RIP Tim Keenon, Strategicon Stalwart and Miniatures Advocate

RIP Tim Keenon, Strategicon Stalwart and Miniatures Advocate
I’m deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Tim Keennon, a great friend to the Southern California gaming community. His contributions to Strategicon Conventions over the years were many. He dedicated an enormous amount of time supporting the efforts of current leadership to build the conventions back to their former glory. And it worked!
 
His sure hand helped ensure a lot of good things happened and I think all attendees at Strategicon owe him a debt of gratitude for the countless volunteer hours he put in. He was a level-headed guy and loyal friend. Never played a game with him, but I would guess he was a welcome presence at any table.
Tim ran a lot of things at Strategicon, including the unloved task of doling out space in the various hotels the convention has occupied since the current leadership took over. I worked with Tim for years and while he applied many of what he learned as an IT manager to his planning, dealing with all of the personalities involved was always a challenge. He really worked hard to get things right and when things went wrong at Strategicon, Tim was one of the first to get those calls and resolve things. I’m not sure he even played games at the convention – he was mostly just working to make sure others had fun, and enjoying the company of people who were.
 
Make no mistake, Tim and I had conflicts. I pushed hard to get more space for board games and Tim fought to give the miniatures gamers more room for their massive displays. But it was always about trying to make sure the community got a great gaming experience at Strategicon. I’m glad he was the passionate advocate for his part of the hobby that I have always been for mine.
 
RIP, good sir. Your life made ours better and we appreciate it.
(Photo credit: Robyn Nixon)

Review: Imagine from Shingo Fujita and Gamewright

Review: Imagine from Shingo Fujita and Gamewright

Imagine is a worthy addition to your party game collection, giving quieter players a chance to get creative.

Some might say we’re getting too many party games into the market these days. I’d instead suggest that this is a Renaissance of party games. Thirty years after the craze of 80’s games that pushed Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary and Scattergories into the collections and get-togethers in US homes, we have an upswing in quality. It’s not like party games died. They may have taken a back seat to electronic entertainment. Maybe a lack of creative energy flowing in. No more – with the advent of Apples to Apples, its naughty cousin Cards Against Humanity, Cranium, and the titles from serious designers like Codenames, Concept, and One Night Ultimate Werewolf, there’s a surge of good games in the last 5 years that are rightfully being played more and more.

Add the clever Imagine to the list for sure. This winner has simple game play yet a unique feel to its play. Like so many other great games, Imagine is about trying to get someone else to understand your clue. The big twist here is that players make use of transparent cards that can be stacked and shifted as you clue to the other players what you are trying to get across (a word, the category of which is given to the other players).

The cards are a little like the see-through cards you see in games like Gloom or Mystic Vale, which can superimpose items over or next to each other, as appropriate. However, movement is one of the tools you can use to make the generic and semi-specific shapes offer insight into the word you selected.

As with the best party games, this is also where the hilarity kicks in. Players frantically pull up the cards (all are available, so there’s something to be said for using what you can find quickly) and shift them around to get the point across. Hilarity will ensue or you aren’t playing properly. Even your reserved friends can get in on the fun with Imagine.

Imagine’s Winning Attribute

The real charm of Imagine is how even your quieter friends can get the thrill of Charades going. It doesn’t take a lot of courage to use the shapes and symbols to clue as it does to use your body. We love how it is opening up that side of fun to introverts

Scoring, if you care, is well-implemented. The current player can get any other player on the board to guess what he or she is trying to convey so they can both score. I’m fond of this idea because, like Concept, this allows for more players to be involved for more turns. I also like the fact that Imagine is explained in seconds and people just naturally get the rules from there. As a result, this one works well for families. Yes, it’s also for your drunk friends at the end of the night.

The game plays in about 20 minutes with the standard rules giving players two go-rounds. We have always ended up with at least one more game. When I brought it to my work game-night, they refused all other games to play it all night for hours.

Imagine recently won the 2017 As d’Or – Jeu de l’Année, which isn’t a surprise. This game has excellent replay value, works for any crowd, and will be the source of many laughs that night. I believe it belongs in your party game collection.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Imagine

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Publisher Gamewright provided a copy for independent review.

Ice Cool is the Kinderspiel Des Jahres 2017

Ice Cool is the Kinderspiel Des Jahres 2017

Congratulations to the makers of Ice Cool for winning the Kinderspiel Des Jahres 2017! We love this adorable game and are delighted by its victory. Even our own Wish the Cat loves it very much, as you can see below.

This wonderful bit of flicking fun is available now on Amazon. We have had a terrific time with Ice Cool and look forward to additional games in the series that make interesting use of stackable boxes to expand the play area for the game. This “Russian Doll” aspect to the production is interesting in its own right, as it allows for some expansion on the amount of space a board can provide. Box within a box is a novel concept and I look forward to what it might inspire with designers that pitch to the publisher.

A Quick, Lighter Better Flicker?

While mechanically simple, Ice Cool is definitely good for both families and gamers who just like flicking games like Pitchcar or Crokinole. Ice Cool plays quickly, has a cute theme, and isn’t the heavy monster to transport that some might accuse Pitchcar of being…

Ice Cool plays in 20 minutes or so, with 2-4 players but it really shines with three to four. The wobbly penguins in the game (who are ‘too cool for school’ – ouch) remind me of Weebles, a toy that was popular when I was a toddler. The spin you can put on them adds to the game in a way that caroms you might use in Pitchcar, Crokinole or Catacombs just won’t. This little bit of uncertainty adds to the mix and if there’s a great way to control it, I haven’t figured it out. I look forward to trying more and more.

Get Ice Cool just in time for summer on Amazon.

Session Review: Rise of Tribes by Brad Brooks and Breaking Games

Session Review: Rise of Tribes by Brad Brooks and Breaking Games

The things that make a good game is a subject I ponder a fair amount as both someone who talks a lot about games and a sometime-designer. Not a great game, mind you. I might advance the idea that what makes up a good game and what makes a great game or not just the same thing but more so. I know, it sounds odd but, dear reader, indulge me for a moment.

Rise of Tribes

To me, a great game is some kind of lightning in a bottle. Great games may contain something that just doesn’t exist in lesser quantities in good games. The mechanisms click, possibly with the theme or the components, the creativity it inspires in players, the collaboration, the mix of strategic options or maybe the various paths to victory. Some kind of magical silver string pulls it all together to make an experience you want to enjoy over and over. The ‘one and done’ good game may not really have that mix of elements sitting there, ready to be augmented.

But maybe I’m wrong. This came up as I was doing some recent playtesting, with the highlight being Rise of Tribes from Breaking Games, pretty much the only game I played that I can talk about today.

A new game from Brad Brooks, of Letter Tycoon fame, Rise of Tribes is a quick-playing early civilization game with exploring, conflict, tech, and growing your tribe. Despite the many options in the game, it plays in under an hour, has a unique decisioning system, and I found it satisfying. The game is currently going like gangbusters on Kickstarter (over 1000% funded) but what else can I tell you about it.

Rise of Tribes’ central mechanism is simple; roll two dice and add them to the two of four options you plan to use this turn. Those options include adding tribe members (3 of them), moving them (4 total spaces), gathering resources from hexes your tribe members occupy, or drawing two victory point/advantage cards you can buy with gathered resources.

The interesting part about this game is the dice element. The dice are six-siders with two each of blank sides, moons and suns. Cue the Credence when you see those moons because they mean bad things. At all times, three dice are at the top of each of the four options. When you add a dice to select the action, it changes the makeup. Now, the three dice only matter if there are pairs of suns or moons. If the former is true, you get a bonus to the action (usually just a higher number item). And, yes, two moons means you get less than the normal action. Kudos to Brad and Breaking Games for making this intuitive with their board design.

After your two actions, you can use resources to buy cards from your deck (all the same) that you previous drew. The cards are key because they not only give you points, they also mitigate some of the penalties in the game, give you raw victory points

The other thing you can build is a Village. These are exceptionally useful as they hand you a victory point for each turn you begin with them intact and each player has a different resource combo to build them. They also give you the power to effectively cycle your bonus cards. The only problem is – they kind of attract attention.

There is conflict among the Tribes, but it isn’t annoying like some games of this nature. It’s nothing personal – we’re just talking about space here. If you want to share the land with other tribes, you can. Both of you can gather there and no one gets hurt. But, if you get more than five people in one hex, you’ve got a conflict on your hands. This is resolve by removing a pair each until only one tribe color is left. This also happens if you are alone and just pile too many of your Tribeeples in one place. Space is space. If there’s a Village on the spot, you don’t get to take it over if you kill the Village owner, your tribe is just too excited and they burn it to the ground. Just like in real life.

Rise of Tribes

The game is played to 15 points and it ends immediately when someone hits that goal. While the Hut is a reliable source for VP, they can be destroyed by an incursion from others. Safer is to buy cards from your deck, which also often give you an advantage in the game.

So, is Rise of Tribes good or great? Well, I think it’s very good and the last stages of play testing may push it over the edge. I think that silver string is here in the unique dice mechanism and maybe the card mix in your private reserve. The fast-playing schedule also makes the game feel like “Race of the Tribes”, which is a compliment. I can see this playing in 30 minutes with the right crowd – and that’s a lot of game for 1/2 an hour.

Rise of Tribes is on Kickstarter right now, through July 6th. A nice upgraded version is also available. Breaking Games is making a name for itself with some new offerings that look interesting. Definitely keeping an eye on them.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Rise of Tribes

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Played a play test copy of Rise of Tribes, provided by Breaking Games. I personally know Brad and Peter Vaughn from Breaking Games. But, you know, I know a lot of people.

PRESS RELEASE: Drinkagon’s Kickstarter Launches – Strategic Drinking Game

PRESS RELEASE: Drinkagon’s Kickstarter Launches – Strategic Drinking Game

Kickstarter is helping to launch a brilliant new project, DRINKAGON. Fully developed in Rijeka, Croatia, this addictive tabletop game has been thoughtfully designed as a mentally stimulating, strategic drinking game. Available to support NOW on Kickstarter.

The team behind the game is a versatile group called Exevio. They’re a small group of young entrepreneurs and are passionate about making fun and innovative products aiming to enrich everyday lives globally. The creativity and unlimited possibilities of the gaming world intrigues and inspires them.

Four months ago, they set down to brainstorm embryonic ideas for their first physical board game. They identified a lack of diversity in the drinking‐game types and decided on creating a specific game designed to bring something fresh and exciting to the table. Their basic motive was to learn from the experience of planning, creating, producing and hopefully sharing the fruition of their own board game with the masses.

In its testing phase, Drinkagon proved itself over and over again as a game that amplifies user enjoyment with each round and, upon completion, it begs for another dose. Designed to give the players the freedom of constructing each new round with a different arrangement of the playground tiles, it always leads to a different sequence of strategic moves and twists. To enhance the tactical part of the game and add chaos into the mug of logic, the package includes a free mobile app with many different sets of virtual cards that condition the opponents to either perform a challenge, answer a personal question or ‐ skip the revealing and embarrassment by drinking a specific dosage of an optional liquid substance.

Now, Exevio crew have everything ready for mass production. Boxed‐up, after many rounds of test plays, the final version of Drinkagon is ready to be shared with the world. The Kickstarter campaign will last for 24 days to raise the inial $5.000 that would help them with the production and distribution. Hopefully, the campaign is going to end as planned, so the crowdfunding community will be the first to get their very own rustling copy of the Drinkagon box by the end of August 2017.

● http://drinkagon.com

● https://kickstarter.com/projects/edibudimilic/drinkagon‐strategic‐drinking‐game/

PR Contacts:

● PR Australia: Marina Lončarić

● PR UK: Mike Cheng

● PR Croatia: Antonija Zorić

● PR Global: Tamara Dika

GOF 2017 Report: Gloomhaven Is Mostly Gloomhype

GOF 2017 Report: Gloomhaven Is Mostly Gloomhype

Editor’s Note: Still getting around to my posts from Gathering of Friends 2017 last month. They’ll come out as soon as I can get a moment to write and edit them. Bless you for your patience with this busy blogger. Gloomhaven here also got a little long.

Editor’s Other Note: If you are a Gloomhaven Groupie and want your opinion validated, Ars Technica has a good article for you. Ye will find no validation here.

Having a limited time at the Gathering of Friends this year, I had not really made a proper list of must-play games. Yet, Gloomhaven was high on my mental list to try because of all the hype that has been spread online about this game for some time, culminating in their highly successful Kickstarter campaign, which just closed. People I respected had been pushing it hard, talking about how amazing the whole thing was and putting a whole lot of money into the admittedly giant box offered by the publisher. The hype, not shied away from by the publisher, was massive and growing. My expectations were high.

So, I was quite appreciative when my friend Jeff gave me his slot in a planned Gloomhaven session on Thursday morning. As it happens, a big fan of the game had been running daily games for novices, teaching them the game and then running them through his campaign with prescribed characters he had been developing. I turned up early to my designated time all ready to be dazzled. While my recent investment in Descent 2.0 to play with my son and friends is substantial, maybe Gloomhaven will give me the eurogame-powered alternative that will be worth the switch. I recall how in the late 80’s, I switched to GURPS from AD&D 1st edition for similar reasons. More control, less randomness, a more serious design. Deja vu, game edition.

Expectations are a tough thing. Having been raised in the business world by the Pixie Dusters at Disney, where one of the key concepts is to exceed expectations, I’m keenly in tune with how important it is to go into a situation with them set properly. For the most part, the Gloomhyping had worked on me. I was considering supporting the Kickstarter even as I had sworn to not buy unplayed games this year (probably not an unfamiliar refrain to you, dear reader). The one bright (dark?) spot here was that the night before, a highly-respected game designer had run through his list of games played and offered his quick opinions. When he got to Gloomhaven, his review was two words:

“Hated it.”

Still Gloomhotin

On Thursday morning, I sat down with his words in mind, hoping they would lower my expectations sufficiently that I would love Gloomhaven. As the box was opened, the components were an inauspicious start. There’s a lot of stuff inside that big chest but I was immediately underwhelmed by the boring game boards and cardboard standees for monsters. Hey, Descent 2.0 has made me love detailed boards and cool miniatures while this felt like a throwback to the sad days when Steve Jackson Games tried to get us excited about Cardboard Heroes! Didn’t work on me then, not impressed now (I had similar misgivings about Dead of Winter, which hasn’t been to the table in a long while). The mix of figures for the heroes and cardboard for the monsters just felt wrong.

When we got to the rules, things seemed better. Gloomhaven has some interesting mechanisms, at least starting with the personal deck play options that let you come up with interesting card combos unique to your character. Players have a custom deck that can be upgraded with stickers and they’re double-purposed like what you find in Card Driven Wargames, with two ways to use them. You play two per turn, using the top combat-oriented option on one card, and the bottom movement-focused option at the bottom. I liked the idea of how they worked and interacted with power-ups that you could inspire and then people could use. Kind of like magic that hasn’t faded in the air, these elemental and such type of conditions can give players extended powers, which seems cool. I was intrigued but also felt like the options often limited what you could do for the turn.

Gloomhaven

The game has also worked hard to make the characters and classes unique in a way that shows these folks have been playing RPGs in the last nearly thirty years when I wasn’t. They’re exploding stereotypes and limitations. Clerics can have knives, dwarf-types can cast spells. This ain’t your father’s RPG class system! Er, I guess I’m the dad. This ain’t my old RPG class system! I mock because I’m given to do it, but this is actually a good thing. The characters have no attributes either, so you’re really using the card decks to do most of the work in combat and hand management. Some cards go away after a single use, others can go away if used in a certain way. Managing how you use these options is interesting but, a few hours in, you might grow weary of the work going into it. I did.

Like most dungeon crawlers, you have equipment to help you on your way and they add to what they should (armor helps with defense, weapons with killing stuff). Sounds good, so far – the description of those rules include lots of eurogame touches that look like they will make the game more balanced and interesting. As we get through an hour of rules, I’m excited but maybe a little concerned about how much there is to track and that I won’t be able to do what I want sometimes. Maybe kind of a lot of the time.

We hear a brief description of where we are in the world, being that this is eight scenarios in, and then we start. Much like Descent and other dungeon crawlers, we’re in conflict with some kind of monsters pretty quickly. Unfortunately, with the way the initiative mechanisms work, my rock-guy Tank runs up to the front but the dungeon jerks we are fighting sidestep me and go after our mage-thing run by our rules teacher. They promptly kill him.

I say ‘promptly’ but that’s just in Gloomhaven time, which moves like a snail crawling through barely-wet cement while covered in molasses and dragging an anvil. Did I mention the snail is really old?

More on that point later. We reboot.

We go in again and spread out a little differently. Now, the same rule plagues us and the creepy crawlies grab our rogue-thing. He’s killed and reboot two happens.

We’re over two hours in and we have yet to fight anyone but it’s noisy, we have three new players and while I’m getting it, there is a fair amount to think about on an individual turn so the other two guys are doing their best. Also, I have a work emergency going on and I’m Slacking between turns. This actually helps because the downtime in Gloomhangin is powerful.

As we play, some of the mechanisms that I found interesting start to feel unsatisfying. The ‘elemental effect’ or whatever mechanism only appears to have a single turn of impact, meaning it takes a lot of coordination to get an often minor impact on your turn. I hope the rules master had this one wrong because it turns something really cool into something lukewarm.

The standard equipment also appears to have a lot less utility than in any adventure game I’ve played. While my armor and shield help me every single turn in Descent or the D&D board games, Gloomhaltin limits equipment to seemingly minimal uses and then they need repair or untapping (sorry, ‘straightening’ or something – I don’t want to owe Hasbro a license fee). Man, why didn’t I buy armor that works every time? The rules master explains that this is for balance, which was the explanation for a fair number of my questions. Wow, I wish balance and fun could get equal time here. He did acknowledge that point sometime later.

I can do a lot of cool things with my cards…but they are fairly limited, hard to orchestrate, and often what I want to do is unavailable when I really need it. In fact, timing your actions to work well with the tactical situation on the board is hard enough to lack of a spark of pleasure that we get from easily getting into conflicts on the board in Descent, figuring out how our powers can help us beat the baddies. I keep making that comparison because it feels like Fantasy Flight are making a conscious effort to loosen things up with their combat games. Imperial Assault (essentially, Star Wars Descent) even has skirmish mode, acknowledging that sometimes you just want to throw down for 30-45 minutes and not plan a long day of dungeon delving. Gloomhaven seems to only allow the latter.

Four hours in, we have barely survived battle number 1 (on the third try) and just edged into a second room. There are three reasons I haven’t left the table yet, making some kind of excuse about a gaming emergency.

  1. The work emergency is still in the process of getting resolved and the otherwise-painful downtime is helping a lot. I’m making good progress and when it becomes my turn, I quickly move and then I’m off Slacking with my team back in L.A. and S.F.
  2. I appreciate the time the rules guy has put into it and don’t want to screw up his campaign by walking away. The other two players are also having some amount of fun, although it’s often hard to ascertain how much. They do eventually seem to get the game more. They’re all swell folks and I don’t want to ruin the game.
  3. I want to see this through so I can write this rather gonzo session review of Gloomhaven because, of course, I love you all.

Return on Attention

In the end, we spend six hours, finish room two and rush to get to room three. Mind you, these rooms are bare-bones chambers that lack of the character, obstacles, and theming of Descent boards. By this time, I could have played nearly three scenarios of Descent and been in dozens of rooms that would give us a sense of accomplishment. The app helps this immensely, as it helps you feel the experience and travel and exploration. Gloomholdin just feels like we’re running in place, and a nondescript one at that.

In the end, I could see how that designer could have ‘hated’ Gloomhazin. While the eurogame stylings have sawed off the Ameritrash edges in many ways, they make the game feel stilted and labored to me. You have to do so much to get so little, which violates a big rule for me. When I design software, one of my focuses is on “Return on Attention”. We are far too busy to do anything these days. We have only so many mental cycles in the day. I believe games need to deliver on fun and positive experiences for the time put in. If the game starts to feel like a lot of work or if it doesn’t deliver enough regularly to keep you engaged, it isn’t worth my time.

That’s just me, of course. I know many people love to play games that give them the feeling of running a big business, country, or other operation, and that experience and putting a lot of time into it to optimize or otherwise deliver better stuff is exciting. More power to them. If they are loving that experience, I’m glad they are getting what they want out of games. Gloomhaven feels like that to me. If you want to micromanage a dungeon crawl and feel the euro mechanisms slip together like artisanal puzzle pieces, this is your game. You will drown in joy at the 100 hours of play you will get out of the giant box, which will be an excellent deal and money well-spent. I still think replacing all those standees with miniatures and such would be more fun but that would make the box Ogre Designer’s Edition sized. Eeek.

If you want things a little looser, more consistently thrilling, and perhaps a little more in line with the old-school feel of RPGs dungeon-delving, I think you’ll be happier with Descent 2.0 (particularly with the excellent app) or maybe the D&D board games.

I’ll end with my caveats that longtime BGB readers and listeners know well enough: I’m a eurogamer by nature, but I played RPGs back in the 80’s. Ameritrash isn’t normally my thing but we have gotten deeply into Mice & Mystics and also Descent 2.0 primarily because my son wanted to play RPGs and I figured this was a good compromise. We also acquired and played the D&D board games but I think they aren’t as good as the other two RPG-in-a-box titles we have enjoyed regularly for the last couple of years. We’re playing fairly regularly now and, while I would love more variation in games, I’m thrilled that this oldschool play is delighting my son and the close friends with whom I spent a lot of time adventuring back in high school.

One more point: If you coughed up more than $100 for this game because you were Gloomhopin it was going to be a Descent-killer, the Second Coming, or just a really good game that you and your friends love, I hope it gets you to Gloomheaven. The play time situation for my experience wasn’t ideal and while I’d probably give it a second try with a friend who knew the rules really well and pimped it out with real miniatures, I won’t be seeking that situation out. Not all games work for all people so if the hype got you on the bandwagon, I do hope you enjoy the ride…and remember there’s always the secondary market if you also think Gloomhaven is indeed a haven for gaming misery.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Gloomhaven

BIN (Buy It Now)

PIN (P)lay It Now

TIF (Try It First)

NMT (Not My Thing)

GOF 2017 Report: Bärenpark and Phil Walker-Harding

GOF 2017 Report: Bärenpark and Phil Walker-Harding

The Gathering of Friends, Alan Moon’s invitational, is always a highlight of the gaming year. One of my favorite things about the show is the opportunity to game with designers who have become friends. It is a Gathering of them, after all. Playing games with designers is a bit like going to dinner with a chef or having wine with a vintner – the perspective they provide can help deepen your appreciation of a game immensely. Some of my favorite moments from the years I’ve spent at GOF are the post-game discussions about something we have played, metering out the specific mechanisms and how they worked, recalling where we’d seen them in the past and judging their reimplementation, and talking about how the title fits into something like Bruno Faidutti’s Ideal Game Library concept – only the games you need for all moods, situations, player types and numbers. Those convos are sublime for the engaged tabletop gamer.

The other major delight is meeting designers whose work I love and this year, a key meeting was Phil Walker-Harding. I’d call myself an OF (Original Fan) of Phil’s work, way back to his first game with Z-Man,

Bärenpark and Phil Walker-Harding.
Playing Bärenpark with Phil Walker-Harding. Playing with the designer helps one get the rules right the first time…

Archaeology: The Card Game. This light but clever design found its way to me when I was running demos for Z-Man Games (Yes, I was a Z-Forcer) at Strategicon conventions. I taught it to so many people, but never lost interest. It played wonderfully with families and gamers could admire the pleasantly clean design. NOTE: The game is out of print, but an expanded title based on it called “Archaeology: The New Expedition” is available here.

Years later, I was unsurprised that modern family game winner Sushi Go was from Phil – it’s such an immediate delight and imminently playable. Gamewright was lucky to pick it up. Sushi Go Party is even better, as I’ve previously noted in this space. Everyone on my team at work owns it now because they love it so much. His SDJ-nominated Imhotep was another story. I wasn’t sure the first time out, but as I have chronicled, I found its brilliance a few plays in. It’s a standard gateway for us now. His other well-known title, Cacao, is another winner that I want to play a bit more before commenting, but it warranted an SDJ recommendation in 2015. Phil has the goods, folks.

Over the years, my enthusiasm for his titles hasn’t gone unnoticed in this era of social media. I’ve tweeted back and forth with Phil a number of times, but it was still a distinct pleasure to actually shake his hand at Gathering of Friends 2017. Having missed last year’s GOF due to a new job, this was my first chance to sample his new games prior to publication. When we met, he first brandished his just-released Bärenpark, which is now available in Europe from Lookout and will be hitting the US via Mayfair this summer. Amusingly, he brought it out to play with Matt Leacock and myself after I’d been asked what I was interested in playing. I’d expressed an interest in Cottage Garden based on my wife’s deep love of Patchwork. Phil offered up Bärenpark as being designed to scratch a similar itch.

“I designed Bärenpark after hundreds of plays of Patchwork with my wife,” Phil noted. Sounds familiar to me, and many tabletop gamers, I expect. Uwe’s delightful two-player game is firmly planted on the “Couples’ Game” list now. Cottage Garden, which I’ll talk about in my full GOF report, is the big brother of Patchwork and plays up to four. Bärenpark has the same pentominoes you find in those games but the goal here is to build out your bear (that’s what ‘baren’ means, folks) zoo park with various attractions. I wondered about the similarities to my own Theme Park game, which also uses pentominoes but they were limited to just that construction bit (see Princes of Florence for the original idea, I expect).

Barenpark
Mosaix is a wonderful little game.

Phil also noted the influence of the wonderful little game Mosaix from designer (and game illustrator) Christof Tisch. That roll-and-assign winner from 2009 is due to come to my table again soon after Phil referencing it in regard to Bärenpark.

How Does Play Bärenpark?

Bärenpark turns are simple enough – just build a piece from your supply and gain new pieces based on what you play. You play the pieces to a swatches of parks (you start with one) as 4×4 grids, each with symbols that let you acquire new pieces of varying types (and values) that decrease as they are acquired (Thurn und Taxis-style). You need to then fit those pieces onto your board so there is no overlap or overhang. Since this is a euro-style game, you collect new piece(s) at the end of the turn and have time to consider how to use them while the other players take their turns. You may get more than one per turn, but you only place a single one each turn.

While the big pieces delivered by building over dump truck spots are a lot of points, they’re also unwieldy at times and you will often need to go back to the small park pieces to fill in the empty spots. There’s a reason to do so – the game clock is completion of park grids with an also-decreasing value in bonus delivered. These are manhole cover tokens that are automatically placed over the single pit on each grid after all other spaces are filled. These values start with the biggest points in the game and recognizing that helped Matt win our game (I was caught up in accelerating to the high point park pieces).

Of course, you don’t just fill one 4×4 grid. Additional boards can be had by building over worker spaces, up to maximum of four, and they’re a chance to gain more bonus points from placement plus that completion bonus. Matt astutely noticed this was a strategy for maximizing points because you didn’t just score from just your placement, but from the completion. Did I mention there’s a downside to playing games with great designers? Yeah, they win a lot.

Bärenpark has an elegance I associate with Phil’s games, yet there are things to explore and enjoy through repeat plays. Much like the subtle choices of Imhotep or the realization that Sushi Go has enough information to make choices better if you want to play it more than casually, Bärenpark will surely reveal more as the game gets more play – and it will certainly do that. I think this is an early runner for SDJ consideration and it would be a welcome addition to gamer and family collections. To that end, it plays in about 40 minutes and you can teach it in two. Watch for it.

Prototypes

I also played a hush-hush prototype of Phil’s that had his signature simplicity that often reminds me of Michael Schacht. From me, that a high compliment, indeed, as I believe Schacht to be one of the top 10 of all time. Again, I was unsurprised that the prototype was snapped up by a publisher promptly and was in much demand from the players, too. The title will be well-liked when it arrives on the scene and was much discussed at GOF. I missed two other protos Phil had but I look forward to their publication with interest as I heard many other positive reviews of them.

Thanks to Phil for the introduction to his games and the great convos. Bärenpark is due out from Mayfair in June 2017, just in time for the summer convention season.

 

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Bärenpark

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Not sure if I need it but Phil’s a good guy with whom I’ve tweeted for years. This was our first meeting.

Boardgame Babylon – what’s going on?

Boardgame Babylon – what’s going on?

In the last few months, I’ve had a number of inquiries as to why the Secret Newsletter stopped. Let’s be honest – the election was a shocker to me and I haven’t really recovered entirely. Add that to some family concerns, a house emergency over the holidays and a new game design popping up (all while my professional life is very intense) and you get a newsletter holdup.

As those who follow my Twitter and Facebook feeds know, I’ve still played some games. Mostly, it’s been a weekly game of Descent with my son, wife and two oldest friends. This has been rewarding and also kind of simple to maintain while I was going through a rough patch. The stability of a weekly session has been a kind of healing salve for me, as it’s both nostalgic and so nice to engage with some of the most important people in my life.17201397_10155232813029276_1981619716516564283_n

That said, I’ve also done a lot of writing in the interim for the book I’m working on while I’ve done some polishing on Theme Park and also written quick rules for my new game, A.I. I expect to take Theme Park, A.I., Cosplay Grab (also a revision) and a game I worked on with Ta-Te Wu (Jokers) to the Gathering of Friends next month in hopes of talking people into playing them. It’s a tall order to complete all this work but we’ll see if I can get there. Wish me luck.

Until then, I don’t know how soon I’ll get back to the newsletter. I enjoyed writing the text weekly and it is hard to stop now that we had reached just over 1,000 subscribers with virtually no promotion other than my own silly channels. It may get resurrected sometime in the future – we shall see.

In addition, my marketing assistant who helped me get up press releases and also get more content on the site regularly has been otherwise engaged. I’m trying to see if I can recruit one of my kids to help out in the interim so we can rev things up again. Stay tuned.

Thanks again for asking for remember – it’s only a game.

Preview: Wizards of the Tabletop – A Game Designer Portrait Book – On Kickstarter

Preview: Wizards of the Tabletop – A Game Designer Portrait Book – On Kickstarter

Wizards of the Tabletop is a worthwhile addition to the non-game shelves of any passionate tabletop gamer.

Do people still read paper books much? I like to call them “dead-tree books” as sort of a poke at people who collect books like they are secret talismans that somehow makes them more powerful or more prestigious since they keep all that knowledge in their home. Don’t we all have that knowledge on our phones all the time, every day now?

While my attitude about this subject is somewhat informed by the fact that I was an early e-reader who pulled PDFs off the bibliophile’s version of the Dark Web, it also comes from being raised by a voracious reader who never kept books. As soon as my father read something, and he was an Evelyn Wood-trained speed reader who polished off a book and a half a day, he would get them into a bag to be sent off to his friends or the library for donation.

Amusingly enough, the reason my snarky comments stopped is because I started buying dead-tree books on Amazon at ridiculously cheap prices. I think the turning point was when I purchased a copy of Morrissey’s autobiography for eight cents plus shipping; that’s quite a bit less than the cost of the Kindle edition. Suddenly, these dead-tree bits were showing up on my doorstep and I ended up rediscovering the beautiful, tactile experience of reading a physical book rather than simply paging through it on an iPhone. It’s not the first time I found something that seems like going backwards is actually just a new path to happiness. I doubt it’s the last.

Wizards of the Tabletop: This is a review, right?

Yes, I was getting to that. So, when I saw that Douglas Morse, who has already made one of the best board game movies that we have yet to see (The Next Great American Board Game), has a new coffee table book on Kickstarter that included photos of game industry folks, I was intrigued. Certainly, I thought Wizards of the Tabletop: A Game Designer Portrait Book sounded like something that was worth a little space on my largely uncluttered shelves. I’m glad to say that I was able to obtain a preview copy of the book’s photos and accompanying text. In the book, Mr. Morse has captured some terrific photos of various game designers and industry luminaries at conventions or, in some cases, in an environment suited to the kind of games that they produce.

Wizards of the Tabletop
The great Matt Leacock in a preview photo from Wizards of the Tabletop.

In his travels to put together his original documentary, Mr. Morse had an opportunity to visit many of the conventions that are the gathering places for our hobby, including both public and private conventions. He captured signature shots of great designers like Reiner Knizia, Friedemann Friese, Alan Moon, Steve Jackson, Matt Leacock and so many more. Frankly speaking, it’s just a lot of fun to see these creative, intelligent, and witty folks hamming it up for the camera. But Morse also captured the more reserved among them (that’s the minority, in my experience) in a manner that suits their personality. There’s just so much joy in this shots. And why not – game designers and people in this hobby are incredibly friendly. When you go to tabletop conventions, it is so easy to meet game designers, so simple to try out their new game, and even contribute to its development. Few other hobbies have such a close relationship between creators and enthusiasts.

I should note that Wizards of the Tabletop isn’t all pictures. Morse has interspersed text with the photos that lightly touches on the modern history of gaming, tying it to some key points in the last fifty-ish years that led to the current sustained renaissance in the hobby. To that end, he’s also included photos of a cross section of games that highlight key moments or movements within modern board game design. These complement the designer photos to tell a compelling story about how the hobby has crawled out of the college campuses, geek basements and back rooms of game stores into the charming board game cafes, libraries, and homes of regular folks everywhere.

It’s a wonderful tale that is well-told and one that is dear to my own heart; indeed, it should be for anyone who has a deep love for “These Games of Ours,” as they were often called in the past. I’m glad they aren’t just ours anymore. I love that I can’t contain the size of the board game night I started at work. I’m thrilled that board games are having their day and saving us from endlessly looking at screens. I still delight in seeing a big shelf of quality games at Target or Barnes and Noble. To commemorate how far the hobby has come, I think having this particular talisman in my home makes good sense.

Wizards of the Tabletop is live on Kickstarter and will close in just a few days. You can pony up $20 for the PDF but I can’t imagine not wanting to get the physical copy for another ten bucks. It’s worth a few more trees. Any gamer who enjoys this hobby should delight in the images and story contained in this fine book. While it won’t ship until next June but, in the spirit of the season, it would make a lovely gift to be enjoyed for years to come. After all, a printed out Kickstarter order confirmation email fits nicely into a stocking.


You might also want to read this other Boardgame Babylon article: Movie Review: The Next Great American Board Game


Disclosure: The publisher sent me an early-preview PDF copy of the book for independent review.

PRESS RELEASE: “Heavy Euro” game Feudum reaches $100,000+ on Kickstarter; Funds first day and Draws Praise for Rich Art and Unique Game Mechanics

PRESS RELEASE: “Heavy Euro” game Feudum reaches $100,000+ on Kickstarter; Funds first day and Draws Praise for Rich Art and Unique Game Mechanics
By hitting $100,000 of funding, The Euro-style tabletop game Feudum from Odd Bird Games enters an elite group of only 806 game projects (out of 27,862) that have done so. Authored by University of Missouri Professor Mark Swanson and designed by Mississippi-based Artist Justin Schultz, the game funded on the first day and continues unlock stretch goals which reward backers with enhanced game pieces, additional tokens and access to new and unique expansions.

One member of the award-winning gaming podcast “The Secret Cabal” hosted by Jamie Keagy exclaimed “Everything about this game gets me jumping out of my pants. They’ve got me frothing.”

Popular game reviewer Richard Ham of “Rahdo Runs Through” has featured Feudum on his top 10 most anticipated games list. On Feudum’s kickstarter page (www.oddbirdgames.com/feudum), Ham states in a video, “If I were ever to design a board game, this is the game I would design!”

Vlogger David Waybright of Man Vs Meeple said “It melts my brain in the most glorious way! The artwork and the whole style is so fanciful, lighthearted and fun that it begs people to play it!”

Feudum

Feudum features the strategic complexities found in games such as Terra Mystica, Brass, Caylus, Dominant Species, Vinhos, The Gallerist, and Madeira but sets itself apart with its meticulously-drawn illustrations, interesting decisions and a fully-functioning economic ecosystem. It is this unique economic mechanic that allows players to facilitate the rotation of goods through different guilds, while competing for status within them.

The new game also includes action programming, area influence and hand management. These nuances are highlighted by Schultz’s artwork for the game.

“There’s not one right way to play it,” said Swanson. “Uniquely powered characters and multiple paths to victory make for an ever-changing, open-world experience. You have to be flexible—ready to adapt.”

“Designing a board game is a dream come true,” said Schultz, Feudumwho is known for his eclectic works ranging from a logo for a tomato farmer to concert posters for Grammy award-winning band Wilco. “It reflects so much of what has inspired me over the years—from 60’s art like Steadman and Crumb to Anime and Saturday morning cartoons.”


The game is for 2-5 players, takes 80 to 180 minutes to play and will include rulebooks in German, French and English. Prospective backers, reviewers and retailers can have a glimpse of the game on its live Kickstarter page at www.oddbirdgames.com/feudum. To learn more, follow Feudum on social media.

Live on Kickstarter: www.oddbirdgames.com/feudum Facebook: www.facebook.com/feudum
Instagram: @feudumgame
Twitter: @feudumgame