Let the Summer Conventions Begin!

I was lucky enough to attend the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio last week. I've been working in the board game industry for about eight years but this was my first trip to Columbus for Origins and it kicked butt. Much like BGG.CON, it's a show where you can really play games and get down time with other people you usually only see on the internet. I love PAX and Gen Con, but there's a different kind of experience at Origins & BGG.Con in what happens off the show floor because there is less of a business agenda, no buyer's meetings, and time to really play. And Columbus is just adorable (Jeni's Ice Cream & Dirty Frank's - I <3 you).

One of the standout bits of the show for me was being invited onto the Origins at Night podcast with Mike Selinker, James Ernest, and Paul Peterson. They are a great group of people and fun to talk with. Before and after the show, I also got to spend some welcome time talking to Marie Poole, who ran the podcast with the guys - she is the CEO of Lone Shark Games and newly elected to the GAMA board. We talked about my blog, Munchkin Guest Artist Editions, food, and most importantly games!

I played a lot of games at Origins and want to share the ones that really stand out to me a week after the show:

  • Escape The Room: Mystery at Stargazer's Manor (ThinkFun). Played this one with a big crew including Paul from Games & STuff; Josh from Czech Games Edition; Anne-Marie and Sam from Fireside Games; Brandan from Blue Orange Games; and Rhea from Steve Jackson Games. It was a good introduction to escape rooms but left me wanting an advanced version. We had way too many puzzle solvers in our crew for it too last long enough for my liking but we had fun!
  • World's Fair 1893 (Renegade). A fun follow up to Lanterns from Foxtrot & Renegade! I played it with Nate from IDW Games & Daryl Andrews. I can tell this will be one I play again and again. It's beautiful and is just the weight of game that I like.
  • Button Men (Cheapass Games). You know who's fun? James Ernest. In the midst of all the talk of his upcoming abstract, Tak, James taught me an older game of his that I wasn't familiar with called Button Men. It plays off the title (which means hit men) and uses pins to represent characters that attack each other with dice rolling combos. Pairs & Deadfall are some of James' games that have been in heavy rotation for a bit but I'm excited to add a few more with Tak and Kill Doctor Lucky.
  • Isle of Skye (Mayfair). This games reminds me of Carcassonne but somehow seems less complicated even though it has more steps. You get to bid on three tiles you draw on each of six turns, one of which must be discarded - the other two can either be bought by another player or must be bought by you. Then you attempt to build your individual tile set to maximize the types of sets that score, which change from game to game. I was really happy to get a chance to play this with Mike Webb & Charlie Tyson from Alliance Game Distributors. This one is also a Spiel des Jahres nominee so congrats to Mayfair!
  • Onitama (Arcane Wonders). Still really loving this one and its smart packaging.
  • One Ring RPG (Cubicle 7). I got to sit on a game of One Ring with a group of friends. It was my first time witnessing a full-fledged RPG and it was very entertaining and made the idea of starting one way less intimidating. Thanks to Travis from Millennium, Scott from Renegade, Paul from Games & Stuff, Josh from Czech Games, and Steve from Rainy Day Games for letting me hang out!
  • Kingdom Builder & Alhambra (Queen Games). These have been on my list to play for some time so I'm really happy to finally have them in my collection.
  • Dead Last (Smirk & Dagger). Didn't play this one but I heard and watched a lot of people having fun with it, so it's on the short list to play before GenCon.

I also fell in love with a prototype from Matt Loomis and Isaac Shalev that I hope to see published sometime soon. It was such an elegant play experience and felt really uncluttered- I've been thinking about art direction for it ever since playing and can't wait to see how it turns out.

There were so many great games at Origins that I didn't get to all of them. I ran out of time for The Networks (Formal Ferret), Betrayal at House on the Hill (Avalon Hill), and CV (Passport Studios).  But I did get to pick up Imhotep since Origins and I'm looking forward to more time with the difficult levels. 

The day after Origins ended, it was off to the Licensing Show in Vegas. It was interesting as always (plus I got in a bonus visit to Hoover Dam). There is a new potential license that I'm excited to share more about once it's signed and there are some cool things coming from Steve Jackson Games we worked on at the show. Then it was on to Austin for meetings about the Munchkin CCG with Eric Lang & Kevin Wilson (who were great sports to pose for the above pic at the offices and be entertaining and productive all week).

Next up is DiceTowerCon & my post on Tetris!  Hope you have a happy 4th with lots of games!

On the Road

Tomorrow marks the beginning of a two week long road trip as my brother and I drive cross country from Maryland to California for my move. We're taking a southern route through New Orleans, Texas, and as many national parks as we can manage through the Southwest on the way to San Francisco. The goal is to arrive in time to make my flight to Origins in mid-June! There's been a lot of prep for the move lately but still time for some fun gaming stuff that I wanted to share before I hit the road. So here's what I've been up to lately:

  • Backing two more abstract games since Pyramid Arcade on Kickstarter: Tak by James Ernest from Cheapass Games & Santorini by Gavan Brown from Roxley Games. Can’t wait for these two to show up!
  • Playing a lot of Quadropolis (by Francois Gandon, published by Days of Wonder) lately and really enjoying it. I haven’t hit expert mode yet, but I hear it’s a totally different play experience so I’m excited to bring this along for the road trip and dig a little deeper into it.
  • Visiting Madison for ACD Games Day with Steve Jackson Games. ACD runs a great show every year and it was great to meet John, Rett & Alex from Catalyst Game Labs while I was there, who I’d only emailed with prior to the show. I got to check out both of the Spiel nominees that I hadn’t played yet: Imhotep (by Phil Walker-Harding, published by Thames & Kosmos), and Karuba (by Rudiger Dorn, published by Haba). In addition to all of the great people and gaming, I had a really nice bike ride with friends around Lake Monona.
  • Looking forward to Phil Reed's upcoming book, "Collect These Figures and Accessories", about the marketing behind Star Wars figures between 1977 and 1986. If you're not checking out his blog, Battlegrip, you're missing out on some toy advertising nostalgia.
  • Speaking of Spiel nominees… everyone I know loves Codenames but the Codenames Pictures protoype Josh from Czech Games has been carrying around is so crazy fun. 
  • Loving this video about the design and background of Catan from Great Big Story!
  • Marveling at the idea of bundling a Broken Token organizer with the sale of an expansion like Artana recently did for Tesla vs. Edison: Powering Up. I've been wanting to organize my Seven Wonders expansions for awhile and haven't yet made the move of buying one of the organizers so selling them together seems really smart!
  • Playing The Game over and over and over again. I love puzzles and card games and the social interaction of playing this with different groups is really funny... another game that is not just making the road trip, but living in my bag.
  • Drooling over the artwork for Above & Below. The game is interesting mechanically and the narrative element makes for a different gaming experience than I’m accustomed to - it feels like training for an RPG. Ryan Laukat designed and illustrated the game and I’m thinking one of the prints he has for sale at Society 6 would look nice in my new office!  It's a nice symbol of some of the more progressive art direction I'm excited by in tabletop games.
  • Laughing at the ridiculous fun I had trying out Calliope's upcoming game from the Titan Series, Hive Mind, by Richard Garfield during a recent business trip. 
  • Reading the first of Mark Rosewater’s “Twenty Years, Twenty Lessons” blog posts about what he’s learned making Magic.

I’ll be on the road tomorrow - first stop Boardwalk Games in Greenville, South Carolina. I am hoping to visit game stores along the way, so please be in touch if you recommend game stores or cafes along the crazy path I’m plotting!  

Pyramid Arcade

The Looney Labs’ Kickstarter campaign for Pyramid Arcade is wrapping up today and I wanted to get a little post up to explain why I’m so excited to see this project succeed in such a big way. 

The pyramids were originally conceived in Andy’s novel, The Empty City, but the concept wasn’t fully fleshed out until readers expressed interest in the game that was described in the story. Andy spent much of last couple of decades creating games with the components described in his novel. Over the years, they have taken on many iterations: solid and hand-poured, folded cardboard, wooden, gigantic versions for convention play, and the stackable versions that most people are used to playing. They were sold in a standard boxed single game format (Zendo & IceTowers), as separate components with free online access to the rules (like Andy’s favorite pyramid game, Homeworlds), and as portable independent games (Pink Hijinks, IceDice, and Treehouse). The pyramids even appeared in a video game developed by Andy called IceBreaker. Pyramid Arcade takes many of these games and bundles them into one box! There are hundreds of games you could play with this set and rules for 22 from Andy, plus another ten from fans.

I worked with the Looneys for several years, and when I first started out with them I knew very little about the pyramid games. When I went to Toy Fair for the first time as a Looney Labs employee, I met Lincoln Damerst & Nikki Pontius (you can see both of them on  BoardGameGeek’s GameNight series) and they told me about the popularity of Zendo, a game designed by Kory Heath and a pyramid fan favorite - it's also on the 100 games list and I'm hoping to get to play with Kory one day :). Lincoln & Nikki also taught me how to play IceDice, a light press your luck game designed by Andy. I spent all of my down time at Toy Fair 2012 playing IceDice and I highly recommend you play this game. It’s portable, quick, and lots of fun. 

While these games were some of the early products sold by Looney Labs, they were eventually overshadowed by the success of Fluxx. Fans never stopped playing with the pyramids and the Looneys and I often talked about the need for one big deluxe bundle but we all knew how much work it would be (22 games at once instead of one is a tall order!) and there were so many other projects the team was busy with that hadn’t been tried before, like Loonacy and Just Desserts. There were also really exciting licensing projects - Batman, Adventure Time, Firefly, Ugly Doll, Mad Libs, oh my! Meanwhile we were also working on the new logo and visual update of the company brand, which meant touching every single game box, display, web page, sell sheet, business card, etc. UGH! Priorities! 

When the Looneys were ready to begin the project, I was wrapping up my time with them. They reached out to Eileen Tjan for the illustration, graphic design and some of the video work for Pyramid Arcade.  I found Eileen through some mutual friends a few years ago and highly recommend you check out her work. She designed the logo for this blog for me and she is also responsible for the update of the Looney Labs logo and packaging for the core edition of Fluxx. She was based in DC when we first started working together and now works from Chicago, having recently established Other Studio there. She did such a great job understanding the richness and depth of the history of Looney Labs and representing it visually, and I am really happy to see how well she captured the history of the pyramids and Looney Labs in this project.  

Decades of effort from Looney Labs and its friends went into the Pyramid Arcade, so I hope you join me in backing the project! It’s an amazing game bundle unlike anything else I’ve ever seen and I’m so excited to get my copy - it includes some never-seen-before favorites of mine like Color Wheel, Fiesta Caldera, and Petri Dish. Andy calls it his magnum opus and I think he's right. And if you ever get the chance, play Launchpad 23 with Kristin (it is worth it just to hear her rocket launch sound effects). 

Game 5: Can't Stop

If you haven't played this classic, correct that immediately! Can't Stop is a very accessible press your luck game by Sid Sackson, and it's super fun. My vintage copy came from eBay but Can't Stop is now back in print by Eagle-Gryphon Games and in local game stores AND there's a phone app available that is great for pass and play. On each turn, you roll the four dice and divide them into two combinations of two dice each. You move a white placeholder pawn up a space for those combinations in up to three of the numbered columns from two to twelve. After your three placeholders are each allocated to a column, you can choose to continue to roll but if you can't make a combination from subsequent rolls that allows you to advance at least one placeholder pawn per roll, you've busted. Busting is not good. You lose your progress for your turn. I do this a lot. If you have more self-control than I do, you'll stop rolling before you bust and you'll get to put a marker of your color in the columns you advanced in. The first person to advance three markers of their color to the top of the columns (laid out like a bell curve on an octagonal stop sign-shaped board) wins the game.

I played Can't Stop for the first time at a game night hosted by the Looneys a couple of years ago. I did pretty well (but I didn't win - Gina is the champion of Can't Stop at the Looney game night). Even so, I was hooked pretty quickly. I hadn't played in awhile but came back to the game when I visited the Steve Jackson Games office a couple of months ago. I played with Phil Reed, his wife, Gina, and Rhea, the SJ Games Marketing Director - it was a particularly funny game because neither Phil nor I seemed to be able to get on the board at all. It felt like Rhea & Gina made enough progress that each time I rolled I had to do so much catching up to get even with them that I literally couldn't stop rolling the dice. Which inevitably resulted in busting and not getting on the board again. I learned nothing from the tortoise and the hare. And this tension is why this game is so good.

Sid Sackson is awesome. Every time I post about Can't Stop, game designers friends say things like, "Sid Sackson is the man." Eagle-Gryphon ran a Kickstarter a few years ago to republish a signature series of some of his games. He won the Spiel des Jahres in 1981 for Focus and he was nominated for Can't Stop in 1982. He's also the designer of many beloved games like Acquire. And from the very little I know, he's contributed so much more to game design and the game industry. 

When Phil and I played, he mentioned Sid Sackson's book, Gamut of Games, had a piece on Solitaire Dice I should read. If you're interested it is available as a free download for Kindle (for Prime members). Solitaire Dice is the beginning of Sid working out Can't Stop. All you need is five dice and paper and pencil to play. You're attempting to balance allocating your combinations of two dice among the fewest number of columns and balancing your fifth "reject" die allocation among three different numbers over the course of the game. Once you've rejected one of your three chosen reject numbers eight times (tracked by tally on paper), the game is over. You lose points for any combinations between two and twelve you've hit fewer than five times. If you've hit a combo five times, it zeroes out, and anything above a tally of five scores inversely to the likelihood of rolling it (70 points for each eleven combo more than five but only twenty points for each seven combo over five tallies since it's more likely to be hit). Sackson offers advice on how to play the game multiplayer with everyone working off the same rolls of five dice but hiding their allocations from each other. It's amazing to see the difference in elegance between Can't Stop and Solitaire Dice. It's a great insight into game development. I always thought the stop sign design of Can't Stop was ugly and wasn't a big fan of the aesthetic of the game but I really appreciate how functional it is. And you really can't argue with a game that has stayed alive in some fashion since 1980 - 36 years now. A+, will play again :), #DontStopTilYouGetEnough

 

 

Heading to GAMA

Hello internet gaming friends!  It's been way too long since I last posted so I've made a little catch up ditty to share on my way to the GAMA Trade Show before I get back to posting games from the list.  I've only been home for 4 weeks in the last 3 months because there have been a lot of changes afoot including some fun plans for 2016 so I've listed and linked it all up to make it easy to share:

  • Deciding to move west from DC to Portland! I will be doing a cross country drive in the beginning of June before Origins with my brother!!!  I'm hoping to stop at game stores along the way so please send suggestions if you think of them!
  • Attending BGGCon for the first time last November. Which. was. so. fun. I played so many prototypes, dexterity games, games from the list of 100 games, and games I'd not tried yet that had been recently published. I'm very excited to return this Fall! Crokinole 4ever!
  • Planning my trade show and convention schedule for 2016. Right now it looks like I have 20 trade shows and conventions planned for 2016. How you doing, frequent flier miles? The best part is that a few are just for fun, like DiceTower, BGGCon & GrandCon.
  • Learning to play CCGs, starting with some secret prototype stuff, then some vintage Magic decks, and now HEARTHSTONE! My Magic post draft is really weird already, because as I learned to play, I kept thinking of each mechanic in terms of Fluxx mechanics - I know this is kind of backwards but unlike a lot of gamers, I have no history with Magic and a LOT of history with Fluxx.
  • Thinking about the women in gaming panel that I'll be part of at GAMA on Monday at 7 pm. If you'll be in Vegas for the show, please show up and participate!
  • Playing the new Patchwork app - which came out just in time to replace Monument Valley, my last app obsession. I also noticed that Monument Valley and Threes each have some really cute merch for sale - I want a wooden totem so bad!
  • Trying to step up my Instagram game - it's not as popular for games as Twitter but I really love it. Let me know if you're posting there!
  • Enjoying all the attention escape rooms are getting. I did a REALLY difficult one in January at Escape Room SF that our team couldn't solve but it had great puzzles.  There are a lot of boxed escape room games coming out too - I'm excited to play this one from Think Fun in the next couple of weeks. 
  • Waiting to play Pandemic Legacy and it's killing me - but I need to be in the same city for a bit so I'm still holding off and hoping it happens this month after GAMA.  And I need to grab a copy of Tokaido Deluxe if I can still find one. Collecting games is hard when you are planning a move!
  • Planning a really fun party game about one of my favorite TV shows with some of my favorite people in the industry - a nice surprise that came out of Toy Fair in February.  Another highlight of the show was seeing the reactions to the Munchkin Guest Artist Editions that I showed off with Steve Jackson Games. I also fell in love with a new company from Switzerland called Helvetiq that has really beautiful packaging and elegant, light games and puzzles.
  • Visiting some really great places in New York after Toy Fair - from spying some of my favorite street artists' works to Brooklyn Game Lab (game design for kids), NYU Game Center (game design for grown ups), and Twenty Sided Store (a shop in Williamsburg with nice owners, and lots of RPGs). 
  • Loving this post recognizing games that represent women well by Candice Huber.
  • Playing Bunco with my friend Katie's group that has met monthly for 30 years. They were very kind to include me in their tradition this month and I'm hoping to get to go back before I move. Those ladies know how to party!
  • Realizing how many restaurants and art exhibits I have to visit before I leave DC in a couple of months!

Thanks for reading my list of -ings! My post about Can't Stop is next in the queue!

Game 4: Threes

Have you played Threes? It’s AMAZING. I heard about it last year, downloaded the app and have played this game an embarrassing number of times since then. 708 times to be exact, most of the time on airplanes… I’m not just wasting away hours of every workday gaming, I promise! Somehow it doesn’t leave me feeling as guilty as playing Candy Crush always did. Threes is an elegant puzzle that was originally released on iOs and won the 2014 Apple "Game of the Year” award. The game is designed by Asher Vollmer, illustrated by Greg Wohlwend and scored by Jimmy Hinson.

Playing Threes is as simple as it gets as you can see by the amazing demo below: you combine the 1 and 2 blocks on a four by four grid to create 3s. 3s and 3s are combined to create 6s and so on. The trick is to make the combinations with as few moves as possible because a block fills the grid with each combo you create. The goal is to create combos until really high number blocks are made. The game ends when there is no room left on the grid for new blocks to be added. I have seen some ridiculously high combos-- so far mine is 768 for a total score on that game of 21,609. I’m still working toward a 1536 block and I think I’ll throw a little party when I get there. Well, I’ll probably be on an airplane so it may not be much of a party but I’ll be pretty excited. 

If you haven’t played Threes for yourself, I highly recommend you download it and get yourself addicted. It’s now available for free on iOs. It’s also on Amazon, Google Play, Windows Phone, Xbox and there is a web interface. I think it’s worth noting that if you haven’t played or heard of Threes, you may have played 2048 and if so, I’d recommend this article from Wired that explains why you should delete 2048 and download Threes.

Asher was kind enough to reply to my email asking what else he is up to and he pointed me toward Royals, which I had a lot of fun with. You should also check out Puzzlejuice. I’d also recommend heading over to his website where he announces any updates or new projects and links to so many talented people you can get lost for hours exploring their projects and dreaming up what they might do if they made projects for the tabletop industry. HINT HINT to you publishers out there.  

Now for a little self promotion: please head over and like my Facebook page.  To help it get going, my friend Travis who runs the very awesome Millenium Games in Rochester has offered to send out a copy of Smash Up! Munchkin to the 100th person to like the page. Steve Jackson Games recently announced that I'm working as their U.S. Sales Manager (YAY!) and Smash Up was one of my first posts for the blog, so it's a fitting gift. Thanks for reading! :)

Game 3: Fluxx

I love Fluxx but anyone who knows me knows that I am biased.  I worked for Looney Labs for the past 3 years, so until September Fluxx was a big part of my life because it’s a big part of the Looney Labs product line.  Fluxx was designed by my friend, Andy Looney, almost 20 years ago and now comes in many shapes & flavors in addition to his design: Star Fluxx for the sci-fi fans; Zombie & Cthulhu Fluxx for the people that gobble up anything with zombies or Lovecraft; Holiday Fluxx for determining if your family really loves each other; and more recently Batman and Adventure Time Fluxx!  I’m also fortunate enough to have played most of Andy’s unpublished Fluxx prototypes - Math Fluxx is way more fun that it might sound, especially if you geek out over numbers like I do.

The first time I played Fluxx was rather dizzying. Kristin, Looney Labs' CEO & Andy's wife, coached the table of new players but it took a few hands before the hilarious chaos really sunk in. The winning conditions of Fluxx are simple - usually to collect two keeper cards that match the goal card that is in play. What happens between the default “draw one, play one” rules that mark the beginning of the game and one player satisfying the goal card is anyone’s guess, or what I like to call controlled chaos.  You might talk like a pirate to draw an extra card on your turn, you might dig through the discard pile to find the action card that lets you steal another player’s keeper, or someone might play a hand limit that makes you discard everything but one card when you’re holding the keepers that would let you win on your very next turn.  

Some people say that there is no strategy to Fluxx, that it’s too random, that winning is dependent on the cards you draw, which vary wildly, as does the length of the game.  It’s true that the goal of the game is incredibly simple - it’s like playing Go Fish for matches, but that is exactly what I find appealing.  It’s very simple to teach to non-gamers and it's obvious what it takes to win but the combination of that simplicity and the fun of using the cards you have to prolong your turn keep and digging for what you need to win happens in a way that anyone can pick up and learn. You don’t need to understand anything about gaming, you just have to be able to read the cards to play, which makes it a great introduction to more complicated card games.  

I’m very grateful to Kristin & Andy for letting me work with them on Fluxx over the past few years. I’ve been able to be a part of working with many talented artists (Ian McGinty, Adam Levermore, Brooke AllenDerek Ring, Eileen Tjan), deciding which games go to print but the most fun I’ve had with Fluxx is seeing how many people LOVE it. People that play it during hospital stays, during camping events, waiting in line at conventions and with their loved ones at parties.  It really hit me one day what a phenomenon Fluxx had become when a little girl came to a local gaming event and brought a Fluxx deck she had designed - Dog Fluxx - complete with chocolate, squirrel & veterinarian creepers. She had been playing with her parents since she began to read. It’s such a fun platform for any theme and I feel super lucky to have been a part of it.  And I can’t wait to see the super shiny Firefly Fluxx come out early next year! 

BTW, if you're on Instagram and you haven't already followed Looney Labs, you shouldDebbie Lee takes the prettiest game pics for the crew at the Lab!