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Review: Just One

4-7 player
Age 8+
Designed by Ludovic Rody and Bruno Sutter
Published by Repos Production

Just One is a party game where, in true parlor game fashion, you get a card with a word on it and your friends have to communicate it to you. With Just One, the card is placed on a pleasing white board stand and you pick a number from 1-5, which will communicate the word to your group. The other players then secretly write something related on their white board stands, then compare words. Any repeats are discarded and then these clues are shown to the first player. You then have to work out the word from their brilliant, but obscure clues.

Now my family loves a parlor game. Our copy of Pictionary went on every family holiday with us, but we were rubbish at Just One. Maybe it was just us, we kept going a bit obscure on the clue in hopes that no-one else would pick it, which only led to the first player being utterly baffled.

I then played it at a dinner party and, again, rubbish score. Telestrations, on the other hand, we played endlessly over Christmas, to much hilarity. And this brings me to my point. For whatever reason, we did not find the normal joy in Just One that we do in Pictionary, Articulate or Telestrations, with the usual “I’m sorry that is NOT what a dog looks like” or “How could you not get Blue Tit!!”

There are some games which people struggle with in social situations, Spy Fall for example can reduce people to a mute confusion, while other people lie with such mendacity you worry for your own safety. Just One seems to fall, unfortunately, into the former category.

It was the 2019 Spiel Des Jahre winner, beating out the equally word based Werewords, and L.A.M.A, an Uno style card game. I’ve not played either of the other nominations, so can’t really speak to whether it should have won. What I can say is what my mum said, “its not really in the same league as King Domino, is it?”

As far as SDJs go, it does tick a lot of the traditional winner’s boxes; it’s an entry level, simple, family game with a fun/unusual component. As I said, the elements are all very pleasing, however for a party game it can be very isolating and thinky. Mostly you sit there pondering what a good clue would be (discarding words that you’ve forgotten how to spell) and hoping that no-one else came up with it.

Invariably, even if you come up with something lickety split, someone else will be sitting there for 5 minutes going, “I just don’t know what to put?” During this time you are just thumb twiddling. Maybe if there was a time limit, it might add an element of jeopardy lacking in this part of the game. Then again, the first player sits there with no time limit checking that they can read your appalling scrawl and then head scratching only to guess something totally unrelated.

In contrast, the big boys of the SDJ winners, Ticket to Ride and King Domino are arguably a lot less interactive in their mechanic, however there seems to be more fun interaction. We always end up having joking arguments about who is hoarding all the yellow cards or why you stole the route someone else was CLEARLY working towards.

Just One is a fine party game and for £20. There’s no reason not to own it if you like word-based parlor shenanigans. If your only experience of the SDJs is of Azul and Ticket to Ride, you might be a little disappointed or baffled, but its low price point is a massive benefit. If you find a group who can ace this game with minimal umming and erring then I see no reason why it shouldn’t be a family favorite, just maybe not my family.

Kickstarter Preview: Psi Wars

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It is the 37th century. Competing warlords have harnessed the knowledge of creation, using it to create powerful armies. This knowledge has spread across the galaxy unchecked causing mass-extinctions. Most of humanity has been wiped out. The Galactic Alliance has enlisted your help. Hyper-Card technology allows you to take part in planetary battles and help re-establish order in the galaxy.

In Psi Wars you’ll use advanced technologies to create an army of forces in order to fight for control of your planet. Creatures battle psyonically, physically, and through cyber attacks. To win, a player must use their army to crush their opponent’s forces and reduce their lab to 0.

Developed by Michael Wohl (a self professed old school gamer) and his son, Adeev (who usually wins their games), Psi Wars is a fast playing futuristic themed deck builder for 2-4 players. I chatted with the boys about Psi Wars and the game design process in anticipation of their Kickstarter launch.

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What prompted the development of Psi Wars?

Michael: My son Adeev and I have been playing games for years, including all sorts of card games. Since I have been a gamer for 40 years and an an entrepreneur for 30 (thanks to gaming) – I had a lot of experience to pull from, both as a gamer and a developer. I really felt games that had absolutes, such as games where a 5 always beat a 4) were missing important elements of life. A 5 has a better chance of beating a 4, but not 100%. In life there are no absolutes, which could be reflected in a game. We realized that we could create a multi-dimensional game that had relatively simple rules with tremendous degrees of freedom of decision-making. This would lead to highly creative strategies – a beautiful balance of creativity and reasoning. We went through so many iterations and refinements together. I like Decision-Making research, Game Theory, etc, which is at the heart of Psi Wars.

Adeev: My dad and I like to play a lot of games and watch movies together. We started bending rules of some games and really enjoyed the process. We thought we could expand this idea.

What did you think about the design/playtesting process? What did you like/dislike?

Adeev: It was a really fun and educational experience. I was able to create something from my imagination. I kept thinking of new cards and abilities and would share them with my dad. I created spreadsheets with tons of ideas. It was really fun doing this with my dad, we learned a lot together and I now know what it takes to launch a business.

 I was always a bit impatient about getting the game out there and always excited for new ideas. I even started counting down the days until launch. I even get to go to game conventions for ‘work.’ I mean, how cool is that?

Michael: The design and play testing was a highlight of the entire process. Our goal was a beautifully balanced game. Every time we changed a small rule it would change us and how we played. We’d see if there was a way to ‘game’ the rules, etc. Once it was refined, we sought highly sophisticated players of other strategic card games and their reaction was wonderful – nobody has played anything quite like Psi Wars. It was invigorating to recognize the excitement they found in playing our game. The other piece was working with all of the artists around the world to create an artistic vision that works also as 3D animated lenticular cards. We were lucky to work with some amazing people to produce outstanding art. Everyone flips out over the 3D cards. From the start, we wanted the game to be mesmerizing from an artistic and sensory perspective. I think holding back Psi Wars until it was really ready to launch was hard. We worked on it for over 2.5 years and we are dying for people to play it. We are very curious to see what all of the amazing minds in the world do when they start to construct/personalize their own decks and strategies. We have non-random expansion packs in the works.

What do you hope your audience gets/takes away from the game?

Michael: Really appreciating the card art while kicking some serious butt through mind-bending strategies that make you jump up and down and scream like we do when we play.  A new joy that playing Psi Wars brings through creative strategy and decision-making. Navigating the fog of war with perfectly imperfect information, which helps so much to understand how to thrive in the world.

Adeev: I hope they have as much fun and enjoyment as we do playing Psi Wars.

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Psi Wars is great intro to deck builders for new players and a intensely fast playing game for experienced ones with striking art that really evokes its sci-fi theme. Check it out on Kickstarter May 15th. Keep up with their progress and updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Indie Game Spotlight: Fire Tower

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Smoke rises on the horizon. A fire rages somewhere in the heart of the forest. From the height of a fire tower, you command the efforts to defend your tower and take down your opponents. With each turn, the inferno grows. Harness the power of the wind to push the blaze towards the other towers, clear tracts of land to fortify your tower, hinder the plans of your opponents with torrents of water, and unleash an arsenal of fire cards upon your foes.

Fire Tower is a strategic pattern laying and hand management for developed by Brooklyn and Martha’s Vineyard-based designers Samuel Bryant and Gwen Ruelle. The rules are simple to learn and explain, but an ever changing environment mean no two games will ever be the same. Set up takes seconds, and you can achieve a heavier games by trying the team variant. Also, the artwork (Kevin Ruelle) is striking.

Our own Crymson Pleasure had an opportunity to talk to Runaway Parade co-founder Gwen about their work on Fire Tower, currently on Kickstarter.

Tell us about the game.

Fire Tower is a 2-4 player competitive forest fire game where players must fight fire with fire. Most fire games are cooperative with players working together to beat back the flames and contain the chaos, but in Fire Tower your only objectives are to protect your own tower and send the flames towards your opponents.

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The wind is one of the main mechanics in the game, an unrelenting force that continually swells the flames. At the start of each player’s turn they must expand the fire in the current wind direction. Players also have a hand of five action cards that allow them to influence events on the board. Wind cards allow players to harness the destructive force of the gale and direct it at their opponents. Fire cards give the ability to add various patterns of fire to the board, and each variety has its own tactical advantages. Water cards beat back the flames and slow the efforts of determined opponents. Firebreak cards allow players to remove combustible vegetation and create barriers to block the encroaching flames. Every tower comes equipped with a trusty bucket for use in emergency situations. Also beware the Firestorm card, whose destructive power appears once per deck cycle and will dramatically expand the blaze.

To succeed in Fire Tower players must learn to effectively manage the resources in their hands, and use sound spatial planning to deploy them. The game incorporates an intuitive play structure that takes minutes to learn and requires negligible set-up. Each card includes a grid that visually explains the ways it can be used, saving new players from having to constantly refer to the rulebook. Although the core mechanics are easy to grasp, an ever shifting environment forces players to switch up their tactics and experiment with varied strategies, making Fire Tower a difficult game to master and each play through a fresh experience.

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What was your inspiration to create it?

The guiding idea that led to the of the creation of Fire Tower was that we wanted a mechanic that would force players to work against an unstoppable force, something that could be slowed but never contained, a growing sense of urgency, a situation that became more unmanageable over time. We wanted players to not only contend with their opponents but also the personality of the game, something more unpredictable than the other people sitting around the table. We also wanted a theme that felt underutilized in tabletop, and a forest fire game, especially a competitive one, felt like it fit all this criteria. The moment of inspiration for joining the theme and mechanics actually occurred while we were on a walk in the state forest in Massachusetts. Research into forest fires really helped guide the development of the game.

When should we expect to see it? 

After working on the game for almost 3 years we’re happy to announce that we’ll be launching our Kickstarter on April 24th! In the meantime, we’ll be at several conventions. Find us on Facebook to see where we are headed next!

Follow Runaway Parade on Twitter and Facebook for the latest news about Fire Tower. 

There’s an App for That – Board Games You Can Play on Your Phone or Computer

The board game renaissance is in full swing. There are almost 200 board game conventions each year in the US alone. Friendly local games stores (FLGS) can be found on every continent (well, Antarctica is behind the curve).  Meetup boosts more then 3,700 board game groups.  If you want to get your table-top game on, there’s a place nearby for it.

But what about those times when you can’t get to the game? What if you could trade wood for sheep on your hour long commute or while you’re waiting for the cable guy to show up? wouldn’t it be great to snuggle up in bed on a sick day and create a train route from Washington to San Francisco? Or how about squeezing in a round or two of global conquest with your partner without spending an hour on set up?

Board game apps have got you covered! A number of popular board games are now available as phone apps and computer games. Here are some of my favorites:

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Pandemic – Android, Steam, and IOS

One the most well-known cooperative games, Pandemic pits you and your team against virulent diseases spreading across the globe. The app includes both multiple difficulty settings, and expansions. Also included is a pass and play feature (good for road trips and/or waiting in line for a video game release) and supports solo play.
Pros:
A completely solid, well-functioning app
Tutorial mode as well as a fully searchable rulebook
Cons:
Legacy not available as of yet
No online play options

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Twilight Struggle – Android, Steam, and IOS

Twilight Struggle,  consistently ranked in many top war games lists (Board Game Geek, Dice Tower, etc.), produced an outstanding app last year that may have eclipsed playing on a standard board. Ability to play cross platform and fully asynchronous support for multiplayer online games available makes playing with a friend a snap.
Pros:
Turn based play
Fulling integrated multiplayer across all platforms
Cons:
Better for players already familiar with the game

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Splendor – Android, Steam, IOS

This award winning family game is one of the most polished apps on the list. With a layout that directly mimics having the game on a table, its easy to dive right into this version. Game play is smooth, the guides (like highlighting cards you can afford) are amazingly helpful, and a first game tutorial gets even those unfamiliar with the game playing in no time. Now includes multiplayer modes
Pros:
Well designed interface
Completely stable
Cons:
AI can be strangely erratic

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Patchwork – Android, Steam, IOS

Quilt-making was never this fast and fun. A great layout makes it easy to see both your and your opponent’s boards, even on a phone screen. Asynchronous game play means you can play with a friend on different work breaks. And its a super accessible game for both casual players and those who appreciate something a little more challenging. Great tutorial, but lack of a rule book to review might be an issue for some.
Pros:
Beautiful, clear interface
Skilled based matchmaking in multiplayer
Cons:
Lack of rulebook
No undo button

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Jaipur – Android, IOS
This version of the 2009 game is bright and colorful, but a few omissions in the tutorial might leave a new player scratching their head. It has an interesting campaign setting that will present a challenge to even seasoned players. Unfortunately multiplayer stability can be a big issue. Overall its a good fit for the platform, but it could use a patch.
Pros:
Quick two player fun
Cons:
Stability is spotty at best
Loud music has to be turned down every time you start

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Ticket to Ride – Android, Steam, IOS

If there’s only one reason to get this app its so no one can accidentally knock train pieces all over the place. But in addition, its a terrific app with a well supported multiplayer system. The animation and sound effects really enhance game play and interface is clean, clear, and easy to read at a glance. There’s even a nice tutorial to get you started.
Pros:
Animation and sound evoke table-top game play
Best multiplayer
Cons:
AI in solo is wonky at best

There dozens more great board game apps available to help you get your game on, even when there isn’t a tabletop available. List your favorites in the comments below!

 

WashingCon – the District’s Best Board Game Convention

WashingCOn2WashingCon marked its 3rd anniversary as DC’s premiere board game convention with over a thousand gamers attending to play games, check out panels, inspect new releases from a few game studios, and participate in tournaments.

The organization of this event was on point – check in was a breeze, staff were easy to identify in their hot pink shirts (and plentiful throughout the rooms), and even the free game table, while understandably slow, was well managed. Anyone I approached for info was either quick to answer or to help us find who could answer (at one point I was led on a spirited chase across and around the hall to track down the RPG organizer – great pre-gaming workout!) There were notably MANY women volunteers – no real surprise with Labyrinth Games store owner Kathleen Donahue as  WashingCon co-sponsor but certainly awesome to see.

The borrowing library was well stocked with new games as well as classics. Check in/out was a little fiddly but it didn’t take us long to get out into the play space, which was abundant. Ample space between tables also meant there were no ‘dead zones’ (inaccessible spots that just become wasted space) at the center of rows and no one felt trapped once the hall began to fill up. Play was lively, but the volume was tolerable.

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Events were a mix of panels, tournaments, meet and greets, and demos. There were a couple to choose from in each time slot, which gave enough variety to fill up a day but not so much that we felt like you’d be missing tons of things by picking a few to attend. Of particular note was the focus on education through gaming – panels like Pokemon for Parents and Teachers and a special area for educators to check out STEM and language games echoed Labyrinth’s commitment to education and the community. Additionally, events for both new players and new designers created a welcoming environment. My personal favorite was the Women in Games panel featuring retails, designers, and con-runners in a lively discussion about the past and future of women in the gaming community, and creating more inclusive spaces.

(Speaking of inclusive spaces, WashingCon’s Zero-Tolerance policy for harassment is clear, being posted near check in, included in the program, and printed on the back of every badge. There is no wiggle room here, and the organizers are absolute in their desire for every attendee to be comfortable and ‘Play Nicely’.)

WashingCon

A little room on the east side hosted RPGs. Spaces for games where reserved online, a great decision which entirely negated the long hopeful line we’ve seen at places like PAXU. Games were interesting and well moderated and a good eye was kept out for time. My only issue was volume  – this area was packed full of enthusiastic role players so it was easy for the din to rise enough that you had to strain to hear someone across the table.

Several designers were demo-ing games as well. I was particularly taken with Catlilli Game’s STEM based offerings (enough that I interviewed designer Catherine Swanwick  about women in games and game development not too long ago.) I also tried Twistocity, an hysterical tongue twister game that wound up becoming a must-buy for a friend. I attempted to resist the siren call of game buying but still wound up bringing home Herbaceous and our first Unlock.

WashingCon 2018 is one of my most eagerly anticipated cons this year (out of the twelve to fifteen I’ll be visiting.) It’ll be held at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center September 8-9. Tickets go on sale March 1st. If you’re planning on going send me a note via Girls play Games – lets play something together!

It Takes a Village – Board Game Grrrls and the Importance of Women Gaming Groups

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Games of all sorts are a fantastic way to connect with people whether they’re old friends or you’ve just met. Whenever my partner and I move to a new area our first priority is finding a local game group, and a few of those folks always wind up becoming good friends. For women this can be a little intimidating – sometimes game spaces seem very male dominated, or one or two of the members can be unintentionally (or intentionally) creepy. In the past decade gaming has seen the rise of girl-friendly or girl-only groups both to build positive space for established lady gamers and to create a welcoming environment for new ones. I caught up with Board Game Grrrls facebook group founder Saille Warner Norton this week to talk about games, grrrls, and the importance of  inclusive game spaces.

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Why did you start Board Game Grrrls?

I did it on a whim after Yet Another Awful Thread on another FB board game group. I’ve always been community orientated, and I am one of the admins on another female focused geek group, so it was an easy jump for me to create. I thought I’d maybe get a handful of other female gamers to chat with about gaming. I used “Grrrl” because I came of age during the Riot Grrrls movement of the 90’s, and I think that history and meaning is suitable for us today.

Whats your favorite game? Least favorite? Why?
I have yet to pinpoint my favorite game. I have a number of games that I will always play.  Currently, I’m on a Sagrada kick. I also love Tokaido and Karmaka. Both games are beautiful. My favorite games tend to be ones with gorgeous art and mechanics that match their themes. I also play quite a few 2 player abstract games, like Santorini and Onitama, with my eldest. He’s been playing chess since he was 7, and its one of the only ways I have a chance to beat him!  My least favorite is hands down, Cards Against Humanity. CAH allows people to bring out their worst selves under the guise of a game. It is all the -ists rolled into one. I really don’t understand the fun of that. Now that being said, I hold great respect for the company for putting their ill gotten gains towards a greater good. I’m just not sure the ends justifies the means in this case.
Do you feel like the game community is general welcoming towards women? How could it be improved?
My local community seems very welcoming, in general. Several of our local game stores are woman owned. But I know that is not the situation across the board. I hear reports all the time of women being treated poorly by both store employees and other gamers at the table. One would think in this highly competitive market stores at least would be more welcoming and inclusive. Private gaming groups seem to be much more welcoming. But issues still come up. I think awareness is the number one way to improve inclusiveness. We need men to step in and be the ones calling out misogyny and sexism in our gaming communities. Women need to know that our gaming spaces are safe and that should there be an issue, other players have our backs. Unfortunately, I think online communities still have a very long way to go.
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Catlilli Games – When Science meets Board Gaming

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I had the good fortune to meet the driving force behind Catlilli Games at my first game demo at WashingCon last month. I was immediately hooked by Tacto, a programming in the guise of Tic-Tac-Toe that both teaches programming AND is genuinely fun to play. Catlilli Games has successfully bridged the gap between learning AND fun, developing educational games that are exciting to play in addition to teaching STEM.  Since the company was formed they’ve won numerous awards including awards from the Imagination Gaming Awards and three International Serious Play Awards this year. This week I sat down again with Catherine Swanwick to talk about women in games and game development.

What prompted you to get into game design, and why educational games?
I’ve loved board games my whole life.  I used to collect them and my parents would become exasperated when they took up so much room.  When I became a teacher, I started creating them (simple, short ones) whenever I could for the classroom.  One of my colleagues, Jon Nardolilli, did the same thing, and I discovered that not only was he a board game lover, too, but that he had designed his own actual full-length game.  I became inspired and started to design games, also.  We decided to form our own company, Catlilli Games (part of my first name and part of his last name).  We are both STEM teachers, and as a former scientist, I am passionate about educating the public about STEM concepts.  It’s the reason I became a teacher.  My company, Catlilli Games, is extremely mission-driven.  We want to transform STEM education with gaming.

How long have you been gaming?
I’ve collected/played/loved board games my entire life. I only started designing games in Jan. 2015 when Catlilli Games was founded.

Do you feel like the game design industry and tabletop community is positive towards women? Why?
Overall, I have to say that no, I don’t feel the game design industry/tabletop community is welcoming towards women.  I haven’t experienced outright animosity, but I am naturally excluded from gaming groups, and I do feel slightly uncomfortable when I want to attend game nights at stores but they are mostly men.  However, there are pockets of very welcoming communities, such as Labyrinth on Capitol Hill (Washington DC), where I have found men and women present in equal numbers and I have always felt a warm, friendly, accepting vibe toward women.

Whats your favorite game? Least favorite?
My favorite game is so very difficult to choose!  In general, I like cooperative games (Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, Mole Rats in Space – basically anything by Matt Leacock), although I do have a special place in my heart for Machi Koro.  My absolute LEAST favorite game is PieFace – I call it my archenemy.  It goes against everything I stand for as a game designer.

Why do you think educational games are beneficial/important?
Games are important for education because they are a natural way of engaging students.  They automatically stimulate their attention, and they let them interact with the material in a hands-on, creative, exciting way.  Even better, they allow students to talk through questions/problems and learn from each other in many ways.  I also believe that gaming experiences will help them retain the material for longer periods of time.

Whats your favorite stage of the design process?
My favorite part of the design process are the very earliest stages, when I or my former partner had the seed of an idea and knew it has the potential to make a great game, so we would sit for hours going through all the permutations to set up an initial prototype.  The excitement is indescribable.

Looking for an entertaining way to help a kid in your life with science? You can purchase Catlilli Games from their website. (And try Tacto – its outstanding!)