High spirits (Topic Discussion)

There are many things that affect our mental health in some way. It could be a life-changing or otherwise significant event. It could be certain habits we have or things we do – or don’t do. Our physical health can also affect it, as well as the health of someone close to us. Our relationships also have an influence on our mental health. These are all very broad stroke headlines and there are many things that fit into each of those categories. Of course, different events affect each of us differently – in different ways and at different times. Ultimately, it’s about how we deal with these events that decided how they affect our mental health.

Pulling together (Topic Discussion)

I have always hoped that our community would work together to help each other through tough times, and it seems that my hopes have been answered. I don’t think I need to describe the recent, global events, but when many of us had to stay at home and our social bonds were put under pressure, a lot of people did what they could to bring people together again and create a fresh sense of community.

Heavy Times (Topic Discussion)

Text and board games are inextricably linked. You find text in various places in every board game to a greater or lesser extent. I can’t think of any game that doesn’t have some text somewhere, but feel free to prove me wrong in the comments below. At the very least, there will be text on the box, stating where the game was made or what its player count is. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find games that are text-heavy. I want to look at the varying levels of use of text in modern board games.

Design challenges (Topic Discussion)

The list of tasks a game designer has open at any one point in time can be very long and it is constantly evolving. Designing a game is a long journey, even for the simplest of games. It can be a battle between what’s good for the game and what the game designer wants the game to be. It comes with a lot of changes, some of them very painful, some of them creating the long-needed breakthrough that breaks an impasse. Elements get added, others get taken out until eventually, the final product bears little resemblance to the notes that were scribbled on a piece of paper when the designer had an initial idea.

Leading role (Topic Discussion)

We all love high quality, gorgeous game components. Chunky dice, metal coins, thick cardboard, linen finished cards, detailed miniatures or custom meeples. However, what we often forget is how components are used in games. We all know about rolling dice, playing cards and placing workers, but there are other, much more inventive ways of using components in games that can make playing them more memorable and exciting for us and it is one of the things that I am always keeping an eye out for.

Great expectations (Topic Discussion)

Of course it is important to make sure everyone knows about the game you’re planning to release very soon or the campaign that’s going to launch on Kickstarter shortly. You want people to be excited, so they share it with their friends. You want people to think your game is the best fit for them, so it can compete with the myriad of other games vying for people’s attention all the time. In fact, you want your game to be amazing – the best it can be. You want others to love it as much as you do. However, there comes a point at which you might be promising more than the game can deliver. You can run the risk of overhyping your game, which can have a hugely negative effect.

Faking it (Topic Discussion)

We all have heard of knock-off copies of designer bags or clothing, illegal copying of DVDs and CDs, as well as cheap versions of toys that are basically replicas of products sold by big brands. After all, there is good money to be had by the makers of these fakes, as well as a good chunk of money to be saved by people who buy the copies instead of the much more expensive originals. However, what is probably less well known is that modern board games have also become a target of unscrupulous people who want to make a quick buck. So, let me give you a couple of examples of games which were counterfeit in the last couple of years and the lessons we should take away.

Playing together (Topic Discussion)

In recent years, there seems to have been a surge in board game events in the UK, where people come together for a day or two to play games with old friends and new. I’m thinking of events like AireCon, Manorcon or Tabletop Scotland, but there are many more. These events are different to expos, like the UK Games Expo, which do have open play or tournaments, but whose main focus is on exhibitors showing off their products. What I want to talk about here are more like festivals, where the focus is on playing, and exhibitors, seminars and other activities are secondary – and I want to look at AireCon in particular.

Fear of the new (Topic Discussion)

Sure. It’s always great to play with the latest shinies and be at the cutting edge of what board games have to offer. It makes you feel trendy, in-the-know or it’s just great to have bought something new. I love it myself. It’s amazing when someone offers you a game for review that hasn’t been released yet. You feel honoured. It’s a special thing. It just makes you happy, and enjoying games has a lot to do with happiness for a lot of people. However, there is also the flipside. It can be stressful, and often very expensive, to always hunt for the latest game, the newest release. Your fear of missing out can turn into panic. That’s when it’s time to remind ourselves where our interest in the hobby started.

Home teaching (Topic Discussion)

Growing up, I played a lot of tabletop games with my parents and brother. Yes, there was Monopoly of course, as well as other roll and move games such as Winnetou, but also tableau builders like Ogalala and a stock market game called Die Börse which required a little more strategic thinking. It was mostly my brother who would teach us these sort of games, and my parents would teach us trick-taking games like Skat and Doppelkopf.

Play styles (Topic Discussion)

We all play games for different reasons, and we all approach them differently. In fact, we may play the same game differently on two different days, just because we’re in a different mood. However, I’m not talking about playing a different strategy or choosing a different character or even just playing with a different player colour. I’m talking about something different altogether.

Enjoyable design (Topic Discussion)

Tabletop game designers want to create an enjoyable experience for people – whatever enjoyable means in this context. From that starting point, they create a game that is balanced, flows well and meets the desired complexity requirements, as well as meets other criteria. They may use the skillset of developers to refine everything, and if a publisher is involved, there will be additional criteria that have to be met. However, in this article, I want to focus on enjoyment, what it means and whose responsibility it is to make a game enjoyable.

Setup pains (Topic Discussion)

Chits, tokens, player boards, tiles, pieces, cards and all the other components we have come to know and love can sometimes be a bit of a problem: when you need to place dozens upon dozens of them into specific places on the game board or player mat and spend hours shuffling dozens of decks of cards before you can even think about starting the game. Setup is something most of us will want to be quick, so we can get to the fun bit as soon as possible.

Turn order (Topic Discussion)

Let’s start 2020 with a serious topic and wade straight in. I might as well start the year as I mean to go on. So, turn order. It’s something that matters very little in some games, and a lot in others. In some games, players take their turns in clockwise order, in others it’s based on the faction they’ve chosen or some other similar measure, or you might bid for turn order. In some games, turn order remains the same throughout the game, in others it changes from round to round. I want to look at the different ways turn order is implemented in games and the effect this can have.

Resolutions

I know, it’s Christmas Eve, so talking about New Year’s resolutions might feel a little early, but I thought I’d get them out of the way now, so I can enjoy the holidays. As this blog is about tabletop games, my list of resolutions featured here focuses solely on what I promise to do, or stop doing, with regards to the hobby. Of course, there are many other things, that are personal and private to me and that I aim to become better at next year, but that I won’t mention below.

Dark times

I thought it would be helpful to talk about something that I, and many other people, struggle with around this time of year. It’s not quite a tabletop games related topic, but there is a link, as you will see. What I am talking about is the feelings of gloom, self-doubt and general negativity when the days get shorter and the weather is less pleasant. I hope my experiences are helpful to others, even if it’s just so people know they are not alone. After all, mental health does matter.

Working 9 to 5

I thought it might be time to give everyone an update of where I’m at with the blog, the podcast, videos and everything else I do in the industry. After all, we’re nearing the end of the year and everyone is starting to reflect on what they have achieved. However, there will be a separate article on my blog talking about what happened in 2019 in the industry in general and with regards to my work specifically, so here I focus on what is involved in producing the content for my various outlets and give you a behind-the-scenes look of what I do.

Alpha One

As some of you will know, I’m an alpha player at the core, which means I can take over co-operative games and tell people what to do. Even in competitive games I’m the one who makes sure rules are followed and actions are done in the right order. I even adjust tokens or tiles to line them up properly and ensure everything is in the right place. However, I’ve changed a lot over the last year or so and I want to share my journey with you. Maybe it will give you some tips for yourself, if you’re an alpha player too.

Games of Christmas

I guess it has become tradition now for boardgame blogs to suggest a number of games that people should play with their friends and family over the festive period. As I love tradition, I will do what everyone else is doing and give you a selection of games some of which may suit your taste and may also be a good match for whoever you choose to play with when you enjoy some time off over Christmas.

Hitting the mainstream

Apparently, modern tabletop games have had a huge surge worldwide recently. Mind you, “recently” really means a few years, and it doesn’t seem to let up. It’s great to see so many people pick up cardboard and have a great time, whether it’s alone or with friends, family or complete strangers. So I want to look at what has been happening and see where and how tabletop games have appeared in people’s lives.

Breaking down walls

As we commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, I wanted to talk about walls in tabletop gaming and look at what walls there still are that might stop people from enjoying the hobby or becoming a part of our growing community. I don’t proclaim to be able to tear down all the walls that still exist, but hopefully my thoughts will start a constructive discussion and help move us forward in some way. Maybe we can look back in 30 years and see the positive things that have happened and evaluate what else needs to be done.

Post-show blues

I’m sure, many of you are tired of hearing all about Essen Spiel 2019. Everyone who went is talking about all the games they saw, played and bought, and anyone who didn’t go is reading about all the games everyone saw, played and bought. So I want to talk about the people side of the exhibition and share my experiences of attending this major event for the first time.

One of a kind

I have previously spoken about unique games, which were something new at the time – see my article “There can be only one”. It was KeyForge by Fantasy Flight Games and designed by Richard Garfield of Magic: The Gathering fame, which started this new way of making games. There is probably a better and longer description of the term, but in short, the term unique in this context describes games where every published copy is different in a number of ways. In KeyForge this is, for example, the name and logo, as well as the composition of the different cards, but different decks will still have some cards the same. I want to look at some aspects of unique game design in more detail to explore the concept.

Games with friends

Trying to organize a group of people to regularly play games with isn’t always straightforward. I am lucky to have a weekly games night group of four, including myself, with people who live quite close, making it easy for us to meet up. I have previously described how you can play games with different groups of people (see “Night, night”). So this time I want to focus on what to consider when trying to organize regular games nights with friends.

Breaking down

Classifying things we encounter is important. It gives us a way to describe them to others, allows us to decide whether things are similar or different and provides a method to create connections between them. Classifications help us with decision making and prediction. However, classifications alone don’t fully describe things and especially when we talk about classifying tabletop games, there are a lot more nuances and details that cannot be described by classifications alone. So I want to explore how far classifications can go until their usefulness deteriorates.

I’m hooked

A hook, as per the dictionary definition, is something that draws you in. In games, a hook can be a number of different things. Often it is something visually exciting, such as beautiful illustrations, amazingly detailed miniatures, realistic resources or some sort of physical component that is integral to gameplay. Hooks can also be an interesting theme, an exciting gameplay mechanism or even the background story behind how a game was made. Certain awards or even the price of a game can be a hook too. Ultimately it’s about finding something that grabs your attention and gets you to take a closer look.

Awarding times

It is always nice to get some positive feedback for the work you do, so winning awards is even more satisfying, especially if you receive one of the many prestigious awards from the industry you work in. So far, the Tabletop Games Blog hasn’t won any awards, but in this article I am not fishing for praise, but I want to look at the many board game awards that are run every year and show how winning an award affects the popularity of a game, what costs may be attached with some awards and what the different awards try to achieve within the industry.

Count me out

Games change when played with different numbers of players. I think many of us will have found that games that are said to work for two or more players often are quite a different experience when played with two versus more players. Some games are said to work with a larger number of players, but really work best with a specific number. Games, where you form teams, are often like that, working best with an even number of people, even though they’re said to also work with odd numbers. I discussed many of these points in my article Group mentality, so this time I want to focus on some specific issues.

Overproduced

I am not sure if you’ve come across this before, but you may have heard some people on a podcast or in a tabletop games review video talk about a game being overproduced. Often the term is used in a negative way, implying that a game includes unnecessary components and therefore is more expensive than it needs to be. However, different people seem to apply this term to different games in different ways, so I wanted to look at it a bit more closely and see whether we can investigate what overproduced actually means and whether it is indeed a bad thing.

Plastic fantastic

We all know that the use of plastics has become a huge issue. So-called microplastics, tiny particles of plastic, have been found in fish and other marine life, and more recently even in arctic snow. Only last week did the World Health Organization ask for “further assessment of microplastics in the environment and their potential impacts on human health.” A lot of us have started replacing single-use plastics with recyclable alternatives, such as plastic straws with paper ones, or even plastic toothbrushes with ones made from bamboo. Yet, there is still a lot of plastic in a lot of tabletop games, and I want us to consider its impact.

Independent perceptions

I think supporting independent game publishers, and I include self-publishers too here, by buying their games gives you a warm feeling. In many cases, your money goes directly to one or two people who you know by name, whose photos you’ve seen many times, whose newsletters you’ve read, who you followed on Twitter and who you’ve started to trust. If their game was published with the help of a crowdfunding platform, you will have lived through the journey of the game from its first public outing to the final, finished product. Yet, independent doesn’t always mean small, and some publishers who seem to be large are actually only a handful of people. So if you like helping small publishers, because you want to know that your money goes to a couple of great people who deserve your support, you might have to think carefully.

Viewing platforms

I recently talked about how some of us need to let people know what we’re up to, by regularly sharing updates with our followers – see my article Image matters. Now I want to drill into this a little deeper and discuss the various platforms you might want to use. My focus is on tabletop game reviews, as this is one of the things I do, but you can apply the same ideas to similar content.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Abstract games

Chess, draughts, cribbage, bridge 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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 also not required and can be replaced with sign language to communicate with other players. However, no modern tabletop game makes your senses an integral mechanism – that is, until the release of Nyctophobia: The Hunted by Pandasaurus Games.

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.

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, then there are people who prefer games with several players, and of course there are plenty of people who enjoy a mix of all of the above.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

Lasercut wooden insert unassembled

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.

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.

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 mechanism 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 do or how effective the action is.