Catan Blues

Alliance Game Distributors Gets Exclusive Agreement with Catan License Holder, Asmodee North America

In a move which may increase the amount of tabletop games sold in comic book distribution juggernaut Diamond’s shadow, their affiliated company Alliance Game Distributors, also owned by Diamond’s Steve Geppi, has hammered out an exclusive distribution agreement with Asmodee North America, probably best known as the current Catan license holder in English-speaking countries.

Due to Diamond’s affiliation with Alliance Game Distributors, many comic shops are already hybrid hobby stores, with walls and shelves of tabletop games and role-playing games adding to sales and broadening customer bases.  One can speculate that having established this trade partnership, even more tabletop games will be available in Diamond’s PREVIEWS catalog than there are now.

Regardless of the impact on comic book retailers, the impact on tabletop retailers will be noteworthy, as on August 1st, Alliance Game Distributors will hold the Catan pipeline to North American game retailers.  In terms of support for specialized tabletop game retailers, Alliance Game Distributors will be creating an Asmodee Specialist Team for dedicated service of Asmodee products.  Additionally, AGD has announced “upcoming retailer initiatives to support and grow the market.”

“This is an amazing and transformational deal,” said Christian T. Petersen, CEO of Asmodee North America. “We at Asmodee have long enjoyed a terrific and productive relationship with the great people at Alliance. This deal joins the combined experience of both organizations to craft a communications and distribution infrastructure that we believe will positively affect both retailers and consumers in the hobby games market.”

“We are truly honored to be part of this historic agreement,” said Daniel Hirsch, president of Alliance Game Distributors. “Alliance has enjoyed a very close relationship with the companies that make up Asmodee North America for over 20 years. We are both proud and grateful that Asmodee has placed its trust in us for the stewardship of its brands.”

In addition to the original press release sent out by Alliance Game Distributors, I’ve also posted for the benefit of game retailers and hobbyists the two FAQ sheets with answers from Alliance and Asmodee as regards the transition.

Original press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ASMODEE NORTH AMERICA ANNOUNCES EXCLUSIVE DISTRIBUTION AGREEMENT WITH ALLIANCE GAME DISTRIBUTORS IN THE U.S.A.

June 1, 2017
Asmodee North America is excited to announce an exclusive distribution partnership with Alliance Game Distributors in the United States.
The multi-year agreement, which goes into effect on August 1st, 2017, is aimed at broadly increasing support for U.S. hobby games retailers. This includes the creation of a large, dedicated Asmodee Specialist Team at Alliance, significant updates to Asmodee’s sales policies, and a number of upcoming retailer initiatives designed to support and grow the market.
More information on updated Asmodee sales policies and details about upcoming retailer initiatives will be made available in late June.
“This is an amazing and transformational deal,” said Christian T. Petersen, CEO of Asmodee North America. “We at Asmodee have long enjoyed a terrific and productive relationship with the great people at Alliance. This deal joins the combined experience of both organizations to craft a communications and distribution infrastructure that we believe will positively affect both retailers and consumers in the hobby games market.”
“We are truly honored to be part of this historic agreement,” said Daniel Hirsch, president of Alliance Game Distributors. “Alliance has enjoyed a very close relationship with the companies that make up Asmodee North America for over 20 years. We are both proud and grateful that Asmodee has placed its trust in us for the stewardship of its brands.”
For additional information related to this announcement, please refer to the Q&A sheet attached hereto.
For sales and business inquires related to this announcement, please contact Brendan Bell, Hobby Market Sales Manager, at bbell@asmodeena.com.
For questions directed to Alliance Games Distributors, please contact Mike Webb, VP of Marketing, Data, and Customer Service, at mew@alliance-games.com.

FAQ sheets:

Hobby Games Retailer Questions to Alliance Regarding the Exclusive Asmodee Distribution Agreement in the U.S.

June 1, 2017 Q: Are there any specific areas we can expect things to improve? A: We are excited to be rolling out a number of new initiatives in the next couple of months that could not have happened in a multi-distributor environment. Please keep an eye out in the Alliance Alert and in ANA communications for upcoming changes – we believe these opportunities will be transformative and will create more value for retailers than ever before.

Q: If I don’t have an account with Alliance, how do I get one? A: To set up an account with Alliance, simply contact Marc Aquino, VP of Sales with Alliance at mla2@alliance-games.com and he will set you up with a Sales Manager to walk you through the process. You can also find our account applications online at http://www.alliancegames.com/Home/11/1/79/1162?articleID=127270

Q: I have some outstanding issues in the past with Alliance. I am concerned about reopening an account – what can I do to make sure things go smoothly? A: Contact Marc Aquino, VP of Sales at mla2@alliance-games.com or Mike Webb, VP of Marketing, Data, and Customer Service at mew@alliance-games.com. We are committed to working with you to clear up any issues on either side to make this transition a smooth and mutually beneficial one.

Q: How will this affect my supply of product? I liked my allocations with my former distributor better on ANA product. A: Although there will no doubt be some future products where demand outstrips supply, we do believe having a single source of the product will help to balance out some issues related to allocation of products. Alliance and ANA will also be sharing data more directly during the pre-solicit and solicit phases of a product, and providing extremely detailed analysis of sales within product lines. This will allow more accurate demand forecasting. In addition, allocation policy can better be coordinated on a product by product basis. Alliance’s history as steward of hobby sales for Days of Wonder and Catan products demonstrated considerable improvement in availability of product lines, and we hope to see many of those benefits accrue again.
Q: Is Alliance going to be able to handle the increased volume this represents? How can I know my orders will still be processed in a timely manner? A: Alliance has already begun hiring and training additional operations staff to handle increased volume. They have also undertaken significant investment in technology in their warehouses to increase the speed and accuracy of orders.

Q: How will the Asmodee Sales Specialists work? Will I have to place orders with 2 different people? A: In short, no – you can place your orders for ANA product with either. Your Alliance Account Representative will be there to help as always with the full range of Alliance products and services. The Asmodee Sales Specialists will have additional training and information on programs that can help your store better promote and sell the full range of ANA products. They will help guide you in growing your sales across the ANA brands, and will get to know your store’s unique needs and how ANA can best meet them. From assisting you with organized play opportunity to helping you gauge demand for new product or ANA lines you might not have carried in the past, they will leverage greater experience and information on Asmodee North America products to your store’s advantage.

*****************************

Hobby Games Retailer Questions to Asmodee Regarding the Exclusive Alliance Distribution Agreement in the U.S.

June 1, 2017

Q: Why did Asmodee decide to go exclusive with Alliance in the U.S.? A: It is our goal to provide hobby games retailers with the support and inventory they need to successfully grow their business selling Asmodee’s games. As part of this deal, Alliance will be making a significant investment to enhance our ability to communicate, support, and allocate our products.

Q: When does this go into effect? A: The agreement goes into effect August 1, 2017. Any new releases and restocks of Asmodee products that ship prior to August 1, 2017 will be available to retailers from all our current authorized distributors. Starting on August 1, 2017, all new Asmodee releases and re-stocks will be available exclusively to hobby games retailers through Alliance Game Distributors.

Q: How will this new exclusive arrangement benefit hobby games retailers? A: With this deal, Alliance Game Distributors is building a dedicated team of Asmodee Sales Specialists who will work directly with retailers to help them grow sales by understanding the retailer’s specific needs and providing in-depth product knowledge of ANA products and services. This sales team will also provide greater visibility into stock availability, allocations, and other retailer initiatives, as well as sending retailer feedback to ANA.

Additionally, Asmodee is developing updated sales policies and retailer initiatives that we believe will greatly benefit both retailers and consumers. More information about these changes will be made available towards the end of this month.

Q: How do I open an account with Alliance? A: To set up an account with Alliance Game Distributors, contact Marc Aquino, VP of Sales, at mla2@alliance-games.com. You can also find online applications at http://www.alliance-games.com/.

Q: I have additional questions for Asmodee, who can I contact? A: Please contact Brendan Bell, Asmodee North America’s Hobby Market Sales Manager, at bbell@asmodeena.com.

Q: I have additional questions for Alliance, who can I contact? A: Please contact Mike Webb, VP of Marketing, Data, and Customer Service, at mew@alliancegames.com.

Cross-posted on NerdSpan.com.

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Card Game

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game Announced by Renegade Game Studios and Oni Press

Renegade Game Studios and Oni Press have announced the summer release of Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game, a two to six player tabletop deck-building game designed by Keith Baker.

“Invite your friends! Throw a pizza party! But don’t get the cards greasy,” said Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan O’Malley.

Scott Pilgrim is an incredibly popular graphic novel series because it is so relatable,” says Renegade President Scott Gaeta. “Renting your first apartment, falling in love, and getting a job are things everyone’s gone through. Keith Baker has done an incredible job recreating these life choices in a deck-building format while incorporating the video game style button-mashing combo moves that we loved in the graphic novel fight scenes.”

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Card Game

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game will have a MSRP of $45, run 45-60 minutes per game, and is described as:

…a deckbuilding game that challenges you to grow up and prepare for your finest hour. Players assume the roles of their favorite characters in the Scott Pilgrim universe, each of whom comes with a unique starting deck. Innovative double-sided cards let you decide whether to solve your problems with hard work and empathy, or whether to embrace the unpredictable world of gratuitous video game violence.

Beyond the video-game-style combo moves unique to each character, fans will also appreciate the innovative double-sided cards. Players will be faced to make hard choices about whether to fight or upgrade their life with each card placed into the Plot line. Defeating the Evil Ex and collecting Power-Ups will help players inch their way towards victory.

While pre-orders have not opened, you can bookmark the official Renegade Game Studios page through this hyperlink.

Cross posted on NerdSpan.com.


 

 

Random Encounter: Seas of the Sea Chicken Announced by IDW for May

Last year, Board of Life  reviewed Random Encounter: Plains of the Troll King.  While the game mechanics leave little room for players that enjoy strategic tabletop games, we admired its design, and its pluck in capitalizing on the Minecraft nostalgia boom decades before there was a Minecraft nostalgia boom.

Today, IDW announced the May arrival of the first expansion, Random Encounter: Seas of the Sea Chicken, also designed by James Keddie.

IDW describes the new installment as:

Random Encounter: Sea of the Sea Chicken brings 4 new special powers to the Encounter cards. With a black skulled card, you can double the combat strength of any Encounter that card is placed in, which can create an overwhelming advantage. Any Encounter card with a purple skull may flee to another one of your Encounters if the Encounter it is included in is attacked. Salty swashbuckler-scuttled swimwear swept sideways! Or something like that…

Also, while it’s described as an expansion, IDW also notes that it’s a “complete stand-alone product,” although this will not prevent players from combining the two sets into “hilarious off-the-wall land and sea mash ups.”

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Cross-posted on NerdSpan.com.

Add Batman the Animated Series Dice Game to Your Gaming Utility Belt

November was Nanowrimo, which had most of my free attention, but when I logged into Board of Life to post this BTAS Dice Game news, I realized it’s been over a month since I posted!  I still have a vision for this blog—and apparently, so do you, based on the traffic I still get even when nothing posts (November was my second best month in views and visitors)–so I’ll do my best to resume penning, even if it’s just news to share, like today’s.

From DC Entertainment, Cryptozoic and Steve Jackson Games comes the Batman The Animated Series Dice Game, which arrived today in gaming stores and Hot Topic locations just in time for the holidays.  Or, if you’re not looking for a gift for the Batman collector who has everything, you can add it to your own box of quick games.

If you don’t have a Local Gaming Store or a Hot Topic, you can order this directly through Steve Jackson Games.


backcoverpicture硬纸卡包吸塑包装:216x121mmbatman_dicebatmanimage

Game description:

The Joker, Catwoman, The Riddler, and Poison Ivy are pulling off elaborate heists to score as much loot as they can carry! Based on the award-winning TV show, Batman: The Animated Series™ Dice Game lets you become a Super-Villain in a press-your-luck game for the whole family. Roll the dice and take advantage of each villain’s diabolical abilities to scheme your way to victory before getting busted by Batman™!

Suggested Retail Price $14.95 * Stock number 131339
UPC 091037863218

Contents
10 custom dice, 4 large tokens, dice cup, and rules.


Batman The Animated Series Dice Game

Cross-posted on NerdSpan.com. Board of Life uses affiliate links.

Tabletop

Tabletop Season Four Launches With Lanterns Episode

Even if you’re not a tabletop gaming fiend, there’s no doubt that if you have any familiarity with YouTube at all, you’ve come across Wil Wheaton’s excellent show, Tabletop.  If you’re unfamiliar, the premise of the show is that Wil Wheaton and his friends play games, and in so doing provide useful and entertaining game play recap and commentary.  Fans of the show have been waiting for the fourth season to drop for some time, though we haven’t grown beards like those waiting for Winds of Winter.  

The first episode of season four has hit YouTube today, and it covers a relatively new release, Lanterns.  Wheaton has written on his personal blog that Lanterns was “the first game I officially locked into our schedule for this season.  His guests are Ivan Van Norman and Becca Scott from the show Game the Game, which Wheaton blogged today that he considers a “sister show,” and Zac Eubanks of Twitch.

I’ve embedded the video here on NerdSpan for your convenience, or you can hop over to YouTube through this link.

This article was cross posted on NerdSpan.com.

Lanterns The Harvest Festival Board Game

Board of Life uses affiliate links.

Thoughts on Splendor Online Play

Online play in the Splendor app is not yet a month old, and it appears to be, compared to other board games on mobile app stores, much healthier in terms of matching a bevy of eager players. It even seems easier to find other players than in the venerable Catan app, and it is much quicker to get the virtual table outfitted as well: from loading the app to picking your tokens takes less than a minute. Also, and most importantly, unlike all other mobile tabletop gaming apps that I own, the app forces players to stay involved by timing each player’s turn. In virtual Splendor, there are no agonizingly long three to five minute turns (although some players take an eon to realize that all they can do, if there are three short stacks, and there’s nothing they can afford or want to buy, is take three tokens or reserve a card). But if the other player’s timer does expire, congratulations! They just forfeited through being inattentive, and you won the game. This means that online Splendor, while slower than Splendor against AI, is much quicker than other games that feature online play.  However, it is still quicker than playing Splendor on a real-world tabletop, as most real-world players don’t use a timer, and there’s always that one Splendor player that takes two or three minute turns.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of this rapidity of play is that you are quickly introduced to a wide variety of Splendor strategies. I just finished playing a game with a player that started the game by reserving a red jewel card from the bottom row, and from then on in, was determined not to let me have any red jewel cards on the bottom row, so that whenever one would be placed, she would reserve it. As the green deck was top heavy with red cards, this meant that her first three turns required her to reserve three red cards in a row, so that while I quickly had a card and five tokens, she had three jokers and three reserved cards after the first three turns. Unfortunately for her, the next card placed in the bottom row was also a red token card, and as she had already reserved the maximum of three cards, and I had five tokens and a card, I was better suited to buying it before she did. I’m intensely interested in seeing how this kind of color monopolization strategy might work in another game in which the luck wasn’t as lopsided, but I will probably never play this way myself. I won this game 16 points to 10.

Another player closely scrutinized my till of tokens, so that whenever I was able to buy a point-scoring card, they would reserve it. This probably throws off other players’ games, but as I have played a lot of Splendor, and I have experience in diversifying my strategy, and they can only reserve three cards at most—cards that usually turned out to be useless to them, as they were saving very different colors than I was saving—I won 17 points to 5. However, I will admit to being more annoyed by this player than any other Splendor player, although the feeling was mitigated when I realized that they were stuck with three cards that did not match their game investments, which blocked their ability both to reserve cards and to get joker tokens for the rest of the game.

More than half of the players that I have played have reserved a card from the bottom row. Folks, this is a bonehead move, and tells the person across the table that you have no idea what you’re doing. I’ll allow the exception to this to be the color monopolization strategy I mentioned above, as I have only seen it used in one virtual game and no real-world tabletop games. Color monopolization on the bottom row may very well be a bonehead move as well, but I have little experience with the strategy to say either way. If your first three moves are to reserve a red card, a brown card, and a blue card, though, you’re definitely a mook, as the bottom row cards are inexpensive and plentiful, and are best purchased with a canny economy of three token draws and using prior purchases to make it cheaper to make future buys. Good Splendor players reserve around three cards per game, and they are usually three to five point cards. Sometimes a bottom row card might be reserved towards the end game if it is the color that a player needs to attract a noble.

spl01_annegood

For instance, if I have three green, three blue, and two white cards, and I need one more white to get the noble above, and the white card that costs three brown is drawn for the bottom row, reserving it to get the joker token to add to the two brown in my till will get me three points in the following turn—as long as another player is not about to take that noble.  This is usually the only instance in which I would reserve a card from the bottom row.

There are also the kind of players that you meet in real life, such as the Splendor Gamblers that like to reserve the cheap cards in the middle and top row as an opening move, for example the four point top row cards that only cost seven tokens of one color. While I almost never do this, and only reserve cards that I might play in a round or two, and very rarely reserve compeititively (taking a winning card from another player that will also give me the joker token I need to squeeze out a big purchase), when I see a player reserve a cheap card, it tells me that they know how to play Splendor, and this game will be more challenging than most. Experienced Splendor players fall on a continuum between Splendor Gambling and Splendor Economy, and one of the main disadvantages for a Splendor Gambler is that your early strategic reserves tell the other player that you grok the game while also telegraphing your strategy several moves ahead to your opponent.  I may return to the continuum of Splendor Gamblers and Splendor Economists in a future post.

While I’ve had a lot of fun playing the online mobile version of Splendor, I would only recommend it with the caveat that if you are not playing this game on a good WiFi connection, you could find it a frustrating pastime. If you have a rocket fast internet connection (I have Xfinity, which does the trick), and only try to play it at home on that network, you will probably have a great time with online Splendor play. If you’re trying to play through a 3G or 4G connection, you stand a good chance of being disconnected from the server, which the app counts as a loss for the player being disconnected. This is such a pervasive problem that on any given time if you enter the Online section of the app, the chat stream is likely to have one or two players venting about being disconnected.

Also, I should advise players that while I have mentioned in other articles on this blog that the Splendor app fits that five to ten minute sweet spot for a mobile game, that only holds true when you’re playing against AI. When you’re playing in the Online section of the app, even considering the timer running in the background, the games take at least 50% longer, around 15 minutes with an attentive opponent. 

However, even with these two criticisms weighing in, the Splendor app is currently my favorite online tabletop gaming platform, ending a period of several months in which, when I had ten minutes to kill, I would play San Juan or Puerto Rico nearly exclusively.

You can find my review of the tabletop version of Splendor by following this link.

Splendor Board Game


Splendor on Android.

You can find Splendor on iTunes through this link.

Board of Life uses affiliate links.

Warhammer

Reblog: Fantasy Flight Games Gives Up The Games Workshop License

For those of you with any Warhammer miniature, Wathammer RPG, or Wathammer 40k, background, I’d like to share this great breakdown on the separation of Fantasty Flight Games’ abandonment of their Games Workshop license.

Thank the “Hit Somebody” blog for this informative article.  Also, if there’s any FFG Warhammer product that you’ve been considering buying, his advice, that now is the time to buy before the product becomes prohibitively expensive in the resale market, sounds like sage gamers’ wisdom.

Who do you think will be likely to be the next Games Workshop licensee?  What tabletop game publisher do you think can manage the extensive Warhammer products in their catalog?

http://hitsomebody.com/fantasy-flight-games-and-games-workshop-go-separate-ways/#comment-1974


Here’s a dungeon door to all the Warhammer loot…

One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Game Night: Imagine, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Broom Service

We had a quick game night last week, during which we introduced two games to our usual game night friends, both Imagine, which I’ve reviewed on Board of Life, and One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which we have wanted since playing it for the first time at Replay Fx. It was also the first time in a good while that we played board games with the kids. We also played Broom Service, which we haven’t played in a little while.

Dinner was spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread, and our friends also opened some home brewed wine that was as sweet and good as any regional wine I’ve tried. It reminded me of some of Lonz’s desert wines, although much stronger.

Imagine


My first takeaway from playing Imagine for the first time on someone else’s table is that though it has no board, Imagine takes up a larger section of your table than most board games. While the rules depict two circles of transparent Imagine cards, we ended up with three very large circles, and then had to spread them out even more to make the game play area in the middle.

The table also presented some resistance to the transparent cards, or rather, lack of resistance. We initially dealt out the cards on the table surface, but the plastic Imagine cards, due to a combination of thinness and slipperiness, not only were hard to pry from the natural wood, but also slid right onto the floor several times. So my friend put down the card game overlay that he built with craft materials, as it is softer, more textured, and an easier surface from which to play card games.

Which presented a new problem, as the predominantly blue, Star Wars themed, overlay and the dim light had the effect of obscuring the images on the clear cards. So, add to my game play criticism in my review of Imagine that this game has environmental limitations that stem from its components. There are other scenarios that immediately come to mind that would be averse to playing Imagine—this isn’t a game that you would take camping, for instance, unless you had a bright white tablecloth and a very powerful light either inside or outside your camper or tent. Fans of Imagine may want to have a coarse white tablecloth handy, or a white overlay similar to the one my friend built, for play indoors.

This was the first game of the night, and the kids didn’t jump in until the next game, but this was still our first time playing Imagine with four players, as we had only played with three beforehand. Which brings me to my second takeaway–that Imagine seems to improve with more players at the table. While an extra person playing Enigmas didn’t make much of a difference to game play, an extra person guessing made it much more competitive. So while I maintain that Imagine is a suitable game for tabletop sessions that have a low player count, it can have a more exciting dynamic with additional players.

Also, comparing this game with the one we played next creates a very stark contrast in terms of replay value. While everyone enjoyed Imagine, no one wanted to play it again immediately thereafter, despite it being a fairly short game. One play through was enough to satisfy everyone at the table.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf


One Night Ultmate Werewolf, on the other hand, we played twice with just the adults and then five times with the kids included. I’m planning on reviewing this one later on Board of Life, so I’m going to save my analysis of the game itself for later. You know, the intrinsic stuff, such as how you play it, how you win, strategic analysis, if any, and why it’s fun as an activity or any good as a game–which are separate criteria, we’ve learned, from our examination of Imagine. You won’t find any of that here. What follows are just some notes on some of One Night Ultimate Werewolf’s extrinsic values, specifically that it’s easy to learn, it bridges all ages, and it has a ton of replay value.

In terms of learnability, One Night Ultimate Werewolf can be played by anyone that can speak, and although it can be played better by those that have mastered some social subterfuge, it has almost no learning curve until some of the more complicated roles are added to the mix. The first time we played it with our friends, it was just us four adults, and we simply played the One Night App with the recommended seven roles for beginners’ play and told everyone to listen carefully for their role and do exactly what the voice said. Then we played again, and then we recruited the kids for an eight player game.

The kids had a great time playing it, which led to us playing five games in a row with them and speaks not only to the fact that One Night Ultimate Werewolf is exemplary all-ages entertainment, but also that it has very high replay value. It isn’t that each game of ONUW is dramatically different, as while you can swap out role cards here and there, the game experience is essentially the same each time: listen to the narrator, do what it says, and, in the discovery phase, either shoot the werewolves or, if you’re the werewolf, try not to get shot. When you open the box, ONUW looks customizable, but that assumption turns out to be merely a cosmetic one. So why can’t gamers play just one game of ONUW? Because that game experience, despite its ongoing homogeneity, is simply that fun and addictive. Only time will tell as to whether ONUW will age poorly, and as Bezier Games continues to toss expansions to One Night fans, the dust may take a long time to settle.

Broom Service

I’ve discussed Broom Service in one review and two (here’s one; here’s two) previous Game Night recaps, and I don’t have a lot to add. However, our friends’ daughter has been wanting to play games with us, and she did sit in on this one, which not only made it a five player game with no bewitched cards, it also gives us another opportunity to examine tabletop games and their intersection with the small set.

So how does Broom Service mix with kids? Both of our daughters are pre-tweens and a year apart; my daughter—who occasionally likes to play Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico, and watches Tabletop—does not like to play it, and their daughter—whose favorite board game is Machi Koro—had to be strongly encouraged to stay at the table and be prompted to take her turn. Honestly, both of these girls are probably more interested in tablet games, but both of them are fans of certain tabletop games, and with a concept like witches delivering potions, you would think that Broom Service would be able to crossover to that age demographic. Why it does not is puzzling to me, especially in the case of my daughter, who loves Kiki’s Delivery Service and Harry Potter and for whom Broom Service seems made to order.

That said, Broom Service may have a higher age range than you would think, as the game is currently 0:2 with the pre-tweens in our gaming group.

Conclusion

Overall, this was a pretty good game night, with its high point being seven games of One Night Ultimate Werewolf. Honestly, I’m suprised that I like One Night Ultimate Werewolf as much as I do, as I prefer more strategic games. This may be because ONUW is successful at relating its premise and concept with every single round, unlike many other games with more complicated staging that lose their way at times somewhere in the mid-game. On the other hand, while I have some admiration to Imagine’s design and concept—make the inscrutable imaginable and, ultimately, recognizable—the game’s shortcomings become more and more apparent with each play. Lastly, I discovered that while I find Broom Service to be a pleasant diceless refuge from Catan, younger gamers in my orbit do not like it.

Imagine

One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Broom Service – Strategy Game

Board of Life uses affiliate links. Gamewright sent a review copy of Imagine.

Review: Looking for Group, Pittsburgh’s Game Center and Coworking Space

In our Replay FX adventure, we spent about four hours learning new board games in an expanded tabletop gaming area.  Our game play facilitators, that either ran or got us connected to games of Pandemic Legacy, Hanabi, and One Night Ultimate Werewolf, turned out to be representatives of a new business in Pittsburgh, Looking for Group, and when we were near the top of our gaming high, they gave us red tokens stamped with their name and address, as well as an offer of one hour of free game play.

IMG_4303

A quick note on this is warranted.  Looking for Group’s marketing model is as cutting edge as their game center would turn out to be, as while you can’t really call it “undercover marketing” due to their eventual disclosing of their identities, they definitely disclosed it AFTER we were hooked on our first game.  What do you call “undercover marketing” after it has evolved into a more friendly model that plugs its association once it has gained your trust and sold you on the possibility of a customer relationship?  I found it to be not only clever but an intriguingly fleet-footed way of transmitting their whole business concept to their prospects.  However, it was undoubtedly aided by the friendly and knowledgeable Looking for Group representatives that were in attendance at RePlay FX.

I was sure to put the tokens on the mantle when we returned from RePlay FX, though it was a good three weeks later when we decided we would go across town to Brookline to see the facilities.  Looking for Group is located on Brookline Boulevard, a historic Pittsburgh shopping and restaurant district, within walking distance of other colorful businesses, like Rather Ripped Records, Geekadrome, and more.

But even the eclectic neighborhood couldn’t prepare us for what waited inside the doors.

Looking for Group is truly gamers’ Eden, with the two Trees, the Tree of Tabletop Gaming and the Tree of Video Gaming, fully flowered.  Video gamers can play video games both in the large format, in widescreen from a nine foot couch, or in the more personal format of video rockers a few feet from the game.  While one of my kids played Mario Kart Wii and the other got to try No Man’s Sky at last, the wife and I learned Tokaido from one of the owners.


Tokaido Board Game

Tokaido is an outstanding game, by the way, that will probably be our next tabletop game purchase, and you will probably eventually see it reviewed on Board of Life.  It is incredibly fun, with lots of strategy and a very tiny learning curve, so that you could play this great game easily with anyone you know.  It is also an extremely fast game, as it only took us about an hour to finish.  And after we completed our game, my oldest told me that she had great fun playing No Man’s Sky, in which she repaired a spaceship that she flew into outer space.  My youngest, on the other hand, did not want to leave, though we have Mario Kart Wii at home.

Earlier in Board of Life, I have blogged about the emergence of board game cafes, and while Looking for Group has some affinity with that concept, there is a much different vision here.  Looking for Group is described not only as a gaming center, but also as a “coworking space,” which started as kind of a game developers’ studio co-op, but has changed as people from different walks of life have joined the coworking space, not just game developers but also, for instance an educator and a systems administrator.  On their website, they say that their they have not only multiple server tools for game developers, but also things that would appeal to a more diverse group, such as fast internet, LAN access, a conference room, a kitchenette, and keyless entry via smartphone.

Membership at Looking for Group is pricey, ranging from a $25/month basic membership that allows site access for one day a month to the $225/month unlimited membership that allows access at any time.  There are also hourly rates–$4/hour or $10 for 3 hours–and a $20 day rate, for people to come in during gaming hours (2 to 10 PM), and every Wednesday from 7 to 10 PM there is a three hour Board Game Night that costs $5 per participant.

And this leads me to my only criticism of Looking for Group, that while the cost of the facility is probably reasonable for young millennials, it is prohibitive to families.  It would be $16 an hour for us to enjoy Looking for Group, or $40 for 3 hours.  Board Game Night would be more reasonable for us, at $20 for the three hour block, but there are numerous free board game Meetup Groups in the Pittsburgh area, including one that already meets on Wednesdays at a Crazy Mocha in Squirrel Hill, and that one has equally knowledgeable tabletop gaming fans as members.  And if I was a young millennial, I would have a hard time paying as much for one day at Looking for Group that I have paid for a whole month of gym membership.

Not that Looking for Group is aiming at the business model of a free library or meetup group, or even an economical gym membership; they’re selling the joy of networking, of unifying their coworking elite on the one hand, and of creating a tribe of gamers on the other hand.  Looking for Group is aiming at the church business model, and their high rates are not unlike tithing, fraternity dues, or the fees for auditing in Scientology.  They’re looking for members that will feel a belongingness to the space, not treat it with the rudeness that customers treat libraries, gyms, and movie theaters.

And, much as I am fascinated by world religious literature, I am fascinated by Looking for Group’s vision as well.  And, I have an undeniable affinity with their game center, so when I rue their exorbitant prices, it’s with the bitterness of Aesop’s Fox.  Not to mention the fact of their friendliness, professionalism, and welcoming nature, which makes me feel that my criticism is ridiculous, tantamount to Groucho Marx’s “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, and you like board games or video games, you will undoubtedly feel right at home at Looking for Group.  I can attest to the fact that my entire family felt right at home and enjoyed every minute there.  However, the pricing is not as welcoming to families as the space is itself, so bear that in mind.  The pricing is geared towards young singles and couples that leave their kids at home.  And the most important caveat of all is that this space will make an impact on you, so that you’ll feel its draw moments after you leave.

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Game Review: Gamewright’s Imagine (2016)

While Gamewright is a publisher of what are ostensibly family games that you can play with your kids, perhaps because many of their games aim to cultivate the mind, they have found a wider audience of all-ages that enjoy stimulating tabletop games. In this household, we’re already fans of three eminently intriguing and mentally nourishing games, not only Dragonwood, which I’ve previously reviewed, but also Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert.

Our most recent acquisition from Gamewright is Imagine, a game that dropped just this month during GenCon. It is described in its press sheet as a game that “transcends language and culture…which came to us from Japan via our French publishing partners” and allows players to “combine, overlap, and even animate the special transparent cards” in order to “convey your chosen subject without saying a word.” These are bold and ambitious promises, and Gamewright makes good on them with this curiously amusing card game.

To set up Imagine, you simply put all 61 transparent cards in a series of circles on your tabletop, so that all players can easily see them. Then you shuffle the Enigma cards, and place those and the score tokens within easy reach of everyone.

Here’s how you play one round of Imagine. On your turn, you grab an Enigma* card, which has eight different enigmas with corresponding clues. Any other player then tells you a number between one and eight to determine the enigma of that round, you provide the other players the associated clue, and then the hinting and the guessing begin. At this point, you can use any of the transparent cards, in any quantity, to communicate your hint. If no one gets it, you can build onto that hint, or you can scrap it and start over, whichever you prefer. There’s no set time limit either, and the players can decide when they’ve had enough. If no one guesses correctly, then no one scores, but if someone does grok what you’re trying to do, both that player and you get one point. Yes, Imagine rewards both good hinters and good guessers, which can encourage a quick game.

As for a more specific example of play, first take a look at a sample Enigma card:

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When this card game up during a game, someone called “six,” so that my enigma was “hula hoop,” and their clue was “Sports and Leisure.”  I only needed two cards here, and the hinter and I scored after about five seconds.

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No, it isn’t a perfect hint—there are only 61 transparent cards after all, so your selection of imagery is limited. I had wanted someone to call “five” so I could play these three cards as “Captain America”:

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These two are probably among the easiest enigmas in the game. More than most games, Imagine has a learning curve, as while there is a limited arsenal of symbols, there are still 61 different cards to absorb.  As the Imagine “alphabet” is learned, the game will become quicker as the players will be able to rely on a more articulate memory of the cards and not play “hunt and peck” as they pore over and over again looking for cards they don’t yet know by heart. After my first time playing this game, my second thought was the hope that there will be expansion packs with additional transparent cards, as 61 shapes are not enough for some enigmas. (My first thought was that I was looking forward to introducing this to other friends that play tabletop games.)

Three to eight players can play Imagine, and I can tell you that unlike games that break down in games with a low player count (I’m looking at you, Spyfall), my wife, daughter, and I played a very satisfying three player game. Footage of our game play could have been used for a TV commercial, as there was a lot of laughing, loud banter, hilarious clues, and amusing guesses.

I really only have one criticism of Imagine.  The game rewards bad hinters and bad guessers, not just good guessers and good hinters.  However, this flaw may assist the game in securing mass appeal, as  it levels the playing field.

You see, Imagine doesn’t end until every player provides two good hints that are guessed correctly by another player. In one game, a player provided two good hints within three moves (the seventh play overall), while it took six moves (the fifteenth play over all) for the player whose second hint ended the game. The superior hinter hit the hint quota early, and would have won if the game ended then; the inefficient hinter didn’t meet the quota until eight plays later, and because the game ended at that moment, the bad hinter scored the game point with her second good hint. Hence, Imagine rewards bad hinters by letting them enjoy a prolonged game with more scoring opportunities, as well as one of the two points given out in the final scoring opportunity.

As to rewarding bad guessers, this same player, instead of using thoughtful guessing, would throw out dozens of guesses at the rate of two a second, using the “throw everything until something sticks” strategy.  This scattergun approach is as effective as you would expect, and, pragmatically speaking, more effective than thoughtful guessing when the thoughtful guesser is drawing a blank.  Twenty bad guesses have a better chance of getting a right answer than no good guesses at all.

The bad news for those that like the casual analytics of tabletop gaming, or even those that overcome the learning curve involved with grasping the language of 61 symbols in Imagine, is that their acumen will not be much of an advantage over the bad hinters and bad guessers. The good news is that if you’re bad at hinting and guessing, you may still do well at Imagine, and you even get a slight advantage in being one of the two final scorers in a game.

As Imagine not only has a strong premise, enjoyable game play, high replay value, and a level playing field, its potential audience is huge, and I expect Imagine to have strong word of mouth that will sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

Footnotes

*”I, Enigma” is also an anagram of Imagine, which may or may not have influenced the translators during their localization of the game.


Imagine

Gamewright sent a review copy of Imagine. Board of Life uses affiliate links. Cross-posted on NerdSpan.com.