Essen Report 2012

It has been ages (at least 3 years) since I have been to Essen Spiel, but I was there this year to sign cards for the King of Tokyo expansion. To me the most noteworthy thing was the number of cooperative games – which I suppose was easy to predict would happen after a while given the bias toward non-confrontational games in this market. It seems that almost every vendor was featuring some cooperative game or another. For most they failed to address the most important issue, which I have talked about many times, “How does the design prevents players from playing each others position?” I include here 3 games which did address this, in 3 different and interesting ways:

Escape: the Curse of the Temple: In this game by Kristen Østby players are trying to explore and escape a cursed temple. They are rolling dice that indicate what they can do in real time (the faster you roll, the more you can do). Frequently it is possible to use your dice results to help people in the same room. A soundtrack narrates the 10 minutes of game play. Since you have to roll dice and interpret them there really is no time for people to be managing other peoples positions. The game is fraught with people yelling for particular results and for help from their team mates. I have no idea how replayable it is but I am sure I am pulling it out for every play group at least once.

Shadows over Camelot the Card Game – Designed by the same designers as the base game; Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget, this leverages the technique used in Shadows over Camelot of having a possible traitor (which of course, makes it not entirely a cooperative game.) Additionally it has periods of play where players are not allowed to talk. Restricting communication is an interesting technique that I have used to improve many of my coop game experiences, and it is nice to see it worked into the game design. Some players will be turned off by the fact that this is at its core a memory game, but if you are even a little open to a memory game you should check it out.

Hanabi – This is, for me, the star of the show. Hanabi is incredible, I don’t hesitate in saying that this is the best cooperative board/card game I have ever played. The designer, Antoine Bauza (7-wonders), gave me a copy and played with me one evening, the next day we picked up half a dozen copies for gifts, and the whole following week I played several times a day with my fiance. It works well with 2-4 players – and the key is that it is entirely about restricted communication. Like bridge you must use your plays to communicate the board situation to your partners as efficiently as possible, and like bridge there is a lot of opportunity to create conventions that will help you with that communication – and occasionally get you in trouble. This is a small unassuming game, don’t let it slip through the cracks – you must try it!


The Trouble with Robots

Any audience I have by now is aware of how interested I am in games which bridge the gap between traditional paper games, like Scrabble, and traditional computer games, which tend to be more simulations. This interest lead me to work with Alexey Stankevitch on Spectromancer, and to frequently mention Quadradius, one of my favorite games, by Jimmi Heiserman. These days there are more and more examples of this, particularly from the tablet market (Dungeon Raid and Wargames are worth checking out!)

This brings me to The Trouble with Robots by Geoffrey White – which is not on Tablet but certainly should be. It is a customizable card game, you choose 5-10 cards for your deck and can play them to summon fantasy units – or cast spells. The units fight robots in real time. Normally with this description I would be skeptical for a number of reasons. One is that the real time aspect of real time games tend to dominate the ‘customization’. Not here – the creatures all fight for themselves – almost all you do is choose when and which spell to cast and occasionally target that spell Another reason for skepticism is that customizable games are usually super complex and it takes a lot of work to start getting enjoyment out of the customization. Not here – the customization is easy – and fun right from the start. There are plenty of combos that help make deck construction fun and make you excited by every additional spell added to your arsenal.

The free demo is perfectly representative of the play – it begins off super easy, but comes with a challenge mode which should make you work pretty hard to master. If you don’t like it after that point you probably won’t like it, but if you are like me you won’t be able to wait to go further.

More description from people who actually include visuals in their blog posts:

And the  game webpage:

Have fun!


Kickstarter: Proceed with Caution

Recently I have enjoyed several games that began their life as Kickstarter projects. I have also failed to enjoy a number of these games. The idea of bypassing the publishing arm of an industry and going straight to the people is seductive, but not without its costs.

In an industry with a few monolithic publishers the ability to work around them can bring a large benefit – it will likely invigorate the industry as creators who want something new bypass the publishers who like the status quo. The game industry isn’t really like that however, there are many publishers; small and large – and many of them are willing to take chances on something new.

So why do I blame these poor experiences I have had on a lack of publisher? A publisher often provides a sanity check for the games quality. It is notoriously hard to tell if a game is fun – if the group that is testing it is playing a particular way and they are enjoying each others company they will have fun, while a group that hasn’t been told how to play can find themselves having an ‘unfun’ experience with the exact same game. The games from Kickstarter that work feel fresh and new, untainted by a standards that don’t fit the creator’s vision. The ones that don’t work look fine (they have to look fine to pull funding from Kickstarter), but while they feel technically solid they are missing a fun factor. They feel like they have been tested by too few people with too narrow a perspective, like the creator’s friends or perhaps a hardcore playtest group centered around board game geek.

So for designers, I advise you to go the extra mile and really get a diverse set of independent playtesters. Be aware that even feedback from people you don’t view as being in the target market can positively influence your game. Consider submitting to a publisher if only to hear their feedback and consider it. The publishers feedback is more often valid than not – even though their solutions are often not as informed as solutions the designer can come up with.

For people backing Kickstarter encourage projects that strike your fancy to broaden their playtesting where possible. I would be wary of games without broad diverse playtesting, and incredulous if the game hadn’t been designed yet.

I will say the best exception to this rule might be a designer like James Ernest, who IS a publisher. His Kickstarter project is sure to offer what it promises if it interests you:


Game Glimpse #13: Flash Point

FlashPoint07.05.12-Richard takes a look at Flash Point: a fully cooperative game where everyone plays on the same firefighting team – and win or lose together. Players can ride the ambulance to safety or fire the engine’s deck gun in an attempt to control the blaze.
LINKS: Indie Boards and Cards



Game Glimpse #12: ESWOTBWDAMS

ESWOTBWDAMSRichard is back from a long hiatus with a look at Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre. This game is published by Cryptozoic Entertainment and designed by Rob Heinsoo.
LINKS: Cryptozoic Entertainment