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Dialect is an amazing game that asks if dying languages should be saved

David

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Greetings readers! Today will be the first of hopefully many reviews of tabletop role playing games. Some of them more mainstream, and others somewhat obscure. Today’s review is going to be about one of the more obscure titles. The game is Dialect and it is made by Thorny Games. Dialect is about language. Specifically, how languages are born, can grow, change your way of thinking, and how they can die. The team working on it has quite a pedigree, and includes people like David Peterson, who created the fictional languages on Game of Thrones.

Now, full disclosure: This game was on Kickstarter, and I did back it. My review will be based on the initial digital copy of the game I was given after the crowd-funding campaign was successful. I played Dialect with three other people: M, T, and V, none of whom backed the crowd-funding campaign.  

The Game

Dialect itself is different then a lot of “traditional” tabletop RPGs in that there are no dice, and no GM running the game. All you need are index cards, the five different decks of language cards that come with it, and the rules. Dialect requires three to five players as well, counting yourself.

The first thing the players do when they begin a game of Dialect is picking a backdrop for the game. The backdrop (called an “Isolation” in-game) is what separates this group from the wider world. These Isolations range from the physical (A new colony on Mars) to the cultural (A thieves guild). The Isolation is what lets them develop their language. The language also changes with the Isolation as well, as the next step is to define three different “aspects” about the Isolation. These shape the language, and will vary from game to game. In one example from the book, an aspect for a colony on Mars might be the ever present dust storms. After that the players have to answer questions about their community. These are smaller than the aspects, but still can define how the language will grow and change.

Once the players have answered all the questions, they draw three “archetype” cards, choosing one of them to use. These cards define a role in the isolation, and range from Innocent to Zealot. Leader to Jester. Each archetype has a different relationship with the different aspects. Some relate to only one aspect, some relate to them all. After selecting an aspect, giving a bit of backstory to the character, and determining their name and what others call them, the meat of Dialect can begin.

Each player starts with three cards from the first language deck in their hand. These cards have different word ideas on them. They range from ‘Greeting’ to ‘Bad Omen’ to ‘Filler World’. The player then ties this word to one of the aspects, explaining how the aspect gave rise to this word. It’s at this point that the players can discuss what word fit the best. In the end though, only the person who played the card can decide what the word is. After that, the final step is to have an in-character conversation either using or conspicuously not using the word. The final step has the player draws a card from the second language deck, and play passes to the next person.

After each player has had a turn, the “Era” changes. Now the isolation will have to deal with hints that their way of life is ending. There are three eras. By the end of the third, the Isolation has ended, and the language (Or at least the culture that spoke it) dies.

THE GOOD

One of the goals of Dialect is to create a language based on what the players want. And in this, it succeeds spectacularly. The language cards are clear and concise. The round table nature of the game also makes sure that every player has a say. As ‘V’ puts it: ”The floor is pretty much always open for discussion, but it prods every player into the spotlight so nobody gets unintentionally left out. The ‘this is 100% your choice’ questions make you feel more attached to that element of the game.”

Another, smaller aspect of Dialect I particularly enjoyed was how the book (and by extension, the writers) were concerned about player’s comfort levels. They stress repeatedly how the group should know it’s limits, and to avoid situations or scenarios that might be triggering to other players. A lot of games do this nowadays, but few do it as frequently or as early as Dialect does.

Dialect is also open ended enough that it can be useful when used with other settings to define specific cultures. ‘M’ agreed with that sentiment, and added: “I feel like it was less a game in and of itself than one of those generators I see every now and then, to help build a setting or a space marine chapter or whatever else.”

One of the strongest aspects of Dialect is the re-playability. With the randomness of the cards, the different selections of Isolations, and even the contrasting moods of the players, you will have a totally different experience each time. ‘T’ put it best, saying: ”A lot of the games will be different each time. Between the scenarios and the players and the cards, everyone will have a different perspective.”

THE BAD

Dialect is not without its faults. The most prominent of which is the very thrust of it’s premise. A game about how languages die can be very high concept, and that can scare some players away. Another thing that can scare players away is the group role-playing and decision process. Some players are just naturally more timid than others. In ‘T’’s words: “as it stands someone who isn’t comfortable at the sort of ‘rping’ it out probably wouldn’t get the same enjoyment’

Another fault with Dialect that stems from its focus on language is that nearly all it’s focus is on the language. There is very little to help new players get used to roleplaying. There is also very little that helps distinguish between the language creation and the roleplaying aspect. ‘V’ had a bit to say on this: “I think the game’s biggest weakness, from what I played, was the actual roleplaying part. It’s 90% meta, OOC [Out of character] discussion of your language, then you suddenly have to scramble into character and improv on the spot.”

The final criticism I have with Dialect is that there are places in the rules where there is ambiguity. Some rules errata will fix that issue though.

FINAL VERDICT

Before I give my opinion on the game itself, there are a few things I would like to mention. The first is that the Isolation does not have to be literal. It can be as simple as a boarding school, or even a website where people go to congregate. I even noticed some parallels to a few of the Isolations and the early LGBT movement. Not that the LGBT movement is dead, but that the language of it has changed since the early days.

The second thing I want to tell you about is a story from the test game I ran before writing this review. The players were members of a thieves guild in early 19th century London. They were con-men, swindling rich aristocrats out of their money by selling them ‘Mummy dust’ that was actually just dirt scraped up off the side of the road. One of the words the came up with was the word ‘Stone’ to refer to a bad omen. Named after the newly discovered Rosetta Stone, the word took on new meaning in a few turns, and began to be a term for anyone who wouldn’t fall for their tricks. It became one of my personal favorite words that session. When the game ended, I realized that the word was dead. Only a game like Dialect could make me feel that way about a simple word.

Dialect is an amazing game. I highly recommend it for people curious about language, those who are looking for a tool to help flesh out their own worlds, or for anyone just looking for a unique, fun game that doesn’t require a lot of set-up. Everything from the art design to the rules to the cards all helps bring the main focus of Dialect into perspective: What is lost when a language dies? Are dying languages worth saving?

Having played Dialect, I can tell you the answer to the second question. Yes.


Images courtesy of Thorny Games

David is a dental hygienist by day, gamer by night. He enjoys making character sheets when bored, and re-reading the same book for the twentieth time.

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Culture

GenCon Report: White Wolf Publishing On Making The Modern Vampire

Dan

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It’s been seven years since the last version of Vampire: The Masquerade debuted, the longest gap between editions since the game debuted in 1991. The vampire-shaped void in White Wolf Publishing’s World of Darkness setting was filled by Masquerade’s companion and ostensible successor: The Requiem. But after all that time, people still wanted Masquerade. And so, as their first project after being bought by Paradox Interactive, White Wolf debuted Vampire: The Masquerade, Fifth Edition at GenCon.

I was lucky enough to meet with a pair of developers who worked on 5e: Karim Muammar, Editor In Chief at White Wolf, and Jason (not Lorenzo) Carl, Producer. We had a great chat about how the new edition was developed, what thoughts went into changing the game, how vampires are adapting to the 21st century, and how White Wolf got back to its roots.

Dan: So tell me a little bit about what you two put into the creation of V5?

Karim Muammar: I oversaw the writing as well as the system designs, mainly the vampiric system, which is the hunger system, and all the different powers of the blood and so on.

Jason Carl: My role was as Producer, a role that sits between creative and business and has operational oversight for the project. Budget, scheduling, resources, that sort of thing.

Dan: It’s been a few years since the last edition of Vampire, the last one being released in 2011. Has this been in development for that long or is there a reason to bring it back now?

JC: Man, seven years would be awesome! Wouldn’t you love having had seven years to work?

KM: Imagine what we could have done in seven years!

JC: Can we do that?

KM: You know what, let’s do that for Werewolf, yes?

JC: Seven years, that sounds reasonable.

KM: What we actually did here, me and Martin Ericcson the Lead Storyteller, we did a lot of preliminary work in 2016 and 2017, thinking about what kind of game we wanted it to be. But past the meta part, what we wanted to bring to the fore, what we wanted to add to it, what we wanted to see as separate projects, as well as what types of rules we wanted to see. What kind of system, to what extent we would adhere to the old system, to what extent we would try to renew things. I think the actual writing process, that really started about a year ago.

JC: I think the whole development cycle, from beginning to end, is almost eighteen months, but about a year of really intense development on the aspects of the game that you see in the book.

Dan: What inspired you to bring it back? It obviously has enduring popularity, but why bring it back after such a long gap between editions?

KM: I think the reason is that as White Wolf was purchased by Paradox Interactive, we felt that we sort of had to “carry the torch” forward for the centerpiece of this transmedia brand that we were trying to create out of White Wolf. So we are looking at more than tabletop role-playing games. We’re looking at board games, we’re looking at card games, we’re looking at books, we’re looking at video games, naturally-

JC: Films, TV, Comic books.

KM: Exactly! But all of these need a strong centerpiece. So we wanted to go back to where it all began: a tabletop role-playing game. And really, we’re really inspired by the first edition of Vampire: The Masquerade, that when it came out it revolutionized everything. A completely new look different from every other game, a completely new setting, a new feel and a new way to play tabletop role-playing games.

JC: I think that there’s a reason. It’s that once we settled on it, we realized that we still have plenty of stories in this world to tell. Vampires are still very relevant to the world around us and what’s happening today, globally. This is still a very rich storytelling experience, with an infinite amount of stories to tell.

The Ventrue are the aristocracy among vampires, honorable and proud. They have adapted to the modern era by joining big business or, in some cases, organized crime.

Dan: So you drew inspiration from the first edition that came out in 1991, and obviously with this sort of genre, as you say, ties heavily into contemporary things. As well, gaming tastes and habits have changed since then. What are some of the things you’ve added or changed about Masquerade that reflect the world in this new edition?

KM: I think one thing that has changed is gaming technology and the way to play tabletop RPG’s, there’s more expected of the players. Games today have a much more modern rule set, that is often less “simulationist,” and more narrative or “gameist.” So what we wanted to do with this game is create a game where the rules did not interfere with the story, but rather created the story, so that every single roll has the potential for drama, excitement, and even tragedy.

So we started with the parts that worked. The dots, the d10s (we couldn’t change that or else it wouldn’t be Vampire: The Masquerade). But we wanted to look at how these things actually translate to the table experience. Instead of rolling five times per interaction, we wanted to take it down to one. Instead of [an] initiative to hit, damage, soak, you’d instead make a single role for an engagement, any engagement, whether it be a physical engagement or a social engagement.

But we also wanted to make it clear to the player that you are playing a vampire. Thus, we came upon “The Hunger” system, which is a way to introduce “The Hunger” as a constant in every single roll. The hungrier you are, the more your dice are going to turn into Hunger dice, which carry with them the possibility for tragedy or violence or just great drama that comes with being a monster, especially a hungry one.

JK: We also obviously updated how the book looks, visually. That was really important to us. When you look back at the first edition of Vampire, it’s easy to forget the impact that it made on the eyes. It looked like a rock n’ roll album with it’s black and white cover, visceral colors, and real people as vampires. And we wanted to be sure that v5 has the same visual power as the original. So we decided to include a lot of very high-quality photography to show what real vampires look like today, but also drawings, sketches, pictures, graphic design digital art, in a really interesting visual mix in order to reflect the World of Darkness as it is today.

We were very fortunate because our layout artists were Free League, a Swedish design company who’ve been winning awards for Tales From The Loop and Mutant Year Zero. Just incredible design that you’re going to see in this book, just interesting design layouts; you’re going to see infographic charts, you’re going to see information laid out in a way that’s easy to read. It makes the game easier to learn and teach that way, too. It all works together with the art and the design to give the whole book a very sleek, very modern, and contemporary look.

The V5 rendition of the outspoken and philosophical Brujah clan. They are in disarray following the collapse of The Anarch Free State and the Soviet Union (which they helped create).

DA: So you’ve changed the mechanics, but let’s talk about the setting, the World of Darkness itself. How has it changed in the way you’ve written and conceptualized it to fit into more modern sensibilities?

KM: I will say it has progressed.

JC: This is not a reboot.

KM: Yes, it has progressed, nothing has changed as in being retconned, but the story has moved forward so that the vampires are caught up in the events of the modern world. They are being hunted by what is called the Second Inquisition, which is a result of the War on Terror getting a whiff of these strange anomalies, Swiss bank accounts, and people disappearing.

JC: People who don’t show up in airport scanners…

KM: Exactly, exactly. The kind of people, they call them “blank bodies” because they don’t show up on scans, they don’t have a body. That means that vampires are hunted to a much larger degree than they were previously.

JC: And we all know how that turned out. Look, it’s a terrible time to be a vampire. People are walking around at night with one of these “phone” things with a camera on it. There are closed circuit TV cameras everywhere. There are biometric scanners and its impossible to get through an airport without a screening. So vampires really have to adapt to a modern world that is changing fast both technologically and culturally, or they’re going to be hunted and killed.

The Nosferatu clan cannot hide their monstrous appearance, so a world filled with smartphones and surveillance makes their lives even harder.

KM: Or they recoil like the Camarilla does (EN: the Camarilla are the most conservative sect of vampires, working the hardest to maintain the Masquerade and keep vampire society as it is) and disavow technology, trying to return to a feudal age.

DA: Vampire Amish, basically.

JC: Exactly. If the Prince of Chicago wants to talk to a vampire in Boston, whereas in the 90’s he’d have just picked up a phone and called him…that’s too dangerous now. Who’s listening? Now, he’s got to write or send a coded message or find a neonate.

KM: Exactly. He might get a coterie to act as his messenger.

JC: “Hey you, standing over there in Elysium (EN: A place where vampires may gather without fear of discovery or harm), go to Boston!”

KM: At the same time, there’s also “The Beckoning,” a mysterious force that is calling all vampires of a certain generation to the Middle East as the Antediluvians (EN: The god-like eldest vampires and mythical founders of the thirteen clans) either might be rising, or might be threatened by the Sabbat (EN: Militant vampires bent on destroying the Antediluvians at Gehenna, the vampire Armageddon said to take place in the Middle East) of the Gehenna Crusade, leaving gaps in the Camarilla’s power structure that can be exploited by an ambitious coterie. So all these changes have been made to give the players agency with the way they can interact and have a bigger impact on the setting. Rather than just being constant lapdogs.

JC: Something that Karim mentioned that is expanded on the rules set as well is that the vampire factions are again in conflict. The Camarilla and the Anarchs (EN: Vampires who reject the rigid rules of vampire society) have been pulled apart, their political alliance has been destroyed. Clans have left the Camarilla and moved to the Anarchs and in future products, you might see new clans join the Camarilla. So vampire society really reflects the turmoil of the real world today.

The Malkavian are a clan cursed with madness. Their chaotic and hedonistic lifestyle threatens the Masquerade, making them prime targets for the Camarilla.

DA: It sounds like you’ve really embraced the more globalized world we live in now. It sounds like there’s been a lot of globalizing and internationalizing of the Masquerade.

JC: There is. We consider ourselves a global company, and we consider our game to be global in nature. It’s very important to use to reflect all the world, so we will move away from the very North American focus and will look at vampires as they are in Europe, in Latin America, in Asia, and Australia. It will be very important [for] us to make sure that we have people who are experts in those cultures writing those books for us.

KM: Write about what you know.

JC: When you see the Chicago By Night book coming from Onyx Press, you’ll see a very diverse team of writers, many of whom live in Chicago, and work there, and represent very diverse points of view. And we think that’s super important.

KM: We think that credibility and authentic representation of a world [are] important. What was most striking, for me about the first Vampire was how real it felt. It felt genuine and rooted in the real world.

JC: You could believe it.

KM: Exactly. Real authors and real music. You could almost…smell the West Coast, even for me as a Swede living up north. And that also made the vampires more real. They didn’t live in some sort of fantasy vampire strata, but they were firmly anchored in the real world, which made them so much more alluring and interesting to play. And we really wanna push that there.

The Toreador clan are the most beautiful vampires, artists, and aesthetes who use their beauty and charm to entrap their prey. They thrive in the modern world with all its avenues of expression, even as they squabble over the true definition of art.

DA: It sounds like you have a lot for new players, but also a lot for players who have been with you since 1991.

JC: I think that players who have always loved Vampire are still going to love it, and I think it’s going to match their expectations for how games are designed and played. But we are seeing very positive reactions from people who have never played Vampire before, who didn’t even know it existed, and they are eager to play a game that lets them play the monster in the modern world. And do so in a way that they can share with their friends. We’re pretty enthusiastic that this game will help us grow that community.

DA: So can you give me a little taste of what might be coming next in The Masquerade?

KM: Well we have a couple books coming out this year, the setting books: The Camarilla book and the Anarch book. These will portray two vastly different ways to be a vampire. What it is to be a vampire in a Camarilla, the methods of the Camarilla, and how the Camarilla perceive the outside world, how it ties into both the real world and the world of Vampires. Plus more lore, more sheets, as well as some playable crunch there as well.

The Camarilla book will be out in Fall of 2018.

And of course the Anarch book, which tells us wildly different stories about vampires outside of the Camarilla. Whether they are trying to live their own lives in various ways, still connected to their families or subcultures, or if they’re organized as part of the Anarch movement fighting a harsh and desperate, but passionate, political struggle against the Camarilla and everything they represent. The Anarch book, looking at some of the initial work, it is a really really incredible book. I’m really looking forward to the books. And they’re also going to have their own distinct art styles that illustrate the themes and the mood of the book.

Anarch will be out in Fall 2018.

JC: And of course Chicago By Night, where we will return to where it all began, the setting of the very first Vampire chronicle ever, Chicago, and take a look at what’s been happening there. That’s where we will introduce what’s happening with the Lasombra clan (EN: A clan of predatory social Darwinists who seek to rule other vampires by virtue of their power), who play a pivotal role in what’s happening in Chicago, and the Sabbat. But we’ll also have to turn our attention to Werewolf very soon as well.

KM: But I thought we had seven years?

DA: And that’ll reflect the same sort of changes that we’re seeing in the Vampire books?

JC: Yeah. We’re still at a very early conceptual phase with it so nothing’s set in stone, but yes of course. The werewolf situation is in many ways even more dire than the vampire situation and that will be reflected in the game.

KM: Yeah, I mean, a lot of vampires are thriving in today’s world.

JC: Absolutely, if we could just get rid of the pesky cell phones!

KM: Whereas for werewolves its just much worse.

DA: Thinking back to the present, when will V5 be available for purchase?

JC: This is the worldwide debut at GenCon, the pdf is available right now on worldofdarkness.com, and depending on where you live, your local hobby store could have it on their shelves as early as right after GenCon, but it might be a week or two.

DA: North America and Europe, primarily?

JC: Yes, it’ll take a little longer to reach Australia because basically everything does.

Boxed sets, notebooks, and deluxe editions will also be available for purchase.

Be sure to keep an eye out for physical copies of Vampire: The Masquerade V5 at your local game shop or, as Jason mentioned, pick up the PDF from their website for $24.99. And keep an eye here on The Fandomentals for our full review of Vampire: The Masquerade including an in-depth look at the story, characters, and mechanics of the game as well as what it’s like to actually play it!

Update: Some of the lore within the editor’s notes has been changed to reflect V5 more accurately. Jason Carl’s name has also been corrected to its proper spelling. Please don’t call the Camarilla on me.


Images Courtesy of White Wolf Publishing

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GenCon Report: Asmodee Digital Lets You Game From Beyond The Tabletop

Dan

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The intersection between the digital and the physical has become a theme at GenCon in recent years, and 2018’s was no different. Computer games are becoming board games, video game companies are making board games, and there is even a growing market for VR tabletop. One of the companies leading the charge from dinner table to computer screen is French developer Asmodee Digital. I had a chance to talk with Julie Le Vacon, Head of PR & Social Media at Asmodee, about their newest releases and hottest GenCon announcements.

Coming Soon

Terraforming Mars

Terraforming Mars debuted in 2016 from Fryx Games, and was hailed as one of the best games of the year by publications like Popular Mechanics, ars technica, and Polygon. It was also nominated for a Kennerspiel des Jahres (Connoisseur Game of the Year) at the prestigious Spiel de Jahres board game awards in Germany. This success, and a very dedicated fanbase, has led to a lot of excitement as Asmodee brings the game into the digital realm.

Set in the 2400’s, you take on the role of a corporation competing with other corporations (one of them no doubt led by the preserved brain of Elon Musk) to transform Mars from a lifeless husk into a new home for humanity. At its core, Terraforming Mars is similar to other resource management games like Catan in that you must get enough money and resources to change the climate or build cities. The end goal of the game is to have more victory points than the other players. In the demo I played, I ended up using an ocean that an AI built to benefit my buildings. While certainly not the fast-paced action game that’s going to take EVO by storm, it’s a really well-made strategy game for people who love the genre. With the addition of the Internet, you can play against faraway friends or total strangers. The game is also ripe for expansions, even beyond the two that have already released.

Terraforming Mars is due to release at the end of September of this year and will be coming to Steam and eventually iOS and Android.

Scythe: Digital Edition

Scythe, designed by Jamey Stegmaier and published by Stonemaier Games, is another hit game from 2016 that Asmodee is adapting. The game is set in an alternative 1920’s Europe, where dieselpunk engines of war fight for territory in the wake of the Great War. It won awards from BoardGameGeek.com and Geek and Sundry and was followed by three expansions (the second of which, The Wind Gambit, won awards on its own).

Players take on one of the factions that are vying for control in Europe. The goal of the game is to earn all six stars for your faction. These are obtained through accomplishing goals like playing all four mechs or a secret objective like Crimea’s “King of the Hill.” Players spend the game trading or gathering resources, building their nation and military up, fighting their opponents, or upgrading their ability to act.

The game is a one to one rendition of the physical game board, but with all the dynamism that a digital game can offer. They also kept the absolutely breathtaking oil paint art by Jacob Rozalski, meaning the game retains the unique aesthetic that has made it so popular.

Scythe is currently available on Steam Early Access and is planned to be released in Q3 of this year.

New Games For Console

Ticket To Ride (Ps4)

Ticket To Ride is one of the biggest successes in board gaming this century, and since its release in 2004 has sold over three million copies. While I’ve never quite understood the appeal of the game, it has certainly made its mark on the landscape. It has won myriad awards, gotten seven spin-offs, and 17 expansions (not including fan add-0ns). Asmodee has already released versions of Ticket for iOS, Android, and Steam, but their newest version releases for the PS4.

The game is built around constructing a network of railways connecting different destinations around the map, claiming routes and placing train tiles as they compete to become a railroad tycoon. The winner is the player who has connected the most destinations. The new game will use Sony’s brand new Playlink system, where players will be able to use their phones to look at their digital hands and plan ahead.

Ticket To Ride comes to PS4 at the tail end of 2018

Carcassone (Nintendo Switch)

Ah, Carcassone. The German game with the hard to pronounce name. Released in 2000 by Hans im Glück, Carcassone has been a staple of strategy gaming since its release and received nearly 30 expansions. Asmodee has previously released the game on both Google Play and Steam, but in a first for Asmodee, Carcassone will be releasing soon on the Nintendo Switch.

Players must work to develop their medieval fortress by building roads, cloisters, cities, and fields. The player does this by placing development tiles and adding “meeple” to that tile to gain the points and resources therein. The game’s winner is the player who has the most points after the last tile is placed.

Carcassone on Switch will use the same 3D appearance as the version on Steam, and Asmodee is confident that the game will be the first of many games to come to the Switch.

Carcassone will come to the Switch in the final part of this year.

Asmodee Looking Forward

Gloomhaven

While Asmodee has made a name for themselves adapting board games directly to the screen, their newest games will be brand new games inspired by board games. Their biggest announcement at GenCon was the announcement that Gloomhaven, declared “No. 1 Board Game Of All Time” by BoardGameGeek, will be developed as a video game by Asmodee and Flaming Fowl Studios. In a press release, Asmodee’s Chief Marketing Officer Phillipe Dao said that Gloomhaven “continues our commitment of expanding our catalog with more original video game experiences based on board game IPs and not just direct 1:1 adaptations of existing board games.”

The new game will be a dungeon crawler like the board game, but will actually look, play, and feel like a dungeon crawl video gaming while still using the look and mechanics of the original. It will be an RPG with turn-based tactical combat that allows people to team up in an “infinitely replayable” roguelike. Players will fight through the procedurally generated levels to find loot and level up their abilities.

Gloomhaven is due to release on Steam Early Access in the first part of 2019.

Mansions of Madness: Mother’s Embrace

The first game announced by Asmodee to adapt a board game to an original game, Mansions of Madness is based on Fantasy Flight’s hit Lovecraftian strategy game. The new game will emulate the story and atmosphere of the original in Asmodee’s first adventure game. The player will take place in an eerie mansion in 1926, and must lead a team of investigators through traps, puzzles, and monsters to discover the secret of the mansion. But like any good Lovecraft game, you must beware you do not allow the madness to take you.

Mansions of Madness: Mother’s Embrace will release for Steam in early 2019.

 Munchkin

Munchkin! You’ve played it! I’ve played it! It has a billion licenses, versions, and adaptations. It’s the game that made Steve Jackson Games. From space to superheroes to ninja turtles, Munchkin has been seemingly everywhere since it released in 2001. Its skewering of nearly every media property has made it popular, but it has especially endeared itself to tabletop gamers for its extremely well-informed parodies of common tropes in games like D&D (even the name, Munchkin, refers to a player archetype who play the game way too aggressively, turning a co-op experience in a competition). The game is fast and frenetic, encouraging players to undermine and backstab their fellow players.

The game, like Mansions and Gloomhaven, will be a full on game rather than a digital card game. It will be a dungeon crawler, with players moving through each room to fight monsters from the Potted Plant to the dreaded Gazebo to the mighty Squidzilla. It will be, in the words of Le Vacon, a “co-opetition” game where the players are all heading towards the same goal, but only one can come out on top. The new game was produced with the personal help of Steve Jackson himself and captures the spirit of Munchkin in a radical new way.

Munchkin will come to Steam in 2019


Images courtesy of Asmodee Digital

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Paradox At Gencon: A Hands On Look At Their Newest Board Games

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Paradox Games debuted two new games at GenCon: Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings. In my interview with Paradox’s Marketing Manager Luca Kling, he emphasized the value of retaining the core elements of their video games as they’re translated to the tabletop. Shortly after our chat, I got to see this philosophy at work when I got to demo their new games with the designers from Aegir and Free League themselves.

Deus Vult!

 

The Crusader Kings board game was one of our Top 10 Most Anticipated Games debuting at GenCon, so I was extremely excited to check the game out. Of the games Paradox is releasing, it is the furthest along. It recently finished up an incredibly successful Kickstarter that raised 4.7 million Krona (over $500,000). Paradox and Free League hit all of their stretch goals (including a marriable Glitterhoof!), and are close to releasing the game to retail.

You know its good when the banner looks like you want to hang it up in your house

The board itself emulates a medieval map of Europe, focusing on the ruling dynasties of the era rather than the kingdoms they rule (especially considering the rapidly shifting borders of said kingdoms). The outside of the board is ringed with the playboards of each dynasty.  What those dynasties are and where they sit in the world is all dependent on the scenarios you choose to start the game with. We started with the houses of Hauteville (Italy), Normandy(England), Württemberg (Germany), and Capet (France) at the beginning of the 11th century.

Players then choose between actions like waging war, building up their kingdom, commuting acts of subterfuge, being diplomatic, or, of course, going on a crusade. You get a certain amount actions drawn from each category, represented as piles of cards, and what you choose dictates your kingdom. But that isn’t the only thing that affects your ruler.

The interesting part of Crusader Kings, both on the computer and on the tabletop, is the way a ruler’s traits define their strategies. Your ruler, their spouse, and their children all have special traits that inform what might work best for you. This manifests in how one “rolls” in this game. “Dice free” games are gaining steam at GenCon, and CK is one of them. Rather than rolling a die to decide your fate, you place your traits into your little bag, shake them, then draw one at random. If the trait is good (or good for your action at least), then you succeed! A bad trait means a fail. Take my king, Roberto il Guiscardo, for instance:

He’s a handsome devil, isn’t he?

Roberto is brave but deceitful king, giving him an advantage on belligerent actions but making him rather bad at diplomacy. He’s also good at spying actions such as murder and unrest even though the deceitful trait is ostensibly bad. His wife, Felicia, is honorable. By marrying her he can add that trait to his bag, increasing his chances of success. His children, which he never got during the demo, would also get their own random trait that affects their chances of marriage.

This is the best card I’ve ever gotten in a board game

The game moves between eras and covers the hundreds of years covered in the original. Each action you take can lead to consequences. For instance, I caused unrest in south France, a prelude to invasion. But it led to a plague in my own land. Another player raised armies but caused a civil war in their lands. A lot of the action takes place off-board as you plot murder, make matches, and build your connections and spread your influence.

 

Just like the original, there’s a deeper strategy beneath the Risk-esque trappings. The Kickstarter added a lot of really cool features like an AI for single or two player games, new scenarios and crusades, and added rules like Dukes and Duchesses.  The standard edition is retailing for around $70 based on the Kickstarter, but that may change. But I will for sure be picking it up when it hits shelves. The game is gorgeous, mixing real-life medieval portraits, game assets, and original art together to really capture the feel of both Medieval Europe and the original Crusader Kings games. It is one of the coolest games coming out this year and promises a lot of engaging gameplay that is fun for new fans and familiar to Paradox veterans.

Can Europa Into Board Games?

The second game we demo’d was the board game adaptation of Europa Universalis. EU debuted at GenCon, and I was one of the first people in the world able to get my hands on the prototype of the game. While the original EU was an epic war game that could take days to play, the new EU is meant to be played with friends in around one to three hours. Aegir Games did not forget the game’s roots, however, and included rules for a “Grand Strategy Mode” that complicates things a bit and extends gameplay more into the range of five to eight hours.

The game, just like the video game version, takes place on a MUCH grander scale than Crusader Kings. While still heavily Eurocentric, it expands the map to include everywhere from the Holy Land to Norway and Siberia to Morocco. It also adds in Oceania, Asia, Africa, and the America’s as sources of resources and trade (I’m really hoping that these places become playable nations in future expansions, as they are in the digital version).

Also unlike CK, there’s a lot more on-board work and strategy to be done here. Armies and land control play a much bigger part in things here as you’re no longer controlling a family but a whole nation. It uses the same scenarios set up as CK, meaning there are many options for starting points in history. In our scenario, it was the early 15th century (400 years after our CK demo) and England and France are in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War, the Holy Roman Empire is having a crisis of faith, and Castile is putting the finishing touches on the Reconquista. (It’s not essential to be as much of a history nerd as I am to enjoy either of these games, but it is really fun if you are.)

We were England, in the midst of war with a whole ocean of trade before us

The game plays much more like Risk than CK did, but it still had all the depth you expect from a 4X game. They had to make fewer compromises when adapting EU, limiting the game really more in scale than in mechanics. As players, we were able to do things like arrange marriages (much less complicated than in CK), establish trading posts, and expand influence. Aegir also emphasizes the way players can interact during the game, whether through tentative alliances or underhanded schemes to gain power before one must betray the other. There’s also an interesting pass mechanic where you can choose not to take an action, collecting only money from your trading posts and letting the round continue. The passes have consequences, however. When we passed as England, we set off a Burgundian succession crisis that gave most of our enemy France to the HRE and severely weakened their position in the war.

Decisions like that, as well as the overall complexity of nation-building (we didn’t even get into researching new technology and government ideas), mean that Europa Universalis has the potential to be one of the deepest board games released. And that doesn’t even get into the possibilities the “Grand Strategy” mode offers. It’s a game that people who love Risk or Stratego might play if they want to devote that much time to a far more interesting and complex game. It also has gorgeous art taken from the game and just has a polish to it you expect from Paradox.

While there’s less info out on EU’s release, keep an eye out here for the scoop on any new developments.


All images via Paradox Interactive, Aegir Games, and Free League Publishing

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