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.

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!

There’s still a large market for civilization-building games, as there’s a large breadth of separation between the 8+ hour civ games people commonly remember and the more “reserved” tabletop equivalents. In my experience, some of the more pleasant versions have been lighter, dice-driven affairs such as Roll Through the Ages or Nations: the Dice Game, but I understand those are an extreme compromise from the combative, strategic, map-oriented games that many prefer. Those that do, but still want something quicker, may be interested in Infinities: Defiance of Fate, already funded on Kickstarter as of writing this. It is described as a “4x-lite” game, which has strong tableau and area control mechanics mixed with dice-directed action allocation that plays at a decent clip and can be played in story and skirmish modes. As described on the campaign page:

     “The multiverse is an impossibly vast existence, accounting for every possible outcome of every possible point of divergence. In Infinities: Defiance of Fate you are the leader of a sci-fi or fantasy faction seeking to assemble an army, shape the very worlds you walk on, and fulfill or redefine your destiny. Experience a combination of accessible, tactical gameplay and rich, flexible storytelling as you forge your own timelines.”

The allusions to time and fate are not just buzzwords for this game, they’re mechanically literal. Timing is everything in this game, with every player choosing actions one at a time and cards to carry over from round-to-round to strategically place themselves in spots that may benefit them in the long-run. Fate, of course, manifests itself in the dice as per usual, but there’s a fair amount of manipulation and you don’t have to remain seated with what the dice decide for you. With easy to learn yet hard to master rules and simple combat, it all comes together as a pretty sharp, brisk package for those looking for lighter 4x fare. If you’re interested in learning more about Infinities: Defiance of Fate, be sure to check out their Kickstarter page for a full rules breakdown, updates, and community feedback.

Not one to slow down on release announcements as of late, Lookout Spiele has another announcement for Agricola fans even after the reprint of Farmers of the Moor. Joining the long line of expansion decks and following on last year’s Artifex deck, the Bubulcus deck is set to arrive in October. It brings more cards, more farming, and more fun, and completes your updated collection to boot! As described in the (translated) announcement:

     “120 new cards, of which 60 training and 60 small purchases, give the game even more variability and variety. Of course these cards are also balanced according to the “power values” of [Agricola] and adapted to the graphic update of the new edition of the basic game of 2016.”

Of course more cards are always welcome, and those who have been interested in the past deck expansions have more reason to be excited for this one as it matches the updated art of the new version while also complimenting the previous addition. For those who are just recently getting into Agricola, both decks mentioned in this article are good easy upgrades to what you already have if you’re not already looking at Farmers of the Moor. So whether you’re new to the whole Uwe Rosenberg farming extravaganza or if you’re looking to complete your collection, be sure to check out the Bubulcus deck at your favorite retailer come October.

Wizards of the Coast has, for a few years now, been making efforts to ease any barriers to enter Magic: The Gathering. Players really are spoiled for choice in that area – there already are many video games that feature guided play and starter decks galore. As of October 5th, the trading card game giant is innovating a slight degree by combining guided play with physical decks via Spellslinger Starter Kits. As described via their news post:

“The Spellslinger Starter Kit will contain two 60-card decks, two quick-start learn to play guides, a booklet featuring the world and rules of Magic, two cards to help players get started with each deck, and two spindown dice. […] The decks will be ready to play out of the box—meaning they’re meant not to be shuffled. The card included on the top of each deck will walk players through starting the game with predetermined steps for the order the decks come in.”

These are an excellent way to jump start an interest in Magic as well as teach in a more natural, hands-on way. Not everyone learns a new game easily by a rulebook or YouTube video, and the setup for the kits allows for two players to learn at once! The cards featured in the decks are nothing to scoff at either, and they even feature some as-of-yet unrevealed cards from the upcoming Guilds of Ravnica set. The Spellslinger Starter Kits will be available at all retailers where MtG cards are sold, so if you or anyone you know are interested in learning via this streamlined experience be on the lookout for one of these at your favorite store.

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.