PRESS RELEASE: Outta Our Shells Quadruples Kickstarter Goal, Launches Later This Year

PRESS RELEASE: Outta Our Shells Quadruples Kickstarter Goal, Launches Later This Year

LAHAINA, HAWAII, April 16, 2020 —Outta Our Shells, the new family-friendly ice-breaker card game developed by Greg Johnson, co-creator and designer of ToeJam & Earl, smashed through its original funding goal and wraps up its Kickstarter campaign with two fully funded stretch goals and launches later this year.

The charming, conversation-starting Outta Our Shells has raised over $41,000 over the course of its Kickstarter. Inspired by this reaction, Johnson has decided to add additional artwork to the front of the Question and Fortune cards. Thanks to hitting the $25K and $30K stretch goals, the game will now include 50 brand new cards to help flesh out the game even further, as well as do-it-yourself cards to add some personal flair to each session. 

DIY cards spice up the game however players see fit. Write out special Questions to delight and entertain friends and family. Create Cat or Rat cards that offer choices that feel relevant and resonate with the people in your close circle. Formulate Fortunes, either or Good or Bad, that you feel should be in the game and will make others laugh. 

Each game includes three decks of cards featuring adorable art. Draw Question cards to learn more about each player using prompts designed to inspire storytelling. Glean new details from each anecdote to learn what they like, then try to guess those inclinations with Cat or Rat cards. Trade in Cat or Rat cards for Fortunes until players obtain three Fortune cards they are satisfied with. Ultimately, the real goal is to get to know each other and have a great time. 

“Running a Kickstarter is always exciting,” said Greg Johnson. “You never know what’s going to happen. Still, the really exciting part starts once the game gets into the people’s hands and they start enjoying it and talking about it. That’s really the part I can’t wait for! I am so excited that Outta Our Shells is finally getting out there after all of these years of playing it with my friends.” 

Outta Our Shells will be available in English this year for $24.99 at local retailers and available online. Each box includes 250 cards, along with 6 Blank DIY cards for custom cards. The final version of the game launches later this year so players can forge new friendships or cement existing relationships.


To learn more, please visit Outta Our Shells pledge page, watch for updates on the ToeJam and Earl Twitter and Facebook, or interact with Greg directly on his Twitter.

Chuck Robbins: A Remembrance

Chuck Robbins: A Remembrance

Like so many in the Southern California tabletop gaming community, I’m deeply saddened to about the recent passing of the mighty Chuck Robbins, the owner and operator of Game Empire in Pasadena, California – one of the finest tabletop gaming stores we are honored to have in Southern California. We were friends and I always enjoyed visiting the store for the games but even more to chat with my buddy Chuck. I’ve known him since before he opened the store and I’m happy to have had a small part in him achieving his dream, which he sought to pay back recently. Let me tell that story in his honor.

Chance Meeting

Chuck and I first met years ago when I happened to wander into his brother’s store (also called Game Empire) in San Diego while I was on holiday with my family. When I travel, I love to patronize local game stores and Game Empire was place of choice that trip. After browsing through the store, I wandered into the play area (a hallmark of Game Empire is that there is always great space to play games) and Chuck actually chatted me up when he saw I had a copy of a two-player Kosmos game in my hands. We got to talking and he found out I was from Los Angeles. Before long, he told me of his desire to open a local game store in Pasadena.

Now, if you are reading this blog, you may know that I used to have a podcast called Boardgame Babylon from 2005 to about 2015 (with occasional revivals here and there). That’s still the name of the blog, of course, and I might just revive the other one day. I digress; one of the key things to know about my podcast is that I had a journalistic bent to some of my shows because I have been a journalist in one form or another for some of my professional life. One of the features of my podcast was to do occasional series like one I did about the Demise and Rise of the Friendly Local Game Store, which had me talking turkey with many a game store owner in SoCal.

Now, I have lived near Pasadena for most of my life so when Chuck talked about that area, I had a perfect frame of reference. We connected about the area and discussed the gaming and shopping options we have had in the San Gabriel Valley over the years, from the long-gone Game Keeper in the nearby mall, to the Last Grenadier’s Pasadena haven (and the short-lived Arcadia version), to Lionheart and Gameology, and all the tiny shops that opened after Magic: The Gathering broke. If you had a game store in SoCal in the last 35 years, I’ve been your customer and Chuck appreciated my comprehensive knowledge of the stores in town and thereabouts.

Having just talked to one of the staffers at Pasadena’s only game store at that time (Game Zone), I told Chuck that the store was for sale. I said why not just buy it and develop it out as he clearly would do. Pasadena would love him for it.

He told me, no – the owner had told him it was NOT for sale and made it clear in no uncertain terms. He’s spoken to him fairly recently and it had led Chuck to scout out other areas in town, knowing he’d have the established player to take on. He knew he could outwork Game Zone, which was a pretty oldschool FLGS, with all trappings you might expect.

For those who don’t know, The Game Zone started as “THE ZONE”, a game retailer who used to have a regular table at Strategicon. He got attention and sold games the old fashioned way: Discounts and shouting. Bill was outspoken, calling people over to his booth as they tried to walk by and not make eye contact. He had discounts, he had ding and dent games, and he might have bought closeout games. I don’t recall completely, although I do remember buying the Warhammer Mighty Fortress foam castle from him years ago, which was never really used. Eventually, Bill opened The Zone and, while it was fine for a while, he eventually sold it and had to get a day job. In those days, he had more competition from the Last Grenadier in Pasadena and another game store in Eagle Rock (Something Unusual), so it was probably harder. But he sold it and I’m not sure how many owners there were before the last fellow bought it.

Now, I knew the current owner a bit and he was a quiet, unassuming fellow. Chuck – well, he was not. Chuck was an attorney for many years so he said what he meant and did so powerfully, with confidence you don’t always find among the geeks and nerds in tabletop gaming. He wasn’t rude, but he also didn’t mess around. I always admired that about him. Yet, I thought it might not work well when he spoke to the Game Zone’s owner.

When I insisted that Game Zone was for sale and that I knew the owner was looking to exit the business to pursue other concerns (quite positive ones, actually), Chuck went back and got the deal done. Some time, not too much time later, I actually interviewed the Game Zone owner before he officially sold the place and it came out that I was the one who had told Chuck the store was absolutely for sale. To his credit, the guy wasn’t mad at me but he was surprised and perhaps he just eventually realized it was what he wanted anyway. His staffer who told me may have gotten some heck thereafter, I suppose but what was I to do? I was a podcasting journalist. No one told me it was off the record – something I have always respected (believe me, there are a few stories I’d LOVE to tell that I never will because they were told in confidence and off the record).

Game Empire Pasadena Arises

A thousand, indeed – Game Empire is well-known for its selection.

Chuck took the space at the Game Zone, and the space next door and built out an almost exact duplicate of his brother’s Game Empire in San Diego. Both stores were intelligently designed to entice casual visitors at the front with more traditional items, and as you walked in, you got more exposure to the more hobby-oriented games. Although both stores would move locations and abandon some of that concept, I appreciated how Chuck and Cliff built their businesses. Both offered friendly service not always seen in game stores in the past, a wide selection of titles and they made sure they provided a clean, well-lit game space to play. They built community with events and by building friendships with their patrons.

I had nothing to do with the car that went through the window of the old Game Empire but I recall Chuck’s incredible retelling of the experience. Photo: Google Images

I frequently visited and enjoyed patronizing such an excellent store. I’d usually spend 20% of my time shopping and 80% of it talking to Chuck about the business, the industry and new games. Some time later, I had a conversation with Chuck where he mentioned to me that he was in the process of bidding to buy our thrice-yearly tabletop game conventions in Los Angeles, Strategicon. As a nearly life-long Southern Californian, I’ve began attending Strategicon back in 1986 (after my first con, Origins ’86 – which was hosted in L.A.) I had been a regular attendee into the early 90’s but stopped around 1995 or so. So, it had been about a decade since I had really attended a convention and the word was that they had gone steadily downhill. I figured new blood in leadership was probably a great idea.

At the time, Chuck told me that he was bidding against two other groups. One of them was led by a fellow who used to run conventions AGAINST Strategicon, the same weekends, often just down the street. I knew him just a little bit and that was more than enough. The current Strategicon ownership had little interest in selling to someone who was focused on hurting the cons in the past – a position I definitely respected.

Chuck didn’t know who the other people were. I wished him well in the process, as he had become a key retailer in the dealer room and I felt Chuck would do a lot of good for Strategicon since he’s transformed the tabletop store options in Pasadena. I was excited to see what he could do.

Big Mouth Strikes Again (with apologies to The Smiths)

Not long after that discussion, as part of the Demise and Rise of the Friendly Local Game Store series, I interviewed the primary owner of Strategicon, who also ran a game store in Southern California that has since closed down. In the course of the discussion about him running his game store for decades and the story of when he acquired Strategicon alongside many of the SoCal Game Retailers, I mentioned that I knew about the sale of the conventions. He was momentarily upset that I knew about it, paused the podcast, and then we continued talking – although I would say that he seemed a bit off for the rest of the show.

Later on, I heard from another person that the Strategicon owner was really upset that I was spreading information about the sale of the convention. A mutual friend of ours kindly reminded him that I was a journalist and it’s my job to know what’s going on in the industry for SoCal. I’m told he eventually accepted that and turned his ire on Chuck. He decided that this breach disqualified Chuck from bidding for the cons, so he went with the other group.

Chuck was upset at me, apparently. But his brother noted what my other friend did; when you talk to a journalist, you need to note if something is on the record or not. Nothing like that passed between us and, to be honest, I think Chuck probably told me a lot of other things that were sensitive that I had not revealed before. But this came up in my process of covering my stores so it came out. Chuck told me later that he’d forgiven me because, yes, he knew full well that I was a journalist and spoke to all the game store owners regularly.

We remained friends for years thereafter and the years that followed included I always enjoyed stopping to chat with him when I came in to get my board game fix. Even when I would fail to get to the store for months or even a year, we’d talk like no time had passed. I attended playtesting events at Game Empire sometimes, but always made time to talk to Chuck about business, what I was doing at my various software startups and such.

The Wisdom Lasts

Last year, I visited him after a long while and I was surprised to see him sported a bald head. He told me immediately about his healthy challenges but that he was prepared to beat the big ‘C’ in the same way he took down his enemies on the miniatures table. I had full confidence he would.

More importantly, he expressed his always-present interest in what was going on with me. As I said, Chuck cultivated relationships with customers – we were his friends, not just patrons. I told Chuck how I had left a startup after a really rough time. I had put my heart and soul into a business for three and a half years, only to have it not get there because of nonsense outside my control.

Chuck offered me words of wisdom: He made me take stock in the years of professional life I still have in front of me (let’s just say it’s fewer than I have behind me). He quizzed me, pressed me to come up with the person who has the job I wanted more than anything. Then, he told me to do everything in my power to get there; to get to that place where I loved every day of my work.

I knew this stuff, but Chuck’s fervent words reminded me and inspired me to take action. Like most people, I had gotten caught up in the challenges of life, including some recent losses and tough times with transitions in life. His powerful words helped me find clarity and focus back on what’s important. I really appreciated his concern and his effort to get me back on track.

Chuck was a wonderful guy and I’m so glad he was my friend. I could go on for a lot longer about all the conversations we had over the years as I held a game in my hand, ready to buy but not until we had gotten through all the subjects in front of us. Yet, this last conversation last year is the one that will continue to have a lasting effect on my life and I’m so thankful to him for that.

Thanks to Chuck for the great community he built right here in the SGV, for the amazing store he built for local gamers to enjoy, but mostly for being my trusted friend who knew when I needed a poke to get my life back on track. RIP, good sir – our community is so much richer for your efforts, your humor, and your humanity.

6 Wonderful Board Games to Buy Your Kids Instead of the ‘Classics’

6 Wonderful Board Games to Buy Your Kids Instead of the ‘Classics’

Board games are a wonderful way to spend quality time with your family and friends but it pains me to see people buy the same old board games for their family if they didn’t really enjoy them as a child. While the hobby is getting more popular, the vast majority of people don’t know how many amazing games exist just beyond the half-dozen that get heavily advertised by the toy conglomerates.

While any time spent with your children away from screens is a very good thing, I can speak from experience as a parent of two now-grown children that there are reasons to bring modern board games to the table instead of yet another night yelling at one another about whether you really get money when you land on Free Parking.

1) Modern board games teach more decision-making. Too many board games of old rely on randomness and chance to determine outcomes. While all gameplay helps children learn rules and follow directions, when consequential decisions are involved, children learn to make decisions in a safe play-space that helps them feel confidence ahead of a time when they need to make them in the real world.

2) Games on this list evolved from earlier games — and solved many of their problems. Shorter play times are welcome in our busy age. Modern games usually don’t eliminate players as you go, so everyone gets to play the whole time. They have catchup mechanisms so you have a chance to win even if you fall behind. They’re often optimized to give kids a chance without having to ‘let them win’. They include cooperative games you can work on together. These changes help make games more about time well spent than frustration and the feeling of being left out.

3) Modern games that are more fun for everyone also means you’ll have a better time and young players can tell. Kids are sharp. They watch you, emulate your actions and detect falsehood. Your fake enthusiasm for that game with nasty-looking candy all over it? They can see right through it earlier than you think. Play a game you will all enjoy and your kids will love it. You might even find yourself more willing to play again and more often when everyone is having a great time.

So take a look at this list of alternatives which have delighted tens of thousands and really should delight millions. When you go to buy that a gift for the kids in your life, remember there’s a reason why Wal-Mart sells the ‘classics’ for $5. Instead, buy a modern board game that will truly delight your family.

Winning Alternatives To the ‘Classics’

Sushi Roll is a great new game from Gamewright
  1. Buy Sushi Roll instead of that game with rent and hotels — We are so busy these days, does anyone have time for a game that seems like it never ends, that has player elimination, and a confrontational air? Instead, try Sushi Roll, a delightful dice-game from Gamewright that can be played in 20–30 minutes and will delight everyone at the table. Everyone gets to play the whole game, you get three rounds of play to even out the luck of the die rolls, and a chance to swap and re-roll helps kids learn to make choices to mitigate luck and pick the times when it matters most. Instead of being directly confrontational (I take money from you), it’s competitive (we compete to acquire the most of some elements, while I collect sets independently in other cases). Add to that the charming look and intuitive game play, and you have a winner that will come out a lot more often than the Game That Takes All Night. Buy Sushi Roll on Amazon.

2) Buy Animal Upon Animal instead of that one with the ice — Dexterity games can be a blast, but when it’s mostly about luck, it can get a bit boring. Animal Upon Animal is a stacking game where you roll a die to set the stage for how you perform your turn, while still giving you a chance to pick what you will use. Even the younger players here get a chance to make choices about what animal they’d like to play each turn and how they would stack them. With small, nimble fingers used to this kind of activity, my kids would frequently beat me badly in Animal Upon Animal when they were young, try as I might. That’s part of why I’m saving it for my grandchildren one day. Grab it and enjoy the 15-minutes of laughing and fun. Buy Animal Upon Animal on Amazon.

So much fun stacking Animal Upon Animal with the kids.

3) Buy Qwirkleinstead of that one with all the words — Often called “Scrabble for Everyone”, the award-winning Qwirkle levels the playing field for kids and adults alike, allowing you to build lines like in that word game we all know, but using colors and symbols. It’s a charming way to let everyone play with the same level of knowledge by removing the significant advantage one with massive vocabulary has in that other game. Available in the original, a Travel Edition, and with variants, Qwirkle will hit the table more often when everyone feels like they get a chance to win. Ages 6 and up. Buy Qwirkle on Amazon.

Qwirkle has hit the table hundreds of times with our family.
The comic is some good fun, too.

4) Buy Simon’s Cat instead of that ‘one’ one — Simon’s Cat is a cute online cartoon but what I’m talking about here is the card game from Steve Jackson Games. This plays like THAT card game a bit, but the decisions are more interesting and there are not nasty cards that make children frustrated because they lose turns, draw a bunch more cards or when the rotation shifts. Simon’s Cat replaces that with variable numbers of cards in each suit, a manageable play-time, and charming artwork. For the ailurophiles out there, this is a huge treat! Buy Simon’s Cat on Amazon.

5) Buy Codenames Disney, Marvel or Harry Potter instead of that memory game — Memory games have limited educational value, but coming up with words to associate multiple concepts is highly useful. That’s what Codenames will teach your kids. While the regular version is a hit with teens and adults, your kids can enjoy the same great experience with editions themed to Disney, Marvel and Harry Potter. Using the pictures or images, you and your family come up with one-word clues to get members of your team to guess multiple cards on the board. In the Disney version, you might clue “Cat-3” to get them to guess Shere Khan from the Jungle Book, Raja the Tiger from Aladdin, and Figaro from Pinocchio, with the ‘3’ denoting that there are three that cat references in some way. Get the version that suits your kids’ favorite franchise — they don’t get more popular than Disney, Marvel and the Boy Who Lived. The Harry Potter one is fully cooperative, which can add to the experience, too, and can be played with as few as two players. Buy Codenames Disney, Codenames Marvel, or Codenames Harry Potter.

The Disney, Marvel and Harry Potter Editions use pictures and words.

6) Buy Forbidden Island instead of that mystery game — As with Codenames, cooperative games are a modern wonder of board games that brings the family together. This fun game of searching for treasure and stopping an island from falling into the sea is a family-friendly take on the same designer’s co-op hobby game, Pandemic. While that game is wonderful, Forbidden Island works best for the younger set, allowing you and your family to explore the island, work together to discover the cool artifacts included with the game, and to escape before the island sinks. Buy Forbidden Island on Amazon. Sequels Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky are also a good time if you enjoy the original. Ages 6 and up.

A treat for all players, Forbidden Island lets you work together to save the island and escape.

Don’t Limit Games to the Holidays

Make playing board games a regular event. Plan a family game night, even if you can help yourself and you buy the ‘classics.’ Any time spent playing board games with any age-appropriate board game is an investment that benefits everyone in your family.

Keep playing them after your kids are off to college, too. They’re so good for you, a welcome respite from your day and they help keep the mind active. This is a modern tonic for our screen-obsessed culture; time to look at faces, talk and interact with people IRL. I believe you will find it to be time well-spent.


This article contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase my recommendations via my affiliate links, you help support me at no additional cost to you.

5 Board Games for Any Party Anywhere

5 Board Games for Any Party Anywhere

Photo courtesy — twenty20.com/duangbj from Reshot

Everyone loves a party but what do you actually do there? Not a birthday or anniversary — just a gathering. Sure, you talk to people. But if you don’t really work the room, you can miss the chance to connect with most of the people there.

That’s why the party game exists — to bring people together. Party-style board games give you an excuse to interact and laugh with people you like, love or even you just met. These days, we spend nearly a quarter of our time in artificial social spaces. Do I even need to quote research to say that’s not a good thing and we need more time with friends IRL? (okay, here you go.)

The great news: Party games have gotten so much better than even just 15 years ago. If you pick the right ones, you get half-hour experiences that can wonderfully bring a party of people together.

So let’s get to this list of excellent party games that have given me hours and hours of joy with friends both old and new:

Telestrations

Not so much a game as a fun activity, this drawing game doesn’t require you to be an artist at all. In Telestrations, players draw a picture of representing the word on their card into a dry erase book with multiple pages and passes it to the next player. That player looks at the drawing and writes a word or two to describe it. Then, books are passed again and the next player draws based on those words…and so it goes, varying between a word and a picture. When the books reach the original player, they are revealed and everyone gets to see the hilarious interpretations. Telestrations is a riotously fun experience for up to twelve players.

The 12 player pack, also available in an 8 and 6 player edition.

Codenames

This award-winning game from Vlaada Chvatil is a team-based word game, but one with minimal ‘word nerd’ pressure. Like the classic game Password, each of the two teams has a clue giver providing a word to their team to elicit one word responses. The catch in Codenames is that the clue giver can clue more than one word each turn, in a race to identify all your words on a 5×5 grid before the other team guesses theirs. You need two people willing to come up with clues, but the rest of the team can enjoy the game without feeling any pressure. There’s no upper limit on players if everyone can see the cards. You can even get bigger cards with the XXL edition.

Codenames also comes in Pictures, Disney, Marvel, Harry Potter, Adult and Duel Variants

Wits & Wagers

An award-winning trivia game that won’t frustrate people without a Trivial Pursuit mind. Every question in Wits & Wagers is a number you can guesstimate. Furthermore, if the question is just not your thing, the second part of a round involves betting on who got it right. This excites the gambler in your players and gives people a second chance. Wits & Wagers is enormous fun and it has been a hit at our parties for many years.

Just One

The newest game on the list, Just One is probably the easiest of these games and it’s also cooperative. That means everyone is just working together to do well and laugh it up. Each turn, the active player has to guess a word based on one word clues from everyone else (written on individual display stands). However, if the players come up with the same clue, they aren’t revealed and that limits the information the active player gets. You play to see how many of thirteen words you can get. While Just One requires a little thinking, it’s noto so much that you can’t do it after a couple of glasses of wine. A definite winner for up to 7 players.

A clever new entry in the party game genre, Just One will not be played just once.

Dixit

— Maybe you know Apples to Apples (or its NSFW cousin Cards Against Humanity). A wonderful similar game is Dixit, which has the same “judge picks the one they like” concept but uses gorgeous and unique images on each card. The active player plays a card and gives a creative word or phrase to describe it. Everyone else puts a card from their own hand into the mix, and players then guess which one the active player added. The goal is to not be too on-the-nose so everyone picks your card. Ideally, you want just one person to get your hint. Poor guessers can still get points for people picking the card they submitted instead of the original. Dixit is a blast and has many expansions available.

Dixit is full of gorgeous cards.

Why We Party Game

Let’s be clear on one last point: Party games are not about winning! They are about having fun in a shared experience, not crushing your competition. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time competing, it just means that you should focus on the fun and the people first. It’s a party, folks!

So toss out the old Trivial Pursuit (unfair advantage), Bunco (boring), and Taboo (tiresome) and replace them with the winning choices above. Turn your next party into a great experience for everyone and build those real-life friendships that we all cherish so much more than a zillion “friends” online.


This article contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase my recommendations via my affiliate links, you help support me at no additional cost to you.

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: ASMODEE DIGITAL WILL LAUNCH THE EARLY ACCESS OF GLOOMHAVEN ON STEAM ON JULY 17th

PRESS RELEASE: ASMODEE DIGITAL WILL LAUNCH THE EARLY ACCESS OF GLOOMHAVEN ON STEAM ON JULY 17th

First Gameplay Reveal Went Live on Twitch Last Week, Viewed by More than 110,000 Viewers

PARIS June 11, 2019 – Asmodee Digital announced Gloomhaven will start its Early Access on July 17th. For the first time, the gameplay was revealed last week during a four hour-long exclusive stream on Twitch. This special event, hosted by Sam Dempsey, Social Media Manager at Asmodee Digital, with special guest Craig Oman, CEO of Flaming Fowl Studios, was followed by more than 110,000 viewers on Twitch.

As a board game, Gloomhaven has raised $4.4 million on Kickstarter thanks to more than 45,000 backers. Acclaimed by both board game players and critics, the Gloomhaven board game achieved the highest rating on BoardGameGeek and won 6 Golden Geek awards including “Board Game of the Year” in 2017.

In the digital adaptation of Isaac Childres’ ultimate strategic board game, developed by Flaming Fowl Studios, you play as a squad of 2-4 mercenaries, in a world of darkness and trials. Gloomhaven is a balanced mix between Tactical, RPG and dungeon-crawling. Its legendary unforgiving difficulty rewards only the best strategic-thinking players. Gloomhaven will be released in Early Access with the same gameplay as the board game, adding a new exclusive roguelike mode. The campaign mode will be available at the official launch of the game.

The VOD of the gameplay reveal stream is available here.

For more information about the game, feel free to visit:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/780290/Gloomhaven

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.