Game Review: MonsDRAWsity!

I’m always on the lookout for new games to play with my students that will stretch their minds. Today’s fun board game was MonsDRAWsity by Deep Water Games, created by Eric Slauson. I ordered it on Amazon on sale, and think the on sale price point is probably the right one for this game, given the components included. 

MonsDRAWsity plays 3-8 players, and really does better with 4 and up. You could easily add more, in my opinion, though we kind of threw the scoring rules by the wayside because of how I was using the game in my classroom. The box lists a 20 minute play time, but it’s one of those that you can play for longer or shorter if you so choose. 

Photo courtesy of student “VR

This game focuses on one of the creative thinking strategies that we use frequently in my class and that I really love. One person describes a card that no one else can see. The others draw it. Then everyone votes on which is the closest interpretation of the card. I’ve done this with many groups, both of children and adults, and it’s a great way to see how other people think. The results can be very humorous. 

What really makes this game something different than just a thinking exercise is the truly creative artwork. Because I don’t wish to spoil the game for anyone else, I’m reluctant to post any of the cards, but you truly need to think outside of the box to describe these cards. The monsters can be mashups of robots, animals, bugs, humans–really anything. Or sometimes nothing at all. The kids had a great time just giggling over looking at the card itself, and the most common response to a new card was “what the heck?!” 

The other thing I really liked about this game was how practical it was. I have a couple of kids who are very good at art, and some who are still working on basic fine motor skills. Although my kids who struggle in that area were reluctant to play at first, they quickly jumped in when they realized the point was to get as close to the drawing, not the “best drawing”. I’m not great at drawing, either, and my stick monsters certainly helped build confidence! 

Photo courtesy of student “AnimeBOI”

Additionally, we figured out how to play this on Zoom with literally no extra steps. I sent the describer into a breakout room and came in to show them the card on camera. Then we went back to the main group. The one brief downside was that not everybody had paper, but the kids worked that out without a hiccup: they decided they just wanted to take turns drawing instead of playing the game the way the instructions described. They did best of three “rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock” and whoever won got to screen share their whiteboard. While that child drew, the others gave advice for how they thought it should go if it differed, or offered encouragement if they thought the drawer was on the right track. Since this is my social and emotional learning class, I often sit back and let them troubleshoot problems, and was truly impressed at how quickly they caught on to how this would work so that everyone could have a good time. 

Overall, this is a really fun game and well suited to both a classroom and to a fun game night with others. It works well with a mix of ages and ability levels so long as the groundwork is laid from the beginning. My only complaint is that the whiteboards needed more than the erasers on the dry erase markers, but that’s always an issue with things like this, and was quickly solved with some wet wipes. 

Friday Funday: Board Games in the Classroom

I teach special education, exceptional children, kids who have differences, differently abled kids–whatever you want to call it, that’s what I do. The kiddos I teach are amazing human beings. They struggle every day with things that others find easy, but, in so many important ways, they bring so much more to the table than so many others. I’ve worked with people with disabilities for almost 30 years, and one thing I have learned is that the more differences there are, the more things stay the same. 

Kids like games. That’s always true. Kids learn better by playing games. They don’t want to be tricked into learning, but they also don’t want to have to slog through a bunch of boring material to get to the result, where they have shoved a handful of facts into their brains long enough to put the answers down on the test and forget it all moments later. 

Although we still do a lot of traditional learning, the kids have really loved what we refer to as “Friday Funday”. I’m speaking about this here because I think it is important that parents, teachers, everyone knows just how important gaming can be to kids when they learn. 

A lot of games that are marketed to teachers are not really games at all. They are learning with a slightly “gamified” slant. My kids have always seen right through that and feel that they are being tricked. Like most of us, they want to learn things in a fun and exciting way, and in a way that is memorable. 

A student’s D&D character

One way that we do this on Friday Funday is picking specific games that teach a variety of skills but are still enjoyable. A lot of my kids are working on writing and putting together coherent sentences. Rory’s Story Cubes helps with this a lot. They roll out their stories and compose the little words in between. We also have a Dungeons and Dragons set of mini sessions that teach the same story telling without them really noticing. I even have one student who helps me work on a campaign I’m running for some teenagers. This student is a fantastically smart boy and wonderful, but often doesn’t want to engage in classroom work. But when it’s about building stats and writing back stories? We are ALL IN. The great thing about those games is that they also have a lot of collaboration. The kids work together and discuss. I feel that students learn better when they are bouncing ideas off one another and I step back to watch the learning happen but provide guidance where necessary. What kid loves listening to an adult talk for hours? They like my involvement, of course, but the point is that they are the ones learning and engaging with the material. If they are writing, telling stories, getting along–all of these are good things. 

Instant math skills!

Math can also be taught through games. D&D is, of course, a very math heavy game. Many of my students are learning basic math facts. They’ve been learning them for a long time and will continue to be learning them for a long time. Repetition is everything for my students. So, adding their ability modifiers to various rolls, subtracting health points (hopefully not that frequently!) and watching more than/less than for rolls are all very useful for my students. We play Dragonwood, which involves watching which numbers are the same and some basic addition and probability. 

We play Sleeping Queens, Codenames Pictures, Forbidden Island and Cube Quest. Some of these games have great applications to basic academics, but I also like to look for games that enhance social and emotional skills. My students often have services that require them to work on skills like taking turns, being kind, etc. However, all children benefit from this type of learning. Social-emotional learning is one of the most important things that kids are being taught in school, whether it’s taught explicitly or not. Game play is very important to kids for this reason. It helps them to become better adults. 

I’m wondering who else has used games in their classrooms or with their own children to teach skills, and what games are helpful for you. 

Introducing Kids to RPGs

When most of the role-playing community think about the player base, they usually think of teenagers and upwards. The argument is typically that there is adult content in many of the books and that younger children will not be able to follow the often complex rules. However, children are literally made to play pretend. 

When I first set out to teach my own children role-playing games, I first thought about over-simplifying. I’ve written previously about No Thank You Evil and that was certainly helpful–but we only played this after we’d already played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons! I really think that most people can make roll playing games accessible to kids. For the purposes of this article, I’m focusing on Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, but can be generalized for your role-playing game of choice. My only caveat is that certain worlds and systems are designed to be incredibly dark and not accessible to younger people. You could certainly alter the world to make it more child-friendly, but why? Unless you created the game or have not played any other systems, it’s far easier to use a world that can be made PG more easily. 

New to RPGs Yourself?

For those who have never played before, my first piece of advice would be to familiarize yourself with the rules. Read through at least the Basic Rules, and it’s better if you can pick up the Starter Set or the Player’s Handbook. Read through it. Make sure you understand at least the basics before you introduce the idea to your children. Kids don’t like to think about the rules; they just like to play. There are also a number of guides to help streamline the rules for both you and them once you get started. You need familiarity. But don’t get so bogged down on the specifics of the rules that your kids get bored. Remember that the story is the most important part. 

Once you have achieved basic familiarity with the rules, it’s time to run. I recommend using some of the pre-generated characters at first if you’re not used to the rules, or use “standard array” to get the scores for your ability stats. There are literally hundreds of free and inexpensive modules to use, but you’ll want to choose something quick and fun for kids for your first couple of sessions. Make it fun. This is a game, after all. If you forget some of the rules, no big deal. I also recommend having a cheat sheet for your players. This website also has some great cheat sheets and basic rules specifically designed for younger players or players with special needs.

If you are really stuck, there are a few board games you can play that are basically an introduction to RPGs. Legacy of Dragonholt is a great one, as is No Thank You Evil. It’s out of print for now, but my son started on HeroQuest.

Veteran Gamer?

Gaming with kids is a little different than gaming with your friends. Well, sort of. The side conversations, snacking, general feeling of herding cats–that’s all still there. However, I find that most kids really enjoy the imagination portion and take to it much more naturally than adult gamers. Although there are always some exceptions, they are fast and light with the rules. They have shorter attention spans than most adults, and understand social etiquette and turn taking less well. 

None of this means you cannot game with children. It simply means that you should not expect them to do what their brains are not yet ready to do, and you should expect them to do what they are hard wired to do. Most kids benefit from visual structure that lets them understand things better. Having cheat sheets or more visually appealing and easier to follow character sheets can be helpful for many children. Do not drop them into an overwhelming world. Children think in terms of their immediate surroundings. Even more than adults just beginning a campaign, kids will not care who was the ruling emperor of a neighboring country three hundred years ago. They probably will want to know the specific names of people in the town and what they are up to more than many veteran gamers might. 

Therefore, I tend to build the village and print out or present the map with names of places right from the beginning. I make sure that the NPCs are well fleshed out. I do voices more frequently with kids than I do with adults, in part because it’s much harder to feel embarrassed around children. For monsters, I usually show them the pictures of what they are confronting or stick to things they know (dinosaurs, dragons, zombies, skeletons). 

For Everyone

Switch up action with talking. Make sure your players are all active and participating. Although D&D only gives turn rules for combat, I recommend with a group of kids making other sections turn based, as well. I have also gamed with children with autism to build social skills. Even more visual structure is necessary, and we actually have a timer for that group. 

We also have the “nope” rule. If something is too scary or too much, a kid can nope out. This is an idea unabashedly stolen from Monte Cook Games, but it was such a great idea, I knew we had to use it. We have index cards with an “X” written on them that the child can just hand to me to avoid a big conversation, and I simply help redirect away from that topic. This also works for adults, by the way, and helps keep your table safe and fun for everyone.

I also try to keep sessions shorter than I normally would. Stop while the kids are still having fun and leave them wanting more. If you let things drag or wait until they are bored, they won’t want to come back again. I probably over-utilize the cliffhanger with kids, too, but they seem to love it. 

I have printed pictures of the monsters they face so they understand what they are facing each time, and also include pictures of important places. I do not have a lot of artistic talent, and this is for private use, so I will typically just look up pictures online. If I’m planning to post in a location that others can see, though, I will use pictures I have the rights to, or have a friend draw up what I’d like. 

I use map creator tools like Inkarnate to help the kids visualize the immediate terrain. Again, just like with the rest of the campaign, they prefer to think on a smaller scale than a lot of adults, so I have more focused village maps, and often even maps of their homes or immediate area within a village or city. I have a map for my own use that shows the full continent, but I don’t recall ever showing this to the kids; they have never cared to see it, because they simply do not think that way. If they want to see, or if you have a particular child who enjoys that kind of thing, though, that’s helpful to have. Even just putting it on paper is handy if you don’t want to worry about learning new tech or just want something handy to have. 

In Summary

Above all, remember that this is meant to be fun. Keeping things shorter than you would with adults, using cheat sheets to remember the rules, focusing on making sure that the kids feel safe and supported, and having visual guides to what’s happening–these are all ways to get your kids started in role playing games. Have fun! 

No Thank You Evil – Introducing Kids to RPGs

One question I see asked constantly on both parenting boards and on gaming boards is “what game can I use to introduce my children to role-playing games safely?” For me, the obvious answer was “Dungeons and Dragons” because I am a long time DM and did not have any qualms about creating a campaign specifically designed for young children and did not have any difficulty walking them through character creation and how to play. However, many other parents are not able to do this for a variety of reasons. Besides,it is also nice to just open up a game and have it explain exactly how to play. Gaming should be accessible, after all. 

My number one recommendation for these parents and gamers is No Thank You Evil. Designed by Shanna Germain and Monte Cook and published by Monte Cook Games, the game itself has a lot of experience behind it. The art work is cute and colorful, designed to engage children and draw them in. It certainly does that! Germain had the game out to be played at GenCon several times, and my own children could not walk past it without wanting to play, even though we had a copy at home. 

The game comes with ready-made characters and easy stats that can be navigated even by non-readers. There are adventures already set up for the Guide to walk the players through. It is pretty much ready to play out of the box. Players create their characters. The Guide tells the story with the help of the players, who describe their actions and use that character’s abilities to impact the story and how it will go. The Guide can also create their own story if they do not wish to use the pre-generated ones. 

Each character has 4 pools: Tough, Fast, Smart, and Awesome. They also have special skills and a companion animal who can help them do things.

As characters describe what they want to do, the Guide decides if it is super hard (8) all the way down to super easy (0). The player rolls the dice. They can choose to “try harder” by using points from one of their four pools until they do not have any more points. If they beat the goal, they succeed. If they don’t, they fail. It’s just that simple. I love the simplicity and the way that it starts introducing children to the idea that they roll the dice and may or may not be successful in their chosen actions. The Guide is encouraged to make it exciting, just like a GM or DM would in another roleplaying game, and the players are able to see how their choices impact what happens. It is easy to use the concepts learned in No Thank You Evil to introduce kids to other roleplaying games because it is so similar, yet simplified so children can understand it easily. 

However, my favourite part of this game is the same thing the game is named for: “No Thank You!” 

Many adult gaming groups have implemented a session 0 where players can discuss things they do not wish to see in the game, perhaps because they find it triggering or too frightening, or just uncomfortable. But it is absolutely impossible to cover every single thing that may come up during game play. Therefore, some groups (including Monte Cook and Germain’s various groups) have developed ways to discretely tell someone that a topic or storyline is too much. No Thank You Evil, taking into consideration that children are even more apt to be frightened by stories, gives each player a token. If something in the game becomes too frightening, the player can simply put the token on the table, and the Guide knows to steer away from that topic as quickly as possible to assure that everyone at the table is having a good time. 

Overall, this game is beautiful, engaging, and a wonderful way to get kids into roleplaying games. Although my own children started with Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, they were equally excited about this game and the way it was written and drew them in. The creators have the breadth of experience from years of game development and being gamers themselves to know what works, and definitely put a lot of thought and effort into this. The roleplaying world can always use new gamers, and this is a great way to get your kids started without needing to know a lot about the games yourself. Similarly, it is so well done that even veteran gamers will have a good time. My kids quickly started playing this by themselves, and that transferred into confidence to GM in other systems for my two older children. I definitely recommend this game to anybody who has children who want to play roleplaying games. 

Arkham Horror 2e Review and Gameplay

It was the waning moments of the year 1920, and a young man known as H.P. Lovecraft struck his pen to paper in what, unbeknownst to him, was to become a pivotal action for the future of board gaming. The Picture in the House, the first mention of Arkham proper, provided the precursor to many of Lovecraft’s tales. Now public domain, Lovecraftian horrors abound in books, movies, and games. Many of these fall flat, bemoaned by those consuming them as trite or uninteresting. The sheer quantity alone causes many to turn away. 

However, one board game stands above the rest as the longest running board game featuring Arkham. Now owned by Fantasy Flight Games, Arkham Horror first edition spawned from Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game in 1987. Today, we are on the third edition, which looks very little like its precursors. However, today I will review Arkham Horror Second Edition, since it is the game that is most recently on my mind. 

This is not a small game, and requires a great deal of table space, particularly if you are playing with a full cohort of investigators.

Playing Arkham Horror involves a great deal of time, particularly in set up. First and foremost, assure that you have sufficient table space. Spread the board out, leaving plenty of room on all sides. Defeating the Ancient Old One and his monsters is never easy, and requires tons of components! To set up, you will need to lay out the 9 location decks, the gate deck, the mythos deck, the Ancient Old One sheet (and doom tokens, of course), the monster cup, the clue tokens, and the various tokens/markers related to gates. You will also need the various item and ally decks (separated out), the investigator card decks, your sanity and stamina tokens (if necessary-more on this later) and money tokens. 

Each player chooses an investigator card. Here, we have decided that using the sanity and stamina tokens is not for us, and we use a red 10-sided die (d10) to denote stamina and a blue one to denote sanity, with the current sanity and stamina amounts face up. It is just one less piece to keep track of. Players receive their starting items (noted on the investigator cards) and place their character piece at the starting location noted on their investigator card. The players choose an Ancient Old One to battle (each has its own stats and requirements to defeat). 

Clues are placed at each of the 11 unstable locations (red diamond) spaces on the board. These are locations where gates are most likely to open. Investigators are placed at their starting locations (also noted on their cards). 

A mythos card is drawn and resolved, and the game begins with a chosen first player.

Game play is in five phases. At each phase, each player in clockwise fashion completes all necessary activities of that phase.  Upkeep, which includes setting stats by moving their sliders the amount of their focus (unless character abilities dictate otherwise) and any other upkeep needs based on various item or investigator cards. During the Movement phase, each player moves their speed, unless they are in the Other Worlds (in which case they can move only to the next section of the Other World, regardless of movement). If a character is prone, they can only stand up this turn. Next, is the Arkham phase. Each character in a location (not on a street or in another dimension) will draw a card and have an event based on that location. Different locations have higher probability of certain types of events, which are depicted in icons on the locations, but it is no guarantee. Certain locations also have alternative other events that can be chosen, such as the hospital or shop, in lieu of drawing a card. 

Jenny Barnes, ready for action

Once the Arkham phases is completed, the Other Dimension phase begins, and characters who are in Other Worlds will draw cards for their locations. These are based on colours rather than on actual locations. When they have completed their turns, the Mythos begins, with all monsters moving according to shapes on their tokens, and a card is drawn to determine what Mythos event will occur. This is very rarely good. 

In fact, I have discovered that, when in doubt of the rules for Arkham 2e, go with whatever seems the least likely to be beneficial for the players, and that is likely to be the actual rule. And always beware being lost in Time and Space. Unless you’re a Dreamer. Then go there as much as you like.

Arkham Horror 2e strove to encompass the true essence of Lovecraft in a way at which other games have only teased. Expansions are available which make game play even more difficult and dismal for the players. Therefore, it is one of my favourite games of all time. Although this is an American game by Fantasy Flight, it has as many pieces and moving parts as many Eurogames and requires almost as much to keep up with the game play. Things can turn rather suddenly from “this is an easy win!” to “oh, wow, we’re all dead now.” There are many ways to lose, and only two real ways to win (only one if you choose certain Ancient Old Ones) –either close gates permanently or fight the Old One and win (except the ones where, once they awaken, you automatically lose). 

This game has endless replayability, though expansions certainly add to the experience. Personally, I really enjoy cooperative games that have a high level of difficulty and a high likelihood of loss because I find them challenging and interesting. The writing for the cards and the story within is intriguing for those who enjoy Lovecraft and for those just starting out. My gaming group has also purchased the newer version of Arkham Horror, but it can hardly be called the same game. Many, many rules have been changed. The quality of the pieces is perhaps a little better in the newer edition, in my opinion, but I feel that my game shelf has room for both games. In addition, Arkham Horror can also be played as a single player game. I have spent many sleepless nights embracing the darkness by pulling this game out.

This past Halloween, we played in cosplay with the full cohort, and had a great deal of fun with this game. Several players who were new to the game joined us, and had very little difficulty following the rules with help from players with experience (depicted here).

Although certainly not for everyone, Arkham Horror 2e is a great game for the gamer who likes a good story, high replayability, and a true challenge. The game scales very well for a single player and for up to 8 investigators (though time to play increases proportionately). It does have a high likelihood for an alpha player to take over if players are not cautious, however, and remembering that there is no one true avenue for success in this game, and there are countless avenues for loss, will be beneficial in ensuring that everybody gets to have their voice heard at the table is important. The miniatures are fairly high quality and fun to paint, as well.

Miniature painted by Jason Horner

Arkham Horror 2e is a classic game that has a place on many shelves. I highly recommend this game. 

Iwari: Explore and expand in the new continent [Review]

By Stephan Sonny

Iwari_Feature_Image_Meeple-Eksyen

Iwari is a fictional universe created solely for this game. Here, humanity was still in its infancy. They founded their tribes and started exploring uncharted terrains. While doing so, they also encountered other tribe members. Anyway, for those who don’t know, the game got funded through Kickstarter. Will this game get on our gaming table often? Let’s find out if it’s for you, too!

Disclaimer: I am an avid euro gamer and a hardcore Legend of the Five Rings LCG player. I am not a fan of solo game/variant. This will give you an overview of what kind of bias I might have while writing.

Highlighting how to play Iwari

I only highlight the essential rule to give you an illustration on how to play Iwari. If you only want to know what I thought about the game, you can always jump to the next section.

In this game, players focus their efforts to explore and expand their territories. They do this by playing the cards from their hands. The hand always consists of three cards. These cards depict the area players may influence during their turn. Players must play cards depicting the area they want to explore/expand. If they don’t have the related cards, they can play two cards as a wild card. During one’s turn, he/she may play up to three cards to place up to two objects (tent and/or totem) in one area.

The scoring happens twice in Iwari. The first time only counts points from tent majority in each territory. The second one repeats the first, and it also scores totem majority and settlements. A settlement is a group of four or more sequential tents along the road. Whoever gets the most points wins the game.

For further rule explanation, Man VS Meeples has covered it in their video on their Youtube Channel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h–NWafc_IE&feature=emb_title

What made me love (and maybe, not love) Iwari

For starters, Iwari is definitely a euro game (yay). It’s an abstract game, so there is no chunky wall-of-text on the cards. The gameplay, essentially, is captivating, too. It needs you to throw some thoughts during the whole session. Is Iwari a simple one? Hmm, I couldn’t say it’s easy, though. I may be a bit bias here, but the testimonials from my diverse gaming group have proven my statement to be accurate.

Components & artwork that you won’t miss

I don’t know about you, but I always love to have pretty components and illustrations on my table. Thundergryph Games’ team is well-known for its remarkable artistry. Let’s Not pretend, even a glance of the box has successfully made you love Iwari, right? The vibrant colours fit perfectly with the fantasy style graphic. They went extra miles by designing different forms for the Totems and Tents instead only differentiate them by colours. Obligatory portrait of the Void.

Obligatory portrait of the Void.

Many of you may reckon I wrote it as if I have played many games from this publisher. Well, in fact, this article may be the very first appearance of Thundergryph Games on my blog, but I have backed several of their games through Kickstarter. What can I say? Their designs are always top-notch, and they have never let me down.Well, how can you resist this components?

Well, how can you resist this components?

Iwari’s gameplay and its reliance on the Tent placement

Based on BGG’s entry, Iwari is actually a reimplementation of Web of Power (which later also had multiple successors, China and Han). I honestly haven’t played any of those titles, so I had no expectation for this game (a good thing to enjoy a new game). Basically, this game is all about asserting dominance via its area majority mechanic. Players score main points based on how they influence the regions by building Tents and erecting Totems.

The impact of the secondary points cannot be taken lightly. When you let someone loose to build their own Tent routes, that extra points can decide the win or lose, too.

Iwari’s revolving heavily around Tent placement. That extra action to build Totem is related and really dependent on it. For instance, the number of Totems in a region is equal to the number of Tent majority there. Therefore, placing your Tent is essential, not only to open the door for you but also to shut your opponents’ future move. This includes the scoring, too, which I will explain in the next segment.

The placement of the Tents affects the whole game flow. Tent majority determines the points all players gain in that region. With the 3-2-1 rule, it still gives other players to place their Tents on a discovered area. I love the scoring because it prevents players from overcommitting over one territory.

Never overcommit in Iwari

The number of totems in a territory depends on the number of tent majority.

It may be tempting to build them in one place to get the majority and gain points. However, you also let yourself vulnerable when contesting Totems. When you have too many Tents, you may also let another player slips in and build his/her Tents on the last spot of your region. This is more their advantage than yours. For example, there are five free spots in Tundra territory. You build four Tents, and somehow another rivaling Tribe comes in and build a Tent. Yes, you gain 5 points, but the other one gets 4 points! You spend 4 times more resource only to get 20% output!

Oh, look, there are five spots in this Desert! Well, if I want to influence this area, I only need to build 3…

The number of totems in a territory depends on the number of tent majority.

More than that, I will just waste my resources. Well well well, what do we have in Tundra here? I have 2 Tents and the Totem majority connected to other regions. I may not gain the Tent majority in Tundra, but I don’t want other tribes to erect Totems. Hence, I will shut them down by not building another Tent there.

Moral of this story? Everything in Iwari needs to be “just about right”. Players must always be aware of the placement because it matters a lot during the scoring. Some sacrifices are necessary to win the game.

Player count and replay value

They designed Iwari for 2-5 players. It didn’t feel fun at all with 2 players, but it started to show promises with three. It may feel a bit crowded for some, but I would say five players will give the best experience in Iwari. That’s my sweet number for this game.

The deluxe edition comes with six maps and some other expansions. This guarantees a higher replay value in comparison to its retail version. I don’t really like the idea that they cut many things on the normal one, though. It’s still okay if the difference lies only on the components, but when it hampers the gameplay and replay value, I am not really a fan and will consider twice to back their next project.The artwork also makes you want to play this game over and over again.

The artwork also makes you want to play this game over and over again

Verdict

Iwari can be categorised as a light euro game. It definitely has depth and feels complicated for new players. However, if you are used to games with high complexity, this might be kids’ play for you. Be as it may, Iwari can be your “main dish” for one board game night. Also, nothing beats pretty components in board games, and Thundergryph Games has once again exploited this to release one of their games. I love Iwari, but my opinion still stands. They should have included the expansion in the retail version and kept the deluxe as the prettier version of it.

Top 4 Marketing Lessons From Successful Board Game Kickstarters

As host of the Board Game Marketing Podcast, I’m fortunate to get to speak with many different creators on how they successfully marketed for and ran their campaigns. 

Through our conversations, I’ve learned a tremendous amount of what actually worked to market a game, and what ended up being unsuccessful strategies for a launch.

Here are the 4 marketing lessons from the podcast that we’ll highlight today.

  • Be Incredibly Open To Feedback 
  • Understand The Inner Workings Of Your Fans
  • Openly Share The Creative Process 
  • Create An Immersive Campaign Experience

Be Incredibly Open To Feedback 

This lesson from Ammon Anderson, creator of T.A.C.O. THE GAME, is a biggie. 

One of the key things we talked about on the podcast was about being open to feedback. 

Here’s his story:

Ammon attended PROTOCON with the prototype of his game. He was getting a lot of great feedback but things still weren’t clicking with how to track points for the game. Someone showed up to playtest, loved the game, but recommended him entirely removing the scoresheet system replacing it with physical taco miniatures. This way, people would see who had tacos (poinots) throughout the entire gameplay and things would naturally ramp up as the pile of taco miniatures continued to dwindle from the central pile.

This was an AHA! Moment for the game and proceeded to have HUGE ramifications for the marketing. 

Now, Ammon had physical pieces he could use to photograph and market with. He was able to get input from his audience about the taco miniatures. There was even more content to use for marketing and the audience loved the physical taco pieces.

The takeaway?

Be open to feedback. Everyone who plays your game and takes time to leave feedback wants you to succeed and is trying to help you create the best game possible. 

The process and iteration that you go through to create the final game also makes for great content for your followers.

Understand The Inner Workings Of Your Fans

The most successful games are able to really find an audience to market to, and really dig deep there.  

That’s what Joe Slack focused on for his game Relics of Rajavihara

In the podcast, we discuss the importance of honing in on the right audience through niche specific Facebook groups.

For his process, Joe went through several different groups to determine who would resonate most with his idea. Since the idea originated as a solo game, he found a very tight-knit community in a solo-gamers group who he frequently communicated with throughout the entire development process of the game.

When the pedal hits the metal, this same group was the one that fueled the growth of his email list and the initial funding of his game.

At the end of the day, it’s incredibly beneficial to know who your audience is before you start marketing. 

Knowing your audience will enable you to talk to the right people, get the response you’re looking for, and be able to meet the goals that you’ve assigned for yourself with the game. 

Since this topic is quite large and arguably one of the most important things to focus on for a game launch, we talk more about it in depth within the Kickstarter Board Game Marketing Group on Facebook too.

Openly Share The Creative Process 

Kickstarter backers are early adopters who love looking behind the curtain to see how projects are made and how ideas come to life.

Within the tabletop category, the visual aspects of the game allow for the entire process to be attractive content for potential backers. 

For the launch of Emerald Flame, Rita Orlov started amassing an audience for her project by openly sharing the creative process.

It started with creating online puzzles that people could do while in quarantine. Through those online puzzles that she posted via her social media sites, Rita was able to continue forming organic relationships with other creators and with her audience through messaging, commenting and general interaction. 

From there, she made sure to harness that energy into the most actionable parts of getting a campaign funded: growing her email list. 

When the opportunity arose, she would promote the upcoming Emerald Flame campaign and provide a link for people to subscribe to her newsletter for notification of the launch.

Create An Immersive Campaign Experience

People often speak of launching with a big bang on the first day of a Kickstarter campaign. However, not many people talk about the experience of backers in the middle section of the crowdfunding campaign. 

For his launch, Jay Cormier knew that he wanted to do something special with his game, MIND MGMT. 

Jay set off to create an immersive experience for his backers to keep them engaged throughout the entire duration of the campaign. By placing hidden clues throughout the various review videos and parts of the campaign, he continued to keep his backers entertained and immersed in the world and theme of the game through actually living it. 

This gave the campaign the additional benefit of an active comments section, where backers interested in interacting with the content of the campaign would work together to seek out clues and unlock different secrets throughout the project. It not only kept people entertained, but it also ensured that backers deeply understood the world that he was building.

Final Thoughts

As you can probably imagine, launching a game on Kickstarter is no easy feat. If you have dreams of launching a game, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel – reach out and be sure to learn from those who were successful before you. Read as many blogs as you can to learn the Kickstarter launch process, join groups that discuss the development of games, listen to podcasts that outline the marketing of them, and don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help.

Short Bio: Nalin Founded Meeple Marketing and Crush Crowdfunding to help people bring ideas to market through Kickstarter and Indiegogo. 

Untamed: Feral Factions, a potential great CCG [Review]

by Stephan Sonny

The vast world of Collectible Card Games (CCG) has always been enticing new fans either by its innovation on the mechanic or even only through thematic appeal. Untamed: Feral Factions (for the sake of space, we will shorten it as Untamed from now on) is the latest game in this domain published by Grumpy Owl Games. Some say, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” So, what does Untamed offer that’s different from its forerunners?

Disclaimer: I am an avid euro gamer and a hardcore Legend of the Five Rings LCG player. I am not a fan of solo game/variant. This will give you an overview of what kind of bias I might have while writing.

How to play, an overview

In Untamed, first, we pick three out of nine factions decks and shuffle it together. There’s no deckbuilding. The game can then start right away. We win if we destroy all three opponent’s stronghold. Be careful, when we cannot draw any cards from the deck, we also lose. The turn consists of two phases: Main and Upkeep phases.

In the Main phase, we have some options to do. We can play a card, attack opponent, put additional Power resource, activate Stronghold’s effect, and pay 2 Power to draw one card. To play a card, we have to pay the cost. This is usually paid by using Power resources, but some also need to get paid by the Support, too. All Animal cards normally come exhausted. The Upkeep phase initiates by readying all exhausted cards. Then, draw 2 cards from the deck and place a card on the Support area from your hand face up.

What we think of Untamed

Untamed: Feral Factions was another Kickstarter game I backed because of its attractive illustration. However, deep down, it comes up with decent gameplay that assures fair experience. This €25 box covers 2-3 players but I recommend to stick with two players per play to carry out the joy. Overall, Jeremy Falger and Milan Lefferts have delivered something that exceeds my expectation.

Components and illustrations

Can you notice the deluxe token here?

Thick cards offer durability, especially in this kind of game where shuffling is inevitable. You can also feel the weight of each card. Multiple artists were working wildly on the illustration, and they came up with something extraordinary. It’s sure fitting the name Untamed.

The quality of the prints could actually be better. The vibrant colour on their website and campaign was not represented fully on the cards. I think it should have been crisper. Also, I think they should have numbered the cards as well. I know CCG like Munchkin does not number its card, but it would be helpful for collectors. With numbered cards, we can trace and store our collection in order.

On a side note, I love the insert. It is made of sturdy plastics that give better structure. I think it will fit even after I sleeve the cards as well here. Nice job. Please bear in mind that this is the Collector’s Edition; I am not yet informed if they also provide the same thing in the retail version.

Nice structure from the sturdy insert. The artwork, too, it still gives me chill whenever I’m unlatching the box.

An undemanding card game

It’s as easy as ABC to set up Untamed and start playing with it. With the high pace, one game can be finished in half an hour. The rule is straightforward but needs some time to master it, as we have to get familiar with the keywords and card effects. The game still has the depth that might attract more advanced card game players, although I think it is meant for more elementary audiences. It is required to plan your strategy ahead and be ready for unexpected tactical manoeuver from your opponent. But, then again, Untamed still welcomes more casual players, too. In fact, I think the accessibility (which will be discussed further below) is the main selling point that targets this audience.

Comparison to other CCGs in the market

Just like Keyforge that provides the easy-to-play without any deck building, Untamed is steering to the latter direction. As we know, Keyforge does not need that deck building process (which some find exhausting), and you can play the game right out the box. Untamed is quite similar in terms of such accessibility. Here, we don’t have to build your deck to play. We just have to take three factions decks provided in the game, shuffle them, stack it as our deck, and we are ready to go. I prefer Untamed to Keyforge because there are no randomised kinds of stuff involved (this explains why I prefer LCG to TCG). I know what I buy, and I still can swiftly customise my deck. This is my personal bias, by the way.

All animals are normally coming exhausted (tapped). This is similar to the tapped/untapped from Magic: The Gathering (MTG). To win the game, we have to strike all three strongholds. It feels like the simplified version of ‘taking down that provinces and stronghold’ aspect from Legend of the Five Rings.

The similar mechanics between ready-exhaust and tap-untap during attacking.

Those are the similarities I found in comparison to other existing games. Back to the question I raised during the prologue: what differs Untamed with the other CCG out there?

The main difference in Untamed: Feral Factions

In Untamed, the key differences are the resources and the discarding mechanic. There are two types of resources: Power and Support. Power is always renewable and Support is the disposable, single-use resource. While putting Power is optional in the Main Phase, the Support one is a different matter. The latter is an obligatory action I had to perform during the Upkeep Phase. Also, all discarded cards are first placed in this Support area. They are ready to be used again before getting moved out of the game.

These cards had been used from Support area and removed from the game. The left ones, which were still organised, were the Support cards.

This discard mechanic is pretty new, at least for me. All cards are discarded to the Support area and can be used once again as resources. I could make use of them before they went away for good. In short, Untamed has two discard piles. It does not sound dramatic at this point, but it does alter how the game flows.

What next?

Some cards that can be used in other variant. The artwork is pretty, it’s sad the print quality is not that crisp.

Just like any other competitive card game, there will be meta, of course. Hence, the life of every CCG relies on the publisher’s continuation on releasing expansions. Untamed: Feral Factions is not an exception: to keep the game alive, Grumpy Owl Games needs to release expansions consistently. Otherwise, the game will feel repetitive without any replay value. The designer team may have known this, and they have also released a statement that there will be a new expansion coming up next.

Unwavering support to keep the game balance is also necessary. The team can keep the game healthy by doing errata if some cards are…

…deemed too powerful in the future. I am not a soothsayer, but I can say that Untamed: Feral Factions has the potential to be the next CCG with possible global organised play if they manage to pull everything up.

Final thoughts

Untamed: Feral Factions is a fast-paced, simple card game with accessibility to more casual players. It does not need the complex deck building process but the game still possesses depth for more veteran gamers. The price is justified for a box of a card game with beautiful artwork and decent component quality. If you are looking for a new competitive CCG, you should consider Untamed and its future release. Anyway, the next one will be Untamed: Spirit Strike.

Planet in sight. Preparing for arrival…

Terraforming Mars is not a game that a novice board gamer can easily teach themselves…unless they get the digital version. My husband and I blithely attempted to play the physical board game, thinking that we’d just read the rules then play. [Insert slightly hysterical laughter] Instead we spent a frustrating day googling and attempting to play, and after many hours—and with a very long list of questions still unanswered—we gave up. I laid the game out a number of times after that, watched videos, and attempted to get some grasp of the basics. Inevitably I’d draw a card that raised some question for which there didn’t seem to be any answer available. Then I’d feel a momentary flash of rage for every experienced reviewer who scarcely spent any time on the cards because they were so “simple”, “easy to understand”, and “obvious”. I kind of wanted to slap them. But mostly I felt this sort of sinking despair. I really, really, really wanted to like this game, but I couldn’t seem to figure out how to play it, or enjoy what little I did figure out. There were so many things to keep track of—and to do—that playing the game felt more like a chore than something that would ever be fun. (Six resources which you must track changing amounts of both production and amount available for every generation, terraform rating, generations, oceans, oxygen, temperature, victory points—which don’t actually assure you of victory—and I-don’t-know-how-many tags on cards which sometimes need to match up with requirements, and sometimes do other things, plus special actions that are triggered by blue cards, as well as all the other miscellaneous iconography and symbols on cards, and the conversion of resources to tiles which must be placed according to both the layout on the board and the tile placement rules.) To say the game is complex is something of an understatement. If one doesn’t have a lot of experience with contemporary board games and the style of game often called a “eurogame”, then it’s bewildering. Neither my husband nor I had ever seen anything even remotely like this. Even if we weren’t in the pandemic lockdown, we didn’t know anyone who knew how to play, so there was no chance of anyone being able to walk us through it and answer individual questions. It was over our heads and likely to remain so.

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So when the digital version turned up on sale for half-price on Steam I hesitated. On one hand, I’d had good luck teaching myself a simpler digital board game on Steam, but on the other hand, it seemed a bit like throwing good money after bad, as the saying goes. I felt like this was both my last and only hope to learn the game…and gameplay seemed like it was so laborious and overwrought that I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it even if I learned how to play. But I got the digital version anyway. I had to try. The tutorial was well-done and reiterated what I’d already dimly grasped, as well as the ten million other things I needed to learn. I wondered if I would be able to remember everything.

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I needn’t have worried. The digital board game is in many ways everything the physical board game is not. It’s easy to play, easy to understand, and gameplay is super-smooth and enjoyable. Why the big difference? It’s baked right into the whole idea of making the game digital. All of the things that seem like insurmountable obstacles to a novice board gamer when they look at the sprawling bits of the game spread out all over the dining room table are things that digital games excel at handling. Both production of resources and amount of each resource is automatically tracked and laid out simply. Ditto for all those actions on the blue cards. It tells you how many you have, and which you can use. It shows you where you can place tiles. You can even look at your opponent’s resources, just as you can in a physical game. There’s no figuring out if a play is legal, or accidentally playing a card that you can’t yet play. The game will not prevent you from making stupid mistakes in strategy or gameplay, but it will prevent you from accidentally doing something you aren’t allowed to do. I learned how to play the game by playing it. I picked it up surprisingly fast, within maybe two dozen games. (Your mileage may vary; I’m a novice gamer.) That sounds like a lot if you’re thinking about bringing a physical board game to the table, setting it up, then putting it away, and doing that weekly or maybe twice a week, especially if you’re thinking about spending whole afternoons playing with a gaming group. That many games would take a lot of time on the calendar. But that’s another way that learning the game digitally really shines. There’s no setup. You can start a game and quit and the game will be saved, so you can literally play almost anytime. The AI plays fast; it’s not going to spend minutes pondering its next move the way a human would. My first game against the easiest AI lasted about an hour—and that was with me dithering over what I should do next. Also, there’s no reason you should finish every game if you’re just playing to learn; you can forfeit a game at any time or forfeit a saved game. I said two dozen games…I had already won a couple of games by then even though there were still strategic things I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of yet. Play 2-3 games in a row—and take it from me, that’s very easy to do—and you’ll know everything you need to know in a matter of days, add another week of obsessive play and you’ll be racking up wins more often than not! The digital version of Terraforming Mars is probably the fastest way to learn the game, and it works great even for the totally clueless!

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There are three levels of AI one can play against, and you can add AIs and human players besides yourself if you want to play with other people in your household, and there are online games against real people, too. Playing against an AI isn’t the same as playing against real people, but it serves an excellent purpose for learning the game. You are playing with an experienced player. You can observe how they use certain cards, and if you don’t understand exactly what a particular card does, well, just try it and see. If I misunderstood what a card did playing against my husband, who knew no more about the game than I did, then the two of us might be making all kinds of illegal plays without ever being the wiser. Playing against the AI, one can learn how things are actually supposed to work. It was utterly painless to learn and more than a little addictive. There’s a number of variations besides just mixing it up with AIs; there’s a solo version which is a very different experience than playing solo against an AI. You must win in 14 generations against a “neutral player” who passes each turn. You also have all the other options of the board game. You can play as a Beginner Corporation or choose one of two randomly chosen corporations. You can choose to play a standard game or use corporate era rules and cards. You can also turn on the draft variation.

I can’t speak for the digital versions on other platforms but there are achievements on Steam and I’ve gotten them all except the one for winning 10 online games. I haven’t yet played against people yet. (I keep hearing Han Solo in my head saying “Good against remotes is one thing…Good against the living, that’s something else.”) There are both Android and Apple apps if you’re not on Steam. Neither the apps, nor the game on Steam are free. Cheaper than most video games or board games, but some may balk at the price. I wish there was some basic version (maybe Beginner Corporation only, no Corporate Era, no solo version, no draft variation, or higher level AIs) which people could play for free because this is such an excellent way to learn this great game that it would be beneficial for gaming groups to be able to have players who were unfamiliar with the game learn it via the app/digital game before introducing it to the table at a game night. The learning curve for the physical board game might not be that steep for an experienced gamer, but everyone is a novice gamer when they first start playing board games and it’s not friendly or pleasant to be thrown in over your head, not to mention teaching the game takes time. I’ve watched gameplay videos of Terraforming Mars, but none of those really made the game click like playing the digital game did. Binge-playing the digital version for a bit is, in my opinion, a much better way to learn to play the game. It’s got everything the physical board game has, only streamlined, compact, and smooth. It’s such a compelling playing experience that I’d recommend the digital version for that alone, but as a way to learn the physical board game, it is unparalleled.

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Women Designers in Board Gaming

Inclusion has historically been difficult in board games and board game designs, despite the overwhelming participation of women as gamers throughout history. Representation of non-binary and women characters remains very low, and very few women or non-binary designers make their way into the top 100 of board games. Given that the name of our blog is Girls Who Like Board Games, I have no interest in discussing the reason behind the lower representation or why it occurs. Our blog has made our case abundantly clear: We support people of colour, we support women, we support non-binary and abinary folks, and we support their inclusion in board gaming in every facet in which they wish to participate. 

Therefore, this article attempts to highlight board games designed by particular women and non-binary designers in the hopes that more people will seek out these designers and play their games. There are many more, but these are a few that I have personally played and enjoyed. Comments with additional ideas are encouraged! 

Susan McKinley Ross has developed Qwirkle, which won the Spiel de Jahres in 2011. Qwirkle is a game published with Mindware that is easy enough for small children to play but complex enough for adults. You match colours or shapes in lines to obtain points. By placing your blocks strategically, you can score points to ultimately win the game. This game, with thick and colourful shapes on a black background, is visually appealing to players and can be used for simple shape and colour recognition for younger children or for people with disabilities. This is really where Ross shines; she makes games that children and adults both love and want to play together. Qwirkle is, in my opinion, her best, but her game Hoot Owl Hoot also deserves a place on the shelf.

Rachel (Bowen) Simmons is a transwoman who created The Guns of Gettysburg and Napoleon’s Triumph. Both of these games bear mention for being nominated for a small pile of awards and for their outstanding gameplay. Those interested in war games that simulate these time periods will enjoy these games quite a bit. Even as a mostly non-war gamer, I found Napoleon’s Triumph extremely enjoyable and interesting to play, to the point that it really sparked my interest in wargaming in general. This game specifically recreates the Battle of Austerlitz by Napoleon and really brings home that battle in a way that I truly appreciated. 

Grace Holdinghaus works for Fantasy Flight games and co-created Mansions of Madness 2e. This game holds a special place in my heart due to my time spent with friends playtesting it and some of the expansions. Mansions of Madness manages to take the overextended Lovecraftian Mythos and make them interesting and playable in ways that few other games have managed. The pieces are solid and beautiful, it comes with miniatures (always a perk!) and runs off of a well designed app that allows all players to play together in a cooperative adventure. 

Nikki Valens also works for Fantasy Flight games. Although they also worked on Mansions of Madness, I feel their inclusion here is most necessary because of Legacy of Dragonholt. First, I don’t think enough people have heard of this lovely game. My children and I had the pleasure of playtesting this game, and have subsequently bought copies for others (as well as for ourselves). My oldest daughter specifically wrote to Valens to exalt the beautiful storytelling while we were involved in playtesting for this game. As an introduction to RPGs, this game really excels. In some ways, Dragonholt is a fantasy based choose your own adventure cooperative game, but it goes far beyond simply that. We also learned that much of the game can be completed (so long as you have someone who can read) on long car rides, so it’s 10/10 for entertainment value based just on that!

One of the most beautiful games that I’ve ever played is Lotus, designed by Jordan and Mandy Goddard. This game is simplistic in its beauty and design, and somehow managed to recreate the feeling of cultivating a flower garden using beautifully rendered cards and a handful of colourful, insect-shaped wooden pieces. Lotus lists itself as appropriate for ages 8 and up, and it is truly one of the most calming games in my collection; it’s a game you can pull out as a palette cleanser between heavier gaming sessions, as a last game of the night, or even just in its own right as a light but thoughtful game. I particularly enjoy playing this game with my children as we talk about heavier topics; the beautiful artwork creates a zen-like atmosphere that makes those discussions go smoothly.

Having had the pleasure to meet Shanna Germain in person a few times, I can say that she has always seemed to me to be one of the most enthusiastic game developers I’ve known. Like many of the other wonderful women developers here, Germain has seen her name on several big name games, but I’m going to focus on one of her lesser known delights. For Germain, this is No Thank You, Evil. This RPG designed for children is a fun and upbeat way to show kids how RPGs can be as much fun as you’d like. It also introduced to our gaming group an extremely important point: the “No thank you, evil” trump card, whereupon a triggered or upset player can put down a “Nope” card to indicate that they do not wish for the continuation of a current point on the table. As older gamers, we sometimes see that certain topics are off limits to certain players. Session zero often takes care of the big topics, but what if you absolutely forgot something that might trigger a sensitive player that you never dreamed happening in Session Zero. And every Game Master knows that players are absolutely notorious for taking the game beyond what you ever dreamed at the beginning. Having the ability to subtly but firmly take something out of the game if it is unduly upsetting is something that gaming groups really need more of if the point of the game is to be fun for everyone.

I have plans for other writers and developers for tabletop games, but couldn’t possibly cover all of the wonderful women, non-binary and transfolk in one article. Please feel free to comment if you have an idea for someone who you feel should be included in future articles.