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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number Two. Start a game night before ITTD happens.

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

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

Number Three. Leverage your current assets.

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

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

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

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

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

Number Five: Take Pictures of the games!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number Seven: You got customers.

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

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

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

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

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

Number Eight: Gonna Dress You Up In My Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS! Post-Game Day Means Posting Pictures!

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

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

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

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

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

— B.J.

UnPub 7 Report with Jason Dinger (Part One)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

— Jason Dinger @jasondingr on Twitter

 

 

Spice it up! With Baseball Highlights: 2045

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

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

Baseball. America’s favorite past time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theme:

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

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

Naturals, Cyborgs and Robots from the Free Agent Deck

Innovations:

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

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

 

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

Gameplay:

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

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

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

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

FINAL THOUGHTS:

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

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

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!!

— B.J.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, Laissez les bons temps rouler!

–B.J.

 

Pax South 2017 in the books – Part Two

Warm days and cool nights greeted the Krewe de Gumbo throughout the weekend of PAX South 2017.  Even better than the weather was the excellent gaming that we found, long looks at games released recently, and the great demos of new and upcoming games that will be released in 2017.

For a recap of some of the larger booths that we visited, check out our previous article here.

With my duties as Envoy Herald on the demo team of Kodama and Coup completed on Saturday, I had much more time to wander around the Con with the Krewe to see some of the other sights and sounds for PAX South 2017. Here are some of the highlights:


a. Red Raven Games.

First up, we visited the every friendly Brenna Asplund at Red Raven Games. Just like most of the board game companies in the main exhibit area, Red Raven had a much smaller booth than we saw at GenCon. But, Brenna, who is one third of the voices on the Red Raven podcast, was there with a ready smile and great demos of their latest games.

I saw  a lot of interest from the PAX crowd in Islebound, the beautiful seafaring game from Ryan Laukat that was released last year after a successful Kickstarter.  The artwork — no surprise since we are talking about Red Raven — is gorgeous and whimsical.  We played this game right after GenCon, and it was nice to see that Red Raven still had some expansion packs left.

Plus, Red Raven offered a package deal on the complete Eight Minute Empires series with expansion and extra board. By Sunday, it was loooong gone!

We got a chance to visit with Brenda about Near & Far, and were happy to hear that it is right on schedule for its release to the Kickstarter backers. It sounds like they are very happy with what they have seen from the manufacturer so far.

b. Level 99 Games.

My current favorite podcast, The Dukes of Dice, talk about their friends at Level 99, so we had to make a pass by to visit with Brad, the owner. Level 99 too was in the midst of the cacophony that makes up the Main Exhibit Hall, and frankly, it was not that easy to find some of the booths for a quick trip. (In fact, I used some of my scout skills to help Mina from Mina’s Fresh Cardboard locate a friend at the Level 99 booth the day before.)

When we got there, Josh from Level 99 was demoing Sellswords, the new release from Level 99. This is an interesting little card/tile laying game that has a theme of hiring “sellswords” to complete tasks. In reality, it is a neat little abstract game, with a cool mechanic of flipping the cards as they are placed next to each other and weighed in their strengths.  We have a review copy, and will try to post something soon.

I asked Brad what was the big hit of the con, and he said that demos of Mega Man Pixel Tactics had been going extremely well. He confided that if the game had been ready, he could have sold out of whatever he brought.  I am sure a lot of this is due to the nature of PAX (lots of nostalgic video game fans there) but by what I saw, the game looks fun. I need to try out Pixel Tactics at some point, because I know the Dukes (especially Alex) have talked it up in previous podcasts.

Finally, I got to visit with Brad and Josh about the future of Millennium Blades. This is a game from 2016 that I have not yet tried, even though it appears right up my alley. All of you know that there is an expansion coming up soon, but there are rumblings that if this expansion does well, then more content will be coming. So if you are fan of Millennium Blades, go out and support Set Rotation when it hits the game store shelves.

c. Indie game reports.

One thing I love about PAX South is that they really encourage and foster indie game companies. There were many booths to see at the con even in the main exhibit hall, so many that I could not demo all of their wares. But, we managed to grab a few demos, and even bought a game.

First up, we tried out Oh My Gods!, a new game from Gameworthy Labs designed by Timothy Blank. Tim was handling all the demos, so the demo went very smoothly to say the least.  The card game is a Greek gods themed, streamlined version of Clue (or better, Mystery of the Abbey), with special powers for each of the members of the pantheon.  I am not a big fan of the artwork, and there are just too many games with a same or similar title for my taste. 

However, the game play is a lot of fun, and the special powers of each card adds a lot to the deductive genre. Plus, it would be a lot easier to get a game like this out at the start of a game night then Mystery of the Abbey now, since Mystery seems a bit dated compared to newer deduction games. So, if your game group likes deduction games, this would be a good filler to add. 

Next, we headed to the Wild West for a test run of Shootout! The High Noon card game, a 2015 quick playing card game filler from Cris Amburn and New Experience Workshop.  I liked the artwork and theme of the cards, and I loved the quick play.  Each gunslinger plays cards off of a draw pile, until there is a “duel”. Stay alive, be a quick shot, and have a better five card hand than the other player, and you can stay in the game.  The downside? I think the game needed a little more in the development pod…some of the card types and names do not match up to the theme and took me out of the game a bit. But, this would make a great little filler for the start or finish of a game night.

We then headed off to the Indie Game Showcase, right smack dab in the middle of the Main Exhibit space.  PAX had a contest for potential new games, and six winners were chosen and featured in huge booths that you could not miss.  There were crowds of gamers, young and old alike, clogging up the pathways and entrances to the demo areas of the booths, which is a great sign for the growth in our version of table top.  However, that prevented me a bit from demoing all of the games.

I did manage to try two of them that piqued my interest. Fantastic Factories is a great looking  worker placement game  designed by Joseph Chen. There was a huge crowd of people demoing the game on Sunday, and the booth itself was very professional looking. The demo team had matching hard hats, lots of quick game play and instructions, and the designer himself was involved and answering questions. Look for this one on Kickstarter soon. I like the art and what I could see of the gameplay; plus, I am a sucker for dice placement games. 

Last, but not least, we had an enthusiastic game demo of Wicked Apples. This is a great small box filler card game, with a lot of take that and hidden role (core? Apple?) action. The artwork is serviceable, but the game appears pretty well polished. If this game gets picked up by a bigger company, I could see it becoming a convention favorite. 

I can’t forget to mention that there was a VERY active UnPub scene at PAX South. Because of my teaching and demoing responsibilities, I did not have time to take part and play test some of the games, but I walked by and saw dozens of games being tested. 

SUMMARY:

This was my first year attending, but some of the other Krewe members have been going since the first year PAX South opened. All agreed that this was the biggest showing by table top companies yet. 

I heard Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games once remark that the Con calendar could use a big Winter kick off convention to fill the drought between Essen and BGG. Could PAX South be it? Judging by what Matt Morgan and company have done in such a short time, it would not surprise me that we see big things coming out of PAX South in the future. 

Until next time, 

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

–B J
 

Pax 2017 In The Books – Part One

The third installment of San Antonio’s gaming convention showed the potential that PAX has to energize the gaming community. The crowds this past weekend were large, and there was a palpable buzz when the previously leaked announcement was confirmed: PAX is ramping up its support for table top with a new con, PAX UNPLUGGED, set for Philly the week of BGG.CON.

But enough about future cons, what about this year’s installment? PAX South 2017 was still in the same convention hall, the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, but the newly refurbished center spilled out all over the convention, with plenty of room for table top and an expanded focus on board gaming.  Based on the larger spaces, more numerous venues, dedicated staff to table top and an expanded library, it is clear that PAX’s focus on our hobby is growing each year.

For tabletop gamers, the expo hall and table top area was the place to be each day. 

a. Table top freeplay.

The table top area had a very well laid out and large area dedicated board gamers to play games they brought from home, purchased from the nearby vendors, or checked out of the library.  While not as large in scope as GenCon’s table top area, there seemed to be more available table space on Friday (which could also be the effect of gamers being in school or at work).  Unlike Gen Con, the bathrooms were plentiful and convenient, located right behind the table top area. 

I talked to Matt Morgan, the table top organizer for PAX, and he said there was an even bigger selection of games this year, topping 1000+.  While the library can’t compare yet with BGG or Dice Tower’s massive libraries, there was an ample selection of tried and true favorites as well as a few of the newer games. In all honesty, there may have been more hotness located in the library, but just checked out as I browsed.  The library was stacked on tables and alphabetized, and stayed open until midnight.

On Friday, we tried out Alien Frontiers, a Kickstarter favorite that I had always wanted to try. This was the version with the upgraded colonies and tokens, so it was very pleasing to the eye on the table.  I was warned by Mina from Mina’s Fresh Cardboard that the game was very random, and it certainly didn’t disappoint in that regard. 

We played with three players, and I think that may be the sweet spot for this game. The fourth (dummy) player acts as a barrier to some of the spots, so it made for interesting choices as we placed our ship dice around the board. Yes, the dice rolling can be chaotic, and there certainly is a lot of player interaction, complete with a spot on the board that allows “raiding” other players’ goods / cards if the right dice roll comes out. But, we learned to mitigate the randomness during the game, because the alien artificial power cards and the tiles on the board themselves helped control the chaos.  All in all, a great little 1.5 hour dice chucking fest that looks great on the table.  I’d certainly play it again. 

On Saturday, we tried out Farmageddon, a Grant Rodiek designed game, that I had brought from home. I already owned the original version, but just recently received the new version.  This version is definitely the one to get — better card art, better combos, and the designer got rid of the clunky field cards.  Don’t go into this game unless you have a group that likes a little (a lot!) of take that action and laugh out loud moments. Definitely a keeper for me. 

We also played the inescapable PushFight, a game that is produced or resold (as best as I can tell) by Penny Arcade.  While inexplicably not available at the con, its presence was everywhere.  You could always see tables with the game being played. Some of the Krewe entered a tournament for PushFight, but we also got some free play in, too.  It is an enjoyable and well designed abstract one versus one fight, sort of like a streamlined version of chess. But, it has the satisfying mechanic of pushing pieces around and off the board. There is nothing like pushing a piece off to end the game! I am not a big abstract game player, but I would play this again.

b. Table Top Exhibitor Area.

I spent most of the weekend as a volunteer demonstrator for Indie Boards & Cards / Action Phase Games in the table top area. (There were also some exhibitors in the main exhibit area next door, the one with all of the flashing lights and noisy gizmos.)  That limited my time to visiting the hall until Sunday, but I did get a chance to walk around and see about 80% of the table top side of the Con.  Yes, Pax South 2017 does not have the size and scope of vendors as Gen Con or Essen, but there was plenty to see and demo and buy. From what I can tell, this was the largest table top exhibitor participation at any Pax so far. 

INDY BOARDS & CARDS / ACTION PHASE GAMES:

I spent most of my time here, and got to visit with Tricia, promotions director for IB&C, and Travis, owner of AP. They brought a large selection of games, from the very familiar Coup to the hot games from 2016 like Aeon’s End and Kodama.

Kodama was a big hit at the con, with tons of players demoing and purchasing this beautiful little thirty minute card laying, secret objectives game. Most players told me they were drawn in by the beautiful, zen like artwork of the trees, branches and quirky little Kodama tree spirits. (We even gave away promo cards of what looked like little alien Kodama cards, and a new first player token, which I dubbed the Kodamameeple.)

But, there was a lot of interest in Aeon’s End and Ninja Camp, too. Aeon’s End is a mind bending, butt kicking coop game where players build their deck to defeat a big baddie attacking the home city. The baddie throws minions at the heroes (who are all distinct with unique special powers), and players construct their decks in such a way as to team up to save the city.

The worst part of deckbuilders is “the shuffle,” and designer Kevin Reilly fixes this.  Con visitors shook their hands in amazement when I explained that there is no “shuffle” in Aeon’s End. Instead, players discard their hands and any purchased cards in any order, and when the deck runs out, players just flip the discard deck over and start again. Aeon’s End had two available expansions for it that brought in more heroes and baddies, with the same great card art.

Ninja Camp is a cute little abstract card game, which looked like a gamer’s version of Hey, That’s My Fish! Instead of picking up generic scoring tiles, I especially liked the special bonus actions that the cards you pick up give you during the play.

Also, Travis was eager to talk about Trickster, which is Daniel Solis’ new design. It was not available for demo, but the Kickstarter is up and doing well.

ASMODEE

Asmodee, and its companies (Fantasy Flight, Z Man, Plaid Hat etc) had promotional style booths, with a large demo team on hand. We tried out Star Wars: Destiny Dice as well as Captain Sonar, and got a glimpse at the demos going on for Ashes:Rise of the Phoenixborn and Pandemic Cthulu, too.

We played two pre-made starter decks with Rey/Finn and Kylo/First Order ST on either side. After a quick rules explanation (there were always two or three Asmodee demo team members near by to address any bugaboos), we were off and battling. I liked the smaller deck components and the highly thematic card play. I also liked the dice — they were chunkier and of seemingly better quality than I expected from the promotional pictures. All in all, SW:DD is a game that I would play again.

Captain Sonar is an awkward game to demo at a large, noisy con, but kudos to their team — they were able to get us up to speed and running quickly. The game was turn based rather than the more compelling to me version with both sides maneuvering at the same time. I was the radio operator, and enjoyed listening in and strategizing about where the other team was located.  Too noisy in the con for my tastes, but if they have any organized play at Dice Tower Con or Gen Con, I would definitely like to try it.

GREATER THAN GAMES / DICE HATE ME

I also got to visit with Nolan Nasser and his brother at the Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me booth.  He was demonstrating one of my favorite games of 2016, New Bedford (for which he did most of the artwork, especially the stunning box art for the base game and expansion.). Nolan was friendly, and said he has a few more projects in the pipeline.  Keep an eye out on Nolan, as he is a very talented young artist and you can tell that he really enjoys games. 

TASTY MINSTREL GAMES

Right nearby was the corner booth for TMG.  I visited with one of the promo guys, who told me the good news that Colosseum is right on schedule for delivery to Kickstarter backers. Long a grail game for me, this is probably my second most anticipated game of 2017 so far.

c. Exhibitor Hall

Located right at the entrance to the hall was the humongous electronics and analog gaming vendor section. This area had everything from well known game companies (Level 99, Red Raven) to smaller indies either in their own booths, sharing space with others, or picked for big displays at the Indie Showcase.

We’ll cover those companies in our next installment.

Until next time, Laissez les bons temps rouler

–B.J.

Pax South 2017 Preview

PAX South, a descendant of the original Penny Arcade Expo (or PAX, for short) is in its third year. By all accounts, both San Antonio’s convention center people and the PAX group are very happy with the attendance so far. PAX is known as a giant celebration of gamer culture, and PAX South continues that theme, although this version does have an emphasis on table top gaming.

The Alamo City is set to become the center of the southwestern board gaming universe once again, at least for three days in February.  Are you heading to Pax South 2017 in San Antonio? Want to know what Pax South has to offer from a table top perspective at this year’s convention?

You’re in luck.

Some of the Krewe of Board Game Gumbo will be in attendance, so we wanted to know what publishers will be there, too, and what they will bring to the demo table. For a complete listing of all things tabletop and board gaming at Pax South 2017, we found this excellent blog entry from Matt Morgan, the Tabletop Deputy Manager for Pax South.

But you want more than just a listing of game companies, right?  Here’s what we found out so far about the potential bits and boards that we may see at Pax South.

Note that the exhibitors will be in two places this year — either in the Tabletop area or in the Main Exhibit Hall (which closes at 6P each day). Also note that I will try to update the blog as I get more info.

The Can’t Misses:

1. Indie Boards & Cards (Tabletop area).


Indie Boards & Cards will be making its first appearance at Pax South after traveling all the way from Indiana, the home of GEN CON. IB&C will definitely have Kodama and Coup available for demoing (I know, because I will be demoing those two games on Friday and Saturday until 4:00 PM).

Kodama is a card laying, collection type card game designed by Daniel Solis with some interesting hidden objectives. It has beautiful art, and plays quickly through three seasons.

Coup should not need any introduction. Millions of players have battled wits in this amazing micro game hidden role experience.  Can you be the last person standing after outwitting your friends? Can you bluff your way to victory?

Indie Boards & Cards will also have other games available in the booth. Expect to see fan favorites, Flashpoint Fire Rescue (a cooperative game about fighting fires) and The Resistance (a hidden role / traitor type game), but also look for Aeon’s End and Ninja Camp.

We got a chance to bring Aeon’s End to the table recently; it is a great new cooperative style game by Kevin Riley that incorporates deck building elements, but has asymmetric powers for the different players and is really tough. It has great artwork and good card combination play — definitely one to ogle at the booth.

There is a chance that Delve, the latest project Indie Boards & Cards has on Kickstarter, will be demoed at the convention, too, which should excite game players just based on pedigree. The game is designed by Pete Shirey and Richard Launius. Launius, of course, is the legendary designer of Arkham Horror, Defenders of the Realm, Elder Sign, Run Fight or Die! and many, many more.

Delve is a tile laying game with a twist. Players play adventurers exploring the dungeons of Skull Cavern.  Each turn, players place dungeon tiles and explore in search of loot. Each room will have different encounters depending upon the number of “delvers” in the room. I would love to get a demo of this game myself.

2. Red Raven Games (Booth 10011).


Ryan Laukat’s team has been on a roll. From the recent releases of Islebound and Above and Below to the giant Kickstarter that was Near and Far, Red Raven Games has created a lot of noise in 2016. Can they follow it up in 2017? Come by booth 10011, as rumor has it that the team will be demoing the latest production copies of Near and Far.

Is there a chance that Haven, the expected 2017 release from Alf Seegert, will also be there in demo form, too? That would definitely call for a pass by…just in case.

3. Tim Fowers Games (Tabletop area).

Rumor has it that Tim Fowers, the designer of such well regarded titles as Burgle Bros., Paperback, and Wok Star, will be present at a booth in the tabletop area demoing a new game. Could it be Fugitive? Come by the booth and find out — and if we find out sooner than that, we will update the blog. Heck, just the chance to visit with Tim about Wok Star, one of my grail games, would be a thrill.

4. Gut Shot Games (Tabletop area).

Gut Shot Games, a design studio based in Washington State, appears set to demo its 2017 release H.E.A.D. Hunters, a card driven miniatures game designed by designed by Ben Cichoski and Danny Mandel. The game has been hitting the convention circuit, most recently at OrcaCon, and is getting some good buzz.  More info on the game can be found here.

Update: Sean from Thing 12 Games let us know that they will be demoing their new game, Dice of Crowns, in the Gut Shot Games booth. The game was successfully funded last year on Kickstarter and is billed as a “fast paced blend of luck and strategy”, so if that sounds like your kind of game, make sure you make a pass and get a demo. 

 5. Level 99 Games (booth 10425).

Those game-making gurus from New Mexico, will be there this year. I expect that they will be demoing the latest Mega Man Pixel Tactics games based on their blog, but Millenium Blades still has some buzz going for it.  Will the Set Rotation expansion be on display?  Let’s find out.

If not, you can still check out Witch Hunt, their version of the big group Mafia / Werewolf style social deduction games, which promises that the sniped characters can still play and influence the outcome.

6. NorthStar Games

UPDATE: Bruce Voge  with NorthStar Games confirmed that Evolution: The Beginning and, of course, Happy Salmon, are scheduled to be demoed at Pax.  By all accounts, the Target edition of The Beginning is selling well, and of course, Happy Salmon is inescapable at any game night.  He also confirmed that Evolution: Climate, the 2016 release that BGG describes as a “standalone game that introduces Climate into the Evolution game system” will also be there for demo, as well as digital implementations of Evolution.

7. Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me Games

UPDATE: We have confirmed with Craig from Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me that the publisher will be at the con with some new games to check out.  We have confirmed that they will be demoing Fate of the Elder Gods, the new Cthulu based adventure card/dice game for 1-4 players designed by Richard Launius, Darrell Louder, and Chris Kirman. It successfully funded back in July of last year on Kickstarter, so I am anxious to see how it turned out.

img_1403Dice Hate Me is the publisher of one of my top Euro games from 2016, New Bedford, and it will be at the con for demo and purchase. New Bedford is a smaller box worker placement game with some unique innovations, interesting theme, amazing artwork, and great production.  New Bedford is very thematic and easy to teach and plays in roughly an hour.  This is a great way to introduce the “Euro” concept to your friends, but has plenty of meat on it for any serious gamer. (Note, the coins in the picture are from SeaFall not New Bedford, but everything else comes standard!)

Plus, we expect some of the games from the “Meta” games line to be there, as well.  I will definitely pass by the booth, because Mike Fitzgerald said on a recent podcast interview with the Dukes of Dice that there was a rumored new expansion for BoT9 that could include stadiums, and let you know what I find out.

The Big Guns:

And of course, there will be some big hitters at the convention.

Steve Jackson Games will be there in the tabletop area. According to their blog, the team will be demoing the new Bill & Ted’s Excellent Board Game. There will be lots of Munchkin demos, including the latest releases, as well as sneak peaks of Ghosts Love Candy, an expected 2017 release. You can also try out the licensed Batman The Animated Series Dice Game, another entry in the hit Zombie Dice series, but this time in a partnership with Crypotzoic Games.

And Fantasy Flight Games  is expected to be there in one of the larger booths on the tabletop area floor.  Fantasy Flight is usually pretty tightlipped about what it will bring to a game con, but it would be a safe bet to think that there will be some games themed with Star Wars or Arkham Horror in the mix.  I fully expect to see some demos of the new Star Wars Destiny Dice as well as Arkham Horror LCG at the con.

img_1627-2In fact, according to Matt’s blog, many of the other design studios and companies in the Asmodee line up will be there. Expect to see demos from Z-Man Games and Plaid Hat Games, too, although no word yet on what they will be offering.

Companies to visit, with no other info posted yet:

There’s a whole host of other board game publishers that you will want to check out, but we have not yet found out exactly what they will offer at the con:

  • Tasty Minstrel Games is always a favorite stop for convention goers. I kickstarted their update of Colosseum, and I hope to get some news on its progress. (Lance has been giving us some excellent updates as it progresses along). If they have a copy of The Oracle at Delphi by Stefan Feld, make sure you walk with a purpose directly to the booth. The “Feld that’s not a Feld but is definitely a Feld” (according to Jason Dinger) is a must-play.

Other areas of interest:

Last but not least, at this year’s con, gamers can expect a few surprises. True Dungeon will be there, and for those not in the know, it is the massive hit program at GenCon where gamers roll through a series of rooms and engage in the inhabitants either through puzzle or through D&D style combat.  From what we have read, True Dungeon will be demoing bite sized versions of the big experience, and that is probably a must see for anyone interested in live action D&D.

There will also be some interesting vendors who supply great components for the board game fan. Check out The Broken Token for all of your board gaming storage needs, and the hand-crafted dice trays and accessories from Wyrmwood Gaming is definitely worth a look.

Plus, the board game section has put together a ton of great board game panels. One of the highlights for any gamer should be a visit by Mike Selinker, the head guy at Lone Shark Games, who created Paizo’s Pathfinder: Adventure Card Games. Check him out on Saturday at 7:00PM at the Bobcat Theater.  Between the stories of Gary Gygax, will there be any chance he discusses an update on the Apocrypha Adventure Card Game?

That wraps up our look at the upcoming Pax South 2017 convention. If you have news to share, or questions about the demos, contact me at @boardgamegumbo.

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

–B.J.

Spice it up! with Karuba

Has it really been 17 years since  Carcassone stormed the board gaming world? By now, every game group in America has been exposed to the classic tile laying game. Likely, your group plays the original mixed in with any of the dozens of expansions that have come out.
(Side note: Did you know that even after all these years, the original two expansions, Traders & Builders and Inns & Cathedrals, are still the highest rated by BGG?)
If you are looking to introduce your family to the tile laying genre, or if your game group is finding regular Carcassonne a little bland, well then, let’s Spice it up! with Karuba!
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OVERVIEW:
Karuba is a tile laying, racing game for two to four players published by HABA USA. It was released in 2015 and designed by Rudiger Dorn,  with artwork by Claus Stephen.  It was nominated for the Spiel de Jahres in 2016, but lost to the convention juggernaut that was Code Names.
The set up of the game is unique, but easy to teach. Players each have identical boards depicting a mysterious jungle bordered by a beach (reminiscent of the opening scenes in Indiana Jones). Each player gets the opportunity to set the adventure for all players by placing one adventurer and one like colored temple.
The object of the game is to use the tiles depicting trails in the jungle to connect all four of your adventurers with all four temples faster than the other players, collecting gold nuggets and crystals for extra points along the way.
Collect more points than the other player — before the players run out of tiles or one player lands all of his adventurers in their respective temples — to be the winning adventurer.img_1787
INNOVATIONS:
Getting your family and friends to play this game is easy if they are familiar with Carcassonne. The designer has taken the very player friendly mechanic of laying tiles to build routes and castles, and twisted it into a racing format. Plus, the board is so much smaller (since you are playing on just your player board instead of the entire Carcassonne lay out), so the connections make sense even to first time gamers.
The racing aspect is not that unique, except for the fact that adventurers have to have a way to get off of the beach, and can’t cross or pass each other up. This makes for some interesting decisions, and may even lead to players creating side routes just to park an adventurer or two while running another to the temple.
I love the fact that the players are in control of setting up the objectives. Other tile laying games like Castles of Mad King Ludwig have replayability because of the changing objective tiles, but those are randomly generated. In this game, each player has a hand in creating at least one (and perhaps more, depending on player count) adventurer/temple set up.
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COMPONENTS:
Haba is known for its gorgeous productions for kids games, so it should come as no surprise that the company went all out for this foray into gamer games. The player boards are thick and playable (I am looking at you Terraforming Mars), and the adventurers and temples are nicely designed and colored wooden bits. The location tiles are sturdy, and even have little pictures of jungle fauna and flora on them. The crystals and gold look like little diamonds and nuggets. And the treasure cards are all unique. In short, this is a game with excellent production.
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GAMEPLAY:
The gameplay is simple. Players can only take one of two actions: (a) place a tile on their player board (and a crystal or nugget if one is shown on that tile); or (b) discard that tile to move one adventure up to a number of spaces. The amount of movement has just a few easy rules — adventurers can move the same number of spaces as the amount of exits shown on the discarded tiles, and they can’t occupy or cross over the space of another adventurer.
As you can see, these are the kind of basic rules that allow a broad spectrum of players to easily jump in and start playing. But, just like any classic Euro, there is so much depth in that simple starting play.

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Do you immediately connect one adventurer to a temple as quickly as you can so that you can be the first (and claim the highest treasure?) Or do you try to build a framework of trails that allows multiple adventurers to make their way on shared routes (taking care not to create traffic jams?) Do you build your routes while keeping an eye on the other boards, and then discard a few tiles to ‘snipe’ a treasure right before another player? Or do you focus on getting as many gold nuggets and crystals to supplement the mid level treasures you will probably get?
All of these are valid strategies, and make for very tense decisions especially in the last third of the game.
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FINAL THOUGHTS:
Karuba had been on my radar, because there was a lot of buzz about it following the SdJ nomination. Haba’s reputation as the top producer of children’s games had me thinking that this would be “just a kid’s game.” The nomination changed that, and I am glad I sought out a copy.
This is not just a children’s game. This is a game that we can bring out with new gamers, old and young alike, as an introduction to our hobby. But, I have brought this game to the table at two game nights, and had the gamers up and running in a minute and diving into all of the different strategies.
Overall, the excellent production, easy rules to teach, replay ability due to the different adventurer/temple set up, and interesting decisions all add up to a first class experience. Plus, the game plays in less than hour, which really hits a home run in this category. While it may look like Carcassonne Solitaire at first glance, it is most certainly not solitaire. You must keep an eye out for each other player’s adventurers to decide just when you should start throwing away good tiles so that you can steal the five point treasure right before your mom does (did I say that aloud?).
If you need a great two to four player game, with a good racing element and some light hearted tension building in the back end of the game, head on down to your friendly local game store and pick up a copy of Karuba.
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.