Welcome back to Boardgame Babylon – this new Q&A session is with new designer George Buckenham, who I met while he was in L.A. visiting from the UK. His new game, Fabulous Beasts is now live on Kickstarter and we recorded a podcast about it. We hope you enjoy it!
When I heard the name Fabulous Beasts, I like most Harry Potter fans, expected to hear something about the upcoming movie or slim volume produced by JK Rowling. But no – Fabulous Beasts is instead a new board/electronic game from publisher Sensible Object that combines a physical stacking game with an app experience that brings some additional strategy and fun into the mix.
After a note from the publisher, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the designers, George Buckenham, at Game Haus Cafe here in the L.A. area. The team behind Fabulous Beasts hails from the UK and you can see their video introduction of the game way down below.
In fact, that’s not all the chatting that happened. I recently spoke to George online through the magic of Blab, a cool new online conversation platform that I recently wrote about on my company’s blog. I tried it out myself and while you can see the video of the recording, I’d must rather direct you to my upcoming podcast of the chat once my new podcast home becomes available. But I digress.
Fabulous Beasts has a lot of the charm ofAnimal Upon Animal, the classic Haba stacking game that I can’t stop recommending to parents with kids because it’s awesome and kids love it. Adults usually like it, too, unless they’re boring people you don’t want at the game table.
Happily, you can capture a lot of that fun with Fabulous Beasts while also playing with the puzzle-like mechanisms to maximize your score. FB is a cooperative game, meaning that the players are working together in order to build out a ‘world’ that is reflected physically in the stacking of plastic pieces and electronically on your nearby iPad. Like Animal Upon Animal, a player’s turn consists of stacking a new piece on the electronic platform. Before stacking, players need to scan their piece so the platform knows what piece is being placed, which is zapped over to the nearby iPad and the piece placed will appear there. It takes just a moment and then you can keep stacking.
Unlike wooden stacking games, however, these pieces interact with each other in the electronic world. Animals are the primary pieces in the game and they’re pleasantly odd in shape so as to make for variable stacking options. They’re also categorized as air, sea and land animals that will change and adjust on the app when they’re stacked up. Once you have managed to place them without toppling, the app will update you on their ‘fabulousness’, which goes up sometimes and down when other animals get a boost (often with elemental pieces that correspond to their type), causing jealously. We all know being jealous is definitely not “Fabulous” and those creatures lose some value. Collectively, points are awarded as pieces are added but those bonuses are mitigated somewhat by the losses in fabulousness.
While the stacking bit is enjoyable, especially when you try to expand the space with longer pieces that cause animals to migrate and combine, the app adds a lot of interest to the game. Not only are players challenged to manage animals losing their fabulousness due to the rise of other animal types (which can lead to extinction, which is apparently what happens when one ceases to be sufficiently fabulous) but there are mini-games that arise from placement of certain pieces that distract players or further challenge them on their normal turns. This can include time limits as well as interaction with the iPad that has to happen while also stacking (one such mini-game includes the need to keep touching a full moon that moves across the screen while you are conducting your turn).
These elements certainly add to the experience of playing Fabulous Beasts, which my friends and I quite enjoyed. It’s likely to generate lots of laughing and joshing of your teammates for failing to stack properly or manage the menagerie on the app. Families will surely enjoy the experience of the physical game as well as exploring how the animals change when they migrate and combine through placement of the abstracted pieces that also come with the animals and elements. The elements are things like fire, water, air, etc. While it makes sense that these will affect the animals that correspond to those types, it might be more fun if those elements were actual items rather than concepts. A minor quibble, but it could help develop the story more and offer kids more option for free play with the components.
One more quibble: While I like the way the electronic side works, it’s a little plain as far as the animation goes. Here’s hoping a successful Kickstarter will give Sensible Object some funding to beautify the app. The pieces are certainly very nice and they deserve an electronic counterpart that looks great, too. An update in the future could do that, of course, so I’m glad they focused on getting the physical components right first.
Another appealing notion that is related it the option to update the app to include additional modes of play and challenges in the future. More board games need to take advantage of this idea. Only a handful of products are realizing the potential of this combo but more should because it’s a great way to extend replay value.
We have had about a dozen or so inquiries recently from people seeking the podcasts. They aren’t currently available because I dropped my long-standing use of Libsyn as a provider and moved to a generic one where I can host many more websites (including my daughter’s Gwyndolyn.com for her singing career).
As a result, BGB shows are not currently available. I was in discussion with one and then another company about hosting BGB podcasts (and possibly new blog posts, shows, and videos) on another site but that hasn’t happened yet. We’ll see if it works out but if we cannot find a new partner that wants to be the main host for BGB content, we’ll sort out a new way for you to hear shows old and new. More to come.
As for the game design work, I’ll post another update soon to let you know what’s up there.
For now, thank you all for your continued support of the podcast in 2015 and from all of us at BGB, Happy New Year!
Yes, it’s been a pretty quiet patch of time here at Boardgame Babylon. I’ve been quite busy for…well…the last couple of years. When I changed jobs a couple of years back, I took on a role that consumes more time but in a good way because it’s an exciting company, the podcast took a hit. Furthemore, I’ve been focusing on my non-gaming gaming time being devoted to completion of various board game designs that I have in the works. Again, the podcast took a hit.
Late last year, however, I had a decision that my deep involvement with Strategicon Conventions here in Southern California would take the next hit. It has – I’m now just an advisor to the Strategicon Library and I found a good fellow to take over running that part of the show (after also shedding my roles as the head of the Board Games department, the Special Guests Director, and a few other things). This has given me back some family time and freed me up for potentially more conventions at a distance where I can take my game designs for more exposure. I only went to about half of The Gathering of Friends this year due to some work issues but I got some opportunities to play test there and got some good feedback for continuing with our two main games in development, Theme Park and Cosplay Contest (formerly Cosplay Grab).
What does that mean for the podcast? I wish I could say it means I will do them more often. I have at least a half dozen that are just sitting around and waiting on an edit. I have a handful of new ideas for shows (although I gave a list away to a podcasting buddy, too – that’s okay, ideas are not a problem for me) and the inclination will come back at some point. I do love podcasting but I’m also reminded that when I started nearly a decade ago, it was in response to a callout from Mark Johnson’s Boardgames To Go for more podcasts on the hobby. I answered that call at a time when there weren’t many (Mark’s, Geekspeak, Dice Tower, a couple more). Now, the board game podcasts are legion and so I’m not feeling any obligation to be part of the media, even though I still love to talk about the hobby.
For now, I’m writing the occasional blog post (one from The Gathering is coming and another from TableTop Day at Geek & Sundry) when the mood strikes and I’m still updating Facebook and Twitter rather a lot, if you live in those spaces. The formats suit my too-busy lifestyle since the short-form is often the only form I have time to fill in these days.
However, I’m also saving up material for a book on hobby gaming. It’s a ways off and won’t be properly compiled until Theme Park, Cosplay Contest, and at least one other game in the works get out there. But it’s coming – already half a dozen chapters are written in formats that were too long for the blog. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, if you’re in SoCal for Gamex 2015 this weekend, I will be there for Friday night and pretty late. But then I’ll spend the rest of the long holiday weekend with family and in my secret lab, tweaking Theme Park tiles and forcing my closest cohorts to play it again and again.
Our convention year here in Southern California ends with Strategicon’s Gateway 2013 over the Labor Day Weekend. This year, we had another great guest to enjoy at this show. Vlaada Chvatil, one of the most innovative and varied designers of the last two decades, was kind enough to join us from the Czech Republic. He was a wonderful, popular guest whose ludography was widely played at the show – from Through The Ages to Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert, Dungeon Lords, Mage Knight and his new title, Tash-Kalar, we had a great turnout here to celebrate Vlaada’s games. He also joined me for a Q&A session, which we recorded for the podcast. We hope you enjoy it!