Paul: Good morning, everyone! Would you like some hash browns? ME NEITHER, I’ve never been a fan.
Anyway, I hope you all won’t mind, but after seven and a half years of very hard work, I’ll be taking a break from Shut Up & Sit Down to focus more on writing, something I’ve not been able to pursue much for a while and which I miss terribly.
It’s not a decision I’ve arrived at either casually or quickly. Shut Up & Sit Down has been an enormous part of my life for a long time and and it has lead to all kinds of extraordinary opportunities, fantastic moments and wonderful surprises, as well as helped me meet countless wonderful people. Perhaps one of those people was you. Did we meet some time? Yeah, and I liked you.
This work has sometimes been very demanding, but I’m enormously proud of my contributions, from pushing hard for and then laying the foundations of a new (and very progressive) convention, to reviews written in rhyme, to videos filmed in weird locations or with gentle nods to Waiting for Godot. Shut Up & Sit Down has grown enormously, in both its scope and also as a business, and we’ve been able to enjoy all kinds of success together. I’m very gratified to have been a big part of that and I’d like to thank you all for building the extraordinary community that has grown around us. It’s something I care about very much and I’ll continue to be invested in this site, in all of you and in how terrific board games can be.
I can’t yet say what some of the projects I’ll be stepping away to work on are, but they involve writing, narrative, games design and video games, areas that I’ve wanted to return to for a while and which I’m always keen to explore more of. I’m very excited to try new things and to flex some old muscles that have gone limp, but there’s one more thing I want to say before I grab my bag and dash for the bus: Change is inevitable.
Shut Up & Sit Down has constantly changed over the years and will continue to do so, with this just being another example. It will keep growing and evolving and, as part of that, it will introduce new faces. I would like you to be very, very kind to anyone who follows me and to treat them as you would treat me. A new person coming into an established show and site like ours faces a big challenge, even with our hugely capable team supporting them, and sometimes audiences can be very resistant to change. Don’t be one of those people. Don’t demand things remain the same. Welcome the new and follow the two most important words of advice that have ever been given: Be kind.
Thank you for being such a wonderful audience over all these years and for sharing so much with us including so many personal stories, experiences and insights. If you’d like to get in touch with me about anything at all, be it personal or professional or anecdotal or antagonistic,please do! And keep an eye out for me, I’m going to be doing some interesting things.
Meeples Together (which is now being funded on Kickstarter) breaks down the design of cooperative games primarily through the analysis and dissection of existing releases. These discussions form the core of the book, but specific games are also highlighted in individual case studies. Meeples Together contains 14 of these case studies, one per chapter, plus a few bonuses, but there are many othe cooperative games to study. This is one of them: a supplement to the material found in Meeples Together, in the same format as the case studies there.
Lord of the Rings is one the three foundational games for the co-op industry, alongside Arkham Horror and Pandemic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in print when we finalized the text for Meeples Together. Thus, rather than including details on a game that players couldn’t currently buy, we instead substituted discussion of a game that was more readily available (Robinson Crusoe, as it happens). However, we wanted to make sure that Lord of the Rings was the first game we talked about outside of the book itself.
This article has been crossposted from the Meeples Together blog, which focuses exclusively on cooperative game design.
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games (2000) Cooperative Style: True Cooperative Play Style: Racing, Resource Management
The players take on the role of hobbits who are trying to deliver the One Ring to Mount Doom. To do so they must advance through four scenarios boards. Along the way, they need to collect sufficient life markers to avoid being corrupted, and they must resolve other threats.
On a player’s turn, he either collects cards (resources) or advances the group’s shared tokens along four to five race tracks. One of the tracks marks the group’s progress toward completing the current scenario board, while the other tracks give players life markers or resources or else complete subsidiary goals.
The challenge system in Lord of the Rings is triggered through the revelation of Event tiles; a player flips up one or more of them at the start of his turn. These tiles can have a variety of bad consequences such as corrupting the hobbits, stealing resources, or advancing Sauron. The tiles can also cause the scenario board’s next event to occur, which tends to be bad as well.
The hobbits’ corruption and the events’ status are both measured on individual tracks, each of which is an additional gear in the challenge machinery:
The corruption track is a linear path, with the hobbits advancing from the left and Sauron from the right. As the hobbits become corrupt they move toward Sauron, who in turn may be moving toward them. This is the most obvious threat in the game, as hobbits are eliminated when they reach Sauron.
The corruption track tends to work well for a number of reasons. First, it’s an obvious and central focus of the game. It’s always sitting in the middle of the table, with large plastic figures calling attention to it, and so players never forget about the impending threat. Second, there are several optional ways to gain corruption — including the Ring Bearer using the One Ring, players choosing to move to “die roll” spaces, and players opting not to collect life markers. Thus, corruption becomes a resource that players must manage.
The corruption track’s largest failing is that it’s entirely binary: hobbits are either eliminated or not. Thus, any growing sense of doom is psychological; there are no decaying game effects that advance the feeling of a darkening world.
The event track is somewhat subtler than the corruption track. Each space on the event track tends to require something from the players. They might have to turn in certain resources, or they might need to have reached certain spaces on the board. If the players meet the requirements something good (sometimes) happens, and if they don’t then something bad (usually) happens.
The best element of the event track’s design is that it sends players running in a lot of different directions, as they try to simultaneously meet the criteria laid out by upcoming events while not sabotaging their own efforts to advance along the game’s central race track. This causes information overload in the game, as players try to remember too many things — which is ultimately to the benefit of a challenge system.
Overall, the complex and interrelated challenge machinery of Lord of the Rings works because players must simultaneously consider a number of different goals (avoiding corruption, preparing for events, and moving on the race track), some of which might be in conflict with each other — and they must do so without having enough resources for everything. The random draw of the event tiles makes it that much harder to plan precisely, as players never know which of these game elements may be the most important in the near future.
The challenge system’s biggest flaw may be that it’s too random. When a player draws event tiles at the start of his turn, he keeps going until he gets a “good” one. This means that bad results can be largely unbounded, and that a game that was going well can suddenly turn bad in one turn. Threat-focused games certainly want some swinginess of this sort, but it may be overstated in Lord of the Rings.
Challenge System Elements: Turn & Movement Activation; Arbitrary Trigger; Random Cascade; Decay; Removal Consequence; and Death Threat.
Cooperation in Lord of the Rings comes mainly through the players deciding how to advance on the various race tracks; they must determine whether it’s important to finish the current scenario, collect life markers, collect resources, or finish goals required by upcoming events. Since the tokens moving along these tracks are shared, what one player does will directly affect the next player’s turn. This cooperation through manipulation of abstract game markers is pretty unique, even today — though Freedom: The Underground Railroad (2012) offers a more recent variant on the idea and The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game (2017) demonstrates a different way to cooperatively interact with a somewhat abstract playing field.
Beyond the shared movement of these tokens, there’s little explicit cooperation in Lord of the Rings. There is minimal ability to share resources, and there is minimal ability to help other players — except by leaving them opportunities on the shared movement tracks.
On the flip side, Lord of the Rings doesn’t do a lot to control communication. Players can freely discuss their cards, but may not display them to each other. Communication is more subtly obscured by the preponderance of information in the game, which makes it’s easy to forget something (usually an upcoming event), but that’s minor in the scope of things. In general, this open communication can trend the game toward controlling players and perfect cooperation, both of which are a real danger to Lords of the Rings. The fact that individual characters have little physical presence on the board probably makes the problem worse, as it lessens each player’s buy-in to the game.
Overall, Lord of the Rings has some intriguing cooperative elements, but also feels like a first-generation cooperative game (which it is). If designed at a later time it might have put more focus on enabling individual players by giving them more individual presence and by limiting their communication.
Among heavily themed co-ops, Lord of the Rings is somewhat notable for its lack of particularly individualized characters. Though each player’s character has a special power, they don’t necessarily come up a lot. Players also have no individual physical presence on the board, and their one-use cards don’t feel like equipment: though some of the cards are named for items, collecting them doesn’t really improve a “character”.
This lack of individualization is somewhat balanced by the existence of existential threats to the individual characters: hobbits each gain corruption and will need life markers to survive. This might cause players to strive for their own survival even when it’s against the best interest of the group. This support for individual greed can help to stave off the problem of controlling players, as it highlights a way that players might diverge from the group consensus.
Expansions & Variants
Lord of the Rings has a few major expansions that vary the game. Friends & Foes (2001) and Battlefields (2006) both add variability and new threats that must be dealt with — adding to the informational overload that’s at the heart of the game. Sauron (2002) is the most notable expansion, as it turns Lord of the Rings into an overlord game.
Though modern co-op games tend to focus more on cooperative mechanics, Lord of the Rings still works quite well as a cooperative game. It’s also a milestone in the genre because it introduced eurogame elements like fast play, resource management, and abstraction to the cooperative field.
Lord of the Rings’ euro-mechanics, its cooperative elements, and its challenge systems have been widely copied with one exception: its shared movement tracks remain a distinct and unusual cooperative element — one which also bears consideration by modern designers.
About the Author: Reiner Knizia
Reiner Knizia is one of the best-known German eurogame designers. As a doctor in mathematics, he tends to create games with a clean, mathematical basis. Some feel somewhat abstract, but others like Lord of the Rings (2000) are saturated with evocative color.
Knizia has been a full-time game designer since 1997 and has produced over 500 titles total, making him one of the most prolific game designers ever. His most prestigious games are Lord of the Rings, which won a Spiel des Jahres special award for best use of literature, and Keltis (2008), which won the main Spiel des Jahres award. The authors of this book worked with Knizia to adapt four of his games to iOS: High Society (1995), Kingdoms (1994), Masters Gallery (2009), and Money! (1999).
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Paul: Hello everyone! SHUX 2018 is now just four days away, looming like a mountain in the mist, so we won’t be putting any new or posts up on the site this week. Instead, the whole team is sat around a table as I write this to do last minute prep, which includes everything from rolling up characters for live RPGs to making sure the compass arrow on the convention map really is pointing North. Is it? FIND OUT ON FRIDAY.
We’ve been beating back the jetlag by hanging out in Canada and I thought you’d like to know these pre-SHUX facts, or PSFAX, about our experience here:
We took a lovely boat trip with Chris, our wonderful business manager, and his family, where we saw orca and seals.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police tried to radio our boat and stop us for an inspection, but our radio was tuned to the wrong channel and, just as they called, we made a U-turn which apparently didn’t look good to the police.
Actually I think I lost my coat, but I might be getting it back today.
Things should (mostly) be back to the way they used to be by next week (I’m digging a tunnel and Quinns has managed to smuggle in a chisel). If you’re coming to SHUX then we’ll see you this weekend, and if you’re still on the fence, we do have a few tickets left but we’re almost sold out, so don’t delay!
As usual, my New to Me reviews cover games that I’ve never played before, whether they’re new to the world or not. (They mostly were this time around.) And, as usual, they’re rated by how I personally like them, as a midweight eurogamer.
The Very Good (“I Would Keep This”)
Terraforming Mars: Expansions.I’ve now played through all the Terraforming Mars expansions, and I’d generally recommend them, with some qualms about one of them.
Hellas & Elysium (2017).This is a double-sided map that provides two different playing surfaces for the game: the south pole and the other side of Mars. Changing what the terrain looks like provides very valuable variety, but is of limited interest. However, Fryxelius took the next step and also included different milestones and awards on each map. This makes a huge difference, because it changes what you’re competing for in each game, and makes this supplement highly recommended.
Venus Next (2018).This is the biggest expansion for Terraforming Mars, adding a lot of player cards, some corporations, and a small new playing board that delineates a fourth terraforming objective (Venus). From the gameplay point of view, it’s a strong addition because that fourth major way to gain terraforming points allows players to differentiate more and each seek their own strategy — making it less likely that they get into an unhelpful competition with someone else. The rules additions are also relatively minor, related to that one new terraforming track. With that said, it’s enough new rules that it’ll make the game harder to explain to newcomers, and there’s no way to easily pull it out once you put it in, and those are the factors than can poison a game. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a good expansion as is, but it makes me very hesitant to expand the game any more.
Prelude (2018). The newest expansion is quite small. It contains new corporations and a few player cards, but the main expansion is a new set of “prelude” cards, which you choose at the start of the game, then play on a pre-round of play to give yourself some slightly notable advantages. Despite the fact that it’s small and doesn’t change the game a lot, I think this is a great little expansion. From the game design point of view, it helps players get a little bit ahead at the start of the game. This eliminates a less-fun round of play when you’re trying to find your footing, gives you better direction from the start, and also helps to warn other players off of competing in your play space. I think it’s all around a benefit, in much the same way that Leaders (2011) for 7 Wonders (2010) was. Even better, if you decide the complexity is too high for a specific game, you just don’t use the prelude cards.
Broken Token Organizer(2017?). I’ve come to love organizers for my most-played and most-loved games, and Broken Token is my favorite creator. Their organizer nicely fits everything except the Hellas & Elysium boards and keeps everything organized both in the box and in play. I personally like the heft, feel, and smell of the wooden boards, though I know some of my players prefer the plastic boards produced by other publishers because you can slide the original cardstock player mats into those. (I thought they looked cheap, but have to agree that there are advantages to having the original player mats as opposed to wood with the rules for how to use the various resources burned in.)
Carson City: The Card Game (2018).The new Carson City product is a pretty standard blind-bidding auction: each player has a set of nine cards, numbered 1-9 and they’ll use one each turn in a series of nine auctions, then they’ll do the same for another series of nine auctions. Easy: no muss, no fuss. I always enjoy this sort of auction where every player has the same resources.
The joy of this game comes in what you’re bidding for. There’s always a special-power character that you can get, but the rest of the auction items are little square cards that are each broken into four parts, showing four different things that you can build in your Carson City. There are ranches and empty lands, mines and mountains, and houses and any number of special town buildings. The cards can be put fully or partially on top of each other in certain circumstances, and you actually want to arrange them pretty carefully, because you get lots of points from what’s next to each other. The result is a really open feeling and creative game that likely develops differently every time you play.
Near & Far: Amber Mines (2017). Near and Far is a delightful euro-adventure game that I first played last spring. It combines character-based adventuring with tight resource management and evocative storytelling. Amber Mines is a small supplement for the game that does pretty much everything that you want a supplement to do. First, it better balances town by revamping two of the less popular locales (the General Store and the Mystic Shop). Second it adds just a bit of variability to the game by creating a new subgame in the Mines (now the Amber Mines). Third, it plays to the game’s strengths: two new adventures reuse old maps but provide totally new text for the quests. The only downside of this supplement is that it makes a complex setup even more complex by increasing the number of components in the game. Still, I think it’s a must-have for any Near & Far gamer.
Sprawlopolis (2018).This is one of the wallet games from Button Shy. I’ve never played any before, but this caught my eye because it was a teeny little co-op. Physically, these are neat games. This one is eighteen cards and it comes in a little fold-over wallet. You can literally keep it in your pocket.
The gameplay is surprisingly like Carson City: The Card Game. Players play city cards with four sectors, and they can be placed mostly or partially on top of each other. You’re trying to form large regions of each of the four city districts, you’re trying to form long, contiguous roads, and you’re trying to meet the victory conditions of three of the cards. Together this creates enough chaos and complexity that you won’t be able to do anything well.
As the co-op design guy, I found the cooperation of this disappointing. It’s undeveloped. There are also potential problems with AP and the scoring is really opaque. Despite those issues this is a tight, fun little filler that’s pretty unique.
The Good (“I Would Enjoy Playing Your Copy of This”)
Pandemic: Rising Tide (2017).Image Pandemic where the diseases are actually water that is quickly flooding the country. It’s a good conversion, but it’s more than that because Pandemic: Rising Tide goes further than previous Survival Seriesentrant Pandemic: Iberia (2016) in creating a game that’s pretty different from the original but still recognizably Pandemic.
That’s largely based on the simulation system, which is expanded quite a bit. You now have water that naturally flows from space to space, and you also have dikes that can hold it back. This adds both complexity to the simulation and better player control. It also can create pretty great cascades: a single dropped dike can do a lot of damage if you can’t resolve it.
As you’d expect, there are lots of new characters too, and the new characters tend to focus their special abilities on other new elements of the game, including the pumps (which automatically drain water) and the ports (which allow rapid movement. These all work well, and provide more variation from Pandemic.
My first game of Rising Tide was played at the easy difficult, and it was too easy, which is always disappointing in a co-op. My rating could easily go up with future plays, especially if I particularly like the alternative-objectives variant, which I haven’t used yet.
Abandon Planet (2017).This game’s main selling point is that it’s by Don Eskridge, who designed The Resistance (2009) and nothing else since except spin-offs and expansions. Abandon Planet is the game that proves that he’s not a one-shot wonder.
Abandon Planet is a simultaneous-selection game where you’re trying to collect the right resources to build a rocket to get off a doomed planet. There’s some interactivity that comes from the selection: you can steal resources from someone who selected the same locale as you. You also might get hit by a falling meteor if you don’t choose the one safe place. Those fallen meteors also add color and complexity to the game, because they create spaces with special powers as the game goes on.
However, the true joy of the game, what makes it both interesting and innovative, is that it’s a team game. Sort of. The thing is, you can’t abandon the planet (and win) alone. You have to do so with one partner, who you select from a specific set of players in the game. That takes the game to a whole other level where there’s some hidden info that you’re sharing with some people. And you want to do right by your potential partners while simultaneously punishing their potential allies who aren’t you. It’s what I called a “partial partnership” game, with Whitewater (2012) and Between Two Cities (2015) being other examples, but this is a very interesting take.
I always rate the games in these “New to Me” articles based on how much I like them. Frankly, there’s too much human interaction in this game for my liking, and I never deal well with the backstabbing that’s a requirement of this gameplay. I still think it’s a strong, innovative game, and I think people who liked that sort of play would easily rate it Very Good or even Great.
The Ninth World (2018).This is a full-fledged auction game (something that you don’t see a lot of anymore) from the folks at Loneshark Games. It’s a five-currency auction, where the different currencies (“skills”) are used in different types of auctions, but can also be used at a minimal value “out of suit”. The various auctions allow players to: scout out future cards; buy action cards; buy mission cards; kill monsters (possibly with repercussions); and improve auction cards.
The “skillbuilding” of the game is definitely one of its strong points: players get their auction currency back every turn, and they can also improve it in the final category of auction. This gives players the opportunity to really mold their strategy and to try and take advantage of the openings left by other players. The other strength of the game is its wide-ranging set of special powers and special missions. They give players lots to think about beyond the auctions themselves.
Unfortunately, the game is held back by two factors. First, the components don’t have great usability. There are several different factors (color choice, small print, insufficient use of icons, a zig-zag scoreboard) where the game becomes harder to play than it should. Second, it’s too long. Though the game claims 60 minutes, I don’t see how anyone could manage 45 auctions in that time, especially not when there are an equal number of bid-increase rounds and lots of fiddly card use. There is a short version of the game, but I think it in turn wouldn’t offer enough time to really “build” the skill sets. So this is a rare auction game where I’d say play it with a lower number than the max (3 or 4).
The Meh (“I Would Prefer Not to Play This”)
Artifacts, Inc. (2015).This dice game has a simple enough mechanic. You roll a handful of dice and you use them to apply various abilities. You find artifacts, you sell artifacts, you buy cards, and you dive for artifacts. The points in the game tend to come from the cards and diving, with some majority control at the end.
The big problem with Artifacts, Inc. is a soul-crushing amount of downtime. Oh, I’ve played games with much worse downtime (I’m looking at you, Java), but the sitting around and waiting for other people to roll their dice and figure out what to do with them in Artifacts, Inc. is so far out of whack with the enjoyment you get of rolling your own dice and trying to figure out what to do with them, that by the two-thirds point I just wanted the game to end.
Beyond that, I felt like the game was poorly developed. There was a first turn that was entirely set because everyone needed to grab the extra-dice cards before they were gone, then the individual turns had fiddly finances and fiddly decisions. And lastly, I felt like the need to push forward and earn points as quickly as possible (preferably every turn) was sufficient that the game ended up being more stressful than enjoyable. Obviously, YMMV.
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Paul: Once again, the Games News Helicopter touches down on the top of SU&SD corporate headquarters and I burst out the side, doing that hold-your-head-down-slightly thing that people do and clutching a fistful of papers that describe today’s top stories.
But, oh no! The downwash from the propellers blows them out of my hands and they scatter across the city! Some people end up finding the news about a Food Chain Magnate expansion, others the sequel to Shadespire, others still the exciting and resplendentRagusa. That was the first story returned to us, so let’s start there!
The historical, Latin name for Dubrovnik, Ragusa is based around that gorgeous Croatian city, taking the verdant, evergreen mechanic of worker-placement and putting something of a masterfully malachite spin on it. Players drop houses onto spaces that grant them access to nearby actions or resources, gradually filling the board as they build the engines that will power their economies.
Though both photos and specifics are still scarce, I love howcuteit looks, with those houses and gates and city walls, plus I’m a big fan of therealDubrovnik, the first ever place I went on holiday. Personal bias? Absolutely.
Also sent fluttering around town was the announcement ofTakla, one part dexterity game, one part… engineering challenge? At the center of the game’s cross-shaped playing area is a single, red ball suspended on a pole. Gradually stacking wooden blocks on top of each other, players take turns to create a bridge (or perhaps an arch or a very wobbly tower) that reaches up and tentatively touches the ball.
The exact position of the ball can be changed and, like Junk Art, Takla offers a few different ways to play, including turn-based or real-time construction, and the winner being either the person who reaches the ball first,orthe person who used the fewest blocks. After having such a good time with Junk Art despite thinking I didn’t like dexterity games(!), Takla could well be the next construction calamity to win my heart.
Another headline almost eaten by a ravenous raccoon was the announcement of a Food Chain Magnate expansion with possibly the best title in board gaming:The Ketchup Mechanism & Other Ideas. We first heard about this through a superb tip-off (thanksElla!) and while details are scarce, it does seem like this will expand the scope of the game, up the player count and, yes, quite possibly adda ketchup mechanic. Sure, it’s a vague announcement, but we can’t deny that it’s anexcitingone. If I were less of a man, I’d call itsaucy, but gender expectations are so last century.
Meanwhile, over in Warhammerland,Nightvaultfollows on the heavy, leather-soled heels of Shadespire, featuring the same deck-building and miniatures combat, but adding more magic to the mix. New Stormcast and Nighthaunt factions are included and the game seamlessly clicks together with Shadespire, meaning that the two can be combined to create a fearsome four-player fracas.
One of my favourite finds this week (returned to us by a kindly old man who watched it twirling down from our tower) isProject L, an ever-evolving puzzle game that rewards you for completing simple block-based patterns by… letting you keep those blocks and giving you even more complex patterns to slot them in to.
The more patterns you complete, the more pieces you gain; more tools in a toolbox that will help you solve ever more difficult puzzles. I like Project L not just because it sounds accessible and yet challenging, but also because they really made an effort with that pitch video. And you can sneakily try aprint and playversion of the game right now…
Found snagged on spikes of a park railing was this tantalising tidbit:Iello are making a board game console called the 8bit Box. What exactly is that? Well, uhhhh, it’s several games in one box, which use some of the same elements (such as a mock controller and universal components) to allow you to play them all. The three included are Pixoid, Stadium and Outspeed, with the potential for more in the future.
I am not sure how viable this is, but the appeal is always going to come from exactly how good those individual games are. Universal components are an efficient idea, but they can also limit the scope and framework of a game. I’m immediately reminded of504and how samey so much of that felt. But if the games are goodandalso more affordable in this format, this could be terrific!
The last of the crumpled pages returned to me, before I sat at my newscaster’s desk and prepared to go live, detailed the new version of the board game standardThe Game of Life. Previously all about having babies, advancing on a career and Getting That Nice House, this new version plunges players into crippling debt, challenges them to find decent jobs and has them struggle with a host of other millennial maladies.
Satire for some, but perhaps all to real for others, The Game of Life: Quarter Life Crisis is part of a new series of parody Hasbro games that also include a hangover-themed reinterpretation of Clue/Cluedo, Sorry! Not Sorry! and Botched Operation. They’re headed to the US high street this week, so if you spot any, do tell us what you think.
Oh! And, before I forget, you do have your SHUX tickets, right?