Thursday, November 29, 2012

A thorough review of Exodus

Today we have a guest post from a friend who has kindly agreed to share his thoughts about Exodus on the NSKN blog. So, let's read a review of Exodus by Ben Crane, as it first appeared on BoardGameGeek.



Full Disclosure: I’ve played this game once. It’s a long game, and once is enough to have an opinion, but I just want everyone to know where I am coming from. This isn’t a review from someone who has played the game a lot, but there are only 2 reviews of it up right now, so I figure more—even if slightly less informed than I’d like—can’t hurt.


Alright, so caveats out of the way, on to Exodus: Proxima Centauri. I will try and update with pictures over the next few days.

GAMEPLAY OVERVIEW:

This is going to be a pretty exhaustive run-down of the rules. If you don’t care or have read the rulebook, feel free to skip down to the analysis section.

The first thing that happens is you build the board. For any given number of players there are three possible board arrangements: a normal game; a long game; and a short, high-interaction game. You pick your game length, which tells you where your starting worlds go, where the Centaurian Resistance ships go, and how many of each type of world to put in the map, then randomly fill in all the gaps between the starting worlds and the core hex with the other planets.

So each game has a mix of fixed positioning and randomly generated map elements. What this means is your strategy will have to change every game. If you find yourself surrounded by money, but without any building resource planets nearby, you might have to go for a trading strategy to get the missing resources. If you have some resources, but not much money, investing in banking might be better for you. This also means there isn’t any exploring to do in this game; the entirety of the map is known by everyone at the start.

Everyone also starts out with a transport ship and a cheap fighter. You then fill all the planets with their resources, and you’re ready to go. Setup took me about 20 minutes for a 5 player game.

The game takes place over 7 turns, with each turn divided into five stages.

UPKEEP STAGE – During the upkeep stage everybody will extract resources from planets where they have population and increase the population on their home planet by two. If you have a population cube on a planet, you will take one resource from it. Several people can have population on a planet, and they all get resources (so long as enough are available). If enough aren’t available, then you extract resources in turn order. Additionally, you have to pay taxes on each building resource you get.

There are three resources in the game: Crystallized Platinum (CP) serves as the general currency and you extract it in units of 5. Axinium is needed to build ships and Phasium is needed to buy upgrades; they are extracted in units of one. For each Axinium and Phasium you extract, you have to pay one CP to the bank in taxes.

DIPLOMATIC STAGE – In the diplomatic stage, representatives of the various human factions will meet on the council station to discuss their mutual agendas. Three possible legislative actions will be dealt out. These can be powerful one-time effects, mid-range effects that will last for one turn, or minimal things that will remain in play for the rest of the game. Players can openly discuss them for as long as they like, but after all the debating is done, they must vote. Everyone has three voting chips corresponding to the three actions, and these will be used for simultaneous, blind voting.

Of course, you can also back your vote up with money. You may place as much CP into your hand with the vote chip as you like, and each CP counts as one additional vote. Whichever action passes takes effect and the rest are discarded. This is an all-pay auction, which means that even if your vote loses, any CP you spent on it is spent. The ads were bought; just because you lost the vote doesn’t mean you can take them back.

Then, the Chancellor (first player) and Vice Chancellor (second player) will set the agenda for the rest of the turn. From a hand of six bonus actions the VC will select two and hand them to the Chancellor, who plays one of those two. After everyone has finished their actions in the Action Stage (coming up soon!) each player gets to take the bonus action once.

Lastly, elections are held to determine turn order for the coming turn. These elections are held entirely with CP. Each player puts some amount (possibly zero) of CP into a closed fist, then everyone reveals simultaneously. Whoever bids the most is Chancellor. Second bidder is VC, and so forth. The old Chancellor will break all ties, however, he cannot break any ties in his own favor.

ACTION STAGE – In the action stage, players play actions. This is when you develop your economy, research no technologies, build ships, and upgrade those ships. Each player has a hand of six action cards: Banking, Mining, Research, Upgrade, Build, and Trade. Everyone selects and plays one of these cards simultaneously, then takes the corresponding action. For the most part, these can be done all at the same time, but should be done in turn order, if it matters.

If you Bank, you roll 6 and gain that much CP. There is a technology that lets you roll 2 6 .

Mining allows you to put more resources down on planets for your people to extract. You roll 6 and put that many resources down, distributed amongst your planets as you see fit. A tech lets you roll 2 6 .

Research lets you research a technology using CP. You get a discount for having researched similar technologies and having researched technologies on the same row as the one you are buying now. There are no prereqs for any technology, and all techs are available to all players at all times. However, to mark the technology as researched, you will have to place one of your unused civilian cubes on it, and these are a limited resource, so you must be careful not to research so much that you run out of them.

Upgrading allows you to upgrade your ships. There are four types of ships and you can have up to two of each. You have blueprints for each ship with slots for shields, engines, and guns. When you upgrade, you may purchase new upgrades (that you have researched) and/or rearrange what you have already bought. Any upgrade on a blueprint applies to all your ships of the associated type on the board.

Building lets you build ships, which you have to place on your home planet hex.

Trading allows you to either sell Axinium and Phasium for CP or buy Axinium and Phasium for CP. You will roll a 6, which determines how many trades you can make, then decide whether you want to buy or sell. Then you can make that many purchases or sales. As more and more people trade during a round, the exchange rates they get will become worse and worse. A tech allows you to get better exchange rates and to both buy and sell with one action (potentially coming out with a tidy profit).

After everyone has taken their action, then everyone may—in turn order—react. Each action card has a secondary action on it as well (one of the basic 6 actions). You may take your own reaction by placing one civilian from your home planet onto the card, or someone else’s by placing two civilians onto it. Once a reaction has been taken, nobody else may take it.

After everyone has reacted, then a second action round is played just like the first. Everyone chooses from their five remaining action cards and plays the main action, then everyone may react.

Finally, the bonus action that was selected by the VC and Chancellor at the start of the round is taken by all players.

FIRE WMDS STAGE – This stage is quick. If anybody has built WMDs (an upgrade), then they fire at this point. WMDs are build on planets and can target resources, population, or entire planets. Whoever has the most civilians on a planet can fire the WMDs there. All targets are declared, then the weapons fire. They have to make a to-hit roll based on the distance they are traveling, then a damage roll. A number of dice are rolled (5 for resources, 3 for civis, 2 for planets) with a 5 or 6 being a hit. For each hit, you remove one resource or civi from the hex. If a planet-targeting WMD (the graviton rocket) hits, then everyone on the planet and all resources are removed, then the entire hex is flipped over to reveal empty space.

CONQUEST STAGE – Like the action stage, the conquest stage happens twice. This is where you will fight other players and the Centaurian Resistance ships and also put civilians down onto new planets to mine there or compete for control of WMDs.

First players, load civis onto their warships. Two of the four ship types can carry civilians. Just move the cubes onto the mini that is carrying them.

Then everyone moves their ships simultaneously and secretly. The edges of each hex are numbered 1-6, and everyone has a stack of tiles numbered 1-6. Play tiles face-down next to ships describing where they move. To start out with, each ship can move only 1 hex, but if your ships can go further, you can play multiple move tiles onto those ships (thanks to the transitive magic of math the order doesn’t matter). When everyone is content, movement is revealed and ships move. Ships can pass through spaces containing other ships, but if you end your movement in a hex with enemy ships, then you must fight.

If fighting a Centaurian Resistance ship, flip over a card from the corresponding deck (they are of strength 1-3) which will say how many guns and shields the enemy has. You roll 6 for each gun you have, and the player to your left rolls for the Centaurian. A 5 or 6 is a hit. Damage is applied by the attacker, so you just apply all damage to the Centaurian, while the player controlling it can apply his damage to your ships as he sees fit. If any ship has more damage than it has shields, it is destroyed.

If either side has won, combat ends. If not, another round is played. There is no retreat.

If you beat the Centuarian, you get it’s card as a trophy. You can trade it in at any point in the future for a bonus (what it is depends on the card) or keep it for points at the end of the game. If you lost, the card is put on the bottom of the stack. You have to face a new, fresh enemy if you try again.

Fighting another player is done in exactly the same manner. Count guns, fire, apply damage, remove destroyed ships, repeat until only one player has ships left. If several players are all in a hex together, they fight in a giant scrum until only one is left. If several players and a Centaurian are in a hex, the winner of the free-for-all fights the Centaurian.

When fighting another player, the winner of the fight receives points based on the strength of all enemy ships destroyed in the combat. The loser(s) receive nothing. There is no participation prize.

Damage to player ships carries over from fight to fight and round to round.

Once all combat is resolved you can disembark your passengers and then a second conquest stage is played – embark, move, fight, disembark.

So that is a round. After the second conquest phase (or third, if the VC and Chancellor selected MOVE as their bonus action), you go back to the start. After seven rounds, the game ends.

GAME END - Each planet is worth 1 or 2 points. The ones which start with fewer resources are worth more VP to make up for the difference. Whoever has the most population on each planet receives that planets VP. In the event of ties, the VP are evenly split (and yes, you can have fractional points).

Additionally, players receive 1 VP for each hex where they have at least 1 ship. Whoever has ships in the central hex will receive 3 VP for controlling the council station. The Chancellor receives 3 VP and the VC receives 1. Players also receive VP for all unspent Centaurian Resistance cards.

Whoever has the most VP is the winner.


COMMENTS:

Alright, so I am sure that seemed really complicated, but here’s the thing: it really isn’t. Not for a big 4X game at least. The designers made a lot of really good decisions, and the result is a beautifully smooth game. They have stated their goal was to create a game where at the end of round 1, you get the mechanics; at the end of round 2, you get the tactics; and at the end of round 3, you get the strategy; and they have succeeded quite well at that. By round 3, we could get through a whole round in 20 or 25 minutes, though this number ballooned at the end when there started being a lot more inter-player combat.

Of particular note is that the designers at every turn adhered to the rule of 7. At no point, goes the rule, should a player be confronted by a choice with more than 7 options, because rather than giving them freedom, this will overwhelm them. All the decisions in Exodus (with the exception of technologies) are made between 6 or fewer options. I love that. It means that a newbie can pick up the game and immediately start developing a strategy of their own, and as we figured out the game more and more, the agony of those decisions only increased.

When I was writing the rules description above, I kept wanting to say “this phase is the heart of Exodus.” The political stage is the heart of the game because the political actions can have such a huge impact, the bonus action will affect everybody’s turn and overall strategy, and turn order is critical for things like reactions and trading.

But then, the action stage is the heart of the game, because it is here that you do everything. Here that you have to decide whether you want to hold off upgrading until you can trade for more resources, but leave your fleet open to attack, or do a lesser upgrade now. Is it worth the population to take an extra action, or do I need them to maintain control of a contested planet? If I bank at the end of the turn order, will my research reaction still be available to me later, or should I just take research as my main action, but be left with less money? The action/reaction mechanic is nothing short of brilliant, and so surely it must be the heart of the game.

But then, the only way to score VP is through fighting. Everything else is but a means to an end. So surely the conquest stage is the heart of the game, because that is where all the fighting happens. It is also how you put population down on planets and is filled with its own set of terrible choices. Do I load my civis on now and bring the transport into the fight? The extra shields might be nice, and if I win, I can get those resources next turn, but if I lose, then my civilians die in the cold void of space! And when it comes time to assign damage, should my opponent go after my warships, reducing my firing power, or should he take out the civilian ships, probably setting himself up to lose the battle, but leaving me far weaker coming out of it?

The hidden movement, as well, carries tactical and strategic choices made on top of imperfect information and bluffs upon bluffs. If I have ships adjacent to an opponent, and we each have 2-movement engines, and I am trying to kill him, where do I think he is likely to go so that I can provoke a fight? Do I split my forces to cover more ground, but lose my numerical advantage? And if I am trying to avoid a fight, where do I think he thinks I am going to go, so I can avoid that? This is all exacerbated by the existence of blank movement tokens which can be played on a ship in order to signal that it is moving, only to have it remain exactly where it was.

A few times during the game, two players would wind up in the same hex without either having planned it, but having to fight anyways. Had they talked to each other, they might have avoided it, but then, they also would have been giving the other valuable tactical information. It all worked as a brilliant simulation of the breakdown in communication between factions, and the lag between the situation when an order is given, and the situation when it is executed.

So in summation, the game play of Exodus is nothing short of fantastic. Almost everything is done simultaneously, so there is very little downtime. The game is filled with interesting tactical and strategic choices, and at least after our first play through we didn’t find any strategy to be wholly dominant or unstoppable. The random map forces you to adapt to the hand you are dealt, and should you be unlucky enough to be surrounded by nearly barren planets, you can take comfort in the fact that they will be worth more VP at the end.

However, all of this is not to say that the game is without flaws. The largest problem we had was in the randomness in the economic actions (bank, mine, trade). Randomness in combat is fine, and everyone accepts a certain amount of swing there. Exodus mitigates this by having you chuck handfuls of dice, greatly normalizing the results (late game combats often involved 20+ dice per side). The economic side of the game, though, should not be so beholden to random chance. When one player would bank for 1CP, and another took the same action and randomly got 6CP, that didn’t quite feel right. Same thing with mining. The advanced banking/mining techs mitigate this somewhat with a second die. This normalizes the results around 7, and raises the floor to 2. Banking or mining without those techs seems like a one-off thing, not a strategy, so the randomness is a bit better. It’s what you do when you need a quick bit of cash or a few more resources and have nothing better to do, or a spare civilian for a reaction and figure why not.

Trading was another matter however. One of the players in our game went heavy in for trading, thinking it would be a good way to generate income (A 6 on the trade die, with advanced trading, can generate 12 CP, 8CP and a building resource, or 4CP and 2 building resources) to overcome poor tile distribution (low resources, high VP). However, advanced trading doesn’t normalize that trading die result at all, and at a critical point in the game, he wound up having to use 3 of his 5 available actions one round to trade, rolling 1, 2, 1, and coming out of it all with barely any benefit.

Now sure, good rolls would have left him rolling in far more cash and resources than good rolls on banking or mining would have, but that seems problematic. At that point, trading isn’t so much a viable strategy as it is a random gamble. Victory or defeat hinges on two or three rolls of a single die. Had he rolled better, he would have swept half the board in the final turn and won. Instead, he came in 4th of 5.

Also, fractional VP are just goofy. I get it at the end, but throughout the game you will be gaining 1/2 VP for things, and the score track dutifully provides spots in 1/2 VP increments. Why not just double the VP value of everything to avoid this?

Lastly I want to just point out the balance of the 5-player game. Five players on a hex-based map isn’t easy, but they made it work through asymetrical, but balanced starting placement. One player is closer to the center and with the most room to expand, but also surrounded by the strongest enemies (Player A). Two with the least room have the weakest enemies near them (Players B & C). The last two are a good balance between room to expand and enemy strength (Players D &E). The final arrangement of scores, top to bottom, was B-A-D-C-E. No apparent pattern there means balance. Anecdotal, sure, but it seems to have worked for us.

COMPONENTS:

Something has to be said about the components, unfortunately. They just aren’t that good. There are 4 major problems: warping, printing, color choice, and IP.

Warping – According to people who know more about this than I do, the cardboard had too much moisture and too little wood, leading to warping. It isn’t terrible, and is the least of my concerns here, but it is present.

Printing – The laminate used on the punch boards which make up most of the components (CP tokens, upgrades, hexes) peels. I was very careful and used an X-Acto knife to punch all of my pieces, but even still some of them peel. The box came with a bag of pre-punched extras, which is appreciated, but it did not come with enough to replace everything. Thankfully, nothing in my box was damaged enough to make replacement necessary, but others have had bad luck.

Color Choice – The CP, Axinium, and Phasium cylinders that represent the resources on the planets are blue, red, and green painted wood. The player’s civilians on a planet are represented by painted cubes in their colors. Three of the player colors are blue, red, and green, and they are made with exactly the same paint as the resources. This makes it hard, at a glance, to tell which planets have resources, and which have civilians.

IP – The ships are represented by wonderfully detailed little plastic minis. Unfortunately, it would seem that the printer told NSKN that these minis were their generic space ship molds and that NSKN could use them, when it turns out that they are actually made from stolen molds from another game (Silent Death). I believe NSKN had no ill intentions here, but damage was done. They have reached out to the other company, but no resolution has been reached as of this writing. I will update this section of the review should that change.

Special bonus component comment – the rulebook isn’t great. It is perfectly functional, but the layout is a bit weird (2 columns per page, but you can’t just read each column from top-to-bottom, left-to-right. Instead, often times, you have to read the first half of the left column, then the first half of the right column, then the bottoms of each), and looking up rules was a pain. There is very little white space to break up the bullet-pointed walls of text. However, the rulebook is filled with great examples. Could’ve used a pass by a professional layout artist, though, and a few more blind playtests (where the playgroup just gets the book and the game and has to muddle through it without the benefit of the designer to explain it; this can reveal flaws in the rulebook. For example, the rulebook neglects to mention that each reaction can only be taken by one player, although the designers have clarified that this is the case).

THE INEVITABLE COMPARISON:

So how does Exodus stack up against Eclipse and TI:3? Everyone has their own opinion, and I’ll try to keep this brief.

On flavor and story, TI:3 and Exodus are both clear winners. The Exodus rulebook is filled with wonderful descriptions of the universe and there is clearly a story behind everything. The Centaurian cards have great flavor text hinting at what is to come (NSKN has said this is the first game in a trilogy). 

Exodus plays faster than either of the other two and, to my mind, doesn’t sacrifice any depth of gameplay in achieving that. The 2-ship limit made choices interesting without reducing the scale of the battles, but the feel is probably a little less epic than TI:3, but significantly more so than Eclipse. 

Eclipse’s action selection mechanic is great. Exodus’s is too. Both involve choosing how much of a limited resource to spend to get more actions, but each does it in its own way.

I dislike the random tech draw of Eclipse and the convoluted tech tree of TI:3. Exodus wins the technology competition hands down for me. All the techs are alluring, none seemed to be must-haves. The multiple stacking discounts felt more natural than Eclipse’s single discount, since the association of techs on one row in Eclipse always seemed pretty non-existent. 

The fact that combat awards a flat VP value based on how hard it was is preferable to me over Eclipse’s VP chip draw.

Exodus wins the Diplomacy contest hands down as well. The political actions do far more here than in TI:3, and the elections are great.

Exodus doesn’t quite reach Eclipse on the economic front, though. The mining mechanic is interesting, but held back by the reliance on randomness. The same goes double for trading. I think Exodus could be more interesting than Eclipse were it slightly tweaked. This is the biggest tragedy of the game to me; a horrible missed opportunity.

So clearly for me, Exodus is the best of the three. It fixes my two major gripes with Eclipse (the tech draw and the VP chip draw), and streamlines the epicness of TI:3 into a much faster playing game that loses none of the scale. If you love the map-building phase of TI:3, though, or the exploration parts of Eclipse, then be warned that there is no analogue here. The map is prebuilt and fully known by all.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

So that’s Exodus. In case it wasn’t clear, I loved this game. Other than my one gameplay issue, it was pretty close to a perfect 4X game, and even that issue is surmountable (either warn players off focusing exclusively on trade, or make advanced trade let you roll something like 2d3 or d4+2 instead of 1d6 for the number of trades available; similarly advanced banking/mining might let you roll d6+4 or something like that).

The component quality is regrettable, but far from a deal-breaker for me. Of course, I also got this at the reduced IndieGoGo price. If I were paying full retail, I might be more upset, depending on what full retail is. Still, after a bit of griping, I’d be happy with my purchase.

The best thing I can say about this game, though, is that after it all wrapped up and we were cleaning up and nursing our long strategy game headaches, the first topic of conversation was when we were going to play again.



__________________
More about NSKN Legendary Games on the website Facebook | Twitter | BGG |  ScoopIT Magazine | Blog
Warriors & Traders can also be found on its own website | Facebook |  BGG
Exodus: Proxima Centauri: website BGG
Wild Fun West: website | BGG
Follow us on Twitter: AgniAlexandraAndrei and Vlad 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kickstarter and the future of board games


If you are a frequent user of BoardGameGeek you might have noticed that the majority of the adds there direct you to Kickstarter or other crowd-funded projects and most of them are board games.

A year and a half ago, most Kickstarter projects were coming from start-up publishing houses from the US and only a special few were able to raise more than 20-30 kUSD. Also, there were no more than 2-3 relevant active board game project at a time. Today, the big picture looks totally different. There are at least 20 project currently running on the crowd-funding platforms with real chances to succeed and become board games and the amount they raised is increasing day by day. Just at a fist glance I discovered a project that has already raised 325 kUSD and it still has 40 days to run. Furthermore, even Kickstarter is expanding and is now allowing UK residents to start projects.

Retailers used to be happy to carry in their store board games previously funded on Kickstarter, most likely because they were benefiting from the free advertising campaign. A game that has gathered one thousand backers is likely know by several other thousands who are not early adopters and they want to see the real board and to check the quality for themselves. But that was a while ago already and the attitude is slowly shifting. Now, brick and mortar store owners are asking "are there any gamers left who don't already own that game?" and they think twice before ordering even one case of a successfully crowd-funded game. There's a very interesting article I've read on this matter here.

In all this dancing around Kickstarter and the attitude of store owners towards it, there are two more important actors, or maybe even three - the gamers, the publishers and the distributors. 

Judging by the increasing amount of projects and the success rate, I believe that gamers learned to trust crowd-funding and that an immense majority are satisfied with what they're getting in the end. And in the whole gaming community there no voice more important that the one of the gamers, the final consumers who end up approving or rejecting any new project. 

As a gamer, I am using Kickstarter or Indiegogo to get more and more games (5 projects backed in the last 2 months) because I know I have a very good chance to get good games with a discounted price before anyone else. What more can I ask?

As a publisher, NSKN has already used Indiegogo with some degree of success and we're planning to do that again soon. We are adapting our business strategy to what is happening in today's world. It would be foolish t ignore this trend and only the really big players have the luxury of working the old fashioned way knowing that the community will embrace their game anyway.

I would say that overall, the whole industry is growing thanks to Kickstarter and the other platforms alike and as long as the end users - the gamers - are satisfied this method of publishing will keep increasing in popularity. There's also the risk of abuse, but that has been there all the time. In any functional community there are those 'special' few who don't play by the rules, but break and abuse them and the crowd-funding world cannot be any different. But as along as they will remain special cases and not become a significant percentage (and so far I do not personally know of any successful board game project which did not deliver), the trend will be the same and the board gaming community will increase in size and more and more awesome games will reach the market.



__________________
More about NSKN Legendary Games on the website Facebook | Twitter | BGG |  ScoopIT Magazine | Blog
Warriors & Traders can also be found on its own website | Facebook |  BGG
Exodus: Proxima Centauri: website BGG
Wild Fun West: website | BGG
Follow us on Twitter: AgniAlexandraAndrei and Vlad 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Having wild fun


We've been neglecting Wild Fun West lately and we must right that wrong. The game has shown great potential during Essen and Lucca fairs and many people have shown interest in a fun family game.



Today, the first written review of Wild Fun West is out. It is in Romanian, so many of you won't make much sense of it, but with the use of Google Translate we're hoping you'll be able to grasp the main ideas of the game.



http://www.boardgames-blog.ro/board-games/wild-fun-west-primele-impresii/



Soon, hopefully before Christmas, several other reviews will be out, in English, German, French and Polish and more people will see how much fun it is to play Wild Fun West.



Until then we're working on distribution, doing the best we can to spread the fun to every hobby store around.



__________________
More about NSKN Legendary Games on the website Facebook | Twitter | BGG |  ScoopIT Magazine | Blog
Warriors & Traders can also be found on its own website | Facebook |  BGG
Exodus: Proxima Centauri: website BGG
Wild Fun West: website | BGG
Follow us on Twitter: AgniAlexandraAndrei and Vlad 



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Reviews of Exodus

There are already several reviews of Exodus in the cyberspace and it's a good time to share them with all of you. These are the opinions of the specific authors and we're not presenting these specific reviews because we have any stake, but because we want to keep you informed. Well, without any further introductions...

On BoardGameGeek, in English

Exodus vs. Eclipse
Exodus by an Eclipse fan
Exodus vs. Eclipse vs. Twilight Imperium


In Italian

Exodus: Proxima Centauri – Un nuovo inizio per l’umanit√†
Lucca Games, report 1 novembre
VersuS: Exodus Proxima Centauri vs Eclipse vs Twilight Imperium III
Exodus Proxima Centauri - imperi stellari in breve tempo

In Romanian

Exodus: Proxima Centauri – Primele impresii

That's all for today, if you know of any other reviews out there, please share.


__________________
More about NSKN Legendary Games on the website Facebook | Twitter | BGG |  ScoopIT Magazine | Blog
Warriors & Traders can also be found on its own website | Facebook |  BGG
Exodus: Proxima Centauri: website BGG
Wild Fun West: website | BGG
Follow us on Twitter: AgniAlexandraAndrei and Vlad 

Monday, November 19, 2012

My top five games of the autumn

This year I've been playing a lot of games, more that in any other year of my short but agitated life a as board gamer and I decided to take a break from telling you about our 'usual suspects' and share some thought about my favorites. 

When I play, I am not looking at the BGG rating of the game or the year it was launched and I can appreciate a good game and get excited about it even if it at the tenth edition and I am the last player on Earth who's played it. So, let us begin...


Well, those who know me very well will think I've gone mad. I am happy to tell you that's not the case, I am still as normal as I used to be, it's just that... I can appreciate a good party game when I see one. Ugg-Tect is the king of game that makes you scream Akungu! in the middle of the street. Even more, after two days since we played, I am still playing with my little nephew with the inflatable clubs, hitting each other and laughing, even though we don't even have a common language of communication.

I can say that it's the best party game I've played in a long time and the best of this autumn.


Many people who played Among the Stars said that it's a clone of 7 Wonders and I cannot really contradict them. But I like 7 Wonders and Among the Stars is a good follower. It brings some of the best graphics I've seen even in a board game, I love the space theme and it scales down nicely for two players. In my humble opinion, it brings enough new elements so the authors cannot be accused of duplicating an other game, the card drafting was not invented by the authors of 7 Wonders and the special abilities on the cards make a lot of sense after a few games.

Among the Stars is the first game I have ever backed on Indiegogo, even before I considered using it for funding Exodus and I am glad I did because it is a game that I can put on the table anytime a newbie comes by to visit, see our collection of board games and wants to try something that is "easy to learn and takes less than half an hour".


The King of Siam is a game from 2007 which I have only discovered during the Lucca convention thanks to a very good friend who recommended it. At first we played it wrong and it still made sense, we discovered by mistake a set of rules which made the game playable and enjoyable. 

With the real rules though, the game is very interesting. It is a very fast political game, in which you make 8 decisions and you have to show support by taking ownership of one of the cubes of the specific faction  thus sabotaging exactly the faction that you support.

It's a game a great tension which can very well be played in the car during a traffic jam (I speak from experience), it's fast to learn and there's almost no luck, at least not in the relevant moments.

2. Luna

I know Stefan Feld from Trajan and even though I played that game more that a few times, I cannot say that I became a fan. After seeing Luna I changed my mind. The freedom that this game brings is, in my opinion, unique among Euro-games because it offers so many choices and each single one of them can make a difference for better of for worse.

Luna is still a worker placement game, with limited but relevant interaction between players. One of the beautiful things about this game is that you can put pressure on your opponents by choosing actions that are still helpful for yourself. I found a level of strategy which is typical for more complex strategy games and very rare for this genre (Euro). 

The minus of this game is the theme which doesn't really integrate, but at the end of the day, who plays Euro-games for the theme?


I have to confess at first that I was very skeptical about this game when I heard of a Euro-game in the Dungeons & Dragons universe and I was almost convinced that it was simply a marketing strategy from the publisher to increase sales. After having opened and played the game I can honestly say that... it does not matter. 

Lords of Waterdeep is the kind of game that innovates a bit, enough to be unique but not so much to re-invent the genre, being still easy to learn and even easier to play. The innovation is the usage of Intrigue and Quest cards - probably the only thing that reminds the players about the theme - and the core of the game is simple worker placement, with the same decision range as is the established games of the genre.

The advantages of Lords of Waterdeep are the reduced play time, almost the same (45 minutes) in two, three and four players (experienced groups), the fast setup, the functional graphics and the amazing box interior, where I managed to fit every single component without reading anything about the game before the unboxing.

So, this was my top five board games of the fall of 2012. I have a lot of games waiting to find their turn on the table this winter (Essen loot) and I will make a new top early next year. Until then, happy gaming!

__________________
More about NSKN Legendary Games on the website Facebook | Twitter | BGG |  ScoopIT Magazine | Blog
Warriors & Traders can also be found on its own website | Facebook |  BGG
Exodus: Proxima Centauri: website BGG
Wild Fun West: website | BGG
Follow us on Twitter: AgniAlexandraAndrei and Vlad 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The availability of Exodus and Wild Fun West

It's been almost one month since we have launched Exodus and Wild Fun West and I know that there are many people who are waiting impatiently for the games to reach the local stores.

Part of our work in Essen was to find new or better distribution channels and expand the network of stores carrying our games and we are now able to present 'touchable' results. First of all, most of our distribution partners from last year have agreed to continue working with us, so you can expect to see the two new games in the same hobby stores where Warriors & Traders is/was present.


I guess that the most important news is that we have reached an agreement for distribution in Germany with one of the most respected and appreciated distribution companies in the hobby world, Heidelberger Spieleverlag. They have agree to carry all of our board games and they're already available for retailers in the German speaking world and beyond.











The other good news is for our fans and customers in Asia. BoardM has taken Wild Fun West for retail and distribution in Korea and Swan Panasia has taken even more copies for distribution in Taiwan and the Greater China region.

Our work of widening the distribution network for Exodus and Wild Fun West are still ongoing, being our main focus for the rest of the year. We are not neglecting Warriors & Traders either and we're trying to get it in more stores around the world. We're hoping that by the end of next week we can bring more good news about the availability of our games.

__________________
More about NSKN Legendary Games on the website Facebook | Twitter | BGG |  ScoopIT Magazine | Blog
Warriors & Traders can also be found on its own website | Facebook |  BGG
Exodus: Proxima Centauri: website BGG
Wild Fun West: website | BGG
Follow us on Twitter: AgniAlexandraAndrei and Vlad 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

About production quality in Exodus

There's an elephant in the room... people noticed that there are some quality issues with Exodus and we feel it is our responsibility not to remain silent and to explain what is NSKN doing to address this issue.

Production

I will have to start by bringing some light on the less know part of game publishing, the negotiation and selection of the manufacturing company for the mass production. 

Since Exodus is part of our second generation of games, we looked everywhere in the world for manufacturing companies with experience in board games. There are only a few countries which have tradition in this industry, so we got offers from Germany, Poland, China and US. After a first screening we kept contact with 5 of these companies and we negotiated separately with each of them. We did our best to keep the production in Europe, where we would have had more control over the whole process, including the quality, but due to the enormous amount of components in Exodus (9 punch-boards, 300+ wooden tokens, 48 space ships, 7 play-mats, etc) we could not find any offer that would allow us to keep the retail price below 80 USD (65 EUR).

After careful consideration which included calling references from Europe and US, we chose a manufacturing company in China which produced all the parts (except the plastic space ships, bought from a third party) and assembled them in the boxes.

Quality check and reported problems

Before the mass production started, we received one sample of digital print with all the graphics of the game and we were very happy because everything was looking awesome. After the mass printing and before overseas shipping and paying the second half of the production cost, we received another sample, this time "straight from the assembly line" (the quote is from their sales representative). This very copy is the one that we played early in October, we took it to Spiel Essen and played it roughly 15 times during the four days of the fair, them we played some more back in Romania and a lot more during Lucca Comics & Games and the game is still in good shape. So, in my opinion, it passed almost all the quality checks.

We had an Indiegogo funding project which was successful (thanks again, guys!) and most of the game boxes we sent to the backers have already arrived. The first reaction of most people was about the rather poor quality of the laminated components and there have been very specific comments saying exactly what is wrong with the games. We opened some random games ourselves just to check and see that some of the games share the same problems that people reported mostly on BoardGameGeek.

First, we addressed the problem and offered replacements to those who found damaged components in their boxes. Having a list of the problems and complaints at hand, we contacted the manufacturing company and asked for a joint solution for the quality issues. That happened already a week ago. Yesterday we sent a similar complaint letter, documented this time with pictures, to the management of the same company, hoping for a positive answer.

The answer or the lack of it and what's next

Sadly, at the time when I am pressing "Publish" there is still no relevant answer to any of the emails concerning the printing quality from the responsible party. There won't be any replacements from them, no financial support, not even the acknowledgement of their fault .

The reality is that we're alone in this and it will be only up to us to make it up to those who bought game boxes which are not in the best shape. We don't have any means of putting pressure on a company which is 5000 miles away and the most we can do is stop working with them.

Right now, the only thing we can do is to focus on customer service and try to solve the issues on a case by case basis. We can also hope that the game play will be good enough to compensate for the 'holes' in the quality and judging by the little feedback we've got this is happening. We're not looking for excuses, we're merely attempting an explanation for this situation which could very easily damage our reputation and put us in a hall of (what's the opposite of fame?).

I am still optimistic and I believe that NSKN will find understanding in this amazing community which will help us move past these issues and keep climbing the ladder. We  have a lot of new, innovative ideas and we want to continue to put fun, interesting games on your gaming tables.


__________________
More about NSKN Legendary Games on the website Facebook | Twitter | BGG |  ScoopIT Magazine | Blog
Warriors & Traders can also be found on its own website | Facebook |  BGG
Exodus: Proxima Centauri: website BGG
Wild Fun West: website | BGG
Follow us on Twitter: AgniAlexandraAndrei and Vlad