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Your Introduction to… Carl Chudyk!

Quintin Smith38 comment(s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red7 – Rules are made to be changed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovation – Tucked away complexity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s very, very Carl Chudyk.

Mottainai – Every little thing means five things

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every little game has a soul.

Impulse – Over-powered is the new normal

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

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

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

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

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

Aegean Sea – Put it all together

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

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

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

FlowerFall – Let’s just ignore all of that

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

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

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

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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GAMES NEWS! 04/11/19

Matt Lees29 comment(s)

Quinns: Ava, before we get started on the news, I have to tell somebody. I had the most fabulous time playing Don’t Get Got last night.

Ava: Oh yeah?

Quinns: Oh my goodness. The paranoia. The guile. The outraged howls outside the pub when I managed to win just before we all went home by getting another player to say “I love you.” It was exactly like someone scoring a goal in the closing seconds of the match.

Ava: Wait, what? Are you sure this was a game, and not just a creepily competitive take on date night?

Quinns: Never you worry! I just need to find a place on the site to examine it in earnest.

On with the news!

Quinns: Iello has announced King of Tokyo: Dark Edition, a “collector’s edition” that takes the popular game of dice-rolling monster mayhem and makes it… erm, dark. Or, more accurately, gives the game a kind of Sin City aesthetic where strips of lurid colour punctuate a black and white backdrop.

Ava: I never really got on with King of Tokyo, although I think it’s just because I always play too risky and get knocked out early. I’m not sure ‘making things a little harder to see’ is what will fix my issues. I guess maybe I should be playing with my therapist rather than waiting for a special edition.

Quinns: You know, I never got along with it either. In hindsight, I think I found it haunted by the ghost of more traditional games where you “Wait for your turn to roll the dice.”

I do wonder what other board games would benefit from a “dark edition”. Agricola? It could take on a sort of Children of the Corn vibe. Sushi Go Party? Sultry sushis winking at you from ill-lit plates?

Ava: I’m after Mage Knight directed by Ingmar Bergman.

Ava: I’m not convinced that boardgamegeek’s hotness chart is a useful metric for ludo-enthusiasm, but I do pay attention when something jumps to the top of the charts immediately after a big convention. The Magnificent did just that, and was apparently at the top of BGG’s ‘geekbuzz’ chart by the end of the enormous Essen Spiel convention. So maybe it’s worth a look.

In a brooding fantasy world, players will be managing rival circuses. You’ll be placing tiles to build an encampment of entertainers, and competing to put on the best shows. The Magnificent promises to be a taut economic game of tetrominoes, dice drafting and special abilities. A nice touch is that if you draft multiple dice of the same colour over the course of the turn, you add them together. So if you focus on one type of action, you get stronger and stronger, at the risk of dropping other spinning plates. And the cost you pay at the end of the round is the total of your highest dice colour, so you’ll never stop juggling costs and benefits.

I’m curious to hear more about why folk are so excited for it. Is it Magnificent? Are goth circuses the new zombies?

Quinns: Oooooooooooh. Oooooh. Ooh. Ava, this is from the creators of the really-quite-good Santa Maria! Except this time they’ve chosen a theme that’s sexy and striking, instead of one that, if it was a man, would smell of mothballs and hug you for slightly too long. I’m excited!

Ava: I can’t say that I’m genuinely excited by this, but I think it’s such a bizarre move that it warrants a mention.

Queen Games, publisher of brilliant Escape: Curse of the Temple and pretty good Fresco is celebrating its 30th birthday. Happy birthday, Queen Games! 

As a birthday treat, they’re making a limited edition game about their games called ‘The Queen’s Collection’. Cards will be laid out showing a selection of their back catalogue, and players will be moving pawns around the collection to put the right pieces into their boxes after everything’s got jumbled. The game can be played solo, co-operatively or competitively, and I have no idea who would love a publisher enough to buy a game about organising games, but presumably they think somebody will be keen.

Quinns: Ooh. I would have been here for a special Queen Games game game where moves in this little collectible game would then be settled by whole games of Shogun, Fresco, Lancaster, Franchise and Luxor.

Ava: Ooh. I forgot about Franchise. What a great bowl of economic spaghetti to drown in. They do definitely have quite the back catalogue.

Matt: Just to interject here as a News Interloper, I honestly can’t stand the aesthetic of this. It’s like a children’s TV nightmare fuelled by over-the-counter flu medicine: I never want to see it again, if possible. Thanks.

Ava: Deranged looks like an interesting little beast, and has just found a US publisher in Semi-Pro.

Players will navigate some horrific city to complete a hidden objective, constantly at risk of turning titularly ‘deranged’. Once a player goes evil they have to kill another player to turn human again, but each time someone dies, the situation gets worse for everyone. It sounds like an interesting take on semi-co-operative nonsense, with a combination of hidden goals and heel turns.

It could be interesting, but I only want it so I can put on Bowie’s ‘I’m deranged’ and sing it badly every time someone turns. Neither song nor game is exactly the best treatment of mental illness, but at least the song comes from a ludicrous album from Bowie’s bizarre 90s multimedia era.

Ava: Multi-classed writer/actor/games fan Calvin Wong has been digging underneath the Essen hype machine to uncover some unusual oddities. He’s written a piece on three of his favourites from the convention that other people aren’t talking about.

I’m particularly intrigued by the uninspiringly named ‘Geometric Art’. Another drawing game with players simultaneously trying to communicate a concept to the collective. The smart thing about this game is that all players will be limited to the same randomised set of shapes. Using two triangles, a circle and a hook to make a horse, hearse or horticulturist sounds like exactly the sort of tickly little wrinkle to a common gaming structure I like.

Ava: In ‘things I keep seeing linked to on twitter’ I’ve been enjoying the creations of this algorithmic dungeon generator. 

One Page Dungeon will draw a randomised dungeon for you, but the most pleasing touch is the way it adds little plot hook style descriptions to each room. Honestly, if I was in a pinch, and didn’t have a session planned, I’d be happy DMing with just one of these maps to give me the nudges I need. Which is quite an impressive promise from a lovely tiny free thing.

Quinns: Actor and comedian Paula Deming is an industry treasure, and this week she released quite the treat from her creativity pipes. Do you remember the song Part of your World from The Little Mermaid? It doesn’t matter. Click play, and enjoy.

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

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GAMES NEWS! 28/10/19

Quintin Smith39 comment(s)

Quinns: Ava, I have returned from my holiday a changed man. Before, where the old Quinns would have been a tangled ball of anxiety, now I am a walking chalice of chill.

Ava: Oh, that’s wonderful! I’m glad you had a good time. Are you feeling ready to dive right back into the swarming, heaving mass of press releases, board game announcements, union conflicts, franchise cash-ins, weird crowdfunded plastic, the rise of totalitarianism and the inevitability of death?

Quinns: …

Ava: What is it?

Quinns: Just performing a mental diagnostic. I remain chill, but that was a MEAN trick.

Ava: Coming up from WizKids is an enormous but fast fantasy battler called Ettin (pictured at the very top of this page). It promises to play up to 8 players or a frankly absurd 16 if you have two copies. Players will form into teams of two mix and match nations, before going head to head with the players around them.

Simultaneous turns stop that player count being quite so daunting. Players draft mercenaries, to add to their unique nation cards, and keep on fighting for three rounds of mayhem. It looks like an incredible heap of cardboard for quite an ambitious game.

We’re huge fans of team games. They give people permission for trash talk and celebration, and fresh sources of frustration and mistakes. Those are some of the great pleasures of gaming, so it always puts a little spring in my step to hear about a quick, big, messy team-drafting game..

Quinns: Oho. It seems to me that Ettin could have the marketing tagline “From the same risk-taking school of publishing that brought you Sidereal Confluence…”

Ava: Look how many cards are on that table Quinns! It’s like there’s been a unusually tidy accident in a paper mill!

Quinns: It took me all this time to realise that it’s named “Ettin” after the two-headed monster. I may have put too much duty-free rum in my tea.

Quinns: Oh no. Maybe I didn’t put enough rum in my tea. WizKids has also announced Tournament at Avalon, a standalone sequel to their bonkers trick-taking card game Tournament at Camelot that can be combined with the original set if you’d like to play with up to 8 people.

Here’s the thing, Ava.

Ava: I’m listening.

Quinns: Tournament at Camelot is actually very, very good. I’ve been wanting to talk about it on the site for a while. It’s the trick-taking equivalent of Cosmic Encounter, where all of the players have a game-warping power and then you proceed to interfere with the contest by deploying even more game-warping powers, until the card game you’re playing resembles a funhouse mirror version of itself.

Plus, I found the cards that reference early Christianity continually funny. In one melee I showed up with the lance that pierced Jesus’ side, which is, at best, gauche behaviour.

…But I played this game with 4 people and that was quite crazy enough. Playing with 8 is a horrifying proposition. The human brain is not designed to process that many rules modifiers.

Ava: I just imagined trying to play Cosmic Encounter with 8 players and I think I’m having a panic attack.

Quinns: Breath into this paper bag and consider that you could just use Tournament at Avalon to mix up the base game, rather than expand it into an impossible behemoth.

Ava: Creepy story-telling game Greenville: 1989 boasts some gorgeously horrific art and sounds like a role-playing horror Dixit.

Players will describe their journeys through a series of surreal nightmare landscapes, taking turns to find each other amongst the mazes of monsters laid out on sumptuously unsettling cards. Some lovely presentation make this stand out, though I’m mostly bringing it up because ‘Sorry we are French’ is probably the best name for a game publisher I’ve ever seen. Bon chance, and I feel like I should add ‘désolé je suis anglais.’

Quinns: Another recently-announced game is Tiny Tina’s Robot Tea Party, a card game tie-in with the Borderlands video games about rooting around for bits and pieces and racing to build your very own robot. It’s a remake of Robotlab: the card game, which I’ve never heard of.

Ava: I did play enough of a Borderlands to meet Tiny Tina, but it’s one of those hazy gamey memories that I can’t really put back together. I mostly remember being distracted, confused and shouted at. Which to be fair, isn’t a bad basis for a party game.

Quinns: I’ve played Borderlands single-player, but never quite clicked with it. For all of the explosions and vinegary writing, exploring that world alone feels wrong. Like playing Dance Dance Revolution by yourself in an empty warehouse.

I’ve gotta say, back when I worked as a video games journalist, franchise tie-in games were easy to handle as they were uniformly bunk. It’s awfully thoughtless for the makers of tabletop tie-ins of video games to make most of them bunk, but some of them good. In particular, Matt’s expecting the Assassin’s Creed board game to be ace, since it’s supposed to be a re-skin of V-Commandos.

Ava: Quinns, Quinns.

Quinns: What?

Ava: Have you seen the card backs of Tiny Tina’s Robot Tea Party? Some of them are lovely.

Quinns: I don’t know what’s worse- that you think I’m so shallow that would change my mind…

Ava: Or that I’m right?

Quinns: >:(

Ava: (We’re still waiting for updates on Kickstarter United’s campaign for recognition. We’re still rooting for them. See previous news posts or their twitter feed for more info.)

One Kickstarter we dug this week was Fossilis, a game of digging and brushing and finding bones.

The star here is the enormous lump of plastic into which you’ll be pouring bones, shaking it up, and stacking little blocks to create a randomised dig site. It looks like a strong little structure to lay a game on, with a lot of pleasing physical touches. It even has giant tweezers for digging out samples. Collect the right fragments to satiate the eggheads back home, and you’ll win the game.

I’m not sure if there’s as much figurative as physical depth here, but I’d like to see more of those little bones in the future.

Quinns: Bloom Town is one of the 999,999 games that enjoyed a release at Essen Spiel this weekend, so its existence probably isn’t news. That said, it earns a late mention in the Games News, not just because it’s from the same design duo as the excellent Copenhagen and Deep Blue, but because they’ve published an exhaustive 8 part design diary.

Like Quadropolis or Between Two Cities (fine games both), Bloom Town is a game of placing buildings in a grid in a canny quest for points. However, in Bloom Town the square that you place your tile on determines what tile you get next round.

It’s not a particularly exciting pitch, but then Daniel Pedersen and Asger Granerud’s work isn’t particularly ambitious or glitzy. They just make designs that are solid as a rock. But a fun rock. A Geodude, if you will.

Ava: This part on scoring really grabbed me, describing how the game experimented with three different ways of scoring, and ended up bundling them all in. Immediate scoring for a steady dopamine rush, occasional rescoring, for big jumps in the middle of the game, and end game scoring based on a tile you have left over, giving you a final bump, and a tricky decision that lingers throughout about whether you should hold on to a tile for the finale. I knew nothing about this game before reading that, and now I’m thoroughly intrigued.

Ava: We don’t often talk about traditional wargames around here, though I’ve got a quiet passion for weird historical simulators of very specific conflicts.

The latest P500 pre-order launch from GMT Games sees something I’m intrigued and nervous about in equal measure. The Weimar Republic takes a look at post World War 1 Germany, and sees players taking the roles of political factions of the era, vying for sudden death victory by a variety of fair and foul means. You might be Communists, Radical Conservatives, Nazis, or the democrats attempting to prevent their rise. It looks like a scary little sandbox.

The rise and consolidation of Nazi control of Germany is a terrifying story, and one that feels too close to home these days, but perhaps that’s why I want to take a closer look. It’s hard to say if a game is the best place to do that, but seeing the motivations and interactions of varied factions is one of the medium’s strengths.

Ava: In sad news, one of the legends of game design died last week.

Francis Tresham was responsible for two of the most influential games of the 70s and 80s, with his Civilisation game (which Sid Meier insists didn’t inspire his game of the same name) still being played today in its original form and the updated Western Empires, covered by Quinns and Ben in a recent podcast. What I didn’t know until seeing news of his passing, was that Tresham also designed the first 18XX game, 1829, which saw players buying stocks, laying tracks and vying for control of southern Britain. This was the origin of one of board gaming’s most intensely focussed subgenres, a very specific and prolific set of games sharing that shares-based DNA. These games DID inspire Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon series, and they’re a part of the hobby I’m really keen and scared to dive into at some point. As much as I struggled with my time with Mega Civilisation, to note that it was first released in 1980, it must have been miles ahead of its time.

Very sad to hear he’s gone, and very glad that his games live on.

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

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Tactics and Tactility #4 – Mexica, and other great heel turns

Matt Lees13 comment(s)

[Tactics and Tactility is our column about the feelings, details and pleasures of tabletop gaming. This week we’re looking at Mexica, and the glory of giving good friends the space to be cruel.]

Ava: Some games are a particular joy to teach, because you get to slowly watch the implications play out in real time on the face of your fellow players. Some rules are like a little snowball you start rolling down a hill, and watch turn into an avalanche. Games are systems, and it’s not easy to see the impact of a system until you’re in it.

Enter Mexica.

I’ve explained the rules. I’ve told people that we’re trying to found districts of specific sizes, surrounded by canals, claim those districts, and then vie for ‘spiritual grandeur’ by building the biggest temples in each one. I’ve explained moving, bridges, placing canals and the scoring structure.

What I’ve not explained, is that in about fifteen minutes, everyone around this table will have been an absolute monster to everyone else.

Hidden in the simple but specific rules of Mexica, are a hundred different ways to screw over your friends. Before long, everyone is slamming temples around their enemies; blocking bridges to force people to take impossibly long routes; building the exact wrong canals or moving into the spaces where their opponents desperately need to be.

It’s perfect, it’s cruel, and it’s inevitable.

Watching someone’s face, when they first see an area they’d carefully calculated get founded by someone else? Or when they realise how easy it is to block someone’s walk home? When they’ve got just one spare point at the end of their turn and they use it to do the absolute worst thing to you? It’s beautiful.

It’s a perfect heel turn. We start the game with a cosy competitiveness, that suddenly twists into elegant spite. You wouldn’t do that? You couldn’t be that mean? Oh yes. You would. You could. You will.

Games like Mexica allow you to be mean safely. The mean thing is obvious and easy. There’s no reason not to, and everyone’s going to be doing it to everyone else. The path of least resistance lies through someone else’s carefully manicured plan.

The Estates leaves you with choices that are almost exclusively going to ruin someone’s day. Every action, every auction, results in someone being done over. The water you’re swimming in become so desperately cruel, that nobody minds when you drown them in it. It’s a relief, almost, to not feel responsible for your cruelty. You apologise, as you place a block on top of someone else’s dream.

There’s no real villainy in board games, you’re only playing at it, and that means you can relish it. Enjoy every moment. Though I should mention that games like Cards Against Humanity abuse this safety net, to let people get away with being actually horrible, and I’m not okay with that.

But when it’s the right kind of nasty? I’m in it for the precise moment someone realises they can shut me down. There’s a sly grin, a passive aggressive laugh or a pointed ‘sorry’. There’s a look on their face that tells me they’ve just understood how mean they can be. It’s one of my favourite looks in games.

I love Dead Last a lot more than I like it. It’s not far from being a bullying simulator, with zero weight to each action but lots of theatrical, over in a moment monstrosity. Whenever I explain the rules, I get to the ‘any communication is allowed’ rule quickly, so that eighty percent of groups I teach will immediately decide the first move is to kill me. They plot easily while I’m distracted making sure  they understand how this brutal silly game works. It’s a perfect, immediate descent into anarchy, and that’s one of the best things a ruleset can give you.

Watching someone turn evil. Watching someone realise they can use the rules of the game to break the rules of society, just a little, in a safe way? It’s a joy. It’s a voyeuristic thrill that reminds me of the messy but compact drama that comes in a good board game box. Knowing someone is about to go bad? I am here for it. Knowing the whole table is going to turn? There’s nothing else like it.

*        *        *

So folks, tell me please. What game turned you into the baddie the fastest, the hardest, the cruelest? When did you first succumb to the dark side? When did you most enjoy watching someone else’s fall?

Tactics & Tactility is illustrated by Tom Humberstone.

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

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GAMES NEWS! 21/10/19

Matt Lees22 comment(s)

Ava: Oooh, it’s that time of year. The cold is starting to bite, but the cosy is always close at hand. Why don’t you make yourself a lovely hot chocolate, put your feet up, chuck a log on the fire, grab a blanket, fill a hot water bottle, watch a leaf turn red, find your loveliest slippers, cuddle the closest consenting cuddle-able, put a scarf on, watch a firework, stomp your feet, get another blanket just for your legs, wear a third blanket as a shawl and listen to the tale of Ava’s very own autumnal games news.

Matt: I’ve filled my mouth with a mixture of marshmallows and leaves and popped my slippers into the fire. Is that still autumnal? My hot water bottle is full of hot chocolate, don’t worry: no sense doing two different tasks with hot water when you’ll get loads more points for a combo.

Ava: Whatever fills your heart with October-flavoured warmth!

Matt: Putting these slippers back on was a bad idea, I’ll see you later bye

Ava: So, this week Quinns popped a little kickstarter vol-au-vent of recommendation onto the revolving newzy susan (But remember, Kickstarter still appear to be resisting attempts of Kickstarter United to unionise, so please do apply pressure to encourage them! See any of the last few news posts for more details.)

Labyrinthos has you exploring the infamous labyrinth of Minos. You’ll be running around looking for your keys, and occasionally get eaten by a bull headed beast. The maze can change at any moment, so you’ve got to balance your own route home with your willingness to mess up the plans of your enemies. 

Just like in real life, actions are limited by the number of hands and feet you picked up on your last turn: Hands help you manipulate the maze, feet let you run through it. The keys aren’t just for unlocking either, they grant special abilities that bump out the ones you start with. It looks pretty and it sounds mean, which are personally two of my favourite things. 

Labyrinthos boasts an all woman design and art team – a notable rarity in the industry – and the kickstarter page also reveals that everyone involved has  good dogs. I’m unable to muster this site’s trademark kickstarter dubiety, but don’t let my hound-susceptibility goad you into risking money you can’t afford!

Taiwanese designer Chi Wei Lin has a lovely diary up at the moment about a game promoting awareness of ocean pollution.

Ocean Crisis is a co-operative clean-em-up where players work together on the beach to prevent plastics piling up at the heart of the Pacific. There’s some interesting conundrums dealt out by an ocean current that will sometimes pull waste towards the beach where it can be fished out and sometimes take the rubbish you haven’t picked back out to sea. There’s also a beach-bound skill tree that unlocks special abilities and optional side missions to save dolphins and turtles and the like. It’s unclear where it lands on the ‘purely educational’ to ‘actually fun’ spectrum, but I am reasonably curious. The designer doesn’t pretend there are simple solutions to the pollution crisis, so it sounds like it might be quite a tough cookie.

It’s a bleak subject matter, but looks like an interesting take. Even though they don’t always hit the mark, we’re always glad to see games try and wrestle with the themes of real world problems.

Boondoggle Hob!

That’s my two word pitch for Meguey and Vincent Baker’s latest role playing game based on the Apocalypse World system they built. Under Hollow Hills is no post apocalypse though, it’s about fey circus performers and the strange world they travel in. Boondoggle Hob is the name of one of thirteen character archetype playbooks, apparently some sort of bolshy goblin heel-dragger. 

Honestly I’m just using any excuse to repeatedly say it. Boondoggle Hob! These are the two words I’ve been most pleased to see next to each other in months. Well, that’s my critical eye entirely boondoggled. You’ll have to see for yourself and decide whether the hollow hill is one you want to be digging and juggling under.

Big fan of games with rotating discs, but the devastation of the natural world isn’t weighty enough for you? How about we weigh your actual heart?

Pharaon appears to be an Egyptian mash-up of the Game of Life and the theology of The Good Place, giving you a limited amount of time to take actions that will eventually evaluate the worthiness of your life. The way you play the game will determine whether you are carried into the afterlife on a palanquin or are dragged kicking and screaming. That’s probably a misrepresentation of both the ancient Egyptian afterlife and the game we’re talking about, but it’s certainly a mood.

With a rotating central disc that changes the cost of actions and some tricky timing to master, this looks like a classic economic efficiency brain burner. Unfortunately, it’s hiding its unusual theme under the trademark ‘eurogame beige’ and a rotating salad of iconography. I guess Egypt was pretty sandy and hieroglyphic, but it’s not the most inspiring board I’ve ever seen. You probably already know if that sort of thing makes your heart feel heavy or light. I’m not sure I’m holding out for a Horus, but I’m curious what people make of it.

Floating at the top of the Hot Spiel Messe hype list on boardgamegeek for the last few months is a curious retro-future civilisation-building game with an optimistic handle.

It’s a Wonderful World looks like a sci-fi Seven Wonders, with players drafting cards by passing them around and grabbing the best ones to plug into an engine of their own making. The critical wrinkle is that each player will be producing resources in a very specific order, so any combos you can build rely on careful planning, and will be different for each player. It’s an interesting touch, but there’s a reason I’ve let it pass through the ‘maybe this week is the time to fish this out of the news vats’ filter every week for a while now. I can’t quite tell if there’s anything here to actually excite me except for some dramatic cover art. I’d love someone to report back on whether there’s enough here to chew on. I’m hoping it’s high on the hype train for a reason.

In disappointing news, A whole host of Iranian game designers have been denied entry to Germany, where they were hoping to attend the enormous Spiel convention.

We’ve been quietly getting hype about the games coming out of Iran that we were hoping would find wider distribution at the convention. We recently covered a few of those games, and enjoyed the story of one of Gaming’s Biggest Brunos trip to investigate the design scene there.

I’m sad to find out the road to distribution has got a little harder. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s borders, and particularly ones that are used to close down collaboration, play and creativity (so, you know, borders). It’s almost certainly too late for German citizens to send their dismay to the German Foreign Office to get them to change their mind, but it may be worth a try.

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

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GAMES NEWS! 14/10/19

Quintin Smith59 comment(s)

Ava: Oh frabjuous Monday! Callooh! Callay!

The borogroves are mimsy with news. Let’s have a gyre and gimble about the wabe, and see if we can slay that news-jabberwocky with our vorpalest swords. Then we can have some uffish thoughts under the tumtum tree, whiffle and burble through the tulgey wood and galumph back home after a job well done.


Let’s get our news-toves slithed.

We’ll start with a manxome bang, and one of the most ambitious setting out of stalls I’ve seen, by one of the few people I think might be able to pull it off.

Oath: Chronicles of Exile and Empire is the latest four letter word (with a subtitle) from Cole Wehrle and Leder Games. It’s hitting the ground running with a design diary full of bold and exciting claims. Oath will be a campaign game where goals and rules shift in response to player actions. Cole describes empires falling and changing the nature of the world you’re building. He rejects the legacy game approach to this, promising something even more ambitious. He talks about generation-spanning stories, and each game creating the rules, goals and setting of the next one. Players will take the role of people close to the great and the good, manipulating history to their own ends, and it sounds like there’s a lot of freedom to choose those ends, and then watch the implications play out.

Here’s a quote:

‘There are no scripted narratives or predetermined end points. The history embedded in each copy of Oath will grow to be as unique as the players who helped build it.’

This is, frankly, a bold statement. I’m incredibly curious to see if Cole can pull this off. He’s coming straight off two very well thought of games (Root and Pax Pamir 2nd edition), and I’ve got a lot of faith in him to not make claims like that that he can’t follow through to at least some degree. Chuck in some slightly darker than Root Kyle Ferrin illustrations and the promise of a campaign game it’s really easy to drop in and out of and play as a series of one-shots and I feel like we’re onto something big.

Shifting down a scale or three, we see Roberto Frago (of Captain SONAR fame) teaming up with Sébastien Decad on a smart take on doodling party games we’ve seen before.

Removing the need for drawing ability from the mix is Dekalko, a game in which players race to trace enough of an image to feel confident that people will guess it. The quicker you finish, the more points you stand to gain. Once everyone’s done, you take turns revealing your traces and shouting out answers. With various shields for covering tracings and the original photos, it’s an over-engineered type of fun, but it sounds just the right amount of hubris-inducement to get me giggling. ‘Of course, I can trace something quickly and have it be legible, it’s child’s-play,’ I’ll say, before looking down to see I’ve etched a Giger-esque monstrosity where a door-knob was supposed to be.

In other party game nonsense news, Sit Down Games has once again made me go ‘what, really?’

Palm Reader requires significantly less tech than Dekalko, as you’ll simply be using a finger to draw on the palm of your neighbour’s hand. They’ll then attempt to pass the symbol you’ve drawn down the line by the same method, and you’re hoping to get it all around the table with people still able to identify it when you reveal what you could’ve been carving. It’s simple, it’s silly, it sounds easy, and it might be hilarious.

Plus everyone gets to feel super awkward about having to touch each other’s hands. Make sure everyone’s okay with that before you suggest it? But then ‘is everyone okay touching their neighbour’s hand?’ is a pretty reliable conversation killer. Who knows. I’m just glad Sit Down Games isn’t giving up on having the weirdest sales pitches, the oddest obstacles, and the most awkward conversations. Keep up the good work.

In Kickstarter politicking news, Christopher Grey has created a game about unions called ‘10 Workers United’, that remixes the doom-laden darkness of role-playing horror game 10 candles into a message of hope and solidarity by putting it in reverse and having the players get more powerful as they unite.

The project is explicitly set up to raise awareness around the attempts of Kickstarter United to gain recognition from Kickstarter as a sanctioned union. (I’ve talked about this enough already, but obviously, keep emailing [email protected] and showing solidarity however feels best for you). It’s also trying to directly teach the benefits of unionising. Which is lovely.

There’s a little hint of Paranoia in one player taking the role of ‘The Company’ while the players are the workers, but it sounds like this one might have a happier ending. We’re still hoping the same is true for the unionisation effort, as if we haven’t already made that abundantly clear.

The nascent union still hasn’t asked for a boycott, so we’re still promoting kickstarters on here. But we’re also still keeping an eye on the situation.

Significantly less politically apposite, but possibly a bit cuddlier, is Calico. Also on Kickstarter, Calico combines two of my favourite themes, cats and quilts.

Calico has you stitching together hexagonal patterns to lure cats with very specific textile kinks to curl up with you. Matching colours gets you buttons, matching patterns gets you cats, and your player boards come with their own specific bonuses for particular achievements. This looks adorable and a little bit ruthless. I’m not convinced of the depth, but I’ve heard some people say nice things.

As we always say (and the same goes for the rest of these projects) it may be worth waiting until the game has hit more tables and a retail release before risking your money.

The opposite of cats is Romans. So it’s no surprise that Rome and Roll, previously played and podcasted about by ‘the boys’, is asking for your money at the same time. Will those centuries old rivals ever make friends? I don’t think this game will let you find out.

Rome and Roll has you rebuilding the titular city after a fire has destroyed most of it. Which is pretty helpful for a game that needs to start with a blank open board. You’ll be rolling dice and drawing tetris shaped buildings, as well as exploring, conquering and generally being a big old Roman. This looks significantly denser than your average roll’n’write, tasking you with building a shared city, alongside your own little player board heaving with rules and tick-boxes.

Quinns dropped this in the news google doc with the words ‘we’ve played this, and it’s good, if extremely heavy’, which is actually a heartier recommendation than the podcast pull-quote used on the campaign page. Maybe worth a look if you want to get your teeth into something chewy and Romey.

Like the cats do.

Honestly, I’ve no idea where I concocted this Romano-Feline beef, but it’s going right in the historical headcanon.

Grabbing my fanciest fancy is the latest weird little thing from my favourite producer of weird little things, Carl Chudyk. And actually, the weirdest thing here is that it’s not that little! I think this might be Chudyk’s first big box game!

Blood of the Northmen looks from a distance like any other Norse-ish brawler, and I was a bit baffled as to how it could be specific enough to follow in the footsteps of ‘posh historical fluxx, but in a good way, I promise’’ Innovation and ‘as ugly as it is brilliant’ Glory to Rome. On closer inspection, it’s a tile laying game where the number of sides of your tile with a particular landscape defines how much you can do the associated action. Slam down some forests, and you’ll be dragging new vikings out of them. Place some lakes, and you’ll actually get to move. Mountains is fighting talk. You get the gist. It’s a weird thing! I’ve no idea how it would actually play!

I’m one hundred percent behind the idea, but it’s worth noting this is more out of doting loyalty to Carl. Chudyk is a designer I love so much that I tracked down a copy of one of his early game-crafter prototypes, which is the equivalent of loving a band so much you hunt down their weird early demo tapes. I am not to be trusted!

I try to make my ‘and finally’ something other than a game. But this tickled me in the right way to break my rules. Kira Magrann has made a one page rpg about hallucinating mooses. Not in a silly ‘lol random’ way, but in a gentler ‘let’s think about how beauty in the world can be experienced by taking on different perspectives’ way. I’m here for it.

If you /aren’t/ tickled by the idea of something with enormous horns taking psychedelics, then I’m just gonna have to give up on the concept of tickling.

It’s called Moose Trip.

We live in a beautiful world, people. Never forget that.

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

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GAMES NEWS! 07/10/19

Quintin Smith38 comment(s)

Ava: Don’t dilly dally, SHUX may be over, but the news waits for nobody.

While the team are hopping on planes, I’m hopping on the news-train, and running straight to the dining car, hoping to pull up a cloche on some tasty news-morsels and snap up some crunchy news-nuggets. I’m not sure where we’re going, but I know that I’m hungry, and a big fan of locomotion.

Choo-choo-choo news-lovers!

After dropping hints in last week’s news, Isaac Childres went to SHUX and announced something very, very exciting. Untitled Gloom Game, features a goose, roaming about a fantasy land, stealing magic rings from dragons.

No. Wait. I’ve got something wrong…

Provisionally operating under the name Gloomhaven: Subtitle, Isaac is promising a stripped down, all barriers barred, normal-priced version of enormous mega-hit Gloomhaven. Taking the mammoth campaign based co-operative dungeon crawler and stripping it down to 24 scenarios, four characters, and a 40 to 50 dollar price point.

I’m really excited about this. I’ve been left off this hype train by my difficulty in getting a consistent group together that I don’t immediately derail into D&D. I think i could tempt some people with Gloomhaven, but I’m not willing to bet a ton on it. Maybe this starter pack will be the thing that snags me.

In further ‘enormously hyped games getting a little bit extra’ news, Stonemaier Games has announced the inevitable first expansion for bird-box builder Wingspan.

The European expansion will bring 81 birds from across Europe for you to shuffle into your already oversized deck of pretty winged things. Wait. That sounds like it’s asking you to shuffle live birds into your deck. Please don’t do this. Buy the expansion, and use the cards provided. Stop trying to shuffle birds, Millicent!

The new cards will include new mechanics, including end of round bonuses, which I’m mostly excited about because they’re a lovely teal colour. it’s definitely a ‘you liked the game so here’s a little bit more’-style expansion. I’m still hoping for a reboot that will give the game the over-powered ridiculousnesses of Glory to Rome, but I might be missing the point of this accessible accessory. More of the same is a pretty safe bet with such a successful game

I’m worried that the game being full of birds I’ve already heard of might take some of the charm out of enthusiastically announcing the name of every flutterer that comes into play like an ornithological town crier.

What am I even saying? They’re birds! Every one is a perfect creature! Even the hyper-aggressive seagull that used to hang outside the window of The Great Eastern kitchen because the old chef gave it a sausage a day. IT WAS ENORMOUS.

Guess who’s going back to Mesopotamia, baby!

Correct! It’s Reiner Knizia!

The good doctor has eleven games hitting wide release at Essen Spiel this year, and ploughing the pre-classical furrow once more is Babylonia. It reads to me like a successor to Tigris and Euphrates, although W Eric Martin is comparing it to Samurai, Through the Desert and Taj Mahal. Whether it’s useful to make these comparisons or not, it’s always exciting to hear Knizia’s best games get name-checked.

In Babylonia, you’ll fill a hexagonal map of middling-pots-amia with symbolic discs to build trade routes, wrap around ziggurats, connect cities and do something with farmers. There’s points to gather in lots of different ways, so presumably a lot of tricky decisions about what to focus on, and how to out reach your opponents.

I’ll be waiting to hear people enthuse about it directly, as Knizia is not quite as consistent as he is prolific. Unpicking what works from previews like these isn’t that easy, as the magic is often hidden a layer or two deep. I’m curious though. How could I not be? He’s got a bowtie and some of his games are PERFECT.

It’s time to bang that drum again, but for the first time since the Kickstarter union-busting debacle began, I feel like I can tell people something positive to do, rather than just wring my hands.

Kickstarter United has issued a call out to supporters to contact Kickstarter management and ask them to officially recognise their union. This is a huge step, and an opportunity for Kickstarter to stop being awful that I really hope they’ll take up. Send messages of support via twitter, [email protected] or any other means that feels appropriate. If we can convince Kickstarter to voluntarily recognise the union, it’s a huge victory for the rights of their workers and the platform itself. Show your passion, show your support, show your solidarity!

With that sign of hope, and with Kickstarter United still not calling for a boycott, I feel slightly more okay linking to Kickstarter projects. I still want to make sure we aren’t unduly damaging creators that happen to be on the platform during the dispute.

Horrible Games are reviving Horse Fever, a game I am assured is not a tropical disease, with their new project Unicorn Fever, which I am assured is not a magical disease.

The tactical turf-accounting rainbow racer sees several unicorns vying for first place, while you bet, rig and magic your way to victory. The unicorns are adorable, and the publisher has been on a bit of a spree lately, with Railroad Ink, Potion Explosion and Dragon Castle all scratching different itches very emphatically. Hopefully this’ll add another brightly coloured horsehair to their bow. (Wrong sort of bow, I know, but sometimes I like being tenuous more than I like being funny).

Also pretty exciting is the re-release of one of John Harper’s old projects, Agon. This role-playing game by the designer of grubby sneak-em-up Blades in the Dark will transport you to the world of classical myths and ask you to beat up legendary monsters. I can’t tell if there’s specific rules for all the animals Zeus will disguise himself as to get laid, but we can only hope.

I always associate the original Agon with theories about the different types of play from ancient message boards and blog posts about role-playing games I had never played. Agon is Greek for struggle or contest, and so this game and that word always represented people who played games to win, which always struck me as an odd approach for storytelling games. Maybe it’s the right vibe for bouncing from island and island in a series of trials and challenges. I’ve heard only good things and my RPG theorising is at least fifteen years out of date, so I doubt it’s relevant!

Honestly, the last bit of news I want to share isn’t really even news. For anyone who made it to SHUX, or anyone who missed it, I think the most heartwarming (and possibly jealousy inspiring) way to spend the next five minutes is looking through the #SHUX2019 hashtag on twitter.

You’ll see a lot of lovely words, happy photos, and what looks like a wonderful event. One highlight is Pip going through the feedback post-it notes, and finding someone celebrating their successful marriage proposal (congratulations, whoever that is). For me the most heart-swelling bit was Querdcast pointing out that it was a joyful place for trans folk. I remember that specific feeling from Nine Worlds Geekfest, where I used to help run a games lounge with a few of the SU&SD forum moderators. I’m super glad that SHUX has the same supportive vibe.

Thanks to everyone involved and attending for making a magical happening. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it! (But at least not making it means I can be this congratulatory about it without making it seem self indulgent!)

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

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Give us your Gloomhaven questions for Isaac Childres!

Quintin Smith39 comment(s)

Matt: With SHUX just three days away, I’m vibrating with excitement at the prospect of getting to quiz designer Isaac Childres about the past – and future! – of the brilliant Gloomhaven at 11:30am on Friday.

But one man can only brain-think so much, so as part of our efforts to host and record the most interesting conversation about the game to date, we would love to field the hottest questions from you: our startlingly clever and good-looking community.

If you leave a question in the comments, we’ll credit you and get answers from the man himself: Big Mr. Isaac.

See you Friday!

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

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GAMES NEWS! 30/09/19

Quintin Smith18 comment(s)

Ava (definitely singing, not necessarily well): I work hard (they work hard) every day of my life, I work ‘til I ache my bones. At the end (at the end of the day) I take home my hard earned pay all on my own…

Nobody: ….

Ava: Oh cripes. Hi there. I might’ve been making myself a little too at home in the Shut Up & Sit Down office complex while everyone else trots off to Vancouver. Without Matt here I don’t have to fight about who has to do backing vocals.

But you’re here, and you know what that means? It’s Monday. SHUX is approaching, and just beyond that lies enormous shopping convention Essen Spiel, and that means the news hopper is heaving. Let’s get to work.

Top of the blocks this week is the latest box of tricks from Ravensburger, an ode to the charms and tribulations of the enormously successful video game Minecraft.

Minecraft: Builders and Biomes will bring the building, digging, fighting and exploring to the table, through a miniature overworld, a cube made of cubes, and your own private hidey hole. The blocky voxel aesthetic of the game translates nicely, but a game renowned for freedom and enormousness is a tough thing to extrapolate to a flatter play surface. Hopefully a minecraft flavoured puzzle is up enough people’s streets, and I have to confess a love for the cubey little cube-cube. More games should have you slowly deconstructing something in the middle of the table for your own personal gain. It’s easy to wrap heads around a slowly dismantling block as timer for the game, and is just an inherently satisfying process. Why always build up when you can slowly destroy?

Welcome to nihilism Monday, folks. Grab a pick axe, it’s time to tear down the world.

Boardgamegeek’s news round-ups are a great place to get a sense of how broad and varied the news pipes can blow. This one post almost pulled off a news-worthy hat-trick by making me want to write about Tom Lehman’s two player war-thing, as well as Wolfgang Warsch’s new party game and a game about cats playing with string which you play with string!

I’m going to stick with Wolfgang, on this occasion, as he’s on such a terrifyingly strong roll lately. ‘On a scale of One to T-Rex’ sounds like a very absurd party game, that I’d not even consider if it didn’t have his name attached. The game will ask everyone at the table to act out something ridiculous, (my favourite was ‘discovering you have fingers’), but the trick isn’t to work out what everybody’s doing, as that’s public information. Instead you’ll all be given a number from one to ten that dictates the intensity of your performance. You’re trying to find the people who are doing something entirely different to you, with the same amount of force.

Honestly, I think this sounds awful and ridiculous, and like it might be magic or fall flat on its face. But I’m pretty sure it’s going to do whichever of those things it does with the intensity of a T-Rex with a card that says ten on it, and as such, I’m into it.

Amazingly, that news post’s Baby Kittens isn’t even the only Eastern European game about animals wrapping string through a game board coming out soon.

Spring on a String has a lovely design diary up at the moment, that discusses the stresses (and joys) of attempting to make games out of textiles, alongside finding a publisher and making the game the best it can be. The game has players taking turns to thread lace through flowers, trying to ‘collect’ as many as possible. But with a limited amount of lace each, it’s never entirely clear how far you’ll be able to go, leaving it as a slightly wobbly race. The simple, tactile, abstract puzzle is wrinkled by a whopping 31 animal cards that will give special powers and priorities to different coloured flowers. That should guarantee the game is never quite the same twice, despite the fixed board, and that’s probably a pleasing prospect, providing particular plays won’t prosaically plod with poorly picked powers.

Robo-Quinns (definitely not just Quinns’ face drawn on a basketball): Ahem. Ava, that’s all the alliteration allotted for this article.

Ava: Kiss my assonance, Robo-Quinns.

Robo-Quinns: …

Ava: It looks lovely and portable and hopefully interesting! Though I confess I’m baffled as to where this lace based game trend is coming from. Anybody got a string conspiracy theory?

Robo-Quinns: That was a bad joke, Ava.

Ava: I know, Robo-Quinns. But you don’t have arms, so you can’t stop me.

Obviously, I’m not remotely jealous that I’m stuck here with nothing but a basketball and a copy of Queen’s Greatest Hits for company, while the rest of the company flings itself across an ocean to go play boardgames with the loveliest people in the world. So there’s no way I’d get even more jealous at hearing that Isaac Childres is teasing some cheeky little announcements about his newest Gloomhaven related projects at the very convention that has pulled everyone to Vancouver.

Not jealous at all.

In further news from Grumpington towers, it looks like I’m going to end up reluctantly buying a game that I already own.

Sidereal Confluence is a strange beast. With a name that I refuse to pronounce the same way twice. Sliderule Confidence is one of the most tradey trading games out there, giving each player their own personal flowchart of cards, a handful of cubes, and the ability to swap anything for anyone else’s anything else. It’s economic mayhem, full of back-scratching, head-scratching, brow-furrowing, brow-beating and me desperately trying to plead that I’m not winning, so it’s okay to trade with me, I swear.

The one obvious problem with Cider-and-Eel Confit-Nets was that it looks like a powerpoint presentation about alien societies prepared hungover in the five minutes before a job interview you aren’t going to get. Which brings me to the actual news, which is that Spidery Conversation is getting a swank new edition, with new art by the lovely Kwanchai Moriya, an improved rule book, and some actual graphic design.

I’m being super snarky, and this is actually really unfair on Tauceti Deichmann and the team. They put a huge amount of effort into finding ways to make the art on each of the cards relate to their absurdly deep and rich world that backs up this brilliant game. I can’t say the game is beautiful in its earlier iteration, but it is fascinating, functional and I’ve never seen anything quite like the thread that explains some of the thinking behind it all. I hope that the visual overhaul makes everything look a lot nicer whilst maintaining some of that depth. I’d love to see Slippery Condiments reach a much wider audience, as it’s delightfully unique.

Switching from grump to anger. There’s more developments in the ongoing Kickstarter union-busting debacle. The CEO of Kickstarter has made a statement, and responded to criticism by stating they are going to continue doing everything they legally can to resist unionisation. Kickstarter United (the nascent union in question) has been sharing the Current Affairs response to this statement, and a lot of argument has been happening in various quarters about who and how to resist the activities without harming workers and creators (not that I want to create a false dichotomy there).

Rowan, Rook and Decard, who currently have a project up on the platform, have a particularly nuanced take on what’s going on, that’s well worth a read. For now, the union is not calling for a boycott, but mileage may vary on how to approach that, and I’ve not picked out any projects to highlight this week. I still feel conflicted about that. Particularly as I’ve already linked to a game currently exclusive Amazon, a company I absolutely despise!

The CEO and the unions have both suggested that people should send their opinions to [email protected], so that may be a way to go. We’ll keep on monitoring the situation. Sorry there’s no way to make this funny. But that’s how anger works sometimes.

There’s so much vying for my ‘and finally’ slot today! Let’s do a whistlestop round up!

Bruno Faidutti has been in Tehran, and has posted a blog (scroll down if your French isn’t what it used to be) with some photos of his exploration. He’s been hanging out in boardgame cafes, playtesting with publishers and looking at cats.

Someone on Reddit made a giant outdoor version of Galaxy Trucker, and all I have to say to that is that I hope they remember to yell ‘punch it’ whenever they activate their double engines.

And we got an email from Danielle Schneider, aka the board game baker, who has instructions on how to make an edible game of Codenames, complete with biting into the word-biscuits to find out what team it’s on. The assassin is spicy!! It gave me the opportunity to use the phrase ‘word-biscuits’. Everyone’s a winner!

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

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And with that, Team SU&SD Leave for SHUX!

Quintin Smith5 comment(s)

Quinns: With just over a week until the third annual Shut Up & Sit Down convention, which still has a good few tickets left (including one day passes), it’s time for our team to G.O.S.P. (get on some planes).

For those of you attending, it’s gonna be fabulous. For those not attending, I’m here to say that our content schedule for the next couple of weeks will be a little spotty. Keep an eye on the SU&SD Instagram for any hijinks that occur, and expect the occasional written article, but probably no more than that.

But fear not! We’re going to return with all kinds of recorded shows, unusual jetlag-infused videos and tales of games big and small.

Thank you for your patience, everybody. See you on the other side!

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