Category Archives: Opinion

One Direction Top Trumps, anyone?

Apparently, One Direction Top Trumps is one of the best games on the market today. It’s up there with Doctor Who Risk, personalised Monopoly and some version of Cluedo that involves flipping things. I can’t wait to chuck my copy of Agricola in the bin and play them instead!

Let me tell you a story. This afternoon I got an email from Karl over at the Royal Society of Gamers. A researcher from the BBC Radio 2 show (presented by Simon Mayo) had got in touch with him, looking for someone who could talk about the world of boardgames. Oddly, even though Karl is brilliant at talking about games he redirected the researcher (Suzie) to me – apparently I’m quite decent at covering the subject – and a call was organised for me to appear on the show at 5.20pm. Could I put together a brief precis on what’s happening in gaming at the moment, I was asked? Maybe recommend a few titles for people who are interested to get their teeth into?

Sure I could! I’m not going to turn down the opportunity to talk about the games I love to a potential audience of millions. I’m passionate about this hobby. I bloody love it – as you can hopefully tell from the podcast I produce, the reviews I write… and the chance to get more people into something more than Monopoly and Cluedo is something to be seized. I took down a few notes on the things I thought would be good to cover – the rise in popularity of gaming in general, iOS versions, gateway games like Catan and Carcassonne. I made sure my phone was charged, and sat in my office waiting for the call while listening to the show.

Of course, if you were listening (and a lot were, this show has an audience in the millions) I wasn’t on. My phone didn’t ring. Instead, a representative from the British wing of American company Winning Moves was talking about… well, talking about all of the wonderful games that they produce, really.

Now, I don’t want to come across as bitter, but man… this guy was intent on selling their stuff. According to him, there has been no innovation in the world of boardgames for the last twenty years. There was no mention of the kind of games that we play. To him, the height of progress, the best way to keep gaming ‘fresh’, was to rebrand old titles – One Direction Top Trumps and Doctor Who Risk got a massive plug. Nothing was mentioned about successes like Ticket to Ride – a game that has, since its release back in 2004, has sold over a million copies. Sure, in comparison to Monopoly its sales figures are a drop in the bucket, but it could’ve been such a great opportunity to mention something else apart from the Same Old Stuff.

I must say that I’m not surprised that the Winning Moves guy would take the chance to plug the hell out of everything his company makes to such a huge audience – after all, that Doctor Who licence won’t have come cheap, and they need to recoup their money in any way that they can – but to blatantly come out and say that the world of gaming has nothing better than Monopoly, Cluedo and Top Trumps is just plain ridiculous. To state, on national radio, that the industry he is a part of has essentially been stagnant for decades is a damn shame. As he was talking, I felt my stomach drop. I wanted to fight our corner, to shout that there is SO MUCH MORE OUT THERE, to stop him from just being plain wrong.

But I didn’t get the chance. My phone didn’t ring. The show’s running order moved on to talking about Dragon’s Den, and the last thing people heard was a businessman – not a gamer – plugging his company. No talk of the joy that games provide. No mention of the hundreds, the THOUSANDS of new titles that are released every year. The opportunity to put our little industry at the forefront of millions of people’s minds for a few scant minutes was chucked away in favour of an infomercial.

Jesus, the guy even started blathering on about Angry Birds when he was asked about iOS gaming. What the hell does that have to do with tabletop games?

So, yeah. Disappointing. I’m a bit let down that my time was wasted, but that’s fine. I’m just editing the new episode and a bit of time away from the bay is good – it would’ve been nice to get an email before saying that I wouldn’t actually be needed. I’m also a bit let down that the production team on the Simon Mayo show decided to go with someone more intent on plugging their products than someone who actually knows a bit about gaming. Most of all though? I’m massively let down at someone with such a narrow, closed-minded and just plain WRONG attitude to games was put forward as a so-called expert in our field, spouted a load of utter nonsense and portrayed himself as knowledgeable.

I’m trying to work out why I was bumped in favour of Winning Moves Guy. Is it because they were worried that the piece would come across as too nerdy if I was talking away? I honestly don’t think so – I reckon it was more because going down the Monopoly route is just easy. It’s accessible, everyone knows it, so why waste five minutes of prime drivetime coverage on things outside of the bubble? Mainstream media won’t promote the kind of games we play because the audience is too small, but the audience won’t grow without promotion… it’s a vicious circle. It’s people like him who keep the best elements of our hobby out of the public eye, and the only way we can promote the best of it is to keep playing, talking, writing and designing Amazing Stuff.

Eventually, someone, somewhere will listen to what we’ve got to say. It’s just disappointing that it couldn’t have started today.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Opinion

It’s the (second) most wonderful time of the year…

Oh yes indeed – GenCon is nearly here! The USA’s best board games show is approaching once again, kicking off this Thursday for four days of gaming in Indianapolis, Indiana. Once again it’ll be stacked with the usual pile of new releases and exclusive previews as pretty much every major American publisher will be present along with plenty of the larger European names – but what are the big titles people are looking forward to?

Libertalia from Marabunta / Asmodee is one that I think will probably be under many people’s radars but I have a feeling it’s going to end up being one of the year’s best releases. A role selection game at heart with up to six players acting as pirate captains on their way to retirement and looking for a final hurrah, it’s a sneaky extravaganza of treasure hunting and back stabbing with a great level of player interaction. I’ve already managed to get my hands on a copy so expect a review in the very near future. Also, if you get a copy early enough, you’ll get metal doubloons! Who wouldn’t want it?!

Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar by CGE was available to play in early prototype form at the UK Games Expo, but it looks like a near finished version should be at GenCon. It’s a worker placement extravaganza with a really interesting mechanism where cogs turn and interact with each other on the board. Stay on the board too long and your guys could well end up a wasted placing as they move past the resources that you’re aiming for. CGE’s games are always beautifully produced so you know this will be incredible to behold – there’s no other company out there who I’d trust to make such an involved and creative board concept.

Fantasy Flight will be there with wheelbarrows filled with stuff, of course, but the new versions of Merchant of Venus and Netrunner are both due for release at the show. Early reports say that these two remakes are amazing, managing to capture the brilliance of the original games while giving them a shiny makeover, though MoV will include the rules to play both the old and new versions. Netrunner’s asymmetric gameplay has long been a favourite of mine and I can’t wait to get my hands on this modernised version to see how it compares to Richard Garfield’s classic. Also, there’s the small matter of a little game called X-Wing finally seeing the light of day…

Village, the Kennerspiel des Jahres winner for 2012, has been picked up by Tasty Minstrel Games and looks like it’ll be this year’s go to game for those who want to scratch their Euro itch. Players need to find fame and fortune for their family members in order to keep their name immortalised in the village’s chronicles – make the right moves and your legacy will live on. Screw it up and your future generations will fade into obscurity. It’s a very clever worker placement game and probably the only one I know where death is used to limit a character’s time. This will only be available in very limited amounts – apparently there’ll only be fifty at the show – so if you want a copy, head to TMG’s booth early.

AEG’s Tempest line is also due for its first public viewing at the show with the initial three games in the series getting a release. Courtier, Dominare and Mercante all promise very different playing experiences but the interesting element will be seeing how the public react to the storybuilding aspects of the world. As characters change, further games in the series will reflect these developments – for example, should the story necessitate that a major role needs to be wiped out, later games will reference back to whatever happened. We’re not looking at a Risk Legacy effort here where every person’s game will be different as time goes on; AEG will run the story along the lines of their Legend of the Five Rings property, controlling it from their end with input from players and designers. This could prove a very interesting experiment…

AEG also have the light-as-a-feather but very entertaining Smash Up ready for release at GenCon. The world’s first shufflebuilding game sees players combine two twenty card decks (ninjas with robots, pirates with aliens, that kind of thing) and utilise their joint powers to take over bases in order to score points. It’s a very quick little game but has a surprising level of depth to it as you try and work out which sets work particularly well against your opponents’ selections. I think this one will do pretty well at the show, especially as it clocks in well under that magical 45 minute mark for playtime.

Of course, one of the best things about any gaming convention is the discovery of those releases from smaller companies. 5th Street Games will be showing off their rather splendid Farmageddon while Asmadi should have copies of their very limited Origins hit FlowerFall available too. The new Enhanced Edition of Sentinels of the Multiverse will be selling at the Greater Than Games booth, while Leviathans, the steampunky miniatures air-combat game that I’ve been waiting since the beginning of time for, is finally due – albeit in very limited numbers. Last of all, Morels from Two Lanterns Games will definitely be available and it looks utterly lovely.

Oh yeah. One final thing.

I’m very excited about is the fact that my new game, Pocket Universe, will be on show at the Game Salute booth. I’m finding it very nerve-wracking that it’s being shown at all but it’s even worse when you consider that I’m not actually going to be there. You may well have tried it out yourself by downloading the files from the site (there’s been a few, honest!) but that version is light years away from the one you’ll be able to check out at GenCon. While it’s still in prototype format, the gameplay is 99.99% finished – I’m considering tweaking maybe one or two very tiny elements – so why not have a look at it yourself? Just ask one of the GS team at the Sneak Peeks booth (#2035) and tell them I sent you.

1 Comment

Filed under Opinion

The New Year – Nurnberg 2012’s Big Games

Another month, another big games show in Germany! This time around it’s the Nurnberg Spielwarenmesse – International Toy Fair for us non-natives – a trade show that is less about getting in there and buying stuff and more focused on things that will be out over the next few months. It has a bit more of a presence for games than something like the London Toy Fair (although that is definitely improving – this year’s event was infinitely better than 2011 for boardgamers) which can be simply put down to the cultural difference; German people play more than British families. Thanks to that, it’s a good place to discover some of the new Euro hotness that will be hitting our tables in early 2012.

I’m not there (sad face – too busy working on Secret Projects which are soon to be revealed) but I’ve been keeping an eye out on some of the titles that have captured my interest. Here’s a few highlights that we’ll hopefully be covering here on The Little Metal Dog Show in the near future.

Wurfel Bohnanza

One of my not-so-guilty little pleasures is the rather splendid little card game Bohnanza, an explosion of trading beans and making cash money. It’s a gloriously simple little affair, plays quickly and works whether you’re new to the hobby or an old hand. It’s all about making deals, though if you can’t do that, you’re allowed to force your crap on other players. AMIGO  Spiel are releasing a dice version this year – in fact, it may well be out in the stores already – where players are given certain sets to collect. Some are easy and worth a little, other more valuable ones are trickier to get – and other players are allowed to steal dice you’ve rolled. It could well be a great little addition to the franchise.

Kaispeicher

An expansion to Stefan Feld’s The Spiecherstadt, this adds a wealth of new elements to an already excellent game. By adding new buildings, ships, actions and orders, Feld has increased the opportunities for players to gain advantages while making life tricky for their opponents. Auctions aplenty and loads of chances to screw over your fellow gamers? What more can you ask for?

String Railway

After what seems like ages, String Railway is finally getting a reprint! This Japanese game is now seeing a wider release thanks to FoxMind, though I reckon they’ve missed a trick by changing from the original packaging… A simple game of connecting stations using different lengths of coloured string, it’s a matter of just getting more victory points than the other players. It’s an interesting concept, ridiculously quick to play and well worth trying to get your hands on a copy. Good call by FoxMind to get it out there again.

Carcassonne Minis

There’s going to be a total of six new mini expansions for everyone’s favourite tile laying, castle building, meeple placing gateway game released at Nurnberg under the catch-all title of Carcassonne Minis. They’re cheap (3 Euro a go) and range from interesting to just plain odd. The full list is as follows:

The Messages: a second meeple on the scoring track potentially allows players to get bonus points.

The Ferries: adds new rules for roads by bringing in little boats!

The Flier: allows for movement of a meeple to a new area at the risk of losing it on the throw of a dice

The Goldmines: more bonus points are available by collecting gold bars placed on tiles

The Robber: scupper your opponents’ progress by having a Robber meeple steal their points

Mage and Witch: Add a point per tile with the Mage, halve the points of a feature with the Witch

Every time a new expansion comes out for Carcassonne there’s always cries that the game has jumped the shark… what’ll happen when these six hit the stores?! Personally, I really want to get my hands on Mage and Witch and The Robber – both look like they could add some interesting elements to the game. English language versions will be made available through Rio Grande in March or April of this year, but as the game’s pretty much language independent anyone could use these.

Star Trek Catan

The ultimate expression of nerdiness, surely? Yes, it’s just a rebrand of the regular Settlers of Catan, but it’s all Star Trekked up! Based in The Original Series universe, there’s all new resources to collect (including Dilithium, of course), building space stations around planets and a Klingon vessel swooping in on the roll of a seven – excellent! There’s also a new element introduced in that players are given characters at the start of the game granting them special abilities during their turn. While some folks are complaining about the Monopoly-isation of the Catan brand, I reckon this one’s a fun addition to the series.

LEGO: Star Wars: Battle of Hoth

On the other side of the geek spectrum, this is one I’ve actually managed to try out – there’ll be a full review to come soon. LEGO have made a great effort in recent months to get into games, most notably with the rather ace Heroica game system. Battle for Hoth is another one from their game range that has a slightly more mature vibe about it despite having the cutest AT-ATs in the history of mankind as playing pieces. It’s a very light two player strategy game that could easily act as a way in for younger players to something a little more hardcore, requiring a bit of forward planning and a willingness to take the odd risk. A very nice use of the Star Wars franchise that will hopefully spur LEGO to keep on trying something different with their games.

Wallenstein

The big reprint so far for 2012 has got to be Wallenstein, Dirk Henn’s much loved game of area control during the Thirty Years War. The fantastic combat system using a dice tower and incredibly balanced gameplay has had gamers clamouring for a new version for years, and now Queen Games has stepped up and produced something a little bit special. This remake also includes two expansions that allow for special actions and bonuses that can be claimed through the game, adding yet more to the Wallenstein experience. It’s a tightrope of a game where you need to work to increase your power while ensuring that your people are well cared for. Ignore the peasants and you could well have a revolt on your hands…

There’s plenty of other games available (as well as those still to be announced) as the event continues over the next few days up the 6th of February. After that… well, it’s the New York Toy Fair from February 12th to 15th. Who knows what we’ll see there?

Leave a comment

Filed under News, Opinion, Previews

State of the Union 2011: Part Three – The Future

And so, here we are – the first day of 2012. What better thing to do than to look forwards at some of the cool stuff that we’ll be getting to our tables this year? There’s already a frankly ridiculous amount of stuff that I’m hyped to get my hands on, from demonic deckbuilders to stunning steampunk affairs. Here’s five that I’ve got my eye on.

I am gutted – GUTTED – that I missed out on the Kickstarter for Miskatonic School for Girls. A deck building game with a twist, players create not only their own decks but also contribute to their opponents’ stacks. You collect genteel young students while dropping as many faculty members on the opposition – but why would that be a bad thing? Well, the staff are all barely disguised Lovecraftian beasties intent on driving the girls to insanity – literally. With each player running one of the school’s houses, it’s a case of the last man standing – whoever stays sane the longest is the victor. It also helps that it’s an absolutely gorgeous looking game – the artwork is beautiful. So, it looks great, it’s got Cthulhu and his mates all over it and I love the spin on the format – when can I get a copy?

Not exactly a full release, but how could I ignore an expansion to one of my favourite games, Alien Frontiers? The first add-on, Factions, is due for release around March and having been lucky enough to try out the prototype version last year I’m very excited to see the finished product. Each player now has an additional mini-board representing one of eight in-game factions, each one offering two new opportunities for dice placement – one specifically for you, the other for anyone else who’s willing to pay you for it. There are also secret objectives to try and complete – if you’ve played the original you’ll know that scoring is open, but this new addition will keep people guessing who’s won until the end. It adds a fifth (purple) player into the mix as well and – thanks to the huge amount of cash that Clever Mojo raised during the campaign – the wooden M&Ms used as tokens will also be replaced with really lovely little biodome sculpts. An already wonderful game will be made even better. Oh yes.

After speaking to Stephen Buonocare from Stronghold Games about their remake of Crude (also known as McMulti), how could I not want a copy of this one? Now officially called Crude: The Oil Game, this one brings together tile placement and a heavy economic element as players become CEOs of petroleum companies. By investing, selling and distributing at all stages of the process, it’s all about making as much money as possible while dealing with a rising and falling markets at home and abroad. Of course, the usual Stronghold level of quality of to be expected – if you’ve seen and played anything they’ve released before, you know that this one is going to look amazing. The game has a legendary pedigree and the story behind it is a tale to behold – the moment this one is released, I’ll be picking it up. It deserves its time in the spotlight, albeit thirty-five years after it was first released.

Pick up and deliver? Got a few of those. Route planning? Check, plenty of them too. Not many that combine them, though, and none that are based in a Steampunk setting – but now Tasty Minstrel are releasing Kings of Air and Steam. Players pilot airships to grab goods from factories then distribute them through rail networks. While it may seem a little dry to some, I like that they’re taking a punt on it with an interesting theme and want to add something to my collection along the lines of Brass or Age of Industry. That’s the vibe I’m getting from this one and, assuming that it ticks all the boxes, I’d really like to try it out. I sadly didn’t put in for the Kickstarter campaign as shipping was more than the actual game and money was tight – a minimum of $95 was just a little too much to pledge – but when retail copies arrive, I want one.

I first posted an interview with Bryan Fischer from Nevermore Games pretty much an entire year ago about Chicken Caesar – a game that both myself and Chris from Dice Hate Me were looking forward to playing in 2011! It’s still not out but the release is getting closer; pictures of the board are now available and more information is leaking out about how the game will play. Political intrigue in a chicken coop is a somewhat unique premise, with players needing to combine lowly ranking officers (responsible for money and force) with higher  powered fowl that gain fame and notoriety. Throw in some bribery, corruption and plain bloody murder and it could well end up as this year’s Pret-a-Porter – a stunning game with a truly odd theme. Kickstarter for this one begins this February and I’ll be backing it for sure.

There’s so many more games to look out for as well; there’s bugger all information about AtomPunk but I’m still keeping an eye on it (that Steampunk thing again), while 1989: Dawn of Freedom (the spiritual successor to Twilight Struggle) is also due. The whole Merchant of Venus situation should be sorted out sometime soon, though who knows where the dice will fall? Whoever finally gets the rights, either Stronghold or Fantasy Flight will hopefully do a good job with it – there’s a lot of people out there waiting impatiently for it! Fancy a truly intriguing theory though? How about the rumours that a new version of Blood Bowl is going to hit our stores? With it being 25 years since the original release and Games Workshop / FFG having previous form with the luxury 20th Anniversary reissue of Space Hulk, we can only hope our wishes come true…

Whatever happens, 2012 has got a lot to live up to if it’s going to make as much of an impact as last year did in the world of gaming. It’ll be a hard one to follow but you can’t help but feel that the many production companies out there are going to do their best to put out some great games – and we barely know anything that they’re planning. It’s going to be brilliant.

Happy New Year – and happy gaming!

1 Comment

Filed under Opinion

State of the Union 2011: Part Two – The Analogue Stuff

So, this second bit is all about the actual stuff that we get to sit around a table and play with. Much as it’s lovely having something like Ticket to Ride or Ascension to pass the time with when you’re on the bus, it’s an entirely different experience when you’re pushing bits of plastic and cardboard around with mates. This is by no means a comprehensive “Best Of 2011” kind of post – for all those things you’ll have to wait for my opinions on The Dice Tower Awards Show in early January – but like with the post I made about iPhone games, I feel that these ones deserve a look.

Airlines Europe by Alan R. Moon is one of my favourite new releases for the year.  When I first got my hands on it I was impressed at how much was in there – despite it being a very simple game to explain and play, there’s a level of depth that you won’t find in many more complicated releases. Sure, it helps that Airlines Europe has kind of been a Work In Progress for about twenty years, what with its roots in Airlines and Union Pacific, but this feels like a brilliant refinement of those two earlier games. Accessible enough for new players while still having enough challenge for those who are more experienced? Perfect. And I still reckon this should join the ranks of Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan as the latest gateway game.

Anyone who listens to the show will know that my favourite game is Power Grid. Again, it’s one of those “simple to explain but a bugger to play well” releases that I find so appealing, but there’s always been that issue of only being playable with three or more. 2011 saw Friedemann Friese come up with The Robots expansion which put paid to this problem by proving artificial intelligences to play against. It’s a brilliant idea that – while sounding bloody odd – actually works very well in practice. Building a robot at the start of the game from random pieces provides players with an opponent that will do well up until about two thirds of the way into play, then should in theory tail off leaving the human players to fight it out. I’ve heard tales of people actually coming in behind a Robot player, but thankfully I’ve not had that happen to me… yet. Power Grid: The Robots is a brilliant idea that has extended the life of an already excellent game even further.

A bit of a surprise to me was Vlaada Chvatil’s Dungeon Petz from CGE. I’ve only played his earlier game Dungeon Lords a few times and – to be honest – wasn’t totally enamoured with it. There was so much to keep track of most of the time, it boiled my tiny little mind. I’ve handled trickier games with no problem but for some reason I’ve never got on with Dungeon Lords. Thankfully, the spiritual follow-up is brilliant. Again, there’s a fair bit to follow, but something just clicked with this one – knowing what you have to plan for combined with trying to scupper your opponents, managing your very limited resources… it’s excellent. The game is also filled with humour and (of course) looks fantastic. If you’re looking for something that’s a bit heavier to play, Dungeon Petz is a winner.

Sentinels of the Multiverse‘s fantastic co-op gameplay really won me over this year too. The amount of work that the guys at Greater Than Games have put into their own comic book universe is incredible – not just with a great little game that is fun to play but also the almost ridiculous levels of backstory that have been created for those who want to go a little deeper. Yes, the box sucks – we all know that! – but it really is what’s inside that counts. With a bunch of mates who are willing to throw themselves into the game, Sentinels is an absolute gem, encouraging players to work together and support each other. Woe betide you if you fail to co-operate though… split the party and you’ll fail for sure!

For those times when I want to play something a little different, I’m thankful that I picked up a copy of Cranio Creations’ Dungeon Fighter at Essen. This odd little mix of dungeon crawl and dexterity game is great, especially when you’ve got a larger group. Working your way through the maps as a group, taking down monsters by chucking dice at an oversized target… it’s a lot of fun. It’s also not very easy – unlike most party games, it actually offers quite a challenge. It’s rare that you’ll actually reach the boss at the end of the level, but Dungeon Fighter is one of those games where winning really isn’t the be all and end all. It’s the journey that’s all important, those high-risk dice rolls that will either claim victory for everyone or condemn the group to defeat.

Urban Sprawl has been one of the most divisive games released in 2011, either leaving those who have played it delighted or enraged. The cause of this schism? The chaos provided by the cards that add an admittedly swingy element to the game. While many people dislike it, I was a big fan of this part of the game that can either be a great equaliser or stretch out a player’s lead even further – but hey, that’s life. I’ve never been one to complain about such a thing, but many gamers saw this as too big a deal to ignore. I like a bit of randomness in my games, but for people who insist that everything must be able to be anticipated and mitigated, Urban Sprawl will send them cracked. If you’re looking for a relatively heavy game that shouldn’t be taken too seriously though, I’d heartily recommend picking up a copy.

There’s been plenty of other great games too. Quarriors took deckbuilding in a whole new direction, Space Maze was a charming little puzzler and Eruption made lava flows fun. For those seeking heavier gaming experiences Pret-a-Porter was brilliant, as was the wonderful Belfort (which I’ve only played once but can’t wait to try again – it’s that good). Now, who’s ready for 2012? Stay tuned for Part Three…

1 Comment

Filed under Opinion