Creating Board Games: Independent Game Design

Creating Board Games: Independent Game Design

Today we are taking a look at how board games are created, particularly at how independent designers and publishers have benefited from industry shifts and new technology. To bring us up to speed on how the world of tabletop game design and publishing has changed, I have asked Brandon Rollins, designer of the upcoming title Highways & Byways to join us for a discussion.

Kyle: Welcome Brandon, care to tell us a bit about yourself before we dive in?

Brandon: My name is Brandon Rollins. I make board games and I write about making board games in my blog, Brandon the Game Dev. I cover just about every subject you need to understand to go from having an idea to a complete product: game design, manufacturing, marketing, and a lot more. My first game was War Co., an expandable card game about a corporate sci-fi apocalypse. My second game, Highways & Byways, is about taking epic road trips across the USA. It’s coming to Kickstarter late this March, and I’m really excited about it!

Kyle: So, why make board games?

Brandon: I got into the board game industry because I was chasing a childhood dream. War Co. came out of a trading card game I made up as a kid when trying to reverse engineer a game from the Yu-Gi-Oh! cartoon. I had no intention of sticking around in board gaming, but I eventually came to really like it and started working on a blog and another game.

Kyle: So you weren’t very involved in the hobby from the get go?

Brandon: That’s right, it was chasing a childhood dream that pulled me into a much larger subculture than I expected.

Kyle: That transitions nicely into our larger discussion. Is it safe to say that chasing your childhood dream with War Co was easier now than say, 10-15 years ago?

Brandon: Oh, definitely. I was still in middle school.

Brandon: Answering the actual question, back in 2004, there was no Kickstarter. There wasn’t really a hobby market for board games either, as classics like Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne had only recently been released. It wasn’t like what you see now with several games coming out every week.

Kyle: Those days were easier on my wallet.

Kyle: When I was a kid, I remember house ruling every game my friends and I could get our hands on. It started with a bunch of old games from my parent’s childhood that we had laying around and didn’t know how to play. The thought of publishing a game never would have occurred to me then, that seemed the realm of big companies with endless resources.

Brandon: For the longest time, it was only available to companies with vast resources. I think three big things changed that made board game creation accessible to people like you and me.

  1. Demand: Games like Ticket to Ride, Catan, Carcassonne, Pandemic, and Dominion were much, much better than anything that came before and certain subsets of people noticed.
  2. Kickstarter: Board games were given a platform where anybody could come up with an idea, raise funds, and start manufacturing.
  3. Manufacturing: Because of the wider interest in board gaming and the presence of Kickstarter, a lot of companies started popping up that were willing to do print runs of 1,000 board games. Sometimes even less.

Kyle: That’s a pretty thorough summary. How about we discuss each of those in more detail?

Kyle: I know years ago Ticket to Ride was my “gateway game” into the larger hobby. It definitely spurred a period of exploring new games which has picked up steam with the hobby’s explosive growth in recent years.

Brandon: Demand is straightforward to explain, but it’s the most important element out of the three. After the first handful of really good hobby board games broke into the market, it showed that people were still into board games. Of all things, board games!

Brandon: At about the same time that hobby board games were taking off, so was the internet. That meant anybody who wanted any weird thing could be reached pretty easily. It’s a little ironic since you’d expect the internet to kill off board games, but it actually helped bring them to life instead.

Brandon: With consumer demand came businesses and with businesses came businesses to support those businesses – namely small manufacturers. You didn’t need to rely on Hasbro or Mattel’s connections to get your game printed. You started seeing more printers coming out of the blue and doing smaller print runs. Again, no demand means no manufacturers to meet that demand.

Brandon: Kickstarter was started in 2009. By then, board games had picked up a lot of steam, and Dominion, Pandemic, 7 Wonders, Small World, Cosmic Encounter, and a whole lot of other great, great games were on the market or hitting the market. None of these, to my knowledge, were Kickstarter games, but this just sets the scene. The board game industry was already flourishing.

Brandon: Then Kickstarter comes along to this spark of creativity and pours gasoline on it. Suddenly even random people like me with childhood dreams can spend several months building an audience, use the Kickstarter platform to gather people in one place, and raise enough to create games that wouldn’t make it to market otherwise. Can you launch a game by going through a publisher? Sure. Can you launch a game by building an email list and setting up a storefront? Sure, Jamey Stegmaier did that with Charterstone. But Kickstarter is special because it’s a hang-out spot for people who love supporting ideas in their infancy, which is where most ideas fall apart.

Kyle: I find it ironic that this rise of self publishing that Kickstarter fueled got its start the same year Hasbro killed off its Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley brands (Hasbro acquire both board game companies in the 80’s and 90’s)

Brandon: I’m still trying to work it into a conspiracy theory personally.

Kyle: Almost as if a lack of diversity in the traditional marketplace helped fuel the rise of new methods and approaches.

Brandon: It may very well have. When you have something like limited shelf space, you get the “pop music” effect. Which is a term I made up just now. Pop music tends to follow the same chord progressions and it tends to inhabit a narrow emotional range. Nothing wrong with that – it just has a very specific purpose! That purpose is appealing to as many people as possible. Now if you’re filling up shelves and everything you put on a shelf displaces something else, then your board game can’t be super niche. It has to have pop appeal. It can’t be too weird.

Brandon: But Kickstarter isn’t an environment of scarcity. You bring your audience and Kickstarter provides the venue. Same with other forms of online product launches.

Kyle: The result being that most of the games you listed as demand fueling pioneers are now found on that limited shelf space in big box stores. And Kickstarter is now home to games with all sorts of niche audiences.

Kyle: I would go as far as to suggest that Kickstarter has fueled traditional publishers to reach further and try different things as well.

Brandon: And it’s glorious.

Kyle: Because as you said, Kickstarter is significant, but hardly the only reason for the hobby’s growth.

Brandon: Sure! You have a lot of random first-time/second-time designers testing uncharted waters. Once the waters are proven to be good for trade routes, then the big publishers set sail.

Kyle: It also allows the big publishers to identify promising new games and designers to partner with. I have recently seen publishers touting their affiliations with many of the most hyped crowdfunding games- ie “(insert publisher) is excited to be the (insert geographical region) distributor for (insert popular game that has yet to finish its crowdfunding campaign)”.

Brandon: We could very well see the traditional business model of board games spun on its head. The conventional wisdom at the time we’re having this conversation is that crowdfunding is still the secondary way of publishing. The primary is by going through Asmodee or some other big company. We might see that get spun on its head in the next few years: crowdfunding primarily and publishers losing relevance.

Kyle: Asmodee is becoming a behemoth, acquiring many of the large publishers or their IP’s. Many of the “challengers” to Asmodee’s dominance in the industry are already using Kickstarter to run massive preorder campaigns, reducing risk and cashing in on exclusive backer rewards. Almost as the video game industry has done.

Brandon: And to be fair, Kickstarter gives you a much better estimate of demand than anything else I know of.

Kyle: Can you elaborate on that? How does Kickstarter/Crowdfunding help estimate demand?

Brandon: For one, you get to make sure that demand is actually there. Over time, a company can start to gather data on how much Kickstarter funding correlates to sales after the campaign.

Kyle: How has increased demand and access to funding changed the manufacturing process?

Brandon: This is where my understanding of history gets fuzzier. I’m not sure if there are more game printers or if existing ones dropped their minimum order quantities. I will say that if you tell a printer you’re self-publishing, a lot of them – at least the really good ones – will baby step you through the entire thing.

Kyle: That kind of help and support is valuable, and it seems to be common in many corners of the hobby. I see publishers sending their experts on podcasts, printers providing the support you mentioned, all sorts of people providing helpful how-to content.

Brandon: Yes, and a large part of that is because sharing your expertise is a good way to drum up attention for project you’re working on as well. Not to mention, it’s a lot of fun

Kyle: And to circle back to where we started, the internet has definitely facilitated that sharing.

Brandon: Right. The internet either helped create demand for hobby board games or, at the very least, made it possible to tap into existing demand.

Kyle: Has any of this made fulfillment easier on self-publishers?

Brandon: I want to give you a straight answer on this question, but I feel like that’s tough. On the one hand, you have access to a lot of good companies like Games Quest and Fulfillrite who will fulfill on your behalf. Plus recent innovations like have made it easy to print postage at home so you can just drop off USPS packages at the post office. The tools for both domestic and international shipping have improved.

Brandon: On the other hand, you now have the expectation that you’ll fulfill around the world. People from practically any country expect to be able to buy your games, and customers in major markets don’t want to pay import fees either. To do that, you definitely need a third party. If you put your game in a USPS box to a customer in the UK, they’ll get hit with a bill that asks for more pounds than the package weighs. It is easier to fulfill now if and only if you are able to find a good company or two to do the shipping work for you.

Kyle: So am I hearing that the next big opportunity would be to start a board game shipping company?

Brandon: If you’ve got an enormous amount of capital and very strong marketing skills, you could. But you’d have to get space, hire a ton of people, deal in enough business to get deeply discounted rates from USPS/Fedex/UPS to such a degree that you compete with existing companies.

Kyle: Hey if it was a foolproof idea, we wouldn’t be giving it away for free right?

Brandon: Nah, could at least get an online course out of it. “How to Run a Board Game Fulfillment Company” by Guy Who Makes Money on Online Courses.

Kyle: We’ve touched on this a few times, but I’d like to expound a bit on how all these technology changes have made the development of a board game easier. What do you think the internet and other tech has done for design, testing, etc?

Brandon: It’s hard to even begin to grasp the full extent of the impact the internet had on the way people approach game design. I’ll stick to specific examples. Websites like BoardGameGeek make it really easy to search for game mechanics and themes, saving you a lot of time in design since you can see what works and what doesn’t work. There is lots of room for creativity even still, you just don’t have to waste time going down dead-end roads on game design.

Brandon: As for testing, print-and-plays are really popular on BoardGameGeek and Facebook. If your game is well-suited to home printing, you can have testers all over the world. Even if you game doesn’t print well, as is the case with Highways & Byways, you can use Tabletop Simulator – a $20 Steam game – to play tabletop games with people virtually all over the world. You can even coordinate events.

Brandon: That last one is particularly big for me – Tabletop Simulator is how I made both War Co. and Highways & Byways happen. They played a huge role in rapid prototyping and testing.

Kyle: Which is all the difference between today’s homegrown games and my horribly imbalanced childhood house rules that only 2-3 people ever were exposed to.

Brandon: Yeah, there’s actual, real competition now and not just a handful of companies who can afford to produce huge print runs

Kyle: So, now that we have discussed how this all happens, would you like to say a few words about your upcoming launch?

Brandon: Sure thing, thank you!

Brandon: I made Highways & Byways, which is coming to Kickstarter in late March. It is a casual family board game for 2-4 players and takes 45-60 minutes to play. In it, you take an epic road trip across the United States. You play by planning your route, moving a little bit every day, and managing Event Cards – which affect you both positively and negatively. The first person to finish all their Byways and circle back home is the winner.

Brandon: If that appeals to you, sign up here to get an email when Highways & Byways is on Kickstarter.

Kyle: We are looking forward to checking out Highways & Byways. Thanks for popping by and sharing your thoughts on the industry Brandon. There has never been a better time to explore game design or publishing your own title.

Brandon: I completely agree. It’s a great time to make games.

Thanks to Brandon for sharing his expertise. If you are an aspiring game developer, check out his blog for a whole host of resources.

There has never been a better time to be a board game enthusiast. As technology and other innovations continue to connect like minds, more and more people are being enabled to share their games with others. This is leading to greater variation and diversity in the games published. While this at times can seem overwhelming, it is important to realize that nobody needs to purchase or play every game published. Ideally as more games are being released from a wider, more diverse group of designers, then more games are out there to introduce a wider, more diverse group of people to this wonderful hobby.

There are plenty of things contributing to the rise of the hobby and the accessibility of self-publishing that we didn’t touch upon in this discussion. Let us know what we missed!

Star Wars: Rebellion Session Report

Star Wars: Rebellion Session Report

Initial Setup

We recently had the chance to get Star Wars: Rebellion to the table for another great “Original Trilogy in a box” experience. This time around, I took notes on each round with the aim of compiling a play by play of our session. I’ve stuck to the thematic highlights, with the aim of telling a story (as the game itself does). As I review my notes, it strikes me how key the leader allocation is to the thematics of this game. Everything of consequence involves a name from the saga and this write up unintentionally showcases that. Moves are not highlighted by units, but by the leaders who activated them or attempted some other mission.

I would love for Rebellion to hit the table more often, but after the few games we have played, my favorite aspect is how close games are. I suppose a lucky Imperial player could blunder their way into the Rebel base in the first round or two, but each game I have played has come down to the wire, with room for either side to win in the last round of the game.

As it had been some time since playing, we used the beginner set up from the learn to play booklet. Here is what happened once we started playing.

Round 1
The game opened quietly, the largest development being a concerted Rebel effort to win Mon Cala. Princess Leia and Mon Mothma made diplomatic appeals, while General Rieekan brought troops to defend their new ally. This acquisition gave the Rebellion access to the Mon Calamari shipyards.

Construction of the 2nd Death Star

Round 2
The Imperials took advantage of this round. Darth Vader, assisted by Boba Fett, led troops to Kashyyyk, subjagating the Wookiee homeworld and denying resources to the Alliance.

Wasting no time, Grand Moff Tarkin launched construction of a second Death Star in the Dagobah system.

Round 3
General Rieekan led a failed Rebel attempt to sabotage Imperial facilities on Corellia. Rieekan himself was detained on suspicion of Rebel activity (in game, this prevented his use on the following round, but was not the same as capturing him).

Round 4
In what became the middle of the game, round 4 was full of political intrigue as well as military action.

Imperial power reflected in the build queue

Han Solo leveraged his friendship with the Wookiees to stifle Tarkin’s efforts at gaining Kashyyyk’s loyalty. Meanwhile the Emperor himself threatened the Core Worlds, gaining loyalty in Alderaan and Cato Neimoidia as they fell in line.

General Tagge led troops to Malastare, subjagating the planet. Colonel Yularen invaded the Rebel friendly Naboo system. Naboo was conquered and the attack drew Luke Skywalker out of hiding to command Rebel forces. Boba Fett sprung his trap, capturing Luke until Darth Vader could arrive and freeze Skywalker in carbonite.

Round 5
Obi-Wan Kenobi made a daring rescue of Luke Skywalker, foiling Imperial plans to turn or torture him. Meanwhile the Imperial fleet moved rapidly to several systems in search of the Rebel base.

As the Imperial player I had begun to feel I was narrowing down the base location and would soon have victory.

Round 6
The Empire again drew upon Boba Fett’s services as he teamed with General Tagge to capture Han Solo. Solo resisted Imperial efforts to torture the base location out of him. The fleet continued to move quickly from system to system, eliminating possible base locations (this is why Darth Vader is in such a foul mood at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back).

Preparing for the end game.

Round 7
Foiling Imperial efforts to turn Han, Obi-Wan again pulled off a daring rescue with the aid of General Dodonna. The Imperial fleet continued to rule out systems.

At this point, as the Imperial player, I had narrowed down the location of the rebel base to the neighboring systems of Bothawui and Nal Hutta. In preparation for a climactic battle, several Imperial fleets, and a Death Star converged on Toydaria and Saleucami.

As the round concluded, probe droids eliminated Bothawui as the rebel base location. The Rebellion completed an objective which resulted in guaranteeing round 8 would be the final round.

Overwhelming Force AND a Death Star

Round 8
With the location of the base almost certainly determined, the Imperials moved quickly to destroy it. Colonel Yularen merged the 2 large fleets gathered in round 7, moving the Death Star to Toydaria for a quick jump to Nal Hutta. To soften defenses and ensure optimum leadership during the assault, Darth Vader and Boba Fett completed a mission targeting enemy ground forces.

With all the pieces in place, Emperor Palpatine himself moved the fleet to Nal Hutta.

The rebel base. One system too far to reach.

The rebel base was not there. In an absolutely gutting critical error, I had overlooked the Ryloth system, thinking I had ruled it out early on. The battle at Nal Hutta was over very quickly and the planet was subjugated. Without enough Imperial leaders available to move anyone to Ryloth, the game was lost. Tarkin destroyed Nal Hutta with the Death Star anyways.

Final Thoughts
Outsmarted by my rebel opponent, I would happily play again. The game was a

The lone AT-AT not present on the board.

great tug of war, with neither side steamrolling the other. As the Imperial player I felt all powerful, by the final round I had every Imperial unit in the box deployed, save a single AT-AT. That power did me no good in the end. I suppose you could say “(my) overconfidence was (my) weakness”.

Coming Soon: 5 First Time Game Designers (and Their Games)

Coming Soon: 5 First Time Game Designers (and Their Games)

Thanks to this blog, I have had the opportunity to connect with a variety of tabletop and boardgame enthusiasts, including those involved in the design and development of new games. There are loads of great creative minds out there working on all sorts of great ideas. Thanks to the internet, crowdfunding, and the popularity the hobby is experiencing, publishing your own game is more accessible than ever before.

To showcase what is out there, I decided to eschew designers with a game or two under their belts and go straight to the first timers. I sat down (virtually) with five developers hard at work on their first games and discussed their games and what drives them to design them. What follows is a summary of our conversations and a look at their games (in no particular order).

Ryan Dalton: Velocity-9
Ryan Dalton, who is also a sci-fi author, is nearing completion on Velocity-9. A spaceship racing game that uses a heavily modified roll and move mechanic and puts Dalton’s sci-fi writing into the factions, abilities and events. Players take control of various factions (space pirates, shady governments, etc) and race to a newly-discovered planet in what Dalton calls “… a fast paced game with no actual combat.”

Players roll a 6-sided die to move, but then modify their rolls with cards to increase their speed or slow their enemies. Turn order also varies throughout the game. Each faction has a pair of advantages and a liability. Players can use their first advantage with no strings attached, but using the second also triggers the liability, adding a bit of press your luck.

Comparing his drive to make games with his passion for writing books, Dalton says “I want to create game experiences that are engaging, that pull you in and give you a full in-depth and super fun experience, and that make you want to share it with others.” The game looks like it will benefit from his writing background, “I’m also working hard to make sure Velocity-9 has a very robust mythology, a galactic story that connects all player factions and beyond, and that it feels like you’re stepping into a real universe.” Dalton explains.

Velocity-9 is winding down play testing and a Kickstarter campaign is being planned for 2018.

Adam Leamey: Spectrum Force
First time game developer Adam Leamey is working on a cooperative card game inspired by sentai shows (if you are unfamiliar with the term like I was, think Power Rangers). In Spectrum Force players use their deck of cards (prebuilt with no acquisition or deck building) to defeat the villains. Villains are operated using an AI deck. Players manage their decks to attack the enemies and assist each other.

The game plays in 2 stages, first players fight an army of grunts and then Leamey explains they “switch over to their robots and the mighty mega robot for the final showdown.” Leamey is developing scenarios to provide story and different challenges for replayability.

When I asked Leamey what prompted him to design Spectrum Force, he shared the following, which serves as a great reminder for everyone: “last year I lost a friend suddenly and it made me think ‘am I going to reach for my dream and make it a reality or keep it as a dream?’ This spurred me to start creating.”

Spectrum Force is undergoing playtesting as Leamey refines the rulebook.

Samuel Carter: Project Powerpunk
The next entry is a tabletop roleplaying game by developer Samuel Carter. In Project Powerpunk, government, organized crime and corporations are in conflict, with superpowered people as pawns in their battles. Players take on the role of superpowered individuals in this setting.

RPG settings are plentiful and as unique as their designers. I asked Carter what made his system and mechanics unique. He explained that rules are modular and scalable, with simple rules that can be expanded on into more advanced material. A significant effort was put into creating and balancing an encyclopedia of superpowers as well.

According to Carter, Project Powerpunk began as a homebrew game enjoyed by him and his group. One day they decided to collect their notes and create and actual game. When I asked him why he chooses to design games he said “I believe the fun of games is in the versatility of storytelling… Through games, we can experience things we can’t or won’t in real life.”

Emelie Van Rodin: State of Wonder
Emelie Van Rodin has been working on game design for years, doing research projects and studying game design. Van Rodin’s first public effort is State of Wonder, a card game where players take on management of a city state and seek the throne through military power or by constructing a wonder.

Cards are played face down a turn in advance, with only the cost known to opponents. This allows for bluffing and deduction as players try to anticipate their opponent’s moves. Combat engages all players at once, reducing downtime. Strategy is critical as all players start with their entire 17 card deck in their hand (or in play).

Van Rodin expressed a love for the pattern solving involved in game design. She learned during her research that randomness in card games led to emotional experiences in players and wanted to design a game that eliminated random card draws.

Sean Fallon: Paths
Our final designer is Sean Fallon who, along with is team, is developing an RPG known as Paths. The setting for Paths is something Fallon has imagined and built upon since he was a teenager.

Paths takes cues from MMORPG video games like World of Warcraft. Players play cards during combat to select their actions and monsters are managed from an AI deck of actions. To further the MMORPG feel, Fallon and his team have implemented “threat and aggro” mechanics to allow players to influence and manipulate the AI’s actions.

As mentioned, Fallon has been creating the world of Paths for quite awhile. As a teenager, influenced by Tolkien, Lewis, and other fantasy authors, Fallon created stories and adventures in this setting. On the benefit of fantasy and fiction he offers, “I think fiction worlds can be very magical and bring a lot into a person’s life. When I was younger, Mr. Rogers was one of the first people to really open up my mind and imagination. I took those ideas, my passion for fiction worlds, and created a place that I would love to always be in. Practically live in for that matter.”

In addition to the RPG, Fallon is working on bringing a dungeon crawler board game set in the world of Paths to Kickstarter.

Honorable Mention
Hopefully this article has shown just how much variety exists in the tabletop community. For each of these developers there are hundreds more.

A special mention should be made of Brandon Rollins, who doesn’t qualify for this list as he has previously published games. Rollins is currently working on bringing Highways & Byways to Kickstarter. His community of tabletop developers and enthusiasts has been a great source of information for this article.

Why Play Board Games?

Why Play Board Games?

When I first tell others about my board gaming addiction hobby, I hear a variety of reactions that usually go something like this:

  • “You mean like (insert mass market game from 50+ years ago)?”
  • “Like Dungeons and Dragons?” Tabletop RPG’s are a whole different subject, though there is some overlap in the hobbies.
  • “Have you played Catan?”
  • “Oh we love Cards Against Humanity.”
  • “I haven’t played board games since I was a kid.”

I often explain that there are a lot of great people making unique and innovative board games these days and offer an example of a current favorite. Here, I have attempted to gather some of my deeper, though scattered thoughts about the board gaming hobby and the benefits I derive from it.

Why Play Board Games?

Board Games as a Social Activity

Board games have almost completely replaced video games for me and my family. This was largely unintentional, but in hindsight I can offer several thoughts as to why this occurred. Today’s multiplayer video games are largely online affairs. Interaction is largely limited to what commentary can be slung from a keyboard or hurled through a microphone. The nature and tone of this suffers from the sense of anonymity online play grants. The days of gathering friends or family around a gaming console and playing splitscreen multiplayer games, or passing the controller around taking turns to beat a level or stage have faded into memory.

Board games offer a great opportunity to gather around and interact, without screens and devices separating us. Modern boardgaming allows these interactions to take many shapes, with games ranging from highly competitive to fully cooperative affairs. With all the technological distractions surrounding us, board games “force” us to set aside our devices and interact face to face.

Another perk of board games is the “social contract” that exists when playing games. These unwritten rules may vary from table to table, but the general idea is that everyone playing a game has an understanding of the expectations. In a world where divisiveness abounds, the ability to sit down and play a game offers a great opportunity to interact and even compete, without taking things too seriously.

Board Games as an Experience

With so many talented people working in the board game industry these days, games have become increasingly adept at creating a thematic experience that rivals any digital game. The hobby has come a long way from the drudgery of moving a pawn around a board in decades past. Want to build a civilization or conquer your enemies? There are games for that. Prefer to make a quilt or subsistence farm? There are games for that too.

My favorite games all offer a level of escapism. My gaming experiences are full of memories and stories of “that one time”. We all remember the game of Merchants and Marauders where victory was snatched out of my hands as war broke out in the Caribbean, closing down the port I was travelling to and resulting in my ship being sunk by an enemy warship. Or the game of Robinson Crusoe where the friendly looking otters near our camp wound up stealing all our food and dooming us to starvation. Or that one time when Sauron’s advance against the free peoples was stopped by the timely arrival of the Eagles in War of the Ring. Or that game of Blood Rage where everyone realized too late that the player losing battles the entire game was doing it intentionally, scoring points for death in glorious Viking combat.

That is more than enough memories to make the point. Board games today feature a blend of theme and mechanics that when paired with the right group of people can weave stories and experiences remembered long after the box is put away.

Board Games as Mental Exercise

Tabletop games provide ample opportunities to stretch the brain in different ways. From creative to critical thinking, games provide plenty of ways to test our capacities. Not only is this mental engagement great for teaching kids and teenagers, but it also helps combat cognitive decline in adults. The artful design of today’s game mechanics allows for significantly more critical thought than the roll and move games I grew up on.

Playing games allows for experimentation with different approaches and strategies. Games often reward creative and critical thinking. In my own experience, I have reached a point where I often prefer trying a new approach within a game more than relying on a tried and true strategy.

Why Play Board Games?

I have attempted to address some of the benefits I enjoy from my board game hobby. Everyone will have their own reason for playing, but above all else we play games to have fun. If the idea of playing a board game makes you cringe and remember fighting over Monopoly money then I would encourage you to give the hobby a second look. Looking for suggestions? Hit us up on social media for personalized recommendations.

Review: Burgle Bros

Review: Burgle Bros

Burgle Bros boxWho doesn’t love a good heist movie? With Burgle Bros, Tim Fowers gives your table the chance to participate in a high stakes break in of your own.

A cooperative game, Burgle Bros challenges 1-4 players to explore a 3 story building, finding and cracking a safe on each floor. This is made challenging by the roving guards patrolling each floor. Combined with an assortment of alarm tiles that trigger for a variety of reasons, the guards can be quite a thorn in your side. If any player is caught more than 3 times they are captured and rat the group out, resulting in a loss and a lengthy prison sentence.

This small box game packs a LOT of variability in. With 3 variations on the setup, randomly generated walls, 2 versions of each character, and loads of event, loot, and tool cards, no 2 games are the same.

Burgle Bros-cards

Like many similar games, each player has a unique character and ability. The hacker can avoid tripping alarms, the acrobat can move between floors via the windows, and the peterman gets a bonus die for safecracking. With 9 characters in all, you may not quite be Ocean’s Eleven, but George Clooney and Brad Pitt never had a psychic or a falconer on their crew.

Safe CrackingPlayers move through the building, peeking at neighboring tiles, or deciding to gamble and move blindly into them, risking a variety of consequences. Beyond alarms, would-be thieves find locked doors, a bathroom full of stalls to hide in, precarious walkways that can trigger a fall, and more. When a safe is located, players add and roll dice, attempting to crack the safe by rolling numbers determined by other tiles on the floor.

burgle bros floorAfter each turn, a guard moves. Each guard utilizes a deck of cards identifying their destination. They move toward the destination at a speed determined by the floor they are on, and the amount of mischief the players have caused. Get caught by a guard and you lose one of 3 stealth tokens that represent your luck and skill at hiding. Alarms will cause a guard to head straight to the offending player’s location, which may sound terrible, but can be used to create distractions and save your friends.

Successfully crack a safe and you are rewarded with a tool ranging from dynamite to roller skates. Players also receive loot, which is often more of a burden (think large paintings or heavy gold bars). Once all safes have been cracked, the players move to the roof to escape with the loot.

burgle bros towerThis game has been a major hit with everyone I have introduced it to. I can tell because most of them are now proud Burgle Bros owners. The theme is strong and backed by effective mechanics. It manages to capture the flavor and tension of a heist while inserting levity through the events, tools and loot. Each game creates a story, and my family and friends fondly remember the game where we blew a hole in the ceiling to escape, or that time we kept losing the cat that someone thought to put in the safe as loot.

Like many cooperative games, Burgle Bros can be vulnerable to what some call “quarterbacking” or when an experienced player tells everyone else what moves to make. I have found this to be less of a problem at my table, especially since the guards are constantly moving and players often find themselves on different floors with different challenges to address.

I find Burgle Bros to have a stronger theme than Pandemic or Forbidden Island/Desert. The tile exploring and variable player powers may feel familiar to Forbidden Desert fans but I have not found anything quite like the guard movement. If you enjoy cooperative games I would definitely recommend this experience. If you are curious you might want to check out the app which was recently released (I have not had the opportunity to play it yet).

As a bonus I am including a Spotify playlist to provide ambience for your Burgle Bros adventures.

Top 4 Anticipated Games: Gen Con 2017

Top 4 Anticipated Games: Gen Con 2017

Gen Con 2017 is fast approaching, bringing with it a metric ton of board game news. Publishers have spent months constructing hype, teasing games to be released or mystery announcements to be made. While there will certainly be plenty of surprises, I’ve compiled my personal top 4 anticipated games based on what we know so far.

Hunt for the Ring

Hunt for the Ring
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This hidden movement game from the team behind War of the Ring has been floating near the top of my list since it was teased last year. Where War of the Ring picks up Tolkien’s tale as the Fellowship departs Rivendell and war spreads across Middle Earth, Hunt for the Ring aims to tell the story of Frodo and his companions journey from the Shire to Rivendell. Previews have showcased plenty of twists on the hidden movement genre and based on my own experience with War of the Ring, I am looking forward to another game that expertly marries theme and game mechanics.

Imperial Assault

Imperial AssaultFantasy Flight’s tactical Star Wars minis game was my first purchase when I dove back into boardgaming after a few years away. I haven’t had the opportunity to explore the game’s skirmish mode, but I have played through a number of campaigns, including the first few expansions. During FFG’s In-Flight Report at last year’s Gen Con an app for Imperial Assault was announced. An app that automates the Imperial player, allowing campaigns to be played as a purely cooperative affair has generated significant hype without any further information from FFG. In fact they even deleted their own tweets from Gen Con referencing the announcement, and have made little comment regarding it in the year since.

While I am curious what other campaign expansions they may have in store, an app would definitely help Imperial Assault hit my table more often and appeal to more players. Also, where’s my Endor expansion FFG? Ewoks or bust!

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – The Monster Box of Monsters Expansion

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
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A major holiday surprise at my table, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle vastly exceeded expectations and continues to see significant playtime. When first announced by branded Monopoly experts USAopoly many had low expectations. We scored the game on Black Friday at a great price, deciding as Harry Potter fans we should give it a try. The production quality still impresses me each time I get the box out, and the game continues to hold up. With significant variability and the ability to play different years to change up the difficulty/time involved, why wouldn’t I want more?

The Monster Box of Monsters expansion has thus far sounded like a must buy, adding new gameplay options, new characters and more variability. This appears to be trickling out to stores already, but USAopoly is bringing it to Gen Con which should be a great chance to get more details.


Genesys RPG
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This may be cheating as Genesys is a tabletop RPG rather than a board game. Based on Fantasy Flight’s line of Star Wars RPG’s, Genesys takes the narrative dice system and builds a generic RPG around it. My gaming group recently dove into Edge of the Empire, and we have had a wonderful time with the system. The fact that this has been my first experience with Tabletop RPG’s may tint my views, but the narrative dice and fast and loose gameplay have led our group to some excellent experiences.

Many great fan hacks of FFG’s Star Wars games already exist, but the notion of a comprehensive generic system to build on really grabs my attention. FFG will undoubtedly release their own supplemental material for a variety of themes, but the fan community has already embraced the idea and there should be a lot of content available within a few months of launch. Here’s to hoping for more info at Gen Con.

Honorable Mentions

A number of games have been teased recently, with few specifics available, here are a few I will be watching.

What games are you looking forward to? I am looking forward to writing a follow up to this after Gen Con. In the meantime, check out BoardGameGeek’s preview of all the publishers and games lined up for next weekend.