Aliens (not yet) Among Us — A Preview of Alien Artifacts from Portal Games

One of the scheduled releases for Gen Con 2017 is ‘Alien Artifacts’ from Portal Games, a 4X card game of interplanetary domination designed by Marcin Senior Ropka and Viola Kijowska. I got my hands on this beauty at BGGCON 2016 and thought I’d share how the game works and my initial impressions.  Please bear in mind that this is still a prototype and although it seems that the core mechanics are fully developed, there is sure to be some alteration to the game by the time it releases next year.

Alien Artifacts primarily runs off of a single deck of cards.  Each player will draw multiple cards a round, and each card will have a number from 1 to 4 on them.  These numbers are only used during combat or when other special effects require them.  Mostly the cards are used for the symbols on them.  There are four colored symbols; blue, red, green, and yellow, and each card will have two sets of symbols of up to 3 symbols each.  For instance, a card might have 2 green symbols and 3 red symbols.  Each run through of the deck constitutes a single year of the game; for the demo we played through 2 years but there were tiles for Years 1-5 available, so I’m assuming a full play of the game would be a full 5 years.

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Players begin Alien Artifacts by selecting one of the galactic corporations.  Each corporation plays similarly except for their starting technology (this may have just been for demo purposes).  Corporations have several statistics that they can raise throughout the course of the game.  They are: Assembly (green), Production (blue), and Storage (yellow).  Assembly is how many cards you can assign a turn, Production is how many cards you draw a turn, and Storage is how many cards you can bank total.  You can upgrade each statistic in two different ways.  One, all statistics can be upgraded by paying a certain number of credits.  Each statistic can also be upgraded by completing certain milestones.  For Assembly, you automatically upgrade it for completing a certain number of technologies, while Production upgrades based on your combat power and Storage upgrades when you explore planets.

The game essentially runs off of a single deck of cards (some 200 of them for the purposes of the demo).  Each turn, a player either draws as many cards as his/her Production allows, or takes another action available.  The additional actions include claiming a planet, beginning a new technology, upgrading one of the three statistics with stored credits, or buying a ship.  If you decide to draw cards from the deck, you then have to assign them.  Cards have 2 sets of symbols each, either being Blue (used for research), Red (used for Combat), Green (used for Exploring), or Yellow (wild cards that can be used for anything).  You can assign these cards to those purposes, remembering that you are limited in the number of cards you can place by your current Assembly and you can only place to one effect a round (for instance, if you had an Assembly of 2 you couldn’t place one card for technology and another for exploring.  They would both have to be placed to the same effect).  

You also have the option of storing the cards as credit, selecting one color and storing the cards as credits, one for one, based on the number of icons that match that color (so if you stored a card with 2 green symbols and another card with 3 green symbols, you would have a total of 5 credits scored).  Stashing cards for credits in this way is not limited by your Assembly score.

image02Cards assigned for combat (red) must be placed under a ship that you control.  Each player begins with a single Freighter that can have a total of one card placed under it.  Additional ships can be bought from a shared pile of 4 different types of ships.  Each player may own only one ship of each type and the ships get more expensive the longer you wait to buy them.  The first player to buy the Mothership pays only 10 credits for it, while the next player must spend 12.  The Mothership can hold an impressive 4 combat cards under it while also granting an innate 3 combat power, and grants additional victory points is fully equipped at the end of the game.

Cards assigned for technology (blue) go under a specific technology, and technologies are completed once you have a specific number of symbols assigned to them.  Technologies come in 4 different types; Blue (Expand), Green (Explore), Red (Exterminate), and Yellow (Exploit).  Expand technologies typically either make your technologies stronger or easier to complete.  Explore is the same for planets (one green technology might give you the ability to assign both green and red symbols to exploring planets).  Red technologies affect combat, while Yellow technologies change fundamental rules of the game for you alone.  For instance, one of the yellow technology cards that I got let me copy one of my opponents’ technologies.

image05As well as the decks of ships you can buy, there is also a deck of planets.  There are always two planets showing from this deck, and a player can, as their turn, claim one of those planets instead of drawing from the main deck on their turn.  Planets require Green (explore) symbols to complete, but once you do they grant you a one-use power.  Some may allow you to buy ships at a discounted rate, and some let you search for Alien Artifacts (which consists of drawing the top card of the main deck and gaining a number of Victory Points equal to the card’s numerical value).

Attacking other players is also a possibility in Alien Artifacts.  To do so you first have to draw one of the combat cards from the deck during your draw phase.  Drawing these cards is the only way to attack other players during the game and they are fairly limited in number.  Once you attack an opponent both he and you draw a card from the top of the main deck and add it to your combat power (your combat power being a total of the red symbols assigned to your ships).  If you have the most combat power after drawing, you steal a victory point from your opponent.  If they have the most, they effectively fight off your attack and your turn is over.

I enjoyed the games I played of Alien Artifacts, but by no means do I think it’s perfect.  The game is so far along already, however, that I have high hopes for it when it releases at next year’s Gencon.  Personally I would like to see something done with the combat system to make it more interactive.  As it stands now all you do when you attack is draw a card from the main deck and compare combat strength.  Since the cards in the main deck only go from 1 to 4 that means if you attack someone with fewer than 4 combat strength than you have it’s an automatic win.  I’m also not a huge fan of the Alien Artifacts powers of the planet deck.  Again, when activating these powers all you do is draw a card from the main deck and gain Victory Points from it.  I’d much rather see a separate deck for the Alien Artifacts that include unique bonuses as well as negative effects such as aliens assaulting your company.  That would add a sense of uncertainty to completing a planet that grants an Alien Artifact, and would allow for the artifacts to be slightly more powerful than their current state.

Ultimately ‘Alien Artifacts’ provides a 4X experience, similar to Eclipse, in a card game that takes less than an hour to play.  If they’re able to add a little more flair to the game in the next few months, then I foresee it being a massive success for Portal Games.

— Bradly @BradlyBillingsl

 

Running the Roads to Alexandria for Cenla’s Game Day!

Paw, you sold all the fields? How we gonna make some wine??

How many of you out there love playing games and want to play more than the once a week or once a month time frame that your current group plays? With BGG.Con in full swing this weekend, and two of the Krewe de Gumbo enjoying the juicy new games in DFW, Board Game Gumbo turned our eyes to find other groups that might be playing on this gorgeous weekend.  Hey, as my grand-mere used to say, “Les jeunes aiment courir les chemins” — young people like to “run the roads.”

And so, with my trusty sherpa, Phillip, along for the ride, we headed north along Interstate 49 to join up with the Cenla Tabletop Gamer’s Guild at their monthly game day at the invitation of Marshall and Wesley, two of the admins of the group. We brought along some new coins from  Viticulture Essential Edition and the expansions for Bottom of the 9th, along with a bunch of other games. (I figured that the group had a whole pile of games to play, but when you have a sherpa along, you can never be too careful.)

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King Launius apparently doesn’t like his portrait made.

When we got there, Marshall was leading a large group playing Hero Realms. So, Phillip and I set up Bottom of the 9th, and begin playing. So for me and Phillip, it was batter’s up time.

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Manager Phillip thinking hard about his next pitch. Probably a spit ball from that cheater.

 

Bottom of the 9th is such a quick playing, tense little duel that it is hard not to get caught up in the game. You don’t even need to be a baseball fan in my opinion, although it helps to know the rules.

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Just a few minutes before Dingerville.

 
Soon a group of gamers finished up the other card game, and came by to check out the game. That led,of course, to some epic duels between some of the new players from the Big League Support and Sentinels of the Ninth  expansions. The final game between Chester and Marshall came down to a couple of pitches, and one of the hitters hit a “big fly” three run homer to break the streak of the pitching team winning all of the other games.

We’ll hopefully be doing a Beignets and Board Game post about Bottom of the 9th, but suffice it to say, it is a perfect game to bring out when you are waiting for other players to show up, or even if you want to engage in round robin play. Just ask Kirk from the Krewe de Gumbo.

Next up, I headed over to a table playing one of my favorite programming games, Colt Express. Players compete as wild west outlaws in the midst of robbing a train — and each other — while avoiding the nasty marshall. The game was designed by Christophe Raimbult and published by Ludonaute. (Christophe is one of the nicest guys on Twitter and in board game podcasts so I was happy to see that Cenla had a copy. Wish I had brought my Stagecoaches and Horses expansion…)

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Schemin’, lootin’, punchin’, and lootin’.

What a game! We had a mix of new to the game players and some old outlaws, but the game teaches easily and hits the ground running.

It looked like we had one or two people pretty new to this type of table top gaming, and you could see their eyes light up at the 3D board and the colorful cards, scenery and meeples.

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Hmm, Ghost does not have much treasure there, partner.

I love playing this game especially with new groups (it was a big hit at the board game room at Louisiana Comic Con, too.) I was glad the group had it, although my outlaw had a pretty tough time picking up loot. Wesley crushed us with the best score I have ever seen in Colt Express, when he ended up with over $3500+ (both suitcases and the $1000 bonus).

I was really hoping to try out the new metal coins that I got from Jamey Stegmaier and Stonemaier Games. These were specifically done for Viticulture (they have the lira symbol and cool grape theming), but can be used for just about any game that requires money. That little clinkety clinkety sound that metal money makes when you toss it over the board is great!

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Juicy metal coins.

Luckily, we found five players willing to try. Phillip and Marshall had played before, but the other two had not. I have played the game over a dozen times, so I have a patter pretty well built in for teaching the game.

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It is still early, but some engine building going on.

I start with telling gamers it is a competitive game about making wine (ed. note: cough, cough says Phillip), and that we will be using our workers to help us plant grapes, harvest the grapes, make wine and sell wine over two different seasons of the year. I think by understanding the four step process, people can grok the board better. By year three, the two new players had grasped all of the concepts of the game and played very well.

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This deep into the game and no grapes or fields? Heh, heh.

I pulled out a win with the lira tie-breaker using the Tasting Room + Blue Cards strategy. It was a little more stressful than I thought, and frankly I like making wine better, but I have to admit that it was fun zigging while everyone else was zagging.

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Look at dem boats, baw.

Next up, the group had a copy of Black Fleet, a great little take-that-while-you-pick-up-and-deliver game from Space Cowboys. This is a game that Dustin and I have been trying to get to the table for months — heck, I think since we started Board Game Gumbo! — but usually he and I are teaching other games at game night and he has not been able to bring it out.

I can see why Dustin likes this game! The production is so colorful and fun that it really draws eyeballs to the table. The game is just light enough that you really don’t have to think about your turn until the person right before you plays (especially since the board dynamics change so drastically on each player’s turn).  Players command pirate ships and merchants (as well as the Royal Navy) trying to deliver bananas and other goods, while attacking other players.  There’s only two main ways of getting money, delivering goods and attacking ships, so since the attacking happens so frequently, when you are attacked, it seems a lot less threatening than it does on your typical Dudes on a Map game.

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Lots of chaos and randomness in this game, but so much fun.

I really enjoyed this game, and it was a great break after the all the calculations and turn by turn stress in the latter part of Viticulture.  I would definitely play it again, although this time I lost in the tiebreaker to Phillip who had amassed a very large fortune that he conveniently Bradly’d away from my view. (Not really, I just miscalculated how much he could really earn in his last turn!)

We ended the night with a few quick games of Happy Salmon. (We were having so much funny that I forgot to take pictures.) By this time, the group meet was winding down, and we had a long trek back to Acadiana, so we said our good-byes.

So how was all of this successful? I think it goes back to some words of wisdom that I heard from a very warm and prolific board game media person. Suzanne (frequent contributor to the Dice Tower) was a guest of The Dukes of Dice back in Episode 44. She said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that extrovert board gamers have a responsibility to welcome new gamers to the fold and strike up conversations at the gaming table, so that all gamers (even those that may be a little introverted) can participate and have a good time. This was great advice that she gave to Alex with the Dukes on his first trip to Dice Tower Con in 2015, and it holds true today. I like meeting new people, so I made it a point when I got to this particular Meet Up to take her advice, introduce myself around, and try to play games at different tables.

But there were also some earlier steps that made it easier. First, the Cenla Group is a very open and inviting bunch of gaming enthusiasts. Joining their Meet Up group site was easy. That way, I had a copy of the calendar and could look at their monthly meetings. Then, engaging with some of the members on social and community sites like BGG and Twitter helped to bridge the gap. Marshall and I tweet pretty frequently, so it was easy to take the next step — inviting him and his crew over to Louisiana Comic Con’s board game room back in October. He spent the day with us playing all kinds of games (I think Imperial Settlers was a favorite).

By meeting him in person, it made it a lot easier when Phillip and I showed up at the game day. That way, I already knew one person by face (and had communicated with Wesley by Twitter). Since the group was very friendly, and obviously they share a love of hobby board games, it was an easy day of laughing, playing games, and telling stories. I really had a great time playing with this great group of gamers.

So if you are looking to game more, no matter how small your town may be, there are likely friendly game groups within an hour or two of your house. Use social media and community board game sites to reach out to these groups, and have some fun playing new and old games with new friends. And if you are ever in Central Louisiana on a Saturday, head over to the library and meet some great gamers.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

 

Spotlight on Southern Designers: Michael Godbold of Gobo Games

Hunting, fishing, football,  and just being in the outdoors — Southern designers have a tough job.  They have to design a gaming experience that can compete for the gamer’s attention with hunting, fishing, football, and just being in the outdoors, all of which are enjoyed year round. 
I got a chance to sit down with another Southern designer who seems very prepared to offer alternative entertainment and hobby options for the young and young-at-heart even during another jam-packed football season.
Michael Godbold is a young designer in Lafayette, Louisiana who self-published his first design, Kobold Ka-boom, this past year under his own banner, Gobo Games. He is a hard worker, and a prolific and creative designer, so it did not surprise me that he has two more designs almost ready for sale, with more on the way.
I sat down recently with Michael, and we talked about life in Louisiana, family, and of course, lots of talk about games. I hope you enjoy my conversation with this very thoughtful designer/publisher:
Michael, thanks again for meeting me. How did you get your start in Hobby Gaming?
Hobby gaming is that one defining thing that always brings people to the table. I didn’t realize this until I was older. I was always an outdoors kid, trampling around the subdivision with the neighborhood posse. When we couldn’t play outside, for whatever reason, we always dug through the “game closet”. It was filled with classic board games, card games and even travel versions of chess and checkers. It was in those moments, fun was delivered by exercising the brain. There were adventures, stories, strategic advantages and even puzzles to present challenge. I got hooked. I can remember making up games and playing them with my friends. That stuck with me, but was completely sidelined when I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons, Shadowrun and the endless expansion of the imagination brought forth by the demand for more adventure. Eventually I grew up, I roamed around the world and ended up back in Louisiana with a trade job and a simple adult life. That just wouldn’t do. 
How did you come up with the name “Gobo” for Gobo Games?
I originally had a partner, and we dove head first into the deep unknown of starting a company. Gobo Games, LLC. was born. My last name is Godbold. Even though it is two words put together, people simply ruin it. I was called “Gobo” throughout school. It stuck with me through all these years. It was simple, different, catchy and curious. Why not use it as a name for the company!
What are your favorite genres of hobby games that you like to play? 
If I can take the role of something not of this world, it wins. Fantasy will always win. I want to get lost in a story or become and change the story itself. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a hulking ogre from time to time, or become an elvish assassin? When it comes to picking a specific type of game, I can’t answer. I play them all.
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Let’s talk about your game company, Gobo Games. I love the Logo! 
There were a “crap ton” of concept logos that I created. I wanted a logo that would pop on any type of game box, something different, modern, simple but not bland. Most of all, it needed to represent me. It’s just me pushing through the indie game company horrors alone these days. So I created the current logo. I hand wrote the name and copied it digitally. I kept it simple by throwing a circle around it. One of the most common symbols that represents a game is a die. I didn’t feel the need to have “games” written out. So I slapped a red die in there and boom, Gobo Games.
Where do you see your games fitting in the hobby market? Quick playing games with depth?

I find many games are overcomplicated. It isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes you want to sit on your butt and hang out around a table with your friends for four to five hours. The amount of people who make time for those games is way less than the people who would smash out a few quick games with friends and call it a night. It’s only logical that I aim to succeed in the best market possible for an up and coming indie company. So, I took the route of simple, quick and fun. For now. Just because something is simple, doesn’t mean it can’t bleed adventure.

What is your dream con to attend as a publisher?

Gen Con. Come on, that thing is massive. It is like a sea of heads and a constant flow to your booth. Who wouldn’t want to spread the word of their games to an ocean of people?
Let’s talk about design. Who are your biggest influences?
Jamie Stegmeier of Stonemeier Games has shown many what it takes. It can be brutal. I want to look at the challenges ahead and face them head. He has tools to guide people. My company has evolved because of his many stories and I am grateful. It isn’t his blog that influences me the most. It’s my daughter. She may be young, but I want to show her that anything is possible, follow your passions and enjoy life.
You talked about enjoying the outdoors as a kid. In the South, kids enjoy playing sports and hunting/fishing year round. How do Southern game companies and designers like yourselves compete for attention with those plentiful activities? 
There are several ways to introduce tabletop gaming to those who aren’t already a part of it. The main issue with marketing is it is always trying to grab the attention of a specific group. Tabletop games have so many themes that there is something for everyone.  Some companies like to have a racing, sports and/or outdoors themed game within their collective. The idea behind the simple tactic is to “break the ice”. Once you break the ice, and they enjoyed the tabletop experience, it’s likely they will branch out. The best marketing tool is the consumer. It’s best to let them spread the word and love of tabletop gaming.
Have you ever tried co-design or are you a solo designer? 

I have always been into design. It hasn’t always been tabletop games. I have had to work with people on numerous crafts, events and projects. Because I am an indie company and I am just now getting my feet wet, I have been going solo. I have a friend out of state who also designs games and has shown interest in joining my team. I can’t wait to work with him on future projects. My main focus right now isn’t Kickstarter. It also isn’t uploading promotional videos. My focus is on having a small collection to start my company with. Once things get rolling and people know more about Gobo Games, the next level will present itself. That next level will be more about promotion, giving me more time to work with other designers and bringing new light to Gobo Games.

 

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Where do you get your ideas?

My ideas generally start off simple. I might be thinking about making a word game and while driving I pass a construction site. What would happen if I put that together? Then I think about heavy machinery building letter buildings. I think about different game mechanics to introduce to this thought. The brain is always triggering and firing. It’s acting on an idea and watching it evolve that truly creates something. When your options are limitless, don’t put a limit on your options.

 

The Krewe de Gumbo has had a lot of heartfelt discussions about the tug of war between chasing after new games (i.e. “Cult of the New”) versus playing games already on our shelves and the comfort that brings. Admittedly, there’s a big thrill in opening up a new game, teaching it to players for the first time, and having the table light up with satisfaction at your “find.” But there’s also the social aspect of four friends playing a game where everybody knows the rules and can relax and have a good time.  Where do you stand on the line of Cult of the New versus Old Shoe?

Old Shoe would not exist without the Cult of the New. Leaving one’s comfort zone can bring new life. You can grow as an individual and  expand your imagination, problem solving and even learn new tactics from something new. Still… playing something that has been your fallback since the dawn of time… priceless. There is no real answer, just the coexistence of both.

Over the last few years, we have seen a lot of “hybrid” games — games with strong mechanics like a Euro game but injected with amazing art, theme and player interaction like a good ol’ Amerithrash game. Where do you stand on hybrid games?

 What if I asked you to create a monster. It is guaranteed you would reference other monsters, animals or whatever else. When a hybrid game gets attention, I think it’s wonderful. It’s a combination of multiple things, like your monster. I feel hybrids are evolving the industry. Sometimes these combinations create a new approach and open new doors for designers to venture.

Let’s talk about your own designs. So far, your first three designs are easy entry, quick playing, interactive card games. Is that Gobo’s “niche” or do you see yourself branching out as a publisher?

Right now? Absolutely. I need a broad market to get my company’s feet wet. I also really enjoy games that can be taken out, played and put up within an hour. I am a dad. I have to take care of my family. I also have to work a 40 plus hour work week. I also go on call sometimes and have very little time for myself. My time is limited. If I have an urge to play a game, but don’t have the rest of the day to play it, quick games win. I fully plan to introduce bigger games to Gobo Games’ catalog. Definitely.

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Tell me more about Kobold Ka-Boom!

Kobold Ka-Boom! is a “beer and pretzels” game. It allows people time to relax the brain because of the simple tactics and ease of game play. It opens up time for people to accept that passive aggression and just have a good time. The best thing about it for me is the shouting that seems to come from people playing. That just means they are having fun. Not everyone gets into imitating the sound of a bomb going off every time they use a bomb, but they should. I remember testing the game at a recent convention and a group of people sat down and went over the rule book. They were very quiet. They asked a few questions for clarity and then asked to play. Once they hashed it out after a round or two, they started shouting and making bomb sounds. One guy got out of his chair and jumped for joy after he scouted his opponent’s bomb and disarmed it. I just smiled and watched on. It drew attention and more people got to play. Almost everyone who sat down to play was eventually getting loud, pointing, laughing, explaining things to newcomers and generally having a good time. If you are looking for a more technical answer. Bombs. Who doesn’t want to bomb their friend’s forces into nothingness?

img_4298I love the art on Kobold Ka-Boom. You worked with a talented artist on that game, Kate Carleton, who has some big games under her artistic belt. Tell me about your work with her.

A year ago, and some change, I needed some art for my first project. I didn’t have tons of money to spend, and I luckily knew a lot of artists already. I posted online a few groups and friends to see if anyone was interested in working with me. There she was. Kate Carleton. She sent me a demo piece of a quick description I had given her. It was perfect for what I had imagined. She was immediately brought on board and has been a crucial member.

img_4950I bet we all do! Boggle and Scrabble have zero theme, but your take, Construction Words, looks like a thematic approach to word games. What was the inspiration behind Construction Words?

 I like word games, but I never had a huge vocabulary growing up. So wanted to take my liking of word games and create something unique that could help someone advance their vocabulary. I have a much better vocabulary these days, but it is always growing. The theme is construction. It’s building. Just like building up your vocabulary. This game had to have a loose theme to take away from it just being another word game. It also had to have a second mechanic. The idea to have incomplete words that needed to be fixed, really stuck with me. The awesome thing is each incomplete word could become hundreds or even thousands of complete words. If you don’t have a high vocabulary, you can still easily play with what knowledge you have. Plus the more you play and learn more words, the better. Having players wrack the brain traditionally is one thing, but having them think tactically for an advantage is another. I took my basic concept and added a slight competitive edge that introduced that tactical thinking. Now when a player completes an incomplete word they get to keep that card. Oh, look! It has a one time ability to skip a player’s turn. Who wouldn’t want to use this on that vocabulary wizard who is in first place?

6f88e2f8-15fc-4be8-95e5-64a5ef09210dThe new game, Heroes Deep, really intrigues me. Give me the elevator pitch  and more about the theme, how to play, mechanics, etc., and tell me about this unique art style that you have come up with. 

I set out to create a game that had simple mechanics, but brought something different to an oversaturated genre. Because the game is still in development, I will just give you what is currently in the works. 

I have been wanting to make a dice game for quite some time. There are a lot of simple dice games and then there are those that make D&D’s Handbook look like a birthday card. I researched and analyzed numerous games, markets and companies. I found that simple was ultimately key. Usually simple and goofy proved to generate more revenue for these companies for them to then put back into delivering more content for consumers. I wanted a more serious dice game, that was still simple. 

My favorite genre is fantasy, so I just dove head first and started a fantasy concept. Using a re-roll mechanic, players attempt to traverse through a linear dungeon. What the hell is a linear dungeon? Well, imagine a random deck of cards that represent where you have moved to within this dungeon. On those cards are icon challenges that can help or hurt you. So even though players aren’t literally turning left and right and going down paths, the dungeon is still randomized. The main goal is to survive and escape the dungeon with their weight in treasure. The catch is the other players can manipulate your dice if they have enough collected resources to do so. They can also prevent you from gaining those resources. That’s where the slight resource management comes into play. 

So besides fighting monsters, having goblins steal your treasure or having your friends making your life miserable, you can also become a monster. When a player dies their goal for winning is no longer exiting the dungeon with their weight in treasure. They must kill all the heroes. 

Because the concept involved a dark fantasy tone and my artist doesn’t normally do the style I was looking for, I ended up doing it myself. I used bits and pieces of photos, public domain clip art and even hand drawn effects and created base images. I then blended the absolute hell out of them all while tampering with lighting, blurring and smudging to get the finished results. There are also millions of blending filters which aided in solidifying the overall image. It’s pretty amazing when you can make your goofy friend into an evil looking wizard.

How has the playtesting experience been for you?

This one can be tricky. I playtest my mechanics as much as I can. I then hand it off to a small group of random people who are always in and out of the gaming community. I let friends and family have at it as well. I know that I need some “game breakers” to look over my mechanics so I review with a few semi-trusted groups who can’t wait to delve right into the game mechanics. The best thing I have ever heard about this industry is no one is actually right.

“If a company can make millions off of a mechanically weak game that has terrible art or a game that has great mechanics and terrible art… there is room for anything in this ever changing industry.”

It wouldn’t be a Louisiana lunch meeting if we didn’t talk about our next meal while we are eating! So, last question: best chicken — Popeye’s or Raisin’ Cane’s?

Popeye’s. Spicy. I am hungry now.

My thanks to Michael Godbold of GoBo Games for taking the time to visit with me. You can find more about Michael and his company at Gobo Games.

Beignets and Board Games: First Look at AssassinCon!

What if the world’s greatest assassins meet each year to compare notes, talk shop, and of course, play a con-wide game of “Assassin”?  If you’re sick of trading in the Mediterranean or running from zombies, then let’s talk today about a game with a very unique theme.

At our game nights, the Krewe de Gumbo loves to play deduction games with a little bit of take that in them. Games like Dead Last and Deception: Murder in Hong Kong have been big hits. (Well, except for our friend, Dave.) Are there any games out there that will fit the bill?

As a freshman at LSU in the mid 80s, I joined in on a campus wide game of Assassin. We were told to get a nerf type gun, carry it around in our backpack, and were handed a picture of our “target.” This was well before 9/11, when you could walk into the scheduling office of the largest university in Louisiana and ask “Hey, what’s So-And-So’s schedule this week?” and be handed a copy of your target’s class schedule, no questions asked. (Try doing that today!)

The game was fun, and as I recall, I got down to the last four or five people left before taking a hit coming out of a history class. I never played the game again, but it was fun, and I know it has been played by thousands of geeks at conventions all over the country.

The folks at Mayday Games sent us a copy of game based on that same concept from the live action games. So pour yourself a steaming hot cup of Community Coffee, grab some powdery goodness, and let’s take a quick look. 

In AssassinCon, the 2016 release designed by Binh Vo with artwork from Marco EehevarriaAllison Litchfield, and Benjamin Schulman, players choose characters (each with a different color and picture, but all with the same characteristics) representing assassins at a convention. Each assassin is given a target to “eliminate”, but does not know who their pursuer is. The game is geared for four to six players, but seems to play best at five (where the sixth player is handled with a ‘dummy’ deck, whose randomness throws a little chaos into the deductive skills of the best assassins.

The characters are spread out around the convention center, and players take turns playing actions Robo-Rally style  mixed up and face down so nobody knows who is making what move. If a player ends up in the same room as another player, he can be eliminated — if the assassin wants to take a chance and reveal himself or herself. (It might be more strategic to wait until there are multiple eliminations at one time, so no one can smoke you out.) There are also three special rooms that allow long distance eliminations (in other words, without being in the same room as the target).

The game play is quick and as the turns move forward, the tension gets ratcheted up. Once the game is down to two players only, or if one person can figure out who is chasing them and successfully “call the guards” (reveal the pursuer), the board is reset and players get new characters.  The first assassin to five points wins, and points are awarded either for eliminations or for being on the right side when the guards are called.

We have only played this a couple of times, and it’s going to take a few more plays to really evaluate the game.  I do see some roses and thorns so far.

The roses: the game plays very quickly. Players really only have three choices in playing cards — there are three different movement cards, so it does not take long to figure out your next move. The game length is perfect for a game to play at the start of the night while waiting for other players to show up. It only plays to five points, and a couple of quick eliminations gets one of the players to three or four points quickly (since you also get any points that player accumulated during the round). The artwork is fun, too.

There are a few thorns, however. While the artwork is fun, it is a little cartoonish and uneven. The cartoony part is probably chosen to complement the theme, to keep it light and representative of assassins taking part in this fantasy convention, but it could have used a little bit more of an edge. The board itself is very busy and takes a while to really get used to the arrows pointing in all directions (representing the moves you can make with your movement cards.)

And the worst culprit is the rulebook. I have read hundreds of rule books, and on the surface, this seems like a fairly easy game, but the rulebook was a tough read to understand the schematics of the gameplay.  If I were Mayday Games, I might give Paul Grogan from Gaming Rules a quick call if a second printing is planned.

Finally, even though it seems to be geared as a light, action packed first-part-of-the-night game, it is in fact a brain-burning puzzler with lots of tensions that is a little hard to teach without walking players through each phase of the game play.

AssassinCon has a had  a lot of buzz since its release. You have probably heard that it is a brain burning, tense, quick to play puzzle and the rumors are right. It is not for everyone — keeping track of who is attacking you, what moves you need to make, what rooms to avoid, navigating the convention to get the best spot to make a play on your target, all of that is a lot to grok! — but if you like Dead Last or Werewolf or Coup but don’t like the direct confrontations in the game, the indirect targeting in AssassinCon should be right up your alley.  I definitely want to get a few more plays in, and test out a couple different strategies on the rooms to grab early and on how to make the most of multiple elimination opportunities.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.