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Today we’re streaming Twilight Imperium!

Quinns: HELLO! After a literal week of preparation, today is the day we’re going to be streaming a full game of Twilight Imperium 4th edition. And with a bit of luck, it’s going to be the most exhaustive playthrough of Twilight Imperium that the internet has ever seen. We will have…

  • Our secret diary room for whenever players want to share their secret plans
  • A tactical overlay showing the map, the objectives and who’s completed them
  • The “Galactic News” readout showing the best Twitch comments
  • And even more!

Obviously after the stream is over you’ll be able to watch it as a Twitch video on demand, and after that’s gone we’ll be uploading it to YouTube, but if you want to come along and join in the fun we’ll be starting at 2PM GMT, 9AM EST, 6AM PST.

See you there!

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

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Co-op Case Studies: Star Trek — Five-Year Mission

The cooperative universe of the Star Trek Federation is fertile ground for co-op game design. David E. Whitcher’s Star Trek: Five-Year Mission is thus the second Star Trek co-op of the ’10s, and a very different beast from Reiner Knizia’s Star Trek: Expeditions.

This article was originally published in the Meeples Together blog.


Publisher: Mayfair Games (2015)
Cooperative Style: True Co-Op
Play Style: Dice

Overview

Players draw alert cards that they must then solve by collecting the correct dice. When the players solve enough alerts, they win; or when they fail enough, they lose.

Challenge System

The challenge system in Five-Year Mission kicks off with a pretty typical activation method: a player draws an alert card at the start of his turn. However, the player has the option as to what sort of alert card to draw: an easy blue, a medium yellow, or a difficult red.

Once drawn, the card might trigger an immediate effect: a character might be wounded, the Enterprise might be damaged, or an existing task might become harder. In some cases, alerts cascade — as one card causes another to be drawn. This is a minor bit of unknown chaos that keeps players on their toes.This is meaningful because it’s not an obvious choice. A player might choose to pick a tougher card to increase the chance of earning a victory point or to earn a different type of victory point. Meanwhile, the challenge system might force a player to pick a tougher card based on the current damage level of the Enterprise. Finally, there’s a limit to how many unsolved cards there can be in each color; exceeding it causes an old alert to fail, which is yet another reason to pick a card of a different difficulty level. The result of all of this is a hard tactical decision at the start of each turn —and it’s a decision that individually empowers the current player, since he’s doing the drawing.

Ultimately, a task sits at the heart of each alert card; it specifies which dice results can be used to solve the alert. Some of these dice requirements are easy to accomplish (“place a die of 4 or more”), but they get increasingly difficult (“place a red die of exactly 3” or “simultaneously place a red 2 and a yellow 3”). By allowing multiple levels of difficulty, this formulaic dice system creates both easy tasks and hard challenges that will result in much-celebrated victories. It also offers yet another level of thoughtful tactics — as players decide which dice to assign to which ongoing crises.

A few of the alerts also contain specific time constraints. Some must be done within three minutes of real time, while others must be completed before any other crises. These introduce some fun variety, though the real-time element is a bit out-of-place in an otherwise turn-based game. (Nonetheless, it’s exciting!)

The biggest limitation of Five-Year Mission’s challenge system is that its decay is quite limited. Up to three cards can cascade from a single draw, and the players may temporarily be forced to take harder cards if the Enterprise is damaged, or if there are too many of an easy sort of card out. However, it the players manage to roll back these problems, gameplay will return to its original, easier configuration.

In addition, shifting the difficulty of the game don’t necessarily make the game harder, just longer. The easiest difficult requires that 10 points worth of scoring alerts be completed, while the hardest requires 20. There’s certainly less room for error in the harder game, because you can only fail at five alerts in either game. However, without real decay, this difficulty increase is a simple linear progression; it may not affect players until the highest levels, when they finally surpass the levels of their competency.

Games that are too easy or too hard are a real issue in co-op play, but it’s possible that Whitcher purposefully kept this game on the easy side, because the Star Trek theming is all about cooperation overcoming odds — not about failure.

Challenge System Elements: Turn Exploration Activation; Arbitrary Trigger (with choice); Sequential Cascade; Decay; Removal Consequences; and Skill Threats.

Cooperative System

Mechanically, cooperation in Five-Year Mission occurs through the joint placement of dice on alerts. Most of the alerts require multiple dice, and so their placement can usually be spread out across multiple player-turns. This sort of joint puzzle progression is rare in co-op games, but does pop up in a few other games such as Lord of the Rings (2000), which features the joint progression of activity tokens, and Freedom: The Underground Railroad (2012), which features the joint progression of escaped-slave tokens.

Viscerally, the cooperation in Five-Year Mission occurs through the exclamations and excited suggestions made to the active player after he’s rolled his dice. This sort of spontaneous cooperative discussion seems to arise naturally from games that focus on pattern-recognition, where any player might see the pattern first. SOS Titanic (2013), a co-op based on solitaire mechanics, shows the idea in its purest form, but it works just as well in Five-Year Mission.

Adventure System

Each player in Five-Year Mission has his own character, who has a special power that tends to come up once on a player’s turn. This offers some nice differentiation among the players that gives players a handle they can use to “role play” if they want to, but it doesn’t weigh the game down with the complexity of a more involved adventure system.

Final Thoughts

Five-Year Mission is a well-designed and well-formed cooperative game that doesn’t actually add a lot to the field. Elder Sign (2011) is probably its closest kin, but Five-Year Mission’s mechanics and ideas have all been seen elsewhere.

Despite that, Five-Year Mission meshes its mechanics together in an interesting and thoughtful way that results in gameplay that still feels quite unique. This is in part due to a few elements that are unusual for the field (even if they have been seen before):

  • Its tactical choices are spread throughout its play — from the decision on which trigger card to draw through the options for how to resolve tasks.
  • Its challenges are joint progressions.
  • Its cooperation is often the very organic result of pattern matching.

The result is a game that works quite well, especially for casual play, and that suggests how existing game systems can be polished and tweaked to produce something new.

David E. Whitcher

David E. Whitcher moved into the professional board game business in 2003 when he released Cannon (2003) through his own PyroMyth Games company. In more recent years, Whitcher has turned PyroMyth into a design house that produces games for other companies, which is how Five-Year Mission came to land at Mayfair Games. Five-Year Mission was Whitcher’s first co-op design, though he’s also working on another licensed co-op called “Spear of Seth”.

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The original article can be found on the great Mechanics & Meeples

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Card Games That Don’t Suck: Fight the Landlord

Did you catch the first instalment of Card Games That Don’t Suck, Ricochet Poker?  This week we’re travelling from America to China to tell you about a fantastic shedding game called Fight the Landlord.

Watching the video, you’ll notice that “2s” are valued higher than royals. It’s possible that this comes from the game’s communist roots, in much that same way that following the French revolution, it was considered distasteful to play games where kings and queens were desirable. The more you know!

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

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GAMES NEWS! 18/02/19

Matt: Morning Quinns! How was your weeken–

Quinns: Matt I watched SO MUCH of The Expanse. I was thinking we could write the whole Games News in Belter Creole.

Matt: OK. I hear you, but I worry that might make it a bit hard to read. How about you write it while crossplaying as Chrisjen Avasarala?

Quinns: You’ve got yourself a deal, beltalowda. You cover the first story, I’ll see what earrings my wife has.

Matt: Love it or hate it, Keyforge seems like it’s here to stay – and whilst the second wave of decks announced by Fantasy Flight – “Age of Ascension” – aren’t terribly likely to blow many minds, it’s a solid bit of support for the game you can expect to see throughout 2019. Mixing 166 cards from the original pool with 204 brand-new ones, these decks add some neat new ideas and keywords whilst still being totally compatible for play against the first wave of decks that were released. I’d guess that’s one of many advantages of having a game that simply isn’t balanced.

Quinns: I wonder if there’ll be power creep? It won’t be long before stats reveal whether each block of new cards is more or less likely to beat decks from another block. I feel like FFG would *have* to make Keyforge cards incrementally better, if only to avoid the scenario of the community, en masse, deciding that the decks from a certainly block perform statistically poorly, and should be avoided.

Matt: It’s a sticky potato and that’s no joke. Still, I think for the casual crowd like myself who’ve lightly embraced the game, this second wave represents a nice opportunity to buy a couple more decks whilst being *assured* that you’ll see stuff that’s new. Oh and Quinns, I’ve got some bad news: still no sign of them providing physical manuals for Keyforge. BUT: it seems the economy of scale they’ve now found for the game means that the effective new “Starter Kit” is a far neater deal than it was before – you get two sealed decks and enough tokens for two players, ideal for going in on with a mate if you fancy giving it a go.

Quinns: In further expansion news–

Matt: Is this going to be a joke about The Expanse.

Quinns: …Not anymore, no.

A standalone expansion for Disney’s Villainous has been announced. Villainous: Wicked to the Core will add Hades, the Evil Queen from Snow White, and Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog as playable antiheroes, each with their own superb abstracted miniature.

We weren’t particularly hot on Villainous – you can hear our impression on podcast #83 – though it’s a perfectly serviceable boondoggle, and if you’re a Disney fan then I can imagine you having a load of fun with it.

In related news, over the weekend I saw that Forrest-Pruzan Creative, the makers of Villainous, were recently bought by pop toymaker Funko. It’s good news for Forrest-Pruzan Creative, who can now use Funko’s connections to make all sorts of licensed board games, but less good for their employees, who I saw on Twitter now must choose some Funko Pops to go on their business cards.

Matt: With the entire SU&SD editorial team finding funkos repellent, our hearts are with the staff of Forrest-Pruzan in this difficult time.

Quinns: The designer and publisher of phenomenal card drafting game Sushi Go, as well as the all-you-can-eat sequel, Sushi Go Party, have announced a new dice drafting game: Sushi Roll. A name *so good* it makes me want to do a little dance.

There’s not much information around right now, but we can deduce a lot from the above picture. Players will roll dice, claim sets of dice, and then re-roll or swap dice to try and work towards winning combinations. The only reservation I have is why this game uses tokens to denote score when we’re in the middle of a grand rediscovery of the roll-n-write genre. Scribbling with dry-erase pen is a heck of a lot nicer than rummaging through a pile of flat, numbered tokens.

Matt: Z-Man haven’t particularly caught our attention since last year’s wonderful Lowlands, but Hadara looks wonderfully jolly and bright – pitching players against each other in a race to build a cosmopolitan society, players build up a civilisation of cards that are purchased from a revolving shop of different… cultures? Eras?

Honestly I’m not sure what the vibe is here, it appears to be a strange historical collage of sorts – ancient Egyptians, vikings, China… Cowboys? Is this Keyforge as envisioned as the discovery channel? Is this… COWFORGE?

Something here I can’t quite put my finger on leaves me feeling provisionally uneasy – fingers crossed I’ve just had too much coffee: this looks like colourful economy-building fun.

Matt: Vastly more exciting however in the world of “games wot rotate a bit” is Mechanica by Mary Flanagan – a game in which you build and run competing factories which produce robotic hoovers.

A deliciously-implemented gimmick is always a delight, and this game appears to have SEVERAL NICE ONES. Firstly, the pieces that slot into your factory board are jigsaw pizzles – let those amongst us who do not love a jigsaw be the ones to throw the first stones. Secondly, this baby plays straight out of the box – featuring a revolving shop that auto-discards unbought tiles by dropping them down a hole into the bottom of the box.

As ever we’ll point out that it’s always best to wait for reviews before purchasing games that look exciting, particularly when dealing with stuff on Kickstarter, but I’ve gotta say the physical execution here is just such an enormous amount of fun – I do hope it’s also a top-tier game.

Quinns: We also have yet another Kickstarter for co-op deckbuilder Aeon’s End! Click on the above image for a better view of what’s inside the box. This is a game I really quite liked when we covered it back in 2016, but I said was a little ugly and rickety. Since then Aeon’s End has only become prettier and more stable with each new release, like an ex-lover with something to prove.

Aeon’s End also seems to have come down with a rare case of expansion madness, to the point that I can barely parse the Kickstarter page. As far as I can tell, Aeon’s End: The New Age is the third standalone expansion in the series, not counting Aeon’s End: Legacy, and then there are five (five!) smaller expansions and “an amount” (a technical term) of Kickstarter promos.

I guess I’m putting it in the Games News out of guilt. This is a game we’re probably not going to cover again because there are just so many great new games coming out, but it’s worth mentioning here just for the community it’s developed and the extensive publisher support that it’s enjoying. If you like your co-op games, check it out! Apparently the Legacy game is a pretty good starting point for the series.

Matt: We should also remind people one more time that this Saturday we’ll be streaming Twilight Imperium, with all sorts of prepared overlays and other tech wizardry. If you haven’t already, click “Follow” on our Twitch page to get an email when we start streaming, and join in the fun.

Right, see you later Quinns – I’m gonna get back to prepping for the big day!

Quinns: Ooh, finally, we have a new convention announcement!

This April, Matt and Quinns will be the guests of honour at Fastaval, Denmark’s biggest tabletop con. If you live nearby, why not come along?

(We have exactly one scheduled appointment so far, which is to play Flamme Rouge‘s secret next big expansion. I almost literally can’t wait.)

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

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Anatomy of a Line: Keyflower, Part One — The Original Game

Figure 1-1: Arriving in the Keyflower boats

Richard Breese has been designing and publishing games since Chamelequin (1989), but he’s better known for the “key” games that began with Keywood (1995). His best received and most popular game is actually a co-design, Keyflower (2012), with Sebastian Bleasdale. It’s no surprise that it’s led to two supplements and two reimaginations of the game, the newest of which, Key Flow (2018), finally got to American backers in December. As is usually the case, looking through a series of designs like this can offer intriguing lessons about the art of game design.

This first article focuses on the original game, while a follow-up in two weeks investigates how the expansions and reimaginations have changed the game.

Keyflower (2012)

remains a popular game in part because it does a masterful job of combining three major mechanics: worker placement, auctions, and resource management. But it did more than that, also innovating all three mechanics in notable ways.

Of the three major systems in Keyflower, the worker placement is the closest to the norm: you place workers in action spaces, you get rewards, and you (sort of) block other players from using those spaces. However, it still has several (small) enhancements.

Figure 1-2: Keyflower workers

Worker Placement: Escalation. The workers in Keyflower can be escalated. Rather than blocking an action space entirely, a worker makes it more expensive for the next player to place workers. Usually three worker placements can occur, costing 1, 2, and 3 workers respectively. This escalation variation has also shown up in other recent worker-placement games, but it’s still relatively rare.

Worker Placement: Restrictions. Those escalated worker placements are also restricted, which is a more innovative mechanic. Each worker comes in one of four colors: red, yellow, blue, or (rarely) green. Once a worker of a specific color has been placed, all escalated workers at that same action have to be that same color. This introduces intriguing possibilities for both blocking and brinksmanship, as a player wants to ensure that his favorite actions are linked to his favorite colors and he can try to lock up an action by placing a worker in a color that’s available to him and rare to the other players. (Green is particularly popular for this purpose, due to its scarcity.)

Worker Placement: Ownership. Players don’t own their meeples, like they do in most worker-placement games (which is why Keyflower can use meeple colors for other purposes). So who gets the workers after they’re placed? They go back to the owner of the building. This is a particularly clever mechanic because it takes a trope that was traditionally codified by rules and instead makes it organic: where many worker-placement games give a player a reward for having a valuable building, by requiring payment of some type, in Keyflower the workers themselves become the payment; there’s then no need to remember to pay, because a player will just naturally scoop them up at the end of a season.

When worker-placement games became popular starting in 2005, they put the nail in the coffin of two mechanics that had been central to the young eurogame genre of the ’90s and early ’00s: auctions and majority control. Certainly, both mechanics still exist, but they’re much less common than they used to be. Despite that, Keyflower isn’t afraid to use auctions, and it isn’t afraid to innovate them either. 

Figure 1-3: Keyflower auctions

Auctions: Simultaneous.The most notable element of the Keyflower auctions is that there are actually multiple auctions running simultaneously: one for each tile that’s available for purchase in a round. Each turn, a player can make a bid or increase a bid on a single item, and play will continue around the table until everyone is satisfied with their final bids. In fact, with the bids scattered around the table in so many places, it looks an awful lot like majority control, underlying how similar these two mechanics are. The big thing that keeps this mechanic on the auction side of things is that players get their bids back if they lose a bid (and can even rebid with them, if they do so carefully).

Auctions: Restricted. The bidding is actually done with those blue, yellow, red, and (rarely) green meeples. And, the same restrictions apply as with the worker placement: once one player has bid on a hex with a certain color, all future bids on that hex and raises must be done with that same color.

Auctions: Integrated. Here’s the true heart of Keyflower, and what makes it brilliant: the worker placement and the auctions are entirely integrated. You’ve already noticed that they use the same meeples. That’s because on any turn, a player can use meeples to activate a worker-placement action or to bid on a new tile (and thus ownership of its worker-placement actions). In fact, players can even place workers on the tiles being bid for! A less cleverly designed game might have contained both auctions and worker placement, but wouldn’t have figured out how to make them seamless parts of a whole. The fact that they are in Keyflower is what makes everything work.

Finally, Keyflower contains some resource management, and as with everything else in the game, it features just enough innovation to make it an original. 

Resource Management: Geographical. Keyflower contains two different types of resources, both of which are used to upgrade tiles. Skill tiles are the sort of resource that you’d find in other games. They’re handed out to the players, who then hand them back in when they’re ready to use them. The octagonal resource tokens, though, are something else. When they’re generated, they’re placed on the worker-placement spaces. They then have to be moved to the correct action-hexes, following the geography of the game board, to enable upgrades. Though there certainly are other games that maintain resources entirely on the board, forcing players to move them to the correct place, such as Klaus-Jürgen Wrede’s Mesopotamia (2005),  it’s another mechanic that’s unusual enough that it stands out in Keyflower.

Figure 1-4: Keyflower game elements

And that’s not even everything. Since the worker-placement actions are all on hexes that players arrange to form a village, you have a bit of city building too. Since the upgrades of those hexes improve their capability, you have a bit of technology. These elements deserve a bit of additional comment:

City Building: Limited. The city building of Keyflower is minor yet integral to the game. It’s integral because it exists at the intersection of all the other elements in the game: you win city hexes in auctions; you activate them in worker placement; and you manage resources to upgrade them. It’s minor because despite the city building being geographically based, there’s not much to that geography, other than the movement of resources. In some way, the city building of Keyflower feels like the game’s missed opportunity … but how much can you complain when the game has so many other intricate, complex elements?

Finally, since those worker-placement spaces can be complementary, you have some engine building. And finally, since some of the end-game victory points require specific combinations (or collections) of tokens, that’s set collection

Conclusion

Keyflower revisits a lot of classic eurogame mechanics, particularly three favorites: worker placement, resource management, and auctions. However, it’s not even close to a retread of anything before it. Instead it achieves its success in two ways: by innovating how those mechanics are used and by integrating them together into a whole that’s so cohesive that it’s a bit hard to see the individual elements.

So how do you improve on such a well-designed game system? In my opinion, some of the expansions and reimaginations have managed to do so and some haven’t, but that’ll be the topic of my next article in this series.

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The original article can be found on the great Mechanics & Meeples