8 Things a Gamer Wants From a Friendly Local Game Store on International Tabletop Day 2018

Since March 30, 2013, board gamers from around the world have celebrated their hobby and tried to bring new gamers into the fold on International Tabletop Day, hosted by Geek & Sundry.

Each year, there seems to be more and more buzz surrounding the day, as more and more game stores get involved and our hobby grows. But International Tabletop Day is still in his toddler stage, and I think after five either iterations, it is time to evaluate how we as gamers can make the experience better for the hobby in general.

What are we gamers looking for at International Tabletop Day (“ITTD”)? What can our friendly local game stores learn from us, the consumers?

Here’s a list of eight things I think game stores should do in 2018 to make ITTD a better day for all:

img_1159Number One. Use Social Media and free media to spread the word.

If you are a gamer, chances are you are on some kind of social media. Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Slack. Google +. Websites like Reddit and Board Game Geek. If your game store did not advertise for free in 2017 on any or all of those platforms, you are doing yourself and your game store a disservice.

Gamers spend hours during their lunch hour or while waiting for the next elevator to find out the next big event. If a board gamer knows that your store is having an event, and that gamer thinks there is even a chance that someone will play Blood Rage or Anachrony with him or her, then that gamer will make every effort to get to your store. And maybe bring friends!

Get a calendar out; start backdating. About two months before, post a brief message saying “ITTD at — SAVE THE DATE”. Then a month before, start teasing out the events (see below). And the week of the event, make sure you are tweeting, Facebook posting, Instagramming and posting all about your event and what makes it special.

Number Two. Start a game night before ITTD happens.

This is a no-brainer. If your store does not already have a once or twice weekly game night dedicated just to board gamers, then start one before International Table Top Day happens. That seems counter intuitive, right? Most store would probably think to use ITTD as a jump off point to a regular game night. The opposite is true.

Hosting a regular game night in the weeks leading up to the day means you have a ready made audience who can build up some excitement about your upcoming event. Don’t wait until after, when the fire may burn down a bit (or more likely, they will just join a friend’s game group.) Put up some flyers, post it on

Number Three. Leverage your current assets.

Does your game store already have a game night? Then you have evangelists already on board! Three months before, spring for some snacks and drinks and have a 30 minute brainstorming session with your regulars. What games do they want to play? What events do they want to run for you? Do they want special hours, or a food special, or a game to be on sale that they can help teach? Maybe its a newcomer friendly game like Ticket to Ride or New York 1901? Or maybe they want at least a section of your store blocked out for some heavy cardboard? Find out!

Your regulars come to your game store because they like your space, and they need more people to come because that ensures you stay open. Plus, they have more people to PLAY THEIR GAMES. Utilize the volunteer sales staff you already have in place to craft the best experience for all.

Number Four: Use old media to drum up some interest.

Board games are hot topics in newspapers and on TV. Old line media loves anything nostalgic or anything that is out of the ordinary. Let’s face it, 90% of your non-gaming acquaintances think “Monopoly” and “Candyland” when they about board games.

A quick email or tweet to the local news desk might entice some young reporter (who maybe plays games or has an interest in the hobby) to come out and do a pre-ITTD story. The worst that the media can do is say no, right? But the best thing could be your own feature article.

Number Five: Take Pictures of the games!

I cannot believe I have to say this, but unfortunately I do. Get your iPhone / Android device out and snap some pictures! If you are uncomfortable putting people in your pictures for advertising sake, then snap close ups of meeples and dragons and actual boards and cards. Or, have a standard form (you can download free media use forms all over the internet) and have people sign — in exchange, they get a free promo card to their favorite game! Or they get their name in a drawing for a free game or expansion!

Giving out free promos or snacks or chance to win a game is the least you can do to have smiling happy people plastered all over your website, Twitter feed, and Facebook mentions.

If you don’t have time to take the photos yourself, then just ask people to post to Twitter / Facebook / Instagram and tag your store. Make it a game. Give people bingo cards with spots like (a) take a picture of people laughing while playing (b) tag the store and © get someone to like that photo. The list is endless but if someone gets BINGO (or whatever game you use), give them a free drink or a promo or a chance to win a prize. Gamers love prizes almost as much as they like playing games!

Number Six: Not too few, not too many, but just right.

What’s International Tabletop Day without fun events? Well, from a consumer side of things, I would rather see fewer than greater. For most people, the day is really about playing as many games as possible while still having time to hydrate and use the restroom…and socialize with our friends, too.

So don’t overschedule, but don’t under schedule, either. Again, use your local talent and knowledge. Get some volunteers to be willing to demo family friendly / new gamer friendly games. (If your game store is not a part of the Envoy Herald program, what are you waiting for? Join now and get free help to demo games EVERY WEEKEND and EVERY GAME NIGHT.)

Get some of your diehards to run bigger games that day, too, but ask them to leave one or two spots open for newcomers. Make sure that the schedule is posted prominently on your website and Facebook pages and somewhere on your wall. Maybe end up with a big event, like a game show or big group game such as Two Rooms and a Boom.

Number Seven: You got customers.

We know that the reason (most likely) that you opened this game store was not just to provide a friendly atmosphere for gamers and/or families to play board game nights on week nights and all weekend. We get it, there are bills to be paid. So, let us help you!

Have some kind of sale for that day, something that would entice both the new gamers and the experienced hands alike.

You will most likely have a handful or even a few dozen newcomers to the hobby strolling in, just curious to see what the whole “board game craze” is all about it. Have a display of games that are easy for them to get into, but mix it up between old favorites like Carcassone and Ticket to Ride to things we know by heart but they have probably never heard of: King of Tokyo, Codenames, Kingdomino, Sheriff of Nottingham, Imhotep, Karuba, Pandemic, and Camel Up. Give them a reason to buy those games with some kind of special, like Buy One, Get One Half Off. Sure, we know that some of the “friends” will split up the cost of the games, but you may end the day with a lot of two games sold instead of none transactions.

For the experienced gamers, give them a coupon for 20% any game in the store if they teach a game to a newcomer. Or have a pre-order sale — give them a discount if they order from you that day only if they order from you instead of Amazon. Again, it is a sale for product you don’t even have in the store, so you would have missed out on it anyway.

Plus, look around your store. There must be a really big ticket item (maybe the Takenoko special edition?) that has been sitting on your shelf way too long. Pick out five or ten of them, and make a big display out of them with a sales price TODAY ONLY.

Number Eight: Gonna Dress You Up In My Knowledge

Ever walk around World Market’s wine section? There’s always stickers and index cards and posters and arrows pointing out which wines made this Best Wine List or scored This Many Points on Wine Snob’s 2017 List. Now’s your chance to help spread some knowledge today, and it just might get you a sale or two.

Make a display with all of the SdJ winners that you stock in your store, and list them out by year and with the awards they won. Or do the same for BGG and The Dice Tower awards. You can probably find one of your regulars who would be willing to write up a little index card about the game and why it is awesome or why they think it won that year.

For some of your heaviest games, don’t be afraid to post the Heavy Scale from Board Game Geek right on the box or on the shelf. For some gamers, that will actually make the game more attractive!

If you know of a podcast or board game media creator that has talked up a product, mention it right there! If you are stocking Baseball Highlights: 2045, why aren’t you mentioning that it is a favorite of The Dukes of Dice? Or if you have any Bruno Cathala games, you have to note that “this game is from one of Zee Garcia’s favorite designers.” Or if you happen to have a copy of Blood Rage, connect the dots to The Secret Cabal. And if for some reason, you have multiple copies of Strike, then I guess you should put Tony from Rolling Dice & Taking Names right on the shelf there too pointing out the game.

This hobby is all about socializing in person and on the internet, and if you can show that your store is an active follower of board game media, then the new customers will be impressed. Remember, not all of those new faces in your store will be newbies to the hobby — many of them will be people who rabidly digest board game media but have never been to your store before.

BONUS! Post-Game Day Means Posting Pictures!

There’s nothing more frustrating to a gamer than to know that she missed out on a great day of board gaming. Maybe it was the latest hotness from Essen, Gen Con or Kickstarter that hit the table all day and she had been dying to try it (and maybe buy it?) Maybe it was that old classic that she loves to play with a big group. Maybe it was just a large scale party or crowd game that she has never tried.

Make her and her friends desire to pledge that they will not miss ITTD the following year, with some salivating pictures of people playing games and having a great time. That will set the table for next year for sure, and maybe lead them to your game night if you advertise it in conjunction with the postings.

I hope this helps friendly local game stores from around the country see International Tabletop Day from the gamers perspective. This day should be a celebration of everything good about our hobby, but also give you a chance to show everything good about your store. Take advantage of the day, and maybe you will have a Krewe of gamers knocking at your door saying, “Can we play a game?”

So, how was your International Tabletop Day experience?  What did your friendly local game store get right, and what could they use some improvement on for next year? Post a comment below or hit me up @boardgamegumbo on Twitter.

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

— B.J.

Kickstarter Preview: Click Click Boom by Thing 12 Games

If you follow us on Twitter, you know that we have all kinds of gamers show up to our Gumbo game nights.  Some of our friends come to play deep strategy games that take two or three hours to develop. Some gamers are looking for complete immersion in highly thematic games. And some come just looking to play the newest hotness on BGG.

But there is one common trait — at the start and end of the night, we typically like to play a fast moving game that can be taught quickly and scales well as people drop in and out.
Do your game groups like bluffing games that play quickly? Do you enjoy push your luck games where the players can wield unique special powers? We do, and we found a great game to add to any game night….Click Click Boom by Thing 12 games.

Click Click Boom — coming out on Kickstarter June 6 — is billed as a “Bluffing Game of Russian Roulette”. It was designed by Sean Epperson with art from Diony Cook Rouse. (You may recall Thing 12 Games from their indie hit, Dice of Crowns, designed by Sean and Brander “Badger” Roullett.) This is essentially a card game with special powers for each player that plays over three rounds in about a half hour.

COMPONENTS:

We were provided a reviewer’s version of the game, and the components, art, text and rule were not finalized yet. However, the art we saw on the cards was whimsical and serviceable. The game consists of 36 playing cards of three types: two with “clicks” (where your character survives) with different coin events and one with “boom” (which knocks your character out of the round.) The game also comes with unique character power cards, a double sided turn card, and 78 plastic coins.

GAMEPLAY:

The rules are simple and easy to teach. Imagine Hanabi but in a competitive, bluffing, knock-each-other-out implementation and that’s close to what Click Click Boom is. Each player is given a mini-deck of three “Click: Pay 1 coin” cards; two Click: 2 coins stolen” cards, a “Boom” card, your character (which stays face up until you are knocked out by playing a boom card, and an optional power card (which changes the rules of the game in each player’s favor.) Each player starts with 13 coins.

Players shuffle the cards, and then fan them out in front of them with the fronts of the cards facing the other players. No one is allowed during the round to look at their cards, so the information you will get from the other players is…well…suspect at best and malicious at worst!

The object? Survive the round and score some coins! After three rounds, the player with the most money wins.img_2782

After each player antes up, the first phase of the game, the “Ask” phase, takes place. Each player asks the player on their left, and then the player on the right (this rotates depending on the front of the double sided turn card) which card they should play. The player was was asked must choose a card, but does not have to answer any questions, although a skilled player will know what to say and when.

Once all players have asked the players to their left and right, the selected cards are placed face down on the table, and then at the same time, all players reveal ONE of the two cards. That’s right…you have less than a minute to decide which of your “friends” is being friendly and helpful, and which one is just trying to blow you up.

If a player reveals a click card, then that player stays in the game and does the action on the card, either paying one coin to the pot at the center of the table, or giving two coins to the player on the left or right depending on which card you chose. If a player reveals a “boom” card — well, better luck next time, pardner.

All players that survive then pass a FACE DOWN card to the player on the left or right, depending upon the orientation of the turn card, all without looking at any of the cards. That is an excellent time for you to pass a boom card to your “friend”, but expect the same friendly treatment in return!

This continues until one player is left or all players have only one card. The loot is divided, and another round begins with all players back in the game and anteing into the pot again (one coin for losers, two coins for the winner).

The designer recommends that the first round be played without special powers, but we enjoyed the rollicking chaos that ensues with the special powers. Some of these are more over powered than others, but that also puts a big fat target on the back of any player with a powerful card. Plus, each card can only be played once per round, and is turned over once played to signify, which equals out the powers.

WHY SHOULD YOU PLAY CLICK CLICK BOOM?

As gamers, we are all looking for games that can be introduced to newcomers to the hobby that still give experienced gamers some depth of play. Plus, every game night needs a good game that can play 3-6 players even if players are joining in as they walk in. Click Click Boom fits both bills. The rules are very simple, yet there is a lot of strategy in deciding when to use your special power, deciding when to help someone or finish them off, and looking at all of the cards in all of the players’ hands to guess at whether people are helping or hurting you.

My favorite memories at game night involve laughter, and Click Click Boom provides it in spades. The very first time we saw two boom cards presented by one of the players in their fanned out hands was an absolute laugh-out-loud moment that lasted for a long time. The first time a trusted player turns on you and convinces you to choose a “boom” card is another bust your gut moment that still resonates in my mind.

Yes, there are some “mean” elements in this game, and even the dreaded “player elimination”, but the turns go by very quickly. Each player takes turns helping and hurting neighbors which mitigates the meanness, and the downtime out of the game when you choose a “boom” card is very short. If you like Dead Last, you will probably enjoy this game, too, and if you thought Dead Last was a little too mean spirited but like the concept of bluffing games and hidden information, then this game will scratch that itch without creating the hidden alliances that sometimes break down other games in this category.

How mean do you like your bluffing, take that games? Leave a comment below or post in Twitter. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

Handicapping The Dice Tower Nominations!

Came down with a nasty bug last week, so I was not able to update the blog. I am feeling much better this week. I woke up on Monday to news that The Dice Tower has released its nominations for 2016!

Here are the nominations, along with some of my comments and handicapping.  What is your take on the potential winners in each category?  Spoiler alert — 2016 was a very strong year in board gaming. Do you agree? I would love to hear from you on Twitter at @boardgamegumbo!

Best Game from a New Designer:

Note: The game has to be the designer’s first or second published game to qualify for this award.

• Kingdom Death: Monster – designed by Adam Poots; published by Kingdom Death
• Vast: The Crystal Caverns – designed by David Somerville; published by Leder Games
• Adrenaline – designed by Filip Neduk; published by CGE
• Terraforming Mars – designed by Jacob Fryxelius; published by Stronghold Games
• The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire – designed by Luke Laurie; published by Minion Games

Still mulling over the potential winner of this one, but Kingdom Death: Monster is impressive in scope, and Adrenaline is the first RTS I have seen work in a board game. People are still clamoring for Terraforming Mars (a fifth printing I hear?) and was one of my best Euro experiences in 2016. But, Vast is the most impressive in design and had a lot of buzz coming out of GenCon and during the Kickstarter for 2.0.  I think it is the leader heading into the second turn, but there’s plenty of track left before July.  

Best Artwork

• Arkham Horror: The Card Game – illustrated by Christopher Hosch, Ignacio Bazán Lazcano, Henning Ludvigsen, Mercedes Opheim, Zoe Robinson, and Evan Simonet; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Inis – illustrated by Dimitri Bielak & Jim Fitzpatrick; published by Matagot
• Islebound – illustrated by Ryan Laukat; published by Red Raven Games
• Kanagawa – illustrated by Jade Mosch; published by Iello
• Scythe – illustrated by Jakub Rozalski; published by Stonemaier Games

Who doesn’t love Ryan Laukat and his whimsical artwork? Plus Kanagawa is itself all about art!  Inis surprised me — I heard complaints about the art, but when you see it in person, it is gorgeous. And Arkhasm as The Rougarou! But let’s face it, Scythe is the front runner here at least in terms of buzz. 

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Best Theming

• Black Orchestra – designed by Philip duBarry; published by Game Salute
• Captain Sonar – designed by Roberto Fraga & Yohan Lemonnier; published by Matagot
• Roll Player – designed by Keith Matejka; published by Thunderworks Games
• SeaFall – designed by Rob Daviau; published by Plaid Hat Games
• Terraforming Mars – designed by Jacob Fryxelius; published by Stronghold Games & FryxGames

I have not played or seen Black Orchestra yet, but hope to play it soon, especially after Carlos (@taquitopls) from the Krewe de Gumbo North called it an incredibly thematic adventure. Roll Player is a dice fest of fun, and has a theme that has never been done so far to my knowledge, but is it really “thematic”? Looks like its Capt Sonar and Terraforming Mars in the lead so far, with SeaFall making its one and only appearance on the list.  

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Best Two-Player Game

• 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis – designed by Asger Harding Granerud & Daniel Skjold Pedersen; published by Jolly Roger Games
• Arkham Horror: The Card Game – designed by Nate French & Matthew Newman; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Codex: Card Time Strategy – designed by David Sirlin; published by Sirlin Games
• Star Wars: Destiny – designed by Corey Konieczka & Lukas Litzsinger; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Star Wars: Rebellion – designed by Corey Konieczka; published by Fantasy Flight Games

Unfortunately, I have not played enough — yet — to really form an opinion, but the two Star Wars games are going to be tough to unseat in my opinion. Unless they cancel out each other? 

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Best Reprint

• 51st State: Master Set – designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek; published by Portal Games
• Escape from Aliens in Outer Space – designed by Mario Porpora, Pietro Righi Riva, Luca Francesco Rossi, & Nicolò Tedeschi; published by Osprey Games
• Mansions of Madness, 2nd Edition – designed by Nikki Valens; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Arkwright – designed by Stefan Risthaus; published by Capstone Games
• Robinson Crusoe – designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek; published by Portal Games

This was is surprisingly the easiest so far. I enjoyed my play of 51st State, but since I started on Imperial Settlers first, I liked that theme and system better. Let’s face it, all of these are great reprints, but Mansions has some serious pedigree, and this is the perfect category for it. Sentimental favorite at least. 


Best Expansion

• 7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon – designed by Antoine Bauza & Bruno Cathala; published by Repos Production
• Scythe: Invaders from Afar – designed by Jamey Stegmaier; published by Stonemaier Games
• Stockpile: Continuing Corruption – designed by Brett Sobol & Seth Van Orden, published by Nauvoo Games
• TIME Stories: Prophecy of Dragons – designed by Manuel Rozoy; published by Space Cowboys
• TIME Stories: Under the Mask – designed by Guillaume Montiage & Manuel Rozoy; published by Space Cowboys

And this one is surprisingly one of the toughest so far. Need to think on this one more, but I love what Continuing Corruption did to boost the game play of Stockpile. Should part of the reasoning behind voting in this category be the necessity of the expansion? 

Best Party Game

• Codenames: Pictures– designed by Vlaada Chvátil; published by Czech Games Edition
• Captain Sonar – designed by Roberto Fraga & Yohan Lemonnier; published by Matagot
• Happy Salmon – designed by Ken Gruhl & Quentin Weir; published by North Star Games
• Junk Art – designed by Jay Cormier & Sen-Foong Lim; published by Pretzel Games
• Secret Hitler – designed by Mike Boxleiter, Tommy Maranges, & Max Temkin; published by Goat Wolf & Cabbage

I need to try Junk Art and Secret Hitler before really handicapping this one, but Happy Salmon is a lot of fun and will be hard to beat. Heck, Alex from the Dukes of Dice played this one ’round the world! 
Best Cooperative Game

• Arkham Horror: The Card Game – designed by Nate French & Matthew Newman; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – designed by Forrest-Pruzan Creative, Kami Mandell, & Andrew Wolf; published by USAopoly
• Mansions of Madness, 2nd Edtion – designed by Nikki Valens; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Mechs vs. Minions – designed by Chris Cantrell, Rick Ernst, Stone Librande, Prashant Saraswat, & Nathan Tiras; published by Riot Games
• Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu – designed by Matt Leacock & Chuck D. Yager; published by Z-Man Games

Snarky comment of the week — “Have you even played Pandemic: ROC?” Reply: “Do I really need to?”   Snark aside, this might be one of the strongest categories, as each has great merit. My gut feeling here is that Mechs v Minions fans want it to win at least one or two categories, and this one seems to fit here. But man, that Rougarou!

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Best Family Game

• Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – designed by Forrest-Pruzan Creative, Kami Mandell, & Andrew Wolf; published by USAopoly
• Ice Cool – designed by Brian Gomez; published by Brain Games
• Junk Art – designed by Jay Cormier & Sen-Foong Lim; published by Pretzel Games
• Karuba – designed by Rüdiger Dorn; published by HABA
• Sushi Go Party! – designed by Phil Walker-Harding; published by Gamewright

I have not heard much scuttlebutt on this one, so I have some investigation to do before calling a leader. Just based on my own plays, and the 2016 buzz, I would think Karuba has the initial advantage (lots of podcasts have this one highly rated), but Junk Art and Ice Cool have been darlings on Twitter.  Hmm, tough to call yet. I’ll try to get some more feedback and update, but let’s call it Karuba by a nose for now. 

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Best Strategy Game

• A Feast for Odin – designed by Uwe Rosenberg; published by Z-Man Games
• Great Western Trail – designed by Alexander Pfister; published by Stronghold Games & eggertspiele
• Scythe – designed by Jamey Stegmaier; published by Stonemaier Games
• Star Wars: Rebellion – designed by Corey Konieczka; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Terraforming Mars – designed by Jacob Fryxelius; published by Stronghold Games & FryxGames

And the debate rages on–does the Tower mean “Best Euro” by this category? Or just best strategy in a game? I think a list this long should have a category for the Euro players, and this is the one that fits the best. But that knocks out Rebellion, and it may have some of the best strategy of any of these games. Out of all of these, the one game that makes me replay in my head my moves with anticipation for the next game is definitely Scythe. But in the end, it is hard to think that Great Western Trail and Terraforming Mars are not amazingly designed strategic romps, so I’ll handicap them one and two, respectively…for now. 


Best Board Game Production

• Conan – designed by Frédéric Henry, Antoine Bauza, Pascal Bernard, Bruno Cathala, Croc, Ludovic Maublanc, & Laurent Pouchain; published by Monolith
• The Others – designed by Eric M. Lang; published by Cool Mini or Not
• Mechs vs. Minions – designed by Chris Cantrell, Rick Ernst, Stone Librande, Prashant Saraswat, & Nathan Tiras; published by Riot Games
• Scythe – designed by Jamey Stegmaier; published by Stonemaier Games
• Star Wars: Rebellion – designed by Corey Konieczka; published by Fantasy Flight Games

Wow, this is another big Bataille here. Every single game can lay claim to being the best Board Game Production. I think Scythe may suffer from some post-BGG awards backlash, where it won every category except Best Podcast (deservedly so, in my opinion.) I’ll go with my gut here and say that the backlash let’s Mechs v. Minions sneak in. But, Scythe and Rebellion are just a nostril behind on the last turn. 

img_1460Most Innovative Game

• Captain Sonar – designed by Roberto Fraga & Yohan Lemonnier; published by Matagot
• Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure – designed by Paul Dennen; published by Renegade Game Studios
• Millennium Blades – designed by D. Brad Talton, Jr.; published by Level 99 Games
• Mystic Vale – designed by John D. Clair; published by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)
• Vast: The Crystal Caverns – designed by David Somerville; published by Leder Games

This category shows the strength of 2016. These are some dang fine choices. This might be the toughest to handicap of all, but I am going to go with my gut and figure Vast is due for a win here, although Clank! has been a monster on Twitter and Millennium Blades has some REALLY hard core fans. 

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Best Game from a Small Publisher

(Note: The published must have published five or fewer games at the beginning of 2015)

• Arkwright – designed by Stefan Risthaus; published by Capstone Games
• Cottage Garden– designed by Uwe Rosenberg; published by Edition Spielwiese
• Not Alone – designed by Ghislain Masson; published by Geek Attitude Games
• Roll Player – designed by Keith Matejka; published by Thunderworks Games
• Vast: The Crystal Caverns – designed by David Somerville; published by Leder Games

Of all five of these, Not Alone is the one I want to play right now. Cottage Garden has so many fans in social media, but the furor kind of fell out as the game became hard to find. Hmm, let’s call it even between Vast and Cottage Garden, but the horses are only reaching the first turn. Plenty of time to investigate this category. 

Game of the Year

• Adrenaline – designed by Filip Neduk; published by Czech Games Edition
• Captain Sonar – designed by Roberto Fraga & Yohan Lemonnier; published by Matagot
• Cry Havoc– designed by Grant Rodiek, Michał Oracz, & Michał Walczak; published by Portal Games
• A Feast for Odin – designed by Uwe Rosenberg; published by Z-Man Games
• Great Western Trail – designed by Alexander Pfister; published by Stronghold Games & eggertspiele
• Inis – designed by Christian Martinez; published by Matagot
• Mechs vs. Minions – designed by Chris Cantrell, Rick Ernst, Stone Librande, Prashant Saraswat, & Nathan Tiras; published by Riot Games
• Scythe – designed by Jamey Stegmaier; published by Stonemaier Games
• Star Wars: Rebellion – designed by Corey Konieczka; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Terraforming Mars – designed by Jacob Fryxelius; published by Stronghold Games & FryxGames

How can the professionals handicap such a large field? This feels like The Kentucky Derby of categories. I will bet you could list another ten games this year and make well-supported arguments for any of those games, too. 2016 was a monster year, but the monster of all has been Scythe. While I think Terraforming Mars may get a late break now that Stronghold announced it will be in stock again soon (with a HUGE printing), and Star Wars Rebellion / Mechs / Great Western Trail have lots of devoted fans, I think it is Scythe’s race to lose at this point. But, that final stretch is looming! 

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So there you have it, the very earliest of handicapping thoughts on the big race for games of the year in each category.  The awards will be announced at The Dice Tower Con in July, so there’s plenty of time to scour the ‘nets, feel the drumbeats, and stick a finger in the wind (that should be plenty enough metaphors?)

Who would you vote for in each category? Is Scythe the front runner for Game of the Year, or do you have your own personal favorite? I would love to hear from you on Twitter — hit me up at @boardgamegumbo!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

Spice It Up! With Colosseum by Tasty Minstrel Games

One of my eighth great grandfathers traveled from Italy to Quebec over two hundred years ago. He was born in the Ligurian city of Genoa in the late 1600s, left as a youth and traveled to the New World. After marrying the daughter of the post master in Quebec City in 1714, he never went back to his Italian homeland as far as we know. Italy has always called to me since I first heard that story.

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of traveling to Firenze and Roma with my family. While I was not able to make it to Genoa, I did get the chance to dip my toes in the same Mediterranean waters that he probably touched, albeit two hundred years later.

Walking around Rome, and seeing the expanse of marble on every corner, gave me a sense of awe about the monuments accomplished by these ancient peoples. One of the highlights was a tour of the Colosseum. Any fan of SEC football knows that LSU’s Tiger Stadium’s outdoor facade bears a striking resemblance to that ancient edifice, so standing inside and outside of that structure was all the more impressive.

I am not naive; I realize that there were many great and terrible events that took place in Rome’s stadium. But, standing amidst the remains, I could not help but wonder what non-deadly spectacles were presented in the arena.

Could a game give me that feeling of standing in the midst of a large arena, marshaling my actors, props and animals to put on a giant display of athletic ability? For years, there was such a game, but it was hard to find and expensive when you did. Anyone that listened to the Dice Tower after 2007 heard Tom and Sam extolling its virtues.

Does your game group like auction bidding, trading and collecting? Is your group tired of playing the same old bidding game? Do they have a flair for the dramatic? Well then, spice up your game nights with Colosseum by Tasty Minstrel Games

Colosseum is a 2007 release designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Markus Lübke. It was recently released by Tasty Minstrel Games with all new artwork and a deluxe edition that includes heavy metal coins and upgraded components.

Colosseum plays from three to five players in about an hour and half, although your first play will probably be closer to two hours. It has been nominated for numerous awards, including a 2008 Golden Geek Best Family Board Game Nominee and an IGA award for best strategy game.

THEME:

Players act as “Roman impresarios” who collect the various elements to put on ever more spectacular shows. Played with the right group, the theme really shines. The visual 3d elements included in the game plus the numerous different show elements (animals, props, actors) all add to the feeling that each player is putting on an ever more complicated show.

COMPONENTS AND RULE BOOK:

I’ve played the game with the Kickstarter edition from TMG, with metal coins that clink satisfactorily on the table, and upgraded components to really make the pieces pop on your table. I have not seen the retail version, so I cannot comment on how it looks.

The game comes with a large game board (yes, I know it is a little smaller than the original, but since I never played the original…) and an excellent rule book.

The artwork through out the game was done by Jacqui Davis with graphic design by Daniel Solis (who you will remember from his design with Kodama: The Tree Spirits and his handiwork in numerous other games.) I have seen pictures of the original artwork, and it was very classy and well done, but I have no problems at all with the new design. The colors pop, the artwork is interesting without being cartoony, and for the most part, it is easy to read the icons and cards.

INNOVATION:

For a ten year old game, Colosseum still feels fresh. It takes some very simple mechanics (rolling and moving, set collecting, bidding and trading) and overlays them with interesting decisions. While there is nothing here that has never been done before, back ten years ago it was likely a unique combination of mechanisms that still hold up today.

GAMEPLAY:

The game is surprisingly easy to teach, although maybe I shouldn’t be surprised since it was originally a Days of Wonder release. That company is known for games that appeal to both gamers and family first timers alike. The set collection and auction bidding mechanics are a little more advanced than say your basic three rule game of Ticket to Ride, but I would not hesitate to bring this out with a game group that is less than experienced.

Like any good auction game, the game comes down to players spotting trends in the scarcity of show elements and outwitting each other through bids and trades and show purchases. It is definitely a good next step up from your general gateway type games, and should be very easy to teach for families who have a little experience in playing games.

The game plays over five game rounds, each broken up into five phases. Essentially, players take turns INVESTING in their show (upgrading their arena or buying a new show), ACQUIRING new assets (participating in the auction for the available show assets), TRADING the various asset tokens, PRODUCING the event (using the show assets at hand with some special rules to help players who don’t have enough assets with negative points attached to taking advantage of the breaks, and finally CLOSING CEREMONIES (bonuses and clean up time).

There are some delicious decisions throughout the game. Players can score more points if they can somehow roll and move nobles (senators, consuls, and the emperor) into their show, but it takes careful planning to do so. Players need to look at the scarcity of the show elements versus the point totals on the various shows and balance how far they are willing to push their luck that those show elements will come out in the bidding process or be available in the trading phase. There’s even a bit of engine building as players invest in upgrades for their arenas.

DOWNSIDES:

The game is not for everyone. If your game group does not like auctions or bidding, then Colosseum will be a hard sell. A really aggressive player who is good at economic games will definitely have an advantage over players enjoying the ride of building out better shows each round. That can rub some people wrong if they go into this game thinking it is yet another solitaire Euro, because it is not. Controlling the auction and the show pieces can be a big part of the game, and conversely, not being able to buy or trade for the pieces you need can be very frustrating.

A minor downside is the card art for the shows. For some reason, the little icons don’t seamlessly match up with the card art, especially for the bonus star performers. It took a couple of rounds, but eventually people were able to distinguish the different types of actors versus the bonus cards, but I think this could have been done better with more appropriate iconography.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I have not played Colosseum enough yet for a full review. This was a grail game for me, as I love the theme and mechanics and the style of play. I love Euro games that include a little more interaction then your typical point salad game, and I love how there is bluffing and bidding in what otherwise would just be a rote collection game.

I love the Dukes of Dice six point rating scale, and really admire the simplicity of giving each game a grade. I cannot say I have played Colosseum enough to give it a score yet, but even after just a few plays, I am leaning toward a four (a good game worth playing, just not all the time, but belongs in your collection) or a five (a great game, will rarely turn down a play of it). I have played it at four player counts and at five players too, but would really like to see how it plays at three before deciding.

The real questions when I purchase a game like this are whether I have enjoyed playing and do I want to play it again. The answer to both is a resounding yes — I enjoyed both of my first two plays, and I definitely cannot wait to play it again.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

 

A Chat with Chenier La Salle, Designer of New York 1901

Many gamers in South Louisiana can trace their roots to Canada. Of course, the Acadians are the most well known transplants, as they were forced out of the Acadie area of Eastern Canada during Le Grand Derangement in 1755 and found their way south to Louisiana.  But, there were also a lot of soldiers, business people, tradesman, farmers and sailors who left Quebec and other French speaking areas in the 1700s and headed down south.

So we are always excited to hear of the successes of the gaming and design communities of our Francophone friends in Quebec.  Recently, we had the pleasure of catching up again with one of those successful designers.

 

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Photo from Board Game Geek’s Designer Page
Chenier La Salle is the award winning designer of New York 1901, published in 2015 by Blue Orange Games.  Chenier is originally from Quebec, but currently lives and works in Japan on assignment from the Canadian government. Of course, he is also working on his latest game there,

 

He was gracious enough to exchange messages with me for this interview. Merci, Chenier!

 

 

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BJ: I read that your family game nights with your own children got started with card games and games like Ticket to Ride, which your family called “The Train Game.” Funny! In our family, we call it the same, as in “Want to try one of my dad’s games? We could play The Train Game.” Was that name organic or something Dad (Chenier) created to make the games more palatable to our video obsessed kids?

CL: It just happened. Thurn and Taxis became the “Germany game” and Finca the “fruit game”. Must be human nature. I’m sure some people also shorten the already short New York 1901. I’ve heard people refer to it as “New York” (a quick game of ‘New York’?) and others as “1901”. 

You spent some time in the south (Texas) after jumping back into this hobby with two feet. Any special memories of gaming in Texas?

My most vivid gaming memory, beyond the game that our family created in Texas, is the pleasure of discovering how less expensive board games are in the US compared to Canada. Dad (me) really went nuts buying many more board games than he can ever hope to play. It’s kinda ridiculous – my wall of shame is filled with games from that 4 year buying spree!

Did you attend any of the cons in Houston or Dallas? What was the hobby gaming scene like in Houston when you were there? Any friends to thank for their help on NY 1901?

As for the Houston gaming scene, it’s very active but I didn’t attend any of the cons. I did attend a weekly game designers meetup early in the development of New York 1901. I got a lot of ‘tough love’ just when I needed it most.

As a Quebecois, you are bilingual. When Amazon delivers a game from Canada or Europe that you’ve been waiting for….do you grab the French rules or the English rules first?

Hehe, good question. If the game has both English and French rules, I’ll probably read the first version I stumble upon.

So, you are on a post in Japan, returning to you and your family’s roots somewhat. How has that experience been? We are seeing more and more cross over games from Japan and other parts of Asia.

Yes, this posting in Japan is perfect on all fronts. I’m in a country that I know well so on a professional level, I can really make a difference supporting Canadian industry. On a personal level my wife is extremely happy to be back home – I met her in Japan when I lived here from 1994-2004. My job had forced her to live outside Japan for 12 years and she really missed home. You can also imagine how happy the in-laws are to see their daughter and grandchildren. I think I’ll have a hard time getting her to leave Japan once this posting is over!

What is the Japanese gaming scene like?

It’s still relatively small in Japan. Nagoya, the city I live in is the third city in Japan in terms of population (it’s big) but has only one small shop where you can find “revival” boardgames – which shows you how small the market is here. But the scene is growing. Carcassonne has a somewhat of a following.


My first Gen Con last year was overwhelming and exhilarating at the same time. In 2015, you traveled to Indy for your first GenCon to showcase NY1901? What was the experience like? What did you learn for your next big con?

It felt overwhelming and exhilarating just like it was for you or for any first time goer! When you add the fact that I had a game that was coming out at Gencon that had built up quite a bit of buzz, it was a surreal thrill! The lessons I learned were mostly about the groundwork that goes into preparing for a show like that. All the prep work has to be perfect but that’s mostly in the publisher’s hands – although I was very active on the internet myself before the show. As a designer during a show, your most important job is to make yourself available.

I love Vincent Dutrait‘s work (the artist on New York 1901). He has a style that is very recognizable right away. How did he get attached to your NY 1901 project?

It’s the publisher’s job to hire the artist and they made a great decision by hiring Vincent. Like you said, his style is very recognizable. It has a European comic strip feel to it that suits board games very well and gives them a tasteful yet playful feel. A great privilege to have Vincent bring the world of New York 1901 to life. I love his work.

I read in an interview that he added a little “gift” to the inside of your box at Gen Con 2015. What did he draw or inscribe?

Vincent and I were at the Blue Orange booth for a few hours each day signing the inside of the boxes for the gamers who bought a copy. I would just sign and add a thank you note or something but Vincent would draw a character for everyone who bought the game and stood in line. Before the end of the show, he opened a box for me, signed the inside of the cover and drew a character from the game. He made my drawing a ‘deluxe version’ by making it a bit more elaborate than the ones he drew all day. The box is now truly a family heirloom.

How have you changed or grown as a player since starting your own designs? Do you have a favorite genre?

Sadly, I don’t spend as much time as I’d like “playing” games now that I’m working on my own designs. I still try to play new games a few times a month to keep building on my personal database of experiences. Since I do all of my gaming with my family, we go for family fare. We’ve had fun trying out a lot of the Queen games we bought over the holidays (there were some great deals!).

Any plans for conventions in the states or Europe?

Not really. The next convention I attend will likely be for the release of my next game, which could be 2 or more years away. Unless there’s a opportunity in Japan or Taiwan over the next few years to help promote New York 1901. But nothing planned for now.

Let’s talk about game design. Of all of the designers I have studied, you *really* dive deep into historical research. Obviously, a game about turn of the century New York skyscrapers lends itself to that deep dive, but what is it about you or your background that attracts to you the historical or the antique?

Apart from abstract games, most board games include some kind of role-playing element: you become a real estate mogul, a general, an explorer etc. I enjoy this part of the board game experience and I love it when a theme has been properly developed to establish and build the “immersion” factor. I remember playing war games in my adolescence and I noticed the details. I loved playing with authentic units with their actual name written on them. I loved the leader tiles that featured the actual names of the generals who led their armies into battle. I noticed and enjoyed these little details tremendously and I thought I’d include them in my own designs. I hope people enjoy. I’m also sensitive to the aesthetics of certain historical periods and choose my themes from among the periods that appeal to me and that I feel will appeal to the public in general.

Another reason for the extensive research is the fun factor. Developing a board game can take many years (over three years for New York 1901) so it can’t just feel like work. It has to be a ‘fun’ labour of love or you’ll just give up halfway through. I chose a theme that gave me shivers and still does. Discovering a new pic (one I’ve never seen) on the internet of an old New York skyscraper still gives me a bit of a high.

So to answer your question about my background, all I can say is that I’m bringing my own sensibilities to the forefront, highlighting what brings me pleasure and selecting and keeping what I think others will respond to.

Recently, some of the more ‘famous’ designers in our hobby have experienced backlash from the internet community. By that I mean, a designer like Jamey Stegmaier or Eric M. Lang lands a few designs on the ‘hotness’ on Board Game Geek, and suddenly, there is an almost inevitable undercurrent of gamers ready to trash their next designs. Where do you stand on criticism of designs and designers? Gentle, acerbic, or don’t give a hoot?

I’m not surprised. It’s human nature. Marketing is an important part of a successful board game project and the two designers you mention are very good at marketing themselves and their games. When you’re visible and successful, you make yourself a target for some gratuitous criticism. I think that at the core of the negative reactions is a feeling of “why are we always talking about this game/designer while there are so many others that are deserving”. It’s actually an understandable reaction. New York 1901 was the target of some criticism for similar reasons, it had a solid awareness building effort behind it so it made an easy target for gratuitous criticism. When I read some of the comments posted online, I can often see that some of these people have actually never played the game – which is very disappointing. You need thick skin when you put your soul into a game and then put it out there.

On a personal basis, now that I have creations of my own out there, I refrain from rating or commenting on anybody else’s work unless I have something positive to say. I think most designers do the same.

Antoine Bauza is well known for having his love of Japanese culture influence many of his designs. You have lived all over the world but have focused on New York City. Do you expect to see some of your world journeys leak into future games?

I love big cities. I love the dynamic image they project. Cities give me goosebumps. I love to channel some of that imagery and use it to build immersive backgrounds for games. So the answer is: yes!

13173491_861889250601313_660072578630068742_oHow have you enjoyed the ride of success of having your first published game, New York 1901, garner press attention, con attention, good sales and even wins / nominations for big awards.

I’m very lucky. I beat the odds in many, many ways. I was fortunate simply to have my first creation published. But then there’s more. New York 1901 was published by a major publisher and went on to receive a few awards (2016 Mensa Select Winner, Games Magazine, Finnish Game of the Year) and get nominated for a few more (Dice Tower, 2015 Golden Geek (BGG) Best Family Board Game Nominee, Origins). People say you have to work hard to create your luck, and I did work very hard, but I’m the first to admit luck met me halfway – you get that perspective on life as you get older. I’m very fortunate. My biggest reward though is talking to fans of the game and to the many friends I’ve made because of it. Merci Barry!

What would you do different?

Hum… some small things but nothing worth mentioning.

You seem to love prototyping! What is it about making prototypes that attracts you?

I have fun collecting imagery and putting it together in prototype material. I try to seduce myself when I’m making games and hope that others will feel the same way. But beyond the aesthetics, making prototypes is kinda like ‘meditation’ for me. As I’m assembling the prototype or tinkering with the graphics on my computer, I’m exploring new ideas in my head. I’m playtesting in my mind. I guess it’s part of my creative process.

I’m seeing sneak peaks of a very interesting new “La Salle creation.” What can you tell us about this new game? (note, Chenier graciously allowed us to bring you a link to his Facebook page. You can follow the fascinating development of his latest game here.)

I’m still working with my muse, New York City. I got to know her so well during the last creative process so I know she has much more to give 😉

The new game still centers around skyscrapers but covers a much longer period of time historically. It’s less ‘tetris-y’ than the first but there’s still a tile laying element. I’m going new places in terms of mechanics: I’m playing with variable powers, with worker placement and with hand/resource management. Again, it’s meant to be a family ‘gateway’ game that plays quickly and intuitively. It’s also meant to have an immersive fully developed theme. People who take out the game have to feel like they’re living an ‘experience’. If I can accomplish that, I’ve done my job.

What was the inspiration? How long has it been germinating?

It stems from some of the original research I did for New York 1901 so I guess it goes all the way back to 2011. In earnest, I’d say I’m a year into the project at this point.

How far along are you? What are you expecting out of this one?

I think I’m still a good 6 months away (damn that day job!) from having a prototype worth sharing outside my immediate playtesting group which is my family.

Who is the target audience? Any potential publishers interested or looking?

I’m hoping for an immersive gateway game that finds a home with families and medium-light gamers. Haven’t showed it to any publisher yet. If I did learn something from my first experience it’s that you should only pitch your game when it’s truly ready.

Where do you see yourself in this hobby in 10 years?

I’m 48, so that takes me to 58. I see myself with a few more games under my belt and preparing for a retirement (from my day job – government pension) so I can start a new life filled with playing and making games. I hope it happens. I’m chasing my dream and having fun doing it. Merci Barry!

Merci, Chenier!

Beignets & Boardgames — Preview of Moonshine Run coming to Kickstarter in June

(Editor’s note: We thank A Madman Or Two Games for providing us with a preview copy of Moonshine Run. The artwork, by Starcat Games, is presented here with permission of Zack Ringler. Here’s Bradly with the preview:)Webbed.jpg

Recently the Krewe de Gumbo got their hands on a game going up on Kickstarter on June 6, 2017 called Moonshine Run.

Developed by Zack Ringler from A Madman or Two Games, Moonshine Run is a card driven, push your luck game where you are attempting to get your white lightning down from the mountains where it is made into town where it can be sold.

PrintThe game itself is simple and has a small footprint. Essentially, it is a deck of cards which includes a round tracker and a turn order card for each player, alongside a collection of markers denoting money, and a rule book. Each round players will draw a card from the top of the deck equal to the round they are in (so 1 card for round 1, 2 for round 2, etc). Players then get the option to buy additional cards from the deck; one card for one dollar (and you start with $10). Cards drawn from the deck, whether free or bought, are placed face down in front of the player who drew them in the order they were drawn.

PoliceBlockade_1
Someone pushed their luck too far?
That is when the push your luck element comes in. The cards in the main deck come in several flavors. There are stash cards, hazards, quality cards and item cards.

 

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An example of the artwork from the “quality” cards
Stash cards are ultimately how you earn money. Each card is a representation of the moonshine you are trying to sneak past the police. You will earn money depending upon how much moonshine you can safely transport to town without getting caught. Hazards are things like the police stopping you on the road, rival moonshiners looking to steal your stash, or even something as simple as a fallen tree.

 

TommyGun_1
The ole Tommy Gun…
Quality cards change the value of your liquor when you sell it. They can either make it more valuable, or less. And finally item cards come in several types, like the Tommy Gun
which either lets you fight off Rival Moonshiners or attack other players and steal their stash.

BoozeShed_Broken
Is that a place to stash some booze?
The game play is easy to pick up. One by one, on their respective turns, the active players will reveal the cards in front of them, each time deciding if they are happy with what has been revealed already, or if they are going to risk the next turn of the line up. The round continues until a player either chooses to stop, reveals all of their cards, or runs into something that ends their turn.

 

Round Tracker
Handy turn order card
For a push your luck game, Moonshine Run is both entertaining and small enough that you can have it on you for quick filler games. Most of the problems the Krewe had revolved around the quality of the copy we played, but that is likely due to the fact that we had a review copy. There were some places we saw where definitions of rules could be better or organized in a better manner, but we are hoping that ultimately these minor glitches will be fixed in the actual production copy.

 

The game was fun for all of us that tested it, and not surprisingly, many of the Krewe wanted to purchase a copy for themselves as soon as it comes out especially if the production quality is increased.

Look for it on Kickstarter on June 6, 2017.

 

UnPub7 Report with Jason Dinger – Part Two

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(Left) Daniel Newman, The Five By contibuter Ruth Boyack and Tony Miller at UnPub 7. Photo Credit: Aaron Wilson (Right) Aaron Wilson teaching me his roll-n-track game, “Nice Lil Beach Day”.

(Editor’s note:  Jason Dinger from Morgan City, Louisiana is the designer of the upcoming Essen 2018 release, Captains of the Gulf. He attended his first UnPub in Baltimore this month. His first entry covered the background of UnPub and some of the highlights of the con for Jason. Look for more posts from Jason in the future!) 

While UnPub 7 didn’t officially kick off until midday Friday, many designers got into town on Thursday and got together in the hotel lobby for an impromptu game night. That was the first of 4 fun-filled days where I got to hang out, game with, and get to know several talented designers who also happen to great people.

I was fortunate enough to interview 3 of them as the dust settled after the weekend: Aaron Wilson (AW), Daniel Newman (DN), and Tony Miller (TM).

Can you give us a little introduction / tell us about yourselves?

AW: I’m Aaron Wilson. My wife and I just had our second child, Silvie in November. Our first, Stella, just turned 3 in March. We live in Ossining, NY, home of the well known Sing Sing prison. I commute to NYC every weekday to my job in pharmaceutical advertising at a big agency where I do Creative Direction.

DN: Midwestern boy transplanted to Brooklyn, NY 15 years ago. Wife, kid, 2 dogs. Architectural model maker. Got into game design a couple of years ago. One published game (Ahead in the Clouds) released this year. Another (Mech Chores) was signed this past fall and should see print at the end of 2017. Other games with publishers under review.

TM: I’m a father, husband, game designer and IT fireman who is relocating to Portland, OR in mid-April.

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“Step Right Up” by Daniel Newman, a uniquely-themed medium weight Euro game with influences from both Feld and Gerdts.

Desribe UnPub in your own words. What does UnPub mean to you?

AW: It’s about meeting people. Seeing people you connect with. Playing games with friends and strangers. But most of all learning about what works with my own games and what doesn’t. What needs tweeking. Also, about getting your games in front of publishers.

Was super happy riding down and rooming with Dan Newman. Getting a lot of time with Dan, you, Donna, Tony Miller, Justin Brown, Isom and Duley. Getting some time with Ben Begal, Ian Zang, Jon Mofat, Chris Bryan, Adam McIver, Kerry Rundle, Josh Mills, Matt Wolfe, Nat Levan, Jason Kotarski, Zev, Rocco, Alex Kevern, Ruth, Jessica, Nicole and Anthony. I know this is a lot of name dropping but I love these people.

DN: UnPub is designer summer camp. It’s a great opportunity to connect with all the folks I talk to on Twitter all the time but only see at conventions. It’s also great way to get a tremendous amount of playtesting done in a short period of time with both other designers and the general public. But really, for me, it’s about reaffirming my place in the community and feeling like I belong.

TM: UnPub is where I go to be around the greatest people in the world, other game designers. My game design family is what keeps me going when I think about quitting.

Game designers in general are some of the hardest working and friendliest people anywhere. They know the struggles and hardships of building a design from scratch, testing it repeatedly, and continually iterating to attempt to make something the best that it can be. They understand the highs of seeing someone enjoying something that you’ve created and the lows of things just not quite coming together.

This makes me excited to be around other game designers and no convention offers that like UnPub. Gen Con has the new hotness, BGGCon has uninterrupted play time, but only UnPub has all of its time dedicated to the craft of design.

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“Back To Rth” by Tony Miller and John Prather, hand-building game with a very innovative action programming mechanic where players have 3 cards in their tableau and add 1 each round, which pushes the oldest card to the discard pile and activates the 3 remaining cards.

What games did you bring to show / test this year at UnPub 7?

AW: My big box game, New Reign, a 2-5 player political sci-fi area majority, card and dice game.

Nice Lil Beach Day, light filler push your luck dice game. Got a poker dice feel.

Dark Miss Down, a strategic 18 card 2 player game that’s about collect starship crew to complete ship repair tasks. This may be rethemed as a Hipster Brooklyn party promoter game for Tagmire’s Buttonshy contest.

DN: I brought Step Right Up (Carnival themed Euro with asymmetrical player boards) and Roll’d West (roll and write based on Gold West by J. Alex Kevern).

TM: My illustrious co-designer, John Prather, and I brought 7 games to the show:

Back to Rth – a hand-building/action-programming game about reclaiming a polluted Earth 1000s of years in the future.

Beat-em-Up – a real-time co-op symbol matching game based on old school side-scrolling brawlers.

Fire in the Library – a press-your-luck game about rescuing books from the Library of Alexandria as it burns down around you.

18teXmeX – a spatial stock manipulation game about investing in Taco Trucks.

Weather or Not – a trick taking game about wizards manipulating the weather in resort towns to maintain perfect vacation temperatures.

Busted! – a press-your-luck betting game that plays a bit like Blackjack.

Dice Heroes – a co-op abstracted dungeon crawl that features dice drafting as the means of activating abilities.

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“New Reign” by Aaron Wilson. Action selection, area majority, and dice where players are trying to embed secret agents into a futuristic government body.

What was the main game you showed at UnPub and how was the feedback / response from testers and publishers?

AW: New Reign. Huge positive response. Caught a little buzz. I got an offer from a publisher, but I’m still developing it and feel like it can be way better. We’ll see. Haha.

DN: Step Right Up was my primary game this year and it went over extremely well with play testers. By Sunday, it became pretty clear that the design was pretty much done and it was to the point where I was ready to pitch to publishers. I was able to get it in front of a few and have had requests for rules and PNP files from others who were unable to play it but wanted to take a look. I got a bunch of love on Twitter from people who played and wanted to share, which was awesome.

TM: The main game that I showed was Back to Rth, though both 18TeXMeX and Fire in the Library were played a lot too.

Feedback was generally positive with everyone agreeing that the core of the game was very smooth. Several players wanted it to be heavier than it is and others wanted a lighter game, so it mostly fell right where I wanted it. We got multiple wonderful ideas for both up-scaling and down-scaling the design, so we may end up doing both. 🙂

To find out more about Aaron, Daniel, and Tony follow them on Twitter at:
Aaron Wilson – @InternetsMagic
Daniel Newman – @dnlnwmn
Tony Miller – @beardedrogue or catch him on the Breaking Into Boardgames podcast on iTunes

— Jason Dinger  @jasondingr on Twitter

UnPub 7 Report with Jason Dinger (Part One)

((Editor’s note:  Jason Dinger from Morgan City, Louisiana is the designer of the upcoming Essen 2018 release, Captains of the Gulf. He attended his first UnPub in Baltimore this month. Look for more posts from Jason in the future!) 

Originally founded in 2010 by John Moller, UnPub is the Unpublished Games Network and includes game designers, artists, publishers, play testers, reviewers, and more. It serves as a resource for the board game community, as well as conventions, both large and small. It is currently run by Darrell Louder and a small, but dedicated staff.

UnPub conventions are invaluable opportunities for game designers to play test and get feedback from other designers, publishers, and veteran play testers alike. They also provide publishers wonderful exposure to hundreds of new, unpublished games looking for a home. There is no entry fee to UnPub, allowing gamers and play testers a little-to-no-cost chance to play a wide variety of games for two days.

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Playing Keith Matejka’s “Roll Player” the night before UnPub with fellow game designers Donna Dinger, Aaron Wilson, and Daniel Newman. Photo credit: Aaron Wilson

UnPub 7 took place from March 17th – 19th, 2017 at the Baltimore Convention Center. For three straight days, the con was abuzz with excitement, smiles, and gaming fun.

In addition to all of the great gaming and designing aspects, UnPubs feature an amazing community. From the newest gamer to the most-experienced designer or publisher, everyone came together, supported each other, and bonded over a shared loved of board games.

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Designer Daniel Newman (far right above) teaching his game, “Roll’d West”, a roll-n-write inspired by J. Alex Kevern’s Gold West” to a group of friends / designers including (left to right) Aaron Wilson, Chris Zinsli, John Prather, Tony Miller.

Day 1 of UnPub is a special day for designers and VIP play testers to play games, mingle, and also features a charity auction. This year’s auction benefitted the Dravet Syndrome Foundation. UnPub board member Mike Mullins lost his son, AJ, last November to Dravet Syndrome. The auction raised over $2,000.00 and 100% of the money was donated in AJ’s name.

 

Days 2 and 3 of UnPub are open to the public and gamers swarmed the convention floor, going from table to table, playing games, and getting to interact with the designers. Along with play testers, several publishers made their rounds, meeting designers, playing games, and more than a few took prototypes home with them.

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(from L to R) Designers Matt Riddle, Donna Dinger, Jason Dinger, and Ben Pinchback at UnPub 7. Matt & Ben have a prolific game design catalog including Fleet, Wharfside, Morocco, and the upcoming Ladder 29 which is on KickStarter now.

UnPub is not like any other gaming convention. I got the chance to play some fantastic games, but more importantly, I got the chance to meet some truly wonderful people. Part two of this series will feature mini-interviews / spotlights on three of those people who made my first UnPub an experience I will never forget.

(Editor’s Note: Come back on Wednesday for more UnPub 7 reports from Jason.)

— Jason Dinger @jasondingr on Twitter

 

 

Spice it up! With Baseball Highlights: 2045

I love baseball, and I love board games. I have been searching for years for a game that combines both of my favorite pastimes, and I will tell you all about my find today. Before we get to the discussion, this is a great time to do a quick review of Baseball Highlights:2045, because we should note that Eagle-Gryphon Games has made it easy to introduce the game to any audience.  Right now, there is a Kickstarter going on for three new expansions to the base game– but for new payers, there is also a “Spring Training” edition of the game. It is priced right at under $20 per copy, and gives enough cards for two players to learn and play the game. The box will be delivered to your door in September, just in time for the playoffs.  Play ball! 

I can still remember the smell of fresh cut grass and the feel of wet blades stuck to the bottom of my trousers. It was my first season coaching t-ball to my oldest child. I had not been at my hometown ballpark since I myself was just a wee lad. There were more fields now, and the bleachers seemed a little more worn down, but I slowly did a 360 degree turn and saw the entire park filled with happy children chasing each other in brightly colored uniforms.

Baseball. America’s favorite past time.

Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended, the nation’s eyes turn toward shiny ball parks in Arizona and Florida. It is spring training down there, and hundreds of players are stretching, spitting, and stealing bases in hopes of making it to The Show.

Is there a board game that can give players the excitement and tension of a real live major league baseball game? Are your game nights getting a little stale playing the same old wizards and zombie themed games?

Well then, Spice it up with Baseball Highlights: 2045!

Baseball Highlights is a “tactical card game with deck building elements” (as Sean Ramirez from The Dukes of Dice likes to say) by Mike Fitzgerald published by Eagle-Gryphon Games in 2014. I talked a little bit about the game in January in discussing Clank!, another deck building game that used deck building as the mechanic to help players explore a dungeon.

This month, let’s talk about a card game that simulates a futuristic style of baseball played with cyborgs, robots, and regular ole’ humans (called “naturals” in the game, because they do not have any augmented body parts like cyborgs do). Fitzgerald uses the deck building mechanic as a way to enhance the development of each team and to power the six-inning, seven game series of ball games.

Player board with Player Aid — four boards provided in the Deluxe Edition

Theme:

The year is 2045, and America has long since passed on the glory days of its favorite past-time. In an effort to revitalize the sport, the powers-that-be brought in robots (with amazing hitting prowess) and cyborgs (with amazing pitching arms) to bring excitement to the stands. The theme is carried through the beautiful artwork, the full color player boards, and especially through the player cards. Each card in the free agent deck has unique names that evoke well known baseball players (for the naturals), funky robotic names from the future, or cartoon style cyborg names.

I recommend you get the big box deluxe edition, which comes with the base game plus seven small expansions.  Each expansion not only adds tons of replayability to the game, but also has different themes like added cards for each of the types of players or combo cards that can really change the play style. I especially like the Rally cards which give teams a chance to mount a comeback or kill a rally.

Naturals, Cyborgs and Robots from the Free Agent Deck

Innovations:

Baseball Highlights: 2045 brings out a number of innovations. Sure, at first glance, it looks like another take on the deck building mechanic, but unlike the dry theme of Dominion, Baseball Highlights 2045 evokes the theme of baseball well.  It was one of the first card games that I played that used deck building as just a mechanic rather than the entire scheme, as in Dominion.  Instead of being the sole focus of gameplay, deck building here allows players to flesh out their teams with a dizzying array of free agent cards.

The game also is innovative in the way that Fitzgerald developed the cards and the game play.  It really feels like you are pitching and hitting against another team. Each side plays one card at a time, and the cards have varying effects which automatically stack depending upon the type of action.

 

Rookie cards from Boston and L.A.
Veterans from the base decks of New York and San Francisco
The game of baseball can be a bit long for some people, and would not translate well into a normal deck builder. That’s why Mike Fitzgerald came up with the idea of reducing the game to six innings (or six card hands.) It works really well in this format, and allows players to attack each other quickly over a seven game series.  The regular rules of baseball (steals, double plays, etc.) are generally used, although they come mostly in the form of immediate actions that are found on the cards.

Gameplay:

The game is surprisingly easy to teach.  Players start out with a small deck of 15 cards consisting of ‘veterans’ and ‘rookies.’ These are low powered cards of hitters and pitchers that have basic abilities.  Players play head to head over seven games, playing baseball player cards out of their hand and deck, trying to score more runs than the other player in only six innings.

The designer suggests that the two players play a three game mini-series. Each player during the game take turns laying down one of the six cards in their hand, and “threatening” hits like singles, doubles or even home runs. If the other player cannot counter that action, then the hit takes place, and runners are moved around the bases.

At the end of six innings (when the cards run out), the visiting player has a chance to “save the day” if he or she is behind, by playing a card from their pinch hit pile or a random card off the top of the deck. This always creates tension in the game, especially if the score is tied and the home team is about to rally for a walk off win.

At the end of each game, the players totally up each of their cards’ “buy value” and then hop into the free agent market. There, six cards are displayed, which offers the players better players, more abilities, better buy values, and stronger hitting or pitching. The player take turns buying the free agents. Once purchased, the card goes right onto the deck to be used in the very next game, which adds some strategy considerations since the other player has to decide whether to counter the card now, or continue with his or her own deck building strategy.  Of course, purchasing free agents also lets you tighten your deck, since you must discard one of the just used player cards right out of the game for every card you buy. Looks like Fitzgerald was serious about limiting each deck to only fifteen cards! Once the buy phase is completed, the next game starts until the World Series is decided (usually by winning four out of seven games).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

There will be plenty of joy in Cardville after playing this game. I have introduced Baseball Highlights:2045 to gamers, even those who don’t find any joy in the game of baseball, and it has been a big hit. There is something about the quick games, the take that card play, and period artwork that combine to make it a great expression of the beautiful game of baseball.  Throw in the free agent pool, where there are so many decisions as to what to buy to fill out your deck, and you have a real winner with plenty of deep strategy as well as emotional experiences.

Without a doubt, Mike Fitzgerald hit a home run with Baseball Highlights:2045. If your game nights are getting bland, or you are looking for a great two player card game (or even four player card game if you and three friends play side by side with the winners taking on each other), leg out a double to your Friendly Local Game Store and pick up a copy of Baseball Highlights: 2045. Or hit that Kickstarter for a great way to introduce yourself to the game. At only $19, it is a….steal!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!!

— B.J.

 

 

 

Allons Marcher! At Cool Stuff Inc. Games South near Walt Disney World

Board Game Gumbo is back, after a great Mardi Gras holiday. (Doesn’t everyone get a week or two off around the start of Lent?) As faithful readers know, we like to “run the roads”, and when we do, we like to visit local game stores.

Back in 1971, the Walt Disney Company opened the fabulous Walt Disney World resort. Consisting of a theme park, and themed hotels, along with 43 square miles of Florida space to build ever more parks and hotels and golf courses and shopping and….and you get the drift. The resort has been the temporary home of many happy vacationers over the years, but I wanted to know if it had any board game stores close by.

First, I checked “on property.” I could not find any board game stores listed at the new Disney Springs shopping facility (which replaced the former Downtown Disney shopping center including my beloved Adventurer’s Club), and I did not see any game stores on any of my frequent trips there. Disney Springs has some interesting stores that we do not see in Louisiana, plus a thriving nightlife and restaurant scene, but apparently, nothing for board gamers.

But I had some free time during one of the last afternoons of our stay to “get off the property.”   With the family safely napping at our condo, I wandered out to one of the numerous Cool Stuff locations scattered around the area.

Many of you will be familiar with Cool Stuff from their ads on the Dice Tower podcast, where Eric Summerer says each week in a somewhat disguised voice, “Cool Stuff Inc — cool stuff in stock at Cool Stuff Inc.com”.  You may also know that CSI has physical brick-and-mortar stores in Florida, called “Cool Stuff Inc. Games.”   My visit was to the closest one geographically from Walt Disney World.

I went to the Cool Stuff Games store on Orange Blossom Trail, just a short 20 minute trip down a toll road from the Epcot resorts area. The store is easy to find in a large outdoor shopping strip mall (the home of most of the game stores that I have been to, sadly.)  There is only a small sign out on the highway, but there is also a large inviting sign up above the store.

Inside the store is a board gamer and CCG gamer’s Nirvana. The front part of the store is dedicated to numerous shelves filled with the latest hot games, plenty of old favorites, and even a few games that are hard to get. For instance, The Networks, one of the sold out games at GenCon 2016 from Gil Hova and Formal Ferret Games, was just back in print and Cool Stuff Inc. Games had three copies on the front shelf at a very competitive price (in fact, even cheaper than Amazon.)

On the right, there was a long and cleanly organized desk for purchasing games staffed by friendly gamers.  The focus in this area seems to be collectable card games, specifically Magic:The Gathering, but I heard the staff giving friendly advice to many of the people wandering around that area.  When the desk was slow, I watched as the staff came out from behind the long desk and interact with store patrons, offering advice on what game to get next or just talking about the hobbies.

On the far left was a calendar of events as well as a small but well stocked board game library. I would guess there were about 25-30 games on the shelves of the library. Most were classic hobby games but there were a few new games there, too. Just in front of the board game library was a long row of computer monitor and keyboard set ups. I was intrigued as to why these would be present until I remembered that CSI’s main warehouse is over at the Maitland, Florida store. At the Orange Blossom Trail location, gamers could do research on a game and find out if it is in stock at CSI — my understanding is that they could reserve it for you or even bring it over, although I did not verify this part.

The store part covered the first third of the store. The rest of the store was made up of numerous tables and chairs set up all the way to the back of the store (where the store also has clean restrooms open to the gaming public.)  In this section, I saw at least groups of gamers with board games set up and being played.  I also saw tons of Magic:The Gathering players battling it out on the tables, too.

I talked to one of the store staffers, and he said that Thursdays are very busy with board gamers as it is their weekly board game night. Gamers come from all over the area to play. On Saturdays, he said that the main focus has been collectible card games. I asked if Star Wars:Destiny was available, and he could only chuckled. “Sold out for weeks,” he admitted.

I found out that of the Cool Stuff Games stores, the one near Walt Disney World has by far the biggest play area. It was as larg or larger than any play area I have ever seen in a game store, and could easily accommodate any kind tournament set up, from CCG to Star Wars X-Wing to regular hobby board games.

I enjoyed my visit to Cool Stuff Inc. Games South. I found the place clean, well lighted, and inviting.  I liked the set up with retail and snacks in the front, and plenty of clean tables and chairs in the back. The place was busy and had good energy. The next time you visit Walt Disney World, if you are jonesing to get a good price on a good board game, or have some free time to play, I can definitely recommend paying a visit to Cool Stuff Games.

Until next time, Laissez les bons temps rouler!

–B.J.