Mike Austin

Mike is a graduate from Indiana University turned freelance writer and activist gaming enthusiast. He spends his free time discussing news and game design, watching youtube, and entertaining friends and his cat, Cicero. Mike can be reached by e-mail at mikeoflore@gmail.com or on Board Game Geek via the username Noblegrizzly.

Railroad and resource barons are not strange themes for board gaming, but making an elegant and clean introductory economic engine dominated by anthropomorphic animal businesspersons is one way to make it all more appealing. Raccoon Tycoon, from Forbidden Games, is just that and it’s up for funding right now on Kickstarter. Anywhere from 2 to 5 players try to speculate the value of commodities and luxury goods, auction off railroad shares, and purchase buildings in an effort to be Top Dog.  The game has adequate depth for seasoned gamers while being streamlined enough to be a good introductory title to the genre, and it plays in about 90 minutes.

“In Raccoon Tycoon, players try to produce the most valuable commodities in an ever changing marketplace. They then use those commodities to build towns, or sell them at the best price to secure great profits that can be used to win auctions for the all-important railroads. The profits may also be used to buy powerful buildings that give the players power-ups or bonuses in production. Owning the best towns and railroads determines victory.”

Beyond being a game from veteran designer Glenn Drover, the artwork by Annie Stegg Gerard is downright adorable and hallmarks a solid and satisfying package. The campaign also includes some wonderful stretch-goals to shoot for, including premium currency-quality bills and bigger, better everything. The Dice Tower’s own Mark Streed recorded a Paid Preview of the game for those that want a quick view of how it plays. If you are interested in learning more about Raccoon Tycoon, check out the Kickstarter campaign page for a draft of the rules, more preview videos, play-throughs, community feedback, and updates.

Lots of people have some sort of table decor in their home to bring delight to a room, from coffee table books to easy-to-play games. It’s a nice look to have a chess set or giant checkers in the living room. How about Knot Dice? They are beautiful, charming dice that do not show any numbers at all, but instead intricate silver lines used to create an incredible number of designs and probably look just as good, if not better, occupying a table. Knot Dice are now back on Kickstarter, the original crossed version as well as it’s expansion, so now you can pick up the originals that did so well plus many more.  These quality, hefty dice, aren’t just for show either, as according to the campaign page they can be used for a variety of puzzles and games as well.

“Some enjoy just making designs with them, or leaving them out on tables and counters to play with. But they also can be used to play a large number of games and puzzles. The original Knot Dice set includes 18 awesome dice and rules to 12 games and 7 types of puzzles, with dozens of individual puzzles.”

There are competitive, cooperative, real-time, and turn-based games, and having both sets through the campaign allows for totally new games and puzzles while also broadening the options in previous ones. The dice are simply captivating and I can see them being wonderful for guests and kids. They mix style and versatility, and being able to do more than just fiddle with them is even more value for money. If you are interested in learning more about Knot Dice, check out the Kickstarter page for videos, demonstrations of games and puzzles, community feedback, and updates.

Some readers may know of Kingdom of Solomon, a worker placement game designed by Philip duBarry and published by Minion Games back in 2012. It’s a well-regarded and unique game that just didn’t have enough going for it at the time. With a distinctive theme of building-up ancient Israel, Kingdom allowed players to not only diversify their resources and how they got them, but also had a “cash in your chips” mechanic where you could give up all of your workers for a massive bonus if you felt it was worth the risk. I’m glad to write today that this cool design will not fade into obscurity as it’s new and improved spiritual successor, Wisdom of Solomon, is now on Kickstarter.

“Wisdom of Solomon is a worker placement game with a splash of network building. A typical game takes about 15 minutes per player, with games being a little bit longer the first time playing.  Wisdom of Solomon is a light to medium weight game, meaning that there is plenty of strategy for experienced gamers to enjoy but the game is intuitive and simple enough for new gamers to be able to jump right in.”

Now the game is back, with updated gameplay, art, and components, and ready to show everything that made Kingdom of Solomon so special all over again with it’s best foot forward. I particularly enjoy seeing a thoughtfully designed game like this being brought back in earnest, as it showcases a period of history that is worth learning about. The new publisher, Funhill Games, is also using some of the funds from this campaign to reprint Kings of Israel, a cooperative game as equally well-regarded and welcome again. If you are interested in learning more about Wisdom of Solomon, or Kings of Israel, check out the Kickstarter campaign page for the rules, gameplay videos, reviews, community feedback, and updates.

In another time, another future seemingly none too distant from now, governments have been mostly abolished and overcome by Mega Corporations. The fragile balance of control is being broken by four major media conglomerates, but who will own each conglomerate and the companies they’ve overtaken remains to be seen. In New Corp Order, now on Kickstarter, up to four players carefully take stocks in conglomerates and, through clever play and the help of consultants, manipulate the control over smaller companies in the hopes of owning and scoring them. Designed by Miguel Bruque, with art by Heiko Günther, the game is suited for ages 12 and up and plays in 30 to 45 minutes.

     “As the top executive of one of the world’s leading MegaCorps, your task is to improve the brand awareness of your company through the wise manipulation of the 4 biggest Media Conglomerates. Infiltrate their structures and use that influence to your advantage, even if that means playing one conglomerate against the other. After all, the prize is big: The World.

New Corp Order features a rules system that is very simple but offers deep tactical play. You can learn and teach the game in 5 minutes, but it will take you time to master all the possibilities it offers!”

There’s a particular elegance to the design which makes New Corp Order unique, and it’s rooted in it’s Ticket to Ride-style card drafting. Players must draft shares in order to do anything, as they allow placement and control of their corresponding color on the board. However, just because you sometimes place or move units of that color doesn’t mean you own them and that depends on cat-and-mouse tactics in order to ensure that the board state, your shares, and captured pieces are aligned in your favor in the end. As of writing this, the game is funded and steadily unlocking stretch goals that add better components to an already thoughtfully-designed game. If you’re interested in learning more about New Corp Order, check out their Kickstarter campaign for multiple video reviews, rules explanations, print-and-play files, community feedback, and updates.

If you own Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game or have been interested in seeing the game work for 3 or more players, today is your lucky day. Fantasy Flight has released the beta version of it’s multiplayer rules, complete with an all new win condition, and they would love anyone and everyone to try them out! Now the intensely tactical card game is open to more friends and family at once for an awesome new gameplay experience. As described on their news post:

     “Fantasy Flight Games is proud to announce multiplayer rules for Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game, now entering a beta process in which you’re invited to participate! This new variant is designed to allow three or more players to participate in a game of Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game, and even introduces a new win condition: Enlightenment. To download the beta version of these multiplayer rules, click here ( 0.1MB)!”

That’s all there is to it! Now these are beta rules, as described, so Fantasy Flight is interested in any feedback players may have and they will be posting updates and asking for surveys on their community forums, so if you’re able to take the time to test the rules linked above, or any of the updates since, you have a chance to help improve upon them with just a bit of feedback. And of course, this is all free to try, no expansion content required. So if you’re interested, read this page for more information and visit the community subforum for FAQs and changes, and get to beating more than one player at a time in L5R!

Crusader Kings and Crusader Kings II are some of the heaviest strategy computer games on the market. They are built to swallow you up into a medieval pit and if you know how to swim in those dark waters you are rewarded with some of the best brain-tingling challenges that gaming can offer. Every inch of the crusades is explored, the turbulent time spurned on by indulgences offered by the church to take back the holy land and the families that devoted everything to the cause for societal, spiritual, and political expediency. Yet even this intricate design and storytelling mirrors some aspects of modern board gaming mechanics and so it is great to see this series make it to tabletop via Kickstarter. As described via it’s campaign page:

     “Crusader Kings – The Board Game captures the essence of the Crusader Kings experience, in a physical tabletop format. This is a strategy game at heart, but with a special focus on characters, intrigue, and juicy medieval drama. To win, you will need to groom your family, build mighty castles, develop your dominion, be shrewd in the realm of diplomacy and intrigue, and use your vassals wisely to grow your wealth and military power.”

3-to-5 players will have the chance to develop their own dynasty into one for the history books, leveraging every resource and person at their disposal, waging conflict on the battlefield as well as within the privacy of their own homes and territories. I have no doubt in my mind at all that this adaptation, while probably losing a bit of depth by necessity, will still be a rich experience in it’s almost legacy-like emergent gameplay at least. At the time of writing this, the game is already well-funded and has broken most available stretch goals, meaning that I am definitely not the only one who believes so as the support and community is certainly there. If you are interested in learning more about Crusader Kings – The Board Game, be sure to check out the Kickstarter page for the rules, FAQs, reviews, previews, and updates.

Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn released in 2015 and struck out to shake up the living card game scene by featuring a unique dice-based resource system. Since then, Ashes has proven the strength of it’s innovation by it’s following, and it’s still standing out among Plaid Hat’s other head-to-head titles such as Summoner Wars and Crystal Clans. Like those other games, a large part of deck structure comes from a leader card who sets a tone for the deck, and while Ashes has had 13 phoenixborn and accompanying units and spells added to the game, there is still plenty of room to grow. Plaid Hat Games has recently posted a sneak peak at the two newest phoenixborn to enter the War of Ashes:

“Plaid Hat Games is pleased to announce the upcoming releases of the Demons of Darmasand the Spirits of Memoria, two exciting new expansions for the Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn card game! Both expansions provide two exciting new Phoenixborn to challenge your opponents, and each brings all-new cards to enrich and enlarge your deckbuilding options. The Demons of Darmas and the Spirits of Memoria will hit store shelves this August.”

The Demons of Darmas introduces Harold Westraven, an hunter who embodies victorian-era gothic horror – conjuring bats, wolves, and all the things that stalk the dark forests to break his opponent’s will, while marking targets for priority takedowns. The Spirits of Memoria adds cult-leader Sembali Grimtongue to your arsenal, who has adept control over the departed and will tax her adversaries conjurations for every unit that is removed from play. Both expansion will include more creatures and spells that will shake up the metagame and introduce interesting new combinations to this rock-solid card game. If you are interested in learning more about these expansions, and future Plaid Hat Games content, be sure to read the news post for all the details and check out their news section for future updates.

Warhammer fans rejoice! Warhammer Fest was this past weekend and in it’s wake came a bevy of announcements and reveals. Most die-hard Warhammer fans who couldn’t attend the event have probably been reading about it via the live blog on Games Workshop’s webpage, but for those who may have missed it we have the highlights right here along with a few extra Games Workshop reveals that were made within recent months:

  • A new edition of Age of Sigmar was revealed, featuring revised rules to make the game “faster, cleaner and more fun to play.” The core of the game has gone through heavy playtesting and taken on general community feedback, leading to refined phases and a new command point system.
  • Adeptus Titanicus, a new game of giant mech combat, was unveiled and is due to release in August. Players will lead God-machines into battle to combat one another, featuring impressive all-plastic figures.
  • Two new family-weight Warhammer board games are slated for late 2018. Blitz Bowl is just like Blood Bowl, but with smaller teams and faster turns. Space Marine Adventures is a cooperative dungeon-crawl experience where players control new heroes (with new sculpts) who try to break into a Necron labyrinth.
  • For the only piece of non-Warhammer related news from the event, a new Lord of the Rings board game, Quest to Mount Doom, was revealed with box art and is awaiting a release date. The game is focused on the journey to Mount Doom to destroy the ring, but it has a competitive twist. All players are actually racing to get the ring into the magma of the mountain’s cauldron, while keeping the ring hidden so nobody else knows that you have it.
  • A new, alternative rules set for Warhammer 40,000, Killteam, is on the way. This new skirmish mode of play uses existing factions and models, but is designed to play much faster and use less space, allowing for quick battles or campaign missions to be knocked out in a short time and on something as small as a coffee table!
  • Several new factions and expandable content were displayed for existing Warhammer properties. Magore’s Fiends and the Farstriders were announced for Warhammer Underworlds. Van Saar was just released and Cawdor announced for Necromunda. The Doom Lords just released and Dark Elves were announced for Blood Bowl. Last, but certainly not least, via a sneak peak it was revealed that more cards and warbands are on the way for Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire.

Phew! That’s a lot of news, and honestly that’s not all of it! There were even more announcements on the digital gaming front as well that’s worth looking into. If you’re interested in learning more about Warhammer Fest, and all other announcements and updates from Games Workshop, be sure to check out the live blog and the community website where there is absolutely more in store.

While social deduction games have been around for awhile and they often follow a similar formula, every year we tend to see minor twists that shake up the experience to be fresher than before, and it’s quite remarkable that such a long-running genre of games is still evolving. You can see this in Bezier Games line of Werewolf games, from Ultimate Werewolf, to One Night, to the recently announced One Week, just a minor change can make a big difference. This is also the case with Forsaken Forest, now on Kickstarter, which takes a lot of inspiration from Werewolf but adds a secondary objective and action cards which bring more strategy and less bickering to the classic formula. As described via it’s campaign page:

     “Forsaken Forest is a social deduction card game set within a mysterious forest, inexplicably warped by dark magic. In order to win, you must navigate to your team’s veiled Destination before the opposing team navigates to theirs, or eliminate everyone who stands in your way. The first team to either reach their destination, or eliminate enough of the opposing team’s players, wins!”

Now I don’t think that Forsaken Forest is going to unseat any other Werewolf title, but it is a welcome alternative for those that may felt that vanilla Werewolf and subsequent titles were more about arbitrary rambling than fun. What this game offers instead is a simple alternative win-condition – to reach a destination. If you know where it is you need to go, you can theoretically race to that destination, possibly making it before your team is picked off, and win even if you don’t know who else is sharing that victory with you. It means that players have to pay attention to a map and cards played in addition to what’s being said, and while it’s not much of a change it is just enough to be innovative and the board gaming community is better for it. If you are interested in learning more about Forsaken Forest, be sure to check out their Kickstarter page for rules, reviews, and updates!

Pirates and buried treasure will be evergreen themes forever and it’s easy to see why – They’re really cool! The Robert Louis Stevenson ones are, anyway.  Those pirates embody romanticized adventurism, individuality, and freedom, albeit fueled by debauchery and greed, and their intrigue makes them charming. It shows in how many prominent board games exist with the theme, but one game, Skull Tales, stood out in trying to capture every inch of it back in 2015. Now there is a second edition of the game on Kickstarter, and after having shown off it’s fantastic new miniatures and rules updates it has blown far past it’s funding goal in less than a day! As described on the campaign page:

“Skull Tales, created by David Illescas, is a semi-cooperative game for 1-5 players aged 14 and up. The approximate playing time in Campaign Mode is between 60-90 minutes for one scenario and about 150 minutes for a complete chapter (Voyage, Adventure and Port). The game also includes 52 miniatures – not counting stretch goals!  Set sail on the Southern Lady and explore the beautiful Caribbean sea, ripe with fearsome enemies and amazing treasures. Fame and fortune await you!”

It’s exciting to see Skull Tales: Full Sail! funded with such enthusiasm so quickly and it really speaks to how satisfyingly thorough the game seeks to be. You really do have the opportunity to adventure like a pirate of fiction, embarking on voyages to abandoned islands, following a story of treasure and fame, fighting other ships, braving supernatural horrors, and unloading your ill-gotten gains at the nearest port. The game has also certainly come a long way from it’s first edition as well, and the backers of the original have certainly taken notice and their support for this project after 3 years speaks volumes. If you are interested in learning more about Skull Tales: Full Sail!, check out the Kickstarter page and the publisher’s website for gameplay videos, rules, community feedback and reviews!