I went to ConNooga all by myself like a big girl… Okay, I totally wasn’t by myself, but none of the boys on MeepleTown’s staff went with me. There were some quirks and disappointments and even some snow, but overall I had a great time. So, now, it is time once again for my awesome con highlights article brought to you through a “con fog” that can only be cut through with excessive amounts of chocolate.
1. Hanging out “at home” at night. When I go to a con, I typically am in the gaming room most of the time, so much so that it feels like my home away from home at any con. However, at this con, I was in the exhibitor hall all day, which was fun but not comfortable like just sitting in the gaming room is. After dinner, I was always glad to have a “home” to go to in the open gaming room at ConNooga. The people were all friendly, the library provided by Drake Gaming was awesome, and the friendly librarians only added to an atmosphere that seemed to fit like an old glove when I walked in after a hard day of selling my jewelry.
Steampunk Ring Created in class
2. Teaching 25 people how to beat steel into submission. When I signed up for ConNooga, I agreed to lead a couple of panels. After pondering what on earth people could actually want to learn from me, I settled on a couple of geeky jewelry classes, the first being “How to make a Steampunk Ring”. I was pleasantly surprised when 25+ people showed up to my class and even more pleased that they shared my sense of humor. When I told them that steel wire was stubborn and that they would have to beat it into submission they laughed… and proceeded to do just that. They turned out 25 of the most creative, beautiful, awesome steampunk rings I have ever seen. It was so much fun to teach them what I know and then see them create their own unique items that were more amazing than anything I could have imagined. It was not just a highlight of my day or even of the con, this was definitely a highlight of my life.
3. Lavender Vanilla Hot Chocolate. I raved about The Hot Chocolatier in an article about a previous visit to Chattanooga, but this time I walked in to find their hot chocolate menu GREATLY expanded. There were 8-10 flavors of hot chocolate including hottie, peppermint, raspberry, salted caramel and many others, all available in both milk and white hot chocolate. My friends opted for hottie milk chocolate and raspberry cheesecake white chocolate, while I went for the Lavender Vanilla milk chocolate. We all were extremely happy with our choices and thoroughly enjoyed both the chocolate and the desserts. I can’t say enough how much I love this place and I am pleased to see that they branched out their menu not only to traditional chocolate pairings, but unusual and amazing ones like my Lavender Vanilla.
4. Playing “Werewolf”. I don’t love “Werewolf” and prefer to play The Resistance or Sultans of Karaya. I even said as much when I was approached by someone who was looking to play Werewolf, but I was so nicely asked “please, we only want to play a round and we REALLY need more people.” I agreed to play one round with the idea in mind that I would then move on to a “real” game. Little did I know what I was in for. The game was led by Robert Bunn, who has a loud voice, a great presence, and a ridiculous sense of humor, all of which combined to make this a great and memorable con experience. Like I said, I don’t care for this game, but I absolutely loved this session. Instead of begrudgingly mumbling my way through a round and going to play something else, I played through two rounds and wished we could have played a third instead of people leaving for this silly thing called “food.”
That pretty much wraps up my highlights at Connooga. Maybe if I go again, I’ll get to participate in some panels or karaoke and have even more to report!
Bucking years of tight-lipped tradition, Days of Wonder currently has a Kickstarter campaign going for an update to Small World for the iPad, which they are calling Small World 2. In addition, this is a “hybrid” Kickstarter in the sense that it’s also a chance to get some physical, board game-related swag. This has led to a bit of confusion, though, so the head honchos Mark Kaufmann and Eric Hautemont talked with me and sorted me straight. Thanks to Mark & Eric for taking time out of their busy schedules!
I’m sure you’ve been busy the past couple of days…
Mark: Yes, we have! We’ve announced the first stretch goal: Android Tablets and Kindle Fire.
You’re stealing my thunder!
Mark: (laughs) Sorry! But we had enough people who really needed to know, and we kinda got to the point where we needed to say it. Although we didn’t want to be too presumptuous and announce our stretch goals up front, we’ve gotten a nice response so far, in terms of the number of backers, and obviously there’s a lot of questions. We’ve given the specifics [Android 4, 512 MB RAM, 1024x768 screen] – the setup is for the standard, new, popular tablets like the Nexus and the two Kindle Fires.
Welp, sounds like you’ll be funded now!
Mark: Well, you know, this is part of the reason why we did a Kickstarter. A lot of the questions or comments from people about “Why does Days of Wonder need to do this; you’re an established company!”… In addition to the reasons in the Kickstarter video, we had some really cool ideas for board game stuff. We’re kind of the only “hybrid company” in that we’re the only company that does board games and develops their own software, we thought, well, we can have a hybrid campaign, which no one else can really do. Which, of course, has caused some confusion, and some people questioning our motives.
I don’t get the question-the-motive thing, when you’re a business, of course the motive is at least partially to make money.
Well, you know, there are a lot of people in the world who don’t understand that. And that’s fine, it doesn’t matter – we have thick skin. What we’re trying to do is just make fun and cool stuff for people. Obviously, no one has to participate if they don’t want to – we want to create something that people want to do; it’s not our intention to make people angry about it. What we want to do is create fun stuff – that’s what game companies should be doing. Everyone gets to choose if they want to be a part of it or not. But if they do participate, then we’re able to do, for example, some Android stuff.
I think people get a misinterpretation – they see us as being pretty successful, and relative to lots of companies doing iPad or iPhone games, I think we’re more visible than some, but people have a misconception about how much money is being made with iOS software. The guys in the top two or three are doing quite well, and even though we’re typically ranked in the top 100 to 150 with our games, it’s not a huge amount of money. It’s not like we’re rolling in dough from the iPad and iPhone market. The other reason for the Kickstarter is gauging support.
Yep, “reasons people get angry” is the idea behind a couple of these questions… I gotta be honest, I’m a huge Small World fan, but I haven’t pledged yet. Apart from the special powers and races, am I right to say that I can go buy the 7-dollar version now and get all of these upgrades, if the project is funded, rather than pay 15 dollars?
Eric: If you go and buy the version now, ahead of the release of Small World 2, if the project gets funded, the free upgrade will get you the new features like online play and 3-5 player maps, things we really don’t want to charge for as in-app purchases. It won’t get you the new expansions like Be Not Afraid.., which you will still have to purchase as an IAP, and it won’t get you the new powers and races that are for Kickstarter backers.
There is a fine detail, though. The model we use is a board game model: so we believe that if you play with someone who has these expansions, you should have access to them during the game, as if a friend has invited you to their house to play with their game and all of the expansions they own. This is true for the expansions like Grand Dames and Cursed!, in addition to the Kickstarter bonuses.
So in a perfect world, after this is over and funded, the only in-app purchases in the game will be Grand Dames, Cursed!, and Be Not Afraid…?
Eric: Well, we’ll have to see how far we go with the campaign and the stretch goals. We have stretch goals in mind that are additional expansions like Small World Underground. If we end up programming and releasing that, it will be something that we will charge for, probably quite a bit of money for. Now, people that pledge at the $30 level and above, will get all of the expansions that get funded. If we get to a level where we announce a stretch goal like Underground, then people who pledge at $30 or more will also get that as part of their pledge. Other people will have to purchase it as an in-app purchase.
Okay, so the $30 level is guaranteeing me free access to any expansion that’s a stretch goal?
Eric: Yes. For something like the stretch goal of the Android version, you are still only getting one version of the game, but all of the actual expansions will be given. If you already have the iPad version, and you have an Android tablet, you could pledge at the $30 level, get the Android version and its expansions on Android, and still get the basic free upgrade for your iPad version.
Is there going to be cross-platform play between iPad and Android versions?
Mark: Yes.It’s going to work very similar to the way Ticket to Ride online play does, in that respect.
Eric: Except that it’ll be asynchronous play, and it’ll be running on our own servers, not Apple’s. Because we want to make it cross-platform, we don’t want to rely on Game Center. If you play the iPhone version [of Ticket to Ride], we’ve had a number of customers having trouble with asynchronous play on Game Center. Because it’s not our own server, we can’t do anything about it. So this time we want to have our own asynchronous servers anyway.
So, you began with Small World as your first iPad app, then you go to Ticket to Ride and you’re able to successfully support online multiplayer and things without in-app purchases or Kickstarter… what’s different?
Eric: The player differential between Small World and Ticket to Ride is almost 10 to 1. That’s something people don’t realize. What people don’t realize is, let’s say you’re the number 1000 game on the iPad. Which is pretty good when there are so many games. So people think, “Oh, you must be raking in cash.” Well, no, you’re making less than $1,000 a month. And if you’re number 10,000, you’re making less than $100 a month. Ticket to Ride is in the top 150 grossing games, but we’re not making millions a month, or even millions a year.
Mark: So, yeah, the economic and financial sides of the two games are very different, in terms of what happens on iOS.
Eric: With Ticket to Ride, we make enough money that we can justify doing the development on our own. With Small World, it’s unfortunately not clear at all, and we’d like to see how the campaign goes. It started off strong, then slowed down, and now it’s picking up again, so we’ll have to see where we end up.
This kind of begs the question – how come Ticket to Ride wasn’t your first iPad app?
Eric: A totally different reason, actually. When they first launched the iPad, we went for developing a game that wasn’t an online game, but was a game that you could play face-to-face, sitting across an iPad. From that standpoint, Small World was the ideal candidate, because it has almost zero hidden information. Whereas in Ticket to Ride you have all your hands of cards which are hidden from other player, so you would have to assume people own two iPhones in addition to an iPad, which is just kind of crazy.
Well, it was kind of crazy…
Eric: (laughs) Well, you have to step back in time almost three years ago. Small World, then, was kind of the perfect game from that standpoint.
Mark: The development cycle, in terms of time, was very, very, very tight.
Eric: We basically did a rush project. We put in very few features. Because Ticket to Ride was already on other platforms with a lot of features, so we didn’t want to put out a version of it with few features. The original Small World app was very light on features – people don’t remember, but originally, there was no A.I.! You could play against someone else, and that was it.
So, not only is it a different user base, but there are also different challenges with programming, like the races and powers, and different player maps?
Eric: From a rules standpoint, Small World is much more costly to develop than Ticket to Ride. The basic rules of Small World are simple, every single race and power requires some additional programming, as does the map for each player configuration. That’s something people don’t realize - Ticket to Ride is by far our most successful game, both as a digital game and a board game, but Small World is vastly more complex to program, and then Memoir ’44 is even more complex to program than either of those two. And yet we’re selling less of that than of the original two games. So it’s kind of luck, the more complex it is, the more time it takes to program, and at the same time, the less it sells.
Can you give any hints on the new special races and powers?
Mark: Uhmm…. no. Not yet. We have some pretty interesting ideas, some of which would be difficult to do on paper, not that they couldn’t be done, but they’ll be much more interesting and exciting digitally.
Are you going to reveal any of that before the campaign is over?
Mark: Possibly, but not necessarily.
One unique thing about this campaign is that you talk about how you’re usually so tight-lipped, but this time you’re trying something different… What’s the reason for the usual tight lips?
Mark: It’s actually pretty easy. Talking about things before they come out – I guess it makes some people feel good, but… first, when we develop things, if we announce it, we have to do it even if it doesn’t make sense anymore. You might later say, “wow, there’s a much better way to do this,” but you can’t change it because you’ve already made the announcement. So that’s part of it – why say something that may change; you set expectations one way but then possibly go another way. The second reason is sort of an old maxim: don’t talk about stuff you can’t sell. I mean, people clearly want to get more information, but in the end, we’d rather have complete information when we’re ready to talk about it. As you can see, in this case, we came out early without all the information, and that’s caused some confusion. That’s partially because maybe we didn’t explain things as clearly as we should have, but it’s also that it may open up to questions you don’t have the answers to yet or aren’t ready to answer.
What I’m more excited about personally is the physical components. First off, I’m looking at the Deluxe Editions I’ve seen of other games… I think the Catan set was $150. I’m looking here, and the cheapest way to get the Small World deluxe set is… $321. This must look really nice.
Mark: (laughs) Yes, we think it is! We’re in the process of doing this, we kind of have spec out of what we want… One of the things with Kickstarter is that 3-dimensional depictions of things that aren’t final are frowned upon. So we’re not in a position to show everything. So part of it is a trust level – we have a track record at Days of Wonder of putting out stuff that’s pretty darn nice. Our goal with this is to blow people’s minds when they see it. We’re trying to get some things done before the campaign is over, but I can’t swear that we’ll have a whole lot more detail, but we’ll be giving updates on that kind of stuff as we get it. I would expect that people will be extremely excited to get one of the Designer Editions.
Is this the only chance to get the Designer Edition?
Mark: We’ll have an update on that soon.
If I spent that much on a Designer’s Edition, I have to say, I’d be really bummed to see another basic race/power expansion afterwards. Is this a hint that you’re done doing those kinds of expansions for the base game?
Mark: Well, first, we’ve never implied that we won’t do more. For example, we’re adding the new digital races and powers. So there are things we are excited to do. However, as you continue to do them, it’s difficult to come up with more that aren’t repeats, and the game reaches an inherent limit within the theme and what we want to do with the game. So that’s a non-answer you. I can’t say we won’t do any more. On the other hand, I think the things in the Designer Edition are going to be plenty of coolness to play with for a really long time.
Is the Designer Edition going to have support or room for Tales & Legends, or the Leader tokens, or…?
Eric: It will have room, but it won’t include those expansions. The focus is really on the base game, and the three expansions Cursed!, Grand Dames, and Be Not Afraid.
Just to make sure I’m looking at the right things on the Kickstarter page.. There’s a tray for the Designer Edition – is that the same tray for the Deluxe token set?
Eric: Again, these are just all preliminary. We’re still discussing this with different vendors, and we’ll have more details as you go, but nothing is definitive yet. The way the tokens are going to be delivered is that each set of tokens will have its own box, so when someone picks a race, you just give them the appropriate box. For people who don’t buy the Designer Edition but just buy the token set, we will give them a nice package to carry all their nice boxes in.
Maybe we’ll see a giant Ticket to Ride at some point, huh?
Mark: (laughs) Well, not Ticket to Ride, but you can pledge for a giant Small World or Small World Underground, your choice! You can pledge that level, AND still get your tokens – in fact, the whole Designer Edition!
Maybe you should create a level where Miguel Coimbra paints an entire dungeon for you to LARP in. Which brings me to another question I see often: How do I get the troll!?
Eric: Back the project at the Shadow Mimes level, and you get a figure in the race of your choice. We have an artist that does a high-resolution 3D model and then we do a 3D print of it, and hey, at that price point we even paint it for you.
How big is it?
Mark: (laughs) He’s gonna go grab it…
Eric: The troll that we have, it’s about the size of my hand. It’s about 11 centimeters high, and about 7 or 8 centimeters wide. It’s not your typical 25mm figure.
Mark: And it’s not a piece to play the game with, either.
Eric: Exactly. It’s one to put on your desk or in front of your window.
What all is involved in this encyclopedia that comes in at the $65 level?
Eric: This is an art book of Small World that covers all of the races and powers of Small World. It shows some new art and sketches, and some tips and strategy advice.
Sounds great – I’ll have to convince the wife to let me put it on the coffee table.
Although I’m generally a lover of all things Google and hater of all things Apple, I broke down and bought an iPad. One draw among many was the many board game apps. In particular, I’ve had the chance to enjoy Reiner Knizia’s Qin on the platform, which is now available in physical form as well. I recently spoke to Dr. Knizia about this game and a few others – but what’s my take on it? 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?
Components: Although I don’t have the physical copy in front of me (yet), I can say one thing about the physical components: they’re very elegant and simple, by design of the game. The game is just a board, some tiles, and 20 pagoda pieces for each player. I don’t have anything against games with lots of pieces, I do think components should be as streamlined as possible, and a minimalist design can make a game a lot easier to understand.
The iPad app itself is extremely good, with robust AI options, a quick playing speed, and online play. The graphics are also extremely beautiful. The only complaint I have is that although I think the tile-laying is as intuitive as possible, it’s not as simple as it would be on a physical game board.
Accessibility: One huge benefit of the minimalist component design, which is really part of the game design, is how simple the game is to learn. The goal is clear: you have 20 pagodas and you need to place them all on the board. You do that by connecting two tile squares of the same color to make a “province” which mark with a pagoda. These can be expanded to make major provinces, or connected to opponents’ provinces to kick out their pagodas, and connected to villages (which in turn allow you to place more pagodas). This makes the scoring and game state extremely obvious to everyone, which is great for making sure that beginners quickly understand what is happening.
In addition, the actual play is pretty straightforward: on your turn, you simply lay a 2-squared tile (think Ingenious) on the board and draw another. The rules for where the tiles can be laid and how provinces expand and connect are all very straightforward, and I don’t think the rules have any silly exceptions or special cases. This also makes the game extremely easy to learn as an iOS game as well.
Depth: It doesn’t seem like there are many chances for clever play when I describe the game: you only get to lay one of three tiles every turn. However, this isn’t really the case: any given tile can have numerous advantages, and it can be tough to decide if you want to make a new province, expand an old one, or try to conquer a village. It’s easy to think that the double tiles make or break the game, but I haven’t found that to be the case, although the game of course has a bit of luck. One advantage of playing an iOS game is that when you play a board game in a vacuum of only a few friends and family members as opponents, you may find the game takes no skill, when in fact none of you have uncovered its depth. I can attest to the fact that I’ve had some real trouble beating the AI, and I’m no slouch, so I feel confident that the game has a lot of layers for me to peel away.
Theme: Ostensibly, the theme is that you are Chinese warlords fighting over provinces and conquering villages by… laying tiles. Although this theme to me is just a veneer, it’s one that is interesting and aesthetically pleasing, and I’d rather have the veneer than no theme at all. The scoring does fit the theme and make sense: you can think of the pagodas as all of your people that are coming to settle these new lands, and by settling all of your people first, you’ve essentially claimed the area. That makes a lot more sense than having one Chinese warlord win over the other by a score of 120 – 97.
Fun: If you don’t enjoy abstract games or want your games to have lots of special events and action cards, this is not the game for you. If you play games because you want to face an interesting and challenging experience and don’t mind a thin theme, Qin is an extremely enjoyable head-scratcher.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the iPad version of Qin, and I look forward to picking up the physical game and enjoying it with friends and family. Qin is a simple, but challenging game with a beautiful aesthetic, and you can’t ask for much more than that.
4 out of 5
Over the holidays, the MeepleTown staff went through the archives and found several articles that were never published. Some of them are related to conventions from summer 2012, but we think the write-ups are still relevant, even several months later. Here are Hillary’s top moments from Play On Con 5, which occurred in August 2012 in Birmingham, Alabama.)
Christian runs the Play-Doh deathmatch that is Clay-O-Rama
Play On Con is always so action packed that the entire thing becomes a blur about halfway through the 2nd day. This is even more true now that I run my own little corner of the con. But somewhere between checking gaming library staff schedules, playing games until my eyes popped out, sleeping, somehow catching up to my husband for a rare few minutes, and just generally geeking out, some moments memorable enough to separate themselves from the rest of the blur emerged.
Parsely is a game based on the old text parser computer games of yore before everything ran on the Unreal Engine… or had any graphics at all. For those not familiar, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was growing up, we had games on computers that would describe everything by text such as: “You are in a dimly lit room. it appears as something is written on the back wall. There is a candle near the entrance. Exits are West, North and South.” You would use very simple commands to get what you wanted and move through the game, such as: “get candle”, “go west”, “open door”, etc. Parsely is more or less the same thing, only you play with multiple people and you have a GM running thegame. The text parser games of old were known for two things: being brutal, and having sarcastic or unhelpful responses to complex commands. Parsley does not disappoint here. It’s also great because the GM is provided with just enough information to run the game, but has plenty of room to inject their own personality, improvise descriptions, and so on.
I was first able to try this at Oasis 2012. I loved it but found that the adventure I participated in, Z-Ward, was a touch too easy. Everything you needed was usually in the room you needed to do it in, which is never how a text adventure worked.
At Play On Con, Christian ran Spooky Manor, and it suffered none of the problems that Z-Ward did. It was as complicated and brutal as all true text adventures are, and it was totally awesome. Despite the fact that we lost the game due to overlooking something minor, we had an absolute blast and everyone (there were like 10 or 15 of us) left the table with smiles from ear to ear.
2. Teaching Lords of Waterdeep:
I am terrible at teaching games. While I may understand every rule to a game and be able to play it with precision and expertise, when I try to explain anything more complicated than Apples to Apples, it usually comes out a rambling, jumbled, disjointed pile of words that, while it often actually includes all the rules, does not make very much sense or actually teach anyone anything. It doesn’t bode well for a convention if the person running open gaming can’t coherently explain a game. This year I decided to see if there were articles, guidelines, or something in the way of tips for teaching games. Luckily, the BoardGameGeek forums did not disappoint. I read through the whole thread and decided on focusing on a simple outline that several people posted different versions of.
I got to test this out several times while working in the Play On Con game library, but most of it was on things I have already taught before with a relative degree of success. Even so, I was careful to keep myself focused on the outline. Despite the practice I was a little nervous when I started to teach Lords of Waterdeep for the first time. For those of you not familiar with the game, it is a light to medium weight Euro-game with about 3 or 4 pages of rules. It’s not an overly complicated game by any means, but it is at the level where I start struggling to teach well.. I sat down at the table with my friends and managed to provide a short, coherently organized explanation that covered all the rules. Everyone seemed engaged in the explanation, there were very few questions afterward and everyone seemed to get the game pretty quickly. Hallelujah!
Teaching a game correctly may not seem like a big deal, but if you have struggled through explanation after explanation only to have people become bored with your favorite games before even getting a chance to try them, getting someone to understand the rules and be excited about playing is tremendous.
2 am dalmuti
3. Dalmuti/Dilbert Corporate Shuffle:
Every year I run a Dalmuti ”tournament”, which is really an excuse to get a bunch of people to wear silly hats and hand out prizes. Every year I post about how much fun it was to run — and it always is — but this year seriously takes the cake.
I was able to snag a copy of Dilbert Corporate Shuffle, which is basically the same game with a corporate theme and a few fun twists. So, since I got the version with the corporate theme, I went to the thrift store and begged my friends and got a bunch of second-hand ties and some awful pins/tie tacks to use for “scoring” the tournament (higher position in a round equals more tie tacks equals a better chance to win a prize). This year also saw another time change based on what I observed in previous years… I moved it to 2am on Saturday. While this is an insane time to try to run something after 3 days of running around, geeking out, and not getting enough sleep, this is apparently the right time to run the tournament because, unlike previous years, I had plenty of people to play. It was two hours of silliness and card games, and I had a blast running it. Next year, we’re definitely doing 2am again… I may even venture to that scary place where everyone is awake and not exhausted yet that is 2am Friday, but that may actually require two sets of silly hats… and possibly a cattle prod or something.
4. Hearing Professor Shyguy’s music on the way to the bathroom:
During the aforementioned game of Lords of Waterdeep, mother nature called and I had to run to the ladies room. This year, the open gaming room was stationed near main programming, which meant that we would often hear whatever concert, game show or other tomfoolery was happening on stage. On my trip to the bathroom, I was pleasantly surprised by the music of an artist named “Professor ShyGuy”. I would say that his music is best described as electronic geek music.
For the most part, I game and costume at POC and, while I know the musical acts have a lot of convention and geek cred, they’re not usually my thing, so I don’t usually go to any of them. From what I heard while walking by the door of ShyGuy’s set, I can say that I am genuinely sad that I didn’t attend his show and genuinely sad that he had such a small crowd listening to him. The buzz from the people who attended was that he seemed very talented and well-rehearsed. The rendition of “Still Alive” that I heard was unique, beautiful, and it really brought something new and fresh to the original — all I could ever possibly ask from a cover. If he returns next year, I am going to go watch him and recommend that everyone else do the same.
5. Costume Contest and Parade:
Our “Stardust” Crew – Photo by Stacy Morgan
Last year began my journey into the fun and amazing world of costuming with my debut as Susan Sto Helit from Discworld. This year, I decided to do something with just a much geek cred, more technically difficult, Yvaine from Stardust. This was a tough costume for many reasons, some expected, some not so. But, I’ll spare you more details for now because I’ll do an article about the construction of the costume later.
As tough as it was to get the costume together in time, it was totally worth it. My friend Don dressed up as Captain Shakespeare and we got into character a little bit — he had a feather boa, and we even practiced waltzing like they did in the movie. We got several compliments from friends, had tons of fun on stage, and loved the parade, which went all over the hotel grounds and was led by the fabulous Vauxhall Garden Variety Players.
And, like last year, my favorite “post-con” thing happened as well… Several pictures of us from people I don’t know popped up on Facebook. It’s fun to know your work is appreciated enough by people that they took a picture of you and posted it. It can also be an interesting way to meet people online. If someone thinks highly enough of your costume to take a picture of it, perhaps you have something else in common, too.
Kulami is a game created by Andreas Kuhnekath, and published in the U.S. and Canada by FoxMind Games. This is a two-player abstract game involving a board of several wooden pieces, each with spaces for black and red marbles. It was recommended by the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) jury in Germany in 2012. Part of the appeal of the game is the sophisticated appearance, which would look great on a coffee table… but how does it play? 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?
Components: As mentioned above, these components are really beautiful, and minimalist. There are 17 wooden tiles that combine to form the playing area, along with 28 marbles each in black and red. That’s it! I love when components are beautiful and simple, and these fit the bill: all of the pieces are very large and chunky, and look great. $30 MSRP seems a little high for the amount of individual pieces, but they’re so large and visually appealing that I think it’s fine. My only complaint is that I would have liked just a few more components, as mentioned below.
Accessibility: The game rules are quite simple. After connecting the tiles to make the board, you’ll place marbles on it, and when the game is over (which happens when someone is unable to make a move), you disconnect the board and check for majority on each wooden tile. (No one scores for ties.) For each tile where you have a majority, you score points equal to the number of spaces on the tile. After the first marble is placed, though, there are some rules about where you can place a marble. The first is that it must be on the same vertical or horizontal line as the marble just played by the opponent. The second is that it cannot be played on the same tile as the marble just played by the opponent. The third, and trickiest, rule is that you also cannot play on the tile you played on during your previous move. This last rule can be a pain, because it’s sometimes difficult to remember where you played last, especially if thoughtful turns are taking a while. For that reason, I think the game should have come with two small cubes (one black, one red) to mark the most recent moves. During our first game, we quickly resorted to using two pennies to mark the moves. Of course, it looks a little inelegant, so maybe that’s why they didn’t do it. Once you have that rule down, though, the game is very, very simple.
Depth: Like any luckless, open-information game, this one is ultimately solvable. However, in my few games, I have had my full mental attention on the game and have found it rather challenging. The strategy reminds me a lot of Chess, in the sense that a big part of it is forcing your opponent into having no choice where to play their piece (like putting someone in check during Chess). That aspect is now combined with majority scoring, something very common in traditional board games, and a mechanic which I rather enjoy. The game only takes about twenty minutes – so don’t expect it to be as challenging as Chess – but there’s a lot of head-scratching in those twenty minutes.
Theme: Well, as you can clearly see, there’s no theme to this game. However, I do think that the components are very captivating and aesthetically pleasing. It has a very zen look about it, and it’s like something you’d see in a cocktail lounge if Mensa had cocktail lounges (who knows; maybe they do). The most important aspect of the aesthetic is that the game is inviting, not intimidating. I could probably convince anyone to try a game of Kulami, unlike Eclipse or Dominion.
Fun: FoxMind is an educational company, and as a mathematician and an educator, that’s part of what drew my attention to their games. Just about every game is educational in some sense, but here you can directly see some mathematical concepts. First, there’s the conditional logic in thoughts like “If I play there, then he must play here, and then…” Second, you very clearly apply counting principles as the tiles fill up and options narrow. This would be a great game to use in a finite/discrete mathematics class and I look forward to creating some math problems involving it.
For the less mathematically-inclined, although it’s obviously not laugh-out-loud fun, this game is an extremely challenging one for its playtime, and would make a great lunchtime game. In addition, I think it would make a fantastic iOS app, thanks to its short length and the fact that an app could easily keep track of the “who just played what ” rules.
If you’re a fan of abstract games and want one that’s simple, challenging, and inviting, look no further than Kulami.
4 out of 5
Starting today, we’re taking a break over the holiday, and we’ll start back up again after the new year. Personally, I am starting a new job in January and will have less time to write, although I’ll still be doing as much as I can. That means we’re looking for contributors! We can’t pay for contributions (MeepleTown is a labor of love), but if you’re looking to exercise your writing muscle, send an email to Christian (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll see what we can do. In the meantime, we hope your holidays are full of gaming!
After a double-dose of map goodness around last Christmas with the first two volumes of the Ticket to Ride Map Collection, the third has arrived nearly a year later. The Heart of Africa consists of a map of Africa, 48 Destination Tickets, and new Terrain cards, which we’ll discuss in-depth in a minute. The map has an MSRP of $25. Like the other volumes in the collection, you have to have the trains and cards from Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride: Europe to play.
When this volume was first announced, there was some outcry about the fact the board isn’t double-sided and that this is the first installment with only one map. The first thing to keep in mind is that although Asia had an introductory price of $30, its list price is now $35, while India/Switzerland is $30, and Africa is $25. The way I see it, you’re paying a $10 flat fee to get the game printed and out there into distribution channels, $10 per map, and $5 for extra components (Asia has the cardholders, while Africa has Terrain cards). In that context, all of the prices make sense to me, and I’m perfectly happy with the low price of this volume and the single map. In addition, Africa has the extra incentive that its Terrain mechanic is theoretically applicable to any map, like the Stations and Depots from Europe and Europa 1912.
The map itself is very pretty, although its focus on southern Africa means that the map as a whole doesn’t have that typical African shape. The map has a unique look because of the segregation of route colors: pink, blue, and green are clustered together, as are red, orange and yellow, with black, white, and grey making the third group. The colors are meant to be associated with terrain types – jungles, deserts, and mountains, respectively – so this is the first map where the colors of the route actually have a clear geographical implication. No one is going to argue that Ticket to Ride is a deeply thematic game, but I still think this concept goes a long way towards adding a bit more theme to the game, and the landscape artwork on the Terrain cards helps as well. In addition, the countries at the edges of the map (Sudan, Chad, Nigeria) have nicely colored illustrations to add a little bit more flavor.
Gameplay-wise, the map has a lot of 3-5 length single routes that seem to zig and zag around the board. Although it’s a “tall and skinny” map, the middle of the map is very web-like, unlike Nordic Countries which has three clear north-to-south “channels”. Maybe that isn’t the precise reason, but I found it much more challenging to plan out my optimal paths on this map than usual, and in one game I quickly found myself out of trains before I could connect everything properly. The map also only has double-routes along the edges with all single routes in the middle, which seems to be a separate design decision from the new Terrain concept. The rulebook recommends that you warn players about the difficult task ahead in five-player games. Even in our four-player game, some African hearts were crushed near Bangui. Also of note is that thanks to the Terrain color scheme, this is the first map with like-colored double routes.
The Terrain Cards
Let’s talk about the new Terrain card mechanic. There is now a separate pile of cards, with three different cards in it: Jungle, Mountain, and Desert cards (with the correspondence to train card colors as noted above). When drawing Train cards, you can choose from the Terrain card display as well (there are two face-up, or you can draw off the top). These cards are laid out in front of you. When you claim a route whose color matches a Terrain card you have, you can discard Terrain cards to double the points earned on your route. The caveats are that you have to discard two Terrain cards instead of one if the route has length 4 or more, and at the time when you discard Terrain cards you must be the majority leader for Terrain cards of that type (ties are okay). For example, I could discard one Jungle card on a 3-length blue route to make it four points instead of eight, but if anybody has more Jungle cards than I do, I’m blocked from doing so. The last rule is that you may use wild (locomotive) Train cards from your hand as Terrain cards when needed. The rulebook also insists that the double-scoring means that you need to score the route placement as you go (which we never do; we always recount at the end), but I object – we simply marked doubled routes with wooden cubes.
There’s a lot of nice things about this new mechanic. First, you could use it on any map, although the artwork on the cards is distinctly African. Second, the mechanic integrates very nicely with the basic game and isn’t too complicated, as opposed to things like Tunnels which seem like a natural thing to include but end up adding a lot of rules. Third, it encourages the new color-coding of the map terrain, which is thematic while also having a very interesting effect on the gameplay. It makes for some new tough decisions while picking Train cards, as well as changing the way you try and deduce other players’ intentions by the colors they choose. A problem with it, though, is that I always find it frustrating that the Train card tableau can become a pile of cards no one wants in a 2-player game, and that’s completely exacerbated by this new color scheme – and it was easy for the Terrain card pile to become stale as well. Even with four players, there were several times within a single game where the tableau become five of the same color, and we couldn’t adjust our strategies to take advantage of that even if we wanted to do so. I also found the rule about requiring a majority in the Terrain card type you wanted to use was awkward to explain and rarely relevant. Unless it has some deeper strategic purpose that I can’t see, I could even see leaving the rule out altogether.
The first thing I noticed about the tickets were the serious amount of high-value tickets, including a whopping 27-pointer! This, combined with the fact that you get to peruse four tickets at once, made me think that this would be another heavy “ticket diving” map, like Switzerland, Team Asia, or the 1910 Mega Game. So far, though, this strategy has failed miserably for me, and I’ve either run out of turns or trains while trying to do this. The web-like zone in the middle of the map means that there are really only the two long north/south channels on the edges (which is where the high-value tickets lie), and trying to complete tickets involving both channels is rather tough. It makes the map’s ticket deck feel akin to the original Ticket to Ride deck, where late ticket draws can be rather punishing, although there is the possibility for major reward from high-value tickets. The route-doubling means that there are even more scoring options to worry about while everyone else is laying track, so for me this is one of the toughest maps for making judgment calls on tickets. The final cherry on top of these difficult decisions is the 10-point Globetrotter bonus for completing the most tickets, tempting us to betray our better judgment. Of course, the more difficult a game, the more exciting it can be, so I’m really quite happy about the ticket design for this map.
The Whole Package
What I like most about this map is that when you put together the three things above – the routes on the map, the terrain cards, and the tickets – you get a very challenging map. In most of the other maps I have played, it’s easy to give a starting strategy. Switzerland: tickets, tickets, tickets. India: keep your connections as open-ended as possible and try to loop tickets. Legendary Asia: end the game quickly by dumping your trains with the mountains. With The Heart of Africa, I haven’t got a clue how to play well. My guess is that this is a more tactical map of reacting to what other players do, since theoretically you could play the whole game with no one doubling any routes. The fact that I have no clue what’s going on is what makes this map so exciting for me. Ticket to Ride has always been a nerve-wracking game (and that’s what I love about it), and now that you’re presented with more options than before, it reminds me of the same kind of gut-wrench I feel at the start of a game of Twilight Struggle, having no idea where to begin.
For newcomers to the Ticket to Ride series, I would still tell them to get the Map Collections in the order they’ve been released: Asia has the most overall content, and then India/Switzerland has the best options for 2-3 players. However, true enthusiasts of the game will still find a lot to like in Africa: a beautiful board with a new area of the world to explore, a challenging map that doesn’t feel like any other (which is something that’s becoming harder and harder to create), and an exciting new mechanic that can be applied to any map. The Heart of Africa is another great installment in the Ticket to Ride Map Collection.
We’re giving away a copy of the new Shadows over Camelot: the Card Game! To enter, like our page on Facebook, and share our post about the contest! The contest will end Wednesday, December 19th, at 11:59 P.M. Eastern. Happy holidays from MeepleTown!
BGG.con gave all attendees a variety of door prizes. Everyone went home with games!
The weekend before Thanksgiving plays host to BGG.con, one of the largest board game-centric conventions in the USA, at the DFW airport in Texas. It is of course sponsored by our favorite website, boardgamegeek.com. This is my third year in attendance, and I had been looking forward to it for months, especially after missing multiple local conventions due to work and other commitments.
The biggest draw of BGG.con is its immense game library. Aldie and the BGG.com team roll in semi-trucks full of almost every game imaginable. Thousands upon thousands of games are available for open gaming at all times. On top of that, they bring in a fresh crop of games straight from Essen every year, and this year was no exception. The “hot games” room was as full as ever, and contained copies of almost every “must play” game. This was the first year at a new location, the Hyatt Regency at the DFW airport, and this allowed organizers to almost double attendance: 2,000 people, up from 1,100 last year. I will be honest; coming into the convention I was worried that rooms would be packed, and the library would be dry of the hot new games. I am happy to report that it absolutely did not feel that way. There were open tables everywhere, every day. The newly expanded dealer/exhibitor hall was easy to navigate through and find demos to jump into. There were even open side rooms for quiet games, and some of these rooms were barely used at all.
Finally, we get to the games. I got to play dozens of games, and most of them were new to me. I have to say there were no absolute flops for me this year, although I of course like some games much more than others. Most of my impressions here are after only one play, so it is quite possible there are alternative strategies that I did not consider. Most of the games we played were explained to us, so there is also the chance that we got a rule wrong or two. However, I am pretty good about checking on a rulebook after playing a new game, so I will note that if it was the case.
Copycat – The newest game by Friedemann Friese, this game has it all. Quite literally, actually. The game was designed with the explicit intention to copy mechanics from other games. Everyone starts with the same deck of 10 cards, and it contains 7 money and 3 VP cards (Dominion). You later use your meeples to claim and execute the available actions on the board, of which one new one is added every round (Agricola). You then use your money to acquire new cards to add to your deck, from a card row borrowed straight from Through the Ages. Finally, all unused action spaces get a VP token to make them more attractive the next round (Puerto Rico). There are many other cameos and surprises in this game. I was honestly impressed by how well all the mechanics fit together, and had those other games never come before, it would have seemed like its own game outright. My only concern is that after playing twice, I have an uneasy feeling that it will become like Factory Manager, where we hardly play it anymore mostly due to not having enough different paths to victory. Rating: 4/5
In Copycat, Friedemann smashes up 4-5 other game’s mechanics. The result is actually quite good!
Suburbia – Tile-laying game by Ted Aspalch. After the rules were explained to us, I was really expecting it to be almost Sim City: the Board Game. I was only half-right. The game basically revolves around each player purchasing tiles to attach to their own cities. Tiles have different types, such as residential, commercial, industrial, etc… Each tile has an instant benefit when played, as well as a benefit when other certain tiles are played next to it. For example, a house tile might give you 1 influence (points) when played, and one income (money) when a commercial tile is played next to the House in future turns. Tiles are purchased from a Through the Ages-esque mechanic where older tiles are cheaper. In theory I should have loved this game, but it was mediocre in execution. Scoring each tile starts to become a chore the longer the game goes, as more powerful tiles have more and more effects. Some even trigger when other players play tiles. It just became fiddly, and we began to doubt that we had forgotten to score certain things. Not a bad game, but I will not be rushing out to buy it. Rating: 3/5
Palaces of Carrara – I’ll be honest. I had not heard of this game at all. While walking through the dealer hall, I saw the booth for my friend Zev who was selling all his Z-man games. I saw the box on sale there, and that’s where I saw the authors: Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling! I knew I had to play this game. So I checked it out of the library, read the rules quickly, and found some people to play. The game is actually pretty light (as seems to be the trend with their games lately) and does have a slight Asara vibe to it. Players collect different colored cubes to build certain structures in the cities in their player boards. Cubes are collected from a communal Macao-like wheel that spins, making cubes that have been sitting on it longer more affordable over time. Although all buildings can be built with cubes of any colors, cities will not accept buildings built with certain color cubes. Players also have scoring pawns, which they use to trigger scoring rounds for either themselves or everyone. The most intriguing thing about this game is it comes with a sealed envelope containing the rules for the advanced game, and it has a huge red sticker that says “STOP: Play at least 2 games with the basic rules before opening this envelope!” Well, I have to say that the basic game is quite boring for adept gamers. Do yourself a favor: unless playing with kids or people completely new to gaming, open that envelope and play the game as it was meant to be played! Rating: 3/5 (basic game); 4/5 (advanced game)
Libertalia – This one is not exactly new, but new to me. Libertalia is a pirate-themed game with simultaneous role selection mechanics. Everyone has the same deck of cards, and nine cards are selected randomly. Each player draws a hand of those nine cards to play that round. A round consists of all players selecting a card from their hand and revealing them simultaneously. Cards are then placed on the board in ascending order, and actions on them are executed. “Day” actions are executed left to right. “Afternoon” actions are executed right to left, and you also claim a token. Tokens can be positive points, negative points, or other effects. All surviving cards are then placed on each player’s own tableau (called “crew” here) and “Night” actions trigger for everyone’s crew cards. At the end of a campaign (7 cards played), tokens collected are scored and seven new cards are dealt for a new campaign. Three campaigns are a full game. I really enjoyed this one more than I thought I would, and although at first the theme seemed tacked on, it definitely grew on me by the end. Rating: 4/5
Escape – Queen Games really pushed this game hard on people this year, sponsoring a whole room dedicated to teaching the game to people. Participants in this “Escape Experience” were entered into a drawing for a trip to Essen 2013. Needless to say the room had a line most of the con. Thankfully, it was not all smoke and mirrors as Escape is actually a pretty neat game. It is a purely co-op game, where either all players get out of the temple alive, or everyone loses. If you have played the game The Adventurers before, it is almost the same vibe. The premise is that the players found the ancient heap of treasure, and now need to escape the temple before it collapses. The game comes with a sound track that is pretty integral to the game, much like Space Alert. Players roll dice in real time in order to reveal new tiles, explore, and put gems on the altars that appear (which will aid them later in order to escape the final room). Different die rolls are needed to clear different rooms, some faces (black masks) become locked until others (gold masks) are rolled, and so on. It is a very frantic game, as dice can be shared by people in the same room, so everyone is rolling dice, shouting at each other, worrying about the timer, and so on. The sound track is 10 minutes long, and at two points in the sound track every player has to go back to the start room (safe room) or lose a die. Players need to find the exit tile and escape before the third segment of the sound track is over or lose. I really, really loved this game for what it is: a 10-minute, action-packed, adrenaline-pumping, crazy dice roll-fest. As a bonus, it comes with optional modules to make it harder as well as already having an optional expansion out. Rating: 5/5
Milestones – A friend taught us this game late one night, so some of the details are a bit fuzzy. It’s a Euro game, where players collect resources while laying down a communal track and placing milestones (you know, those stone things at the side of the road in rural areas that tell you how lost you are). It reminded me a bit of Transamerica, in that the road is shared by everyone — so part of the game is not setting up someone else up for a big score later while still getting the most points for yourself. The mechanics in the player boards are pretty clever. Not a bad game by any stretch, but it also had nothing there enticing me to come back. Rating: 3/5
Myrmes – This game became known as “the ant game” most of the con. Do any of you remember an old computer game called Sim Ant? Well, this is that game, in board game form. This is a straight up Euro game where you are managing a colony of ants. You have larvae you can grow into worker or soldier ants, nurse ants you use to take actions (worker placement style), and bugs in the yard you can kill who turn into green cubes of food. As your worker ants go outside from your anthill to explore, they can lay down trails of pheromones that will aid later ants to travel quicker and allow them to get to areas further on the board. There is a small dice mechanic that will make the game different every time, and variable scoring thanks to 6 random tiles that are drawn every game. I really enjoyed this game, but it is a very tough and enduring Euro that does suffer from being quite punishing if you screw up early in the game. Rating: 4.5/5
Me giving Riff Raff a go. Balancing is harder than you think, especially in the higher platforms of the mast.
Riff Raff – My hidden gem of the con. This is a dexterity game where players are trying to place their set of wooden pieces on this wooden boat and be the first one left with no pieces in front of them. The problem is this boat is sitting on top of a weighted pendulum and rocks back and forth as the weight distribution on it changes. It feels almost like reverse Jenga. When the weight is too much, the game allows the player placing the piece to attempt to catch the falling pieces in order to take them out of the game. So there is not only balancing mechanics, but also quick reflexes for when you do screw up (and you will). This is a really, really hard to find game which might not see even publication on this side of the ocean. But if you can import it and like dexterity games, it is a hoot. Plus it draws crowds due to the height of that thing. Rating: 5/5
Spellbound – This is the new Lamont brothers game for this year. As usual, their bits for this game are astounding and it is as much a piece of art as it is a game. This time, the brothers made a co-op game about four wizards attempting to collect the five books needed to stop the evil witch from… doing something evil I guess. Players win if they are able to recover at least four of the five books, and confront the witch in a final battle. The witch wins if she gets to the top of her tower, if two of the books are lost, or if the players lose the final battle with the witch. The game uses a card mechanic similar to other games where a certain percent of the deck is bad and the other good. As bad cards come up, they progress the witch and her minions, while good cards allow the players to recruit allies (more good cards for the deck), progress and collect the five books, and keep the witch at bay. However, our experience with this game was… not the best. The rulebook is not exactly great, so after doing a full rules-crawl I explained the game and started the game. We were playing a four-player game. It was over (we lost) before the fourth player had a single turn! We decided to pack it back up, and we all swore that we had to have played something wrong. But further investigation says we played everything right (rules-wise anyway). Reading a bit more on the ‘Geek though, seems this is indeed a crazy hard game, requiring almost perfect play. I’m not exactly sure how to rate this one, since we only played a fraction of the game. Rating: ??/5
Pictomania – A drawing game a-lá-Telestrations from Vlaada Chvátil? How had I not heard about this game? Here, six cards are put up on stands in view of all players. Each player is then randomly assigned one of those cards, and must draw one of the items on that card. Everyone is then drawing their item, while at the same time looking to everyone else and trying to guess what everyone else is drawing too! Each card has a theme, but they can be deceptively close. An easy card may be all methods of transportation (car, plane, train, taxi, bike, etc…), but some harder cards can be nefariously close (chicken, turkey, rooster, duck, quail, goose). This is a great party game, and I would recommend it to anyone for some late-night fun. Another hard to find game, but well worth it. Rating: 5/5
Goblins, Inc. – I checked out this game from the library and read the rules. I had very high hopes for this game, as from a cursory reading it seemed like team (2v2) Galaxy Trucker, where instead of racing each other we actually take what we built and fight each other. Sadly, the execution is not exactly quite that. Players get put into teams, and then each team has to build a robot with tiles drawn from a pile. Sadly, this is not done real time. One player draws five tiles, selects three of them, and passes the rest to their opponents. This player then gives his partner the five tiles (three he selected, plus two from opponent) and that person is the person who puts them on the robot. Players alternate these roles until the robot is complete, and then you fight each other with a mechanic that is pretty close to Galaxy Trucker (roll dice, dice tells you what row of the board it hits). The wrench in the cogs is that each player (not team) has secret goals that score them points. These goals can be destroying as many weapon tiles as possible, having the most shield tiles on your robot at the end of a fight, and so on. So although you are working as a team, you aren’t really as there is only one winner and teammates change every round. You play two or three rounds, tally up the scores and that’s the game. I have to say, I was not as impressed with this one. I think multiple plays with the same people would make it more fun but it is a drag to teach. One single new player will make this game quite long. Rating: 2/5
Flower Fall – I saw some people play this at the lobby, down a flight of stairs. I had to check this game out. The game has no board, so you play this on any “surface” although the rules do recommend a table for beginners. Each player has a deck of cards, which have flowers of their color plus some green “scoring” flowers. These flowers are in various patters on the cards, sitting on top of green fields and separated by gray walls. Your turn is to draw the top card of your deck, and drop it from a few feet up from the “board”. The card then falls unto the playing area, creating gardens wherever the green areas of the cards touch and overlap. At the end of the game, you score each garden. A given garden only scores for the player who has the most visible flowers of their color in that garden, and scores a number of points equal to the number of visible green scoring flowers. It’s a fun, cheap filler game that works well and can be fun with the right group. I liked it enough to snag a copy myself. Rating: 4/5
The vendor hall was a new addition this year. This is just but a tiny corner of the dozens of vendors that were present.
Il Vecchio – I got to play this game very late in the con, and I regret waiting so long. I would have loved to give this a second try. Il Vecchio is a Euro game about collecting certain sets of tokens and turning them in at specific points of the board for points. It is both a set collection game and pickup and delivery in one. My favorite mechanic is that the pickup spots rotate every time a certain token is picked up. For example, if you have a meeple in the city with the Assassin marker, you can claim an Assassin token there, but then the marker moves to another city. Now you would need to go there to claim more Assassin tokens. That’s a pretty simplistic view of the game, but it flows very well. It has special powers that are collected as the game progresses, as well as being able to purchase secret scoring options for the end of the game. I really hope this game gets a USA publisher soon, as I will definitely be picking up a copy when it does. Rating: 5/5
Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game – I only got to play this at the Days of Wonder booth on the very last day of the con, right before they were packing up. Just like the board game, the players are the Knights of Camelot and are dealt a loyalty card at the beginning of the game. There is the chance (although slim) that there is not a traitor in a given game. At it’s core, it’s a memory game. Players flip cards from a deck unto a pile in the center. Cards have the symbols for a quest (grail, dragon, Excalibur, Saxons, etc…) and a number, usually ranging from 1-5. Each player flips a card in succession, until a player chooses to “go on a quest”. They declare a quest name, which they think the sum of the values of that quest’s cards are between 11 and 13. If they are under or over, players get a black sword(s). Otherwise, they get white ones. Additionally, you check all other quests in the pile. If any of them are above 13, the players failed to go on that quest early enough and also earn black swords. If at any point in time the players have 7 white swords they win, while 7 black swords means the traitor(s) wins. Just like in the board game though, if there is an unrevealed traitor by the end of the game, they get to flip white swords to black. I really enjoy this game. Although the mechanics are quite different, the feel and vibe of the original game is still there. Morgan cards come up to screw with you, while Merlin cards help you out. But the single best thing about this game is that it plays in 20 minutes! Rating: 5/5
I did miss out on a few of the big-name titles, the biggest one being Tzolk’in. Even so, I had an amazing time as always. Other amazing non-board game related experiences included, but are not limited to, Artemis being setup in its own room with a super awesome setup and good’ol Texas BBQ from the Hard 8. I’m already missing BGG.con, and really hope I can make it again next year.
Where are you every day of my life?
You can find the first part of this interview here, where Reiner discusses Qin and Indigo. Today, Reiner talks to us about Spectaculum as well as The Hobbit and games for a variety of audiences. Thanks again to Dr. Knizia for the interview!
The last game that I have in mind to talk about is Spectaculum. Can you start by telling us about the origins of the game?
In my eyes, out of the three games we’ve discussed, Spectaculum is the most sophisticated one. It’s really about investments and future growth of whatever entity you’re looking at thematically, and essentially you do that through shares. Now, if you design it as a stock exchange game, it’s probably not flying off the shelves, because people don’t want business games at the moment, with all of the problems with the banking and financial crisis – it’s probably not the best theme. Originally, when we started the design, it was a gold rush game, where you had different gold veins, and you tried to join in with your workforces on the different veins, but you only had a few family members you could send to the different areas. I found that worked very nicely, and it’s still the prototype that I have. Once we identified the publisher as eggertspiele, we had a long discussion about the best thematic presentation, and then we went in the direction of Spectaculum, which was mostly the idea of the publisher, but is also fully backed by me. So now we’re not going into the gold mines, but going into the countrysides with our circuses and performers.
One comment about Spectaculum, and some of your other games such as Kingdoms - both games have ways for you to take points away from other players with minus spaces, and I’m going to pick on my wife a bit here… she absolutely hates games where you can lose points. When designing a game, how you decide, for mathematical or psychological reasons, to involve negative or positive points in a game, or both?
As you rightly say, that is mainly a psychological aspect, but psychology is a very important part of play. The objective of these functions always comes from the desire to have a lot of interaction. In Spectaculum, if I have invested heavily in certain areas, I expect that other players can come get me, that’s where the real fight comes, not from participation in shares. It’s not a fighting game, but it becomes combative as players try to influence the value of investments. So that’s a natural feature to get interaction and to make the game exciting. Interaction can be that I restrict others’ growth, or that I have a negative influence on it… for Spectaculum, I decided that negative growth is better, because it gives me more options. If I just say “I grow and you don’t,” I think you have less opportunities than if you say “I drive your growth back and mine forward,” so that the scale and variety and volatility is bigger, and that’s what I wanted here.
But this is not a given principle that it always has to be like this; I know that people react very very differently to saying things like the following… At the end of a game, very often there is a bonus for the players. For example, maybe the first player gets a full bonus, everybody in the middle gets a half bonus, and the last player gets nothing. Or, you could say the first player gets a bonus, and the last player gets a penalty. It is exactly the same effect, but people perceive it extremely differently. So the nice thing is, even if the game system isn’t affeected, there are a lot of things I call weak factors, or soft factors, which influence the game strongly from a psychological point of view. That’s nice because it gives us more choice to go one way or the other, depending on what we find suitable for the design of a game.
You said you see this as the most advanced game out of the three mentioned here, being more of a gamer’s game. Compared to other stock-based gamer’s games, it seems like you took those and whittled away quite a bit. I know you talk about not playing other games in the market and being influenced by them, but for your general design process, do you try to build up from one basic mechanic until you’re finished, or do you begin with large, complicated designs and then cut back?
The easier process, which I find much more applicable to good results, is to start with something bigger and more convoluted. So, to begin, add a lot of things in, and then streamline them down. I’m more coming from a scientific background; I’m a scientist at heart – and scientists try to reduce the redundancy of the information and bring it down to a few principles, and that’s my approach as well. That means I have to start with a rich environment, otherwise I narrow it too much and end up with only a small game. For a big game, I need to start with a very big conglomerate, which is not a one-step process – we very often throw more stuff at it and build it up again, and then see how we can melt it down and what remains and what falls off again. That’s a very good process for me. I think it’s a much harder process to begin with 80% and just try to add another 20% into it and be able to integrate it nicely. Usually it’s better to have a system and say “Okay, this looks good but very big, what do we absolutely need to have and what can we leave behind?” because then you end up with only the best things out of the big conglomerate.
For curiosity’s sake, for these three games in particular, do you remember anything that you cut away from any of them?
In Spectaculum, we had a lot of extra features in the gold rush theme. We had bandits which could take things over, figures moving on the board which could influence and erase things… there was another whole board game aspect to it. The playing of the cards and laying of the tiles was only one aspect. But when we looked at it as a whole, we came to the conclusion that the cards and tiles were the exciting part, and the part that can easily be grasped, as a very round and cohesive experience. The other rules made it more of a gamer’s game, but I thought that the final result was as simple as possible but as complex as necessary to make it a good game.
One other game I’m curious about just because The Hobbit is releasing this month in theaters… I know you have the game The Hobbit from Fantasy Flight Games from a few years ago, but then also this year there was a card game… Is that coming stateside?
The big board game from Fantasy Flight we based upon the book, and that’s a sophisticated game we first published here in England, and then has branched out in many different markets. It’s a big game, and it’s a game based on the book, so therefore you will see the whole adventure. All of the movie-based games coming out are of course limited to the first movie, so you will not even see the dragon, for example. So that’s something to be aware of when you are looking at the products available. The card game, which came out from Ravensburger, is a movie-based game, so therefore you get all of the movie stills in the artwork, but it’s only the first part of the story. It’s a smaller game, and I think there is opportunity to expand upon it, but we’ll see how it goes when the movie comes out. We know for example that Harry Potter was a very big property, but there was a lot of merchandise out there was well, and if you have too much merchandise, it doesn’t work. I think we differentiate ourselves very nicely with these two Hobbit products, but we need to wait and see.
Are there any other games you want to talk about?
Yes… Actually, I have in mind the first interview you did, and also the article you did on my games. You’ve very nicely thrown me into a box there and said “This is the type of game that I make, and if you don’t like it, you should avoid my games” – of course, I’m making it black and white. My main point is that if you try to make a game that pleases everybody, then nobody will like it. I think games need a certain character, and therefore they have certain target groups, and so I wanted to encourage you to look at some completely different types of games, so people who think that Knizia games are not right for them may find that that is not true. I’ve recently done some exciting games of which I’m very proud, with SimplyFun, who are based in America. We have Dreaming Dragon which is a very nice children’s activity game; we have Bee Alert, and we also have Word Bits, which just won a Major Fun! award. It’s a family-oriented word game. These games have very different challenges in designing, and of course have a very different target group, so maybe that’s a challenge for you, to broaden your view of my games.
Sure, let’s talk about those games for a bit. These are primarily children’s games, right?
They are targeted for younger audiences, but for example, Word Bits is a family game. You have a lot of dice with letters on them, then you try to make words that contain all of the rolled letters. The words have to match a category; if the category is easy, you get more letters, while you get fewer letters, so that you have more freedom, if the category is more difficult. The first person to shout a correct answer gets a card, and you try to collect as many cards as possible. It’s a very simple, but educational, and fun game. Even if you don’t get the card, you learn about new words and why other players thought of their words and so on. It has won several awards, because it’s partially educational, partially language, and so on.
For a much more visual game, there is Dreaming Dragon. The game has a very nice story that the dragon laid a lot of eggs and is now very exhausted and is sleeping. Now all these lizards come and want to eat these eggs, so we as the players have to try and remove the lizards without hurting the eggs. On top of the dragon, which is a large plastic figure, you have the lizards with lots of intertwining arms together with the eggs on top. One by one, you try to remove one lizard on your turn without the eggs falling down. The more lizards are removed, the less support there is for the eggs, so there will be a little and then a big catastrophe. It’s a game I always find fascinating because when people play it, at first they sit there, and then as the game goes on it gets more varied – people get up and move around and try to find the right angle for their moves. Normally if you tell people to get up and do something, they’re all too lazy, but suddenly this game is so motivating that it drives them all out of their seats and suddenly everybody around looks and sees and watches and does, and I find that very interesting. It’s a big reward to see that the game works and really grabs people.
I’m particularly proud of Dreaming Dragon because it brings excitement and simplicity, but it’s also motivational and engaging. SimplyFun have made an extremely nice production out of it with lots of nice components – it’s big and 3D, but still affordable. It’s for a different target group, but not everybody wants to be in the same box, so if someone wants to see another box, there’s one worth looking at.
So maybe we should call you “the man of many boxes.”
More of “many different types of entertainment,” but yes, of course!