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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Japanese gaming scene like?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any plans for conventions in the states or Europe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you do different?

Hum… some small things but nothing worth mentioning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merci, Chenier!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Bradly @BradlyBillingsl

 

Spice it up! with Celestia

One of my favorite genres of games is the classic push your luck games. I have played Can’t Stop hundreds of times, and I just love rolling the dice just one more time…even No Thanks! has a push your luck element that I can’t resist.

I have been on the look out for a good push your luck game to add to our game nights, one that would add a little more ‘game’, a little more theme to the mechanic. One of the Krewe de Gumbo members, Dustin, brought this game to our game group on the advice of Tom Vasel, and Tom was spot on with this one. At Gen Con 2016, we saw this game being played all over the convention, and we ended up picking up five more copies to bring back to our respective game groups and families!

Are your game nights getting a little bland? Is your game group ready for the next step in push your luck games?

Then, Spice it up! with Celestia.img_0741

Celestia is a 2015 release from Quick Simple Fun Games designed by Aaron Weissblum. The game play is simple: players take turns as captain of an airship floating from island to island. The object is to score more points (treasure cards in this case) than the other players by advancing the ship. Captains advance the ship by rolling 2, 3 or 4 dice (depending upon the island), and then match cards in their hands to the results of the dice rolls. Each island you advance to gives you a chance at higher point cards, and of course, the designer included special power cards that can be used to bend the rules (like force someone to jump out of the airship or to re-roll favorable dice.) The first captain who collects 50 points in treasure cards is the winner.

img_0660The game involves so many mechanics that I love. The captains take turns bluffing the players into thinking that they have enough cards in their hand to match the dice rolls, while the players push their luck on whether to drop out (and take the safe points) or push onto the next island.

Admittedly, the theme is a little pasted on, but on the other hand, it definitely has much more them than No Thanks! and Can’t Stop, which are all just about the mechanics. At least in Celestia, the airship and the artwork and the island boards all contribute to a vague feeling of adventure and treasure hunting. In the end, the theme is not enough to make or break the game, but it does help it…ahem…rise above the competition.

img_0850 The bits and pieces are perfect for this game. The islands have great artwork, and are sturdy cardboard. There are plenty of islands to make the rounds last just long enough to create juicy tension.

The cards themselves are easy to sort and the game is a breeze to set up. The airship even has a rotating propeller on it! The pawns could have been a little more thematic, but I am quibbling here.

The rules are fairly easy to understand from the small rulebook. If I had one real criticism, it is in the size of the print of the rule book — by that I mean, the pictures that are contained of the cards. Whether in the spirit of the game, one of the key calculations is to figure out how many good cards are in the stack in front of you. Unfortunately, the pictures of the cards in the rule book are too tiny, so tiny that they are useless in terms of calculation. Until I actually take the time to separate the cards and look at all of them, I will never know how large the point values can get in each treasure pile. Maybe that was intentional on the part of the designer?

img_0849I have had a lot of success teaching this game to newcomers to our hobby. It takes perhaps one round for even the most inexperienced game night participant to figure out how to play and pick up on some of the bluffing strategies. By round two, even the youngest gamer is picking up on the importance of kicking people out of the airship at just right the time, or bringing down the whole crew crashing if you are the captain and you pushed your luck one island too far.

But, the game also goes over very well as a good filler in our more experienced game groups.  Gamers that are familiar with each other’s ‘tells’ from other bluffing games will not be able to help themselves with trying to guess how many cards a captain has based on an eyebrow twitch or smirk.  And with a quick and easy set up, we can get a few games in while waiting for the main group to arrive, or play it at the end of the night when we just want to play “one more game.”

img_0851Celestia has been a big hit, and I am not sure why it has not gotten more love and buzz from the community.  For my money, it replaces Can’t Stop and maybe even No Thanks! too.

So, if your game nights are getting a little bland, and you really want to introduce a fun filler with lots of bluffing and push your luck elements, then get down to your friendly local game store and pick up a copy of Celestia.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

B.J. 

 

Spice it up! with Stockpile

One of my go to games for introducing hobby games to new players is that classic bidding game, No Thanks!

Staged picture.

Designed by Thorsten Gimmler, it is super easy to teach, has a simple main mechanism — how much is a player willing to bid to avoid high numbered cards if the object of the game is to score the lowest points — and plays quickly. If you listen to the Dice Tower at all, you will definitely have heard Tom Vasel extol its virtues many, many times.

 

The edition I have is published by Z-Man Games and comes in a small box with good quality cards and nice bingo chips. No Thanks! is a true classic, and should be in everyone’s collection.

But it is a filler game, and after dozens and dozens of games, I am always on the lookout for that next step in bidding/auction games. Is your game group looking for a good auction game? Are your game nights getting bland with lots of filler-type bidding games and your group is ready for the next level?

Then Spice it up! with Stockpile, an insider trading game from Nauvoo Games. Stockpile is a 2015 release designed by Brett Sobol and Seth Van Orden. The game is made for 2-5 players, and plays in about 45 minutes to an hour (the shorter time is for players with experience — your first game will probably last a little over an hour).

I was lucky enough to be taught the game by one of the designers, Seth Van Orden.

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Coincidentally, my thumb is pointing at the designer. Somehow, he taught two games at one time!

Stockpile is essentially a buy low, sell high stock market type of game, with unique twists on bidding and stock information.  Each player can purchase one of six stocks, whose value fluctuates throughout the game. The key is that each player privately knows the movement of one of the stocks,  as well as all players sharing in the knowledge of one other stock.

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Good shot of the more advanced, wilder backside of the game board.

Next, the players randomly are given stocks and movement cards that are put into piles for the players to bid on. That’s the best part of the game — each player is given a colored meeple representing his bidder. They take turns putting down a bid for the pile that they want, but can be outbid by other players. Once all piles have one bid on them, the auction ends, and the stocks are divvied up.

One of many games played at The Secret Cabal meet up Gen Con 2016

The auction takes only a minute or so, but has some very spicy and deliciously tense moments as players try to decide if they should go one more bid for their favorite pile. Of course, stocks can split or go bankrupt or give our dividends. And after the set number of rounds, the player with the most amount of money after selling all of the holdings is the winner!

Let’s talk about the components. Wow, what a presentation! The game comes with a two-sided board, with one side being the beginning or basic board and the back side containing the same set up but with a more wilder way for the stocks to move.

Ah, look at all the lonely meeples…

The meeples are all high-quality painted wood bits, and the stocks and action cards are all on good quality stock. The money is a very nice touch. I fully expected your typical Monopoly-and-or-Payday type of paper money, but instead, I found that we had been given tons of colorful, good-quality, laminated money cards. Nice touch!

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Trust me, the pieces won’t move if you hold your finger on top of them.

How easy is the game to teach? The game play is best taught in steps, walking your new players or your experienced game group through the first turn, pointing out how the bidding and selling and stock movement works at each step. I promise you, once one turn is complete, even your greenest gamers will have the game down.

Does the theming carry through? As we say in Louisiana, this game “a la poche plein” (has its pockets full) of theme! Games like this can sometimes seem random or just plain math-y, but at no time have we felt like that in the numerous games we have played. Instead, it really does carry the theme of inside traders eyeing each other to see who is bidding what, and trying to guess why. Does the purple player know something about the computer stock? He must know something, because he is bidding everywhere else — and now he is dumping all of his shares! Time to sell! No doubt about it, this game is dripping with the theme of the game.

The dice from the Continuing Corruption expansion (will cover in a later blog post.)

Why is this game spicier than other auction bidding games, like No Thanks! and For Sale? Those are great games, some of my all time fillers, but they are lighter games that set up and play in about 15-20 minutes. Both have great decision making, and the bidding mechanics are fun, but there is not a lot of depth to them (and they are not designed to be deep games).

At our bi-weekly game night, one of the Krewe de Gumbo members, Bradly, turned to me during the last game. He remarked that this is a game he doesn’t mind losing (which mind you, in our game group does not happen often).  I am paraphrasing, but in essence, his point was that the experience captured by the auction, the joy in buying low and guessing correctly that your pick is moving up, and the delicious tension in deciding when to sell is all part of a very fun ride. That’s pretty high praise indeed.

At some point, your group is going to be ready for a deeper experience that simulates the fluidity of the stock market.  The conceit that everyone is aware of in Stockpile is that the movement is random — but that’s not the point of the game. The real genius in the design is that the game is not focused on the random movement, but instead the game is all about reading your opponents, weighing the movement cards that are public/private knowledge, and knowing when to gamble and when to play it safe.  Plus, the auction/bidding mechanic described above is a brilliant touch and is the real standard bearer for the game.

Obviously, we are big fans of Stockpile and can see why it was on many “Best Of…” lists last year. Patrick from Blue Peg, Pink Peg said in episode 80 that it was his pick for family game of the year in 2015, and we can see why. If your game group loves auction / bidding mechanics, but your game nights are getting bland — if your group would love a game with lots of juicy decisions, quick game play, just enough depth and great presentation, then pass by your local game store and get yourself a copy.  I give it four out of five cayenne peppers.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

B.J.

 

 

Take Two Links of Boudin And Call Me In The Morning…STAYING HEALTHY AT YOUR NEXT CON

Recently the wonderful people of Board Game Gumbo took a trip to Gen Con 2016. We had a fantastic time, played amazing and not so amazing games and generally enjoyed the whole experience. Best of all, not a single member of our large group brought back any unwanted additions to our growing gaming stockpile. (To my knowledge at least)

Staying healthy is easily the most important event anyone will undertake at a convention. In the recent blog posts about the Krewe de Gumbo’s Gen Con exploits, Bradly and I were called “the experts” because we had been to Gen Con before. Despite this being our third year (and I personally have attended many cons before Gen Con), I hardly consider myself an expert. If I were such a thing, I wouldn’t have come home last year with a new game for my immune system to play.

So since we all hate being sick, and we must the face the reality that we have to return to work healthy, I offer you some basic guidelines on keeping “con crud” at bay.

  1. Wash your hands, you filthy animals. Now you might be thinking, “But Bryan, I’m not filthy, I wash my hands all the time.” Awesome, you are one less person who needs to be reminded. But there are plenty of people who are just too busy to wash, preoccupied with all the awesome convention stuff, or worse, they just don’t think about it. Then this amazing thing happens–those very same filthy people proceed to touch everything: the doors, the tables, the chairs, the game pieces, even the merchandise you thought was safe to handle is now home to everything anybody all day was carrying on their hands. So for the love of everyone’s health, wash your hands. If you find yourself in a rush, keep hand sanitizer handy, it helps. (ed. note: Go to Walgreens or CVS, buy the little bottles of hand sanitizer that has a clip attachment, and ATTACH TO YOUR BAG!). At the very least rinse your hands. A recent CDC study found that just rinsing will remove a reasonable amount of germs from your skin surface. THIS IS NOT TO REPLACE WASHING, but better some effort than none at all.

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    If that’s what it takes…
  2. Diet is very important when it comes to fighting off disease. I, like most people, have a (probably unhealthy) love of cheeseburgers. But at convention, as B.J. mentions in an earlier post, it is essential to keep your immune running strong. If you are like me and know full well that your con diet is something heart surgeons refer to as “job security” then at least take a multivitamin. Basically, if there is any way you can make sure you get at least some healthy stuff into your digestive system, then just do it.

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    More of this, and less cheeseburgers, at least once per year.
  3. Sleep: Lack of sleep is a leading cause why people get sick. Once your body is exhausted, it becomes much more susceptible to disease. This is probably why I ended up making microbial friends last year. In short, dear reader, don’t be like Last Year’s Me — go get some sleep.

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    Cat nap, anyone?
  4. OK, so normally one would expect exercise here, but really I know myself. If I didn’t exercise before, I’m certainly not going to start now. So instead, I’ll offer advice that most places won’t. If you are not used to being on your feet for several hours and miles a day, for the love of meeples, make sure you take breaks. Stop and rest, don’t exhaust yourself. Drink water, your body will lose water through breathing and bathroom, and it needs to be replaced. This falls into the same idea as getting enough sleep, an exhausted body is vastly more susceptible to illness.

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    You, right before the Gen Con 5k, right?
  5. And finally, don’t kiss the coughing chick or dude. Look, I know we are having a good time, and it is a social event, but when someone looks like death warmed over, it is best to avoid them. If they are playing in a demo or sitting next to you in a panel, be sure to wash and/or sanitize after, preferably before you touch anything. They aren’t trying to get you sick, but those germ jerks don’t care what either of you want, they just want a home where they can settle in, have a good warm environment and proceed to screw up your convention and/or weeks after.

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    You like that new game on Kickstarter, Pups? Me, too! Want to come with me to Steak and Shake? 

Look, this is all basic stuff I admit. But I think most of us would be surprised to learn how often you will see people at conventions not following these very simple suggestions. So until next time, stay healthy, keep gaming, and have fun.

–Bryan “I am not a doctor” Barnes

 

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.

Top Ten Gen Con Stories of 2016, Part One

Gen Con is huge, noisy, exhilarating, and intimidating all at the same time. Is it about buying games? Or playing games? Or seeing friends? Or making new ones? Regardless of why you went to Gen Con, here are our top ten stories that developed during the Best Four Days of Not Sleeping, 2016 edition:

 

#10 — NAUVOO GAMES GETS NEW LICENSE

Any Brandon Sanderson fans out there have to be pumped with the news that The Reckoners has been licensed by the guys that brought the excellent insider trading stock game, Stockpile. I actually visited with Seth Van Orden and Brett Sobol on Saturday after our demo of the Stockpile game, and they hinted that the game is in development and should be faithful to the series.

According to the press release:

Today, Nauvoo Games announces the acquisition of the license to design, produce, and distribute a board game based on The Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson.

The Reckoners series is the #1 New York Times bestselling series featuring the novels STEELHEART, FIREFIGHT, and CALAMITY. Each book hit the top of the charts upon it’s one of Brandon Sanderson’s most popular series to date. Featuring heart stopping action, laugh out loud quips, and some of the most unique superpowers, this is one of the top action-adventure young adult properties of the last few years.

The Reckoners board game, designed by Seth Van Orden and Brett Sobol, allows players to take on the roles of the novels’ protagonists and work together to save the world. In The Reckoners board game, players must overcome multiple ruthless and power-hungry ‘Epics’ – the equivalent of supervillains – that each have unique, game-impacting abilities. Players must decide how to resolve these competing priorities together to eliminate epics and ultimately win the game. How, when, and where you act will determine your victory or failure.

Consistent with Nauvoo Games’ mission, The Reckoners board game will be easy to learn, quick to capture your attention, and enjoyable to play over and over again. Experience the thrill of fast-paced action planning in The Reckoners, coming soon.

Easy to learn? Quick to capture attention? And enjoyable, too? Sounds like the perfect game.

#9 — RESTORATION GAMES

At The Dice Tower Live show on Friday, Rob Daviau announced the formation of a new company, Restoration Games. I can’t describe the company any better than he and his partner do on their home page:

We take games from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s and fix them up for the modern gamer. Because every game deserves another turn.

Truer words have not yet been said. If I went by sheer buzz, this was one of the “buzziest” stories during Gen Con or in the Twitterverse. Their brilliant marketing ploy was to ask a gamers attending the con (or you can go to their website and vote) a fun question, “What favorite game from your childhood would you like to see brought back but updated?” Holy meeples, Batman, that’s like asking the Pope if he would like to say a few words about forgiveness.

By the way, the only true answer to that questions is “Dark Tower.” You’re welcome.

Good luck to Restoration Games, and can’t wait to see their first production.

#8 — GEN CON NUMBERS — HOLDING STEADY???

According to various news outlets, Gen Con LLC pulled out all the stops to increase the turnstile attendance for this year. The for-profit company added tons of new exhibitors, expanded into Lucas Oil Stadium with True Dungeon and Cosplay events, and eased the crunch on gamer wallets with a “value priced” four day badge.

Did it work? Is Gen Con topping out?

The seven year streak of ever increasing turnstile attendance continued, with over 201,852 attendees in 2016. That figure was up 2.5% from the previous year’s attendance. The downside was that unique attendance was flat, ending just over 60,000 (about the same as last year, hence the term “flat”, Mortimer.)

The 4 day badges were popular, with a 4% increase in unique holders. And the events themselves were much higher. Did you know that there were over 16,500 different ticketed events? I didn’t (especially since so many were sold out by the time the Krewe got serious about attending.)

Next year, Gen Con turns 50. That will generate one heck of a marketing push, I’m sure. They have already expanded into the stadium, so I am not sure what else the con can do to increase attendance, but let’s keep an eye out over the next year. See you August 17-20 in Indy!

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#7 — QUIET GAMES MADE HEADWAY AND STOOD OUT FROM CROWD

One of the pleasant surprises at Gen Con was the fact that “little” games from “little” companies can really rock the convention. Sure, the big titles (SeaFall, Cry Havoc, etc.) dominated news coverage leading up to the con. Sure, there was a mad scramble for those games when the Con opened.

But, everywhere we went, people were talking about smaller companies and smaller games.  Case in point — Celestia was being played everywhere and selling for a good price (I even saw a small group playing it behind the “stage” at The Secret Cabal meet up on Saturday night.)  3 Wishesseemed to be selling well, and a tiny company like Formal Ferret Games could have a big hit with The Networks, even up against all of the marketing hype of the Asmodees of the world.

That’s great news for our hobby, and great news for smaller publishers. Gamers love to game, and if you give a gamer a great time, word will spread.

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#6 — BGG HOTNESS = BIG HIT!!

If you were hanging around the Board Game Geek forums right before con (and if you weren’t, are you really a board gamer or did you just stumble onto this page because you like Cajun food???), then inevitably you saw a wonderful thing happen. Somewhere, somebody mentioned playing hot games from the 2016 releases.

Bingo bango, the next thing you know, Eric Martin and his wonderful crew at BGG took over. They sent the call out to the publishers to bring in copies of the best and brightest games from 2016. There were at least 60+ games in the room when the Krewe de Gumbo made our way to the Hotness Room!

What a great idea — with the mayhem going on in the Exhibitors Hall and in the board game area, it was nice to find a quiet area away from the craziness where you could sit down for two hours with your friends and try out that hot game you have been wanting to see. We here at the Gumbo went straight for Imhotep, by Phil Harding-Walker, a game that so many people have raved about. Unfortunately, none of the members of the Krewe de Gumbo own the game, so it was never going to get played until we checked it out.

Three plays later, the game is a firm hit in our group (and has already been played again at our Gumbo Gen Con-Con.)

Hopefully, the crew at BGG (that’s Board Game Geek, not Board Game Gumbo, Mortimer,) can keep the BGG Hotness Room going in 2016.

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You are halfway there through the Biggest Stories from Gen Con 2016. Come back soon for the second half, and as always, we welcome your feedback.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

B.J.

 

Mais, Put Dat Game In Dat Bag: Gen Con 2016 Wrap up, Part Trois

It has taken me a week just to recover enough sleep to write the end of our Gen Con saga. But even as the best tasting link of grilled boudin has a finite end, the Best Four Days of Lack of Sleeping had to come to its glorious finish.

After the long night of gaming and dehydrating at The Secret Cabal meet up, the Krewe was slow starting on Sunday. But by exhibit hall opening, we were ready to make one last tour.

I learned that at Gen Con the list of things you don’t get to do — that you really, really wanted to do — is a much, much longer list than the things you do get to experience. Ah, well, c’est la vie.

Sunday morning started bright and early with Mass at the nearby cathedral. Beautiful Mass, and the bonus was that the priest was a huge gamer who came in for the week. He and his brother priests gave the local priest the week off, while they gamed and covered all of his Masses.After an early morning Mass, nothing beats fueling up. Phillip and I jaunted over to the breakfast at the Westin Hotel. While I loved the hotel, I was not that impressed with the breakfast. I give the buffet 2 out of 5 cayenne peppers (for the fruit and oceans of orange juice.)

 

Father O’Connor from KC, as I recall.

Next up, was admiring the New York 1901 minis and Goons of NY expansion that Bradly and Bryan braved the crowds to get for me on Thursday.

 

Check out those awesome pre-painted figures. Great detailing and painting on each color. The well made package comes with enough to replace all of your architects, and even a free little variant so that you can still use your originals as part of the game. Plus, Blue Orange printed up the expansion / variant designed by high school kids in an after school game design club. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks very challenging and breathes some new life into the game for those that have played it multiple times.

 

Limited edition! Not shown in actual size. 

 
I just knew that by Friday or Saturday Blue Orange Games would be sold out, and they were! That’s good news for NY 1901 fans craving for a new board, right? Let’s get on the horns (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and convince them to green light any future enhancements to the game.

 

Ah, now the doors to the dealer hall finally opened. The gang spread out, in hopes of catching the last of our to-do list. First up for Dustin and Dave was trying out Merchants & Marauders.

 

“You think Elvis Costello is a genius? Bruh, you crazy.”

 

Phillip went to the Pokemon booth to pick up something for his daughter, while I checked out The Dice Tower’s corner booth in a back alley. And there, I ran into this guy…

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Third letter unfortunate accidents provided by….SeaFall

Eric Summerer was kind enough to visit with me about the Board Game Gumbo segment. He shared with me that his number one hottest game at the con was Harry Potter:Hogwarts Battle. That’s not surprising given the IP, but what was surprising to find out was how much the few people who have gotten their hands on it (it sold out its very limited release early each morning of the Con.) It is such a rich intellectual property that I hope this is the first stage of a long road of good quality Potter games.

 

Then it was off to Portal’s booth. By this time, Dustin had already gotten his minis problem from Cry Havoc taken care of. Even though the game had long sold out, Ignacy was able to find a damaged copy and traded out all of the good miniature figures for the mad amount of robots in Dustin’s game. Dustin was one happy camper at that point. Again, big props to Ignacy’s team at Portal. They were wonderful people to meet and provided excellent customer service even under trying times.

Anyway, I asked Ignacy to give me a good pitch for Imperial Settlers. I liked it so much, Phillip and I ran back to the board game area to watch a game. I liked that so much that I ran back to Ignacy’s booth and promptly bought the game from him:

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And I was standing on a six foot tall box wearing David Bowie platform shoes, too. 

Ignacy is much, much taller than he looks on video. He joked that he has to scrunch down when he does photos with Stephen Buonocore so that they don’t look too incongruous together. If you ever get a chance to watch a demo by Ignacy or even just talk board games, you will see (1) his command of English is rapidly improving; (2) he has an enthusiasm for gaming that is unmatched in the industry; (3) his work ethic is legendary and well deserved and (4) he is just a fun guy to be around.

There were a few more stops, all quick hits for us. We looked at the very nice but very expensive Kingdom Death Monster new sculpts. We watched demos of The Networks and Trekking the National Parks (very close to buying the latter, and will buy the former as soon as it hits retail). We even snuck in a great demo from Adam Rehberg who had been pitching a new craft beer game called Brewin’ USA.

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Mmm…..craft beer. But no Abita yet. 

You can tell that Adam loves the theme  because it shines through in his presentation and in the components. If I had not been so tired and a little ready to hit the road, I might have hung around that booth longer and picked up the game. It looks very intriguing.

That ended the tour of the hall. While waiting for the Krewe to assemble for the long trip home (a pirogue can only be paddled so fast), we grabbed a quick few turns of King Chocolate.

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Count de Chocolate

Here is a game that I am puzzled by the BGG fan reactions. Yes, the box is a little plan, and the artwork could use a boost. But, the game itself has some interesting mechanics in how you chain the chocolate production. It would seem a reach at two players, but we found there were a lot of strategy calls with three. I am not ready to buy it, but I would certainly play it anytime someone brought it out to the table.

That wraps up our Gen Con tour for 2016. I will have one more post with my final thoughts and Top Ten News Events at Gen Con.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

B.J.

 

 

Reviews & News — Recap of Gale Force Nine’s GEN CON 2016 Offerings

Gale Force Nine is a company that may be more familiar to fans of Dungeons and Dragons than to board game enthusiasts.  For years they’ve been releasing collector’s edition models from the D&D world along with supplemental items used during roleplaying games.

Two games currently being released by the company should be bringing them quite a bit of attention from board gamers, however.  The Krewe de Gumbo had a chance to get first hand looks and plays at these two offerings.

The first is Tyrants of the Underdark, a game from the designers of Lords of Waterdeep but that plays more like Ascension with some added territory control.  

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Area control + deck builder = winner

 In the game you play as warring houses of Drow using allies and political intrigue to gain control of various territories in the Underdark.  The brain trust at Dice Tower were lukewarm on the game, but also were not big fans of the theme.  I absolutely love the theme, as I am a diehard Dungeons and Dragons fan, so this one is on my must buy list.

The other game currently being released by Gale Force Nine is Star Trek: Ascendancy.  I had a chance to demo this game at Gencon 2016 and really enjoyed it.  This is a 4X game where players take control of entire nations within the Star Trek world and fight to become to dominant species of the universe.

Playing the game with me and forty of my closest friends at Gen Con 2016

The game starts out simply enough, with each player choosing one of the nations to play as and taking control of that faction’s home world.  At release the game will only come with three options:  The Federation, Klingons and Romulans.  Each home world produces one of each resource a turn; the three resources being production, research and culture.  Production is used to build things, research to either advance technologies or upgrade ship weapons or shields, and culture is either used sparingly to found new colonies or advance your faction’s Ascendancy, which is one of the win conditions (if a player ever reaches 5 Ascendancy they win).

Each faction has an additional way to gain culture.  For the Federation it’s exploring and finding either space phenomenon or other civilizations, while the Klingons gain culture for killing enemy ships in combat.  And then each race has a weakness as well.  The Federation, for example, cannot invade planets or colonize any primitive civilizations; they have to follow the Prime Directive.  

The game plays through dual phases, with players first taking a Building Phase.  This is where they can use resources to build more ships, one of the three resource nodes on a colony they control, or they can build additional colonies on unpopulated planets.  They can also assign research to technologies and upgrade their weapons and shields.

The second phase is the Command Phase.  Each nation begins with 6 commands a turn.  They can use these to do things like moving ships, invading systems and starting space battles.  Once a player is done with their command phase you move on to the next player who starts their Building Phase.  This continues around the board until the end of the turn, when players bid with resources for turn order for the next turn.

One of the most thematic aspects of the game is exploration.  Each player begins with only their home world and nothing else on the table.  But by moving ships away from their home world they discover new planets and possible space phenomenon.  To do this you first roll a die to determine how big of a space lane there is from one place to another.  The die will result in a 2, 3 or 4.  You then place that sized space lane, connected to the location you started from, to a new location drawn from a random pile.  Your ship shows up in that new location, which may be a hazardous space nebula that has the potential to destroy your ships, or a habitable world, or a space phenomenon.  You then draw a card from the Exploration deck, which tells you what you encounter at that location.  Maybe you come across another advanced society, or maybe you’re attacked by pirates.  You might even stumble across benevolent species that will help you research one of your technologies or allow you to upgrade your ships for free.

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Close up of some excellent bits

These locations stay on the table for the rest of the game and are usable by anyone who can get to them.  Explore enough and you’re bound to run into the opposing factions.  This is called First Contact, and from that point you have the option to exchange trade agreements with the opposing players.  Each player has three Trade Agreements and can give them freely to any player they have had first contact with.  You can also recall the agreements at any time for any reason.  Trade Agreements cost you nothing, but they give your opponents Production each round that they can potentially use against you.

Fights between players are either space battles or planetary invasions.  In space battles you’re trying to destroy the other player’s ships.  You roll a 6 sided die for each ship you control and they roll one for each ship they control.  Players start with weapons that hit on a 5 or higher, but this can be modified (each time you research better weapons, you hit on one less).  Players can also research Shields, which decrease opponents’ chance to hit their ships.  There’s even the chance that a player researches enough Shields that they are unhittable by an opponent (if you hit on a 5+ and your opponent has Shields of 2 then you need 7+ to hit; there’s no 7 on a 6 sided die).  

In Planetary Invasions you’re trying to take over an opponent’s colony, or possibly a neutral one.  Your ships attack the planet, and if you score more hits than the planet has defenses you overwhelm it and take control of the planet entirely.  If you tie or score fewer hits than the defenses of the planet then you have to destroy a number of resource nodes on that planet equal to your hits.  You may end up taking the planet, but you could destroy everything of value on it first.  Both Space and Planetary battles continue in rounds until one side surrenders or is obliterated.

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Go where no man has gone before…

Star Trek: Ascendancy has just enough complexity to allow for numerous strategies while still being simple enough to grasp in a single playthrough.  In that regard, for me, it joins games like Scythe and Forbidden Stars in terms of complexity (just enough, but not too much).  It also has multiple win conditions; the most common path to victory is by advancing your Ascendancy to 5.  However, you can also win by controlling a total of 3 home worlds, as long as one of those is your own.

I thoroughly enjoyed my demo of Star Trek: Ascendancy, but I’m not certain I’ll be buying the game just yet.  The idea of a game that can only be played with 3 players worries me a little bit.  And then there’s the price; $100 MSRP for a 3 player game is asking a lot.  In the end, although I do enjoy the game, I think I will have to wait until the 4th and 5th player expansions are released before I can convince myself to buy it.  Those expansions are already in the works, so I shouldn’t have to wait long.

— Bradly Billingsley @BradlyBillingsl

MAIS, PUT  DAT GAME IN DAT BAG, Part Deux – Gen Con 2016 wrap up

After a too short sleep period, where the Krewe de Gumbo dreamed of hot boudin, cold Canebrake, and sweet pecan pie, we woke up bright and early to once again dive into the crazy cacophony that is Gen Con.

But first, fuel. Phillip and I headed to First Watch, a great little redesigned breakfast place just about six blocks from the Convention Center. First, we needed to clear our heads and sample some fresh air, if only briefly. Second, we wanted some fresh fruit and homemade wheat pancakes with turkey sausage, and what do you know…that is what they serve! Third, two words that will defeat the onset of Con Crud — orange juice. You owe it to yourself to stop here next year, but get here early…word gets around and the place was packed by 9:00 am.

But let’s get back to games, shall we?

The plan was to head to Mayfair’s humongous play area, and get in a four player game of Murano. But Phillip and I got distracted with this crazy little dexterity game called Klask! Imagine air hockey on a small scale with magnets and mines; that’s the game in a nutshell. It was a blast, and if we did not have to run to our next event, I might’ve bought it right then and there.

So, I have to get this little ball from this little corner into that little blue circle over there? Riiiight.

But run we did…right to Mayfair’s area for our Murano play through. We only had two tickets…so the four of us (Doc, Phillip, Dustin and I) went early hoping that the other half of our scheduled game would not show. Alas, they did show, and so Doc and Phillip scattered to enjoy other games while Dustin and I reveled in this amazing game.

I like to use my Gen Con badge to move meeples.

And actually it worked out great. We played with Geoff and his friend (sorry, name slips me right now), and they were some of the best playing partners we encountered all weekend. They were funny, picked up the game right away (we taught ourselves the rules with excellent help from Dustin), and played quickly.  There was lots of banter, joking with each other, and even some good natured smack talk.

Four out of five cayenne peppers!

The game itself is gorgeous. It is a classic Euro, with a neat mechanic of moving the gondola meeples around the board to choose your action. (Think Puerto Rico with sliding action choices.) Throw in a little bit of push your luck or betting style, with the option to make money through the production of glassware, and you have the perfect game for our game group. I don’t want to spoil a review, but this one will get multiple cayenne peppers from me. The game played really quick, and we were all lamenting when it was over…especially me because I just needed “ONE MORE TURN ™.”

While we were enjoying the heck out Murano, Phillip jumped in on a game of King Chocolate. Yeah, I know Tom Vasel and Jason the Cave bombed the game, and the art work is …. well, a bit plain to say the least, but I found the intricate puzzle-y aspects of the game to be very interesting. I would be interested in a full game play, but I don’t think it is a buy for me.

No one say anything, but I think Phillip has chocolate on the corner of his mouth.

Meanwhile, Doc came by and threw his hat into a game by Mayfair called Mad City. Doc  and his playing partners totally trashed the game, saying it was way too complicated to be taught in a one hour session. I bet with the right teacher and the right group, Doc would have enjoyed it — but in all honesty, he loves the best of Amerithrash fantasy or SF type games, so maybe I would be wrong.

What language are these instructions? 

Can I give kudos to a competing convention here? I will do it anyway. Hats off to Board Game Geek (BGG) who put on at the very last minute a cool Hotness Room, where you could play almost all of the very latest games from 2016 for only one generic ticket. We ran down there after our Murano play through, and grabbed a copy of Imhotep and Mystic Vale.

Best metal face ever at Gen Con in the hotness room at a back table playing Imhotep in August of 2016, hands down.

Phillip and Dustin and I worked on Imhotep, while Dave and Carlos tackled MV. I think we got the better end of it. How did Imhotep not win the SdJ? This is hands down the best new game I have played so far this year.  We played it in the hall, then Phillip raced out to get a copy, and we played it again later…much later..

If you think you are gonna block me, BJ, you got another thing coming.

Look at those bits and artwork! Big chunky blocks for stacking, cool little barges for shipping, fun sized modular board (and we ended up with a promo that added a little betting mechanic.) Well done and a must buy for anyone’s collection. There will be a Board Game Gumbo segment on this one hopefully soon.
The group had to split up then, as Dustin and Doc went after their big SF type games while Phillip and I explored a game that The Secret Cabal and The Dice Tower has been lauding for months, Stockpile. We had signed up to be taught by the designer, Seth from Nauvoo Games, and we got lucky. Seth is an amazing teacher, very patient and very prepared. Kudos to him for not only designing what has got to be one of the best stock market simulations out there, but also for bringing the fun to the party.

Put your finger here so the board game does not fly up and hit the ceiling.
Seth was a great teacher. He taught two games at once, and still had time to let us beat him. 

Again, we were lucky in our playing partners too, as all were experienced gamers who picked up the game right away. There was lots of laughing and joking and when one of the partners had to leave early, we got the joy of beating the designer at his own game!! (Small fine print, he only took one turn).

I was disappointed in not being able to get The Networks from Gil Hova, as it sold out in seconds, but this game more than made up for it. Phillip and I yelled… err.. fought… err.. politely discussed who was buying Imhotep and who was buying Stockpile. I think we both won, but I got the pleasure of buying Stockpile from the guys at Nauvoo, including the expansion, and with a bonus treat of a few more investor cards as promos. Seriously, go support those guys, they love what they do and they produce a great product.

(Secret tip — they are working with a prototype of a new game — all hush hush, but hopefully there should be more info soon — will likely be a must buy for me.)

Up next, Bryan Fischer (@bryanfischer) had graciously arranged for the Krewe to try our first ever prototype. His friend Eric (@boardandcafe) is working on a new set collection game, that carries an unusual theme. The players are new vinyl record collectors, who wandered into a huge store carrying tons of vinyl records — but they have to battle it out to put together the deepest, coolest collection. Now that is definitely not a Trading in the Mediterranean theme!

We had a good time learning the rules and critiquing the game. I hope we gave the designer some good feedback on what looks like a very promising game with interesting new mechanics.

Okay campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties, because it is coooold out there!

After a quick trip to the food trucks for some BBQ and noodles, it was time…yes that time…the time had come…THE SECRET CABAL MEET UP (cue the loud stadium jam music).

I have listened to every single episode of the Cabal, so finally getting the chance to go to the famed meet up was something I had been looking forward to all Con. We got there early….like embarrassingly early…like so early Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games was drinking beers with us at the hotel bar upstairs. He introduced us to one of his loyal Knights, Jay, and we all went down to the meet up over two and half hours early. Even then, there were fifty people there already, and it only got more crowded.

One of the weirder traditions (I am assuming it is a tradition) at the meet up is the fact that Cabalists play games during the meet up. That’s right, it is the Convention’s Biggest Kegger, and instead of just standing around drinking, Cabalists bring all kinds of games from the goofiest wooden dexterity games to even some fairly heavy Euro style games. Come to think of it, it is a great tradition!!

For our part, we brought our newly purchased Imhotep and Stockpile games, and immediately started unboxing and punching them out. While we were doing this, Jay Volk from Stonghold Games walked over, and we invited him to join in a game of Stockpile. He is very familiar with the game, and except for a few lucky plays, would have handed us our ******* in both games.

I am about to whip some Cajun booty at this game…

 

Best paper/card money I have seen…

 

Nauvoo Games did a great job with the bits and the graphic layout of the game.

Jay told me he has been teaching Pursuit of Happiness for Stronghold all weekend — and you can see why he is a loyal Knight. He is one of the best game teachers I have ever seen. It is hard to give you a visual of how difficult that night would be for a normal game teacher. Imagine 400 people crowding around a stand up chest height table where Stockpile took literally every inch, and all 400 people are drinking and singing and yelling and giving great big bear hugs.

Distracting? Noisy? To say the least. (It cost me my voice for the rest of the weekend). But Jay was a trooper who kept the energy level high during the entire two games we played.

He even convinced us to use the backside of the board, and I am glad he did. The game’s stock price swings are much more volatile with that side, but that makes the game a lot more fun.

The Krew de Gumbo broke out Imhotep and a-never-to-be-discussed other game,  and looked like they had a good time doing it. I saw lots of other games being played including Secret Hitler  and Celestia and a really interesting game called Vast, where the five players have asynchronous powers involving goblins and thieves battling dragons in a cave that is determined not to let any of them out safely. Somehow I missed the buzz on that one, and now I wished I had at least demoed the game, if not outright bought it.

We even caught a glimpse of a quick dexterity battle between Rodney Smith of Watch It Played and Mr. Cross Fit himself, Tony T. I did not get a shot, but here is a picture of Phillip and I going after each other in this great little Austrlian time waster.

Best when played with (root) beer.

The rest of the night was spent shaking hands with all of the podcast celebrities like Robb, Patrick and Jeremy from Blue Peg Pink Peg, Marty from Rolling Dice, Chaz Marler from Pair of Dice, Lance the undead Viking, Rodney Smith from Watch It Played, and of course, the three amigos from the Cabal, Jamie, Chris and Tony. (Shout out to Don, the man who handled the raffle tickets, too.)

I am not explaining that word to you, you are gonna have to ask your dad.
The crown prince of board game media, Jamie Keagey! He might be the hardest working dude in board game podcasts. 
The man with very unusual tastes in board game themes…………….the one and only, Chris Miller. Beef Jerky not included. 

Thank you to the guys from the Secret Cabal, and all of the game publishers who helped make the meet up a success.  As Carlos and I ruminated during the night, what other industry brings together the biggest competitors all under one roof, and they all hang out, share the spotlight, support each other’s projects, and become friends? I cannot think of one, and it certainly makes me proud to be one small part of this amazing community.

After a looooong day, and an evening looooonger night, we all settled back at the Westin to watch Dustin unbox his pride and joy, the new hotness from Portal Games, Cry Havoc.

Stop tape.

In a manufacturing mix up, Dustin got three sets of robots and one set of some other faction. That’s right, after weeks of anticipation and after paying for the pre-order, Dustin did not have the full game.

Dat’s a lotta robots. 

Any good set of friends, would have been very sympathetic and support Dustin in his desperate hour of sadness, right? WRONG. The Krewe taunted Dustin unmercifully until bed time, with ever more elaborate plans for him to head to Poland to fix the problem.

But, here’s the best part of the story — one quick tweet to the hardest working man in board gaming, Ignacy (yeah, you try spelling his last name from memory on an iPad) from Portal, and we had an appointment the next morning for the product malfunction to be rectified. Kudos to Ignacy and his excellent team at Portal–that’s good customer service.

So, the Krewe watched as David broke out Terraforming Mars so that we could admire the excellent production and bits in that game. But that’s it for Day 2 (which was Saturday and day 1 for most other people.) Stay tuned for the final thoughts on Gen Con and the releases shortly.

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

B.J.