Last week I started a series on up-and-coming game companies who are producing some interesting games this year, and who may well be some of the notable movers and shakers in the American market in the years to come.
This week I’m presenting the second half of that series, with spotlights on Face 2 Face, Jolly Roger, and Your Move. In each case I’ve gotten some comments and thoughts from the game publishers as well.
Face 2 Face Games
I shouldn’t play favorites, but nonetheless I think that Face 2 Face Games is the coolest of the publishers that I’m highlighting here, and that’s because they’re doing something very different: they’re bringing great old games back into print and are producing new editions of foreign games without U.S. distribution.
Face 2 Face started out back in 2001 as MonkeyGod Enterprises. They were a d20 publisher of roleplaying adventures and sourcebooks, but as with a lot of smaller publisher, they got caught when the d20 bubble burst a few years back. Face 2 Face was originally announced as an imprint of MonkeyGod back in 2003, but it pretty quickly became its own company instead, publishing board games rather than RPGs.
Face 2 Face’s original publications were the “Sid Sackson Signature” series. This line began with the first American publication of Sackson’s I’m the Boss (2003). It’s been followed by BuyWord (2004), a never-before-published Sackson game which won the Games 100 in 2005, and Sleuth (2004). Meanwhile Face 2 Face has also kicked off a signature series of Reiner Knizia games — all games not currently available in the United States, including the excellent Rheinlander (2005), the just-released Winner’s Circle (2006), the upcoming kid’s game Dragon’s Secret, and Genesis, which I know nothing about.
Face 2 Face has put out a smattering of other games, but it’s really their Knizia & Sackson lines that shine. The production has been a bit slow, with just 3 Sackson games and 2 Knizia games out in four years, but the quality has been high and the prices reasonable for the components.
Regarding their future, Lawrence Whalen Jr. says, “We have often been asked what direction Face2Face Games is going in (reprints of the classics, imports of excellent European titles, or completely new games), but quite frankly we are not really focused on one approach over the other. We are simply seeking games that blend an elegant mechanism with a good measure of theme. We will continue producing high quality games, be they Sackson classics or exciting new designs.”
I’ve only reviewed two Face 2 Face games, Boomtown (B+) and Winner’s Circle (B+). Of the others, I’ve also played I’m the Boss, Rheinlander, and Sleuth and I think each is superb for its category of games (negotiation, majority-control, and deduction, respectively). Overall, I’d say that Face 2 Face has maintain a line of consistently high-quality games.
Jolly Roger Games
Jolly Roger Games is one of the smallest companies that I’m highlighting here. It got its start back in 1997 when Jim Dietz was winding down his game store business … because he wanted to become a game designer instead. He ironically got some early advice from another of the people highlighted in this series, Ron Magin of Cafe Games. He soon published his first game, a miniatures game called A Nation on Trial (1997).
JRG’s early games are all very American, including the beer & pretzels zombie game, Maul of America (1998), and the hackmaster-esque fantasy game, Orcs at the Gate (1998). Jolly Roger produced some roleplaying books too in those early days, but hasn’t published anything new in that genre in a while. Jim Dietz says, “We haven’t given up RPG work, but it isn’t a high priority and nothing has been submitted that makes me go ‘Whoa.’”
I first became aware of JRG when I received copies of Four Dragons (2004) and Victory & Honor (2004), two excellent trick-taking games: both good variants of a traditional form, and also releases more in line with Europe gaming. Four Dragons often makes its way into my game bag. Moon & Weissblum’s Clocktowers (2004) and Faidutti’s Knock! Knock! (2004) were two more card games that propelled JRG toward the Euro-scene.
Although most of JRG’s recent games have been card games, this isn’t necessarily a trend. Dietz says, simply, “The best games we’ve had here [recently] have been card games.” This year JRG has already put out Dynasties, a majority-control board game that soulds like it’s right out of the Kosmos two-player catalog. Up this summer are two more card games: the trick-taking Great Chili Cookoff, and an odd card-playing game called Graverobbers. Then, this winter, it’ll be back to board games, with a released planned before Christmas.
Of the future, Dietz says, “Jolly Roger is in an interesting position — JRG is self-sustaining and in for the long term. Origins will mark our 9th year of existence. But to expand requires a lot of capital — and I am conservative. So we continue to move slowly. The object really is for JRG to continue with sustained quality of products in terms of components and game play. I think that is showing — and we have a nice balance of ‘rookie’ game designers in with established presences (Moon/Weissblum/Faidutti) in the game industry.”
Your Move Games
Game companies come from all directions. A few of the small companies I’ve covered in this series come from the roleplaying world, while Cafe Games was originally a jobber. Your Move Games comes via an utterly different route. Robert Dougherty originally founded a New England game store by that name, riding the tide of Magic: The Gathering. It now organizes New England regionals for Magic, and includes two stores, one in Somerville, MA, and another in Providence, RI.
Chad Ellis was a player at Your Move Games and together with Robert went into the game publishing business. On this expansion, Chad Ellis says, “When we went into business together we decided to use the YMG brand since [Robert had] already built up some awareness for it in the gaming community and because it felt like ‘our’ brand to both of us since I’d been on the team for years.” The brand expansions seems to have been successful. The first time I brought a Your Move Games to the table, one of my regular players, who also enjoys Magic: the Gathering, was very excited because of the connection. I ended up giving him the game when I was done reviewing it.
Your Move Games’ first publications appeared just two years ago: Space Station Assault (2004), a space-combat card game for two players, and Succession (2004), an American-style negotiation and auction game. Unlike the other companies I’ve mentioned here, I don’t think that Your Move Games is going in the direction of Eurodesigns. Instead, they seem to be producing pretty solid American games, but they’re also willing to innovate and are opening up some new ground.
Battleground to be exact, which is a miniature combat game built on non-collectible cards. I think it’s an interesting idea. I enjoyed playing TSR’s Battle System when I was young. It allowed me to engage in open-ended tactical warfare without spending a gazillion dollars on miniatures. The idea here is similar, but more attractive, with colorful cards standing in for miniatures. The first three decks have recently been supplemented by elves, so I presume the line is doing OK.
Though this sort of game isn’t exactly my cup of tea, it’s good to see people innovating within the field and expanding its boundaries. It looks like this is going to be YMG’s direction for the future too. Chad Ellis says, “We’re concentrating almost entirely on Battleground: Fantasy Warfare. Our fifth faction, the Dwarves of Runegard, will be out this summer in time for GenCon Indy and we’re doing our homework for an expansion into historic factions in 2007.”
Author’s Note: Again, none of these companies has taken off, as it looked like they might in 2006—but two of them are still alive and producing the occasional new game.
Face 2 Face is entirely dead. They stopped publishing in 2007 and in 2011 their remnants were bought by Fred Distribution, who has since put out several Sid Sackson games through their Gryphon imprint. Gryphon also has published a lot of Knizia over the last few years, so I suppose they’re a spiritual successor. I’m still very sad that Face 2 Face is gone, as their Rheinlander and Winner’s Circle editions remain prized parts of my collection.
Jolly Roger is still around, but has published just three games since 2006: Surf’s Up Dude (2008), Founding Fathers (2010), and Pirates vs. Dinosaurs (2012). They’re all big box games, so that’s a pretty respectable showing, comparable to the numerous small card games they were doing in the mid ’00s. They’ve also put out a new roleplaying game called Parsec (2012).
Your Move Games is still around too, but almost all of their focus for years has been on their Battleground game, which now includes both fantasy and historical card sets. —SA, 8/2/12