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GAMES NEWS! 20/01/20

Matt Lees22 comment(s)

Ava: Sit down, esteemed guests, grab a stool and join us for the launch of the Literary Review of Games News. The place to go for the wittiest, smuggiest, and dare I say the most Lacanian dissection of play this side of Freud’s own daycare centre.

Tom: Brace yourselves for some nuanced analysis, enlightening discourse and an intellectual rigour that hasn’t been seen since my failure to get into art school.

Ava: I mean we’re just going to name drop a bunch of fancy theorists, talk in a haughty voice and smoke French cigarettes, right?

Tom: Don’t tell them that! The important thing is that we’ll feel superior.

Ava: We will. Let’s get to the news, dear friend.

Ava: It’s been a big week for big kickstarters, with the most inevitable of them all kicking our start first.

Return to Dark Tower is Restoration Games’ take on Dark Tower, a 1981 Milton Bradley fantasy adventure game with an ominous electronic tower and a gadget for inputting your moves so the tower can respond. Return to Dark Tower updates the electronics, adds an app, and is designed by Isaac Childres and Rob Daviau, designer and co-designer of the top two games on BoardGameGeek. They’re the very definition of a safe pair of (pairs of) hands (of hands?). The game’s been in development and hype-generation for over two years. So it’s no surprise this has garnered well over two million dollars in support.

Restoration Games’ approach of ‘try to remake something as exciting as you remember it, not how it actually was’ is such a strong approach to quasi-curatorial nostalgia-mining. I’ve got a lot of trust in what the designer of Gloomhaven will do with a fantasy battle, and I think while Rob Daviau’s back catalogue is a little inconsistent, he’s also an incredibly experienced curator, adapter and restorationer.

I don’t remember the original, and I can’t see much to get excited about, or at least not 100 bucks of excited about. But this is partly because my passion for Mage Knight runs so deep that I tend to look harshly on anything that’s ploughing a similar adventure furrow. I do the same thing with area control games and El Grande, if I’ve seen a perfect iteration of a genre, I struggle to get excited by anything close.

Tom: The Kickstarter video is something else. How can you not be excited when we’re getting the collaboration we’ve all been waiting for – between ‘TOWER, APP AND TABLE’? Will a combination of three inanimate objects create one palpably alive experience?

Ava: ‘THE APP IS THE GAME’S SOUL’ bellows the earnest narrator. I would like to see more games promising ephemeral sentience from components. We just don’t see enough cardboard Carthesian duality.

Ava: I feel a bit naughty having snuck this into the games news twice before, on account of the excellent design diaries, but now the Kickstarter is officially online, it would be rude to turn down a chance to talk about Oath.

Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile is an incredibly ambitious pitch from Cole Wehrle and Leder Games, with art by Root’s Kyle Ferrin. Cole promises an ongoing emergent campaign, where each game’s winner becomes the chancellor and founder of the next game and generation. Players either take the side of the chancellor as citizens of the commonwealth, or skirt around the edges as exiles. Exiles have more flexibility, but have to win alone, the commonwealth can win as a collective, with final victory going to citizen with the best reputation. With dramatic combat and political nuance agogo, I’m really quite excited, but then Cole’s wargaming background and taste for the unusual is exactly what gets my thrills blazing.

That said, I think it’s a tough pitch to land. I’ve read about twenty bazillion words about the game now, finding out about its six suits, its closed economies, its landscapes, the way you store a game between sessions, its combat and its victory conditions, and I’ve still very little idea how it actually plays. I’m thrilled by the possibilities though, and I suspect it’s going to do big business purely on the basis of being the same designer and illustrator and publisher as Root.

Tom: I feel like Oath might land in a similar place to Root, in the sense of being a game that’s more fun to think about than it is to play. And that’s… kind of okay? I half remember hearing Cole talk about this approach to design on the ‘Space Cats Peace Turtles’ podcast and it’s altered my perceptions of his games. If Oath can spur Root-esque discussions about design, balance, winning and fairness within my group of relatively ‘casual’ gamers, then it’s a game that’s achieved its intention, and is therefore good? This is all getting a bit Barthesian.

Ava: Please don’t kill the author, Tom.

Tom: They were dead from the start.

Ava: Roland would be rolling in his grave.

Tom: It’s what he wouldn’t have wanted.

Ava: Not every massive crowdfunded box is full of battles, some people just want to build.

Foundations of Rome looks like a cross between Lords of Vegas, Bingo, and Stanley Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, only the empire is rising and inclining, and actually mostly just a load of columns.

Players start with a full buffet of buildings, and a few cards that grant them ownership of vacant lots in the Roman city centre of, erm, Rome. Players will hustle for points while they build a classical metropolis. Absent the barracking and bartering of Chinatown or Lords of Vegas, this looks a little on the thin side, but designer Emerson Matsuuchi (Specter Ops and the Century series) has a strong eye, so this could be one to watch.

Tom: It took me fourteen scrolls of the mouse to crush the dense plastic shell of the Kickstarter page so that I might feast upon the gooey rules within; the sheer number of tiny plastic buildings in this one could fuel an entire Matmos album with room to spare. Rome might not have been built in a day, but it was completely funded in one hour.

Ava: When the Music Plastique hits the Music Concrete, you know you’ve got a winner.

Tom: Wait, is that the victory condition.

Ava: No, Tom. We’re being pretentious remember?

Tom: Moi????

Ava: One final Kickstarter for today, on a slightly different scale, because I like it.

Last Fleet is a new roleplaying game from Josh Fox. It promises to take players on the classic sci fi adventure of being the last remaining humans, in a ragtag fleet of spaceships, running from some ominous awful. Yup, that’s right, It’s a Battlestar Galactica simulator (but also not). In a pleasing nod to that series, Last Fleet offers character archetype playbooks based on the star signs of the sidereal zodiac. It’s ‘powered by the apocalypse’ which means it should share some of the simplicity, ruggedness and ethos of Apocalypse World and its vampiric sibling Monsterhearts.

My most unfashionable opinion (and I’ll be honest, there’s some stiff competition) is that Caprica was better than the show it spun off from, but I still think the last surviving exiles is such a classic sci-fi trope that I’m really excited to see this in action.

Tom: According to the Kickstarter, you’ll ‘fight space battles, search for enemy infiltrators, tackle supply shortages and navigate faction politics’ – so far so sci-fi, I’m hoping for some big stompy robots and slimy aliens and perhaps a Star Wars reskin and and and

Ava: Is this all not a bit, well, obvious?

Tom: Oh, *ahem*, sorry, I meant that I uh, wish that the sci-fi genre returned to its origins of examining sociopolitical struggle through a lens of magical realism, making traditionally obscurant discourse more available to the ‘average’ consumer.

Ava: Exemplary.

Ava: in what might just be a soft launch for a new edition.

Cosmic Encounter: Duel is a new two player variant of Fantasy Flight’s infamous wild ride of asymmetrical bluster, Cosmic Encounter. The stripped down game sees players battling over a series of planets, trying to be the first to land five ships in a series of space duels. For each battle players decide whether to attack or defend, what tactics to use, and how many ships you’ll put on the line. And of course, it wouldn’t be Cosmic Encounter without each player starting off as some kind of game breaking monster. You also have the opportunity to make friends with non-player aliens to pull off even more bold maneuvers

A lot rides on whether Cosmic’s well known unevenness can be made to feel fair in a two player game without completely removing the ridiculousness that makes the bigger game such fun. Without allies and enemies to tilt the game away from an over-powered alien draw, it’s a much tougher pitch.

On the other hand, the new art is gloriously bright and cheerful, and if a new edition is coming, I can’t say I wouldn’t be tempted. There was always something a little odd about an absurdist piece of ludic theatre having alien illustrations that were often actually terrifying.

Ava: I’ve fallen quite hard for Imhotep in the last few months. It’s a ruthless, spiteful, simple game that elicits groans of grump and precise passive-aggression pretty efficiently. So I’m excited that it too is getting a duel variant.

Imhotep: The Duel, from Phil Walker-Harding will have players sending people into a kind of noughts and crosses shipping district. Once a row or column is filled, the boat at the end will be sent off, with the goods on board distributed to the people sitting in the relevant spots. This means that when you’re placing your initial people, you don’t know whether they’ll end up collecting the row or column bonus. It’s an intriguing take on Imhotep’s core decision: whether you’re willing to cede control of what you get in order to get more of it. It might just work!

Tom: In these last two pieces we’ve seen the inherent duality of dueling duels. The Manichean desire of publishers to restructure every form into a struggle between dialectical forces. Darkness and light, Us and the Other, the phallocentric obelisk against the yonic cosmic void.

Ava: Are you trying to say Cosmic Encounter and Imhotep have done the dirty and had little dueling babies?

Tom: No, Ava, I’m IMPLYING that.

Ava: Ah, good good. This is a family show, after all.

What’s a whatnot? Well. I’ll tell you what a whatnot was not, and that’s a game. Except now it is.

The Whatnot Cabinet is coming soon from Steve Finn, Eduardo Baraaf and Beth Sobel, the card game hit squad that bought us Herbaceous and Sunset over Water (although I still think Biblios is Dr Finn’s finest hour, even with the dourer art) alongside Keith Matejka and Kim Robinson. The Whatnot Cabinet is a game of set collecting and tile laying about building collections of whatnots, doohickeys, thingummies and oddments.

Once again we’re seeing something making the news just because I just love words. Although I think they missed a trick. As I was looking this up, someone leaned over my shoulder and asked if by whatnot they meant the piece of furniture. I had no idea what they meant, and googled it, and it’s true! A whatnot is a tiered shelving unit for storing your whatnots on. They could have called this game the whatnot whatnot and they didn’t.

Disappointing.

Tom: Ava, you’ve definitely gone more Dr Seuss than Doctor of Philosophy here.

Ava: It all depends on what whatnot you put on the whatnot, my dear. As you can no doubt see, this is actually Rene Magritte’s very own pipe.

Tom: No it isn’t.

Ava: Precisely.

Tom: In slightly news-adjacent news, this article from France24 about ‘Kapital’, a board game that mysteriously sold 10,000 copies in three weeks, has captured my attention. Dare I suggest that a Marxist reading of the board would suggest an implicit commentary on class struggle and social injustice – thus explaining the widespread popularity of the game in a time of immense social upheaval?

Ava: It literally says that in the article.

Tom: My thesis! It’s ruined!

Ava: Kapital!, designed by husband and wife duo Michel and Monique Pinçon-Charlot, has one player start in a far superior position to everyone else around the table, simulating lines in the inherited sand between rich and poor. Every player’s goal is to eventually drag themselves into a central ‘tax haven’, but of course the game is rigged from the start – it’s like Monopoly but without even the suggestion of being entertaining.

Tom: And that’s all for the games news this week – there’s no required reading for next week, but doing some of your own research may be useful for the upcoming assignment.

Ava: Wait, we’ve been in an educational establishment this whole time?

Tom: Let’s face it Ava, no-one outside the lit-critosphere truly cares about any of this. Ultimately the work done in the theoretical space struggles to drive real change of thought outside of its own narrow sphere of interest. We’re trapped in an echo chamber of our own smug intellectualism.

Ava: No, YOU’RE trapped in an echo chamber of your own smug intellectualism. I’m just smoking this pipe I stole from a dead Frenchman.

Tom: Magritte was Belgian actually.

Ava: Then whose damn pipe am I smoking?

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

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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.

Tom: I WILL RIDE THE CARDBOARD CHARIOT OF NEWS INTO THE SUN.

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

Tom: TWO NEWS ENTER! ONE NEWS LEAVE!

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.

Tom: MEDIOCRE.

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.

Tom: RESPONSIBLE.

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!

Ava: WHAT!! WHY ARE WE EVEN WRITING!?

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.

Tom: DID I WIN THE NEWS? AM I THE CHAMPION OF THE NEWSDOME?

Ava: There is no winner, only news.

Tom: WRONG FRANCHISE, AVA. WRONG FRANCHISE.

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

Tom: MAD MAX JOKE

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.

NICE!

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)

Ava: QUINNS QUINNS I’M ON A TRAIN!

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

Ava: CHOO CHOO!

Quinns: I’m so glad you’re–

Ava: NEWS NEWS!

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

Ava: CHOO CH-

(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

Posted on

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

Posted on

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