card games

GenCon 2019 was immense and amazing, but has now wrapped up, closed her doors and bid us “adieu”. I was inspired to chime in with a couple picks from the show that really stood out for me among the crowd.

One of the best euro games of 2016 was the exceptional Lorenzo il Magnifico from Cranio Creations and designers Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, and Simone Luciani. I was able to see a demo for the upcoming card game based on this gem, Masters of the Renaissance by Simone Luciani and Nestore Mangone. In Masters, players still collect resources to buy cards from different tower “levels”, like the original, but now all cards have production ability: in other words, when production is initiated, players collect resources from all of their cards. Additionally, a “market” comprised of a 3×4 grid of colored marbles gives another, easier, source of resources. Players choose any row or column of marbles, and every marble in that line generates its own resource based on its color. After players gain their loot, they push a new marble into the line, bumping al old one from the back. Two things make this market both clever and diabolical: First, clear marbles exist that give no resources at all, clogging up the rows. Second, the resources generated at the market go to a separate storage area, which is severely limited in capacity. This card game version of one of my favorite board games retained the look and feel of the original, added unique mechanisms, but still felt elegant and simplified. Masters of the Renaissance is due to be released at Essen Spiel 2019, this October.

image from BGG

I was particularly impressed by Time of Legends: Destinies by designers Michał Gołębiowski and Filip Miłuński, a joint effort between Lucky Duck Games (Chronicles of Crime) and Mythic Games (Joan of Arc). Destinies is an app-driven fantasy exploration game for 1-3 people which takes place in the same universe as Mythic’s magnum opus Time of Legends: Joan of Arc, and even uses many of the same small scale miniatures as its big sister. In Destinies, players take on the roles of villagers living around the epic stories and battles from Joan. Each player is trying to be the first to fulfill their character’s hidden destiny. The cards in the game, including the character cards, have QR codes in the corner (those black and white checkerboard scanner boxes we see all the time), and scanning a card into the game app leads to context sensitive progression in the game – scanning an item uses it, scanning a character interacts with it, and scanning a weapon fights with it. This system is what made Lucky Duck’s Chronicles of Crime such a fantastic and intuitive story telling game. The game app additionally controls the map, made up of a grid of square cards, in a way reminiscent of the recent blockbuster Journeys in Middle Earth. If that wasn’t enough to make this a magnificent game, Destinies uses an elegant dice system I haven’t seen before for challenges, wounds, and level progression. Three colored stat tracks are on the player board – Knowledge, Strength and Agility, and wooden disks are placed on values along these tracks. To run a test, fight a creature, or even interact with characters, players roll dice, and count how many of these disk values they pass with the roll – this is the number of successes the character achieves. Items can add disks to the tracks, wounds can move the disks to higher, more difficult positions, and experience allows player to buy more disks. Time of Legends: Destinies is scheduled to have a Kickstarter campaign in September 2019.

Keyforge is a game that everyone took notice of since its announcement one year ago at GenCon 2018. This collectible card game from esteemed designer Richard Garfield (Bunny Kingdom, King of Tokyo, and some other famous card games) shook the world when it was announced that each and every deck would be completely unique, with its own logo, its own name, and its own set of cards. But Keyforge delivered, and delivered well, giving the gamers a captivating, unique take on the collectible card game.

This GenCon, Fantasy Flight Games announced Keyforge: Worlds Collide, the third set for this ground breaking game. The initial release and Keyforge: Age of Ascension generally used the same cards and rules, but now everything will change. However, Fantasy Flight has made it clear that Worlds Collide is a companion set and not a sequel, and this new set of cards, while playing well against the initial offerings, does not require the previous sets to play.

The biggest change to Worlds Collide is the introduction of two new houses to the decks. Mars and Sanctum have been rotated out, and have made room for the Saurian Republic and the Grand Star Alliance. Don’t worry though – Mars and Sanctum should make a return appearance in future sets. The Saurians, having existed for 65 million years, are among the oldest races in the Crucible, and pride themselves on philosophy, in spite of their overwhelming prowess. In stark contrast, the Grand Star Alliance are very recent additions, coming from a group of explorers that crash landed in the Crucible. This melting pot, polyglot and multi-race collective has managed to bring dozens of systems into peaceful democratic alliances, amassing quite the technological ability in the process.

Worlds Collide also brings some new mechanisms into the game, such as Warding and Enraging. Wards can now be placed on cards in play, each ward protecting them from a single attack. In contrast, enraging a creature forces it to attack if at all possible. Players can also Exalt creatures, placing a precious Æmber on the card, making the creature more powerful. However, like captured Æmber, when this creature is defeated the Æmber goes to the opponent.

Much like the original games, Keyforge: Worlds Collide will come in individual Archon Decks, as well as a two player starter set with all the necessary tokens and trackers. Additionally the Deluxe Archon Deck will come with a single deck and all the tokens. Finally, the Premium Box will come with two unique decks, 5 tuck boxes to hold sleeved cards, a token box, a chain dial, tokens and stickers. Look for all of the sets of Keyforge: Worlds Collide in stores in the 4th Quarter of 2019. For more information, check out the Fantasy Flight press release here.

Tasty Minstrel Games has announced an absolute metric tonne of games slated for release in the following months: some new, some reprints, and some just plain interesting. So without further ado, here is the list…

“Planet Earth is overpopulated, but recent technological developments open new possibilities – whole cities hovering high in the skies.”

Dilluvia Project, a game declared “awesome” by our own Jason Levine, is a heavy euro game from designer Alexandre Garcia, originally published by Spielworxx in 2015. Dilluvia is a glorious amalgamation of mechanisms, all coming together into a resource collection, cube management, area control festival where 2-4 players try to best manage a utopian flying city. Players jockey for position around a 4×4 grid of tiles, trying to secure the best resources by pointing to rows and columns. Cube collection leads to control of prime real estate in the city, in which buildings can be placed for points. Even the score mechanisms are unique, with “prestige points” giving the player more opportunity to earn true victory points in this deliciously crunchy mechanism salad. Look for Dilluvia Project to be reprinted this August.

“The journey out west was daunting and fraught with peril, but you made it!”

Old West Empresario from designer Stan Kordonskiy (Dice Hospital) is a tile drafting and placement game for 2-4 players. Tiles can give the player actions each turn, or can score points at the end of the game. Like other tile placement games, everyone is trying to create a prosperous town, where neighboring buildings feed off of each other, generating more points. Look for Old West Empresario to hit stores at the end of August.

Homesteaders is a fast auction game from designer Alex Rockwell, which has garnered understandable love since its release in 2009. TMG has announced a new 10th anniversary edition of this classic, including a new expansion, New Beginnings. In Homesteaders, 2-4 players auction for buildings to place in their burgeoning western frontier town, managing precious resources (9 different types!). Buildings give the player new abilities, income, and point generation, however some buildings require workers to fully function. After 10 rounds, the player with the most points is declared victor, and gets to name their city. The new Homesteaders comes with metal coins and victory point tokens, 53 building tiles, 30 auction tiles, 25 worker meeples, 74 wooden resources, and even a metal start player token.

The new expansion adds a 5th player, more buildings, auctions and components. Look for Homesteaders 10th Anniversary and the New Beginnings expansion in late September.

“Cats all over the world look forward to the Festival!”

Festival of a Thousand Cats from designer Fukutarou is a trick taking card game originally from Japan, which is sought after but difficult to obtain in the west. Tasty Minstrel has gotten the rights to reprint this quirky game, and it should hit western shores in late September. Cards have ranging number values, come in 4 different suits/seasons, and can score positive or negative points. 2 cards to be fought over are placed in the center of the play area, and these cards may have crows (negative points), fish, or milké (an intoxicating mixture of catnip and milk). Be careful – winning too much milké makes the cats sick and both fish and milké points are lost. Players each play one card from their hand, but cannot play the same suits as the scoring cards, unless there is no other option. After all players put in a card, the highest card played wins the higher of the 2 scoring cards, and the lowest wins the lower of the scoring cards. Add to this formula a varying distribution of numbers in each suit, and you end up with a very quirky, interesting take on trick taking.

“Stake your claim, build a mining empire, and keep one step ahead of the competition!”

Rolled West from designer Daniel Newman is the new inevitable roll-and-write version of TMG’s popular Gold West (2015) from J. Alex Kevern. In Rolled West, 2-4 players roll dice to collect resources, in order to make settlements and score majorities for the various terrain types. Players can bank resources on opponent’s turns, fulfill contracts, make sales, or invest in futures. The game comes with 4 custom dice, 4 dry erase player boards, a dry erase score board, and markers.

“Deep beneath the surface of the earth lie gems, artifacts, and other valuable things.”

Big Dig by Shaun Graham and Scott Huntington is a similar 2-4 player flip-and-write, dry erase game, where players flip over cards that dictate what shape of grid squares to cross off (dig) on their board. Digging out areas must proceed from the top or from already cleared areas, and certain areas cannot be excavated, except maybe by blowing them up! Players try to achieve the 3 random goals set on cards, and the first to do so wins. Lots of goals and double sided player boards lend variety to this new roll and write. Look for both Rolled West and Big Dig to come to stores in October 2019.

“Your prehistoric clan needs a little guidance. Hunt, gather, figure out new techniques for doing things and make a little art along the way!”

Dawn of Mankind is coming from designer Marco Pranzo (Historia) and acclaimed artist Kwanchai Moriya. Not a lot of details are known about this title, except that players create the journey of their tribe, involving generations of families. Other players may inadvertently help you along if they proceed along the same story path. At the end of the game, the “story” left by your family translates into points. Dawn of Mankind is due to hit stores in Q4 2019.

Curtiss Patrick and Danger Games have started a Kickstarter Campaign for Rainbow: The Trick Taking Poker Game. In Rainbow, 2-5 players use an 80 card deck consisting of values from 10 to Ace, in 5 colors, plus wild cards. Players each receive a hand of 15 cards, which they need to organize into poker hand “tricks” of 2, 3, 4, and 5 cards, culminating in a final single card play. Tricks can be the classic flush, straight, full house, three- and four-of-a-kind, etc., but most must consist of a single color, with color acting as a final trump in ties. Players bid on how many tricks they feel they will win, then play out their hand, with the first player to 11 points winning to game.

“It’s a great game for poker players to learn trick-taking, a wonderful design for trick-taking fans to get an introduction to poker, fantastic for fans of both poker and trick-taking games, and an easy-to-start game for players who have never played poker or trick-taking games”

Rainbow is a fast, easy to learn family trick taking game, and the Kickstarter is set to continue through August 16, 2019. The final game is expected to deliver in January 2020.

Oink Games from Japan is known for small card games which pack a big punch. Past hits from Oink have been the excellent games A Fake Artist Goes to New York, Insider and Deep Sea Adventure. Oink has just announced their next 2 games coming to western shores – Mr. Face by Jun Sasaki and Tricks and the Phantom by Takashi Saito.

Mr. Face is a social guessing game, where players play cards with leading phrases, such as “The clouds look so nice”, or “What is that smell?” One player attempts to build a facial expression on the board with supplied components, representing their phrase card. Afterwards, all players place phrases into the middle. Players then try to guess which odd phrase was the one which inspired the face. Mr. Face can also be played by taking selfies for the facial expressions.

Tricks and the Phantom is a deduction trick-taking game with a tiny deck of only 10 cards. The values and colors of the cards in the deck are known to all, reminiscent of Seiji Kanai‘s megahit microgame Love Letter. Each player plays one of their two cards face down to the middle, but denotes the color of the card by placing a token on the back. Players then try to guess which card is the “culprit” – the highest card. Cards are revealed, and successful guesses earn points, but be careful, several of the cards have special abilities, and the Phantom, the lowest card, can not only pretend to be any color, but also earns points for each other player tricked into incorrectly picking it.

Mr. Face and Tricks and the Phantom should be available in stores in the beginning of August. For more information, check out the Oink Games website here.

“EXTINCTION is a card game that’s been destroying friendships since the dinosaurs.”

The River Dwellers are bringing dinosaurs back in Extinction: A Dinosaur Survival Card Game, a new dinosaur themed take-that game from designer Benjamin Chong. In Extinction, 2-5 players try to guard their 6 eggs from the other opponents, avoiding inevitable extinction before the famous meteor strike takes players down. Players start with an herbivore habitat to shelter their growing dinos, but of course everyone aspires to obtain a famed carnivore habitat.  Card play involves growing your hatchling beasts into full-fledged terrors, attacking the other player, defending against attacks, stealing other players dinos, and drawing as many cards as possible. The winner is the player who can successfully guard their clutch of eggs and avoid extinction. The Kickstarter campaign for Extinction continues through August 8, and the game is expected to deliver in October 2019.

“Our space colony has been infiltrated by murderous androids who look just like us. We are gradually being replaced by look-alikes! The only way to find out for sure if someone is a robot is by shooting them with your laser pistol. Our only hope is to destroy the robots one by one!”

Looney Labs, grand masters of all things Fluxx, have announced a new microgame, Are You a Robot? by designer Andrew Looney. This 4 card game boils down the essence of a social deduction game to its simplest form. 2-3 players each secretly receive a card stating whether they are one of 2 humans, or the robot. Purely by questioning each other, they then need to decide who is who. The game ends when one player either shoots the other or shakes hands. If a human shoots a human, they both lose. If a human shoots a robot, the human wins. And finally, if a robot shakes hands with a human, the robot wins, since it’s menacing metal hands never release. The game can be played with 2 players, or with multiple decks, expanding the complexity. For more information, check out the Looney Labs webpage here, and look for Are You a Robot? on store shelves this August.

“In Gibraltar Station, a fringe outpost in the Void Horizon, free-port merchants and mercenaries play Sovereign’s Chain, a card game that matches strategy, skill, and a bit of rogue luck for its player.”

WizKids today announced Sovereign’s Chain, a fast (30 minutes) hand manipulation card game coming this summer from designer Robert J. Hudecek (Dragon Farkle). In Sovereign’s Chain, 2-4 players take turns placing Class cards from their hand onto the end of an ever growing tableau, called a Chain. These Class cards have numerical values, and come in one of two suits, Planets or Stars. Cards can be played into either a player’s own Chain, or that of an opponent, and the game ends when any players’ Chain reaches a length of 7 cards. The goal of the game is to have the greatest difference in total value between your two suits in your Chain when the game ends.

Cards are usually played face up, activating some ability to manipulate the Chain, perhaps adding value to a card, removing or adding cards, or protecting cards from further shenanigans. The starting card in a chain is played face down, and other cards may be played similarly during the game; these cards are revealed one at a time at game end, adding last minute treachery. Additionally, Event cards add random effects during the game.

Look for Sovereign’s Chain at your FLGS this August. For more details, check out WizKid’s excellent webpage detailing the game.

The creators of Exploding Kittens are offering a unique spin on gaming conventions next May with Burning Cat.

In keeping with their decidedly odd feline motif and a core philosophy of fun above all, the event organizers plan to offer a gladiatorial arena and a giant cat that will explode into glorious flames. There will be guest speakers, but the focus will be on discovering and playing new games while creators and artists will get a chance to meet and develop new ideas.

The Cat Who Burns” will preside over the convention, according to the event website, and at the conclusion of the festivities will erupt into “something terrible and wonderful.” Attendees are welcome to enter a central arena called “The Ring” and try a new take on the venerable dodge ball called Hairball, hurling massive hair-covered projectiles, or they can do battle in a cat-themed American Gladiators spectacle.

Inside this gladiatorial cage, humongous, over-sized games will be played. Stupid stunts will be performed. New sports will be invented. We will defy the laws of nature. We will defy the nature of laws.”

Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal was announced on the website as a guest speaker and more may be revealed at a later date. But Burning Cat’s priority is having fun, according to the organizers.

With less focus on hawking new product lines and more on actual game play, Burning Cat seeks to right what is wrong with today’s convention scene.

We don’t like that most conventions are basically a glorified shopping mall.

The convention will be a place to play games face to face and explore avenues of creativity, according to the website. Artists and game designers are encouraged to use Burning Cat to help test out their prototypes and ideas.

Burning Cat is set to open May 16-17 in Portland, Oregon.

HABA, the excellent company spearheading chunky components in bright yellow boxes, has two new games coming out this summer, Mountains and Wobble King. Mountains looks to be one of HABA’s more mature game titles, fitting alongside the excellent Iquazu and Meduris. Wobble King is a more classic yellow box children’s games with HABA’s signature unique mechanisms and interesting pieces.  

In Mountains by designer Carlo A. Rossi (Divinity Derby), 2-5 players take hikes in order to collect stamps in their hiking book. Six piles of cards represent the 6 levels of difficulty, and each turn, a player picks one pile to draw from. This card shows what equipment is required for the hike, with more challenging hikes requiring more equipment. If the player has the necessary equipment in hand, they can complete the hike, and earn the rewards on the card. Otherwise, players can use “favor stones” to borrow equipment from other players. If no hikes are possible, players can turn over a card to simply earn more favor stones. After 2 hiking piles are depleted, the player with the most summit stamps wins the game. Mountains comes with great passport books, stamps and ink pads, and is expected to hit stores this August.

King Leo has fallen asleep atop his huge pile of silver, providing a perfect opportunity for players to sneak some of the treasure for themselves. The main board in Wobble King (Kippelkönig) is placed on top of many silver coin meeples. On the main board sits a large precariously balanced King Leo figure. 2-4 Players take turns using a stick to work one of the silver coins out from under the main board. If the board falls, or King Leo topples, the faulting player needs to take a rotten tomato. If you are caught twice, you are eliminated from the game. Look for Wobble King from designer Heinz Meister at your FLGS in August 2019.