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 Ta-Te Wu, the L.A.-based game designer, Cat-Theme Advocate, and the publisher of Sunrise Tornado Games, does, shall we?
BGB:Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Macaron?
Ta-Te Wu: Macaron is a trick-taking game with novel tastes for 1 to 5 players. It’s easy to learn and play for people who are new to trick-taking game while being exciting and fun for advanced players.
BGB:Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?
Ta-Te Wu: I love traditional trick-taking games, but they usually have a limit on the number of players. Plus, if you have a bad hand, you are less likely to enjoy the round. So I set a goal is to design a trick-taking game that’s flexible on the number of players, enjoyable to play even with a bad hand, and without overly-complicated abilities. And here is Macaron ☺
BGB:There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?
Ta-Te Wu: Macaron is a rare game that fits in a traditional trick-taking games genre that is friendly enough to be enjoyable to new players. The experienced players won’t run away with the game, as can happen with some trick-takers. It’s also rare for a trick-taking game to have a solo option. Macaron does all this and still has enough depth for experienced players. It’s pretty much a game for any crowd.
BGB:This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?
Ta-Te Wu: It doesn’t come with macarons?
BGB:Thanks for telling us a bit about Macaron. 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?
Hiring isn’t easy. Lots of books will tell you to hire for culture fit, hire the person and sort out the job for them, or to simply bring in a diverse set of voices that will create the energy and creativity to help you grow your business. How can you tell what really works?
I’ve hired hundreds of employees in the last twenty years, so I look for the shortcuts where I can, just not problematic ones like ‘hiring people who just look like you or went to the same school.’ I’m looking for the insight from elsewhere in a candidates’ life. My greatest mentor, Morgan Underwood, used to come into interviews with great ‘personality’ questions. He always said that if we’re going to spend so much time together, we should hire employees whose company we enjoy.
Nowadays, we’d probably drop that into the aforementioned ‘culture fit’ and, while that concept gets a bad rap sometimes, I find it useful. I love to hear that a candidate devotes time to charity. It’s exciting to hear they have an artistic side of an interesting hobby that offers insight into the type of person they are. This last point is most useful when I hear that a candidate plays modern board games.
Now, full disclosure: Board games are one of my main hobbies. I encourage play of them everywhere I work so it might sound like I’m just fishing for more players at lunch time and after work but hear me out. I like to hire board gamers because I think they make great employees.
Mind you, I’m not talking about people who play lamentable classic board games like Candyland with their children. I’m talking about people who play modern board games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride. These folks are participating in a hobby that is surging in popularity, on its way to a 12 billion-dollar valuation in 2023. I have always said that this resurgence in popularity is a reaction to so much screen time. More importantly, these people are spending their leisure time with the most intellectually stimulating hobby around.
Why are these people likely to be great employees? Let’s take a look at what you get when you hire a board game fan.
Intellectual Exercise – Their hobby is an intellectual exercise. In addition to being one of the best ways to combat dementia, board games are mentally stimulating as they involve resource management, planning, trouble-shooting and puzzle-solving – often all within a single game. Modern board games ask players to manage situational luck, weigh options that all sound attractive, and make a large number of decisions every hour they play – all in the name of fun with friends. I want people on my teams that do this kind of activity as a hobby because they are getting trained to make real business decisions when it counts for my company.
Interaction with People – Forget the introverted geek stereotype. Most modern board games involve a lot of interaction. The best of them hone your people skills with a chance to negotiate and trade, participate in auctions, work cooperatively or semi-cooperatively, and basically learn more about people through deep interaction. In some games, you need to ferret out a player who is working against the others. Often, you have to weigh what’s important to you against what the other players want or need. In others, you just have to flat out convince people to support what you want to do. These are absolutely valuable as business skills. Sure, you can build camaraderie by going bowling or out for drinks, but board games offer you insight into the way people can successfully work together, compete, and win with our minds, using skills that are more directly related to how a business runs.
The Art of Winning and Losing – Board game players get more chances to win and lose than the average person. Every time you release a product, run a marketing campaign, or try to close a sale, you get important feedback and an opportunity to learn. Board gamers get this experience with every game, learning from failure in a place where the stakes are lower. Since modern board games are driven by decisions, strategic thinking, and managing risk, players get a chance to learn from their errors, dissect success, and – to paraphrase one of the world’s greatest game designers, Reiner Knizia – to see winning as a goal and to focus on that goal, not the winning. When we face these highs and lows more frequently than just a quarterly report of success, it helps employees manage the stress of these key moments.
Bias to Action — For board gamers, the focus is on action. Sure, people watch movies, tv and sporting events to relax. There’s nothing wrong with that. In contrast, board gamers simply put on another hat and get to work for their fun. No, modern board games are not work. Yet, this hobby trains minds to engage, to act in a timely manner, and to make considered moves. That drives a bias to action, to push ahead with plans and avoid indecision. Board games will give them 10 turns to build the means of being successful and then running the engine to generate that success.
Knows the Rules — Board gamers like to learn new rules. They are good at finding paths to succeed within the boundaries of the possible. Modern board games are not an endless slog like Monopoly. Most have fixed endings that give players focus on a strategic plan. That sure sounds a lot like a good business plan. Board gamers learn the rules both to follow them and find the opportunity hidden among them. Sure, rule-breakers are cool. But a smart business really wants a team of employees that can find a way to success by playing by the rules and using them to effectively drive ongoing success. If your employees are always thinking about how to make things work with what they have, even during their leisure time, they are building up the mental muscles to be strong when it’s time to build and grow your business.
Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that you should include a game of Terraforming Mars or Scythe as part of your interview process. Yet, I do think that when you hear your prospective employees are playing board games in their spare time, you are likely speaking to a smart person who has the problem-solving skills to be a great contributor to your business. I rank it right up there with people who read a lot, have cool side hustles, and those for whom Coursera is a YouTube substitute. Grab these people before some other smart company does. They will help you win the game your business is playing time and again.
P.S. Yes, introduce a board game night or lunch at your company. This will help you build these skills with your existing team while also increasing a sense of camaraderie amongst your employees. Look here for a set of party games I recommend.
When you’ve been playing games all your life like I have, maybe it’s a foregone conclusion that new mechanisms are a big deal. Sure, I love an interesting theme that is well-implemented. Most of the time, though, it’s not enough. I like to see new ideas and I can admire them even when the game isn’t necessarily my cup of tea. For example, I’ve often spoken about my admiration for the design of Power Grid even if I do not find playing the game to be much fun.
Thankfully, I like all the games on this list that pleasantly embody a concept I call “Low Effort Creativity” (LEC). As a marketer and product designer working in social media-focused technology, I have used this term to describe apps like Instagram where the simple application of a filter onto an image makes users feel like they had created something special. And maybe they have; what mattered is that sense of creativity being expressed, which is more important than what others think of their creation.
In game design, I see LEC manifesting as a way of giving players something that engages their creativity without building from the ground up. Instead, they’re empowered to make a contribution that gives them an output that is uniquely their own.
Dungeons and Drawings
Despite my passionate love for board games, I first thought about this concept after playing a role playing game. Strictly speaking, it’s not a proper RPG, where high-effort creativity is common. There, players come up with their own characters, a back story and maybe even act things out in a bigger way. Four Against Darkness brings the dungeons and maybe some dragons, but is short on the acting and storytelling.
What it does bring into the mix, however, is a pleasant solo experience with an outcome I didn’t expect. I’m not speaking of the success of my band of four adventurers who delved into the cave of some kobolds. No, I was surprised to find out that the process of wandering in the dungeon was going to lead me to creating something mildly artistic.
4AD, as the serious players call it (a moniker which throws me off as a fan of the British record label with that same name), gives the player a chance to quickly put together a four-person adventure party and start into a dungeon with the simple roll of two dice. Those values tell you the type of entrance, corridor or room you are entering, and another roll or two will tell you if there are monsters and loot to be had. It’s not very “RPG” but it is a pleasant pastime, especially with the solid adventures written by andrea sfiligoi (the designer) and his online cadre of creators who are taking the game in a variety of directions. This concept in itself is admirable and I really love to see such deep community involvement in creatively expanding what can be done with this light game system.
The most compelling part of the 4AD experience is drawing your dungeon on graph paper. Sure, the dice tell you the shape of the room, and what’s inside, and all monsters and such are cleverly denoted by certain symbols. The player gets a chance to show off their artistic side in the depiction of the map.
While I’m no artist, I find this part of the game a lot of fun as I track my progress through dungeons, caves, and castles. My own drawings are just lousy but I’ve seen gorgeous renderings online by talented folks who have brought their own flair to the design and decorations of their dungeon. With the game and its mechanisms as inspiration, players get a chance to engage in some low-effort creativity to make their final map a creation worthy of keeping around to enjoy.
A Conspiracy of Cartographers?
A similar tack is taken with Cartographers, a fine new game that released at Gen Con 2019 to popular acclaim (due out to stores Labor Day Weekend). Like 4AD, Cartographers (from Thunderworks Games) asks its players to get out the pencil and fill in their map with renderings of the different types of terrain designated by turns of some game cards.
Like roll-and-write games, Cartographers players pick where the selected terrain goes but unlike most of those games where I box is filled in, X’d or checked off, here players get to draw trees, water, and other terrain types onto their boards to score points based on designated parameters each quarter of the game. As you progress, your map gets filled with your artwork and, again, while I didn’t have the best looking map, I had a lot of fun with the drawing and wanted to play again promptly. While the variations on goals and terrain offers the replay value, I think the little bit of creativity you get to express helps make the game more enjoyable.
The Creative Call
While both of the aforementioned games ride on your drawing skills (or enjoyment drawing regardless of your skill, as in my case), Brotherwise Games’ Call to Adventure instead engages one’s storytelling skills. In fact, the very name of the game is attractively drawn from the first stage in Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, from a book that should be ready by all writers and storytellers.
As with the other games, players are given some parameters on which to hang their creative efforts; Call to Adventure (reviewed here on BGB) asks players to acquire cards that collectively tell the story of their character, from their origin and early days, through the driving force that motivates them, and ultimately to their destiny and the crowning achievements of their quest to get there.
This is played out in simple but clever game play, using throwing runes to acquire various traits, defeat certain challenges, and foil the plans of villainous adversaries as you collect the stories components of your character’s life. The mechanisms are clean and well-implemented but the fun begins when the game ends and you are encouraged to tell your character’s story.
The nine cards you collect, three each for the three stages of the character’s life give you plenty of material with which to work. This isn’t for everyone but I’ve really enjoyed the fact that you can come up with something special by selecting what kind of character you want to be from the various options that come up. You might want to be a hero but find the road hard. You can focus on being an anti-hero, making choices that could be interpreted different ways.
Or you can go flat-out evil and try to be a force for the dark side of life. The choice is yours and it allows you to tailor the story you want to tell at the game’s end. Yes, there are points to count at the end and someone ‘wins.’ But like many of the best games around, it’s most about how you play, what your individual experience delivers, and your own creative way of conveying your story at the end.
Creative Energy Engaged
All three of these games are tapping into the concept effectively, letting players have a bit of a say in the experience they get while gaming on the tabletop. Yes, Legacy games can feel like your own thing because the order in which you experience things and sometimes what you discover versus the next person might vary. Yet, it’s a story you are following. Similarly, the attractive Crossroads mechanism in some Plaid Hat games makes the game experience vary strongly, but it doesn’t engage one’s creativity as the previously mentioned games do.
Was this already present in Pictionary or Telestrations, games that had you drawing up a storm every turn? Maybe, because you could enjoy the artwork produced. But since both of those games have a time element going on, they don’t offer the players a chance to focus on the art instead of the answer delivered at breakneck speed.
I feel like the games I referenced offer the opportunity to truly engage the artistic spirit, both in the slow individual play of 4AD that allows one to take their time drawing up the elements of their dungeon or the chance to build up a story in Call to Adventure over the course of the 45-60 minute play time.
I am excited to see more opportunities for board game and tabletop designers in general to come up with new mechanisms that tap into the notion of this low-effort creativity, which unlocks the fun of owning part of the game experience beyond just the decisions of how to spend cubes each turn or which spot to drop a Meeple on. Let’s see what you’ve got, designers…
The Gathering of Friends remains a highlight of my gaming year. The trip to Niagara Falls (the US side) is worth it in order to get an early look at many games that the world will see later in the year at Spiel. As it happens, many games I really wanted to see last year were off the radar due to my intense last six months of life and work getting in the way of games. What can you do?
GOF for me this year was affected by a commitment to playtest a Legacy game that meant I would be playing a long series of the same game. I cannot comment on the game but I will say that it was certainly excellent and one people will be thrilled to see when it finally sees the light of day. I also happily had a chance to playtest both of my front-burner games: Theme Park and Cosplay Showdown (recently renamed).
What follows is a brief list of played games that I had a chance to try out (part 1):
Richard Breese’s excellent card game version of his hit game, Keyflower, is a prototype I sought out after recommendations from many other people at the Gathering. The various mechanisms that made Keyflower so popular are there, including the ability to use a building built by others, different worker types, and the farmland expansion theme. Many elements of the original are simply boiled down into cards instead of a map, Breese has made a lighter take on the game’s place-and-upgrade concept. While the theme doesn’t engage me particularly, I like the mechanisms and look forward to playing it more when it arrives later in the year. Richard said it is scheduled for a Spiel 2018 release. As you can see below, I was not alone in my appreciate for his latest game.
Keyflow is a new game by Richard Breese that combines elements of 7 Wonders with elements of Keyflower. This card drafting-tableau building game is fast paced and easy to teach, but provides much challenge. If you’re a fan of the Key series, DO NOT MISS THIS! #BOARDGAMESpic.twitter.com/4PvX6Y0JJQ
If there was a game of the convention, it was The Mind. This ridiculously simple concept takes The Game and amps up the experience by providing players with a more open play style. You need to ‘read the mind’ of the other players to play your cards that go from 1-100 in ascending order during the game. Beginning with one card and scaling up from there depending on the number of players, you need to simply drop the cards in the right order into the pile in the middle of the table. There are no turns; you just decide if you’re the one with the next highest card to play.
The only thing is: Your only clues to determine whether you should play are the non-verbal cues of your fellow players. No words or real signs are to be passed, but you find ways. While I played the game with many people, I seemed to do best with Richard Breese and Rik Van Horn, although we lost on Level 6. Playing with my buddy Jeff was pretty solid as well, but you never know whose brainwaves might work best.
If you get into a bind, there are shuriken stars that can be used to force everyone to discard their lowest card. To ‘throw one,’ all players must raise their hands in unison, agreeing that they do not have confidence in their next play. This both gets you out of the bind and gives you a sense of the lay of the land with the remaining player hands.
If you fail to collectively play the cards in consecutive order, you lose a glowing ghost bunny card – which is somehow ‘a life.’ Yes, some of those sentences had odd moments, didn’t they? The theme of The Mind appears to involve incorporeal rabbit ninjas. I don’t understand it either but the game is a winner and it was in constant play at the Gathering. It’s due out from Pandasaurus Games soon and it will be a hot item. Pre-order now!
A new-to-me game that I wanted to play since this came out at Spiel in 2017, I expected to like it because Concordia from designer Mac Gerdts is one of my favorite recent games. This one takes much of the feel of his previous game and changes the theme to be ships in the transition from the age of sail to the age of steam. There’s still this vaguely deck-building thing going on, but it’s suppressed even further by less frequent opportunities to add to your options. Instead, you buy ships based on their age, speed, cargo capacity, and tonnage.
These elements help you place the ships into service on certain ocean boards, which can only contain three ships at a time. When ships sail (some of the deck cards lets you do this), you get cash. When they are inevitably pushed out of the sea by newer, better ships, you score the ships based on your investment in that type of ship, with bonuses based on previously retired ships in that category. The various cards give you powers to optimize, break and manipulate rules as you acquire ships, sometimes providing a little money to opponents when you call for all ships in an ocean to sale, and plan for their eventual trip to the scrap heap after a few coal-driven voyages.
This may seem like a lot but it is maybe even lighter than Concordia in some ways. The concepts of the Prefect, Diplomat and the like are present in this buy, ship and invest game but I enjoyed how Gerdts reimplemented many of them into similar ideas to keep the feel of Concordia without just duplicating it. I liked Transatlantic quite a bit and expect to acquire it in the days ahead.
This collaboration from the reliable Stefan Feld and the similarly so Michael Rieneck is a solid middleweight euro with an enjoyably integrated theme that shines in the components and some mechanisms. Players use a kind of rondel to acquire items and enact actions, using dice that command how far you can move. In addition to your ‘knight’ dice that only let your pawn move clockwise around the Round Table Rondel (which kind of reminds me of Burgen Land), you also get a Merlin die each turn that lets you move clockwise or counter so. But he’s a neutral pawn so timing your move is an issue if others are out to take their turn first. This works well and you play it over the course of six rounds, with attacks from brigands and such happening every other turn (like so many Feld ‘punishment’ mechanisms). Publisher Queen’s production quality helps, too, with flag, staff and shield tokens looking good. While there are many things going, this is Feld in approachable mode like Notre Dame. While not everyone likes Stefan Feld’s ‘point salads’ (as we call now derisively reference what we used to lovingly call ‘multiple paths to victory’), the ones that successfully blend the flavors win me over big time (Castles of Burgundy does, Luna does not). I’d called Merlin a solid entry into his ludography. I don’t need to buy it right away but I’d probably trade to get it and explore the system more.
The SDJ nominee has staying power for our group and the clever, quick card game version may join it on my shelves if I can find it for a decent price. While Karuba plays in 30 minutes and feels like a real game, the card game can be knocked out in 15 minutes and it STILL feels pretty solid. You’re still trying to get your adventurers to their color-coded treasures with tiles that include paths through the jungle. Players ‘bid’ two tiles a turn, with the lowest total losing a tile each round. Then, you play the tiles to connect the explorers with their color-coded temple without running over each other but hopefully both using good paths that will help you pass gold and crystals along the way. It’s fast and will appeal to casual gamers just as the original did.
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 Ta-Te Wu, designer of Kung Pao Chicken (a game from Sunrise Tornado Game Studio that comes to Kickstarter on Jan. 2) does, shall we?
BGB:Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Kung Pao Chicken?
Ta-Te Wu: Kung Pao Chicken is secret identity party game of chickens vs. foxes. If you’re a chicken, your team scores points for each chicken that is saved. If you are a fox, your team scores points for each chicken captured. The only thing is: You don’t know if you’re a chicken or a fox. Ready to Kung Pao?!?
BGB:Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?
Ta-Te Wu: I love making games. Can’t stop and never will. If I recall correctly, I made Kung Pao Chicken because I wanted to make a game with chicken before the Year of the Chicken, based on the Chinese Zodiac. Just days after I made the first prototype, I went to Las Vegas and playtested with Aki, my college roommate, and his friends. We played it over and over and had a lot of fun. Yet, I spent a whole year to finish the game, making sure it is as good as it should be.
BGB:There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?
Ta-Te Wu: Kung Pao Chicken is a quick filler and there is always a demand for this type of game. The game is easy to teach and fun to play. KPC has a few fun deduction mechanics and every game feels different based on the card distribution. I think the best part of the game is probably the phase where you need to guess who you are. It makes most people laugh. You will know what I mean when you play the game 🙂
BGB:This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?
Ta-Te Wu: Hmmm…that I am working on a two-player expansion and an edition that can be played with 20 people?
BGB:Thanks for telling us a bit about Kung Pao Chicken. 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?
Ta-Te Wu:Kung Pao Chicken is a 3 to 5 player game and plays in 15 minutes. It will be on Kickstarter on Jan 2nd, 2018. Finally, no animals were harmed in the making of Kung Pao Chicken.
DISCLOSURE: Boardgame Babylon is not liable for damage to your sensibilities from the jokes these game designers submit.
The Gathering of Friends, Alan Moon’s invitational, is always a highlight of the gaming year. One of my favorite things about the show is the opportunity to game with designers who have become friends. It is a Gathering of them, after all. Playing games with designers is a bit like going to dinner with a chef or having wine with a vintner – the perspective they provide can help deepen your appreciation of a game immensely. Some of my favorite moments from the years I’ve spent at GOF are the post-game discussions about something we have played, metering out the specific mechanisms and how they worked, recalling where we’d seen them in the past and judging their reimplementation, and talking about how the title fits into something like Bruno Faidutti’s Ideal Game Library concept – only the games you need for all moods, situations, player types and numbers. Those convos are sublime for the engaged tabletop gamer.
The other major delight is meeting designers whose work I love and this year, a key meeting was Phil Walker-Harding. I’d call myself an OF (Original Fan) of Phil’s work, way back to his first game with Z-Man,
Archaeology: The Card Game. This light but clever design found its way to me when I was running demos for Z-Man Games (Yes, I was a Z-Forcer) at Strategicon conventions. I taught it to so many people, but never lost interest. It played wonderfully with families and gamers could admire the pleasantly clean design. NOTE: The game is out of print, but an expanded title based on it called “Archaeology: The New Expedition” is available here.
Years later, I was unsurprised that modern family game winner Sushi Go was from Phil – it’s such an immediate delight and imminently playable. Gamewright was lucky to pick it up. Sushi Go Party is even better, as I’ve previously noted in this space. Everyone on my team at work owns it now because they love it so much. His SDJ-nominated Imhotep was another story. I wasn’t sure the first time out, but as I have chronicled, I found its brilliance a few plays in. It’s a standard gateway for us now. His other well-known title, Cacao, is another winner that I want to play a bit more before commenting, but it warranted an SDJ recommendation in 2015. Phil has the goods, folks.
Over the years, my enthusiasm for his titles hasn’t gone unnoticed in this era of social media. I’ve tweeted back and forth with Phil a number of times, but it was still a distinct pleasure to actually shake his hand at Gathering of Friends 2017. Having missed last year’s GOF due to a new job, this was my first chance to sample his new games prior to publication. When we met, he first brandished his just-released Bärenpark, which is now available in Europe from Lookout and will be hitting the US via Mayfair this summer. Amusingly, he brought it out to play with Matt Leacock and myself after I’d been asked what I was interested in playing. I’d expressed an interest in Cottage Garden based on my wife’s deep love of Patchwork. Phil offered up Bärenpark as being designed to scratch a similar itch.
“I designed Bärenpark after hundreds of plays of Patchwork with my wife,” Phil noted. Sounds familiar to me, and many tabletop gamers, I expect. Uwe’s delightful two-player game is firmly planted on the “Couples’ Game” list now. Cottage Garden, which I’ll talk about in my full GOF report, is the big brother of Patchwork and plays up to four. Bärenpark has the same pentominoes you find in those games but the goal here is to build out your bear (that’s what ‘baren’ means, folks) zoo park with various attractions. I wondered about the similarities to my own Theme Park game, which also uses pentominoes but they were limited to just that construction bit (see Princes of Florence for the original idea, I expect).
Phil also noted the influence of the wonderful little game Mosaix from designer (and game illustrator) Christof Tisch. That roll-and-assign winner from 2009 is due to come to my table again soon after Phil referencing it in regard to Bärenpark.
How Does Play Bärenpark?
Bärenpark turns are simple enough – just build a piece from your supply and gain new pieces based on what you play. You play the pieces to a swatches of parks (you start with one) as 4×4 grids, each with symbols that let you acquire new pieces of varying types (and values) that decrease as they are acquired (Thurn und Taxis-style). You need to then fit those pieces onto your board so there is no overlap or overhang. Since this is a euro-style game, you collect new piece(s) at the end of the turn and have time to consider how to use them while the other players take their turns. You may get more than one per turn, but you only place a single one each turn.
While the big pieces delivered by building over dump truck spots are a lot of points, they’re also unwieldy at times and you will often need to go back to the small park pieces to fill in the empty spots. There’s a reason to do so – the game clock is completion of park grids with an also-decreasing value in bonus delivered. These are manhole cover tokens that are automatically placed over the single pit on each grid after all other spaces are filled. These values start with the biggest points in the game and recognizing that helped Matt win our game (I was caught up in accelerating to the high point park pieces).
Of course, you don’t just fill one 4×4 grid. Additional boards can be had by building over worker spaces, up to maximum of four, and they’re a chance to gain more bonus points from placement plus that completion bonus. Matt astutely noticed this was a strategy for maximizing points because you didn’t just score from just your placement, but from the completion. Did I mention there’s a downside to playing games with great designers? Yeah, they win a lot.
Bärenpark has an elegance I associate with Phil’s games, yet there are things to explore and enjoy through repeat plays. Much like the subtle choices of Imhotep or the realization that Sushi Go has enough information to make choices better if you want to play it more than casually, Bärenpark will surely reveal more as the game gets more play – and it will certainly do that. I think this is an early runner for SDJ consideration and it would be a welcome addition to gamer and family collections. To that end, it plays in about 40 minutes and you can teach it in two. Watch for it.
I also played a hush-hush prototype of Phil’s that had his signature simplicity that often reminds me of Michael Schacht. From me, that a high compliment, indeed, as I believe Schacht to be one of the top 10 of all time. Again, I was unsurprised that the prototype was snapped up by a publisher promptly and was in much demand from the players, too. The title will be well-liked when it arrives on the scene and was much discussed at GOF. I missed two other protos Phil had but I look forward to their publication with interest as I heard many other positive reviews of them.
Thanks to Phil for the introduction to his games and the great convos. Bärenpark is due out from Mayfair in June 2017, just in time for the summer convention season.
In the last few months, I’ve had a number of inquiries as to why the Secret Newsletter stopped. Let’s be honest – the election was a shocker to me and I haven’t really recovered entirely. Add that to some family concerns, a house emergency over the holidays and a new game design popping up (all while my professional life is very intense) and you get a newsletter holdup.
As those who follow my Twitter and Facebook feeds know, I’ve still played some games. Mostly, it’s been a weekly game of Descent with my son, wife and two oldest friends. This has been rewarding and also kind of simple to maintain while I was going through a rough patch. The stability of a weekly session has been a kind of healing salve for me, as it’s both nostalgic and so nice to engage with some of the most important people in my life.
That said, I’ve also done a lot of writing in the interim for the book I’m working on while I’ve done some polishing on Theme Park and also written quick rules for my new game, A.I. I expect to take Theme Park, A.I., Cosplay Grab (also a revision) and a game I worked on with Ta-Te Wu (Jokers) to the Gathering of Friends next month in hopes of talking people into playing them. It’s a tall order to complete all this work but we’ll see if I can get there. Wish me luck.
Until then, I don’t know how soon I’ll get back to the newsletter. I enjoyed writing the text weekly and it is hard to stop now that we had reached just over 1,000 subscribers with virtually no promotion other than my own silly channels. It may get resurrected sometime in the future – we shall see.
In addition, my marketing assistant who helped me get up press releases and also get more content on the site regularly has been otherwise engaged. I’m trying to see if I can recruit one of my kids to help out in the interim so we can rev things up again. Stay tuned.
Thanks again for asking for remember – it’s only a game.
More than a few fans of the old podcast and some close friends noticed a significant shift in my game plays sometime in 2014 but not all of them asked the obvious question directly. Most were coy about it, trying to find a casual way to say what was surprising them about the type of games they saw being featured on my social media feeds. “That doesn’t seem like a game you’d be interested in playing,” said one Facebook friend after I posted pictures of my third play of Mice & Mystics last year (and after three the previous year).
The observer was correct; anyone who has been listening to my podcast during the last decade or following me on Twitter, Instagram or other social channels with any regularity could say the same thing, “You’re a dyed-in-wool eurogamer – how is it that you’re playing all of these Ameritrash/Experience games? Have you gone born-again Ameritrash?”
The answer is essentially ‘no’ but that doesn’t tell the whole story. I will endeavor to do that now.
A few years ago, I was playing a game with my family and yet I was feeling like a failure as a ‘gamer dad.’ The reason for my feeling was simple – even though I was playing a fun family game with my kids, it was WAY below their age range.
We were playing Qwirkle and, while I love that game, I was realizing that my teen and preteen had been stuck in a loop playing games that were too young for them. Now, Qwirkle is good enough for anyone to play but the truth is that my kids were old enough to take on more challenging games but I’d failed to introduce them to the next step in more meaty games and so I was left still playing casual and younger-audience games with my kids.
Some time before, my good friend Devi Hughes, the man behind the Orange County Board Gamers (he and his wife), had talked about playing Le Havre with his kids who were younger than my own. Le Havre! Meanwhile, I was sheepishly playing 6+ and maybe 8+ games with my kids who were both three years older than his two kids. How did I let this happen?
Now, any gamer dad is happy to play games with their kids, almost regardless of what it is. That’s just being a good dad. But I saw the potential for my kids to play more serious games and felt like I’d missed some invisible shift from kid games to something more substantial. Sure, I played with friends and my wife will take on just about any game as long as she gets a play or two in with me first. But I wasn’t bringing my kids fully into the hobby like all gamers plan to do on one level or another.
I’d done so well with them at a younger age. They had played over 200 different games before they ever played Monopoly – and, even then, we only played it when I bought a stupidly cheap copy of it during the holidays and gave it to them as a joke Christmas gift. To my eternal delight, they hated it and my daughter actually uttered ‘It’s stupid that you just roll a die to move in this game.’ Seriously – be still my eurogamer heart.
None of the joy in their derisive attitude towards the hallmark of bad board games could change that I’d missed a transition somewhere. I decided I needed some dire measures to get things back on track.
Soon thereafter, I declared that, as a family, we’d be playing through the complete Alea series in order to kickstart the eurogamer souls I was supposed to be inspiring into my offspring. My daughter had grown less interested in games in the last year but she was sort of pressured into participating. I will say that once she got to the table, she would always have a good time and get into it (she’s a trifle competitive – actually, they both are. Good.)
As we were proceeding through this gauntlet (chronicled elsewhere), my son asked about Dungeons and Dragons. I explained that I’d played the game from elementary school to high school off-and-on but hadn’t played any role-playing games since the 80’s (I guess I’m dating myself there). I had no interest in role-playing games and when I moved on to purely board games (which had played before I ever tried RPGs), my personal group of gamers moved on with me. Other than my friend Clark occasionally complaining, everyone was fine with the move and no one suggested we go back to GURPS, Champions, Call of Cthulhu, Traveller and D&D.
Yet, as I say, a good gamer dad encourages any kind of games (even video games, which I produced for many years so I was happy with that, too) so I sought out my friend Devi again, who was raising his kids on both board games and RPGs. He was kind enough to run a game of Dungeons and Dragons for us. As it happens, my longtime friend and fellow gamer, Chad Smith (who develops and designs with me sometimes), brought his own son to the game as well. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one whose offspring wondered about the game we had so enjoyed in our youth.
Soon enough, we settled down in our game room and played a massive 4th Edition game of D&D with a few adults and a bunch of kids. While Devi did a great job running the game, it wasn’t my cup of tea. It was about six hours of play for a couple of combats against some kobolds and some time walking down a road. My eurogamer mind imagined how much delightful cube-pushing, auctioning, trading, and negotiation play I could have enjoyed during that one long afternoon. I calculated the mix of fillers, meatier games, maybe a middle-weight or two thrown into the list. That would have been a better day than this excursion to kill kobolds and goblins while teenagers fussed about whose turn it was and wanting to go to town to ‘buy new boots.’ While that wasn’t my RPG experience in the 80’s, I’d always avoided players who did that sort of thing. The lengthy process of resolving battles felt flat to me. I wondered how some of my friends had so strongly embraced 4th Edition when it came out. Devi was a competent DM. The kids were a bit rambunctious and all but the whole thing just fell completely flat. I thought that clearly these experience games and Ameritrash just weren’t for me but I wasn’t done trying.