Heavy Con 2017 Report from Jason Dinger

Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present another convention report from our friend, Jason Dinger, a board game designer from Morgan City, Louisiana. He is the designer of the upcoming Spielworxx release for Essen 2018, Captains of the Gulf. He previously blogged about his trip to UnPub 2017 here.  He’s back with his thoughts following his first visit to HeavyCon.  Look for more of Jason’s thoughts on gaming and designing in the future.

Sitting on the plane as we fly back home to Louisiana, I can’t help but smile. This past weekend has been amazing. Memorable does not even begin to describe it.

Last Thursday, Donna & I traveled to Denver, Colorado to attend the 3rd annual Heavy Con. Heavy Cardboard is one of the industry’s premiere heavy gaming podcasts and Heavy Con is their annual 4-day convention celebrating and showcasing the beloved cardboard brain burners, both old and new, that we cherish so much.

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Dokmus (2016) designed by Mikko Punakallio and published by Lautapelit. (photo: Jason Dinger).

Heavy Cardboard, started in 2014 by Tony Fryer and Edward Uhler, is a weekly show that now features Edward, Amanda Uhler (Edward’s unquestionably-better half), and occasionally, a supporting cast of gamers from the Denver game community. With over 70 podcast episodes and dozens of YouTube teaching / play through videos, Heavy Cardboard has risen to become an invaluable source of entertainment and education in the world of board gaming.

Like most cons, there was plenty of gaming to be had, of course, and not just of the heavier variety. While there were several plays of Lignum, Tramways, various 18XXs, Kanban, and the like, games such as Dokmus, The Climbers, Strat-O-Matic Baseball, Isle of Trains, and Bullfrogs also saw lots of table time.

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The Climbers, being reprinted by Capstone Games in time for Essen 2017. (photo by Jason Dinger).

All the games that I played were wonderful, but the real highlight of the con was the people. I was finally able to meet, game, and just visit with so many amazing people that I’d previously only known online. Too many names to list here, but I am sincerely thankful for everyone who took the time to share a table with me, as we laughed, cursed, and had a fantastic time with something as simple as dice and cardboard.

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Call to Post, designed by Jim Keenan. (photo by Jason Dinger.)

As far as games go, the standouts for me at Heavy Con were unquestionably Call to Post (by Jim Keenan of Punching Cardboard Podcast) and Pipeline (by Ryan CourtneyRyan Courtney). Both games were fun, engaging, and had an emphasis on proper planning, action optimization, and economic engines that were loaded with theme. My only regret about playing them both was that I only got to play each of them once due to so many other people lining up to play them over the weekend. I’m looking forward to playing both of them again in the future and exploring the mechanics and nuances of these two unique, thematic games that are a breath of fresh air in a world where many new games feel like “more of the same”.

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Jim Kennan (Punching Cardboard Podcast), left, and Edward Uhler (Heavy Cardboard Podcast), right — playing Captains of the Gulf. (photo — and game — by Jason Dinger.)

The community within a community that Amanda and Edward (along with Tony) have built is truly something special. Heavier games don’t historically have the large audience that lighter, more accessible games enjoy. The Heavy Cardboard family (and that’s the only way to truly describe what they’ve created) has made incredible and measurable strides to change that. Almost 100 people came together from all around the globe to experience Heavy Con 2017.

For all the different games and people I got to play them with, I most enjoyed my time with Jim from Punching Cardboard. In addition to getting in plays of each other’s prototypes, we logged hours of gaming together including me losing embarrassingly to him in games like Lignum, The Gallerist, and Strat-O-Matic Baseball.

Even in defeat, it was an honor and a pleasure to sit down and enjoy a game (and plenty of NSFW good-natured trash talking) with a man who I respect and admire as much as I do Jim. He and I closed down the gaming hall Saturday night at 3am; continuing to sit and talk for another hour and a half about everything from gaming to game design, podcasting, family, work, and even a fair share of politics to boot.

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Pipeline by Ryan Courtney. (photo by Jason Dinger.)

On Friday, we got to witness the presentation of the 2016 Golden Elephant Award for 1822: The Railways of Great Britain. Edward presented the award to Scott Pederson of All Aboard Games, on behalf of designer Simon Cutforth. Alban Viard’s Tramways was the game that got my vote, as for as fantastic as I understand 1822 is, I had not yet played it. Though my pick didn’t get the top honors, it did win the 2016 Fan’s Choice Golden Elephant Award, narrowly beating out The Colonists by only 2 votes.

Between Friday and Saturday, I was able to meet and visit with several designers and publishers including Jeroen Doumen (Splotter-Spellen), Alex Soued (Eagle-Gryphon Games), Alex Berry (High Treason, published by Victory Point Games), Brian Wilcutt / Larry Cruz / Lyndon Martin (The Cost), Matthew Ward (WAM! reviews and The Dukes of Dice podcast), Travis Hill (Train Game & Low Player Count podcast), Carmen Petruzzelli (Game Surplus), and of course, Jim Keenan (Call To Post and Punching Cardboard podcast).

I don’t know what the future holds as far as the feasibility of attending other cons in years to come, but I can say without question that Heavy Con is the single convention that I will attend year in and year out.

Thank you to Amanda, Edward, and their wonderful group of local game group support staff. Thank you to everyone who took the time to play a game with me this weekend. Y’all rock and you put a smile on my face and joy in my heart, both of which won’t be leaving anytime soon.

Until next year…

— Jason Dinger @jasondingr

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.

 

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

 Beignets and Board Games — Dice of Crowns

At PAX South 2017, we were able to visit with many established companies and some up-and-coming design studios, too. 

Unfortunately, we were not able to see everything! One of the games that we were eager to check out before the convention, but were unable to do so because of the busy schedule, is the subject of today’s snack time look see. 

Dice of Crowns, a 2016 release by Thing 12 Games, is a little push your luck filler that is easy to teach and has lots of modular rules to fit any type of game stop. The game was designed by Sean Epperson and Brander “Badger” Roullett, and plays from two to six players in about fifteen minutes. 


A. Components. 

Dice of Crowns comes in a well-made Altoids sized tin, stuffed to the brim with bits and pieces. First, players get a total of seven nicely made plastic dice with four different faces on them. Next, players receive sets of two different styles of tokens, green scoring tokens for the base game, and blue tokens for one of the modular rules. Finally, players get a compact rule set and a cute little plastic Crown. 

B. Gameplay. 

Clearly, this game was made for the start or end of your regular game night. The rules are easy to teach — players try to score green tokens by collecting favorable sets of dice before any other player can do so. Collect a certain number of tokens (five seems just right) and you are declared the crown winner. But the game comes with numerous “extra” rules to amp up the strategy and fun. 

As suggested by the designer, we mixed and matched some of the modular rules that add a little bit more depth to the gameplay. One of my favorite additional rules involved the win condition. Instead of an automatic win for collecting five tokens, the player who is in line for the fifth token gets the crown instead and has to hold onto it for the entire around, giving the other players a chance to steal. 

Stealing is not easy, as it takes seven out of seven on the rolls to make it happen. However, to make it a little easier, the designers added a rule where a certain number of dice faces will give you a chance at blue tokens.  Why are the blue tokens important?  Because they allow you to reroll your dice, or even force another player to reroll, which helps players with the steal mechanic and with collecting enough matching faces to win. Just watch out for those pesky knives and scrolls!

There are a ton of additional rules, and players are encouraged to add whatever rules they need to up the complexity or lower the barrier to entry to fit their particular game group.

There is one thing that is innovative about this game that I really liked. One of the cool mechanics is that if you roll a scroll, you are forced to hand that die (or dice as the case may be) to another player or players.  This is an immediate action and must be resolved before moving forward. 

That player or players (depending upon the number of scrolls rolled) then rolls the dice and can keep a good roll or force another player to take a bad roll. If a player gets three knives it can automatically end their turn, meaning that the scroll rolls can actually stack up good and bad dice on players before it is even their turn. (This also has the effect of reducing the amount of Dice that players can use on their turn because the dice might be locked during other player’s turns.) A very cool innovation and one that leads to a lot of strategy as players get closer to five markers. 

C. Final thoughts. 

Dice of Crowns is probably not deep enough to really need an in-depth study of the game. This game is all about chucking dice, setting up big combos with the blue tokens, and trying to steal the crown.

The addition by the designers of the scroll rolls can really amp up the laughter in the game as players try to guess who has the hot hand. Or maybe, players will look for the person whose dice just hate them, to get some dice back quickly! 

If you’re looking for a fun little filler to start the night or end your game night, and you like push your luck dice chucking, you might want to give Dice of Crowns a try.

–B.J. 

Board Game Gumbo’s Top Games of 2016

Cool white lights are twinkling on the evergreens outside of homes across the gaming landscape. Inside their warm houses, gamers furiously type texts and forum posts and Group Me messages, a solitary debate raging all across the land: What are the best game experiences in 2016?

Here at the Gumbo, we feel your pain.  There were hundreds of new releases, far too many even for Tom Vasel et al to sample. And among those hundreds of new releases, 2016 showed itself to be a very strong year, with dozens of contenders for any right minded soul’s top five.

But the journey and the struggle are one and the same, and so, emboldened by a recent binge of playing some of the best and brightest of this year, the Krewe de Gumbo offer their opinions on the top games of 2016.

Disclaimer:

We haven’t played all of the games. But, we’ve played most of the top 50 games of the year, and we still have plenty of time before the Dice Tower awards in July to sample even more.

Without further ado, we present to you the Top 10 or so games of 2016…so far…

Le Rougarou…sur la bayou??

Number 14: Arkham Horror LCG

Fantasy Flight Games has cornered the market on “living card games”, that not-quite-collectible-but-definitely-repeatedly-buyable genre of trading card games. This time, FFG upped the ante with an immersive storyline and cooperative game play that had the Krewe raving.

B.J. – Fantasy Flight gets points from me just for having a scenario revolve around the “Rougarou.”

Dustin Boatman – Love the Cthulhu Mythos but hate money sink CCG and LCGs. Pass for me.

Bradly Billingsley – This one is not on my list, but it is close. These types of games are something I don’t typically get into, and if I had to choose I think Star Wars: Destiny is the better offering of this type for this year.

Dustin’s favorite Dudes On A Map game for 2016

Number 13: Cry Havoc

There was a lot of prerelease hype for this dudes on a map game from Portal Games. Designed by Grant Rodiek, with a lot of development time from the Portal team, The Dice Tower proclaimed it one of the year’s best way back in the summer time. It was nearly impossible to pick up without a pre-order at GenCon, but it was worth the wait.

Dustin – Amazing game with a lot of hard decisions. The asymmetrical nature can appear to be unbalanced to some, but with repeated plays that goes away. I wish more guys in our group played this one because I think it would be higher.

Straight from GenCon’s hotness rooms to our gaming table

Number 12: Imhotep

Fresh off his success with friendly little titles like Sushi Go, Phil Walker-Harding unleashed this nasty little brain-burner. Called by many an instant classic, Imhotep made it onto almost all of the top 10 charts completed by the Krewe. The game is ostensibly about building pyramid type structures using big, chunky wooden blocks. But, the reality is that it is all about planning a move or two ahead to jump wildly up in the point standings or push your friend toward an action that was not ideal. A wicked little game, with great components that deserves all of the recognition it’s gotten.

B.J. – I love playing our big, thematic games, but Imhotep also fits my gaming style — it’s easy to teach, and I can finish a game in less than an hour with lots of interesting choices.

Bradly – I can see Imhotep becoming a classic in years to come and one of those essential games that people talk about.  Whereas some other games may drop in rating after repeated plays, when the small problems with them get exaggerated, Imhotep is just so solid of a game that I never see it going away.

Dustin – I really enjoyed my plays of this one because I love games with simple rules but tons of strategy. I can play this with my family or my game group and everyone will enjoy it equally. I will say though, Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King could have been on my list in this spot for the same reasons, but since I have only played that one with my family and not my game group, this one gets the nod.

That’s a lot of baddies

Number 11: Mechs vs. Minions

Mechs v Minions took the social media and board game website world by storm upon its unleashing by Riot Games. The programming game had zero hype before its release, yet sprang to the top of the BGG hotness and burned up the Reddit boards after a coordinated blitz of board game media reviews, previews and videos.

Was the game worth the hype? According to the Krewe, yes, indeed. But was it the combination of the bits and gameplay, or was the Krewe blinded by all of the goodness inside that big box??

B.J. – Unfortunately, I only got to watch this one. I saw the Gumbo group set it up and salivated over all the juicy bits that seemed to just keep coming out of that box. And then, I heard the four guys playing through four scenarios, laughing uproariously the entire time. Since I love programming games like RoboRally and Colt Express, this is one I have got to get to the table.

Dustin – Mechs v. Minions? I didn’t know this was a list of the best components for 2016! With0ut it’s “bling” NO ONE has this on their top ten.

Bradly – Mechs v. Minions? What are we high? Robo Rally Plus does not make my top 10. I prefer competitive games.

A peek at some gorgeous artwork

Number 10: Islebound

That Renaissance man, Ryan Laukat is well known for his whimsical artwork. Does his latest retail release, a game about exploring a randomized board and earning victory points through pseudo-military conquest and trading, with just a small hint of the storytelling components that would become explored more fully in Above & Below and Near & Fear.

Dustin – One of the many I didn’t get to play. I am still looking for that “great” game to be released by Red Raven Games. His art and design is amazing, but thus far all of the games I have played have been good, but not great. Hopefully this one is it.

B.J. – I don’t think this will be the one for you. I liked it a lot, but it hints at the storytelling aspects that Ryan flushed out more with Above and Below and will seemingly take to the next level in Near and Far. I think you will like it, but I don’t think it will be the homerun you are looking for.

Bradly – For me this is the Laukat game for people who aren’t interested in that ‘storytelling thing.’  Essentially it’s just worker placement, but where your workers can only move a certain number of spaces away from their last spot.  I do love Above and Below, especially for that Storybook, but there is a place for this Laukat game as well.

Dustin – BJ may very well be right, only time will tell. I am really looking forward to his second edition of Empires of the Void  because that one seems to be more in my wheel house.

The Feld that is not a Feld is a Feld after all.

Number 9: The Oracle of Delphi

Our friend, game designer Jason Dinger, said he heard this one is the “Feld that’s not a Feld.” Jason’s right — it does not have that point salad feel of Stefan Feld‘s other games, yet still has a billion different choices in racing your captain around the board fulfilling Herculean quests and then back to Zeus for the coronation.  You will be entranced by the beautiful bits and board, but don’t get memorized for too long — even one or two inefficient turns will leave you behind good players very quickly.

B.J. – With a few more plays, I can see this one going much higher for me. I love the colorful board. I love the clever twist on your standard racing format. Plus, here’s the bonus: I kickstarted Tasty Minstrel Games‘s reprint of Colosseum, so to see the gorgeous presentation in this game gets me excited that I will be receiving a fantastic package when that game is fulfilled.

Dustin- I have never played this one and by the pictures I have seen, nothing grabs me making me want to play. Looked like Catan with standees everywhere, lol.

A frenzied close up of the board.
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Number 8: Adrenaline

Could Czech Games Edition really pull off a first person shooter in board game format? According to the Gumbo krewe, they did. We can expect tight scores and lots of in game actions in this first person shooter recreation on a table top. The game was designed by Filip Neduk, and so far is getting rave reviews from our game group — well, those few that have experienced it so far.

Dustin: In our first play, the scores were a lot closer than I expected. Everyone was only a few points away from each other. Final Frenzy takes some getting used to, but if you just take it as a free action for everyone, it’s cool.

Dave – Adrenaline is a great game, might be in my top five.

Bryan – Adrenaline is a pretty good game. I won, but just barely.

Dustin – I grew up playing FPS games, so this theme interested me as soon as I heard about it around Gen Con time. Quake 3 Arena particularly was my favorite in those days because of the competitive, player vs. player environment. Me, my brothers, and my dad all played and even had our own clan. Luckily, after playing, I realized there is also a really good game here, not just theme. As most who know me would confirm, area control is one of my favorite game mechanics and this one does it in a unique way. This one also falls into the “simple rules but lots of strategy” category. Quite honestly, if I had more plays of this one, it may have threatened Cry Havoc for my number 1.

B.J. – finally played this at Gumbo night on Wednesday, and really enjoyed it. We played four players, and that felt like the right amount. Lots of action going on. Even though the rules are simple, and the game has some chaos, there’s also lots of chance for choices affecting your score, since after all it is a modified Euro. Might’ve made my top ten had I tried it before we posted. 

Don’t trust anyone, except the one who trusts you.

Number 7: New Angeles

There is a sharp divide at the Gumbo when it comes to social deduction / bluffing / traitor type games. On the one hand, there are those of us that cannot wait for the next release of games that raise the blood pressure while players cast furtive glances at each other, trying to divine through every nuance the shifting alliances that make up the most fun part of these games. And then, there’s Dave, whose antipathy toward games with open horsetrading, lying, stealing and backstabbery is legion.  That’s okay — admittedly, these type of games are not for every gamer, but New Angeles may be the best of the recent offerings. 

B.J. – I anticipate this very late to the Krewe release will see lots more plays with the Gumbo in 2017. I loved our play of New Angeles, but it took a couple of turns to get it. Reminded me of a stream lined Fury of Dracula (third edition) where you don’t know who Drac is.

David – I liked it, but seriously, all it is Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Gamewith a different theme. Except in this game whenever you’re the traitor and get caught you have ZERO chance of doing anything. At least in dead of Winter you get exiled, and still have a chance.

Bradly –  I love the fact that this is a coop, competitive, and traitor game all in one.  You would think in all of that mess the actual mechanics of the game would get lost, but they don’t.

Carlos –  Even if you are the traitor, you can still influence the game, you had waaaaaay more money than you needed, throw those dollars around to make people get greedy and vote on suboptimal deals.

Dustin – Never played this one, but I love Fury of Dracula. By the description I don’t really see a comparison, but I may be wrong. Dave’s comments worry me a little, since me and him tend to agree more on games than the rest of the Krewe.

B.J.: Don’t get me wrong, it does not play like Fury at all…just has that feel of trying to build up your corporation (like your character in Fury) while figuring out which one of us is Drac (or in this case, the Federalist).  The game has that same tension.

On their way to SeaWorld: Boston?

Number 6: New Bedford

Dice Hate Me Games has carved an interesting niche, releasing beautifully produced games with an Americana feel. Nathaniel Levan‘s entry came in two parts, the initial little worker placement game, as well as its also released expansion, New Bedford: Rising Tide (2016) (which many consider to be essential to playing the game). Yes, it is standard worker placement fare, but with beautiful artwork, an interesting theme, and a twist on the mechanic with the highly thematic whaling board — where sailors outfit ships to cast off into the Atlantic Ocean to bring back huge whales to the dock, while jockeying for position against other outfitted ships.

Dustin – Just so you know, B.J., New Bedford just missed my top 10. Maybe if I had played it more, it may have been higher. Only thing holding it back for me (besides lack of plays) is that it really doesn’t do anything new or different, which isn’t a bad thing, but I can see it getting forgotten in the huge pack of Euro games that are similar.

Bradly – New Bedford just missed my top 10, and wound up as my #11. It’s a great worker placement game, although not my favorite of all time, but there was just so much goodness this year it couldn’t quite keep up. I do think it has one of the best expansions, but again, the The Grizzled‘s expansion barely beat it out for my best of the year.

B.J. – I’ve taken a lot of ribbing from the Gumbo krewe for evangelizing this game, so I am glad to see that the guys deep down liked it. But, I am a big fan of the artwork by Nolan Nasser, and it definitely helps that the game is easy to teach, plays in about an hour, and has a surprising amount of depth of actions and strategy in such a small package.  Plus, the bonus is that with the variable tile set ups, you can get so much replay ability out of the game. Two whale’s tails up.

And the app! Don’t forget about the app!

Number 5: Mansions of Madness: Second Edition

There is no surprise that Mansions made the Gumbo top ten. We love big, thematic games; we seem to love anything related to Cthulthu. Mash them together, improve the original by 100%, and inject some wow-geezery with the use of an app to help with all of the fiddliness and provide some thematic backdrop to the game.

B.J. –  How is Mansions of Madness so far above Mechs for Bradly, if he “prefers competitive games?”

Bradly – Mansions is only up there because it’s that good. As far as putting you in the world of the game, Mansions does it better than any game on my top 10. Just like New Angeles, the fact that this game ranked so highly in a genre I don’t particularly care for says a lot about just how good it is.

Dustin – Another one I never got to play, but I do like the Cthulhu Mythos, so I am interested. I am a little sketchy on the app though, because I tried the Descent app and it was too clunky for me.

Number 4: Star Wars: Rebellion

With Rogue One hitting theaters this year, it seems like Star Wars mania is even more on the rise. And in 2016, here came Fantasy Flight with another stellar production of a licensed Star Wars game, one that pitted the Imperial side versus the Rebellion over a huge table-hogging map filled with great reproductions of some of the iconic elements of the original movies.

Dustin – Oh, sweet Rebellion, how I wish I could have played you. This is the one game I am positive would have hit my top 5 if I would have gotten to play it. Maybe if our group played games more than once before they move onto whatever other new game they bought yesterday I could have played it, lol. I kid, I kid….Or do I?

Bradly – Maybe if you showed up for a game night or didn’t take month long vacations in Texas we’d actually get to play some of your games, Dustin. I’ve been wanting to play this for a month and haven’t gotten a chance to.

Dustin – Lies! I have asked he who shall not be named (Carlos) to bring Rebellion to Gumbo HQ for over a month! Instead he insists on bringing party games made for your in laws to get introduced into gaming. 😉

That reminds me. Which one do you like better? Spin or The Martian?

Number 3: Terraforming Mars

The buzz has been palpable about Stronghold Games‘s latest euro style import. Terraforming Mars is realistically set in the scientific world of a mission to ready Mars for human habitat. This card drafting, world building game from FryxGames‘s own Jacob Fryxelius provides a lot of opportunities for satisfying card combos, but ratchets up the tension in the final frames as the players get closer to achieving the primary objectives and ending the game. Since its GenCon debut, where it sold out in minutes, the intertron has been on fire with good reviews and playthroughs. The game has its detractors, though not many, which center on the lackluster art direction on the cards and the very flimsy / not very useful player boards. But, the gameplay has been almost universally praised with good reason.

Dustin- Great game, but seriously, the components and design choices are pretty terrible in this one.

B.J. – I have seen the complaints about the artwork, and yes, some of the art choices on the cards are questionable. But I like the look of the board (it is a serious attempt at a board game about the actual science of prepping Mars, after all) and I liked the cubes a lot. But you are right — not sure who gave the final okay to those design choices on the player boards.

Bradly – This is a game of substance over style. If you can handle the poor artwork and low quality components, you will find an amazing game underneath. My #6, but easily could have been my #1 if more attention had been paid to the quality of the game. The mechanics, however, are top notch.

I’ll help you, if you help me get rid of the player who is attacking the Cave. Unless I kill you first.

Number 2: Vast: The Crystal Caverns

Did any other game captured and bedeviled the game community at the same time as did Vast, designed by David Somerville and Patrick Leder with fun artwork from Kyle Ferrin? This was such a quiet release from Leder Games at GenCon — only to have it become blown up in social media when players returned home and started diving into the unique mechanics. We have all played asynchronous power driven games, but to have a game that had not one but five completely different play styles — each with their own rule set — blew the minds of many gamers. Add to the fact that the game, for the most part, was interesting looking and had interesting characters (where else can you play a Cave?), once players were able to understand and evangelize the game, it quickly became a game night staple. All eyes are on the latest revisions and updated characters from the Kickstarter, but in the meantime, Vast is a very interesting choice for number two game of 2016.

B.J. – Maybe one of the more complicated games to understand, at least for me. Its not like you can watch what other players are doing to understand how your character moves — the asychronous aspects of each character are truly unique. However, the investment in learning the game is so worth it. The tension in the endgame is palpable and makes for some great “Aha!” moments when somebody finally pulls off the win.

Dustin – Never got to play but I am interested. The difficulty to teach is a major flaw though. No one feels like explaining 5 different games to 5 different people every time you play.

Bradly – As the one responsible for teaching this game each time we play, let me just say that it doesn’t make it easy. Luckily the new kickstarter for the reprint is addressing the issue with the rulebook, which is sorely needed. Once you get past that, admittedly large, hurdle you will find an amazing game. This is what every game that makes the claim of being asynchronous should aspire to, but most fall short

Dude. ‘Nuff said.

Number 1: Scythe

Remember when Jamey Stegmaier front man of Stonemaier Games first displayed the artwork that inspired this game’s development? Jakub Rozalski’s pastoral scenes of a post-world war agrarian society facing the remaining menaces of huge mechanized war machines was stunning, thought provoking, and tantalizing all at the same time. The kickstarter for this game blew up big time, and then the anticipation began to build for the actual game and its components. Would Scythe live up to the hype? At least for the Board Game Gumbo Krewe, this game truly did and actually exceeded expectations.  While it does not quite live up to its 4X billings, Scythe scratches so many other itches: the threat of combat, area control, euro type resource and engine building, and the fun of exploring the artwork of the world and devious mind of the designer in the excellent encounter cards that add so much flavor to the experience.  Scythe was an easy choice — so far — for the number one game of 2016.

B.J. –  Scythe has been the best experience of any game I have played in 2016 so far. Well designed, awesome production, tight finishes, and I love the reward system.

Dustin – Another good game with great components, but I don’t see the hype. I am apparently alone in my group on this one, but I see it as a top 10 or top 20 game but number 1? Not a chance. Although a better game than MvM by far, I feel it is in the same boat as far as gameplay vs components. Boring components and people would give this a 7.5 rating. Still a good game for sure, but no way a number 1 game for me. This one isn’t even my favorite Stonemaier game, might not even be my number 2.

Bradly – We should probably start by pointing out that we play the fully blinged out version of this game with the ‘realistic’ resources and metal coins, etc. That probably skews our opinions of this game somewhat. But even with that, I don’t see another game that came out this year that competes with Scythe. When you consider everything from components, to theme, mechanics, artwork, etc. it’s just better than any other game in 2016, hands down. Or at least it was for me. And the new expansion makes the game even better, I think. A 7 player game of Scythe is almost a completely different animal than a 5 player game, because it, to a much larger extent, forces players into competition. Really there’s not many bad things I can say about this game, except for maybe that I haven’t gotten the figures painted yet.

Dustin- As a serious Dudes on a Map player I am insulted when I sit down in front of a massive board, with amazing plastic mechs, just to have a “who can harvest and manage resources better” contest with other factions with cool mechs. Don’t give me the “threat of war” thing either, because I don’t want a threat, I want the actual WAR! Like the great Bob Barker said to Happy Gilmore, “I don’t want a piece, I want the whole thing!” This is a great Euro, but not even the best one on this list.

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So there you have it–our Top Ten games, plus a little lagniappe and of course our usual friendly commentary. We’re still playing and rating games, so who knows what this list will look like in six months. 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.

Spice it up! with Hand Off: The Card Football Board Game (LSU edition)

The Mad Hatter will no longer roam the Death Valley sidelines, looking for a tasty blade of grass to chew on during a tense late season game against the Crimson Tide.  News out of Baton Rouge on Sunday, September 25 is that head coach Coach Les Miles and his offensive coordinator were relieved of their duties by the athletic director, after a shocking loss to unranked Auburn.

LSU fans are divided over the firing, although the division was probably not 50/50. How best to quell the uncertainty as to who will lead the great LSU program for the time being and for next season, too?

If your team has started out this season in disappointing fashion, or is already mathematically eliminated from the college football playoffs after only four games, then spice up your game nights with a great college themed game, Hand-Off: The Card Football Board Game (LSU Edition)!


CSE Games sent me a review copy right after the Krewe got back from GenCon. True to form, the Krewe brought back a stadium full of new hotness from the convention, and we have been wading through those games. But, tugging in the back of my mind as each college football weekend unfolded was that brand new copy of a poker-flavored game just waiting for me to play. So, when LSU announced the news about Coach Miles, it was a perfect time to break open the box and try a few games.

LSU Hand Off is a card game that apparently streamlines the original game called Card Football. The game is geared for two players and plays quickly, in only about 45 minutes. The game is played over four “quarters”, with all of the different aspects of a good football game: time outs, special teams, big offensive plays, penalties and great goal line defensive stops.  All of these can and will happen during the course of a game.

The set up is easy. The board is a flat representation of LSU’s Tiger Stadium, affectionately known by Louisianians as “Death Valley.” Although the crowd noise and bourbon fueled frenzy does not come in the box, the field has almost all of the appropriate views of the stadium and field — with one exception, namely that Tiger Stadium marks the yardage in 5 yard increments not 10 yard increments — and there are spaces for four downs for each player. Shuffle the standard poker deck, and deal each player five cards. That’s it.

The game play is equally easy and fairly intuitive. Each player tries to build the best modified poker hand (high card < pair < two pair < three of a kind) during the downs, and are allowed to add cards to a play if they can help build one of those hands.  The highest hand at the time of that down gets to enact the play on the card, which could be anything from a big offensive play or a defensive stop, or even a penalty.  

The game comes with a football marker and a referee marker, which shows you were the ball is and how far you need to go for the first down. I do have to complain here, as both my son and I had trouble moving the markers down the field as each yard is pretty tightly placed next to each other. Making the board a little bit bigger (I would love to see it on the Ticket To Ride 10th Anniversary sized board!) would definitely have made that part easier.

Frankly, I was surprised at how much fun the game was, and how much it felt like watching a football game. There was momentum when you saw that you had a chance to combo some good cards into a long drive. There was drama as teams got into the red zone or a penalty potentially wiped out a big play. Field position — just like in real football — was crucially important, and you have to manage your time outs to give yourself a chance to get those good cards you need in the red zone. Kudos to the designers who must be big football fans, because this really plays like a football game simulator.

I like the addition of the trump cards, too. A number of LSU’s greatest teams are represented by a small card that each player chooses. These can be played as a trump card if the player ends up with that very card in his hand. The implementation of the trump cards was a little bit of a let down, as they were just small square cards with some facts about the team. Artwork, photographs, flavor text — any of those would have spiced up those trump cards and I think the designer missed on that part.

But the whiffs are few, as the game plays very smoothly. I have never played the original implementation, but it feels like this is a 2.0 of that game. If I had to quibble, the rule book does need a little bit of development, as I think it could have been organized better. An index would have helped, too. But those are minor quibbles, because we were able to stop play as needed to check the rules and almost always got to the rule we needed fairly quickly.

In summary, on the pro side, I love the speedy play, easy to pick up poker mechanics, and the drama that comes as a tense drive begins building up and crosses the midfield. The game is a breeze to teach, and should definitely excite any college fan. I imagine it is a great game for tailgating — and I will test it out at the Ole Miss game coming up next month to make sure.  

On the con side, the stadium is too small and missed out on some accuracy, the rule book needs a graphic designer and a developer, and the all time trump cards need some spice. These are not things that would dissuade me from buying the game, but they do need to be fixed in the future. 

Both my son and I really enjoyed playing the game, and look forward to many more plays this season. It is definitely staying in my collection, and although I cannot recommend it for everybody, I can definitely recommend it to any gamers out there who like college football and want a quick and easy game to play. Note that the game also comes in a Florida Gator version, too.

Until next time, laissez Le Bon temps rouler!

–B.J.

@boardgamegumbo

 

 

Top Ten Stories at Gen Con 2016, Part Deux

Gen Con: the con where a million different publishers vie for attention with a trillion different gamers.

Hyperbole? Of course.

But it is true that many different stories bubble up to the surface during the Best Four Days of Not Sleeping, 2016 edition. (If you missed number 10-6, click here).

Here is a look at the next five of our top ten favorites in part two of the two part series:


5. Stronghold inks deal for strong, historical design

Showman extraordinaire Stephen Buonocore pulled out all the stops at the Dice Tower Live show. Donning a monk’s robes right in front of Tom Vasel, with appropriate music (and an wardrobe malfunction!), Stephen announced that Stronghold Games had signed a partnership with German publisher Spielworxx to bring to the USA Sola Fide: The Reformation.

This is the latest historical game designed by superstar team Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews. These are the designers who brought you 1960: The Making of the President, and Campaign Manager, two very well regarded games. Jason is also the co-designer of Twilight Struggle, which was the number one game on BGG for a long time.

What a coup for Buonocore, who loves making a splash but also really, really loves bringing great games to the public. According to the press release, the game is scheduled for public debut at Essen 2016.


4. Biggest Dice Tower Live show….ever?

The Krewe de Gumbo arrived on different days of the show, after driving over 1000 miles from Louisiana to attend. The Krewe had the pleasure of re-assembling all together at the Dice Tower Live Show on Friday.  The time period was a bit inconvenient, as the Fantasy Flight In-Flight Report (a very popular event for some of the Krewe) was scheduled by Gen Con at the exact same time.

Yet, even with one of the yearly most anticipated events going on, Tom Vasel and friends sold nearly 1200 tickets to their two hour live show. And when the time came to open the doors, the lines were stretched all through the convention hall.

The Krewe barely reached their seats along the left wall in the back just as the show started. This was a very professionally put together show from start to finish. It was in Gen Con’s largest ballroom, with plenty of comfortable seating. The room had professional sound with large screens for better viewing.

We saw Patrick from Blue Peg, Pink Peg frantically handing out raffle tickets along with Marty from Rolling Dice, Taking Names podcasts, so we knew there was a huge crowd.

You can catch the show on YouTube if you missed it the first time. Suffice it to say that the banter was friendly and good natured, the songs were mostly right on point, and the news was surprising and fresh. Speaking of news, there were announcements of new games from Eric Lang, a new company from Rob Daviau, and a new game coming out from Stronghold (see above.)

We predict that the Live show will not grow any bigger, but that it will grow in importance each year. Having designers with the stature of Lang, Daviau, Englestein and Matthews all attending the show will bring the crowds in (and press) each year.

3. Sell outs, sell outs, sell outs.

Not all of the stories are completely one-sided happy stories. For the board game designers who wanted buzz about their games, the numerous sell outs that occurred just on the first day generated tons of free publicity for their releases.  The sell outs ranged from the expected (SeaFall) to the not surprising (Cry Havoc, Harry Potter) to the surprising (The Networks) and many others.The bad news? For those gamers who wanted these games and did not shell out for VIG passes (“very important gamer” passes, which are expensive but give insiders an early bird hour to shop), they left empty-handed and disappointed.

But the good news? As Tom Vasel says over and over, all of the sold out games will get to your local game stores and/or online merchandisers eventually. And, the buzz that was generated around these games will hopefully generate more in sales down the road.

The side benefit? Those with a fixed board game budget at Gen Con but were disappointed in not getting the first game on their To Buy list, had  room now to pick up other games. We saw lots of people pivot to good titles release in the last year or so, or check out the little known or little hyped games being released at the Con. Maybe you were one of those that picked up a Murano or a Celestia or an Imhotep or an Imperial Settlers instead of the Hotness?

2. Legacy games are here to stay.

Pandemic Legacy was a critical runaway hit, zooming to the top of the BGG charts. SeaFall sold out in minutes on the opening day of the Con.

If this news didn’t cement the Legacy concept as the newest flavor, then surely the news that Ted Alspach’s hit franchise being extended to the Legacy format will.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf Legacy? Color me intrigued, at least.

But seriously, where does it stop? I believe there is much more room to grow in the Legacy concept. There are plenty of games out there that could be made better with a campaign style, destroy-some-cards customization.

But when a game company announces Uno Legacy, I’m out.

1. Cry Havoc, everybody’s most-wanted.

Not to take anything away from SeaFall, which had considerable hype going in and did predictably brisk numbers on day one, the real fire that burned through the Con was the Grant Rodiek-designed, Portal-sold four player slugfest.

The buzz was inescapable. Everywhere we went, people were talking about the game. The lucky few were even playing it.

Reviewers were crowing that they had found the next Kemet or Blood Rage.

Will this game have the staying power of a Dominion or Ticket to Ride or even Blood Rage? Who knows, but at least for four days, Cry Havoc was king of the hill.


So there you have it, the top ten stories that stirred the Gumbo pot at Gen Con 2016. Leave us a comment here or @boardgamegumbo on Twitter if you agree or disagree.

Until next time, Laissez les bons temps Rouler!

B.J.

Spice it up! with Imperial Settlers

Every December, BSA Troop 10 holds a board game / video game camp-in called the Cyber Camp-in.

One scout troop. Twelve computers linked to a home brew network. 12 straight hours of gaming, with Age of Empires/Mythology on every screen!

Usually, the adults and Eagle alums play board games like Kingdom Builder or Betrayal at House on the Hill or King of Tokyo or a hundred other board games. Most of the younger scouts gravitate toward the Minecraft servers. But, I will admit that a big highlight has been setting up multi player contests of RTS games like Age of Empires.

As much as I like board games, I always get a special smile when I see the guys on the big AoE / AoM server.

My sons and I have had many, many nights battling each other in those classic RTS games. Sure, Civ gets a lot of the awards and crew, but to me AoE and AoM just seem more fun. (And faster, too!). I am always on the look out for a board game that can duplicate that classic feeling of searching the landscape for resources, building your little settlement into a powerful civilization and declaring victory.

So, there I was at Gen Con 2016, at the Portal booth for probably the third time, when I swept my eyes over Imperial Settlers, Ignacy Trezewiczek‘s big seller the last two years. Although Imperial Settlers has some great expansions, tons of good pub, and a rabid following, I have never played the game.

I have been looking for a good game to get my 16 year old back into board gaming. He is at the age where he thinks bytes are more interesting than bits, and CPUs are more impressive than cardboard. Oh, he still loves Viticulture (and he really enjoyed playing Cry Havoc recently) but he would rather jump on his favorite MMO any night.

So, I asked Ignacy to give us his best 30 second pitch — why should we buy Imperial Settlers.? He took one look at my son, Jack, and asked if Jack had ever played a computer civ type game. “Sure,” was the reply, and Jack immediately mentioned Age of Mythology. Ignacy’s eyes lit up, and he proceeded to describe his game.

It is a card board version of your favorite civ games, said Ignacy. You will send scouts out, develop your civilization, add production and buildings, and even attack opponents if you want, he promised.

All of that made my heart sing, and my son eyes widened. We snapped it up right there. But is it enough to entice an RTS fan to put away the keyboard? (With a big thanks to @thediceyreview1 for the germination!)

Well, if your family game nights are getting bland or even nonexistent, and your family loves RTS civilization games like Age of Empires, then Spice it up! with Imperial Settlers.


First, a little bit about the game. Imperial Settlers is essentially a civilization game, with a race for victory points lasting five rounds. Building cards, action cards and special featured cards which can all help you gain victory points all come in a common deck from which all players will draw.

But, the base game also comes with four factions (Romans, Barbarians, Egyptians and Japanese), each with a unique faction deck.  

The players send their “scouts” out to look for more territory (in other words, draw faction and common deck cards) as the first part of the round. (Aside: we use the three card round robin drafting style now instead of the basic draw as it is quicker and more fun, plus it seems more thematic).

Next, the players “produce” resources from the buildings they have built and the trade deals they have made. Then, the players use their cards and resources (meeples, coins, fruit, wood and stone) to build buildings or take actions from the cards to produce effects like more production or more victory points.

The players take turns doing one action in round robin fashion until all players have passed their turn.  During those actions, the players can target their own common cards or even each other’s common cards using “raze” tokens (the little sword tokens shown below) which can help to generate resources or even slow an opponent down.

 This helps keep the game from being a ‘solitaire’ contest of civ building, since you always have to watch out for the other player’s buildings. Knowing just the right card to raze (either in your hand or your opponent’s territory) is a big key to winning the game.

After five rounds, the bonus points from building your faction and common building cards are tallied, and a winning civilization is declared.

So why is this game spicier than Age of Empires or Age of Mythology computer games.?

First, well, it is a board game, right? Here at the Gumbo, we are all about analog cardboard treasures, rather than pixelated solo games (yes, I know AoE and AoM can be played multiplayer, but the vast experience is playing solo).

Second, I love the playing time. Ignacy has built an engine type game with only five rounds to play, so players with experience can knock out a good game in about 45-60 minutes. (Your mileage will vary depending upon experience and AP prone issues.) There is something delicious about playing a relatively quick game that has so much depth to it.

Third, I love the asynchronous play of each civilization. The factions play differently, and while luck is always a factor (this is a card drawing game, right?), luck can be mitigated with good strategy and recognition of the combo opportunities that each faction deck provides.

I have read on BGG many posts suggesting that one faction is better than the other, and that just tells me that Ignacy has done a good job with the fourth important factor, namely, balance.  In our early games, the Egyptians seem to be the strongest, but already the wheels are turning as to how the Romans and Barbs can get around the Egyptian money stronghold.

What about art and aesthetics? Here is where the game really shines. I love the artwork on the cards. Each tells a little story, and you can tell that someone really thought about the design of the player boards, the iconography and the placement of art on the cards. Really well done.  I have to point out one flaw — the type on the cards is way too small for comfortable reading. I would go with bigger type in the next printing, because it is noticeably too small.


I have not tried the solo option, but I will as I usually like learning about the depth of the game during solo play. I also have not had the opportunity to play the Japanese faction, but will update the blog when I do. We have had so much fun playing the first three factions, and we all feel like we are still scratching the surface on strategy with these three.

Portal Games has already put out at least one new faction (the Atlanteans) plus expansion cards for the factions and common cards (Why Can’t We Be Friends, 3 Is A Magic Number), with more on the way. So, if you are worried about the staying power of your game, there is always ways to spice it up.

We love this game! Just as I hoped, my son and his friends really latched onto this game. It goes on a short list of board games that feel enough like a video game to attract the attention of the video-obsessed teens. We agree that even after a half-dozen plays, there is still so much more to explore. Plus we have the expansion packs, the new factions, the Aztecs on the way…poo-yie, that’s a lot of game!

I give Imperial Settlers 5 out of 5 cayenne peppers, and congratulate Ignacy Trezewiczek for a tight, elegant civilization design. So next time you want to drag your teen off of the latest civ game he is playing on the computer, Spice it up! with Imperial Settlers.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

B.J.