Asmodee, the “us” to whom all your board game base belong, has announced that they will be distributing games from the Swiss company Helvetiq in the United States. There are innumerable small game companies around the globe, and Asmodee has made a significant effort in bringing these lesser known gems to the western shores.
“We are always looking for strong local partners that bring
our brand to gamers and shops worldwide,” said Hadi Barkat, CEO & Founder
of Helvetiq. “With Asmodee USA, we now have a U.S. distribution partner who
shares our ambition and passion for the world of games. Their portfolio
includes amazing titles, and we are honored to join with a line up that
particularly suites casual gamers, families, and design aficionados. We are
excited that, together, we will make our games accessible to an even wider
Helvetiq is the publisher of over 60 games, with their top rated games being Martin Nedergaard Andersen’s Bandido (2016) and Colorfox (2016). Visitors to GenCon earlier this month got the opportunity to try out Helvetiq’s new games Misty and Kawaii, the latter of which caused quite a buzz with its undeniable cuteness.
The real magic that makes the new Above Board television show
special is the cast. The dozen or so actors in Above Board clearly have a
special knowledge of sketch comedy, and all work together beautifully, playing
off of each other in a natural manner. While attending the studio filming, I
was able to speak to each cast member and get their take on the show, board
games, and the community at large.
The production creates a “meta of the show” with actors
using their real names and often their real jobs. You get to know the
characters they portray, from the picked-on intern Curtiss, to psychotic Kurt
the Sound Guy, and Brett the hopeless, possibly homeless, victim of destiny.
Ideas, gags, and characters come around a second and third time, creating
inside jokes that make the viewer feel like they are part of this hysterical,
Producer/Writer/Director Travis Oates was the owner and
teacher at the ACME Comedy Theater in
L.A., where he trained most of the cast of Above Board in sketch and improv
comedy. He was host of Arena
on G4, director of Don’t Blink
(2014), and has been the official voice of Piglet for Disney for more than 15 years. Travis’
natural comfort in front of the camera and finely honed comedic timing and wit are
what make this show special. He is also a true board game connoisseur (read: junkie).
His personal collection of games is immense, and many of the cast have ridiculed
his Kickstarter addiction. In fact,
a compilation video of Travis wandering conventions, continually stating “I
Kickstarted that” is rumored to exist. Curtiss Frisle commented that
“Travis can swim in a pile of games like Scrooge McDuck”.
Gantvoort is the perfect straight man to Travis Oates’ sarcastic prodding
and taunting, and the two are a natural hosting pair. Leif has known Travis for
decades and directed at ACME. His on
screen innocence from the hobby is an act, as Leif was getting into gaming well
before production on the show started. However, Leif did express surprise at the
sheer scope he witnessed during his trip to GenCon.
In fact, while “researching” titles in the show, his personal collection increased
significantly, including favorites Twilight
Imperium and Heroes of
Land, Sea & Air. Plus, Leif killed Uncle Ben.
Like most of the cast, Kim Evey, along with her better
half Greg Benson, were with
Travis at ACME. The two of them
worked on the comedy web series The Guild,
as well as behind the scenes at the nerd vacation JoCo Cruise. Between these projects, the
couple was in touch with the gamer community and fully knew what they were
getting in to, although they consider themselves “gamer adjacent”. Kim admits
that one of the better perks of the production was the necessity of “playing in
depth games for research”. Greg does recall Quarto as being one of his
favorite games from ages past. Greg plays a hyperbolic game show host who
bursts in during competitions between the hosts, perfectly mediating metaphorical
battles to the death. Kim’s segments add a bubbly, delightful innocence and
energy to the show, although her more evil intelligent side does show through –
most notably when she makes short work of YouTube celebrity guest Chaz Marler. Charlie,
3 years old but instrumental behind the scenes of Above Board, lists Snug as a
Bug in a Rug as a favorite to play with parents Greg and Kim.
really is the sound guy when on location, but he steals the show as Kurt the
Sound Guy. Large and imposing, Kurt the Sound Guy doesn’t say much, but what he
does say touches your brain in a way that makes you innately uncomfortable. In
real life, Kurt is a delight who has been playing RPGs, Warhammer 40K,
and Star Fleet
Battles forever. Kurt said of the community around board gaming, “You can’t
be an ass and expect to be invited back”. Similarly, Curtiss Frisle embodies the simple,
naïve Curtiss the Intern, who takes constant physical and mental punishment
from the hosts, yet always runs back, just excited to be there. Curtiss acted
in Travis’ feature film Don’t
Blink (2014), and identifies himself as more of a video gamer than a board
gamer. However, constant exposure during filming has made Curtiss a fan of Star Realms, Zombicide:
Black Plague and Heroes of
Land Sea & Air.
Spillane tends to burst in unannounced to “Spillane it to you”, laughably
botching board game definitions or terms, much to the delight of Travis and annoyance of Leif. Brian portrays the kind,
but completely lost and out of his element, wannabe expert. Spillane admits to
not being much of a gamer prior to Above Board, but has since
fallen in love with classics such as Orleans, Mysterium and Terraforming
plays a perpetually angry, intense correspondent, whose ranting screams brought
the audience to tears several times. A veteran actor of 25 years, Dan lists Game
the Game on Geek and Sundry among
his many roles. Dan has been playing RPGs forever, attending NecronomiCon on a regular
basis, and was well versed in board games before production on Above Board. Dan
remembers playing Dead
of Winter preparing for the show, although he admits he is always the traitor.
His favorite game of late is Pandemic.
dominates her scenes, often in an appropriate barbarian outfit, intimidating
the hosts and exploding with gaming excitement. She also brings a musical
element to the show, singing amazing board game song parodies. Beth commented
that the show is “not being faked. [There is a] legitimate gaming community in
this group”. Games were relatively new to Beth, but during the production she
learned about the titles, many of which she now plays with her kids.
Sheridan portrays an innocent who through the hosts’ pranks or simple fate,
seems to constantly run into bad luck. Brett might live in his car, may be wounded
or trapped, but always steals the audience’s heart and sympathy. A long term ACME veteran, Brett acted on The Guild with Greg and Kim. Games were relatively new
to Brett before the show, but now “family time has increased since getting into
games”, and games have become a necessary way to unplug.
also plays many roles on Above Board, starring in varied sketches, and brings a
humorous intensity to his segments. Miles is a veteran actor who trained at ACME with Travis, and although he played
some RPGs as a kid, board games are a relatively new world for him.
It is obvious watching the cast at work that they enjoy what
they do, they enjoy working together, and this bursts through in the final
product. Miles Grose best
summarized the passion behind Above
Board: “When you have a pitch, [you have to think] not only is it a good
idea, but are you the right person to
pitch it? Travis is the
Dice Tower News has previously reported about a board game television show in production- namely Above Board, created by actor/producer/director Travis Oates. The show will combine intelligent journalistic humor (think Daily Show or Last Week Tonight) with sketch comedy and features all the inside jokes and strange personalities that make our industry so special. Segments of the show are filmed with a live studio audience, and the Dice Tower community (that’s you, guys) is being given advance notice to become a part of history. If you are going to be in the Los Angeles area on May 1-3, you can be part of the audience for the next 6 episodes of Above Board. Just to sweeten the pot a bit, there will be game giveaways, food and general frivolity. Rumor has it that our own Tom Vasel may be present, as well as other surprise guests..
All the details are in the call for audience members below, so make sure to hit that phone hotline – I’m sure the show will fill up soon.
Here is the second and final part of interviews and sneak peeks of what I was able to see at the GAMA Trade Show. Hopefully I’ve saved the best for last.
Frank West, designer of City of Kings, and one heck of a guy, discussed City of Games’ upcoming title Rising Blades, a competitive worker placement / tile placement game with RPG elements. In Rising Blades, players add tiles to a growing map each round, in which they can move, fight monsters and develop their unique asymmetric characters. Expect Rising Blades to hit Kickstarter at the end of the year.
Czech Games Edition (CGE) showed the unique cooperative deduction word game Letter Jam from designer Ondra Skoupý. In Letter Jam, players receive a set of facedown letters delivered from an app, and the goal is to deduce these letters. Each player places one of these cards facing the other players in a style akin to Hanabi, so that you can see everyone’s secret letter except your own. Players then make words with the letters, giving clues as to what other players’ hidden letters may be.
Forbidden Games confirmed an expansion for the popular auction stock market game Raccoon Tycoon by designer Glenn Drover is in the works. The expansion should include a 6th player, more buildings and a new railroad type.
Stephen Buonocore, the evil genius behind Stronghold Games was kind enough to reveal some further details about the 5th and final big expansion to their evergreen hit Terraforming Mars, Terraforming Mars; Turmoil. Turmoil, the only expansion to be released in 2019, will be labeled as an “expert” expansion, meant for more experienced players. In short, this expansion involves politics. Mars has established a Martian Senate, composed of several parties, each with its own agenda. The Red party is interested in keeping Mars pristine and untouched, the Green party wants full terraforming, the Kelvinists want more heat, etc. Players can place delegates, trying to gain control of parties, or even the entire senate. A face-up line of Event Cards show what influences each party will have over the next several turns. Expect Terraforming Mars:Turmoil to hit Kickstarter in April/May.
Board game enthusiasts rejoice, for we will likely have a main stream television show all to our own. Producer/Director/Actor Travis Oates has been sneaking around behind the scenes for the past 9 months creating a television series called Above Board, targeted to hit one of the popular streaming services we all love so well. According to Travis (who, by the way, is one of the most fascinating people I have ever met), the show has elements of the popular car show Top Gear, combining real love of board games with comedic parody, and Daily Show type tongue-in-cheek interviews. Already included in the show are board game designers Jamey Stegmaier, Stefan Feld, and Dr. Reiner Knizia, companies like Broken Token, publishers Michael Coe of Gamelyn Games and Paul Saxberg from Roxely Game Laboratories. But wait, there’s more – celebrity guests, and a regular segment by our own Tom Vasel. Six episodes are under construction now, hopefully with many more planned. I was lucky enough to screen some clips, and found the humor witty and sarcastic without dumbing down the content. Keep an eye out for this exciting initial foray of our hobby into mainstream media.
I was lucky enough to be able to prowl around the GAMA trade show this past week, and have collected some early stories from some of the designers and publishers present. So without further delay, here are some of the stories I found interesting at GAMA.
Designer Keith Matejka talked about Fiends & Familiars, the next expansion for Thunderworks Games popular dice placement game Roll Player. Fiends are small cards attached to the initiative row, which give players a disadvantage when taking the more prized positions, but can be banished by using charisma tokens. Familiars give players 3 more spaces for dice placement, and unique player powers. Also in the expansion are two colored dice, very flexible in placement but only showing up to 4 pips. The Kickstarter for Fiends and Familiars is scheduled for Summer of 2019.
Breaking Games showed off Dwellings of Eldervale by designer Luke Laurie, a complex worker placement engine building game with unique player powers, miniatures, resource collection and card play. Special workers can be earned, and monsters on the board can be a source of both conflict and reward. Dwellings also includes a mechanism allowing players to have a worker “settle down”, and create a permanent dwelling on the board, represented by placing a great roof piece on the meeple. This worker is now lost to the player, but generates unique resources and abilities. Dwellings of Eldervale is expected to come to Kickstarter this summer.
I was able to look at a new, as yet unnamed, variation on an escape room game from the geniuses at Cranio Creations (Newton, Lorenzo Il Magnifico). The game is composed of a cardboard box frame, the size of a standard square board game box. Cards slot into the top of the box. The sides of the box have open windows to peer down, through which one can see the cards, revealing objects and clues. An app tells the player how these objects relate to the story, and how to react – is. Remove a certain card, peer down a certain hall. Look for this innovative puzzle from Cranio in the coming year.
Smirk and Dagger games founder Curt Covert discussed the Cutthroat Caverns Anniversary edition coming this August. The new edition will include the core set with new art and tighter rules, but will be fully compatible with the rest of this classic game. Concurrent with the new release will be the digital Cutthroat Caverns app, which includes several AI opponents, each with their own evil agenda.
Stayed tuned for the second half of breaking GAMA news coming soon.
In a controversial piece of board gaming news, Michael Stackpole has resigned from the GAMA board of directors after many decades of service. Michael Stackpole is an Origins award winning designer, a video game writer and designer, fantasy author, and has been a vocal and active advocate on the side of board gaming for 30+ years. In a letter of resignation made public, Stackpole states “I have not reached this decision based on any political divide within the Board. I have come to it because the Board is broken.” He further goes on to cite recent problems within GAMA, including ineffectiveness to pass decisions, and the mismanagement of a highly publicized altercation between an officer and a security guard during Gen Con 2018. For more information, you can read Michael Stackpole’s letter on his webpage here.
It is with a very heavy heart I report that we have recently lost a giant in the industry, Darwin Bromley. Darwin started as the co-designer of Empire Builder (1982), one of the first popular route connection games, and founded the company to distribute it, Mayfair Games. Later, Mayfair was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing European style board games to the U.S., distributing the English versions of Catan (then Settlers of Catan), Agricola, and many many others until Asmodee bought the company in 2016. Numerous outpourings have come from the gaming community, best summed up by famed Munchkin artist John Kovalic, who called Darwin’s passing “the end of an era.” I know that my life would be very different if Mr. Bromley had not made all those boxes, now in my shelves, available and popular on these shores. Thank you Mayfair Games. Thank You, Darwin Bromley.