Chuck Robbins: A Remembrance

Chuck Robbins: A Remembrance

Like so many in the Southern California tabletop gaming community, I’m deeply saddened about the recent passing of the mighty Chuck Robbins, the owner and operator of Game Empire in Pasadena, California – one of the finest tabletop gaming stores we are honored to have in Southern California. We were friends and I always enjoyed visiting the store for the games but even more to chat with my buddy Chuck. I’ve known him since before he opened the store and I’m happy to have had a small part in him achieving his dream, which he sought to pay back recently. Let me tell that story in his honor.

Chance Meeting

Chuck and I first met years ago when I happened to wander into his brother’s store (also called Game Empire) in San Diego while I was on holiday with my family. When I travel, I love to patronize local game stores and Game Empire was place of choice that trip. After browsing through the store, I wandered into the play area (a hallmark of Game Empire is that there is always great space to play games) and Chuck actually chatted me up when he saw I had a copy of a two-player Kosmos game in my hands. We got to talking and he found out I was from Los Angeles. Before long, he told me of his desire to open a local game store in Pasadena.

Now, if you are reading this blog, you may know that I used to have a podcast called Boardgame Babylon from 2005 to about 2015 (with occasional revivals here and there). That’s still the name of the blog, of course, and maybe the podcast will be back one day. I digress; one of the key things to know about my podcast is that I had a journalistic bent to some of my shows because I have been a journalist in one form or another for some of my professional life. One of the features of my podcast was to do occasional series. Notably, I did one about the Demise and Rise of the Friendly Local Game Store, which had me talking turkey with many a game store owner in SoCal.

Now, I have lived near Pasadena for most of my life so when Chuck talked about that area, I had a perfect frame of reference. We connected about the area and discussed the gaming and shopping options we have had in the San Gabriel Valley over the years, from the long-gone Game Keeper in the nearby mall, to the Last Grenadier’s Arcadia haven, The Gaming House in Pasadena, to Lionheart in La Verne and Gameology (originally in Claremont), All Star Games in Diamond Bar (and their cool, brief stint in West Covina), and all the tiny shops that opened after Magic: The Gathering broke. If you had a game store in SoCal in the last 35 years, I’ve been your customer and Chuck appreciated my comprehensive knowledge of the stores in town and thereabouts.

Having just talked to one of the staffers at Pasadena’s only game store at that time (Game Zone), I told Chuck that the store was for sale. I said why not just buy it and develop it out as he clearly would do. Pasadena would love him for it.

He told me, no – the owner had told him it was NOT for sale and made it clear in no uncertain terms. He’d spoken to him fairly recently and it had led Chuck to scout out other areas in town, knowing he’d have the established player to take on. He knew he could outwork Game Zone, which was a pretty oldschool FLGS, with all trappings you might expect.

For those who don’t know, The Game Zone started as “THE ZONE”, a game retailer who used to have a regular table at Strategicon. He got attention and sold games the old fashioned way: Discounts and shouting. Bill, the owner at the time, was loud – calling people over to his booth as they tried to walk by and not make eye contact (hey, we’re geeks!). He had discounts, he had ding and dent games, and he might have bought closeout games. I don’t recall completely, although I do remember buying the Warhammer Mighty Fortress foam castle from him years ago, which was never really used but it looks sweet and his price was right. Eventually, Bill opened The Zone and, while it was fine for a while, he eventually sold it and had to get a day job. In those days, he had more competition from the Last Grenadier in Pasadena and another game store in Eagle Rock (Something Unusual), so it was probably harder. But he sold it and I’m not sure how many owners there were before the last fellow bought it.

Now, I knew the current owner a bit and he was a quiet, unassuming fellow. Chuck – well, he was not. Chuck was an attorney for many years so he said what he meant and did so powerfully, with confidence you don’t always find among the geeks and nerds in tabletop gaming. He wasn’t rude, but he also didn’t mess around. I always admired that about him. Yet, I thought it might not work well when he spoke to the Game Zone’s owner.

When I insisted that Game Zone was for sale and that I knew the owner was looking to exit the business to pursue other concerns (quite positive ones, actually), Chuck went back and got the deal done. Some time, not too much time later, I actually interviewed the Game Zone owner before he officially sold the place and it came out that I was the one who had told Chuck the store was absolutely for sale. To his credit, the guy wasn’t mad at me but he was surprised and perhaps he just eventually realized it was what he wanted anyway. His staffer who told me may have gotten some heck thereafter, I suppose, but what was I to do? I was a podcasting journalist. No one told me it was off the record – something I have always respected (believe me, there are a few stories I’d LOVE to tell that I never will because they were told in confidence by some cool folks).

Game Empire Pasadena Arises

A thousand, indeed – Game Empire is well-known for its selection.

Chuck took the space at the Game Zone, and the space next door and built out an almost exact duplicate of his brother’s Game Empire in San Diego. Both stores were intelligently designed to entice casual visitors at the front with more traditional items, and as you walked in, you got more exposure to the more hobby-oriented games. Although both stores would move locations and abandon some of that concept, I appreciated how Chuck and Cliff built their businesses. Both offered friendly service not always seen in game stores of the past, a wide selection of titles and they made sure they provided a clean, well-lit game space to play. They built community with events and by building friendships with their patrons.

I had nothing to do with the car that went through the window of the old Game Empire but I recall Chuck’s incredible retelling of the experience. Photo: Google Images

I frequently visited and enjoyed patronizing such an excellent store. I’d usually spend 20% of my time shopping and 80% of it talking to Chuck about the business, the industry and new games. Some time later, I had a conversation with Chuck where he mentioned to me that he was in the process of bidding to buy our thrice-yearly tabletop game conventions in Los Angeles, Strategicon. As a nearly life-long Southern Californian, I began attending Strategicon back in 1986 (after my first con, Origins ’86 – which was hosted in L.A.) I had been a regular attendee into the early 90’s but stopped around 1995 or so. So, it had been about a decade since I had really attended a convention and the word was that they had gone steadily downhill. I figured new blood in leadership was probably a great idea.

At the time, Chuck told me that he was bidding against two other groups. One of them was led by a fellow who used to run conventions AGAINST Strategicon, the same weekends, often just down the street. I knew him just a little bit and that was more than enough. The current Strategicon ownership had little interest in selling to someone who was focused on hurting the cons in the past – a position I definitely respected.

Chuck didn’t know who the other people were. I wished him well in the process, as he had become a key retailer in the dealer room and I felt Chuck would do a lot of good for Strategicon since he’s transformed the tabletop store options in Pasadena. I was excited to see what he could do.

Big Mouth Strikes Again (with apologies to The Smiths)

Not long after that discussion, as part of the Demise and Rise of the Friendly Local Game Store series, I interviewed the primary owner of Strategicon, who also ran a game store in Southern California that has since closed down. In the course of the discussion about him running his game store for decades and the story of when he acquired Strategicon alongside many of the SoCal Game Retailers, I mentioned that I knew about the sale of the conventions. He was momentarily upset that I knew about it, paused the podcast, and then we continued talking – although I would say that he seemed a bit off for the rest of the show.

Later on, I heard from another person that the Strategicon owner was really upset that I was spreading information about the sale of the convention. A mutual friend of ours kindly reminded him that I was a journalist and it’s my job to know what’s going on in the industry for SoCal. I’m told he eventually accepted that and turned his ire on Chuck. He decided that this breach disqualified Chuck from bidding for the cons, so he went with the other group.

Chuck was upset at me, apparently. But his brother noted what my other friend did; when you talk to a journalist, you need to note if something is on the record or not. Nothing like that passed between us and, to be honest, I think Chuck probably told me a lot of other things that were sensitive that I had not revealed before. But this came up in my process of covering my stores so it came out. Chuck told me later that he’d forgiven me because, yes, he knew full well that I was a journalist and spoke to all the game store owners regularly.

We remained friends thereafter and I always enjoyed stopping to chat with him when I came in to get my board game fix. Even when I would fail to get to the store for months or even a year, we’d talk like no time had passed. I attended playtesting events at Game Empire sometimes, but always made time to talk to Chuck about business, what I was doing at my various software startups and such.

The Wisdom Lasts

Last year, I visited him after a long while and I was surprised to see him sporting a bald head. He told me immediately about his healthy challenges but that he was prepared to beat the big ‘C’ in the same way he took down his enemies on the miniatures table. I had full confidence he would.

More importantly, he expressed his always-present interest in what was going on with me. As I said, Chuck cultivated relationships with customers – we were his friends, not just patrons. I told Chuck how I had left a startup after a really rough time. I had put my heart and soul into a business for three and a half years, only to have it not get there because of nonsense outside my control.

Chuck offered me words of wisdom: He made me take stock in the years of professional life I still have in front of me (let’s just say it’s fewer than I have behind me). He quizzed me, pressed me to come up with the person who has the job I wanted more than anything. Then, he told me to do everything in my power to get there; to get to that place where I loved every day of my work.

I knew this stuff, but Chuck’s fervent words reminded me and inspired me to take action. Like most people, I had gotten caught up in the challenges of life, including some recent losses and tough times with transitions in life. His powerful words helped me find clarity and focus back on what’s important. I really appreciated his concern and his effort to get me back on track.

Chuck was a wonderful guy and I’m so glad he was my friend. I could go on for a lot longer about all the conversations we had over the years as I held a game in my hand, ready to buy but not until we had gotten through all the subjects in front of us. Yet, this last conversation last year is the one that will continue to have a lasting effect on my life and I’m so thankful to him for that.

Thanks to Chuck for the great community he built right here in the SGV, for the amazing store he built for local gamers to enjoy, but mostly for being my trusted friend who knew when I needed a poke to get my life back on track. RIP, good sir – our community is so much richer for your efforts, your humor, and your humanity.

6 Wonderful Board Games to Buy Your Kids Instead of the ‘Classics’

6 Wonderful Board Games to Buy Your Kids Instead of the ‘Classics’

Board games are a wonderful way to spend quality time with your family and friends but it pains me to see people buy the same old board games for their family if they didn’t really enjoy them as a child. While the hobby is getting more popular, the vast majority of people don’t know how many amazing games exist just beyond the half-dozen that get heavily advertised by the toy conglomerates.

While any time spent with your children away from screens is a very good thing, I can speak from experience as a parent of two now-grown children that there are reasons to bring modern board games to the table instead of yet another night yelling at one another about whether you really get money when you land on Free Parking.

1) Modern board games teach more decision-making. Too many board games of old rely on randomness and chance to determine outcomes. While all gameplay helps children learn rules and follow directions, when consequential decisions are involved, children learn to make decisions in a safe play-space that helps them feel confidence ahead of a time when they need to make them in the real world.

2) Games on this list evolved from earlier games — and solved many of their problems. Shorter play times are welcome in our busy age. Modern games usually don’t eliminate players as you go, so everyone gets to play the whole time. They have catchup mechanisms so you have a chance to win even if you fall behind. They’re often optimized to give kids a chance without having to ‘let them win’. They include cooperative games you can work on together. These changes help make games more about time well spent than frustration and the feeling of being left out.

3) Modern games that are more fun for everyone also means you’ll have a better time and young players can tell. Kids are sharp. They watch you, emulate your actions and detect falsehood. Your fake enthusiasm for that game with nasty-looking candy all over it? They can see right through it earlier than you think. Play a game you will all enjoy and your kids will love it. You might even find yourself more willing to play again and more often when everyone is having a great time.

So take a look at this list of alternatives which have delighted tens of thousands and really should delight millions. When you go to buy that a gift for the kids in your life, remember there’s a reason why Wal-Mart sells the ‘classics’ for $5. Instead, buy a modern board game that will truly delight your family.

Winning Alternatives To the ‘Classics’

Sushi Roll is a great new game from Gamewright
  1. Buy Sushi Roll instead of that game with rent and hotels — We are so busy these days, does anyone have time for a game that seems like it never ends, that has player elimination, and a confrontational air? Instead, try Sushi Roll, a delightful dice-game from Gamewright that can be played in 20–30 minutes and will delight everyone at the table. Everyone gets to play the whole game, you get three rounds of play to even out the luck of the die rolls, and a chance to swap and re-roll helps kids learn to make choices to mitigate luck and pick the times when it matters most. Instead of being directly confrontational (I take money from you), it’s competitive (we compete to acquire the most of some elements, while I collect sets independently in other cases). Add to that the charming look and intuitive game play, and you have a winner that will come out a lot more often than the Game That Takes All Night. Buy Sushi Roll on Amazon.

2) Buy Animal Upon Animal instead of that one with the ice — Dexterity games can be a blast, but when it’s mostly about luck, it can get a bit boring. Animal Upon Animal is a stacking game where you roll a die to set the stage for how you perform your turn, while still giving you a chance to pick what you will use. Even the younger players here get a chance to make choices about what animal they’d like to play each turn and how they would stack them. With small, nimble fingers used to this kind of activity, my kids would frequently beat me badly in Animal Upon Animal when they were young, try as I might. That’s part of why I’m saving it for my grandchildren one day. Grab it and enjoy the 15-minutes of laughing and fun. Buy Animal Upon Animal on Amazon.

So much fun stacking Animal Upon Animal with the kids.

3) Buy Qwirkleinstead of that one with all the words — Often called “Scrabble for Everyone”, the award-winning Qwirkle levels the playing field for kids and adults alike, allowing you to build lines like in that word game we all know, but using colors and symbols. It’s a charming way to let everyone play with the same level of knowledge by removing the significant advantage one with massive vocabulary has in that other game. Available in the original, a Travel Edition, and with variants, Qwirkle will hit the table more often when everyone feels like they get a chance to win. Ages 6 and up. Buy Qwirkle on Amazon.

Qwirkle has hit the table hundreds of times with our family.
The comic is some good fun, too.

4) Buy Simon’s Cat instead of that ‘one’ one — Simon’s Cat is a cute online cartoon but what I’m talking about here is the card game from Steve Jackson Games. This plays like THAT card game a bit, but the decisions are more interesting and there are not nasty cards that make children frustrated because they lose turns, draw a bunch more cards or when the rotation shifts. Simon’s Cat replaces that with variable numbers of cards in each suit, a manageable play-time, and charming artwork. For the ailurophiles out there, this is a huge treat! Buy Simon’s Cat on Amazon.

5) Buy Codenames Disney, Marvel or Harry Potter instead of that memory game — Memory games have limited educational value, but coming up with words to associate multiple concepts is highly useful. That’s what Codenames will teach your kids. While the regular version is a hit with teens and adults, your kids can enjoy the same great experience with editions themed to Disney, Marvel and Harry Potter. Using the pictures or images, you and your family come up with one-word clues to get members of your team to guess multiple cards on the board. In the Disney version, you might clue “Cat-3” to get them to guess Shere Khan from the Jungle Book, Raja the Tiger from Aladdin, and Figaro from Pinocchio, with the ‘3’ denoting that there are three that cat references in some way. Get the version that suits your kids’ favorite franchise — they don’t get more popular than Disney, Marvel and the Boy Who Lived. The Harry Potter one is fully cooperative, which can add to the experience, too, and can be played with as few as two players. Buy Codenames Disney, Codenames Marvel, or Codenames Harry Potter.

The Disney, Marvel and Harry Potter Editions use pictures and words.

6) Buy Forbidden Island instead of that mystery game — As with Codenames, cooperative games are a modern wonder of board games that brings the family together. This fun game of searching for treasure and stopping an island from falling into the sea is a family-friendly take on the same designer’s co-op hobby game, Pandemic. While that game is wonderful, Forbidden Island works best for the younger set, allowing you and your family to explore the island, work together to discover the cool artifacts included with the game, and to escape before the island sinks. Buy Forbidden Island on Amazon. Sequels Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky are also a good time if you enjoy the original. Ages 6 and up.

A treat for all players, Forbidden Island lets you work together to save the island and escape.

Don’t Limit Games to the Holidays

Make playing board games a regular event. Plan a family game night, even if you can help yourself and you buy the ‘classics.’ Any time spent playing board games with any age-appropriate board game is an investment that benefits everyone in your family.

Keep playing them after your kids are off to college, too. They’re so good for you, a welcome respite from your day and they help keep the mind active. This is a modern tonic for our screen-obsessed culture; time to look at faces, talk and interact with people IRL. I believe you will find it to be time well-spent.


This article contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase my recommendations via my affiliate links, you help support me at no additional cost to you.

5 Board Games for Any Party Anywhere

5 Board Games for Any Party Anywhere

Photo courtesy — twenty20.com/duangbj from Reshot

Everyone loves a party but what do you actually do there? Not a birthday or anniversary — just a gathering. Sure, you talk to people. But if you don’t really work the room, you can miss the chance to connect with most of the people there.

That’s why the party game exists — to bring people together. Party-style board games give you an excuse to interact and laugh with people you like, love or even you just met. These days, we spend nearly a quarter of our time in artificial social spaces. Do I even need to quote research to say that’s not a good thing and we need more time with friends IRL? (okay, here you go.)

The great news: Party games have gotten so much better than even just 15 years ago. If you pick the right ones, you get half-hour experiences that can wonderfully bring a party of people together.

So let’s get to this list of excellent party games that have given me hours and hours of joy with friends both old and new:

Telestrations

Not so much a game as a fun activity, this drawing game doesn’t require you to be an artist at all. In Telestrations, players draw a picture of representing the word on their card into a dry erase book with multiple pages and passes it to the next player. That player looks at the drawing and writes a word or two to describe it. Then, books are passed again and the next player draws based on those words…and so it goes, varying between a word and a picture. When the books reach the original player, they are revealed and everyone gets to see the hilarious interpretations. Telestrations is a riotously fun experience for up to twelve players.

The 12 player pack, also available in an 8 and 6 player edition.

Codenames

This award-winning game from Vlaada Chvatil is a team-based word game, but one with minimal ‘word nerd’ pressure. Like the classic game Password, each of the two teams has a clue giver providing a word to their team to elicit one word responses. The catch in Codenames is that the clue giver can clue more than one word each turn, in a race to identify all your words on a 5×5 grid before the other team guesses theirs. You need two people willing to come up with clues, but the rest of the team can enjoy the game without feeling any pressure. There’s no upper limit on players if everyone can see the cards. You can even get bigger cards with the XXL edition.

Codenames also comes in Pictures, Disney, Marvel, Harry Potter, Adult and Duel Variants

Wits & Wagers

An award-winning trivia game that won’t frustrate people without a Trivial Pursuit mind. Every question in Wits & Wagers is a number you can guesstimate. Furthermore, if the question is just not your thing, the second part of a round involves betting on who got it right. This excites the gambler in your players and gives people a second chance. Wits & Wagers is enormous fun and it has been a hit at our parties for many years.

Just One

The newest game on the list, Just One is probably the easiest of these games and it’s also cooperative. That means everyone is just working together to do well and laugh it up. Each turn, the active player has to guess a word based on one word clues from everyone else (written on individual display stands). However, if the players come up with the same clue, they aren’t revealed and that limits the information the active player gets. You play to see how many of thirteen words you can get. While Just One requires a little thinking, it’s noto so much that you can’t do it after a couple of glasses of wine. A definite winner for up to 7 players.

A clever new entry in the party game genre, Just One will not be played just once.

Dixit

— Maybe you know Apples to Apples (or its NSFW cousin Cards Against Humanity). A wonderful similar game is Dixit, which has the same “judge picks the one they like” concept but uses gorgeous and unique images on each card. The active player plays a card and gives a creative word or phrase to describe it. Everyone else puts a card from their own hand into the mix, and players then guess which one the active player added. The goal is to not be too on-the-nose so everyone picks your card. Ideally, you want just one person to get your hint. Poor guessers can still get points for people picking the card they submitted instead of the original. Dixit is a blast and has many expansions available.

Dixit is full of gorgeous cards.

Why We Party Game

Let’s be clear on one last point: Party games are not about winning! They are about having fun in a shared experience, not crushing your competition. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time competing, it just means that you should focus on the fun and the people first. It’s a party, folks!

So toss out the old Trivial Pursuit (unfair advantage), Bunco (boring), and Taboo (tiresome) and replace them with the winning choices above. Turn your next party into a great experience for everyone and build those real-life friendships that we all cherish so much more than a zillion “friends” online.


This article contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase my recommendations via my affiliate links, you help support me at no additional cost to you.

5 Quick Questions About Silver with Ted Alspach of Bezier Games

5 Quick Questions About Silver with Ted Alspach of Bezier Games

Editor’s Note:As an avowed content geek, I try new formats. People seem to love our 5 Quick Questions interviewette for tabletop designers that is a quick read. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Ted Alspach, founder of Bezier Games and game designer responsible for Castles of Mad King Ludwig, SDJ 2019 nominee Werewords, and the newly-announced card-shedding game Silver, does, shall we?

BGB:Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Silver?

Ted Alspach: We are so excited about this one, we’ve been working on it for two years and we are finally launching it here at Gen Con (2019). Silver is a surprisingly interactive hand management card shedding game. The concept of card-shedding doesn’t happen too often; there are some small games like Golf, Cabo and Rat-A-Tat Cat and little games like that. Silver is its own unique thing in that it’s a littler heavier, more for gamers.

Killer artwork all around.

In Silver, each card has a number of werewolves on it. And you start with five face down; you note just two of them at that point. Your goal by the end of the games is to have as few werewolves as possible by trading cards with higher numbers for those with lower numbers. However, each card also has a special ability so you try to shed as many as possible until someone says they have the lowest value.

There’s this great amount of tension because at any time, someone can call for a vote and say they have the lowest amount of werewolves. Everyone else gets a turn at that point, because there are interactive cards and they can screw with someone or drastically reduce their cards. But if they can maintain, they get zero points, which is good since you want the fewest points, they also get to go first the next round and they also get this special silver amulet of protection to use on the next round.

Very Bezier Boxey, but thicker.

Of course, if they miss it, everything goes awry and they get not just the sum of their cards but also ten points, and that’s rough for them. So that happens four times here and then whoever has the lowest score wins.

BGB: Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?

Ted Alspach: So, a couple years ago I played tons and tons for game called Cabo, which is, in a lot of ways, a predecessor to Silver and it is basically you work at getting rid of cards, reducing the cards in your hand. I did like it but it is really light and I discovered there’s this whole genre of these hand management and card shedding games. Looking into those again was looking for something a little more meaty with some interesting decisions. I didn’t see anything, so I started working around some ideas. No one has taken it to the level that I thought gamers would want, with each card doing something special. So, it’s balancing that aspect and it’s really a lot of fun. And, as a game designers, you are looking for these special abilities to balance with the points on the cards. While we were looking into it, we thought we should contact the people who did Cabo to see if they were interested in a more involved game and they ended up letting us publish a new copy of the game since they did it like 10 years ago, which we did and it includes some rules updates based on our play testing with Silver. So, Silver is a result of all that playing these other games and seeing what we could do to develop it into this big beast!

BGB: There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?

Ted Alspach: It’s a middleweight filler, 30-45 minutes and it fills that spot. It is just as easy to learn as Cabo. Silver isn’t any more difficult to learn. You don’t need to know everything just to play the game, so it’s really easy to pick up. And we’re doing an expansion called Silver Bullet that can switch out with cards from the original. (ed. note: This is also available for pre-order and releasing at Gen Con 2019).

Also available at GenCon 2019

BGB: This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?

Ted Alspach: Okay, I have two exclusive things for you. I’ll tell you one and then I will show you something else. So, NEWSFLASH: We have four other Silver decks that are under development for Silver and we plan to release them in the next couple of years. We also have about a dozen original cards to fit into it. One of the cards in the upcoming decks is the Mad Bomber. So, points are bad in Cabo (ed. note: and Silver) and if you have the Mad Bomber, everyone ELSE gets points. (Ed. Note: To see the other secret, check out the video version of the podcast here):

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Silver. Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interviewette?

Ted Alspach: The game plays in 30-45 minutes, for 2-4 players and it available for pre-order RIGHT NOW to be delivered at Gen Con 2019.

Joke Time

This is exclusive for the blog version of this show. Thanks to Ted for our first cartoon response to our joke question:

5 Quick Questions About Roland Wright with Chris Handy

5 Quick Questions About Roland Wright with Chris Handy

Editor’s Note: As an avowed content geek, I try new formats. People seem to love our interviewette for tabletop designers that is a quick read. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Chris Handy, inventive designer of many games like Cinque Terre, Longshot and the gum-pack sized Pack O Games series, plus the Kickstarted and perhaps slightly meta game Roland Wright, does, shall we?

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Roland Wright: The Dice Game?

Chris Handy: You play as an obsessed game designer named “Roland Wright” in a 20-30 minute, simultaneous-play “Roll & Write & Erase” game about designing an award-winning “Roll & Write” game.

BGB: Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?

Chris Handy: Color for one thing. I really enjoy working with lots of colors in a game (Cinque Terre, Long Shot, HUE, RUM. BOX…) But also, I wanted to create a line of games within a theme of an “old time” game designer, while really pushing the boundaries for what’s possible in a Roll & Write format game. 

BGB: There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?

Chris Handy: We’re offering a creative gaming experience within 20 minutes in the R&W format. We’ve worked to make it a very tight competitive experience, while keeping it at a shorter length. Roland Wright is a game about game design integration, making mistakes, editing… and cramming as much into the box, while knowing what to exclude. This is the core aspect of the game.

Love the artwork on this game – ed.

BGB: This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?

Chris Handy: I’m not sure there’s anything that I don’t want to tell you, but there’s an interesting fact about the early stages of this brand. I had a few games developed for a line of Roll & Writes, and I happen to see a tweet from Daniel Solis (Graphic designer and game designer). He posted a picture of a box top of a Roll & Write game, with a faux brand called “Roland Wright”. I approached him about buying the brand concept, and within a few weeks, we made a deal. This really helped shape this game, and the games that will come next in the line…and I’m thankful for Daniel’s brilliant idea.

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Roland Wright: The Dice Game. Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interviewette?

Chris Handy: Roland Wright is for 2-5 players, ages 13 and up. The game plays in 20-30 minutes. Go to www.RolandWright.com for more details.

JOKE TIME

A rope walks into a bar… the bartender says, “Hey, we don’t serve rope ‘round here…”  
The rope leaves and goes around the corner. He ties a loop near his head and whips out his hair on the tip.
He walks back in and sits at the bar.  The bartender says, “Hey, aren’t you that rope that came in here before?”
The rope says, “No!  I’m afraid not.”

Ed. Note: The editor has played an early-release copy of Roland Wright and enjoyed it a lot. Expect a preview review next week or so.

5 Quick Questions About Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth from Peer Sylvester and Osprey Games

5 Quick Questions About Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth from Peer Sylvester and Osprey Games

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. People seem to love our interviewette for tabletop designers that is a quick read. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Peer Sylvester, excellent designer of many games (old favorite of your editor: King of Siam), including the new Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth, does, shall we?

Game Designer Peer Sylvester

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth?

Peer Sylvester:After getting killed in the Amazon with Lost Expedition you can now get killed (separately, cooperatively, or alone) in the post-apocalyptic world of Judge Dredd.

BGB: Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?

Peer Sylvester: Lost Expedition got inspired by the great book “The Lost City of Z” about Percy Fawcett’s last expedition in 1925 (ed. note: also a film on Amazon Prime). Exploration is difficult to implement well in a game (if you want to it to be surprising and yet not too luck-dependent) and I wanted to see how I would come up with a solution. I also wanted to implement the theme (of the story well). Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth was the opportunity to translate my original game into an interesting IP (ed. note: intellectual property). I couldn’t pass that up.

BGB: There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?

Peer Sylvester: There are not many game Judge Dredd games. If you like Dredd, you don’t have much choice. But if you don’t (know Dredd): It’s a quick, easy cooperative game, that can also be played solo or with two players, head-to-head, so there is a lot of variety. Plus the artwork is just great.

BGB: This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?

Artwork Copyright 2000 A.D.

Peer Sylvester: I actually didn’t design this one. I designed the original game and most of the mechanics are translated. This was developed in-house by Osprey Games. I only advised on the design (mechanics, cards, etc.) as a consultant.

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth. Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interviewette?

Peer Sylvester (ed. note, added game info): The game plays with one to four players, in 30-50 minutes and is for ages 14 and up. The game is now available on Amazon and at game stores, online and brick-and-mortar.

Joke Time: I am German; I don’t do jokes.

Editor’s End Note: Judge Dredd is one of my favorite properties and I don’t think any game has yet captured the IP effectively (although I do still have a nostalgic love of Block Mania, the old Games Workshop title). As a fan of Peer’s original game, and this movement of Storytelling Games in general, I’m excited to see his mechanisms applied to Judge Dredd’s unique world. The Cursed Earth sequence is perfect for this concept.

To learn more about Dredd, watch the more recent film, Dredd. I cannot recommend the Sylvester Stallone film, although they did try to capture the humor of Judge Dredd (poorly). You can also read the comics, which are excellently illustrated and written. The Cursed Earth isn’t necessarily the starting place (this is), but it is a compelling storyline.

5 Quick Questions about Raccoon Tycoon with Glenn Drover

5 Quick Questions about Raccoon Tycoon with Glenn Drover

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. So, here’s an interviewette for tabletop designers. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Glenn Drover, the legendary designer of hot new game Raccoon Tycoon (published by Forbidden Games), shall we?

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Raccoon Tycoon?

Glenn: Raccoon Tycoon is an easy to learn (and teach) game of commodity speculation, auctions, set-collection, and tableau building set in the gilded age in Astoria (a land of anthropomorphic animals). The artwork by Annie Stegg is insanely beautiful, and together with the shallow learning curve makes the game appealing to a wide demographic: families and non-gamers, while the multiple strategies and challenging decisions will make it appealing to core gamers.

BGBMaking games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?

Glenn: My wife finally played Catan with friends last year and hated it. This shocked me, so I asked her why. She told me that she was frustrated by having to wait for her turn, and then often not being able to do much or anything if her numbers didn’t come up. That night I decided to design a game that would appeal to Catan fans (Gateway à Gamers) with commodities, low luck, and where you could ALWAYS do something interesting on your turn. Raccoon Tycoon was born.

BGBThere are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?

Glenn: The game that you will play with non-gamers or casual gamers who you want to bring into the gaming world…or anyone who likes Catan or Ticket to Ride and is ready for the next great Gateway Game.

Raccoon Tycoon
Editor’s Note: I have never heard of this publication.

BGBThis is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?

Glenn: It used to have a really annoying mechanic where you had to draw a bunch of cubes every turn to change the price and supply in the market. Dan Vujovic suggested that a card mechanic would be cleaner. After months of resistance (I really like the perfect supply/demand impact of the cube draw), I relented and created the Price/Production cards that drive the market now. They not only worked better, they gave the player another interesting (and sometimes agonizing) decision.

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Raccoon Tycoon! Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interviewette?

Glenn: Time: 60 – 90 minutes, Players: 2 – 5, Learning Curve: 2/5, Strategy: 4/5

Joke

What’s the difference between a dead Raccoon in the road and a run over copy of Monopoly?
A: There are skid marks in front of the Raccoon.

The game is now LIVE on Kickstarter

5 Quick Questions about Civil Unrest from Upstart Games

5 Quick Questions about Civil Unrest from Upstart Games

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. So, here’s a new interviewette for tabletop designers. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Upstart Games, publisher of Civil Unrest (coming to Kickstarter soon) does, shall we?

Civil Unrest is finally live on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1267849140/civil-unrest-the-board-game

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Civil Unrest:

Upstart: Civil Un-rest is a strategic board game with miniatures. (The game) takes place in an alternate modern-day fantasy world where magic and technology have been combined. Players take control of law enforcement or political activists who are trying to take control of Three Circle City, a place where all fantasy races are welcomed but have not been able to get along peacefully.

BGB: Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?

Upstart: I began creating this game in my college days. The funny thing is, during the game’s conception back in the early 1990’s, I believed that political movements becoming waring factions willing to commit acts of violence was a thing of parody. Now, unfortunately, it has become a reality. It is my sincere hope (that) by creating this satirical alternate reality, people can gain some perspective on political violence.

BGB: There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?

Upstart: I believe the miniatures are unique, but also can be great proxies for other games. The game is a fast-paced miniatures game, which is rare. Also, it’s satirical theme (that) can be a conversation starter.

BGB: This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?

Upstart: Well, there are no good guys in this game. Though Civil Unrest is political in nature, the game itself does not paint any one side as good or bad. So, if you are sensitive about politics you may want to skip this one.

Thanks for telling us a bit about Civil Unrest. Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interviewette?

Upstart: 2 Players, play time is between 30 to 60 minutes. Right now, all I have is a Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/upstartgames/

JOKE TIME

Upstart: My day time gig is IT so here goes:

A Network Tech walks into the doctor’s offices and says, “Doc it hurts when IP…”

DISCLOSURE: Boardgame Babylon is not liable for damage to your sensibilities from the jokes these game designers submit.

Check out the promo video:

Love 5 Quick Questions? There are more!

Spiel Des Jahres 2015 Comments

Spiel Des Jahres 2015 Comments

xlogoFirst, congratulations to all the nominees and recommended titles. I’m glad the Spiel Des Jahres continues to be a source of promotion for the hobby, even if it rarely is considered the ultimate arbiter of quality by serious gamers. The inclusion of the Kennerspiel (Complex Game) category is certainly welcome but even there, serious gamers have had some issues with the jury’s definition of ‘complex.’

But let’s get to our story – like many of you, I was watching closely for reports of the Spiel Des Jahres 2015 nominees last week and was excited to see that two of the nominees were games on my radar that I’d pegged as likely nominees. Conveniently enough, I have played all three games and I’ve acquired them so I can play them with my old group of friends who take a game holiday in early July. We love to get our own comparison going and then see what the Spiel Des Jahres jury decides. So, what are the nominees?

Colt Express

This amusing train robbery game has 2-6 players battling out to be the most successful Colt Express Board Gamethief on a 3-D train you construct. Players program cards from a fixed personal deck into a central deck (like one of my favorites – Mamma Mia and other similar games) that is then resolved in order, with players hoping that whatever they programmed goes off as expected – which is often not the case due to the action of the others. Players steal gems from the various trains, shoot each other to place space-filling bullets into the decks, and try to lure the Marshall over to hit their opponents.

Colt Express gets some criticism for a lack of control but gamers will want to immediately graduate to the ‘advanced rules’ which let you cycle through your cards rather than having a completely random draw each turn (making it possible for players to have almost no turn at all). I think the designer made a mistake in not calling this the normal game. While the basic rules are easier, I can see how people could be hugely frustrated by it.

On components alone, Colt Express would have a good shot. But based on the fun of the game, its approachability (we played it with a third-grader and he almost won), and the seeming interest in this theme lately, I feel like Colt Express is the front-runner. It’s available now through Amazon.

The Game

This title from the same designer of Qwixx was the surprise on the short-list for me. While, like the Oscars, the same designers seem to get an increased shot at the big awards if they previously missed them, I thought Qwixx was a fun game but didn’t expect it to earn the designer, Steffan Benndorf, another go at the big time. But here it is.pic2405167_md

The Game is funny to me in that the comparisons to Hanabi make me think maybe he decided to build his own version of the game that edged him out of his big moment. Could be – there are some elements of similarity for sure; player collaboratively discard/play cards to stacks. But the closer comparison is probably 23, a pleasant little game which plays quicker and competitively. Players discard cards (ranked 2 to 99) to one of four stacks, two of which are ascending from 1 and two of which are descending from 100. Play one per turn from a hand and the twist is that if you get a card exactly 10 higher/lower than the top card on a stack, you can play it going the opposite way (i.e., play 49 on 59 for an ascending stack). That’s about it. Also, the art is grim/dark and feels kind of odd for such a light family-style game (which should have probably kept it out of the running for the SDJ).

With those in mind, I find The Game to be only okay and I think it’s a long-shot at best to win (unless the politics of giving the award to a smaller, independent publisher win out. The Game is kind of hard to get (and to find on BGG…just search for “The Game” and “Kannst”) at the moment but I got my own copy from TimeWellSpent Games.

Machi Koro

This little dice-rolling, city-builder is the one I have had for the longest. I’ve played it many times and have also invested in the Harbor expansion, which many gamers insist is necessary to properly enjoy the game. While I agree that the basic game grows old quickly, even the Harbor expansion has its own problems. But if you play with the Harbor expansion and a variant that gives you one row of 1-6 cards and a second one of Machi Koro Spiel Des Jahres7+ (also limiting the often annoying ‘6’ cards to one per player), Machi Koro is a lot of fun. As you can see, even our cat gets into it.

Machi Koro‘s chances are solid but I think Colt Express will likely take the prize on pure component fun. Some have suggested that awarding Machi Koro makes sense because it would acknowledge the wonderful microgame revolution coming out of Japan right now. I think the way to award that would have been tossing it to Love Letter but Machi is more the style of the Spiel Des Jahres.

Still, Machi is a bunch of cards and a couple of dice. Colt Express has freaking 3-D trains and Banditeeeples. It’s going to be tough to beat. You can buy Machi Koro on Amazon right now. Also, I strongly recommend the Harbor expansion – also available on Amazon immediately.

Recommended61qsOu8xr7L

What do I think belonged in that spot for The Game?

Cacao from Sushi Go designer Phil Walker-Harding seems like the most obvious choice. It’s a pleasant gateway game with a nice theme, good components (though nothing eye-popping like Colt’s 3-D train or last year’s winner Camel Up with it’s dice-pooping pyramid), and family-friendly theme and feel.

I would have loved to have seen Bezier Games’ One Night Ultimate Werewolf in there, too. Although this version of the perennial party game Werewolf plays in 5 minutes, it would be a nice
addition to the game collections of families that just buy the Spiel Des Jahres winner each year. We’ve played it a bunch of times and it definitely has both that ‘let’s play again!’ feel and serious replay value with all of the characters included (and there’s more in the excellent expansion).

I need to try the rest of the list and will. Only Patchwork was on my ‘must-try’ list but now they all are.

Other Awards from the SDJ Jury

I’d note that I had no idea on the Kinderspiel at all and I had far too long a list of Kennerspiel possibilities but I will be back when I have finished playing all of them later this summer.

I haven’t played any of them Broom Service is based on Witch’s Brew, which I think it terrific. I’m also quite keen to play Elysium, having enjoyed previous games from Brett Gilbert (Divinare is an underrated gem), and Orleans has so much positive hype that I almost want to ask people to start lowering my expectations! When I get a chance to try them all, I’ll be back to report on them.

Press Release: Stronghold Games Announces Space Cadets: Away Missions

Press Release: Stronghold Games Announces Space Cadets: Away Missions

Launching As A Kickstarter Project – Featuring As Many As 100 Plastic Miniatures

New Jersey, USA – January 19, 2015 

Stronghold Games is proud to announce Space Cadets: Away Missions, the third standalone game in the Space Cadets franchise of cooperative and team space-themed games.

Space Cadets: Away Missions is a cooperative, scenario-based, tactical action game set in the Goldenunnamed-6 Age of science fiction, making it a thematic prequel to the first two Space Cadets games. In this game, players take on the roles of adventurous human spacemen (“Rocketeers”) who explore UFOs, acquire alien technology and fight hordes of hostile extraterrestrials.

Each turn, Rocketeers spend action points on activities such as firing atomic rifles, analyzing exotic equipment, or subduing the malicious Brain-in-a-Jar. When the Rocketeers are finished, the Aliens take their turns by following simple movement and combat protocols. Seven types of hostile Aliens threaten the Rocketeers, from the repulsive Mind Leeches to the rampaging titanic Sentinels.

Space Cadets: Away Missions has scenarios linked in a campaign story arc. These “Away Missions” are set at various locations, feature different combinations of Aliens, and have diverse objectives for the Rocketeers to achieve. Hexagonal map tiles are arranged to form the locations, such as flying saucers, rocket ships, and space stations. Cooperation, tactical planning and a bit of luck are essential if the Rocketeers are to overcome the relentless horde of little green men.

In a departure from its previous publications, Stronghold Games will launch a Kickstarter campaign for this game, which is the most ambitious project in its 5+ years in the hobby game industry. By utilizing Kickstarter for this publication, Space Cadets: Away Missions will contain as many as 100 detailed, professionally-sculpted plastic miniatures to represent the heroic Rocketeers and the rampaging Aliens.  Stronghold Games will print this impressive project at Ludofact Germany, the leading printer of hobby games in the world, where the best-selling miniatures board games in the world also have been printed.

As an added bonus, free worldwide shipping will be offered to the Early Adopter Pledge Levels of the Kickstarter campaign for Space Cadets: Away Missions.  The project is scheduled to deliver to Kickstarter backers in August 2015.  The game will be available in retail venues at a date after it ships to all backers.

The Kickstarter for Space Cadets: Away Missions will begin within days of this announcement.

“We wanted to publish a game in our Space Cadets franchise, which not only has incredible gameplay, but also is beautiful to behold on the table”, said Stephen Buonocore, President of Stronghold Games. “With as many as 100 plastic miniatures, Space Cadets: Away Missions moves us into an entirely new market. To ensure that this market does exist for us, we are employing Kickstarter for this project only. We are using Kickstarter in the same manner as much larger companies than us have done in the past when they reached into new markets.”

About Stronghold Games LLC:

Stronghold Games LLC is a publisher of high-quality board and card games in the hobby game industry. Since 2009, Stronghold Games has released many highly-regarded games, including the best-selling “Survive: Escape From Atlantis!”, the most innovative deck-building game, “Core Worlds”, the smash-hit game line of “Space Cadets”, and its latest copublished game line “Among The Stars”.  Stronghold Games publishes great game designs developed both in-house and in partnership with European publishers. Stronghold Games LLC is a Limited Liability Company formed in the State of Delaware, USA.