Corey Thompson

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A retired veterinarian and ex-cell biologist, Corey spends his time with board games, computer history, banjo music and general useless frivolity. Corey can be found as doccabet on BGG.

HABA, the excellent company spearheading chunky components in bright yellow boxes, has two new games coming out this summer, Mountains and Wobble King. Mountains looks to be one of HABA’s more mature game titles, fitting alongside the excellent Iquazu and Meduris. Wobble King is a more classic yellow box children’s games with HABA’s signature unique mechanisms and interesting pieces.  

In Mountains by designer Carlo A. Rossi (Divinity Derby), 2-5 players take hikes in order to collect stamps in their hiking book. Six piles of cards represent the 6 levels of difficulty, and each turn, a player picks one pile to draw from. This card shows what equipment is required for the hike, with more challenging hikes requiring more equipment. If the player has the necessary equipment in hand, they can complete the hike, and earn the rewards on the card. Otherwise, players can use “favor stones” to borrow equipment from other players. If no hikes are possible, players can turn over a card to simply earn more favor stones. After 2 hiking piles are depleted, the player with the most summit stamps wins the game. Mountains comes with great passport books, stamps and ink pads, and is expected to hit stores this August.

King Leo has fallen asleep atop his huge pile of silver, providing a perfect opportunity for players to sneak some of the treasure for themselves. The main board in Wobble King (Kippelkönig) is placed on top of many silver coin meeples. On the main board sits a large precariously balanced King Leo figure. 2-4 Players take turns using a stick to work one of the silver coins out from under the main board. If the board falls, or King Leo topples, the faulting player needs to take a rotten tomato. If you are caught twice, you are eliminated from the game. Look for Wobble King from designer Heinz Meister at your FLGS in August 2019.

The sharp-eyed and -eared among you may have heard Tom Vasel, our illustrious leader, drop a bombshell on the latest episode of Boardgame Breakfast. The next game in the Dice Tower Essentials line of games, will be Smartphone, Inc. originally from Cosmodrome Games and designer Ivan Lashin. The Dice Tower Essentials are games that Tom himself has played, deemed extraordinary, and brought personally to publisher Arcane Wonders for retail publication. Smartphone was originally shown at Essen 2018, and despite having a very small print run, quickly became a darling of the show. Rumors of reprints abounded, but until now the game has been on the grail list of many collectors.

“Back when smartphones were only beginning to conquer the world, it was your destiny to lead one of the most promising manufacturing corporations in the world. Analyze and research customer demand around the globe. Get out of your comfort zone and try to get more profit by setting up new offices in nearby regions. Improve your production and research innovative technologies. Try to get local markets under your control. Find your own way to success—become the producer of an elite high-tech product or a manufacturer focused on the mass market. And don’t forget to keep your plans secret if you want to win this race. Other companies want the same thing you do: to become the most successful (and richest) smartphone manufacturer of all time!”

Smartphone, Inc. is often described as Food Chain Magnate lite, being a strong but elegant economic game for 2-5 players about manufacturing and selling cell phones around the world. At the heart of the game, players manipulate two double sided cards, creating their “pad”. Each half of the pad contains 6 squares of icons, and by overlapping them in specific ways, players create their plan for the round: Visible symbols give actions for the round, while covered squares add additional product for sale, but inherently limit a player’s turn. Players can gain Improvement Tiles from the market each round, more cardboard tiles that can be added to their pad, adding new icons, or flipped to create more phones for sale.

Available actions include changing the sell price of a player’s phones up or down, researching new technologies, spreading and selling to other areas on the world map, gaining Improvements, and making more product. Newer technologies and world expansion give players more locations to sell their product, and each player can only sell in one “slot” per round, creating fierce competition for the markets. Players can focus on creating large amounts of cheaper phones, which allows them to act first, flooding sell spaces and outcompeting their opponents, or they can make higher priced phones to simply make more money. The richest player after 5 rounds emerges victorious.

The components for Smartphone are exceptional, with the entire board using dual layered cardboard, creating recessed slots for player pieces. The pieces themselves are brightly colored clear plastic cubes (phones/goods), office buildings (for territory control), and smartphone bars (representing progress). Individual player storage boxes keep the pieces organized: plastics, the player’s “pad”, and starting innovations. A clean, minimalistic graphic design places the round structure and all rules in easy to understand proximity. Also included in the game is a strong A.I. driven solo mode.

Smartphone Inc. will be available to demo at GenCon, Origins Game Fair, and Dice Tower Con this summer, and Arcane Wonders has stated that the awaited Kickstarter Campaign for reprints will still occur later this year, with retail release to follow in 2020. For more details, check out Arcane Wonders announcement here, and the Cosmodrome official webpage for Smartphone Inc here.

The OP, also known as USAopoly, has announced Astro Trash, a new real time dice rolling game reminiscent of the classic game LCR. Astro Trash has 3-5 players acting as intergalactic janitors, trying to clear their personal planet of trash, by either moving it to another player’s planet, or by flinging it into the sun.

“Thanks to a sanitation spacecraft gone haywire, a collection of debris has been released into the vast universe, covering once inhabitable worlds with disruptive litter! Cleaning up all the Astro Trash calls for one quick-acting champion to literally take the matter into his or her own hands.”

Players frantically roll their three dice in real time. The numbered die dictates how many pieces of trash can be moved, the colored die says what type of trash can be moved, and the direction die says whether they are moved to the left, the right, or incinerated in the sun. If a players’ personal planet is cleared of all trash, they proclaim “Clean!” then take a Trash Trophy. The first player with 3 trophies wins the game.

Astro Trash comes with 5 player mats, 15 custom dice, 50 trash pieces in 6 colors, an oversized playmat and 11 Trash Trophies. For more details about Astro Trash, check out The OP’s press release, or the official web page for the game.

Rock Manor Games has launched a Kickstarter Project for the post-apocalyptic western board game, The Few and Cursed, by designer Michael Gnade (Brass Empire, Maximum Apocalypse). The game is based on the rich and engrossing world from the comic series created by Felipe Cagno and Fabiano Neves, and the art for the game is pulled directly from these stories.  

“The Few and Cursed can best be described as a Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets the Old West comic book series about people trying to survive a world where most of the water evaporated overnight in a mysterious apocalyptic event back in 1840. Even though what was left of mankind found a way to adapt using water, the most valuable asset on the planet, as currency, survival turned the world into a wicked wasteland where it’s either kill or be killed. And evil not only endured, it won.”

1-4 Players take on the role of Curse Chasers, each starting with unique strengths, weaknesses, and asymmetric starting decks of cards. Players deck-build without a market, collecting their cards from an upgrade deck, and choosing which to keep and which to discard. Players meet random encounters, try to complete jobs, capture bounties and find supernatural artifacts. Card play moves the characters across the dry Pacific ocean, gains them resources, improves stats, and generally gains fame or infamy. Dangers lurk all over this world, from fearsome monsters that hunt the heroes, to the ever-present supernatural forces that curse the characters.

“Draw on the darkness too much and you will transform and become cursed… every cursed state has it’s own pros and cons but they all lead towards death.”

The game includes 4 player characters with double layered character boards, minis with 38 starting cards and 90 upgrade cards. Also in the box are 4 monster minis, encounter, shop, artifact, and job cards, and numerous cubes and tokens. A Deluxe Edition adds 60 engraved wooden tokens and a metal first player coin. The Kickstarter Campaign for The Few and Cursed continues through June 27, and the game is expected to deliver in July 2020.

Dice Tower News has previously announced the formation of Gamegenic Ingenious Supplies, a branch of Asmodee dedicated to creating board game accessories. Now, the proverbial elephant in the room has announced that the first project for Gamegenic will be accessories for the immensely popular collectible deck game Keyforge: Call of the Archons.

Keyforge, by designer and gaming demi-god Richard Garfield, hit the scene by storm in 2018, delivering on its unbelievable promise of a game based on completely unique card decks. Each and every pack of Keyforge has a one of a kind name, logo, and set of cards. The game itself is the next evolution of the one-on-one CCG card battle, with players summoning creatures, collecting Æmber, and creating the eponymous keys to win the game. The hook is that cards are based in one of 4 houses, and players can play as many cards as they like, as long as they all belong to the same house.

Gamegenic has announced they will be bringing official deck boxes, sleeves, and other accessories for Keyforge. CEO Adrian Alonso stated, “KeyForge has not only a unique game concept but also special requirements in terms of accessories, which we have incorporated into our product design. As we are all enthusiastic KeyForge players ourselves, we can promise that there will be some truly special products.” The new Keyforge products will be revealed at the traditional Fantasy Flight Inflight Report before Gencon 2019, and the official launch date is August 1. For more information, check out the press release from Asmodee here.

Pencil First Games has announced The One Hundred Torii, a new Kickstarter project from designers Scott Caputo (Whistle Stop) and Eduardo Baraf (Herbaceous), with artist extraordinaire Vincent Dutrait (Treasure Island, New York 1901 and many, many others). The One Hundred Torii is a zen tile laying game, where 1-4 players take turns adding to an ever expanding garden, calling for help from the characters living therein, and scoring for paths between matching landmarks.

“Step into tranquility as you pass through the torii gates, traveling from fountains to flowers to shrines while meeting vendors, poets, and even samurai along the way… “

On their turn, the players take one tile from their hand of 2, and expand the garden. Every tile piece has paths and at least one of the 6 features – Lotus, Bridges, Lanterns, Water Basins, Inari Statues, or Sekimori Ishi (stone features). If a continuous path is created between two matching features, the player scores a landmark token for that feature. If multiple paths are created, the player only scores for the shortest one. If the path passes through one or more Torii gates, bonus tiles are earned; Red Torii give the player multiple matching tokens for the feature, while blue Torii earn tokens for other, different features. When a player earns 5 of the same token, they must be cashed in for a larger 5-point piece. Similarly, 5 more tokens create a 10-point piece. Fully isolated areas of the garden with 2 or more features score special Enclosure Tokens. Other achievements are earned for being the first player to earn all six 5-point tokens, or three of the 10-point tokens.

Another important aspect of the game is the ability to ask for help from one of the five characters who live in the garden. Characters cost coins, or single tokens, but never the larger 5- and 10-point pieces. The Samurai prevents players from placing a tile in a specific location. The Poet covers a single feature, preventing it from completing pathways, or possibly allowing for longer pathways. Both the Samurai and the Poet stay out until another player asks for their help. The Vendor allows players to discard a tile from their hand, and replace it with 2 new ones. The Geisha lets a player place 2 tiles into the garden, although only the second tile scores for a path. Finally, the Gardener allows a player to place a tile on top of another tile. The first and second time a player summons a character, they collect that characters’ token, earning 2 points. However only one player may collect the points for summoning a character for a third time.

At the end of the game, the 5- and 10- point tiles score their points, as well as tiles earned from working with the characters, tiles from creating enclosures, and achievements for being first to earn the larger tokens. The One Hundred Torii also comes with a single player mode, where the player battles against Onatsu, the pilgrim. Onatsu takes the player’s unused tiles, and scores her own points throughout the game.

The Kickstarter Campaign for The One Hundred Torii continues through June 10, and the game is expected to deliver in April 2020.

Courtesy KublaCon

KublaCon is touted as the largest multi-genre gaming convention west of the Mississippi. My 5 days in San Francisco showed that the power of this gathering lies in its people. Mike Eckert, executive producer of KublaCon, expected his staff of 67 to cater to over 4000 people in this 19th year of the convention. Kubla is spread over 3 hotels south of San Francisco and includes Tournaments, Miniatures Gaming, Role Playing, LARPing, Board Games, Collectible Card Games, Painting and nearly every aspect of our strange little world. Special guests abounded, with the program listing nearly 20 designers, authors (I saw Andy Weir watching a game of Terraforming Mars), YouTubers and industry insiders.

The game development and design scene is very strong at Kubla, prompting Scott Rogers (Pantone, Rayguns and Rocketships), game designer and co-host of Ludology Podcast, to call it “one event in the industry I will never miss.” The Protospiel room, spearheaded by Jeremy Commandeur, housed true greats of the industry, who showed each other extremely early designs in a safe, open environment. I was lucky enough to see Matt Leacock (Pandemic, Forbidden Desert) demonstrating a new dexterity game, as well as Scott Rogers showing off Rayguns and Rocketships the Card Game and Castle Climbers. Early designs available for the public to play also included Lanterns Dice: Lights in the Sky and Wizardz Bluff, as well as Kickstarter projects Papillon, and Fickle. Open the the public, the KublaCon Game Design Contest has 30-40 entries judged by greats in the industry, with the top 4 games open to play throughout the convention. Past years have all created published games, including critical success March of the Ants in 2014.

One of the most impressive features of KublaCon is the community. More than once I saw people leave their prized games with complete strangers, or even in an empty room, with no fear of anything being stolen. Communities banded together in the long lines, feeding each other and reserving prized places waiting for events. The feeling of community was best seen in a tradition of call and echo, where one person will yell out “Kubla!” and the entire hotel will roar with an echo of “CON!” It just makes one proud to hear a sole 8 year old scream out his war cry and be answered by thousands of supportive gamers. For the very young, KublaCon hosts kids’ gaming and crafting rooms, occasionally dressing them up in armor and weapons and marching the army of gamers-in-training throughout the convention halls, intimidating the masses.

I was able to play great games at KublaCon, both rare and relatively unknown (Smartphone Inc) and popular (you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting Wingspan or Terraforming Mars). Impressive giant scale versions of favorites King of Tokyo, Shadows over Camelot, Azul, Tak, and Captain Sonar adorned the front room. I found fantastic deals in the flea market and dealer hall. But the thing I will remember the most from this convention is that every person I spoke to had the most amazing experiences and stories –  from Disney Imagineers to Google Executives to Game Designers to Cancer Survivors to long distance friends rarely seen, Kubla truly was a convention of the people, and I look forward to next year.

The real magic that makes the new Above Board television show special is the cast. The dozen or so actors in Above Board clearly have a special knowledge of sketch comedy, and all work together beautifully, playing off of each other in a natural manner. While attending the studio filming, I was able to speak to each cast member and get their take on the show, board games, and the community at large.

The production creates a “meta of the show” with actors using their real names and often their real jobs. You get to know the characters they portray, from the picked-on intern Curtiss, to psychotic Kurt the Sound Guy, and Brett the hopeless, possibly homeless, victim of destiny. Ideas, gags, and characters come around a second and third time, creating inside jokes that make the viewer feel like they are part of this hysterical, dysfunctional family.

Producer/Writer/Director Travis Oates was the owner and teacher at the ACME Comedy Theater in L.A., where he trained most of the cast of Above Board in sketch and improv comedy. He was host of Arena on G4, director of Don’t Blink (2014), and has been the official voice of Piglet for Disney for more than 15 years. Travis’ natural comfort in front of the camera and finely honed comedic timing and wit are what make this show special. He is also a true board game connoisseur (read: junkie). His personal collection of games is immense, and many of the cast have ridiculed his Kickstarter addiction. In fact, a compilation video of Travis wandering conventions, continually stating “I Kickstarted that” is rumored to exist. Curtiss Frisle commented that “Travis can swim in a pile of games like Scrooge McDuck”.

Leif Gantvoort is the perfect straight man to Travis Oates’ sarcastic prodding and taunting, and the two are a natural hosting pair. Leif has known Travis for decades and directed at ACME. His on screen innocence from the hobby is an act, as Leif was getting into gaming well before production on the show started. However, Leif did express surprise at the sheer scope he witnessed during his trip to GenCon. In fact, while “researching” titles in the show, his personal collection increased significantly, including favorites Twilight Imperium and Heroes of Land, Sea & Air. Plus, Leif killed Uncle Ben.

Like most of the cast, Kim Evey, along with her better half Greg Benson, were with Travis at ACME. The two of them worked on the comedy web series The Guild, as well as behind the scenes at the nerd vacation JoCo Cruise. Between these projects, the couple was in touch with the gamer community and fully knew what they were getting in to, although they consider themselves “gamer adjacent”. Kim admits that one of the better perks of the production was the necessity of “playing in depth games for research”. Greg does recall Quarto as being one of his favorite games from ages past. Greg plays a hyperbolic game show host who bursts in during competitions between the hosts, perfectly mediating metaphorical battles to the death. Kim’s segments add a bubbly, delightful innocence and energy to the show, although her more evil intelligent side does show through – most notably when she makes short work of YouTube celebrity guest Chaz Marler. Charlie, 3 years old but instrumental behind the scenes of Above Board, lists Snug as a Bug in a Rug as a favorite to play with parents Greg and Kim.

Kurt Engstrom really is the sound guy when on location, but he steals the show as Kurt the Sound Guy. Large and imposing, Kurt the Sound Guy doesn’t say much, but what he does say touches your brain in a way that makes you innately uncomfortable. In real life, Kurt is a delight who has been playing RPGs, Warhammer 40K, and Star Fleet Battles forever. Kurt said of the community around board gaming, “You can’t be an ass and expect to be invited back”. Similarly, Curtiss Frisle embodies the simple, naïve Curtiss the Intern, who takes constant physical and mental punishment from the hosts, yet always runs back, just excited to be there. Curtiss acted in Travis’ feature film Don’t Blink (2014), and identifies himself as more of a video gamer than a board gamer. However, constant exposure during filming has made Curtiss a fan of Star Realms, Zombicide: Black Plague and Heroes of Land Sea & Air.

Brian Spillane tends to burst in unannounced to “Spillane it to you”, laughably botching board game definitions or terms, much to the delight of Travis and annoyance of Leif. Brian portrays the kind, but completely lost and out of his element, wannabe expert. Spillane admits to not being much of a gamer prior to Above Board, but has since fallen in love with classics such as Orleans, Mysterium and Terraforming Mars.

Dan Billet plays a perpetually angry, intense correspondent, whose ranting screams brought the audience to tears several times. A veteran actor of 25 years, Dan lists Game the Game on Geek and Sundry among his many roles. Dan has been playing RPGs forever, attending NecronomiCon on a regular basis, and was well versed in board games before production on Above Board. Dan remembers playing Dead of Winter preparing for the show, although he admits he is always the traitor. His favorite game of late is Pandemic.

Beth Leckbee dominates her scenes, often in an appropriate barbarian outfit, intimidating the hosts and exploding with gaming excitement. She also brings a musical element to the show, singing amazing board game song parodies. Beth commented that the show is “not being faked. [There is a] legitimate gaming community in this group”. Games were relatively new to Beth, but during the production she learned about the titles, many of which she now plays with her kids. 

Brett Sheridan portrays an innocent who through the hosts’ pranks or simple fate, seems to constantly run into bad luck. Brett might live in his car, may be wounded or trapped, but always steals the audience’s heart and sympathy. A long term ACME veteran, Brett acted on The Guild with Greg and Kim. Games were relatively new to Brett before the show, but now “family time has increased since getting into games”, and games have become a necessary way to unplug.

Pauline Yasuda plays a disaffected, emo correspondent, laughably despondent in her many roles in the show. She calls her trip to Essen “very intense”, its mere size and scope a real eye opener. Pauline has since fallen in love with games Dead of Winter and Trekking the National Parks.

Miles Grose also plays many roles on Above Board, starring in varied sketches, and brings a humorous intensity to his segments. Miles is a veteran actor who trained at ACME with Travis, and although he played some RPGs as a kid, board games are a relatively new world for him.

It is obvious watching the cast at work that they enjoy what they do, they enjoy working together, and this bursts through in the final product. Miles Grose best summarized the passion behind Above Board: “When you have a pitch, [you have to think] not only is it a good idea, but are you the right person to pitch it? Travis is the right person”.

Z-Man Games has announced a new game in the Pandemic Universe, Pandemic: Rapid Response. Pandemic (2008), by designer Matt Leacock is the absolute gold standard among cooperative games, winning numerous awards over the years. However, this time around the game is a real-time dice chucker, and the designer is none other than the grand poobah of real time, Kane Klenko. Klenko designed the popular co-op games FUSE and Flatline, and is known for creating tension-filled, unique dice mechanisms.

“Pandemic: Rapid Response is a race against time. Set in the beloved Pandemic universe, this real-time board game challenges players to create supplies and deliver aid to cities in need around the world.”

In Rapid Response, players work cooperatively to fly their rescue plane to troubled cities, and drop the supplies they require. The board represents rooms within the plane, each of which specializes in a task – generating supplies, dealing with generated waste, or controlling the cargo bay in order to make the drop. Around the outside of the board is a track of cities, with a token marking the plane’s current location. City cards sit on this track and show what cargo is needed where.

Everything takes place in real time, and players take turns rolling custom dice, Yahtzee-style, with 3 rerolls allowed. One die of any face can be discarded to move the player’s marker one room within the plane. Airplane symbols on dice can move the rescue plane itself one city in either direction around the board. The rest of the die faces can be placed on matching boxes in a player’s room to generate that type of supply – either vaccines, food, power, first aid, or water. Once a resource track is filled with enough dice, players need to activate that room to generate resource cubes into the cargo bay. But making cargo creates waste, and dice need to be placed in the recycling center to reduce the buildup. Finally, activating the cargo bay delivers cubes therein, and as long as the plane is in the right city and the correct cubes are in the cargo bay, that city card is cleared. Remember, all of these actions are done during a 2-minute sand timer: When the timer runs out, a new city card is placed on the route, one time token is discarded, then the timer is flipped and the insanity continues. Players all win if all the city cards are cleared using their required resources, but lose if time tokens run out, or the plane becomes overwhelmed with waste.

Pandemic: Rapid Response will be exclusive to Target stores in the U.S., but will hit your FLGS in the rest of the world. Look for Rapid Response in stores on June 23, 2019, and for more details, check out Z-Man Games’ website here.

Designer Glenn Drover (Empires: Age of Discovery) and his company Forbidden Games have started a Campaign on Kickstarter to fund the first expansion for the popular stock market game Raccoon Tycoon. Raccoon Tycoon (2018) has been extremely popular since its release, due to the fantastic artwork and simple but elegant economic mechanisms, earning a Seal of Excellence from The Dice Tower, with Tom Vasel stating “It’s fast-paced high quality fun. This is easily in my top 5 stock market games ever.”

In Raccoon Tycoon, up to 5 players choose from 5 actions to try and earn the most victory points by game end. Central to the game are the Price and Commodity cards, which allow players to gather commodity resources, then increase the price of several goods. As an action, players can sell all of a single resource for the current price, but the price then decreases by the number sold. Money can be used to buy buildings in order to gain special abilities. Railroad cards can be auctioned, and earn increasing points at the game end for completion of sets. Town cards can be bought with resources, and are a necessity in order for the railroad cards to score.

The Fat Cat Expansion adds a number of things to the game, primary among them being a 6th player, and an additional set of Railroad cards, the Jack Rabbit Railroad. To facilitate set collection, Badger Baron Railroad cards can be used as wild cards to complete sets, and new Town cards are thrown into the mix. Additional buildings add variety and new special abilities. New player boards have space to organize resources, buildings, and components. The Fat Cat Expansion also adds new meeple play, with specialized wooden tokens that can be purchased to earn points or bonuses. Housing and Locomotive meeples can be built via specialized buildings, and can be added to Town or Railroad cards respectively for points. Animal and Tycoon meeples can also be acquired during the game, and advance on a point track on the player board. And to add frosting to an already spectacular cake, the Fat Cat Expansion comes with a giant wooden Fat Cat Start Player Marker, matching the impressive Raccoon that came with the original game.

The Kickstarter Campaign for Raccoon Tycoon: The Fat Cat Expansion continues until June 7, and is expected to deliver in November 2019.