Review: Echidna Shuffle from Kris Gould and Wattsalpoag Games

Review: Echidna Shuffle from Kris Gould and Wattsalpoag Games

Echidna Shuffle is a fun game that your family and casual gamer friends will love.

There’s something magical about games that are easy enough to let 6 year olds play but that also delight adults. Sure, we all love the idea of ‘easy to play, challenging to master’, but that’s not all there is. The right components are a treat, a theme that can gain a smile from players young and old helps, and certainly a quick play time so it’s easy to play again are all winning attributes. Kris Gould’s Echidna Shuffle, which IS NOW LIVE on Kickstarter, has all of this in spades.

Echidna Shuffle
Images by E.R. Burgess, Prototype Copy

What’s an Echidna? Well, they’re a bit like a porcupine with a funnier name taken from Greek mythology. While the echidna of Zeus’ world was a half-woman and half-snake monstrosity, the real-life echidna is closer to a hedgehog or an anteater. This little bit of trivia is fun to tell the kids as you explain the rules of the game, which is pretty simple to play and, even with a full group of six players, it should finish up in half an hour.

Traffic Jams

In a way, the shuffle is a traffic management game. Players are trying to guide their three bugs (each player has their own plastic bug in their color) from a specific starting place to three plastic tree stumps that get placed on the board by your leftmost competitor. Unfortunately, your bugs can’t traverse the distance on their own – they ride the echidnas wandering through the grass and all over the board.

The echidnas cover the board and follow paths shown on the space directing where they will go, usually in winding paths. All players can move any echidna, whether or not their bug is riding on its back. The goal is to get them into the space where you placed your starting space, and then to guide them to your stumps. Yet, it’s not that easy because:

  • Echidnas can’t go straight to a space, they need to follow a paths laid out on the board.
  • Echidnas can’t jump over each other or sneak by. Players need to move the other Echidnas out of the way.
  • All players are doing this at once so people might move echidnas you just put into a specific place.

How Many Echidnas Can You Move?

Echidna Shuffle shines here, pleasantly mitigating the randomness of dice with consistent numbers. While players roll at the beginning of their turn to see how many spaces they can move as many echidnas as they like (between 2 and 7 on a modified six-sided die), the lucky factor is managed by assigning players an opposite value to move next turn. So, if I roll a 7, next turn I will be moving only 2. This is tracked on a simple board, but it’s also an enjoyably elegant way to keep everyone feeling like they had a fair shake and weren’t losing just on the die rolls.

For the younger players, there is a little planning involved, but this will teach them some skills there. Downtime isn’t too bad because even though the board “shuffles around” every turn, players know how many spaces they will move every other turn, meaning they can plan ahead. While there are a lot of echidnas to consider, it isn’t too overwhelming for players because you can trace your options back to your bug space and the stumps.

Winning Echidna Shuffle isn’t hard but it is fun to play and quick enough that it is easy to start it all up again right away. Trapping friends’ bugs in dead ends, blocking them with more echidnas, or sending them the wrong direction (don’t walk bugs riding an echidna over his own stump because he knows to stop and will jump onto the stump). There are a few more rules (like trying to move more than two bugs at once), but that’s the gist of the whole amusing affair.

Echidna Shuffle
Images by E.R. Burgess, Prototype Copy

Shuffling Echidnas

Echidna Shuffle
Images by E.R. Burgess, Prototype Copy

Since I received this prototype copy, I’ve played Echidna Shuffle five times and it has been a hit with kids, teens and adults alike. The adorable echidna figures and bright colors on the board are sure to attract many players and they will be happy to see the game is worthwhile, too.

A couple of years back, I had the pleasure of playing Kris’ MASSIVE prototype of Echinda Shuffle at the Gathering of Friends and I recall thinking it would be tough to bring to market, even though I hoped he would since it was a hit of the convention. Yet, all Kris and his Wattsalpoagians had to do was address the scale issue. The rather large animals got smaller and cuter so they could fit into a regular box. They will charm players big time, as they have at all of our plays of the game.

If you like casual games at the level of Tsuro, that involve a little thinking and planning but nothing that will overwhelm people, Echidna Shuffle is for you. Anyone else, I’d still recommend giving it a go because it has a feel that isn’t like every other game you can play in that amount of time with six players. And if you have kids, I’d upgrade that rating to Buy It Now.

Echidna Shuffle is now LIVE on Kickstarter and I hope you will grab one and enjoy it with the family.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Echidna Shuffle

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

Disclosure: Publisher Wattsalpoag Games provided a pre-release prototype for independent review.

5 Quick Questions About Hotshots from Fireside Games & Designer Justin De Witt

5 Quick Questions About Hotshots from Fireside Games & Designer Justin De Witt

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. So, here’s a new interviewette for tabletop designers. We promise no TL;DR.

Let’s see how Justin De Witt, designer of Hotshots (a game from Fireside Games that is AVAILABLE NOW) does, shall we?


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

Justin De Witt: Hotshots is a press-your-luck wildfire fighting game where 1 to 4 players work together to try and put out a raging forest fire. Players move to burning tiles and roll dice trying to match the combination shown on the burning tile. The more symbols you match, the better you will do, but fail to match a symbol on a roll and the fire gets worse. You can use vehicles to help your battle, but at the end of each turn the fire spreads by drawing a Fire card. Players win if they put out all the flames and lose if 8 tiles or the Fire Camp scorches.

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

Justin De Witt: I wanted to make a press-your-luck game where the consequences of failure actually mattered. I experimented with a few themes, but the idea of a fire getting out of control worked SO well it quickly became the obvious choice.

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

Justin De WittThere’s nothing quite like Hotshots out there right now. This is an easy to learn co-op game that will really try hard to beat you. There is also a ton of replayability between the tile arrangements and how the Fire cards play out. If you’re looking for a game that’s going to be easy to teach, challenging to win, and tense as heck, this is your jam!

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

Justin De WittThose really cool plastic flames that are in the game were a huge challenge to get right. The first versions didn’t work and we had to delay the game because of it. There may have been tears involved…

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Hotshots. 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?

Justin De Witt: Sure thing, Hotshots plays in 1 hour, for 1-4 players ages 10 and up. You can buy it NOW on our website at www.firesidegames.com/games/hotshots or Amazon at http://amzn.to/2xi0U0i.
I’ve got a joke you’ll like; What’s the worst thing about Ancient History professors? They tend to Babylon.
OOOOOH, see what I did there!?!

 

DISCLOSURE: Boardgame Babylon is not liable for damage to your sensibilities from the jokes these game designers submit. Justin ‘De Witt’ indeed!

 

More quick reads? Check out our other 5 Quick Questions posts.

 

5 Quick Questions About Kung Pao Chicken from Sunrise Tornado

5 Quick Questions About Kung Pao Chicken from Sunrise Tornado

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. So, here’s a new interviewette for tabletop designers. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Ta-Te Wu, designer of Kung Pao Chicken (a game from Sunrise Tornado Game Studio that comes to Kickstarter on Jan. 2) does, shall we?

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Kung Pao Chicken?

Ta-Te Wu: Kung Pao Chicken is secret identity party game of chickens vs. foxes. If you’re a chicken, your team scores points for each chicken that is saved. If you are a fox, your team scores points for each chicken captured. The only thing is: You don’t know if you’re a chicken or a fox. Ready to Kung Pao?!?

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

Ta-Te Wu: I love making games. Can’t stop and never will. If I recall correctly, I made Kung Pao Chicken because I wanted to make a game with chicken before the Year of the Chicken, based on the Chinese Zodiac. Just days after I made the first prototype, I went to Las Vegas and playtested with Aki, my college roommate, and his friends. We played it over and over and had a lot of fun. Yet, I spent a whole year to finish the game, making sure it is as good as it should be.

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

Ta-Te Wu: Kung Pao Chicken is a quick filler and there is always a demand for this type of game. The game is easy to teach and fun to play. KPC has a few fun deduction mechanics and every game feels different based on the card distribution. I think the best part of the game is probably the phase where you need to guess who you are. It makes most people laugh. You will know what I mean when you play the game 🙂

Kung Pao Chicken Game
Designers John Clair (Downfall, Mystic Vale), Brad Brooks (Rise of Tribes, Letter Tycoon) and a friend Kung Paoing it up. Photo courtesy Ta-Te Wu.

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

Ta-Te Wu: Hmmm…that I am working on a two-player expansion and an edition that can be played with 20 people?

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Kung Pao Chicken. 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?

Ta-Te Wu: Kung Pao Chicken is a 3 to 5 player game and plays in 15 minutes. It will be on Kickstarter on Jan 2nd, 2018. Finally, no animals were harmed in the making of Kung Pao Chicken.Kung Pao Chicken Game

 

DISCLOSURE: Boardgame Babylon is not liable for damage to your sensibilities from the jokes these game designers submit.

REVIEW: Arkham Ritual casts a light spell of Cthulhu

REVIEW: Arkham Ritual casts a light spell of Cthulhu

Arkham Ritual is a solid deduction game from NinjaStar Games that has the feel of many recent microgames, but with some new concepts as well. Designer Hiroki Kasawa looks to the time-honored Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft for the setting of this quick-playing title but the star is really the twisty game play.

This Ninja Star game is for 3 – 7 players, but you really want at least 5 to see the game at its best (even the publisher agrees with this assessment). Thematically, players are part of a mysterious ritual, perhaps trying to sort it out or maybe just deciding to give this being evil thing a go (seems like more . The ritual involves a lot of magic artifacts of varying alignments and some special cards that you will play or switch out. This process may change your intentions as you try to survive the ritual without going insane. This is harder because you do not know what you are holding at any one time.

Calling back to the concept of Blind Man’s Bluff poker or even the euro-style version, Powwow, players hold one card at a time and make it visible to everyone else, but it is not known to them. With the knowledge of other players’ cards, the idea of the game is to sort out if you need to discard your own to avoid losing sanity in the current turn.

Arkham Ritual

The deck of cards is just a bit larger than the Love Letter deck that has become a standard number for microgames. At 22 cards, it is manageable to deduce what is in play and what might be hidden in your own hand. The card mix included events and artifacts of both blue and red colors (good and bad, respectively), and cards featuring Lovecraftian Great Old Ones (yes, those are bad). Each turn, players decide to either keep an unseen card and discard their current one or take a peek at it and pass it to another player. The discard goes to the tableau in the center of the table, which helps everyone figure out what remains and what they might holding. If you pass it, it might go around the table until no one else can pass it, when it becomes that last player’s hand card.

Are You Cursed?

When the round ends from a specific card play or running through the deck, Red cursed cards will cost you sanity if you have one in-hand. Additionally, each artifact has a duplicate in the non-cursed (blue) world, so if you have that one when the other is in play, you also lose some sanity. Sanity is tracked in brain tokens, of which there are plenty.

Arkham Ritual
Keep your brains on-hand.

There are some special cards, too, including a Cultist that will switch which color cards are cursed, gates that bring in special problems with the Old Ones and the Elder Sign that ends the round earlier. The Cthulhu card is an automatic win if someone else has one of the Gate cards, too, so if you see this combo, it is best to get them out of those players’ hands. In this way, players need to get a bit used to the cards to do well. With that short play time, it’s easy to play again immediately.

Arkham Ritual is an enjoyable game with a large group and it is perfect for the Halloween season with its dark theme. Yet, the theme is implemented pretty lightly. While deeply thematic games like Arkham Horror or A Study in Emerald give you the true feel of Lovecraftian horror, this is a party game so you can’t get into the lore too much. That’s probably best for some players who might be less enthusiastic about Nyarlathotep and Yog-Sothoth.

How’s That Theme?

In a recent podcast episode, I spoke with the fellows who run the On Boardgames show about Lovecraft-themed games. Lovecraft is one of the authors that dominated my young life after my Uncle Bill (recently departed and deeply missed) gave me some of his books. The nightmarish world of cosmic horror that Lovecraft embodied was fascinating to me, someone who is more likely to enjoy the Twilight Zone than gory slasher films. So, I was glad to talk about my favorites. Even though I’d received (full disclosure) a copy of Arkham Ritual ahead of time, I forgot to mention it because the theme is present, but it isn’t the part of the game that makes it most compelling. While I would not drop it into the category of pointless Cthulhu-themed games like Reiner Knizia’s Cthulhu Rising or Unspeakable Words, I’d certainly say Arkham Ritual is more fun because of the deduction elements than any cosmic horror theming.

Arkham Ritual is available now from Amazon or directly from Ninja Star Games.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Arkham Ritual

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

Disclosure: Publisher Ninja Star Games provided a copy for independent review.

REVIEW: Sparkle*Kitty Delights With Its Message & Silliness

REVIEW: Sparkle*Kitty Delights With Its Message & Silliness

Sparkle*Kitty is a cute game I wish I’d had years ago. Simply put, I had an easier time getting my son to play board games over the years than I ever did with my daughter. Sure, when she was younger, my daughter delighted in any time with Dad. But it’s not really her fault; there are never enough games with girls in the driver’s seat (although I will soon talk about the amusing One Deck Dungeon, which pushed the other way). That’s one reason why Sparkle*Kitty is delightful. SK tells a story that makes sense for the girls, with self-rescuing princesses that are in control. More importantly, it’s a charming party game that rides the theme well for both families and kids-at-heart.

Sparkle*Kitty
Princesses Galore

Sparkle*Kitty is designed by Manny Vega and published by Breaking Games, who have had past success with Letter Tycoon and the wildly successful Kickstarter for Rise of Tribes earlier this year. The game allows for 3 to 8 players and works fine for ages 6 and up. Generally, you can play it in 15-30 minutes (depending on the number of players) and I say the more, the better.

Players in Sparkle*Kitty get to play as one of seven cool princesses with various personalities. Each player gets a hand of nine cards that are used to build a tower with four of them, with their princess on top. The remaining cards become their starting hand and they begin play with the goal of getting rid of first their hand cards and then the tower. Generally, players will need to clear their hand card first, then they can disassemble their tower to gain freedom and win the game.

How do you get rid of the cards? That’s the amusing part. The tableau in the center has two cards from the deck with funny or quirky words that are said together on player turns – this is ‘casting a spell’. When the active player would like to play a card, they need to match the color or the icon of one of the cards, then say the words. This is funny stuff as the words tend to be quirky and cute stuff like:

Sparkle*Kitty

Okay, not all of them are sweet, but that’s part of the fun. Some cards will offer players an advantage (like playing as many cards as possible or forcing other players to draw), but many of them (black cards labeled “Dark Magic”) will require players to say another word whenever they cast their spell. While people don’t mess up all that much, you can decide how tough you want to be on them for partially flubbing a word here and there.

That’s part of the amusement, in my book. More special cards exist, with some rule-breaking options, some wild cards and even the super-cool Sparkle and Kitty cards that let you draw back to your hand from your Tower instead of the deck. But the real fun is everyone repeating the silly spells each turn while trying to get rid of their cards. Many tongue-twisty moments came up, especially with the Dark Magic cards in use.

Sparkle*Kitty ends when that happens and the princess who discards her last tower card wins. The game from rules to finish is less than 30 minutes with typical players. I love that designer Manny Vega built this game, which could have been done with a variety of themes, specifically with the empowered princess in mind. As I said, I wish my daughter could have played it as a younger person and seen us all need to play self-rescuing princesses with such a funny theme. Even with kids in the game, who stayed engaged in our game due to the bright colors, funny words and great artwork of powerful princesses, we played the game quickly. The under-10 year old players wanted to play again immediately and asked about how soon they can get the “Kitty Game.”

 

The answer is right now. Sparkle*Kitty is just bursting out now after a limited run back at Gen Con 2017. It’s now on Amazon for $20 and at your local high-quality hobby game store. If you have young kids, maybe bump up that rating by one level because you may just need the game with the rainbow-vomit kitty box.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Sparkle*Kitty

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

Disclosure: Publisher Breaking Games provided a copy for independent review.

PRESS RELEASE: Tabletop gaming app from Finland started funding on Indiegogo

Helsinki, Finland, August 29th, 2017 – Playmore Games, a Helsinki-based gaming company, started a crowdfunding campaign for their Dized tabletop gaming app yesterday on Indiegogo. The campaign has already reached over 35 % of its funding goal in less than 24 hours.

Dized is a tabletop gaming app for smart phones and tablets. It removes the tedious rulebooks and gets gamers playing right out of the box. These step-by-step visual and interactive tutorials are like a friend at the table who knows the rules inside out.

The rising tabletop gaming market and potential for an app like Dized is an interesting opportunity for Indiegogo. The market size is growing and one reason is crowdfunding campaigns and Indiegogo wants to be the best crowdfunding platform for tabletop gamers. Dized is one of the most promising products to rise from this category, so this is the perfect fit for both companies.

“I discovered Dized over a year ago and been captivated ever since. It’s a really great way to keep gaming growing by removing the biggest obstacle for board games, which is rulebooks. Dized is innovative, disruptive and unique and that is what Indiegogo looks for. And we’re happy to be supporting this project,” explains Nate Murray, the gaming consultant for Indiegogo.

Playmore Games has earlier announced the initial line-up of board games to be featured in Dized. They are hugely popular games such as Carcassonne, Blood Rage, 7 Wonders, Bang! and Kingdomino.

“If you love playing games and don’t like reading rulebooks, there’s no reason for you not to support Dized right now. Dized differs from a regular “How To Play” video, because videos aren’t context sensitive. With Dized you can experience the game as you are learning it. You can even ask it rule-related questions,” explains Eric M. Lang, the designer of Blood Rage.

A successful crowdfunding campaign will allow a rapid expansion of the content in Dized, so in the future tutorials will be available for the most new games. Dized isn’t all about tutorials though as the intention is to create a one-stop app for the whole tabletop gaming community with downloadable content, a marketplace, community features and other useful tools. Backers can also receive special perks such as discounted subscription prices for premium features, special badges, early access and collector’s edition dice sets.

Global sales of tabletop games and puzzles have grown to $9.6 billion in 2016. Board games raised twice as much money compared to video games on crowdfunding platforms in 2015. The tabletop gaming market is expected to continue growing for at least the next five years. Tabletop gaming is growing in popularity again not only because of crowdfunding but also because families, kids and millennials are looking for new ways to spend time together.

More information

http://igg.me/at/dized (Indiegogo campaign)

http://www.dized.com/press (press photos and background info)

https://youtu.be/OO4HuZ5QTmg (Indiegogo video)

https://youtu.be/EGmQEQcCraA (Eric M. Lang comments on Dized)

Playmore Games

Founded in 2014 by enthusiastic players and game designers Jouni Jussila and Tomi Vainikka, Playmore Games’ goal is to show there is a better way to learn and enjoy board games together. While the board games industry is booming, a significant obstacle remains: learning rules is a slow and tedious process. Dized will offer smart interactive tutorials, setup guidance, a fast and handy rule-lookup tool and other exclusive features to make the board game experience all about fun. www.playmoregames.com

-- 
- Tomi Vainikka
COO, Playmore Games Oy & Dized
tomi@playmoregames.com
+358 50 433 8281

Playmore Games Inc.
Email: info@playmoregames.com
Web: www.playmoregames.com
Address:
Kaivokatu 8 B
00100 Helsinki
FINLAND

Review: Imagine from Shingo Fujita and Gamewright

Review: Imagine from Shingo Fujita and Gamewright

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine’s Winning Attribute

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

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

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

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

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Imagine

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

Disclosure: Publisher Gamewright provided a copy for independent review.

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

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

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

Rise of Tribes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rise of Tribes

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

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

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

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Rise of Tribes

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

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

GOF 2017 Report: Gloomhaven Is Mostly Gloomhype

GOF 2017 Report: Gloomhaven Is Mostly Gloomhype

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

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

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

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

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

“Hated it.”

Still Gloomhotin

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

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

Gloomhaven

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

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

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

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

More on that point later. We reboot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return on Attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Gloomhaven

BIN (Buy It Now)

PIN (P)lay It Now

TIF (Try It First)

NMT (Not My Thing)

GOF 2017 Report: Bärenpark and Phil Walker-Harding

GOF 2017 Report: Bärenpark and Phil Walker-Harding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barenpark
Mosaix is a wonderful little game.

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

How Does Play Bärenpark?

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

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

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

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

Prototypes

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

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

 

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Bärenpark

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

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