Ion Game Design / Sierra Madre Games
Two new games, one Kickstarter, that’s new this week from Ion Game Design. One game is Bios: Mesofauna, a gateway game into the Bios series. Players control and species of Cambrian arthropods and evolve them into all kinds of insects and arachnids through a relatively simple yet deep mechanism of evolution and speciation. The game has three levels of difficulty, appropriately named Caterpillar, Cocoon, and Butterfly and will integrate with Bios: Megafauna. That’s amazing all the way through.
Game number two has nothing to do with the Bios games. In Galenus the players are doctors in ancient Rome and work to treat patients, advance their own medical knowledge and especially their fame. Galenus has an interesting new approach to worker placement: when they feel that the time is right players can end their own worker placement phase and start resolving their workers actions while everyone else keeps placing workers. Stop placing early and you’ll have fewer total workers in play this round, but your workers will get first pick at their locations. An interesting dilemma for sure.
You love fighting boss monsters, but spending all your time in underground dungeon is bad for your vitamin D levels? Townsfolk Tussle, the first Kickstarter by Panic Roll, gives you waves of mooks plus their big boss to fight, but all in the bright sunshine of an old-fashioned animation town. IT has all the staples of a cooperative brawler with different characters and their special abilities, gear to collect, different Ruffians and Bosses to defeat, and the mandatory minis, only they are ca. 1930s animation style. Nice. Don’t worry about the style, by the way, at least as far as I can tell it doesn’t include any of the insensitive stereotypes that were common back then. Extra nice!
Rio Grande Games
Not all games need colorful illustrations and and colorful art. The first thing you notice about Blue Skies is that its board shows only a large number of small grids, representing airports. That’s it. It’s not hiding all the art on the cards, either, they are equally minimalist. Blue Skies makes you run an airline in the US in the 1970s, when airlines sprouted there like mushrooms. The game is laser-focused on simple mechanisms: to increase your airlines profits you build gates at the thirty airports, and each cube of demand at the gate brings money to your pockets each round. You build your gates to meet demand and try to do it better than your opponents. The only source of bonus points is from area majorities at the end of the game. A quick, strategic game for when you don’t want to bother learning many rules.
Talon Strike Studios
The Cold War, while fortunately over, is still a fertile setting for games. Latest in the list is Talon Strike Studios’s Shadow Network, a worker placement game for up to five spymasters with an intriguing new concept of player interaction. When you place one of your agents in a city, they pick up intelligence there to feed your ever-hungry agency. But in the world of spies, nothing is really secure and leaks are everywhere. As part of your turn you have to seed fresh intelligence in connected cities, and that might just be what your opponents have been waiting for. Also, where there are spies, black market dealings are never far. In Shadow Network‘s Black Market you can acquire contracts to sell your compiled intel for influence, hire handlers that convert your intelligence into different kinds of intelligence, and even spend that hard-won influence on a critical piece of intelligence that will then allow you to acquire even more influence- if your plan works out. Unlike other worker placement games you don’t have to learn the effects of dozens of different locations in Shadow Network. The fun here lies in the network effect of intelligence leaking around the globes and in using your resources well to acquire the most influence in the world of spies.
Fantasy Flight Games
For years, a variety of boardgames have scratched on the wall separating them from computer role playing games, with companion apps to control the monsters and branching narratives. Descent: Legends of the Dark breaks another brick out of that wall. The new game in the Descent universe has parallels with Descent: Journeys in the Dark, but publisher Fantasy Flight Games considers it a new game, not a new edition. And there is a big difference straight from the start: while the old Descent games were one-against-all games with an evil player, Legends of the Dark is fully cooperative with the app controlling the monsters. This app is probably the most extensive companion app to a boardgame yet. Besides monster tactics it handles exploration of the game world for each scenario, similar Mansions of Madness but more complex. The world of Descent: Legends of the Dark goes full 3D, with things like underlay tiles to show what is below the floor, staircases leading to different levels, and 3D objects like trees and bookshelves you can interact with in the app. Unlike Mansions of Madness, Legends of the Dark is not a collection of independent scenarios but features a full campaign where your decisions in one scenario impact how your heroes develop and potentially what happens further down the line. On the campaign level, the companion app handles your heroes development and includes other common downtime activities from RPGs like crafting your own weapons. Like I said, that app handles more of the game than any other companion app I’m aware of. That’s great for an immersive gaming experience. On another level, however, I wonder how much longer this type of game can justify having hundreds of dollars worth of physical components, when all they do is show where things are and all the interaction happens in the app. What about you? Is this a style of game you’ll keep an interest in, or should Fantasy Flight and others just go ahead and create multiplayer computer RPGs?
With their latest expansion to one of their successful strategy games Lookout Games have discovered Kickstarter. Grand Austria Hotel is already a superb game. Running a hotel in Vienna with a dice-based action drafting mechanism, hiring the right staff with bonuses, serving the right guests for bonus actions, a very variable setup – you can see why the game is popular. But the image of classic Vienna just isn’t complete without one thing: the Waltz. That’s what Grand Austria Hotel – Let’s Waltz! will bring to the table. Where before you would bring your guests to their room, you can now take them to one of multiple different ballrooms, or maybe to a rehearsal room, and get all new bonuses, including champagne bottles as a new resources. That’s the main module of Let’s Waltz!, but four extra modules have already been unlocked as Kickstarter stretch goals, and a fifth is close to be unlocked or, by the time you’re reading this, already unlocked.
Is there a saying like “hard times make great games”? Because I think there should be. Endless Winter: Paleoamericans is a game about the ice age, and it sound terrific. It combines deck building with worker placement in a very interesting way. Your deck has Culture cards with benefits, and it has Tribe cards that you need to pay the labor costs of placing a worker. Placing a worker always gives you a series of actions and lets you, among other things, buy new cards, place camps and villages on the board, or build megaliths worth points and bonuses. Beyond the regular development of your tribe and culture, you have to keep an eye on the stars as well. Every few rounds there is an eclipse, and players who invested in their eclipse pile jump up in player order and receive benefits for tribe cards in their pile. Endless Winter takes two familiar mechanisms and weaves them together in an interesting new way into a tense, tight, and pretty game.
Japanese blacksmiths had to work extra hard to make katana, the Japanese longswords used by samurai. Part of that was the special folding technique required by the less pure Japanese iron, another part was that a katana was almost as much a work of art as it was a weapon. That’s what you’ll manufacture in Shogun no Katana by Post Scriptum, a sword that is also a work of art. That’s why you need lacquer, wood, and leather on top of steel, and all of that can be decorated to make the sword more valuable. Shogun no Katana is a worker placement game where you buy resources and send family members to the shogun’s palace to arrange favors for you, but the main work happens in your forge. Forging multiple katanas at once is a puzzle element, and doing well here is how you’ll win. Your forge is a grid where each space can hold a katana in the making. A worker in the forge can activate a whole row or column and add a material cube to all swords there. There’s a catch, though. Adding a cube always means moving that sword on the grid, and vice versa. If you can’t move a katana, you can’t work on that katana. You’ll have to find the right balance to work on many swords at once but not block your own progress. It’s true here even more than it is in other games: greed kills.
For a long time the Weybits have lived together with the Great Guardians in Faeriell. They have built their civilization in balance with nature, and all was good. Then the Corruption came, and nature started changing. You probably already recognized your role in all this. As a band of adventurous Weybits you set out to find the source of the corruption and stop it in its tracks. Every player in Sons of Faeriell controls a small tribe of Weybits, and together they’ll have adventures and find out what’s going on. Well… mostly together, Sons of Faeriell is a semi-cooperative game. You all want to find and stop the corruption, but you want to win by yourself. However, if that seems unachievable one player can switch sides and work against the others to spread the Corruption. Their new victory condition then is to end the game with victory for the corruption before anyone else can win the game. The core of each players’ tribe are the three Weybit miniatures with their differently colored masks. The masks look great, and they clip onto the Weybit minis and give them special powers according to their color. And the masks and minis are only the start of how good Sons of Faeriell looks.
Stefan Feld went to visit the US, and of course he brought a game idea back with him. Kokopelli is a light game – by Feld standards – and inspired by culture and art of the indigenous people of the southwest United States. What you do is, you collect points by performing a variety of ceremonies. Each ceremony conveys an advantage to the player who’s village hosts it as soon as the first card is played. When the fourth matching card is added to a ceremony it scores points and the cards go away together with the ceremony’s ability. I said Kokopelli is a light game, but it’s not quite that simple. Each player’s play area extends to half of their neighbors’ villages, and while they don’t benefit from ceremonies in another village they can contribute cards to it. This means they get the points, the village owner loses a special ability, and the active player may now start that ceremony for themselves, because it can only exist once per play area. So, a lighter game, but getting the best use from the twelve ceremonies each game will take some thinking. And since there are sixteen ceremonies in the game – twenty-five in the Kickstarter edition – you’ll need to think anew every time.
Social deduction games tend to have not so much of a table presence, just some cards,maybe some markers. But no more. Feed the Kraken is a social deduction game with an impact. Having a large board is already unusual for the genre, but a large ship mini and a kraken really stand out. Components aren’t everything, though. What is this game? Players in Feed the Kraken belong to one of three factions on a ship. The sailors want to take the ship into the safe harbor, the pirates want to take it into their secret cove, and the kraken cultists want to take it into their submarine master’s lair. Which way the ship goes is decided in a process between the Captain, his Lieutenant, and the Navigator where no one can really be blamed for what happens and going towards that bad place is just the best option that we had, honestly. The Lieutenant and the Navigator change after every round. The Captain stays in power until he’s overthrown in a mutiny. Meanwhile, the kraken cult leader recruits more people into his cult. Suspected cultists or pirates can be thrown overboard, but if you accidentally feed the cult leader to the kraken the cult’s prophecy comes true and they win immediately. There’s more going on in Feed the Kraken than in any other social deduction game I can think of, especially more uncertainty and more intrigue. The only problem now is getting together five or more people, considering the current unpleasantness, but I consider it an investment into a better next year.
Dune: Imperium is not the first game where you fight for control of the desert planet Arrakis, but I really like the way that battle is fought in this one. A classic worker placement mechanism lets you send your agents to raise armies or navigate the political intrigue surrounding the only planet with spice. You can’t just send your agents where you want, however, you need a card for that location. That’s where the deck-building part of Dune: Imperium kicks in, you can buy those cards. When you take turns playing cards – unlike other deck-builders where you play your whole hand at once – the other players may suspect which cards you have for this round, but they won’t know. How you develop your deck will dictate your strategy, but your enemies will never know what exactly what you can do right now. This partially hidden information will make Dune: Imperium a very tense game indeed.
This week’s featured photo was taken at Lake Ohrid, part of the world heritage site “Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid region” in Albania and North Macedonia. There are many beautiful cultural sites there, too, but this landscape was too stunning to pass. The photo was taken and kindly shared by Charlie Marchant. Thanks a lot, Charlie! (Lake Ohrid, Macedonia, Charlie Marchant, CC-BY, cropped and resized)