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.

An old family-weight betting game is receiving a fresh modern facelift and premium treatment thanks to Calliope Games and Kickstarter. Station Master, designed by Chris Baylis and originally released in 2004 by Mayfair Games, is back with a new look and streamlined rules, and it’s seeking funding right now. In this game for 2-to-6 players, locomotives are arriving at a station awaiting passengers and train cars. Each turn players may add either cars or passengers to a train, with each car either adding positive or negative points to a line. Once a line fills up with cars and passengers, each player who has passengers on that line will multiply their passengers by the total value of the cars to receive points and the player with the most points at the end is the winner.

“We have restored this timeless train game, creating stunning all-new artwork based on classic locomotives, railcars, and railroad history.  In addition, we have refined and streamlined the rules for modern audiences, as well as adding in upgrades and new material to create the greatest possible Station Master experience!”

It’s a surprisingly simple to teach and learn, but even more impressively quick to play as each turn is just a matter of adding a card or a passenger here or there. It boils bluffing and speculation down to easy-to-follow figures and formats, with a theme that disarms it entirely so that it may not seem to some that they’re even playing a betting game at all. This kind simplicity, ease of play, and well-executed theme is ideal for any family-weight game, and Calliope is taking it a step further by making it look great and giving this 15 year old gem the love it deserves. If you’re interested in learning more about this new edition of Station Master, check out the Kickstarter campaign page now for full rules, reviews, photos, and community feedback.

Those who love train games are quite spoiled for choice already, but it’s not everyday that we get to cover one that is made by and for a major US city. EL: The Chicago Transit Adventure is designed by Transit Tees, an official merchandiser of the Chicago Transit Authority, and it’s produced in the midwest as well. The game features a painstakingly accurate map of the city’s elevated train system with it’s various interconnecting bus routes and challenges players to be the fastest to make it to all the destinations in their hand. Various events, such as baseball games, festivals, holidays, and pigeon swarms delay or hasten certain routes, so careful planning and a bit of luck is key.

“It riffs on the joys and travails all CTA riders are quick to relate to, and the featured landmarks—such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Garfield Park Conservatory, Wrigley Field and the Bahá’í Temple—help orient travelers and promote Chicago’s world-renowned public transit system. In addition to train lines, EL players can make use of bus transfers between trains to strategically reach their destinations faster.”

This isn’t the first game produced for the Chicago Transit Authority, actually. Their first was called LOOP: The Elevated Card Game, a matching game similar to UNO but instead of matching colors and numbers you match lines or stations in order to keep travel moving. EL is a family weight game as well, to be sure, but definitely has more to show and love with it’s detailed map and relate-able premise. For those interested in learning more about EL, it will be available for preorder here, with the first orders available November 25th, and it will be proudly displayed in both Transit Tees stores shortly before that.

How’s this for a meta concept – A game to celebrate a publisher’s history of games where players are sorting the pieces to another gamer’s collection? It might be brilliant, it may seem cheesy, but that’s what Queen Games is doing for their 30th anniversary. The Queen’s Collection, designed by Daniel Bernsen, is a limited edition card game for 1-to-4 players where everyone is trying to sort pawns back into the Queen’s Collection of Queen Games. It’s incredibly cute, but also intriguingly flexible as the game can be played solo, cooperative, competitive, and in teams!

“The Queen’s Collection is a limited edition product that celebrates Queen Game’s immense catalog of games. The intriguing game system includes 16 cards, each depicting a Queen Game, and players must play cards from their hand to try to sort pawns onto the same colored card.”

While there’s not many more details than what’s been described above, this is of course a novelty item and one in short supply at that. Yet this isn’t just a game for Queen Games’ fans, it’s also for fans of gaming history if you consider it carefully. Not only is this a celebration of a publisher that’s made an indisputable impact on the industry, but it’s going to be a rarity in itself and both of those are good reasons to get a small box card game. For more information on The Queen’s Collection and of the other great titles in Queen Games’ lineup, be sure to visit their website for product pages, news updates, and more!

A really short and sweet announcement today – Horrible Games, the publishers of fun family games such as Potion Explosion, Dragon Castle, Railroad Ink, and Steam Park, are changing their name to Horrible Guild. The new name and logo will debut at this year’s Spiel in Essen, Germany, at their booth 4-A 108 in Hall 4. Their press release best summarizes the reason for the change:

“Regarding the new name, we think that the word “guild” better describes us as we are now, a bigger group of people sharing the same goal: designing, developing and producing cool and innovative games capable of bringing fun to everyone. The additional benefit of the change is that, finally, you won’t have to tell your friends that we don’t actually make “horrible games” when you introduce one of our games to them: we are simply a bunch of silly people with a horrible name doing great games!”

To accompany the change, they will also be launching their rebuilt website at www.horribleguild.com, and updating their social media presence accordingly. While certainly their old name was not an accurate assessment of their games, I am happy they are keeping enough elements of their old identity to remain recognizable while making a move that feels more appropriate to them. To learn more about Horrible Guild, their products old and new, be sure to check out their new website and social medias!

We got another release round-up, this time from XYZ Game Labs, a relatively new Chicago-based publisher. All of the games shown here will be hitting retail this November, so be sure to visit your favorite retailer and preorder soon if you happen to be interested. Now, without further ado…

First up is Borderlands: Tiny Tina’s Robot Tea Party. Designed by Adam McCrimmon, this is the tabletop game based on the hit shooter-looter franchise which prominently features many popular characters from the series, most notably Tiny Tina and Claptrap. This is a party game for 2-to-5 players where everyone will take turns playing cards to build up their Claptrap, gum up their opponents CL4P-TP units by playing mismatched parts, play surprise action cards, or a mix of the three. The first player to complete their Claptrap is the winner! It should also be noted that the game comes with a special code to be redeemed in Gearbox Software’s newest release, Borderlands 3.

Second on the list is RobotLab: The Card Game. This is the new retail release of the 2017 Kickstarter version of the game. It’s important to note here that RobotLab and Tiny Tina’s Robot Tea Party, described above, are actually the same game, with Tiny Tina’s being the more recent implementation using the Borderlands theme. There are some slight differences in the cards, and notably RobotLab requires your robot to have two legs in comparison to Claptraps single wheel. However, at the end of the day, if you’re interested in this kind of game then your choice is simple – if you like Borderlands, go for Tiny Tina’s, but if you want a more family-friendly version then RobotLab works better.

The last game on this release list is quite unlike the other two. Inoka is a 2-to-4 player game, designed by Noah Miller, where everyone is fighting head-to-head to find out who will be Nature’s Emissary. This is done through Paper-Rock-Scissors, like many of life’s difficult decisions. Each player will choose, from a hand of nine cards, 5 from among their rocks, papers, or scissors (in the game known as attacks, blocks, and taunts), and commence with a series of clashes where the player to win the most scores a point and the first to 3 points is the winner. There are king-of-the-hill-style rules for games with 3 and 4 players. For a very easy to learn game, it features some truly dazzling art on tarot-sized cards.

If you’re interested in learning more about XYZ Game Labs and their products, current and future, be sure to check out their website and look out for their titles on your nearest store shelf.

Rio Grande has a wealth of new releases this month, and strong variety at that. These releases cover the spectrum of new family-weight entries to classic heavy strategy titles. Personally I’m always fond of showers of releases like this because it’s fun to try to find a gem among them, and for this month I don’t think that’ll be difficult – not one bit. All of these titles are set to hit retail before the end of this October, just in time for Essen 2019.

To start us off is a new family game, Butterfly, designed by Stephen Glenn for 2-to-5 players ages 8 and up. Players each take turns moving Hudson the Hedgehog around the field collecting stuff: colorful butterflies, dragonflies, lightning bugs, crickets and flowers, but trying to avoid bees and wasps. The goal is to maneuver the plucky hedgehog to get you things you want while denying your opponents access to better stuff. The player with the best collection of things is the winner!

The next stop on this board game train sees us stopping in the Middle East and South Africa in the newest expansion to the Friedemann Friese’s Power Grid. This new pair of maps will give fans of the energy empire-building game new geographies and resource restrictions to deal with. The Middle East map, appropriately, is abundant in oil from the get-go, but this abundance will dry up and it’s imperative to build back-up energy plans to compensate by the time it leaves. The South Africa map is massive, and thus features 6 international power connections and a huge amount of coal-based power executed by a single trust. Players will need to adapt and capitalize quickly to succeed on either game board.

Following that is a new collaboration between one of my favorite designers, Bruno Cathalla, and Johannes Goupy known as Queenz. 2-to-4 players will be beekeepers trying to attract bees via orchids and collecting valuable honey. Each turn players will either collect flowers to fill their warehouse, or they’ll start up a new field filled with flowers from their collection and collect honey, getting points at the end of the game for having the most valuable hives on the board. It’s a very cool set collection / pattern building game with a grid element that rewards careful planning, but don’t take my word for it – feel free to watch Zee’s excellent review of the game to learn more.

Last, but definitely not least, is the English version of an area majority and set collection game designed by Frank Crittin, Grégoire Largey, and Sébastien Pauchon known as The Way of the Bear. Originally released in many other languages as Wangdo, this game sees 2-to-4 players control clans of bears trying to wrestle control of northeast Asia. To do this, players must place bear statues which allow them to collect tokens, but as the board fills up with these statues it becomes more difficult, and costly, to place them. The first player to collect their full set of tokens wins.

And with that, everyone, concludes this round-up – Have a great October everyone and Happy Gaming!

Wolfgang Warsch has undeniably been on a tear in the game design world, inventing new and intriguing design-after-design, with several new games still in the pipeline. One that came as a surprise, but also no exception, was in collaboration with the publishers of Exploding Kittens, because it’s available right now as an Amazon exclusive. On a Scale of One to T-Rex is a party game for 2-to-8 players where all players act out cards simultaneously to find matching pairs among them. Billed as a game for “people who are bad at charades”, this isn’t misleading as the real ticket to the game isn’t in the quality of your performance, but the strength of it. Have a look at the game’s description to see why:

“Players must perform ridiculous actions like “Be a T-Rex,” “Scratch an Itch You Can’t Reach,” or “Be a Hula Dancer” on a scale of 1 to 10. The twist is that the quality of your action doesn’t matter – you earn points by guessing and matching the intensity each player is performing their action. There are no turns in this fast-paced game, so in the midst of all the roaring, dancing, meowing, and yodeling, you must find someone on the same intensity level as you to earn points. The player with the most points wins!”

It’s a very novel, simple idea – what if we had charades, but everyone acted at the same time in different degrees? Nobody will be able to focus on how skilled you are in acting, no no no, they’ll be too busy laughing and trying to find someone doing whatever they’re doing as loud or as fast. It’s not only a fresh concept that will undoubtedly pull your friends and family in as soon as you tell them what the game is called – it’s also a brilliantly funny experience that is definitely worth the look. If you’re interested in learning more about On a Scale of One to T-Rex, please check out their website for videos, rules, and more.

Interested in an easy to pick up and equally easy to teach game with multiple modes of play and a unique, new theme? Dance Card!, designed by Michael Melkonian and now on Kickstarter, might be just the ticket – a dancing game for 1-to-4 players where timing, positioning, and collecting your nerves will be the key to success, just like real dancing! Whether playing solo, competitively, or cooperatively, all players will try to dance well with their partners around the dance floor of Sackson High through the tension of die rolls. Your friends, your placement, and some smooth moves can help mitigate these rolls and lead to victory.

“You get to play as one of 32 unique students at the Sackson High homecoming dance, and you’ll need to dance with all three of your partners to win the game. Whether you’re an experienced gamer, or brand new to the hobby, Dance Card! offers tactical fun the whole family can enjoy.”

Don’t be fooled by the high school aesthetic and colorful art, there’s a lot of refinement here that makes it more than just a modern, original theme that’s new gamer friendly. It’s deceptively simple, and that’s the point – it’s the draw of the theme and the ease of play that will bring it and your family & friends to the table and surprise everyone with variety and depth. The speed of play, combined with the wide assortment of characters and modes, means there’s a lot of replay value and a reason to explore it game-after-game. A highlight of this golden era of board gaming is that recent designs have grown past tired themes of the previous decade and leveraged accessibility to bring fun and depth to a wider audience, and Dance Card! is a prime and excellent example of this. If you’re interested in learning more about Dance Card!, please check out it’s Kickstarter campaign page for multiple previews, full rules, FAQs, community feedback, and more!

Terra Mystica is easily one of the biggest and highest rated Eurogames of all time, having inspired a space-themed spin-off in Gaia Project. Yet it has not stopped growing as this Fall we’ll be seeing another expansion for this 2-to-5 player territory terraformin’ game. Merchants of the Seas brings shipyards, Markets, and new maps to the multitude of factions vying for control – even the ones introduced in previous expansions! You’ll be able to send out ships to take special shipping actions, or perhaps play one of the few races that prefers to not get their feet wet and instead try to manipulate trade with other structures. All this can be played independently or combined with previous expansion content, meaning you’ll be able to make the as complex and intricate as your table can handle.

Merchants of the Seas expands on the hit terraforming gameplay of Terra Mystica. Develop your faction’s nautical strategy, stake a claim on distant lands, or focus on the benefits of trade. Plus, a double-sided board and over 30 tiles add countless new avenues to victory.”

There are two main goals with this expansion that should not be overlooked by the promise of added rules – strategic flexibility and balancing. Ships and trading allow for a wide variety of action potential that is, for the most part, independent on your current standing in a game – have water, will travel. Both ships and trading have ways to give you access to distant or action efficient terraforming and building options, making it harder to be built into a corner and opening new tactical decisions to boot. The new maps offer tons of replay potential and include new starting scores for each faction for all the maps that exist, balancing the game no matter how the landscape falls. If you’re interested in Terra Mystica or Merchants of the Seas, check out Z-Man’s website for more rules, images, and preorder information through them or your favorite local retailer.

IELLO has two new games coming to your favorite retailers this September. The first is the all new Ninja Academy, designed by Antoine Bauza, Corentin Lebrat, Ludovic Maublanc, and Théo Rivière. The game pits 3-to-5 players against one another in a wide variety of dexterity challenges. Challenges are decided at random, and alternate between tests for the whole group or a duel between two players. There’s really quite an assortment of mini-games here, as per the game’s description:

“For example, try to be the first player to place a ninja meeple on each of your fingertips! Try to guess how many ninjas your opponent put in the box just by shaking it! Be the quickest to assemble 5 wood logs vertically! Be strong enough to collect points depending on your score, but also be strategic enough when you bet on the winner of each duel!”

The second new release is an expansion for 8-bit Box called Double Rumble. Designed by the same team as Ninja Academy above, this game emulates NES-era side-scrolling beat-em-ups like River City Ransom and is playable solo or cooperative with a friend! Players take on waves of baddies coming from left and right, and it takes timing, tactics, and special attacks to survive the increasingly difficult waves and reach the boss. Fans of 8-bit Box and the retro games it calls back to will really like the flair of this one. For more information about either of these releases, be sure to check out IELLO’s website in the coming weeks as their catalog updates and watch out for their retail release early September.