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

Rise of Tribes (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2018 Players: 2-4
Designer: Brad Brooks Length:  30-60 minutes
Artist: Sergio Chaves Age: 10+
Publisher: Breaking Games Complexity: 2.0 / 5

 

Rise of Tribes by Breaking Games looks like your normal area control game with the usual random terrain made out of hexagonal tiles. The game is set in ancient, prehistoric times, and you move your tribe members around the terrain, collect resources, craft tools to upgrade your tribe’s abilities and generally do things that you will have seen before in other games. However, look closer and you will see that there are at least two interesting mechanisms in this game, which make it stand head and shoulders above the rest. 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

Mystic Vale (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2016 Players: 2-4
Designer: John D. Clair Length:  30-60 minutes
Artist: Ralf Berszuck, Storn Cook, et al. Age: 14+
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group Complexity: 2.0 / 5

 

Card games come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from the traditional games played for centuries throughout Europe to the modern card collecting, card drafting and deck building games. It is the modern deck building games that I want to focus on in this review. In Mystic Vale by Alderac Entertainment Group you don’t just build your deck in the traditional sense, where you simple buy new cards to improve what you have. Instead you have a fixed deck where every card can be added to, meaning that you literally customize every card. That creates a very interesting mechanism not seen in other games. 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

Haspelknecht: The Story of Early Coal Mining (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2015 Players: 2-4
Designer: Thomas Spitzer Length:  60-90 minutes
Artist: Johannes Sich Age: 12+
Publisher: Quined Games Complexity: 3.0 / 5

 

Haspelknecht: The Story of Early Coal Mining, to give it its full title, is a kind of action selection game by Quined Games set in the Ruhr region of Germany. The game is set at a time when the area was still covered by forests and coal was first discovered close to the surface. During the game your task is to dig up that coal until its depleted and you have to start digging deep pits to get to this precious resource. The great mechanism in this game is the action selection element, where you draw all tokens of one colour from one of a number of common pools at the start of each round. These tokens are then used to activate your workforce and develop new technologies. It sounds simple, but it creates a really complex, interesting game with lots of options and very few player interaction. 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

Chai (Saturday Review)

Release Date: due 2019 Players: 1-5
Designer: Dan & Connie Kazmaier Length:  20-60 minutes
Artist: Mary Haasdyk, Sahana VJ Age: 8+
Publisher: Deep Aqua Games Complexity: 2.0 / 5

 

I had the pleasure of trying the prototype PnP version of Chai by Deep Aqua Games, which is due to launch on Kickstarter on 4 December, so keep an eye out for it. The aim of the game is to collect resources, in this case flavours and additives, to fulfil the outstanding tea orders for customers, which give you points. It’s the classic mechanism of completing contracts or quests, like in so many other games. However, the twist is how you collect your resources from the market, which creates a really interesting puzzle which forces you to think ahead and work out what you need versus what other players may need. 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

Assembly (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2018 Players: 1-2
Designer: Janice Turner, Stu Turner Length:  10-20 minutes
Artist: Mike Jessup Age: 8+
Publisher: Wren Games Complexity: 1.0 / 5

 

After the Kickstarter campaign for Assembly by Wren Games finished successfully back in June, the game is now close to being sent out to backers. So it is time to have a closer look at this fun, co-operative card game. The game can be played solo, which is also possible using an app, or in a two player co-operative setup. The aim is to manoeuvre a set of tokens along a randomly configured circle of locations into their correct slots by playing cards that allow you to rotate, swap and lock these tokens in place. To do this efficiently you need to play cards that your team mate can match with a card in their hand – but the problem is that you don’t know what cards they have. 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

Battle Ravens (Saturday Review)

Release Date: due 2019 Players: 2 (only)
Designer: Daniel Mersey Length:  45-60 minutes
Artist: Peter Dennis Age: 14+
Publisher: PSC Games Complexity: 2.0 / 5

 

My latest review is for Battle Ravens by Daniel Mersey and published by PSC Games. Just for disclosure, it was PSC Games who kindly sent me a review copy, but that didn’t influence my view of the game. It’s a war game set in Viking England and due to launch on Kickstarter on 20 November 2018, so keep an eye out. You either take the side of the Norse or the Anglo-Saxon armies, who face each other’s shield walls on the battlefield. Your aim is to puncture three holes in your opponent’s line to win the game by manoeuvring your warriors and attacking with your six-sided dice. However, the clever twist to this game is that your actions are determined by how many raven tokens you place on your six battle spaces. It creates a bidding element which means that being the first player isn’t necessarily an advantage. 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

Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2012 Players: 2 (only)
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg Length:  30 minutes
Artist: Klemens Franz Age: 13+
Publisher: Lookout Games Complexity: 2.5 / 5

In my third review I look at another digital conversion by Digidiced that Asmodee Digital was kind enough to let me try out. It is another Lookout Spiele game by designer Uwe Rosenberg. In Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (I shorten this to just Agricola for the rest of this article) you are a 17th century farmer in central Europe. It is a very clever 2 player only worker placement game where you have to manage your resources, life stock and farmland. Of course, this game also has some clever little twists, which make the gameplay so interesting. 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

Lincoln (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2018 Players: 2 (only)
Designer: Martin Wallace Length:  90-120 minutes
Artist: Peter Dennis Age: 14+
Publisher: PSC, Worthington Games Complexity: 4 / 5

In my second review I look at the fast-paced, two-player only wargame Lincoln by Martin Wallace and published by PSC Games and Worthington Games, which finished its Kickstarter campaign back in May. Just for disclosure, it was PSC Games who kindly sent me a review copy. The game is set in the American Civil War and you can choose between taking the side of the Union or the Confederate. The game is completely asymmetric, in that the Union and Confederate sides have different decks, different starting locations and strengths, and opposing aims. That in itself makes for an interesting game, but the mix of deck building and strategy board game creates an additional interesting angle. 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

Le Havre: The Inland Port (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2012 Players: 2 (only)
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg Length: 30 minutes
Artist: Klemens Franz Age: 10+
Publisher: Lookout Games Complexity: 2.5 / 5

Digidiced and Asmodee Digital have been very kind to offer me the opportunity to review a number of their digital conversions. I decided to start with Lookout Spiele‘s award winning game Le Havre: The Inland Port which is one of the many popular games by designer Uwe Rosenberg. The game is set in the 18th century in the maritime city of Le Havre in the Normandy region of France. Players are harbour masters who try to build the best port by constructing great buildings. It is a two player only resource management game with a large action selection element – but with a twist. 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

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. 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