Monthly Archives: September 2021

Gathering of Friends Report, Part 4

If you’re here, presumably you’re enjoying my long-form GOF 2021 report. Don’t miss Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3. Now, back to the board games…

Happenstance at the Gathering will get you into some good games with great people. As I was wandering over to the massive library that the fantastic Rodney Somerstein was kind enough to bring, I was stopped by Jason Schneider of Gamewright.

I’ve known Jason via email for many years, especially when I was curating the Strategicon Library and sending me review copies would get them a podcast review and inclusion in our growing board game library. He’s a responsive, generous and pleasant fellow who exemplifies Gamewright, a company I consider a real class act. They take chances on quirky games like Bring Your Own Book (out of print now, but delightful for bibliophiles) and have also plucked some excellent sellers from the work of top designers (like Forbidden Island, Sushi Go, and the recent Abandon All Artichokes) that have connected beautifully with family audiences. I thanked him for all his support and he invited me to join a game of Fort.

Fort has all the trappings of Leder Games

Fort is my Forte

I was in immediately because Fort is from Leder Games and their games are always interesting. That said, I like the concept of Vast more than the actual game play. Root is good game with charming artwork, but it’s difficult to get to the table (due to the direct conflict?). Oath, their recent KS, was delivered to my friend and one play in, I’m not sure it’s for me. I’m going to play it more because despite it feeling like it was abstracting abstractions, it was still intriguing.

My trusty friend ZIP always goes into my discard pile but Tiny and Smoke are left out in the yard, ready to be snatched by other players with promises of pizza and toys.

Fort promises a Leder Games experience in a shorter package. The board game is indeed a friends-in-the-neighborhood-themed asymmetric-but-not-really lighter game. Players are kids building the ultimate fort while managing their ‘deck’ of friends, knowing that any cards that aren’t used can be drafted. Is this a deck-borrowing game? Kind of, because you can grab those friends back on a future turn anyway.

Using the kid-currencies of toys and pizza, players select cards from their hand to acquire stuff to help mount their fort, set lookouts (which grant permanent bonuses), and then acquire new ‘kid’ cards to their deck. Again, the most interesting mechanism is that unused cards go into your ‘yard’ and they are available for other players to draft. There is some mitigation. You have a couple of ‘best friend’ cards that never go into the yard, so you can rely on them sticking around. But the concept of ‘play it or possibly lose it’ makes for some difficult decisions turn-to-turn.

There are more rules – some might say too many for a shorter game – but that’s the gist of it. The cards are nicely varied and I recommend the game. The only caveat is that players who dislike ’take that’ games may be put off by the frequent interaction. It’s no Munchkin, but it’s also not ideal for those who love the semi-solitaire experience of many deep-thinking euros. And, yes, the artwork is quirky and fun, like all the brilliant work of Kyle Ferrin. I won the game but it was an ‘asterisk game’ due to one rule (the number of lookouts) being missed.

Riff Raff Rumble

Riff Raff is nutty and wonderful.

Early in the con, I’d seen a copy of Riff Raff on the shelves and I wanted to play it. I love dexterity games. I’m not necessarily that good at them. In D&D terms, I’ve an 11 DEX tops, but I still have an enormous fondness for them.

Riff Raff has a huge box. That’s because it’s housing a tall pirate ship, the ocean beneath it, along with pieces that players need to balance atop the various planks and masts of the ship. Players get a set of those wonky bits and a deck of cards with numbers that correspond to spots on the ship.

Each turn, you simultaneously reveal a card and have to place one of your remaining pieces onto the ship. As you can see from the pic, some of these pieces are much easier to place than others. The same goes for the ship, with some relatively stable spots down low and much more challenging ones above.

Riff-Raffy Items to place on the Ship

That’s about it except for the cool ‘catching’ rule. If you should topple the ship, you’ll get stuck with the pieces that hit the water or the table around. However, if you can catch pieces, you don’t have to take those pieces. It’s a brilliant addition to this style of game and made me want Riff Raff for my dexterity collection. I know the family will enjoy the catching mechanism, especially since this is what people naturally when things start to unravel.

Panic at the Game Con

A few years back, two of my favorite people from the game industry, Justin and Anne-Marie De Witt of Fireside Games, started attending the Gathering and it was a real pleasure to see them back this year. While I got a chance to play a number of games with them, I was most excited to try their new expansion for Castle Panic, Crowns and Quests.

I’ve long been a fan of their castle defense game. It was one of my son’s favorite board games as he was growing up. Some times, we played it twice in a night. The cooperative element meant that the whole family could enjoy a victory against the orcs, goblins, and trolls from the original game. The expansions have all been must-buy additions for the Panic enthusiast. We’ve even enjoyed Dead Panic and Star Trek Panic as variants.

Coming off their successful kickstarter for a gorgeous Deluxe Edition of Castle Panic (late pledges still available), they had a prototype of the new expansion that came with it. For those who have the old game, it will also be released for the traditional version of Castle Panic. The new expansion has great new art that gives the board game a more inclusive feel. Both the game cards and the new expansion that gives each player a character with special powers now include more women and people of color. There’s even a character in a medieval wheelchair (no, it’s not Bran). I enjoy seeing our hobby make these steps forward and the new version is worth the upgrade for sure.

Prototype of Castle Panic Crowns and Quests – not final art

In addition to the special characters, which add a lot of intriguing abilities and some interesting distinction between players, the game now also features missions. The core game of Castle Panic is fun (and quick) enough to warrant hundreds of plays without losing steam. But Justin’s now devised new ways to make use of the circular map to add some variation and excitement to the game. I won’t spoil the stories but let’s just say that it’s a brilliant way to extend the interest in this game without turning it into another Legacy project.

Instead, the scenarios simply remake how you look at the standard Castle Panic board and offer new challenges. Best of all, from what I have seen, these missions are not one-and-done. They have the same Castle-Panic-goodness of replayability because of the method of implying a story through strong thematic elements without being so specific that you need novelty to make them interesting. I expect this expansion will be another must-have for fans.

Party Game Roundup

Earlier in the con, I’d also played some excellent party-game prototypes from a designer whom I didn’t get a chance to ask if I could mention his games so I’ll just say that Julio E. Nazario (designer of Holi and CTRL) has some amusing and clever board games coming our way. While at the table, we also played another Fireside Games party game that kind of got lost in the COVID shuffle.

Stringamajig is a charades-style game played with a circle of string used to convey to the rest of your team what you are trying to clue. It’s an amusing variation that I played first at Dice Tower West last year and I’ve added it to my collection of party games since then. With this crowd, it was a great time because people were so into it. Yes, I love serious board games but my passion for party games is equal. I think you get to know people really well when you play games like this, which is why I always bring board games to every company I join. Stringamajig will definitely be in the bag if I ever go back to an office job.

Wow, I thought part 5 would be it but I think that one will cover: Fantastic Factories, Moon Adventure, Wingspan, Wishland, and Obsession. And I expect my final part 6 will delver into Nemesis, Dice Realms, Obsession, Belratti and whatever else remains. I’m having fun going through the whole week and I hope you are, too.

Gathering of Friends Report, Part 3

If you’re taking my GOF journey with me and missed Part 1 and Part 2, well, click those links earlier in this sentence to find them. Onward…

I really hate Facebook and only my love of board games keeps me on this horrific privacy nightmare of a platform. Professionally, there’s also a reason why, but I also just loathe what they’ve done to electronic discourse over the years. The only reason I’m still on there is for groups, and there is a private GOF one. There is also a website and I wish it were more frequently used but this year, the FB group made it handy to set up games. One that I jumped on was the chance to play Android.

I’ve been interested in this Fantasy Flight (RIP) board game for a long time. In addition to seeing how the old FFG wanted to use the world of Android for a variety of games, including their take on the classic CCG Netrunner, I talked about it with designer Kevin Wilson at a past convention. He told me a lot about it at the time, but it’s been years. So, when Erik Arneson (whose fine book you should read and enjoy) suggested a game of it, I signed up immediately. Amusingly, we were also joined by another guy named Eric. Story of my life – there are three Erics in every possible situation (and that doesn’t even include W. Eric Martin, who pleasantly addresses himself as ‘Other Eric’ in email). And you wonder why my children have such unusual names. I digress.

The Android We Were Looking For

Android has a lot of locations to visit. Would love figures instead of standees.

Happily, the excellent Evan Derrick from Van Ryder Games was kind enough to teach us the game. A key perception he corrected for all of us before starting his explanation was to clarify that Android is NOT a deduction board game, even if it seems like it would be. Instead of a Clue-style specific set of details that you have to seek, Android invites the players to seek out evidence for the suspects they are dealt. Among the suspects you receive, there will be one that the player wants to be innocent and the other one should be guilty guilty guilty. This is a key way to earn points.

In addition to your suspects, players get a character card with a ‘cyber-noir’ troubled past to even out their heroic side. Players then spend their turns moving around the massive board, which has lots of pathways between the regions and locations. You visit these locales ritzy and shady (these get you extra card draws) to interrogate NPCs, collect favors of various types, and also to foil the actions of other players with cards that are specific to them. For this purpose, you draw and play from your opponents’ ‘dark’ deck. In it, each card of which highlights the quirks, limitations, and demons of the character, which can be played to hinder them.

Wow, I can only imagine what my personal dark deck would be like. The mind boggles. Again, I digress.

Ultimately, you complete tasks to put positive or negative evidence on one of the five main suspects, forcing the blame onto the one your starting card says should be guilty and setting up an alibi for the one you want to be innocent. In addition, there is a central conspiracy puzzle to which players can add pieces, earning various bonuses. This is literally represented by puzzle pieces that you build onto the theory puzzle to unlock scoring opportunities. I love this little mini-game and was delighted that my character (a hard-drinking PI) was optimized for this part of the game. That point was noted in the strategy tips for my character, which was handy.

Only Android I’d Consider Owning

The storytelling in Android is wonderful, which is no surprise from the masterful Kevin Wilson. The characters have strong, interesting backgrounds that you can enjoy if you are inclined to delve in (I do) and that’s probably why FFG used it in so many other games. I also really liked how quickly the game can move once you get into the groove. That said, there are SO MANY rules that can fall out of your head when taking a turn. I’m hopeful some industrious BGGer has created a good summary of reminders on the site so you can focus on just what you need turn to turn.

Early on wide shot. It’s a table hog alright, but also an intriguing board game.

In the end, evidence didn’t matter for my ‘guilty’ suspect because he was killed through a concerted effort by that other Eric, who made it his mission to kill that character since Erik and I were putting a lot of evidence on him. That was definitely a personal victory for him because it takes some effort to enact that kill. However, my innocent character ended up being judged the most innocent, so I got points for her. That was handy, but I really prevailed by earning the most points through dominating the conspiracy and stacking up favors.

Android is certainly a unique experience and one that I’d welcome the chance to play again. I can see how some would be turned off by the long play time, although I expect you can cut it down a lot once people know the game. I believe a friend has it and I plan to ask for it to hit the table again soon.

After Android’s marathon session, I needed to cool down with some lighter board games. I played Patchwork with my friend June and managed a win despite her formidable ability with the game. I got lucky on setup and grabbed the 7×7 in the end.We followed this with a group games of Codenames (still a favorite and we played twice) and Just One (how could you not like this game if the table is full of great folks – and ours was). These two games belong in every collection as ideal party games for those casual players who often show up to play with the ‘serious’ gamers. 😉

Finally, I was ready for another new-to-me game of The Crew, but the new version.

I will wait on this Crew until I finish the old one.

Now, I like The Crew a lot but haven’t played it all the way through yet. I need to hop to it, though, because there is already The Crew: Mission Deep Sea. If you have played the award-winning (and deserving) original, you know this is a cooperative trick-taking game that sees players trying to complete various ‘missions’ by playing trick-taking rounds with a goal in mind that isn’t just winning the most tricks. Sometimes it’s all about someone winning a certain card, or having more tricks than another player. Players can use tokens and cards from their hand to share limited information as well, and this is often key to winning a round.

It’s really well done. Mission Deep Sea doesn’t change what works, but it optimizes the goals to make them a little easier to see and distribute on some cards.

Clowder Time

Isle of Cats is one I’ve been curious about for a while. While the silly pun title appeals to my baser word-nerd instincts, I was mostly intrigued because my wife enjoys polyomino games and we are both devoted cat lovers. We have three of these fabulous beasts in our home and pretty much all cat games warrant a look for us.

I met up with my buddy Nick, who was kind enough to teach June and myself from a bit of a rules read, which got us off to a slower start. Once we got into the groove, however, the game’s five rounds happened quickly. Play consists of ‘catching’ and placing cat-based polyominoes onto your boat (‘saving them from an island’), but it’s not just Patchwork or Cottage Garden where you have sequencing limitations. Here, cats can be freely drawn as long as you have the money (um, I mean, FISH) to pay the field they are sitting on. There are two, one of which is more expensive. You also need a basket to hold each cat you save because, you know, cats.

My boat pulling away with the Isle of Cats with many a saved feline friend.

Before that fun begins, you pass-draft cards around the table that will give you buying power, more baskets (sometimes piecing them together from two broken ones), scoring cards, and other advantages permanent and ephemeral. On board your ship, you also use the ‘catominoes’ to cover up rats that will make you lose points if they remain in view. Furthermore, you want to group your cats into ‘families’ with similar ones (same color) to score more points. Finally, scoring cards are both public and private so if you opt to take public ones, you need to remain vigilant that you aren’t handing too many points to other players with public goals. Private goals are just for you and kept secret so your opponents don’t know what you’re seeking.

There are also rules-breaking wild cats to expand your cat families, and treasures that can fill in the gaps between your felines that are also on some of the cards. I think the treasures should’ve been cat toys but I guess treasure’s universally good. After five rounds, you total everything up. From a design perspective, it’s a solid use of good mechanisms well-blended, if it fails to offer anything truly new to the hobby.

In the end, IOC is on my wish list for a trade because it will play well with casual players, the artwork is fun, my wife will love the theme, and, again, cats.

As for the convention in general, I had fewer meals out with friends than usual because I kept taking meals while running upstairs to work for a bit. Yet, I did get a lot of time to chat with people, including finding out that Stance and Cynthia Nixon, who L.A.-based gamers and longtime Strategicon folks, were also attendees. I was so glad to meet them (although I think I met Stance ages ago) so I can interview them for my upcoming writing project about the history of Strategicon. I mention it here so people will hold me accountable if you don’t see it on Kickstarter sometime next year.

Okay, that’s enough for today. Part 4 will delve into more prototypes, Obsession, Nemesis and a few more stragglers that I missed so far.

Back to mid-week at the Gathering of Friends. If you missed the previous part, well, you can find it here. Onward…

While I was in Niagara Falls, work was infringing a bit. A work friend was dealing with some personal issues so I had to step up a bit. I was happy to do it to support him during a tough time. I love games but I love my friends even more.

Lost Cities: The Franchise

Early the next morning, I tried out Lost Cities: Roll and Write with a nice group of people, including my good friend June King and the always-welcome-at-a-table Bayard Catron. There’s really nothing new. LC:RAW follows standard rolling and writing on a pad. Much like the original game, players choose whether to invest in and even start certain all possible expeditions, because if they can’t get enough items in that column, they’ll lose points. Some elements from the SDJ-winning board game version (like boost spaces) are also present. I love Reiner Knizia’s designs, enjoy Lost Cities and I’d buy this as an app on my iPad in a heartbeat. But I’m thinking this franchise is wearing thin now and don’t need this box in my house.

A worthy third entry, Clever Cubed.

In contrast, we also played the third in roll-and-write from Wolfgang Warsch’s Clever Trilogy, amusingly but also sensibly called Clever Cubed. Like the other two in the series, you roll and figure out the intriguing ways in which the various scoring sections interact for bonus bumps, big jackpots you can build up to over the course of the game, and re-rolls for when the funky dice selection happens. If you know this series, you know that the active player selects and locks one die at a time, but loses opportunity to roll as many dice based on how high the number on the die they selected is. Warsch is so good.

I enjoy this abstract R&W more than most because you can act on other peoples’ turns. Like Wurfel Bohnanza (a favorite of mine), players can take a mini-turn, selecting one of the dice the active player did not select. Cubed is good and maybe lighter than Twice as Clever. I joked that these trilogies always seem to have a ‘more difficult’ second game. That’s true in the Mask Trilogy, Uwe Rosenberg’s Seasonal Polyomino Trilogy, and even the recent West Kingdom series.

Continuing on, I met up with another of my favorite GOF attendees, Brent Lloyd. I love playing games with him for the jokes, the thoughtful game commentary, and the sheer fun of his personality. I walked up as he was about to teach Paleo to Elizabeth Hargrave (designer of Wingspan, Mariposas, and Tussie Mussie), who was attending GOF for the first time. I’d previously met Elizabeth playing one of Matt Leacock’s prototypes and we’d made quite a team, so I didn’t mind butting in to learn Paleo. This game was near the top of my list of ‘want to play’ games.

Like most people (I expect), I became curious about Paleo after it won the KDJ 2021 over presumed favorite Lost Ruins of Arnak. Playing the game, I could see what the jury saw – this is an innovative board game with a unique feel that hangs together better than LROK. I know, I know – you probably love Arnak. Personally, I found it to be fine but overdone. A lot of elements didn’t fold into the design as cleanly as I would have liked. I also found the solo game lacking and far too administrative. I’d still play it when asked, but I didn’t need it in my personal library.

Paleo looks good on the table, too.

On the other hand, I really liked Paleo, a clever cooperative game with stories to tell. Paleo gloriously implements a card-drawing mechanism that reminds me of the solo game Onirim and also Robinson Crusoe. The theme is prehistoric times, with players making up a tribe of people trying to survive and accomplish various goals as outlined in the scenario (cleverly created by combining various card sets).

Each round, players are given the opportunity to select one of the next three cards in their personal draw deck, which they have some insight about because of the card backs. Some backs suggest encountering goods players can gather (woods, mountains), another type is for staying at home and working crafts, while still another is a likely threat that you will probably need to be armed to address. Additional cards like Visions are also possible to obtain from certain actions.

Paleo is high on my want list.

You may not encounter every card, however, because this is a cooperative game and sometimes, the other players need your help. In fact, banding together is often the only way to take down big threats and key challenges. Why might you need help from the other players? Because requirements on the card will tell you that you can obtain or defeat what’s on the card based on the skills that your character cards have (usually with multiple options – as in Above and Below). These skills can be augmented with acquisitions you can find or craft (more on that later). However, if your current card is a threat, you may not be able to choose to ignore it and help the tribe.

When you complete a round, some cards are ‘trashed’ and others are put back into rotation when you go through the deck again. So, avoiding some threats will not mean you don’t need to deal with them. You’ve just delayed that moment.

Crafting is yet another well-implemented concept in Paleo. From a funky 3-D rack that you build, you can craft items for the current scenario, as well as a handful of standard ones like torches and tools. These can help you along the way to defeat challenges and acquire whatever key items you need to survive the round of play. What you need by the game end is designated upfront, so the tribe can plan what they truly need as they continue the adventure.

Paleo also allows you to reuse your characters from scenario to scenario. If you happen to die, the game gives you a new tribe member to play so there is danger and loss, but not player elimination. Between the smart design, the varied stories that conjure up memories to be told over at future game tables, and the thoughtful approach to cooperation, I call Paleo a winner that I want in my collection.

After a couple of scenarios of Paleo, we dove into a game of Krass Kariert. The game has been newly titled (for English speakers) Dealt! This new version was in our gift bags; a smart move for Amigo because this ladder-climbing game was so popular at the last GOF that we probably all bought copies. I know I did. These copies will likely be given to friends with a recommendation. I donated my copy to the Strategicon library to spread the word.

The word deserves to be spread, too. Dealt! is a quick-playing card game that has the lovely feel of Tichu without the mannered play, team element, and big swings of card luck. Of course I’ve had issues with Tichu for many years for the simple reason that before I ever learned the game, I had played thousands of hands of Daihimi and probably at least 500 hands of Gang of Four. Both of those experiences make it difficult for me to remember exactly what I need to do in Tichu and therefore I’m not much of a partner.

X marks the wild card.

Dealt feels different enough from those games and I love it. Players are each dealt a hand of cards they may not rearrange (like Bohnanza) and two face-up cards. The cards are numbered from 1 to 13, plus a few special cards. Play proceeds by someone leading either a single card, a run of two or three cards, or multiples (pairs, trips). The next player must play something higher, either in rank or configuration and it’s a once-around play. If it comes to your turn and you cannot advance the trick, you have two choices. Either take one of your face up cards into your hand – placing it wherever you feel is ideal – or you lose one of your three life chips and the round is over.

Mind you, the reason for keeping your cards in order is that you can only play cards together that are adjacent in-hand. This rule for runs is a bit easier, as they can be out of order (e.g., I can play 6-8-7 as a three-card run). The choice on whether to pick up a card is interesting because you can often improve your hand with these face-up cards. And, as you play, you can also improve your hand by removing cards as well.

A few special cards round out the game. The STOP card just ends a trick and the X is wild. The best of the lot shows three cards. When played, the winner of the trick draws three cards (six are set aside during setup). Later in the game, this is ideal for stopping someone about to go out. Early on, it’s helpful because you draw the cards one at a time. This gives you a chance to optimize you hand a bit, as you add them where you choose.

There is usually only one loser in Dealt – the player who runs out of chips first. However, if two players run out of chips on the same round, you can end up with a double loser situation, as we did in our game.

I played Dealt three times at GOF but the post-Paleo session was the most memorable. All of the players were worthy (Brent, Elizabeth, and Matt) but there were some adult beverages involved. Matt and Elizabeth were cautious in their imbibing of the various whiskey offerings that Brent had for us, but I was game to try everything that he had. Yes, I think my play was somewhat affected as I ended up sharing the loss with Matt. For me, Dealt/KK is a winning card game and a worthwhile addition to the hobby.

I don’t think there’s a man, woman, or child alive who doesn’t enjoy a lovely beverage.

Okay, that’s enough for today. Part 3 will include discussion of Android, another cool prototype I played, plus a few more games that I knew and played primarily for the great company at the table.

My reports on attending Alan Moon’s invitational tabletop event, the Gathering of Friends, have been as inconsistent as my old podcast schedule. When an event happens, some content may happen…or maybe not. This year, however, I am inclined to write about the experience for both my own recollection of the healing, heavenly week I enjoyed but also to allow for some to live vicariously through these words if they could not attend this or another convention held this year for whatever reason.

Eb airborne
Airborne and masked

This was, if I understand correctly, the first time GOF was rescheduled to this time of year, due to COVID. Safety protocols were in place and while I was nervous about the travel from LA to Niagara Falls, I was confident about my safety during my time there, thanks to Alan’s firm commitment to making sure everyone would be okay. Everyone had to be vaccinated, as they well should, and ensure they had no symptoms beforehand. I’m glad to preemptively report that it would appears there were no infections from the event, as the community has been reporting negative tests consistently, although more on that later.

On to the games. I arrived later than expected, early Tuesday morning, due to last minute changes in schedule, but that still gave me a full week to enjoy the convention. While attendance was down from its usual highs (around 400?), the game room was STOCKED with board games, including prototypes from many of the designers who made the con and lots of the newest new games from here and across the pond. Sadly, that was just due to imports and not because we had the usual mix of European visitors. Tough EU restrictions meant that so many of our favorite Europeans designers, gamers, and game industry pros couldn’t make it and that even affected the plans of many of my favorite Canadians. This was a huge void but I focused on appreciating who we did have because the room was still full of so many excellent people.

Attack on Titan. Now I need to go see the anime series. Sigh.

Attacking Titans and Plunder Pirates

After the red eye flight and a tiny bit of work, my first board game of the convention was Attack on Titan, the deckbuilding anime-themed game from Cryptozoic and Matt Hyra. I had mixed the game up with another one based on the same IP, Attack on Titan: The Last Stand from Antoine Bauza, but I was still happy to play because I was recruited by Sheila and James Davis, purported to be the owners of the largest game collection in the US, who were both familiar with the anime series the game hangs its theme on. I’ve only seen it briefly; I’m the only non-anime person in the house, but the deckbuilding mechanisms were familiar. There are some ideas I haven’t seen in deckbuilders, including the opportunity to return standard cards back for an in-turn boost.

Otherwise, it’s a cooperative game with players taking on the roles of characters from the series to defend five gates against the onslaught of titans and bad stuff coming out of a villains deck. Interspersed amongst the garden-variety titans turning out after each round to attack the five walls we were guarding, were four mega-titans (or some such) that had to be defeated first in hit points before a massive killing blow that had to be delivered in one go. This last concept with the killing blow is another good innovation for this sub-genre that I expect to see show up elsewhere. Chatting with the Davis’ is always fun, too, although I really got to talk to them more at the final Sunday dinner, where Shiela shared her admiration for the games of Ta-Te Wu, my good buddy. Always lovely to hear and share back with my friend.

After this first game, I spotted Ken Hill from Rio Grande Games just in time to join play of a prototype from Gregory Daigle. One of the great joys of the Gathering, second only to the wonderful people, is the chance to try early prototypes from top designers. I’ve played with Greg at past shows and I do love his excellent Hans Im Gluck title Hawaii (not just for the lovely theme). In this case, his new Powder and Plunder prototype brought his mix of euro mechanisms to a pirate-themed experience. The game seems pretty well along and was a good experience, particularly the innovative deck manipulation and intriguing options built into a modular board. I also appreciated the lack of forced player-vs-player interactions, which seem inevitable for so many pirate games. Looking forward to seeing the final product in the days ahead.

Art Decko on Boardgame Arena

Art Decko: The New Promenade

Following that, I enjoyed chatting with Greg, Ken and his fellow RGGer, Scott Tepper. In addition to sharing dog stories, Ken showed me the new version of Ta-Te Wu’s Promenade, which RGG will be publishing as Art Decko (yes, it’s an art-collecting, deck-building game with a punny title).

So, I broke out Art Decko with a couple of newbies and took the new version for a spin. The artwork in the new version is actually quite enjoyable and this clever take on deck building games shined yet again. AD has you buying art with your standard five cards per turn but Ta-Te’s design amps up the trashing and use of cards in intriguing ways. Instead of VP cards being dead in your hand, they are currency and assets you can put into museums for VPs based on the requirements for each collection.

Furthermore, there are additional bonuses that affect your collection as a whole or for the individual pieces of art being displayed (kind of a ‘point side-salad’, if you will). This allows you to slim down your deck, which is also possible by using some currency cards for their trash ability, allowing you more buying power for the turn at the cost of your card long-term.

Add to that variable market pricing and I find Art Decko to be one of the most satisfying of Ta-Te’s designs and a real keeper. The original version, Promenade, for which I brought a prototype to the last Gathering in 2019, must have been played with some frequency because I saw copies of the limited edition version in a lot of game piles at the event. I happily reported this to Ta-Te, who was delighted.

Daybreak Prototype: Not final product. Approved for use here.

Daybreak: Just Award the Kennerspiel Now

Later in the day, I ran into Matt Leacock, designer of Pandemic, and one of my favorite game designers. He’s also from California, so he’s attended our Strategicon conventions a few times to play test and at our invitation as a Guest of Honor. As one of the earliest fans and champions of Pandemic, I’ve been watching his output closely for years. While I’m forbidden from speaking any more about the prototype I played, I’m happy to say that he’s continuing to advance the world of cooperative games with new elements and themes. During the event, I also played two other prototypes of his, including a dexterity game that had the audience hooting and hollering with joy and excitement, and Daybreak, his take on fighting climate change.

Daybreak has plenty of information online but I’ll talk about a bit more because I really liked the game. I won’t go into the mechanisms but suffice it to say that you can clearly see in this design how Matt’s artistry has continued to evolve. While you can call it Pandemic’s bigger, more detailed brother, that’s selling short the innovation of the systems Matt has developed. Yes, it’s a cooperative game and the players are working against a crisis of global proportion. Of course, the game itself is a paper machine that kind of ‘gets its turn’. But the similarities end there, as players are asked to make more detailed decisions for the countries they are managing than running a medic or scientist around the global squashing cubes and collecting cards.

That’s not to dismiss the approachable and compelling Pandemic (which I still consider one of the greatest board games around). Rather, it’s to point out that Daybreak feels more like a gamer’s experience, with nuance that a lesser designer would make feel like ‘chrome’ on a design. Matt’s light touch instead implements intriguing decisions elegantly into hand management of various categories, allowing players to make calls about working locally vs. globally, replacing old and dirty sources of energy vs. simply adding new green solutions to meet increasing demand, or even managing the short-term thinking outrage from within your country vs. doing what is right for the future. The game is detailed and plays smoothly – no small feat.

I think Daybreak will come out and wow audiences and probably earn Matt and his co-designer a KDJ for their efforts. I was not alone in my assessment. In addition to so many others expressing their admiration for the game (and the frequent requests to break it out), I played the game with Legacy concept originator Rob Daviau and he expressed that he was ‘almost annoyed at how good the game is.” What better compliment could a designer get from another one?

Okay, that’s enough for Part 1. More to come in part two and beyond…