In “A Legion of Legacies, Part One”, I wrote about the general tropes of Legacy games like Risk Legacy (2011), Pandemic Legacy (2015, 2017), and SeaFall (2016): what they are, why they’re controversial, and what makes them great.
Though Legacy games are quite innovative, they’re not something that emerged fully formed from designer Rob Daviau’s brow. Instead. they’re part of a larger stream of game design that goes back many years. In fact, I’d more specifically define them as a combination of three major game design elements: campaign play, hidden secrets, and modifiable components.
Six years ago, Rob Daviau come up with an interesting new idea that would form the basis of RIsk Legacy (2011). Imagine a game that can be played multiple times, forming a campaign; but also imagine that game changing over time, with secrets being revealed from game to game, while the game itself is irrevocably changing. Cards are destroyed and stickers are applied to various components; the board, the cards, and the player roles all mutate, both improving and degenerating over multiple plays. It turns out that this second element, of dramatically changing game elements, bolsters the first element, of multiple plays, creating a real gaming innovation.
Risk Legacy was immediately a hit, but it took several years (and a few more outings) for the “Legacy” idea to catch on more broadly. It’s only recently that it’s blossomed, with multiple Legacy games coming out in 2017-2018. Continue reading →
The origins of the eurogame movement are usually traced to two German innovations. The first is the Spiel des Jahres, a gaming award that began offering awards in 1979, and which honored its first homebrew German game, Scotland Yard (1983), just a few years later. The second is Essen Game Fair, which debuted that same year and quickly became the second major gear in the engine that would soon be propelling German games to success.
Of course it’s wrong to say that those early Euros were German games, because they were in truth West German games. At the time the country was still split, with East Germany then being a satellite of the USSR. So if you look at the maps you’ll find Essen, Prien am Chiemsee (the home of F.X. Schmid), Munich (the home of Schmidt Spiele), Ravensburg (the home of Ravensburger), and Stuttgart (the home of Kosmos) were all in West Germany. The Special K of early German designers — Reiner Knizia, Wolfgang Kramer, and Klaus Teuber — similarly all originated in West Germany.
Which all goes to say that if you want to make a pilgrimage to the German Game homeland, the western part of Germany is the place to go. Essen is the high holy spot, of course, but Munich would probably be a great alternative for really seeing German game culture in its native environment.
I love returning to my favorite games and playing them in new ways. That means that I’m usually a fan of expansions, and I played a good number of them this summer. But, there were new games too, including a surprising number of variants on old mechanics — whether they be Poker resolution or classic deckbuilding. As usual, this is a listing of games according to how much I like them, as a medium-weight euro-gamer, and they’re new to me (although I was pleased to play a lot that were just flat-out new this time around).
Hocus (2016). I am not a fan of Texas Hold’em, which I consider a bluffing exercise with probability memorization thrown in. Sure, you can be better at it than other people, but I don’t find it a fun game, or even a game. And, Hocus uses Texas Hold’em mechanics … but I love it.
Witches of the Revolution (2017) is the newest game to combine deckbuilding and cooperative play. Rune Age (2011) is the oldest game I know in this duo-genre, but it used the tack of taking an existing game and offering cooperative gameplay as a variant, and the results were somewhat lack-luster. We’ll have to see if Star Realms (2014) and Hero Realms (2016) do better, as they both have cooperative scenarios on the way. However, Aeon’s End (2016) offered a different methodology: a pure co-op build on the deckbuilding mechanic. Witches of the Revolution continues that trend.
In Witches of the Revolution the object is to resolve events before too many pile up, ending your game prematurely. You do so by playing cards, each of which has two or more icons on it. When you put together a large-enough set of icons, you resolve the event card. There’s an important second step: whenever you remove an event card, you also get to remove a matching chit from one of your four objectives. If you manage to finish up all four of your objectives before you’re killed by events, you win.
However, those cards are multi-purpose, and that’s where the deckbuilding comes in. Instead of using a card to help with events, you can instead use it to buy cards. These go into your draw pile and will help you on future turns.
Because I’m looking at the deckbuilding aspect of the game, I’m only going to note the co-op play as it interrelates with the deckbuilding; focusing on the co-op itself would be a whole different article.
So what does Witches’ deckbuilding do, that’s interesting or troublesome? Continue reading →
Ten years ago, I wrote an article called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Part One: A History and Ten Top Games”, which discussed some top science-fiction games. Looking back, it’s shocking how inadequate the science-fiction market was at the time. Two of the “top” games I mentioned, Diceland (2003) and Light Speed (2003) were quite small press. Two others, Blue Moon (2004) and Blue Moon City (2006), trended more toward science fantasy — or even pure fantasy. Mission Red Planet (2005) was the only mainstream game from my list with strong science fiction themes. There were some others of course, with Starfarers of Catan (1999) being the most obvious, but as a whole science-fiction games were pretty scant ten years ago, especially among pure Euros.
Fast forward a decade. I recently spent an evening where I played Star Realms (2014) followed by The Captain is Dead (2014, 2016). A few months ago it was a couple of games of Jump Drive (2017) followed by Galaxy Trucker (2007). There have also been games of Colony(2016),Master of Orion (2016), Roll for the Galaxy (2014), and others. In other words, science fiction games have gotten really big in the eurogame space — in large part due to non-German designers.
Obviously, science-fiction theming gives these games different façades. But a game’s genre should be deeper than that: it should determine the mechanics of the game, and ideally those should be mechanics that wouldn’t be possible in any other genre. So today I ask: what makes a real science-fiction game?
I’m going to take a look at several popular games that I’m familiar with to answer that question. I’ve purposefully avoided licensed offerings, as they obviously have very different reasons for their theming.