I’m back (a little late) for the third week of Dragon’s Peak! In case you’re just checking it out for the first time this series is intended to take a look at the upcoming games that I’m excited about. And Essen season is a great time to get excited about what’s coming down the road. In fact I’ve only got one more issue until Essen is upon us so I’m going to keep packing them with as many games as I have time to fit in. On to the games!
Here’s what I’ll be covering this week:
My standout from this week’s batch of upcoming games was:
Shortly after Gen Con I gave my first impression of Artificium, a game that had absolutely no information available at the time outside of what I could remember from my play. Earlier this week it finally got an official entry on BGG with a better visual of the components than I provided as well as actual rules (only 4 pages of which 2 are used to list the components). Fortunately I had gotten the details correct during my preview so I can stand by it but for those that missed it the first time around here’s a quick recap.
Artificium is an incredibly streamlined resource conversion game. It uses a clever card based system to allow players to produce and refine their resources simultaneously. The game is played over four rounds and in each round the players are dealt a hand of five cards with the option to trade cards with an open market. Play then occurs concurrently with each player choosing and executing a card that either produces basic resources (the lowest tier) or refines some of their current resources into higher tiers. Resources may be bought (often by selling others) in order to ensure that the required resources are available for refinement. The thing that distinguishes this game is that you get points for the act of producing resources (properly executing your cards) not for the actual resources themselves (or spending them). More points are awarded for higher level production so having better resources helps but you’re not guaranteed to get the cards you want from round to round so you have to remain flexible.
There are several other things to consider that prevent this from being overly simplistic. In addition to production cards there are action cards that let you interact with the other players, take back one of your previously played cards, or earn some money. Also, there are two characters that you can hire (by playing their card) that consume some of the highest tiered resources in order to take special actions. Finally, the point track has thresholds that can be crossed over to earn additional money and resources.
The thing that I like so much about Artificium is that everything flows very smoothly. The game is incredibly intuitive from the card driven resource production to the player boards that serve as a player aid to remind you how resources are converted into higher tiers. After the initial market phase everything happens simultaneously and leads to little downtime. The game simply works remarkably well yet still leaves plenty of room for strategic play in the initial market draft and management of resources through buying and selling. The system is flexible and forgiving but efficiency and clever play are rewarded. This is exactly what I look for in a streamlined, quick playing card game.
I’m still working my way through the Essen releases while trying to keep up with all the new announcements. Here’s a handful of the games that I discovered this week.
Games with simultaneous action manage to cram some of the best decisions-to-time ratios that I’ve experienced, especially when scaled up above 2 players. Cargotrain combines two of my great loves, card driven simultaneous selection and pick-up and deliver (with some set collection for scoring). Each turn you’ll be programming the movement of your train around a circle of locations with movement cards based on your engine’s current level. Higher levels will provide you with more cards to choose from but you’ll always just be selecting three cards. After selecting your cards, the players will execute their first movement in turn order before executing the others. This will allow the players to move their train t0 industrial complexes located around the circle to pick up cargo trains. They’ll then drop off the cargo at their warehouse in order to fulfill contracts and score points.
During your first movement of the round you’ll have the option of moving around the circle either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Later movement must be taken in the same direction that you were already moving. Luckily there are tunnels to travel through that let you change direction when you emerge on the other side so there are still plenty of options when deciding where you’ll end up on any given movement. Once you’ve arrived at a location you’ll take an action such as picking up cargo trains or dropping them off in order to fulfill your contracts (objective cards). The best way to think about this is that you are collecting sets of cargo trains to meet the objectives of your current contracts.
You’ll also be able to upgrade your train which gives you better movement options and lets you hold more cargo trains. Other actions allow you to manipulate the order of cargo trains, draw more contracts, or take additional movement. The game ends when the trains run out at which point you finish off the round and proceed to scoring. You’ll get points for contracts that you’ve fulfilled along with each train that you’ve dropped off throughout the game (sets of trains in each color count extra). This game sounds like it will do a great job of taking the pick-up and deliver genre and translating it to a fast paced card game.
Tom Lehmann (the designer of my personal favorite Race For The Galaxy) has declared this his “year of the dice” as he announced his fourth dice game of the year, Ciub. For those keeping track, his other dice games coming out this year are Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age, Roll for the Galaxy, and Pandemic: The Cure.
Earlier this week he posted a designer diary that shares the basics of the game along with some of the design decisions that he made. Ciub is a dice management game where players roll sets of custom dice (starting with the most basic white dice) in order to fulfill Spell cards of increasing difficulty. Dice can continue to be rerolled on your turn as long as you set aside at least one die per roll. At the end of your turn if you match the conditions of a Spell card you may claim it and discard down to 5 dice. If you don’t then you may take any of the available special colored dice and add them to your pool for the next turn. The colored dice have different ranges of values as well as special abilities which let you manipulate your dice or earn more dice.
The gameplay is relatively straightforward but there seems to be a lot of room for manipulating your available dice pool in order to make the current spell cards easier to achieve. There are two lines of cards, current ones that can be claimed and ones that are available to become available once a card has been claimed. Players will additionally have the option to reserve cards in order to ensure that the ones that they are working towards will stick around. If you enjoy a well written rulebooks then Ciub’s rules are top notch due to their very conversational nature.
I don’t own very many dice game but with so many innovative mechanics coming from Tom Lehmann and others, it’s looking like this might end up being the year of the dice for me as well.
Back in 2011 A Few Acres of Snow demonstrated how deck-building could be used as a mechanic that was part of a bigger game, not just a game in and of itself. It was praised for its innovation and then later became a source of controversy as a nigh unbeatable strategy was discovered and exploited. Many saw it as a game that had incredible potential but with a flaw that soured the experience.
Mythotopia is perhaps an attempt to right this wrong and finally deliver on the experience that many gamers had hoped A Few Acres of Snow would bring. It’s a sequel of sorts, or perhaps a reboot set in a fantasy world instead of the harsh battlegrounds of Canada. I haven’t gotten around to reading the rulebook yet but I’m excited to finally experience this innovative deck-builder without fear of a tainted experience. The icing on the cake is the expanded player count letting up to four players battle it out where A Few Acres of Snow limited you to a duel.
Kickstarters of Interest
The Kickstarter section will probably be sparse until after Essen season as my focus is mainly on those releases. Still, I’ll try to find at least one game per week that catches my interest.
Dark Age Z
Anakin Man, Jerry Wong
Yes the “Z” in Dark Age Z probably stands for Zombies. But wait, hold on where are you going? Please don’t skip over this entry so quickly. I’ll be the first to admit that I probably haven’t played a single zombie game in my life because, well, I don’t care much for the theme. It’s that big of a turn off for me. After being nearly beaten over the head with zombies, zombies, zombies for the last several years the last thing that I would expect to catch my attention is a game about Zombies.
But something about this one lured me in despite the terrible odds against it. I watched the teaser video and it was overly dramatic and just a little bit (well, a lot) ridiculous. Still, there was something about the premise of this game that managed to keep me watching through the entire trailer to hear about how the fascinating mechanics worked. Now, I haven’t actually read the rules or done much research beyond what’s on the Kickstarter page but I’m fully expecting to revisit it this weekend to see if it can deliver on what I expect is a riveting tower defense style game. If this one shows up in the Rulebook Corner next week then you’ll know it’s worth looking past the relentless zombie theme. Or maybe I secretly love zombies and I’ll start playing nothing but Dead of Winter (just kidding, I’ll leave that to Wolfie).
This week I’ve got four games that I’ve talked about previously (between News Bits and Dragon’s Peak) that all have excellent video overviews. And that’s coming from a guy that’s not keen on watching video reviews. If you are interested in any of these games then the videos are well worth your time.
Fields of Arle
I generally don’t care all that much for playthrough videos but Michael Wißner does an excellent job of both teaching and then talking through the strategic choices that players will face during the games that he plays. He most recently did a video walkthrough of Uwe Rosenberg’s upcoming meaty 2-player game, Fields of Arle. The video is long, clocking in just under an hour, but it does an excellent job of sharing what Fields has to offer. Unlike the accessible Patchwork, this one comes a lot closer to Uwe’s heavier games with each player gathering resources and developing their own personal board for a cornucopia of victory points. There’s a lot going on so rather than trying to explain everything I’ll simply direct you to Michael’s video if you are interested (and chances are you’ll know if you are based on how exciting that picture of the game’s components looks).
Personally I’m very excited to hear that Uwe has designed a heavy game specifically for 2 players. Apparently it was going to accomidate more players but the game length was going too long so the player count was scaled back in order to be played in a reasonable amount of time (currently estimated at 2 hours). I’ve really enjoyed his two player games so far as they did an excellent job of making his games quick and accessible but Fields of Arle takes the opposite approach and brings forward a much more immersive experience. I found Uwe’s Ora Et Labora too be a tad bit overwhelming and still haven’t bothered with Caverna considering how I can’t fathom it could possibly displace Agricola for me. But Fields of Arle sounds both reasonably complex and different enough to be worth checking out.
Last week I highlighted King’s Pouch after hearing about it from Eric Martin on Twitter. It’s not surprising to see that he followed that up his teaser with a video preview of the game after his one play. He does an excellent job of explaining the flow of the game along with the various different ways that you can score points. If you haven’t gotten a chance to read through the rules and want a condensed and entertaining summary then head on over and check it out. For those that need the ten second summary: King’s Pouch is a “pouch-builder” game that mashes together deck-building mechanics with personal tableau building and worker placement. There’s periodic scoring from controlling characters (that award you for certain conditions) and competing for board control. It’s not entirely unlike a streamlined euro stepping stone between deck building and Hyperborea.
I was surprised to hear him describe that game as meaty simply because I have naturally been comparing it to Hyperborea which seems to be the heavier of the two games. After reading the rules I got the impression the King’s Pouch played a lot closer to what players may be accustom to getting from a deck builder but with more freedom to play out your turn (by placing citizens on actions rather than simply executing cards). I had an extremely favorable impression after reading the rules but am excited at the possibility that the game will have more depth and interesting decisions than I had initially expected based on the account of someone that has actually played it.
I’m a big Feld fan. I love victory points and his salads of many varities from the lighter card drafting Notre Dame to the heavier puzzly Trajan and Bora Bora (and mostly everything in between). It sounds like his two Essen releases will span this spectrum with La Isla falling on the lighter side and AquaSphere on the heavier. I’ll come back to AquaSphere later but, wouldn’t you know it, Eric Martin followed up his preview of King’s Pouch with another excellent one for La Isla. There are rules for those that like to do the hard work for themselves but I’d highly recommend skipping straight to Eric’s overview before diving in.
If you need to get caught up to speed before committing to 15 minutes with the charming Eric Martin here’s the premise of La Isla. Players control teams of scientist that you are sending onto a modular board in an attempt to surround and capture the island’s native wildlife. This is done alongside assigning the three cards that you are dealt each round to three different tasks that will provide ongoing bonuses, allow you to collect resources, and increase the end game value of the chosen animal.
What’s Your Game?
Marco Canetta, Stefania Niccolini
I’ve already looked at ZhanGuo in the previous two issues of Dragon’s Peak but I’m confident enough to highlight it one last time. I promise not to talk about it too much more after this. Maybe. Since last week there has been the fourth and final sneak preview by Paul Grogan along with an amazingly thorough and condensed (8 and a half minutes!) video overview. Where Eric Martin’s videos entertain and convey a good sense of how the game plays, Paul Grogan does an exceptional job of teaching the game in an incredibly approachable way. The rulebook for ZhanGuo can be a bit overwhelming so I would highly highly recommend Paul’s overview to anyone even mildly interested in this game. Even if you don’t care about ZhanGuo I would encourage you to watch at least part of this video to see how easily you can present fairly involved games in a very simple way. This guy is a pro.
I’ve already gone into detail about the areas of the game that were touched on in the previous three sneak previews so to give you a general feeling for the game I’ll make a brief comparison to What’s Your Game’s heavy weight Essen release from last year, Madeira. Now bear in mind that Madeira is likely the heavier of the two games by a comfortable margin but the sense of balancing many interconnected aspects of the game over the course of the game remains a core principal. There are many ways to develop your engine and many ways to score. What your opponents do on the board will affect the attractiveness of the various scoring option as you compete for position and race to complete goals. There are gears within gears and every action you take will have rippling effects on your options that you are presented with moving forward. It’s that kind of game. And I want to play it.
Does it seem like you’ve read all your game manuals from cover to cover a dozen times? Need some fresh reading material? Fear not, there are dozens if not hundreds of new rulebooks coming out every second! Or was that every week? Either way, I’ve hand picked a select few for your perusal.
Hansa Teutonica: Britannia
I played Hansa Teutonica shortly after it came out and loved it. It did so many innovative things with such a simple ruleset. The next year I played the East Expansion and was blown away by how much a few little changes and a new map improved the game. I almost couldn’t go back to playing the base game. That’s a sure fire sign of a good expansion. Four years later we finally have the long sought after second expansion, Britannia. This time around there’s a new map that looks to have an even more game changing effect than the East Expansion did. But on top of that there’s a feature that is near and dear to every married gamer’s heart, a 2-player variant. Yes, my lonely copy of Hansa Teutonica may yet be welcomed to my table if only it could play well with 2. Could that day finally be here? And can Britannia breathe new life into a five-year old game (which some would argue is quite old in our current age of hotness)?
The great thing about the 2-player rules is that you can play them with any map of Hansa Teutonica. This means you don’t even need Britannia to play this way, just look over the rules and you’re good to go. The variant uses a neutral player but doesn’t have any automated nonsense that usually make playing with a “dummy” player so cumbersome. Instead the players get to influence how the neutral player places its merchants across the board. You’ll start by seeding the board with neutral merchant cubes. Whenever they are displaced during the game the non-active player gets to move it, along with an additional neutral merchant, to an adjacent route. Think of them like a hydra – whenever you displace one marker, two more show up. The neutral player establishes routes just like a normal player would (decided by the active player) and earns prestige which count towards the game end condition. But don’t worry, the neutral player can’t win. There are some more subtleties to playing the 2-player variant but that’s the gist of it.
I’m very excited to try out the Britannia map. I missed out on the East Expansion and have been hunting for a copy since I got my copy of Hansa Teutonica. In the mean time they were gracious enough to share the rules and provide us with a 2-player variant that we can use right now. Get ready to combat the evil forces of Hydra, I mean, the neutral player!
Remember the disasters from Sim City? You’d spend all this time building up and then just when your city was flourishing a tornado would swoop down and leave a path of destruction in its wake. That’s the harsh reality of life but if you were like me you would disable those pesky things because who wants their hard work ruined in a moment of sheer panic? Tile laying games generally follow the disasters-off mentality and reinforce the feel good, constructive mentality. But Hoyuk is a game that reflects the brutal life of nomads living back 10,000 years ago. It’s a tile laying game but one where you have to plan around disaster because it lurks every turn, waiting to wipe out the progress of you and your rival clans. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, you’ll be doing a lot more construction then the game will be dishing out destruction. But be prepared, this isn’t a feel good constructive game, you are nomads afterall.
In each round players will be constructing houses and features for their clan in groups alongside of the other clans. This will be done by drawing construction tiles that tell you which feature you can build (pens, ovens, shrines) along with two houses. Players will get to draw two constructions tiles this way each round with all players building from their first tile in turn and then their second. After that a random catastrophe will occur and wipe out some houses or features from various blocks that meet a certain criteria (block with the most houses, the fewest shrines, etc). Nature is fickle so you’ll never know exactly where and how disaster will strike but protection may be provided by enlisting the mystical shaman.
Finally, Aspect cards are rewarded to the clan in each block that has majority in the three features (basic game), number of houses (medium game), as well as cattle and villagers (advanced game). These cards can be used to provide additional build actions or played in sets to score victory points (larger sets are worth more points). You’re limited to playing a number of cards equal to how many blocks your clan is in which encourages players to be nomadic and spread out if they want to score well. Once a player has constructed their last building (25 in a standard game) the round is finished out and then a final scoring round occurs for majority of houses in each block.
There are other details that further add to the strategic decisions that the game provides such as clan specific powers that trigger when you cash in a full set of Aspect cards. Even more interesting is the fact that Aspect cards are returned to the category of a player’s choice when they are used. This can result in a pile running out when Aspects cards are being handed out at which point that category is no longer scored for the rest of the game. Along with the fact that blocks are only scored if at least two players have houses in it and a negotiating aspect is introduced and encouraged.
I’m intrigued by the concept of a tile laying game that sees the players’ positions in constant flux. Hoyuk will likely toe the line between tactical and chaotic depending on your personal preference for control. Not having knowledge of which catastrophes will strike will hopefully prevent players from perfect planning because you never know what is going to be wiped off the board. If braving the life of a nomad in ancient times sounds fun than you’ll likely enjoy this dynamic but it certainly won’t appeal to everyone.
Aaron Weissblum, Norman Woods
Spellcaster was announced several weeks ago with a brief description and some colorful cover art to tide us over until more details trickled in. This week we were treated to the rules which came in at a lean 4 pages that support the premise that this game is fast and dead simple. You’ll easily be able to teach it and play a full game in half an hour. At it’s core Spellcaster is a card driven duel where 2 players (or teams to support 3 or 4) compete to either be the first to gather 15 precious sapphires or deplete your rival’s energy to zero. Either way it’s a race but you can focus on building up your own supply of points or try to relentlessly beat down your opponent, it all depends on what cards you’re dealt.
Let’s look more at the cards in the game because they’re what drives the action. There are four different schools (colors) of magic that you can play, each has a focus that will aid you in pursuing either win condition. Combat (Red) lets you attack your opponent, depleting their energy. Healing (Yellow) lets you restore your own energy to stay in the fight. Sorcery (Blue) provides the sapphires that you’ll need to win if you can stay alive long enough. And Conjuring (Green) allows you to augment and alter your actions and the very rules of your duel.
Each turn you’ll draw a card and then have 2 actions that you can take (this may include taking the same action twice): draw an additional card, play a card, and activate a card. Drawing a card is simple, you’ll take the top card of the deck and add it to your hand. Playing a card is equally simple – you’ll take a card from your hand and place it on top of a stack of the appropriate color, oriented towards yourself to show that you played it. There will only be one card of each color showing, when a card is played it negates the effect of the previously played card of the same color. The last action is to activate a card, you may select any card in play that you control (on the top of a stack and oriented towards you). You may only activate each card this way once per turn. There are some cards that also have an effect that will trigger at the beginning of your turn if it is still showing.
That’s pretty much it. You’ll start the game with 3 cards, 10 energy, and 2 sapphires. From there it’s a race to collect sapphires, deplete your opponent’s energy, or empty the deck (and end with the most sapphires). If you want a fast and tense card driven, hand management duel of magic this seems like it will deliver in a big way. It’s hard to say from the rules how much depth-to-playtime ratio this will pack but I’m looking forward to trying it out to see if it will scratch the lightning fast 2-player itch that something like Star Realms currently offers.