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GAMES NEWS! 13/01/20

Matt Lees28 comment(s)

Ava: Welcome… to the Newsdome! And welcome our latest challenger, Tom Brewster, despoiler of news.


Ava: Okay Tom, calm down a second, this is just what we call a riff.


Ava: *pinches nose* That’s not how this works! Not to mention I’m definitely Tina Turner in this situation. Let’s just write about some games.


Ava: Pick a film that you’d least expect to ever be made into a board game. No, not that one, a different one. Yup. That one.

The Shining is coming out soon from Prospero Hall, and honestly, I’m still reeling from that announcement. It promises a three to five player semi co-operative game of rushing about a haunted hotel and trying to build up the willpower to resist the gushing blood, weird twins, creepy bartenders and god I really love the carpet actually. As if that’s not enough, one of you might secretly be Jack Nicholson with an axe and a limp.

I’m speechless. And it only took me twelve goes to figure out how to spell Jack Nicholson’s name.

Matt: Jack Nichololson, more like.

Tom: I suspect this might have a feel akin to other licensed games that promise to ‘rewrite the show/film’ etc in your own terms; but will actually feel like misremembering the events of said film after a few pints. Having said that I have been playing an awful lot of Awaken Realms’ ‘Nemesis’ recently, which is basically one phallic symbol away from a lawsuit with Ridley Scott, and it is a blast. I’m not sure if the semi-cooperative aspect will gel as well with the theme in this game, but I suppose we’ll wait and see.

Ava: Odds on there’s a ‘Here’s Johnny’ card.

Tom: I’d say about 237/1.

Ava: If anyone wants to start a pool about the least likely films to be made into games, I wouldn’t stop you.

You know who (I’m pretty sure) won’t chase you with an axe and then freeze to death in a hedge maze? Why, it’s Elizabeth Hargrave, still flying high on the wind beneath her Wingspan, the game that won last year’s kennerspiel des jahres and wowed the world with a deckful of beautiful birdies. If you were wondering how you follow up a game about bird habitats, now you know. Different flappers, and this time they’re migrating.

Ava: Mariposas is Elizabeth Hargrave’s new game, about butterfly migration up and down the east of North America. The game will imitate the movements of the titular flutterbys and take place over three seasons. In Spring you’ll head north, in the Summer you’ll breed like the brightly coloured bugs you are, and in the Autumn, you’ll head back down South. Just like real life, at the end of each season you count up points based on what exactly your butterflies have been doing.

Tom: Dang, all my butterflies have taken up arson, hard drugs and littering, meaning I get… 100 points?

Matt: Mine are just into hard littering, what does that mean

Ava: Details of the scoring system and just how delinquent you can get the pretty little insects have yet to emerge. We’ll keep you updated, and we’ll keep Tom well away from any lepidopteraria, just in case.


Ava: So. Two games I don’t know much about are getting a big box new edition, and I’m moved to write about it. Why is that? Well, in ‘new lows for shallow reasons Ava selects a bit of news’, it’s because I can’t say the word Rococo without singing it five times to the tune of that Arcade Fire song. Maybe we can do a newscorcism?

Economic heavyweights, Rococo and Kanban are both getting new overhauled editions, with fancier arts, bigger boxes, and a few expansions thrown in. 

Rococo, a game of making fancy frocks for palace dwelling French wig-wearers has the honour of being a game I’ve been told I’ll like but always irrationally turn my nose up at. The first time I saw Rococo was when I got to a boardgame night late, and had to watch people play their final turn and do all the scoring. Oh my word, there’s nothing more off-putting about a fairly convoluted system of bonuses, efficiencies and other crunchy decisions points, than watching people agonise over it completely devoid of any context. I love that stuff when I’m in it, but watching the economic sausage get calculated is…not the best.

I know even less about Kanban. I was going to say ‘but I bet there’s not been any over-emotional indie song about it.’ But I googled it, and I was wrong. Thanks for ruining my joke, earnest songster Gudmundur Runar.

The latest edition of Vital Lacerda’s game will be called Kanban EV. Producing electric cars this time, you’ll be building machinery on enormous production lines and pushing for efficiencies and the prestige of being the best employer.

Tom: It’s a game where the theme is the engine behind it, akin to my recent favourite euro-em-up Pipeline. This also has artwork from Ian O’Toole, so perhaps we’re seeing the pieces of another winner slowly come together?

Ava: I believe this is the game with the mechanic where you only get points for things if you do them while the boss is looking? That’s all a little bit too realistic for my tastes, but it must be doing something right to exist in three different versions.

Tom: Ava. Ava.

Ava: What?

Tom: There’s no bosses here today. It’s just us!


Tom: We’re doing it for the news, Ava. Think of the news.

Matt: You do both realise that I edit the news and upload it after you’ve written it, right? And that I’m then able to throw in comments before it goes online, and appear to be joining in with conversations that – in actuality – took place more than six hours ago? Hello? HELLO? ANSWER ME

Ava: Kemet’s an absolute fave around these parts, with the punchiest punching, the pointiest pyramids and the most extensive wine list. Matt recently delved into both expansions, and reviewed them both just to give more coverage to the game. Will Kemet end up being the game we review three times? We’ll find out soon, apparently.

Matt: It’s the Stargate / Groundhog Day crossover that the world’s been patiently waiting for.

Kemet: Blood and Sand isn’t a Playstation game about 50 Cent, but an updated version of pyramid bopping Egyptians-on-a-map game of the slightly shorter title. New artier art, nebulously improved gameplay and a rulebook overhaul are promised. I am very unclear on how much difference these will make, except perhaps giving conniptions to people with an old copy wondering if it’s worth upgrading.

Tom:The game also features a redesigned map with a twist, bigger and more detailed figurines, and other surprises’. So mysterious, Jacques Bariot and Guillaume Montiage! I’m excited about the last part of that sentence. Perhaps this edition will come with real sand and real blood?

Ava: It is always disappointing when you have to provide your own components.

Ava: It’s been so long since I last shouted about how much I love W Eric Martin’s Japanese game round-ups (last week), that he’s only gone and done two more!

Check them out for such delights as Hyper Super Yoga, a game of hyperextensible limbs, or Rolling Shibahama, which requires you to be successful fish merchant without succumbing to alcoholism. It’s all just a bit too real. Or too unreal. I don’t really mind which, I just hope more of these games make it across the oceans and onto my table.

In pretty bleak news, just a little late for last week’s news, it was announced that Fantasy Flight have closed their interactive and RPG departments. Loads of people have lost jobs, so it’s pretty hard to make jokes here. Two presumably slightly less profitable departments have been sloughed off, possibly to make the parent company more attractive for sale. It’s a real shame, and that’s all I can say, really. 

Good luck to everyone who has lost work at the hands of this.

Tom: I’ve waited long enough, can we please talk about COSMIC FROG? A game of STRATEGIC GLUTTONY?

Ava: Take it away, Brewster. 

Tom: Several things leap out at me when stare deeply into the eyes of ‘Cosmic Frog, a game of collection, combat and theft on a planetary scale’ from Devious Weasel. First, it’s called Cosmic Frog. Second, the publisher’s description features the line:

Once on the Shard, you harvest land and store it in your massive gullet. When your gullet is sufficiently full, you leap into the Aether and disgorge your gullet contents into your inter-dimensional vault for permanent storage’

Lastly, the box art. I need it. It looks like… well it looks like a cosmic frog, if I’m being honest.

Ava: It’s hard to parse the fluff to work out what you actually do in the game, but there’s some set collection, some psych-rock box art, and the subtitle is ‘World Eaters from Dimension Zero’, which sounds like the villains from a Saturday morning cartoon. 

Tom: The game could be terrible – you’re right about the fluff making it almost impossible to understand the actual mechanics of the game. But if it is terrible, at least it’s a weird crazy theme that’s coming to a shelf near you, taking up space that instead might have gone to ‘Planet Combat 3: Dudes doing Space’.

Ava: Apparently, you have to worry about how you’re going to deal with Aether Flux AND Splinters of Aeth? It’s going to be a bumpy frog-rodeo, if you ask me.


Ava: There is no winner, only news.


Ava: Damn. I think you won the news, Tom.


The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down

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GAMES NEWS! 06/01/20

Matt Lees22 comment(s)

Ava: Oh my word, would you look at that, a whole fresh new year, hot out of the oven, gently cooling on the windowsill. The year is 2020, and I’m still hungry for news. Let’s cut a slice off the still-warm year, and spread some tasty melted news all over it.

Fort, coming soon from Leder Games, is an update to fellow four-lettered card game SPQF, with cuddly classical empires swapped for rival neighbourhood tree-forts. I skipped over this when it first got announced, but artist Kyle Ferrin has been posting some really lovely pieces of art and it gives me an opportunity to right that wrong.

In Fort, you will build a deck of friends, pizza and toys to try and build the fanciest fort on the block. Each turn players get to play a card for its action and buy another one from the market. So far so deck-bulder, but where this game holds promise is in the added interaction and ‘deck decomposition’. Some of the actions you take can be boosted by playing extra matching cards. But it’s not just you who can get those bonuses, as all your rivals can jump in and do the same. After that, any card you don’t use on your turn gets put out to pasture for the rest of the round, and can be purchased by any other player. Thematically, this is your friends not hanging out with you if you don’t bother to play with them. Heart-breaking stuff!

Having heard good things about SPQF (Senatus Populusque Forest), I’m gently curious about this.

Casting a long shadow over the games news today is this terrible pun about the latest game from Daniele Tascini and David Turczi: dice drafting sun-blocker, Tekhunu.

Tekhunu: Obelisk of the Sun is something of a successor to Tascini’s Teothihuacan. Replacing that game’s central temple-building doodad with a large obelisk, casting a literal and ludic shadow over the board. Tekhunu uses dice drafting to let you thread a route through the various actions offered by the Egyptian pantheon. You’ll be spending those dice to hold festivals for Bastet, build farms for Osiris and draw cards for Thoth, all in the hopes of getting the most points at the end. To make sure that’s no easy decision, the ever shifting shadow of the obelisk dictates which dice are pure, tainted or forbidden. Forbidden dice! You have to maintain a careful balance between purity and taintity, lest you end up distressing the gods with your rudely chosen dice.

There’s a thrill and excitement about this sort of table presence, and I’m sure this is going to draw attention. But I can’t overstate how much I hate it when the focal point of a game turns out to be a tiny wrinkle instead of the actual core of the experience. That was my beef with Teotihuacan, which turned out to be hiding nothing in its satisfyingly chunky temple but an extra point or two if you were lucky and/or could be arsed to spend a minute out of the game thinking about how to rotate some tiles optimally.

Matt: Ah, yes. I had a similar problem with the obelisk of emotionz in our recent review of Cerebria – centerpieces are hard to land!

Ava: Hopefully I’m just being a grumplehex and Tekhunu’s rotating sunny side will be a bit more intriguing. We’ll have to wait and see.

I’ll tell you what doesn’t make me grumple, that’s an expansion for Treasure Island, one of the uniquingest games of the last few years.

Treasure Island: Captain Silver: Revenge Island, when not drowning in a tide of colons (eww), is going to add two maps to the game of compasses, pens and furious logic. There’s also a bundle of new powers on offer for the unscrupulous subtitular treasure tucker.

This looks like exactly the right scale of expansion for this game, adding a few bonuses for anyone who has played out the options in the base game, without necessarily making it too complicated for newbies. Most importantly, there’s a chance that they’ve fixed the most egregious problems of the game, a map that made it hard to read the pen marks that made up the core of the puzzle. One of the two maps is the same as the base game, but with new art. Here’s hoping that on this third try (the original was double sided), they’ve beaten the problem.

It’s hard to resist a bit of news about an expansion to a game with a stellar video from this very website. For that reason only, I’m going to drop in a mention for an expansion I’m slightly less hyped about.

Dune, the updated version of a table hogging adaptation of a genre hogging book, adds two new factions with the Ixians and Tleilaxu expansion. This bumps Dune’s roster of angry, asymmetrical factions up to eight, bringing in xenophobic genetic engineers and cyborg monarchists that hate each other. There goes the space neighbourhood!

Honestly, I’m already daunted by the prospect of teaching the base game’s weird intersections, so the idea of chucking two extra factions into that melange fills me with a spicy mix of dread and excitement. I may never get to the point where I’m ready to play this, but I’m curious to see what old hands make of it.

Over on Kickstarter, we’ve got an alternate history space race to contend with, new from Pandasaurus games.

Godspeed promises space-faring worker placement with lovely art and a few unusual details. The game takes place in a version of the sixties and seventies where the race to the moon was a cover up for various space agencies sending astronauts through a wormhole to a habitable planet. Each player is working with a crew of workers with different abilities and influence values. As well as sending these workers to the various action spaces to build the obligatory economic engine, each round you have to put some of them into auctions and random events, casting aside some previous flexibility.

If I’m honest, I’m only picking it out because I’m unusually hype for the little baggies with real and fictional space agency logos on. Boy, oh boy, do I love a space agency badge.

Still digging around Pandasaurus pastures, the co-owner has published a follow up to his interesting piece on the superstar effect, this time looking at the huge growth of the board game industry over the last few years.

Nathan McNair’s latest blog post argues that there’s no such thing as a board game bubble, in that so far nobody is making ridiculous investments or going into huge debts to fund imagined future value. He argues that the growth of the hobby, which is slowing ever so slightly, is built on actual demand. He also notes that discerning customers are making it hard for people to simply shovel more coal in the boiler without getting burnt. He does acknowledge that the industry might be due a ‘realignment’ which could prove troublesome for some, but he’s not hearing the drums of doom quite yet. It’s an interesting read if you like thinking about wider trends and the busyness of businesses.

Finally, I want to wrap up by linking to BoardGameGeek powerhouse W Eric Martin’s review of the decade. I think he’s got interesting perspectives, being so deep in one of  gaming’s largest institutions. Several of his picks are the sort of smaller fare that often gets lost in the excitement for all the big box excesses. He has also got me particularly hyped for co-op trick-taker The Crew, nothing like a last minute entrant into an all decade greatest hits to tickle my fanciest fancy.

I don’t really have a witty thing to add, I’m just glad he’s in the industry, and really appreciate the time he takes to highlight things that could easily drop off the radar. This round up of interesting Japanese trick taking games is a case in point. Thanks Eric! Glad to have you around!

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down

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GAMES NEWS! 16/12/19

Quintin Smith30 comment(s)

Ava: Twas the news before Christmas, and all through the office,
Not a creature was newsworthy, not even the…..boffice????

I should’ve thought more carefully before I started that. But it’s the end of the year, the UK election last week was horrible, and I’m pretty sure British culture is entirely built up on the principle of phoning it in on the last day at work (and failing to own up to the horrors of our colonial past).

Quinns: Ava, don’t talk about phoning it in at work while I’m here! I didn’t get you a Christmas present, but if I *had* I would now pitch it out of my window, in anger.

Ava: Let’s get this news down this chimney, and hope someone’s left us a mince pie and a carrot.

Ava: Calloo callay! Oh frabjuous day! Yes, I’ve already done the Jabberwocky in the news this year, but I am a little bit hype that a thing I’d given up hope on has happened. There’s some distinctly neutral-sounding news coming out of the nascent Kickstarter union, Kickstarter United, and hopefully it’s the start of us not having to caveat every kickstarter (except about the general unreliability of kickstarters).

Kickstarter United are going into media blackout as part of a neutrality agreement with Kickstarter management, which they think indicates a willingness to engage with a union ballot without interfering. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed and sending solidarity to the workers until we hear more. Good luck! Keep it up! Get organised!

Quinns: The news that Kickstarter might be becoming a less hostile environment for its workers has arrived right on time. I feel that we’re getting our ducks in a row.

Ava: Aha, that’s a segue.

Quinns: Stephanie Kwok’s Ducks in Tow is a fabulous-looking Kickstarter that will finally let us do what we all want to do in city parks: adopt the ducks as our very own.

Players in this parochial puzzler first have to tempt ducks with colour-coordinated food, which then (through the fantastic use of some translucent plastic) sees the birds following you as you wander around the park, and finally you can finally drop them off at locations so that you can build patterns of birds on your tableau of cards.

If you’ve ever heard Shut Up & Sit Down complain about over-done eurogame themes (e.g. medieval merchants, running a small business, colonising the bejeezus out of an isolated nation), Ducks in Tow is a showcase of what the genre could be doing instead. This setting is innovative, charming, friendly and silly, and will be made that much more so with a free “Angry Goose Expansion” in every pledge.

Ava: I like how far this is leaning into the phrase ‘ducks in a row’ by having at least three mechanics based on rows of ducks. There’s some strong commitment to the bit here.

Ava: Car Wars is a very old game from Steve Jackson Games, and it’s getting an overdriven reboot in a Kickstarter for its sixth edition. A combination of the twin arts of racing and fighting, Car Wars treads familiar territory, and promises miniatures-based combat with lots of dice, guns, and sharp turns. Spruced up with lovely little cars and a little chipboard turning tool, it could be interesting. But hoo-boy is some of that graphic design looking dated. I guess that’s what happens when you’re running into a rebooted retro racecar rumble with nothing but nostalgia in the tank.

Quinns: Oof. Getting me to back this would be a tough sell when I’ve only heard great things about Gaslands, which can be neatly summarised as “The X-Wing Miniatures Game with Hotwheels cars”. We’re actually hoping to offer a review of Gaslands on the site early next year, if our excitable readers can bring themselves to wait…

Ava: I definitely slammed my brakes on this one, but as a counterpoint: I could sing ‘Car Wars Car Wars, what you gonna do? What you gonna do when the car wars you?’ to the tune of Bad Boys, and I think that would make me very happy.

Quinns: As with the arrival of bad boys, a car war is something I don’t know how to react to. It’s so true!

Ava: Okay, okay, so I wasn’t going to link this, because the bit that intrigues me most doesn’t have a picture yet, but then I found a really duff justification, and I just want to bring it up.

Coming soon from Floodgate Games and Julio E Nazario is Holi: Festival of Colors, which currently consists of a gorgeous Vincent Dutrait cover, and a few cryptic sentences about what the game will actually be like. I’m enticed by the prospect of a very colourful area control game with a three tier board, but I also have no idea what it’ll actually look like. Based on the paint covered Hindu festival, this could be pretty, but we don’t know much it’s going to explode off the table until we get more pictures.

Quinns: So why exactly are we covering it now?

Ava: Well, it’s entirely because when I went to dig up more info on the Floodgate games website, I found they had a game in their back catalogue called ‘Bad Maps’.

What a great name for a game, honestly. Bad Maps. Some kind of piratical treasure hunting programming chaos apparently, but I want it just for the name.

Quinns: Ava. This isn’t how news works.

Ava: Too late Quinns, I’ve newsed it.

Quinns: Hobby World has announced a follow-up to Spyfall, the social deduction game that could be summarised as “What if everyone in a James Bond movie had just taken methadone?”

The next game in the series, Spycon, sounds like it’ll be a much more less anxiety-inducing word game, and quite familiar if you’ve played Decrypto or CrossTalk. Players will be divided into teams, and players must cagily convey to their team which costume card they were dealt. The catch is, the other team are listening to the clues you give and are able to guess first. The /other/ catch is that your team is dealt a private keyword that you can use in your clue-giving.

Ava: I really don’t understand this.

Quinns: OK. Imagine you’re dressed as Blackbeard, and you and your team have the secret keyword “Ladder”. You might say “He used this to get to work”.

Ava: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Quinns: You still don’t understand, do you.

Ava: No. But the game won’t come out until next year, so we have about six months for you to teach me. And I am pretty tempted by a team-based version of Spyfall that might not give me a panic attack if I play more than three games in a row.

Now, tell me again what a word is?

Ava: Itten Games continues to report back from Is this a Game #2, the unusual art and games gallery show in Tokyo. Here’s some more highlights.

First off, Oink Games have dismantled a load of their games and made a series of patterned pictures out of them. It’s definitely not playable, and they’ve called it Corpse. Similarly reconstructive, Ryuta Yumada has players making aerial domino displays in Space Domino 2019.

Nilgiri’s One Year Game asks players to come up with points scoring challenges to exchange with another person, asking them to catch up one year later and see how well they’ve done. And __’s chair by Osamu Hakamada, has players taking a seat high above the gallery, and turns the whole room into a game, a different one depending on which chair you’re playing in:

That last one reminds me of the time I got a very weird gig DJing from a balcony in a museum, and spending a long time trying to get museum visitors to dance around a random collection of 20th century furniture from a high vantage point was definitely an unusual experience. I love art and games and balaconies for giving us new perspectives, and this show appears to have done just that. Well done to everybody involved.

Ava: Here’s a little oddity picked up from the BoardGameGeek news blog.

Ludocherry is a new set up offering boardgame themed, 50s inspired outfits. Using game component themed prints, and 50s style dress and shirt patterns, this looks like a slightly more upmarket way to dress as your hobby than the classic ‘t-shirt with a pun on it’. Maybe it’ll catch on.

Quinns: Hey, these are nice! I really like that Meeple Garden shirt.

I don’t trust myself to say anything more than that when it comes to fashion, but I will say the word “Nice” again, for effect.


Ava: Nice. *grumbles under breath about not being the only one phoning it in*

Happy solstice everybody! And any other celebrations, holidays or breaks you might be having in the darkest days of the year. I recommend food, friends, fires and boardgames.

Quinns: Just be careful how you combine them.

Ava: Quite.

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down

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GAMES NEWS! 09/12/19

Quintin Smith46 comment(s)

Ava: The rest of the team is in something called ‘Philadelphia’, so they left me to sweep up the last crumbs of pre-Christmas news. Only it’s not crumbs at all, there’s big news, weird news, premature news, barely news, local news and even some bad news. Pull up a chair and settle yourself down, let’s tuck into a big old roast news, stuffed with newslings and with all the greasiest news-trimmings.

Oh my word would you look at that. The biggest game in games is getting a frosty full-fat follow-up. Gloomhaven is heading north and getting a lot colder (which I can relate to, as I moved to Yorkshire three years ago).

Frosthaven will be heading to kickstarter next year, and promises to be just as big a box of adventure, combat, and high stakes dungeon crawling as its predecessor. Focusing on the eponymously chilly northern town, Frosthaven promises the same combat systems as Gloomhaven, but with more activity between battles with mysteries, seasons and a slow-growing village to manage.

This is likely to be a huge deal, both as another cavernous bundle of cardboard and a hype-furnace big enough to burn your slippers off. I suspect there’ll be a number of people worried that they don’t really need a second enormous box of battles in their life. But they’ll probably be outnumbered by people delighted to spend more time in Isaac Childres stressfully heavy-weight world.

Keep this one in your coolest cool box.

In a much smaller box with some warmer insides, Hanabi: Grand Feux is coming soon, and it promises a big fire. This deluxe edition of logical little sparkler Hanabi will offer the co-operative firework display base game and a few expansions to help gussy up your cogitations. It’s offering an avalanche of colours, black powder and five flamboyants. Or some multi coloured cards, some black cards, and a few bonus tiles.

I bounced off Hanabi quite dramatically, but that’s mostly because I played it with someone who shouted at me a lot about second order logic and gave me a bit of a headache. If I’m honest, I’m mostly linking to it because I really enjoy saying Grand Feux. I wonder how long it’s going to take for publishers to work out the best way to get in the games news these days is to lather on the euphony.

Lovely SU&SD commenter (and purveyor of strange Swedish sweets) Erik Tengblad noted last week under the news that I missed the biggest story. And he was probably right, at least for those living in the heart of a venn diagram made up of ‘animal lover’, ‘big into bad jokes’ and ‘squamous investigator’.

Barkham Horror: The Dogwich Legacy, a new expansion for the Arkham horror collectible card game, was announced last Monday. Fantasy Flight delighted so many people with their April Fool’s promise of a canine expedition to the edge of reality, that they’ve actually gone and done it. Who is the fool now, eh April? It’s certainly not Wagatha Dane or even Pupper Mutteo, who can both be added to your deck via the new box set.

Look. Let’s be clear. It’s a lot of puns and pictures of puppies in a cosmic horror wrapper. If you thought being able to kill Cthulhu with a shotgun undermined the unknowable terror of Lovecraft’s deeply racist work, then I’m not sure how you’ll feel about adding a load of anthropomorphic animals. But the people who are delighted by this are going to be delighted by this.

I’m intensely cynical about the whole thing (despite a deep love of dogs and word-play), but honestly, the little picture of a pile of half chewed tennis balls in a summoning circle? They got me. I kinda want it.

My favourite bit of boardgamegeek’s news column is their semi regular round ups of goings on in the Japanese games scene. There’s always something curious on offer, and this update is no exception, coming so soon after the enormous Japanese Games Market.

I’m going to hand the spotlight directly to ‘Nice Egg!’ for reasons I don’t think need explaining. This lovely egg of a dexterity game has you dropping yolks onto your table. The publishers describe it as ‘feeling reminiscent of curling’. Honestly, they had me at eggs, but they took me over the edge with comparisons to curling. I bloody love curling. Take me to a curling rink and offer me a passable vegan poached egg and I’m yours forever.

Sticking in Japan, Jordan Draper flagged up one of his games in a Tokyo exhibition called ‘Is this a game #2’, and this sort of show is exactly my thing. I love when people explore the borders between games and art and getting people to do silly things. I’ve been trawling twitter to turn up some of the weird experiences on offer.

Fictional masterpiece has players coming up with titles for songs that don’t exist. Dweller of the Game gives players curses they have to stroll the exhibition under until someone hands them a coin. Message of the Rule features a mystery board game box with components but no instructions, and asks players to leave notes for the next people about how they think it is played. Jordan Draper’s gambit is called ‘I’d eat that’ and asks people to come up with a dish from a random list of ingredients, and then ask other players if they’d eat it.

I wish I could be there, but if anyone’s in Tokyo this week, it closes on the 15th December, with contributions from Oink, Itten, Asobi and many more. Looks lovely.

Is this a game? No it’s a news post, but also, it’s a very early announcement of a 2020 advent calendar.

Inka and Markus Brand have expanded their Exit series of once-and-done escape room puzzle boxes many times already, but next year they’ll be releasing an Exit advent calendar, with each day offering a new puzzle to solve. Spread through the month, these will build into an adventure narrative and you’ll be finished in time for Christmas. I just think this is a very cute idea. Other board game advent calendars always felt too high stakes for me, with a varied stash of promos for games you might not own seeming likely to be as frustrating as it is fun. But this looks self contained and clever. Lovely!

Christmas marks the season where mainstream pressers look into board games, as everyone gets more panicky about the whole festive thing and is more likely to click on links that might dispel their gift giving grief.

The Seattle Times has a nice profile of the North American branch of Ravensburger games. There’s some curious tidbits here, I didn’t know Ravensberger was founded in 1883 and its first game was a take on Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. A very early multimedia tie in. The piece ends ominously though, with a line about the number of games that are ending in a graveyard of good games that aren’t connecting with their audiences. It’s nice to see some curious journalism on the games industry. Thanks Seattle Times.

On this year’s journalistic naughty list is the Telegraph. Dunk-linked on reddit, this listicle offers 10 recommendations designed to infuriate the average modern board game fan. I’m not going to be quite as harsh as some (despite a deep abiding distaste for the Telegraph), but it’s pretty brow-furrowing to see people highlighting weak old games that are already gathering dust in attics, when there’s a whole world of excitement out there.

On the other hand, I think it’s easy and unnecessary to be snooty about mainstream games. Scrabble is a ruthlessly territorial game that I think more people should keep in their collection, it’s hard to argue with Chess (unless you’ve got some weird talking chess set), and the newest game they do manage to mention, Bananagrams, is actually a pretty good shout for a family recommendation.

That said, you should probably be getting Chinatown instead of Monopoly, Twilight Imperium instead of Risk, Hive instead of Chess, Click Clack Lumberjack instead of Jenga, Captain Sonar instead of Battleships, Monikers instead of Cranium, and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective instead of Cluedo.

Also, you should be watching our festive game recommendations instead of reading the bloody Telegraph.

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down

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GAMES NEWS! 02/12/19

Quintin Smith26 comment(s)

Ava: Happy December, my beautiful news-children. It’s the season of barging around shops, loads of social obligations, wrapping up work and presents, slow news days, and it being really, really hard to stay sober. This week we’re focussing on what I optimistically like to call ‘presents for your future self’, but might more accurately be called ‘gambling on games that have limited incentive to actually be good because they’ve already sold out their stock before they started production’.

Sorry about the cynicism, honestly. I have a finite amount of Christmas Cheer, so I have to be really grumpy for most of December in order to still have some in reserve for the actual festive period. It won’t last all month, I secretly love Christmas.

(I am secretly fond of a Kickstarter too, though as I’ve said a hundred times, I’d really feel a lot more positive about them if they recognised Kickstarter United formally as a union)

Divinity: Original Sin, Larian’s explosively playful role-playing video game is getting a tabletop edition, and I’m baffled by its promise to turn what looks like a giant clock into a sprawling narrative epic with tense tactical combat. Check our our SHUX Preview video for the details.

I had to skip through the high production value am-dram of the official video. I’m just too tired for bad acting in good armour, even if everyone does look like they’re having a lot of fun. Scrubbing through did at least reveal the promise of the possibility of everyone catching on fire, which I understand to be a fundamental part of the video game.

Divinity offers exploration and combat, action points and elements. Everything unfolds on an abstracted central board, with a huge range of cards used to represent locations, options and enemies. You’ll balance a range of different tactical and moral decisions, and update a chronicle that keeps track of anything that could affect your next game. It sounds like a smorgasbord of ideas that we’ve already seen elsewhere, but I suspect Larian will put their own spin on all of it.

Loot of Lima is a lovely looking Cluedo-clone, promising a little less wasted time and some crunchier deduction than the mainstream murder mystery mansion.

Using a colonial backdrop without casting you as colonisers, players are trying to recover a stash of gold stolen from the Spanish after it was stolen from the natives of Lima. Tokens representing each of the locations on an island are shuffled and two are stashed away to represent the actual treasure trove. The rest are handed out, letting each player know where they’ve already searched and found nothing. Finally, dice are rolled each turn to allow players to interrogate each other about the information they’ve gleaned.

It sounds like a nasty knot of logic-puzzling on a pretty little island, and the art is really charming.

Braincrack Games are touring the trading capitals of Europe by moving from Ragusa to Venice. Venice is an economic game built around navigating the canals of the eponymous city.

With two gondolas, but only one gondolier, you’ve got to balance your plans between two different routes around a cityscape made up of possible actions. Staying on the same boat comes at a cost, even though that might be the better plan. A similar weight rests on how far you move. One space is free, but you can move as far as you like if you’ve got the cash. Flexibility comes at a cost.

Venice grabbed my eye partly because I’m still curious about Ragusa, and partly because it promises a range of player actions that made me chuckle. You’ll be completing contracts, enhancing workers, performing combos, building bridges and avoiding arrest. Pretty sure this is an accurate description of a union rep on a beered-up holiday? It’s even got rules for meetings.

I’m charmed by the lovely art and if nothing else, I really want a little wooden gondolier.

Speaking of temptingly tiny wooden pieces, next we’re looking at The Great Wall, an elaborate offering from Awaken realms, which comes in deluxe mini or discount wooden flavours.

Players will be getting into rucks and building a famously large wall, like some kind of over-ambitious and slightly aggressive bricklayer. A general gives each player asymmetrical powers that can be expanded further with advisors, and there’s some troubling timing issues as actions only trigger once enough players have decided to send workers to complete them. Add in a slowly-growing great wall that requires correctly balanced armies to be useful, and there could be some chewy decisions here.

It’s unusual to see Awaken Realms delve into something more like a traditional economics and efficiency game, rather than the baroque narrative structures they’re known for. It’s also definitely nice of them to offer a cut price wooden option that still has quite a lot of fancy looking pieces in it. I’m curious to see how well this fares.

I’m bundling together a selection of oddities for our ‘and finally’ finale. Partly because it’s just three little unusual things to look at, and partly to apologise for leaning so hard on kickstarter this week. Here goes.

The Boardgame Detective has brought together a selection of writers, creators and designers and asked them all ‘what does a 10 out of 10 game mean to you?’ It’s a curious little thought experiment, and it’s nice to see a range of answers. Mine would be that it just means something that when I think about playing it, my heart skips a beat. It doesn’t need to be actually perfect, just thrilling enough that I’d never turn it down. According to my board game geek ratings, so far only Mottainai and Mage Knight have earned that accolade.

The incredibly talented Kwanchai Moriya, one of gaming’s best illustrators, got profiled by a Thai news site, and it includes a nice little English language video. Moriya talks about his career, what game art means to him and what’s going on in the industry at the moment. It’s clearly for a wider audience than just board game fans, but it’s a lovely video.

Finally, I’m hiding this at the end, because we’ve already mentioned Cole Wehrle’s upcoming, ambitious epochal narrative sandbox Oath, but I really, really enjoyed his latest design diary. It includes some critical analysis of his mega-hit Root, and digs deep into the weirdnesses of victory points, and what they actually mean. It’s a topic I’m really fascinated by, the semiotics of one of the most abstracted and arbitrary elements of board games, and Cole’s position that it almost always refers to some form of ‘legitimacy’ is really interesting to me. It’s worth a look whether you’re excited for Oath or not.

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down

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Tactics & Tactility #5 – The Clairvoyance of Failure

Matt Lees7 comment(s)

[Tactics and Tactility is our column about the feelings, details and pleasures of tabletop gaming. This week Ava is look at Quacks of Quedlinberg and the perils of prediction.]

Ava: I’m a potion maker, I’ve got a bag of secret ingredients. There’s magic spilling everywhere. In this moment, I know the exact odds of failure, and I make the fatal mistake. I say it out loud.

‘There’s only one thing that can kill me, and there’s loads in here. Knowing my luck, I’m doomed.’

I pull out that one ingredient, my cauldron explodes, and so does the table. A wave of sympathy and laughter. Of course I did the thing. A one in six chance was the only possible outcome.

Quacks of Quedlinberg is a simple push your luck game wrapped in the right trappings to take it off the table and into your hearts. It’s built out of simple probabilities, a little calculation, and the illusion of control. You pull tiny cardboard chits out of the soft, black bag you’ve built for yourself. You always know exactly how many of the dreaded berries inside can ruin everything.

For most of the round, you’re fine, you just pull and pull and pull. Then you hit the danger point. Suddenly, the security is gone, and you’re really playing the game.

Are you going to risk it? Are you going to take one more pull? There’s one, two, maybe three things that could kill you. But you can feel roughly what the odds are. Actually feel them. With your fingers. It’s not abstract numbers, it’s the little bits of cardboard that dance across your fingertips, hiding in corners and bumping against each other.

All of this would be pointless, if board games weren’t so social. Sat around a table, it’s almost impossible not to talk. You want to share the drama with your friends, it’s what you all sat down for. So of course, you start talking about how you’re doing.

And you start predicting.

The fun (and occasionally dreadful) thing about humanity is that we always remember the unlikely thing, particularly if it’s also the bad thing. My memory of Quacks is almost entirely made up of me saying ‘I’ve got a one in six chance of failure, so obviously that’s going to happen’ and then promptly blowing up my cauldron. It’s a trick of the mind, but it’s a joyful trick.

There’s already something magic about pretending these cardboard chits are important, and there’s even more magic in pretending we have control over them. Pretending what we say matters. There’s a reason the game is about potions and  magic and fortune tellers and witches. It’s all part of the theatre, it wants you to think you’re magic.

Istanbul’s gambling den begs you to indulge your predictive fatalism. It asks you to pick a number you can beat with two simple dice. Everyone knows the odds, what should be safe (pick it and you’ll roll high, of course), what’s an enormous gamble (you’ll just fall one shy, of course). There’s a cruel interplay between our understanding of the maths involved, and the bit of our heart that tells us everything happens for a reason.

This sort of magical thinking is genuinely dangerous, but a special thing about games is that they make the dangerous safe. You get to toy with your own approach to the world, overestimate and underestimate and fiercely estimate the future. You take your fate in your hands and you pour the dice onto the table and play with the fire you could never control.

But it’s only a game. You don’t get burnt. You just roar and moan and laugh and let go. You get to make mistakes. It’s all for the sake of the drama, the table, the moment.

The moment when you tell everyone you’re so very wrong, and you’re exactly right. Games are the artistic application of theatre, mathematics and magic. An alchemical rack of machines built to refine a group of people into a set of stories. Say it out loud and take part in the magic. Win or lose, you’re part of the story now.


So folks, what’s the most magical thing that happened to you playing a game? What’s the story about your precognitive powers you always like to revel in? When did you promise yourself failure, and get it?

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down

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GAMES NEWS! 25/11/19

Quintin Smith19 comment(s)


Quinns: You’re writing the news from a train? I–


Quinns: I’m so glad you’re–


Quinns: Ok, I’m now looking forward to the wi-fi dropping you in about eight seconds.


(Support Kickstarter United! And let us know about good projects on alternatives to kickstarter!)

Ava: Magnate: The First City has dropped onto kickstarter like a block of flats from a great height. This city building, housing market buy-em-up has got a hedge fund full of hype around it.

Magnate is all about ruthless, mercenary capitalism. Players race to buy and build buildings according to an elaborate calculation of ‘how can I get the most rent out of these mugs’. You then want to sell as much as possible before the construction boom collapses and the game ends with all that concrete crumbling in value.

I can’t quite work out where it sits on the faff to complexity ratio, but it’s got a quietly implicit ‘this is the real answer to monopoly’, without necessary being as accessible as that horrible game.

People seem keen, but even as someone who plays games about real actual wars, I feel strangely uncomfortable about the aggressively predatory theme. I’ve been dancing in precarious rented housing for too long. It’s all very personal for me!

Quinns: I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, and reading this review from the great Dan Thurot caused my hype to spike upwards like an unstable property market.

Ava: The review actually turned me off a bit? I’m not sure I want to have to explain a detailed rental income calculation AND a different fiddly sales mechanism? But I might have just read it when I was in the mood for simplicity. I’m normally a big fiddle-fan.

Quinns: That makes sense! For me, I guess I’ve been looking for another cruel capitalist fiddle along the lines of Container or Food Chain Magnate. Economic games that feel like a snowball fight, except instead of snowballs you’re throwing socks full of pennies at one another.

Ava: Ouch.

Ava: Cobble fog, cobble fog, oh foggy, cobble cobble.
Cobble fog, cobble fog, oh foggy cobble cobble.
Cobble fog, cobble fog, oh foggy cobble cobble.
Cobble fog. *POP*. Da dum bum bum.

Quinns: Restoration Games has announced Unmatched: Cobble & Fog, the second big box for Unmatched, their beloved new implementation of Star Wars Epic Duels.

Where the first Unmatched set let players arrange fights between Sinbad, Alice, Medusa and King Arthur, Cobble & Fog will add The Invisible Man, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde and Sherlock Holmes to the game’s demented roster. For those not keeping track, this roster now includes Bruce Lee, Bigfoot and will soon feature no less than five characters from Jurassic Park, one of which is three raptors.

Ava: Oh, I hadn’t been paying attention to this at all! It’s a Public Domain Battle Royale! (Plus Bruce Lee, who I don’t believe is in the public domain). Can they do Elizabeth Bennet versus The Raven, next? Anna Karenina, up against Don Quixote?

Quinns: I’m holding out for The Portrait of Dorian Grey in a cage match with the whale from Moby Dick.

I’m actually working on the Shut Up & Sit Down review of Unmatched at the moment, and I’m beyond impressed. The fact that the game is produced in collaboration with Mondo means that in addition to being bewilderingly silly, Unmatched is maybe the prettiest game that came out this year. I’m a fan!

Ava: I’m not saying this made it into the news because I saw the screen shot of the german box and read ‘Die Crew’ as an imperative, but…

The Crew: The Quest for Planet 9 is a co-op trick taking game of flying through space by winning card hands in the right order. It has a hint of The Mind with it’s ever growing mission structure, and I’m still charmed by the idea of co-operative trick-taking. The trick to top trick-taking is making you want to win some hands but not others, and if the end goal of the hand is to make specific people win specific cards, but you’re all working together, that’s nuanced!

I’m still more excited for upcoming co-op trick-taker The Fox in the Forest: Duet, because I trust the core game of the original so much, but The Crew looks foxy in a different way.

Ava: Uwe Rosenberg is one of the biggest names in the business, and has designed three of my all time favourite games (Patchwork, Nusfjord and Glass Road). My ears prick up when he’s got something new on the way.

Fairy Trails is a one or two player game about shaping paths to house rival gnome and fairy factions. It sounds like a super simple, tile-laying game with a bit of racing and faffing. It’s exactly the opposite of the kind of economic crunchiness that I most trust Uwe with, but I also know he can pull off simpler games with aplomb. Last pub game night I was at, the other table were having a whale of a time with Bohnanza, and Patchwork remains a perfect two player game.

But Uwe’s not best known for his consistency. I found the first two rural tetromino follow-ups to Patchwork, (Cottage Garden and Indian Summer) insufferably boring (and never tried the third, Spring Meadow). That said, he’s a huge name and a great designer. I just hope this one’s seen more quality control.

Ava: We’ve not yet reviewed Undaunted: Normandy, but it’s already getting a sequel in Undaunted: North Africa, and I am excited.

The Undaunted system is one of the simplest tactical wargames I’ve ever seen, with a delicate blend of deck building and moving tokens around the map. It’s reminiscent of the late Chad Jensen’s Combat Commander, one of the richest tactical infantry simulations I’ve ever touched, but stripped down to the absolute minimum complexity, with maximum drama. We’ve not dived deep enough for explicit recommendations yet, but it’s had some of my most exciting first plays of the year, and Quinns and I will be playing some more this very week.

Undaunted: North Africa will take the fight to, well, the top bit of the titular continent, replacing the countryside of Normandy with the deserts of the Sahara. North Africa is the World War Two front I know the least about, despite having Spike Milligan’s war memoirs pushed on me as a kid, (mostly because I was anachronistically obsessed with The Goon Show).

Quinns: In a state of affairs that I’m describing as “Very Quinns”, I know that you and I have barely played the first Undaunted, but I’m amped for this next box. The first instalment of Undaunted felt like an outrageously firm foundation, and I want to see how they build onwards and upwards.

Plus, I know I’m not the only one who’s very bored of these games primarily following Americans fighting in Western Europe. It’s called a world war! At the risk of sounding like some kind of military-industrial mother figure, there’s a whole world out there! Can we not explore it a little bit? Let’s meet some new people and learn about their story.

(Not that North Africa is exactly pushing the envelope. It was Mark Bigney of So Very Wrong About Games who pointed out to me that “North Africa” is always the first expansion after the designers have done Western Europe, and then after that it’s the Eastern Front…)

Ava: Here’s a tasty bit of further reading. Polygon asks a few of the biggest designers in the business what games they recommend from the last decade. There’s some good picks here! And some I’d argue with!

I think Volko Ruhnke (former CIA analyst and designer of the COIN system of asymmetrical wargames) is a touch bold to nominate his own game, but its influence has been huge in that particular scene.

I’m not surprised to see lightweight but punchy civilisation game 7 Wonders get nominated (in duel and non-duel formats) twice. I revisited it recently and it’s still surprisingly fresh, and played with people who know it well, you can rattle through a game ridiculously quickly.

Quinns: Wow! This is fascinating. SU&SD has always made fun of Zombicide for being (and this is a technical term) total toilet, but here it is, nominated by none other than Rob Davaiu. And actually, his point that it invented a whole new business model is eye-opening and inarguable. I might reply that it’s an unhealthy business model that isn’t good for the consumer, but it’s certainly brought a lot of money into tabletop.

Ava: This interview with Jonathan Ying, lovely designer of Bargain Quest, is worth a read. And we’re not just saying that because he has nice things to say about us.

There’s a lot of interesting bites here about design processes and specific details. After an unusual trajectory that took him from writer, to DreamWorks animator, to Fantasy Flight Games designer, he nearly dropped out of game design before Bargain Quest’s success. I wonder if we do need to start pushing for new ways to make designers lives more sustainable and accessible to a wider range of people, and I wonder what that would actually look like.

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down

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GAMES NEWS! 19/11/19

Quintin Smith60 comment(s)

Ava: Ooh hoo hoo. It’s late in the day for a news harvest, but I’m sure there’s still some pickings out in the fields. Let’s have a little news-pumpkin fesitval and think about chickens, gems, memories, moods, pretty mosaics, old worlds, new boats, weird moons and sadness.

Ooh I’ve gone autumnal maudlin. Let’s see if BoardGameGeek can shake me out of it.

Due to a clash with BGG Con, head honcho W Eric Martin won’t be making it to the Tokyo Game show this year. This is a shame as his tour of the Japanese game design scene is always pretty exciting. Instead he’s giving us a long distance roundup of just a few games.

I was glad to see him cover a new game from Oink Games called Fafnir, as his wrestling with the translation yielded more information than I could wrangle from google translate. Fafnir will have you chasing after a chicken that lays gems of many colours, and then tasks you with trading those gems with Fafnir on future rounds, in particular sorts of auction. It looks adorable, just like everything else Oink.

I’m also curious about Remember our Trip, from Saashi and Saashi. This combines town building and iffy recollection. You’ll be rebuilding your memories of a trip to a Japanese town, matching patterns on your own board, that you can then add as buildings to the shared board in the centre representing the actual reality of your journey. It does actually sound as elusive as trying to reconstruct an old holiday with a group of long-confused friends looking at overexposed old photos, which is pretty impressive.

Sticking with psychological oddities. Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen, the design team behind Copenhagen (the game, not the city) and Deep Blue (the game, not the metonym), have put together an abstract emotional game in the form of Inner Compass.

‘Take a deep breath and reflect for a moment on what is really important to you in life.’ That’s the first step of setup, apparently, and I’m already nervous.

Inner Compass will have you navigating life on a map made up of blocks representing different emotional states and drawing cards that also represent emotional states. Once you have them, you can cash in powerful memories by releasing these little bundles of feelings in the form of collected sets. There’s a few wrinkles about trying to be mature enough to have emotions at the right time, effectively manipulating a little emotional market off to the side. There’s also secret objectives representing the state of mind you were geared towards, providing points for having had the right sort of moods in the right sort of places.

I’m not sure I got the feeling of feelings from a read of the manual, but I trust these two designers to be doing something interesting, even if it’s a little abstract. There are definitely ideas here, and I’m curious if it really can give any insight into the right way to approach this nightmarish roundabout we call ‘life’.

Possibly set my sights a bit high there. Hopefully it’ll be fun way to spend a few hours with good friends. ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’

Today in ‘expansions I’m not entirely convinced by’’ we have an addition to the absolutely stunning quasi-abstract mosaic builder Azul.

Azul: Crystal Mosaic adds some new player boards and a little plastic overlay to the Portuguese puzzle puddle. The new boards start with with a few pre-marked spaces, leaving the rest blank for you to get stuck into. I assume the rule remains that no type of tile can be in the same row or column as another of its type, as was true on the really quite boring blank reverse board of the original game.

The arguably more exciting element is a plastic rack to lay over the board to help your tiles stay in place. I’m all in favour of this sort of thing, as it can improve accessibility for people with motor difficulties. It’s a wonderful game, now easier to play for more people. That’s lovely.

Moving on to news I’m definitely less angry about than some people, we have the announcement from Games Workshop that they are returning to their old fantasy world, The Old World.

Games Workshop annihilated it’s fantasy setting just a few years ago, mostly metaphorically, but also in terms of tournament and official rules support. This was quite controversial at the time, as it meant a lot of collections people had sunk hundreds of pounds into became unofficial overnight. The Age of Sigmar setting did re-invigorate the game in many ways, allowing them to slough off a trough full of rules, and simplify their approach. This was also controversial, and Games Workshop has been slowly responding to feedback and adapting their approach ever since.

Now some people are pretty upset to find that the collections they burned, sold, traded or got rid of may now be playable again, as GW have announced a renewal of the Old World setting at some point in the future. It sounds like it won’t in any way be replacing the Age of Sigmar universe, but supplementing it.

The company seems pretty thoroughly damned either way. If this is a response to the upset fans, it’s taken so long that a lot of people have accepted the need to move on, in a way that makes moving back doubly frustrating. It’s a sticky wicket, as we say in England. A sticky, skull-encrusted wicket.

(Kickstarter United is still seeking recognition from Kickstarter, and we’re still supporting them. They’re still not requesting a boycott, although we are hoping to support alternative crowdfunding platforms to give frustrated publishers more options, so if anyone knows of good projects happening elsewhere, let us know!)

Lovely walk simulator Tokaido is getting a sequel, and do you know what’s lovelier than a lovely walk? A lovely boat.

Namiji is now on Kickstarter, and looks as gorgeous as Tokaido, but with a significantly more sailing. As with Tokaido, whoever is in last pace on the beautifully illustrated track takes their choice of which space to stop on. Once you land your boat somewhere, you take the relevant bonus, and likely add a beautifully illustrated card or token to your collection.

The Kickstarter edition comes with gorgeous boat miniatures and even more miniature paper boat offering tokens. These obviously aren’t necessary, but they are gorgeous, and I suspect the main risk of this Kickstarter is whether it’s actually got enough in it to differentiate it from Tokaido, and whether it’s worth having both. Additions include a little board for collecting fish on, and a little push your luck crustacean minigame about grabbing shrimp but hopefully not grabbing too many crabs. I guess your mileage will vary depending on how you feel about imaginary representations of seafood.

To Ganymede and Titan, yes sir, I’ve been around. And so has Kickstarter, to Titan at least, with just 9 hours left on the campaign of Titan, a game about a moon called Titan.

You’ll be visiting the saturnine moon to ruthlessly strip-mine and hoard resources, as good (aka bad) businesses do. It promises a combination of network building, worker placement and heavy metal management, all laid out on a faintly ridiculous three dimensional crater colosseum of economics. You’ll build a network of rigs and pipes to slowly extract what you can, move it around, and hopefully swap it for points. It promises high complexity and fluid mechanics, but I’m not sure that…holds water.

(I really don’t deserve to over-reach on that terrible pun but…it literally won’t hold water because the bowl shaped crater is made up of six parts that probably don’t form a watertight bond, so if you are actually hoping that it’ll be a reasonable back-up bird bath if the game is bobbins, you might want to look elsewhere).

The whole thing is tied together with some lovely B-movie Sci-fi aesthetics and there’s a plethora of optional add ons to make your trip to Titan more exciting. I’m more into the box art than what’s in the boxes, if I’m honest.

Once again I find myself sharing some sad news from this week, as game designer Chad Jensen has died after a long struggle with cancer.

Chad is best known for the thrillingly convoluted Combat Commander, a tactical wargame that has exhilarating card driven play and a smart event system that I would love a more accessible game to steal. He also created Dominant Species, a widely hailed large scale strategy game that has players acting as the stochastic processes of evolution upon particular families of animals. It’s one I’ve been keen to try for a long time. Chad will be greatly missed, but I suspect people will be playing his games for a very long time.

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down

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GAMES NEWS! 11/11/19

Quintin Smith37 comment(s)

Quinns: Woo! I don’t know what your weekend was like, Ava, and I don’t want to be coy, but I played a *very* large board game that I’ll be covering in our big, year-end blowout review.

Ava: How large are we talking?

Quinns: OK, imagine how big a board game should be.

Ava: *closes eyes* I’m doing it.

Quinns: It’s even bigger than that!

Ava: Oh my.

Ava: Fantasy Flight has announced Fallout Shelter, their latest riff on the infamous post-apocalyptic Fallout video games, and will see players looking after vault dwellers in a happiness-powered bunker. Each player will build their own level of a shared complex, slowly filling the table with increasingly elaborate options for adorable little vault-dwellers to reap exciting rewards. Also, it looks like a little lunchbox filled with apocalyptic snacks, which isn’t something I realised I wanted.

I feel like the Fallout cartooniness used to have an amount of satire that isn’t entirely present here, but that might not stop it being an interesting game. It occurs to me that this is probably the first time Fantasy Flight have gone near traditional worker placement games? Is that right? Does that matter?

Let’s wait and see whether this sets the world on fire, eh?

Quinns: Staying nuclear, but moving to Eastern Europe, we have the announcement of Zona: The Secret of Chernobyl from Rebel Games.

While the new HBO Chernobyl TV series might paint this as a particularly grim setting (‘Roll 7+ to send 530,000 to clean up an incalculable tragedy’’, etc.), Zona instead draws from the wealth of Eastern Euopean sci-fi surrounding Chernobyl, which is mostly populated by gnarly scavengers in custom jackets.

Players will each take on the role of one of these scavengers, racing to uncover secrets and to reach the sarcophagus that covers the devastated power plant before the ‘final emission’. Which sounds to me more like a fart gag than a mind-bending mystery. Or maybe that’s me being small-minded- after all, couldn’t it be both?

Also, one of the playable characters is “Drunkard”, which makes me laugh.

Ava: Let’s stick with the soviets, and take a visit to Mayday Games’ Red Outpost, a communist take on worker placement.

Players will take control of a hidden soviet conclave on an alien planet, with joint responsibility for the comrades calling it home. Resources are shared among the whole table, as well as control of the workers themselves. Victory is earned by maintaining the mood of the workers as you move them from building to building to earn resources, build statues and get drunk.

There’s a couple of rules here that tickle me, like the bureaucrat getting a crystal if they go to the admin building, but if anyone else visits, it makes the bureaucrat happier. Poor lonely space bureaucrat! Just wants someone to come say hi. The other effect of that building is fiddling with another player’s point-scoring influence disks, leaving them taking the fall for someone else’s misery. Which sounds a little bit like every business meeting I’ve ever been in.

Quinns: I’m not convinced that this will be great, but I do have a soft spot for games that make your worker pieces more than just lumps of wood. Is there a more poignant moment in board games than when your parents finally die in Village? And then you get REALLY upset because you realise that Dad was the only person who knew how to make a cart?

Or what about Pie Town! A game where getting extra workers is great, but until they’ve been around the block a few times your junior employees are liabilities who might spill your pie secrets.

Quinns: Oh baby! It’s not often that board games get outright sequels. Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Khan is being described as an “epic standalone follow-up” to The Voyages of Marco Polo, a game we had a lot of fun reviewing (even though Big Spitting Bumpy Boys would break up just weeks later)

The prevailing attitude from the designers of Marco Polo II seems to be “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Players still choose their role from something like a 13th century character select screen, they still place dice to hustle across Asia, and they still have to fulfill trading contracts while on the road. But of course, as we learned from the superb Brass: Birmingham, sequels need more stuff, and that’s why players will also have to manage a new, sixth resource: jade.

Ava: It is still /very/ brown, though. Albeit a somehow brighter brown than the base game?

Quinns: Come sit on my knee and I’ll tell you a story.

Ava: I’m 35 years old, Quinns. I’ll do it, but only if you provide safety equipment and a risk assessment.

*several hours of bureaucracy and hoisting later*

Quinns: In 1996, when I was very small, an incredible video game called Quake was released. And the video game journalists who I liked the most said that Quake was incredible, but they also made fun of it for years for being exceedingly brown. The whole game was like trying to spot corduroys in a clay pit.

And you know what? Time proved them right. Quake was way too brown.

Ava: This is entirely irrelevant but when I was first playing Quake I didn’t realise I had left the wrong CD in the drive, and so for me the soundtrack wasn’t Nine Inch Nails, but the saccharine misery-pop of the Lightning Seeds. I still can’t hear Sugar Coated Iceberg without flashing back to wasting all my ammo on a big red snake demon before realising I just had to go upstairs and press some buttons.

Quinns: I can’t hear The Offspring’s Conspiracy of One without thinking of Sacrifice.

Anyway, Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Khan! It’ll probably be nice?

Ava: Look, either you’re paying me to sit on your knee, or have opinions. I am not doing both at once.

Ava: I’m two months late to noticing that a second expansion to Terra Mystica is taking to the seas.

Terra Mystica: Merchants of the Seas, will add a host of factions that take advantage of water in one way or another, alongside new shipyards, docks and ships. The expansion also gives you a new double sided board, with fjords or lakes to mix up the territories.

To balance things out, the game has to jump back in and shuffle around the victory point settings for various factions on the base game boards, as some will be stymied by a lack of water, and others will have the opposite. It all sounds a little queasy to me, but if you love slamming those enormous slabs of wood on the board and getting your brain crushed by competing point possibilities, this promises more of the same. I say bon voyage to it.

Quinns: Hey, we were just talking about board game sequels- when the sequel to Terra Mystica, Gaia Project, came out, I felt profoundly alone when I said that I didn’t like it as much as the original game. I can at least take some solace in them still releasing expansions for one and not the other.

Ava: You’ll never walk alone, Quinns. Gaia Project felt weirdly shapeless to me. Absolutely fine, but it never furrowed my brow as tightly as Terra Mystica did.

Ava: Sometimes I want to highlight a random design diary from BoardGameGeek just for a random game doing something unusual. Today is one of those days. Ian Bach has written about the evolution of his animal-catching dice and card game Merlin’s Beast Hunt.

Merlin’s Beast Hunt will have you rolling dice to try and get combos that will allow you to prop up cards and build little walls around animals and trap them. That’s it. It’s just dice and cards being used in a different way.

I’m faintly disappointed as it drifts away from it’s novel prototype roots into something with custom dice and transparent cards, but it still looks like Ian has brewed an idea up from cosy messing around with easily available components combined in a novel way. I like it! I’m curious! I hope it’s good!

Quinns: I’m not convinced this is the most interesting reporting I’ve ever seen. But Quartz pointing out that Nigeria are doing great at Scrabble just makes me want to note that Scrabble must be the most respectable of the classic mass market games that every home has a copy of.

Ava: I’ve got a long-standing rivalry with a friend that runs to hundreds of games played remotely via app. It feels less like a word game and more like a ruthless territory control and push-your-luck contest, and I love it for it.

Quinns: Oh, it’s so true! Returning to Scrabble after playing a load of designer board games is bizarre. You think it’s a word game, and then as an adult you do a double-take and see that it’s an area control game!

I still can’t beat my wife, mind you, because she knows the deviant two letter words. Trying to beat her is like trying to stave off a pack of flying monkeys, except instead of monkeys it’s words like “za” and “gu”.

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down

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Your Introduction to… Carl Chudyk!

Quintin Smith38 comment(s)

Ava: Welcome to an occasional series introducing you to a single, storied game designer. Today I want to tell you about the games of a man called Carl.

Certain designers have a set of obsessions that shine brightly when you put all their work together. There’s a pattern of passions that unite their work. Carl Chudyk is my my board game design crush, and it’s because he ploughs a furrow that nobody else could. His games are relics from a weirder, smarter world. He builds layered puzzle-systems where possibilities multiply at every turn. They’re challenging to learn, but a delight to wrangle.

It’s odd though. I struggle to recommend them to people, even though they’re my favourites. I don’t like to push people into an experience that might feel horrible the first time round. It’s like asking someone to dive into a river that will be cold until they adjust.

But I want to talk about Carl Chudyk anyway. Once you’re swimming with him, you’ll find something you couldn’t get anywhere else.  You’ll open tiny boxes and find yourself tucking ideas under possibilities and watching your table turn into a sea of systems. You’ll still be finding surprises on your hundredth play.

You’ll get stories. Stories of the time a game felt different to anything else.

These aren’t reviews. There’s no time for that.

Instead I’m going to dissect a few games, pull out a few gutsy details, and see if I can read in the entrails why Carl is the way he is. Why he fills me with wonder and what makes me scream. Take a deep breath. It’s a fast river, you might not be able to get out.

Red7 – Rules are made to be changed

Red7 is one of his simplest games, and it comes with one central rule. At the end of your turn you must be winning. If you aren’t winning, you’ve already lost.

That sounds odd, but it makes sense when you’ve seen the rest.

On your turn you can play a card in front of you, or play a card into the centre of the table, or both. The card in the centre dictates how the game is currently won. You might be looking for the highest number, or the biggest set of matching numbers, or the most cards of one colour. The cards in front of you get compared to everyone else’s, and you see if you’re winning.

If you can’t play a card on your turn, or you can’t be winning by the end of your turn, you’re out.

It’s simple, but it gives us a core concept from Chudyk’s games: The rules can change while you’re playing.

Red7 has a closed ruleset. There are seven suits, each giving a different win condition. You can see them on a reference card, all the different flavours of victory at once. But every turn the game can change. Within those seven orientations, you will be a winner every turn, until you aren’t. You’ve got to adapt as the rules change.

So each turn leaves you wrestling with the options in your hand. You can change the rules, or you can make yourself stronger, but you need to adapt, need to shift, need to plan, need to worry. The possibilities are all laid out clearly. But you need to find a way to win now, and stay winning. It’s a ruthless bucketful of maths and hope, and it’s a delight.

It’s the simplest implementation of his rule bending extravagance, but it’s got that beating Chudyk heart. Carl likes it when you play a card that breaks the game. It’s common to complain about overpowered combinations, game breaking possibilities. But for Carl that’s the goal. The game is made to be broken, or at least changed. You won’t often finish playing quite the same game you started.

Innovation – Tucked away complexity

This is a frustration, so it’s one we should be up front about. A lot of Chudyk games are hard to learn. You need to learn a specific language, a particular syntax. Remember how we said that rules are going to get broken? Well to do that you need to build up from a robust core. You need a precise vocabulary and a shared grammar, a knowledge of what can change, and what will stay the same. If lots can change, it’s harder to teach what stays the same.

The first time you play Innovation will feel cruel and random and ridiculous. To its credit, it is trying to cover the whole span of civilised life, and random and ridiculous is how history has always felt from the inside. 

Innovation has a small deck of cards for each of ten historical eras, from the stone age to the information age. Initially, there is no way to win. You’re introduced to the concept of scoring, but before you can do that, you have to find the cards that let you do it. 

Quinns’ review stopped short of recommending this tricky beast, but includes a lovely example of just how bewildering the opening moves of this game can feel.

This is infuriating for new players, but it’s the price of having a rich web of possibilities. Every card is unique, and many of them are explosively powerful. I’m still discovering cards that I giggle or goggle at when I see what they can do.

There’s a late game card called Fission, illustrated with a tiny mushroom cloud. It’s hard to activate, but if you do, you’ll remove nearly every card from the table. All those civilisations you built? They’ll crumble in a fiery instant. But you don’t stop playing, you carry on. It’s just that you’ve been bombed back to the stone age.

I can’t think of another example of a pun executed entirely in mechanical terms. I can’t think of a card in a game that has made me laugh so hard and feel so bleak.

There’s wonder and weirdness tucked away in those decks. Unexpected possibilities and huge swings in power. I’m always eager to play, because even after tens of games, I don’t know what will happen. When did a civ game last make you feel that way? Game after game after game, Chudyk dishes up the unexpected.

Glory to Rome – Everything I can do, you can do better

Glory to Rome is Chudyk’s ugly, out of print opus. Its enormous deck of cards is heaving with combos, game-breakers and weird ways to win.

It’s also got a baffling turn order ritual that emphasises another Chudykian obsession. When you do something, everyone else might get to do it too.

When you take your turn, you play a card in front of you, representing a citizen of Rome. Then wait to give everyone else a chance to follow. If they’ve been hanging around with the right people and have a matching card to discard, they get the action too.

It’s a nasty weight to put on a decision. You can’t just do something because it benefits you, you have to weigh up how much it will benefit everyone else. Are you willing to risk giving them a leg up? Do they have the card they need? You don’t know. But it begs you to look at other people’s plans, stay invested in their engines, so you can tell when you’re giving them a helping hand. It’s a simple, cruel question about your efficiency, and whether you’re making that action work harder than everyone else. It makes every turn count. Every opponent could be your saviour or curse with the right action at the right time.

Quinns would tell you that Race for the Galaxy was the pinnacle of this kind of ruthless hand-management, but I think it’s Carl who knows how to make you wrestle your own hands the hardest. And that’s mostly because he makes you worry about exactly how much you’re helping everyone else with that move. There’s a real fear to each decision, as you throw away something you can use and watch to see if anyone latches onto the opportunity and gets you in a headlock.

Does it make you feel like a glorious Roman? Does it take you from zero to hero to Nero? Honestly, it’s hard to say. Everything has the name of a Roman building on it, and occasionally you get to say ‘Rome demands stone’ and see if anyone coughs up with the aggressive legionary action. The art is more preschool than praetor, though. It’s hard to sound impressive when you’ve got a tiny MSpaint drawing of a semi-naked Roman in front of you. But there’s a sense of the bustling forum in everyone calling out as they try to make the most of your turn. Everyone staring pointedly at each other’s cards looking for a chink in your engine like jealous senators in March.

So many of Carl’s games have some mechanism by which your action will be borrowed by someone else. It keeps interaction high, keeps attention focussed. It’s smart, it’s weird, it’s frustrating and it’s clever.

It’s very, very Carl Chudyk.

Mottainai – Every little thing means five things

For me, Mottainai is Chudyk’s masterpiece. My application for this very job was a heartfelt pouring out of affection for this game recorded by the side of my favourite river. It’s a spiritual successor to Glory to Rome that borrows most of the rules, but puts the brakes on to make for a more meditative, more explorative experience.

It shares with Glory to Rome Carl’s next kink, multi-use cards.

In Mottainai, you’re running a slightly capitalist Buddhist temple. Every card is an action you can take, grabbing new helpers as they pass by, moving materials into the crafts bench. Each card could also be a resource you can use for points or building, metal or cloth or clay or stone or paper. It’s also a person who might be able to help you out, boosting the right action, a visiting monk or a hard-working smith or a humble clerk. Or each card is a unique work, an object you can build for a game breaking effect. You’ll find everything from pin cushions to paper dolls, and each one can go in your gallery or your gift shop.

This makes every hand a puzzle. What do you need to hold on to? What do you want to discard so it’s available later? What do you want to use now? What do you want to save for later? What would you rather get rid of to make some space?

Now, add that list of questions to the fear of knowing that your opponents will perform any action you choose for yourself, and you’ve got to treat each hand, each turn, with precision and care. The word Mottainai translates literally as ‘everything little thing has a soul’ and more figuratively as ‘the regret experienced over wastefulness’. This sums it up. It’s a sweet, ruthless game of squeezing every last thing out of every hand, and delighting in the strange things you’ll make with it.

Mottainai’s theme doesn’t come from its slightly absurd take on monastery life, but on the meditative flow of play. It feels soft and gentle, even as you’re getting frustrated and being ruthless. It’s a game of exploration, of wonder, of mindfulness and movement.

Every little game has a soul.

Impulse – Over-powered is the new normal

If Innovation was a playful homage to civilisation games, Impulse is a full on satire of 4X space games. It’s a disco opera take on Star Wars, in the best possible way.

Impulse finds yet another use for the cards you play with, as a galactic map laid out in the centre of the table. You’ll be sending fighters and transports across great voids, looking for planets that are just like the cards in your hand. You go through a rigmarole of different actions every turn, and every one of them can cascade into others.

You see that map on the table? They are still cards, they’re still actions like the ones in your hands. If you can land transports on a planet, you get to take that action. I’ve seen turns where people bounce around half the galaxy in a turn, picking up and pushing about, and desperately trying to find the thing that gets them what they need. You don’t just take each other player’s action. You get to repeat any combos on the table that anyone else has uncovered, provided you’ve got the fighters to back up your boldness. There’s a whole astro-geography of possibilities laid out in between everyone, a shared puzzle for you to fight over. 

The cards themselves aren’t as wild as Innovation’s bizarre deck of possibilities, but in Innovation you only do one thing at a time. Here you’re trying to find a way to do twelve things a turn, and sometimes it’s even possible.

Combat is vicious, board states exploitable and absolutely everything is ridiculous. It feels like a monster of a game. It’s only an hour or so to play, but squeezes all but the most diplomatic dramas of Twilight Imperium, into these sharp, overpowered bursts of movement, combat and domination.

Aegean Sea – Put it all together

I’ve only had a brief shot at an early prototype of Aegean Sea, Carl’s next big thing, but I can see something that learns all of these lessons and twists them into a new shape. An island hopping wargame where each island can be home to five flavours of cards and the potential for huge conflict and game-breaking possibilities.

Expanding on the passion for unique powers, each player has their own entirely unique set of cards to draw from. Digging through your deck to find the right tool to manipulate the cardboard sea into something you can win from is a confusing, thrilling nightmare. Islands can be destroyed by the gods for their hubris, and absolutely nothing is safe. Your home port can be invaded by opponents, and the points you’ve earned can be taken from right under your nose.

I’ve no idea if it’s going to be tight and taut enough to bring Carl to the masses, but I’m excited to see how it plays out. And because it’s Carl, I don’t even mean how the prototype evolves, I mean how different each game could be.

FlowerFall – Let’s just ignore all of that

Of course, everyone’s got a real outlier, and for Carl, it’s this very particular area control game. FlowerFall features cards being dropped from a height to create a randomly scattered meadow. It’s simple, it’s silly, it’s nothing like anything else. It’s got comedy and tragedy, and rules that you can learn in a heartbeat.

On your turn you drop cards onto table, and they land where they land, creating  new flower-beds and covering over others. Have the most flowers visible in a chain of green, and you win points for each green flower still visible on that patch. That’s everything.

It’s not got the depth of anything else we’ve talked about, but it’s still utterly unlike anything else out there, and I love him for doing it.

*   *   *

That’s just the highlights of Carl’s acclaimed and continuing career making games that nobody else really could. Games that you’ll want to play again and again, that unfold in a new way every time. I think he’s wonderful, I think he’s playful, I think he’s obsessive and I think he’s one of a kind.

Carl Chudyk is my favourite designer, even though when I’m teaching his games I feel like I’ve turned into a parody of a constitutional lawyer. I find myself using oddly specific turns of phrases and getting excited about incredibly finicky details. The games fill me with joy, though. They surprise and excite me. I love watching the rules and the cards click with people, watching them realise just how much could change, how quickly tables can turn.

I said this wasn’t a review, but I would also vouch for any of these games. If your interest is piqued, and you don’t mind an inconvenient initial headache, I think you’ll find a wealth of weirdness and fun.

Let me know who you think I should dive deep into next. And if you end up trying out some Carl Chudyk, let me know how it goes.

The original article can be found on the fantastic Shut Up & Sit Down