Four GenCon games that are now on Hillary’s radar

As a member of Meepletown, I demoed and got the “elevator pitch” on many games at Gen Con. I honestly can’t think of one that wasn’t in some way intriguing, but there were a few that particularly stood out as interesting, including one that no one else on staff got their hands on!

The demo for Draco Magi.

The demo for Draco Magi.

Draco Magi by Robert Burke (Cartoona, Battle for Souls) and Richard Launius (Arkham Horror, Dragon Rampage)

I was fortunate enough to get in a demo from designer Robert Burke. In Draco Magi, you are trying to win gems. Better yet, you are trying to win gems by battling with dragons! Players place dragons on one of three different battlefields in a manner that you feel is most advantageous to you and least advantageous to your opponent. Determining what is “most advantageous” and “least advantageous” is where the depth comes in. Each dragon can have a number of different factors including ranged attack, melee attack, defense, and bonuses that it gives to itself or other dragons on the same field. Depending on these different factors, you will draw from different decks in an attempt to attack and defend on a given battlefield. You go until someone wins the round, and the game continues until someone wins enough gems.

Learning game play seemed a little awkward at first.  To be fair, I got lost and showed up to the demo late.  The game actually seemed very simple to pick up once you just started playing through your turns. As easy as it is to just place dragons, choose battlefields, and evaluate attack values, this game has a lot of complexity. From what I played (one full round — probably about half to a third of a game) it seems like the game contains a nice balance of strategy and luck. I can’t rate the game without a few full playthroughs, but I can say that this appears to be a pretty solid two-player game, and it should appeal to anyone who likes Summoner Wars, Ascension, and the like. It’s worth noting that while I do tend toward more combat-oriented games, I do not love Summoner Wars but was duly intrigued by this game and would like to get my hands on it again.

The booth for Incredible Expeditions looked... incredible.

The booth for Incredible Expeditions looked… incredible.

Incredible Expeditions: Quest for Atlantis by Liz Spain, Independent first-time designer

When I was walking around the indie games area, I saw an amazing steampunk-styled booth with an interesting looking game. The booth looked so professional, the costumes so detailed, and the artwork so lovely that I honestly wondered if Gen Con didn’t mistakenly put a large publisher in the wrong section. I was intrigued, but the booth was consistently busy and there’s only so much wandering around a hall full of thousands of people that I can do without my head exploding, so I didn’t really get a good look at it.

On Saturday, it just so happened that a random stranger we shared a breakfast table with at our hotel’s crowded complimentary breakfast was the game designer’s husband. When he mentioned that he was a part of this booth, we started asking all kinds of questions, which he was more than happy to answer. When we revealed ourselves as press, he invited us by the booth later.

Unfortunately we did not have the time for a demo of the game, but they did show us some of the cards and the basic gist of the game. Between that and what I have read online, I am very excited and really hope to get a copy of this to play soon.

The general idea is that you are an expedition leader trying to venture out into unexplored seascapes and hopefully get to the lost city of Atlantis. To do this you have to hire crew, buy equipment, and so on.  On your turn, you can either take a rest turn during which you replenish crew and buy gear, or you can take an encounter turn. During an encounter turn, you can encounter something in your current location, or you can venture forth to a new location. All of your resources (equipment, crew, etc.) has a few different values that you compare to the encounter cards to see if you “win” the encounter. It seems like they really tried to go for a deep gaming experience without it being fiddly or hard to understand. I’m definitely going to keep an eye on this game and try to get some plays in sometime soon. It’s hard to judge a game almost sight unseen and without an opinion from a trusted friend on it. However, if they put half of the kind of polish and attention to detail into their gameplay as they did into their card design, booth, and costumes, Incredible Expeditions promises to be impressive.

Designers Anders and Olle Tyrland show off their new game.

Designers Anders and Olle Tyrland show off their new game.

The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade by Anders and Olle Tyrland

The buzz on this game prior to GenCon was huge, and, from what I saw the hype was well deserved.  We were fortunate enough to be able learn this game from the designers, and we were able to get a pretty good feel for how it went (we played about the first third and last third of a full game).

Kemble’s Cascade uses an ingenious design of trays and cards to simulate a 80′s side-scrolling shooter video game like Gradius.  Turns are fairly simple, but you have plenty of options for what you can do.  Players can choose to move and shoot or take a recharge turn where they can replenish energy, buy ship upgrades, etc.  You can shoot at enemies, asteroids and even other players.  This game manages to feel sufficiently “Ameritrash” while maintaining reasonable fairness and balance.  I can’t believe how well they managed to translate the feel of a side scrolling shooter into a board game.

This has all the nostalgic fun of a classic video game without the infuriating setbacks that just made you want to throw your controller.  But at the same time, it doesn’t feel too easy to win.  If at some point it does get too easy or too hard, you can choose to change the difficulty, as the tracks you set up in the game are modular.  Anders and Olle told us that they tried to look at everything in the game — from the pieces, to the track design, to the actions, to the balance mechanisms — through the lens of “what is right for the game”, and it absolutely shows.  From what I saw, everything in this game contributes to making the experience fun and feeling like you’re actually playing those games back in the 80′s.  I am really excited to play Kemble’s Cascade once we can get our hands on it, and I think it will probably be one of my new favorites.

Unfortunately, we didn't get a photo of Floodgate's very attractive booth.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a photo of Floodgate’s very attractive booth.

Legacy: Gears of Time by Ben Harkins, independent designer and owner of Floodgate Games

On our last day at Gen Con, we happened to stumble upon a booth for a publisher we had never heard of:  Floodgate Games.  In talking to the staff, we learned that they are an independent publisher started by Ben Harkins that, so far, has only published his games.  We were fortunate enough that Ben came back while we were still in the booth and was able to chat with us briefly about his games and his company.

From what he told me, I was very intrigued by Legacy: Gears of Time.  Unfortunately, we did not have time for a demo, but he was able to show us some of the cards and the general gist of how the game works.  You are trying to travel back in time to influence technology in your favor.  This game has time travel mechanics and an expanding tech tree mechanic that make it look really interesting.  It looks deep but not overly complicated and certainly very unique.  Of course, I only have so much to base this on, but I really hope we can get more time with this game.  I love games with unusual and new mechanics, and this certainly looks like it might fit the bill.

So, this is what I’m looking forward to playing over the next few months, in addition to a whole gaggle of other great games we picked up at Gen Con and, of course, some old favorites too.

This wraps up MeepleTown’s coverage of Gen Con 2014.  Look for full reviews of the games released at Gen Con in the days and weeks to come!

Christian’s Gen Con 2014 Recap – The Experience

gen-con-logoAs I mentioned last week in the first part of this article, Gen Con is not just a gaming convention.  Sure, there are hundreds of opportunities to sit down and play any manner of tabletop game, but it offers many other unique experiences as well.  I already talked about the new board games I played, so here’s just a taste of the other activities that occupied my weekend…

A somewhat blurry photo of the Goon meetup at Colts Grille.

A somewhat blurry photo of the Goon meetup at Colts Grille.

SomethingAwful Meetup

You’ve probably heard stories about the SomethingAwful “Goons”.  They’re scourge of the Internet: Their forums are full of tasteless garbage and horrible pictures, and they troll online games incessantly. They ruin everything.  As someone who has been posting on these forums for over a decade, I’ve found that the reputation is (mostly) undeserved.

Throughout Gen Con weekend, the SA community used the GroupMe mobile app to coordinate several meetups, including a massive pub crawl.  Not being much of a drinker, I passed on the night of drunken revelry, but I did get a chance to attend a pre-con meetup at Colts Grille.  The restaurant featured a hilarious nerd-themed menu, and they were running a “bar trivia” contest throughout the night.  Goons being goons, we did come up with a team name so filthy that the trivia announcer couldn’t read most of it over the PA system.  Other than that, everyone was pretty tame and we had a fantastic time talking about games and Gen Con experiences past and future.

It was great to be able to put faces to names that I’ve known online for so long.  And as much as the SA Goons may revel in their reputation, don’t let them fool you — they’re just like everyone else.

Our stalwart Dungeon World party

Our stalwart Dungeon World party.

Dungeon World

MeepleTown is primarily a site about board games.  However, the inner nerd in me still remembers my Dungeons & Dragons roots.  I’ve largely abandoned the Critical Hit tables and Monster Manuals of yore in favor of Euro-gaming’s more streamlined experience, but the yearning to smash my way through a dungeon with some good friends never quite disappears.

This is where Dungeon World comes in; it’s a story-based roleplaying game system that eliminates the need for large tomes of rules and charts.  Everything the players need is printed on their character sheets, and everything that happens comes from the GameMaster’s summarized scenario notes and — more importantly — from his mind.  It’s not a strict storytelling game, in that there are rules and systems; it’s just that they’re secondary to the fiction.  A lot of old-school RPG grognards dismiss this type of game as “D&D for Dummies”, but it takes an imaginative group of players and a skilled GameMaster to really make Dungeon World shine.

At Gen Con, our talented GM ran us through his version of Lair of the Minotaur, a quick “one-shot” adventure that would fit into our assigned time slot.  My character was a Mage with an affinity for movement and freedom, which often ended with hilarious results.  One of Dungeon World’s core mechanics is the idea of partial failure: you get what you wanted, but also something you didn’t plan for.  In the case of my character, it was frequently my magic going crazy and doing much more than I intended.  In trying to create magical armor around our Druid’s bear pet (conveniently named “Bear”), I accidentally outfitted everyone in invulnerable armor — including our enemies.  Later, while trying to create the illusion of a bonfire, I conjured an enormous, blazing wall of very real flames that split up our party.

You may have already read Hillary’s account of the bone-chilling Crabopotamus, and that was the kind of imagination-fueled experience that is Dungeon World at its best.  In the end, we conquered the titular minotaur, but only at great cost — our Slayer sacrificed himself to end the minotaur’s curse.  It was one of my favorite activities of the weekend. If you can find a skilled GM, I’d recommend trying Dungeon World to anyone, even if you have no prior roleplaying experience.

Happy players after Flight of the Zephyr.  Not shown: Angry players after Viper's Pit.

Happy players after Flight of the Zephyr. Not shown: Angry players after Viper’s Pit.

True Dungeon Adventures

While I’ve enjoyed Gen Con since I started attending, last year’s True Dungeon experience was the primary factor in deciding to return this year.  We had an incredible amount of fun fighting and puzzling our way through last year’s dungeon, and this time was going to be even better: We had a large group of friends who were all going to run through the dungeons together!

If you’re not familiar with True Dungeon, it’s an attempt to bring tabletop roleplaying games to life.  Each year, they take over an entire exhibit hall at Gen Con and build an actual, real, life-sized dungeon.  There are well-crafted props, customized lighting and sound effects, and costumed actors.  Players choose one of a variety of standard fantasy character classes (I played a Wizard, while Hillary split her time between Cleric and Druid).  Those that survive the dungeon are rewarded with “loot” — poker chip shaped items that represent armor, weapons, potions, and other items that can be used in future adventures.  This year featured two distinct dungeons to run, so we booked our party for a session in each.

Flight of the Zephyr was an excursion through a crashed (and oddly abandoned) Gnomish airship.  This dungeon was fairly well-designed, with lots of panels, consoles, and blinking lights to play with.  The puzzles revolved around getting the airship’s systems back online: in one case we had to reroute reactor power using physical tubes that slotted into the walls, and later we had to calibrate the guidance system by cooperatively activating a series of linked switches.  The final encounter took place aboard the bridge of the airship as it took to the skies.  Most of the party engaged a pack of wyverns that were assaulting the airship, while a few of us solved real-time puzzles to keep the ship flying and evading attacks.  We emerged victorious and were rewarded with treasure tokens.

Sounds fun, right?  Well, it wasn’t quite as glorious as it sounded.  Our first adventure was barely a day into the convention, and several of the rooms were already having technical problems.  On the switch puzzle, some of the lights weren’t working correctly, and the staff member in our room said something to the effect of, “Uhh… your Bard tells you he heard something about Panels 2 and 4 not working, so ignore them.”  Not exactly what we wanted to hear, considering how expensive these sessions are.  Other areas suffered from poor puzzle design; in one room we were punished for making a wrong decision, while a subsequent puzzle (with a very similar theme) could only be solved via trial and error, with no penalty for wrong guesses.  And the combat encounters were disappointing as well; the previous year featured actors in elaborate costumes and a huge animatronic treant.  In this adventure we fought an “invisible” air elemental that the designers didn’t bother to add any effects for — not even a cheap fan to blow some air around!  Still, my party enjoyed Flight of the Zephyr for all its rough spots, and we looked forward to tackling the other dungeon later that evening.

Which leads me to Into the Viper’s Pit, in which our party fought their way through an evil serpent god’s temple, trying to close a mystical portal before a group of cultists could summon their deity.  And here’s where everything fell apart.  The puzzles were much more difficult than any we’ve encountered in the past, and it seemed like there was never enough time to implement a solution.  Our Rogue was regularly discovering clues, which were supposed to help solve the puzzles, but in most cases they were misleading or poorly worded.

Professional costumes at the D&D castle. Maybe True Dungeon should have hired them.

Professional costumes at the D&D castle. Maybe True Dungeon should have hired them.

One of the rooms required the characters to trace runes in a sand pit and then “bleed” into the grooves using a ceremonial dagger.  The creators designed a Kinect-based system that actually detected the distance to the sand, and it projected colored lighting effects where the runes were drawn, even causing digital “blood” to appear and fill up the grooves.  The problem is, the system didn’t work correctly at all.  The camera often completely failed to detect where we had dug out the sand, even in cases where we cleared all the way to the bottom of the “pit”.  The GM who was supposed to be guiding us through the room was unnecessarily strict; despite the fact that we had obviously figured out the puzzle and were performing exactly the right steps, he wouldn’t allow us to proceed until the defective camera system figured out what we were doing.  We ran out of time and failed the room.

In fact, we failed almost all of the rooms in this second adventure.  In most cases, we had the solution figured out, but there just wasn’t time to execute.  I feel like most of the designers’ time went into the Zephyr adventure, and Viper’s Pit felt like an afterthought.  Even the set-pieces were extremely disappointing; most of the rooms resembled a big black cloth box with one or two rubber snakes laying around.  My party was extremely disappointed, and despite actually surviving the dungeon, several of my companions were angrily taking to social media to vent their frustration as they exited the True Dungeon hall.

Based on this year’s experience, I can’t recommend True Dungeon.  Despite raising the price this year (to $48 a person for a two-hour adventure), the new dungeons felt like a step back, both in design and production values.  There were far fewer costumes, no animatronics, and even the most impressive props suffered from technical issues.  The puzzle design wasn’t great, and a jerk GM did his best to ruin our experience.  The first adventure was mildly disappointing, but the second one left us feeling ripped off.

Cardhalla, a build-and-destroy card castle for charity.

Cardhalla, a build-and-destroy card castle for charity.

…And the rest…

Those were the highlights (and lowlights?) of my weekend, but I did so much more!  Here are a few other things that caught my interest:

Shut Up and Sit Down – These wildly popular game reviewers from Britain were on hand to record a live podcast.  While nothing particularly crazy happened at the panel, the SUSD cast was entertaining and engaging, mixing stories about their Gen Con experience with chatter about their favorite games.  The cast handed out Jenga blocks to the first few rows of the audience to write questions on.  They then played “Q&A Jenga”; whoever pulled a block from the tower also had to answer the question written on the block.

Professor Shyguy – The good Professor always puts on an amazing performance, and this year’s Gen Con was no exception.  Even if you’re not into his style of music (chiptune/electro-pop songs, mostly about gaming and being a nerd), you can’t help but to be drawn in by his charisma and stage presence.  I’ve known Professor Shyguy since he first played at Play On Con a few years ago, and in addition to being a great stage performer, he’s also a super-nice guy and a hardcore gamer — we even played a round of Space Alert during a rare moment of downtime.  He works a fairly heavy convention schedule, so if you missed him at Gen Con, be sure to catch him at another event near you.

D20 Burlesque – MeepleTown is a family-friendly site, so I won’t go into this one too much.  This is one of the rare Gen Con events that allows grown-ups to be grown-ups.  The performers put on a great stage show, and they knew their audience well: routines ranged from the titillating assembly of a MouseTrap board game to a very… confusing… Cthulhu-themed… uh… dance.  Yeah.

The stampede to get in the doors on Thursday morning.

The stampede to get in the doors on Thursday morning.

It was recently announced that Gen Con set a new attendance record with over 56,000 attendees this year.

I worry somewhat about continued growth.  The Vendor’s Hall remained packed for most of the weekend, and the food trucks outside the convention center were struggling to keep up with demand.  There were hours-long waits at many of the bars and restaurants in the area.  Nearby hotels sell out within minutes of the housing block opening, and tickets for popular events can be very difficult to obtain.  These problems will only worsen as Gen Con’s popularity increases.

Still, Gen Con has handled its growth better than any other large convention I’ve experienced.  For anyone who has stood in DragonCon’s epic badge pick-up line for three hours, or wasted half a day waiting for a ComicCon panel and then failing to get in, Gen Con will be a refreshing change.  Event tickets are all booked online in advance, so there’s no waiting in line for shows or panels, and you know before you arrive whether you’ll get to attend.  And the Will Call line flows with an unlikely efficiency — despite the queue stretching halfway across the convention center, it only took about 25 minutes to pick up my tickets.  This is a well-planned and well-implemented convention, but accommodating more attendees may take some seriously difficult decisions on the part of the organizers.

I had an amazing time at Gen Con 2014, and hopefully my articles have given you a taste of the games, the sights, and the experiences of this massive event.

If you want to see the rest of my photos, check out my gallery on Google+!

 

Asmodee Games Giveaway!

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What do the games above have in common? They’re all brand new Gen Con releases from Asmodee Games, and as soon as the MeepleTown Facebook page gets 300 likes, one lucky fan is going to get all four. Help us out and spread the word!

Hillary’s Gen Con 2014 Top 5 Awesome Things

GenCon this year was slam packed with all kinds of awesome fun. I costumed, I met game designers, I played games, I met cool people — it was all so awesome.  However, there are a few moments that stood out in my mind when it was all over.  And here they are…

New Dice5. Finally growing up… sort of.

At my age, most people have had their favorite set of dice and “perfect” dice bag for a while, and they have long since gotten “too cool” to care about such a thing. Since we were scheduled for a Dungeon World game and my husband left all of his “too cool” non-matching dice at home, I had to buy some at Gen Con.  I picked out a speckled pink and purple set from Koplow along with a shiny purple dice bag.  Then after the game, I realized that I actually now play RPG’s enough to justify having my own special set like a grown-up.  So, I bought some cool Q-Workshop dice because I wanted some for monster attacks, a totally unnecessary addition — but it’s my set and I’m proud of it.

Geeky Zumba

4. Punching coins like Mario at 8:00 in the morning and calling it exercise.

While Christian was off in the vendor hall early Thursday morning doing press things, I decided to have some fun of my own. After perusing the event list, I decided to do Zumba with GeekyGamerGirl. For those of you not familiar with it, Zumba is an instructor led exercise class that falls somewhere between Jazzercise and a dance party. And, yes, I intentionally chose to dance at eight in the morning, and, despite the exhaustive nature of Gen Con, I did not regret it. Not only did it have the fun energy and great cardio-vascular exercise of a traditional Zumba class, our instructor GeekyGamerGirl (aka Karen), actually is a Geeky Gamer Girl. As a result,  she added in some great nerdy elements including a James Bond routine, a routine to the Mario brothers theme where we pretended to punch coins, and all kinds of other fun, geeky, dance-y goodness. The class was great; Karen had an awesome energy which she tried to pass on to everyone in the room, and she was super friendly and nice. This was a great way to spend my morning, a great group of people to spend it with, and a great instructor to lead us through it all.

Zombie Cupcake3. OM NOM NOM NOM!

It wouldn’t be my article without a discussion of my gluttonous con habits and a discussion on which establishments best quelled the belly beast. Last year I mentioned the Mac Genie and Heavenly Sweets food trucks, which we certainly returned to this year. This year’s new favorites were the yummy Thai tacos from Tacos without Borders, the unique “upscale” food truck offerings (such as crab cake sandwiches and elk sliders) from Serendipity, and the rich, dense cupcakes from Flying Cupcake. The food was absolutely delicious, and, like many food trucks last year, most of the trucks this year had themed menus… My husband even got a chocolate cookies and cream zombie cupcake complete with red “blood” frosting and an eyeball decoration. Nerdy and tasty!

The Fearsome Crabopotamus2. Chasing a little old lady through dark caverns and then facing the most fearsome sea creature in the land.

Dungeon World is a story-driven RPG.  Your character is a legend, failure is the only way to get experience, much of the world is made up by the players, and “partial successes” result in hilariously epic mistakes by your character. During the particular adventure we played, we were chasing an old lady, who our characters had recently saved, through terrifying caverns with goblins, undead, and the most fearsome sea creature of all… The Crabopotamus! Yes, you read that right.

Like I said, much of dungeon world is player-created, so the GM frequently asks players questions about their characters and the world they populate. In the middle of the adventure, the GM turned to a player and said, “You see bubbles coming out of the water. What is that making those bubbles?” The player grinned and said, “Guys, that is a CRABOPOTAMUS!” and then rolled a partial failure on his lore check… So of course the Crabopotamus was huge and had crazy abilities.

But a giant Crabopotamus was no match for Tina (“Tinker Toes”) the artificer — my character — and her arsenal of bombs and flaming gadgets, along with her companions and their humorously wild magic, talismans, and abilities. We easily (okay, with much difficulty and hilarity) slayed the Crabopotamus and went on to save the old lady. The whole adventure was awesome, our GM was great, and I had a great time fighting the bad guys with the other players.  The best thing that came out of this session, however, was the drawing of the Crabopotamus (and its “cousin” of the seas, the Sharknocerous, which we thankfully did not end up facing).

Dancing with Shyguy1. Being one of Professor Shyguy’s Go-Go dancers.

I know, I know, I have written about Shyguy’s performance almost every time I’ve seen him at a con, but that’s because every time the experience is just that unique and noteworthy. Of course he played awesome geeky music, and of course his performance was amazing and silly and artistic all at the same time.  And, of course, he had a crowd of people dancing near the stage. This is all a given at his shows. However, this time, he invited people on-stage during one of my favorite songs. I’m all about getting attention even if I look like a moron while doing it, so I grabbed another huge Professor Shyguy fan I’d met earlier, and we went up on stage and danced like no one was watching… Except everyone totally was. I had a blast and I truly look forward to seeing what awesome trick he’s going to pull out of the hat next time.

Of course that’s only the tiniest part of all the awesome things I experienced at Gen Con… Look for the second part of my Gen Con experience with more pictures very very soon!

Christian’s Gen Con 2014 Recap – The Games

The enormous vendor hall at Gen Con 2014 -- before the doors open to the public.

The enormous vendor hall at Gen Con 2014 just after the doors opened to the public.

This was my third time attending Gen Con, and it proved to be the busiest one yet for your faithful MeepleTown editor.

For those who haven’t attended Gen Con before, I should point out that it’s not strictly a gaming convention.  Oh, sure, almost everything is in some way related to games, but there’s not much time for sitting down and actually playing board games.  No, I had friends to meet up with, shows to watch, dungeons to conquer, and sleep to… well… okay, there wasn’t much sleep involved.

For that reason, I’m going to split this into two articles, with this first one covering the games I saw, and the next one covering the other miscellaneous happenings at Gen Con.

Fortunately, I did find some time to demo some new releases amongst the weekend’s other revelry.  Please note that these are my initial impressions based off a single play — or less.  In some cases, our demo schedule didn’t allow time for a full game.

Chimera - We chatted with designer Ralph Anderson while learning this game, which is essentially a three-player variant of Tichu.  It is very faithful to most of the core mechanics of Tichu, which is one of my personal favorites. It’s still a trick-taking game with elements of bidding and partnerships.  A key difference is that partnerships change based on who wins the initial bid; it’s two-against-one, with the non-bidding players temporarily allied.  There are a few other minor rule changes as well, but Tichu players will feel right at home with this one.  If I were in a card game mood with only three players available I might reach for Chimera, but overall I think I prefer its predecessor.

The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade – We were fortunate enough to sit down with designers (and brothers) Anders and Olle Tyrland for a demo of this 80′s-styled space “shoot-em-up”.  If you’ve ever played video game space shooters Gradius or R-Type, Kemble’s Cascade is essentially those in a board game format.  Players fly their spaceships around a constantly scrolling game field, shooting at enemies, asteroids, and each other.  As the game proceeds, players can upgrade their ships with shields, energy generators, and (most importantly!) bigger guns, eventually facing a huge, multi-tile boss.  The theme is well-executed, with 8-bit style graphics on virtually every component.  We didn’t have time to play a full game — according to the designers the normal session time is 60-90 minutes — but I enjoyed what I experienced.

Bruno Cathala teaches us Five Tribes!

Bruno Cathala teaches us Five Tribes!

Five Tribes – I was taught this game by Bruno Cathala himself, who playfully referred to it as a “worker-removal game”.  The game begins with a large tile grid, each containing a number of random colored meeples.  Gameplay is deceptively simple: Pick up all the meeples from any tile, and place them one-by-one, mancala-style, on adjacent tiles, forming a path.  The final meeple placed triggers actions based on the color and tile it was placed on.  The mechanics are simple to learn, yet deep enough to be engaging to a serious gamer, which is a rare combination.  This was the first game I demoed at Gen Con 2014, and it was by far my favorite.  I’ve been lukewarm on some of Days of Wonder’s recent releases, but Five Tribes looks like they’ve hit a home run.

Camel Up – This year’s Spiel des Jahres winner is finally coming to North America, and… well… it’s a camel racing game.  I understand its appeal to the SdJ voters, as it’s an extremely simple family game with a low barrier to entry and attractive components.  Players take turns betting on the camels, making them move, or putting down minor boosts or obstacles to help the race along.  Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like there was enough here to engage me.  There weren’t enough interesting choices, and the random factor is very high with not enough direct player control over the outcome.  Still, this would be a great choice for families with kids, and it would be a great gift for households that have been infested with mass-market kids’ games like Candy Land.

Shadowrun: Crossfire – I knew very little about this one going into Gen Con weekend.  The buzz was that it’s similar to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, but more streamlined and exciting.  While the Pathfinder card game didn’t knock my socks all the way off, it made my ankles slightly chilly, so this sounded promising.  Shadowrun: Crossfire is a cooperative deck-building game with a twist: characters persist from session to session and become more powerful by means of a “karma” system with which players can buy upgrades.  The game comes with a set of stickers that can be affixed directly to the character cards, similar to how the board changes in Risk Legacy.  Interestingly, the new version of the Pathfinder game has added more focus on persistent play, so it will be interesting to compare these two once we’ve spent more time with both of them.

The MeepleTown staff (and a friend) check out Lords of Xidit.

The MeepleTown staff (and a friend) check out Lords of Xidit. Can you guess from the picture who didn’t win?

Lords of Xidit – Asmodee has a massive release schedule for 2014, and unfortunately I only had time to experience this one game.  Designed by Régis Bonnessée (of Seasons fame), this is a “re-imagining” of Himalaya (see our interview with Mr. Bonnessée here for more details).  The setting and artwork are completely different — and, frankly, more appealing.  In their quest to become the most prominent lords of a mystical land, players must recruit adventurers and slay monsters.  Actions are programmed six at a time via dial-based player boards, so there’s a high level of advance planning and group-think required.  The time I spent with Lords of Xidit was enjoyable, but I wonder a bit about its replayability — on any given turn I felt like my best course of action was fairly obvious, and that could lead to future sessions being very similar.

Samurai Spirit – This is a cooperative game by Antoine Bauza that can handle up to seven players in under an hour.  If the collection of words in that last sentence didn’t have you rushing out to buy it, you may have to turn in your gamer card.  Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to play this on-site, but I did get a quick gameplay overview from one of the friendly Passport Games Studios staff members.  It looks very promising, and we’ll have a full review once we’ve spent some time with it.

Stacks and stacks of games at the Passport booth.

Stacks and stacks of games at the Passport booth.

I spent several hours walking the floor of the massive vendor hall, but there just isn’t enough time to get hands on everything.  My inner fanboy drooled over Fantasy Flight’s upcoming XCom game, which was present in pre-release form.  I marveled at the booth for indie-published Incredible Expeditions, with its elaborate steampunk-styled setpieces and stunning costumes.  I watched some games in progress of Plaid Hat Games’ Dead of Winter and kicked myself for not scheduling a demo with them.  I orbited the seemingly endless line to get into Paizo’s booth (which never seemed to shorten for the entire weekend) and kept walking.  Oh well, can’t win ‘em all.

Am I disappointed that I didn’t see more of the new releases at Gen Con 2014?  Surprisingly, no!  The sheer number of new games — and better yet, the ever-growing number of people who love them — make this the most exciting time in the history of our hobby.  If my biggest problem is that there’s too much to see, we’ve got a great year ahead of us.

I’ll be back soon with coverage of the multitude of other events I experienced at this year’s Gen Con.

Derek’s Gen Con 2014 Recap

Although I only made it to Gen Con for a day and a half this year, that was still time to play about fifteen new games – including a few that maybe aren’t on your radar. I also gave a presentation at this year’s Trade Day about the board games class I did last semester at Trine University, and I felt that it went very well despite some A/V snafus. It was great to see some familiar faces, however briefly, and to get some solid gaming in. Here’s some quick thoughts on the games I played:

 

King of New York: This game was pretty good, but I wasn’t as mind-blown as I was hoping and expecting to be. It’s King of Tokyo with a few changes that do add some more options but also some fiddliness. The board gets pretty cluttered and doesn’t look especially nice. If you like one game, you’ll like the other; this is more complex, but not by much. I’ll still buy it and play it and maybe even put King of Tokyo farther back on the shelf, but it didn’t have the wow factor that I thought it would.

 

Friday the 13th: I also spent some time at the IELLO booth talking with Christian Lemay, the one-man operation known as Le Scorpion Masque (IELLO distributes their stuff in the U.S.). Friday the 13th is another remake of Reiner Knizia’s Poison / Baker’s Dozen, except with really, really cute black kitties. I hadn’t played the game before and really had a great time in our six-player game. I think this will be great for helping my nephew do quick addition in his head, and it’s a really fun game to boot. Why square cards, though?

 

20140815_112759Think Again!: This is Le Scorpion Masque’s other recent release, a party game by Bruno Cathala (that man is everywhere) and Ludovic Maublanc. You’re asked a trivia question, then shown an icon that tells you to blurt out the -right- or -wrong- answer in the same category. The first answer given is the only one that matters: you either lose a point or gain a point depending on if you gave an appropriate response. This game was rather funny, because of its surprising difficulty, and because of how creative and funny you can be when giving a wrong answer.

 

Abyss: One of Asmodee’s nine or ten (!) new releases at Gen Con, this game had a lot of buzz due to the astounding artwork. Expect a full review soon, but this is a very good, medium-light family Euro with an irrelevant-but-astounding theme and presentation. It’s exactly my kind of game, and I really enjoyed it even with two players.

 

Ca$h ‘n Gun$ 2.0: I have not played the original game, but I really enjoyed this one and thought the streamlined mechanics (compared to what I understand about the old ones) definitely worked in the game’s favor. The demoers had us in an out in under 30 minutes and we had a blast the whole time. A great game for people who like games that walk the line between party and strategy games, like Mascarade or The Resistance.

 

Black Fleet: I was able to play this back home with some friends, and really enjoyed the game. It’s a simple family game with lots of attacking (although it didn’t feel particularly cruel, as the punishments didn’t seem so bad, but the rewards were great) and lots of cool special powers – not to mention the gorgeous board and pieces. It does kind of suck that it’s only for 3-4 players, though. This feels like the family-game version of “Eurotrash” games that have come out in recent years like Cyclades and Kemet – lots of attacking and interaction, but also lots of clever Euro-inspired mechanisms.

 

Lords of Xidit: This is an update of Himalaya, set in the universe of Seasons, though the games play nothing alike. This game relies heavily on programming (similar to Robo Rally), which is a mechanic I kind of hate, because I suck at it so much. There’s a lot of moving parts to this one, and updating the upcoming threats and recruitment tiles is kind of confusing. It’s not a bad game, it just seems like a lot of work for little payoff. I need to play the game some more to be sure of my opinion. Just like all the other Asmodee releases though, it’s gorgeous, and proves that you can have amazing little miniatures in a relatively inexpensive game ($60 MSRP). Lords of Waterdeep, why you gotta have cubes?

 

I also got to go to the Asmodee press event, which was a bit different from last year. To get everyone through, we spent only 10-20 minutes at each table, which meant several games were shown to me as prototypes, I was told the rules, and then I moved on. Trying to imagine the games without playing them made my brain melt by the end of it. I’m guessing not enough people got to play everything last year, but I wonder if a better solution would be to have each press outlet be assigned (based on their known tastes) a particular game or two, then have them spend a few hours with those and do full previews. They’d get better coverage and we’d get a better taste for the game… though I’m sure that approach has its own difficulties. Anyway, here’s three games that really had me excited:

 

Elysium: Apparently just hearing the rules can be enough to get you pumped about a game. This is the next Space Cowboys release after Splendor and Black Fleet (which are both awesome), and it’s meant to be more of a gamer’s game. The designers are Matthew Dunstan (the under-appreciated Relic Runners) and Brett J. Gilbert (the also under-appreciated Divinare). The base idea of the game is that it’s an open card-drafting game, and you have to balance using card’s special powers against setting them aside to score points (and losing the power). The coolest mechanic in the game is that rather than paying costs for cards, each card has some colors on it, and when you draft a card, you must “sacrifice” one of the four colors, meaning that you may longer draft cards containing that color this round. This should make some interesting back-and-forth of trying to outwit your opponents, trying to decide when to reveal to them that you aren’t going to draft that card they’re afraid you’ll take. Sounds like some difficult decision making already. There was more to it than that, but that was the central mechanism that got me excited. And I love card games. And I also love Space Cowboys. Wishlisted! The game was still in prototype form, but should be out in 2015.

Oh! One more thing to prove how awesome the Space Cowboys are: there are eight different decks in the game representing different gods, and they hired a different artist for each one. They make truly classy components.

 

Nations: the Dice Game: I like Nations,  but it’s a little long for what it is and I think most of the time I’d rather play 7 Wonders. We were able to play one round of the dice game version, and it seemed to take all the cool, unique things about Nations and distill them into a much shorter game (still four rounds, and one round took maybe 10 minutes). However, I don’t like the name. I think Desperadoes of Dice Town proved you can have a name that invokes the original but still makes the game sound like it stands on its own. They should just call it “Dice Nations” using the same font as Nations. No idea when this one is coming out (it was a prototype).

 

20140815_102103Colt Express: I actually got to play a full game of this the following day. This is the next release from ludonaute (Lewis & Clark, SOS Titanic, The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet) and was in final form. This is another programming game (I guess it’s in the air) about robbing a train while shooting and punching the other robbers. However, the programming leaves you some choices to make when your turn in the “program” comes up, and therefore it didn’t feel as easy to completely ruin a turn as in other programming games. It may have just been the jovial French people I played it with, but I had a lot of fun with this game – and the game is played on a 3D train to boot, which looks awesome. They also included cool cactus stands to put near the train that are completely unnecessary, just because they fit on the punchboard. Three cheers for component quality! This game should be out this fall, and I was told it should be for $40 MSRP.

 

20140814_213606WakandaI was able to play some games with Brandan Parsons of Blue Orange Games, and he had a European copy of this game with him. During the game, you have to balance making the totem poles more attractive against finding the right time to claim the poles, which give you ways to score, but not necessarily with that totem pole. It’s an insanely tense game, one which I lost quite horribly, twice. Really looking forward to this game and hope it sees a wide U.S. release.

 

The Boss: Brendan also taught us this small European release which may or may not make it to the states. It was essentially a streamlined Divinare, as it had that same idea of slowly revealing information while trying to score points (by betting on certain locations instead of moving a dial). I think it was a much better game than Divinare, although it wasn’t the be-all, end-all.

 

20140814_164844Quilt ShowI tried this new Rio Grande release because a friend was considering buying it for his mother who often quilts. The game was basically a bad ripoff of Ticket to Ride, although instead of having a board you used the cards to buy tiles to make the quilts. However, there was a lot of drawing off the top due to the fact that there was no way to wipe either tableau, and it seemed like you hardly interacted with your opponents. Not a game I’d recommend. It’s a cool theme, but I think it can be done with a lighter, quicker game that would probably be more fun.

 

Chimera: The last thing I did at the con was demo Chimera while chatting with the designer, Ralph Anderson. This is essentially a Tichu variant strictly for 3 players, and it works very well. It took only a few hands for us to click with the game (but we’d all played Tichu) and there were definitely some interesting aspects to the differences. However, I feel like all the different types of runs are completely unnecessary. I’m always for more streamlined games, and this didn’t seem especially better than, say, Clubs (which I really like). Hardcore Tichu players who think Clubs is child’s play will probably eat this up, though.

 

That’s it for me this year – but we’ll have lots of reviews of Gen Con releases coming up soon, so stay tuned!

Review: Mille Bornes

millebornesboxMille Bornes is by no means a new game – in fact, this year is the 60th anniversary of its original publication – and to celebrate, Asmodee has a brand new edition. Literally translated as a “a thousand milestones”, Mille Bornes is a classic game of racing across the countryside while trying to hinder your opponents (in other words, it’s Mario Kart: the Card Game!). Many gamers believe that American classics like Uno, Monopoly and Scrabble haven’t held up over time – what about Mille Bornes? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

 

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

millebornescardsComponents: This is a very small card game – just 110 cards, 4 reference cards, and the rulebook in a small tin. The cards have a very classic, plain, chic design that makes the game very easy to understand and non-intimidating for kids or non-gamers. They’re also symmetrically designed so that they’re readable upside-down – it’s nice to have this much thought put into a small game. The reference cards (only four, despite the game going to six players) are extremely helpful for remembering the different sets of Hazards, Safeties, and Remedies… except they accidentally put “Remedy” in Red on the “Hazards” row, and “Hazard” in green on the “Remedies” row, which kind of ironically defeats the purpose of a reference card. The MSRP of $14.99 is a standard price for a small card game like this, so my only complaint here is the reference cards, which are still mostly helpful (I imagine it’ll be fixed in the next print run).

 

Accessibility: This game is very old and I’m sure many people already know how to play it (the rules are even on Wikipedia), so I’m not going to give an overview but just talk about some specifics. I learned the game by reading this rulebook, and overall it wasn’t a problem, although it felt somewhat disorganized. First, let me talk about what I think are new rules from what I’ve read:

1. You can draw the top card of the deck or the top card of the discard pile.

2. In lieu of drawing and playing a card, you can instead discarding up to six cards from your hand and draw new ones.

3. You can start with a “Drive” card or an Emergency Vehicle “Safety” card.

I believe all of these changes were meant to make the game less random, and they all seem better than what I understood the original rules to be. The only trouble I had ruleswise was with the discard pile. My understanding is when you play a “Remedy” on a “Hazard”, they stack on each other in your play area, and don’t go to your discard. As far as I can tell, the only time cards are discarded are when you draw and then discard instead of playing a card, when you exchange cards from your hand as your turn, or when a “Hazard” is killed by a coup-fourré (a kind of “counterspell” move). That means new rule #1 above is rather unwieldy, and probably unnecessary. It’s possible to end up in situations in this game (maybe only by really bad play; I don’t know) where you have a hazard on you and the corresponding remedies and safeties are all gone, so you literally cannot advance or win. I’m assuming the first rule was meant to mitigate that.

If you’re new to Mille Bornes like me, the game is very easy to learn, particularly because of its classical nature. It’s just a matter of drawing a card and then playing one for a rather simple effect. For some reason, we wanted to draw at the end of our turns, which I blame on other games we’ve played such as Keltis - I think that’s just us, and the game flows naturally just fine. I always say it’s important to both understand how to play and how to form a basic strategy in your first play of a game – and that’s easily done here, insofar as the game is strategic. Speaking of…

 

Depth: I’m not going to lie; this game is fairly random. You are just hoping to play numbered cards that add up to 1,000 while playing red “Hazards” on others and hoping that if you get slapped with one, you have the “Remedy” which cancels it or the “Safety” which both cancels and permanently prevents it. The new “discard up to six and draw new cards” rule allows you to dig faster for a cure, and there’s obviously some hand management involved in the game, but you are largely at the mercy of the draw. I would say there’s more to think about than, say, Uno, and as much as even some lighter card games that gamers play, like Lost Cities. However, even though there are things to think about, there are often bouts of frustration where you just can’t move, and it isn’t really your “fault”, and no amount of thinking will change that.

 

Theme: Complaints I’ve read have said this game doesn’t feel like a race because you spend so much time being stuck by Hazards and unable to move (i.e. play Mileage cards) to score points (miles), but I think “Mario Kart: the Card Game” is a good analogy for this. This is a “take that” game in its purest form, where you have to balance getting those cards down against just trying to wreck everyone else. If you imagine any kind of car chase involving those kinds of antics – tons of movies come to mind – then that kind of theme definitely comes through.

 

Fun: As I mentioned above, this is a fairly random, “take that” card game. However, it does have its charms. It’s very simple to play, it’s over relatively quick (because of the new rules changes, I think), and it does give that feeling of tension – “oh, man, they’re way ahead on points, I have to stop them!”. That being said, there are probably other, newer games in the same price range that do it a bit more cleverly and efficiently. Coloretto comes to mind, although that kind of meanness is more cunning, while Mille Bornes is a matter of flat-out looking someone in the eye and saying “Here, sucks to be you now” as you give them a Hazard. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore, do they?

 

This new edition of Mille Bornes is a solid version of the game, and fans of the game are probably excited for a reprint – but for modern gamers looking for a short filler, while it’s a decent game, but not the best you can do.

 

Rating:

3star

3 out of 5

Review: World of Tanks: RUSH

tanks1For those of you who don’t know, Asmodee’s U.S. branch partners with small game companies in other countries, like Hurrican, Repos Production and Matagot, to bring awesome games to North America. This year they started partnering with a Russian company, Hobby World. Their first game was Berserk: War of the Realms, which left me unimpressed. So when I found that they had a second game coming, World of Tanks: RUSH, I was skeptical. The game’s theme had no appeal to me, the BGG average rating was below a 6.0 at the time, and the rulebook left me some serious doubts (3 card hands?). Not to mention, every deck-builder since Dominion has paled in comparison, in my book. Were my doubts unfounded? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

 

 

 

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

tanks3Components: This game comes with nothing but cards, in classic deck-building fashion. Although I haven’t played the online game that inspired it (World of Tanks), this is supposedly the same artist doing the cards, and the artwork is great. I would have preferred some text instead of all iconography, but it’s manageable and there are really good player aids for the different symbols. The $35 MSRP is impressive for a deck-building game, and it would probably be the cheapest around if not for Star Realms. My only complaint is more of a suspicion – one of the mechanics in the game (always discarding the farthest card in the Reserve) seems like an alternative to having a stack of “Boring Tank” cards you can always buy like the Explorer in Star Realms, and I have to wonder if that was to avoid having to include another stack of “Boring Tank” cards. Really nice job here!

 

Accessibility: It’s hard for me to come at this very well, because I’ve played tons of deck-builders, so this rulebook was quite easy to follow. If you haven’t played any deck-builders, I don’t know how easy it is to read. The game was very easy for us to pick up and play, and the subtleties of strategy showed themselves in our first game, but we weren’t necessarily confused before that. I do think one rule is just ridiculous, which is that you always play cards straight to your discard pile (rather than cleaning up end-of-turn like Dominion), and the rule says if you re-draw a card the same turn, you can’t play it. The Tanks might all be unique, but four of the starting cards are identical – how do I know if the one I drew is the same one I played? This seems actively worse than just using the very good rule in the game you’re deriving this one from (Dominion). Other than that, though, the game was quite easy to learn, and the iconography was very, very intuitive.

 

Depth: First, let me mention that I’m reviewing this after only playing with two players, for a couple of reasons. One, I can’t stand other deck-building games with more than two players, mostly because of the very long turns once the engine gets going. Second, there is a mechanism in this game that clearly get worse with more players (discarding from the Reserve as mentioned above), so I wanted to give the game a fair shake. Let me talk about a couple of “suspicious” mechanics first and then some cool things about the game.

The first is the 3-card hands. This seems crazy low, and in fact you may not be able to buy anything your first few turns due to this. We were mostly able to, and although other reviewers said this game starts out very, very slow, we didn’t have that problem in our games. I was more comfortable with the 3-card hands than I thought I would be, mainly because this game has a really great innovation, which I’m surprised took this long. Whereas most deck-builders have you play cards for their single purpose (even if that purpose does multiple things), here a card has three potential uses (purchase, special ability, attack) but you can use each card for only one purpose each turn. That meant if you had only three cards, you still had to think about how to use each one, which gave you interesting decisions on your turn without making your opponent sit through Village, Village, Smithy, Smithy, and so on.

The second rule is that after every turn, the farthest card in the Reserve (the 4 cards you can buy in a center row, like in Ascension and Star Realms) is always discarded and a new card is placed in the back. That means in a five-player game, the Tanks the person after you sees will absolutely not be there for you to buy, even if no one else buys any Tanks that round! This is a big complaint I’ve seen, but it works pretty well 2-player. Even if your opponent buys a Tank, half of the Tanks will still be there on your turn, and it kept the pace of the game going as it made sure affordable options came up. I think I would still prefer having a “stock” pile of cards to buy earlier on, or just maybe a King of Tokyo-style effect where you can pay a coin or discard a card to wipe the row, rather than having that be a Tank special ability. This awkwardness is what leads to slow-start games. The rule isn’t awful, but it could be better.

The things I really like in the game are the “only use for one purpose” mechanism I mentioned above, and also the way the bases work. Losing your bases doesn’t eliminate you or even really hurt you, and in fact it provides a strange catch-up mechanism. Whenever you play a Tank for a special ability, if it has Armor, it’s obligated to defend one of your bases, which “locks it up” for the time being – meaning you can’t use that Tank’s ability for a while. It also makes the Tank an easy target for the opponent to score some Medals (VPs), but they have to balance that against you getting a possibly awesome Tank back. In addition, when an opponent destroys your base, that base goes in his deck as something useless (other than providing precious Medals), and it also means you’ll have less Tanks “stuck” on bases since you have fewer of them. Related to this is the fact that attacking never hurts the attacker, which is awesome and keeps the game moving.

The last thing to mention are the Achievements, which are a huge part of the final score. This is a really cool way to add another layer of decision-making, but they are pretty unexciting in two-player games. I do think it’s a great idea and fits the game well, though. I imagine they are much more interesting with more players.

Overall, I found this game made me think about card-play in new ways, when other recent deck-builders, even good ones, haven’t.

 

tanks2Theme: It’s tough for me to decide how thematic I think this game is because the theme has no appeal for me. I’ve never been interested in modern warfare or anything past medieval times. The overload of iconography I think hurts the theme as well – when we were checking Achievements, I would ask “Okay, who has the most diamonds? Who has the most squares and triangles?” instead of the actual types of Tanks. The fact that you mix and match countries in your deck is also rather non-thematic as well. All that being said, for someone who enjoys tanks or especially the online game, the great art and constant attacking and other small thematic considerations (abilities, Medals as VPs) will probably be able to really get a feel for the theme. Theme is a two-way street between the game and the player, and it’s there for someone who wants to meet it in the middle. It’s just not my kind of theme.

 

Fun: I was pleasantly surprised by this game. I really enjoyed some of the innovations in the game and had a good time playing. It’s a solid release. The only real mark against the game is that the market is sooo flooded with “solid” games that it’s hard to stand out now unless a game is mind-blowingly excellent. Card games are my absolute favorite and I would never turn down a game of this if someone wanted to play it, even if it’s not a game I would go out of my way to suggest. People who are actively excited for this game’s theme shouldn’t be disappointed.

 

World of Tanks: RUSH offers some new innovations on the deck-building genre despite a few quirks. If tanks are your thing, give this one a shot.

 

Rating:

3star

3 out of 5

Game Designer / Publisher Interview: Régis Bonnessée (Again!)

RB pictureRégis Bonnessée has been hard at work since last time we spoke, releasing two expansions to Seasons as well as continuing to expand the world of Dixit as well. Now, this year’s Gen Con will see the release of Lords of Xidit, a remake of the Spiel des Jahres nominee Himalaya, now set in the Seasons universe. Régis was kind of enough to talk to us about all that and more. Thanks to Stefan Brunelle at Asmodee for the translation!

 

Last time we spoke, Seasons was just about to come out at Gen Con 2012, and was a smash success there. We’ve now had two expansions to the game. I noticed that the rules changes of both expansions were very similar, which I liked – they didn’t change the game too much. What’s next for the game Seasons, if anything? Do you think you’ll ever consider the game ‘done’?

At the moment there’s no extension planned. But as the game continues to work well and we regularly receive requests, maybe I will look at it for next year. In any case, I’m glad about all the good feedback I’ve had from the players. The tournaments we run around the world show us each day a little more of the attachment people have for this game.
Stefan: In USA, the next big tournament is at Gen Con; there will be special unique promos available for participants.

 

seasonsboxWith all of the new cards and mechanisms, do you have a favorite combo or strategy in Seasons? Any advice for newbies?

I have nearly a thousand games played under my belt (thanks to the online version on BoardGameArena) and I still don’t have a favorite combo. And this is the essence of the game: having to renew and be inventive with each new game. This is the key to success. Although I must admit there have been pleasurable times finding new combinations, e.g.: in round 2 of the first year I played “Vampiric Crown”, and with it I drew “Mesodae’s Lantern” (Asmodee anagram by the way). The game started well.

 

What’s hot for Gen Con this year is certainly Lords of Xidit, the remake of Himalaya. Why did you feel it was correct, or important, to transition Himalaya to the world of Seasons? Can we expect more games in this universe?

Europeans are less attached to theme and Americans prefer mostly mechanisms. For my part, I am attached to both. I love above all, when someone is playing one of our games, the players can immerse themselves in another world. That is why in Lords of Xidit one does not take a purple or black cube, but a battle mage or an infantryman. To return to the original question, we put a lot of time developing the world of Seasons and I thought it would be good game after game, since this universe is each time a little more rich and developed. I hope in any case that players will enjoy the process. For example, the majority of creatures lurking in cities of Xidit are actually familiars from the world of Seasons; players will find in the rules of Lords of Xidit small portions of background and detailed map of the Xidit Kingdom (the same realm where the tournament takes place in Seasons) which will be delivered in the box. It was also thought to put two exclusive cards for the game Seasons (which show a visual of threat by Lords of Xidit) to strengthen the link between these two worlds!
Regarding the last question, we’ll see how Lords of Xidit goes; if the Seasons universe always appeals to both or to different audiences, it may happen that other games could take place in this universe!

 

For someone who has never played Himalaya (like me), can you describe the game, its mechanisms, and what makes it exciting? What makes this new version stand out in the very-crowded board game world?

Lords of Xidit is a “pick-up and delivery” and programming kind of game, based on a unique elimination system. With their programming pads, players plan their actions simultaneously and must go in some cities to recruit units, and in others to repel threats – using the same units. In exchange, the Lords of the towns give rewards, allowing them to increase their wealth, their level of fame in the realm or their level of influence with mages – you will build magic guilds! At the end of the last round there is a final calculation based on 3 criteria for elimination. For example with 4 players, the player with the lowest level in criterion A is removed, then it’s the turn of one among the remaining players with the lowest level in criterion B to be eliminated and finally, among the remaining two players, the highest level in the last criterion is declared savior of the kingdom. Of course there are a thousand other things to say about the intricacies of rules, but it’s really the last point that I created that make the originality of the game. And the game has almost 150 figurines, making it a true strategic game favoring immersion.

 

lordsofxiditWhat kind of rules changes are going to be in Lords of Xidit compared to Himalaya, and what was the rationale for those changes?

 

Of course, the rules have been greatly refined from Himalaya’s. To cite some examples: the 3 player version is now fully enjoyable, you can now play up to 5 players without an extension, the ergonomics of the game are much better, the die which was for the resources and contracts has been deleted, Colossi are new to the game, the way to win has been reviewed, the game can be played in long or short version … Players who played Himalaya will not be disoriented, but their enjoyment of the game will be, in my opinion, better. At least that’s my opinion. No more yaks… well there is still one, just for fun!

(Editor’s note: for a full list of changes, click here.)

Xidit, of course, is an anagram of Dixit, the SdJ 2010 winner which you also publish through Libellud. Was this intentional?

 

Of course, when I created Seasons we had to find a name for the kingdom … And Xidit came to my mind naturally, because for me Dixit reminds me of a world of dreams and fantasy.

 

In our last interview, you talked about how Marie Cardouat was a key part of the creation of Dixit. Since then, several artists have been involved in Dixit Odyssey, Dixit Journey, and so on. What, to you, uniquely defines the world of Dixit? How were you able to recruit the right artists to continue Marie’s ideas, and how did you even give them ideas of what to draw?

 

I love the world of illustration. Whether through animation movies or comic strips (comics, manga …). I try each time to find an artist who has a specific talent or universe we can share and is also a little reflection of his worldview. For example, it’s Franck Dion who’s working on the next expansion of Dixit, Daydreams. His last short film was awarded in twenty countries around the world and I really hope that the public will be delighted with the work that has been done on Dixit.

For Dixit, Jean-Louis and I had proposed 80% of the card ideas to Marie. For this latest opus Franck Dion has given carte blanche to express himself freely. And that gamble is successful in my opinion. Verdict in October!

 

ladiesandgentlemenI would also like to talk about the game Ladies & Gentlemen, which Libellud published. Reactions have been all over the place about this game. The Dice Tower reviewers gave negative reviews, yet Shut Up & Sit Down made a fantastic video about the game, and Penny Arcade even did a webcomic about it. Some have even made accusations of sexism. What does this game mean to you? What kind of gamer is it for, and what made you excited to publish it?

What motivated me to work on this game is that it offered something really new in the small gaming world. The asymmetry of the game where ladies play their part while their husbands play on the other side, while sometimes they play together. I don’t think this game is sexist because here men and women are treated the same way. And I don’t think the caricature that we offer for gentlemen is particularly flattering for them. In any case I think the game was very well received by the U.S. players, to our greatest pleasure.

 

I’ve read that you are a movie aficionado, and obviously you’re a big lover of games. What have you been watching/reading/playing lately?

To cite some of my favorite movies I would say “The Usual Suspects”, “Big Fish,” “Gran Torino,” “Gattaca”. There are so many more, but these are the ones that come to mind at the moment. I also like Scorsese or Almodovar movies. I recently saw “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which really pleased me. In terms of games I played recently, I can say Medieval Academy done by Blue Cocker.

 

What’s next for you and Libellud? (And when is Nautilus coming to the U.S.?)

This year Dixit Daydreams should be out in the U.S., and Lords of Xidit. Europe will see Loony Quest but will not be available in the United States, since it’s a Blue Orange release under a different version called “Doodle Quest.” Unfortunately, no news for Nautilus. As for 2015, it’s still a bit early, but we promise, we will keep you informed.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Not much to share except we hope that we all stay young at heart as long as possible. At least we do not see the years pass.

 

Review: Sultaniya

SULTANIYA_3Dbox_FRCharles Chevallier is a name you may not recognize yet, but this year is already shaping up to be a very good one for him, with the gorgeous Abyss (co-designed by Bruno Cathala) arriving at Gen Con. This summer, Charles has had another big release, Sultaniya from Bombyx and Asmodee. Sultaniya is a game of using tiles to build a palace in an Arabian Nights setting, and it will invariably draw comparisons to Alhambra, the 2003 Spiel des Jahres winner by Dirk Henn. That’s just a loose comparison though, so what makes Sultaniya different, and more importantly, fun? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

 

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

Eclate3DsultaniyaComponents: Sultaniya is an absolutely gorgeous game, which is what drew me to it in the first place. Xavier Collette has earned a real reputation as a board game artist (especially with Dixit Journey), and he doesn’t slouch at all here. It’s especially amazing how functional the tiles are while still being gorgeous, because so many pieces of the tile art are important to the gameplay, but they’re part of the art rather than just icons – and yet still clear. The plastic genies and sapphires are extremely awesome, and there’s a lot of tiles, so the $50 MSRP seems okay.

I have two complaints, though, one major and one minor. The minor one is that the box is a weird size that’s too big for my shelf. The major one is that there are no player aids, when the genie abilities are somewhat complicated. The genies (Djinns) either should have been tiles that described what they do, or there should be player aids describing what they do and their costs (it would also be nice for the player aid to list the options on a turn). I suppose you could make and print one out yourself, but that seems like a silly oversight.

 

Accessibility: The rules of the game are pretty clear on the basics, and the game really is quite a simple one. There are some grey areas, though. It wasn’t fully clear to me how the green genie works, and the red genie creates some weird scenarios about causing holes (and from what the designer has said, it sounds like the “no hole” rule isn’t really necessary). Probably the biggest oversight is that there is no mention of what to do if there are no suitable tiles when you build, after revealing (you take two gems as if you’d passed and end your turn). I was surprised by how often that situation actually came up in our two-player games – probably five times across two games – but maybe we suck at it.

I’m being a little harsh here, I think. As far as understanding the game in general, the pictures are nice, large and clear, and the basic mechanics and goals for winning the game are very explicitly spelled out. There are a lot of important exceptions or notes which are very clearly stated in the rulebook.

Playing the game itself is fairly straightforward. It’s easy to go through the objectives at the beginning of the game, and give everyone a clear understanding of their goals as well as everyone else’s. We felt like we knew what we were doing and had a semblance of strategy just a few turns in. Overall, I think the game is actually probably a bit easier to play than Alhambra, despite those little nuances.

 

Depth: This game is more subtle than it seems from reading the rules. On the surface, it seems like you’re just looking for the icons you need and playing a bit of a solitaire game and then seeing who did better, without much to consider. However, the way tiles are revealed (or not!) gives the game a nice push-your-luck aspect, more than we realized at first, as we got stuck several times as mentioned above. However, this gave us more of an incentive to use the genies, especially the yellow one which lets you look through the piles. The piles actually aren’t that big, especially in a two-player game, so this proved to be a really powerful thing to do – both to make sure you got certain tiles and to know how many to reveal on future turns. The genies also helped us realize just how nasty the game can be – you can really hate-draft certain tiles (such as the minaret tops) that only show up in limited quantities. The genies can also allow for big comebacks, like when someone uses the red genie to rearrange tiles to have more points or when someone ends the game by surprise with the green genie who allows you to build twice in one turn. So there’s a lot more interaction and strategy here than you’ll see by reading the rules, although I would still say the game is on that “family game” level of Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and Settlers of Catan. 

As an aside, some people complain that the “get a lot of gems” secret objective directly conflicts with the “have Djinns at the end” secret objective, and I did get dealt both of those my first game. However, you can get so many points from the Djinns goal – and using them is so powerful – that I think it’s not a big deal (and I still won that game).

 

Theme: Let’s talk about the art first. Xavier Collette did such a great job, not only with the functionality, but with the beauty of this game. The characters look so cool, and the names obviously inspire references to Disney’s Aladdin, although that wasn’t exactly a movie about palace-building. He really made the setting come to life!

Mechanically, though, it just feels like putting a puzzle together. There’s no logical reason for the tile stacks or the genie’s abilities or anything else. I guess it depends on whether or not you care – for me, it’s a beautiful tile-laying game, whose theme comes through strongly just by the art, and that’s okay.

 

Fun: I really enjoyed this game and look forward to playing more, but it’s not an instant 10/10 (although I would say it’s better than Alhambra). For some reason, the other comparison in my head has been Splendor, because that is the game this year that made me absolutely flip out with glee. I think the difference is that while in both games, you get a lot of “stuff” (tiles or cards), in Sultaniya your stuff is worth points but that’s really it, while in Splendor it’s worth points but also gives you that feeling of power. What I mean by that is, it eventually feels like “Muahaha! Look what I can do now! I can buy those expensive cards! I can buy ANYTHING!” which is an awesome feeling in games. Dominion feels the same way when your engine gets going, as does Settlers of Catan when you’re generating like five resources a turn. Sultaniya is a fun game in its own right, but I just really enjoy that feeling of growing power and for some reason feel like it should be here as well.

What Sultaniya -does- have is a good feeling of tension – am I going to be able to get the tiles I need? Is someone going to hate-draft them? Is it worth the risk to just reveal one tile, possibly not getting anything? What if I’m giving my opponents too much good stuff if I reveal three tiles? So, in that regard, placing a tile in Sultaniya does often give that feeling of relief – “Whew, I got the one I needed!” if not that feeling of power. I would say it’s a very similar feeling as in Ticket to Ride, when you squeak in that spot just before you get cut off. So it really depends on the kind of feeling you are looking for in a game.

 

Although it won’t ever avoid the endless comparisons to Alhambra, I think the comparison is in Sultaniya’s favor – this is a gorgeous, tense, interesting tile-laying game. If the normal “gateway game” slew of games is your gaming bread and butter, then you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

 

Rating

4star

4 out of 5