Mike Austin

185 POSTS 0 COMMENTS
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.

For anyone who enjoys programming, deduction, and/or cooperative games, keep reading. Designed by the excellent Nikki Valens (designer of Mansions of Madness 2E and Legacy of Dragonholt), Quirky Circuits is coming from Plaid Hat Games this summer and features some of the most adorable miniatures ever created. 2-to-4 players cooperate in one of twenty-one scenarios to complete their goals before their batteries run out. Using the same scenario book system that other Plaid Hat releases such as Stuffed Fables and Comanauts have used ensures quick and easy setup to support the fast and engaging gameplay.

“Players place programming cards face down, only knowing what types of cards their friends have played – movement, turn or quirk. Quirk cards must be played before a player uses any other card in their hand and every player must play at least one card per round. Using deductive reasoning, all players will move the robo-buddy around the board, trying to complete its mission!”

“Quirky” really is an appropriate adjective in the title, because that’s precisely what I wanted to write several times during this article to describe it. Everything about the look of the design is cute, fun, compact, and to-the-point, and that’s a great advantage for this game. Not to be understated, Quirky Circuits fits an excellent niche in the market right now, being a much more accessible point of entry to teach programmed movement and deduction, in stark contrast to the long-lived Robo Rally. Moreover, this is only the second cooperative version of such a mechanic after the heavyweight Mechs vs. Minions, where the speed of setup due to Plaid Hats innovation will really shine in comparison. If you’re interested in learning more about Quirky Circuits, check out Plaid Hat’s news and product pages for updates, pictures, full rules, and availability.

If you’re a fan of narrative driven games, historical themes, deck-building, punchy two-player experiences, or all of the above, you will be interested in Undaunted: Normandy coming this August from Osprey Games. It comes with some whopping credits behind it, designed by both David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin (both of whom created the recently popular War Chest) with art by Roland MacDonald (whose brilliant, sharp illustrations are featured in Western Legends and Stop Thief!). This campaign-style game follows the history of the US 30th Infantry Division, where one player operates a deck representing those US troops as they drive into occupied France, while the other player controls the German opposition. Both participants must manage troops, reinforcements, and casualties as they simulate this titanic point in WWII history through tactical choices and card play.

“Undaunted: Normandy is a deck-building game that places you and your opponent in command of American or German forces, fighting through a series of missions critical to the outcome of World War II. Use your cards to seize the initiative, bolster your forces, or control your troops on the battlefield. Strong leadership can turn the tide of battle in your favour, but reckless decisions could prove catastrophic, as every casualty you take removes a card from your deck.”

While there are no shortage of war games that are capable of providing a tension-filled window into the Invasion of Normandy, this is no-doubt a much faster, more personal approach. Where there is a lack of miniatures, there’s an excellent use of Roland McDonald’s work that provides fresh, evocative faces of the stakes both players know. It may not have an expansive spatial element to it, but the struggles your deck will go through should more than impress. If you’re interested in learning more about Undaunted: Normandy, check out Osprey Games’ website/blog for further reading and announcements.

Not to miss out on the blossoming digital games market like many of it’s kin, the award-winning Evolution from North Star Games is available now on Steam, iOS, and Android. This new desktop and mobile version boasts new artwork, animated cards and environments, a campaign mode with many A.I bosses, and all the same great gameplay that put Evolution on the map. Cross-platform multiplayer means you’ll be able to play anyone, anywhere, from any preferred device. After 4 years of development, North Star Digital Studios is confident they have made the experience as streamlined as possible so that online matches are ten minutes or less.

“Within moments of playing their first game, even new players will understand why the Evolution board game became an award-winning franchise with more than 1.6 million players around the world. Anyone can jump right into the diverse ecosystem on PC, Mac, iOS or Android.”

That’s not all though, as North Star Games is celebrating that launch in the best way manageable – by giving away 10 free copies of the physical edition of Evolution every day for 100 days since it’s launch. All you have to do to enter is play an online match each day to be eligible. It’s well worth it to not only support the game and it’s fresh online community, but to also snag some free games for you or your loved ones. If you’re interested in learning more about Evolution: The Video Game, or other North Star Games Products, be sure to visit the appropriate app stores or their website for photos, gameplay videos, and future updates.

WizKids has a new family weight game now available at a store near you. In Bumúntú, 2-to-5 players act as African tribal leaders, seeking wisdom from the animals of the wilderness. Players will move carefully across a grid seeded with various animal tiles, each one with different movement abilities (a la Hive). Collecting these animal will gain their favor, a value determined on a leaderboard that all players affect. Strategy and planning are thus key in this game and what could be a gentle stroll through the wilds will end up being a tense skirmish for supremacy.

“A common theme in African folklore is that animals are wise creatures who teach humans to do good and moral things. In Bumúntú, based on the Bakongo culture of central Africa, you are a tribal leader seeking to befriend the animals. Trek through the jungle, follow the animals’ guidance, and earn their favor. Successfully earn the most favor and the animals will help bring your people to prosperity.”

The comparison to Hive is the most apt I can make, although this is much more a family weight game with set collection rather than a head-to-head competition to trap the opponent. Bumúntú has a wider variety of animals and variable scoring that can swing each round, making this a good game for teaching pattern recognition, long-term planning, and spatial movement to children and new gamers alike. If you are interested in learning more about Bumúntú, check out WizKids’ product page for more pictures, full rules, and a full list of local and online retailers.

Next Move Games is not laying off the gas just yet. They have one more new release joining Tuki at this year’s Origins Game Fair, and this one is the start of a new line of small box games. 5211 is a re-implementation of a game known as 5 Colors, a design from 2017 that seems to have had a limited distribution. What Next Move has done is brought on the excellent Chris Quilliams for all new art and adjusted the components to allow for up to 8 players. This is great news, because 5211 will be leapfrogging off an already established rule-set that was already conducive to a party game audience, while receiving the components to appeal to that wider audience and with distribution and art to back it up.

“5211 is a fast playing, type-matching card game with unique scoring methods that reward clever plays! Designed by Tsuyoshi Hashiguchi and illustrated by Chris Quilliams, 5211 is an addictive game that begs to be played over and over! […] While players could get lost forever in the simple elegance of the game’s design, an average game of 5211 should only take about 20 to 30 minutes to play.”

The game is played over multiple rounds until the deck of cards has been depleted. Each round, players will simultaneously choose and reveal 2 cards, then two more one at a time. The color most represented by played cards scores, unless it’s too many which causes it to bust and the second most color scores. If there’s a tie for most, they both bust, and the next highest color scores. It gives the game this sort of trick-taking feel within a set collection game, where every card played is a gambit of trying to figure out what colors your opponents will be inclined to play. If you’re interested in learning more about 5211, check out Next Move’s website and it’s BGG description, and be on the lookout for the game breaking into retail shortly after Origins.

The next big title from Stronghold Games has a deluxe edition now on Kickstarter! From designers Bobby West and Alan R. Moon, the esteemed creator of Ticket to Ride, comes Aftershock – a competitive area control game for 3-to-5 players. The story goes that the San Francisco Bay area has been rocked with earthquakes so you are trying rebuild infrastructure and repopulate the city in relative safety in spite of the destruction. What comes from this is a drafting and hidden action selection game mixed with a little bit of route building to create something that may sound familiar, but is all-together different than anything on the market today.

     “In Aftershock, players will spend money to acquire planning cards, which are used to increase population, build bridges, and determine where aftershocks occur. Spend money wisely to acquire aftershocks that will allow you to move people into and out of the demolished areas. Planning and careful negotiation are essential in order to maintain your population and score your best-planned cities and bridges.”

There’s a bit of mind-gaming to this one that makes it really click. While the actions you can take are public and bought from one another (drafted in a way that may remind of Isle of Skye), the targets of those actions are hidden and victim to turn order, which will lead to a lot of twisted thinking as you try to anticipate where your opponents will go so you can take advantage of their situation. You can see that Alan Moon touch to the game in the drafting and route connections, but can see that this collaborative effort has brought about something much more intriguing than his older network-building fare. This Kickstarter campaign is also an excellent opportunity to get the deluxe version of this game for the same price as the standard retail version post-release, so if you’re interested in this one be sure to check out their page now to see a full rules breakdown, Previews, FAQs, and take advantage of this deluxe offer.

Our friends at Casual Gaming Revolution are doing their annual award for the most fun, innovative, and unique casual game form the previous year. What makes their process particularly exciting is that they allow for the public to vote, the winner of which is added to the tabulations of their own panel of 12 judges. So they want YOU! Yes, you! You have a real horse in this race!

     “Last year’s award resulted in a very close race — the winner by a razor thin margin was Sagrada by Floodgate Games, with Azul and Go Nuts for Donuts as the runners up. This year, we have another very tough race between three great games. So, let your voice be heard!

Their nominees for this year are:

All you need to do to participate is visit this page and cast your vote at the bottom. That’s it! So what are you waiting for?!

The newest game from Quined Games and designers Paulo Soledade and Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro, two men behind Nippon, Madeira, and Panamax, is now on Kickstarter. La Stanza is a tactical area movement game where 2-to-4 players move about a 16th century mansion collecting and enlisting the help of characters in order to specialize in a few key tracks of influence for points. The theme is a bit odd to say the least, because the characters are paintings, but then you can hire…the paintings, and you’re hiring them to do better at religion, or politics, or…sailing, all without leaving this house. However, theme aside, this is really close to (but not quite) a rondel game like Antike or Trajan, and that is awesome!

“A 16th century mansion is the setting for this game, you’ll acquire paintings of well-known individuals, like William Shakespeare or Michelangelo. Each of these paintings will give you a special action in one of five rooms. You need to have these paintings in your personal supply to perform the corresponding action.”

It’s hard to get that impression about this game at first, because this area movement mechanism is layered beneath an attractive classical look. Yet it’s there and very well implemented, as you will have to manage where you go to pick up resources (characters) to strengthen specific actions they’re tied to within other rooms (areas of influence), and you can only move clockwise 1-to-4 spaces each turn. Oh, and money and space are tight, so you’ll have to be very careful what you pick up and where you land, and you’ll need to specialize in only a few areas to do well while your opponents do the same. What’s more is that Quined Games has definitely given this game a look worthy of a deluxe edition with metal coins and custom wooden pieces, and that’s precisely what is available only during this Kickstarter campaign. If you’d like to find out more about La Stanza, be sure to check out the campaign page for the full rules, updates, and community feedback.

Sit Down! has three new products in the pipeline this first month of the new year, all having been shown off at the previous Essen show. All three are slated for initial release in European Markets, with future distribution unannounced. Their newest title is Gravity Superstars, a competitive game for 2 to 6 adventurers that emulates platforming games of old as each player jumps and runs along platforms to capture stardust . It’s a very cool and innovative design where each player deals with a different puzzle because their piece sits facing them in one of the four cardinal orientations of the board, a different perspective giving a different set of challenges.

     “What is really original about Gravity Superstar is the manner in which the players’ pawns move: Each turn, they move one or two spaces, then they are affected by gravity, which makes them fall until they are stopped by a platform. This effect is made possible by the fact that the pawns are used lying down on the board. Thus, they move up (above their head), down (below their feet), left, or right. During its movement, a pawn can collect stars (to score points at the end of the game) or replay tokens (to take a second consecutive turn), and eject opponents’ pawns from the board.”

The next two products are for the Magic Maze line, starting with Magic Maze Kids XXL. It’s pretty much exactly what it reads on the tin, it’s a giant board (70 x 70 cm) compatible with Magic Maze Kids that also adds a few new rules, and that sounds like a lovely addition to an already excellent children’s game. Last is a much awaited expansion for the original Magic Maze hinted at during the Dice Tower Awards ceremony last July, Hidden RolesThis appropriately-named expansion (one that I have been very hyped for) can be added to any game of 3 or more players to allow for a potential traitor who doesn’t want the team to succeed, but if they’re called out they are removed from play and must give up their action to someone else. All of these sound amazingly fun in all their own ways, and if you are as excited as I am to see more from Sit Down!, be sure to check out their website for future announcements!

Dexterity games always catch my eye, and especially any that do something new. The beauty of dexterity games, and by extension the board gaming hobby as a whole, is it’s still a relatively dense yet not-fully-explored design space, meaning there’s a lot of room for innovation. That’s why Kickstarter projects like Stonehenge and the Sun warrant our attention, because it engages hand-eye coordination on multiple levels due to it’s unique use of gravity. This, my friends, is a competitive game for 2-4 players where not only will you be stacking blocks to increase tension and difficulty, you’ll be forced to swing a literal metal wrecking ball across the table trying not to bash anything over, for the person who knocked over the fewest pieces will be the winner.

     “”Stonehenge and the Sun” is a game where you can enjoy the physical presence of gravity. The defining feature of the game “a metal ball hanging from the ceiling” is a characteristic that is unprecedented in the tabletop game world. To bring this game concept into realization is the goal of our campaign.”

The “wrecking ball” descriptor I used above is an easy way to illustrate how the game plays, but it actually does a disservice to the visual appeal of the game. The name of the game, Stonehenge and the Sun, plays homage to the way the stones at the world wonder were built up and collapsed over thousands of years, with the metal ball careening across the table a visual representation of the sun passing in the sky. It’s creates a really cool, deeply thematic, unique and pleasing table presence, it’s beyond easy to learn and plays very quickly, but what else would you expect from the people that brought us Tokyo Highway (which Tom recently reviewed). If you’re interested in learning more about Stonehenge and the Sun, check out Itten’s Kickstarter page for videos, rules, FAQs, and community updates!