Low Effort Creativity in Tabletop Games

Low Effort Creativity in Tabletop Games

When you’ve been playing games all your life like I have, maybe it’s a foregone conclusion that new mechanisms are a big deal. Sure, I love an interesting theme that is well-implemented. Most of the time, though, it’s not enough. I like to see new ideas and I can admire them even when the game isn’t necessarily my cup of tea. For example, I’ve often spoken about my admiration for the design of Power Grid even if I do not find playing the game to be much fun.

Thankfully, I like all the games on this list that pleasantly embody a concept I call “Low Effort Creativity” (LEC). As a marketer and product designer working in social media-focused technology, I have used this term to describe apps like Instagram where the simple application of a filter onto an image makes users feel like they had created something special. And maybe they have; what mattered is that sense of creativity being expressed, which is more important than what others think of their creation.

People do the dumbest stuff on Instagram and think they’re being clever.

In game design, I see LEC manifesting as a way of giving players something that engages their creativity without building from the ground up. Instead, they’re empowered to make a contribution that gives them an output that is uniquely their own.

Dungeons and Drawings

Despite my passionate love for board games, I first thought about this concept after playing a role playing game. Strictly speaking, it’s not a proper RPG, where high-effort creativity is common. There, players come up with their own characters, a back story and maybe even act things out in a bigger way. Four Against Darkness brings the dungeons and maybe some dragons, but is short on the acting and storytelling.

What it does bring into the mix, however, is a pleasant solo experience with an outcome I didn’t expect. I’m not speaking of the success of my band of four adventurers who delved into the cave of some kobolds. No, I was surprised to find out that the process of wandering in the dungeon was going to lead me to creating something mildly artistic.

4AD, as the serious players call it (a moniker which throws me off as a fan of the British record label with that same name), gives the player a chance to quickly put together a four-person adventure party and start into a dungeon with the simple roll of two dice. Those values tell you the type of entrance, corridor or room you are entering, and another roll or two will tell you if there are monsters and loot to be had. It’s not very “RPG” but it is a pleasant pastime, especially with the solid adventures written by andrea sfiligoi (the designer) and his online cadre of creators who are taking the game in a variety of directions. This concept in itself is admirable and I really love to see such deep community involvement in creatively expanding what can be done with this light game system.

The most compelling part of the 4AD experience is drawing your dungeon on graph paper. Sure, the dice tell you the shape of the room, and what’s inside, and all monsters and such are cleverly denoted by certain symbols. The player gets a chance to show off their artistic side in the depiction of the map.

While I’m no artist, I find this part of the game a lot of fun as I track my progress through dungeons, caves, and castles. My own drawings are just lousy but I’ve seen gorgeous renderings online by talented folks who have brought their own flair to the design and decorations of their dungeon. With the game and its mechanisms as inspiration, players get a chance to engage in some low-effort creativity to make their final map a creation worthy of keeping around to enjoy.

A Conspiracy of Cartographers?

A similar tack is taken with Cartographers, a fine new game that released at Gen Con 2019 to popular acclaim (due out to stores Labor Day Weekend). Like 4AD, Cartographers (from Thunderworks Games) asks its players to get out the pencil and fill in their map with renderings of the different types of terrain designated by turns of some game cards.

Like roll-and-write games, Cartographers players pick where the selected terrain goes but unlike most of those games where I box is filled in, X’d or checked off, here players get to draw trees, water, and other terrain types onto their boards to score points based on designated parameters each quarter of the game. As you progress, your map gets filled with your artwork and, again, while I didn’t have the best looking map, I had a lot of fun with the drawing and wanted to play again promptly. While the variations on goals and terrain offers the replay value, I think the little bit of creativity you get to express helps make the game more enjoyable.

The Creative Call

While both of the aforementioned games ride on your drawing skills (or enjoyment drawing regardless of your skill, as in my case), Brotherwise Games’ Call to Adventure instead engages one’s storytelling skills. In fact, the very name of the game is attractively drawn from the first stage in Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, from a book that should be ready by all writers and storytellers.

I don’t know about that sequel, the First Threshold.

As with the other games, players are given some parameters on which to hang their creative efforts; Call to Adventure (reviewed here on BGB) asks players to acquire cards that collectively tell the story of their character, from their origin and early days, through the driving force that motivates them, and ultimately to their destiny and the crowning achievements of their quest to get there.

This is played out in simple but clever game play, using throwing runes to acquire various traits, defeat certain challenges, and foil the plans of villainous adversaries as you collect the stories components of your character’s life. The mechanisms are clean and well-implemented but the fun begins when the game ends and you are encouraged to tell your character’s story.

The nine cards you collect, three each for the three stages of the character’s life give you plenty of material with which to work. This isn’t for everyone but I’ve really enjoyed the fact that you can come up with something special by selecting what kind of character you want to be from the various options that come up. You might want to be a hero but find the road hard. You can focus on being an anti-hero, making choices that could be interpreted different ways.

Or you can go flat-out evil and try to be a force for the dark side of life. The choice is yours and it allows you to tailor the story you want to tell at the game’s end. Yes, there are points to count at the end and someone ‘wins.’ But like many of the best games around, it’s most about how you play, what your individual experience delivers, and your own creative way of conveying your story at the end.

Creative Energy Engaged

All three of these games are tapping into the concept effectively, letting players have a bit of a say in the experience they get while gaming on the tabletop. Yes, Legacy games can feel like your own thing because the order in which you experience things and sometimes what you discover versus the next person might vary. Yet, it’s a story you are following. Similarly, the attractive Crossroads mechanism in some Plaid Hat games makes the game experience vary strongly, but it doesn’t engage one’s creativity as the previously mentioned games do.

Was this already present in Pictionary or Telestrations, games that had you drawing up a storm every turn? Maybe, because you could enjoy the artwork produced. But since both of those games have a time element going on, they don’t offer the players a chance to focus on the art instead of the answer delivered at breakneck speed.

I feel like the games I referenced offer the opportunity to truly engage the artistic spirit, both in the slow individual play of 4AD that allows one to take their time drawing up the elements of their dungeon or the chance to build up a story in Call to Adventure over the course of the 45-60 minute play time.

I am excited to see more opportunities for board game and tabletop designers in general to come up with new mechanisms that tap into the notion of this low-effort creativity, which unlocks the fun of owning part of the game experience beyond just the decisions of how to spend cubes each turn or which spot to drop a Meeple on. Let’s see what you’ve got, designers…

Silver by Ted Alspach and Bezier Games: Session Review

Silver by Ted Alspach and Bezier Games: Session Review

Silver Amulet (also known as Silver, since it introduces a new line) is a card-shedding game for 2-4 players newly-released at GenCon 2019 from Ted Alspach and his shingle, Bezier Games. You can learn a bit more about the game by watching my recent 5 Quick Questions session with Ted (or read it – we are all about the options at BGB now). If that’s TL; DW, basically this is a more ‘gamer’ development of the game Cabo, which Bezier Games brought back into print earlier this year.

Silver
Witchy Woman: One of the lovely cards in Silver

Since Ted is involved, Cabo wasn’t just given more interesting new elements, it’s seemingly going to grow some werewolf fur. More on that later.

Card-Shedding? What?

Like Cabo, Silver provides players an initial set of face-down cards of which they only get to view a couple. The object of the game is to optimize the cards in front of you to get the smallest total value.

One does this by drawing from the draw pile to activate them, swapping with those cards or one from discard pile and using some special abilities. Players keep taking turns like this until they feel they have the lowest raw card value among all players. If they do, they use their turn to declare the round is over, giving each other player one last shot to optimize before comparing scores. After four rounds of this play, the player with the lowest value wins.

The difference from Cabo (which is, itself, charming and enjoyable) is that Silver gives every card special powers instead of mostly just values. Different cards allow you to swap, reveal or peek at cards, or gain a power on your turn like drawing extra cards.

Shedding cards from your tableau isn’t easy, though. The main way to shed cards is to trade them for another one in a many-to-one trade. This is done by matching cards on your tableau; if I have two 6 value cards, I can trade it with the top card from the draw or discard pile, hopefully reducing my value. Be careful, however – if you flub an exchange because you try to trade a card (even as part of a set) that doesn’t match, the trade is cancelled and you take an extra card for screwing up. Boo.

Cards number from 0 to 13, but the special powers make some cards more attractive than others. For example, the Doppleganger can match the value of other cards so she’s easy to trade out. Yet, she’s the highest value card in the game so you’ll get stuck with her if you don’t trade the card away before scores are compared. Many of the game-changing powers are on higher-value cards, but even the lowly 2-rank Empath lets you view face-down cards on your tableau. The 3-rank bodyguard (and cover star) protects another good card from being swapped or discarded, so most of them are good in one way or another.

As mentioned above, the game has a Bezier Games-signature Werewolf feel. While the initial set has some of feel of those games with Villagers and Seers, we will probably have to wait for Silver Bullet (the first expansion) later this year to get actual werewolves into the game.

Ted’s Going To Need You To Vote

So if you think you’ve got the lowest value cards, you can declare the round over or ‘call for a vote’ because Werewolf. Really, this is just to compare the total values of your cards. If you called for the vote, you best be right. If not, you get not only your card total in points, you get a 10 point penalty.

However, if you do get it right, you get 0 points for the round. You also get that nice bit of metal, the Silver Amulet. This item can be used by the round-winner to protect a card from other card activations.

The Silver Amulet, which has a nice Game Trayz slot, too.

After four rounds, compare final totals (which you can do on the provided score pad).

Silver is a Lovely Production

Silver’s cards are gorgeously illustrated in a Pixaresque style (they feel a bit like the film Brave to me) and this immediately excited the folks who have played the game with us.

Equally exciting for game geeks like me: Bezier Games worked with Game Trayz to create an insert that fills my heart with joy. While essentially simple in design, it’s highly functional to hold the game’s cards and those from future expansions. The amulet is a pleasant additional touch, even if its ability is the least appealing part of the game for me. I’d call that a minor complaint, this little rich-get-richer element, but it’s a quick game so those kind of balancers are less important.

Silver is a Good One

I quite like Silver and it was enjoyed by everyone with whom I played it so far. My wife was already a Cabo fiend and, indeed, she dominated the first play of Silver, winning three of four rounds. I thought the need to remember the cards (you cannot keep looking at them) would throw her off but it’s not too much of a weight on the mind.

In the end, it plays in 30 minutes or so, includes some interaction when it’s not your turn because you are watching to see what other players might reveal about their hands, and the learning curve is shallow. Additionally, Bezier was clever enough to release an app of the game (previewed in my video podcast) that is completely free. This lets you try the game out in solo play mode so you can learn the game, and see it in action. While I am enjoying the solo play, it’s no substitute for in-person play and the chance to see people surprised when you somehow slipped below their total when the cards are revealed.

Some might ask: Do you need Cabo and Silver? I’d say probably not. Silver is more fun for me, as the special powers make the game. Yet, Cabo is even more approachable than Silver (and the theme is less, um, ‘geeky.’) So maybe there’s a reason why, but I’d go with Silver over Cabo any day.

We quite enjoy Silver and we’re looking forward to Silver Bullet’s Spiel 2019 release so we can add more cards to the mix this holiday season.

Silver Bullet

Silver is available NOW on the Bezier Games site and will soon be in stores near you.

5 Quick Questions About Silver with Ted Alspach of Bezier Games

5 Quick Questions About Silver with Ted Alspach of Bezier Games

Editor’s Note:As an avowed content geek, I try new formats. People seem to love our 5 Quick Questions interviewette for tabletop designers that is a quick read. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Ted Alspach, founder of Bezier Games and game designer responsible for Castles of Mad King Ludwig, SDJ 2019 nominee Werewords, and the newly-announced card-shedding game Silver, does, shall we?

BGB:Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Silver?

Ted Alspach: We are so excited about this one, we’ve been working on it for two years and we are finally launching it here at Gen Con (2019). Silver is a surprisingly interactive hand management card shedding game. The concept of card-shedding doesn’t happen too often; there are some small games like Golf, Cabo and Rat-A-Tat Cat and little games like that. Silver is its own unique thing in that it’s a littler heavier, more for gamers.

Killer artwork all around.

In Silver, each card has a number of werewolves on it. And you start with five face down; you note just two of them at that point. Your goal by the end of the games is to have as few werewolves as possible by trading cards with higher numbers for those with lower numbers. However, each card also has a special ability so you try to shed as many as possible until someone says they have the lowest value.

There’s this great amount of tension because at any time, someone can call for a vote and say they have the lowest amount of werewolves. Everyone else gets a turn at that point, because there are interactive cards and they can screw with someone or drastically reduce their cards. But if they can maintain, they get zero points, which is good since you want the fewest points, they also get to go first the next round and they also get this special silver amulet of protection to use on the next round.

Very Bezier Boxey, but thicker.

Of course, if they miss it, everything goes awry and they get not just the sum of their cards but also ten points, and that’s rough for them. So that happens four times here and then whoever has the lowest score wins.

BGB: Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?

Ted Alspach: So, a couple years ago I played tons and tons for game called Cabo, which is, in a lot of ways, a predecessor to Silver and it is basically you work at getting rid of cards, reducing the cards in your hand. I did like it but it is really light and I discovered there’s this whole genre of these hand management and card shedding games. Looking into those again was looking for something a little more meaty with some interesting decisions. I didn’t see anything, so I started working around some ideas. No one has taken it to the level that I thought gamers would want, with each card doing something special. So, it’s balancing that aspect and it’s really a lot of fun. And, as a game designers, you are looking for these special abilities to balance with the points on the cards. While we were looking into it, we thought we should contact the people who did Cabo to see if they were interested in a more involved game and they ended up letting us publish a new copy of the game since they did it like 10 years ago, which we did and it includes some rules updates based on our play testing with Silver. So, Silver is a result of all that playing these other games and seeing what we could do to develop it into this big beast!

BGB: There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?

Ted Alspach: It’s a middleweight filler, 30-45 minutes and it fills that spot. It is just as easy to learn as Cabo. Silver isn’t any more difficult to learn. You don’t need to know everything just to play the game, so it’s really easy to pick up. And we’re doing an expansion called Silver Bullet that can switch out with cards from the original. (ed. note: This is also available for pre-order and releasing at Gen Con 2019).

Also available at GenCon 2019

BGB: This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?

Ted Alspach: Okay, I have two exclusive things for you. I’ll tell you one and then I will show you something else. So, NEWSFLASH: We have four other Silver decks that are under development for Silver and we plan to release them in the next couple of years. We also have about a dozen original cards to fit into it. One of the cards in the upcoming decks is the Mad Bomber. So, points are bad in Cabo (ed. note: and Silver) and if you have the Mad Bomber, everyone ELSE gets points. (Ed. Note: To see the other secret, check out the video version of the podcast here):

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Silver. Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interviewette?

Ted Alspach: The game plays in 30-45 minutes, for 2-4 players and it available for pre-order RIGHT NOW to be delivered at Gen Con 2019.

Joke Time

This is exclusive for the blog version of this show. Thanks to Ted for our first cartoon response to our joke question:

PRESS RELEASE: Playford Games Brings Ancient World MultiGame System to the Masses with Kickstarter

PRESS RELEASE: Playford Games Brings Ancient World MultiGame System to the Masses with Kickstarter
Ancient World

Munich, Germany— June 14, 2019. Board game publisher Playford Games is raising funds for a mass-production version of the Ancient World Multi Game System, a collection of social abstract strategy games. Following the launch of the premium wood version at the Internationale Spieltage SPIEL in Essen, Germany last year, Playford is preparing a lower-cost version of the Multi Game System by using an alternative material.

“Our goal has always been to offer the Ancient World Multi Game System at a more affordable price for players. Sourcing the right material, however, took time. So I was very pleased to discover the printed chip. Not only are they very durable and light weight, the printing on foil produces brilliant images and a smooth finish. And of course, the price is also right!”, says Dave Stennett, President and Founder of Playford Games.

The Ancient World Multi Game System consists of double-sided game tiles which can be used to play up to 23 different social abstract strategy games. Each game draws its theme from a different civilization or event in the Ancient World, from Egypt and Rome to the Silk Roads of China. Awarding it the Seal of Approval, Father Geek and his team of child, parent and gamer geeks praised this collection as, “Good quality, outstanding rule book, and endless play… a great mix of abstract games that seemed to have something for everyone.”

The Ancient World Multi Game System launches on Kickstarter Tuesday,
June 18th to raise €16,000 for its first printed-chip production, to be delivered by the end of 2019. Backers can choose from four pledge levels, plus special offers for retailers and game cafes.

About the game

The Ancient World Multi Game system is for ages 8 and up and plays in as little as 20 minutes for 2 to 8 players. It was designed to maximize fun while minimizing its storage space. Each game comes with 2-4 sets of interchangeable tiles to play 12 with the Base set and 11 more the Oracle expansion.

Number of players: 2- 8 Playing time: 20 + minutes Recommended age: 8 +

About Playford Games

Playford publishes high-quality strategy board games that encourage players to interact both cognitively and socially. Playford’s collections of games include the Moral Conflict series of deep strategy games and the Ancient World series of social abstract strategy games. Playford Games, Ancient World Multi Game System, ILIOS: The Battles of Troy, Cartography©, Moral Conflict, and Social Abstract Strategy Games are all trademarks or registered trademarks of Playford Games, Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

  • Web: playfordgames.com
  • Facebook: facebook.com/PlayfordGames
  • Twitter: twitter.com/PlayfordGames
  • Instagram: instagram.com/PlayfordGames
  • BGG: boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/248362/ancient-world-multi-game-system
  • READ MORE ABOUT IT ON Kickstarter

5 Quick Questions about Aftermath with designer Jerry Hawthorne

5 Quick Questions about Aftermath with designer Jerry Hawthorne

Editor’s Note: As an avowed content geek, I try new formats. People enjoy our 5 Quick Questions interviewette for tabletop designers since it’s a quick read. We promise no TL;DR. So let’s see how the amazing Jerry Hawthorne, storytelling game designer of Mice and Mystics, Stuffed Fables, and the thrilling new game Aftermath (which you can pre-order NOW) from Plaid Hat Games, does, shall we?

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Aftermath?

Jerry Hawthorne: My new game is Aftermath. Humanity has mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind a ruined world. You are a group of young critters trying to provide for your colony in a cooperative adventure game you play inside a book.

BGB: Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?

Jerry Hawthorne: I have a fun and adventurous story to tell, and a fun new game mechanic that allows me to tell it.

BGB: There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?

Jerry Hawthorne: This game allows you to play through an apocalyptic story through the eyes of a tiny mouse. It is also a complete colony building experience, but done in such a user friendly way, it makes campaign play super easy (ed. note: Okay, I WANT IT).

Aftermath
The mice look good here but wait until you see those minis!

BGB: This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?

Jerry Hawthorne: There is only one way to lose and that is if your colony disbands due to poor leadership.

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Aftermath. Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interviewette?

Jerry Hawthorne: Aftermath will be in retail stores this September but you can pre-order it now. It’s a cooperative adventure game for 1-4 players of all ages. It plays in 90-120 minutes depending on your mission.

Aftermath

Editor’s Note: I highly recommend Mice and Mystics and Stuffed Fables, which have helped my friend and myself introduce board games to his sons while I also inspiring my own son to play more RPGs. There’s a ton of fun and joy in theses boxes.

JOKE TIME

Guy walks into a doctor’s office with a duck on his head. The doctor asks “How can I help you?”

The duck says “Doc, can you get this guy off my ass?”

PREVIEW: Battlestations: Dirtside from Jeff Siadek – LIVE on Kickstarter

PREVIEW: Battlestations: Dirtside from Jeff Siadek – LIVE on Kickstarter

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of getting a visit from legendary SoCal game designer Jeff Siadek and his producing partner Joey Vigour over to my place to try out the second edition of Battlestations!, Jeff’s magnum opus. The original was a huge success, with a massive community of gamers adding to the lore of the versatile sci-fi adventure game. The new edition updated the art, mechanisms and more to bring the game to modern audiences. The Kickstarter was a rousing success so it’s not surprising that I got an email from these two gents last month suggesting it was time for the sequel.

So, after a little planning, I got a similar visit to see their next big game in the series—Battlestations: Dirtside. While the original Battlestations was focused on capturing the feel of ship-to-ship combat with a full crew adventuring into space, Dirtside brings the modularity of the system down to the planet level. Away missions were available in the original game but the scale wasn’t ideal for exploring a whole planet. Dirtside solves that problem, and adds many more adventures and scenarios to the ever-expanding game worlds Siadek and his community of fans have imagined.

What’s it all about?

Battlestations: Dirtside is a science fiction adventure game that accommodates 1-9 players, with most missions lasting one to two hours. The game can be played cooperatively or solo, or even in “scrimmage” play that moves even quicker.

My Rhinoceros-esque scientist dropped down to the planet to find the cure for a raging disease infecting a different world. I horned in on it immediately. 🙂

The joy of Battlestations: Dirtside is the sandbox system, achieving a happy medium between an RPG, a board game and a minis game. The rules provide enough detail to get the character and adventure of your dreams while still moving along at action movie speed. Watch Jeff tell you all about it:

What’s in the Giant Battlestations: Dirtside Box?

In the massive container, you get some exceptional minis representing a variety of intriguing space races, plenty of scenario boards, and a ruleset that will address all of your questions. Like GURPS and even the modern D&D edition, a lot of elements are reduced to standard die rolls so you can play quickly, but you can also delve deeply into the game to design and equip your character with the skills and items of your choice. You can also level them up and use them on future missions, letting that light RPG feel surface without putting a major burden on any of the players.

How does it play?

Dirtside comes with tons of scenarios that all require a bit of setup to configure the board for the game world you’re exploring, but then gameplay is pretty fast. Once you have a character, you can bring them on future missions so you can see your character progress and more quickly dive into future games since you already have one to use. Player turns are easy but engaging – make a move, take a variety of action options to drive, shoot, explore and discover on the planet you’ve reached.

Battlestations: Dirtside
Designer Jeff Siadek

The Missions library is a vital part of the game and Siadek is making sure it is large. So will that aforementioned community of Battlestations fans. Many of those, by Jeff and by others, have multi-scenario story arcs—let’s just say it: Battlestations was Legacy before Legacy was cool. Dirtside is inspiring a whole new movement within this community, who will surely build missions to scale for planetary encounters of all kinds.

“We knew that planetary experiences were constrained by the scale of the ships being used and rules specific to them,” designer Jeff Siadek told me, “With Dirtside, we needed to change things around a little bit allow whole planet events, exploration on a larger level and to offer unique experiences you don’t see in other games that try to capture the thrill of Battlestations. Our scenarios are much larger than just these missions you see in other games.”

Developer Joey Vigour added, “We wanted replay value for the scenarios, too, so there are totally different directions a mission can go and there’s like 15 threats but so you can redo the same missions again with different threads. We wanted quality stories, not just a board where you run around and shoot things.” Of course, shooting things and running around can be fun, and this is totally available in the game, too.

Battlestations: Dirtside is fun and now available to pre-order on Kickstarter

We had a lot of fun with Battlestations: Dirtside and I expect it to do well on Kickstarter. In one scenario, we dropped onto the planet trying to find the cure for an epidemic happening on another world. We managed to claim it but almost landed our ship right on top of our away team (the drift rules are clever).

A second mission had us fighting off denizens of another planet with a timeclock ready to blow up the world. We had to keep using our Luck chits to avoid the blow up and managed to escape just in time. And, yes, there was running around and shooting of bad guys—but all within the storylines.

Battlestations: Dirtside
The Battlestations: Dirtside setup at Gamex 2019 from Strategicon

I had a raucous good time with Jeff and Joey, who are always wonderful to see, and I enjoyed playing the unique alien races from in the game on detailed planets included in the scenario book. If you want an adventure game with old-school rolls to resolve combat and tight enough mechanisms to make the game move along well, Battlestations: Dirtside should be looked up on Kickstarter ASAP. There’s a whole lot of game time in this big box of space adventure fun.

For more information on Battlestations: Dirtside, please check out the Kickstarter page today. The original Battlestations! Second Edition is available now on Amazon.

Disclosure: Boardgame Babylon accepts no payment for reviews, previews, comments, whatever, but accepts review copies occasionally. It’s kind of obvious, but the designers came to my house and taught me the game. Yes, I’d call them both friends but I’d also call a lot of people in board games my friends and that doesn’t affect my reviews.

Review: Call to Adventure from Brotherwise Games

Review: Call to Adventure from Brotherwise Games

Call to Adventure is kind of a revelation. I have been increasingly interested in games that effectively tell a story while also having a tight set of mechanisms that make for a clean game. Brotherwise Games, previously best-known for the video game nostalgia-fest Boss Monster, have delivered on this combo in spades. While their Kickstarter was a hit, the game is now widely available. I believe it deserves your attention.

Let’s be clear: I love eurogames. I’m a proud eurosnoot—that term is hilarious and I embrace it (mostly because I think our hobby sometimes takes itself too seriously). But I admit that the appeal of story-driven games is compelling, especially as a storyteller myself. I have also been intrigued by games that encourage low-effort creativity and we’re seeing more of them these days. That’s not necessarily a bad term—we are in an era when people enjoy building on existing stories. Call to Adventure (CTA) engages this notion well, giving players a chance to add a bit of themselves into the game. While you the game plays effectively with smart mechanisms, (and it just sails), you also build a story that you can tell at the end of the game.

Gorgeous artwork, enjoyable game

Answering the Call

CTA starts with some cards dealt and selections made to seed the basics of your character. That’s an Origin, Motivation and a Destiny. You get two of each and get to pick one for each stage of your character’s life. Right from the beginning, this gives you a strong sense of how your character will develop over time. This can help drive the choices you make about increasing your experience and skills. Each turn, you select one of four or five face up cards for the stage you are on, with an option to discard one by spending Experience tokens.

Some cards just add characteristics and you can just claim them. Others represent challenges you need to achieve and give you two options, a top or bottom choice. Usually, the bottom one represents something harder, but the reward will be greater, too. Depending on which path you take, you’ll place an acquired card showing the top or bottom of the card to show off your reward, usually the ability to do more or a story element that can rack up points when you gain multiples of them. How do you take on those challenges and add to your skills? Well, you ‘throw the bones.’ Well, runes – that is.

The Runes from Call to Adventure: Chunky and fun to throw

Rune-Throwing

The game comes with runes that are kind of like a coin toss but they are so much nicer than that. First of all, there’s a standard set you always roll, which might also give you a Hero or Antihero card (more on that later). Then, there are different runes to line up with six attributes: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity…you know the rest. You earn the right to throw more as you gain experience, using the appropriate ones depending on whether its a challenge for your military prowess, knowledge, or perhaps your guile. This simple system has just the right amount of sophistication to make it not merely a coin-toss-fest, but still quick enough to keep the game moving and under an hour from beginning to finish.

When you fail at a Challenge, it is discarded but you get an Experience token to help you in the future. So, you did learn a little something.

One of the Four Player Boards with cards mid-game.

Hero and Antihero cards can be acquired and played during the game, from both runes and cards you collect. However, your tendency to goodness and not-so-goodness are tracked with a sun/moon token (shown above left). When you’re in the middle, you can play both. However, when you go to the extremes, it can help you gain points (or lose some heroic points). This adds pleasant nuance to your character story. This is a smart design.

Each of the Attribute and Challenge cards (that you achieve) are added to your character board in one of the three slots. The next section opens when you have three from the current level. They each give you some advantage or special ability, helping you along your journey. You can double-back for a lower-level cards if you want, but this could keep you from staying on pace with your competitors, as the game will end when one player gets three Level 3 cards on their board. After a final turn, players count up their points to see who won, with totals including cards you won, played Hero/Antihero cards, Experience tokens (that are often used in the game), and any bonuses from your Destiny card.

An Individual Call to Adventure

Enjoyably, the designers built a good solo mode right into the game’s basic mechanisms. Adversaries are special challenges that lack two options but can become an integral part of your character’s story. In solo mode, one of these is pulled out and setup as a final battle for the character – giving you something to built toward for that ultimate showdown. This feature works with the cooperative variant as well.

There’s more to it, including some Ally cards that add interest to the game. But mostly, the rules take a backseat to the clever story-construction the game engenders. While you don’t have to do it, at the end of the game, you are encouraged to tell the story of your character to the table. This inspired idea helps elevate the game a bit more. Engaging the creativity of players is one of the most appealing new features of modern games that I’ve started to notice in recent days.

I’ve sung the praises of Four Against Darkness for similar reasons. While that game is fun for its mechanisms, the true joy is in writing out your dungeon with your own decorations and artwork. The upcoming Cartographers from Thunderworks Games also inspires players to not just roll and write, but roll and create their maps. More designers are coming up with intriguing ways to include some creative energy into the genre and I love it.

Recommended: Call to Adventure

Call to Adventure is utterly gorgeous, too. If the appropriately 8-bitty artwork from Boss Monster made you think they were going to go on the cheap for this one, put it out of your mind. Quite the reverse, the artwork in CTA is fantastic and evocative. I expect to play a lot more Call to Adventure and look forward to their future expansions, which include one based on Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller series (although maybe they should hold it hostage until he finishes the third book…).

Call to Adventure is a unique gaming experience that I really enjoyed and I think you will, too. It’s family-friendly and absolutely worth your gaming dollars. Get it on Amazon or at your FLGS, and answer the call!

Review: Time Breaker from Andy Looney and Looney Labs

Review: Time Breaker from Andy Looney and Looney Labs

Time Breaker is another wacky game from the mind of the great Andy Looney. In the game, which is perhaps a spiritual sequel to Andy’s earlier Chrononauts, players are part of the Time Repair Agency chasing a Time Breaker through time to bring him to justice. But this is not a cooperative game; players want to be the officer to bring the Breaker in, meaning that you may actually try to stop some of the other players in their pursuit.

Time Breaker
A lot of time stuff in that little Looney box…

What’s a Time Breaker, you may ask (especially with the way Avengers: Endgame recently threw out much of what sci-fi geeks ‘know’ about time travel)? The game defines it as a criminal that is attempting to cause issues in a timeline rift. Thus, the players need to chase this temporal hooligan through a game board made up of a 25-tile grid, each representing a specific spot in history. The tiles each show a previous place in history from which you can come into the space and a secondary time you can jump to from there (denoted by red and green arrows, respectively).

Players start at the center of the grid, in the Time Repair Agency spot and they are each dealt a hand of three cards. Each turn, the active player draws a card and then does one of three things: Plays a card to move their agent or the Time Breaker, uses the green arrow to jump to the next time spot, or they do a Hail Mary option of drawing the top card and doing whatever it suggests. That last option is called a Wormhole and you get what you get.

Most of the cards that allow movement do one of two things: Either let your agent move one space vertically or horizontally, or jump to a specific time tile. The Wormhole is really only for those moments when you have no other useful option.

Time Breaker
The Time Breaker is a cube of time-busting clear plastic.

Time Breaker Cards

Some cards allow players to move the Time Breaker himself. This is helpful if one of your opponents moves onto the space with the Time Breaker to arrest him. They simply need to verbalize that they are arresting him (creativity welcome) and then the Breaker will go with them when next they move. Now, if you get to the space where your opponent has actually apprehended the Breaker, you have the option of also placing them under arrest and the first player to move away from that space will take the Breaker with them. But it’s much easier to simply move the Breaker with a card.

Breaker cards are easy to spot since they are black, and most let you move the Breaker token. Some Breaker cards actually close a time gate instead. This removes the tile from the 5 x 5 grid and flips it over. Now, if you jump to that space either from a card or tile path, you are sent to the center of the board instead. This is a welcome mechanism as it pleasantly speeds up the game as you go since getting the Breaker back to the center space is the winning condition.

These closures create gaps in the board which are traversed as if they were just not there, allowing you to move directly to the adjacent space and with the added fact that the game allows for wraparound movement from one side to the other. This movement flexibility is welcome and it grows as the game board gets smaller. Players are able to immediately walk between spaces based on using the green arrow cards and move cards. This eases up one of the game’s challenges: Movement cards directly to you want to go to scarce and the real challenge of the game is figuring out clever ways to navigate to the Breaker and bring them to justice.

Forward to the Past

Time Breaker was popular with the players at our game table. They enjoyed the fast play and movement around the board and the opportunity to foil each other’s plans just as they were about to make their way back to the Time Repair Agency with the nasty Breaker in, presumably, temporal cuffs. The efficiency of play is a factor, with serious gamers perhaps ending the game much quicker. As a result, Time Breaker has a wide timeline for play, noted on the box as 10 to 40 minutes. This is a similar time commitment to the other Looney Labs games which have can wild swings of luck on the basis of card play and options that you don’t have a great deal of control over. That isn’t a slight on the game, in my opinion, because that speed works well for casual players looking for a Fluxxy experience..

Time Breaker
The tiles have a lot of art!

If we had any concern with the game, it’s the graphic design, which crams a great deal of information onto every single one of the game tiles. In an effort to allow people to use either visual or numeric cues, the individual tiles, which aren’t so large, feature both the image associated with a certain time tile and the actual date. This makes for a kind of messy tile that can be difficult for people discern. I would hope that if Looney Labs does a second edition of the game, they might simplify the tiles. Rather than helping, the visual searches slow the game a bit.

Time Breaker is for 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up. For its portability and ease of play, I do recommend the game, especially for Looney Labs fans. More serious gamers may find Time Breaker enjoyable as a quick filler and to enjoy the artwork, which is charming.

Charming Art – quite Looney, too

In my view, Time Breaker is an excellent encapsulation of the Looney Labs brand, and fits well into their ludography. I enjoyed the game and expect to play it again as it becomes available in the Strategicon Library at Gamex 2019. The game is available now at your Friendly Local or Online Game Store and on Amazon.com.

Disclosure: The publisher provided a copy of this game for independent review, which is now being donated to the Strategicon Game Library.

Review: This Game Goes to Eleven by Gamewright

Review: This Game Goes to Eleven by Gamewright

With a name like This Game Goes to Eleven, this title from Gamewright is trading on the association with the classic cult film This Is Spinal Tap. For the uninitiated, the reference is to an immortal scene in the film where fictional metalhead rocker Nigel Tufnel explains how his amps are just better because of their dials tracking to 11 instead of just 10. Trust me, it hilarious and this game’s title will inspire a smile for anyone who has seen the film.

Haven’t seen it? Go directly to your TV. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

This casual-weight game comes with 72 amp-backed cards and a guitar pick (or “plectrum,” as the delightfully erudite Mr. Mike Siggins noted on my Instagram recently) does evokes this wacky scene with some artwork as well. Playing with 2-6 players of ages 8 and up, it’s quick one, running just about 15-20 minutes. As a filler to begin or end a game night, Eleven, can succeed in filling in the game between longer games, or to appeal the very casual player.

This is a straightforward game of playing cards to get to a certain point in value in the discard pile. Players are dealt three cards of varying values from zero to 11 (no 10 because how sad would that be?). The zero and 11 cards are something special, but most of the cards simply have a number and a hue that corresponds across the same rank. On your turn, you play one from your hard to the discard pile and draw back up three afterward.

The Power of Eleven

When the values of the cards in the discard pile hit 11 or more, the entire stack is given to a player to add to their points pile in front of them. In this way, the game plays like a variety of other cards card games including Reiner Knizia’s Escalation and Poison (now ‘Friday the 13th‘ from iELLO).

Rocker and librarians and amps, oh my…

Who takes the cards? That’s determined by whether the active player hit the number 11 exactly or if they exceeded it. Hitting 11 exactly is the goal; if so, the active player gets to choose who takes the stack of cards that added up to the total.

If the active player exceeds 11 in the discard stack by their play, they are forced to take those cards. That’s the basic game. Once the cards have been passed to the appropriate player, play continues with the next player. However, there are a few additional rules that had some interest to the game.

Librarian Versus Rocker

First off, there are those zero and 11 cards. The 11 card, which features artwork of what looks like a Motley Crue reject, directly sets the current stack at 11, giving the active player the opportunity to be able to handover the cards to whomever it is they want. Rock on, indeed.

The zero card has a picture of a Librarian and she will shush the value of the current stack down to a zero. She also has the power of being able to be played out of turn to cancel an 11 rocker card. What the designers were thinking when they figured that a librarian can shush a loud hair metal rocker, I don’t know. But that doesn’t give the Librarian a great deal of power in the game. The Librarian can also make for prodigiously large stacks of cards which ended up getting handed over to a player in a single go.

Split Stacks

One more interesting rule is that players may not play a card of the same rank directly on top of a card of the same rank. If you do opt to play a card of the same rank on top of one that matches it, you will split the stacks. For example if the stack currently has a five on top of it and you opt to play five card, rather than adding the five to the total that is currently in the discredit pile you will make a new discard pile.

This option is probably the most interesting part of the game since you can use it to avoid exceeding 11 on your turn. Instead, you start a new second discard pile that is also being played to 11 or more. I am fond of this rule since it reminds me of the under-appreciated Adlungspiele game Lowendynastie, which allows you to create a secondary trick with a split matched ‘marriage’ card. Eleven isn’t as intriguing as that game, but this little flash of an intriguing rule is welcome.

Winning

As you may have surmised at this point the game is going to end when you get through the stack of cards and the player with the fewest cards is going to win. Thus, it helps to simply avoid cards there’s no real difference there and it makes for a simple goal that all players can understand. The value of the cards themselves or any of the special cards like a librarian and the guitarist don’t have any special significance, at the end again it’s just about how many cards you have. While it lacks the ladder-climbing feel of Escalation, the intrigue of the three stacks and shoot-the-moon scoring options of Poison, This Game Games to Eleven fits the bill nicely of a six player game you can play with just about anyone.

Plectrum Variant: A must for us

Pick this variant…

One more note: the plectrum included with the game isn’t just for amusement, it provides a variant that I like. The plectrum is giving to the starting player and, when someone hits exactly eleven on the discard stack, the one with the plectrum gets the pile of cards. Some will say this make for less strategic options, it does dial down (pun intended) the ‘take-that’ feel of the game. This variant doesn’t change anything about the active player getting the cards if they exceed that number and I think it makes for some interesting choices when you need to minimize card intake while possessing the plectrum. For our group, this option is a lot more appealing as we are not terribly aggressive players and liked the idea that the game was instead more evenly distributing the cards and allowing us to make the difference in the skill of play.

If you are a local, this copy of the game will be showing up in the Strategicon Game Library in time for the Gamex 2019 convention in May. Play it there to get your rock and roll on.

This Game Goes to Eleven
The whole shebang.

Final Word

This Game Goes to Eleven was liked by our casual gamers and if that’s your audience, this is a winner. Serious games can enjoy it as a lighter version of fare they normally play and it’s a charming filler that can round out theme nights, too.

3 Rapid Reviews of iOS Board Games: Evolution, Castles of Burgundy and Doppelt Ganz Clever

3 Rapid Reviews of iOS Board Games: Evolution, Castles of Burgundy and Doppelt Ganz Clever

Who has time for full-blown reviews anymore? If you want them, you can find all you want – a sea of them. But if you want something quick, here you go – quick, hot takes on recent games I’ve played. Nah, I didn’t play them seven times. I won’t explain the rules in excruciating detail. I won’t give you the path to victory based on countless plays. I’ll give you the gist, something I find interesting, and what I think. Here we go:

Evolution: The Digital Edition

The Gist

Evolution is a gorgeous app from the get-go.

Evolution was the first ‘serious’ game that came from North Star Games, who were first known for their hit (and wonderful) party game Wits & Wagers. Since Evolution ended up feeling like, wait for it, North Star itself evolving, I was intrigued even though my first play was with a rough playtest copy that I demonstrated at Strategicon. Yet, the game was immediately compelling to just about everyone I met; the concept of multipurpose cards where one can create species and grow them with the ultimate goal of feeding (food = VP) appealing immediately to gamers. Bringing the game to mobile gaming seemed like a no-brainer to me and it’s finally here, allowing for AI and asynchronous play. The game is full of sparkling graphics, lots of flavor text, a solid (if sometimes overbearing) tutorial, and a complete port of the gameplay that made Evolution so popular.

What’s Interesting

Evolution on your phone takes care of some of the administration and card-reading. One knock on the original game is how much information you need to track. Can my carnivore eat any of the available animals? I need to read cards to confirm. The app just highlights which species I can snack on now, which makes life wonderful. Sure, you still need to look sometimes, which is easy enough with a click on the cards (easier on a tablet, and a choice to display all cards on a species would be cool). “Auto-feed” is also nice, quickly letting the species mack down on the available food as they would appropriately chose to do.

My Take

The game moves well with the smart UI.

Evolution is a good game that has a unique feel. I am quite fond of the app version because of the ease of administration and how it is giving me a chance to play the game more frequently so I can become more familiar with the rules. That way, when next I get it to the table, it’s all the easier to play the game quickly. The chance to explore the strategy of a game more is the key thing I seek in a longer iOS game (not the 3-5 minute chunk games like Doppelt Ganz Clever below), and Evolution: The Digital Game delivers that in spades. If you like Evolution, it’s an insta-buy. If you’re new to Evolution, you can find no better way to learn it.

Castles of Burgundy: The Digital Edition

The Gist

This is before the magic robot table yanks your player board into some underground storage chamber.

Castles of Burgundy is the finest game Stefan Feld has designed and it is one of my favorites of all time. Haven’t played it? Stop reading and go play this cardboard wonder. Back now? Okay, let’s continue.

It’s a perfect dice manipulation game. COB effectively makes good use of a wild list of different tiles in a way that isn’t quite as successful in Feld games like Bruges and Macao. I was thrilled for the iOS version to come out. Unfortunately, my first response to the game was that it was overproduced. I have been generally happy with Digidiced, the company behind this release. Yet, it felt like they had stacked this layer cake just a little too tall.

COB received criticism for the component quality when it was originally released, but no one took issue with the art. It’s not sacrilege to replace it with similar looking art, but the original work is recognizable for those of us who have played many, many games of COB. So, it irked me a little bit that the digital edition adds new, less appealing art. Add that to the fact that the game has a 3-D look and a quirky trick where in the game shows the current player’s board on their turn. I find the implementation overwhelming.

What’s Interesting

Once I started to play, I realized Digidiced had sensibly given players a number of choices as to how it is they might select certain pieces to take their turn. For example, you can select the die you want to play in order to start the process of selecting a tile to claim or take. You can also simply select the pieces. The game does a pretty solid job of being able to anticipate what it is that you’re going to do. Not rocket science but it’s still welcome that when I select a shipping tile that has a three on it, the game understands that I’m probably meaning to select a die that has a three on it or one that is pretty close for which I can use a worker to modify. As a software designer, I can appreciate the fact that the company made some good choices as to use ability in these cases. Kudos, Digidicers.

My Take

How does the game play on iOS? Pretty much like COB tabletop does, with a lot of the administration handled for you. That’s welcome, as the game does require a bit of set up each round. My experience so far has primarily been playing against the computer and the AI is a serviceable but the real joy is being able to have some asynchronous play with friends. And while I was initially frustrated with the art, I have grown accustomed to the different look. I still think that there is some lost definition with some of the building tiles in particular but that’s a small complaint against the joy of being able to have more COB in my life.One final note, The game is priced at $8.99 for the iOS version and a dollar more for Android. This is a significant increase from most of the games that come out these days which are starting to trail up into higher costs. While I understand the desire to make some amount of money from the mobile games, as well as the versions that are available on Steam, I do think that for gamers that have already invested in the game in physical format, it does seem like a bit high. Maybe I’m just naïve, and something of a cheapo when it comes to how much money I’m willing to pay for an iOS version of a game that I’ve already bought in physical form, not to mention the Card Game and the Dice Game, both of which are passable versions of the original. For me, $4.99 is an upper limit for these games when you play them on your devices like an iPhone or iPad. But if you love COB, and you should, pick it up when the sales hit…

Doppelt So Clever: The Digital Edition

The Gist

“Twice As Clever” may be true. Some people are flummoxed by this sequel.

Ghost-pepper-hot designer Wolfgang Warsch keeps dropping these excellent games on us. In the case of Doppelt So Clever, he’s following up Kennerspiel Bridesmaid Ganz Schon Clever (which missed out on the award because his other nominee won), a roll-and-write wonder that delights gamers and may intimidate the uninitiated.

The themeless dicey puzzle game allows for clever interaction between rolls in various categories and the forced limitation of lower die rolls. I find it a great app for the 5 minute iOS experience I tend to seek instead of longer games that will take an extended period of time to play. Doppelt ups the ante by introducing even less obvious interactions into the mix. The gray section in particular has baffled some players but the way you set up various rolls to give you extra rolls and placements is key (Blue and Pink, folks!) It’s a heady answer to the simpler roll-and-writes out there flooding the marketplace and I really enjoy it.

What’s Interesting

A fresh board is a delight. What strategy will I go for this time?

What’s truly interesting is the game. If Ganz Schon Clever kept me addicted for a few months as I worked my way up to scoring in the 300’s, Doppelt was knocked over a lot faster. While I think Doppelt’s strategy is more subtle, experience with GSC helped me a lot. Not that it plays the same way, in fact, you need to unlearn some things that GSC teaches you. The interplay of the Yellow section is more intriguing than Blue in GSC. Green can be a points powerhouse. Pink can deliver so much if you get in early. There’s plenty to explore and enjoy for the cost of this app.

The app itself is a port from Brettspielwelt, which are generally not too strong. Like Friday and Doppelt’s sister game, they are buggy and sometimes slow to respond. I won’t bore you with the technological reasons why I believe these apps don’t perform but it’s a thing. That said, I want BSW to make tons of money because I’ve spent MANY hours on their servers delighting in board game goodness.

My Take

These games are lovely puzzles but once you have solved them, they lose some appeal. I’d also suggest that solo play is just as appealing because adding other players doesn’t meaningfully change the game except when they are going to trip you up by refusing you a die you want. I don’t find that appealing anyway so the “Clevers” are perfect for iOS (dare I say, maybe even better than the physical copy). Give them both a buy.

What iOS board games do you love? I’d enjoy hearing about your favorites in the comments section. I think I have most of them out there but I am always looking for my next iOS addiction.

Disclosure: A code to download Evolution: The Digital Edition was provided by the publisher for independent review.