Anatomy of a Line: The Manhattan Project

Brands can be important. They tell consumers to expect the expected — that the gum they like has come back into style. But in the board game world, gaming lines have usually focused on expansions and slight variants. Carcassonne offers one of the best examples: there are lots of different games, but they’re all close enough to the original game that you still  pretty much know what you’re getting.

But a few publishers have gone further, using branding to tie together similar games that support the same themes and use some of the same ideas, but aren’t just copies of the same mechanics with slight tweaks. Richard Breese’s Key-series is one of the most long-lived brands of this sort. He’s written a very nice explanation of the points he requires in Key games, which makes it obvious that they can have great variety while still focusing on the same fundamentals.

In the last few years, this sort of branding seems to have become more popular. Eminent Domain now includes a deckbuilder, a two-player micro-deckbuilder, and a totally unrelated microgame. Similarly, The Manhattan Project has encompassed three different games in the last few years: a serious strategy game, a card game conversion, and a second serious strategy game. And that’s the brand I want to look at today, to talk about how the line has evolved. Continue reading

Anatomy of Three Conversions: Burgundy, Ra, and Galaxy

Games can be defined in a lot of different ways. They can come in different styles, from American take-that to Eurogames, from party games to abstracts. They can can in different fictional genres, from science-fiction to history, and in different mechanical genres, from worker placement to auctions. Finally, games can also be parts of different mediums, primarily including board games, card games, and dice games.

Gaming mediums are particularly interesting because they seem to encourage conversions. Board games  become card games or dice games, and vice-versa. This trend seems to have been growing in the last few years, as Intellectual Property has become a byword of the eurogame community. Alea is currently be the poster child of IP conversions, with Broom Service (2015), Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game (2016), and Broom Service: The Card Game (2016) all being conversions of this sort. The last is particularly notable, since Broom Service: The Card Game began life as Witch’s Brew (2008) … a card game!

So are medium conversions good or bad?

Too frequently they result in a game that’s a pale shadow of its originator. I know I’ve played Euphrates & Tigris: Contest of Kings (2005), but I barely remember it, while Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game (2012) and Bang! The Dice Game (2013) were more interesting, but in no way overshadowed the original. But, in some cases you get games that are quite exciting. San Juan (2004) is obviously the vest example of a game that managed to massively innovate its predecessor, creating something that was as good, in its own way.

This week I’m going to take a brief look at three games that were converted to new sorts of dice and card games: one of the newest entrants to the field and two that I think really worked.

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Anatomy of a Game: Catan

Catan 5e Box CoverMayfair Games recently released their fifth edition of the Settlers of Catan (1995) — now just called “Catan”. Even if you aren’t impressed by the fact that Mayfair has produced five major iterations of the core game, you have to be impressed that Catan Gmbh reports that over 18 million units of Catan have been sold. That’s a lot of games!

To celebrate the newest edition of the game, its 20th anniversary, and perhaps most importantly its continued success, I’ve decided this week to take an extended look at what makes Catan great. I’ll be examine the game’s major systems, the rules underlying them, and the emotions they create. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Reimagination: Eldritch Horror

Though it’s been out for about two years, I just played Eldritch Horror (2013) for the first time last month. I was quickly won over by the game, as I happily fought nameless horrors and investigated blasphemous locations. Though Eldritch Horror only notes “inspiration” from Arkham Horror (1987, 2005), I’d call it a revision — or else a “reimagination” — because this newer game rather cleverly reinvents most of the mechanics from Arkham Horror, but using a totally new design paradigm. The result is a clear evolution of design. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Revision: Caverna

This blog has long focused on the design of games, investigating how and why they work (or don’t). Usually, it’s picked apart existing games. However, there’s one sort of work that can offer particularly interesting insights into design: the revision. A revision can allow you to delve into a game, see what was there before, what was there afterward, and thus see how a change in design made a change in the game.

That’s why I’m going to be looking at Caverna: The Cave Farmers (2013) this week. Though it’s essentially the same game as Agricola (2007) in the big picture, it’s been revised, polished, and expanded rather thoroughly — providing lots of insight into the design process.

Please note that this article doesn’t try to be a complete list of changes, but rather is a look at the ones that are the most interesting.

The Furnished Rooms

Caverna: Furnished RoomIn Agricola, each player gets a hand of occupation and improvement cards that he uses to specialize his farm. A very small set of just ten major improvements are available for all players. Conversely, in Caverna there are no individual cards. Instead furnishing tiles are available to all players, first come first serve.

Result: The change was probably a reaction to the randomness of the card draws in Agricola. If a player got lucky and got a nicely matched set of cards he could do very well, while an unlucky player with no synergy amidst his cards could lose the game before he even started to play. Obviously, having all the cards (tiles) available to everyone makes the game less lucky.

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Anatomy of a Game: The Carcassonne Standalones, Part Two: Rules Changes

Welcome to what just might be my last game design article on Carcassonne. In case you’ve missed them I’ve written five previously. The first four extensively covered the main game and its expansions while the last article instead looked at the standalone variants, and examined how their tile selection and scoring differed.

This week I’ll be continuing my look at the six standalone Carcassonne games and taking a look at how each one offers different answers to some major game design questions. I’ve identified three major elements, each of which differs quite a bit from game to game. Examining them offers some interesting insights both into game design and how the Carcassonne series has changed and evolved. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Game: The Carcassonne Standalones, Part One: Tiles and Scores

Last year I wrote a series on game design articles on the original Carcassonne and the expansions for that game. If you haven’t read them yet, those articles are:

I’ve long intended to to follow those articles with another part or two talking about the game design of the Carcassonne stand-alone games, and now I’ve finally been encouraged to do so by the publication of my Carcassonne overview in Knucklebones Magazine.

So, what are the Carcassonne expansions, and what do they bring to the original game?

This week I’m going to start off by talking about the games, the tile distributions, and scoring, particularly focusing on how changes to the tiles and scoring change the feel of the later games. Then in two weeks I’m going to finish up the topic by talking about more far-reaching rules changes.

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