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Games News! 19/02/18

Paul: Welcome to another tub-thumping edition of Games News, the only board games news anywhere that features FIREWORKS and PYROTECHNICS and a ten meter CATHERINE WHEEL-

Quinns: paul you’re on fire

Paul: ON FIRE WITH EXCITEMENT about CASTELL and LOWLANDS and even HARRY POTTER.

Quinns: Paul you’ve never been excited about Harry Potter. What you should care about is human towers!

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Did you know that there’s a Catalan tradition of building human towers, no kidding, that are multiple people high? Now you can recreate those in Castell, travelling from festival to festival and growing a team of expert tower-humans, your mission to create the ultimate people pile.

That’s pretty terrific, right, both as a concept for a game but also as something that actually happens?!

Paul: I’ve actually been in the middle bit of a three-layer human pyramid and that was more than enough for me. Everything wobbled the whole time so, as far as I’m concerned, these people are GODS.

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Quinns: You know what I’m nosy about? Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr, which is such an unusual concept for a game.

In a combination of worker-placement and detective work, one to four players together try to recover the missing memories of a man who seems to be terminally ill, gradually revealing his mysterious past and the story of how he got to where he is now. It’s like board game designers never, ever run out of amazing new concepts.

Interestingly, Holding On is also the next project from Rory O’Connor, of the ubiquitous Rory’s Story Cubes.

He’s gone a lot darker for his second project, eh? Rory’s Gory Story.

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Or do your tastes run a bit more traditional? This week I was ogling Lowlands, a pretty-looking game of sheep, floods and fencing announced this week by Z-Man.

I always liked the fenced farm animals you get in Agricola, but breeding animals in that game was like a single breezy spot in a gruelling two hour hike. I’m thrilled to see the same idea getting some TLC in Lowlands, with players deciding how best to shape their paddocks before adding tiles like Feeding Troughs, Orchards and Breeding Farms.

There’s also this line in the description: “Adding expansions to your farm will unlock new options and score you victory points, but helping to build the dike that collectively protects all players is also rewarded. No matter what, the tide will rise and, if the dike isn’t high enough, it could rush in and sweep away your hard-earned profits.”

Does that mean your sheep will get swept out to sea like little cotton balls? The horror!

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Paul: You want something even more familiar? Let’s talk about the new HARRY POTTER MINIATURES GAME! Announced a month before a Kickstarter campaign next month, this elaborate wand-wiggler has players running around famous Potter locations as they cast spells and complete quests.

Naturally, it features all your favourite characters, like Luna Lovegood, Sirius Black and Dwight Eisenhower, and it looks nothing if not fancy and filigree. It’s also from Knight Models, publishers of the excellent Batman Miniatures Game, so it stands a chance of being a strong one.

Quinns: Paul, I’m picking up that you don’t really care about Harry Potter.

Paul: I don’t all that much, but I like Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith. Is Maggie Smith in this? Can she be in more board games?

Quinns: I’ll tell you what games she’s not in–

Paul: BOOOO.

Quinns: And that’s Coimbria and Reef. These are two games from Plan B that I’ve been ogling in the Games News this year, and The Dice Tower only went and posted first impressions of them both this week.

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Quinns: I don’t know about anyone else but now I know more about these games I feel both Releefed and Coimforted.

Paul: Ow.

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MOVING ON to some Kickstarters this week, Aeon’s End: Legacy is the third in the deckbuilding series and, as you’d guess from the name, indulges in the now familiar legacy format. You can build a character over a campaign, make enemies, grab gear and do your best to defend Gravehold from THE NAMELESS.

But if they’re called THE NAMELESS, they still have a na- You know what? I think a deckbuilder could be a strong format for a legacy game and a great way to watch both a campaign and a character grow, gradually revealing more plot, enemies and items, while also giving you the opportunity to buff yourself until you’re blue in the face. I don’t know much about the world of Aeon’s End but I can absolutely see all the potential in a game like this and wait am I getting excited?

Quinns: Last time you asked me that it was a rumble from a passing lorry. This time? Perhaps not so much.

I talked a bit about Aeon’s End in my 2016 Corner Awards, describing it as a “Greatest Hits” album of deckbuilding. I’ll give it this- Clank! gets all the attention as a fantasy deckbuilder, but I preferred Aeon’s End and I think you might too.

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Paul, you put Blinks into the Games News document this week, but… what exactly is it? Is it an actual game, or a framework for a bunch of games? It looks like tiny digital hexes which you have to buy more of if you want a bigger and better experience.

Paul: I… am not entirely sure the answer to either of your questions now! I thought this was unusual because all these little gadgets clearly click together to make a game, but, like playing cards, can also be used to play a bunch of different games. The more you have, the more you can play except WHOA this gets expensive quickly.

Still, I think I wanted to mention it because it reminded me of something called the ePawn Arena, a failed Kickstarter we covered three years ago. Like that one, Blinks look like it might not do hugely well, and I think while I think it’s terrific when people have ideas for these inventions that can serve as the foundation of something, if you forget to show people something they can actually do with it, they don’t really know what they’re buying. Does that make sense?

Quinns: It does, Paul. It does. The number of Blinks pictured in the above photo would cost me more than $200. At that price I’d like to know a little more about what I’m getting.

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

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Review – Sidereal Confluence: Trading and Negotiation in the Elysian Quadrant

Think you’ve seen it all? THINK AGAIN.

Sidereal Confluence: Trading and Negotiation in the Elysian Quadrant might have a silly name, but this hybrid sci-fi/negotiation/economic game is no joke. Whether you’re playing space-wasps, space-squids or space-school teachers, it’s going to demand every ounce of intelligence you can muster.

Have you got what it takes? There’s actually a good chance you don’t.

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

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The Best Board Gaming Books! (According to us)

Quinns: Books! They’re like very long board game manuals without a game.

Now I’ve got a good 23 years’ distance from the bullies at my school, I’m freely able to say that I think books are nice, and today on the site I want to recommend the board gaming books that I’ve had the most fun with. There’s fiction and non-fiction, controversy and aliens, a Go master at the end of his life and a 21st century designer at the peak of his powers.

But best of all, each one has helped me to understand this ancient hobby a little better.

The Player of Games / Iain M. Banks

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Matt and I both fell in love with this sci-fi novel when we read it as teenagers and it more than holds up today. The protagonist, lifelong game player Jernau Gurgeh, agrees to travel to an alien system where a fabulously complicated board game determines your place in society. Jernau’s mission? To compete in the tournament as a foreigner and perhaps spare the galaxy an ugly war.

The “game” in the novel is probably most similar to Diplomacy or Civilization, but the real delight comes from Banks’ ability to exaggerate contemporary games. To this day I’m still in love with the image of a desperate Jernau cradling an organic playing piece, trying to somehow “know” it. Though secretly, the games Jernau plays are just part of a larger contest…

If you enjoy Player of Games (and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t), the author’s early works are all treasures. Consider Phlebas and Use of Weapons are stellar sci-fi, and The Wasp Factory is a great place to start with his contemporary fiction.

The Master of Go / Yasunari Kawabata

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There’s no word for it in English, but The Master of Go is “fiction-ish”?

In 1938 author Kawabata was a reporter present at the final game of an aging Go master. It took a staggering six months for the game to end and the master died soon after. The Master of Go is a gently fictionalised account of that game, even including occasional diagrams of the board state (which mostly serve to show how hellaciously inscrutable Go is).

The Player of Games is fun to a modern gamer because it’s evocative and recognisable. The Master of Go is almost the opposite- the Go board depicted in this book is a dark, old, bottomless abyss with no parallel in gaming today. Compared to Player of Games, the Master of Go is literally stranger than fiction. The 2,500 years that Go has been around for have allowed the culture of the game to evolve into something almost unknowable.

None of which means that this is a hard book to read, mind you. It’s a short, sweet little novel. Consider it required reading if you’re interested in board games, not because you can see the contemporary hobby in it, but because you can’t.

Or I can’t, anyway. Maybe your favourite board games involve more death and anguish than mine.

GameTek: The Math and Science of Gaming / Geoff Engelstein

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Ah, the perfect gift for that special poindexter in your life!

Geoff Engelstein might be best known as the designer of whimsical games like Space Cadets and Pit Crew, but he’s also a professor of board game design at New York University and a true fountain of wisdom. Don’t be misled by this book’s phlegmatic title. I was giggling aloud as I popped each new page into my brain like so much candy.

From why games need good endings, to the mathematics behind card shuffling, to how chess players are ranked (and why that’s a problem), every page of GameTek has a new secret it wants to share with you. It’s half pop science book, half incorrigible gossip, and I love it. If Geoff writes another book I’ll be buying it on day one.

GameTek also has a fun appendix of recommended reading, which led me to…

Dice Games Properly Explained / Reiner Knizia

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Engelstein lists a few “catalogue of games”-type books in the back of GameTek, but this collection of dice games by Reiner Knizia (the designer of Ra, Tigris & Euphrates and more than 600 other games) is far and away the best.

It’s not just that Knizia showcases these games in a manner that’s concise, yet colourful, with all sorts of little remarks as to strategy, history or what makes the game fun. What makes Dice Games Properly Explained so exciting is that this is a whole genre of games that nobody plays anymore. When I got to a bluffing game called Little Max I was laughing out loud just reading the rules. When I got to the section of betting games, the book had me fantasising about a game that might let me turn my living room into a casino.

If you’re an amateur designer there’s no time to waste. Buy this book and rip one of these games off immediately. We can’t let all of these ideas fall by the wayside!

Playing at the World / Jon Peterson

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An order of magnitude longer than any book on this list, Playing at the World is a heroic document on how wargaming in 1780 evolved into Dungeons & Dragons and the dawn of roleplaying in 1977.

The book can be quite academic so you might have to skim-read sections that don’t interest you, but I found myself interested in pretty much all of it. From the chapter on how the medieval fantasy genre came about (which is book-length just by itself), to the history of Diplomacy and “playing roles”, to the struggles companies had in trying to sell Dungeons & Dragons, I found myself continually charmed by the people Pererson depicts.

This book also made me realise that D&D can be found in the DNA of most modern games, which makes all of the missteps and weird evolutions that the game went through particularly juicy. Our nerdy world could have been so different if that had taken off instead, or they’d stuck with that idea instead of this one!

Incidentally, if you’re interested in a similarly good book about the early history of video games, Replay by Tristan Donovan is my favourite. I had so much fun reading it.

Tabletop Gaming Manual / Matt Thrower

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Finally, here’s a curiosity written by none other than Matt Thrower, a freelance reviewer for this very site!

Haynes is a UK publisher of hardback “general interest manuals” for everything from cars, to pigs, to the Millenium Falcon, to nuclear weapons. This year they commissioned one for Tabletop Gaming and Thrower did some sterling work.

In 183 full-colour pages the book takes you on a tour of the entire hobby. The first couple of chapters are a breakneck sprint through the history of games, and after that the chapters cover everything from where to play games online, to how to store games or paint miniatures, to how mathematics fit into the hobby or how small publishers make ends meet.

If you needed to explain this entire hobby to aliens, or perhaps your parents, this is the book to get. Although I think the final line of this manual could have sufficed as the entire book: “So long as you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.”

What are your favourite board game books, everybody? As tangential as you please.

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