Another season has gone by, and though I didn’t play anything new that was great in Summer 2014, I played a whole bunch of new games that were very good, and that I’d happily play again, so here’s my look at The Season of Very Good.
The Very Good
Damage Report (2014).Following in the footsteps of Space Alert (2008) and Escape: The Curse of the Temple (2012), Damage Report is a real-time cooperative game. It’s a game of logistical resource movement, where the real-time play is all about getting the right stuff to the right places in time, while a 3-minute timer of doom relentlessly adds to your problems.
As a real-time game, Damage Report does a great job of keeping you frenzied: you try and keep abreast of the larger picture while constantly being dragged down by the need to take your own moves and monitor your own timer. As a cooperative game, Damage Report does a good job of giving you opportunities for working together: you try and get the appropriate supplies to your friends (or on the flipside, reveal what supplies they could bring you) — and the challenges put in your way are tough. The phrase “logistical cooperation” doesn’t sound that exciting, but the game turns out to be joyously frantic and adrenaline-fueled. The cooperative play works, but the designer really got the real-time play right. Continue reading →
Eight years ago I wrote an article called “IP, Morality & The Gaming Industry” where I bemoaned the fact that Intellectual Property don’t adequately protect game creation. Games like Aquarius, Barbarossa, and Commands & Colors got ripped off to varying degrees, and the designers didn’t have a lot of legal fallback. That’s because copyright only protects the concrete representation of a game and patents, which could protect mechanics, are too expensive.
Today, that understanding of intellectual property law seems to be changing, so I wanted to post a short news piece talking about two new US court decisions.
Spry Fox vs Lolapps (2012) got quite a bit of attention a few years ago. It’s about an app, not a board game, but it’s now being used as the basis of more recent decisions, so it’s worth looking at. The suit centered on a rather innovative gaming app called Triple Town. Like many puzzle games of recent years, the object is to move identical objects together in a small grid, but here they form something else. Then another game called Yeti Town came around and Spry Fox, the Triple Town publisher, said it was a rip-off. Continue reading →
Star Realms (2013) is a science-fiction themed deckbuilding game that rather uniquely is built for just two players — which is certainly a different way to create a small deckbuilder, as opposed to the variable play models used by Pergamemnon (2011) and Zeppelin Attack! (2014). However, you can play Star Realms with more players by buying additional decks of cards.
Looking at the deckbuilding tree of design, Star Realms is most clearly a descendent of Ascension(2010) — which is unsurprising because they have a designer in common. Both games allow for the purchase of cards from a random selection of just a few that are available at any time. They’re also both heavily suited and they both feature cards that are left on the table: constructs in Ascension and bases in Star Realms.
El Grande (1995), by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich, is one of the foundational games of the eurogame genre. I still try to play it at least once a year, but I’ve never written an in-depth discussion of it, so I wanted to take the event of this year’s play to talk about it a little bit.
The Majority Control
At heart, El Grande is a majority-control game — or really, the majority-control game that defined much of what followed in eurogames. You place cubes into regions on the board and you try to have just enough to beat your opponents. It’s a simple recipe of efficiency mixed with risk-reward.
Zeppelin Attack!, by Eric Vogel, is a deckbuilding game that I have a personal connection to, as I gave playtesting comments on it from its earliest days. It’s also published by Evil Hat, who is currently running my Kickstarter for Designers & Dragons. So, take what I say here with a grain of salt — but I do find it an interesting and innovative deckbuilding design.
Zeppelin Attack! is a game of fighting zeppelins. You build a fleet out of your flagship and other zeppelins, and then you use those zeppelins to launch attacks and deploy operatives. The card-based direct conflict of zeppelin-to-zeppelin attacks makes Zeppelin Attack! a very different sort of game from the multiplayer solitaire that’s the basis of much of the deckbuilding genre. You even get points when you cause another zeppelin to “retreat” (die in flames!), making the conflict an important element of the game.
As you’d expect, there’s card buying too. Currency in the form of “Fate Cards” can be used to buy new cards from piles of Attack cards, Defense cards, Operatives cards, Attack Zeppelins, and Operations Zeppelins. The big catch is that the Fate Cards go away when you use them! This isn’t the infinitely renewing currency of most deckbuilders, but instead a uniquely expendable resource that must then be reacquired. Continue reading →
Sadly, I missed publishing a new Mechanics & Meeples article again this last Monday, but there’s been a good reason for it. I’ve got a live Kickstarter going for Designers & Dragons, my 4-book history of the roleplaying industry, and it’s been eating up my free time like you’d expect a hungry dragon to do.
If you enjoyed the short historical tidbits I’ve written on the board game industry, I encourage you to take a look, as Designers & Dragons was a model for those articles. More generally, if you’re curious why small hobby companies rise and fall, and how roleplaying publication intertwinces with wargame publication, eurogame publication, and miniatures gaming, Designers & Dragons is a rich source.
The first book, Designers & Dragons: The ’70s is particularly good in this area. It talks about the rise of fantasy and science-fiction board games and of the minigames (with a focus on Metagaming Concepts), and it also talks about how miniatures led to roleplaying games (in the TSR article). Continue reading →
Over the last few years, I’ve written about deckbuilding games pretty extensively. However, in that time I’ve never actually stopped and defined what the term means. After all, in the genre’s earliest years, you knew a deckbuilder when you saw it. Thunderstone (2009), Ascension (2010) and (especially) Tanto Cuore (2009) were all obviously Dominion (2008), with some different rules and a different facade — so they were de facto deck builder games.
However in recent years that visceral definition has become less clear because deckbuilders have both proliferated and become more varied. It’s part of what I see as a four-step process.
A game with an innovative mechanic appears andknock-offs mostly copy the game; they’re similar enough to feel unoriginal, but different enough to not seem like a total rip-off. Examples: Ascension, Thunderstone.
Games continue to use the original, innovative mechanic, but vary more widely, and as a result a genre appears. Examples: Eminent Domain, Quarriors.
The genre matures and the innovative mechanic becomes old hat. At this point this mechanic infiltrates other sorts of game as one part of a larger whole. Examples: A Few Acres of Snow, Copycat.
Further variations appear that are so different that it now feels like the original mechanic was largely an inspiration. Some of them may vary enough that they actually are a brand-new mechanic, which might create knock-offs, genres, mechanics, and inspirations of its own.