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Your New Favourite Roll-and-Write?
Ganz Schön Clever or That’s Pretty Clever, as it has been termed for the English-speaking market, is my favourite roll-and-write. In a highly cluttered market, it stands out for me with its simplicity, multiple scoring opportunities and highly satisfying cascading turns in the later rounds. It works in any player count and is brilliant in solo. I never thought I would find another game in this field that would beat it. But I did. Welcome To and Rail Road Ink are very good games and have far better themes, I mean, they have a theme! I rate them very highly. But it is the next outing in the roll-and-write market from the same publisher as Ganz Schön clever, Schmidt Spiele, that has pipped it for me. With a similarly odd title, Man muss auch gönnen können is my new favourite dice chucking game, and I would say, an essential game for any collection. It translates to “you have to also grant others something”, and this is a major part of the game that I will come onto later. It has been released to the UK market at Divvy Dice, which is one of the worst names I have ever heard, but like Ganz Schön Clever, this game has zero theme, So the name is irrelevant. This is all about the game play. And its brilliant!
WBG recently sat down with the brilliant team, Ulrich Blum and Jens Merkl, to ask them how it came about.
We regularly pitch game ideas to each other to find out if it would be a project we are both exited in. One day Jens said: There are so many roll-and-writes and they all have this static score sheet. What if it wasn’t a pre-printed sheet, but something you actively build throughout the game. Wouldn’t that be cool?
The idea immediately clicked, and we started working on it. We had a prototype pretty quickly and it already resembled what can be found in the box now. We knew there was only one publisher we wanted to pitch this game to. Fortunately for us Schmidt Spiele liked the game just as much as we do.
Awesome! This is your 8th (Jens) /9th (Ulrich) game now right? How did you first get into making board games?
Jens: My very first steps I did back in the 80s as an 8-year-old. I designed a kind of a solo game with a standard deck of cards, that I loved to play. Believe me, I had friends! I made the game when I was on holidays with my parents. The next bit of board game design, I did during my studies (Interactive Media Studies at the Film academy in Ludwigsburg, Germany). We had a workshop with Noah Falstein, one of the first game designers of Lucas Arts Games, where they did famous games like ZackMcKracken, Monkey Island or Indiana Jones - and the last crusade. The cool thing was, this digital games expert, told us a lot about designing games, and he did that by letting us design... Analogue Board Games! Because it was a course about game design, not about programming, he had chosen the analogue games to teach us mechanics. And again, I had lots of fun and we did an interesting game there, which is called I am Bob!, which by the way is still on my shelf. Hey, maybe I have to show that to someone! Anyway, after my studies, I had the opportunity to design games for the hybrid system tiptoi from Ravensburger (hybrid as in: combining analogue and digital elements). I did 13 games for that system, but only one is listed on BGG, because the others where kind of a mixture of game, story and learning which you can only play solo, which BGG doesn’t list as board games. So yes, eight classical board games.
Ulrich: I also have a few more projects than the ones that can be found on BGG. Mainly because all forms of play are interesting to me and if the chance to work on something weird is thrown my way, I’m usually interested.
Like many game designers, I did my first designs back when I was about eight or ten. Some of these prototypes even still exist. As for doing game design on a professional level, it started with me getting hit by a car whilst riding a bicycle. I couldn’t work as an actor (what I wanted to do at the time) or as a chef (what I did to pay the bills) for a whole year. I started working on games to keep my sanity (doing nothing loses its appeal after about two weeks). Via a few winding paths, this led to me winning the German game designer scholarship, which is highly recognised in the German industry. That’s when I decided to go full time (the money couldn’t be worse than from acting, right?), which I managed to pull off two years later.
What an interesting path into the field. I am glad you were not seriously hurt in the accident Ulrich! How did you both get into the hobby as players?
Jens: As a kid I played a lot of board games. But as a teen I was more into computer games like Civilization, Monkey Island and Sim City. Then consoles took over with titles like Tony Hawks and Pro Evolution Soccer. As for boardgames, I was completely out for quite a while. Until one day friends wanted to play this game called Carcassonne of which I never heard anything. And so, it all started again.
Ulrich: I never hat to get into gaming. I can simply not remember a time when I didn’t play board games. It is probably something that makes the market in the German speaking countries special to this day. The Spiel des Jahres is so widely recognised that you will come into contact with modern game design early on. We played a lot as a family. And while we did play quite a few games of Risk (we never really liked Monopoly), more modern games where always being played too.
Roll-and-write are all the rage right now, but this one feels different. How did you go about making such a fresh feeling game within such a busy sector?
We try to have something new and fresh in every design we work on. As described before we pitch Ideas to each other quite often, to find out if it is something we want to work on together. This is a very effective first filter. Even your first idea needs to have something to get the other excited. Otherwise it’s not something we pursue (at least not together). The central idea of building your own score sheet, was there from the very beginning. Now, an idea on its own is not worth a lot and we strongly reject the image of the creative person that has a eureka moment and everything is just there. It’s the execution that makes a good game and is responsible for 99% of the work. But a good idea can give a vision of what you’re trying to achieve. It’s a goal or a signpost. The road right in front of you might be unfamiliar and confusing, but a clear vision will keep you from making too many detours.
Excellent advice! The solo mode is amazing too, with the mini campaign scoring mechanism. Was it important to you to have a strong solo mode in this game? How was this developed?
Ulrich: I play games solo quite often. So, I took the lead on the solo version. I want a challenge in a solo game. I want to be able to lose the game. That’s why pure high score races are never as appealing to me. I’ll play them, but I prefer this constant threat that it might all go wrong.
These thoughts led us to the basic system of the solo game, where everything below a certain score is a lost game. From there it was only a small step to create several levels with increasing difficulty. Once we had that, we thought: and why would I replay the game once I’ve beaten all the levels? And so, the campaign was born. You now have to win all seven levels back to back. That should keep you busy for a while. And if that’s still not enough for you, you can of course fall back to comparing the final score of all your successful campaigns.
Well I think its brilliant! I’m still struggling to beat it but having a lot of fun trying! What is next for you, are you working on new games?
Oh yes, very much so. We are currently hard at work on a game that’s been in development for quite some years now. As with Gönnen Können we are trying to break a few conventions and do things a little differently. The game is due to come out in the fall of 2021. Unfortunately, we cannot yet talk about it too much. This much we can say: Players will experience an interactive story and they won't be sitting down doing so. We’ve put in (and still are) an extraordinary amount of work and we are looking forward to the release quite a bit.
Not sitting down? Intriguing! I will look out for that. What game, not made by you, would have been your dream game to have been involved with in the development phase?
Ulrich: At the moment I am quite impressed with the design of Fog of Love. What fascinates me, is the way it works for different types of players. The game experience is obviously improved if you role-play your character a bit. But unlike other games with that quality, Fog of Love doesn't break down if players are reluctant to the role-play aspect. The mechanisms are built in a way that even if you play purely mechanical, you will still create a vivid three-dimensional character. This concurrence of mechanism and story (or theme if you will) is something I admire very much in games that achieve it.
Jens: That’s a difficult question. I might say Pandemic Legacy Season 1. I was impressed with how the designers achieved such a well-balanced game. Considering all the changes the players will make to the game throughout the campaign, that is quite remarkable.
Agreed. We love it too. If you could have a game night with any other designers, who would it be and why?
Jens: Michael Schacht, Rita Modl and Peter Jürgensen. With the right communication game, that would be a blast. We would be laughing quite a lot in this group.
Ulrich: There are too many to mention. Generally playing games with other designers is super fun. Just because you can always feel this great love for board games in each one of us. I also feel very blessed that I don’t have to imagine playing games with some of the big names in the industry. I can just give them a call and visit them.
Brilliant! Very jealous of that! What are your top five games to play?
Jens: It’s kind of hard, but let me try an All Time List: Stone Age, The Pillars of the Earth, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Man Muss auch gönnen können (Is that allowed? Sorry, I love to play that game, even after hundreds of testing rounds ;-)
Great list, and yes, I think that is definitely allowed, it’s on my list for sure too! It was great chatting with you both, thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing about your next game and will get some comfy shoes ready!
Making Games Funky!
Instagram is full of amazing accounts, so it would be foolish to say what our favourite one is. BUT! One of our favourite accounts is certainly Play that funky boardgame. Not just because of the Awesome name and content, but the fresh and honest approach Thomas brings to a range of games. We recently had a chat with Thomas from Play that funky boardgame to talk to him about all things funky. Want to know how to build a 17k base? Read on…
Great to chat with you Thomas. How long have you been playing games and what got you into the hobby to begin with?
I played a lot of board and card games as a kid, of course these have been mainly classic games and mass market games. During my time at the university I played the occasional game of Catan and Carcassonne with fellow students, but I was never as involved in these first modern boardgames as some of my friends were at that time. It was 2013 when my journey into this wonderful world of modern board games began. The games that got me into the hobby were your typical gateway games like Pandemic, Forbidden Island, 7 Wonders, King of Tokyo, Dixit and for some strange reason Robinson Crusoe, which really captivated my attention right from the start. It took me quite some time to get the rules down, but once I finally did, this game took me on a ride that really showed me how amazing modern board games can be. My fascination for Robinson Crusoe never faded away. It’s still my favourite game of all time.
I can see why! So talking about your Instagram account, tell us a bit about how this came about and what inspired you to start this.
I probably would have never gotten into this hobby if it weren’t for all the amazing content creators out there that shared their passion for modern boardgames on YouTube and other platforms at that time. People like Tom Vasel and the whole Dice Tower crew, Quinns, Matt and Paul from Shut Up & Sit Down and Rodney Smith from Watch it Played really showed me the way. These content creators were my main source for getting information and recommendations on board games. So, once I was finally at home in this board gaming world, it felt natural to become a content creator myself to give something back to the community and to bring more people into this amazing hobby. In 2017 I started my Instagram channel, mainly because I was constantly taking pictures during game nights anyway. So, I figured, why not share my pictures and the corresponding board gaming experiences with others. Instagram also looked like the right platform to get in touch with other gamers around the world. Over the course of the last three years my Instagram channel continuously grew and gave me the opportunity to experiment with different formats and to constantly find new ways to be creative, which I’m very thankful for.
The hobby must have taken you to so many fascinating places and enabled you to meet so many amazing people. Can you share some stories from your adventures in games?
I've definitely met a lot of amazing people and made some really great friendships over the past few years through this hobby. Convention season is always a very exciting time, because it gives you the chance to meet so many fantastic people with so many different backgrounds from all over the world all at once. I could fill pages with great stories surrounding the hobby, but two of my fondest memories are about gaming experiences I had with my family. The first one was playing Pandemic Legacy Season 1 with my amazing wife over the course of two weeks during Christmas vacation 2015. It was our first time playing a legacy game and an unbelievably immersive experience for both of us. The other one was playing Stuffed Fables with my kids. This game has a very special place in my heart.
I really must try that game. I think my kids would love it too. Board games are predominately a social exercise and the community is amazing to be a part of. Is there anything the board game community could do more of do you think to connect better with others and support certain causes?
Playing board games is per definition a very social activity that has the power to connect people from all sorts of backgrounds with one another. In my experience most gamers are very friendly, and I’ve seen a lot of support for a variety of different social causes from within the board gaming community over the past years. Of course, there’s always room for improvement and I think it’s important that we as a community keep striving towards an open and inclusive environment in which everyone is welcomed with open arms at the gaming table and beyond.
Here, here! How has the recent lock down effected your gaming?
Well, I haven’t seen my regular gaming groups for quite a while. Fortunately, my family also loves to play board games, so I was still able to get some games to the table during the last couple of months. I also used the spare time to create some more content for my channel and to start a couple of new collaborations with other content creators on Instagram and on YouTube. I‘m regularly collaborating with the German You Tube Channel Better Board Games for which Im doing a lot of videos right now. I also have a biweekly talk with Dennis from Brettspiele & mehr, also a German Boardgame you Tube Channel.
What are the plans for you and your work in the future?
I will try to constantly improve my content on Instagram and to experiment with a few new ideas I’ve developed during the lockdown. I’m also planning on doing more collaborations with other content creators, especially on YouTube, since I've really come to enjoy making video content over the last couple of months.
What advice would you give to people starting up on Instagram who hope to build a community such as yours?
Be authentic. Be creative. Make content you're really passionate about. Create stuff that has value to other gamers. And never be afraid of reaching out to other members of the community. The board gaming community on Instagram is a very friendly place full of amazing people that are always willing to collaborate, share their knowledge and offer their support.
I could not agree more! Can you talk about some of your favourite games right now?
I guess, I've already talked enough about Robinson Crusoe, but I can’t resist mentioning it again. Anyone who likes highly thematic and very challenging, cooperative games should play this game at least once in his or her lifetime. Another game that really got to me over the last couple of years is Everdell, a gorgeous game that offers an amazing mix of worker placement and card-driven engine-building and creates an unbelievably beautiful world - mainly due to Andrew Bosley fantastic artwork - that I just want to spend more time in. If you enjoy heavy euro games with great themes, like I do, you definitely have to check out Vital Lacerda’s games like Vinhos, The Gallerist and most recently On Mars and of course all of the games that have been published by Mindclash Games so far, Trickerion, Anachrony and Cerebria.
A phenomenal list. Mirrors mine in a few areas! What about a few to look out for in the future?
The games I’m looking forward to the most right now are Perseverance, Merchants of the Dark Road, Namiji, Merchants Cove, the new edition of Rococo and hopefully we’ll get a third season of Pandemic Legacy someday.
Absolutely. It was great chatting with you Thomas. We will continue to follow your work on Instagram, and YouTube with avid interest. Thanks for talking with us.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us here, first up could you talk a bit about your background in the games industry?
Rachel: I was a digital artist for a number Nintendo DS Games during an internship and actually ran a mobile game studio with a few friends under the name of Firedroid. We both also participated a few times in Global Game Jams but had no connections or experience in the board games industry before starting Semi Co-op.
So, what got you into the hobby as a player?
Heinze: Board gaming specifically was a result of our apartment flooding about ten years ago. Because we had to live at Rachel’s mother for a few months while our apartment was drying out and the insurance needed to be sorted, we came across a copy of Agricola in a shop and Rachel really liked the concept of the game and bought it. Before that time, we played some D&D 3.5 and Munchkin with friends but that was the moment we really started focussing on board games. After participating in a couple of Netrunner tournaments at our local game store we started to find more people in our town that enjoyed playing board games and then it became one of our favourite ways to spend our free time!
And now a webcomic which is amazing! How did that come about?
Rachel: After becoming a freelance illustrator I decided I wanted a project to improve my character art skills. While I could’ve just followed along with some tutorials, I knew it wouldn’t stick unless I had a reason to keep making art. It started with a general idea of a webcomic centred around us and geeky things but after some initial test comics, we decided that sticking to a niche like board gaming would make it interesting and unique and it would give us a great excuse to discover more board games!
Well it certainly stuck! What do you see in the future? What’s next for you?
Heinze: We would love to expand the amount of time we can spend making Semi Co-op comics and other things and it’s awesome that publishers are starting to commission more sponsored comics and people support our regular comics on Patreon. We would love to do more with animation and live streams as well, we’ve done some fun videos and streams and we have some good ideas but it’s financially not possible to spend the required time on it right now.
Sounds great! Which game designer would you most like to have a games night with and why?
Rachel: Oh no, great question! Uhm, there are quite a few game designers I would consider my friends now, so this is a really hard choice. Maybe I’d go for Patrick Leder or Cole Wehrle, they seem like such nice people and we haven’t met them yet but would really like to!
Heinze: I would love to have a games night with Nikki Valens, she is probably my favourite designer and I would love to see how she analyses and plays games plus she apparently is crazy good in Gloomhaven. A few years ago, at Spiel she offered that we could play a prototype she brought and somehow being tired and a bit overwhelmed by the offer I turned it down and I still feel very silly for doing that…
Rachel: I can join this game night with Nikki as well, right? She’s awesome.
Sounds fun, can I join too!? It was lovley chatting with Rachel and Heinze. Check out there website here
Have you checked out the Semi Co-op web comic yet? It’s amazing and WBG recently chatted with Rachel Kremer and Heinze Havinga, the real people behind these awesome cartoons to find out what brought them to this stage.
There are plenty of Roll-and-Write games on the market; I was recently blown away at how good Man muss auch gönnen können is, so was keen to talk with the design team behind this. I recenlty sat down with Ulrich Blum and Jens Merkl, the co-designers of the new heir to the roll-and-write crown, to see what makes it so special.
Far Away Fun!
Have you seen Far Away yet? It looks amazing! We have been following this game with great interest recently and so were desperate to talk with the man behind this beautiful new two player co-operative game. It was a pleasure to learn more about Alex Jerabek, Far Away and what is coming next!
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us here at WBG Alex. You have four games out now but take me back to the start. How did it all begin for Cherry Picked Games?
Cherry Picked Games started in the summer between quitting my cushy tech job and starting culinary school. I really wanted to make an RPG and had the lore of Catalyst in my head. So, I buckled down for three months, wrote the initial set of content, and did some meagre playtesting. I was foolish to think I'd have something ready in that time frame: RPGs are a complex web of numbers and rules, further muddled by the amount of playtesting commitment a campaign-driven game requires. It ended up taking over three years to reach the Kickstarter phase and another year to publish the game.
While that's the "origin" story, what it misses is the reason I keep making new games. Going through the entire design-fund-publish-market cycle is intense. Putting your vision under the scrutiny of the world is scary. Publishing a physical game means immortalizing all your mistakes for the world to see. Actually designing and testing a game is fun, but working with a dozen third-party services to manufacture, advertise, and ship your game is less so. What makes it all worth it is seeing people enjoy your game. Playing with our first true fans at OrcaCon and Evergreen Tabletop Expo is what made Cherry Picked Games something I wanted to keep doing.
I can only imagine. And now Far Away has just come out. Tell us a bit about the game and what makes it fun, it looks amazing!
Far Away is a two-player cooperative game about exploring alien worlds. You and your partner work for a space government that's as ambitious as it is under-funded. They send you to planets without landing gear, medical equipment, or radios. The latter problem limits your communication to when you're in the same hex as your partner, forcing you to plan ahead and trust each other against unknown dangers.
Every game of Far Away has you try and complete a mission. There's eight in the box, each with optional sub-goals and branching story arcs. There's a wide variety of creatures that act differently with different permutation of the ecosystem. The map is also procedurally generated through hex draws and die rolls as you explore. All of this makes each session feel unique.
You should play Far Away if you and one other person are looking for something more in-depth than most two-player games. Over the course of a couple hours, you'll work together to survive and thrive on the planet (or die trying). The communication mechanic makes for intense moments of fear and joy as you move around, trying to help each other without wasting time and resources. There's also a dry sense of humour in the missions, thanks to the inept bureaucracy behind the Far Away program. Each game is a nice little story told by both the flavour text and the emergent behaviour of you and the creatures.
Sold! Sounds amazing! I cannot wait to try this, and congratulations on such a beautiful looking game that’s sounds like it plays pretty good too! Which game that you have not published would you most like to have on your roster?
I've always wanted to make a dexterity game, but the manufacturing logistics have held me back. It seems like a huge challenge to detail a specification to an overseas company when the component details matter so much. The weight, friction, and durability of all the pieces would need to match your testing set perfectly. Maybe some day...
Exciting! I love a dexterity game and I think the market still needs more adult orientated ones with a deep story like Flick Em’ Up Dead of Winter. Other than a dexterity perhaps, what does the future have in store for you and Cherry Picked Games?
We're working on our next game. It's still in the early phases, so we don't want to divulge too much yet (not that we know much yet either). We're aiming to make a lighter weight game for two to eight (ish) players that's about dogs in bars. Beyond that, all bets are off.
Exciting! I will watch closer for news of that and maybe the dexterity too! It was great talking with Alex, I would encourage you all to check out their site, games and new release Far Away.
Price Is Right!
BoardGamePrices.com promises to find the best deals in your currency and country of delivery and has created a buying data base second to none for board game lovers in Europe and The United States. WBG sat down with BGP to chat £$€!
Thanks so much for talking with us Kean. I love your site; I log on at least three times every day! Tell me how this started?
Only 3 times a day? You need to buy more games! It started when I was working in a big company, where I was the co-host of a bi-weekly board game night for co-workers. We wanted to buy some 10-15 games to keep at the workplace, instead of everyone bringing too many games each session. One of the regular participants took it upon himself to purchase the games, and made the mistake of announcing he would do a group buy, and for everyone to send him a list of games they would like to buy for themselves. I saw his Excel-sheet a few weeks later, where he had collected around 200 games, he'd need to buy for everyone, and the 20 or so stores he had contacted for a bundle discount.
That lead to me thinking, that there was no real service here in Denmark for making that job easier. The biggest issue was that no store had all the items in stock, so we would have to divide the purchase over several stores. He even reached out to stores in Sweden and Germany, which also showed a big difference in prices and availability on some products.
There were a lot of generic price comparison sites, but none of them really took shipping into account in the right way, and none were focused on board games only. I had a lot of experience from a previous job with web scraping and combining datasets. Adding a bit of what I had learned doing my computer science education, and a month later I had the first version of the site running. Denmark only, ten stores, and the ugliest (but working) design you would see. This was back in 2012. Eight years later, we have 220+ stores listed, and cover 14 countries with more being added all the time.
Impressive! I am certainly glad you went to the effort. What is your background in the hobby?
I've played board games forever. Starting with the usual suspects such as Monopoly (well, the Danish variant called "Matador") and some others. Thinking about computer games, I've always liked turn-based, complex strategy more than FPS and action games. My first exposure to modern board gaming was doing my university education, where a monthly group gathered of 30-40 people and played board games for a whole weekend. I came for the social aspect and left with a thirst for more games. Games such as Carcassonne, Settlers (Catan), Elfenland, Robo Rally and Le Havre are some I remember having played at these sessions.
After my education, I have started board game nights all the places I have worked and am regularly playing with friends. Right now Arkham Horror: The Card Game and the Exit-series are hitting the table most.
Awesome games! What are the plans for the site?
Bigger and better all the time. Right now, we are focusing on expanding to the rest of Europe, having recently added Norway, Finland, Ireland and Italy as destinations. We are also working on features for the user to make better sense of the different language versions of the games. It is no fun seeing a game you'd like to buy only being in stock in a store in Spain, but not daring to buy it if it might be in Spanish, and you'd like the English version. Most stores are not very good at listing what version of a product they are selling and might even use a stock photo indicating an English version, but actually be selling a non-English version.
We are also planning to add more tools for users to organise their wish lists and snatching the items they are missing in their collection.
Great to hear! I am organising my wish list currently. Think its on about 74 so it would be good to group this some way. Prices vary incredibly from day to day, especially during times like this. How would you suggest people best make use of your site?
The main idea of the site is to answer the question: "I know what I want to buy, where can I get it?". Thus, we do not help you with browsing gaming, but instead help you to find where you can buy the thing you are looking for. This has helped us focus the development of the site over the past years. Now we are slowing moving into helping you with the first part as well: Figuring out what to buy. Mostly based on great offers and alerting you when items you are watching are available.
We try to not focus too much on prices, but instead on availability of products. The listed stores are mostly small stores with a small stock, so finding a specific product in stock is often harder than going for a cheap price once you are out of the top 100 products.
We have a few tools to help you. First, for each product, you can set up an alert to get an email if the price drops below set threshold and is in stock somewhere. You can also exclude stores you do not want to place an order with. We have recently added a simple price graph on the price history page, so you can see the price development over time. Once we have it polished, we will add it to the product page as well.
Our price drop pages (linked from the frontpage) shows a view of recent price drops. This is not perfect, and we have some ideas brewing on how to improve this.We run a weekly newsletter, which lists products that are popular, and products where the price is at a great, low point.
One of our well-hidden power tools is the offer calculator. Add a bunch of products to your wish list, and it will calculate the best offer across all stores. This will take into account free shipping thresholds, stock status, discounts and all the other data we have access to. After getting the offer, you can then adjust it around if you like and see the total price. The engine behind this feature is quite complex, and I have not seen something like it on other price comparison sites. They would often find the cheapest offer from a single store, instead of being able to spread the offer across several stores and optimize for the discounts and free shipping.
Finally, we have recently added a new feature that we call "buy lists". With this, you can curate a list of products for a collection, and other users can subscribe to your list. This could for instance be all the products in the Arkham Horror: The Card Game series. One user creates the list, other users subscribe to the list. When a new product enters the market, and the list owner adds it to the list, you can keep track of making sure you get all the products in the collection. This is a new feature, and we are still polishing it.
Sounds great! I will be using that for sure!
I hope so. If any of your readers spot some error in the listing, be sure to help us out and use the "report an error" feature for the page. This helps us curate the database of all products. As said earlier, the data from the stores is not the best, so with nearly half a million products listed, there is bound to be some errors. We are getting better all the time, but there is still some way to go. I hope you enjoy our site.
[UNPAID AD] It was great talking with Kean. I would encourage you to check out the site and why not sign up to the weekly newsletter. If you do, you could win a copy of Wingspan. Check out our Instagram page for more details to ensure you qualify for the free game. FREE World wide shipping available. COMPETITION CLOSED
Cooking Up a Storm
I love food. I love fast, fun card games. I love independent first time designers. This game really should be right up my street! So, we sat down to play Recipe for Disaster and have a chat with designer Duncan Drury about the project and I didnt stop playing for hours!
[This is an unpaid advert after Duncan kindly gifted me a review copy.]
A recipe for disaster?
Recipe for Disaster is a new set collection card game with a twist from Sovereign Hart Games and first-time designer Duncan Drury. We have played it nonstop since we got the demo copy and have fallen deeply for this joyful card collecting story telling game.
There is a lot to like about the game. The way it looks is fresh and vibrant and the way is plays is fast and fun. It scales well from three to six and I was able to teach my family including a four and seven-year-old within five minutes.
But the one thing that I want to start with here is the Dumpster dive!
Cooking up a storm!
The game plays very simply. You are dealt a hand of ingredients cards; a mixture of meat fruits and vegetables. An order card is flipped over showing you four ingredients you need to try and collect to fulfil that order; some chicken, onion, yoghurt and garlic for a Tandoori chicken for example. Players then race to alter their hands in what is essentially a set collection race game. The way you can do this is by either discarding one card to draw one back blind from the deck, called the fridge. Discard two to pick one from the market (eight face up cards) or go dumpster diving!
Every discarded card is placed into the bottom half of the game box which is used as a dumpster. It looks great and is a brilliant mechanism I have not seen much before. Players have the chance to rifle through the discarded cards to try and find one you need. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen games where you can get cards from the discard before, but never when they are chucked into a box, where they can be on either side, face up or down, horizontal or vertical; and you have a timer of just ten seconds to find the card you want. If you don’t get in and out in time, then you are awarded a penalty point in the shape of a health inspector strike token which affects your scoring opportunities later.
It’s a brilliant bit of fun in the game that I found we all gravitated towards throughout. Not just because the choice of cards was higher, but because it’s fun! The tension created during the dumpster dive is so high! It’s a brilliant addition to the game that really makes is shine for me. I mean, who doesn’t want to search around a dumpster trying to find some tomatoes to make a pizza? I know my kids enjoyed it!
Can I change my order please?
Instead of acquiring new ingredients, you can play a special power card that allows you to either help your own cooking skills or hinder your opponents. The Cook the Books cards allows you to search the top four cards of the fridge and take one. The Rats! card forces one opponent of your choice to roll the dice in the hope of avoiding a visit from the health inspector. Change of mind! amends the order all players are working towards, a hilarious way to alter your own fortunes and hinder your friends, especially if played later in a round when players may have collected all they need! And Time is up! will force the end round scenario as described below and must be played if drawn during the game.
Wait, your Chilli con carne has noodles in?
As players take it turns to try and collect the four ingredients, another option on your turn is to ring the bell to alert the other players you are ready to show your hand. This gives each player one more turn to try and get those final potatoes before you enter the Present phase. Here, players describe their dish and why they chose to make the Ceviche with beef instead if fish! Storytelling, bluffing, downright lying will help here! As players look to make up for their failed ingredient hunt with tall tales of how meatballs are better served in a carrot sauce rather than tomato’s. This leads to much hilarity, as players call out others nonsense for what it is, before presenting their own culinary monstrosity with all the gravitas of a politician in an ill-fitting swimsuit answering questions on social welfare.
All this bravado and bluster is so that in the final phase, when player rate each other’s dishes, they don’t get left out in the cold like a left-over kebab going soggy at a bus stop. Each player has a ranking card with a star ranking system. They must rate each player’s dish, not their own. Players present the rating cards face down in front of each opposing chef and then scoring begins.
Players get two points for each correct ingredient used. One for any wrong ingredient from the right food group and then the total from the stars awarded to them from the other players. If they have all four ingredients, they immediately get awarded one Golden Turnip token! The points scoring mechanic in the game.
Any strike tokens received early from a failed dumpster dive or a Rats! card effect will result in your highest star rating being removed with all the shame of a Vegan restaurant caught serving horse meat veggie-burgers. The chef with the highest combined score from the ingredients played and ratings received, is given a Golden Turnip token. Meaning it is possible to get two of these prestigious awards per round.
I’m still hungry!
The game can be played for as long as you like. A feature I love in games like this. You can agree to a set amount of points needed to trigger the end of the game based on your player count, time available or how the game progresses. We have played in a quick snack race to three and in an epic taster-menu first to ten. The game doesn’t’t get old, it’s just fast friendly fun, and we have loved every minute of our time with the game so far.
We chatted recently with designer Duncan, about his experiences with this game and his first Kickstarter project.
OK, your first Kickstarter, congratulations! But let’s take it back a bit. What brought you to this place?
I’ve been involved in designing video games professionally for a while, and always wanted to try a board game. My sister in law is a professional trained classical artist, loves food and boards like me and has also always wanted to be involved in a game, so it felt perfect!
Sounds ideal! How did the idea for the game come about?
I grew up playing games, painting miniatures from Warhammer and a lot of narrative based video games. I wanted to put my interest and skills into a game I really loved. I love food, I love board games, I love telling stories, it all seemed to just come about.
Well the game plays great. It feels like a very smooth and elegant game play experience. We love the Dumpster dive so much!
Yes, that is one of my favorite bits too. We just want to make a game that is fun and accessible that families, friends… everyone can have fun with. From the play testing we have done; I think we have done that!
How has the play testing gone? How did you find the experience?
Great! Is so good to see your game getting good reactions from people. One time in Berlin, we were play testing with a new group and a guy playing asked for clarification about a rule which I hadn’t really thought about before. I thanked him and suggested a rule to suit his question. He replied, “Hang on, you just made that up!” and I replied, “Yeah, I made it all up!”
That’s hilarious! How are you feeling about the Kickstarter?
I am so excited. I just cannot wait to get the game into people’s hands and see what they come up with. The game is not about getting the best dish. More about convincing others you do! Telling a friend why noodles are a better base for a pizza than dough can be lot of fun! We have so many ideas for expansions for this game, other variants of it and other new games we are working on. It’s a very exciting time, and I hope people enjoy what we have made so far.
It was great speaking with Duncan. You can clearly see his passion for his game and future projects. Check out their Kickstarter here.
This was an unpaid advert after Duncan kindly gifted me a review copy.
Bad Bone In Your Body?
First time designer, Gils Johann and artist Vincent Hammingh, quietly broke onto the Kickstarter scene late last year with their debut game, Bad Samaritans. If you missed it then you may want to catch up now, this looks like a lot of fun! We chatted with them about their new website for the game with bad intentions.
Thanks for joining us here on What Board Game. What is your background in designing games?
Bad Samaritans is my first game, and luckily for me, it worked out well. The reason I felt like I could do it was because I've been creating these sorts of things my whole life for fun. Whether it was custom maps in video games (Warcraft 3 or the likes) or thinking up a game my friends and I could play when no one brought a game, I've always been building these things.
I think there are a lot of people out there who could relate to that! What got you into the hobby as a player?
I've been playing board and card games since I was a little guy, at first just the simple regular games with family. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a friend group who was into games like Settlers of Catan, Werewolves, etc. Even later, when I moved to Rotterdam, I managed to find a friend group that loved playing games before going clubbing.
Bad Samaritans was your first game, right? How did it come about?
In 2018, I felt like I wanted to build a business around having fun and people enjoying themselves. I read up on a lot of business books and felt strongly towards doing something that brought me joy my whole life and landed on making a game. At the time, I didn't know it was a growing market, didn't know anything about Kickstarter or Board Game Geek, so I had to find all of that out as we moved along. A fun little trivia about the project; the game was first called Superheroes.
Superheroes was a game I once made up where someone laid down a problem, and everyone wrote down a useless superpower on a piece of paper. To win, you had to best solve the problem with the power given to you from the pile.
This concept of funny powers was my starting point. My first test group called me out on a lot of improvements, including the name; it was just too sinister to be calling the Bad Samaritans heroes.
Bad Samaritans is full of cards and jokes based on people I met and personal jokes and experiences. The fact that some of these cards are so random makes the game a lot funnier (or so I'm told by outsiders) You could say the game has a soul ;)
I had a finished game before I had any artwork, I took the game over to my Cousin Vincent Hammingh who owns his own graphic illustration studio, looking for his take on the game and asking if he knew anyone I could contact for the artwork. After playing the game he got so excited that he joined our noble cause and created the amazing artwork behind the game. Since blood knows blood, working together is like a Swiss watch.
You had a pretty catchy jingle on Instagram. Still in my head now! Tell us how you made that and why?
The jingle turned out great, and I owe a lot of it to my roommate at the time who had her little studio set up in our house. I tried to involve friends into Bad Samaritans as much as possible, using skills they had to make something great.
To be fair, I kind of annoyed her into it, ''Can you make me a Jingle'' ''Where's my Jingle'' that sort of thing :) I wrote the lyrics myself, and we started recording the Bad Samaritan boogie. Marinella Iezzi is a great singer, but instead of shining by herself, she decided to let me sing in a duet with her. Which, in comparison, would be like asking a politician to tell a funny joke.
Since we were having a party that day, and we spent so much time having fun with it, some more people showed up at the house, and we added them into the mix as well. If you've never recorded a Jingle, it's something I recommend doing for fun.
Bad Samaritans is due to ship to Kickstarter backers soon. What’s the plans for sales after that?
Behind the scenes, we've partnered up with a big distributor talented in E-commerce sales which will help us reach more buyers then we could do by our lonesome. We're really bummed out about Spiel being cancelled this year since that would have been our first shining moment and we were planning one of the most well-designed booths in the Indie terrain. Promotion wise, I've become quite the advert expert, so we have a well-devised strategy.
Intriguing! How was the Kickstarter experience for you?
I can honestly say that putting up a campaign on Kickstarter and finishing it was the most I've ever learned in a month. I don't think you'll learn about promotion and business as fast anywhere else. It's a great way to fall, to rise and to have fun with your fans. Kickstarter is a game of adaptation and strategising, so I obviously loved it.
Do you have plans for more games after this?
I do have a desire to bring out more games after this, I've designed three more games on paper, just to build up some more skills for the next game. I'm not sure what the next game will be, it could be an expansion if the supporters ask for it, it could also be a whole different board game or a simple card game. The future will tell.
If you could have any other game not made by you in your roster of designed games what would it be and why?
This is a hard question; I think I would like to own an older title to lighten it up and change the pace of the game. Something like Settlers of Catan, where there is still so much possibility to make the game different and build a new world.
Which other designer would you most like to have a games night with and why?
Let's say I pick Richard Garfield (from Magic the Gathering). I think he would be a difficult opponent to beat in games coming up with some of the most strategic games in the world, which will feed my ego once I crush him.... hard.
And now a question of my own: Since you've been following our Kickstarter campaign closely on Instagram; which of our twenty shown characters do you most identify with? :)
Sparkle the thunder god! Love the art of that card! Thanks, so much for talking with us Gils, I cannot wait to receive my Kickstarter copy. We will post here when retail copies are available, for now check out the new website. For your chance to win one of the first retail copies, just answer this simple question. Which character in Bad Samaritans has had the longest life? To enter, simply use the contact form at the bottom on this page.
!!GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED!!
It was a thrill to talk with one of my favourite board game artists; illustrator and owner of Wits End Studios, Andrew Bosley. We discussed how he came into the industry and his plans for the future.
Andrew, what a delight it is to have you on the site. Thank you for talking with us at What Board Game. You have contributed so much to our experiences in the hobby and the industry. To start with, could you talk a bit about your background in this wonderful world of board games?
Sure! Well, I’m a freelance illustrator working, primarily, in the tabletop games. But my background is in video games really. I spent the first ten professional years as a concept artist for companies like Ubisoft and Hi-Rez Studios. I worked on the occasional board game during that time, but I never considered it a real career direction until I was hired to work on Everdell. Since then, I've been working exclusively in board games...which has been a pleasure. Being a heavy board gamer myself, it's been a natural change
What got you into the hobby as a player?
I was introduced to Settlers of Catan as a poor college student, almost 20 years ago. My friends all seemed to have larger budgets for board games so they would buy one, play it, then hand it off to my wife and I to keep. So I was introduced to lots of cool games by others and virtually no cost. It was a wonderful arrangement. Now I buy my own games.
What was the first game you worked on and how did you get that role?
Descent was probably the first board game I illustrated for. I had been working with Fantasy Flight on a variety of RPG titles or collectible card games, but Descent was the first game where the client was looking for my style specifically.
Your work is amazing and varied. Descent to Everdell. The new Love Letter to Merchants of the Dark Road. How different is it working on projects like this? Does the theme make the work completely different or is it more a process?
Thank you! I have a very specific process for creating art. It makes it very easy to calculate my time and quote clients. It also makes it easy to just have fun with each new project and theme. I'm not reinventing the artistic wheel for myself, so I get to dive into the context/worldbuilding in a fun way.
How do you feel when people buy, play and love a game you have worked on?
It's really a thrill every time. To see my work in print is pretty neat all on its own. But when people tell me how much the art improved the gaming experience, it's wonderful! Humbling, really.
How does the design process for the look of a game come about? Do you work closely with the other designers? I guess I’m asking what comes first, the chicken or egg. Game or look?
For clients, it's always the game first. I rarely work with the designer, but its fun when I do. I've become very good friends with James A. Wilson, designer of Everdell, but that doesn't happen often. Traditionally, illustrators are just an expense in a publisher's budget. They get the game ready and tell me what holes to fill. But sometimes I get to play a larger role, which I enjoy.
You designed you our own game with Planecrafters, how different was this process for you?
Definitely different with your own project. I get really picky with the art for my own stuff. That might seem like a good thing, but it can really slow down the process. And many times, overthinking a painting doesn't make it better. Creating the art for Planecrafters was pretty quick and had an interesting development from prototype to final. It's probably because the art style was purposely different than my normal look.
What do you see in the future? What’s next for you?
Well, I've introduced my own story-driven, world-based brand, Wits End, and I'm in the process of developing several games inside that brand. The first game, Lightning & Bolt, is almost finished and will be released later this year or very early in 2021.
If you could have any other game not designed by you in your roster of designed games what would it be and why?
Scythe is my favourite game at this point, so I wouldn't mind fake-claiming it as my own. Great worldbuilding and great gameplay. The perfect fit for me and what I aspire to :)
Which other designer or artist would you most like to have a games night with?
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Artist: Vincent Dutrait
Thanks so much for talking with us. I look forward to seeing what comes next! Wits End sounds very exiting and we hope to review that here soon!
Games in Lockdown
What Board Game sat down to talk lockdown life with Amber, the Digital Content Exec from Zatu Games, and MD of The Happy Puzzle Company, Gavin Ucko; to see how the Covid-19 Pandemic has affected their lives.
Nice talking with you both. What a crazy time this is. Amber I will come to you first, what is your role at Zatu? It seems a big organisation!
Hi Jim! Thanks for having me here. My job role at Zatu is Digital Content Executive. I run all things content at Zatu Games including our blog and YouTube channel. I spend most of my time running our blog. Other than that, keeping Nick Welford in check is basically a full-time job. I also plan and attend any conventions we go to throughout the year. I can usually be found at the Zatu stand playing all the latest releases (job perks).
Sounds fun! How long have you been there now?
I’ve been working at Zatu for almost two years now. With such a fast-paced working environment and friendly team it’s easy to settle in. We have some great staff perks like early access to new releases and nicely discounted board games, what more could you want? Also, our work nights out are awesome! It’s a great place to work and I love my job.
And how about you Gavin, How long have you been with the business?
This November will be 28 years since I founded The Happy Puzzle Company from my student bedroom.
I can imagine you have been through a lot, but probably nothing quite like this! How has Covid-19 affected your business Gavin?
Sales of puzzles and games, and especially jigsaws, have rocketed during the lockdown as people look for ways to keep themselves occupied. It came as a complete shock, but we have embraced it as much as our stock levels have allowed!
That’s wonderful! Maybe one of the small mercies form this terrible virus has been that people are finding more time to spend with loved ones, TV’s off, phones down, playing games. How about you Amber, how has this period been for you?
The Covid-19 outbreak has proven to be a difficult time for us all. Most of my colleagues have been working from home, but we’re still able to catch up using Microsoft teams. With lockdown giving people more free time than usual, we have seen a large increase in sales. We’re thrilled to be able to provide people with the products to keep them entertained and connected during this unprecedented time. Sadly, our board game café in Norwich has been closed due to government guidelines but we are planning to reopen on 15th June!
Great news! Gavin, have you had to put any special measures in place during this pandemic?
Everyone on the admin side has worked remotely from home - and that does seem to have worked, but we have missed each other terribly. The jigsaw factory has had a lot more challenges with social distancing and people being off.
I can imagine that’s a hard puzzle to piece together. (Sorry) How about you Amber, what have you done to ensure your teams are safe?
Without question, it is our highest priority to keep our staff and customers safe! All office staff are working from home; however, our warehouse staff have been working diligently and effectively to ensure that we are able to continue to provide entertainment and escape to our valued customers. As such, we have placed clear screens between all our order packing stations to secure their safety. All staff are following social distancing guidelines. Zatu HQ has implemented a one-way system throughout the building to avoid any unnecessary contact. And there is always hand sanitiser in sight! Our management and HR team are always so helpful and accommodating to any issues, keeping us all reassured and safe. During a time of societal uncertainty there is one thing I am certain of, Zatu has adapted to the outbreak and created an environment that is both safe and enjoyable to work within.
This is wonderful. It always amazing me how quickly business can change policies to cope with changes in their working environment. Is there anything the board game community can do to help during this Gavin?
Yes, proactively find the small companies like us and review their games to raise profiles and hopefully generate the business that will allow us to survive this difficult time.
Agreed, that is a large part of what this site is about! How about you Amber? What is your message to the community?
Keep buying games! Our customers are amazing and have been so understanding regarding the lockdown. Our customer service team are working hard to ensure all queries are dealt with in a timely manner but please bear with us! Also, tune into our weekly Nick and Andru show every Wednesday on Facebook for a quiz and a laugh.
Will do, its always a lot of fun I have to say. Gavin, what has been the best seller for you?
The Genius Square has been a game-changer for us (pardon the pun). Worldwide in the first 18 months we have sold nearly 200,000 copies. Now The Genius Star is out and hopefully it will hit the ground running!
It looks amazing. I would urge all readers to check it out. Board games seem to bring people together in ways I have not experienced before. I know I have spoke to so many new people during this crisis. Including you both, so thank you. Have you found this to Amber?
Yes, gaming helps provide people with joy, imagination, and community and at a time when these things are more important than ever. We ask more than anything, just keep playing. (In a socially responsible way of course)
I could not agree more. Thank you both so much for taking the time to talk with us here at What Board Game. I wish you both the very best. You can find more about Zatu and The Happy Puzzle Company by following the below channels:
Fries and Chat.
We sat down with Nat from Small Fries Games to talk all things cardboard.
I recently got to chat with the awesome Nat from Small Fries Games, to talk about her lifelong history and passion for games and the upcoming launch of her first self-published game, Knock Knock! first words.
Where does the name Small Fries Games come from?
I’m obsessed with potatoes! They are my favourite food and as I specialise in kids games I thought small fries had the kids game feel. Also, in the logo for Small Fries Games, I am the potato and the two fries are my kids.
Makes sense! What got you into gaming?
I’ve always played and made board games. We had a walk in games cupboard growing up. So I suppose it’s all my parents fault! I used to make my own games too. I made my own Top Trumps (obviously) and tons of other board and card games. I still have some of them. I used to always carry a dice on me (and still do) and I remember some of my games being played by my entire junior school as my teachers liked them too! So I haven’t changed at all since I was a kid!
I’ve been making games professionally for over 16 years. The reason behind this particular range of card games for babies, is because it was coming up to my daughters first birthday and I started to look for presents. Obviously my first thought was games. I was so surprised that I couldn’t find any aimed at 1 year olds. So I did what any self respecting game designer would do and invented her an entire range of games!
Ok, wow! That’s one way to deal with the problem! So talk to me about your new game, what is its origin story?
A lot of the games in this range were originally designed for my daughter. They are based on things she was into at the time. Then when I had my son I added some more into the range based on some of his interests too. But they both love all of the games.
That’s a beautiful way to be inspired. What makes the games fun do you think?
They are fun because I’ve designed them with kids in mind and the things they like to do. They are designed to grow with you child or children so they can play with the cards differently as they develop.
For Knock Knock! First words, that’s from birth up. But my four year old still likes playing with them. They are also fun as they are a new way to engage and interact with your little ones. Plus they work for differently aged siblings at the same time, which is not easy to find!
My daughter played Knock Knock with my son when he was only a few days old and it was so much fun to watch. It's so nice to see your baby and child develop whilst playing with the game.
Tell me about the design of this game, how did that come about?
I got super lucky with this being a collaboration with Parker Jacobs. As well as being into board games, I really love music, especially Ska. I have been a huge fans of The Aquabats since I was younger.
Parker Jacobs is the artist for The Aquabats band right?
Yes, and I somehow managed to get him on board with the project. He is one of the creative geniuses behind the hit preschool TV show Yo Gabba Gabba! and a lot of The Aquabats artwork. His work is a perfect fit for this and I couldn’t be happier about it. He also designed my logo! It still feels surreal to me that I’m collaborating with him as I’ve loved his work for years and years.
Knock Knock! first words will hopefully hit Amazon UK and USA stores later this year.
Stay tuned for more news and ways to purchase later.
Follow them here for all the latest news
Big thanks to Nat from Small Fires Games for talking to us.
We will watch with bated breath about your upcoming games.
One of my favourite Podcasts is Gamecasters. It was great to chat with Ryan and hear his thoughts on the wonderful world of games.
Thanks for chatting. First up, you are super enthusiastic about games on the show. I love it. What first got you into gaming?
I've been gaming my entire life, which I guess is just like everyone, but what actually got me seriously into this hobby was my love for Heroquest. A friend of mine owned it and we used to play all the time, but he found that he wanted to play alongside us instead of just running the game, which led him to finding Arkham Horror in about 2009 or 2010. From there he found games like Caylus and Carcassonne. Carcassonne in particular was basically responsible for my desire to get into the hobby, myself. The first game I ever owned was the Carcassonne Big Box, and I'll never forget that moment when it arrived. It was really like nothing I'd ever experienced. I played that damn game over and over and over and over with anyone who would play. I even dressed as a human Carcassonne game for Halloween one year. It was then I knew that this was the hobby for me. Up until that point I had been 100% into videogames as my main hobby, which is now just a sputtering old car engine in comparison. So that's how I got into gaming. :)
OK, so I need to see that picture! And now, you have an awesome podcast, give me the origin story of that!
Thank you!! So I went to broadcasting school years ago with the dream to be an on-air radio DJ like my grandfather before me. Halfway through the program I decided there was more money in the video side of things and so I switched concentrations. That took me to working for The Dr. Phil Show out in California, and it was there I realized that life wasn't for me. I always sort of regretted the fact that I didn't follow through with my original goal of being a DJ. Fast forward a decade or so and I had found this wonderful world of hobby board games. I loved them so much and I wanted to share that with people. An idea popped into my head...a podcast!!! This was my way to fuse two things I loved together; my desire to be on-air and doing so while talking about the thing I love the most. It was a natural fit for me and so in 2016 I started it up with my buddy Jeremy and it was an absolute freaking blast. The rest is history.
Which designer would you most like to play with at your house for game night?
I think Vlaada Chvatil would be the best answer here. That man has so many designs at opposite ends of the spectrum, and I connect with most of them. As an aspiring designer I would love to pick his brain at his design process while he obliterates me in a game of Dungeon Lords.
I think I can guess your number one, but what’s your top 5 games right now?
An awesome list! Give us some insight. What’s coming up for The Gamecasters? What does the future hold for you all?
Great question! I have some big plans for our show. My main aspiration is to eventually create a network (not necessarily competing with the juggernaut of The Dice Tower) of podcasts/youtube channels/websites (cough)/gaming related content that's geared towards cross-promotion. I've found the biggest challenges of podcasting or creating media are related to growth, and I feel like I could help a lot of potentially amazing content creators out there who are maybe having trouble growing. If we're all in one place, each talking about each other, shouting out each other, it only creates a stronger listener/follower base, potentially for everyone. There are SO many boardgaming related content creators out there, and everyone wants to grow. I'm hoping to create a way to help that.
I realize that's not necessarily specific to the Gamecasters show, so regarding the future for us, I want to do more interviews with interesting people. I love doing interviews with lesser known people who I feel deserve attention. I also want to constantly be thinking of creative ways to differentiate ourselves from other shows. I love creating segments like the Instagram Inbox or the Boardgame Beatdown, things that other shows just aren't doing. I want more of that for the show going forward. :)
Check them out!
Thank you to Ryan for talking with us. Be sure to check their shows out when you can. I know I'll be listening.
Board Game Royalty
Thank you so much for talking to us. How did you first get into board games? Did you play much as a child?
I've been playing games as long as I can remember. I started with games like chess, Scotland Yard, Labyrinth, Milles Bourne, poker, Risk, Key to the Kingdom, Monopoly, Magic, Dragon Dice, and hearts, and then I discovered Catan, then Agricola, then many other games.
Sounds familiar, how did you go about getting into making your own?
I designed games for fun as a kid. In 2011, I started seeing games be successful on Kickstarter (a platform I was already enamored by, given the way creators could interact directly with their backers), so I decided to design a game specifically to put on Kickstarter. That game was Viticulture, which launched in August 2012 and funded in a week. That's when Stonemaier Games was officially born.
Your games are famous for their amazing production values and unique gameplay mechanisms that really set them apart. How do you go about getting your ideas for games?
I play a lot of games by other designers, and I also consume a lot of fiction, as well as reviews and design discussions about tabletop and video games. My ideas typically start with one of those sources of inspiration. Also, we publish several games designed by other designers, for which the ideas originate with those designers, not me.
How did the Wingspan collaboration with Elizabeth come about?
Elizabeth submitted her game to us for consideration, and we saw it for the first time at Gen Con (2015 or 2016). I was impressed by the sheer variety of unique bird cards and how their mechanisms matched their unique characteristics, and I liked the way she received feedback. I proposed some improvements, and when I played the revised version a few months later, I was confident it could be a great game. I spent the next year working with Elizabeth to turn it into what it is today.
I've heard the story behind My Little Scythe is amazing. Could you talk a bit about how that came to be?
A fan of Scythe, Hoby Chou, wanted to make a version of the game he could play with his young daughter. So he worked with her to create a My Little Pony version of Scythe. The PnP went viral within the board game community, and I asked to play it. I was delighted by it and decided to publish it.
You are well known and respected for driving the PR train for your games better than most! How do you manage to do that so well do you think? Obviously your reputation helps but it is amazing how you do it. I’d love to hear your own thoughts on this.
I don't think I do anything special in these regards. My typical approach is that I reveal a new product about a month before we have it in our fulfillment centers for preorder. In daily doses I share the story of the product and what it is, and I try to build a community around it via a Facebook group specific to that brand. I send out lots of review copies, and I try to make things I think people want (and only a few new things each year). That's it! :)
You talk a bit about this on your YouTube channel but what game would you have loved to have published yourself?
Tzolk'in, Mysterium, and Ra all come to mind. They offer innovative, streamlined gameplay, great components, a strong sense of progress, and they all play up to at least 5 players (Tzolk'in requires an expansion to do this) and down to 2 players.
What does the future look like for you? What do you hope to achieve next?
I just hope to continue our mission of bringing joy to tabletops worldwide. Our next product release will be our one new game of 2020.
Exciting! You seem to study other games' mechanics with a lot of interest. Is it part of your design process to see what’s out there and how you would do it differently?
Absolutely. I learn so much from playing and studying games by other designers. I want to know what's out there for inspiration, to improve my skills as a designer and publisher, and so I can ensure that my designs are unique--I don't want to make something that's already available on the market.
Finally, what other designer would you most like to welcome to your home for games night?
I have a lot of admiration for Rob Daviau, and I think he'd be fun to have at a game night.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us, Jamey. We are very excited to play Pendulum, you can see more about this here.
A Family Affair
Chatting with Nick from Board Game Review UK always brings a smile to my face. It proves the old adage is right. Good things do happen to good people. Nick runs a vibrant website, a funny and social Instagram feed and an active YouTube page. How does he do it? We sat down to find out!
Nice talking with you Nick. Let's start at the beginning: what got you into board games, initially?
I’ve always loved board games. Growing up I would long to play Ghost Castle and Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs, but my elder siblings would only want to play occasionally. Othello, Guess Who and unfortunately Monopoly were also popular and probably played more than the games I actually wanted to play. My wife and I have always enjoyed games, but I must confess, for much of our life together this took the form of more mainstream games like Cranium and Articulate. It wasn’t until I walked into a friendly local game store a few years ago, and asked what game I should buy for my family, that things ramped up a gear. I purchased their suggestion of Ticket to Ride and having played it we both agreed, we had been missing out on board games, especially if they are now this good!
Sounds familiar! What has made you stick with the hobby?
I enjoy playing games and I love the Instagram community that goes along with it. Other awesome accounts make you strive to take the best shots you can and also open your eyes to things that may’ve otherwise been off the radar.
Your Instagram feed is great! You also run a website. What is the story behind that?
Well, I started writing reviews for Zatu games late in 2018. I submitted my first review a little tongue-in-cheek, but they liked what I did and I managed to do a couple of others for them. I quickly found that they only wanted reviews for games that they did not already have reviews for, and also understandably, only ones that they had for sale. This eventually limited what I could write about. You see, the shiny and new games are ever-so tempting, but there are amazing classics that I missed out on and hadn’t finished exploring yet.
A year on from writing reviews, I realised my personal Instagram account was featuring far too many board games for my friends to endure! So, I created a new one dedicated to board games. That was on Halloween 2019. The Instagram community embraced my account and spurred me on.
That’s the background of it all, but coming back to your original question, the website was a real family decision. My children, like many these days, have aspirations about being on YouTube. I think they had visions of playing computer games all day while being filmed. They didn’t ever nag but they were persistent. The reason I wasn’t keen, is that I am not that interested in editing videos, especially if no-one was ever going to watch them! So, instead I created the website to give that a platform and our YouTube channel a reason for existing.
Do what your kids say. Wise! What is your goal for it all?
My initial goal was for the website to justify itself in terms of time dedicated to it. If I could recoup some of the hosting fees with the occasional gifted game from a publisher that would sweeten the situation. Looking to the future, I really want to share the enthusiasm for board games to a wider audience, slowly but surely I think I might be doing just that. I suppose, I really just want people to stop only playing Monopoly and open their eyes to what is on offer!
A noble craft! You are making a name for yourself as a fun Instagram live-er! How did this come about? What’s it like to be a social influencer in this industry?
Flattery will get you far Jim! But I’m not sure I am a social influencer! Micro-influencer at best, although I’m not sure I am even that yet! I reckon it will feel great if ever I get there, but I hope I don’t lose my focus and ethos.
The Instagram lives happened unintentionally out of necessity. I had been very kindly sent two party games from Big Potato Games, a few days after they arrived in the post, Britain went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I obviously couldn’t play these games so I thought it would be fun to unbox them live and share the games with my Instagram followers. They proved popular and it quickly became a bit of a thing I would do. Giving something back and hopefully entertaining people stuck indoors.
Well they entertain me! You get your family involved in your videos. Talk about how that came about and your thoughts around your families involvement.
It was their desire to be on YouTube, that sort of was the spark to dive into the website. I wasn’t intending to be in front of the camera. Having filmed their two videos I quickly realised the boys needed an anchor to keep it together and shed a bit more light on the games. We’ve started off with unboxing videos, as these are a single take and I felt the best stomping ground for us before doing reviews or how to plays.
It really is a family affair and my wife and three boys all love playing board games. Without them wanting to be involved in the website and YouTube, I would’ve stuck with Instagram only. I’m pleased they have pushed me and push themselves too. Having that opinion from children gives me a different viewpoint on a lot of family games that I don’t think always gets covered by other reviewers.
Agreed. Back to games. Which designer would you most like to have round for a games night with you?
Easy, Reiner Knizia. I was lucky enough to blag an interview with him just before I launched my website. He is such a lovely, generous and interesting designer, I could’ve talked for hours more!
That is a great read. What is coming up next for you?
More reviews, more features, more videos! I particularly want to video a couple of playthroughs of us all enjoying and playing games, like our Starport RPG video. I really enjoy interviewing designers too and haven’t found enough time to dedicate to that with everything else going on.
I have really enjoyed getting to know Nick more after talking a lot on various social channels. He is one of the good guys and does great stuff. Go check him out and watch his kids grow up, and him grow old!
Shot Of Fun!
I was delighted to chat with Jordanna and Grant, the wife and husband pair, about their first foray into designing and publishing. Their first game, Shot in the Dark, is a family-style quiz game that aims to be both fun and open to everyone. How, you ask? Well, read on to find out!.
So you both have been very active on social promoting your new game, Shot in the Dark, but let's take a step back. What first got you into gaming?
My wife, Jordanna, and I love playing all kinds of games: card games, board games and video games. We are both really competitive (she would definitely say that I'm more competitive then her), so we really enjoy playing games with each other, with family and with friends. We both grew up regularly playing games with our families so it's always been a big part of our lives. As a child my favourite game was Monopoly, because it involves strategy and chance, and because in one roll of the dice the whole game can change!
I love hearing how so many people in this beautiful hobby have played all their lives. OK, back to Shot in the Dark, how did this game come about?
I came up with the idea for Shot in the Dark on Christmas day, 2016. I was playing Trivial Pursuit with Jordanna and my family. My dad has an amazing memory and is fantastic at quizzes, whereas Jordanna and my sister have no interest in current affairs, so aren't very good at quizzes. No matter how we split the teams my dad's team always won, so everybody else was getting bored of losing, and having no fun. I tried to find a quiz game about educated guesswork so that everyone could have a chance of winning and enjoy playing. When I couldn't find a game like that, I decided to invent one instead.
Well I'd say that's usually a good reason to design something! If it doesn't exist yet, why not make it? What makes the game fun do you think?
I think there are probably four main reasons Shot in the Dark is so much fun:
A) The questions are specifically chosen so that nobody knows the answers, everybody is in the same boat and everybody needs to guess - because of this anyone can win and everyone can have fun. We've had games where quiz champions have lost to 90-year olds, or a 14-year old child. No answer is too ridiculous because all the questions and answers are ridiculous!
B) A huge amount of effort went into choosing the questions - there are so many genuinely fascinating questions and answers that shock the players.
C) It's a great conversation starter. Because nobody knows the answer, everyone has an opinion, and we've found that most groups end up getting side-tracked with lengthy arguments / debates about the most ridiculous subjects such what percentage of a Greggs sausage roll is pork.
D) There are 400 questions, and most games end up in lengthy discussions so there are enough questions to last many games providing hours of fun.
Sounds great! I know I have enjoyed playing the game with my family and friends, and you are right, everyone feels involved on an equal playing field. Which publishers would you most like to play your game with?
We would love to play with our friends at Gamely Games, as they've been super helpful providing loads of helpful advice when we were first starting out, and they have some really fun games. We would also love to play with the Big Potato founders - they've set up a fantastic brand selling loads of different games that we love - it would be really interesting to hear their perspectives on all things game related.
Yeah, I love both those publishers too. Great choices. So, what's next for you, I see a "coming soon" on your website?
We have quite a lot in the pipeline, so it should hopefully be a really interesting couple of years
-Given all the amazing customer feedback we have received on Shot in the Dark (and the number of messages we receive from fans asking for a Volume 2) a Shot in the Dark Volume 2 is top of our to do list. This is going through final proofreading now and should hopefully be on sale by early July.
We're also working on a Christmas edition of Shot in the Dark and we're aiming to expand the Shot in the Dark brand internationally. We have found some international partners who are looking to bring the game to other countries.
And finally, we're working on three new completely new games!
I love seeing first time designers and publishers like this get some success. The board game world is not an easy one to break into. Hundreds of games are released every month. These two have clearly put a lot of hard work and passion into their game and I am delighted to see it paying off. Go check their site out for more details and why not support an independent designer and make your next games or quiz night a little more ridiculous!
How It All Began!
First up, let me say what an honour this is. I will try not to fan-boy out too much! Ok, give me a moment... [adjusts glasses and clears throat]... P..Peter, what got you into the hobby as a player?
Well there was no “hobby” when we started. Cosmic Encounter is credited as being a hobby founding board game. I’m not much of a gamer. Most games are too difficult for my brain to contend with!
Ha! Yes I agree, some are very complex! Could you discuss your role within the business now?
When we started, I was the one person who knew all of the others I now work with. We met at my house at first. We were just messing around making our own game. Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, and I played our Universe Game for several years. We made a bunch of prototypes and wrote a ton of notes on yellow legal pads. We still have piles of paper tracing the evolution of Cosmic. We did not see ourselves as professional game designers.
From the 1970’s to the present I have always been in the design and consulting business. Our team came together and split apart in various combinations on various projects over the years. Greg and I worked together as Creative Consultants for many years. We specialized in consulting for Science Museums, creating group experiences and exhibit concepts. I worked with Steve Brand for many years as a Creative Consultant at Liberty Science Centre and Inventure Place.
Bill joined in as the creative technical anchor on some of the biggest projects like the NBA’c Courtside Live and the TAMPA SCIENCE CENTER’s WEATHER TAMERS Exhibit. Bill handled our side of the AI, and implementation of our Flash version of Cosmic Encounter Online which ran for 14 years. Bill worked with Alan Queen who was a Flash expert who I met on an IBM project for a Star Trek game for the New Your Hall of Science. Jack Kittredge and I designed ISSAC ASIMOV'S ROBOTS VCR game for KODAK. We wrote the script and I got to meet Isaac Asimov at the show's screening.
As I look back, I was in on all the projects either alone or with various combinations of our small group. So my role, as it turns out, was to be there.
I played two-player Cosmic with my granddaughters Tess and Lila Boutin for years. We made up our own rules as to how two players could interact. The games were a blast. I lobbied Fantasy Flight Games to do a two-player version for years and finally they gave us the go-ahead. Bill and I got together and concocted a fun and funny rendition and then Greg and Bill recreated it in Table Top simulator. That was the version which we eventually pitched to FFG.
Fantasy Flight Games Frank Brooks had a ton of ideas that became the eventual design. When everything came out of Producer Molly Glover's blender it was a stunning success (by the early reviews from abroad). A key point that I have always pushed is that at heart, Cosmic Encounter is all about two aliens meeting in space and figuring out what to do next. Virtually everyone else, outside of Future Pastimes, has been committed to the idea that Cosmic can't be fun if there are only two players, but they are dead wrong. And now we have Cosmic Duel.
I could not agree more! I am so pleased you lobbied and brought this game to us. Equally, Dune had an amazing make over and reissue last year after a 40-year wait. I’d love to hear about the process of that game coming back too.
It was all about the rights. When we did DUNE for Avalon Hill in 1979 Jack Kittredge set up the deal so that we were licensing the game system to AH. AH had the rights from Frank Herbert. After Frank Herbert died, and the game went out of print, the game structure came back to Bill, Jack and me. I tried, without success, starting in 2000 (I have the emails) to re-interest the estate in letting us reprint the game under the DUNE license. It was no-go.
In the meantime, the hobby gaming crowd, with the rise of the internet and BGG, began making their own home brew versions of our DUNE game. That collection of fans played a critical role in the final re-do of DUNE providing play-testing , home brew ideas, rules nit-picking :) and all around encouragement.
The Herbert Estate, with the advent of the pending Legendary DUNE movie, licensed all of the game rights to Gale Force9. GF9 contacted us - their two principal execs were long-time fans of our DUNE. It was great match and we are having a ball working with them on DUNE and some DUNE secrets as well!
Wow! I cannot wait to hear more. Dune has been seen by some as a complex game, but seems simple enough to me. Does it frustrate you that this may deter people from playing this amazing game?
NO! DUNE is what it is. The key for us is to figure out ways to have the players feel like they are their faction. When you get deep into that role you accept that the goal is not to win but to survive in the complex melange that is DUNE.
Here, here! What do you see in the future. What’s next for you?
We have many exciting possibilities that we work on pretty much all of the time. The addition of Jack Reda to Future Pastimes has been a rocket booster to our productivity and creativity. Jack’s Booster Alien [pictured] is a special one-off species for the 2019 Cosmic Encounter Galactic Championship!
Well I cannot wait for that! If you could have any other game not made by you in your roster of designed games what would it be and why?
Bananagrams. Everything about it it is clever. The name, packaging, the simultaneous play style, the packaging, the couple of paragraphs rules, the accessibility for age groups, the ability to play with one to many players.
I did not expect that, but great answer. I love Bananagrams. Which other designer would you most like to have a games night with and why?
Agreed What a great game that is, we love it. [Not a card game though ;)]
Peter can be found on Twitter, Facebook and anywhere a great game is being made!
It was an utter honour and a joy to speak with Peter. I hope to do so again as there is so much more I would like to ask him. If you have any questions for Peter that you would like me to ask for you then please get in touch and I will collate them all. Peter, it was an absolute privilege. Thank you Sir.
In 1977 the board game world changed for ever. Cosmic Encounter was made. It set the bar so high, that every other game looked like a six-year-old trying to get served in a bar for giants, with a particularly high counter! Co-designer of this classic, Peter Olotka, took the time to talk with us at What Board Game to tell us his fascinating story. Enjoy.