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.

Everybody reading this knows that getting a board game going has it’s pain points – setting it up, teaching it, or learning it. Those are not attractive parts to tabletop gaming for sure, especially in comparison to the immediacy of other forms of entertainment. The team behind Dized recognized this, and sought to leverage modern smart-device app design to make learning games less troublesome. While the app is available for download right now on iOS and Android, and it has a lot of support from users and publishers alike already, the developers are on Kickstarter right now seeking further funding in order to build the app into the best it can imaginably be, and they are offering in-app rewards and promos to boot!

“Dized’s fully-voiced, interactive Tutorials are able to react to what’s happening in your game, so you can learn as you go, turn by turn. Dized acts like the friend that already knows what to do, introducing a game’s rules on a need-to-know basis while adapting to the actions of the people at the table. If the need arises to refresh your memory, Dized’s Rules have you covered. Dized Rules are like fast, searchable FAQs able to respond to all the questions you might have.”

So some of you may be thinking, “wasn’t Dized on Indiegogo before?” You’d be right, it was successfully funded on Indiegogo last year. It’s back on Kickstarter now because the platform has a bigger community, which means more outreach and support, and also because the developers have bigger plans and features in mind. Besides expanding the list of available games, on the docket of additions are “adaptive profiles” which customize the teaching experience based on what the app learns of it’s user, the games they’ve played and the concepts they’re already familiar with. It’s ambitious stuff and it takes a bigger team to make it, and with this push they can really push Dized into the next level. If you’d like to learn more or support Dized, check out the app’s campaign page for videos, reviews, community feedback, updates, and more.

 

If you like take-that style games, tile laying, wild treasure hunting adventure, and/or mazes, Centershaft: Fallen Elements could be a game for you, and it’s seeking funding right now on Kickstarter. Designed by George and Hattie Anthony, with art by Tyler Johnson, this game pits 2 to 4 players against one another in a rat race to find four elemental gems and leave via the hub tile. Yet this maze is dangerous, as it’s filled with dangerous natives, guardians, and is constantly being twisted and trapped by everyone involved. Featuring excellent hand-crafted illustrations, premium components, and miniatures,

     “The four opportunists must venture, not fully aware of the dangers, into a subterranean labyrinth. Seeking what they believe are rare gems, they soon discover the stones contain elemental powers. Threatened, they find themselves maneuvering quickly through warp portals, battling natives, and avoiding traps in an ever-changing maze. […] Be mindful. Opponents enamored with obtaining the power of the gemstones will stop at nothing to take what you’ve got. Remember to journal each elemental landmark and track your steps wisely… the path back to the Centershaft may not be as easy to return!”

There’s a lot of familiar elements within this game that remind me of another fan-favorite, maze-crawling, take-that game – Fantasy Flight’s Wiz War. I have a lot of fond memories playing it many years ago, laying traps to stifle people, threatening the game state by picking up a treasure nobody expected, and rotating tiles to alter the maze in zany ways. Centershaft echos a lot of those things, but with a much more dynamic tile-driven grid filled with suspense and external threats that can shift and evolve in many more organic ways than Wiz War could have imagined. If you are interested in learning more about Centershaft, check out the Kickstarter campaign page for plenty of video previews, complete rules, FAQs, and updates!

When it comes to spellcasting, the Harry Potter series has a fairly firm monopoly on the idea of swishing and flicking a wand about. While style hardly originated within that fiction, it’s undeniable that the act of drawing intricate patterns in the air with a gnarled stick was taken to new levels of popularity because of J.K. Rowling’s genius world-building. We’ve all been there, we’ve all vainly tried to cast Leviosa with a nice branch or replica at some point, it’s okay. Buzzy Games understands this, and that’s why their newest title, Abra Kazam! is all about it. In this party game arriving this month in time for Essen, 3 to 8 players take turns demonstrating charms from a drawn card, while all other players try to identify the spell based on the movements in order to score them.

“Abra Kazam! offers a friendly and fun experience that brings together all ages, from 7 to 99 years, around a spell-casting contest. Gather up to 8 wizards and make room around the table for the Charms contest. At your turn, grab the magic wand and try to make the others guess your spell by drawing in the air the magic move of your card. The first to find the corresponding card on the table becomes the Wizard. But he will have to play by following the challenge just revealed on the back of the card.”

Guessing the spell correctly, while rewarding you with the card as a point, also binds you to a challenge, which will either limit your speech or your movements, making you work harder to cast or guess. Maybe you’ll have to cast your next spell with your arms outstretched, or maybe you’ve become paranoid of a dragon and you have to shout “It’s coming!!” before making any guess or face a penalty. While the restrictions may or may not work as a catch-up mechanism, they will absolutely be funny and mixing that kind of charm and theme with silly, goofy fun seems like a great mix to me. If you’re interested in learning more about Abra Kazam!, check out the product page on the distributor’s website for full rules and more.

Dice drafting is an excellent game mechanism that I feel is under-utilized and not fully explored. Last year’s hit Sagrada is a great representation of this point. I like to think that Creative Game Studios recognized this as well when they planned to bring The Towers of Arkhanos to Kickstarter on October 2nd. Their newest project goes beyond just drafting the dice, as it also uses the shape of the dice to it’s visual advantage – the dice are placed after drafting to act as pillars for the titular towers as they climb ever upward over the course of the game. This eye-catching blend of theme and function, along with an approachable set of rules, makes this a crowdfunding title worth the look.

 “The towers of ARKHANOS  is a fast paced competitive boardgame for 2 to 4 players who will control one of the magic schools from the realms of Drunagor and try and build the magic towers in order to gain more prestige points to be appointed the greatest wizard of the realm. Design by Daniel Alves and Eurico Cunha two of the creators from “MASMORRA: Dungeons of Arcadia”, the game features artwork by Marcelo Bastos and Rodrigo Ramos creating a unique and colorful world.”

A strong draft and table presence aren’t the only things Arkhanos has going for it. Like any good gateway game, it also teaches a few other strategic staples, notably risk assessment and timing. Unlike other dice drafting games, this one always gives you the option of taking actions without a die, but doing so means you will lose one of your meeples instead as it is grimly sacrificed to be a pillar of a tower in place of a die. Actions and area control are determined by these meeples, so losing them this way isn’t ideal but it often comes down to seizing opportunity and an advantageous bonus in a crucial move. You don’t have to take my word for how thoughtfully put together this game is, however, because if you are interested in learning more about The Towers of Arkhanos you can check out their Kickstarter campaign page for playthrough and preview videos, full rules, community feedback, and updates.

Horrible Games are making moves on the digital marketplace with two announcements. The first is Dragon Castle, which will be making it’s app debut next year. Now the tense, tactical, tile picking-and-placing game will be available on the go or PC and is sure to have some exciting multiplayer features. This is amazing news, as Dragon Castle is an excellent game that deserves the digital treatment and the exposure that comes with it.

“We’re doing it again! We’re happy to announce that we’re going to publish a digital version of Dragon Castle! The app version is now in development, and is planned for release in 2019. Originally developed by the terrific trio Lorenzo Silva / Hjalmar Hach / Luca Ricciand illustrated by Cinyee Chiu, the game will be converted to the digital format by Studio Clangore, the same development team behind the Potion Explosion app.”

The second announcement involves Potion Explosion, which already exists as an app, having it’s first expansion – The Fifth Ingredient – available for download today. It can be bought as DLC inside the app, and it’ll unlock all the great features added by the physical version. Now you can play with the titular fifth ingredient, the wild ectoplasm, along with the new professors, their scolding and reward tokens, and the new potion types as well. Horrible Games also boasts that the addition includes some new animations an updated soundtrack, and an interactive tutorial! If you’re interested in learning more about these announcements, be sure to check out Horrible Games’ website for further releases and updates.

The 2017 Spiel des Jahres nominee, The Quest for El Dorado, is getting it’s first expansion – Heroes & Hexes! Reiner Knizia’s deck-building racing game through South America can be expanded to add heroes and demons to the course, injecting riskier decisions and daring rewards. Demon spaces are cheap, costing nothing to enter, and can even offer shortcuts, but all of it is for a price. Demon spaces bring curses, burdening the player with unsavory effects they’ll have to deal with for the rest of the game. It’s not all bad though, as everyone starts with familiars in their deck offering one-off powers and tavern spaces on the board provide heroes that can really give you an edge on your way to the City of Gold.

 “To play with this expansion, you must use the “Caves” variant of The Quest for El Dorado base game in which mountains are loaded with cave tokens. This expansion includes new cave tokens to be mixed with those of the base game, as well as four new types of expedition cards (with three copies of each) that can be pulled into the market once a stall opens. […] The expansion includes six suggested map set-ups — all at medium or hard levels, and all with three new terrain tiles — as well as guidelines for how to create maps yourself.”

Knizia’s games are often mechanically strong, elegant, and lacking frills, so to see an expansion to one of his designs which adds risk/reward systems is exciting. Do you take the path that’s really less traveled, or take the longer route to come out of this race with a clean soul and sounder mind? To me this feels like a must-have expansion for anyone who loves The Quest for El Dorado, as the familiars, cards, and map variability alone breathe more zest into an already rock solid game, all the other bits are an even more pleasing bonus. The expansion is slated to make it to retail soon, or at least before the end of the year as far as I can find, but If you’d like to find out more be sure to check out their website for rulebooks and further announcements.

Sometimes games are released to very little fanfare, even if they deserve it, and it’s those times that we here at Dice Tower News are probably doing our best work at spreading the word. That’s the case right now with Onitama, which just recently launched on iOS and Android. This popular 2-player game from Arcane Wonders and Asmodee Digital can now be played on the go and against players from all over the world! This is great for fans of the game, as now there’s plenty of ways to challenge yourself against human and AI opponents and it’ll broaden the appeal for the design and the modern tabletop gaming world.  If you’re ready to test your mettle on mobile, you can download the app right now on the iTunes and Google Play stores.

     “Immerse yourself in an ancient Japanese setting and discover Onitama, an exciting, fast-paced strategy game! Onitama is somewhat reminiscent of chess and rather addictive with its dynamic game mechanic in which warriors face off so their master may win the game. Concentration and luck are the only weapons you’ll have at your disposal! You’ll need to fully master mind and body to defeat your opponents.”

The cult-favorite barbarian, Conan, is going to receive more tabletop-gaming love over the next year or so. Shinobi 7, a publisher who specializes in pop-culture IPs, announced that they required the rights to Conan for two upcoming games. The first of which, a miniatures game, will hit Kickstarter in early 2019 while the second, a competitive card game, will head straight to retail at an unspecified time that same year.  As quoted from the press release:

As a lifetime fan of Conan, I am honored to take part in the ongoing legacy of Robert E. Howard’s phenomenal body of work,” says Jason DeAngelis, publisher of Shinobi 7. “Our team of game industry veterans is developing a line of games that’s sure to delight and surprise fans of Conan and Robert E. Howard.

It’s an interesting time to be a fan of Conan, especially after the well-received Monolith-produced miniatures adventure game and it’s expansion. I’m very curious how Shinobi 7 will differentiate their miniatures game from it’s already well-known predecessor. I’m also curious if the competitive card game will capture the same sort of pulp adventure that is synonymous with the brand, given that it’s described as involving characters within that world fighting for glory. Unfortunately, details beyond that are scarce, so only time will tell. If you are interested in learning more about either Conan-related releases, be sure to keep an eye on Shinobi 7’s website as they say that further details, components, and release dates will be on their way.

If the name in the headline seems slightly odd and lengthy, you’d be forgiven for thinking so, but such is the cost of combining two fairly different tile-laying games into one new and surprising title. Stonemaier Games announced on Wednesday that they’ve gotten permission from Bezier Games  to combine their Castles of Mad King Ludwig with Stonemaier’s Between Two Cities, creating a more unique version of the latter with advanced scoring and theme from the former. It’s a kind of board gaming mad science that, when coupled with several prominent reviewers having received early copies to critique, makes for one very powerful piece of news that subverts disbelief with lots of pretty new tiles and possibilities. Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig plays 2 to 7 players, features a 4-piece Game Trayz custom insert, and is set to hit retail on October 19th.

     “Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a competitive tile-drafting game in which each tile is a room in a castle. You work together with the player on your left to design one castle, and with the player on your right on another castle. […] At the end of the game, each castle is scored. Your personal final score is the lower of the scores of the two castles you helped design, and the player with the highest final score wins the game. To win, you have to share your attention and your devotion between two castles.”

As presented within the description above, it really is just Between Two Cities but with some better bits mixed in. You’re still doing the same wonderfully unique exercise of building two places between your neighboring opponents, but now there’s more involved with what kinds of rooms you add that affect scoring in new and interesting ways. It is doubtlessly a more attractive package than either of it’s parts, both on the table and in it’s design. Fans of either game have something a bit more of value in store in this union, which speaks to the thoughtfulness of Stonemaier Games’ presentation of this product.

Apart from the praise and criticisms this game will gather under it’s own merits, I can’t help but applaud the idea of smashing up two games into something a bit different. Will this become a new trend to takeoff into 2019? The year of board game mashups? It would be fascinating to see, and I encourage it! If you’re interested in learning more about Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, check out Stonemaier Games website for more pictures, videos, a full rulebook, and updates.

Even in today’s market where there are more and more games to choose from than ever before, Days of Wonder releases still feel exceptional. Their quality control to deliver sweet and beautiful family-weight games is second-to-none and they’re always bringing something new to the realm of “gateway” weight games. Their newest title, The River, follows this trend bringing an interesting blend of tile placement, resource management, and worker placement in a quick, clean, charming package. Designed by Sébastien Pauchon and Ismaël Perrin, it plays 2 to 4 players and is expected to be available in time for Essen this October, later to hit retail in November. As described in Days of Wonder’s announcement:

     “In the game, you embody pioneers embarking down a river in search of a new lands to settle. As you explore the untouched frontier, you will have to work twice as hard to manage your workers as they start to settle down along the way. The player with the most impressive settlement will be declared the winner!”

I’m excited to see such a blend of mechanics enter at this gaming level, because I feel that there needs to be more gateway worker placement games than Stone Age that can do something a bit new with it. While resource management itself is nothing revolutionary, how that interacts with the tile placement here is unique since new tiles have to progress down the titular river and they cover up resources you’d been using up until that point. Deciding which tiles to pick at what time is just as important as where to place workers, and on top of that there are buildings that can be bought and reserved much like the cards in Splendor. There is a good mix here, and it’ll be a highlight of Essen to see how well it’s received. If you’re interested in learning more about The River, be sure to check out Days of Wonder’s news post and also their product page which features the full rules in 6 languages!