Image matters

Unless you’re a very outgoing person or working in marketing, you will probably not want to boast about your achievements, or maybe not even see what you do as worth mentioning at all. In fact, you might hate the idea that everyone expects that you constantly post photos and write updates about every little thing that happens in your life. I can see where you’re coming from, and there is nothing wrong with that, but if you’re a game designer, publisher or a press person, you will need to try and be somehow present, even if that feels alien.
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Market prices

When you look at buying a modern tabletop game, you will have a rough idea as to how much you think it is worth – or you will have some sort of budget in your head that you want to stick to, and which guides you to the sort of games that you think you can afford. Your price expectations will be based on things such as the quantity and quality of the components, replayability and probably also rarity or hotness of a game. Yet, the amount of money you’re willing to put on the counter doesn’t always match the real cost or value of a game and is either too much or too little in comparison.

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I got a feeling

Playing tabletop games is something we all enjoy in this hobby. That’s by definition. Playing harks back to our childhood, and it is said that you learn a lot through play. So when a game reminds us of something from when we were little, it creates some extra magic. However, not everything in our childhood, or other stages of our lives, was positive. So there is some interesting interplay between our experiences and playing games, which I want to investigate a little further.

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Limitations

I was inspired by a comment on a recent Kickstarter campaign to investigate how a publisher’s decisions about how a game is released can give customers the feeling of exclusivity in a negative sense, the fear of missing out, an opportunity for profit, and many more things that can negatively affect the opinion people have towards the company or individuals releasing the game. So let’s look at how different choices can be viewed differently.

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Ballot box

How do you consume tabletop game blog reviews?

Please help me by completing this quick poll below. I want to find out what your favourite way of getting tabletop game reviews is. I really appreciate your help. Read more

Colorful plastic monkeys

Community spirit

There are a lot of great things happening in the tabletop game community, which is great and for a lot of us, playing games is about meeting new people, having fun and sharing a hobby. Yet, growing the community and showing people, who have never heard about board games, what it is that we all love about playing them, is a different thing and often seen as something that is up to boardgame cafes, tabletop evangelists or game publishers’ marketing teams to achieve. However, we all can do something to grow the hobby and share with more people the joy of playing games.

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Group mentality

Solo gaming has a huge following and playing against an AI or trying to solve an objective or puzzle set by the game can be very satisfying. Playing two player games is a different challenge, whether you play co-operative or competitive, and I love playing games with my wife. However, having three or more players changes the situation again and it is this player count that I want to delve into a bit deeper.

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Kicking it

Let’s not beat around the bush – Kickstarter seems to become more and more the de facto way to sell tabletop games. It used to be the domain for small designers to make their game become a reality, but now established publishers use the crowdfunding platform to bring their latest release to market. I don’t want to discuss whether this trend is good or bad  – there are plenty of discussions on this topic already. Instead, I want to focus on how people use it to buy games and what their expectations are.

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Abstract games

Chess, Draughts, Cribbage, Bridge, Go and many other traditional games are completely abstract in nature. Yes, sure, there is a theme in Chess. There are two fighting armies facing each other in the battlefield, and it makes sense for the peasants, i.e. the pawns, forming the biggest part of the army and being the most dispensable – but it pretty tenuous when it comes to how these pieces move. Draughts, on the other hand, is a completely abstract game of course. Many traditional games have great depth and complexity, showing that there is no need for a theme in a good game. So let’s explore this some more.

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Home makers

As the tabletop games industry grows and companies consolidate, lots of independent game designers and publishers, including self-publishers, enter the market space. You would think that these smaller players’ products are of a lower quality because their budgets are smaller, but instead many of these people create amazing games with beautiful components, often made themselves by hand – and I’m not talking just about the finished product, but also very high-quality prototypes.

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Can you hear me?

Language in tabletop games has been a topic for quite some time now. Many games aim to be language independent, using symbols and graphics, or colours and numbers to convey how the game works, instead of words. However, even language-independent games use some kind of language, which becomes only too clear when the symbols in a game have not been carefully chosen and just don’t make sense. So language is critical when playing games for many reasons, some of which I want to discuss in this article.

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Another day in paradise

It was around this time last year that I came back from my first visit to a UK tabletop games exhibition, all elated and happy. I had felt welcome and saw a lot of opportunities for the little venture I had in mind at the time. I spoke to a lot of people, looked at a lot of games, bought more than I probably should have and realized that I wanted to work a lot more in this wonderful industry. Of course, I’m talking about UK Games Expo, and I was back again this year, and it was even better – if that’s possible.

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Family gaming

I think for many in the hobby, playing games is about having fun with other people – and that is no more so true when it comes to enjoying a game with the family. I absolutely love spending an evening solving crimes or building the best bird reserve there is, instead of sitting in front of the TV. It’s great to play a quick mint tin game while we wait for our food in the pub on a family day out. There are many opportunities to play games with the family, and the games don’t necessarily need to be family games.

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Who to see at UK Games Expo

As you will know by now, UK Games Expo 2019 is just around the corner – a week on Friday, to be precise. So the question is who you should go and see on your visit – assuming you’ll be there of course. There is no way that I can list all the over 400 exhibitors and their games, or mention all the events, seminars and other things that are going on at this amazing exhibition. However, I can focus on who I’m planning to see, bearing in mind that I’ll only be there on the Sunday. So it’s going to be a jam-packed day, but I just can’t wait. Read more

Night, night

I am very lucky to have a group of friends who live nearby and who all love playing tabletop games. We meet once a week, more or less, round each other’s houses, taking turns to make sure nobody is the host all the time, bring snacks and drinks, so it doesn’t get too expensive for anyone, and play a game or two, depending on how we feel and what we play. These games nights are very important to me, but not everyone is blessed with this opportunity, so I want to talk about what other options there are. Read more

UK Games Expo is coming…

UK Games Expo 2019 is around the corner now. In just over three weeks, 40,000 or so visitors and over 350 exhibitors will descend on the Birmingham NEC to explore the over 24,000 sqm’s worth of exhibition halls, plus the dozen or so of rooms in the nearby NEC Hilton Hotel and probably other venues. From Friday, 31 May to Sunday, 2 June, the family friendly exhibition celebrates all things tabletop games and offers virtually everyone something of interest. I will be there on the Sunday and can’t wait to see what’s on offer. Read more

Replay

We all love to play lots of different games with lots of different people, it’s only natural. There is also always the draw of the Cult of the New and the Fear of Missing Out, tempting us to play new games all the time. Most of us only have a limited amount of time to play games each week, so chances are we play each game only once, or maybe twice – and if we’re really lucky three time – before moving onto the next. We might revisit a game if there is a lull, but usually only after many weeks, by which time we’ve forgotten how the game works. I am just as guilty as everyone else, but I have started to come round to the idea that playing the same game many times before moving on is actually much more fun. Read more

Fun and games

There are many reasons why people play modern tabletop games. Some love the competitive element of games and enjoy winning. There is nothing wrong with that of course, and that is highlighted by the amount of boardgame contests that are available every year. I also enjoy when I win a game, especially because it doesn’t happen very often, but for me playing games is much more about fun – and it’s this that I want to focus on in this article. Read more

Teacher, teacher

We have a sort of house rule in our games group where you’re not allowed to introduce a new game, unless you know the rules and can teach it to the group. It might sound harsh, but it makes for a smoother experience during the games night. I know other groups do it differently. They might expect the whole group to learn the game themselves beforehand, which is of course also an option. However, whatever approach you choose, you will probably come across a situation where you will teach a game to someone, so I wanted to discuss an approach I have started to adopt recently. Read more

Brain burners

Don’t get me wrong – I like heavy games, where you have to plan ahead and think about every step. I particularly like strategy games where you can outmanoeuvre your opponents by choosing your tactics wisely and making the right decisions at the right time. I enjoy it when I make steady progress and my position becomes stronger on every turn. It feels very satisfying when everything snaps into place and your earlier choices allow you to continue down the same route and everything just flows. Yet, it usually takes me quite a while to get good at a heavier game. Read more

Intelligent design

Let me start by saying that I completely appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into thinking of, prototyping, designing, playtesting and developing a game. It takes hundreds of hours of playtest sessions to refine a game and very clever people to create a great game that flows nicely, is balanced and creates the intended player experience. So when people buy a game and change its rules without second thought, they disrespect the designers’ and developers’ hard work, time and effort. After all, your quick and hasty rule changes are unlikely to improve a game that has gone through years of development and been tested by many, many people. Yet, I think there are reasons why you would want to change a game, and I don’t think there is any disrespect to anyone by doing so in those situations. Read more

New arrivals

For many of us it is easy to forget how we started with tabletop games. We have now played so many different games and followed the industry for some time that we forget the games we used to play and love. Of course, we have stopped playing some of these early games for good reasons. Our tastes will have changed and as we discovered more games we realized what it is that we enjoy more than the games we started with. However, that doesn’t mean our early games are bad games. In fact, it will be these games that are great for introducing new people into the community. Read more

UK Games Expo

I joined the tabletop games industry as a blogger only recently (less than a year ago actually) and my journey really started when I visited UK Games Expo in 2018. I had started to work on a little project that I thought might eventually make it onto Kickstarter, and I felt that by attending the event I could do a little research, maybe get some contacts and generally get a better feel for the tabletop games industry and community. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, because the UK Games Expo is an amazing event, and the whole atmosphere is very friendly and welcoming. I would argue that my visit to the expo made up my mind about wanting to do more within this great community – and I knew I had to return for UK Games Expo 2019. Read more

Friendly competition

I was recently approached by Chris Anderson to be a judge in The Board Game Workshop Design Contest 2019, and I felt very honoured. After all, I’m not a well known game reviewer, nor am I a famous YouTuber with over 1,000 subscribers. However, the contest is open to anyone who is interested in tabletop games, which I think is really great. Here is a contest that aims to really help the community of designers and bring them together with real people who love playing games. It is these sort of events that we need more of. Read more

Snookered

I recently went to the Watford Colosseum to watch the Snooker Shoot Out. I have enjoyed snooker for most of my life now and used to play it regularly with friends, even though I’ve not played in many years now. I know most people find snooker boring, and it can be, but you would have loved the Snooker Shoot Out, which is fast paced and a real laugh. Afterwards I thought about the idea that snooker could be considered a two player only, dexterity tabletop game. I appreciate it’s stretching the concept a little, but then I reckon there are other terms in the tabletop games industry that are used loosely. Read more

Online pros

As you may know, I’m very active on Yucata.de, a website where you can play over 60 games online with other people around the world on a play-and-pass basis. I also frequent The Crucible Online a fair bit, where I play with my KeyForge decks against others. You can find me as “oliverkinne” on both, so feel free to invite me to a game. I also play a few games against an AI on my smartphone, such as Star Realms and Terra Mystica. I would say I still prefer playing with my friends and family, because I love the face-to-face social element that you just don’t get with online games. However, online games, and I include apps as well as websites in this term, offer a number of advantages that make playing that way more enjoyable in other ways. Read more

Telling stories

The more modern tabletop games I play, the more I realize how stories are at the core of each and every one of them. I accept that there are abstract games all about mechanisms, strategy and making the most effective moves, but even these games have a story to them, even if it’s not at the fore. After all, stories are an intrinsic part of our culture, and storytelling has been around for such a long time, that nobody knows when it began. Read more

Bling, bling

Inspired by a recent video from Jamey Stegmaier talking about “overproduced” games (see here: https://youtu.be/PxRpL-JQMfI), I thought I’d share my thoughts on the topic. Please watch Jamey’s video first, so you know what the word “overproduced” means in the context of his video and my article. The topic is quite broad, and I won’t be able cover every aspect, but instead I’ll discuss a select few areas that I think can help focus everyone’s thoughts on the subject and allow you to be more constructive in your feedback to publishers. Read more

The beautiful game

Making a tabletop game takes a lot of effort and a lot of people. Everyone will think of game publishers and game designers, maybe even playtesters. There are also rulebook writers and editors, the manufacturers and distributors, as well as the marketing people, and many more. Who are often overlooked are the illustrators, even though it is their work that for many of us will be in our mind when we think about games. Read more

I see the light

For a lot of seasoned gamers only heavy games with a lot of complexity, many different mechanisms and that last at least two hours are worth playing. If you bring a light game to your weekly games group, chances are it will not be chosen and left on the pile. That is a real shame, because many of the recently released lighter games are a lot of fun and actually more tricky and demanding than you’d think. Read more

Eventful exhibitions

It’s a new year and a new exhibition and event season. There are dozens upon dozens of tabletop game exhibitions each year around the world, from the giant, annual, international Essen Spiel, GenCon and UK Games Expo filling many exhibition halls held over several days, to the smallest local events held in a single room and running only for a single day – and of course many sizes of events in between. It’s impossible to attend all of them, even though it would be very tempting. So here are some tips to help you choose which events to consider for yourself. Read more

Deconstructive criticism

I never thought I would write game reviews, but when given the opportunity to try out a couple of games on Steam for free by DigiDiced, I gave it a go and now publish one game review nearly every week. I wouldn’t claim that I’m a brilliant reviewer or a tabletop game critic. My reviews focus on interesting mechanisms that introduce an interesting twist to a game, and they cover only what I feel are the positives parts of a game. I don’t want to write negative reviews. For many people this probably feels wrong. In their mind a review must cover the pros as well as the cons, or it is one-sided and not useful. Read more

He ain’t heavy

Inspired by a recent #ThrowbackThursday tweet from Board Game Inquistion I thought it would be nice to write about one of my own game related memories from my childhood. Like probably most kids of my generation, I grew up with all the usual classic tabletop games, or boardgames as they were known then: Monopoly (of course), Game of Life (a friend had that one), Chess (I always lost, until one day), Checkers (when there was really nothing else), Ludo (the dice chucker), Stratego (chess on steroids) and probably a few more. Read more

Coming in 2019

Let me start by wishing you a Happy New Year. I hope you enjoyed the holidays and had a chance to relax and recharge. Now that 2019, it’s time to look ahead at my most anticipated games of the coming year. The list happens to consist purely of Kickstarter projects, because that is how I buy most of my games these days, but as the year goes on I will of course keep an eye other releases as well. The list is sorted in expected delivery order, rather than alphabetically or anything else. So here goes. Read more

Tabletop Player Profile – Updated

It has been a couple of months since I last updated my tabletop player profile, as per Quantic Foundry‘s online form. So it’s time to do it again and share the results with you. See the links at the bottom of this article to complete the form yourself, which I highly recommend, and my previous results. Read more

We are family

Christmas is just around the corner, in case you hadn’t noticed, and soon it will be time to visit family and be merry together. For many of us, games will be part of this annual ritual, and I am sure we all have our selection of games that are tried and tested to be compatible with the varying experience within the various family groups who we will be seeing over the holidays. So here are those games that are my go-to selection and come out whenever the wider family comes together – and not only at Christmas time. Read more

Are pea G’s?

Inspired by a recent, and very brief, discussion on Twitter (nod to Kathleen Mercury and Paul Grogan), I decided to investigate the age old question of what makes a role-playing game a role-playing game. Now, let me say that this article is by no means exhaustive, and I am merely trying to touch on the main points only. Also, and this is sort of a spoiler, it turns out that the matter is unlikely to be settled any time soon, and different people have different views of what is a “true” role-playing game and what isn’t, or what game is not a role-playing game, but has role-playing elements. Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter whether a game is, or is not, a role-playing game, as long as you enjoy playing it and have fun with others or on your own. So bearing all of this in mind, let’s start. Read more

Come together

Tabletop games tend to encourage people to come together and enjoy some time together. Even solo games are often enjoyed in company with other solo players, and then of course you have a number of multiplayer solitaire games, where people play the same game at the same time, but basically everyone does their own thing. There are many way of people playing games together, so let me look at each one briefly in turn. Read more

I, Robot

A lot of games now come with an option to play against an artifical oponent – often called an AI, or automa. Don’t worry though, the AI won’t try to take over the world and enslave humanity. Instead an automa is there to offer the option of an additional player. In fact, some games allow you to add multiple automa, if you so wish. Artificial oponents come in many flavours and often provide different levels of difficulty, allowing you to choose how tough you want your new opponent to be. Read more

Human beans

In my view, the tabletop games community is generally a friendly, welcoming group of people. We seem to know that we are all human beings, and each of us has different skills, experiences, backgrounds, challenges and attitudes. We do our best to ignore stereotypes and prejudices and try to allow anyone join in the fun of escaping to another world, solving difficult puzzles or do whatever constitutes playing a game. Of course, our community isn’t perfect, but I would say the trend is in the right direction. The same is true for modern games, and many designers and publishers are clearly doing what they can to allow more people to join in the fun. There is still more work to be done of course, but again the trend seems to be in the right direction. Read more

Small is beautiful

The tabletop games industry has been booming for some years now. Back in September 2016, the The Guardian website describes how the Thirsty Meeples cafe in Oxford taps into “[t]he rise and rise of tabletop gaming” (1). In January 2017, the New Statesman website explains “[h]ow board games became a billion-dollar business” (2), and in December 2017 the Financial Review website describes how “the golden age of board games” (3) allows the Draughts game cafe in London to benefit from the popularity of boardgames and how the industry grew over time. Even as recently as April 2018, an article on the Bloomberg website (4) says that board game nights are the latest way to network. So the boom clearly continues, and it has made me wonder if small players, be they game publishers, designers or developers, rules writers, content creators, game cafe owners or games group or exhibiton organizers, still have a role in the industry. Read more

Guess who

Imperfect information games have been around for a long time. Games like Cluedo or Guess Who? are examples that most people will know and have probably played. In these games you all have the same goal, but everyone has a different set of information, and nobody has the full picture. These type of games create an interesting puzzle for players who try to win without revealing too much information to their opponents. It is often impossible to know which of the possible actions is the best one, and whether it will give others an advantage. A whole branch of game theory is dedicated to solving imperfect information games, but in this blog post I want to describe a couple of games that have built on the basic premise of these type of games and developed it further. Read more

War, huh, what is it good for?

Prompted by my recent review of Lincoln by PSC Games and Worthington Games, I wanted to discuss the topic of war as a theme in modern tabletop games. Depending on whether a game uses a real historic event as its backdrop, or creates a much more abstract scenario, people will react differently. Tackling the American Civil War, as Lincoln does, is very different to using a sci-fi setting with space ships. Many people simply don’t feel comfortable with games set in a dark time of history, while others don’t mind if the game recognizes what has happened and respects the terrible nature of the events from the past. Read more

Whenever, wherever

Inspired by Tweets following the recent Essen Spiel 2018 by a fair few people, I thought I write about one of the reasons I love the tabletop games industry: wanting to play a game whenever, wherever. In fact, many of us try and see a game in everyday activities. It is usually not about being competitive, but much more about being playful, having imagination and sharing an experience with other people – or it can be about beating your own best score, whether this is in a competitive, co-operative or solo game. Read more

Hit me

In many modern tabletop games there is a certain amount of player interaction. The term sounds quite positive. After all, playing games with others is often about interaction and the social aspect. However, the term is actually referring to situations where one player takes an action that directly affects another player. If the effect is negative it is called “take that”, and if it is positive it is called “have this”. Different players like different amounts or different types of player interaction. You can be a care bear or a warmonger. So let’s look at what these different types are and how they affect gameplay. Read more

Bucket and spade

Sandbox, or open world, games have been around in the tabletop games industry for a very long time. After all, that is exactly what role play games are all about. Every player pits their imagination and wits against the games master’s plans. Nothing is impossible, within the rules of the environment of course, and every decision has consequences. However, when it comes to creating a convincing sandbox environment without using a games master you quickly reach limitations. Yet, there are a number of recent releases that create the illusion of a completely open world really well and in an elegant fashion. Read more

Sandcastles

The upcoming release of 8Bit Box by Iello is exciting people for a number of reasons. A new game from Iello is always exciting, and for this game there is of course the nostalgia. My first games console was an ATARI 2600, so I will certainly reminisce. However, and I think this is what is most exciting about this release, is that the game is designed to allow everyone to make their own games. Read more

Just the two of us

Most tabletop games are aimed at three or more players, with possibly a two player variant – and maybe even a solo option. However, more and more games coming out recently are either specifically aimed at two players only, or are designed to be played with two or more players. There is a choice between co-operative and competitive games, anything from light to heavy games and with virtually all types of game mechanisms found in other multi-player games. Read more

Tabletop Player Profile – Updated

In a previous article (see Co-op or competitive?) I showed what my tabletop player profile looks like, as per Quantic Foundry’s online form at https://apps.quanticfoundry.com/surveys/start/tabletop/ – which I highly recommend to everyone. In the article I said I would check my profile monthly, which didn’t come to pass as other things got in the way. However, I have now completed the survey again and unsurprisingly, my profile hasn’t changed a huge amount, but the subtle differences are interesting. You can see the latest results at the end of this article – and the previous results in the article Co-op or competitive? Read more

DIY aka PnP

The advent of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms has changed how people buy games. Buying games from renowned publishers through an online platform has never been particularly controversial, but buying new games from little known designers who decided to self-publish their games is more tricky. At the end of the day, it is very much about trust, and someone who is unknown will find it very hard to build up that trust with potential customers. Therefore most crowdfunding campaigns now come with a free print-and-play (PnP) download option, so people can try out a version of a new game and decide if it is for them. Read more

Keep on rolling

Since the days of Yahtzee, roll-and-writes, as these games are now known, have made a huge comeback: Roll through the Ages by Matt LeacockKokoro: Avenue of the Kodama by Indie Boards and Cards, Harvest Dice by Grey Fox Games and the recent Railroad Ink by CMON are some of the many games in the genre. Read more

Touchy feely

Pretty much all tabletop games require the use of your senses – sight, hearing and touch at least. You need to look at the board or your cards, listen to what other players do and use your hands to move your meeples or roll dice. Many recent games incorporate elements to help colour blind people, and of course hearing is often not required and can be replaced with sign language. However, no modern tabletop game makes your senses an integral mechanism – that is, until the release of Nyctophobia: The Hunted by Pandasaurus Games. Read more

Roll up your sleeves

Tabletop games can be quite expensive, so it makes sense to protect your investment and make sure game components last a long time. That way, when you have enjoyed your game for a while, you can easily resell it in mint condition, recouping close to the original purchase price, which you can then re-invest in a new game. Read more

Appy gaming

Tabletop games can be enjoyed in a large variety of ways. There are many people who prefer to play solo, usually playing against some sort of AI or automa, others prefer two-player games, often co-operative, but also competitive of course. There are also people who prefer games with several players, and of course there are plenty of people who enjoy a mix of all of the above. Read more

There can be only one

Ever so often something new hits the tabletop game industry and when this happens, it is always hard to say if it is just a flash in the pan or a new breakthrough that will turn out to be a game changer. However, I will stick my head out and make a prediction – and be happy to swallow my hat, if I turn out to be wrong. Read more

Teach me

After playing games for a while, it is time for something new. If you are part of a games group, you may find that others in the group buy new games from time to time and bring them along – or maybe you find a new game that you really like and want to bring along. Either way, the game has to fit the group of course, because otherwise it will not get played at all, or some people in the group will not enjoy it and maybe feel sidelined. So assuming the new game that is being introduced is a good fit, what will happen at your next games night? How will you go about playing? There are several options. Read more

Cutting cakes

There is a great mechanism in tabletop games called “I cut, you choose”, also known as “I split, you choose”, which creates a very interesting dynamic. The mechanism is based on the method used by two people to fairly divide something – let’s say a cake. One person cuts the cake into two slices. That person can decide to make one slice bigger than the other, but it’s the other person who chooses which slice they want. So if the cutter makes one slice bigger than the other, the chooser can decide to just take the bigger slice, which of course encourages the cutter to make both slices equal. Read more

Merge in turn

Prompted by the recent announcement of Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, I thought I would look at co-productions in the games industry as a whole. So, in case you don’t know, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a collaboration between Bézier Games and Stonemaier Games. Designed by Ben Rosset and Matthew O’Malley, with artwork from Agnieszka Dabrowiecka, Laura Bevon and Barlomiej Kordowski, this game is an amalgamation of Between Two Cities and Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Read more

Out with the old?

There has been a boom in tabletop games recently. A huge number of games were published through Kickstarter campaigns on top of the slew of games that publishers released to the market. It has become a matter of “too many games, too little time” – or maybe even “too many games, too little money”. New, hot games are all the talk and many games groups flit from game to game, hunting for the latest and greatest. Read more

You’re barred

If you play tabletop games with friends or maybe even in a games group, you may have come across certain taboos. There are things that people don’t like you doing. Some of these are to with ensuring that there is no cheating, others are about keeping a game in pristine condition, others are just some sort of personal house rules or traditions. Different people or groups will have different rules, and many will seem obvious or sensible, but others may feel unusual. Read more

Box clever?

As everyone knows, tabletop games come in boxes – most of them cardboard, some metal, others maybe plastic, and a small handful simply come in an envelope. Game boxes are often beautifully illustrated, and for many it is important to display the boxes prominently to show off the artwork or at the very least marvel at their collection of games. However, some people see the box as merely a way of storing their games. So the games end up in a cupboard or under the bed, rather than on display. It is more about finding a place to store them. Read more

Glamming it up

If you have played plenty of tabletop games, you will probably have come across many different times of game components of varying quality. Some games go all out and the components are amazing, really bringing the game to life. Other games only come with basic components. So what are your options to take these games to the next level and improve your game experience? Read more

Digital to analog converter

Some of us will have been avid computer gamers before coming round to playing tabletop games – and of course there will have found digital versions of tabletop games and then started playing more computer games. In this article I want to focus on tabletop games that were inspired by computer games. These games have been coming out sporadically over the last few years and some are of course better than others. However, I will not be reviewing any of them, but instead highlight the different types of tabletop games that are available or soon to be released. Read more

Testing times

As an avid tabletop gamer you will know that new games come out all the time, but what is not always clear is how much testing time has gone into creating a new game. There are many things that get tested when a new game is developed, but in this article I want to focus on play testing. In fact, this is my second article on the topic, but I think it is worth writing about it again, because play testing is such a critical and time consuming part of bringing new games to the market. A lot of smaller game designers rely on play tester volunteers to achieve an adequate amount of play testing time. So if you want to play a game that hasn’t been released yet and provide some constructive feedback, then play testing is for you. Read more

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Keeping it in

If you host a regular games night, you probably know the feeling of getting everything ready in time before everyone arrives. Set up the games table, make sure the drinks are chilled, glasses and coasters are put out, crisps and other snacks put in bowls and the games is set up – and this is often the crux. Some games take a long time to set up and sometimes even longer to put away again. It can feel like the setting up and putting away takes longer than playing the game. It’s such a chore. Read more

Teaching games

If you love tabletop games, you probably end up buying new games all the time. That’s great, but it also means you have to learn how to play it and then teach it to your games group or your partner. Mind you, if you play solo, the teaching part isn’t an issue of course – but in this article I want to focus on the teaching, rather than the learning. Read more

Light, camera… action selection!

Tabletop games come in a huge variety with many different mechanics – and in this article I want to focus on a number of action selection mechanisms which I think are interesting. I am not talking about things like worker placement or dice rolling specifically, but how these general mechanics allow you to choose an action and sometimes affect what other players can or cannot do, or how effective an action is. Read more

Dice mechanics

We all know classic dice rolling games, like Yahtzee, or games using dice to decide the outcome of battles or events. You may also have heard of, and probably even played, roll and write games, such as Roll to the Top, Avenue, The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game and many more. However, more recent games use dice in quite different ways, creating interesting game mechanics that I want to talk about. Read more

Positive negatives

If you like buying tabletop games, you probably have either read or watched reviews or even playthroughs, so you can make a more informed decision about what you want to spend your money on. However, how much information is there actually in reviews – and how much is just opinion? Can we trust some reviews more than others? Are positive reviews more objective than negative ones? So many questions. Read more

Going solo

A lot of games are aimed at three or more players, even though most state a player count of two and up. That makes sense, because there is a large market for games aimed at games groups. Many of us enjoy playing tabletop games with friends, so it is easy to get three or more of you together. However, there is an ever growing number of games at single players – because there is an increasing demand for solo play. Read more

Give me a break

We all prefer different types of tabletop games, but there is now a trend towards games that take longer to play – and we are talking several hours. These games aren’t necessarily heavy or difficult to play, but use simple mechanisms to tell a story that simply takes a long time to explore. Read more

Losing on purpose

If you regularly play tabletop games, you will come across a situation where someone is trying to lose intentionally. However, I’m not talking about a sore loser who just can’t be bothered to try and catch up or continue playing just for the fun of the game. That does happen, but there are more reasons why someone justifiably tries to lose a game – which I want to discuss below. Read more

Get me a lawyer!

All games have some sort of rules – even if they are very basic or very fluid. Rules give a game the structure it needs so all players know what they need to do. Rules allow everyone to know what to expect from a game, even if the game includes a lot of randomness or unpredictability. Rules aim to prevent disagreements among players. Without rules there would probably be chaos – but then sometimes that is what you want from a game. Read more

Legacy games

A relatively recent trend in tabletop games is the idea of creating your own, custom version of a game. You use stickers to add new rules, tear up cards to remove them from the game and write names into boxes to personalize locations or characters, creating your unique game. Read more

Competitive or casual?

People play tabletop games for different reasons. If you are part of different game groups, you probably know how the attitude to playing games can change. Some people are really competitive and do everything they can to win the game. Others are quite casual and often like the social side of playing games. Read more

Charts and tables

If you play in a regular games group, you probably play certain games several times – you may even have one game that is your group’s go-to game. If so, you may have started to record game end totals, so that players can try to beat their own score, or even aim for the group’s high score. You may even start to record more details, such as the factions played, number of rounds or game time. Maybe you also have an end of year awards ceremony, where people in your group with the highest score in each game, or with the most games won overall, get a small prize – or everyone gets a printout of their scores. Read more

Food, drink and sticky fingers

Enjoying a games night doesn’t just consist of playing a game with a group of friends or like minded people – but usually also drinks, snacks and other foodstuff. However, do sticky fingers and spilled drinks go with playing games? I suppose it depends. Read more

Too many choices

Complex games can be great fun. You have to really stretch yourself and think several steps ahead, while having alternative strategies ready to respond to the other player’s actions. You wrack your brain to come up with the best solution on each turn. It takes a lot of thinking and therefore is enjoyable by people who like this sort of puzzle. Read more

Dicey workers

There are so many different games mechanics out there across the various tabletop games available these days. Gone are the days of rolling dice to move your meeple along a track. Even when you look at modern worker placement games, the traditional method of using a pool of meeples and a limited amount of worker slots has been superseded by new methods. Dice worker placement is more common now and introduces an element of chance which can help level the playing field in a game. Read more

A mountain of games

Once you get hooked on tabletop games, you quickly amass a mountain of games. It is so easy to buy yet another game with an exciting theme, new game mechanics, amazing miniatures, realistic coins or resources, or some other reason that justifies the expense – but has the hobby suddenly turned from playing games into collecting them? Will you actually play them all? Read more

Games for everyone

Recent tabletop games are aimed at younger as well as older players, widening the age range. Many traditional games usually only cater for young players, because they are too boring for older players. On the flipside, games aimed at older players are too complicated for younger players. Read more

Family games

The recent launch of Haunt the House and a visit to UK Games Expo where I picked up a copy of Spaghetti made me think about what family games are on the market and what distinguishes them from other tabletop games. Read more

Playtesting

When creating a new tabletop game, a large chunk of time is spent on testing. Even very simple games need to be thoroughly tested to ensure they work. Playtesting helps identify whether a game is fun, balanced or swingy, lasts the right amount of time, works with the intended number of players and if there any issues with the rules. Read more

Unboxing videos

I know, there are dozens upon dozens of unboxing videos out there. So you can see what it feels like to open a game, without ever buying it. People are very proud to be the first to get their unboxing video live and to show off their latest purchase. It really shows how enthusiastic everyone is in the tabletop games industry. Read more

Co-op or competitive?

There seems to be a clear divide among tabletop gamers when it comes to co-operative versus competitive games: some love co-op, others hate it with a passion. Read more

UK Games Expo 2018

If you are interested in any type of tabletop game for pretty much any reason, and you live in the UK, then the UK Games Expo 2018 at the NEC in Birmingham is a must. It’s probably the biggest, and in my opinion best, tabletop games and accessories exhibition in the UK. Read more

Variants and house rules

If you have played a few tabletop games, you will have probably come across some that either don’t quite fit your expectations or are a little ambiguous. That’s where variants and house rules come in.

People tend to have different preferences when it comes to tabletop games. Some really like high player interaction, whereas others prefer a more “solitaire” approach where everyone just does their best to win the game in their own way. Different player groups also often lead to different approaches to games, be it due to player numbers or playing style preference.

That has led to variants being developed, where some game mechanisms are adjusted to make them more compatible with one’s own preferences, without breaking the game. You don’t like the farmers in Carcassonne, so take them out. The game is just as playable and much more accessible.

More often than not, game developers have included variants to the rules to change the difficulty of the game or to reduce the learning curve for a game. These official variants have been play tested, ensuring they will work and don’t break anything.

Sometimes rules need only minor tweaks and are therefore more like house rules than actual variants. House rules are also needed when rules aren’t clear and need clarifying. That little piece of land in Clans of Caledonia – you can house rule whether it divides the loch or not. Even the game designer says that it can be done either way and needs to be house ruled.

What house rules do you apply to games? Are there variants that you really like that have turned an average game into one that’s much more fun? Join the conversation and share your experience with tabletop games.

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Games on the go

It is great fun sitting around a table with friends or family playing a tabletop game. However, when you are out and about, you also want to play games. So you need something that is portable, quick to set up and quite rugged. If you want to play a game in a restaurant, while waiting for food, the game has to be either very quick, or easy to stop at any point. The game also can’t take up too much space during play.

That rules out quite a large number of games. Many games are played on large boards or contain many, large components that make them too big and/or too heavy. If you are part of a regular tabletop games group, you will know how important a car suddenly becomes if you want to take those games to a friend’s house.

So what games are there that you can play pretty much anywhere? Card games are the obvious option. Fluxx and its variants are very popular – whether on holiday or for a quick game while waiting for food. Love Letter is another example. Mint Works is even better for taking out, because it comes in a tin box – and it is a worker placement game, making it a bit more interesting.

You might not believe it, but Carcassonne can also become very portable, if you put everything into a smaller box. The game won’t work in a restaurant, because the game uses up too much space during play, but it is still great for taking on holiday.

So what games do you take on holiday with you? Are there any you have played while waiting for food yet? Have you used a portable game to make new friends while away? Share your thoughts by commenting on this conversation. I would love to hear what other games are wonderfully portable games.

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Rule books – the Holy Grail?

Every tabletop game comes with a rule book. Even the simplest game needs a basic set of rules. More complex games need longer rule books of course, but there comes a point at which a rule book becomes too long and turns people away from the game – and this point will be different for different people.

Long rule books aren’t necessarily bad. The use illustrations actually makes a game much easier to learn. Additional explanations, such as frequently asked questions and game variants, add to rule book length, without making the game harder to learn. FAQs are often vital for complex game where edge cases need further explanation.

Of course, ideally you just want to get the game out of the box, set it up and start playing – with minimal reading of rules. Some games have tried to incorporate the rules into the game itself by basically offering players a tutorial setup that is easy to learn and play, while at the same time explaining the finer points of the rules.

Legacy games actually start with a relatively small set of rules, but while you play you add new rules, meaning you learn the game as you play. The extra rules don’t necessarily have to be permanent, and Fluxx is probably the most famous example of a game where the rules constantly change and every game is different.

In general, good rule books have a clear setup guide, with a good photo for reference. They are also concise, with plenty of illustrations to visualize how the game works. A scoring guide will also be critical, whether that’s scoring during the game, or at the end of the game. If the rule book then has an FAQ section and a strategy guide as well, it should cater for everyone.

What do you like about rule books? Do you have examples of games with a good rule book? Can you think of any bad examples? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.

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The long game

If you have played a few tabletop games, you will have noticed how game length varies drastically. Some games are specifically designed to last a very short amount of time. In fact, some games include a timer that explicitly limits the length of the game. Other games stretch over hours – or even days, but these are usually split into separate sessions, where you “save” the game and return to it another day.

Game length can have a huge impact on enjoyment. Long games especially can create situations where a player is too far behind the rest of the group to ever catch up or otherwise stuck in a dead end, and then the game becomes a chore.

Game designers have to carefully consider game length and ensure that all players get equal enjoyment. It can be hard to make a long game exciting for everyone until the end, but one often used mechanism is keeping victory points secret – either completely, or at least to a very large extent. That way nobody knows who is in the lead. Other games use an (often random) event that triggers the end of the game, therefore making it impossible to decide who will win.

What are your thoughts about game length? Do you prefer long or short games? Is there a game you like that ensures that all players enjoy it equally until the end? Please add your thoughts below to carry on the conversation.

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Miniatures – worth the extra money?

A lot of recent game releases have done away with old fashioned, wooden game pieces or cardboard standees and replaced them with miniatures. They are either included as part of the core game, or offered as upgrades – but in most cases these miniatures are highly detailed and add an extra interest to the game, bringing everything to life. These miniatures have attracted new people to tabletop gaming and even created new business for artists who offer to paint miniatures.

Of course, miniatures are nothing new. The Games Workshop has always made miniatures the centre of their games and artists have been painting them for years. However, game designers have now taken miniatures and introduced them to classic strategy board games. One of the first was Scythe, and Rising Sun is the most recent contended taking the use of miniatures in board games to another level, just by the sheer number of figures included.

I think there is no denying that moving a dragon figure around the board is much more satisfying than moving a small, wooden piece or cardboard standee, but the design and manufacture of miniatures is considerable, driving up prices.

So, is the extra cost worth it? How important are miniatures to your game experience? Have you been drawn in by detailed figures? Have miniatures introduced you to tabletop gaming?

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Boxes full of air?

If you have bought a number of tabletop games, you will have noticed how some games fill out every inch of space in the box, while other games are basically a large box of air.

Most card games come in perfectly sized boxes, while board games often waste space to fit in the board, even when there are very few other components. Games with miniatures also often leave space to keep the figures safe. Many games ship with punch out boards that decide the box size, but the actual game parts end up filling less than half of the box they came in. Box sizes are a consideration for display purposes. Larger boxes stand out better among a display of tabletop games – while small boxes often get overlooked and therefore not the attention they deserve.

However, storing your games becomes harder if boxes are basically just air – and shipping costs increase as well. Many people resort to taking everything out of the box and storing it in bags or plastic storage containers, leaving the game board separate. That is far from ideal, because it makes it hard to find the game you want.

So what are your thoughts on boxes? How do you store your games? Is there a particularly good game that makes the best use of the box it comes in? Is there a worst offender? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Design your own game – you can do it!

With the advent of crowd funding sites like Kickstarter, it has become easier to fund a new project – and the tabletop games industry has been overrun by games designers launching their own games with the help of people willing to sponsor their ideas. These days literally anyone can design a new game and try and make it a reality.

However, one new game stands out from the rest. It’s a story of a daughter and dad team who were inspired by a Kickstarter game. The daughter wanted to bring tabletop games to an audience of all ages and with the help of her dad they made it a reality – and now it’s published by the company who launched the game that inspired it all.

My Little Scythe is a success story that will help inspire another generation of game designers to keep going and not give up.

To find out more about the game, go to Stonemaier Games’ website at https://stonemaiergames.com/games/my-little-scythe/ and watch the teaser trailer below:

Chance or strategy

All games are a mixture of chance and strategy – Yahtzee is virtually pure chance, while Chess is virtually pure strategy, and there is a whole range in between of course. Chance and strategy affect specific aspects of games.

The more chance there is in a game, the more variable it is – but at the same time it levels the playing field, giving players with varying skill and ability a more equal game experience. Yahtzee is the classic example of a chance game – each turn is completely reliant on the outcome of a dice throw, so every player has an equal chance of winning. There is only a very small amount of decision making involved.

A game with pure strategy means that players’ experience becomes vital. The more you play Chess, the better you get at it – and the more you play with people who are better than you, the more you learn. Strategy games require players of roughly equal experience, or the game becomes very frustrating and boring.

Modern tabletop games usually have a good mixture of chance and strategy. Even strategy heavy games, such as Rising Sun, have an element of chance – the shuffling of Political Mandates for example. Artifacts, Inc. is an example where chance plays a huge role, because you roll dice on each turn, but then there is a lot of strategy when you decide where to place your dice.

What do you prefer in a game? Chance or strategy? Do you have a favourite game which has a nice balance of both? Please reply to this conversation with your thoughts.

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Gateway games

Most of us will have played traditional tabletop games, such as Monopoly, Game of Life, Yahtzee or Risk. However, what if you want to move towards more modern tabletop games? What games are there that introduce you to new game mechanics? What games are you gateway to this new world? There are definitely a number of “classics” that you will return time and again, even when you are a more experienced tabletop game player.

Carcassonne is one of them. It is an amazing, very easy to learn, yet varied tile laying game. Each time you draw and lay a tile, you extend a map with roads, towns, fields and other features. You can claim these features to gain points. There is plenty of randomness in the game to give people of all ages and experience a level playing field – but there is still enough room for some strategic thinking. The game has a number of expansions that will give you many hours of fun.

If you like games of bluffing and deduction, then Love Letter is probably a good fit. It is a card game where you try and finish with the highest card, while not revealing what card you have. Players take turns drawing and playing a card, slowly trading up, while at the same time trying to outmanoeuvre their opponents. It is suitable for players 8 years and up and very easy to transport, so ideal for holidays or even for a quick game in the restaurant while you wait for your food.

If you want to try a co-operative game, have a look at the Forbidden range of games, like Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert. They are games where all players work together against time to find treasures and escape. The games require everyone to help each other, or everyone will lose. It is great for players 8 years and up and very easy to learn.

There are many more gateway games, but the above are a good starting point. Have you got a good gateway game you want to recommend? Have you tried one of the above games? Let me know your thoughts and get the conversation going.

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How important is theme for tabletop games?

In my view, themes very often make or break a game. Even a game with the most amazing gameplay will be broken by a badly chosen theme. Of course, different people will like different themes. However, irrespective of what people like, blending theme and gameplay is vital to a game’s success – and here is why.

First of all, a good theme makes a game much more accessible. Abstract games like Chess and Go have very little theme at all, and for many people that makes them very hard to learn. Clans of Caledonia’s theme on the other hand makes decision taking feel very natural, because it is very clear what consequences each decision has. Terra Mystica’s theme on the other hand goes against the gameplay, and the game would be better as an abstract strategy game with only a minimal theme.

Secondly, a theme changes how entertaining and enjoyable a game is. Fluxx for example applies the same basic gameplay to different themes. The original Fluxx is great fun, but when you play Oz Fluxx or Pirate Fluxx, it feels like you are playing a completely different game that is more fun to play.

To further strengthen the power of a theme, it needs to be applied to the artwork and design of the game. Scythe’s miniatures for example really add to the theme and take you deeper into the game’s world. Realistic resources are another example, but whatever you do, it is important it doesn’t feel gimmicky.

So how important is theme for your game enjoyment? Do you have a favourite theme? What games do you think benefit from a good theme? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and get the conversation going.

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A new take on “Choose Your Own Adventure” books

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll probably have had a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, where you read a description of a situation, and then choose between a number of different options that take you to different sections of the book. If you make the right choices you will eventually get to the end and win – and if you die along the way, you can simply start again.

The most recent incarnation of this idea is “7th Continent”, which dispenses with the book. Instead you build a map as you choose between different actions and go from one place to the next, hopefully not getting injured along the way and making it safely to the end.

The game is a really exciting co-operative game, where you take turns to make decisions. The people in your group can decide to help you, or leave you to try things out yourself each turn. That way nobody is forced to do something they feel is the wrong choice in a given situation.

We played the game for the first time last night and it’s really great fun. The save function allows you to stop the game at pretty much any point and restart it another time, returning you to the same point in the game.

If you were a fan of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, you will probably love “7th Continent” – but please let me know what you think, if you’ve played the game yourself.

Here is a link to the game’s homepage: https://the7thcontinent.seriouspoulp.com/

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Games nights

Let’s kick off this group with a conversation about games nights. I am part of a four player group that has a private weekly session where we play various modern tabletop games, including Rising Sun, Clans of Caledonia, Near and Far, Star Realms, Hardback and even Fluxx. We’re looking forward to trying out the new 7th Continent soon. So do you have a games nights group yourself? What games do you play?

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