something special. Retroactively, I realized that most good card games, from Magic: The Gathering

    to Android: Netrunner

    to Blue Moon

    to Star Wars: The Card Game

    , have interesting microgames at their cores. The microgames themselves are interesting in their own rights, and the card abilities complement and bring out the interesting aspects of the core mechanisms. We didn't set out to build a great card game, but through twists and turns, a good microgame ready to serve as the base system, a little bit of love, an apparent problem, and some clever solutions, we came up with one.

    Over the next two years in 2015 and 2016, we developed many different factions, testing and balancing these over and over again. Each faction has a distinct and characteristic playstyle, bending elements of bluffing and timing to its favor in unique ways.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3767451_t.jpg]

    Ideation and Development

    For the special abilities, we drew inspiration from the races in Blue Moon

    , Cosmic Encounter

    , Summoner Wars

    , and gaming lore in general. The League of Agents, for example, is inspired by ninjas. Their cards are played face-down to a location, so the opponent doesn't know what those units are! The Gang of Mibits is modeled after the idea of rats and small creatures, having units with low strength but abilities that allow them to move from location to location even after they have been played to the board. The Ganji Resistance, Jane's idea, has units that become stronger and stronger each turn that they stay on the board, eventually exploding if they outgrow the capacity limit of the location. The Zaigas faction is, suprisingly, inspired by my dog. To create a feeling of the dog's friendly and confident personality, I designed a card with the following ability: If the opponent plays a card into the location corresponding to Zaigas' location card, the Zaigas reveal their location card to their opponent and gain three morale.

    In all, we created fifteen factions that are diverse and unique, each having a characteristic playstyle. However, they all follow the same design philosophy. A faction's theme must come through organically and contribute to emergent gameplay. No forced execution of themes, nothing ham-fisted.

    Testing and Balance

    I have a short confession to make. I used to think that games with luck cannot be deep.

    Then I played Yomi

    , a glorified rock-paper-scissors game played with decks of cards. I played for fun at first. But then I kept playing, and kept playing, and I started to notice some patterns, opportunities to leave myself in better situations, ways to set up better bets. So I started applying what I learned, and I started winning, at one point beating an opponent seven times straight.

    While Yomi

    provided no direct inspiration for Warriors of Jogu

    , it had a deep impact on how I viewed luck-based games, which in turn affected how I tested, balanced, and designed Warriors of Jogu


    There is actually a surprising amount of information you can gather from your opponent's actions. In Yomi

    , is your opponent blocking a lot? Maybe their hand is short on punches. In Poker

    , if a player bets a certain way on the flop, and another way on the turn, you can actually deduce if, for example, they are sitting on a pair of kings, a flush, or something else. In Warriors of Jogu

    , the fact that your opponent played/did not play a card to a location in a specific situation could signal a lot of information.

    So while luck-based games are affected by chance, there are actually many ways a good player can affect the odds, and the tricks behind them, in a way, actually require more creativity than a clever move in a perfect information game does.

    Warriors of Jogu

    's core test team consists of seven playtesters who have diverse playstyles. Some are more aggressive, some are more conservative, some are good at managing their overall deck, some key in on specific tricks and combos, etc. But everyone has something in common: We all understand luck-based games. This makes playtesting highly effective because games are tested by people who understand Warriors of Jogu

    , the strategies involved, the balance, etc. Altogether, we've tested well over three hundred games. We also did blind playtests with strangers and open playtests with the public, but this is mainly to see whether people could understand the rulebook, to gauge how accessible the game is, etc. (The reception here has been pretty positive. At any particular convention/event, people would tell us that our game is the best they've played all day.)

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3493722_t.jpg]

    Final Stages

    In 2017, we completed testing for five factions that will be included in the base game: Guards of Keion, Gang of Mibits, League of Agents, Society of Engineers, and Tribe Wu. In the final stages of testing, most of the balance fixes involve simply altering the card count in each deck, e.g., changing the number of Conjurers in the Tribe Wu deck from seven to five, changing the number of Bomb Towers in the Engineers deck, reducing the number of Good-for-Somethings in the Mibits deck by one, etc.

    I want to talk about the Bomb Tower and the Engineers deck, as an example. In our testing, we found that the Engineers are a little weak against Guards of Keion, and strong against Mibits. A Bomb Tower destroys a card, so they are generally stronger against Guards of Keion (who have a lot of high strength cards) than they are against the Mibits (since destroying a small Mibit unit affects relatively little). Thus, we increased the amount of Bomb Towers in the deck, thereby simultaneously making the Engineers a bit better against the Guards and a bit weaker against the Mibits.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3628733_t.jpg]

    Next Step

    We believe we have created a very clever game that is filled with luck in all the right ways. Our next step is to showcase our product of love and labor to the gaming community. First up is SPIEL '17, where Jane (now my fiancée) and I will showcase and demo Warriors of Jogu: Feint

    . Please visit Monsoon Publishing

    at booth 7: D108!

    Tony Chen


    To give you more details on the gameplay, here are brief descriptions of each faction's playstyle.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3767506_t.png]

    Strength: Strong units, ability to play straight up.
    Weakness: Information disadvantage.

    The Guards of Keion have several units that can, in the right situation, secure advantage in a round despite blatantly telegraphing their battle location to the opponent. Therefore, the Guards have an advantage in playing the game straight up provided they do so at the right moment.

    However, this does not mean that deception should not be a part of a good Guard player's strategy. Because playing straight up is such a strong tactic for Guards of Keion, it is that much more devastating when they do play deceptively because the opponent will be really caught off guard.

    Guards of Keion have some of the best units in terms of Strength, but in order to make this advantage count they must overcome their inherent information disadvantage. If a Guards of Keion player can deduce his opponent's battle location with consistency and show their own battle location at the correct moments, then the Guards of Keion's high Strength units can be hard to beat.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3767505_t.png]

    Strength: Information advantage, maneuverability.
    Weakness: Small units.

    The Mibits have some of the smallest units in the game in terms of Strength. However, what they lack in firepower, they make up in maneuverability with units that can move between locations after being deployed. This mobility not only allows the Mibits to wait and observe where the opponent units are being sent to before committing their troops, it also makes it harder for their opponent to deduce the Mibits' battle location.

    Additionally, the Mibits have an ability that allows them to play multiple cards on a turn, as well as an ability that allows them to play zero net cards on a turn. By speeding up deployment, the Mibits can secure numerical advantage at a location early in the round. By delaying deployment, they can withhold commitment of their troops as they gather more information about the opponent's troop deployment.

    Due to their small size, the Mibits will have to concentrate the bulk of their force at one or two locations in order to have a shot at winning the round. Therefore, they must extract every value they can out of their information advantage, then move to the right locations, while keeping their opponent away from the Mibits' own battle location. When playing against the Mibits, aim to use their mobility against them by encouraging them to mobilize to a fake location!

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3767507_t.png]

    Strength: Hidden deployment, ability to reduce opponent's draw pile.
    Weakness: Poor Morale to Strength ratio.

    When an Agent card is played face down to a location, the opponent doesn't know if that is a 0-Strength unit, 2-Strength unit, or a 4-Strength unit until resolution. Armed with these hidden units, the Agents are adept at concealing their objective for the current round. Not only will the opponent be kept guessing the Agent's battle location, but they also won't know whether the Agents are even trying to win the current round or not!

    This trait allows the Agents to draw their opponents into continuing to play cards even when they have given up on the round. Since the faction draw pile is not reshuffled once it's depleted, the Agent's opponent is faced with the dilemma of conserving cards versus playing enough cards to secure a win. By using their stealth to tell an enticing "story", the Agents can leverage this uncertainty to trick the opponent into overplaying or underplaying faction cards.

    However, the Agents should be wary of playing too many cards themselves. With the worst Morale to Strength ratio out of all the factions, the Agents must pick their fights with great precision, while using their stealth to put their opponent in a precarious situation.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3767508_t.png]

    Strength: High strength towers, high stake commitment.
    Weakness: Restrictive deployment.

    The Engineers have special placement rules for their two types of units: Towers and Engineers. An Engineer may be played to a location only if doing so does not exceed a capacity of 4, which means that they can be shut out from a location quite early in the round. A Tower, on the other hand, can ignore capacity requirement, even the default capacity restriction of 10. However, for each Tower played to a location, there must be a corresponding Engineer. Essentially, each Engineer at a location allows their faction to build a Tower at that location.

    This mechanism means that the Engineers are limited in their ability to respond to their opponent's maneuvers. In fact, they often don't bother and instead initiate the conflicts. By choosing the terms of engagement and forcing their opponents to come to them, the Engineers can use their static but high Strength Towers to overpower their opponent.

    When an Engineer is deployed to a location and their opponent does not immediately respond with a unit deployment to that location, a second Engineer can be deployed thereto. Two Engineers means two Towers, an overwhelming advantage if the location turns out to be a battle location! Essentially, the Engineers raise the stakes early and fast, immediately forcing their opponent into making a tough decision.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3767469_t.png]

    Strength: Dangerous even when deploying units to non-battle locations, ambush.
    Weakness: Morale intensive.

    While knowing the opponent's battle location is always useful, Tribe Wu relies less on attacking the opponent's battle location, and more on keeping their own battle location secret in order to spring a big "ambush".

    Central to Tribe Wu's strategy is the Prodigy, who has 7 Strength but must be played to a location determined by the opponent. To have any chance of their opponent mistakenly placing the Prodigy into a battle location, the Tribe Wu player must hide the identity of their battle location well!

    For Tribe Wu, playing units into non-battle locations might help force an eventual Prodigy into the correct battle location. This creates an unequal situation where Tribe Wu gains more utility by playing units into the "wrong" locations than other factions do. And this is how Tribe Wu's dual threat works. Are they pulling their opponent into playing units to the wrong locations, resulting in an advantage for them? Or are they actually playing into the correct location? With units of decent Strength at their disposal, Tribe Wu can fill up a battle location pretty quickly if their opponent doesn't react.

    A downside to these powerful units is how Morale intensive they are. If Tribe Wu is not careful, it can lose over 30 Morale — and the game — in a single round.

  • SPIEL '17 Preview: Sweet Honey, Bee Mine!, or Buzzing Down Your Opponents

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/697…ney-bee-mine-or-buzzing-d

    by W. Eric Martin

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3708221_t.png] Sweet Honey, Bee Mine!

    from designer Katsuya Kitano

    and publisher New Board Game Party

    plays out like an aggressive, in-your-face version of Thorsten Gimmler's classic card game No Thanks!

    In most rounds of the game, you will be presented with a face-down card. You must either place 1-3 tokens on the card to pass it along to the next player, or you can take the card for yourself, collecting all the tokens in the process to enrich your honey stores — unless you made a horrible choice, in which you collect no honey, instead pay out honey to a collective honeypot, then die. One sting is all you get. Bzzzt!

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782115_t.jpg]

    Deck breakdown

    The game features a "partridge" deck — one 1, two 2s, three 3s, up to ten 10s — with some of those cards featuring the word "LOW" or "HIGH" on the back of them. Cards numbered 6-10 are high, with 2-4 of the cards at each number bearing the word "HIGH", and the remaining 4-6 cards at each number having a blank back. As you might expect, cards numbered 1-5 are low, with only 1-2 of each number being marked as such.

    At the start of a round, everyone receives a hand of five cards, then each person reveals a card simultaneously, with the highest number played going first. This player chooses a card from their hand, places it face down, places 1-3 tokens on it from their personal stash (with everyone having 15 tokens to start), draws a replacement card, then passes this card clockwise. Each player faces the choose-or-pay-out decision described earlier, with the initial player of the card being forced to take it — along with a now much larger pile of tokens — should everyone else pass.

    Why would you not want to take a card? Because if you collect a second copy of a numbered card in your honeypot, then you die and are out of the round. Bzzt! As a penalty for being stung, you must place a number of tokens matching the number of the card that killed you in the center of the table. The sole player who wins the round collects this sweet, sweet pile built from the collective pain of other players.

    And how does someone win? Collect three different types of "low" bees, collect 35 or more points of bees in your honeypot, or be the last bee beeing because everyone else has been stung. Bzzt!

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782086_t.jpg]

    Playing the day before Tokyo Game Market

    Thus, Sweet Honey, Bee Mine!

    plays out with endless bluffing and taunts. Instead of the randomness of No Thanks!

    , in which players are presented with whatever card comes off the top of the deck, you are now confronted with a mystery card of the active player's choice, a card possibly made less mysterious — and more-or-less threatening — by the word "LOW" or "HIGH" written on its back. If the card reads "HIGH" and you have only low cards, then you can safely take the card and collect the tokens — but the active player probably placed only one token on the card since they knew you would take it, so maybe they're trying to target one of the other players with this particular card, or maybe they were trying to ditch a card that would kill them if it made it all the way around the table and you wouldn't mind seeing that

    happen. It will cost you only one token to pass the problem to someone else. So what do you do?

    In the end, you have only a binary result: You die and exit the round, or else you claim the card and the tokens on it, then you're on the hook as to which card you want to circle the table. Sometimes you want that position since you're happy to be in control and have the option to play a card that will likely kill someone or get back to you, but at other points you're happy to leave the driving to someone else. Let them fight it out!

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782117_t.jpg]

    Even the inside of the box is golden — honey everywhere!

    The ability to choose how many tokens you place on a card when you first send it out is a nice sweetener for being in that position, another lever to bend people in contortions as they try to figure out whether or not to take the card. If they pass, they have to place the same number of tokens on the card as you, so do you make the cost cheap to extort them slowly or make it high to take more of their tokens or convince someone late in the player order to take a card that would have killed you?

    No right answer exists; as with many such bluffing games, the choices all depend on those at the table, what their personalities are like, how much you trash talk one another, and (yes, this is important) the face-up cards everyone has in their honeypots.

    A few of the card have special powers to account for their minimal presence in the deck: If you catch a 2 or 3 bee, then you must discard a card, giving you only three cards in hand for the remainder of the round. If you catch the 1 and are later ejected from the round, you must pay double the normal penalty. The 1 is a safe catch, after all, and one-third of the way to a victory condition, so catching it must have consequences!

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782120_t.jpg]

    Beelines with funky indexing

    I've played Sweet Honey, Bee Mine!

    twice on a review copy from New Board Game Party, once each with four and five players, and in many ways the spirit of the game mirrors that of the TimeBomb

    titles from the same publisher (most recently TimeBomb Evolution

    , for which I wrote an overview

    recently) — not because of similarities in the gameplay, but because of the feelings generated during play, namely who can you trust.

    In TimeBomb

    and its sequel games, you want to find your partner(s) during play so that you can figure out whose information you can trust so that you know how you can use that information to your advantage. You don't have any partners in Sweet Honey, Bee Mine!

    , but you're still watching to see what players do, then how that relates to the hidden info they put into play. Admittedly the choices are binary (take a card or don't) and might boil down to a crapshoot (since a player can't choose to play a card they don't have in hand), and one mistake might put you out of a round, but being out isn't all bad. After paying a penalty, you score whatever tokens you hold at the end of the round, and whoever has the most points after a predetermined number of rounds wins. Thus, losing isn't the end for you because if you manage to stay in the round but keep making bad choices, you could be bled dry, then still die before the end.

    The artwork falls somewhere on the line between cute and disturbing, with that line wrapping around to meet its own tail, so you might find yourself falling into both camps, as was the case with multiple players in my games. Most disturbing of all, though, is what awaits you if you make a fatal choice...

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782122_t.jpg]

    Flip the deck breakdown card in front of a player when they die — bzzt!
  • Publisher Diary: Nomads, or From Jeju to Luma

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/697…diary-nomads-or-jeju-luma

    by Anne-Cécile Lefebvre

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3017290_t.jpg]

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3717815_t.png] The Beginning

    In June 2016, Cédric, Ian, and I — the three who comprise the Ludonaute

    team — first played Jeju Island

    , a game published by our Korean partner Happy Baobab

    in 2015.

    We immediately felt in love with the mechanisms and the smart style of the game, which was designed by Gary Kim

    , Jun-Hyup Kim, and Yeon-Min Jung. It is an easy to learn and very interactive game, mainly intended for families and children, about traveling around Jeju Island — the most beautiful island in Korea — and gathering specialty items. The mechanisms are based on awalé games and are very smart. The art is cute and charming, very Korean-style.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic2703986_t.jpg]

    At this time, we were starting to set up The Legends of Luma

    world and game line. The idea of this collection is to tell a big story through a series of games, with the same characters appearing throughout. We have six heroes (Moon, Lys, Siana, Red, Nostromo and Ulrich) who explore a new fantasy world, trying to figure out why they have been sent there. We had a story and a world, and we were looking for games that could be integrated into the collection.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3555112_t.png]

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3335920_t.jpg]We had the first game of the collection: Oh Captain!

    , which covers the arrival of our heroes on Luma's world. Oh Captain!

    is a bluffing game, fun and chaotic. We were looking for a more peaceful and quiet game to tell the story of their journey with the Nomads through the mountains of Luma. Play Jeju

    , to use another of the game's names, seemed to meet the main criteria we had for the range: a duration of less than one hour, not too many components, and easy to play.

    But of course we couldn't just change the title. For the first time, Ludonaute worked on an adaptation of an already-published game. It has been a very interesting experience for us, and it's what I would like to tell you about in this post.

    Moving from Jeju Island to Luma: Changing the Theme

    We first thought that instead of traveling on Jeju Island, the players could travel on Luma. But the trip is circular in Play Jeju

    , whereas our heroes travel from Kokota to Wilango, two different places in Luma. Thus, the game board couldn't be a map of Luma. Despite finding another way to transform this game into Luma's world, you'll see that we did not completely give up this idea of traveling between locations.

    Since the six characters are traveling with nomads, we assume that at night they set up camp and gather around the fire. Well, that is the perfect place to tell stories and legends. What if they sat around a huge fire with different groups? The atmosphere of such a background fits perfectly with the kind of feelings we wanted to pass on in this game.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3777944_t.jpg]

    Thus, the Jeju tiles became Story tiles and the point cards that players try to claim with Jeju tiles became Legend cards that you capture through stories. The game now tells of an evening gathering with the nomads instead of a tourist trip on Jeju Island. The game's name would obviously become "Nomads".

    That was the easy part.

    Party of Six: Changing the Number of Players

    Since the "Legends of Luma" story has six characters, we first tried to increase the maximum number of players from four to six by simply adding 2x2 additional tokens and 40 tiles. Alas, this "simple" approach raised a big problem: The game became very chaotic with six players and lasted far too long, leading to them losing interest.

    Looking at the game again, we saw another approach. Play Jeju

    has one special object, the Harubang statue, which moves on the board and sometimes triggers a bonus effect. What if the Harubang statue could be represented by one of our characters? And if so, which one? Well, Lys, the old and noble woman of the party, is the most calm and impressive character. She stands up and supervises the evening.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782357_t.png]

    With Lys represented by the game itself, the other five characters would be player options, which meant that Nomads

    would be playable from two to five players. The gameplay, however, felt very different depending on the number of players. To prevent the gameplay changing this way, we tried to have different set-ups based on the player count, but doing so meant not only having different numbers of tiles, but also a different number of spots on the game board.

    In principle, this wouldn't be an issue. We have a fixed box size and shape for this line, which means we're limited in the size of the game board that we can include, but we puzzled things out to have double-sided game board pieces that could be assembled in different ways according to the number of players. In this way, we could have six, seven, or eight spots around the fire.

    The problem was that this set-up was complicated and laborious — which is not a good way to create an "easy to learn" game.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3779683_t.png]

    We then hit upon another idea that allowed us to make the set-up the same for every player configuration. The whole party travels with the nomads all the way through the story, so let's make all of the characters present for the storytelling in the game as well, but those characters who aren't being played have fallen asleep around the campfire. In game terms, the story tiles that they would collect are simply discarded. With this rule, the game lasts the same duration in any player configuration and has the same set-up. Elegant, isn't it?

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3779702_t.png]

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3779704_t.png]

    Less Chaos, More Tactics

    The goal of the game is to collect the appropriate tiles on the board in order to take point cards. To do so, on their turn, a player sows a stack of discs (that must contain one of their discs) on the various spots. After this move, every player who has a disc on the top of a stack collects the tile next to this stack, even during another player's turn.

    Collecting the tiles can be very tactical since you have to try to stay at the top of the stacks as often as possible, while burying your opponents' discs under yours or under the neutral discs. This is the part of the mechanisms we did not change.

    Regarding the point cards, in Play Jeju

    , they are revealed at random from the deck in a row of five cards, and you have no idea which card will be available next. Moreover, some cards have special effects such as refreshing all the point cards in play or acting as an everlasting Jeju tile. We felt that this part of the game could be frustrating. For the audience we aimed at with Nomads

    , we were looking for a little bit more control.

    The first change we made was to have all the point cards available at the beginning of the game for all the players so that you know exactly what is available and when. This engages a race between the players.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3777988_t.jpg]

    In Play Jeju

    , the point cards require you to discard different

    tiles to claim them, and it was difficult to have a big picture of which tile would be of most interest for you at which moment in the game. What's more, because some point cards had joker spaces that could be satisfied by any tile, sometimes getting one tile or another did not matter, which seemed a pity.

    So we changed the requirements of the point cards into identical tiles, with the option of upgrading a card worth few points into a higher point card during the game. This brought more choices to players: Should I get this low point card now before another player gets it, or should I wait to have more tiles of this type to get a higher point card, even if I am not sure that I can collect enough tiles?

    Moreover, by creating legend tiles this way, we were able to have continuous legends with a beginning, a middle, and an end. We could really tell stories with the cards, so that is what we did.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782359_t.png]

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782379_t.png]

    The third change was to split point cards and special effect cards in order to create a dilemma over which to acquire, but this change created a pattern in the gameplay that was not so good; players simply took the effect cards during the first part of the game, then the point cards during the second part. Thus, we decided to have only point cards (songs and legends) and to instead place the special effects on the character cards.

    Tension and Competition

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3779693_t.png]Scoring in Play Jeju

    is nice and encouraging. At the end of the game, you count your point cards and every pair of remaining tiles.

    We wanted to prevent players from collecting as many tiles as possible without thinking through a strategy, so we imposed a penalty of one negative point per remaining tile at the end of the game. This may seem nasty, but in fact it increased the competition and the tension at the end of the game — and we liked this change of mood in the game flow. At a certain point, players suddenly try not to get too many tiles. There is now a twist, and they play the movement phase differently from the beginning of the game.

    We wanted to introduce progress into the game. Of course the tiles that disappear and the race for the point cards give the game a smooth progression, but we felt like the game was made of two parts: before and after the twist. Then came the idea of having this twist several times during the game. What if we do not attend one evening gathering, but several? After all, the journey of the characters from Kokota to Wilango lasts dozens of days, months even.

    So we introduced new tiles, moon tiles that are now scattered among the story tiles. When four moon tiles have appeared, it's now the time of the full moon. Our characters do not change into werewolves, but rather they review their situation. There is an intermediary scoring that implies you can't afford to get behind with the legend cards too long. This new game rule brings a lot of tension and offers you choices.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3779706_t.png] The Cherry on the Cake

    In Nomads

    , players are the heroes of Luma: Moon, Lys, Siana, Red, Nostromo and Ulrich. Each of them has their own personality, and we wanted to show this in every game of the collection. That means that a special ability for each character would be welcome.

    For a long time during game development, the "special effects" were available via some of the point cards. At one moment, it seemed obvious that these special effects should be the special abilities of the characters. Thus, these effect cards became song cards, the only cards in the game that you can now acquire by discarding different tiles instead of identical ones. The game includes only four song cards, and each player can acquire only one. You might not want to get one too early in the game because they are worth less than the legend cards, but if you wait too long, you'll collect only a less valuable one or even none at all, which might leave you stuck with leftover tiles.

    As for the special effects, it was easy to assign an effect to each character of the story:

    • Nostromo has an extra disc: his pet frog.

    • Siana is an acrobat, so she can jump over a spot.

    • Red is a small boy, so he slips between the other characters.

    • Ulrich is slow and heavy, so he can drop two discs at the same time.

    • Moon is Lys' daughter, so she gets the bonus of the Lys token more easily than the others.

    To conclude, after a year of playtests and design sessions, we are giving Play Jeju

    not a twin, but a brother: Nomads

    . Both come from the same family but they have quite different personalities. We thank Gary Kim a lot for his help and his kindness.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3779707_t.png]

    I think you did a really good job.
    I like Play Jeju, but also like Nomads.
    They have their own fun points!
    Thanks to all of your efforts for this lovely game!
    —Gary Kim

  • SPIEL '17 Preview: Arkham Noir: Case #1 – The Witch Cult Murders, or Crafting a Cthulhu-Free Case

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/697…oir-case-1-witch-cult-mur

    by W. Eric Martin

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3601472_t.jpg]H.P. Lovecraft's work has been stripmined repeatedly by game designers and publishers around the world, and why not since the stories are rich with atmosphere, can be applied to numerous types of games, and require no royalty payments to be made for use of the work.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3783249_t.jpg]

    Don't answer it

    Designer Yves Tourigny

    has decided to reframe these stories as noir detective tales featuring Howard Lovecraft in the lead role for a series of solitaire games suitably titled Arkham Noir

    . Tourigny has self-published two of these games — The Real Leeds

    and The King in Yellow

    — and Spanish publisher Ludonova

    is bringing a third case to market as Arkham Noir: Case #1 – The Witch Cult Murders


    In the game, you are confronted with a handful of victims, and you must create multiple chains of clues that lead you from their cold corpses to the discovery of puzzle pieces that will allow you to solve these cases. Your opponents in these efforts are time and your own well-being. Once five units of time pass, another victim appears on the scene; after five victims, you get to be victim #6, thus ending the game. When you encounter certain clues in the game, you're called upon to perform stability checks, and should you fail five of those, then your mind takes a vacation.

    The set-up takes a bit of finagling to get everything in the right place, but the player aid cards include lots of directions and reminders that assist during play, and they also help you monitoring the progress on each victim's case.

    In the game, you're confronted with two victim cases right off the bat, along with a line of five clues and a hand of three clues. Each clue is one of six types, and most clues have a mandatory (in black) or voluntary (in brown) action depicted on them. On a turn, you pick up the first clue card in the line, then you do something with it:

    • Play it onto an open victim case.

    • Take it in hand, then if you hold more than three cards, discard a card.

    • Discard it.

    • Discard it, then play a clue card from your hand to an open case.

    • Discard it, then close a case.

    You might notice lots of discarding mentioned above. Whenever you discard a card for any reason

    that bears an hourglass in the lower-right corner, you must place it in the time area; at the end of your turn, if you have five or more cards in this area, you place them all in the discard pile, then add a new victim to your caseload. Only five victims are available, so don't dawdle! (I'm not sure how you know that the supply of victims is limited, but perhaps someone wrote a threat backwards inside your bathroom mirror. Let's say it was that.)

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3783247_t.jpg]

    Sample line-up at the start of play

    To play a clue onto a case, the symbol on the left-hand edge of the new clue card must be present on the right-hand edge of the rightmost card in that victim's case. You're following the clues, right? An interview with someone leads to a strange object, then you research that object to find an otherworldly location, and so forth. Some clues have "any" on their left edge, so thankfully you can always enter an alley or discover a fetid odor.

    Some cards have a large "3" on them, and you can place these cards only if at least three clue cards are already in the case. Other cards have locks on them, and these can be placed on a case only if you have an unused key in the line — and while you might wonder why you're bothering with locks when you're trying to solve a murder, the lock cards are the only ones with the puzzle pieces, and you need those pieces to win.

    But getting the keys to then open the locks and find the pieces is not enough! You must actually close a case in order to make progress. After all, no one will believe your wild rantings about a crime victim unless you've actually closed the case. To do this, however, you need to have at least five clue types in the case (to cover every possible objection to your detecting efforts, I presume); what's more, you can score the puzzle pieces only if doing so would not leave you with fewer than five clue types. In other words, you can find the puzzle pieces only while working on a case, but the clue types of puzzle pieces can't the grounds on which your case rests.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3783242_t.jpg]

    Sample clue cards

    The game includes only six types of clues, and two of them appear only half as often as others, so you want to track them closely — but the clues are being presented to you in a random order, of course, so it will take lots of diligence to (a) match the icons on the cards while (b) putting together a full set of clues and (c) duplicating the clue types of the puzzle pieces so that you can score them and (d) suffering under the strain of long investigations. Oh, yes, the longer a case goes on, the more your mind starts going to pieces. In game terms, for each clue card you add to a case after the seventh, you must undergo a stability check, something mentioned way back in paragraph #3 that will add to your woes now.

    Each time you add a clue card to a case, you must undertake any mandatory actions on it, with these being to discard a card from your hand or the face-up clue line (losing time along the way should they bear an hourglass) or to undergo a stability check. To do this, reveal the top card of the clue deck and look for a silhouetted detective in anguishing pain. That's you, losing your mind. If you find one of these, place it out of play in the stability area. If it lacks this icon, it might still have an hourglass, so you can still suffer in a less painful way.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3783244_t.jpg]

    Deck breakdown and icon explanation

    Voluntary actions are plentiful, and they typically involve you taking a card from somewhere — the discard pile, the time zone, the stability area, a closed case — and adding it to your hand. While this sounds beneficial (and often is), if you have a full hand, then you must discard a card to do this, possibly costing you time, and even if it doesn't, you'll have to discover a clue card anyway to use a card in your hand, and that

    might cost you time instead. Nothing is good for you, and everything causes you to suffer, and that's precisely what Tourigny wants.

    I've played The Witch Cult Murders

    three times on a review copy from Ludonova, and I think I won once, but I probably goofed along the way. The gameplay seems relatively simple — take the first clue card in the line, then do something — yet the possibilities multiply like tentacles in the oven, with you from the first turn staring at two victims (each with two icons) and three clue cards in hand (with at least two icons on each) and five clue cards in a line (again, icons), with you trying to find a way to get keys into a case (should any be visible) so that locks can follow (and you always seem to get locks first) while also having at least five clue types in a case while not having cases go on too long since you have stability checks and (I haven't mentioned this yet) all cards in a closed case are removed from the game. Yes, that's the topper. Not only must you double up on clues in order to grab the puzzle pieces, but all those non-puzzle cards are out of play — and any time that the clue deck runs out, you must shuffle all the discards, then add a new victim to your caseload.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3783240_t.jpg]

    More clue cards

    Oh, and to win five puzzle pieces alone aren't enough; you must have five puzzle pieces bearing five different types of clues

    . (I had overlooked this detail earlier, so that's likely why my win needs an asterisk.)

    With nearly every clue played, your stability and time management is being challenged, and when they aren't, you're trying to figure out all the iterations of how cards could be played should you take this or that voluntary action. It's enough to drive someone mad, I tells ya!

  • Designer Diary: Launching the Exodus Fleet

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/697…ry-launching-exodus-fleet

    by Gabriel Cohn

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3720648_t.png] Exodus Fleet

    is my baby. It's the first real game I designed, and I absolutely love it.

    Now, of course, I've already lied. Exodus Fleet

    wasn't really my first game. Robbery!

    was. (Yes, it had an exclamation point.) I made that game 22 years ago as a junior in high school. My friends and I spent days creating stacks of cards and chits and a giant board, played the game once, decided it was awful, and chucked it on a shelf.

    Upon moving to North Carolina in 2009 and finding I had lots of alone-time in my new environment, and having rediscovered my love of games over my previous five years of living in the SF Bay Area — thanks to Ira Fay

    , who also happens to be the main co-designer of Robbery!

    — I decided to pull Robbery!

    down from the shelf (yes, it still bore the exclamation point after a dozen years) and try to make it a "playable" game. This was a reasonably low bar, and it let me practice some of the basics of game design. I got it to a playable state, but it wasn't moving me…

    That's when I set out to make a game that I would want to play. Thus began the journey of the Exodus Fleet


    From the start, I knew I wanted to meet a few clear goals:

    (1) It had to be fun

    . I mean, I wanted it to be so fun that I would want to play it over and over. I'm not someone who buys a ton of games, so I aim for games with a lot of replayability.

    (2) I wanted a smooth integration of theme and mechanisms

    . There needs to be some degree of logic in how player actions represent something in the "real world" of the game.

    (3) I wanted a high degree of player interaction

    . In other words, players' actions need to impact each other.

    Of course, having considered these goals, I had to take them on in reverse order.

    My first hurdle was to figure out how I would keep everyone involved. A few of my favorite games sprang to mind, and I liberally grabbed ideas. Most importantly, I latched onto the ideas of role selection and auctions as methods to keep everyone involved all the time, but rather than just having one or the other, why not both? Thus, Exodus Fleet

    features role selection, in which one player chooses the phase everyone will be involved in, and auctions, with everyone bidding on how much they want to perform that action. Players are constantly tracking each other's needs and goals so that they can outsmart each other in the flow of the game from one action to the next.

    Player interaction — solved! I'm really proud that Exodus Fleet

    manages to keep every player involved in every moment of the game.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782085_t.jpg]

    A few of the ships available for purchase in a typical game.
    (Can I say that I love the way the art turned out? I guess I just said it...)

    But a game is more than just mechanisms. From the start, I was working with a vision for the world of the game. Exodus Fleet

    is set in the future. It's a grim world, one in which humanity's best hope is to escape from Earth. (In fact, the original name of the game was "Leaving Earth" — not to be confused with Joe Fatula

    's game that beat mine to the punch. Oops.) Players take on the role of the leaders of a fleet of ships setting off to explore the galaxy, and they want to take as many people with them as possible.

    From this nugget of an idea, I began tweaking the mechanisms to fit the story of the game. Eventually, the game boiled down to five actions that one can take: gather income, mine planets for resources, use those resources to build more ships, transport people off Earth, and explore deep space. Except for income, each of these actions requires hiring people within the fleet — miners, builders, transporters, or explorers — and that's where the role selection and auctions come in.

    Theme and mechanisms united — check! Yup, this part of the process came off smoothly. The actions make sense in the world of the game. If you want to mine, you need to hire miners. To do that, you need to outbid your opponents, and when you hire them, you have to have somewhere to store your resources. Did I mention that each ship has a limited amount of storage capacity? That's another factor to take into account as you look around the table.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782083_t.jpg]

    A standard array of planets displayed on the central board

    As I said, one of my main markers for whether a game is fun is the level of replayability. Exodus Fleet

    definitely packs a punch there. The game features ten different possible starting Command Ships, two different decks of ships that can be built, and a whole bunch of Explorer Cards that can range from occasionally useful to game-changing. Some of the most significant decisions lie in how you build up your fleet: Will you pick ships within one faction, which synergize for more points, or ones that work together to increase the power of particular actions? The random order in which ships are presented for purchase means that players have to reconsider their strategies from game to game. That was a strong point of the game from day one, and something that players seemed to universally enjoy.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3781038_t.jpg]

    One of the player boards for a four-player game

    At this point, all of my base game concepts were working smoothly, but alas, I had to make the game fun FOR EVERYONE, EVERY TIME. And that…well, it was more of a struggle. (Apologies to my early playtesters, especially my most frequent one, my wife.) Initial versions of the game were fun for many of the players, and I was quite happy with it, but as I watched with a better and better eye over time — remember, this was my first real attempt at game design — I realized that what many reported as fun, others experienced as misery. It all came down to how the role selection and auctions mixed. (Yes, for those of you creeped out by bidding games, this is the part where I make it a bit less daunting.)

    In the earliest versions of the game, players were forced to place face-down bids simultaneously on six different areas. One of those bids — for the "Fleet Admiral" position — gave players the right to control the order in which the other bids happened. (Imagine bidding on the Governor card in Puerto Rico

    , more or less.) This could make your day or ruin it.

    There was definitely a thrill to this version of the game, but there were a number of players who would bid a lot to become the Fleet Admiral and fail, basically ruining the rest of their round, and often their game. They would still report that they enjoyed some things about the game, but I could see that they were often checked out by the time the game ended.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782080_t.jpg]

    A mid-game set-up from what I first showed publishers at Gen Con 2011;
    I can't believe anyone showed interest in it back then!

    The auctions needed a fresh approach. First, the Fleet Admiral bidding had to go; players now rotate making decisions on phases. Eventually, the idea that all the phases needed to happen in any sort of particular order fell by the wayside, too. Players can now freely pick any of the actions when it's their turn to choose, with the exception that they can't pick the one that just happened. This frees up so much space to explore different ways to play the game that I'm shocked I didn't come up with it earlier. Some games can be income heavy, others feature a ton of exploring, but all of them feature this element: You have to pay attention to the other players. Anticipating their moves by studying the flow of actions around the table is one of the keys to winning.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782088_t.jpg]

    Explorer Cards that can
    provide hidden advantages

    And bidding! The bidding had to be solved. Bidding on six different things at once was out, but even so, placing blind face-down bids could be too chaotic for players who had trouble reading the intentions of their opponents.

    Eventually, I hit on a much simpler method: Bids are now placed face-up, one at a time, going once around the table. This solution creates interesting decisions for players to engage in, especially as positional play becomes important. For each of the actions, the lowest bidder is automatically excluded from participating. (They get their money back, plus a small consolation prize.) This means that the first player to bid plays a large part in setting the "over-under" bar around which other players base their decisions.

    What's more, this player is also going to choose which action to pursue next. There's lots of opportunities to use this to your advantage; an overwhelming bid can get you into the current action AND you get to choose the next one, or a bid that's right at the pain point of your opponents can force them to drain their reserves, setting you up for an uncontested action on the next phase. In the end, this new form of bidding and the freedom to choose among any of the actions creates a dynamic game in which every decision you make impacts the play of those around you.

    Finally, mission accomplished — a fun game! I'm excited for people around the world to be able to play it. I learned a lot along the way, but in the end, I'm just happy that I managed to make a game that keeps players so intensely invested in every moment of the game from start to finish and can be played repeatedly for years to come. (Really. I recently played Exodus Fleet

    eight times in a 24-hour period, all with new players, and several of them joined in multiple times.) I hope you enjoy the game, and I look forward to hearing the chatter about it as it hits the table at SPIEL '17 and beyond. Thanks for reading!

    Gabriel J. Cohn

    P.S.: I'm sad I won't be at SPIEL for the release — teaching doesn't allow for much time off — but I hope y'all will hit me up for a game at BGG.CON this year!

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3782075_t.jpg]

    A game at Pacificon 2017
  • SPIEL '17 Preview: HATSUDEN, or Energizing Found Cities

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/698…-or-energizing-found-citi

    by W. Eric Martin

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3575446_t.jpg]I try to avoid reading or watching reviews of games that I want to play. I prefer to approach such a game with a blank slate — beyond whatever info or description inspired me to want to play the game in the first place! — because I want to develop my own opinions about a game instead of seeing it through a frame that someone else has already constructed.

    I take this same approach for books and movies, and it's served me well. Seeing both Inception

    and Interstellar

    in the theater, for example, while knowing nothing about the movies other than the director (which is what placed the movie on my "must watch" list) was ideal. Watching the trailers for these movies afterward confirmed the rightness of my approach because I would have hated to have been primed with the material included in them.

    (I realize that including this preface in a detailed preview of a game might be contradictory, but if you were like me, then you wouldn't be reading this preview anyway!)

    Sometimes, though, you can't help seeing comments about a game, and a single line might be all it takes to put that frame in place. With HATSUDEN

    , for example, a two-player card game from Naotaka Shimamoto

    and Yoshiaki Tomioka

    that was released by itten

    and New Games Order

    at Tokyo Game Market in May 2017, I saw a couple of people refer to the game as playing like Reiner Knizia's Lost Cities

    . Boom — frame established!

    When I finally got around to reading the rules of the copy I had purchased at TGM, I didn't see the connection. Sure, you're playing cards in five different columns based on the symbols on them, but that seemed like a weak link.

    Then I actually played the game, and after completing three games with the same opponent, the connection was clear. What's more, without prompting, after the game my opponent said, "That kind of felt like Lost Cities

    , didn't it?"

    So what's going on in the game to make that link? In the game, you're competing to provide more renewable energy in five types than the opponent is, while also supplying your two cities with exactly as much power as they need. Provide too little, and you're penalized at the end of the game; provide too much, and you'll have to take a power source offline so as not to blow the city's transformers, which might then put you behind the opponent in a particular energy type.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3784146_t.jpg]

    Set up for play, aside from having my cards revealed

    To set up, you lay out the five energy cards to indicate where the columns will be, give each player two cities (to show where you'll place your own cards), shuffle the four technology cards, then give each player a random hand of five cards. Cards are numbered 1-4 in the five energy types, and each number appears twice. On a turn, you play one card from hand in one of four ways:

    • Place a card face up in an empty space in the column that matches the symbol on the card.

    • Upgrade an existing card by playing a card on top of it that has the same symbol, but a higher number.

    • Place a card face down in a space as a pylon; this pylon supplies no energy, can never be upgraded, and serves only to fill one of the ten spaces on your side of the playing area.

    • Discard a card face up from play.

    At the end of your turn, draw a new card to bring your hand to five, whether from the top of the deck or any discarded card of your choice.

    In Lost Cities

    , you don't compete directly with the opponent when laying down cards and attempting to build profitable expeditions. You build yours, and they build theirs, and at the end of the game you both tally your points to see who wins. However, a large part of the tension in the game comes from you not knowing which eight cards the opponent holds. You might have two great cards to start a particular expedition, but what if the high value cards of that color are in the opponent's hands? You could be setting yourself up for failure and left scrambling for enough cards just to cover your sunk costs.

    What if the opponent has already started an expedition and you have a single middle-value card of that color? You don't want to discard the card because they'll pick it up and profit from it, yet you might not want to play it either because you're both cutting off the chance to play low-value cards and risking being stranded if they hold the goods. What to do, what to do?

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3784144_t.jpg]

    Great minimalist design

    This tension is what HATSUDEN

    shares with Lost Cities

    . Once you commit cards to both slots in a particular type of energy, your opponent knows what they need to tie or surpass you. Yes, you can upgrade those slots to larger numbers, but by doing so, you're giving up the opportunity to build something else.

    What's worse, each time you place a card in a row, you need to sum all the cards in that row. If the value is 12 or higher, then you must convert one or more face-up cards in that row into pylons so as not to overload the city. Did you just lose a majority somewhere else to gain one here? Possibly, but sometimes you are able to flip down a card that you don't need for a majority because the opponent has already committed in that type of energy and you're holding the sole card that they could use to overtake you. In addition, aside from fighting for majorities, you want the power for each city to sum to ten. Sums of 9 and 11 are also valid and don't cost you points at the end of the game (whereas a sum of 8 or under costs you 1 point), but if a city's power does sum to 10 at game's end, then you score 1 point for it.

    A point here, a point there — it doesn't sound like much, but you will likely score at most 5 points in the game overall, so every point matters.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3784145_t.jpg]

    Iconic technology cards

    Another minor similar to Lost Cities

    comes from HATSUDEN

    's technology cards. In Lost Cities

    , each color has handshake cards that can double, triple, or quadruple the value of an expedition, but they can be played only before any number cards for that expedition have been laid down. In essence, you have to increase your risk before being sure that the effort will pay off (although sometimes you already have the cards you need in hand).


    has four special technology cards, and when you play a 4 of any type of energy, you draw one of the cards at random from the tiny deck and add it to your hand. One card ("Smart") must be played immediately, and it doubles the value of that type of energy at game's end, making it worth 2 points instead of 1. The other cards stay in your hand until you want to play them: One lets you play an energy card face down so that the opponent doesn't know your strength in that type of energy; another lets you have up to 12 energy in a city, giving you more leeway to overpower the opponent in one or two columns; and another lets you downgrade a power plant. This last card is great because sometimes you lock in a type of energy early, then the opponent uses it to bury cards as pylons or otherwise cede it to you — yet because you played high cards in that column, you have less freedom due to the city limits to play cards elsewhere. Downgrading a 4 to a 1 opens up more room for plays elsewhere.

    All of these technology cards are good, but to get them, you have to commit to an energy by laying down a 4, which locks out opportunities elsewhere.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3784147_t.jpg]

    The final point of connection between Lost Cities

    and HATSUDEN

    is the endgame. In Lost Cities

    , the game ends when the deck runs out, so you're often in the position of wanting to delay the game to play more of the cards in hand (so you pick up discarded cards instead of drawing from the deck) or you're trying to run out the clock to stuff the opponent and possibly draw cards that they might need.


    , once a player fills all ten spaces on their side of the board, the opponent gets one more turn, then you score points, with each 10-power city being worth 1 point and the majority in an energy type being worth 1 point (unless something is doubled). That clock in the form of your opponent's board is staring you in the face all game, and you need to keep watching it so that you don't find yourself stuck with good cards that would

    have helped you, but...whoopsy daisy, you lost, lost in the cities...

  • Printing Your SPIEL '17 Picks

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/698…nting-your-spiel-17-picks

    by W. Eric Martin

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic1068166_t.png]BGG's SPIEL '17 Preview

    is nearing one thousand listings, and given that I'll be updating the preview for one more week — and that my inbox has recently been hit with plenty of late submissions — I'm sure that we'll pass that total before SPIEL '17 opens on Thursday, October 26.

    Scott has updated the preview with an export function that generates a CSV list of whatever you're looking at. To get a concise list of your picks, use the prioritization buttons as you like, sort the list as you like, then use the filters to see only what you like, then export the list and print it.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3784156_t.png]

    I hope you've been enjoying all the designer diaries and game previews that I've been running. If so, you'll enjoy what's coming next week as I'm doing more of the same in order to give you an advance look at as many SPIEL '17 releases if possible. If not, well, I invite you to watch this fascinating video that demonstrates an unusual painting technique:

    Youtube Video
  • Designer Diary: HUNGER: The Show

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/65604/designer-diary-hunger-show

    by Michał Ozon

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3532789_t.jpg] Hello, everyone! We at PHALANX fell in love with

    HUNGER: The Show from the first play. This fast-paced family/filler game with a catchy story and rich player interaction debuted at the UK Games Expo in June 2017 ahead of being featured at SPIEL '17 in October, and I have asked Pim Thunborg to write a few words about the design and publishing process from the author's perspective. I hope this may be inspiring for all of you who dream about publishing their first board game!



    As a board game designer, you often get struck by game ideas many times a day. You see a game mechanism that maybe you can build a game around, or a real life happening that you think can be remodeled into a board game. From that start, it often takes months or years before you have a core game ready. Of course, some of the starting ideas may still be part of the game, but a lot has changed.

    None of this was true for HUNGER


    The main idea for HUNGER

    came right out of the blue. In just one thought, 90% of what is still the core mechanism and the game was clear. This is absolutely unique and maybe a part of why this game has been so highly appreciated by the playtesters. It was right from the start.

    But of course, there is a lot of testing and remaking to make a great game. This will be shown in this board game diary.

    2015-03-21: A New Game Is Born

    I had worked for over a year on a board game that I still haven't finished — then the idea hit me: a game on a desolate island where you have to predict what the other players will do to be successful. Simultaneous actions. No tactic is stronger than another. No advanced rules. No downtime. The game was born.

    My first working name for the game was the inappropriate "HYSTD — I hope you starve to death", which I already knew was soon going to be changed.

    2015-03-23: The First Artwork

    After two days, my first artwork and the rules were finished. All I needed was some free clip art, and I had a start.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562486_t.jpg]

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562487_t.jpg]

    The first card artwork, showing the action and the areas

    2015-03-24: Working Process

    The following month was full of playtesting and mathematical Excel sheets. I think I wrote nine versions of the rules in the first month, mostly to balance the amount of food a player should start with versus the food you got when you collected food or stole from the other players. From the beginning, the game was solely about being the player who survived the longest, that is, being the last player who still had food.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562488_t.jpg]

    The first prototype of HUNGER

    2015-04-04: A New Name

    I scrapped the initial name I had, and the new name was no less than "HUNGER", which remained the name of the game.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562489_t.jpg]

    The name was born

    2015-05-24: LinCon Board Game Convention

    I visited one of the bigger board game conventions in Sweden: LinCon

    . The game was something of a success from the start, and a lot of players liked it because the gameplay was fast and smooth and the game mechanism was intuitive. One skilled illustrator, Patrik Hultén, liked the game so much that he promised to illustrate some new art for the game. After the convention, I felt that I really had something going here. Maybe I had the hit I had always dreamt about.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562490_t.jpg]

    Playtesters at LinCon 2015; illustrator Patrik Hultén is on the right

    2015-07: New Artwork

    Patrik Hultén illustrated new artwork for the cards that truly lifted the game. You shouldn't underestimate the importance of a good-looking game. The first impression is important, even if you are only trying to impress a publisher or test players.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562491_t.jpg]

    New artwork for the actions: hunt, collect fruits, fish, guard, and steal

    2015-08-12: Making Contacts for SPIEL

    I was convinced that I had a game that was good enough for publishers to want to publish, so I contacted some publishers before SPIEL and booked meetings with them.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562492_t.jpg]

    The info sheet that I sent out to land meetings

    2015-10-08: SPIEL in Essen

    I had mixed feelings after my six meetings at SPIEL. I got a lot of positive feedback, but no one wanted the game. They felt that something was missing. It was too streamlined, which I think is a rather uncommon problem in the world of board game design. Often, they have too many mechanisms, too many things going on, etc. But this time there weren't enough things going on. To play only not to starve was too morbid, and the game needed at least one more dimension.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562493_t.jpg]

    A little crowded at SPIEL

    2015-11: Thinking and Not Enough Playtesting

    I was still convinced that I had a game that was something special. I just had to kick it up to the next level. I started to try a lot of new mechanisms. Here are some of the ideas:

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562495_t.jpg]

    Building pacts: Failure

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562496_t.jpg]

    Make the game last three rounds and try to build a raft during this time: Failure

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562497_t.jpg]

    Add coconuts if an action failed: Success (and still in the game)


    During the period of experimentation, I also sent the game out to publishers, which afterwards I regretted. The game was not stable, and I should have playtested it more before sending it out. From being too streamlined, it got too complicated. The smooth play experience was lost, and that was the most important part to save to get the game really good. You can't add mechanisms that slow down a fast-paced game because that ruins the game.

    After a lot of thinking and more playtesting, we got back to the core and added a new action that didn't impact the fast pace but still gave more dimension to the game. We added the raft. Instead of playing until just one player has any food left, a player can also win by building a raft. We had to take away something, and the fishing action was the one that got removed. Finally, we had found something that saved the fast-paced feeling but still added a new dimension. The game and I got new life.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562498_t.jpg]

    New action: looking for raft pieces

    2016-05-04: LinCon Again

    For this convention, I arranged the first Swedish championship for HUNGER

    . (It was also the first ever HUNGER

    tournament, but why not make it the Swedish championship?) Again, I got very positive feedback from the playtesters and I felt that I had finally got it. Patrik Hultén also did some complimentary illustration with the tokens, etc. I did more adjustments after the feedback and was proud of what HUNGER had become.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562500_t.jpg]

    The first and hopefully not last Swedish championship for HUNGER

    2016-06-06: Contacting Publishers

    Now it's time to show some numbers of the work so far, and I want to point out that this is a simple game:

    • 38 versions of the rules

    • 4 bigger changes to the game mechanism and core mechanism

    • 142 different versions of the sets of cards, tokens, and game board

    • Hundreds of mails

    • 2 journeys to Essen and 6 conventions in Sweden for playtesting

    • Many, many, many hours of cutting prototypes

    I felt ready to contact more publishers and sent this message:

    Hi, my name is Pim and I want to show you my game Hunger.

    Hunger is a fantastic family game or a perfect filler game. For 2-6 players ▪ Ages 7 and above ▪ 20 minutes. After a few years of developing I have made something I'm proud of, and I really want to share with you. I hope you will enjoy it.

    The story: You are stranded on a desolate isle, unfortunately not with your best friends. Your goal is to build a raft and get as far away from the island as possible. And you really don't care what happens to the others as long as you get furthest away from the island. But you need to find wood and rope to build the raft, and collect food to stay alive. You have a few tins of food to start with, but you will soon be very hungry. You can collect fruit or hunt chickens to get more, or why not just borrow some from your friends, obviously without their permission.

    Mechanic: This is what makes the game so broadly appreciated both of gamers but also non-gamers, families and children. It's fun, fast, smooth and have no downtime, with a lot of player interactions. The players simultaneously choose what action they will do and on which area of the island they will do the action. It's somewhat similar to stone, scissor, and paper but with more depth. To success, the players have to predict what the other players will do, but it's not enough with that. To win you have to collect most parts for the raft, but if you put too much focus on that you will start to starve. So the player has to balance these two needs to success through the game. If you play a lot of games, the best player will win most of them, but in a single game, a 6 year old can beat anyone, which makes it fun for everyone.

    The unique: I have done a lot of playtesting with non-gamers, families and game groups and on conventions. And really, everybody likes it. It is a great game for everybody's bookshelf and I really believe that Hunger will be a hit.

    More information: The link will show both the rules, info-sheet and also a full complete P&P version, if you want to know what it looks likes. The other link is to my youtube site where you can look at an introduction to the game. You are also welcome to visit my website for more information.

    If you have any questions, want a prototype or want to meet me, you are welcome to contact me. I will come to Essen (2016-10-13 – 2016-10-16).

    2016-06-20: Yoo-hoo Moment

    Suddenly, a mail from PHALANX, the mail all game designers are waiting for:

    Dear Joakim,
    We like your game and want to publish Hunger! :)
    What are your business terms?

    2016-08-20: Contract

    Some more discussions and finally...

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562501_t.jpg]

    Happy me holding a board game contract

    2016-10-21: Changes in the Rules

    After a meeting with the publisher in Essen and a lot of mail discussions and after PHALANX's own playtesting, an illustrator is suggested. No less than Robert Adler

    . We discuss both big and small subjects about the game: Are we going to keep the theme or change it? The following themes were discussed: The Lost

    series, Robinson Crusoe, vampires, etc. In the end, PHALANX chose HUNGER: The Television Show.

    We also talked about changing game mechanisms like adding variable player powers, secret agendas, different scenarios, and a lot more.

    2017-02-01: BoardGameGeek

    Now was the time to submit the game to the BGG database. I had to submit myself as the designer as weell. There was also a first vision of the box.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562502_t.jpg]

    The nice game designer badge on BGG

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562504_t.jpg]

    First vision of the box

    2017-02-01: Making Retailers Interested

    The game was shown at the Spielwarenmesse Toy Fair in Nürnberg, Germany with good results. PHALANX also added two new rules after more playtesting:

    • Events that may bring the end of the game early from the 6th to the 11th round, while making a mess on the island. This works really great as players now have to work for both food and raft parts from the very beginning of the game.

    • Different player powers to create some differences between the characters.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3441327_t.jpg]

    Playtesting kit at the time

    2017-03-02: Box and Rules

    More artwork is coming up, along with discussion about the box and proofreading the rules and info text...

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3562507_t.jpg]

    Different box designs, none of which survived to the end


    I learned that the release would be at the UK Games Expo, which took place June 2-4, 2017. It felt so great that my game would finally be released.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3532790_t.jpg]

    The final concept

    2017-06-02: UK Games Expo

    Release party, with more to come!

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3601291_t.jpg]

    Thanks for reading!

    Pim Thunborg

  • Publisher Diary: ¡Adios Calavera!, or Days of the Dead Are Different in Mexico

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/669…avera-or-days-dead-are-di

    by Channing Jones

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3106615_t.jpg]

    Gauck (r)

    Joachim Gauck, who served as President of Germany from March 2012 to March 2017, has a strong connection to Martin Luther. After all, long before he became President, Gauck served as a Lutheran pastor in Rostock on the Baltic Sea.

    Even though his time as a pastor is far behind him, Joachim Gauck still has a connection to Martin Luther, so much so that when Luther: Das Spiel

    was published by KOSMOS in 2016, he was so pleased by the game that he invited the two authors, Erika and Martin Schlegel

    to Berlin to visit the Bellevue Palace. It was a great honor and a first as never before had a game author met with the Federal President.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3669822_t.jpg]

    From left: Erika Schlegel, Martin Schlegel, Joachim Gauck

    Games let us explore history and different cultures in all sorts of ways, with the games also taking a multitude of forms to match their subject matter. Martin Schlegel's newest game, for example, couldn't be more different than Luther: Das Spiel

    . ¡Adios Calavera!

    , to be released by German publisher Mücke Spiele

    at SPIEL '17, is a two-player-only game with few rules. This is Schlegel's third game with Mücke, following Atacama

    and Takamatsu


    From "Zócalo" to "¡Adios Calavera!"

    The game was originally called "Zócalo" because it took place on the huge square in the center of Mexico City, which is called Zócalo

    . Girls would form one team, boys the other, with each headed by a player and with each trying to make it across the square first, encountering those of the opposite sex in both friendly and less-than-friendly ways as they moved.

    While the game itself was well received, the theme was not convincing, so we looked for another one with Mexico as the place of action. The gameplay would also stay the same because it was fully developed and gave both players thirty exciting minutes of fun.

    The experienced graphic artist Christian Opperer suggested placing the game's action during "Dia de los Muertos", an annual celebration in Mexico. The first reaction to the idea of incorporating a memorial day for the dead into a game was horror and shock. A gloomy theme with dead skulls? This is not suitable for a game. However, as usual, whenever you learn more about a subject, it changes your opinion. The day of the dead in Mexico is not a mourning event, but a colorful folk festival in honor of the dead.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3669804_t.jpg]

    According to the old folk belief, the souls of the deceased return to their families in early November. Everywhere the memory of them is in the foreground. The streets are decorated with flowers, which are symbols of death and transience. Pastry shops produce the Calaveras de Dulce

    , which are skulls of sugar, chocolate, or marzipan. The Pan de Muerto, the dead bread, is another popular treat during these days, and during parades, calaveras — oversized skulls and full skeletons made of papier-mâché — are carried through the streets.

    After the souls of the deceased have been received in the homes on the night of November 2, a farewell to them takes place in the cemeteries, where there is eating, drinking, music and dancing. At midnight, the time has come to say good-bye, and the festival is over until the dead return next year.

    It's at this point in the story when ¡Adios Calavera!

    takes place: The living and the deceased must take leave of one another, going their separate ways until next year. You want to quickly reach the other side of the celebration area, while preventing others from leaving the farewell meeting first.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3669805_t.jpg]

    Powers to the People

    In the game, one player takes the role of the dead, the other the living. Each player has eight pieces and places them on the indicated positions of a roughly 9x9 board next to the starting edge of the opposing player. Players are thus not directly opposite each other, but at a right angle.

    The first player to get their eight pieces off the side of the board opposite their starting position wins. On a turn, you move a piece a number of spaces equal to the number of pieces (both yours and the opponents) in the row perpendicular to the direction that it will move. Thus, if you move a piece in your front row forward, it will move three spaces (unless it hits an obstacle).

    This is the simplest way to play, but each of the eight pieces also has a special power on its reverse side, with each team having the same eight powers. Before starting the game, each player secretly chooses which four of these eight powers they want to use, then flip these tokens to the "power" side while leaving the other ones as is. Each player then secretly arranges their pieces on the starting positions of their choice before starting play. Powers include the ability to move through obstacles, switch with other pieces, push other pieces, attract other pieces, not allow other pieces to move adjacent, move diagonally, and more.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3759027_t.jpg]

  • Designer Diary: Origami

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/69561/designer-diary-origami

    by Christian Giove

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3768746_t.png]The idea for Origami

    started a couple of years ago, but I'm not able to say which arrived first between the game mechanism and the setting. In my memories, it was always about origami and with its core system. I've always liked card games in which a card can be used for multiple purposes and I wanted to create something like that. Meanwhile, the correlation between origami and their folds seemed to fit perfectly.

    At first, I defined the concept of adding victory points and various kinds of special effects to the cards in order to have a lot of possible combinations and to give the player many ways of scoring and performing actions over time. I then tried some "mental playtests" — I usually play out 5-10 rounds in my mind, assuming different cards are drawn, in order to spot big errors or bugs BEFORE creating the first prototype — and I immediately discovered that the possible actions could grow too quickly due to some special effects.

    Thus, I decided each player could play their origami on only two different stacks, called "collections", in order to limit the number of special effects a player can benefit from at the same time. This arrangement of the origami also creates more timing issues for the players and makes them face harder choices.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3768718_t.jpg]

    Then I created my first prototype, searching for images of animal origami on the web to get a better feeling of what it could look like and to help playtesters recognize the cards. At that time, the game was a single deck of 90 cards, and I played it with 2, 3, and 4 players.

    The game worked quite well, aside from a couple of flaws, mostly due to the deck containing too many cards for a two- or three-player game. I needed to adapt the deck to the number of players, but it was hard to identify which cards had to be removed and this procedure was also very time-consuming for the set-up of a quick game like this.

    In the end, I decided to divide my cards into five different decks called "families", and each game would play with one family per player. This set-up was much simpler and also gave the game a lot of replayability.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3768723_t.jpg]

    Cards from the first prototype

    Because the game was fun and the rules were stable, I started showing it during fairs and events. (Its first public appearance was during IdeaG

    , an Italian meeting of game designers and publishers happening each year in Turin, Italy.) I got a lot of positive feedback and a couple of proposals from different publishers.

    The most interested publisher was dV Giochi

    , but they asked me to reduce the game length — which was very good advice, so I reduced the number of actions per turn to two and in the final playtesting this number was reduced to just one. Originally, with four players and three actions per turn, nine opponent actions took place in a round before your next turn; now there are just three!

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3768745_t.jpg]

    Work in progress…

    In the end, we came up with a game that has fast yet satisfying turns in which players have more control, while at the same time they must face deeper and harder choices.

    I also reduced the number of folds required to play an origami and the folds given by each origami to create faster and simpler calculations when playing. This made everything much smoother and more player-friendly.

    After tons of playtesting and balancing, dV Giochi decided it was worth publishing. They did a lot of additional playtesting and we changed a lot of card abilities, mostly because we wanted to balance and differentiate the families: Each deck now focuses on a specific kind of effect: draw, play more cards, instant effects, special actions, interaction between players, etc.

    During this time, the game also got its final artwork — nice low-poly origami — and new graphics. A lot of things remained similar to my prototype, but this happens often because I'm a graphic designer, so I create prototypes by studying the card usability, too.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3768735_t.jpg]

    Cards from an almost-final prototype

    I ran playtest sessions of an almost finished version of the game during a gaming event in Genoa (Italy), where a lot of expert gamers had the chance to play it. This allowed me to polish the game even more, making it the one you will soon be able to play!

    Christian Giove

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3768746_t.png]

  • SPIEL '17 Preview: Origami, or Eric Folds Five Families

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/699…or-eric-folds-five-famili

    by W. Eric Martin

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3731916_t.png]I love card games. I'd be fine with never playing a board game again as long as I had card games available to me. Each time you pick up a hand of cards, it's like opening a present. You have some idea of what might be inside, but the details of the thing are what's important. Which cards do you have in hand this time? What don't you have? What's possible?! The more that you play a card game, the better you get, and as your knowledge of the game increases, you start playing the same hand three times: once when you first look at the cards and imagine what could happen, again when you're actually playing, and a third time when you're assessing how things went and what you might have done instead.

    I'm not even close to that level of understanding with Christian Giove

    's Origami

    , which dV Giochi

    will debut at SPIEL '17 in October. I've played three times on a rough preproduction copy from dV Giochi, each time with three players, and I still haven't even seen all the cards in the game.


    is for 2-4 players, and the game includes five families of animals with each family being a different color. To set up the game, choose 2-4 families — with that number matching the number of players — shuffle them, then deal each player face-up cards until they have ten or more folds

    on their visible cards. "Folds" are the currency in the game, and one of the few nods in the game toward the "Origami" name, the other being the origami-like animal images on the cards.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3788319_t.jpg]

    Once everyone takes their cards in hand, you lay out four cards in a face-up market, then start taking turns. On a turn you can:

    • Draw cards from the market that sum up to at most four folds. Refill the market to four cards, then add these cards to your hand, discarding at the end of your turn if you have more than eight cards.

    • Spend cards from your hand to pay (exactly!) the cost of a single card in your hand. If a card costs 6, for example, you must discard cards that feature exactly six folds. Place this card on one of two collections in front of you, making sure that each collection is no more than one card larger or smaller than the other collection.

    • Use the special effect of an animal card on top of one of your collections.

    That's it! Rinse and repeat until you've gone through the entire deck twice, shuffling discards as needed to create a new deck, which you will need to do since after the deck runs out a second time, you still complete the current round, then each player takes one final turn, then you count your points on cards played to see who wins, with some cards having special scoring bonuses.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3788315_t.jpg]

    Four savannah animals; the number at the lower-left shows the number of copies in the deck

    Gameplay in Origami

    is simple and straightforward, with most turns presenting you with the best kind of tension in any game: the pull between picking up more cards (i.e., resources) to give you more options in the future vs. playing cards now to put points on the table and possibly give you special powers to use.

    With every play, you want to be as efficient as possible. Don't pick up cards with only two or three folds when you're allowed to pick up four. Don't play a card with a scoring bonus if you don't plan to make that bonus worth anything. Don't play a card with an instant effect (which most of them have) if you can't make use of it that turn. The gorilla, a savannah card, lets you pick up all savannah cards on the market when you play it. Should you play it if only one savannah card is available? What if that one card is another gorilla, which gives you four folds in hand (i.e., a free draw action) and the threat of another gorilla action in the future?

    Every time you pick up cards, you're putting new cards into the market for the players that follow, something that might affect your choices during play. In one game I managed to play two chicks and pick up a third without yet having a chicken in hand, the chicken being worth 2 extra points per chick you've played. My right-hand opponent couldn't stop drawing cards completely, but he kept taking actions that would reveal several new cards at once, thus giving me greater odds of grabbing a chicken, which I soon did. Bok bok!

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3788284_t.jpg]

    On right: Barnyard success, plus a vulture-powered butterfly

    A lot of the special actions are conditional. The spider, a lawn card, lets you draw cards from the market that have exactly six folds. If you can't do this, then you must take the boring regular draw action or do something else. The vulture (sky) lets you use the top card on the discard pile to play an origami from your hand, and while free money is nice, sometimes you don't have the cards needed to pay a cost exactly, which leaves you staring at that top card like a $5 bill just out of reach on the other side of the fence.

    Each family has their own type of powers and effects, giving Origami

    a different feel based on the cards in play. The savannah cards are all instant effects, mostly related to drawing cards in some manner. The sea cards give you discounts off the cost of a card or the ability to play a second card immediately (while still paying the cost of it). The lawn cards tend to benefit from other cards of the same family, such as the ant cards that jump from 3 to 5 points if you have at least two of them or the caterpillar that can transform into the far more valuable butterfly. The sky cards interact with other players, the cards they have, and the discard pile. I don't even know what the farm cards do as I haven't played with them yet.


    combines the joy of card game randomness with extra variety of play thanks to the five families of cards, of which at most four will be used each time. The only downside is that the graphic design isn't ideal, with a card's cost and fold count being bunched together in the upper left corner and not differentiated enough, with the fold digit being too small for my old eyes. Aside from that, right now Origami

    is the game I'm most regretful for not having played more times before writing about it, but SPIEL '17 is almost upon us, so I wanted to give a head's up about the game to fellow card game lovers.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3788316_t.jpg]

    Sample critters from the other four families
  • Designer Diary: The Masters' Trials: Wrath of Magmaroth, or Two Designers' Trials to Go from a City to a Dungeon

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/697…ials-wrath-magmaroth-or-t

    by Vangelis Bagiartakis

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3573060_t.jpg] The following was also posted in parts on AEG's website.

    In The Beginning

    Vangelis Bagiartakis (VB):

    After designing Dice City

    , I knew that the "dice-crafting" mechanism it had could find many uses in other games as well. That’s why, even before Dice City

    was actually released, I began to explore other options to see where I could go with this "system" I had come up with.

    At its core, the mechanism in Dice City

    is about "crafting" your dice. Each die is represented by six cards (one for each side) and by placing new cards on your board, possibly on top of existing cards, you are effectively changing the faces of your die. As a concept, this could theoretically apply to all kinds of games that use dice.

    The idea that I initially wanted to explore was that of a dungeon-crawler. Going with that idea would also define the first characteristic of the game: This would be a cooperative game (as opposed to the competitive nature of Dice City

    ). The players would not compete with each other, but would work together instead. In turn, this would allow the core mechanism to be tweaked a bit to give players the option to interact more with each other. For example, you could spend one of your dice to move one of another player's if needed.

    Another key characteristic also came from the theme. Since the dice would correspond to various attributes of the characters (like speed, combat, magic, etc.), why have a single board for all of them and not separate ones? If one die, for example, was the race, another one the class, another the weapon, etc., why not allow the possibility of mixing-and-matching? Not only would this increase replayability, it made perfect sense with the theme as each player would be able to create their own character as in a role-playing game, a hero with the attributes they'd want.

    I made a rough prototype and started testing the idea. I sketched some rooms with tiles, I came up with rules for their placement, I made a few quick enemies and some simple player abilities and started playing. Although way too early in the process, the experience was fun and I knew this could lead to something good. To check whether I was on the right track, I showed the prototype to some people and explained the concept behind it. EVERYONE loved the idea behind the modular boards. It was really cool and seemed very promising. However, they weren't thrilled with the dungeon board. As one friend put it: "There are actually two games on the table. One here (pointing to the player boards with the dice and the character abilities) and one there (pointing to the board with the mock-up enemies)." There was simply too much stuff going on for the game to be viable. Not only would it be insane production-wise — tons of boards, cards, miniatures, etc. with less than half of the game being more than all of Dice City

    — it would also ask a lot from the players, especially in their first games.

    Thus, a decision was made to make the "dungeon-crawling" a bit simpler. Perhaps just cards that would be drawn or something along those lines in order to keep the focus on the advancement of the character in front of you.

    So the goals of the game were more or less set:

    • Dungeon-crawling theme

    • Cooperative game

    • Modular player boards (and as a consequence variable player powers)

    • Relatively simple (card-based perhaps?) mechanism for the dungeon/enemies

    • Multiple paths to victory

    And that's how this journey began…

    The Designers' Trials

    With the goals in place, I started exploring how the dungeon-crawling aspect of the game would work. Around that time, my friend Tassos (whose full name is Anastasios, but we call him Tassos) got the chance to see the rough prototype in action and loved the idea. He has vast (and when I say vast, I mean vaaaaaaast) experience in role-playing games, so when he expressed interest in helping with the game, I immediately agreed to bring him on board. His experience would prove to be very important while designing the game.

    Anastasios Grigoriadis (AG):

    I've loved the idea of dice-crafting since the beginning. I'm a huge fun of Dice City

    and I've worked successfully in the past on many projects with Vangelis, so when I actually put into the basket the words "dice-crafting", "RPG" and "Bagiartakis", I knew that this would be an awesome journey!

    Attempt 1


    For our first attempt, we took the rough version I had initially made and tried to adapt it. Since we were working with cards, the "dungeon" became more abstract. The enemies would be cards that would be placed on rows, simulating enemies coming to you in a dungeon corridor.

    The player boards represented the characters and the first problem we had to deal with was what the players' "resources" were going to be. In the first rough prototype I had gone with Strength, Dexterity, Mana, Cunning and Movement. For this version, some changes needed to be made (like the removal of movement as it no longer made sense) and we ended up with Melee Damage, Ranged Damage, Mana and Defense. The goal was to have each player be able to specialize in one and pursue a different strategy.

    Regarding the enemies, each monster would give you XP after being killed and you would spend those to upgrade your character with new cards (abilities).


    Basically we needed to create a board game that would simulate an RPG session in an hour. You live your adventure, you gather experience, and you upgrade your character. Sounds simple, but it is not.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3779842_t.png]


    We did some playtests with this version, and while there was some potential in it, there were many things bugging us. The most important one was the resources.


    We knew from the beginning that Melee Damage, Ranged Damage, Magic and Defense were not working as resources, but we had to start with something to reach our goal. The basic problems were:

    • Melee Damage and Ranged Damage were almost the same thing.

    • Magic was essentially the only attribute that you could call a resource as it was producing mana, but again only to do damage.

    • Defense had the same problem as Damage as it was not a resource to be spent.

    In other words the main problem was that there was no economy based on the resources that players gathered and needed to spend in order to achieve goals and upgrade their player boards. In a sense, we had only Damage, which was not enough to build a game around.


    Defense was the most awkward of all the attributes. It didn't help you win; it just prevented the damage you would be getting. While it could be important in the game — for example, a character could play the role of the "tank" and absorb damage while the rest of the players would attack the enemies — it wasn't very fun to play with and it also wasn't a viable strategy on its own. You couldn't play solo and win just with a "defender".

    This inconsistency in the resources also made creating new abilities problematic. While it was normal to say "I have five mana", it was weird to say "I have five Melee Damage". Damage should be the outcome of your actions, not something you accumulate to spend. What's more, the way mana worked also had a few issues. The spells you had on your character required mana to be used. That meant that not only did you have to land on them, you also had to land on mana-producing spaces with your other dice to cast them — double the work for something that should be much simpler.

    We knew we could do better, so we decided to start from scratch and try a different approach.

    Attempt 2


    For our second attempt, we decided to examine everything from the beginning. The basic goals were still there, but the approach could be anything we wanted; we wouldn't be tied to the previous version. The brainstorming started with what was creating the most problems last time: the resources. They had to be thematic and fit with the dungeon-crawling theme, and they had to allow for different strategies. A fighter and a wizard, for example, would focus on different ones, but they should both be able to defeat enemies and win the game somehow.


    When something doesn't work, you go back to basics. The goal now was that each player would chose a different class — basic archetypes: fighter, wizard, cleric, rogue — and all together would fight the big bad boss at the end of the game. We agreed on Combat, Dexterity, Magic, Holy, and Cunning as the resources that would be used based on what the characters could produce and what they would need to defeat the monsters. Those five attributes could create various combos and thus different sets of actions for each class, allowing each player to interact in different ways with the monsters.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3779844_t.png]


    For the monsters, we decided to go with a very different approach. Enemy cards would be drawn each round and they would have three options on them: Evade

    , Push

    , Defeat

    . Evade (which would require few resources) would allow the players to prevent the damage the monster would deal. Push (costing slightly more) would be a temporary solution to the problem; you would scare the monster away, but you would have to deal with it later. Finally, Defeat would be a permanent solution; it would get rid of the monster forever but would require the most resources to do it.

    The concept behind this approach was that each monster would ask for different "resources" on each level, which in turn would allow each character to deal with them differently. Some of the monsters, for example, would require a lot of Combat in order to be defeated, which the fighter would be able to easily provide. The wizard, on the other hand, would have a hard time defeating them through combat, but would be able to drive them away via Magic or just evade them. Similarly, against monsters like ghosts Combat would be useless but Magic or Holy would be very useful. Depending on how you dealt with each monster, you would draw cards that would be the upgrades for the players' characters.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3779843_t.png]

    When the final boss would appear, it would be accompanied by all the monsters the players pushed. It would have to be dealt with differently compared to the monsters, but the players would still be provided with some options (so that each class would have a chance against it).


    This implementation was closer to what we wanted and the feeling was much better. Now the players were focusing on how to advance their characters and how to interact with the monsters which was closer to the basic concept of dice-crafting: roll the dice, do something (in our case: fight the monsters), upgrade your character.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3779845_t.png]


    We did numerous playtests with this build, but once again the actual game turned out differently compared to what sounded cool in theory. If you made the monsters easy to defeat for one class, the others would struggle too much. If we made monsters meant to be defeated by all classes (containing different combinations of all the resources), then every class would struggle since they wouldn't be able to produce everything. Therefore, there would be enemies that could not be defeated and would have to either be evaded constantly or driven away, only to make it even harder to win at the end.


    Welcome to asymmetric balancing! In RPGs, every player usually has a different role that works in different ways from the others. Players should feel important during the game no matter the role they play, and characters must be balanced and (most importantly) feel balanced even when they do totally different things. RPGs usually are played in groups of 4-5 players plus a narrator, and in my groups when someone is missing, we play a board game or do something else because the absence of that player will have a significant impact in our game.

    Board games accommodating 2-4 players, on the other hand, must give the same gaming experience whether you play it with two or four players. That means that with two players you are lacking two characters and what they bring to the party. Usually this is not a problem, but when a game wants to be theme-driven and has different roles, then you have issues that need to be addressed.

    Another issue was the resources that our characters were producing. Although closer to our goal, the economy of the game was again not solid. Removing a class was weakening a resource. The classes that were played were trying to match up the lack of other classes but not very effectively, and that lead to weaker characters overall, characters that could not interact in a proper way with the game.


    Essentially what we had was not necessarily resources but different types of attacks. It still was a bit weird to say "I get five Holy", but if everything else played all right, we would have worked with it. Unfortunately, everything else didn't play like we wanted. Players weren't as excited as we'd like, and it gave the impression that it was lacking something.

    Back to the drawing board…

    Attempt 3


    Once again, we started from scratch and again the brainstorming focused on the resources. We knew that it was the most crucial part of the game, and if we could fix that, the rest would easily follow from the theme. We needed resources that you could gather, resources that made sense having a lot of them, that it was intuitive to say "I have three of X". Up to now, the only one that came close to that description was mana. With that as a basis, we decided to explore the option of having different types of mana. We could go the "elemental warrior" path which would mean four different types of mana: earth, fire, water, air. The players' abilities would then all be spells, each requiring different mana and focusing on different aspects. This also meant a change in the theme. Instead of "sword-and-sorcery" fantasy, we would go to eastern fantasy with a focus on the elements and different types of magic. That was not necessarily a bad thing since sword-and-sorcery has been overused in gaming and something different would look more appealing.

    As far as the mechanisms were concerned, we also tried another approach. Dice City

    had a system with three resources and it worked. You would spend those resources to get new cards on your board (which in turn did not require resources to use them). You could also use those resources to get closer to winning (Trade Ships). The abilities you got would grant you other things (like Army strength or VP) which would also lead you to win through other means. Was there a way this approach could be applied to this game? Why try to re-invent the wheel when you have something that works well?

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3779890_t.png]

    Fire, Earth, Water, Air: The four types of mana we used

    We started with the abilities. Each would cost an amount of mana to "build" on your character just like in Dice City

    . Some of these abilities would generate damage which would be used against minions, a similar approach to the army strength and the minions of Dice City

    . This covered one way to win, but there needed to be more. An interesting thought we had was of large spells with a big effect for which you had to spend a big amount of mana in order to cast them. This was something similar to the way Trade Ships in Dice City

    made use of resources. In the end, we changed it a bit and instead of them being spells, we had the cards represent Magical Seals that granted abilities to the boss, making it uber-powerful. You would be able to break these Seals before reaching the boss, thus weakening it enough to kill it more easily. That added another strategy. Could we do one more?

    Dice City

    also has the cultural strategy, that is, building locations that don't do something when you land on them as they just grant you many victory points. Since we wanted to have a rogue-like character, we combined the two and ended up with another strategy: What if you were able to search the dungeon you were in and come up with magical artifacts? You would add them to your character and they would grant passive abilities (like deal one damage for free wherever you want, get free mana, etc.). It made sense thematically, and if you were to focus on it, you would become powerful enough to overcome even the boss.

    So the basis of the game was this:

    • Players explore a dungeon, and each round they are in a different area/room.

    • They are attacked by minions which they need to destroy.

    • They can search the rooms they are in to find artifacts.

    • They can break magical seals that make the boss very powerful.

    • After a finite amount of time, they come upon the boss and they must destroy it.


    Abandoning the classic path of fantasy RPGs was the right call, and it was not the only one. Keeping basic mechanisms from Dice City

    actually solved most of our problems. This greatly affected the way we designed the game: If we wanted to have different roles, equally important in the game, we needed to create different ways to interact with it.

    In the end, we had four different types of resources and three key characteristics that players advanced in to interact with the game: Damage, Insight and Health. Based on that, we instantly knew that we had created four distinctive roles in the game:

    The character that would focus on damage

    — They would deal with the minions and apply a lot of pressure to the final boss, despite it being very powerful.

    The character that would focus on gathering mana

    — They would break the boss' seals and make it much weaker.

    The character that would focus on items

    — They would search each room, getting a lot of magical artifacts that would "work on their own". Effectively that character would become "Robocop" (as Vangelis used to joke) before getting to the boss, dealing damage and generating mana without even needing to roll the dice.

    The character that would focus on the group's Health

    — They wοuld ensure that the party would reach the boss in good-enough shape to have a chance of defeating it.

    Although this is almost the classic archetype of fantasy RPG with wizard, fighter, rogue and cleric, our characters were using different types of mana that they needed to produce and spend in different ways to activate their cool powers.

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3779839_t.jpg]


    After some tests, it was clear we were on the right path. Going with mana solved all the problems we had with resources, and the different paths to explore made each character unique and interesting to play with. That was obviously the way to go.

    Achieving Mastery


    With the game's basics in place, it was now time to deal with the difficult part: the details. The first thing to do was define our setting and the exact way the resources would work. Having played a lot of Magic: The Gathering

    , I was aware of the importance of a "color wheel". Each type of mana should have its own identity. It would be associated with certain things, and the various classes would have different access to it.

    For example, fire mana would be used mainly for abilities that caused damage, while water would be used mainly for healing. The earth mana would be associated with mana generation/conversion, while air would be used to stun/disorient the opponent along with searching the rooms.

    Since we had shifted to elemental warriors, we spent quite some time examining what the races should be. At some point we realized that in the theme we had chosen, it made more sense to go with monastic Orders instead of races.


    Every resource should be used differently inside the game, but at the same time they should all have equal value: Fire=Air=Water=Earth. In the color wheel, no resource is above any other. All are equal, but at the same time they have a different impact on the "world". Also, based on the wheel we could safely say that:

    • Fire is the opposite of Water

    • Earth is the opposite of Air

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    What we needed to settle on pretty early was how the "mix-and-match" of the boards was going to work. In other words, what was each part of your board (class/order/weapon) bringing to the table? What abilities would they have?

    This was important because we wanted every combination to be viable. However, that was harder than it sounded. We had assigned some characteristics to each type of mana and as a result, each class was focused on one of them (based on the same characteristics). But what about the Orders? If we also focused the Orders on the types of mana, then there would be certain combinations that would be way more advantageous. The other important aspect that we needed to nail down was what exactly their abilities would be. The abilities between all three separate boards needed to be distinct to let them have their own identity. If we were going to focus the damage-related abilities on the fire-class, then what would go on an Order ability? And how would we make them feel different?

    After a lot of brainstorming and many playtests, we settled on this: What would define each character would be the class. That's where most of the abilities that would determine each strategy would be. Then the Orders would all have the same abilities but in different quantities. Each Order would be focused on two of the mana types, and it would offer higher quantities of the abilities that required them. It would still have the rest of the abilities (in small quantities) to give access to everyone if they so wanted.

    This solution offered some important advantages:

    • The Orders had focus but were not limiting the class you could match them with.

    • Having the same abilities in all of the Orders made learning the game easier as you had less information to overwhelm you when trying a different combination.

    • It gave us more flexibility with the design of the classes' abilities. We didn't have to worry about putting a new ability on an order.

    • When combining a class with an order that focused on other types of mana, it allowed you to play the same character differently and do new things. That was exactly what we wanted in the first place!


    In RPGs, the races are actually templates that can be used to alter the way classes are played, e.g., Elf Warrior and Half Orc Warrior. This was exactly what we wanted to achieve with the Orders. In our game, our heroes are trained differently in each Monastery Order. They all share a basic training but focus on a different path and obtain a different mastery. In game terms, we needed to create a pool of abilities that would be bound to a certain color, then distributed to each Order based on their focus. It was again harder than we thought because we needed to create four universal (for our game) thematically driven powers. If I remember correctly, all but one changed — some of them more than once!

    We also did another cool thing with the Orders. We added a static ("ongoing") ability to each of them, which we called "Masteries". Each Order's mastery is unique, and they give a special ability that actually changes the way a player interacts with the game.


    The next problem that we had to solve was that of scaling. Changing the numbers of minions drawn each round or the seals that the players would have to break was the easy part. The biggest problem was elsewhere, rooted in the game's design.

    The "threat" in the game consisted of mainly two parts: the minions drawn each round, and the boss at the end. The minions would have to take damage in order to be defeated, which meant having the fighter-class (which we ended up naming "Avenger") was crucial. The boss, on the other hand, was made powerful through the seals that needed mana in order to be broken, which made the mana generating-class (a.k.a., the "Mystic") very important. But what about the other two? What were they adding to the game? Moreover, if the first two classes were that crucial, was there a point into playing the other two races in a two-player game?

    We considered various solutions to this problem. One thought we had was to dictate the exact classes that the players would get at each player count. Unfortunately, that was a very bad solution as it meant that certain classes would never be played in a two-player game and it made them feel like lower-class citizens.

    What we needed was for the classes to be equal. Each of them should be able to hold its own and be fully playable, offering a different experience/playing style. They should all have equal chances of beating the game, regardless of the players' combinations.

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    One of the most important things that we try to keep in mind when developing a game is that the number of players must not affect the experience you get from a game. In RPGs, the narrator reveals the challenge of the party following certain rules, e.g., how many are playing and what their current level is, thus keeping the session challenging. In board games, we have plenty of examples where the number of turns, the number of VP that you need to score, or the number of foes and obstacles change based on the number of players. In our case, this was more complex since classes have equal roles in the game but are totally different at the same time:

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    The Avenger

    • All classes can do damage but none can be as good as the Avenger.

    • All classes can generate mana but none can be as good as the Mystic.

    • All classes can heal themselves but none can sustain an entire party as well as the Warden.

    • All classes can try to search rooms and improve their characters with artifacts but none is as good as the Loremaster.

    We decided that since the class affects the way our players interact with the game, then the challenge rating would be created by two things:

    • The minions (in quality and numbers) are generated by the classes that participate in a game.

    • The seals (in quality and numbers) are generated by the number of players that are playing.


    The main problem in scaling was the minions drawn. If the Avenger was in play, things were easy as he would deal with them and everyone else would be able to advance their character as needed to achieve their own goals: the Mystic would add mana-generating abilities to their board, the Loremaster would generate Insight to search rooms, and the Warden — the healer of the group — would work on those crucial healing spells. However, when the Avenger was not in play, the rest of the classes would have to compensate, but the threat was so big that everyone needed to focus on dealing damage, neglecting their previous focus. Even when they weren't losing horribly, the experience was not fun.

    Since the problem was in the minions, the solution that we settled on was based on them. The minion deck would change its contents depending on the classes present in the game. If the Avenger was present, it would include more difficult-to-beat monsters. If the Mystic and the Warden were the only ones playing, it would contain mostly small monsters which would be easier for the players to handle. They would still pose a threat, but not one that would distract them from their main goal.

    Although we were a bit skeptical to try this solution, it worked like a charm. It achieved exactly what we needed and helped the different classes to stand out. We were no longer worried about the class combinations. Each and every one of them could stand its own.

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    The Loremaster

    While the Avenger and the Mystic were quite straightforward, the Loremaster — the character that searched the rooms — was trickier to design. We had settled on having another resource in the game called Insight. Players would gather Insight and that would be used to search the rooms. It would work similarly to damage in that, if unused, it would reset at the end of the round. If a character matched the room's Insight difficulty, then they would draw Artifact cards that would grant them powerful ongoing abilities.

    Even though the Loremaster would have no trouble gathering Insight and using it to get more artifacts, the other players would completely ignore it. That wasn't necessarily a problem, but it would get worse due to another factor: After a point, experienced players would become quite powerful and near the final rounds they would generate a lot of Insight, but they would no longer need it as much.

    It was clear that we needed to find other uses for Insight as well.

    Around the same time, we had another problem to deal with. They way the Seals worked, one player had to generate enough mana to break them. More often than not, that player was the Mystic. However, inexperienced players would have a hard time generating enough mana for the more expensive Seals. Since they were the more powerful ones, not dealing with them usually spelled their doom.

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    The Mystic

    During development, we examined a solution that solved both of these problems. What if you could spend Insight in order to "unlock" the Seals and allow everyone to spend mana on them? That provided another use for Insight (which all of the classes could use on the small seals) and interesting options for the Loremaster (Do I go for another artifact, or do I help the group by unlocking a seal?), while making it less demanding for the Mystic who now didn't have to generate all that mana on their own.


    Although this is a dice-rolling game, we love the idea of "tough" decisions. During your play, you will always have to decide whether to spend the resources you gathered to remove an obstacle or to improve your character? With the new approach to Insight, it became the party tool to deal with high level seals. Insight was now an equal answer to threats and was helping the party to interact with the seals more efficiently.


    Near the end, most of the issues had been solved and we were happy with how the game was playing. Although it was already quite challenging, we even thought of some additional hurdles to throw to the players who wanted more.

    There was now only one thing remaining: the solo game.

    With the game being cooperative, we knew that it was suitable for solo play. The problem was that it would be difficult for a single character to deal with everything that was happening in the game. Not only that, but since each class focused on different things, the experience would be different with each of them. If we were to make the game easier, one of the classes would still struggle while another one would find it way too easy. On top of that, we wanted the players to play differently with every class. If only one was present in the game, they would all have to play the same way to defeat the game.

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    The Warden

    That's when it hit me. Why not change the requirements? For each character, the goal would be different. The Avenger (who couldn't easily generate a lot of mana) would focus on killing minions and would have to kill the powerful boss. The Mystic (who could easily generate a lot of mana but had trouble with dealing damage) would not have to worry about killing the minions or the boss, but would have to break numerous Seals in order to win. The Loremaster would need to gather as many artifacts as possible, while the Warden would bring a companion along and would have to make sure they stayed alive.

    This way, not only would each character play the way they would in multiplayer, the game would offer four different solo experiences. It felt very different with each class, and we knew the solo gamers would absolutely love it!


    Regarding the solo version of the game, I wanted three things:

    • To be fun and challenging for all classes

    • To be an excellent tutorial for new players who wanted to explore the game before playing with their friends

    • To give players the opportunity to explore all aspects of a class

    I strongly feel that we addressed all the above.

    AG & VB:

    : All in all, we are very excited with how the game turned out. It went through a lot of rough periods, with many changes and complete overhauls, but in the end we created something that we are really proud of. The work we put into this game is probably more than what we've put in any other game we've worked on, but it was totally worth it.

    As soon as you open the box, we are sure you will agree!

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  • New Game Round-up: Find the Replicant in Blade Runner 2049, Find New Keepers in L5R, and Find Your Wallet to Meet Your Destiny

    Link: boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/699…cant-blade-runner-2049-fi

    by W. Eric Martin

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    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3789901_t.jpg]Let's take a break from the recent stream of designer diaries to recap some of the non-SPIEL '17 game announcements that have occurred:

    Fantasy Flight Games

    has invited you to sell a kidney or two to keep up-to-date with Star Wars: Destiny

    , which will see two new starter sets — Luke Skywalker

    and Boba Fett

    — released in Q1 2018, along with the Legacies

    series of 160 cards that will be sold in booster packs.

    On top of these items, FFG has Star Wars: Destiny – Rivals Draft Set

    , a supplemental set of cards and dice that is meant to enable competitive drafting of Star Wars: Destiny

    . To draft, each player opens three Star Wars: Destiny

    booster packs of any type, combines the cards, drafts one, passes the pack, drafts one, etc. You repeat this for a second set of three packs, passing cards right. Then you supplement the thirty cards you drafted with the contents of a Rivals Draft Set

    , which contains an assortment of cards and dice that are meant to fill out a deck and support whatever you were trying to do in the draft.

    • In addition to that money vacuum, FFG is following the launch of Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game

    in early October with a luscious wave of content, specifically one new "Dynasty Pack" a week starting in early November 2017 until all six chapters of the "Imperial Cycle" have been released. If you want to build up a world quickly, I guess that's one way to do it. FFG has lots of preview picks from the packs

    on its website.

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    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3790576_t.jpg]• In a vain attempt to keep up with FFG's output, WizKids

    has announced four releases for early 2018, starting with a North American version of Johannes Schmidauer-König

    's Team Play

    , which Schmidt Spiele debuted in 2015. In this card game for 3-6 people, players try to draft and pass cards with a teammate so that they can individually complete face-up goals on the table and move their team to victory.

    • That title is due out in January 2018 along with Blade Runner 2049: Nexus Protocol

    , which bears this description and no designer name in the solicitation:

    In Blade Runner 2049: Nexus Protocol, detectives, citizens, and Rick Deckard compete to figure out who is a replicant posing as a human. They know that one of them is a replicant, but not even the replicant knows who they are.

    In this deduction game, you use your influence to meet contacts, gather information, and reveal evidence to identify the replicant. If you discover that you are the replicant, you have to scramble to conceal your identity and avoid early retirement.

    Will you find the replicant, or will you be retired?

    [Blockierte Grafik: https://cf.geekdo-images.com/images/pic3790582_t.jpg]• February 2018 should see the debut of Richard Yaner

    's Dark.net

    , wth the game seemingly inspired by all the sci-fi I read back in the late 1980s:

    The tech-future which mankind has been working towards is finally upon us! Sadly, the tech-future is not all we thought it was cracked up to be; technology couldn't save us from ourselves, and there are no hoverboards or floating cars in sight. Contrary to our hopes and dreams, four mega-corporations dominate and dictate every aspect of our lives.

    In Dark.net, players intercept transmissions to gain valuable information via their data network. Players use fences to buy and sell information so they can boost their ability to gather even more information, all in the service of acquiring reputation. To boost their reputation, players will accrue credits, extend their network, hire informants, install network boosters, and make contacts. Have more reputation than anyone else at game's end, and you win.

    • Also due in February 2018 is a new version of Charlie Price

    's Kung Fu Zoo

    , a dice-flicking game that he demoed in the BGG booth during Origins 2016 when he was self-publishing the game. That version had a wood board, while the WizKids production will not in order to keep the MSRP at $40. Here's an overview of the game:

    Youtube Video