Dice Tower Con 2019


During the recent Dice Tower Con 2019 festivities, I was given the rare opportunity to help playtest an early version of Restoration Game’s upcoming title Return to Dark Tower. The original Dark Tower game (1981) was a vivid Christmas memory for me, occupying my every dream when it released in my 13-year old world. The large, foreboding, rotating black tower, electronic buttons and lights, and fantasy story told a story of battle and conquest, admittedly with 8-bit beeps and boops. Plus it ate D cell batteries like a manic golf cart.

Return to Dark Tower (2020) by designers Justin Jacobson, Noah Cohen, legacy game deity Rob Daviau, and Gloomhaven creator Isaac Childres, is now a story driven cooperative game where heroes work to gain resources, strengthen their armies, and wage war on the powers within the tower. The board is reminiscent of the original 4 regions, each containing a player’s buildings. And in the center of the board will be the namesake tower.

The tower will be a marvel of engineering, a robotic cube tower with multiple rotating rings, designed by the team behind the exceptional Beasts of Balance. The game uses an app, which can communicate with the tower, turning rings to target players and regions. Each turn the tower rotates and changes, raining devastation upon the board.

The game I played went magnificently, and we quested throughout the land, eventually breaching the tower walls. The guardians within were no match for our group and we emerged victorious. From this early play test, I am personally excited to see how this game turns out in 2020, hopefully rekindling my 13-year old obsession with the Dark Tower.

The sharp-eyed and -eared among you may have heard Tom Vasel, our illustrious leader, drop a bombshell on the latest episode of Boardgame Breakfast. The next game in the Dice Tower Essentials line of games, will be Smartphone, Inc. originally from Cosmodrome Games and designer Ivan Lashin. The Dice Tower Essentials are games that Tom himself has played, deemed extraordinary, and brought personally to publisher Arcane Wonders for retail publication. Smartphone was originally shown at Essen 2018, and despite having a very small print run, quickly became a darling of the show. Rumors of reprints abounded, but until now the game has been on the grail list of many collectors.

“Back when smartphones were only beginning to conquer the world, it was your destiny to lead one of the most promising manufacturing corporations in the world. Analyze and research customer demand around the globe. Get out of your comfort zone and try to get more profit by setting up new offices in nearby regions. Improve your production and research innovative technologies. Try to get local markets under your control. Find your own way to success—become the producer of an elite high-tech product or a manufacturer focused on the mass market. And don’t forget to keep your plans secret if you want to win this race. Other companies want the same thing you do: to become the most successful (and richest) smartphone manufacturer of all time!”

Smartphone, Inc. is often described as Food Chain Magnate lite, being a strong but elegant economic game for 2-5 players about manufacturing and selling cell phones around the world. At the heart of the game, players manipulate two double sided cards, creating their “pad”. Each half of the pad contains 6 squares of icons, and by overlapping them in specific ways, players create their plan for the round: Visible symbols give actions for the round, while covered squares add additional product for sale, but inherently limit a player’s turn. Players can gain Improvement Tiles from the market each round, more cardboard tiles that can be added to their pad, adding new icons, or flipped to create more phones for sale.

Available actions include changing the sell price of a player’s phones up or down, researching new technologies, spreading and selling to other areas on the world map, gaining Improvements, and making more product. Newer technologies and world expansion give players more locations to sell their product, and each player can only sell in one “slot” per round, creating fierce competition for the markets. Players can focus on creating large amounts of cheaper phones, which allows them to act first, flooding sell spaces and outcompeting their opponents, or they can make higher priced phones to simply make more money. The richest player after 5 rounds emerges victorious.

The components for Smartphone are exceptional, with the entire board using dual layered cardboard, creating recessed slots for player pieces. The pieces themselves are brightly colored clear plastic cubes (phones/goods), office buildings (for territory control), and smartphone bars (representing progress). Individual player storage boxes keep the pieces organized: plastics, the player’s “pad”, and starting innovations. A clean, minimalistic graphic design places the round structure and all rules in easy to understand proximity. Also included in the game is a strong A.I. driven solo mode.

Smartphone Inc. will be available to demo at GenCon, Origins Game Fair, and Dice Tower Con this summer, and Arcane Wonders has stated that the awaited Kickstarter Campaign for reprints will still occur later this year, with retail release to follow in 2020. For more details, check out Arcane Wonders announcement here, and the Cosmodrome official webpage for Smartphone Inc here.