It’s Essen week! To celebrate I’ll be bringing you previews all week long (based on those mentioned in Dragon’s Peak #4). But for now here are some of my favorite articles from last week.
Articles From The Community
Not wanting to advertise competition but there’s a new column over at Today in Board Games covering the weekly news in an easily digestible format. This week they look at the hot new board games, Essen, some recent reviews, Tabletop, and various other stories. Go check it out and if you’re hungry for even more news there’s always the extremely entertaining Shut Up & Sit Down.
When designing a game, how do you react when a change that you make is not well received by your playtesters? What do you do when your opinions differ from them? Grant over at Hyperbole talks about knowing how to use the feedback that you get while being confident is your design. I’ve done playtesting before so it’s interesting to hear about things from the designer’s perspective. I’d love to see an article about how playtesters can give helpful feedback and when they need to back off and trust the designer.
Grant followed that up with an excellent thought experiment about the rigid nature of rules in most current games. I followed up with him on Twitter after reading it and we had an interesting discussion about what the game that he was describing would look like and why people might be uncomfortable with a looser, more fluid rule set . Hopefully he’ll follow this one up with more musings on the topic.
A couple of weeks ago I shared my thoughts on the submissions to Jordan Goddard’s 10-day design challenge. The winners were announced on last week’s episode of Meeple Syrup and one of my favorites, Total Party Wipeout, came out on top. If you haven’t heard about the contest you can read all about it over at Jordan’s website. I’ll also take a moment to endorse the excellent designer discussion happening on Meeple Syrup. If you’re at all interested in hearing real designers discuss the design process (last week they talked about art), I’d highly recommend it.
Randy Hoyt concludes his series on the re-themeing of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival (a Kickstarter success) over at The League of Game Makers. Last week he shared the decisions to change the game’s original theme and this time he looks at researching and implementing the new theme.
Also over at The League of Game Makers, Norv suggests that designers should be willing to make changes (be flexible) but maintain core ideas (be decisive). He gives a practical case study from one of his designs that has gone through many changes to theme and mechanics. There’s also a brief but excellent section on playtesting and how to use feedback from fellow designers as well as a broader playtesting group.
Oakleaf Games associates picking a theme for your game with the experience that you want to provide to the players. This boils down to knowing your target audience before deciding on the theme and viewing it as an experience rather than simply packaging. I think that the idea of identifying your target audience is excellent advice as thematic immersion will vary by group and that experience will be heavily influenced by a group’s ability to embrace (or ignore) the theme.
Over at ICv2 Dan Yarrington, CEO of Game Salute, introduces a new series that he will be writing called The Life and Times of a Board Game. It’s intended to bring us stories from the various stages of game development. There’s a brilliant graphic showing the entire lifecycle of a game that the series was inspired from that is well worth checking out if you haven’t seen it yet. He finishes by giving a call for stories from designers and the community. I’m really looking forward to following this series!
The folks at Giant Fire Breathing Robot bring us some useful suggestions (and warnings) for rulebook writing. As a fellow rulebook reading enthusiast I absolutely agree with all of the advise that they provide and would recommend it to anyone delving into the daunting task of putting together a clear and entertaining rulebook. You can also check out FarmerLenny’s thoughts on the same topic from earlier this year for another perspective.
Dr. Wictz Board Games has provided some of the most insightful articles on various game mechanics that I’ve read. They start by looking at the real life concepts behind the mechanics before exploring at their implementation in games. This week they analyzed credit from two different perspectives – Mechanical (Lenders) and Thematic (Algorithms).
NSKN Designer Diaries
The folks at NSKN have been hard at work bringing us great diaries from their three most recent games: Progress, Versailles, and Praetor (part I – part II). If you’ve enjoyed a game of Praetor or are looking forward to their forthcoming releases you’ll love these entertaining stories from the design process. Each diary provides a different perspective and I’d highly recommend checking them all out.
If you’re like me you aren’t going to Essen and will be living vicariously through the lucky world travelers that will be making the trek. Ignacy Trzewiczek is among those planning to attend and he shares some of things that he’s looking forward to doing. Hopefully this will provide Essen enthusiasts with enough of a teaser to make it until Thursday.
How to Build a Game
I recently discovered the TGIK Games blog and they have been pumping out articles at an impressive rate lately. Most recently they’ve continued a series of articles on how to build a game. The newest entries cover Focusing on the base game, Developing with expansions in mind, and Coming up with a working method. The articles are short, easily digestible, and offer valuable advise.
Last Week on iSlayTheDragon
We had another great set of reviews last week. Stay tuned for Essen previews all week long as well as more excellent reviews!
What We’ve Been Playing
Barter Barons – A couple of weeks ago I got to try out my friend Nolan‘s game that he has been developing, Barter Barons. It’s a card driven that mixes drafting (through a market) and tableau building (by playing contract that provide powers until they are fulfilled). I made a couple of suggestions the last time that we played and this week we finally got a chance to try them out. There were some positives results and some more challenging ones. I love analyzing game design and have really been enjoying the process of exploring Nolan’s design and helping him improve his game (hopefully). I’m looking forward to more plays and seeing how the game develops.
Navegador – I really love the idea of the rondel mechanic. It’s a great way to limit players’ choices while still providing the ability for long term planning. Decisions are often tense and playing attention to what the other players are doing is critical. I first experienced rondels in Antike and went on to experience Mac Gerdets other rondel designs (Imperial, Hamburgum, and Navegador). I must say that Navegador is probably my favorite of the lot but despite how fascinating I find the underlying mechanics I don’t have a big urge to play any of his games more than a couple times a year. I enjoyed my game of Navegador but likely won’t play it again for a while. I will say that Mac’s most recent non-rondel game, Concordia, is probably my favorite of his designs and playing Navegador simply made me want to play that instead.
Five Tribes – I’ve heard a lot of good things about Five Tribes since its debut at Gen Con. Earlier last week I watched this incredibly entertaining (and disorienting) video overview that pumped me up to finally try it out. My biggest concern going into the game was that it would induce my pretty bad affliction of AP with the overwhelming number of decisions. I’m happy to say that although the board is incredibly cluttered and difficult to parse during your first game the decisions are actually relatively straight forward. This meant that there aren’t as many decisions to work through as the game may make it seem. This is both a good thing (varied but reasonably limited decisions) and a bad thing (the way that these decisions are presented is a bit unintuitive). My initial reaction to the game was that it’s clever but I would have liked it to be presented with more clear decisions to choose from. It felt like more work than it needed to be but that’s often the case when you’re learning a new game mechanic for the first time. I would like to think that it’s the learning curve that I’m taking issue with and once you learn how to scan the board quickly that you can quickly see your options. Ultimately I enjoyed my game of Five Tribes just not as much as I was hoping to. I’ve had the game on my mind since playing it on Saturday so that’s generally a sure sign of an excellent (or inavative) design. I’m definitely going to need more plays of this one before I can give a good opinion on how the system works.
Parade – We followed up our game of Five Tribes with this filler. I don’t enjoy fillers as much as FarmerLenny but they are quite nice when you have half an hour to fill or have a group that aren’t up for a longer game. Parade was a cute little card game that has very straight forward mechanics that challenge players to collect as few cards as possible (or just enough of a color to have the most). I started the game by grabbing some low numbers (0-2) so that I would have more flexibility later in the game. I ended up just barely pulling off the win after collecting a bunch of cards for a point a piece and sticking the other players with high point cards. I enjoyed my play but probably won’t be seeking it out again.
Onirim – Z-Man Games is re-releasing a popular solo game called Onirim, and I’ve had the chance to try it out a few times. The box comes with 7 mini expansions (technically 8, but the 8th is not recommended to mix with the other 7 so it’s an “appendix”). After several games with a few different expansions not drawing up much of a challenge, I decided to go for broke and mix in all 7 expansions at once. Turns out that was not the best idea. There are a lot of little details to remember for each expansion, which meant constantly checking through the rulebook to remind myself what I could and couldn’t do. The goal of the game is to navigate a labyrinth of dreams. You play colorful cards with symbols on them, and you need 3 color-matching cards in a row to unlock a door. However, you can’t play identical symbols next to each other, and there are a number of Nightmare cards that can force you to discard or lose important cards. You need to unlock 8 doors to escape the labyrynth to win. Of course if you’re playing with all 7 expansions, you need to build a wall of 4 colorful towers, unlock 13 doors in a prescribed order, catch a number of lost dreams, and withstand a few hurtful premonitions.
It was pretty much a trainwreck – with so much going on I couldn’t get active in my success… I was mostly staving off inevitable defeat and pushing aside one hit after another. In the end I found all but the last 3 doors, but was annihilated by a few tough Premonitions. The 8th expansion may be appendicized, but not all expansions work well together. Using all of them created a cluttered mess that was less-than-enjoyable to overcome, even if it did massively increase the challenge.
Dominion – What do we want? Dominion! When do we want it? All the time! The wife and I had a bit of a game night and pulled out Dominion, like ya do. Thanks to a useful dominion randomizer created by myself and Derek of iheartprintandplay, we got a great set of cards to play with using Guilds, Prosperity, and the base game. Wifey went after coin tokens like a maniac and pretty much chose to forgo treasure cards. Instead, she relied on building up pools of coins so she could buy provinces, without worrying about having to draw her good cards together. I went after banks, and used a library to ensure I could draw hefty hands of cards filled with treasure to make them powerful. This might be a pattern, but my wife’s strategy looked to be solid for the long run, while mine worked quickly, but almost as quickly faded away. Fortunately in a good turn I nabbed 2 provinces at once, and at the end game I won because of an extra estate I picked up along the line just in case. Phew! It was a great game and our smart randomizer is proving itself to be quite the useful Dominion tool.
Flash Point – My wife and I rather enjoy playing several different co-op games together, and high on the list is Flash Point. We decided to tackle one of the expansion boards this time – the submarine. The submarine has several unique elements – most visibly, it is 3 x 16 instead of 6×8 in size. In addition, there are several pieces of heavy equipment inside that must be protected, and if they take too much damage you lose. And since you’re in a submarine, apparently submerged, you can’t get anyone out of the ship – you can only bring them to sickbay, where they are still vulnerable to fire. Wild! Anyways, based on the roles we drew, my wife was an expert rescuer and I was an expert fire-extinguisher. As an expert fire-extinguisher, I’m also not very fast, which made it somewhat unfortunate that I had to keep running back and forth across the entire submarine when fires kept sprouting up on opposite ends of the ship! Why couldn’t they just keep to middle? Anyways, as I huffed and puffed back and forth, my wife just kept dragging people to safety and we landed with a solid victory, no casualties. Huzzah!
Battlestar Galactica – I love this game, and I’d play it a whole lot more if it didn’t last so long, but after a few weeks of false starts I finally got this game with a full group on the table. It turned out to be one of the most dynamic, exciting games of BSG I’ve ever played – probably helped by the fact that we’re figuring out which variants are the most fun to use. What we did have was a Cylon Leader, personal goals, and the Cylon fleet board along with Pegasus. It was a rough ride, and a few turns in there was a huge Cylon fleet that kept hounding us. We just couldn’t get our fighters out long enough to cull the fleet, and the Fleet board keeps that nasty pile of cylon metal intact even when you jump. The Cylon Leader kept making sure the cylon fleet jumped back after us as quickly as possible. Soon every single cylon ship was on the board, and it didn’t help that our entire civilian fleet was also on the board as well. We actually jumped pretty far and fast, and Pegasus absorbed most of the damage from Cylon attacks. At 8 distance, we needed to make only one jump to win – unfortuantely, I received a personal goal loyalty card passed from the first cylon who revealed herself, which forced me to destroy/damage a bunch of vipers or lose 1 fuel at the end of the game. We only HAD 1 fuel, so I had to urge our team not to push the jump until we could get more fuel. In the final few turns, we knew there was one more hidden cylon. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be sure who it was – and I had no other choice but to try and get fuel. I played a card to let the President take an action – she was supposed to get us fuel, but instead she declared herself a Cylon. All our plans were ruined! It didn’t help that in the previous few turns, the Cylon raiders finally broke through our defenses and started clearing out our civilian ship. Finally, we lost because all our civvies were destroyed, reducing our population to ZERO. What a ride! It was kind of like playing the episode “33” – the first episode of the show where the fleet kept getting hounded by cylon attacks. Only this time we lost miserably. It was a whole lot of fun, but I think in the future I would leave out Personal Goals – it’s hard enough for the humans already, they don’t need the extra hurt, and there doesn’t seem to be a balancing factor to slow down the cylons. Oh well.
Samurai Swords/Ikusa – This was actually from the week before – my boys and I finished up what was a running game. I wouldn’t have mentioned it, except for the fact that I finally survived their bull rush. I had to camp out on the Island of Kyushu, and with a few good battles going my way, I was able to inch slowly towards the 35 province victory mark!
Mag Blast – Completely silly and pretty much totally random card game of space fleet battles. Lots of fun, nonetheless. This is the John Kovalic illustrated third edition. It was also my daughter’s first time playing. She’s 7 and reading only 1st grade level, so it was a little rough for her. This is another game I never win, because my kids can gang up on me!
Villainous Vikings – Was able to get in a solid 4-player session with my nephew in town. This is an outstanding Viking-themed game of raiding and trade and set collecting. Not necessarily historic or “true-to-Viking character,” but it does have Ragnarök , of course. A really good Euro-style, family game with great variability and nice balance between strategy, interaction, and luck. Best of all, there are no cubes! More to come on this one later this week…
Marvel Dice Masters – Used the latest sessions to experiment a little with Nova. His abilities all revolve around good things happening when he takes damage. He’s a little expensive and not cheap to field. His two cheapest cards are nice – gaining a die when hit or dealing 2 damage to your opponent when hit. However, at 5 energy, I found that I wasn’t able to buy him quickly or more than once, for any practical use. Like any 5-cost character, you’re not looking at flooding the field with him, but he’s fun to use and can make your opponent nervous when he’s in the field.