Mike Austin

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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.

CGE definitely has their holiday release schedule ready enough as-is, but as they’ve proven within the past few years – there’s always room for more word-based party games. That’s not me complaining, though, because CGE has been knocking it out of the park in that category, so it’s with great pleasure to share with you a few more coming quarter four of this year. The most exciting of the two releases is the all-new Trapwords – a party game inspired by the team vs. team play of Codenames with a slight twist thrown in. As described on CGE’s product page:

“Trapwords is a fun and fast-paced party game for two teams, who simultaneously prepare their lists of trapwords. The simple task of giving clues for your word is made fiendishly difficult by not knowing which words you can’t say. If you succeed, you advance to higher levels with more trapwords and additional challenges. Includes a set of regular words as well as a set with a fantasy theme.”

Codenames, on the other hand, does not need any introduction, but it’s still awesome to also announce that it’s Pictures version is getting the same XXL treatment that the base game has already gotten. There are no gameplay changes at all, just a giant version of the game this time featuring it’s unique and puzzling artwork on much bigger tiles. With this next step it is within reason to expect that Duet will receive the same treatment in the future, but I’m curious if the themed versions, such as Deep Undercover, Disney, and Marvel, will as well. We’ll have to wait and see! In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about these, and other, upcoming CGE releases, be sure to check out their website for updates.

Firenze, designed by Andreas Steding, is 8 years old now and still remains a fan-favorite euro set-collection game. Easy to teach, but be careful biting into it because it’s so crunchy it could hurt with all of it’s agonizing decisions. Players are constantly torn by the need to draft particular colors of tower pieces from a conveyor belt while also trying to avoid cards with negative effects that pieces could be sitting on.  It’s this constant crunch and tension over colored wooden bricks that has kept the game relevant and unique and people have been clamoring for it since it’s been hard-to-find for a long while, so-much-so that there have been requests on BGG for a reprint for well over two years now. Quined Games has responded to this request by announcing that they’ll be Kickstarting the 2nd edition of Firenze on August 15th. As announced via a press release:

     “We hereby introduce our third new release for Spiel 2018: Firenze (2nd edition). This game probably needs less of an introduction, since it was already released back in 2010, was well rated but never became widely available. We are delighted to announce that Firenze finally gets its long-awaited reprint, fully language-independent through the use of simple yet elegant iconography on the games’ cards! Just like our other Masterprint releases, rulebooks in English, German, French and Dutch are included.”

While this is only being conditionally brought back on success of it’s Kickstarter and not exactly a done-deal, I expect this campaign will do very well given the interest in it after so many years. This new version will doubtlessly look nicer and players new and old will have something fresher and still good to look forward to. Quined Games will also have two other titles on Kickstarter at the same time – Raiatea and Counterfeiters – and while these games will be done on separate campaigns, there is expected to be an attractive bundle for all three games together so be sure to be on the lookout for that. If you are interested in learning more about Firenze 2nd edition, or the other Kickstarter projectes from Quined Games, please be sure to check out their website as August 15th draws near.

Last year, Restoration Games announced their intention to bring back Fireball Island during the Dice Tower Live show at Gen Con. Their project erupted onto Kickstarter and funded exceedingly well, to the tune of 2.8 million dollars. It was no secret then that Restoration Games was going to set it sights to bigger and bolder projects. Today during the same annual show, we learned what the next one will be – Return to Dark Tower, co-designed by Restoration Games’ own Rob Daviau and Isaac Childres, multi-award winning designer of Gloomhaven.

This restoration project is based on the 1981 classic, Dark Tower, a competitive adventure game featuring an electronic tower that took inputs and tracked stats, battles, and equipment. Players would navigate the board to bolster up their forces and brave random encounters on their way to the titular tower in the center in the hopes of being the player to ascend it and quash the denizens within. It was no surprise why it was such a hot toy at the time, being this device-driven game in a high fantasy setting. It’s equally no shock that the game was so highly requested, and now it will get the full Restoration Games treatment with no less level of attention that Fireball Island got, with it’s own Kickstarter to boot in 2019 for a projected 2020 release.

“Daviau and Childres—along with Jacobson and Restoration’s Tinker-in-Chief, J.R. Honeycutt—have been working behind the scenes for months to develop the core game mechanics. The game strives to provide players with interesting choices about which quests to pursue, how to best use resources to keep the growing evil in check, and when to make that final decision to assault the tower. Jacobson revealed that, while the game is still early in development, one of the reasons for the announcement’s timing was to allow them to do significant playtesting without fear of the story leaking.”

The only detail we know that’s been set in stone is that this new iteration of the game will be cooperative. Rob Daviau is quoted via press release in saying, “We always believed that, had it come out today, Dark Tower would have been a cooperative game. The real threat is that imposing tower. It will take all of the players working together to defeat it.” This is a very cool development, and I agree, cooperative games like Legends of Andor have accomplished some of what Dark Tower originally set to achieve within a framework of one of the most classic fantasy tropes – an adventuring party. This shift is a good fit for Dark Tower, and with the team of rockstar game designers and developers at the helm there’s a lot here to be ecstatic about. For more information about this project as it unfolds, be sure to check Restoration Games’ website for updates.

An update to our story that Eurazeo had placed it’s stake in Asmodee up for sale – the unknown potential buyer has been announced. Released in a statement on Friday, Eurazeo is in discussions with PAI Partners, one of the largest private equity houses in Europe based in Paris, France. The sale, if it were to go forward, would have to go through an approval process as per French law and could be finalized by the end of 2018. The deal could mean a return of up to four times Eurazeo’s initial investment! We’ll post more information as the story develops.

New games from USAopoly tend to pop up with the seasons, but now they’re turning up the heat so-to-speak. Super Mario Brothers: Power Up Card Game (Underwater Edition) and Blank slate were both recently announced and will be headed to different specific retailers this summer! Of course the Super Mario Brothers: Power Up Card Game already exists, but this new edition transforms the whole thing into the infamous world 2-2 underwater level. The gameplay is the same, just now there’s a lovely aquatic look to all the cards, bloopers to worry about, and a reason to hum this theme song instead while you play. While the original game is available at most retailers, Walmart has the exclusive right to sell the Underwater Edition so you’ll need to head to the notoriously blue store for this new blue version.

Blank Slate, on the other hand, is Target exclusive and an all-new word association party game. A cue card shows a word and a blank, and everyone must quickly fill in the blank on their personal dry-erase boards. The goal isn’t to be particularly funny or devious, but rather to pick what you believe is the most common word associated with the cue card because, after revealing everyone’s boards, only the players with matching answers will score points. It’s very intriguing to have two games come out exclusive to each of these retailers, yet it’s indicative of their rivalry and both USAopoly and gamers benefit from this sort of competition. If you’re interested in either of these titles, be sure to check out your local stores or their websites soon.

CMON Kickstarter campaigns are often big and exciting, and this newest one is no less the case. Cthulhu: Death May Die is the newest big box game with the sort of high-quality large figures that CMON is known (and named) for. It’s a cooperative game for 1-to-5 players, designed by the rockstar team of Rob Daviau and Eric M. Lang, and artwork by Adrian Smith and Karl Kopinski. If a Cthulhu-themed cooperative romp sounds an awful lot like long-popular Fantasy Flight flagships Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness, you wouldn’t be wrong. Where Death May Die differentiates itself is, unless the worst befalls your party early, you’re going toe-to-toe with a big nasty Old One in a really clever use of episodic materials that could only be designed by the master of hidden-things-in-small-boxes himself. As described on the campaign page:

     “The Death May Die core box contains smaller boxes that hold the modular elements to create each unique game session. Players choose one of the two available Elder Ones and combine their contents with those of one of the six available Episodes. Each of these boxes contain unique figures, tokens, and cards that are only used when playing with those elements. The Mythos deck used in each game is a combination of cards from the chosen Elder One box and the chosen Episode box. Each Episode not only indicates the map setup using the various tiles in the game, but also new actions the investigators can perform in order to accomplish the tasks required to disrupt that episode’s ritual. They each also bring their own Discovery cards for players to explore, and the monsters’ behaviors and abilities are tailored to each unique story.”

While the use of tactile tools to create a narrative-driven experience in a world where app-based dungeon crawls exists may seem like a step backward, the application of the components is demonstrative of the innovation those tools have gone through despite the current ecosystem. It’ll be really cool to see how the game is received for it’s composition and table presence after it arrives to backers who haven’t been crushed under the weight of it’s intimidatingly large, detailed monsters. Between the publishing and design caliber behind it, the miniatures, and the deft application of theme, it’s no wonder that this Kickstarter has already (at the time of writing this) passed 600% funding and trending towards millions of dollars. Update: In fact, all of the early bird waves have sold out, but CMON has responded by creating more expensive waves of limited product to be released further into 2019. If you are interested in learning more about Cthulhu: Death May Die, check out the campaign page for previews, in-depth rules explanations, community feedback, and updates.

Dice Throne is an excellent skirmish dice-chucking game for 2 to 6 players. While it looks very similar to Yahtzee-style monster-mashup King of Tokyo, it has a surprising amount of strategic depth thanks to it’s Magic the Gathering-style phase structure and keywords. It’s a game that I have infamously played 14 times in one week due to how fast, fun, and refreshingly different it is. Now that it’s second season Kickstarter is in production, the first half of the new characters will be hitting retail soon so you and your friends can get in on the fun. According to ACD Distrubution, the first two versus packs, Gunslinger vs Samurai and Tactician vs Huntress, will be dropping this October with the remaining two character packs arriving not long after.

These versus packs are a great and inexpensive way to try the game for the first time, as they are a neatly packed 2-player game on their own. However, if you find yourself a fan of the game or if you already own Season 1, buying all of the packs allows for broader selection and more players as well! Each class plays very differently and presents interesting match-ups against or teamed with others. The game plays well with experienced and new gamers alike, as each character is graded in difficulty and so to are each versus pack, and works just as well head-to-head as it does in teams or free-for-all. If you are interested in learning more about the characters coming to Dice Throne, check out the Season 2 Kickstarter page here for previews and updates, and see your favorite retailer for copies soon.

Being all-at-once controversial and incredibly influential, The Binding of Isaac paved the way for an entire emergent genre of Video Games. It remains one of the greatest examples of a roguelike, harnessing the exploration and excitement of the Legend of Zelda-series with the palpable tension of permanent character death that would leave it’s footprint in many games to follow. The success and popularity of Isaac is particularly impressive given it’s downright bold use of religious symbolism, gross-out imagery, and body horror that are used to underscore a tragic story of abuse, neglect, and childhood trauma. This is why it’s especially interesting that the game’s designer, Edmund McMillen, has been working diligently to translate what some may call his best design into a card game.

The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls, is a take-that, semi-cooperative card game for 2-4 players and it has blown well past it’s funding goal on Kickstarter already. Players take control of a handful of familiar characters and collect loot, treasures, and fight monsters in an effort to be the first to gain four souls. Everyone will have to work together to survive and upgrade in the beginning, but as a player gets close to getting their fourth soul things inevitably get treacherous. All of the favorite, cute, weird, and/or funny items and powers are here, their mechanics a reverse-engineered reflection of their video game counterparts, as Edmund explains:

“It was really fun to take a well known item or monster from the game and think up ways to convey stuff like, How could I show that the carrion queen takes damage when you hit her butt? Or how could I represent the RNG aspects of cursed floors or troll bombs only using a deck of cards? Once we finished the first 4 player game session, I knew this was something super unique that really embodied everything people love about The Binding of Isaac.”

As noted by many within the community, the design feels very close to Munchkin, but admittedly a little less chaotic. While this is a take-that card game, the amount of cards and abilities able to be played at a given time have strict limits; careful timing is key. No matter how the thing plays, though, this is as sincere of a translation of this Indie darling that can exist, spearheaded by it’s creator himself, with a lot of fun swag to go along with it for fans. If you’re interested in learning more about The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls, check out the Kickstarter page for the full rules, FAQs, stretch goals, community feedback, and updates.

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.