Hocus Poker designed by Josh Buergel and Grant Rodiek is a riff on the game of Texas Hold 'Em style poker. Players are mages sitting around a table of fellow mages using spells to manipulate their hands, communties, pots, and pockets. The typical French suited cards have been ditched for four new suits, one including a magical suit with its own spells to activate. Players play cards into the shared communties or pots as well as their own personal pockets. When each community has four cards, players play one more round and then use their pockets to try to win the communities through poker hands. The player who wins 25 gems first is the ultimate mage at the table. The game provides some intriguing ways to approach the game of poker, and for non-poker players like myself, offers an ability to play the game in a way that suits me better than the normal game can.
Our discussion focused on Grant and Josh's process of collaboration (Grant as the idea man and Josh as the developer). We learn about how they fine tuned their version of poker to become an enjoyable alternative to the popular game. While this game is not yet out for purchse, Hocus Poker will be on Kickstarter over the summer (July). Josh and Grant also let us in on what the future holds for Hocus Poker. This game has a lot of potential to become a sleeper hit in the future.
Editor's Note: At one point while recording, I had to step out for a few minutes to walk the dog. I tried to gracefully edit the podcast so that no one could tell that there was a lapse in the recording. That last line was a joke. I never meant for the transition to be graceful. I enjoyed yelling "natural segue."
Burgle Bros designed by Tim Fowers is a cooperative heist game where players must work together to find 3 safes, crack the codes, and escape through the roof before the guards can find them. If one player is caught, the game is over. Each player takes on a unique role that has its own power that benefits the group. Players must uncover rooms and attempt die rolls when trying to crack the safes. The guards move rather randomly around the floors of the building unless an alarm is triggered. What is truly cool about the guards' movement is that the only guard who moves on a specific player's turn is the one on the floor where that player ended his or her turn. A key component to this game is learning how to manipulate the guards to best help complete the mission.
Our discussion with Tim focused on the relative ease with which this game came to life. Unlike many other games designed in this world, elements of Burgle Bros seemed to come together relatively quickly to form a cohesive and coherent game. We also talked about variants to the game both created by the designer and those yet to be created by the players. Tim is excited to see what kind of ideas people come up with that encourage more explorative play with his game.
If you wish to purchase this game, it is currently on Kickstarter from now until April 4th. I think this might be a must-have for any collection because of how much fun the game brings to the table. The game encourages teamwork and provides the kind of tension that gamers will find in popular classics like Pandemic. And the best part of this Kickstarter campaign is that this awesome game can be nabbed for only $29 USD. It's an absolute steal for an awesome game. Tim is also the designer of Wok Star and Paperback. To learn more about Tim's games, please visit Fowers.net.
Pixel Tactics designed by D. Brad Talton Jr. is a tactical card game based in the world of Indines. What makes this different from other games based in this world is that players take the role of a leader attempting to recruit the best heroes in order to defeat the other leader(s). Players create a 3x3 grid of heroes with the leader in the middle. The game uses an interesting mechanic where players activate each row before moving onto the next row, which provides a lot of depth and variety as each hero has different effects depending on where he or she is placed in the battle grid.
Our discussion focused on the creation of the grid mechanic as well as the evolution of the effects that each hero is equiped with. We asked Brad about how he designs new mechanics to keep adding variety to the game through its expansions. Finally, we learned about a league-play system that Brad hopes will give Pixel Tactics players more ways to enjoy their favorite game as well as bring in new gamers.
If you are interested in learning more about Pixel Tactics or Level 99 games, please click on the links provided. If you wish to buy the game, your FLGS or OLFGS should be able to help out. Finally, if you wish to follow Level 99 or Brad on twitter, please click on the links provided.
Editor's Note: this episode was fraught with technical difficulties and our opening to show is a clip from the cutting room floor that I thought was amusing to share with you, the listeners. Brad was a gracious guest who put up with so many weird issues. Thanks, Brad!
Star Realms designed by Darwin Kastle is an easy to learn, quick to play deckbuilder with an incredible print point ($15 retail). Players build their decks with cards from a common card row and attack each other. Cards fall into 4 different factions with their advantages and disadvantages. The goal of the game is to knock one player down to 0 authority (health). What make Star Realms different from most Magic-inspired deckbuilders is that the cards can be linked together if multiple cards of one color are played on a single turn. These linked effects give the game an incredible amount of depth while also allowing games to finish very quickly.
Our discussion with Darwin focused on the design space that this card linking mechanics affords the printed game as well as future expansions to the game. We discussed the availability issues the game faced when it debuted. People wanted to buy it faster than they could print more copies. We learned how the combination of unique game play, and affordable buy-in for the base game and expansions helped to catapult the game to the heights that it has reached today (it was nominated for an award at SXSW and on BGG).
To learn more about the game and future games from White Wizard Games, please click this link. If you wish to buy Star Realms, you can! Check out White Wizard Games, your local FLGS or online retailer. If you don't wish to play the physical version of the game, you can download it on the Apple Store.
Darwin wanted to encourage people to vote for the game to win at SXSW, but the release date of this episode would be past the time when voting would close, so instead: thank you for voting for Star Realms (I have no idea if it won).
City Hall designed by Michael Keller is an role selection game about gaining political influence and building up New York City. Players have the choice of seven equally important roles in their quest for victory. The surveyor allows players to buy new plots of land. The public works commissioner allows the players to increase their population. These are only some of the roles available to players. Selecting the role isn't enough because it possible for other players to steal the action byspending influence cards, which the active player can choose to match or take. The game offers many paths to victory, and rewards players who know when to use their influence and when to hold on to it.
Our discussion with Michael focused on the importance of influence as a commodity as well as the bidding mechanic tied into the role selection. Michael also speaks with us a bit about another of his games (one he is particularly proud of): Captains of Industry.
As native New Yorkers, we also engage in a little good natured ribbing of Staten Island. We don't hate you, Staten Island.
Pandemic The Cure designed by Matt Leacock is a dice version of the popular game about saving the world from disease. Players tackle familiar roles but in an unfamiliar setting (dice). Each role has specially crafted dice with different symbols that help the players derive their own stategies. Players can roll and re-roll any dice as long as it doesn't land on a biohazard symbol. The diseases have also taken on the form of dice that are rolled to determine which region suffers. The dice bring a chaotic element to the game without losing any of the tension of the original game. This game was an instant purchase for me.
Our discussion focused on how Matt was able to create a successful dice version of his massively popular Pandemic without losing any of its tension. We also discussed the growing reach of Pandemic through Z-Man's Pandemic Survival, the "Pandemic" Game Party, Pandemic Legacy, and future possibilities for the franchise.
Battle Merchants, designed by Gil Hova, is a game where players take on the unscrupulous role of war profiteers in a fantastical conflict between the orcs, hobgoblins, elves, and dwarves. Players craft weapons to sell to either (or both) sides of a specific conflict in an effort to have the most money by winter's end. The game is an economic Euro-style game despite its fantasy setting. Players buy cards to increase their crafting abilities, which allows them to sell stronger weapons that may last longer on the battlefield. The game offers a wide range of strategies from spamming the battlefield with cheap weapons to focusing on two weapon types to outlast their competitors. Last time we played, I choose the latter strategy and still came within 8 bucks of winning the game. No one can defeat my axes.
Gil provided an incredible amount of content that would be difficult to summarize here. Our discussion ran the gamut from general design to specifics about Battle Merchants. We learned about how Gil approached designing the engine of this game as well as why he chose to set it in a fantasy world.
If you wish to learn more about Gil Hova visit him on the web at GilHova.com. Gil can also be found on social media @gilhova. If you want to purchase a copy of Battle Merchants, visit Minion Games or your local gaming store.
The Battle at Kemble's Cascade designed by Olle and Anders Tyrland is a throwback to the old arcade shoot 'em ups from the 80s and 90s. Anyone around the ages of 25-35 will remember spending quarter after quarter on these games where everything on screen wanted to make that quarter a waste, and the player had only his or her reflexes and 3 bombs to deal with the onslaught. Kemble's Cascade recreates this feeling with an innovative threat system that calculates how many things at one time are trying to kill the players. On their turn, players decide whether to battle or power down. Battling means the player moves and shoots at either the enemies on the virtual screen or the other players at the table. Powering down allows the players to shop for upgrades to their ships. Another one of the unique elements of this game is its virtual scrolling screen. Cards are laid in plastic trays to create the board, and the trays can be moved to create the effect of the screen pushing players closer and closer to the big bad boss.
Our discussion focused on Olle and Anders design process, and how they share the design work. We explored the unique mechanics that feature in this game. We learn about the kind of pieces that were left out of the game but may return in the form of expansions.
This episode was recorded before Christmas. During the recording, Olle and Anders shared images with us most of which can be found on their designer diary. I am sharing one here that doesn't appear on their designer diary. It is early cover art that I kind of wish ended up the final cover art.
If you wish to learn more about this game's design process, please visit this link to the designer diary on BoardGameGeek.com. If you wish to buy this game (and you should), visit Z-Man or your local gaming store to find a copy.
Venus Needs Men is an action selection game where players take the roles of one of five aliens races invading Earth to abduct or destroy the human population. One player has the option to play as the Earthlings defending its population. Players may build new ships, move through space, attack other players, abduct or transport population, or research new technologies in their quest to win the game. Each race has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. For example, the Venutians (from Venus) gain abduct population at a rate of +1 per action. These elements are highly thematic. Players also have a hand of Zap cards that can be played on others or themselves, or discarded to boost an action by one. This hand is limited and once discaded these cards are gone. Venus Needs Men sports some incredible 50s-styled sci-fi artwork from artist Jeff Durham. We played two versions of this game prior to the interview: the game as it was originally designed, and a variant that included a hand of action cards that have to be refreshed before refilling the hand.
Our discussion focused on John's science fiction influences for the game as well as the differences between the original and variant. We talked about how John approached a variant that adds depth and spices up the original's take on action selection. Finally, at the end we decided to talk about our favorite science fiction media together.
To learn more about or purchase a copy of the game, please visit John's website at VenusNeedsMen.com.
Tower of Madess designed by Curt Covert from Smirk and Dagger Games is a mash-up of Kerplunk and Elder Sign. This game is a prototype that has not yet been produced but absolutely should be produced. It is light and silly chaotic fun set in the world of Cthuhlu. Each player takes on the role of an investigator trying to score the highest roll to win the location. Players roll 5 dice on their turns. Each die roll has 3 required results (a gate, a sanity, and a stamina) and 2 results that determine the winner of the location. If a player fails to roll the required results, he or she will have to draw a horror (tentacle stick) from the maddening tower of the elder ones. Marbles may drop from the tower. Blue marbles score victory points, clear marbles allow the player to draw spell cards, and red marbles may make a player lose his or her mind. The game continues until either all locations have been successfully investigated or if 3 doom marbles have dropped from the tower allowing Cthulhu to devour the world.
Our discussion focused on Curt's inspiration for this game as well as the production challenges he anticipates as he tries to move forward with it. The prototype is made from an altered WWE Kerplunk tower, so there are many practical considerations that a small publisher must factor into any decision to create a game like this.
If you wish to learn more about Smirk and Dagger games, please visit their website. This game is not available yet, but check the company's website or keep your eyes on Kickstarter because you might see this game one day.
On Who, What, Why? we discuss game design with game designers and try to learn more about the game design process from the people who design games. Each episode we interview a designer of card games, board games, role playing games, or video games. We have both mainstream and independent developers as guests.