Gamers are addicts. No matter how many ultra-fun games they already have, they want more.
Let me help you get your fix.
Below is a list of forthcoming or very recently released games that are on my radar. Five role-playing games and five boardgames, with brief comments on why I’m interested. RPGs will tend to lean towards indie (but not just Forge-related) stuff because I am more tuned in to the indie buzz machine, and I am more interested in indie games right now due to their simpler and, for me, more interesting mechanics.
The games promised at Nürnburg 2006 continue to make their way to North American shores, while a couple of American releases are on my radar, if only because of who designed them.
Comparisons to Princes of Florence are always going to pique my interest, and Emira has been getting quite a few of them. Unfortunately, there is also some buzz about excessive luck for a game of this weight, which prevents it from being an automatic buy. If the luck turns out to be manageable, though, it shall be mine.
Note that this may not be the right game for those with an acute interest in being politically correct. The player’s are taking on the role of Middle Eastern sheikhs back in the day, and the objective is to attract the most impressive harem of wives. The motivations of the women are a bit less than idealistic as well. I’m not especially put off by all this because I’m in it for the game more than the storyline, but I understand how others could view it differently.
(Café Games, Morgan Dontanville)
Full disclosure—the designer of this game is one of my oldest GeekBuddies, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every chance I’ve had to game with him online. Nevertheless, a train game with a major twist is always worth investigating, and knowing what I do of Morgan, I’d be blown away if Spectral Rails wasn’t fun.
Oh, that twist I speak of? The players are puffing billy Grim Reapers, collecting souls to shepherd them off to the afterlife. Like any other train game, you have to lay out the track that you want to travel along, but in this case they only last a limited amount of time. You see, they are ectoplasmic, and doomed to dissipate back to whence they came. Playing tracks costs resources (specifically, cards in hand), and anyone can follow tracks that are in play, regardless of their originator.
So, yeah, I’m biased, but I have a hunch that this is going to be a very good light-ish middleweight game. I’ve been somewhat interested in the Ticket to Ride sequels :Europe and :Märklin, but not enough to put down money for them. Spectral Rails is a buy unless the early buzz is quite bad.
DaVinci games recently posted the rules for this gamer’s game, and I was pleasantly surprised. Over the last couple of years, my default assumption for heavyweight Euros independently published in Europe has become that they will be underdeveloped and annoyingly fiddly, no matter how much the rest of the BGG community likes them. The End of the Triumvirate is about the only major exception to that so far (or rather, it seems like it is—I’ve yet to have a chance to play it). Leonardo DaVinci isn’t quite a second exception, but it may be close enough for me to bite.
The players are inventors in Renaissance Italy (go figure), angling to achieve the favour of the local government and signor DaVinci himself. I won’t try to summarize the flow of play here. Instead, the interested can check out the rules that have been posted, or Luca Iennaco’s playtest review. Just be aware that the rules could have used another copy edit from someone who speaks English natively, and as a result they come across as less elegant than they are.
A few other miscellaneous comments
- Anyone else think that this started out as a game about pulpy mad scientists? I know DaVinci was ahead of his time, but mechanical men?
- The luck factor is extremely low on this one, and the little luck that there is (the sequence in which the city council requests inventions) can be massaged by worried players.
- One area where this game is inelegant is setup. Yikes! I doubt anyone will get to the point of being able to set this one up without referring to the rulebook. Still, it shows that the developers and designers put a lot of thought into balancing each position.
A wait–and–see, leaning strongly towards buy.
(Atlas Games, Morgan Dontanville)
Another design by my GeekBuddy. Caveat lector.
This one is a multi-player semi-abstract—that is it has a theme, but plays a lot like an abstract spatial game. The players have a few favoured kids who are running around the playground of a Catholic school, trying to steal lunch money, get each other in trouble with the nuns, and steal a kiss from a member of the opposite sex (precocious kids🙂 ).
It has a real time element in the form of a sand timer, which is a mild turnoff, but it also prevents this perfect information game from devolving from the light filler it is meant to be into an analysis paralysis fest.
I want to see more reactions about this one before I can make up my mind. Real time games make me wince a bit (although I do want to try out TAMSK sometime).
(Multi-Man Publishing, Micheal Rinella)
For the grognards out there, Shifting Sands is currently the most buzz-worthy near-term release. Covering the same material as the classic block wargame Rommel in the Desert, Shifting Sands marks MMP’s first kick at the card-driven wargame can.
I’m not really in the market for wargames right now, although I do enjoy the medium, at least at the lighter end of the spectrum. The problem is paying higher than normal prices for games that I don’t know that I have any opponent’s for. Still, I am curious to see if this one lives up to the buzz.
Gen Con is the big release event in the RPG world. These five are my picks for Most Intriguing.
Crime & Punishment
The winner of the 2006 Game Chef competition, Moyra (Mo) Turkington’s Crime & Punishment is a role-playing game aimed at developing your own episodes of police procedural television shows like Law & Order or Without a Trace. It is going to be released in the forthcoming Game Chef 2006 Vol I RPG anthology, along with three other highly ranked entries from this year’s competition.
Like Primetime Adventures, the primary idea is to allow the players to take the form, and run with it in directions unlikely to ever be seen on television. Technically, the players are taking on the role of the show’s writers, and competing to make suggestions for the plot, characters and setting that jazz the other writers enough that hey want to see them incorporated. I realize that sounds really weird here, but when you see it in context, it works extremely well.
While the Game Chef version of C&P stuck pretty closely to normal police procedurals in its examples, there is nothing in the rules to prevent you from doing some cool genre mashup like hardboiled detectives in a D&D-style fantasy city, or, as I suggested after first seeing the game, doing a twist on the concept of Dogs in the Vineyard.
Oh, and did I mention that Mo is a fellow Canadian? True, she has the misfortune to live in Ontario, but it’s better than not living in Canada at all😉
(Burning Wheel Enterprises, Luke Crane)
For me to add to the buzz surrounding Burning Empires is like spitting into the ocean. Even Mike Mearls is looking forward to this one.
Based on Iron Empires, Christopher Moeller’s Dark Horse graphic novels, Burning Empires takes the highly acclaimed and much loved Burning Wheel fantasy RPG and gives it a complete overhaul so that it produces intense space opera action.
Seriously, do I actually need to try and sell this one?
(CRN Games, Clinton R. Nixon)
Most gamers, once they have children, wonder how best to introduce their kids to their favourite hobby. In boardgaming there is a veritable embarrassment of riches. Children’s boardgames are an actual subsegment of the industry, and beyond such familiar mass market titles as Candyland and Mouse Trap, there are also games that have been influenced by the German aesthetic, most notable the Haba Games catalogue and the work of Reinhard Staupe.
For role-players, the selection is a bit spare. The classic choice is Red Box D&D, with Marvel Superheroes being a bit of an eccentric favourite. Without some homemade tweaking, however, both are liable to be a bit of a big gulp for kids under the age of about 9, to say nothing of the fact that they are both long out of print (albeit readily available via E-Bay).
For the iconoclast, there is Shadows, a free web published RPG written by Zak Arntson. Personally, I think it is a wonderful choice as a first RPG, although many people will find its willful lack of crunch annoying, and its replayability may be limited, especially with older pre-teens.
There are a pair of upcoming games that should help to fill the void, however, and, interestingly, both of them have a connection to Clinton R. Nixon.
Judd Karlmann’s 1st Quest will be coming out in a few months, and is designed around a core of Clinton’s classic, Creative Commons-licensed game The Shadow of Yesterday. The Actual Play posts I have read about it have been wonderful, but it’s a bit too far off for inclusion in this article.
The Prince’s Kingdom, on the other hand, is written by CRN himself, and uses a modified version of Vincent Baker’s Dogs in the Vineyard to introduce young role-players to moral choice by casting them in the role of young princes sent out to explore their island kingdom, and solve the problems presented to them by their subjects.
While aimed at parents introducing their children (and their children’s friends) to role-playing, both 1st Quest and The Princes Kingdom are also perfectly suitable for adult play as well.
Clinton and Vincent, as part of the agreement to allow using DitV as the system core for PK, have decided that all profits from this game will go to the children’s charity The American Friends Service Committee.
While Forge community designers have historically put a heavy emphasis on creating games that support story arcs familiar from other media, there is quite a bit of sub rosa love for getting some hack and slash on. Their games have yet to display much of this love, though. Until now.
Agon is an explicitly competitive RPG (like Rune or The Shab al-Hiri Roach) where the players create heroic warriors from a mythic ancient Greece, and attempt to achieve glory by defeating enemies and monsters.
Compared to many combat-oriented RPGs (you know, D&D 3rd edition, Shadowrun and the like), Agon is fairly short, weighing in at 117 pages, probably digest-sized rather than the familiar oversized RPG book format. I’ve skimmed a playtest version of the game, but have not been able to look closely enough to see if Agon delivers on the strategic and tactical crunch this style of game requires to maintain interest, but if it does deliver, I would have to call it a step forward for elegant RPG design.
(Mongoose Publishing, authours unknown for the core book)
Runequest is a RPG classic. Anyone who has followed the hobby for a while is familiar with the cult following that RQ has maintained over the decades in spite of being long out of print.
Will the cult explode now that it is being re-released by Mongoose Publishing? It’s hard to say, but having top flight talent like Robin Laws and Ken Hite can’t hurt, and neither can releasing the core system under the Open Gaming License, which means that other games using the system are almost inevitable.
This should be worth a peek for any role-player.
How have I done in predicting the next bunch of buzzworthy game? What have I missed? Which ones make you wonder what I’m thinking?