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.

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During the Essen Spiel, Cubicle 7 showed off their newest card game based on the Doctor Who Franchise: The Time Clash starter set. This new card game features an all new, unique design that has been well received by convention patrons and will be hitting store shelves this November. The game plays quickly for 2-4 players with an emphasis on balancing threats from different angles. As described on Cubicle 7’s website:

“You’ll play cards representing plans, threats, tech, and quips to stacks that represent the time of the struggle, the Doctor’s companion, and the enemy’s influence. The two sides also compete to control the Doctor’s location, which activates or deactivates crucial powers.”

Cubicle 7 has been very well received with their supplementary books for RPG systems, including the only comprehensive series for Doctor Who-inspired adventures. It’s excellent that they have taken the IP and used it for a card game, and I’m sure there’s a lot of theme for fans of the long-running sci-fi series. For more information, visit this link for the full rules of the game or visit Cubicle 7’s website where you can also check out their wealth of role-playing companion products.

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Unfortunately there will always be ignoble or desperate people who seek to steal or spoil, hidden and walking among kinder souls. Such a person stole from Ludicreations during Essen on Saturday, October 16th, and such a theft for a small publisher is a blow of incredible magnitude. The company that has brought to us …and then, we held hands, [redacted], and the recently Dice Tower Approved Mythe has the most endearing solution to overcoming this devastating loss: create a game. Ludicreations spent Saturday night quickly developing the nanogame Steal This Game which is available on Kickstarter immediately as a method of recouping the money that was stolen. As described on their campaign page:

 “Imagine for a second that you are selling your latest board game at Essen. You recruited volunteers, set up demo tables, and built up your booth. Your games are selling like cardboard hotcakes. All is well until you turn around, and your shiny new cash box is gone…This is Steal This Game, based on a true story.”

The board-gaming community that I know and love is composed of some of the most welcoming and generous souls. It’s this community that allows the act of sitting down together to play a game to be an immensely fulfilling and wondrous hobby. It’s also that indomitably benevolent spirit that Ludicreations needs to overcome this dark spot during one of the most celebrated times of our gaming calendar. I am relieved that as of writing this, the outpouring of support has come as fast as the news has spread and the Kickstarter has already generated almost $8,000.

The game itself is for 2 players, coming only as a printed postcard. The components are cut out, with the remaining material acting as a portable playmat.  Players must provide a pair of dice, which facilitate hidden choices and bluffing between players. It’s incredibly light of course, but it is prominently for a good cause. For a demonstration of what I’m writing about, please watch this demonstration by Rahdo, whom we all owe thanks for giving the charity a necessary push.

I couldn’t help but feel sad while watching the description of the game, and how tongue-and-cheek it represented of an incident that happened only hours earlier. There was a brief moment of something beautiful I noticed, though…when those playing had a laugh over calling a bluff.  The game is impressively representative of the moment that created it and the collective will our community and creators possess to prosper and play. There was no hesitation for me to back this Kickstarter, and should you do so as well I am certain it will be greatly appreciated.

illimat

Indie folk rock band The Decemberists are adored for their historically-influenced music and the aesthetic they carry through whimsical stories, album art, and live performances. Their peculiar-yet-inviting style was front-and-center in a photo-shoot around the release of their 2009 album, The Hazards of Love, which featured a secret society that would meet up in diverse locations to play an inscrutable board game known as Illimat. For these shoots, a game board prop was created to give a sense of authenticity and wonder about this secret game, but no game truly existed. At least, not until now. Illimat is now real and on Kickstarter, and the story of how it came to life as described on it’s campaign page is unquestionably admirable:

“Chris Funk from the band approached us at Twogether Studios to see what we could do. Keith Baker (creator of Gloom and Eberron) worked to make Illimat feel like an old forgotten card game that would be compelling to modern players: a game that feels of its time, yet weirdly out of time altogether.”

What we have now is visually and functionally compelling game with all the haunting atmosphere that The Decemberists wished to achieve blended with a suitably inviting card-driven design. There is no denying the pleasing look and tactile feel of a game with linen-cards, a cloth board, and metal tokens, but I would be amiss if I said that was all there was to this game. Illimat succeeds in hearkening towards classical card games while doing something new, and this is easily expressed by how the box is used in the game. The lid is placed in the center of the cloth board to show which quadrants (or “fields) are being affected by each of the four seasons, which restrict options on given turns. This rotation of seasons, and the effects of Luminary cards which bend the rules of the game as it progresses, offer distinct advantages to players as they attempt to discard, invest, and pick up cards for points.

There’s a video that performs several turns of the game for those that need to know if it’s a good fit for their gaming table. Fortunately for the Kickstarter campaign, many people already have, as it has exceeded it’s funding goal by over 450% by the time of writing this! As a fan of The Decemberists and the truly inspiring and unforgettable music they have made, I’m elated that this game feels thoughtful and legitimately unique as well as being so positively received by the community. For more information, videos, and the chance to be a backer, please visit Illimat’s Kickstarter page where many fans and captivated gamers await the realization of this delightful thing.

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Some games benefit greatly from a digital adaption, mostly because of ease of accessibility and increased exposure to a different crowd of gamers. While it can feel somber to lose the tactile joy of manipulating  cards or miniatures, the loss of fiddly bits in lieu of speed and convenience can be enough of a pleasing alternative to reward the jump from tabletop to video game. 1775: Rebellion, the immensely popular war game from Academy games, has made such a leap and is available right now on PC through the Steam marketplace. Developed by HexWar Games, this version of the award winning board game offers several exclusive, and admittedly expected, features as described on the game’s store page:

“Now you and your friends command the armies of the British Redcoats, English Loyalists, German Hessians, American Regulars, Patriots, French Regulars and Native Americans to decide the fate of the Americas. Players from each faction cooperate to gain control of key towns and forts. Share the fun in this light and fast paced game vs the AI, hotseat or online!”

PC players 1775 normal and short scenarios, as well as the Siege of Quebec, all available in solo vs 3 AI difficulties or through local and cross-platform multiplayer. As of writing this, the game has been updated to version 1.03 which has addressed many interface issues mentioned in early reviews of the game. The dedication to faithfully delivering the tabletop experience to PC is echoed by the majority of positive reviews currently on Steam. Be sure to check out the community hub for more information and updates as the game continues to grow and will hopefully inspire even more impressively developed adaptations of worthy board games.

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GURPS has been around for 30 years now, and to celebrate that milestone Steve Jackson Games have created a comprehensive package for dungeon crawlers and fateful inn attendees. Dungeon Fantasy is a massive collection of resources for the premier tabletop gaming experience combining the best of the Generic Universal Role-Playing System with 30 years of weathered design experience and customer feedback. GURPS is renowned in RPG communities for being incredibly flexible in comparison to equally long-lived systems, allowing imagination and ambition to rule over strict rules or character stereotypes, and Steve Jackson Games say that they’ve streamlined this already forgiving game even further. As stated on their Kickstarter page:

 It’s compatible with GURPS, but the famously detailed rules have been streamlined to be friendlier to new gamers and veterans alike. For existing GURPS fans, revisions made in response to nearly 10 years of customer feedback on the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy series – along with completely new content unique to this set – make this a “must have.”

The best part is that the project, as of writing this, has funded and is merrily on it’s way toward unlocking stretch goals. These goals are some of the most consumer friendly incentives I’ve seen, from new content delivered to backers free of charge to lowered cost of shipping when all is said and done. So if you’re an established fan of the GURPS system in need of more materials, or a new tabletop gamer who’s willing to check out one of the most time-tested and impressively responsive systems to date, then feel assured that Dungeon Fantasy can deliver.

Hasbro’s Next Great Gaming Challenge is live and going on through October 23rd. Independent game designers are working on and submitting unique and surprising prototypes up until the last day of the competition, where a panel of judges will select the best of the best and award a hefty 25 grand, a trip to Hasbro, and a chance to publish their design. Joining the panel as a guest this year is Daymond John, a regular titular shark of ABC’s Shark Tank. As founder, president, and CEO of FUBU, John has been busy through motivational talks, writing books, and being a staple of a popular television series and is no less excited about being a part of the competition. As quoted in the press release for the Challenge:

“It’s an honor to be a part of a program like Hasbro’s 2016 Fall Gaming Challenge that celebrates core entrepreneurial values like creativity, talent, and drive,” said Daymond John. “As both a leader in business and diehard gamer, it’s exciting to get in on the action of providing players with the next big thing in gaming and helping someone’s dreams come true. I enjoy playing games with my own family, and am looking forward to being a part of this challenge to bring families together with new and exciting games.”

The Next Great Gaming Challenge pits qualifying designs through a series of criteria, including game play, viability, and theme. Finalists from the past year are seeing the rewards of their victory come to fruition, with Hex Casters available through online retail, and Irresponsibility: The Mr. Toast Card Game coming to Target locations soon. The room for innovation is aplenty and competitions like this with judges of merit have an amazing opportunity to spark something special in gaming history. A big heartfelt thanks to all the panel members for being a part of it, and good luck to all competitors. May the best game win!

spiel 16

The trade fair with the most impact for both Germany and the board gaming hobby is only a smidge more than a month away, and with it come even more hot releases, demos, prototypes, and exciting news just in time for the Holiday shopping season. Taking place this October 13th through the 16th in Essen, the 2016 Spiel is expected to continue the record breaking growth they’ve been experiencing, which is terrific news and further evidence of the oft observed “Golden Age” that this hobby still experiences. According to the press release from Internationale Spieltage:

“[…]SPIEL has grown by more than 50 percent in the last four years. This year it looks as if more than 160,000 visitors will enthusiastically respond to the SPIEL motto “Come and play!”

Over a thousand exhibitors across multiple exhibit halls, each showing off their best and newest releases to the public. It’s not just the size though, that’s exciting. As the press release highlights, there are some interesting trends being showcased this year among the hundreds of entries into the gaming fray. Specifically, this year is seeing a spike in team-building games, the stuff that makes for memorable get-togethers with friends and family. The one-and-done genre of Escape Rooms meant to challenge groups to muster wits and overcome puzzles will be available in a swath of tabletop titles and live-event rooms at the fair. In addition, the instantly popular Codenames: Pictures and Captain Sonar will certainly be drawing large crowds.

sola fide

This year also marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in Europe, and there are games to recognize it. Notably, two new releases come thematically celebrating Martin Luther and the historic religious change he ushered: Stronghold Games’ Sola Fide and Zoch Verlag’s Mea Culpa. There will also be family-friendly events and quizzes in various locations, topping the already broad, educational, and heatlhy range of activities the fair has to offer.

fields of green

Let’s not forget the big releases rolling over from Gen Con, which will certainly see the same kind of fervor that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Seafall and Scythe are two of this year’s most anticipated titles and I can imagine the European public wanting to get their hands on copies all the same. I feel obligated to draw attention to a few more titles that will probably be incredibly popular as well. Artipia Games will have their newest Kickstarter title and spiritual sequel to Among the Stars, Fields of Green,  available for demo and backer pickup. Hobby World will have Spyfall 2 there, which will add more locations, higher player count, and two spies! Finally, Bombyx will have Legendary Inventors on hand, a game that I played in prototype form and was highly impressed with how deep yet accessible it is.

If you’re interested in seeing more games confirmed to be available at the 2016 Spiel, please check out this preview thread at boardgamegeek.com. Many thanks and much respect to Eric Martin for working diligently to compile all of that for the community. For more gaming news and images regarding the upcoming Essen Spiel, please check out our new Instagram page that joins our news, twitter, and video coverage.

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Gen Con is one of the biggest events of the year, and being in the hobby you’ll hear about it as much as Essen because they’re both very important. Amidst the demos, checkout lines, photo opportunities, and cosplay, there’s a lot of buzz and hype being generated, money being exchanged, and a lot of…well, chaos and fun. It’s really easy to get swept up in it all, not knowing whether to buy, or play, or rush from point A to point B to catch an event or a signing, and this is coming from someone who’s been going to these things for 5 years now! So that’s why, this year, I’m writing about what this Gen Con was like in a nutshell, with the uninitiated in mind, on just the opening day.

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The torches were lit, the masses swelled and rallied to the exhibit hall doors to prepare for the yearly traditions. Opening ceremonies occurs amidst an amazing crowd each year, itching to get within a breath of the hall doors so that, when they open, they can race to where they need to be. It’s the kind of thing that evokes imagery of Black Friday shopping, but forgive my humor and don’t let me lead you astray – the Gen Con crowd is reasonable, calm, briskly walking, and exceptionally forward thinking. Most attendees at 10 AM on opening day strategically plot which set of doors to huddle towards in the hopes of getting their place in line for what hot new titles await in limited supply.

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This year’s hotness was undoubtedly SeaFall, and while it was predictably anticipated it was not without good reason. A big new 4X game with a familiar theme that dipped itself into the slowly-growing pool of legacy titles that have quickly climbed the board gaming ranks. It was no surprise that by the time I meandered toward Plaid Hat’s booth, a quaint cardboard sign let loose my expectations leaving me with a wry smile. I was not at all unlike the other con-goers, though, since my target was Grimslingers instead and I just as easily contributed to it’s forfeiture of copies. The art is stunning, the game-play is intriguing, the replay value enticing, and I got a copy just a month shy of it’s official street date. Huzzah!

There’s so much more to do at Gen Con and always so little time, especially for just one day. There are events, activity rooms, and tournaments to name a few, but I was determined to participate in demos. Demoing games is a great way to try titles you might not get the opportunity to try otherwise, and plenty of popular new titles are easily accessible on throughout the hall. Too many to even mention them all. It was an incredible offering this year with the many adventurous features and Intellectual Properties making it to board gaming scene – from the app controlled second edition of Mansions of Madness, to the surprisingly enthralling card game for Bloodborne. I was particularly impressed with how good looking the newest Cosmic Encounter looked with it’s Game of Thrones ensemble.

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Yet I couldn’t leave the day without getting in on a game of Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails – the biggest baddest game in the series yet. It was everything I could have dreamed it would be: A bigger, grittier, deeper version of the game I love. When first I read news about it, I feared the boats would not be a worthwhile gimmick, but I can happily admit I was wrong. For those familiar with standard Ticket to Ride, Rails and Sails features a separate deck of cards just for boats along with the familiar train cards. Three of each deck are offered face up and drafted just like normal, with boats needed for waterways just as trains for tracks. The catch is that when a card is picked up, the active player can choose from which deck the card is replaced, allowing manipulation of the offer. With a few other minor rules tweaks, the newest Ticket to Ride is one incredible “Gamer’s edition” of the popular family game.

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The exhibit hall floor was rife with big names and big personalities, all caught up in the same maelstrom of games and gamers. A smorgasbord of game designers were available to show off their games, answer questions, and greet fans. I shook more than a few hands, and took more than a few bad pictures, but at no point was I ungrateful for the experience to meet those hard working people who bring us the games we love. Many prominent game reviewers were bombarded by incredible news and beloved fans alike, including our own Dice Tower team. It’s always a joy to see them, and one of the few opportunities I have to speak with them casually. This year, however, was a little more special, in that I got the chance to meet with our head editor here at Dice Tower News – Robert Searing. It was my privilege to personally thank him and Tom Vasel for the wonderful opportunities they’ve allowed me through working with them, and I’ll have a picture to remember it.

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Gen Con 2016 has come and gone, hall emptied and the people having returned home with fond memories and stories to tell. Many groups on social media have already sprung up to prepare for next year, ready to experience the excitement all over again. There’s a spark there I see, in everyone, that lights that fervor, that passion for this convention, and it’s really subtle – you can blink and miss it. You can’t capture it photos or video. It’s not the race for the hottest games, or the tournaments for the competitive devotees, but instead it’s the community. The global presence of the gaming world all mashed together in one spot. Gamer, producer, designer, reviewer – all people equal under a single, unifying purpose: To be among our own, sharing in that excitement, talking about what we love, all willing to simply sit down together and play. That’s what makes Gen Con so special, and what keeps me, and many, ever anticipating the next one.

For more footage from Gen Con 2016, as well as more coverage of the hottest games, check out our new Instagram page joining our Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube coverage.

the others

The first week of September will be bringing three new original titles from the publisher Cool Mini or Not – The Others: 7 Sins, Looterz, and Unusual Suspects will all join CMON’s ever growing catalog of quality production titles. Note that the release date has currently been confirmed to be September 2nd, but there is always a possibility for delays in the shipping process.

The Others: 7 Sins is a Kickstarter success coming to retail showcasing the quality miniatures CMON is known for, all under a new theme and graphic style. Designed by Eric Lang, one player will control the physical manifestations of sins while up to 4 other players control heroes seeking to suppress and interrupt their invasion. Featuring a modular board and elegant, fun combat mechanics you can expect from an Eric Lang design, The Others offers a lot to be excited about.

looterz

In Looterz, 2 to 6 players race to empty a cavern with the most loot in tow using their looting minions strategically to grab as much as possible, or even steal from other players. Each game will have players recruiting the eponymous looterz, activating them in any desired order, and rolling dice based on the looterz stats to determine the amount of loot grabbed.

unusual suspects

In Unusual Suspects, one player is a witness and up to seventeen others are suspects. Only the witness knows who the guilty party is, but can only answer simply and concisely. The other players must use these answers to find out who among them is the truly guilty party. The game can be played competitively or cooperatively, with the latter being played using a grid of suspects and the witness only being able to answer in a yes/no fashion.

If interested, be sure to look for these titles at your favorite retailer soon. Be sure to follow The Dice Tower’s new Instagram page for the latest pictures of the hottest games!

The first game from the Bulgarian design team of Cherry Cannon Games, Among Thieves is a new take-that, light deduction game seeking funding on Kickstarter. Players take the role of thieves trying to prove who is the best by stealing from the city or each other, laying traps, foiling plans, and committing heists. Before going any further about what I see of the game, it’s best to summarize the game as is written on the campaign page:

 Everyone has the same set of action cards and each turn selects two, placing them face-down in front of himself or herself. Then, starting with the Acting Master Thief (first player), all players take turns in revealing their cards and completing their effect. At the end of the round, one of the two actions played is secretly discarded and play continues until there is a clear winner.

The game’s theme is not particularly new as skulduggery is always such a convenient host for intrigue and deduction, but the game-play is not as easily defined as the theme. Having two cards and playing them one after another in a manner of action order selection is very Coup-esque, perhaps. Some of the cards are traps, gambits, or sabotage actions meant to counter-play anyone at the table, which requires that particular deduction element hobbyists have become accustomed to.

However, Coup never gave players the whole array of possible personalities/actions to pick from, nor the ability to hide what actions might be available from future rounds. Coup also didn’t have Among Thieves’ purely cutthroat demeanor nor it’s striking macabre Victorian caricature artwork that I, for one, find greatly under-appreciated. So it really is a great departure from Coup, and I’m glad! The quick-and-dirty-and-light social deduction genre could use a fresh perspective, and Cherry Cannon Games has just that. Be sure to check out their websiteKickstarter,and Facebook pages for more information and updates!