Welcome back to the second installment of Dragon’s Peak, the weekly article where I look at the exciting world of upcoming games! If you missed last week’s column you can check it out here. There are still plenty of Essen releases to cover so this week’s post is another full one. I’m trying to make it easier to find the games you’ll be interested in so I’ve got a slimmer format that will give you short summaries of each game with the option to get more details by clicking on the “Read More” heading. I won’t beg you guys to leave comments but I’d love to hear what you think and ways that I can improve my format and content. Actually I will, PLEEEEEASE tell me what you think! If you make it through the whole thing there’s a comment section at the bottom, that’s where you tell me that I’m doing a great job.
Here’s what I’ll be covering this week:
My standout from this week’s batch of upcoming games was:
Just when you thought the deck building genre was running out of innovative ways to reinvent itself along came variation after variation. There was dice building (Quarriors), chip building (Puzzle Strike), open deck-building (Kashgar), and finally bag-building (Hyperborea). If you followed our Gen Con coverage from this year you’d know that I thought Hyperborea was absolutely amazing. I was half expecting bag-building to be a gimmicky mechanic but the implementation ended up being perhaps the most innovative take on deck building yet (though I sadly haven’t tried Kashgar).
It seems new ideas always come in waves but I was still surprised when not one but two games using a similar mechanic were announced for Essen this year (King’s Pouch and Orleans). King’s Pouch distinguishes itself as being “pouch-building” but it’s not fooling anyone. Still, I loved Hyperborea and pouring over the rules to King’s Pouch proved that it will provide a significantly different take on the concept that has me really excited to try it out.
Interestingly enough King’s Pouch is a much more natural successor to deck building than Hyperborea is. Now, I know that Hyperborea hasn’t even been released yet so it may be a poor point of reference for anyone that didn’t get a chance to check it out at Gen Con. Still it’s hard for me not to want to discuss the differences between these games at length but I’ll spare you. In short, King’s Pouch seems like it would make a great entry point into the bag-building genre that I’m expecting to see in abundance after Essen.
I know I’ve yet to actually explain bag-building so here’s the short and sweet explanation of how King’s Pouch plays for anyone that is completely in the dark. You’ll start the game with 4 common citizens (blue cylinders) that can be assigned to action spaces in your starting buildings. Each building has spots that require specific Citizens in order to trigger abilities. You can place the citizens on any spot in your buildings that isn’t already occupied though buildings with multiple spots must be filled from top to bottom. When you place a citizen it immediately activates the associated ability which could generate resources or trigger an ability. If you want to draw a parallel to deck building the citizens are like your cards and placing them on a spot is like playing the card (but you get to decide which ability to use at time of placement). If you generate resources they are saved for later, if you trigger an ability it is used immediately.
Once you’ve placed all your citizens you now get the chance to spend the resources you’ve generated during placement. You can purchase one building to add to your board, influence characters that will provide scoring at the end of every third round, and place your markers on a shared map using power. Any resources you don’t use are automatically converted into points. Finally you’ll move all your citizens to the rest (discard) area and take 5 new citizens out of your bag. If you don’t have enough citizens in your bag then you’ll move all citizens from the rest area, along with one new corrupt official, into your bag (reshuffle) and continue. Over the course of the game you’ll be adding more specialized citizens to your population which will let you place on spots that require their profession.
The game lasts nine rounds and scoring occurs every third round which will provide points for characters you’ve influenced (which are then cleared) and markers that you’ve placed on the map (which is not cleared). At the end of the game you’ll also get points for any buildings that you purchased and lose points for any corrupt officials left in your population.
I’m really excited to try out King’s Pouch. When I first saw Eric Martin put up a picture of it on Twitter (which I borrowed), I immediately recognized the similarity to Hyperborea. It looks like a more accessible ruleset and one that could scratch the deck building itch but at the same time not feel anything like a deck builder.
With Essen fever in full swing there have been so many games to sort through and I’ve got plenty more planned for the coming weeks. Here’s a handful of ones that I’ve discovered recently.
Arve D. Fühler
El Gaucho is a game that reminds me of Kingsburg or The Castle of Burgundy in that it’s a worker placement game where your workers are placed using dice. But instead of having your own dice, there’s a shared supply that you’ll be selecting from. The comparison pretty much end there unless you also want to include the fact that you’re trying to get the most point (or in the case of El Gaucho, the most money). In El Gaucho you’re cattle barons that are gathering herds of various animals in order to sell them off in bulk for a profit.
Each turn you’ll be selecting two dice from the adorable fenced in area (don’t want those dice roaming wild). Then you’ll use those dice (individually or together) to place workers on spots that match the value of the die (or sum of both dice) exactly. There are two different types of spots to place on – cattle tiles and actions spaces. Placing on a cattle tile lets you claim that animal whereas action spaces give you abilities that can be triggered at any point in subsequent rounds.
At the the end of the round if all the cattle tiles in a row have been occupied then players take the animals where they have a standing up worker and add them to their area. But it’s not so simple to introduce new cattle to your herd so you’ll need to be careful. Each animal type has it’s own row of tiles which are kept in ascending or descending numeric order. New acquisitions must be added to the right side of their corresponding row and if its value doesn’t maintain ascending or descending order then the current row is automatically sold. A herd of animals sells for a price equal to the number of tiles times the highest valued tile. After all the cattle have been taken by the players the row is refilled with new tiles. If the tiles run out then you play one more round, take any remaining claimed cattle tiles, and sell of all remaining animals in your herd to see who has the most money.
The actions spaces let you remove the worker in order the take special actions such as placing animals in the middle of a herd, increasing die value during placement, and stealing cattle from the other players.
I really enjoy dice based worker placement games and am curious to see how drafting from a pool of dice changes the dynamic that games like Kingsburg introduced. El Gaucho is, at it’s core, a set collection game with a puzzly feel and a little bit of chaos both in placing your workers and speculating over which rows of animals will fill up to get your cattle in the right order. The action spots seem to let you mitigate this chaos while adding some extra interaction.
Spiele aus Timbuktu
Michael Schacht (Coloretto, Mondo, Web of Power) celebrate 25 years of making games with his forthcoming Essen release, Hellweg Westfalicus. There’s really not much information about this one yet aside from a couple of images that show a board suspiciously similar to Hansa Teutonica (a good thing in my opinion). The only thing I could find so far was a brief description so I’ll leave you to speculate and wait for more details:
“In Hellweg westfalicus, players try their hand at trading, trying to buy salt, beer, and ironware at low prices, then sell them for maximum profit. If you wait too long, you might get a good purchase price, but only for what little is still left to sell. You can create trade routes with the help of coaches and thus supply distant towns. The player who owns the most money after twelve rounds wins.”
When I was first getting into board games I played a lot of Ticket To Ride with my family (as many of us probably did at one point or another). I later discovered Thurn and Taxis which shared a vague route building concept and race for position on a shared board. Royals reminds me of both games for different reasons. It uses a set collection mechanic that is somewhat similar to Ticket to Ride’s “gather colored cards from a pool and then spend sets to claim board position”. From Thurn and Taxis it has a “race to occupy regions in order to be the first to claim a completion bonus” concept. Take out the route building and add in some area control and periodic scoring and you’ve got Royals in a nut shell.
Over the course of the game you’ll be drawing country cards (colored by region) and intrigue cards in order to help you occupy various positions on the map. Each city has two positions associated with it (one more expensive and worth more points during scoring). You can spend the required number of cards to occupy a position on the board which lets you place a cube on its location as well as on the title card for that character (showing influence with that type of character). Intrigue cards let you bump players off of positions but they still remain in the city.
There are three ways to score points during the game. You can be the first player to do something (much like Thurn and Taxis) – first to place in a city, first to place in all cities in a country, and first to influence every title. Second, there are three scoring periods which are initiated after the deck of cards runs out. At that point you’ll score points for every position you control on the board as well as countries that you have the majority of control in. Finally, at the end of the game you’ll score for having the majority in each of the different titles.
Royals seems like a great light weight game that uses some familiar concepts from various gateway games (set collection, racing, periodic scoring, area control) and integrates them together nicely. There’s a good mix of short term and long term goals that offers the players different ways to score points throughout the game with a natural progression and competition that keeps them engaged.
Aaron Weissblum, Norman Woods
Last week I talked about how R&R Games announced their take on a quick pick-up-and-deliver game (Spike) and now they’re adding an even faster playing 2-4 player card driven mage duel game to their Essen roster with Spellcaster. Much like Spike there’s not a lot of information available yet but it boasts a compact size (60 cards and some bits) and reasonable retail price ($16).
The main thing that was revealed came from BGG when it was compared to Mage Wars/Summoner Wars, Frank DiLorenzo from R&R Games replied “It’s really like none of those. It’s far easier to learn to play, plays well with two, three or four players and each game is often over in 20 minutes. Yet it has a satisfying depth of strategy. It’s essentially rapid fire casting of spells as you attempt to overwhelm and knock out your opponent(s). You face choices each turn of whether to bolster your energy, collect more power or unleash it on your opponent(s). Each spell in the deck is unique so there are plenty of choices.”
Star Realms: Crisis
White Wizard Games
Robert Dougherty, Darwin Kastle
There has been a lot of speculation about what form the inevitable Star Realms expansion would take. Would it be like Ascension and come in blocks? Would it introduce new factions that could be swapped out with the current ones? But I don’t think very many people expected what we’re about to get with the first official “expansion”, Star Realms: Crisis. This expansion will take the form of four min-expansion packs that you can buy and mix in however you see fit. It’s modular and let’s you spend what you want to get only the parts that you want. Each pack costs $5 for 12 cards (compared to $15 for the 80 card trade deck from the base game).
Say what you will about the pricing model and the fact that all four packs will cost more than the base game, I’m betting that there are plenty of fans who will support White Wizard Games and buy them all without hesitation (myself included).
So how much game can they possibly pack into 12 card expansion boosters? Two of them simply offer more of what we’ve come to love in Star Realms – more ships and bases from all four factions. The Bases & Battleships pack has one powerful ship for each faction and the Fleets & Fortresses pack contains the powerful base equivalents.
The other two packs offer completely new card types that should change how you play the game more drastically. The first one, Events, introduces Event cards that trigger a one time effect when the yshow up in the center row (much like Fate from Ascension, surprise!). The other one, Heroes, includes hero cards that go directly into play when purchase and offer a useful scrap power that also triggers all ally abilities for a given faction when it’s used.
I’ll wait to see how the new ships and bases affect the current card mix but I’m most looking forward to the new Event and Hero cards. I’ll admit that I was hoping for something a little more involved from this expansion but I applaud White Wizard Games for trying something different (possibly due to the success of their promo packs). Only time will tell whether they keep releasing expansions using this format. I would love to see mini-expansions (or whole new factions) released individually and more rapidly rather than in unison if this model succeeds.
Kickstarters of Interest
I’ve been so enthralled with Essen announcements that it’s been hard to keep up with Kickstarter too. Hopefully you’ll excuse my lack of current projects as I leave you with one really great success story.
Philip duBarry (Revolution, Kingdom of Solomon) is a fairly well known designer and so when I heard people mentioning his latest Kickstarter endeavor, Skyway Robbery, and how great it was I just assumed that it had already funded and was well on it’s way to unlocking stretch goals. Just last month his co-designed Fidelitas was met with overwhelming success and it seemed like a safe assumption that this campaign would follow a similar trend. Maybe others were thinking the same thing because when I saw it continue to pop up on Twitter and finally checked it out I was shocked to see that it still needed quite a lot of support to make it in time. In fact, it was only 71% funded (of $32,000) with 44 hours to go. I thought it was a lost cause but watched a rally on Twitter (and likely elsewhere) throughout the day on Thursday help push it all the way to a mere $121 past the funding goal. That’s nearly one third of the funding in the last two days of the campaign. It was nerve wracking and exhilarating to watch all at the same time. I’m happy for Philip but can’t imagine the roller coaster ride campaign he had to go through to make his game a reality. Kickstarter is truly a crazy phenomenon. Whether you love it or hate it, stories like this really show how supportive our community really is.
Now that I’ve gotten one Dragon’s Peak installment behind me you’ll start to see games that have been previously mentioned showing up again in the First Looks and Rulebook Corner sections. We’ve got two games returning from last week along with one more that I’ve written about before in the news.
The Golden Ages
Last week I introduced Luigi’s designer diary for The Golden Ages and shared the first two entries about his inspiration from computer civilization games and how other games attempted the translation to the table. This week he shared another two entries which explained the rules and thematic flavor for two typical aspects in these games: your civilization (third entry) and exploration (fourth entry).
The way that civilizations are handled sounds very intriguing. Every round you are dealt a new civilization card and you can either decide to switch to that civilization or continue with your old one. While this is happening you’ll also have the option to move your capital to a newly explored tile. Both options represent the rise and fall of civilizations and the changing of cities at the center of the kingdom over the course of time. Players don’t represent a specific civilization, rather a people that are reshaping and relocating their identity from one age to the next. Sounds like a very unique concept.
Exploration is done in a slow and steady reveal a new land tile per turn structure. Each race begins on a three space continent and immediately gets to place a large (2 space) land tile. Subsequent rounds see players adding a smaller (1 space) tile to eventually fill up the board. The map starts with small islands that represent what was thought to be in those areas, as tiles are laid onto of them the true landscape is revealed as explorers venture further into the world. In the fourth entry, we are shown a completed map that actually ends up with the continents matching our own, an unlikely event but it’s great to know that it’s possible!
Progress: Evolution of Technology
Passport Games Studios
Agnieszka Kopera, Andrei Novac
Progress is a game that was Kickstarted back in June so it’s not exactly a “new” upcoming game at this point since players have generously been provided with the ability to make print and play copies while they wait for their copy to arrive. However, we were given another treat this week as a designer diary showed up on NSKN Games’ blog. The diary, much like the game, is all about the development of the tech tree.
Many civilization games hinge on the tech tree, they are developed around the idea of slowly advancing along a series of discoveries that reflect our rich history. Mechanics are built around a massive flow chart of interconnected ideas that range from scientific to religious to philosophical. Encapsulating all of human development in a single diagram is a massive undertaking and the first iteration of Progress resulted in a five hour game that used 160 technologies and 550 cards over five ages! Things have been reined in since then and the game is now a slim (by comparison) 90 minute with 60 technologies and 200 cards over three ages. They hinted at the prospect of future expansions eventually allowing for the epic experience that they had first envisioned if players wish to undertake such an experience. It’s worth checking out the diary just to see the original massive tech tree that resulted in the marathon game sessions!
What’s Your Game?
Marco Canetta, Stefania Niccolini
Much like with The Golden Ages we have been treated to a series of previews for the upcoming ZhanGuo to show off the various aspects of the game. We were previously told about the general flow of the game and specific actions that can be taken by playing your cards. This week we got the third part of the preview which introduced the bonuses that can be triggered from cards that you’ve previously played to your tableau as well as how unrest affects them and the end of round reward structure.
One of the interesting central mechanics is a central stack of cards that you’ll be playing to when you take a board action. Each card has a value and you’ll be comparing the number on the card you’re playing to the one on the stack. If it is higher then certain actions will trigger bonuses from your tableau, if it is lower then other actions will benefit. If the conditions are met for triggering your tableau abilities then all cards with an icon matching the action that you are taking will automatically be used. One thing that can affect your ability to trigger these abilities is your current level of unrest in the various areas that you’ve assigned the cards to. If unrest gets too high then you will lose the ability to build palaces in that region and eventually also lose the ability to trigger that regions’ cards. So if unrest goes unchecked then your ability to develop the board and utilize your tableau will suffer until you are able to reduce it.
The last thing that is covered are the unification rewards that are given out at the end of each round. Players will be collecting tokens in three difference areas as they work towards unifying the country. At the end of each round the player with the most tokens in each category will be given the choice to spend all of their tokens of that type in order to receive a reward. If they decide to instead save their tokens for the increasingly better reward in later rounds then the player with the second most token will be given the same option. It’s a simple but tense system as players attempt to get just enough tokens to be in the lead but spending them for the reward means you’ll drop back to last and holding on to them for a better reward means that your lead could be taken away.
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.
I got a pretty rough overview of Deus back during Gen Con using non-English cards and components pulled together from various games. Despite not getting to play I left very impressed from my impression of the game and have been looking forward to seeing and hearing more about it. We were recently shown pictures of the final components which are absolutely beautiful. This week we have finally been given the official rules as well. They come in at a slim 6 pages which read easily with clear iconography. This supports the strengths of card driven games which is having a simple ruleset that introduces complexity and strategy through the cards and their interaction.
There’s also a page of variants on the back cover which looks to add even more variation to the game. First up is an asymmetrical setup that allows players to chose which areas to focus on by choosing their starting buildings rather than being given two of each. Additionally you can play with a different layouts of the main board and a low-luck tableau construction option.
Versailles is NSKN Games’ planned Essen release and boasts family friendly gameplay with innovative mechanics that will appeal to gamers. The king is on his way to visit his palace and it’s up to the players to work together to finish construction in time for his arrival. Versailles uses a worker movement system where players gather their workers in various areas to take actions which improve with the number of workers present. You’ll be gathering resources that can be spent to help construct the palace and develop technologies. The palace construction uses a grid that is filled up with tiles and decorations that are worth a varying number of points based on how difficult they are to build and place. The game ends when the palace fills up, you run out of palace tiles, or the king arrives and points are added for your contribution to the palace.
I love games that utilize spatial puzzle elements to represent construction and help to reinforce a sense of accomplishment throughout the game. Having an aesthetically pleasing end result (such as the gorgeous Sultaniya) really gets players immersed in the game and leaves everyone happy with what they built, win or lose. I love the idea of worker movement as a take on the traditional worker placement formula and players will actually be able to see their citizens at work throughout the kingdom. It reminds me somewhat of computer games where you take on the role of kingdom manager and send your workers merrily around your village as they go from one project to the next.