This week, bookworm Paul wiggles his way into Ex Libris, the library-building game of hardbacks and homunculi, of novels and necromancy. What sort of collection will he build, what strange and wonderful assistants will employ and is he really as well-read as he claims to be?
As you know, this video is the only way you’ll find out. Have a lovely weekend, everyone!
This week, Matt, Paul and Quinns reunited in a hotel! We didn’t record them all crying with joy for five minutes straight, but we did record them sitting down afterwards to discuss some board games.
First off, the team discuss stress-testing some of their favourite games from the last year at the 2018 Game Developer’s Convention in San Francisco. Did Ethnos, Fog of Love, Azul or Barenpark buckle under pressure?
But wait, there’s are new games too! Matt has thoughts on the as-yet unpublished Puzzlegami, Leigh joins the team to describe the as-yet unfinished Four Empires, and Paul provides some thoughts on Star Wars: Legion and Age of Steam.
Enjoy, everybody! And if you’d like to hear the team record a live podcast in person, we’re recording two of ’em at the UK Games Expo in June. Come stop by!
Paul: Welcome to Shut Up & Sit Down’s Games News, the only organic board games news on the internet, specially selected by our team of expert newsologists and prepared for you with only the very highest quality ingredients.
Quinns: That’s right. Our artisanal news is of the very highest quality and proven by science to be extremely good for your health. Ah, I see the first course is being served now! A light soup full of tiny boats, representing the latest expansion for legendary drafting game 7 Wonders- 7 Wonders: Armada!
Paul: Of course! What is the ocean if not a really, really, really big soup?
Following on from the simplicity of Leaders, the colour of Cities and the strangeness of Babel, Armada will act as an additional layer draped on top of 7 Wonders, as if you were covering the base game with a fine chiffon.
Each player will get a new “Naval board”, and whenever they draft a card they can pay to advance one of their like-coloured ships along a track. Excitingly, your red “naval military” track is compared to all players at the table, not just your neighbours, allowing you to bully victory points out of literally everybody. It’s breaking 7 Wonders’ cardinal rule! I need a lie down.
Paul: This new entertainment division will be adapting Asmodee’s many tabletop franchises into other media, such as comic books or films, meaning we can finally have that Twilight Imperium comic or T.I.M.E. Stories film that we… never needed? I mean, come on, so many of these are light on plot or relatable characters. Why even use them as the basis of structured narrative instead of just coming up with something that gives you fewer constraints and more possibilities?
Quinns: After the news of Fantasy Flight Games’ new interactive division being announced last year, it certainly looks like there’s an effort to make these IPs much bigger than they already are. And if there’s money to be had in that, there’s always someone who’ll try it. If someone could scrape together $300m to make that Battleship film, no doubt someone else can find a tenth of that to make ARKHAM HORROR NETFLIX or something. And that might not be bad! Against the odds, that Dead of Winter comic wasn’t terrible in the slightest.
Paul: Speaking of our loosening grip on reality, the release trailer for Catan VR is upon us!
Quinns: Honestly? It looks like a very slick adaptation, but what I can’t stop obsessing over is the customisable virtual room in which you play the game. There’s something very weird and backwards about strapping yourself into a VR headset so that you can enter a realm inspired by a vague and insipid board game… in which you can only play the board game? It’s like a Russian nesting doll made from compromises.
Paul: This week we also have news of a new edition of Monsterpocalypse, a miniatures game from the creators of Warmachine that I feel should be much more famous than it actually is. Players control either enormous monsters that are rampaging through cities, devastating the scenery as they go, or the defending forces trying to beat them back, featuring things like giant robots and trundly tanks. Both sides in this battle are made up of different factions and you can bet that the game will only be expanded further over time. I guess that means you can have things analogous to Godzilla and Mothra and Petey the Giant Panda.
Quinns: I know you’re trying to joke there, but let’s not forget that the King of Tokyo expansion really did introduce a giant panda.
It looks like the game of Monsterpocalypse is starting with single player starter sets, which more often than not are a bit disappointing. Will this be entertaining in and of itself, like X-Wing or Summoner Wars? Or will it fail to deliver the excitement of the full game, like Star Wars: Legion (which we just reviewed) or Star Wars: Armada?
Paul: I had a sudden high followed by an immediate low after seeing that Star Trek: Galactic Enterprises was warping our way. A Star Trek game about fiendish Ferengi negotiation sounds like a fine use of that universe, with all sorts of businessy rule-making-and-breaking, but then I saw that this is being made by Wizkids and that we’re often disappointed by the production quality of so many of their titles.
That’s not to say that some of their games aren’t good, but the recently released Sidereal Confluence isn’t the prettiest or clearest thing and if anyone wanted me to recommend them a Star Trek game, I’d immediately suggest the RPG that Cynthia looked at last year, instead of any of the board games.
Quinns: Are you ready to go up and down again?
Paul: Oh no.
Quinns: The designer of Galactic Enterprises is none other than Chris Boelinger, the designer of the fantastic Archipelago (see our review here) as well as Dungeon Twister.
Paul: What?! Hooray!
Quinns: …But more recently, he’s become known as the designer of A Dog’s Life, Illegal and 4 Gods.
Eric: Star Wars has always had a strange magic for me, a modern mythological mojo which transcends its contrived plots and sometimes stilted dialog.
I first felt the tingle of that power when I was seven years old. It was an open house at a local technical school. Back in a corner, away from the admittedly-modest crowds, was a little display for a “flat screen” television, cutting edge technology of that long, long time ago. The exhibit had just started, and as I walked up, two droids were surveying the blasted landscape of Tatooine. Perched on a ledge, I sat for the next six hours and watched the entire trilogy, lost in a galaxy far, far away.
That makes Star Wars: Legion, the new miniatures game from Fantasy Flight, hard to review. It tempts me to be too generous – just putting a lightsaber in someone’s hand provokes the ghost of a chill. At the same time, it makes me worry I will set the bar too high. To have expectations no collection of cardboard and plastic could ever meet. I say this to acknowledge that I come to this game as the farthest thing from a blank slate. I am a fanboy, with all the enthusiasm and critical nitpicking that entails.
As I opened the box and surveyed Fantasy Flight’s usual spread of goodies, I felt that familiar tingle. At least the miniatures themselves were exciting. I immediately started assembling little stormtroopers and speeder bikes. “Assemble” is the right word, too. This is a true miniatures game, which means superglue and filing down mold lines. While the troopers are relatively simple, the larger models take a bit of work. This is not helped by the less-than-clear instructions. I’ve built hundreds of miniatures in my life and was still puzzled by one or two bits. I can only imagine how someone new to the hobby might feel.
Once built, the figures look great. They’re not fancy – Star Wars has a simpler aesthetic than the skull-bedecked ornamentation of Warhammer or the weird steampunk stylings of Malifaux – but they are higher quality than even Fantasy Flight’s usual offerings. They also paint up nicely, as I discovered over the next five hours, neglecting things like talking to my wife and sleeping in order to complete my first squad. Finally, after more frenetic but quite enjoyable painting, I got the game to the table.
This was the moment of truth – would the magic this game held as a physical artifact translate into its gameplay?
First, I should note that this is very much a Fantasy Flight game. If you’ve played X-Wing or Battlelore, much will be familiar. It uses special dice, of which there are far too few in the starting box. It has measurement widgets that fit into bases and a range band ruler. Then there are the cards – lots of cards. Everything is shiny and proprietary and exactly on brand.
One of the trademarks of those other games is their use of uncertainty. Take X-Wing, where both players simultaneously select their ships’ movement in secret. There’s some of this here. It hides in the system of orders which is Legion’s backbone. At the beginning of a turn each player chooses a command card. This card is both a bid on whether you will activate first and the number of units you can give orders. More on that in just a moment.
Legion uses alternating activations, meaning that you use one unit and then your opponent responds with one of theirs. In the case of units you gave orders with your command cards, you may activate them freely. For other units you have to go fishing in a bag for order tokens.
These tokens designate types of units rather than individuals, so there is some flexibility, but you won’t always get the one you want. In practice this means that each player must prioritize. The last thing you want is to desperately need to activate a unit whose order token is at the bottom of the bag.
The closest analogy to this system for many is going to be Shut Up & Sit Down’s much-loved Memoir ’44. While (unlike in Memoir) every unit can activate in Legion each turn, in both games the command structure means there is uncertainty about what will happen on the battlefield. It forces interesting choices, which is wonderful. It also makes things a bit chaotic, which some may dislike but I find perfect for the setting. Battles in Star Wars (and in real life) are less precise plans than constant adaptation, and Legion imparts that feeling of fighting by the seat of your pants. I can just imagine Han swearing under his breath as the Imperial forces close in.
The order structure aside, the core systems are pretty standard wargaming fare. Take two actions like move, attack, aim or recover. Roll dice to attack; have your opponent roll dice to defend. Where Legion shines is in the details.
Take unit movement. Rather than individually measuring for each model, squads of infantry have a leader. Most measurements are made from this leader, planning out his actions and placing the other squadmates within a certain distance. While perhaps not perfectly realistic, it’s brilliant in play. I have an army in another miniatures game that takes twenty minutes to simply measure for and move each model. Every! Turn! Here, that would take a fifth of the time.
Tabletop grognards in love with tactical geometry in their games need not fear – positioning still matters and can result in some clever play. However, these rules make operating large groups of infantry feel easy when many games turn it into a chore.
Another example of these slick rules is morale. As you get shot at you accumulate “suppression tokens,” basically the cardboard equivalent of people screaming “Oh God, oh God, we’re all going to die!” As these tokens build up your troops might lose actions or even start to flee. To clear them away takes trusting in random chance or an action of its own, creating another interesting decision point. Cover, too, is a breeze. Legion uses true line of sight, which is sometimes contentious, but abandons the “percent of the model obscured” discussions in games like Infinity. Simply look from your unit leader and count how many enemy models are blocked; if it’s the majority of the unit, it’s in cover.
I can’t overstate how wonderful these systems and others felt in play. It’s effortless. A resistance you didn’t even realize was slowing you down suddenly disappears, like that moment you get out of the pool. Legion is not a simple game – each unit is a card full of text, with more cards full of more text attached to them. But everything about it is smooth. Indeed, it’s a testament to Legion’s ease of play that several non-miniatures gamers tried it out with me and almost instantly picked it up.
Of course, no system is perfect. I still found some of the fiddly idiosyncrasies that creep into all miniatures games. For instance, it often makes sense to arrange squads so that the normal troopers are behind barricades while the unit leader and heavy weapons are standing out in the open, which I understand is not usually advisable in live fire scenarios. The use of movement templates can also get a bit frustrating. While I appreciate why they exist, using solid 2d shapes with a single hinge on a 3d surface is often harder, not easier, than a traditional tape measure. That said, those are quibbles in a game full of potential to become something great.
However, we need to step back for a minute and talk about that word – “potential.” From everything I’ve just said, you might assume I recommend the game unreservedly. While I do love Legion, though, that love comes with a few qualifications.
Let me try to zoom in on what makes miniatures games different than normal board games. Partially, it’s about investment. To play a miniatures game as it is meant to be enjoyed requires lots of money, and Legion is no different. The core box is affordable, but it only provides half of the army size FFG recommends. To play the game as intended now would require two boxes or a number of the expansions launching alongside the starter.
Even more than this investment of money, there is an investment of time. Assembling and painting figures, building terrain – I spent a good 15 hours with my paintbrush and still haven’t completed the core box. Legion expects this investment of its players. That’s fine if that’s what you’re looking for, but this is my big caveat: without that investment I don’t think Legion is that great a game.
Unlike X-Wing, where just the base box felt like an exciting dogfight, many of Legion’s most interesting features don’t really work at the size included in the beginner box. This is especially true of the command system. It makes sense with games of 7-10 units, which is the range I imagine most armies will field. With only the 4 units in the starter box most of its uncertainty is removed. Likewise, thanks to the limited size of armies, a little bad luck in the core set can feel crippling. As in most dice-based games, you need the law of large numbers to smooth out the probability curve. Losing a unit to a spike in the dice matters much more when it is 25% of your army than when it is only 10%. Certain models in the core set – especially the commanders – can also become nigh-indestructible, reducing the outcome of games to luck-fests. All of these problems disappear when playing at the game’s recommended size – I proxied a bit to test out that level and it is a much more even experience. But if you are treating this as a single-box game, I’d honestly say you should give it a pass.
That said, if you are willing to make that investment – if you want a sprawling miniatures game that you play over and over, experimenting with lists, collecting models and trying different tactics – Legion has the potential to be something special. I still say potential because those games are made or broken by the quality of their ongoing support. There are already numerous expansions planned, ranging from other basic troops to iconic units like AT-STs or Princess Leia, but I haven’t played with them yet. In a year or two, if that support continues, Legion could be a dominant force in the wargaming landscape, potentially even dethroning Warhammer 40,000. That, however, will take some time to see.
All of which sounds more negative than I intend. So here’s what I want to make clear – for all those cautions, the magic is still definitely here. For me, Legion felt like those first few scenes of A New Hope I watched all those years ago. It didn’t fully make sense yet. C-3PO’s fretting and Luke’s whining in themselves do not a classic make. But as my stormtroopers advanced across the field to kill the rebel scum, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. The force is strong with this one. It will just take a little time to tell whether it can truly become a Jedi.
Paul: Push, PUSH. I can see the head! We’re almost there. Any moment now!
Quinns: AAAAAA at last! After so long! Is it a girl? Is it a boy?
Paul: IT’S NEWS.
Quinns: I… hmmm. Oh! A new version of the Avalon Hill cool-as-cucumber classic History of the World? What a fascinating way to start the week!
And what a pretty board! That abstract map of the world looks wonderful, carefully detailed with surging mountain ranges and deep, moody forests. Over the last couple of years, we’ve had some terrific reintroductions to famous older games, from the re-release of Ra to the latest edition of Twilight Imperium, so we’re always excited to see old titles revisited. Is this another that’s aged remarkably gracefully, that still keeps pace with its fresher, fancier peers?
Paul: Or will this Risk-a-like look terribly clumsy and uncool around the younger crowd? History of the World is another game about pushing armies around the board to conquer continents which, in different periods of history, are worth different amounts of points. I feel like I’ve already had more than my fair share of Risk-y business in my time, from Risk itself to Imperial 2030, but who knows? We have to keep open minds in this hobby because we’re constantly surprised!
Quinns: Also surprising us this week is Pantone: The Game, a guessing game of colour palettes and abstract agony. It has one player is trying to describe a character to everyone else using… what looks like one of those things you take to a hardware store to make sure the paint you buy matches your shelves. What does that arrangement of red, white and blue mean? George Washington? Or Charles de Gaulle?
Paul: It was Simone de Beauvoir! Between guesses, hints are dropped, but more hints mean fewer points and, as you know, I’m addicted to points. Anyway, there’s pretty much a three second pitch for this: Pantone is practically Codenames with colours and, boy oh boy, this looks like it could be a lot of fun.
Quinns: Paul! Tell our readers about the HASLAB.
Paul: Mmm. Perhaps the most peculiar announcement of the last few weeks is that of Haslab, Hasbro’s new crowdfunding platform. After previously using IndieGoGo, Hasbro are also going their own way, with a site that will allow visitors to vote (with their cash) on their favourite game concepts (which currently consists of just one Star Wars to, but okay). It looks like they, too, would rather sidestep Kickstarter. Though it also sounds like they’ve just created a Netrunner corp, a dystopian tech conglomerate who forge terrifying beasts that they then totally fail to control.
Quinns: Paul no. If anything, it’s more like a strange demand-through-democracy process whereby-
Paul: HASLAB. I’m slightly terrified of what cardboard consequences might emerge from the HASLAB, stumbling into the light, created by committee and knowing only one thing: that they must KILL. “WHY,” they scream. “WHY WAS I MADE TO FEEL PAIN.”
Quinns: Along the same lines, Knight Models have decided to eschew Kickstarter for their own pre-order system for their forthcoming Harry Potter Miniatures Game. Speaking as a website that elected to do our fundraising on our own site to avoid giving Kickstarter their percentage of everyone’s cash, I get it. It’s tougher to take on more of the responsibility yourself, but it certainly gives you more control and helps keep costs down. Oh, and Paul? Looks like you can now get Maggie Smith in your board game. For thirty euros.
Paul: Did we already report on Auztralia, Martin Wallace’s creepy, Cthulhuish capering around our planet’s most curious continent?
Quinns: Finally, a game offering a realistic depiction of Australia! I think maybe we hinted at this in a previous Games News, but now the Kickstarter is live and we have much more information about this spiritual sequel to A Study in Emerald. Auztralia is all about exploring and expanding into a continent whose hostile wildlife includes not just poisonous spiders and murderous koalas, but also Lovecraftian monsters that will be angered by your fancy railroads and will destroy your bucolic farms. It looks vibrant, varied and extremely murderous.
Paul: You know what else is vibrant, varied and murderous? As well as impossibly old? Dinosaurs! The first edition of Dinosaur Island was a half-million dollar Kickstarter success a year ago and now it’s back with a vengeance, already far surpassing its predecessor and now including previous Kickstarter exclusive as standard.
It’s pretty much Jurassic Park, the game, with you researching dinosaur DNA (which stands for Dinosaurs Not Alive) to bring those crazy creatures back to life, all with the hope of making your dino resort more and more appealing. This is Bärenpark GONE WILD.
Also spotted roaming the plains of Kickstarter is the curious and compact Palm Island, a game whose core is just seventeen double-sided cards and which its creators claim you can take just about anywhere with you, to play either solo or with an opponent. It seems that each card is kind of four cards at once, as they can be flipped and rotated, so that cleverness is partly how they’ve kept it so petite.
Quinns: It’s all about that rotating, drawing cards and turning them to store their resources, and it’s such an economy of design that you have to wonder how many ways there might be for us to make all sorts of board games smaller and tighter and more compact. That core of seventeen cards isn’t the entire thing, as there’s also extra cards representing villagers and disasters, so Palm Island is a little bigger than the first impression it intends to give, but you still have to appreciate that push to save space.
And now, a particularly important crowdfunding announcement: No Pun Included are doing their yearly Kickstarter! If you were to ask us who the best reviewers in board gaming are, I’d turn around, slam-dunk a basketball, spin back around, point fingerguns at you and say “Us.”
Quinns: But if you asked us who the second best reviewers are, I’d grudgingly admit it was the wonderful and charming No Pun Included.
Vitally, if they reach £30k, Elaine will go full-time, making her the first full-time woman in the board games press, a real milestone moment. It literally couldn’t happen to a more deserving and cool person, who why not chuck some money to a good cause and get some cool promos in the process?
But that’s not the only industry fundraising event happening this week! In a bold step forward for the craft of board game design, Tim Fowers (with a team of motivated and magnificent colleagues) is pitching the Tabletop Network Boardgame Designers Retreat, an event for industry professionals inspired by the Games Developers Conference, arguably the most important and surely the most productive video games conference in the world.
That said, we’ve been turning up at GDC for years now and reminding people how important board games are as both an inspiration and a fundamental pillar of the history of all games design. We’re there again this year. Look! We’re even on this cool map! Anyway, if this is a success it could be a huge, huge deal for board games, uniting people, getting them to share best practices and learn from each other’s success and failures. We’d love to see this take off.
Paul: YES. Good luck, Tim and everyone. I hope this becomes an industry staple. And wow, look at that location! Beautiful Utah!
There’s JUST TIME for some STATS courtesy of this extraordinarily thorough breakdown of BoardGameGeek’s database, pulling out all the trends and exposing them to the light. Look! The most popular games are Catan and Carcassonne! There’s been an almost exponential increase in board game publishing! Average BGG ratings are also going up and, hmm, games are getting slightly more complex (and more mechanically varied) as time goes on.
Quinns: Okay, so perhaps some of this stuff is a bit obvious. But what is really cool is the chart showing which individual mechanics have become more or less popular in the last twenty years. Hex-and-counter games are out, hand management is in! Player elimination has gotten more popular, while memorisation has remained precisely where it is.
Paul: That’s a shame. My memory is going the way of my hair, which is… somewhere else.
As if it were needed, Jacob Jaskov’s Fog of Love is definitive proof that board games can be sexy, and it’s finally in shops the world over. But there’s more to this box than just sex! For example, there’s sometimes a troubling absence of sex. Sometimes there’s heartbreak. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s true love.
Don’t let this game be “The one that got away,” everybody. Take a look at our definitive review, and see if it’s for you.
Paul: We know it’s Games News time when we hear the honk of the Games News Freighter (SS Games News) as it makes its way up the Games News channel, to disgorge Games News upon the Games News docks.
Quinns: OH NO A MAN HAS BEEN CRUSHED.
Paul: Such is the weight of Games News and the danger of not taking things easy. We should all relax with Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea (seen above).
And, really, what better way to kick off this week than with news of a colourful, charming game all about harvesting tea? How pleasant! How relaxing! What an unusual theme for a board game, not a train in sight-
Oh no wait, you’re also building a railway together. BUT STILL, Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea looks just wonderful. As well as using worker placement mechanics to cultivate tea (even feeding it back to your own staff, to help them work), you’ll all contribute to that railway and to building towns along it. Then, at the end of the game, whichever of you contributed to tea, trains and towns the most is the winner!
All that, and the box has a lovely cover.
Quinns: Colour me interested! Alubari is the sort-of-sequel to a game called Snowdonia, which we never played but which we heard very good things about. This game should be a lovely way to catch up.
That said, I’m not crazy about the theme. Planting tea and building railways in 1850s India was of course being done by the British, for the British, and there’s certainly enough cruelty to be found in the history of the British East India Company that “A Nice Cup of Tea” could be taken as an arch and sarcastic subtitle.
Fun fact: After these railways were built using Indian taxpayer money to secure British investments, the trains and stations were staffed by white people. The Indians paid for the trains and stations but they couldn’t even work in them.
Of course, these days India’s very proud of its tea industry. I guess as an English person I just have a chip on my shoulder about colonial India because we’re taught so many lies about it.
Paul: Well said.
Photo credit: BGG User ChangoPerro.
You know what the exact opposite of a nice cup of tea is? Warhammer 40,000, the future in which There Is Only War. Except for when it’s also thematically appropriate to have some non-war. Such as in Gretchinz!, the game of racing tiny space-goblins, from Captain Sonar designers Roberto Fraga and Yohan Lemonnier!
It looks like its creators want this game to be as slapdash as Sonar is, with frantic, real-time dice rolling and players holding cards in a Hanabi-style fashion that means they can see what everyone else has, but can’t be entirely sure what they hold themselves. I know the old adage is “more haste, less speed,” but sometimes you just have to panic as fast as you possibly can and hope it works out. Right? Right?
Quinns: Here’s an interesting rebirth. Cuzco is a remake of the year 2000’s Java (pictured above), the first game in the mechanically-related Mask trilogy, which also includes Tikal (which has a mediocre iPad port that’s I’ve nonetheless enjoyed) and Mexica (which we reviewed here). While Java was set in, well, Java, the remake airlifts the game to South America, meaning all three now take place on the same continent.
Paul: I don’t understand. Why wasn’t it set there before and why did it take eighteen years to change this? No, it’s okay, it doesn’t matter! This is an important reminder that, after enjoying Mexica, I need to try the other games in what is now a fairly venerable series. Several friends are fans of Tikal and this new, swankier Cuzco looks like a game that just demands our attention. Could this be a series that keeps pace with its shiny peers, even after nearly two decades?
Quinns: I don’t know, but one thing’s for sure- French publishers Super Meeple are putting out some absolutely gorgeous boxes. The whole revised Mask trilogy look amazing, and I’d love to get my hands on their new edition of Amun-Re (though I don’t think it’s out in English yet).
Paul: Oh boy, there’s lots resurfacing this month. A similar re-theming turns 2003’s Attika into U.S. Telegraph, meaning it’s no longer a game about building Greek city-states, but instead towns on the American frontier. Mechanically, though, its creators say it remains the same. How curious!
And we also have a re-release of Mage Knight coming, right?
Quinns: Paul it’s the ULTIMATE EDITION. That means all of Mage Knight is now packed together in one single $125 box with, wait for it, “five all new cards”! Five new cards, Paul! The base game is already huge, and the first expansion alone makes it monstrous. Is your $125 really necessary?
Paul: Sometimes you just got to milk that cash cow until you hear the last nickel hit the bucket, plus you know me. Five is my favourite number. Five new cards is the perfect amount to make me holler with happiness and ride my horse off into the sunset. Five new cards! Five!
Quinns: Jokes aside, if this box means that Mage Knight gets some renewed attention and more people get to play it, that’s awesome. I often hear people say that it’s their favourite game, and I always have the same response. I stare into the middle distance, nod my head and think “That makes sense.”
Paul: While we’re on the subject of ultimate things, Ultimate Werewolf (see our review here) is the latest game to buy first class tickets to legacy land, with a new edition coming this August and co-designed by the man who has come to be known as “Mister Legacy” at every cocktail party, Rob Daviau. At its core, it’s still the traditional game of hidden roles and hamlet hunger, with players trying to either eat one another or avoid becoming dinner, but Ultimate Werewolf Legacy will, as we’d expect, feature a bunch elements that carry over between games.
These include a player’s family loyalty (perhaps even disloyalty) and special powers, as well as the gradual growth and development of the village they live in across sixteen game sessions. The action is both dictated by and recorded in THE DIARY, a log that is central to the game’s progress, and publisher Bezier say that it’ll be worth replaying UWL, as new games may take very different turns. Replay packs will let players buy a NEW DIARY and begin the betrayal again.
Quinns: It’s been a while since I was able to give expandable card game Netrunner a nod, but this week we have the announcement of the latest deluxe expansion, Reign and Reverie! Set in the sprawling megacity of ChiLo (stretching from Chicago to St. Louis) it’ll add loads of cool new cards for every faction, and it’s designed to be a perfect second box to pick up after new players buy the revised Core Set.
I burned out on Netrunner after attending twenty tournaments and hundreds of meet-ups, but Shut Up & Sit Down still absolutely recommends it. It’s just genius. If you’re looking for a new obsession or just want to see what all the fuss is about, you should still absolutely pick up a copy.
Paul: And finally, we’ve got a Kickstarter for you! Eagle-eared visitors will remember Matt talking about Edge of Darkness when it turned up at SHUX last year (and then again in this podcast). This huge game of worker placement, economy management and card customisation (previously seen in Mystic Vale, from the same designer) looked absolutely fascinating to me. Well, it’s now on Kickstarter and, as you might expect for something so enormous, has exercised its black-hole like powers of attraction to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The darkness is closing in, you could say. Look, its edge is getting closer.
Quinns: Yes! Matt and I were split on this after playing it at SHUX. It didn’t click for me, he found it intriguing.
…Goodness gracious. I just looked closely at this Kickstarter for the first time. There are two levels you can back at, a $60 level that gets you the game, and a $100 option that includes a crapton of extras, stretch goals and miniatures to replace the tokens. 98.2% of backers went for the more expensive option.
Quinns: 98.2% of backers.
Quinns: They chose to almost double the price of the game.
Quinns: Paul, do you think people who use Kickstarter like miniatures and lots of pieces?
Everybody, please remain in your seats with your seatbelts securely fastened. We’re expecting some turbulence.
Some turbulent discussions of board games, that is!
In this one and only 74th episode of the SU&SD podcast, Matt and Quinns discuss their weird wooden mates in the Journeyman expansion for Isle of Skye. They chat about stabbing nightmares with pencils in Stuffed Fables, which might be best described as “Toy Story directed by Tim Burton”. There’s a discussion of the grand game of War of the Ring (second edition), and the real-life backache it gave Quinns. Finally, the two offer their smokin’ hot first impressions of Rising Sun, a beautiful game about Japan (but not) where you fight wars (but you don’t) and negotiate alliances (but not really).
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Quinns: Two years on from Paul’s bucolic Isle of Skye review (ft. his family cookie recipe), Matt and I have finally taken a stroll through this game’s wonky Scottish islands. And you know what? We’re both as charmed as Paul was. Isle of Skye is a sweet, rich game of buying and selling squares of land like so much dense shortbread, and I’d recommend it to anybody.
As this site’s #1 expansion fan, I’m thrilled to say that today we’re looking at Isle of Skye’s first expansion! It’s Isle of Skye: Journeyman. With it, no longer are you just mapping an island. Journeyman adds a wooden “best mate” who waddles around your island, diligently studying everything from cows to ponds.
But the first thing to say is that this expansion changes the tenor of the experience faster than a fart at a funeral.
Before the expansion, Isle of Skye was a game you could teach in a couple of minutes. With the expansion? Not so much!
As if Journeyman was setting out to parody German-style board games, the expansion gives every player (a) some cubes, (b) a victory point multiplier and (c) a player board slathered in iconography.
Fortunately, this looks more complicated than it really is.
Each player’s board has three tracks, each representing a profession that their best mate can progress in. By pushing your cube down the middle “merchant” track you (the player) get more money. The bottom “herald” track gets you victory points, and the top “warrior” track is the least rewarding, but you can advance down it for free whenever anyone buys a tile from you.
To make headway in each profession, Journeyman adds a new phase to every turn of the game. When players all expand their islands with new tiles they’ve acquired, they now also place cubes on their isle as waypoints, and send their little journeyman scrambling o’er hills and dale so that they reach one of the landmarks they need to progress in any of the three tracks.
Perhaps you need to visit an ox. Easy! But what about when it tells you to visit a complete area of pasture? Do you even have one of them? You can always skip a requirement by returning your best mate to your castle so they can be tutored, but this gets more and more expensive. You’re also trying to reach all of this with a limited number of movement points. Eek.
But you want to persevere past all of these obstacles, because the rewards are massive.
And lo, with the need to supervise this outdoorsy toddler of yours, the speedy game of Isle of Skye becomes 20 minutes longer, and every decision is made twice as tricky. Which tiles should you buy? How much are they worth? Where should you put them? What track are you trying to prioritise?
In this sense the expansion is transformative. Where Isle of Skye was a neat, substantial gateway game, the first expansion turns it into something that even veteran players will frown and tut over. The game is born anew! This makes Journeyman perfect if your group is ready to transition into a heavier game. Alternatively, you could buy it for the added flexibility of being able to make Isle of Skye a more involved game when your friends feel so inclined. That’s very nice.
But in another sense, Journeyman isn’t so different. It understands the appeal of the original game. Your quaint little island is now brought to life by this person racing along its roads, or paddling slowly across its lakes (even if marching across your own personal player board is comparatively drab). And the core of the game – trying (and failing) to assign prices to your tiles like a shopkeeper who’s just hit his head – is still the silly heart of the experience.
The thing is, in taking a game that’s so excellently breezy and weighing it down, I wouldn’t want to play with Journeyman every time. But actually, that’s quite a cool thing!
We always say we like games where when you finish them, you want to try them again with different player counts. Isle of Skye already had that, and now playing with the expansion makes me want to play the simple base game again, which makes me want to try the expansion again, which makes me want to play the base game, which makes me OH MY GOODNESS I’ve gone SCOTTISH CRAZY
Quick Matt, you talk while I have a restorative mug of scotch.
Matt: I too, have gone “Scot-Mad™”. There’s little to be said here that you haven’t already deftly covered, but I must say I was quietly surprised by how smooth this expansion is. Additional options didn’t cause too much brain-freeze, instead just offering alternative directions to pursue. The depth provides more room for savvy players to race ahead, but equally, it makes it harder for anyone to have a terrible turn: you didn’t get the tile you needed to finish that road, but at least you can progress on a couple of those tracks. In a game which frequently offers literal dead ends, this expansion tidies-up as much frustration as it adds. Very neat!
Frustration makes it sound worse than it is, though. Funstration? Is funstration a word? Half the joy of Isle of Skye is in the moments when plans go pear-shaped, and the additional factors that Journeyman adds makes the tile-selling component of the game even less predictable. Trying to loosely keep track of everyone’s plans is tougher than ever, leading to some spectacularly misjudged pricing. Oh gosh, it’s good! What a very good game.
Except for the road tokens.
Being able to place new roads on your island is a fantastic new mechanic, but oh my, it rubs my design brain up the wrong way. You’ve got discoloured, three-dimensional straight roads lying higgledy-piggledy on top of curving roads. There’s no way to line them up straight, no matter how much you nudge them around with your fingernail. Argh!
Quinns: Let’s assume it’s like this expansion and makes you want to play the game again, but with a different setup. Hang on, let me upload something.
Matt: Oh no, Quinns, we talked about this
Quinns: It’s a science chart I just whipped up! Look, the red circle is the base game, right? The green circle is the Journeyman expansion, and the blue circle is the 2nd expansion. Look! There will be four ways to play if you play with some expansions and not the other! FOUR WAYS TO PLAY! And of course, this chart DOESNT take into account wanting to play with DIFFERENT player NBUMBERS
[At this point in the review, Quinns needed to be sedated for his own safety.]
Matt: If you’re interested in more games from designer Mister Pfister, why not check out our review of Great Western Trail, his biggest and most highly-praised game. Then you could read about Mombasa, which Quinns and I didn’t like as much, or you could dip into the archives for our old review of one of his first published games, The Mines of Zavandor.
Now if you’ll all excuse me, I need to drag Quinns to his recovery cot.
Quinns: Hi all! We’re not doing a full Games News today as Paul and I both happen to be moving house, but I thought I’d scribble something about this week’s top story.
Batman™: Gotham City Chronicles is the smokin’ hot, spandex-spangled new Kickstarter that launched this week, and at the time of writing it’s raised some $2.5 million (plus shipping). It could end up being one of the biggest Kickstarters of all time.
That’s hardly a surprise. Not only is it offering more than 100 Batman-related miniatures and something called a “Bat-Tablet”, it’s also the sequel to Conan, which we reviewed and loved.Kickstarters this exciting are as rare as bat’s teeth. Not only that, publishers Monolith have stated that unlike Conan, Batman will only be available through Kickstarter, so the pressure’s on! Should you buy it?!
Since then, Monolith have failed to deliver any more than the bare minimum of ways to actually play their game. Compared to other action-packed games like Gloomhaven, which offers hundreds of hours of plot and progression, or Imperial Assault, which Fantasy Flight have supported in just about every way imaginable, Conan’s online scenario database looks positively malnourished, especially so if you’re looking at it with an eye to using your stretch goal miniatures. Won’t somebody spare a thought for the poor stretch goal minis?! 16,000 plastic scorpions, or 80,000 plastic mummies (since each backer got five of those), gathering dust the world over.
Worse than that, some of the scenarios they released were simply unbalanced for one side or the other. Monolith’s somewhat mercenary attitude can also be seen in the smaller expansions they’ve released for Conan, which are I found very silly. Who wants to spend $25 on ten crossbowmen that are only used in two scenarios?
Batman will ship with 10 more scenarios than Conan, and Monolith have said that they’ll do better with regards to balance, but those seem like small improvements that barely keep pace with improvements in board gaming in the last few years.
Speaking as someone who loves Conan but hasn’t taken it out of its box in a year, what Batman sorely needed was an exciting reason to get the game out, week after week. A story mode, a campaign, tools so that players could easily design and share their own scenarios. Something, anything stating that this won’t be another dramatic but secretly impractical toybox.
I’m loathe to post a Games News which is just me displaying the nerviness of a wild deer. It sucks. Shut Up & Sit Down is supposed to be all about positivity and showing off all that board games can be… but I think sometimes that means taking steps to ensure that people don’t get a little burned, especially if money’s tight for you. I might not even be broadcasting this warning if Batman was the same price as other glossy Kickstarters like Conan or Rising Sun, but this is even more expensive. It’s $140 plus some $20 shipping.
I also might not be posting this if Monolith were bringing this game to retail, but in stating that this game will only ever be on Kickstarter, I feel like they forced my hand.
So, if you’re just backing Batman to get the cool miniatures, or you’re excited to design scenarios yourself? Awesome, back away! But if you’re backing it to get a great game that’ll hit the table again and again? I worry that you’re taking something of a risk.
There are some disappointed Conan backers out there, is all I’m saying. And a lot of dusty mummies. Ooh, and if you want a tried-and-tested Batman game, do at least check out the excellent Batman Miniatures Game first!
Anyway, what I’d REALLY LIKE is if this news post didn’t cause a comments thread choked with arguments and negativity, so please, help a guy out- what fun stuff did you get up to on the weekend, everybody?
UPDATE: Thanks to Monolith, who have taken the time to respond to this post. Their statement can be found in full below, though we’ve added links where relevant.
First, we would like to thank SUSD for giving us the opportunity to respond and we want to highlight that this is not in regards to opinions expressed in your article. We just want to address a couple of items presented as facts.
The point of the article is to help SUSD readers to decide whether they should back Batman or not.
It starts by saying that with Conan “game and production values were killer”, and continues by saying that we “failed to deliver any more than the bare minimum of ways to actually play the(ir) game”.
It is mainly this statement we would like to refute.
Since early 2017, we have been regularly posting new scenarios on our website. We currently have 18 new scenarios on top of the 8 from the core box. That is around 1 new scenario per month, and it is not over as we continue to publish them regularly, allowing Conan owners to play all their miniatures, making Conan even less of a “secretly impractical toybox”. We published a new scenario less than 2 weeks ago, sending updates and posting on our Facebook page to let people know.
We have successfully launched another Conan Kickstarter campaign offering these new scenarios with additional fluff compiled in a nice booklet, something that was requested by Conan fans.
We also created a website dedicated to the Conan game called The Overlord, gathering close to 10,000 members in English and French. This community has been and continues to be excellent and active, creating dozens upon dozens of fan-made scenarios. In fact, we decided to thank them by offering, for free, 2[physical]compendiums which compile these fan-made scenarios, lore, and painting guides. The only thing fans paid was the shipping fees to their country. We commissioned some of the content and all of the editing, layout, and printing. This added even more content to the game.
Finally, we are going to launch a new Conan Kickstarter campaign next year, offering the first game for those who missed it, adding new expansions to continue exploring the Conan universe, and bringing back some of the improvements made in Batman.
Speaking of Batman, the article states that the game “will ship with 10 more scenarios than Conan”. It is actually 13 more and counting. These 21 scenarios directly include the core box content and the unlocked Stretch Goals.
The article also states “I might not even be broadcasting this warning if Batman was the same price as other glossy Kickstarters like Conan or Rising Sun, but this is even more expensive. It’s $140 plus some $20 shipping”. Batman is indeed $140, which is $5 more than the King Pledge of Conan that offered similar content, more than 3 years ago.
I believe we proved that we are not the kind of company that releases a game and then moves on to the next, leaving the previous one to die.
We believe that a game does not exist without a community of gamers. It is something we supported with Conan, and that we will support with Batman.
We hope that this response gives you a better sense of what Monolith does as a publisher regarding the support of their games.