The Grand Carnival has been in some form of design since 2016 and has finally been published. From a sketch in a notebook to a full-fledged board game, The Grand Carnival lurched from stage to stage in fits and spurts, sometimes even going into hibernation at various points. I did have a BGG thread early on about the game, but now I'll try to detail how this butterfly emerged from its gooey cocoon to become what it is today. It's messy.
It all started with a game design brainstorming exercise that involved taking settings I found interesting and pitting them against each other in a gut reaction battle royale. Haunted houses, music making, museum curation, and amusement parks all fascinate me in different ways, so I dedicated some journal pages to them and tried to spark a design for each. And I guess it's clear now, but the idea that won out was...museum curation.
Wait, what? I thought the game was called The Grand Carnival? I'll get there.
Sometimes I like to try to design the end state of a game visually before getting into any of the mechanisms that make the whole thing run. What is this thing going to look like on the table? What components am I working with? What would catch my eye if I saw this out in the wild? What makes sense visually when making a museum curation game?
What started growing was a central board with players placing tiles on their side of the table, each forming their own wing of the museum. The director was retiring, and the once prestigious museum had seen better days, so the player who could renovate their wing the best would get the director's job. That's how promotions work, right?
I love tile-laying games, and this is how I visually wanted to present the museum and all of the exhibits found inside. Mechanically, I wanted the tiles to have walkways and exhibit pieces on them, so players were creating areas of interest as well as building a path to wind through the museum for guests to move on. Since the tiles were divided into 2x2 spaces, it created an interesting puzzle where the overall picture was a higher resolution than the building blocks it was made out of.Polyominoes make their debut in the design
The first big tipping point came early on with the transition to polyominoes. Originally, the game was all tiles and some pawns, but the tiles were divided into walkway spaces and three exhibit "types". You would have to place the tiles on matching sides in order to build large exhibits. Space, natural history, and ancient history exhibits could be found in equal measure on tiles, which would need to be arranged when placed into giant blocks for patrons to visit.
But since these tiles were divided into smaller squares, these exhibits ended up looking like polyomino shapes anyways. If I removed the typing from the tiles themselves and had specific exhibits to choose from and place, that made more sense to me than piecing it together slowly, hoping the right type of exhibit showed up. Plus, polyominoes are great! It's so satisfying to plop down a giant exhibit on top of a bunch of construction sites, making your museum much more colorful and giving your patrons a unique destination to move towards.
The main goal of the game at this point was to move patrons as far as you could into the museum onto giant exhibits that you had built. The larger the exhibit and the farther back it was in the wing, the more points it would be worth. Each category of exhibit also had its own majority scoring attached, but that was way too boring to be a player's main focus. In fact, many tests ended with players not even bothering with that aspect, instead just building the biggest exhibits they could.The first playable prototype on our terrible table. Hey, it was free!
But the game was interesting enough that I knew I was headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, I had no real destination, so that led to some aimless wandering for a while.
I felt confident enough in the design after tweaking it a bit to submit it into the Korea Boardgames 2017 Design Contest. After all, my previous designs Turbo Drift, Pizza Pronto, and Skyscrappers were all initially designed as entries for contests, so why break the streak? "The Grand Museum" ended up placing second, along with a $500 cash prize. Not bad for a game that wouldn't end up getting published for another three years!Why build small exhibits when big ones score the most points? One of many early problems.
With that strong contest showing as well as a finalist placement in the Ion Awards at SaltCon in 2018, I was full of confidence and sent out pitches to publishers, hoping to take the game to the next level. Instead, I felt like I was falling down the stairs. Not that publishers didn't respond, but the game was still unpolished and nobody wants to deal with a diamond in the rough when there are shiny gemstones already cut out there. The problem was that I didn't know how to smooth it out. It seemed like any change I tried made it more jagged, more messy. I was a miner, not a jeweler, when it came to game design. I needed help refining the game.
The game was lumpy. Exhibits would pile up near the back of the wing, and small exhibits weren't an effective use of actions. The collections board where curators moved around to pick up tiles had very little meaningful planning, with only bursts of intrigue in between dull stretches of inaction.All set up at SaltCon 2018 for the Ion Awards
This game had no pulse a couple times throughout the design process. I tried to make so many changes to how players drafted tiles, the way turn order shifted each round, or scoring methods for each piece in the game that I actually dreaded playing the game again because I had made it so convoluted — so it sat in storage, collecting dust out of sight, out of mind.
At the beginning of 2019, I tweeted this:
2019 is the year I fine tune The Grand Museum and get it signed by a publisher. Either that or throw it in a dumpster and never think about it again.— Rob Cramer (@RobtheCramer) January 3, 2019
Such a drama king.
After some time away from the design, I decided to pick it up again. It was like finding a sheep in an abandoned barn, its overgrown wool suffocating the creature beneath. It desperately needed a trim.
After polyominoes, the second big revelation came way later into the design. The foundation tiles were the main mechanism for the entire game for a long time. You would draft them from a center board where you and other players were moving curators through the collections of the museum. On your turn, you would pick a tile next to your curator, no matter what. Then you could place this tile OR move a patron the number of walkway spaces on the tile you picked up. You could then build any available exhibit if you wanted.
It felt like a tree that was made up of only branches, without a solid trunk running through the design. Tiles with lots of walkways on them were most valuable for their movement, so they would get discarded at a much higher rate than other tiles. Their purpose was to be disposable, which made them basically pointless as tiles.I do miss these standees, but they were ultimately all sizzle, no steak
But once I figured out the action number system, it was the perfect foundation the game needed. It was so smooth and simple that I was slapping myself that I didn't implement it sooner. You simply cover a number 1-5, then lay a tile, move a guest, or build an exhibit. The higher the number, the bigger the action. Now the actions were unique branches feeding off the same system, fighting each other for the highest numbers. Let's move patrons really far! No, let's build giant exhibits! That new foundation tile that just came out is perfect, but so expensive! You can't reuse a number until the next round, so you have to time things out in order to make the most of your actions.
I shaved that sheep down until it could see again. With the new action number system, each section could be tinkered with individually without breaking the whole game. Patrons were simplified, exhibits were super simplified, and foundations became a solid base for the game to rest on. When playing the game at SaltCon that year, I was actually having fun instead of fixating on flaws. Dan Thurot of Space-Biff! played and even awarded it the coveted "Dan Thurot's Favorite Prototype Award" at SaltCon 2019. This led to him talking to Tim Fowers of Fowers Games, which ended with me scheduling a pitch with him and Jeff Beck and Jeff Krause of Uproarious Games.
Guess what! This was my first in-person pitch ever to a publisher. Turbo Drift and Skyscrappers were both sold on a video pitch where I could control what I said, how I said it, and what I showed down to the frame. Those games were also much simpler card games sold in envelopes and wallets, whereas "The Grand Museum" would come in a full-on box. Lots of pressure with this one.
But live pitches are so different. For example, if you show up to a pitch without any of the player boards, THAT'S BAD. Luckily, they had a printer and were very quick to get us up and playing. Quadruple check everything before your pitch. Not the strongest first impression to make, that's for sure.
Tim, Jeff, and Jeff played and had great insights into the design. Jeff Krause wanted to break the game as quickly as possible (he did), Jeff Beck sat back and observed, and Tim was open about his thoughts. The game had a solid foundation, so nothing really was begging to be cut — just some extra things to enhance what was already there. We decided to move forward with publishing under Jeff Beck and Uproarious Games, which is kinda-sorta a branch/imprint of Fowers Games. It's complicated.The best kind of research
But after signing with Uproarious Games, they felt like the setting could be changed to stand out from some other museum games that came out around that time, like Museum, ArtSee, and Curators.
Of course now in 2020 there's Meeple Land, Theme Parks, Dice Theme Park, and Wishland — all releasing around this time or slightly later — so that should tell you how tough it can be to stay ahead of the curve in the industry.
But what we did have was Ryan Goldsberry and the Cuphead-inspired illustrations of an old-timey carnival, so the game could stand apart from the crowd with its unique visual style. The attractions range from tiny food stands serving popcorn and funnel cake to gigantic rides like the towering Ferris wheel or an extravagant carousel. The animal mascots of the fairs give each player distinctive markers to use on their action numbers, from a rabbit in a top hat to a bear riding a unicycle. The dusty aesthetics bring these carnivals roaring to life, and the final publication looks so good on the table that I want to eat a caramel apple while playing just to complete the experience. Fair food is always so sticky, so I don't actually recommend doing that.A sketch of the House of Mirrors
With the setting update, there were some mechanisms added on during development to enhance the play experience and instill even more carnival flavor into the game. Instead of having four guests for the entire game, once you moved two inside your fairgrounds, you got two more and gained a carnival barker. These barkers do a whole lot of things. First, they're worth 3 points. Second, they let you move a guest an extra space for every barker you have. Third, they block pathways and are in limited supply. You could have a swarm of guests running through your fair, drawn in by enthusiastic barkers shouting out their ballyhoo to anyone within earshot.A super glossy production sample with unfinished attractions
Tickets were invented to let guests interact with the attractions they were passing by. No attraction scores without a ticket on it, so the last thing you want to do is build an attraction that is completely out of reach of eager attendees. This helped solve the lumpiness problem of attractions getting shoved clear in the back of a player's board. They also added another avenue for scoring if you get enough of them, which replaced the old Knizian system in which you scored only the guest that moved the fewest spaces forward. Your board is going to get swarmed with guests practically running through your fair, which just adds to the frantic feel that would be out of place in its museum origins.
Attraction scoring was revamped, too. Before the pitch, there was a simple triangle scoring system for sets of unique attractions. The problem was that it didn't really encourage players to build the giant attractions. That's where the scoring potentials for attractions of the same size came in. You get a giant bonus for building all five sizes of attractions, but you can sneak in some more bonus points if you build at least three of the same size attraction, which tempts you to pack your park while still diversifying a little bit. And since the attraction pool is now limited depending on player count, you have to rush to get the pieces that are right for you.My prototype that was my constant companion when working on the solo mode
"Tricks of the Trade" were the biggest twist on the formula and took the longest to nail down. These cards are added to every game and give players special powers if they fulfill their conditions. But once someone learns a trick, every other player has one turn to follow suit or that knowledge is lost to them forever. Getting players to actually check what other players were doing was the hardest problem to solve, but these tricks...did the trick.
You can move guests diagonally, rotate foundation tiles, build attractions from a secret reserve, or do a bunch of other things with fourteen different "Tricks of the Trade". They all combine together to make each game feel different. A good example was a game in which a player could move guests onto construction sites, so they moved a guest up through an unfinished park, then built attractions behind them. That poor soul was completely cut off from the entrance, and they're probably still stuck at the fair. Good times.I love these little bunnies
The end of the game used to rely on a set of different triggers, from attraction pools emptying to a player placing the last foundation tile in their park — but these scenarios added too much of a surprise ending, with players getting absolutely wrecked if scoring came too soon. The seven-round week evens the playing field, while still creating a time pressure for players to keep in mind.
Jeff Beck and team ended up being the jewelers I was seeking out all along and helped polish the game to shiny splendor. I'm super grateful for their playtesting and development skills with their work on The Grand Carnival.A beautiful rainbow of pieces
The Only Game in Town
Solo modes have become extremely popular over the last decade, and I'll admit that I originally hadn't seen the appeal. Why play a board game by yourself when you could just play a video game? But what a fool I was, eventually seeing the light that shines on the meditative experience of solo gaming.
So what does The Grand Carnival solo look like? With such a heavy spatial element, it was too unwieldy to try to devise an AI to compete with. I didn't want to have a bunch of if/then statements to run through just to move their guests or build an attraction for an opponent. I wanted players to play with the system, not maintain a complex set of additional rules.
Creating two entire sets of unique attractions is the main goal for a solo game, and there's a whole different scoring system that goes along with that, so it's not a complete copy of the multiplayer experience. The game structure stays the same, but the "Tricks of the Trade" can disappear after certain rounds and the market of foundation tiles refreshes every round, so there's still some time pressure in addition to the seven total rounds.A carnival at the end of a solo game
When working on this mode, I would bring a prototype to work and play after eating lunch — although after a certain point lunch would be the one waiting its turn. That's when I figured I was on to something, but Jeff Beck helped confirm that feeling. It's a satisfying puzzle that moves quickly, has low maintenance, and closely resembles playing with other people without being a basic copy.
That brings us to now! The games have been manufactured and shipped on their way to people around the world. It blows my mind that people in Australia have played my design. Board games make the world smaller in the best ways, from common interests with people all over the globe to intimate gaming experiences with family and friends.It's surreal to see my name on the box
Now that The Grand Carnival is out, I've been playing it a lot solo and with family members. It may be indulgent and obvious to say about a game I designed, but if the name were stripped from the game and I had stumbled across The Grand Carnival in the wild, I think I would love it just as much as I do now. I wanted to design a game that I wanted to play, and I achieved my goal. My wish is that other people fall in love with it, too. Enjoy the ride!
To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- [+] Dice rolls
Lookout Games is preparing to launch its first Kickstarter campaign (preview page) on October 22, 2020 — the day that SPIEL.digital opens — with the featured game being Grand Austria Hotel, a 2015 design from Virginio Gigli and Simone Luciani that will be expanded in multiple ways.
First, Lookout is expanding the gameplay elements with Grand Austria Hotel: Let's Waltz!, a large expansion for the base game that contains five modules of as-yet-unknown material.
Additionally, Lookout is promising "really cool upgrades" for the Grand Austria Hotel base game in addition to a deluxe edition of the game. No details on any of this yet, but obviously you will find teasers galore during SPIEL.digital. (As for availability of the GAH base game, Lookout reprinted this title in Q3 2020 in English, Korean, Spanish, and Chinese, and these copies are expected to make their way to retail markets in Q4 2020.)
- [+] Dice rolls
Dachshund Games has released the 1-4 player co-operative game Wolkenbruch ("Downpour") from designers and company owners Sabrina and Hanno von Contzen, with the game currently being available solely on the company website. (Dachshund head dice cups are not for sale, which seems like a missed opportunity given the publisher's logo.)
Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:Quote:Four flames are burning, and none may be permitted to go out. Can you and your friends stop the pouring rain together?Automated Alice is a co-operative dice-placement game being funded on Kickstarter (link) through October 8, 2020 from Epic Scale Games, with this design being based on the fantasy novel of the same name by Jeff Noon.
In Wolkenbruch, your goal is to protect four burning flames from falling rain. The players win the game when all four flames are protected (with an umbrella, of course). The game is controlled by a special deck of cards — the Wolkenbruch-Deck — and comes with ten different levels of difficulty. During the game, players take actions to move within the circle of flames, drive away rain, or use event cards. Players may also swap cards with one another.
Each player also has a special ability — a so-called profile — that gives the player additional special abilities. At the end of each turn, the active player must play a card from their hand. Afterwards, the Wolkenbruch-Deck brings more cards into play.
When the clouds break, all cards from the discard pile are put back on top of the Wolkenbruch-Deck and the rainfall increases. Time is running out. Be fast, communicate with each other, and pass cards to protect the flames!
It's weird how little things stick with you. I've seen the cover of Automated Alice many times in bookstores, but have never picked it up — and I've looked at that book mostly because my best friend through secondary school raved frequently about Noon's debut novel Vurt, which I still have not read. Maybe someday, but probably not since I already have enough books to last me until I die — not that I refrain from acquiring other books in the future, I am sure.
Anyway, here's the short take on that game:Quote:In this game, players collectively take on the role of Alice while trying to match colored dice to specific goals listed on the evidence cards. Watch out for Mrs. Minus and her Civil Serpent dice as they will try to block your path. Perk cards and unique character abilities will help Alice on her journey.Funko Games has been rolling out numerous, well-regarded licensed games over the past few years, both through its pseudonymous Prospero Hall design team for other publishers and through its own publications.
With multiple lose conditions like the Civil Serpent Threat Tracker, limited round timer, or the exhaustion of assets, this will not be an easy task. Are you ready to roll the dice and help Alice on her latest, greatest adventure?
Now the publisher is giving you a shot at recreating one of the greatest movies of all time in Groundhog Day: The Game, a 2-6 player design by the aforementioned Prospero Hall that plays in 15-25 minutes. An overview:Quote:Watch that first step as it's a doozie!
Live the events of Groundhog Day over and over again as Phil Connors. Each day in Groundhog Day: The Game, you attempt to play cards quickly and in order without communicating to the other players before time runs out. Help Phil on his journey from cynical weatherman to friendly, local townsfolk by learning skills like playing the piano. Every card depicts memorable people and places of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania from the movie. Help Phil escape the Groundhog Day time loop by living the perfect day!
- [+] Dice rolls
Paleo, which I somewhat previewed in February 2020, German publisher Hans im Glück is spiffing up two of its older titles for release in late 2020.
One of those titles is Klaus-Jürgen Wrede's Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, which debuted in 2002 as the first of many spin-off standalone games following the incredible success of Wrede's Carcassonne in 2000. This new version — which has changed only in cosmetics — will be released in Germany in October 2020, with an English-language version coming from Z-Man Games.
Note that HiG's developer Bernd Brunnhofer is credited on the cover of this game for the first time.
Carcasonne Junior, né The Kids of Carcassonne, a.k.a. My First Carcassonne.
Curiously enough, the first Portuguese/Spanish version of this game was titled Junior Carcassonne, while the first French version was titled Mon premier Carcassonne, so all of these names have been in the mix from the debut of this tile-laying title for tots in 2009.
Z-Man Games will release this title in English, although the publisher is not certain right now whether the game will hit its production schedule in late 2020 or early 2021.
announced an expansion for the game Tobago eleven years after the game's debut, but Eagle-Gryphon Games has decided to throw down for the record of "longest time between the release of the base game and expansion" by announcing the 2021 release of For Sale: Advisors, an expansion for Stefan Dorra's For Sale, which debuted in 1997!
To add a caveat to this record, the first editions of For Sale had 3-5 players competing for housing structures numbered 1-20, with those players then selling those locations for checks worth $3-20 million, with a couple of $0 checks thrown in for good measure.
The bidding rules also changed, with equal bids no longer being allowed, and with most players taking back half their bids rounded down instead of up. The game was the same, but not the same, akin to an Earth-2 version of For Sale, albeit one more in line with what Dorra originally intended.
In any case, here's what you'll find in For Sale: Advisors: "This expansion adds a third phase to the classic game For Sale, with players starting the game by bidding to hire advisors who will then assist in the second and third phases of the game when players acquire houses, then sell them."
Should you not already have For Sale, in 2021 Eagle-Gryphon Games also plans to release For Sale Autorama, a game by Stefan Dorra in which 3-6 players buy and sell vehicles — cars, motorcycles, RVs, semi-trucks, etc. — over three distinct phases, with players first bidding to hire advisors, after which those advisors then assist them in the other two phases of the game: purchasing vehicles, then selling them.
I don't know whether this would be wildly fun or would flatten out the variability of the offerings (and the payouts) to make everything average. Stuck at home with too many thought experiments these days...
- [+] Dice rolls
26 Sep 2020
Neil BunkerUnited Kingdom
[Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move on September 9, 2020. All images were provided by Gemma Newton. —WEM]
DM: Hi, Gemma, thank you for joining us. Please can you tell us a bit about yourself?
GN: Hi, Neil, thanks for having me. I'm Gemma Newton, the founder of Moonstone Games and designer behind a little game called Plotalot. I live in a quaint village in Berkshire in the UK. It's pretty idyllic, lots of walks and green space which I love, with my husband and cat. Besides making games, I am a freelance copywriter, writing for technology, food, and nutrition industries mainly.
I grew up five minutes from my current home on a farm where my parents worked with horses. I moved away to the bright lights of London for a while to study and start my career in marketing but inevitably returned to my countryside roots to live and work. I think growing up in such an agricultural environment has fueled my love of nature and being in nature, meaning I now spend a lot of time walking, climbing, and gardening as hobbies. I find the natural world my biggest inspiration for ideas and that shows in the first game I've published.
DM: Your first published game, Plotalot, has a horticultural theme. What do you think it is about that theme, and themes involving the natural world in general, that makes them perennially appealing to gamers?
GN: I think we're all drawn to the natural world; after all, in the grand scheme of things we haven't been living in urban spaces for that long. It's in our DNA to want to experience and to some extent maybe even control the wildness of nature, and this makes for some compelling mechanics and gameplay when it comes to designing a new game. Nature is also beautiful — the most beautiful place you can be in my opinion. Since the start of civilization it has inspired art, literature, and science as we try to mimic, capture, and now protect it, so it makes sense that designers and players feel comfortable working with this broad theme.
DM: Despite the "gentle" appearance, Plotalot does contain a significant "take that" element. What inspired this combination of theme and mechanics?
GN: Plotalot was created out of a desire to build a game which my family would play. I had started to get into gaming myself, but my family just didn't get the bug. I was desperate to find something other than Monopoly to play with them and so out of my brain came this vegetable-themed game.
At the time of developing a theme, I had just planted my first vegetable patch and my Mum was a keen gardener, so I knew it was something she would like. As I watched my vegetables fail and succeed, I took inspiration from the real-life pests I faced such as aphids and caterpillars. I learned about the benefits of a polytunnel and decent fertilizer and weaved those lessons into the mechanics. I struggled with having such a small patch, and this really informed the main mechanism of managing space.
I didn't intend for it to be so "take that", but as I started testing different actions, it was the more interactive cards that made the gameplay between players so fun and special. Over the years, I've balanced the decks carefully so while you can be attacked and take a hit, you also have plenty of opportunities to turn the game back in your favor quickly, too.
DM: Plotalot remains a family-friendly game. Was that an intentional design choice, and how did you achieve it given the take-that aspect?
GN: I wanted a game which a group of adults could play but that kids could get involved with, too. I tested it with children as young as eight, and while they might not have the deeper tactics nailed, they loved the fact that they could play a "take that" action on their parents. Children tend to play the game harsher than adults I find — they'll choose to cause havoc over scoring points any day.
Not only that, the theme also lends itself to families, and I had fun creating family-friendly artwork which would appeal to all ages. I wanted to create a game which, while not deeply educational, could get families interested in having a go at growing their own, knowing from their plays of the game that aphids are bad and bees are good for example.
DM: Plotalot features bright, colorful art. How important do you feel artwork is to the overall experience of playing board games?
GN: For me, it's so important. I love good board game artwork as it enhances the experience of playing a game and is a real testament to why modern board games have made the hobby so popular. No matter the style, I believe the artwork should be just that: a piece of art that helps tell the story of the game and immerse players in the experience.
In Plotalot, I was lucky enough to find an incredible illustrator who characterized my horticultural heroes and villains in a way I could never have imagined. I went through several artists before we met — some so bad that the game nearly never came to life — but Miriam Hull took it to a new level. The style she went with can be appreciated by adults but appeals to children, too, making it a more universal experience.
DM: You decided to publish Plotalot yourself via your company, Moonstone Games. What prompted this decision over seeking out an established publisher, and how has the experience been so far?
GN: I pitched Plotalot to a few publishers but nothing stuck. At the time, the game was still in its early stages, and the rejections were important lessons in how developed games need to be to hit the mark. I was naturally hesitant to go it alone — after all, it's a big ask for one person who already has a full-time career — but I wanted to prove to myself and my family that this idea could be something more. There was also a large part of me, the artistic and eco-conscious part, that saw this as an opportunity to express myself in areas such as sustainability and design which appealed.
So I went it alone and started properly testing and refining the concept to what it is now. Taking it on myself meant taking on the expense, but it allowed for ultimate freedom as well. With this, I was able to control the look and feel, as well as the single-use plastic used in the game which was important to me.
Right now, I would say the experience has been one of steep learning, challenging myself in both a creative and business capacity. It's certainly giving me more confidence in what I can do now and in the future.Plotalot prototype cards
DM: The Kickstarter campaign for Plotalot was successful, and you are now releasing to retail. Can you describe the differences between the two sales outlets? Are there unique challenges to each outlet?
GN: Kickstarter is a scary prospect for a newbie such as myself. It used to be a space for small designers to put their ideas out there, whether fully formed or just as a concept. Nowadays, everything is very polished with huge amounts spent on graphics, videos, and photography. It's a hard place to stand out on a small budget. Despite this, if you produce an honest product that is genuinely unique, it is a fantastic platform for getting your idea to as many people around the world as possible — a truly supportive community of new ideas which is fantastic.
Getting a retailer onboard has been a challenge. I am an unproven designer up against some big names and budgets in the industry. I found it tough to work out the margins so everyone gets a good deal, but this is the nature of selling any product, not just a game. When it comes to Plotalot and getting retailers on board, I have managed to find a compelling price point. Not only that, gamers are charmed by the visual appeal of the game, which really helps a retailer get behind it as they know people will pick up or click on the box. Behind the artwork is a lovely little game that is easy to explain and sell, but first impressions are important in piquing that initial interest.
DM: Moonstone aims to publish board games using eco-friendly manufacturing methods. How are you achieving this, and is achieving it bringing its own set of challenges?
GN: I've always been passionate about creating something that doesn't impact the environment. Growing up on a farm, I learnt the value of the land and nature from a young age, and this has stuck with me throughout my life.
My initial plan was to produce Plotalot 100% plastic-free, but when I went into mass manufacturing, this didn't turn out quite as planned. I was set back in my quest to source plastic-free laminate, which while in existence, just isn't durable enough to last the length of time people keep board games. It biodegrades after just a few years, which is fantastic news for some products, but which means my beautiful game, designed to be played again and again, would deteriorate and only add to the waste problems we face.
In the end, I settled for no single-use plastic, so whilst the cards and box are laminated for long-term durability, there are no components or shipping materials made from plastic anywhere. This leads to a more expensive product to produce and smaller profit margins, but it's something I feel is hugely important. It has also lead to a tighter specification, which in the end has made me more creative with how I get around plastic usage.
To keep the game even less impactful on the planet, I have also worked hard to source UK suppliers and manufacturers rather than defaulting to larger companies in China or Europe. I want to support British business where possible and limit the miles my products travel before they hit people's tables. To top it all off, Moonstone Games also works with Ecologi, offsetting business activities by supporting reforestation projects across the world. As you can tell, being eco-conscious is pretty important to me!
DM: Although you are still relatively new to the industry, is there anything you wish you had known at the start?
GN: There are so many things I wish I knew then that I know now, and I'm sure this pattern will continue — you are constantly learning. One of the key things I wish I'd done earlier was to integrate a pledge manager into my Kickstarter planning. Right before I submitted the campaign, I decided to go with BackerKit, but I should have done it earlier as it would have helped me with managing my shipping costs more efficiently. This was a huge learning curve and next time, I'll get them involved much earlier.
I think the other thing I wish I'd known at the start was just how supportive and generous the board gaming community can be. As a creator, I obsess over the details, but the board game community just love games no matter their shape, size, or theme and avidly support new ideas. Whether you're a big name publisher or a one-woman band, there is a huge amount of support for everyone releasing games at the moment.
DM: What's next for Moonstone Games?
GN: I can't wait to see Plotalot being played around the world by my backers and buyers. From here I have plans to develop an expansion for the game if there's demand for it, which add new mechanics and components to expand the gameplay.
I also want to develop more games beyond Plotalot and have some concepts already in prototype form for testing. Wherever I go, I observe real-world situations and twist them into game mechanics which I've not seen before; it's becoming quite an obsession. One thing that I know for sure if that my style is very much themed around nature, animals, and farming as it's where I'm most inspired, so you can look forward to some more games along these lines.
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Clank! Legacy and being a fan of all things Clank!, I think it's great to see that Renegade Games released Evan Lorentz's Clank! Adventuring Party, an expansion that adds asymmetrical starting decks and allows up to six players to get their burgle on in Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure, while also being compatible with a completed copy of Clank! Legacy.
What will you find in the box?Quote:The thieves' guild is recruiting! Clank! Adventuring Party expands your merry band to include up to six players in your dungeon run!Indie Boards & Cards launched a Kickstarter campaign in February 2020 for the newest standalone expansion in the magical Aeon's End series, Aeon's End: Outcasts, designed by Sydney Engelstein, Nick Little, and Kevin Riley, and targeted for retail release in late October 2020.
Want a new thieving identity? Shuffle up as one of six unique characters, each with their own asymmetrical starting deck and special abilities:
• Lead trusty companions as the Dwarf Agnet
• Build wonderous collections as the Elf D'allan
• Smash hordes of enemies as the Orc Garignar
• Sling arcane spells as the mage Lenara
• Amass primate power as the MonkeyBot Prime
• Or stir up a paw full of trouble as the devious cat Whiskers
But beware: the ravenous hydra Hexavultus won't give up his treasures easily...
As a follow-up to its predecessor, Aeon's End: The New Age, Aeon's End: Outcasts continues the epic narrative and introduces new mages, nemesis, gems, relics, and spells that are fully compatible with all existing Aeon's End content. In more detail from the publisher:Quote:Aeon's End: Outcasts continues the Expedition system that was introduced in Aeon's End: New Age, which allows players to replay all of the content they own in a short campaign format. After each game, players receive new treasures and player cards that allow them to become more powerful. However, the nemeses that players will face grow stronger and stronger with each battle.Dale of Merchants 3 is the newest standalone game in the Dale of Merchants family from designer Sami Laakso and his publishing company Snowdale Design, and the game is currently available for pre-order if you missed the Kickstarter campaign from May 2020.
Aeon's End: Outcasts follows Z'hana, an original Aeon's End breach mage who has turned her back on New Gravehold, and Xaxos, who was exiled after betraying his fellow mages. Xaxos comes to Z'hana with a quest to find a mythical legend, the Fountain of Souls, which can supposedly bring back mages who have fallen in battle.
While in the Void, the Gravehold life dial is replaced with Xaxos himself, who needs to be protected if you're going to stay safe from the corrupting atmosphere of the Void. Unlike Gravehold, Xaxos is a mage in his own right and can help the players out with powerful abilities.
In addition to the new mode, more unique breaches, more thought-provoking cards, more mage-specific tokens, and more entirely brand new mechanisms, Aeon's End: Outcasts comes with eight fresh mages that each bring their own playstyle to the table.
Here's a brief description of what you can expect in Dale of Merchants 3:Quote:It is an age of great discoveries. New and wonderful items find their ways into the hands of the greatest merchants, and if there ever is a place those traders love, it is the town of Dale. There's an extraordinary guild in the Dale founded by the greatest merchants. The tricky part is getting the membership since one must win the annual trading competition to be invited to the guild.
Notable animalfolk merchants from all over the world have gathered in the town to take part in the event. Everyone has only one goal in mind — to be celebrated as the winner and the newest member of the legendary guild.
In Dale of Merchants — a series of deck building games set in Daimyria, a world of animalfolks — players take the roles of those participating merchants learning new techniques, trading goods, and managing their stock. The player who first manages to complete their astounding merchant stall wins the game and gets access to the guild!
Dale of Merchants 3 is a standalone game that introduces six new animalfolk decks and that can be played by itself and combined with other games from the Dale of Merchants series.
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Grey Fox Games has picked up Campaign Trail — first Kickstarted in 2016 by designers David, Nathan, and Jeff Cornelius for release through Cosmic Wombat Games — for release in a new edition that will be largely unchanged from the original game aside from the removal of the "Dirty Politics" module to lower the cost of the base game, as explained here by Jeff Cornelius.
That new edition will initially be available via an October 2020 Kickstarter from Grey Fox Games, which will also feature the introduction of a Green Party expansion for the game, the image of which contains all the info I know about this item, i.e., none.
• U.S. publisher 25th Century Games will release a new edition of Reiner Knizia's Ra in 2021, most likely in the second half of the year. Chad Elkins of 25th Century says that right now he's working on finding the right artist, so there are no details to share about how this version of the game might compare to earlier ones.
MATCH 5, you just have to find a common link between two icons. Use your imagination to find an answer to each of ten combinations in three minutes." — you get a good sense of how this Carl Brière design from Synapses Games will play. MATCH 5 is for 2-8 players and will be released in 2021.
• Have you completed all fifty missions included in the co-operative trick-taking game The Crew and want more? Or want more anyway no matter how many missions you've completed? Thames & Kosmos, the North American branch of KOSMOS, has posted fifteen new missions — collectively dubbed "The Deimos Adventure" — in a print-and-play format on its website.
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World Changers is a card game for 1-4 players from Japanese designer THEKI and publisher Korea Boardgames that seems to have been born from the "deserted island" conversation that sometimes arises between friends.
Here's a summary of the setting and gameplay:Quote:Who would you take to another planet if Earth were no longer inhabitable? What if you could pick people from long bygone eras?Macaron, a 1-5 player trick-taking game from Ta-Te Wu of Sunrise Tornado Game Studio.
Turns out that you are the captain of an interstellar spaceship, and you need to assemble your crew to live on a new planet. You can recruit them from historical persons throughout the whole of human history, but each person has their own peculiarities. Can you make the best team to let humanity thrive once more?
In World Changers, players draft cards from a common display with each card having an unique effect and a Legacy value. On their turn, players can either "invite" or "pass", with invite adding a card to the player's display, that is, a member of that player's team. Each card's effect is triggered either when the card is taken or when certain conditions are met. When no cards are left to invite or when each player passes in succession, the game ends and the player with the highest total Legacy of their members wins.
The game includes a booklet full of art and stories of the 32 historical persons featured in the game!
Macarons hold a special place in my heart as after SPIEL '15, my wife and son joined me in Europe to visit a former exchange student in Hamburg and friends in the Netherlands and Belgium, with us concluding this trip with a stop in Paris that included a food tour of the Latin Quarter, with the guide explaining everything about the meats, cheeses, wine, and yes, macarons found in this area.
In any case, here's a rundown of the setting and what you're doing in the game:Quote:To celebrate King Louis' birthday, royal pâtissiers are busy preparing macaron gift boxes for the royal family and guests. At the end of the celebration, the pâtissier who has made the most boxes will win and become the most prestigious pâtissier in France — so you must be watchful for dark currents underneath the cheerful pâtissiers and colorful macarons as an allergen might slip into your box and ruin the pastry. Are you ready to make some macarons?
In Macaron, players are French pâtissiers preparing macaron gift boxes. In every game, a number of rounds will be played, and each round ends when thirteen tricks have been played or a player has prepared at least eight boxes. Players receive victory points (VPs) at the end of the round based on the number of boxes prepared.
In more detail, the deck will contain 5-7 suits of macarons based on the number of players, and these macarons are put together into 3-4 groups, e.g., almond and pistachio are in group A, while strawberry and blueberry are in group B. Each round, one group will be determined to be "royal", and the 1-2 suits in that group are trump for the round. In addition, one flavor (not group) of macarons will be the allergen for the round.
Standard trick-taking rules are used, with the leading player being allowed to play anything and with other players needing to follow suit. Whoever wins the trick scores 1 box — or 3 boxes if the trick was won with a 1. If a trick contains an allergen, then no boxes are scored, except if the trick also contains a 2, which negates the allergen. Players track boxes won on a scoring track, and they also use this board at the start of a round to bet on the number of tricks they expect to win, with players winning or losing points based on how well their bet matches reality.
Macaron lasts a number of rounds until someone passes the VP threshold established at the start of the game. The solo rules have you compete against an AI player, Emma, who follows particular rules for deciding what to play.
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here — and U.S. publisher Bézier Games is one of the publishers taking part, with Whistle Mountain from Scott Caputo and Luke Laurie — originally covered here — being demoed on Sept. 24 and with Ted Alspach's Silver Dagger, the fourth title in the publisher's Silver series — being demoed on Sept. 23.
Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game, which bears an October 28, 2020 release date:Quote:In Silver Dagger, as in the other Silver card games, everyone starts the game with five face-down cards, with everyone being able to see two cards of their choice. Cards are numbered 0-13, with the number showing how many werewolves the character on that card attracts, and each character (number) has a different special power.You can combine cards from Silver Amulet, Silver Bullet, Silver Coin, and this title as you like to create your own custom deck as long as you have cards in each of the slots from 0 to 13.
On a turn, you draw the top card of the deck or discard pile, then either discard it to use the power of the card (but only if it came from the deck), discard it without using the power (ditto), or replace one or more of your face-down cards with this card; you can replace multiple cards only if they bear the same number, and you must reveal the cards to prove this, being penalized if you're wrong.
Silver Dagger contains 14 new roles and abilities not seen in the previous titles, some of which allow you to strategically switch the direction of gameplay, the #4 zombie in particular! As might be expected, zombies are tough to get rid of; in game terms, you can't place them on top of the discard pile, and they need to be face up in order to pass them to the previous player. The game also includes helpful roles such as the debt collector, which subtracts a point for each card held by your opponents, and the halfling, who has the power to divide your entire score for the round in half.
As in other Silver games, call for a vote when you think you have the fewest werewolves circling your village. Your opponents will then have only one more chance to save themselves — or to sabotage you!
HeidelBÄR Games is taking part in Castle TriCon, an online game demonstration event run with Horrible Guild and Czech Games Edition that's open to the public on Sept. 26-27, 2020. (HeidelBÄR Games will also take part in SPIEL.digital 2020, and BGG will also livestream during that event. Schedule currently in the works!)
Anyway, one of two releases coming from HeidelBÄR Games is Anansi, a trick-taking card game from Cyril Blondel and Jim Dratwa for 3-5 players that's a somewhat changed version of 2016's Eternity from the same designers. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:Quote:Some say Anansi is a trickster, but he is a spider for sure and sometimes even a man. Let me tell you why he is also known as the "Keeper of Stories": One day, Anansi decided to gather all stories and become the wisest of all. After many years, he finally had all the stories in the world, but poor Anansi did not feel any wiser. Eventually he realized that true wisdom is not achieved by keeping knowledge to yourself, so he decided to share his stories and inspire people with them — and believe it or not, that was how this game was made!• The other title due out from HeidelBÄR Games is a new edition of Spartaco Albertarelli's Coyote, first released in 2003, with this game also having some changes from earlier versions. Here's the story behind the game:
In Anansi, you have to be smart about which tricks you are trying to get. Each trick represents a story, but stories untold are worth only a little. If you can acquire followers — by playing a card not to the trick, but for its indicated number of followers — you can match up your followers with stories to inspire them, and inspiring all your followers should always be your goal because this grants you the trickster's favor and sweet bonus points.
Note that cards played to gain followers can affect the trump suit, which means that the trump can change several times in a game. It is up to you to adapt to the new situation!
Anansi is in the same game line as Spicy, with the game box and card backs being decorated with a special metallic print in purple. For such a rich and cultural theme, publisher HeidelBÄR Games paired up with Nigerian artist Dayo Baiyegunhi and South African artist Emmanuel Mdlalose to create a unique and colorful look for the story world of Anansi.Quote:One day Coyote crossed the river with his friends, but he was carrying too many things and almost drowned before Bear pulled him out of the water. Poor Coyote had lost everything.As with Spicy and Anansi, for Coyote HeidelBÄR Games has hired an artist from the community in which the game's story is set, specifically Zona Evon Shroyer, with the publisher describing her as a Yupik Alaskan native and a master of traditional Northwest Coastal art. All three of the artists for these HeidelBÄR titles, as well as Jimin Kim on Spicy, have previously done no game artwork, and I think HeidelBÄR deserves a lot of credit for bringing new "voices" into the industry.
They sat down by a fire to dry off and rest. Coyote became jealous of the other animals because they still had all their things, so he challenged them to a bluffing game to win their belongings. The other animals agreed to the challenge as they thought Coyote would never win. After all, he is known to never tell the truth — but in this game everybody has to lie because no one knows the truth...
In the bluffing game Coyote, you always see the cards of the other players, but never your own. When it's your turn, you must announce a number that is less than the total of all the cards in the game, yet higher than the previous number given. Alternatively, you can challenge the number previously announced. Finally, when all the cards are revealed, you'll see who has the cunning Coyote on their side.
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wrote about The Dietz Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Jim Dietz of Jolly Roger Games and Ultra PRO "to produce games which enhance critical thinking, the use of math, and historical knowledge with the goal of generating revenue to endow scholarships for budding teachers and current teachers seeking to bring creative new means of education to the classroom".
The organization's first release was Jason Little's 3 Years of War, and it's on Kickstarter with its second title until September 24, 2020: Supercharged from designers Mike Clifford and Mike Siggins, with this design being a reworking of their Grand Prix Manager from 1992 (KS link). Here's an overview:Quote:Supercharged is a game about motor racing in the 1930s for 1-5 players. The system allows for a full grid of cars — not just the players', but also privateers that ran alongside, and usually hindered, the factory teams.link), but better late than never, I suppose.
Each player controls two racing teams: one in the top category and another slower team unlikely to win, but capable of reaching the podium and ending in the money. That is important since the game's winner is based on money earned. Winning, though, is adjusted based on the level of cars a player selects, so taking the "best" cars may not be the optimal strategy for victory when the car ability bonus is applied.
Gameplay is handled with a randomized team draw that determines player order in addition to generating random events; these events emphasize the dangerous and unreliable nature of 1920s and 1930s driving, courses, and early race technology. On a player's turn, cars move a certain number of spaces with the option of slipstreaming, "charging" (which permits multiple bonus spaces if clear track is ahead), and blocking (which can force trailing cars to spin out).
The game takes 45-60 minutes to play a race, and games can be combined into a multi-race contest or even a full season if the players wish.
Plantopia: The Card Game is a 2-5 player game from Daryl Chow, co-designer of The Artemis Project and Remember Our Trip and head designer of the Singaporean publisher Origame. Plantopia is based on the Instagram comic series Life of a Potato, and it plays as follows:Quote:In the game, players harness their gardening abilities to contend for the coveted title of Plantopia's "Champion Gardener". Manage the plants in your hand and in your tableau, and plant the best combos to earn the most magical leaves. But pay attention to all of your fellow gardeners, as whoever can predict the weather can make their plants grow!• Illustrated playing card decks have a lot of fans on Kickstarter, but I've never paid much attention to them. One that recently caught my eye, though, is a set from Sunish Chabba in which he combined details from several Hieronymus Bosch paintings to create an original work of sorts, with the 54 cards in that deck recreating that image when you assemble them in the right way. (KS link)
Capitalize upon the immediate powers of the baby plants while harnessing the scoring combos of the Treevolved plants. Will you go for the fast-growing flowers, the card-drawing cacti, or the weather-controlling trees? Or a combination of all of the above?
The background images of the Bosch art interact with the card symbols in various ways, creating a deeper image that blurs the planes in which everything exists — which seems appropriate for a design inspired by Bosch.
• And I might as well highlight another non-game item now that I've started down that path. In February 2020, I wrote about a new 3D-building system from Stéphane Villain called CARAPACES in a round-up of items seen during the Spielwarenmesse 2020 trade fair.
Publisher Romain-Guirec Piotte has now launched a funding campaign on Ulule (link) through the end of October 2020 in which you can acquire 100, 200, or 300 triangles in white, pink, or black (or a combination of colors), with each pack of one hundred triangles including ten copies of ten differently sized triangles.Prophetic sculpture from January 2020
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