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UK Games Expo T-Minus 4 Days…

ExpoExhibitors

With only four days (including today) until the UK Games Expo 2014, I thought I’d post some of the things that I’m looking forward to. Today I’m going to look at the exhibitors!

Last year I spent most of my short amount of time at the expo wandering around the exhibition hall. This year will, no doubt, see me wandering around and perusing many, if not all, of the stands throughout the expo. In preparation for this I took a minute to go through the exhibitor listing on the expo site and noted many stands I can’t wait to visit. Here’s the ten stands I’m most interested in visiting (in alphabetical order.)

Back Spindle Games
Demoing their awesome looking game Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice (2nd Edition) which goes live on Kickstarter tomorrow!

Czech Games Edition
Producers of some of my favourite games including Galaxy Trucker and Space Alert!

Days of Wonder
Creators of Ticket to Ride and Memoir 44, need I say more?

Fantasy Flight Games
It’s FFG, the kings of thematic games.

Game Salute
Very interested to see what representation these guys have, they’re an awesome company who provide support and publishing services for many, many, many Kickstarter games!

GamesQuest
Looking forward to catching up with Nigel and Paul to discuss some future posts for their blog.

Mayfair Games
Last year Mayfair had a lot of floor space, unfortunately I didn’t have chance to check them out. This time I am going to rectify that!

NSKN Games
Creators of one of my favourite thematic games, Exodus Proxima Centauri, I got hold of the revised edition last year and have recently heard that there’s an expansion on the way!

Steve Jackson Games
Two words…. Steve Jackson…

Z-man Games
I really like Z-man, they produce to awesome games, Pandemic, Robinson Crusoe and Tales of the Arabian Nights. I can’t wait to see what they have to show off, and I especially want to see if I can get a look at the new Pandemic: The Cure game.

GamesQuest, Insomnia and the UK Games Expo

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote anything on here, but this time I have good reason for not being around! Basically I’m under orders from my doctor to rest up. So that’s exactly what I’ve been doing!

I have a shed load of things I want to discuss on here, but I’m going to spread things out over several posts, just so I can rest between writing them. This post is going to be a high level overview of a few of the things I’ve been up to over the past couple of months. So, here goes!

Gamesquest
GamesQuest – For a couple of months now I’ve been spending some of my free time writing for the GamesQuest blog. I’ve had the chance to write reviews for some fun games and, as you may have guessed, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it!

GamesQuest sell the latest and greatest games and collectibles, so if you ever need something then check them out! Here’s list of the blog posts that I’ve done for them; if you’re interested in reading up on any of these games then follow the links direct to the post:
Rampage
Space Cadets – Dice Duel
Assassins Creed Arena
Marvel Dice Masters Preview
Marvel Dice Master Review

Insomnia

Insomnia51 – In April, I went to my first ever Insomnia Games Festival. It was a great experience with lots of PC gaming going on all around. I’d never been to an event like this and I found it quite interesting. I watched some of the indie developer talks and there was a lot of useful information from the video game industry that you could quite easily extrapolate to apply to virtually any other industry, especially that of board games.

Having stopped playing video games a couple of years ago I was primarily interested in the particularly busy area of the exhibition hall that was occupied by non-other than the GamesQuest team and their vast selection of board games. This was the first time I’d had the chance to meet Nigel (Mr GamesQuest) and Nikki and I were really glad we took the time to visit.

We were in Coventry from the Friday to the Sunday and during the day we spent a lot of time at the GamesQuest area. We got the chance to try out some fun games such as Zombicide, Game of the Thrones the board game, Assassins Creed and Small Worlds. We also spent some time away from the event playing Fairy Tales and Marvel Legendary with the new Paint the Town Red expansion.

During the evenings we grabbed some food before heading back to the Ricoh arena to catch up with Nigel and Paul for two very fun-filled gaming sessions in their hotel bar. We had the pleasure of meeting some great people and played some awesome games such as Kackerlacken Poker, Nosferatu and CV. I just want to give a special thanks, and shout out, to the following people for welcoming us into their group and providing hours of entertainment:
Nigel and Paul Matthews
Daniel Thompson
Peter Coleman aka Moley
Paul, Connor and Harry Wheeler.

If there’s one, vitally important, thing that I’ve taken away from Insomnia, it’s the knowledge that I am possibly the worst bluffer in the entire world… My appalling number of losses at Kackerlacken Poker will haunt me forevermore! I still bought my own copy, and a copy Nosferatu too, the next day though!

UK Games Expo

UK Games Expo 2014 – Last year I was fairly new to the world of board games, I’d played enough to have heard about the UK Games Expo, but I hadn’t got any real experience with being part of a gaming group, or simply sitting down at a table and joining a game. It was all very new and scary to me. I dropped in on the 2013 expo around lunchtime on the Sunday, right near the end of the event, and I didn’t have a clue how to make the most of the time I had. We bustled around, bought some games and didn’t get a chance to look at everything. We should have made time and got there really early!

This year I’ve learnt my lesson, I’ve joined various gaming groups, become more involved in my blogging and am more keyed in to the board game industry as a whole. So I’ve bought tickets for the entire event, including a hotel stay at the Hilton where it’s being hosted, just to make sure I don’t miss out on a single thing!

As of writing, there’s only ten days left to the UKGE 2014 and if you’ve not got a ticket then why not? Go buy one right now! Literally, stop reading my random ramblings, go to the UKGE website and book one for collection on the day! The pre-booking is only open until May 23rd so there’s only four more days before you’ll have to hope you can get one on the door!

What I’ve come to realise is that, last year, my opinion about the event was tainted by my own lack of preparation and turning up late on the Sunday. This year I won’t be making the same mistake!

Make sure you get the most out of the expo as well and, if you can, attend both Saturday and Sunday, if not Friday too! There’s tonnes of things to do this year, including the famous bring-and-buy sale, numerous tournaments, an alien laser tag event, Numerous RPG sessions, the exhibition hall (rammed full of game retailers) and absolutely tonnes of demo games going on across the weekend. That’s not to mention special guests such as Ian Livinsgtone, Steve Jackson, Matt Leacock and Chris Barrie!

Coming Soon

Coming Soon! – One of the cool things that came out of visiting Insomnia back in April; I got to spend a good amount of time chatting to Patrick Campbell, one of the UKGE organisers. He had a tonne of interesting stories to tell about the crazy things that’ve happened at the event over the years. Personally, I found them all very exciting and I simply don’t want to miss out on any of it this year! I’ve since been in touch with Patrick and he’s agreed to answer a few questions for the blog to give everyone an insight into what the event’s all about and why he loves organising the UKs biggest board gaming event. Stay tuned for that appearing on the feed soon!

Also, in the next week or so I’m going to be running a competition to win something VERY cool. Keep checking back for more details as I get them!

Dark Darker Darkest – David Ausloos Interview

DDD

Back in 2013 I Kickstarted a game called Dark Darker Darkest (DDD). It sounded like the kind of thing I could really get into. It’s a horror-based game that reminded me a lot of my first play through of the original Resident Evil on the Playstation. I’d originally noticed it on BoardGameGeek where game designer David Ausloos was talking about the progress of his design and providing the community with snippets of information that kept us hooked.

Almost two years after I first heard of it, on June 11th 2013, the Kickstarter campaign for DDD launched. There was a lot of excitement from the fans and within two hours the game had reached its funding target and was working towards the first of the stretch goals. All was going well and everyone was happy.

Unfortunately as the campaign progressed it became apparent that the publisher Queen Games hadn’t really planned for the campaign as well as they should have. Plagued with misunderstanding and confusion for the backers this particular campaign goes down as the worst run campaign I have backed.

The game released with a rulebook that was more than a little confusing and a whole bunch of other publisher problems. Alas, Queen Games seemed to have moved on at this point and were busy with their next campaign. The supporters of Dark Darker Darkest were left asking the same questions over and over with little or no response.

Despite such a difficult start to its life the game still shows a great deal of promise and David Ausloos has been working hard on improving the rules. He’s been personally sending Geek Mails to anyone on BoardGameGeek who owns DDD to let them know when errata and clarifications are released. In fact, late last week I was happy to receive such an update which stated:

“With some excitement on my part I can finally present you the revised rules for Dark Darker Darkest. This was a massive project, doing a complete rewrite of the original rules that failed to offer consistent information and was riddled with errors that affected gameplay.

It was also an opportunity to listen to the feedback from players all over the world and tweak a few mechanics for optimal gameplay.

I am very happy with the end result, which is a big step up from the previous version.”

On reading this news I mailed David back to thank him for his dedication and asked if he would be willing to answer a few questions that I could then post here on the blog. David accepted the invite and here we are. I hope you all enjoy reading our little chat.

Tom Chats with David Ausloos

Tom: Hi David, thanks for agreeing to do this, I really appreciate you taking the time to have a chat with me.

David: Thanks, I’m glad of any opportunity to support the game.

Tom: I was thinking we’d start with something easy and then move on to the Dark Darker Darkest questions. So let’s kick off with – When and how did you get into the board game hobby and when did you realize you wanted to design games?

David: Actually I’ve been working on board game designs since I was a kid. Nothing serious, but my parents still kept some of the little prototypes I made. Funnily enough horror was my favorite genre for board games even back then. I think my first game was actually about a haunted house. Go figure…

Tom: Speaking of haunted houses, when I first heard about Dark Darker Darkest, the premise and feel of the game reminded me of Resident Evil on the Playstation. What were your main inspirations for DDD? Did you borrow ideas from the video game world?

David: There were a number of inspirations, but the main one actually came from playing another zombie game that, for me, failed to deliver the feeling of being fragile as a human being and totally outnumbered by hordes of the undead. I wanted to capture the feeling of this small group of people struggling for survival.

The remake of “Dawn of the dead” certainly inspired me too, but I wanted the universe to be a little more gothic and weird. I hope to expand further into this unsettling house of horrors, more akin to Dario Argento in its surrealist touches than the urban realistic setting of Romero’s work.

Tom: That’s quite an interesting vision and I think you’ve managed to capture that feel quite well in the final game. You must have been pretty confident that the theme would appeal to lots of people, but thinking back to before the Kickstarter campaign, did you ever imagine you would reach the funding goal? and what went through your mind as you hit that goal within two hours?

David: There were definitely signs that the game was on the radar of a lot of gamers.

It was in the top 15 most anticipated games for years on boardgamegeek.com and during playtests I felt it triggered something with gamers. But of course, these things are hard to predict. In any case I was extremely happy with the end result.

Tom: Later in the campaign there were numerous problems as Queen Games confused backers with some very strange and, what felt like, very reactive stretch goal additions and changes. Did any of the stretch goals get added without you signing off on them? I guess what I’m asking is; were you surprised by any of the additions made by the stretch goals and how did this effect you?

David: It was a hectic period. I think the main problem was that Queen had no previous experience with this type of game. This is not a typical Queen product, as it also attracted miniature gamers. In this genre of games a Kickstarter is as much about components as about the actual game. This was something Queen might have underestimated at the beginning of the campaign.

Tom: I think you’re probably right with that and I suspect it’s a lesson that will only help improve their future campaigns. At the time though, there seemed to be a lot of negative comments flying around, some of which were not even remotely constructive. How did you feel about that?

David: The public can be very harsh in their opinions, and leave a company little or no room for error, regardless of the fact that this is their first step into a new genre or product. I understand both sides, but it was sometimes sad to read all the harsh comments that got posted during the campaign. I had to constantly remind myself: this is only a game.

The campaign itself was a learning process for everyone involved. In this type of production there are so many people involved… As the designer you’re only one small cog in a gigantic clockwork machine. This can sometimes be frustrating because it’s hard to get a view of the whole big picture.

That said, I felt it was an interesting month and on a personal note it made me feel that Kickstarter is becoming this giant monster with campaigns being more and more about eye-candy in the form of fancy stretch goals rather than actual content and gameplay. As a designer this can be frustrating, because everyone is talking about the quality of the miniatures, and nobody even mentions the actual gameplay. It feels as if that just doesn’t matter anymore.

Tom: Does this turn in the industry concern you?

David: I can’t deny that this trend for a designer is somewhat of a concern but I think only time will tell if this will increase or decrease.

Tom: Going back to Dark Darker Darkest and thinking about the rulebook that it shipped with. Obviously you wrote the original rules, but how involved with the production or editing of the final product were you? Where there any issues that appeared in the finished rulebook that weren’t in the rules you provided originally?

David: I think the biggest problem is communication. I think the co-operation of an editor and a designer on the rules is crucial, and I feel this aspect was not as tight as it should have been. In general, consistent rulebooks are possibly the most difficult thing to produce. If it was easy to do, we’d see a lot more perfect rulebooks out there.

In practice though, most rulebooks turn out to be anything but waterproof and most games I buy myself in a first print run end up with with a FAQ produced shortly after release, with all the mistakes corrected in the second print run.

The chances of mistakes multiply when the system is more involved like DDD. There are so many variables and I think the editor involved had somewhat underestimated the possible situations the system could render that needed to be covered by the rules. Add to this time pressure and you have a non optimal context.

So again, for me this was a learning experience. It is definitely a focus point for me on future releases, in fact, the rulebook of Rogue Agent that was produced in the same period is I feel, more optimal.

Tom: Over the past few months you’ve been working to improve the rulebook for players. I’ve seen two GeekMails from you to date; the latest of which resulted in this very conversation. I’ve not had chance to try the new rules but I commend you on how much time and effort you are personally putting into supporting the game. With this in mind, if you could go back to before the Kickstarter what’s the number one thing you would you do differently?

David: I would have liked a little less time pressure.

I had to focus on so many things during the production process. It was exhausting. Fascinating but exhausting. I can only hope that gamers remember that each step of a product is usually a step with the aim for perfection, but seldom reaching that.

For me DDD is this living system that I want to further explore with new additions, expansions and ideas. It has a lot of potential for growth in all manner of directions. Now that we have a solid set of rules I feel I have a steady base to work on.

For me the opportunity to rework the original rules and turn it into something consistent and solid feels like a big relief and first time players will be experiencing the game like I intended it to be.

Tom: You said in your GeekMail that you’ve received a lot of feedback and support from players all over the world. How does this make you feel? Are there any people you’d like to give a shout out to?

David: Oh, there are lots. Some of the people I thanked in the revised rules have been wonderfully supportive, offering me feedback on every little detail. Michael Meyers (Scubaroo on BGG) springs to mind. He’s played the game a lot and knows the system through and through, so it was fantastic to be able to communicate with him about some ideas I had for tweaking the system to make it even smoother.

John Bruns was also available to offer me feedback whenever I needed this, and Richard Waszczuk and Richard Keiser did amazing things with the editing. I can’t thank them enough for the amazing job they have done. We had a very intense communication back and forth during the whole editing process. It also helped that they knew the game system well.

Tom: OK, I couldn’t go through this interview without asking. Do you have any idea when the DDD backers will be receiving the rest of their content?

David: If you are referring to some of the new creatures, they are almost ready for production.

They were actually specifically produced upon request by backers, so they could only start work on them after the campaign. I’ve seen first the shots of the sculpts that will be posted on the campaign page soon, and they look great. I’m excited that we can work on new creatures to add extra variety in the encounters. This game is all about creating unique stories with each play, and adding new rooms/encounters/characters helps to ensure that no game ever plays out the same.

Tom: Despite the issues that you’ve had over the past 6 months, I noticed that earlier you mentioned expansions. Do you have plans for any? Or are you working on any other projects at the moment that you’d like to mention?

David: Yes, there are plans for expansions. Not much I can say, but like I said, for me this is like a potentially endless playground to project ideas onto. I see the universe of this game expanding in different directions. Some will focus on the more grotesque gothic side of things, some might even
put things on a larger scale.

At the moment though, I’ve just finished development on a game called Red Moon. I am very happy with the recent playtests I did, which spawned a lot of positive feedback. Some say it’s my most accessible game for a wide audience, and who am I to disagree?

It’s a compact little, hidden information, game set in a small Russian village. You’re a lieutenant sent by the Tzar with a mission to protect the village from an assault by werewolves.
I have tons of other game systems written out on paper that I want to further develop. Enough material for another 10 years of game design! Ahhhh… so many ideas… so little time.

Tom: Red Moon certainly sounds like it’ll be worth a play, when do you think we’ll be seeing this one on the shelves?

David: I’m going to submit it to a publisher soon.

Tom: Going back to DDD, you must have gained a massive amount of experience from working on it, I was wondering if you could give any budding game designers out there a list of the three most important things you’ve learned during this project?

David: Try to focus on one good mechanical idea and build a system around it.

There are so many good dungeon crawlers on the market, so make sure if you want to design one that you can offer a new twist to the genre. A unique mechanical idea that can offer players a new way of playing such a game.

For me with each new design I set out to find that new twist. If I don’t find a way to introduce something fresh and unique to a genre I leave it alone.

Tom: Awesome advice, and something I’ll definitely bear in mind as I work on my prototypes in the future. It’s been really good to chat with you and hear about your DDD experiences. I just want to say a big thanks for joining me here on GeeksThatGame, I wish you all the best with your other projects and I’ll let you know how I get on with the new DDD rules.

David: Thank you for inviting me for this chat. Enjoy the revised rules, and try to stay alive.

So, there you have it folks, a very cool interview with Dark Darker Darkest designer David Ausloos, I hope you found it interesting and I hope those of you who have a copy of the game are going to grab the new rulebook and use it to shed some light on those Darkest of rules.

Interestingly, as I was about to publish this post I got a mail from Kickstarter informing me that there was an update (#44) for the DDD campaign. It looks like the photo David mentioned during the chat is now available to view, it looks very cool, and there’s some positive comments and signs of progress from Queen. Hopefully DDD is now becoming the platform that appealed to me so much at the start of the campaign.

SampleDDD

As always, I hope you enjoyed the post, feel free to add comments and I’d be especially interested to hear how people have got on with the new rules!

Mice and Mystics

Mice and Mystics

Anyone who‘s read my blog before may know that I’m a massive fan of games with great theme and an interesting story. I love to use my imagination when I play games and love to “see” the action taking place in front of me. Today’s post is all about a game that achieves this like no other game I’ve played before. Mice and Mystics, designed by Jerry Hawthorne and published by Plaid Hat Games is an amazing story-based game that tells the tale of Prince Colin and a band of merry mice who embark on an epic adventure to save their kingdom.

In this post I’m not going to go into how you play the game, or give any detail about the story, that would just spoil it for you. The real purpose of this blog is to take a look at three aspects of the Mice and Mystics offering and why I think they really make this game stand out from the crowd. Once I’ve done that I’ll leave you to form your own opinions on whether the game appeals or not, but I’d love to hear from anyone who agrees with me and goes on to enjoy the tales of Prince Colin!

So, let’s move on to three key things that I love about Mice and Mystics.

Story
Mice and Mystics comes with a beautiful storybook called Sorrow and Remembrance. This is the very heart of the game and everything that you experience during play is driven by one of the books eleven chapters. For maximum enjoyment each chapter should be completed in order, as a campaign, which advances the story as you progress. Aside from the rules that underlie the game, the individual chapters provide players with a series of new and unique challenges or decisions, including new chapter specific rules and excellent tile layouts. Every decision made links directly back into the story arc and can influence aspects of the game in later play.

Mice and Mystics is a co-operative game in which players form a party of mice which they follow through a fun and unique adventure. During their time in the game, players rapidly come to know and love their little characters and it’s not uncommon for people to form bonds and develop favourites. (Personally I’m a big fan of Maginos!)

Each chapter of the story can be played as a standalone adventure, but the campaign is where the story comes into its own. I won’t be including any spoilers here because I think people should experience this game for themselves. But, I will say, Mice and Mystics rides astride an excellent story which will appeal to gamers young and old.

Framework
Mice and Mystics is more than just a game. It’s a framework. Inside the box you get the core rule book which provides you with the basics upon which you can build your own fun and interesting rules and tales. There’s a set of eight, large, double-sided tiles that enable you to create a variety of different environments within which to scatter the numerous search deck cards that guarantee a large degree of variability as you develop your storytelling skills. The minions provided in the base box should be enough to enable you to make some fast and frantic encounters but there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from creating your own minion cards to represent anything you can possibly imagine.

Mice and Mystics will appeal to players of all ages, and once they’ve finished exploring the wonderful tale found within Sorrow and Remembrance they’ll want to know what happens to Prince Colin next. There are expansions available for Mice and Mystics but we’ll cover those shortly. Here we’re thinking more about how you can use the elements the game provides to tell your own stories, or more importantly, how children can use them to explore and build their imaginations. Eric Summerer of The Dice Tower fame has often commented on his podcast that he and his son have spent many hours playing scenarios that his son has created. Mice and Mystics, through its story and excellent framework makes me happy to be a gamer. It provides a spark that many family games lack and I smile whenever I hear of people building their own scenarios and sitting down to explore their own imaginations. I’m a strong believer in the old saying “A family who plays together, stays together.” and Mice and Mystics is definitely one to play together!

Expansions
Like any good story, there’s always a sequel in the works and the story-based nature of Mice and Mystics makes it incredibly easy to build and expand upon. Since its release there’s been a lost chapter called Cat’s Cradle, a small box expansion called The Heart of Glorm. In fact there’s even a big box expansion called The Downwood Tales in the works as we squeak (Sorry). I’m not going to talk about these in any depth here, but I wanted to make you aware of their existence because you need to know one very important thing! When you spend your cold hard cash on this game you aren’t spending it on another “one off” title, you’re buying into an adventure story that’s receiving the love and attention it needs to grow and flourish. The story telling minds of Jerry Hawthorne and his Plaid Hatted friends are pumping their hearts into this game and when you first venture into the world of Mice and Mystics you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

In summary…
So, there you have it! The three things I love most about Mice and Mystics. I really hope that I’ve persuaded you to take a step towards getting this game for your collection. It’s a beautiful work, not just as a game but as a story and I think it deserves a place on every gamer’s shelf.

Christmas Wishes

Zombie Dice

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!

I hope everyone who reads this has had a great Christmas day!

I for one have had a brilliant time, and this year Santa has been very busy indeed!

I’ve been given lots of great games by friends and family, as well as some VERY generous secret Santa’s! I’ve really been spoilt and appreciate every single gift I found beneath the Christmas tree! I’m very excited to start trying the wonderful selection of games this year and you can expect lots of reviews in the new year as I play each and every one of them!

Here’s a quick list of everything I received:

Conquest of Nerath
Descent 2nd Edition: Lair of the Wyrm
Formula D
Galaxy Trucker 5th Anniversary Edition
Seasons
Twilight Imperium
Twilight Imperium: Shattered Empire
Twilight Imperium: Shards of the Throne
Quarriors!
Zombie Dice

So all I have left to do is wish you all a very merry Christmas, and if I don’t write anything before then, an extremely happy new year!