The Tao of Board Gaming VII

The Tao of Board GamingKoans I-III can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming I (December 2009). Koans IV-VI can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming II (April 2010). Koans VII-IX can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming III (October 2012). Koans X-XII can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming IV (May 2014). Koans XIII-XV can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming V (December 2014). Koans XVI-XVIII can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming VI (April 2016).

XIX. The Buddha Nature of Cooperative Games

One day a seeker came to speak with a lama about the Buddha nature of cooperative games.

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New to Me: Spring 2017 — So Much Co-op!

I’ve co-authored a pretty extensive book on the design of cooperative games. (It’s currently seeking a publisher.) As a result, I’m usually quick to suggest a new co-op game hit the table … and a lot of them did this Spring. Sadly, I thought most of them were bad!

in any case, this is my listing of new-to-me games played this Spring. As usual, they’re evaluated by my personal likes, not their intrinsic quality. 

The Very Good

Kingdomino (2016). This Bruno Cathala game is a short and simple filler. You essentially draft domino-tiles, with your draft order based on the quality of your last tile: the better the tile you pick, the later you’ll go in the next draft!

The object is to build your tiles (which depict terrains and victory point multipliers for those terrains) into huge groups to score maximal points.

There’s not a lot of complexity here: you take a tile, your place a tile. Nonetheless, the game is a lot of fun and places very nicely fast. This may be because I always like creative games of this sort. However, there’s also just enough choice to keep the game interesting. It’s a fine little filler. (In fact, it almost made my great listing.) Continue reading

A Bagbuilding Look at Orléans

Dominion (2008) kicked off a whole new genre of play: the deckbuilding games. But it’s also created a few spin-offs of its own, with Orléans (2014, 2015) being one of the more far-flung examples.


Styles of Building Play

Though Dominion is all about deckbuilding, a few variants of that core gameplay have appeared.

Deckbuilding. Dominion (2008) debuted the core idea of deckbuilding play. Players start with a deck of mediocre cards that allow them to undertake actions. Over the course of the game players add new, better cards to their deck and remove old, worse ones. Each turn, they’ll randomly draw some of those cards; hopefully they’ll be a coherent set that allows them to take great actions.

Dicebuilding. Quarriors (2011) was the first dicebuilding game. Here players instead start with a handful of dice and buy new ones to improve their dice pool over time. The randomness of the play is moved: where in a deckbuilding game, players draw random cards, in a dice building game, players instead roll random results. This somewhat constrains the randomness: where deckbuilding games tend to be binary (you get a result or not), dice building games tend to have more nuance (you get a result, but its level of effect varies). Dice building games are also theoretically simpler than deckbuilders, as you can’t fit complex effects on a dice face — but Quarriors fought against this limitation by linking dice to reference cards, which was a bit exhausting.

Of course Quarriers also involved a bag: you draw six dice from up to twelve in the bag each turn. But, it’s better to keep that aside for the moment, as the use of a bag defines the newest sort of *builder game … Continue reading

Co-Op Interviews: Eric B. Vogel & The Dresden Files Co-Op Card Game

Dresden Files CoverEric B. Vogel is the designer of multiple games, including two deckbuilding designs, Zeppelin Attack! (2014) and Don’t Turn Your Back (2015), that he’s discussed in previous interviews. This time around, he’s created his first cooperative game, based on the popular Dresden Files series of novel — a game that’s now available on Kickstarter.

I talked with Eric about the mechanics of designing a cooperative game in an email interview conducted over the course of April 2016.


Shannon Appelcline: Thanks for agreeing to talk about your new game design, Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game — or DFCO to use the abbreviation favored by your publisher, Evil Hat. It’s your first cooperative game. What made you decide to go with a cooperative design?

Eric B. Vogel: It was the publisher, Evil Hat Productions, who made the stipulation that they wanted it to be a cooperative game. That was not initially something I was happy about. I had done some development work on a cooperative game previously, but I had never designed one up to that point. So I started the project without any clear ideas for cooperative design. It took a few months of blind fumbling before I finally came up  with the core mechanic of DFCO. Continue reading

Co-Op Interviews: Matt Leacock — Thunderbirds

ThunderbirdsMatt Leacock is well-known as the designer of Pandemic (2007), Forbidden Island (2010), Forbidden Desert (2013), and related games. I interviewed him about his designs a couple of years ago, following the release of Forbidden Desert. Now that Modiphius Entertainment is Kickstarting his newest co-op game, the Thunderbirds Co-operative Board Game, I was thrilled to talk to him again, to see how it fits into his evolving design philosophy.


Shannon Appelcline: Between the Pandemic series and the Forbidden series, you’ve become one of our industry’s definitive co-op game designers. What led you to create this new Thunderbirds game for Modiphius?

Matt Leacock: Chris Birch approached me at Spiel in 2013 and pitched the idea of a Thunderbirds game. Growing up in the States, I had never seen the show but agreed to check it out. Chris is good at making a pitch and there was such enthusiasm and excitement in his eyes — I could tell he was passionate about the project. I went home and watched some of the shows and immediately understood the appeal. I also thought Thunderbirds and the world of International Rescue was a natural fit for a cooperative game, so I signed on. Continue reading

Kickstarter Preview: Monster Mansion

To date I haven’t paid any attention to Kickstarters in this blog under the theory that it’s better to talk about games when they’re done and published. However, two current Kickstarters caught my eye, so I decided to give them some attention in this and an upcoming column. In each case, the Kickstarting publisher sent me a prototype and I gave it a play, so that I could write about it here.


Monster MansionKickstarter link ) caught my eye because it’s a new co-op game. Though I’ve only touched upon the category of games here, I’ve actually written a book on the topic with Christopher Allen that we hope to get to print next year. So, it’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart.

Enter Monster Mansion. It’s a game where you’ve been dropped down into the basement of a monster-filled mansion and are trying to get out. All you have to do is make it through three dungeon rooms, get to the stairs, rush through three mansion rooms, then make it out the exit.

Monster Mansion Components

Easy enough? Of course not. Continue reading

New To Me: Winter & Spring 2013

As with its predecessors, this article is intended to talk about the games that I played recently which I’d never played before. Most of them are games that were published in the last year or so within the United States, but on occasion I play a “new to me” game that is quite older; they’re all listed here.

I usually write this article on a quarterly basis, since that tends to offer up a good selection of new games. However, my new game selection in Winter was quite poor due to a combination of sickness and vacation (fortunately, not at the same time!). So I didn’t write the article in April, as I usually would have … then got deluged by new games in Spring. So, I’ve got a lot to talk about this time …

Keep in mind these are not my assessments of whether the games are good or bad, but instead my assessments of whether they appeal to me. Generally, I like light but strategic games that are euro designs but that don’t feel like work to me. They’re in roughly descending order of interest. Continue reading