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Review: Through the Desert

Quinns: When I’m teaching games, I always start with a thematic sales pitch. “We’re terrifying wizards out to prove ourselves,” I might tease. “We’re nasty, competitive park planners.” “We’re Scottish lairds exploring our very own island!” It’s a fun way to get people excited and offer a handle on what’s about to happen.

With the recent remake of Reiner Knizia’s Through the Desert, that just had to stop. “We’re all making caravans of camels,” I’d haltingly explain, “But the caravans can’t cross, like how you can’t cross the streams in Ghostbusters. The camels come in five colours, and when we run out of a camel the game’s over. Also, we’re not actually going through the desert? We’re kind of going around it… Mostly we just want water? They probably should have called it Reiner Knizia’s Thirsty Twerps.”

Thank goodness, then, Through the Desert speaks for itself the moment you start playing. This game is absolutely phenomenal. With the fabulous new edition, it’s hard to imagine a simpler, more satisfying, prettier game.

That’s what the board looks like at the start of Reiner Knizia’s Thirsty Twerps. A wet, peaceful desert full of lush oases that everyone can slurp from (marked by palm trees) and pocked with little pond tiles that only one person can drink from.

The next step of setup is for each of your 2-5 players to place the “leaders” of their 5 different coloured caravans, with all of you trying to get the close to the best rewards. Like so:

Instantly, the desert feels crowded, and it’s only going to get worse as players start deploying a nightmarish quantity of camels like big, bumpy barriers.

Playing the game couldn’t be simpler. On your turn you extend any of your five caravans by attaching two camels of their colour. If you manage to connect your caravan to a new oasis, great! That’s five points. If you manage to stretch your caravan onto a pond, that’s just dandy. You pick up the token which might be worth one, two or three points.

But wait! There’s more! If you manage to totally wall off a segment of the board with no other caravans inside it, usually by drawing a semi-circle against one of the board’s edges, you claim all of its water AND get one point for every empty space inside it, which is amazingly human. Congratulations! All those acres of sterile sand are yours and yours alone.

So initially, Thirsty Twerps is thrilling because the points flow like rain upon your point-starved soul. Like a cerebral Hungry Hungry Hippos, players are able to extend their wickedly-placed caravans just an inch here and there, scooping up great handfuls of points. Oasis! Pond! Another oasis! Enclosure!

And then almost imperceptibly, just after Thirsty Twerps has rewarded everybody with easy points and territory and left you wanting more, it sloooowly starts to lock into an agonising area control game. There’s a really nice design lesson in there: if you want players to put in work, you first need to make them care.

The moment you start eyeing up resources that are a little further afield, you realise that this board is a minefield. Any player on any turn might launch out and grab the final parking space at an oasis, or slip past one of your “walls” and ruin EVERYTHING. Worse, because two caravans of the same colour can’t even occupy adjacent hexes (because obviously that would fuse the two caravans in an abhorrent display of ludic inbreeding), an opponent placing just one camel near one of your like-coloured caravans can instantly bar you from three hexes. The camels might only be sweet little pastel-coloured pieces, but the design here means that placing them has incredible gravity, even moreso than in the phenomenally popular Ticket to Ride.

This is what makes Thirsty Twerps such a clever game. Players weigh up the ways they could get points, and then weigh that against the moves their opponents might make, and you know you’ve gotten this balance right when the claiming of a single space with a single teeny camel causes a calamitous cry of “F**K” from one of your opponents because they KNEW they should have claimed that LAST TURN and they DIDN’T.

All of which makes Thirsty Twerps intelligent, but that’s different from what makes it fun. This is a contest with an amusingly human edge. Often you’re counting on players not noticing the hateful play you’re about to make, which means when they do notice and place the camel that blocks you, you can only grin. Did you really expect them to be that stupid? But for the most part, Through the Desert is fun because it encourages you to build castles out of sand, dreaming up plays that seem too good to be true, and then… you get away with them. Because guess what? Other players would like to block you, but mostly, they’re intent on completing their own schemes, and you’re only one opponent in a crowd. Your dreams literally come true: You can wall off a sixth of the board, or have an oasis all to yourself, or slurp down that three point water right next to your friend’s caravan leader.

This is the heart of Through the Desert. It’s a game of fabulous tension, but where you mostly just watch your opponents block one another and feel like you’re getting away with murder (so long as you’re not playing it with just two people, at which point it becomes a lot colder). Similarly, in creating a playing area that’s cramped from the start it seems like THERE’S NO TIME, but the development of the board is actually pretty slow, allowing everyone to get tens and tens of points. It’s a design that manufactures incredible thirst, but also offers plenty of ice cold water. You can have a laugh at players batting the drink out of your hand, but you still get your fill.

And yet you can’t drink yourself into exhaustion, either. Before you can even begin to get tired with all of this decision-making, Thirsty Twerps enters an unusually sedate final act. As if a sun was setting over your desert (or what really looks more like a packed hoofed mammal music festival) the points start to dry up. The stakes of play are lowered, and players idly work towards claiming the last few hexes left on the board. It’s an unusual structure for a board game, which tend to end with a bang as everyone sweats towards their goal, but here it works brilliantly. The relaxed pace of the first and last ten minutes mean that in my head, Thirsty Twerps is a chilled-out game, which makes me that much more likely to get it to the table. I remember it being easy-going, so I’m always excited to play it, but everyone ends up getting incredibly invested.

There’s not a shadow of a doubt in my mind that this is in my favourite Knizia games ever, up there with the similarly soothing Ra and the nightmarish masterpiece of Tigris & Euphrates. It’s the most similar to Samurai, if you’ve played that, but I think this is better, so it’s a no-brainer to say we recommend it wholeheartedly.

Generally speaking, board gamers always think they want more. A bigger box, more stuff, a longer playtime, a more epic experience. But I think the most fun I’ve had this year was playing games like this or the fabulous Ethnos, where you can finish it with enough energy and time left to talk about how good it is. Then the game makes winners of you all.

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

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Games News! 09/04/18

Paul: What is that distant honking I hear, that mournful note that sings its way through the evening fog? Why, it’s the horn on the Games News Barge! And who is sailing it into port? Why, it’s Quintin Smith!

Quinns: My hold is stacked full of the freshest Games News stories, my crew primed and ready to unload them. What’s first? Only Plaid Hat’s in-depth update of Starship Samurai. With an unusual anime aesthetic and design credentials from Isaac Vega (Dead of Winter, Ashes, City of Remnants), I’ve been awaiting some hot hot details on this game for a long time.

Starship Samurai will be a science fiction area-control game, seasoned liberally with both combat and diplomacy. As well as 2-4 players sending their fleets off to battle (and complimenting them with powerful mech miniatures), they’ll also be trying to sway clan factions to join forces with them. There’s a lot in Plaid Hat’s portfolio that we’ve enjoyed, and they might be the most consistently innovative publisher working today, so you can imagine how interested we are in this box.

That said, I’m sad to see another example of a publisher offering a pre-order bonus that I actually want. Those acrylic clan tokens look delicious. But we’ve said it a thousand times- pre-ordering is a process that only benefits the publisher, and as a consumer you’re always best off waiting for reviews.

Paul: For a lot of people the big news this week was the official announcement of the first expansion for the already-preposterously-large fantasy romp Gloomhaven. Forgotten Circles will add a new class, 14 new items and 21 new scenarios, and gosh I feel like I’m writing about a video game in 2004.

Quinns: Ha, but wasn’t that precisely the point Matt made in his Gloomhaven review? That it’s reminiscent of straightforwardly generous video games?

As Paul says, Forgotten Circles is only the first expansion scheduled for Gloomhaven, and the intention is for it to act as a little stopgap until the “big expansion” arrives. Geez. I wonder what Matt makes of this?

Matt: Hello good sirs! I stowed myself away upon the Games News Barge, hiding in this barrel of unexpected oranges. Yes, the last thing that Gloomhaven needs is to be *bigger*, so it makes a lot of sense that this mini-campaign occurs after the plot of the original game, *hopefully* ensuring that the only people who wind up buying it are those who’ve actually finished their main course. I have to say though – I was so impressed with much of Gloomhaven that I’m really interested to see what shape the “big expansion” ends up taking.

Paul: As well as exciting new releases, board gaming keeps polishing up old classics for us. Taj Mahal, yet another Reiner Knizia classic, sees players trying to influence members of an Indian court, playing cards to win their favour as they travel from region to region, hoping to bring new territories under their sway.

As before, Z-Man Games have substantially shinified (yes, it’s a word) this re-release, with far improved art and design. Several Knizia re-releases have stoically stood the passage of time, from Tigers and Pots, to Ra, to Modern Art, meaning I’m very keen to try this, too.

Quinns: As Shut Up & Sit Down donors will know from their monthly behind-the-scenes newsletter, we’re currently working on another couple of reviews of beautimus Knizia classics.

Paul: I’ll tell you what Quinns.

Quinns: What’s that?

Paul: That man made some good games.

Quinns: You think so?

Paul: Here’s another idea I’m also excited about: The Lord of the Rings: Quest for Mount Doom is a board game where everyone is out for themselves, competing instead of co-operating to destroy the One Ring, while the forces of evil try to catch those horrid, bickering little ring thieves. It’s a new approach to an old story and it’s coming from none other than Games Workshop, who are continuing to explore board gaming with every available limb.

Quinns: But they’re still going about it a little weirdly, aren’t they? I know Mordor’s supposed to be a barren land, but the blank board in the above photo is taking that to extremes.

More practically, one of the unwritten rules of board game design is that you put a person on the front of the box, or at least a piece of art that’s truly striking. But here they’ve gone for… a ring? It’s genuinely interesting to see a company operate with some, but not all, of the common knowledge found in the rest of the industry.

Then again, back when I worked on magazines I was told that putting flame on the cover of the mag was (fittingly) a sure-fire way to up your sales for that issue. Maybe there’s enough fire on Quest for Mount Doom to save it?

Paul: Speaking of companies doing things that make sense, holy crap, Quinns, there’s lots of new decks for the Game of Thrones card game, Quinns. In a first of Fantasy Flight’s Living Card Game format, they’re releasing an “introductory” deck for each faction.

There’s so many decks, Quinns. It’s like if a lot of DJs got together and wanted to mix songs about Westeros, or something, Quinns. Is the new book out yet Quinns I mean that’s the only thing I care about any more Quinns.

Quinns: You’re asking me?! I stopped flirting with Game of Thrones quite a while ago. My latest beau is Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy. He’s an author George R. R. Martin has actually called “terrific”, and I agree!

I like this idea of intro decks a lot, though. Want to get an introduction to competitive Game of Thrones without spending hundreds of dollars? Well, now you can!

Paul: There’s no questioning what this week’s biggest Kickstarter is. Restoration Games have been teasing their update of 1986 board game Fireball Island for an age, and the Kickstarter for Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar is finally upon us!

Quinns: The base game is a not-outrageous $60 (plus shipping), but if you felt inclined to make this ridiculous game even more ridiculous, Restoration Games are offering three(!) optional expansions with the Kickstarter as well as a big wad of free stretch goals. Together these add a 5th player, bees, snakes, a tiger, a pirate ship, a boulder, majickal artifacts and vuvuzelas. We can only approve.

Paul: I actually managed to play this at PAX East this weekend, so I’ll be offering some impressions on the next SU&SD podcast.

Quinns: What?! Ooh, you’re full of secrets. Like a… trash bag full of old receipts.

Paul: Rude.

Quinns: Finally, the CIA has released the rules for the board games used to train its agents

Paul: no quinns don’t write about this they’ll kill us

Quinns: I’m pretty sure it’s all above-board.

Paul: thats what they want you to think

Quinns: Yeah, I think it is?

Paul: EXACTLY

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

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Review: Rising Sun

Matt: Rising Sun is a big-box Kickstarter darling filled with frankly massive plastic things, with a hefty retail price of £75 / $80. Set in a god-powered version of feudal Japan, players act as one of six different clans vying for control of those lovely islands. But the plus-size map and plastic armies are slightly misleading: Rising Sun is not what it appears to be.

If you’re expecting a traditional game of nudging toy soldiers around a map, Rising Sun might leave players bored, confused, or quietly in a huff. But if you can get your head around what it is, and teach your friends what it is (and isn’t), Rising Sun can be really very good.

The game takes place over three rounds, each of which is made up of seven actions. On their turn players pick up the top 4 ‘Political Mandates’, seen below, from the shared chunky stack of ten, choose one of them to play, and then return the other three to the top of the stack.

Most of these actions affect all players: ‘Recruit’ adds new units to the map while ‘Marshal’ lets you move them around, but in both cases all other players must carry out this action before you do, giving you the tactical edge when making your decisions. At the start of each round pairs of players can also choose to unite in an alliance, and the advantages of this are HUGE. Almost all of the Political Mandates offer a hot hot bonus for the player choosing it as well as their ally.

As such, these teams get stuff done, and alliances only become more essential as you scale up the player count. When dividing up the seven actions in a four player game, one person will always find themselves only getting to pick one mandate that round. In a five player game? Only two players will get more than one action, putting them in a uniquely strong position for negotiating. This cycle of mild imbalance is essential for sparking the game’s political side into life, to the point that Rising Sun can feel a bit limp when only played with three people.

For a game in which you’ll frequently find that none of the four mandates you’ve drawn will allow you to do the thing you want to do, it’s crucial that the alliance system is as rigidly mechanical as it is: alliances can only be created at the very start of each round, and the only way to betray your ally is by playing the official BETRAY power. As in real life, betrayal offers perks – but choosing this mandate takes up a whole turn, making it less of an unexpected knife in the back and more an ambivalent divorce. Occasionally subterfuge will be something you’ve planned, but mostly it happens because you’ve nothing better to do in that moment. It’s the game design equivalent of a Pulp song, with players languidly sleeping around and cheating on one another because you’re all cut from the same tacky cloth.

(Except, y’know, less erotic.)

Your best bet for not being screwed over by your ally is to pick the player around the table with the least conflicting interests. Players in Rising Sun are encouraged to win fights in as many different locations as possible, a bit like children filling collectable sticker books. Once you’ve won a battle in Edo, it’s not a great use of your time to then do it again. You have your wild night of passion, but come the morning you’ll already be making plans for a quick exit out the back door, wondering which border you should slip across next (except still not erotic).

If there’s one element of Rising Sun that is sexy, it’s the fights themselves, which are a hot blend of deduction and bluffing. With no cards or secret powers the only real “gotchas” come from players who’ve tricked their opponent human-style.

Each player openly reveals how many coins and ronin tokens they currently have, and then shifts behind a screen to secretly assign coins to try and win the bid for four specific advantages. Like so:

The open nature of resources prior to bidding means it’s possible to be 100% certain of winning a battle, but only if you bid everything. If the other player knows that though, what’s to say they won’t low-ball or bid nothing, knowing you’re likely to blow all your coins? But then that means you should keep some coins back…

This vortex of double-bluffing gets swirlier and more exciting when you then introduce the rule that whilst all coins spent on bids must then be discarded, the winner’s coins are distributed evenly to those who lost the battle, who may then use those coins to bid in upcoming conflicts. Oh no!

The gentle chaos of Rising Sun’s combat is delightful: because you can see the specific order of the battles being fought at the end of each round, choosing when and how to spend coins on bidding adds a fuzzy strategic layer that genuinely pops. Poor players can suddenly find themselves drunk on cash, leaving a future opponent who expected a cakewalk nervously wondering if they can still win this fight. Because you can’t keep money between the game’s rounds, everyone at some point can be expected to splurge. When and where? That’s the question.

But despite the battles, this very much isn’t a war game. There’s no tangible sense of territory here – your units feel less like armies and more like violent tourists. There’s more of a sense of persistence on the Kami track at the top of the board where players can assign priests to gain regular boons from the gods throughout each round, but most of what you do feels faintly abstract. This aids the temporary alliance mechanics, but contributes to a tone in which very nowhere and no-one feels consequential.

You find this throughout Rising Sun. The things that feel like they should matter, don’t. If you’re able to pull it off, one of the most effective point-scoring battle strategies in the game is to roll your entire army into one place and have them all commit ritual suicide before the fight starts. The things you do that will win you the game don’t always make sense, and won’t always feel the most fun. The best upgrade cards to buy from the shop are usually the ones that straight-up give you points, and the amazing monsters are sometimes left standing there like the awkward kids picked last at gym class.

But buying points is boring, especially when you’ve also got the option to buy a massive plastic monster! Attempt to play Rising Sun with your heart and you’ll end up ruined: Monsters are no more or less powerful than any of the other cards in the shop, but they feel like they should be, and in a hobby as tactile and present as board games emotional responses count for a lot.

When you place a piece on the map that is twenty times heavier than a little warrior and almost fills some regions of Japan, the mechanics of the game should reflect that sense of power. Rising Sun’s don’t, making these figurines a fun boon for miniature enthusiasts but an uncomfortable compromise for the game’s design.

But then in general, this is a game that doesn’t feel like it cares too much the aesthetic that it wears like a skin: the art is a strange mashup of wildly different Japanese styles, and the flippant inclusion of Seppuku as a point-scoring mechanic feels thoughtless and vulgar.

The gaffe which led to one of the stretch-goal gods being named after a hairy man from New Zealand is unsurprising: Rising Sun revels in the coolness of the setting, but shows no real interest in engaging with it meaningfully, or even politely. Culturally it’s tone-deaf at best, which in turn fails the design: When you only showcase only the slightest interest in your game’s theme, it’s unlikely that said theme is going to help to immerse people once they’ve actually sat down to play.

Rising Sun’s hazy sense of self combined with temperamental player control and volatile board-states means that in our experience, some people just don’t click with it. Poor decisions in the early game can very easily leave you hobbled and hampered for the entire experience, poor decisions that might come from simply doing what feels “right” within the game’s chosen setting of warring clans.

The secret is, your best chance of winning is to spend the game peering down at the game’s various tracks and shops as if you were studying tea leaves, chasing the most deviant combos you can find.

And now that I’ve erected this fence of criticisms and caveats, I’m going to knock it down. There’s a lot I love about Rising Sun. Incomplete control makes negotiations genuinely important, but alliances being temporary means that betrayals don’t leave the game feeling sour. The Honor track is a lovely addition in which the game’s theme finds space to shine – the highest honor breaks all ties, but there are also a bunch of tempting ways to benefit from being a dishonorable twerp.

Hopping in and out of different alliances throughout the game provides an awesome amount of levity and humour, and the secret bidding phase that’s used to influence combat is both fun and fast – there’s very little space for analysis paralysis when you’re facing down some poker-faced opponent whose plans are a total mystery: it’s simply a case of deciding what victory is worth. Truly though, it’s the way these battles chain together that feels special, frequently leading to situations in 4 or 5 player games in which you spend every coin in your reserves on your last battle of the season, and in doing so then hand a fat stack of coins to the player who is just about to fight your ally. And they sort of just glare at you, horrified, and you emphatically smile and shrug but secretly you’re happy because you want them to lose so you can win.

And honestly, that’s board game magic. That’s what it’s all about!

Rising Sun is decent, but I don’t think it’s a game I can truly recommend. It’s an interesting experience that’s a little too awkward for our tastes, both in terms of offering an unforgiving puzzle in which some players can explode ahead whilst others fail to ever start their engine, but also because of its broad disinterest in engaging meaningfully with its own theme.

And the thing is, when you’re paying for something more expensive than almost any of the games we recommend, any problems at all become difficult to sideline. And when a chunk of what you’re spending your money on is massive plastic figurines that don’t integrate pleasingly with game’s design, Rising Sun becomes a game that feels compromised by its need to be marketable. On that basis alone, we feel compelled to point you in the direction of a series of games that are cheaper, work with broader player counts and are (we think) better.

First and foremost, check out Paul’s review of Battle for Rokugan, a game offering tricksy area control but with a price that’s almost a third of Rising Sun’s. If you want a big ol’ Japanese game of conquering territory, Shogun is a classic game that’s just packed with genius ideas. If you want the kind of messy miniatures combat that Rising Sun looks like it is (but isn’t), Kemet is a glorious and chaotic rumble. And if you specifically want a weird combination of drafting, area control and not-quite-combat but that’s thematically consistent, this site’s love of Inis is well-known. And you can’t mention Kemet and Inis without talking about Cyclades, can you?

Ah! Too many games, too little time.

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

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Oh baby: SHUX ’18 tickets are now on sale!

Quinns: Oh my goodness, here we go! Tickets are now on sale for SHUX 2018, Shut Up & Sit Down’s second annual convention in October this year.

Would you like to meet team SU&SD at a fabulous, warm, profoundly silly three day gaming party? Well, now you can! Last year tickets sold out in just over a week, so this year we’re moving to a substantially bigger venue that can contain even more SU&SD fans. Still, we’d recommend you book early to avoid disappointment.

For an idea of what there is to do at SHUX, you can either watch the above video or click on that link. But most importantly, if you’ve never been to a board game convention before, that’s perfect. SHUX will be designed with you foremost in mind.

As a glimpse of the madness of last year’s SHUX, below we’ve uploaded this late-nite Q&A with myself, Paul, Matt and RPG reviewer Cynthia Hornbeck. I’m not sure I’ve laughed that hard since!

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Gosh, watching that video makes me so happy.

For more information, check out the SHUX 18 site. Any further questions? Email [email protected]. Would you like to join our fabulous team of con volunteers? Amazing! Email [email protected] with a couple of hundred words of why you’d make a great volunteer.

Finally, do you represent a business who’d like to inquire about sponsorship or getting a booth in front of 2,000 SU&SD fans? That’s [email protected].

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

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Games News! 02/04/18

Quinns: Goodness gracious, I’m beat! I’ve just finished moving house from London to Brighton and it turns out my grasshopper-like body is nowhere near as good at lifting boxes as it is at reviewing them. On the subject, believe the hype: the Kallax shelving unit is the prettiest, cheapest board game storage made by anyone, anywhere.

But enough about my new flat*! This is the Games News, not the Quinns News, and I’ve got some smokin’ hot stories to get my journalistic tongs around.

Uwe Rosenberg could be the most consistently excellent designer working today, and this explanatory post on his next game, Reykholt, just shot it to the top of my most-wanted list.

It turns out that this game of Icelandic greenhouses will be a “boiled-down re-engineered and crunchy reworking” of Rosenberg’s 2009 game At the Gates of Loyang (pictured above). In both games players sow and sell cute wooden vegetables and develop their cottage industry using cards, though Reykholt will speed the experience up so it takes just one hour instead of two hours.

I’m loving Reykholt’s theme and art, I love the touted features in the above blog post, and I absolutely adore it when great old games are used as a foundation for new ones. It’s one of the times in this hobby I feel permission to get really excited.

Ahh, I can see myself playing this game already. “Look at my carrots, Matt!” I’ll say.

“LOOK AT THEM.”

Speaking of reworked designs, this week Z-Man Games announced Fae, a beautiful new version of 2002 game Clans where players try and control areas of the map while keeping it a secret what colour they’re actually playing. The new art design looks great and I am absolutely loving the slim little box you can see in the above link.

That said, I’m no conspiracy theorist, but you’ll notice that the above press shot shows the little druid miniatures from above, an angle that means you can’t even tell that they’re druids. Could this be because when you look at them from the side, as Z-Man showed on Twitter a few months back, they kiiiiiiiiinda look like the heads of little penises?

To be clear, I’ve got nothing against penises. I have a penis. It’s fine! A game with penises in, that is, not my penis specifically (although it is also fine). I look forward to pushing these little penii around Fae’s mystical Celtic setting.

It’s not just me, right? They do look like penises? Everyone agreed with me that the king piece in El Grande looks like a butt plug and this is way more obvious.

Fantasy Flight announced some new expansions for Star Wars Legion this week. There’s a cool Rebel strike team you might have seen before in the popular movie “Star Wars”, as well as a Han Solo pack with a sculpt that really tickles me. Click on the above image for a close-up. He looks like 60 year-old Harrison Ford being forced to perform after a heavy chicken dinner.

Don’t miss our review of Star Wars Legion, wherein we were absolutely delighted by Fantasy Flight’s ability to bring Star Wars firefights to your kitchen table. But be warned, it’s a much more substantial investment of time and money than either the X-Wing Miniatures Game or Star Wars: Armada from the same publisher.

Couple of Kickstarters for your attention this week, starting with Architects of the West Kingdom.

Following on from the well-liked North Sea Trilogy of games by designer Shem Phillips and artist Mihajlo Dimitrievski, Architects represents the start of a second trilogy, this time set in the “West Kingdom” of the Carolingian Empire. Architects is another medium-weight worker placement game from the designer, this time seeing players competing to erect lovely buildings in honour of their Carolingian king.

The North Sea trilogy always occupied an unfortunate position in terms of SU&SD coverage, being not quite light, heavy or innovative enough for us to personally get excited by it. The West Kingdom trilogy doesn’t look like it’s going to change that, but it’s surely a very exciting announcement for fans of the first series. Three more games from your favourite artist/designer combo! What a treat.

Another fun-looking Kickstarter is Imperius from Grant Rodiek, designer of the almost-excellent Cry Havoc. Imperius sets out to recreate the unusual sci-fi and arch intrigue of the Dune novels in a card drafting game, and early impressions from reviewers have been very positive indeed.

There’s some lovely art on the Kickstarter page, and I’m a big fan of the pre-worn 1970s sci-fi novel look that the expansions have. We’ll be bringing you some impressions as soon as possible.

Finally, this Wikipedia link was sent in by reader Tyler Brown approximately a million years ago, but I’m glad I finally got around to posting it because it’s just great.

Children’s Games is an oil painting by Dutch master Pieter Bruegel the Elder that depicts more than 80 games played by children in the Netherlands in the 16th century. Be sure not to miss “the penalty of bumbouncing” or “raisinbread man”.

You can click on the above image for a preview, but really, you want to go to Wikipedia and examine the full hi-res image. The whole thing is both charming and unsettling. I want a framed print for my office.

*It has a standing desk! I’ve wanted one for ages, although about five minutes into using it I found that it gives me frighteningly sweaty pits. 🙁

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

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Review: Ex Libris

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!

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

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Podcast #75: Stress Testing your Tarot

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!

New podcast feeds (if you’re missing episodes 71 onwards, try these):

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

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Games News! 27/03/18

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.

Quinns: Ah, our second course approaches! Asmodee’s formed a new entertainment division. This is a pill you try to swallow just once, with a dash of astonishment.

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.

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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.

Paul: Oh right. Yes.

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

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Review: Star Wars: Legion

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.

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

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Games News! 19/03/18

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.”

Paul: Rude.

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.

Quinns: Do you know where exactly?

Paul: I can’t remember.

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