A Subtle Clue is all you Need

Well today we are in for a treat. I received CrosstTalk over the weekend.

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This game was provided for the purposes of this review by Seth Van Orden one of the designers of this game. They would also like you to know that it will be on a special this Friday 11/24/17 on http://www.nauvoogames.com

With that said lets talk about this game. Crosstalk is party game for 4+ people. You need a minimum of 4 but can play with as many as you like over that. This makes it ideal for the deluge of family get togethers we are all about to attend over the next month or so. Lets take a look at what you’re going to get in the box.

As you can see above you will receive several custom erasable marker boards. These include two hint boards, two private clue boards, six chat boards, and one public clue board. You also receive one six-sided die, dry erase markers, and a deck of nifty word cards. Now I realize this all sounds daunting. It actually is very simple to play and that is our next stop.

So it’s time to divide your friends into two fairly equal teams. Each team is going to select a clue giver and those two clue givers are going to sit next to one another opposite the players. They will determine which word everyone is trying to guess. If they are too stubborn to decide its ok let the die do that as each double-sided word card has a handy one-six marker next to the words. Now that they have done that or fate has done it for them it is time to divide up the boards. Each team is going to take their color chat boards. The clue giver will select their private clue board and their hint board. Each team will receive their private hint and we are off. A team will then give the first public clue. This is really a neat mechanic though as the team giving the clue does not get the first guess on this clue. The strategy here is to be very subtle as you try to combine this with the private clue. For instance we had Quidditch as a word. I received snitch. Now snitch could be a lot of things. That is until the other team wrote broom. Now said wizard. It’s that kind of interaction that makes this game very enjoyable. You talk amongst your team privately by writing on your chat boards but you make your guess out loud. Now this can all become even more fun if your clue giver decides to use the hint board. This ingenious addition to the game allows you to try to straight up deceive the other team. You may only use it once per round and only after your team has guessed or passed. It allows you to indicate several different implications on clues and guesses that have occurred so far. Such as opposite of, ignore, partial, etc.  Heres the gameplay example from the manual to give you a visual idea of a rounds gameplay. The game is played till a team wins five rounds or till your all tired of playing as my group didn’t want to stop.

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Well now you know what the game is and how it’s played. It’s time for my personal thoughts and opinions. I will just come right out and say the game is a blast. I could see almost any group enjoying this. I will assume most of you reading this have heard of, if not played codenames. I like this better. It’s more strategic and requires more thinking. That is both from the team as well as the clue giver. The game is fun enough with just the public clues. The game really shines with the secret chatting amongst the team and the hint board. I cannot state how awesome of a design decision that hint board is. It takes a fairly straight if subtle guessing game and just turns it on its head. I plan on this being a staple not only with my gaming friends but also with my family and their families. My coworker is borrowing it over the weekend to play with her family and now wants to buy a copy. They haven’t done that since Kingdomino and that is the highest of praise for a game as they do not buy many games. On the note of theme. The game has this old-fashioned secret agent vibe to it. While the theme is not necessary it is nice and the art and design is very well done.  I would like to congratulate the designers and Nauvoo games on a real stand out experience. This receives an 9/10 from me. Go get it you won’t be sorry.

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Get into Shape

 

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Today we are taking a look at the prototype for Sectre. This is a game coming to Kickstarter in the next week or two. It is the brainchild of Peter Mariutto and will be published by Freshwater Game Co. They would also like you to know that the game is being made completely in the US. Specifically in Minnesota only and only out of sustainable resources so no plastics. The pledge should run you about $20 dollars.

Now that we have that covered let me talk about the game. Sectre is an abstract strategy game for 2-6 players. I played with 3, 4, and 6 players and the game worked well with all player counts. You start the game by dealing the colored rectangle cards to each player. You deal a number of cards from each of the three stacks to each player. The number of cards dealt depend on player count. The game is played one card at a time until all players have exhausted their supply of cards. Your objective is to score the most points by making shapes in one of the four available colors. As you can see in the picture below there are nine possible shapes per color and a 5,10,15 point card for connecting that many of a color. Now a few notes to bear in mind. You may only play the same color diagonally they may never touch orthogonally. You may play your piece anywhere on the board so long as that rule is not violated. That includes covering up or partially covering up other pieces. You secure your score card after each card you play.

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The shapes and points are listed on the large cards and white reference sheet.

Now that you have an idea what the game is I have some insights and thoughts to share. The game is very strategic. It grows more so with additional players. I really enjoy that aspect of the game. Far too many abstract style strategy games only play two players. While Sectre comfortably does so it is the multiplayer that gives it that unique feel that I enjoy. Scoring was challenging enough until people started covering up my pieces. Then it became a real challenge to make shapes and not leave more shapes for my foes. It is difficult to state the amount of ohhh and ahhh that went around the lunch table today while playing. Soon as I thought I had it covered someone would snipe points that I didn’t even see. There is minor downtime due to strategizing but make no mistake it is a good idea to continue studying the board while they play. Aesthetically the game doesn’t really stick out to me. I don’t know that the grayscale board and the choice of square colors are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Now of course this is only my opinion and this is a prototype and may change. The other thing to be clear about is that they in no way negatively affect the gameplay. I did not happen to have any colorblind friends nearby at the time so I can not speak to whether the game is friendly or not. I only mention this because I have come to realize that it is sometimes a large issue.

This being a prototype copy I will not being giving a final score. However I greatly enjoyed my time with this game and am thoroughly excited to get my hands on a final copy. It is great fun no matter the player count and I can’t say I have played another game quite like it. It has similarities of course but at the end of the day it is a well designed and superbly fun experience with friends.

Crazy in Camelot

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Today we are looking at Crazier Eights: Camelot and it’s Avalon Expansion. This is a card game by James Gray. In the interest of honesty this game was sent to me with the intention of having me review it. If your interested and want to know more check out the facebook group.

As the name implies it is based of crazy eights. In so far as eights are wild and you’re trying to be the first person to run out of cards. That is where the similarities between these games begin and end. The rest of the game is a take that style card game which is almost completely luck dependent. There is strategy involved but as implied things get crazy and  the best laid plans usually crash and burn.

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The game starts when you deal seven cards to each player. You will then discard the top card of the deck. That is the starting suit and number for the discard. Your turn consists of three actions. You draw a new card, you may play an event or asset card as shown above, and then you may discard a card. I say may as you are not required to do either of those. Now in order to discard you must either have a card of the same number value as the card on the discard pile or the same color with a higher value. Also of note is when you play an asset or event card they are played to the bottom of the discard deck. Those are the basic rules. Now on to what we thought of the game.

The first thing that I noticed is the beautiful art. It is done in a painterly style and I absolutely love it. The cards are made of a really pleasant thick stock. The game just looks and feels very nice. The gameplay is very fun and somewhat frantic. The cards really do lean into the crazy aspect. Some of them have some really nutty abilities. We played with four people and then again with three. We all had a blast demolishing each others plans. The one thing we did find out is that the game can get long in the tooth. The box says 10-30 minutes however it took us an hour. This was not a problem but is something to be aware of if your going to play. This was a very enjoyable take that style card game with a very attractive theme. I wholly recommend this game and I also recommend that you grab a copy of Avalon to go with it as the expansion includes some really neat abilities and once again some stunning art. Currently they are working on Crazier Eights 1001 Nights. It is based on the Arabian Nights stories and I cannot wait to try that one. I’m awarding Crazier Eights: Camelot and Avalon an 8/10 for being a very fun take that card game.

Twas Fortune not Folly

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Fortune & Folly was another prototype sent to me by Sam Oplinger. It is a very different beast that Reign of Man however.

You play the game by selecting a color and its ten ships. First player starts at zero points, with additional players starting at three, seven, and twelve points respectively. There will be a traitor token on the score track and it is placed just one space above the current highest score. There are five pirate ships these are placed on the rum (black) routes. You then assign the starting values via dice to the trade merchandise. You will each then place three ships on the board. Each turn consists of six individual steps.  The turn steps are event, move, voyagers, pirates, collect, and commission. You start by choosing either one of the three visible event cards or blind drawing off the top of the deck and the card will either have you play it immediately or place it in hand for later use. You may play up to two of these cards per turn. You must then move one of your ships to either a harbor or to a connecting trade route. If you have built extra ships in the voyagers section of the board that will allow you additional moves on your turn. The pirates area works the same as the above mentioned voyagers area except it allows you to move pirate ships equal to your amount of ships in that area. You will then collect points for each route containing more of your ships than any other type on that route. If your score increases enough to pass the traitor token on the track you must move the traitor token and take a one point penalty as to stay a minimum of one point behind it. If you monopolize any harbors you may construct that number of additional ships up to the ten ships available to each player. The game is won when there are no more event cards to replace the three face up cards. Person with the most points wins. There are a couple specific event cards that bear mentioning. The royal court card must be placed in the middle of the deck and marks the mid-point of the game. The typhoon card places a black flag blocking a commodity or the construction of further ships. The Embargo card allows you to block a harbour thus blocking the ability to create ships in that location. These flags are only moved by other event cards. Now I did play with a set of optional expansions that change this up a bit. I certainly will not play again without these expansions as I really like what they add. You have the Hurricane event cards (one per player) that suck all ships into the affected harbour. This is a great little trick as the player that played the card gets first dibs on trying to reclaim those routes. It also causes this mad dash by all players to reclaim the connected areas. I love that part as it adds just a smidge of take that to an otherwise straightforward points game. The Dread Pirate and Queen ships add another little wrinkle. If you manipulate the black flag the Dread Pirate can also be utilised. While the flag blocks a specific good from being traded (scored) the pirate locks down an actual route. Even better it lets you lock any ships to that spot so long as the Dread Pirate is present. This can be countered by using the pirate phase to move the ship the same as any other pirate ship. The Queen is connected to the use of the white flag. She counts as an extra ship for the active player and can be moved using the voyagers action. The other expansion while much less impactful on gameplay is just full of theme and fun to play with. You use the Golden Helm ( a really fun brass ships wheel fidget spinner) to keep turns to about two minutes. This replaces the use of the Royal Court card in the event deck . It is completely optional but still really fun to use a brass ships wheel spinner as a timer. It is nice quality and just drips theme.

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Now that you have an idea of how to play lets talk about what I thought. If you look at the above picture you will see the prototype. The art is the same style as in Reign of Man and while I can’t quite pin it down I really enjoy it for some reason. The board is clean and colorful and the trade routes really pop. The dice are color coded and used more of as counters than actual dice as I don’t think I ever actually rolled them. I like that the ships are actual cardboard 3-D pieces with sails and everything. It gives the game a nice production quality over just chits or wooden bits (both of which could have successfully been used in their place. Production quality wise it could change (for the better I’m told) as it is not a final copy.

Now the actual gameplay. The game flows well and we very much enjoyed playing it. The use of the event cards to add flavor and options to each turn is a nice touch and I’m going to declare event card decks as a calling card of sorts for this designer. While used differently than Reign of Man they are used to the same effect of adding strategy and flavor to what otherwise would have been a fairly straight forward affair. There is a nice balance of strategy that comes from crowding out your opponents trade routes. The options for doing so being multifaceted and each having a give and take quality. Do I want more potential ships to take over routes or maybe an extra move. Oh I have to put a ship in the pirates area or else risk the Dread Pirate Lockdown Maneuver (trademark pending). It really is a very enjoyable points game. It has just enough strategy to be fun over repeated plays but is accessible enough to teach to your friends. Plus if you can work pirates into your theme that’s a bonus in my eyes. I look forward to seeing the final product. It should be hitting kickstarter early next year. I’ll have a full followup review sometime after release. I want to thank Mr. Sam Oplinger once again for entrusting his prototypes to me for preview purposes.

 

 

 

 

Start of a Legend

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Today we are taking a look at a prototype for Reign of Man Legendfolk. This is an area control game by Sam Oplinger. This game should be hitting Kickstarter in Q1 2018. With this in mind know that the components I discuss may change and that it is not necessarily indicative of the final quality of the game.

In Reign of Man you play an emperor. You will start the game by picking an empire and placing armies on the six locations. The game says 2-5 players, I however found that it plays much better with 3-5 instead. The game comes with three separate board layouts to accommodate different player counts. The game plays initially very much like risk. The combat roles work the same way. However a couple of very neat design decisions have been made to raise this above just a pretty Risk clone. The first of these is the civilization board. It has three distinct tracks for civilization, military, and agricultural unlocks. You start the game by unlocking, from left to right, any five of these you choose. Now the kicker is it’s your available army pieces that are used as the locks on your skills. This means that on your turn you only have one action. Do you place an army, do you move armies, do you unlock an ability and thus reclaim an army? This is a wonderful extra added layer of strategy to play outside of just outmaneuvering your friends. Now I did mention another thing this game does to differentiate it from Risk. This is the event deck, which just throws a whole bunch of fun twists at you. On the first turn you will draw a card. Every turn after that you will draw another card. On the third turn you will execute the first card. These cards have a bunch of possibilities however I’m going to mention three very specific and important ones. The first thing it does (necessary even though I didn’t see that said in the instructions) is add the Wildermen. These handy little barbarians will take control of unclaimed territories after the initial player placements. These guys are pesky enough on their own. The true pain starts when you add the march of the dead as chances are at least their capital still has armies on it allowing the Lich queens to spawn. Then you have the Legendfolk which the game is named for. These handy guys work like mercenaries that you bid on to hire. You bid using your armies and thus if you have a legendfolk you have fewer soldiers to play. The true joy is even though this sounds like a lot of stuff to keep track of it is actually very simple to learn and keep track of. The first person to three victory points win. The victory points are earned by unlocking the appropriate spaces on the civilization boards I mentioned earlier. You can score for each empire you control (military victory), each capital you control (civilization), and you get one victory point for earning it on the agricultural track. That is a very general quick overview of basic gameplay. The only thing I’ve heard a bit of a gripe about was that it was too much like Risk. Now that’s a valid point if your only playing with the most basic event cards as the combat feels very much like risk. However once you add those other events and their factions the game becomes its own and I loved it.

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A quick look at the components

Now on to the current components. I was impressed with the art. It is just very nice to look at stylistically. It probably won’t strike the same fanfare of say Scythe but I do greatly appreciate the art that is here. My only real gripes come with the army chits. I wish they differed more in art. Perhaps a different emblem for each empire instead of just a different color and geometric shape behind the game’s logo. Now that’s just me being spoilt but hey if that is my worst complaint you are doing just fine.

In closing I quite enjoyed my time playing this game. I’m kind of sad to see the prototype go to the next reviewer. I will not be giving a final score as it is just a prototype but I am looking forward to following up with a final version hopefully sometime next year.

Those Sticks Were Fast as Lightning

IMG_3066[1]Tonight I am reviewing a copy of Stick Figure Fighters. This game was provided for the purposes of review by Broken Archer Games.

Well I would be a liar if I didn’t say this game gave me some pause when it arrived. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. Lets start with the gameplay. This game is an easy to learn card battle game. You and up to seven of your friends pick a stick figure. You then draw three cards and you write your players names and 25 health on the included note pad. There you have set up the game. That was deceptively easy. Even better the gameplay is that easy too. You draw a card and decide whether to equip or use any of the cards in your hand. Note that you can not have more than three cards in your hand. Now that you have that done. It is time to attack and attack you must. Pick one of your opponents and declare attack. You roll one red die (attack) and they roll one blue (defense) die. Highest number wins. The number of die you roll will change with what you equip or the cards you play. You won’t be able to roll more than five dice however for either side. Those are the basics.

Now I was almost guilty of judging the book by it’s cover here. My game group was too.

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This game however is more than the sum of the charmingly rough edges, the MS Paint style graphics, and the plain white text cards. It took a matter of one maybe two turns and a group of PHD Chemists were laughing and slinging fun insults back an forth while trying to eliminate stick figures. It was like everyone was eight years old again. So I have to say that the theme here is heavy and the look intentional. Just like We didn’t play test this at all (a game by the folks who did Card’s Against Humanity) the rough look is part of its charm. So I want to thank Broken Archer and specifically Christopher Cummings for reminding me what the most important part of a game is. The experiences that it creates and the memories that it forms. So I wan’t to give this game an 8/10. It does more with less than some games I’ve bought for my own collection.

 

For Your Information

Designer Diary: Fruit Ninja Slice & Dice, From Climbing To Slicing


Origin Story

 

In 2016, while playing a children’s game with my son, I wondered whether the colour dice that we were playing with were ever used in non-kids games. After some thought I ventured to design such a game myself. My colour-rolling game was quickly themed as an rock climbing game. Not only because I enjoy rock climbing myself, but because indoor climbing is done on coloured holds, a natural match for the coloured dice.

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A climbing wall with lots of coloured holds

 

 

Based on these coloured holds, my first prototypes had players roll dice to grab holds and ascend the wall (not entirely unlike Monza). But this gameplay turned out to be rather bland and repetitive. Inspired by games like King of Tokyo and Machi Koro, I iterated on the design several times and the game gradually evolved from “roll dice to ascend” into “roll sets to conquer walls” and “every conquered wall gives you a bonus ability”.

 

The regular playtesting events I took the game to showed a steady increase in players’ appreciation of the game. But almost all testers spotted a new issue: It didn’t feel like a rock-climbing game anymore. Nothing was being climbed, and the abilities you gained were fairly generic “get better at rolling dice” ones.

 

My mechanical improvements had all but erased the theme. What to do?

 

Enter The Ninja

 

As I was pondering what to do with my thematically disconnected game, Lucky Duck games put out a call for game designs. They were looking for games based on the popular mobile app Fruit Ninja, though not necessarily a direct simulation of the mobile game; as long as it fit in the Fruit Ninja universe.

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The Fruit Ninja mobile game in all its plant-bisecting goodness

 

 

This seemed like a match made in heaven. Game in search of theme, meet theme in search of game! It did not take me long to put those ninjas on every single component in my game. The coloured dice became fruit dice, and rather than climbing walls we were now completing levels, participating in tournament and earning new swords. The “chalk” — probably the only thing left in the game that really evoked climbing — became a powerup, just like the purchasable powerups in the mobile game.

 

With everything re-themed, I sent Lucky Duck Games some PnP files. They played a 2-player game of it, and immediately liked it so much they wanted to sign it. I was over the moon, and tremendously proud of my own game design and re-theming ability.

 

This did not last.

 

Unripe Fruit

 

The publisher started externally playtesting my game. The game had been well received at my own playtests, so I didn’t expect much development to be necessary. But to my dismay the playtesters’ feedback was harsh: Too much downtime! No interaction! Not like Fruit Ninja at all!

feedback-snippetSnippet from a playtesting feedback form

 

 

The game was good for 2 players, but more players made it progressively worse. (Yes, I have been lucky that the publisher’s first play happened to be with 2). With 2 players there was little downtime and a sense of interaction by claiming cards so your opponent couldn’t claim them. At 5 players the game had devolved into “20% solitaire, 80% waiting for your turn to come around”.

 

I can hear you think, Didn’t you test it with more than 2 players before submitting it!? Well yes, most of my playtests were actually with 3 or 4 players. But interestingly, I had only the occasional comment on the amount of downtime, and didn’t see it as an issue. I believe this was largely due to the difference in thematic framing of the game. The theme sets the baseline for players’ expectations:

 

 

Me: Here’s a rock climbing dice game.

Playtester thinks: OK, it’ll probably be a gentle, slow-paced risk-reward game.

Me: Here’s a Fruit Ninja dice game.

Playtester thinks: OK, it’ll probably be a quick, frantic fruit-slicing dexterity game.

 

 

Lucky Duck Games and me agreed that there core of the game was good, but the downtime issue needed work, and the audience’s Fruit Ninja expectations would need to be met… somehow.

 

Try And Try Again

 

We spent a lot of development iterations trying to elegantly solve the game’s issues, particularly the downtime. We tried having Daily Challenges, special cards that cycled through the players and would give the current owner a bonus if a specific colour combination was rolled. We tried an “off-turn” system, where every player rolled a single die on other people’s turns, which allowed player to amass a powerup currency.

 

While these solutions did reduce downtime, they didn’t shake the impression that we’d added a rule just keep the players busy (which was true to some extent). They felt too much like an added-on distraction, not enough like an integrated part of the game.

 

As me and Vincent both realized the “just give them something to do” approach wasn’t really working, a playtester made exactly the right suggestion at the right time. Why not let everyone roll their dice at the same time?

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Some of the games that inspired Fruit Ninja: Slice & Dice

 

 

In hindsight, this seems so obvious. We had even talked about the virtues of Dice Forge before this suggestion was ever made, but I suppose we weren’t exploring the simultaneous rolling avenue because of the extra components it requires. Quadrupling the dice in the box is a serious cost increase, but a good $30 game is still preferable over a $20 bad game. Affordability is no excuse for bad game design.

 

At the final stage there was one final Eureka moment. The simultaneous rolling was well-received by playtesters, but introduced one new issue for a particular kind of players: Hardcore gamers would wait to see which dice other players re-rolled before re-rolling themselves. This would slow the game down and could even lead to stalemates.

 

The solution was a real-time limitation on the rolling phase. This not only solved the avid gamers’ re-rolling problem, it also added some tension and drama, making everything feel more urgent, and, well, more Fruit Ninja! It was the perfect capstone of our development journey.

 

In Conclusion

 

To summarize: I ruined my own game by thoughtlessly plastering a well-known ninja IP over it. But thanks to honest playtesting feedback and intensive development, we eventually ended up with a much better, well-integrated game.

 

So what are the takeaways from this experience? I personally see two main ones.

 

Adapting an existing game to an IP is not trivial. Working with an established IP has its perks: You usually get a load of cool art, and characters, and backstory, which all enrich your game. But along with this “free stuff” you get the baggage of different customer expectations, financial requirements, and the need to cater to a non-board-gaming crowd. Consider how your game lines up with the IP, on the gameplay level, the thematic level, and also as a product.

 

If it’s not working, shake things up. When you’ve worked on and tested a game design for a while, it’s natural to become cautious about making big changes. After all, you don’t want to test everything again! But sometimes small changes can only paint over an issue rather than solve it. Try throwing some core assumptions — like player count, or component limit, or level of complexity — out the window, make a big change, and seeing where that leads you. External partners, who aren’t invested in the game the way you are, can be a great source for radical changes.

box-shot-2The final product

 

 

Finally, I’d like to sincerely thank Vincent Vergonjeanne, all the playtesters at Lucky Duck Games, and all the playtesters at the Sugar & Dice board game café for their contributions to this game.

 

Koen Hendrix