Tag Archives: Ignacy Trzewiczek

Barbarism Begins At Home – Imperial Settlers review


If you follow me on Twitter you’ll probably know that I’m in the middle of a move to the US. Everything is up in the air; I’m officially homeless, staying with friends as we grind through the slow process of immigration. All my stuff is in boxes – my games collection, my books, my consoles and my Mac… everything is just waiting to go across the ocean. Just before the packing, I was getting into the video game Civilisation V again and, cruelly, it has temporarily been taken from me. So sad. In the meantime, I need to get my civ-building fix from cardboard and the game collections of friends. And what have we been playing a lot of? The splendid Imperial Settlers from Portal Games, time and again.

Why so much love for it from me? Well, I enjoy any game that is based around a well-crafted engine, and Imperial Settlers really puts its focus into ensuring that everything works beautifully. With an easy to grasp set of rules, over the course of the game’s five rounds you’ll start off small with just a couple of cards and a handful of resources that are used in order to make your side the most dominant around. You’ll also begin with a long cardboard punch-out which your tableau will be built around that also lets you know what resources you’ll pull in at the start of a round from a selection of wood, stone, fruit, meeples, cards, gold, swords and shields.

Each turn you get to do one thing – and that’s it. However, while sometimes that one thing may simple like sending a couple of your dudes off to fetch some stone, depending on how things go for you, you may end up triggering a glorious chain of events that will make your opponents either look on impressed or glare at you with a barely concealed rage. It’s that kind of game, where those who are able to make their engines run smoothest will invariably come out victorious. The best way to learn how to do this, of course, is to play – just expect to get your arse handed to you in your first few plays as you try to figure out what’s going on.

Cards! Hooray. I may have forgotten to take photos, so thank you to The Innocent on BGG for this one.

Cards! Hooray. I may have forgotten to take photos, so thank you to The Innocent on BGG for this one.

Four civilisations are represented in the base game – Barbarians, Romans, Egyptians and Japan – with each of them having their own small deck of cards. Every card represents a location that’s exclusive to the civilisation but there’s also a larger central deck that all players can draw from; your personal deck is just for you, though. Every card has a cost that needs to be paid to add it to your tableau, normally a mix of wood and stone, but some also have a little house on them, meaning you’ll need to sacrifice one of your locations that’s either been destroyed (we’ll cover that shortly) or is taken straight from your hand, losing you a valuable card in a game where it can be very tricky to get hold of them.

Said cards will be one of three types: either Production, Feature or Action. Production ones are nice and straightforward: at the start of a round they add to the resources you gain but also give you them the moment you play the card. Actions need to be triggered, usually at the cost of a meeple or resource, but will generally pull in either something useful (like more meeples and resources!) or get you a few points. Features are invariable the trickier things to work with, often being the cards that serve as the links that make your turns splendidly convoluted or allow you to say “…and I score ten points off this one!” at the end of a game. The best civilisations will normally comprise of a decent mix of these card types, but it’s entirely possible to win using whatever set-up you manage to put together – really, victory falls to the player who reacts the best to what everyone else is doing.

By reacting, I really mean “attacking someone else’s locations with the swords you collect”. Two sword resources will be enough to force an opponents to flip one of their cards over, losing their precious cog in their machine that will inevitably cause their downfall (if you’ve planned it right). Shields (or meeples acting as Samurai if you’re playing as Japan) can be used to up this to a requirement of three swords (more if you stack them) but at the end of every round, EVERYTHING is removed from the cards you have in play – but you’ll have destroyed something well before then, won’t you? Oh, and you may also get bonus resources from doing this too, as long as the targeted card has a reward for razing it.

This is what you should be aiming for. This is what I generally don't end up doing. (Thanks to The Innocent again for the image.)

This is what you should be aiming for. This is what I generally don’t end up doing. (Thanks to The Innocent again for the image.)

There are so many little things that put Imperial Settlers head and shoulders above other Civ style games; you can boost your Production by making deals and tucking cards upside-down atop your tableau. You can wreck cards from your own layout if you’re short of resources. You can use meeples to go grab stuff too. Basically, the game puts an incredible amount of control into your hands – you do what you want to do, either focusing on your own buildings or eagerly eyeing someone else’s. Each civilisation feels and plays very differently, but all it takes is reading through a few cards to check up on what special buildings they all offer and you’re immediately up to speed.

No messing – Imperial Settlers is a bloody brilliant game. Ignacy Trzewiczek has created a simple game which still somehow manages to give the players a huge amount of strategies when they’re creating their own little dynasties. It’s a lovely game to look at with a cute graphic style throughout – seriously, the dumpy little buggers that are seen all over the cards are ace, and there are lovely details throughout, my personal favourite being the weeping family on the Ruins card… I am nothing if not cruel. Everything in Imperial Settlers hits the right buttons for me – it’s a streamlined work of greatness which, when I get to play it, is just so bloody pleasing that I want to bring it out again and again. When I get to the US, this will be the first game I buy – oh yes.

Imperial Settlers was released in 2014 through Portal Games. Between one and four can play (because yes, there’s a single player version of the game built in which is also excellent) with games taking around 30-45 minutes. Yes, not only is it great, it doesn’t outstay its welcome! A copy will set you back £35, though you can get it for under £30 at Gameslore. There’s also an expansion called Why Can’t We Be Friends which I’m yet to try out, but reports from other, more experienced players say that it’s well worth getting. So yes. You should do that. Oh, and follow designer Ignacy Trzewiczek on Twitter! Do that too!


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One Big Family – Legacy, The Testament of Duke de Crecy review

Legacy COVER

While there are plenty of family games out there, there are few that actually emulate the whole idea of having one of your own. Released at Essen 2013, Legacy from Portal Games aims to do precisely that, placing you at the head of a French family around the early 18th century – just before everything kicked off with the revolution. The game’s full title – Legacy, The Testament of Duke de Crecy – does a great job of telling you what you’re aiming to achieve, and designer Michiel Hendricks has created a wonderful game where you’re looking to solidify the future generations of your family.

Boiling it all down, you’re looking at a worker placement game where you’ll be looking to pull in Prestige – which converts to points throughout the game’s nine rounds – and Income. You’ll also have handfuls of Friends cards which will bestow special abilities as well as hopefully extend your family – something that you’ll soon learn is vital if you’re to come out on top. Among the actions that are available to you, the one that will invariably be used regularly is the ability to Marry (or arrange a marriage for a child in your family which will happen at the start of the next generation). A successful pairing means that a Friend becomes part of your family – complete with any bonuses they bring with them – and a child is immediately born.

Children, as you’d expect, are what drive the game. Each couple can potentially have up to three offspring, all of whom will hopefully be married off themselves, creating more children who will be married again… but it’s far from an easy task to build up the generations! Life has a nasty habit of getting in the way, and each Friend who finds themselves engulfed by your ever growing family could also have made some poor choices that may hamper your progress in the game. Yes, they may have become a successful pawnbroker and made a lot of money (thus boosting your income) but who’d want a person of that calibre on their family tree? Your Prestige drops as your reputation at the court becomes the subject of gossip! The only thing to do is to woo the beautiful but poor debutante, improving your standing but costing you a small fortune…


A small gathering of Friends. The gold coin is the dowry you receive (or pay!) before the marriage is… ummm… “consummated”.

Also on offer are Titles that can be bestowed upon whoever you please, and “Contributions to the Community” that will show off your family in a good light. Both options are expensive but vital for success and they change from round to round, becoming more powerful and more pricey. By the time you reach the endgame though, you’ll surely be well on your way to being the head of one of Europe’s most respected and wealthy dynasties, so the opportunity to put on a Grand Ball or throw a Banquet will be a mere trifle! Well… hopefully. There’s the question of purchasing mansions and setting up your brood with businesses as well, and funds can occasionally get a bit tight; you’ll have to make the call on where the money goes, and keeping up that reputation is an expensive matter!

There’s also the secretive option of Undertaking Missions, where cards are drawn that will potentially grant huge bonuses throughout the game. This could be along the lines of ensuring there’s a certain amount of Artists or people from a specific country in your family, and the moment a target is reached you flip the card and reveal the bonus. The Missions can also be used to evoke the powerful endgame bonus that is given to you in the form of a Patron card – these are handed out at the start of the game and offer a potentially game-changing amount of points should you meet their challenging requirements.

As you can probably tell thanks to all the florid language, I’ve found this mix of Worker Placement and Desperately Managing To Balance A Bloody Load Of Stuff really rather entertaining. As is now traditional with Portal Games, it’s a lovely thing to look at – the art for all of the Friends is unique though the Sons and Daughters they spawn are not, sadly – still, you can’t have everything and I can see why that choice was made from a gameplay point of view. As the game progresses and this immense tableau starts to spread out before you, passers by are drawn in almost magnetically, wondering what on earth is going on and why you appear to be building some sort of pyramid while you rant about needing more money to give your great-grandchild the mansion they so desperately require. All the while your opponents are mocking your decision to marry off the youngest heir to the Gardener’s daughter but you did it anyway because love must prevail and it’s the only card you had at your disposal that worked…


Vive la France! Allez les Bleus!

And it’s this back and forth that makes Legacy so damned delightful. Every time I’ve played the game, intricate stories are woven as more and more people are added to the players’ families, and the tales of how they became a part of your clan (as well as the effects of their joining) become these glorious, ridiculous tapestries from a bygone time. Sure, it can be played as a straight Euro where you’re all vying for points, but for me the pleasure is not just found in the actions that are happening on the table itself but also the creation of this unique and sprawling bunch of lowlifes and thieves, artists and princesses who come together as one massive family – assuming you play it right. Legacy is very much a game where what you put in is repaid ten-fold, a game where if you play the role as much as the game you’ll have a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Legacy, The Testament of Duke de Crecy, was released at Essen 2013 by Portal Games. Designed by Michiel Hendriks between two and four people can play with games taking around 60-90 minutes. There is also a single player version of the game in the box which I’m yet to try – sorry! A copy will normally set you back around £35, but Gameslore will sort you out for a mere £29 – a bargain price for the opportunity to choose your family for once!

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Episode 68 – Essen 2013 Day Zero – The Show Before The Show!

In something of a turn against what I’m used to when attending events in the UK, security at the Messe for Spiel 2013 were utterly delightful and allowed me access to the show floor before it opened to the public. This first episode of the Essen 2013 Specials is a compilation of interviews from the world’s biggest games show on the final set-up day. A quick apology – my mic was playing up throughout the day so the sound is somewhat fuzzy but I hope that the quality shines through!


Direct Download – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/wxzh7/LMD_Episode68.mp3 (also available through iTunes, of course)

Dennis and Rainier from TF-22 – http://www.tf22.de/

From Japon Brand we have Simon Lundstrom and Seiji Kanai (Seiji Kanai!) – http://japonbrand.gamers-jp.com/

Ludicreations’ own Iraklis – http://ludicreations.com/

Konstaninos Kokkonis from Artipia Games – http://www.artipiagames.com/

The Z-Man himself, Zev Shlasinger – http://zmangames.com/home.php

Designer of CV from Granna, Filip Mulinski – http://www.granna.pl

Owner of MAGE Company, Alexander Agrypolous – http://www.magecompany.com/

R&R Games owner Frank talks about their new games – http://www.rnrgames.com/

The Portal Legend! Ignacy Trzewik – http://portalgames.pl/en/

One episode down, three (possibly four!) to go…



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She’s In Fashion – Prêt-à-Porter review

I’m sitting here thinking about theme. Looking through my collection I see plenty of science-fiction stuff, lots of fantasy games and – Tom from The Dice Tower will kill me for this – even a couple of trading in the Mediterranean affairs. Us gamers like to stick with what we know and designers are often happy to give us what we like. Sometimes though? They love to surprise us.

Ignacy Trzewiczek is one such chap. You may recall the interview we did with him on the Little Metal Dog site recently where he mentioned a game that he developed in conjunction with the National Bank of Poland that would hopefully give players an insight into how finance works. And the setting for this game? Why, the high-flying world of fashion, of course!

Theme, as we all know, is important. A game may be as solid as anything but if the theme doesn’t grab players a game may well flounder. With Prêt-à-Porter proudly fashion based it may well lose a few players from the start – but if you disregard this game just because you think it’s about making clothes? More fool you because Prêt-à-Porter is pretty damn good.

You’re actually running fashion houses over the course of a year in this cut-throat industry. The game is divided into four phases, each one representing a three month period that culminates in one or more fashion shows. By opening new offices, taking on better staff and establishing new brands and outlets, you’re able to take on contracts to bump up your short term profits to keep you going.

During the first two months of each phase, you need to concentrate on a two pronged attack. Yes, improving the status of your company is important, but so is developing your staff and buildings. The down side is that these will cost you more and as you have to pay wages and bills at the end of each month it can become quite the battle to balance your books. Thankfully you have the option to take out a loan as an action during your turn – if you screw up though, you’ll be forced to take one at a higher rate.

The Polish edition of Prêt-à-Porter - very stylish, of course.

The fashions shows are what you’re really aiming for, though. The choices from your collection that you decide to show at the end of each of the four phases will be graded and hopefully awarded stars – and these are what you’ll fight your opponents for. Stars will gain you more money than the opposition, allowing you to improve your company and leave the others in your wake. As the year moves on, your company grows, hopefully earning more money and expanding your staff and holdings. At the end of the game the stars you’ve gained are converted into points and added to any special features that you’re able to score – and whoever has the most is the winner. Nice and simple.

Well… I say it’s simple, but Prêt-à-Porter isn’t. Though it’s relatively straightforward, there’s a wealth of options for you to choose from on your turns. As there are so many different ways in which you can expand your company, each one granting bonuses but also causing issues that you’ll need to cope with. It’s very easy to overstretch yourself and spread yourself thin, so you’ll need to give it a couple of plays before you work out the strategies that really work for you.

Prêt-à-Porter may well be set in an industry that some will claim isn’t interesting to them but do not be deceived – this game is hard as nails and will punish anyone who treats it lightly. This is the kind of eurogame that will require concentration from the off and lots of forward planning. You’ll need to have a solid idea of what you want to do for each of the seasons and just go for it – however, on the flip side you’ll have to be adaptable in case your opposition scuppers your plans… and they will. What happens when the other guy gets the building or materials that you wanted? You’ve always got to be ready to change your plans but thankfully the game offers you alternative routes to your ultimate goal – it’s not always easy, but hey! That’s business.

You’ll notice I’ve not talked about the production quality… well, I can’t really. My copy of the game is an English language prototype – the full version will be released at Essen 2011. However, this is 90% of the way there and I can safely say that graphically everything is nice and clear. The board in particular is very well laid out and the whole game has a clean, modern look that really conveys the sense of style. Iconography is clear and crisp throughout which really helps in a game that has a lot going on.

Polish Prêt-à-Porter is ready to roll. It's not as complicated as it looks. Well, perhaps it's a little complicated.

It’s not an easy game to win. In fact, it’s not an easy game at all, but there’s an incredible level of satisfaction when you just manage to plan everything well, hold it together and break even from month to month. Actually winning the game? It’s like being visited by unicorns delivering platinum cupcakes filled with cash.

The unicorns have never come to my house. They will one day, but until then there’s this incredibly challenging game that rewards players who throw themselves headlong into it. Here’s hoping that Portal get the success it deserves from this fantastic game.

Prêt-à-Porter was originally published in Poland in 2010 by Portal. Designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek in conjunction with the National Bank of Poland, the English language version of the game will be available from October 2011 following its official launch at Essen – pre-orders can be placed right now. Work it!

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Huge Success – An interview with Portal Publishing’s Ignacy Trzewiczek

Time for another exclusive interview here on Little Metal Dog, this time with Polish designer Ignacy Trzewiczek. As well as producing some great games that we get to talk about, Ignacy is also the founder of publishing company Portal. From post-apocalyptic nightmares to the infinitely more terrifying world of fashion, they’re responsible for some truly interesting titles…


My first question – could you tell me a little bit about yourself? What is your role at Portal and how did you get there?

It all started in 1999, many, many years ago. I am damn happy that I took a risk and escaped from University and tried to do in my life exactly what I love – work on games.

I was studying at the Technical University for four years and year after year, I was feeling that “this is not for me”. I thought that I’d be a terrible engineer, so I made a quite desperate move – I wrote an RPG adventure (for Warhammer) and sent it to a Polish RPG magazine. They liked it, published it and the adventure was choosen by readers as best piece in that issue. I was finally happy, proud of what I did and what’s more – I earned some money! So I wrote another article and that was published, chosen as best in that issue (again) and brought me more money. I did it again and again and at some point I finally realised that although I was a terrible engineer I really can write about games.

I left university, founded an RPG company and started publishing a magazine about role playing called Portal. We published bi-monthly and it was very well received in Poland. Two years later we started doing our first role playing games (like Frankenstein Factory and De Profundis). Both were translated into English, Factory was then licensed to Spain, De Profundis was licensed to Hogshead Ltd. in the UK and USA (and was then awarded a Diana Jones Award).

Then we designed the Neuroshima RPG followed by the Monastyr RPG, and then we discovered – a little bit by an accident – boardgames.

So what’s the gaming scene like in Poland? Does everyone grow up with the same games that I’m used to – Monopoly and Cluedo, for example? And what are the big titles over there now?

Modern games have only been around in Poland for a few years. The “gamers games” market is very very young. For example, the first Polish Game of the Year award was only in 2004, just a few years ago! During these past few years the market in Poland has grown extremely well – perhaps it is the best growing market in Europe. Every year more games are printed, more games are sold and more new gaming stores are opening.

Games are known mostly by gamers – it’s not as popular as in Germany, but this is changing every year for the better. The average Pole still knows only Monopoly, Scrabble or Jenga, but every single year we’re taking big steps to promote modern games and I think the future of this hobby will be strong here. We have two mainstream publishers who release games for average people but they have started to produce more modern games and are presenting them to mass market. They do a great job. We at Portal publish a quarterly magazine about boardgames, promoting gaming and writing about designer games. What’s more, games have become a bit fashionable and huge Polish institutions want to use them as education tool.

For example, our Essen release for 2011 (Pret-a-Porter) was originally published last year in Poland, produced in co-operation with the National Bank of Poland! They know that games are great tool to teach, so they helped us to create an economic strategy game to teach people about economy!

So, yes – Monopoly and similar crap is still on mass market shelves but gamers games are fighting hard to become popular and they are growing every year.

Nice! So what are Portal’s big games at the moment? I think Neuroshima Hex is your biggest outside Poland, yes?

Yes, our first international release was Neuroshima Hex at Essen 2007 and it was extremely well received. We have US editions, a French edition, a Dutch edition, an Italian one – there were many versions and many players know the game. We’re also lucky to have the Neuroshima Hex app for iOS devices which is proving very popular too. It got a few awards and is very high in Appstore rankings around the world.

In 2009 we published Stronghold and this game was a big hit for us – we received nominatons from almost all of the important boardgame awards and sold all of our copies! We then sold the license to a big publisher, Valley Games – it was all like a beautiful dream. I think we, step by step, are becoming more recognizable. We try to build a very clear picture of our company – we do good games, mix of Eurogames and Ameritrash. Neuroshima Hex is about war, Witchcraft was about war, it’s the same with Stronghold and Stronghold Undead…

Now this year we’re publishing Pret-a-Porter, a game about fashion! I strongly believe that some of our true fans will be more than confused.

That really is a very big leap! Can you tell me a little bit about Pret-a-Porter? And what led you to releasing a game about fashion? There aren’t that many other games I can think of that cover the subject.

It is a really long story. It all started in 2009. As I said earlier, we sent an offer to The National Bank of Poland. We wanted to design and produce game about the economy in co-operation with them. We knew that the Bank had an Educational Department and they want to educate young people about money. So our offer was very simple – we make great games and we want to do another great game – this time, a game about money. “We will help you educate young people,” we said. “What do you think?”

And they loved the idea.

After a year of working with the experts from The National Bank of Poland we were proud to produce a game recommended by the most important monetary institution in our country. This is a deep economic strategy game (think around the complexity of Vinhos or Brass). We designed a game that is a quite unique mix of Portal’s style (lots of interaction and cut-throat action) with very serious economic mechanisms. Players run a company that makes clothes – they buy materials, they gather projects from designers and hire workers (like Designers, Accountants, Product Managers and Models). Then they build important buildings (branded shops and offices), sign important contracts (from PR Agencies to material production factories) and once per quarter they go with their clothes to the fashion show. During the show players’ clothes are judged in four categories – PR, Trends, Quality and the Amount of clothes in the collection. Winning every category gives you a great profit.

On the one hand there is the economic aspect of buying materials, hiring workers, paying salaries, calculating costs, and on the other hand you have a bloody battle at the runway show – players aim to have the best PR (by for example hiring the hottest models), to be Trendy (which can be done by opening a Designer office), best Quality (buying the most expensive materials) and biggest collection (by having most Projects that are in the same style). You calculate money and you calculate which of these four factors you win, which your opponents have taken (and what you can do to take them down).

Here in Poland the game was published in 2010. We were a Game of the Year nominee, we’ve sold almost all copies and now we’re working hard to prepare the second edition for Essen with revised rules, a few new cards and polish up the balance of some cards. We are very excited about this release. And the fashion theme? Well, we had huge mech on the cover in 2007. We had orcs on the cover in 2009, we had skeleton on the cover in 2010… This time we have a hot model on the cover. I like it!

Ha! I don’t think it can ever be said that Portal isn’t willing to take a risk!

Thank you!

You guys are coming up with some great games with interesting ideas – I particularly like Zombiaki II, a simple concept that is brilliantly expressed: it feels like a gruesome version of Plants vs Zombies [a defence game available on iOS, Xbox Live, PC… oh, and an upcoming boardgame too]! Where do you find you draw your inspiration from?

I designed the original Zombiaki in 2002 at dinner at my mother-in-law’s house! I think many of us know the situation – you go for dinner, it’s a boring afternoon sitting at the table and doing nothing interesting. I took the All Flesh Must Be Eaten RPG with me to have a good read after dinner and I was really impressed. I loved the book and I quickly started to make notes – I drew three lines with zombies coming toward a human-built barricade. I wrote down some very first basic ideas – every turn zombies go forward, after shooting at a zombie they’re forced to step back, etc.

Next day I came to the office with my notes, I made the very first prototype and it worked! Just like that! I spent a few months designing cards and balancing the game but this very first simple draft of rules was good. We published the game in 2003 and it became extremely popular in Poland – a simple, fun card game for 15 minutes of play. In 2010 we published Zombiaki II, the English language sequel. [Which you really should play if you get the chance – review coming soon! M]

Are there any other designers that impress you?

I am very impressed by Eric M. Lang and his work. His great card games are one of my favourites! He has a great skill in making players make decisions all the time, every moment during game is a tough decision. This is great! The Game of Thrones CCG is a masterpiece!

I’m inclined to agree. Creating a good card game is difficult enough, but one like Game of Thrones is a rarity! Now, before I let you go, are you allowed to tell us about anything else you have coming up? Obviously there’s Pret-a-Porter but do you have anything else planned?

I’ve just finished working on The New Era, a standalone expansion for 51st State – that will be released for Essen this year. This is a little anniversary for us at Essen – it’s our fifth year of exhibiting there – so we plan to have a few surprises for our fans that we hope to see there! I also need to read a few books and watch a few movies to start researching for my new game based on Robinson Crusoe. It’s a book that I’ve always loved and I’ve wanted to design a game inspired by it for many years…


More information on Portal Games is available over at their website which can be found at http://www.portalpublishing.eu/ – Thanks to Ignacy for answering my questions, and seriously, you’ve got to at least try out Zombiaki II!


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