Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My favorite games of the spring

This spring wasn't as prolific as I had hoped in terms of playing games, nevertheless I still managed to play about 20 games I had never played before and this is my top 5. Now, I must warn you not all of these games are technically new, but I skipped the games which are already more than 2 years old. Here goes...

5. Archipelago is probably the most beautiful board game I have ever seen and this is one of the reasons it made it to my top 5 of the spring. The game play is engaging and for those who like secret objective and mind games it might be an awesome experience. I must confess that I prefer the Euro-games with no hidden information, but Archipelago was still a pleasant experience. The rules are a bit heavy for the this kind of game and I had a hard time explaining it (but I usually do, so maybe that's not so relevant) while the game play flows smoothly but ends abruptly when a player reveals that one of his end of game conditions was met. 

Overall I am not profoundly impressed by Archipelago, but the quality of the components, the replay value and the awesome graphics are adding together to a game that I will for sure play again.

4. Android: Netrunner is the champion of growth in the BoardGameGeek charts and has recently pushed up past Eclipse to be ranked no. 5. It is quite an amazing accomplishment for a card game and my feeling is that it won't stop here and while it won't make it all the way to the top, it has a good chance of getting to the second place.

I expected a lot from Netrunner based on the incredible ratings and the publicity around it and I must say I am pretty satisfied whit what I found in the box. The theme is strong and once you get comfortable with "rezzing", "ice", etc you will find an upgraded Magic: The Gathering in a dystopian universe. The real value of this game can be discovered when you build you own deck and see it at work, especially since the pre-constructed decks are very limited.

3. Yedo is surprisingly good, a lot better than I expected, a complex Euro with many decisions and enough interaction between players especially in the meta-game. Coming from Pegasus I expected a 45-minutes light Euro, but Yedo stands tall in its genre. It shows modern mechanisms, it is one of the very few worker placement games where having more workers is not necessarily the way to victory and it is highly thematic. This is the latest trend in Euro-games, they have evolved from dry yet strategic "classics" to games in which the theme is just as important as the maths behind. Yedo is a proud exponent of this new age of worker placement games.

2. Star Trek: Fleet Captains is a board game for every fan of the Star Trek universe. The base game comes with Star Fleet and Klingon ships and once you spend about one hour admiring each and every one of them, you have to make it past the 20+ pages rules to be ready to play. The rule book is pretty heavy, but well structured and the best way is to power through, make the setup and start playing right away. The risk of getting some of the rules wrong in the beginning is out-weighted by the fact that you get to put your space ships to good use. 

According to the ships you draw and, therefore, the missions you draw you will be either a peaceful explorer or a warriors hellbent on attacking every enemy ship. The good thing is the every ship can be easily customized to do either maximum damage or to venture in the depths of the space to explore and do science experiments. As a Start Trek fan, I could no be happier, I found a game that combines great miniatures with good mechanics and a variable game length, making the game almost perfect.

1. Dungeon Command is a choice that would surprise most of my friends, taking into account that I am more of a strategy fan and a Euro-gamer rather than a war gamer. Well... my favorite game of the spring is Dungeon Command, a tactical card driven combat game, with amazing painted miniatures and a fast and easy to learn game play.

The game is straight forward, you deploy units and every turn you get to move each of them and perform specific actions, the most important being the attack on an enemy creature. It is a classical tactical combat game with a few tweaks given by the order cards in your hand, which can range from massive attack cards to interrupt cards which will disrupt the opponents strategy. 

Dungeon Command has quickly became my favorite games of the spring because it is engaging even for someone who is not a fan of the genre and its simple yet full of relevant tactical decisions. Oh... did I even mention the amazing Dungeons & Dragons universe? 

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Monday, June 10, 2013

NSKN @ 2 years (part 2)

I felt nostalgic today and it felt like a good time to tell the rest of the story of building NSKN. The first part ended with the 1-year anniversary of the company... well shortly after we went for the first time to the UK Games Expo, with high hopes yet knowing quite little about the event.

May 2012 - We still had only one published game, but we had ready-to-play prototypes of Exodus: Proxima Centauri and Wild Fun West and we had prepared one table for each, hoping to raise awareness and interest for our planned release in Essen or Nurnberg.

NSKN was among the very few publishers daring to show off prototypes during the expo, and while we were a bit afraid that they won't be well received, most people reacted quite well and some even wanted to pay us to make sure they'll get a copy of the final games. Pushed by people's interest, we decided to put the games on Indiegogo later in 2012, hoping to raise some money for the production and a spark the interest in Essen.

Jun 2012 - GobCon LAGNA and the first expansion. Right after the UK Games Expo, we took a trip to Italy to meet our friends from La Tana dei Goblin for the second time. We prepared for them an expansion of Warriors & Traders called Italia, with a cotton map and a more interactive game play. It was a small series of only 50 copies, but after the first week of preorders it was all sold out. Add this to the sun and wine from Italy and you have the perfect small gaming event!

Sep 2012 - We started our first two projects on Indiegogo, Wild Fun West and Exodus: Proxima Centauri. Most people thought we were crazy and we shared their opinion at first, but there was a good reason behind this decision. We knew that only one game will succeed, NSKN was too small to advertise and keep two projects alive, but with little experience in crowd-funding we did not know which of the two games had better chances. As soon as Exodus took off and reached a quarter of its goal in less than a week, we directed all our advertising efforts into supporting it. And it was worth it.

Oct 2012 -This was the craziest month in the history of NSKN. We had a place in Essen booked long time before and waiting from Exodus and Wild Fun West to arrive from China, go though customs and ship immediately to Germany for the big event. Two weeks before Spiel Essen, the ship carrying the games was delayed in Istanbul, we later found out that the games were not packed on pallets and the truck we had booked to carry the games backed out of the deal. 

I will spare you the details and get to the conclusion. The games made it on time, but just 5 days before Essen. We had to rent a van and drive all the way to Germany, with 1.5 metric tons of games and furniture for the booth. While part of the team was enjoying Essen, the rest were packing games and shipping to our Indiegogo backers.

For NSKN it was the first fair with more than one published games, so we attracted some attention, had about 30 business meeting and around 10 interviews with reviewers, so all the effort paid off in the end. Our distribution network expanded quite a lot and our games ended up in store in 31 countries.

Nov 2012 - While most publishers are late with delivering their crowd-funded games, we managed to beat the deadline. By half of November all the pledges were shipped out and about 1/3 of them had already reached their new owners. 

Every success story has its shadows. By December 2012 we started receiving complaints about the quality of the components in some of the Exodus boxes. We looked into it and asked the help of the manufacturing company to replace the defects. To this day they have refused to support us in any way. So, we sacrificed some of the game boxes and sent out replacement to every owner of a flawed games who has reached out to us. It has been a giant amount of work, but we need to make sure that everyone gets what they pay for.

Jan 2012 - We released the second expansion of Warriors & Traders, called Middle Ages, again in Italian for La Tana dei Goblin. It was our third presence in GobCon and we were already feeling like part of the community. We also showed the prototypes of Praetor and W - The Board Game and got quite a positive reaction.

Feb 2012 - We had another premiere, we had a booth in the Nurnberg Toy Fair, a quite expensive and exclusive trade fair where the big names in the industry show they latest inventions. It was out first corporate event and even though we were a bit lost in the beginning, we managed to get the most of the fair, establishing a few long term partnerships and selling out whatever was left of our stock of Exodus: Proxima Centauri.

Mar 2012 - We took out all the upcoming games and went on a play-testing spree, trying to see which of the four games (W, Praetor, Perfect Storm and Evolution) will take priority for the rest of the year. Praetor and W were the two games that stood out and made it past the finish line and even though we don't have clear deadlines yet, we are trying to make them available as soon as possible.

In 2013 we did not have a formal celebration of two year of NSKN, but we plan to do that in Essen. Being still quite an international team, we don't have that many chances to be all together in the same place, but there's always one big event that gathers all of us and that is obviously Spiel Essen.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Convention report: UK Games Expo

source: UK Games Expo 
It's been almost two weeks now since we returned from the UK Games Expo, one of the coolest gaming conventions in Europe. This fair is a lot smaller than Spiel Essen or Lucca Comics & Games, but it draws its force from the passions of people, from organizers to participants.

Every person involved in making this event possible was helpful without hesitation, we got everything we asked for and more and the organization was flawless. It's a pleasure to have the feeling that you're among friends rather than business partners from day 0.

When it comes to the Expo participants, the situations is the same, we met mostly positive people, asking questions, eager to play and we've also met some fans, people who got Warriors & Traders last year and this year they came back looking for us to check out our new games. It is always a pleasure to hear people complimenting your games and if you add to that the label "heavy gamer" it pretty much the highest satisfaction for a game designer.

Sadly, we had very few copies of Exodus: Proxima Centauri left, so we took all of them with us to England and, as it turns out, people had an eye on it for a while and since it's not so common in the stores anymore, we sold all of them. We actually left from the UK Games Expo empty handed, every single copy of Wild Fun West and Warriors & Traders was sold and that's the best kind of news from the publisher's angle.

source: UK Games Expo 
I was also a guest of Michael Fox and Paco Jaen on the seminar about crowd-funding. That's the moment when it all came to me, we (we as in NSKN) represent one of the success stories in crowd-funding, having had one of the very few board games backed by people on Indiegogo, Kickstarter's little brother. It was both pleasant and stressful to be in front of a quite large audience and I must confess that while sharing my experience, I also had the chance of catching a few innovative ideas which we plan to use for our future campaigns.

On top of everything I've just shared, we also managed to establish a record inside NSKN for the most demos in a gaming convention. We had 42 demos in 2 days, covered by 2 peoples! For reference, in last year's Essen we had about 30 demos in 4 days split among the 7 of us present in Germany.

Honestly, I cannot wait to go back to UK in 2014!

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

About Turkey and the latest events

I had an article about last week's UK Games Expo, but I decided to postpone that article and get back into politics a bit because of what is happening these days in Turkey.

In my simple way of looking at the world, I see the political leaders as servants of their nation, as representatives of the electors and as protectors of the rights of people, principles that are at the foundation of most political systems. But I am not naive and I know that most leaders take advantage of the power they were given and play their own political games and I also know this is true regardless of the religion, of the democracy perception or the ethnicity of that country. But there's always a fine line between using and abusing the power.

In my humble opinion, the line was crossed for the past several days in Istanbul and the rest of Turkey. What made me take a stand and write is the first hand news I got from my friends living these events in Taksim Square, being abused by the police, sprayed by water cannons and poisoned by tear gas.

If the kind of pictures I've seen and the the stories I've heard came from the usual media channels I would probably feel appalled, discuss this with my friends but finally move on - it's sad but true, like most of us I see and after a while look the other way thinking that there's not much I can do - but having this first hand info, I decided this is the moment to speak up.

In a democracy the army and the police are institutions designed to serve and protect the citizens, common people like you and me.  I am wondering today how many Turks feel the protection of the police paid from their own taxes (and I am not trying to be sarcastic here)? I bet there very few and those who still do have no friends or relatives beaten up or arrested during the protests. I am not supporting the cause of the protesters and I am not against the Erdogan (Turkish Prime Minister), I simply support the right of the people  to speak up their concerns, their right to stand for a cause - whichever that cause may be - and the right to demand the politicians - as public servants - to listen.

I come from a young democracy where people are still easily manipulated into taking stand for the wrong reason, in exchange for money or supporting the wrong cause. But even if I do not believe in their cause, I respect their right to gather and voice their opinions. Lately, silencing the crowds rather than listening to them  has become increasingly popular among governments around the world.

Looking at the "riots" from a government's point of view, this is one of the worst things possible. If they talk to the people they could be perceived as weak so, who knows, maybe more strikes, protests or even a revolution will come. Not talking is another bad option, it shows that politicians have lost connection with the people (=voters) and their support private agendas. So, they figured out an easy way out, dismissing any protests as one of the following:
- Politically motivated, supported by the opposition, meant to destabilize the government and to focus the attention away from the important matters on the current public agenda. I am not saying this never happens, but most often this kind of message is pure manipulation with the sole purpose of ... focusing the attention away from the important matters on the public agenda
- Terrorism - the people protesting are immediately cataloged as terrorist, vandals and punks supporting an extremist faction which is trying to rip the country apart. This kind of labeling works especially well in those countries with minority problems, with a know history of paramilitary groups or with rather oppressive regimes.

Do you recognize any of the above in what is happening these days in Turkey? If so, I believe it is up to everyone to speak up and let both the Turkish government as well as your own that it is not OK to use police force against people and that freedom of speech is not a luxury but a right.

The blockage of the Turkish media, mostly controlled by the government, of the events in Istanbul generated a massive reaction on the social media, millions publicly showing support for the protesters in Istanbul and other parts of Turkey. With this article I am adding another drop in the ocean, hoping to [keep on] raising awareness. I do claim to know the Turkish political situation in details, I am not against the Turkish  government or Prime Minister and I have limited knowledge of the agenda of the protesters. But I know one thing, the violent response from the government is wrong! 

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