Category Archives: News

Boardgames in the News: What are “Filler” Games?

To most people, games come in two types, board games and card games.  Modern board gamer, however, have many other classifications.  For example, board gamers make the distinction between Strategy Games and Family Games.  Strategy Games typically are more complex than Family Games, which is not to say that Family Games don’t involve strategy, simply that the strategies are more involved.  Typically, a “Light Family Game” will be relatively simple in concept and take around forty-five minutes to an hour to play, where “Heavy Strategy Games” tend to take at least a couple of hours and sometimes several or more.

Niagara
– Image by boardGOATS

Examples of Family Games include Niagara, Downforce and Escape: The Curse of the Temple, while Altiplano, Keyflower and Concordia might be described as Strategy Games.  There is a third category which, can be harder to describe, Filler Games.  These are typically shorter games that often also fit the Family Game criteria, but have sufficient challenge that players of heavier Strategy Games enjoy playing them between other games.  “Shorter” is obviously in the eye of the beholder—to people who often play games that last several hours, any game that lasts less than an hour and a half might be a “Filler game”.

– Image by boardGOATS

However, if a games night lasts around three hours, a Filler Game might be one that lasts no more than around thirty minutes or so.  More importantly, and in order to save time, they have minimal setup time and are usually well known amongst gamers or at least are very quick to teach.  Popular Filler Games include card games like No Thanks! and Love Letter, but also tile laying games like NMBR9 and board games like Tsuro and Draftosaurus.  All these fit the basic criteria, but additionally are good fun and are great for warming up or down at the start or end of an evening, as well as for playing between games and while waiting for other games to finish.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Boardgames in the News: Changes to Game Selling on BoardGameGeek

Many gamers have lots of older, unloved games that take up space that could be used for new or more exciting games.  There are lots of solutions to this problem, but one is to sell, but the question is, “Where?”  Historically, there have been two main solutions to this:  ebay and the BoardGameGeek Marketplace.  The advantages of ebay are the size of the market and the tools that are available, however, for many, the BoardGameGeek Marketplace has been the venue of choice for several reasons.  These include the feedback from names recognised on the forums, and the fact that sellers/buyers are dealing with gamers who talk the same language and typically care about similar things or at least understand their concerns (e.g. how well it is wrapped, marks on the back of cards, wear to the pieces etc.).

ebay Logo
– Image from wikimedia.org

As mentioned recently, in March, BoardGameGeek announced a new Marketplace to replace the old one.  This was to be a more professional offering produced in partnership with Marketbase and was rumoured to be required by the US Internal Revenue Service.  However, a week ago, it was announced that this new market place (which was still in the beta-testing phase and had not been released world-wide), was to be closed on 1st September with no new listings from 15th August.  The explanation given was that the “marketplace software and service provider was unable to replicate the same success across other communities and is now forced to close their marketplace offering.”  It is perhaps worth noting that although Marketbase claim there was a “150% month-to-month growth” any increase in sales was probably strongly influenced by a free shipping offer.

BGG Corner Logo 2022
– Image from boardgamegeek.com

The new Marketplace had been quite divisive and many people were pleased to see its demise, however, that was short-lived as yesterday, BoardGameGeek announced that the “Classic Marketplace” would also close on 1st September.  In its place, there will be new, commission-free “flea market” forum pages on each game page.  At this time, it is not clear how much of the subscription service, feedback and other features (like price tracking) will be retained and how, but it is clear that the current plan is to completely remove the old market place and with it, all the historic data.  This loss of information is a great shame as it means there is no evidence to support expectations of how much games are worth and as a result, reduces BoardGameGeek to the “Wild West” that is the FaceBook Marketplace and the myriad of FaceBook selling groups.

FaceBook Logo
– Image from cnm.edu

Boardgames in the News: Games Shop Closures – Is it really THAT Bad?

In an excellent recent article on the TabletopGaming website by Ludoquist co-owner, Nick Smith, listed some thirty games shops that have closed so far this year—in six months that is a lot, and behind every one there are the people, the gamers who were enthusiastic about gaming and have finished with debts, bankruptcy, a lot of stress and are likely now out of work.  Each closure is a tale of personal disaster and tattered dreams.  A closer look at this list, however, shows that nearly two thirds of the shops in this list are branded “Geek Retreat”, so what’s that all about?  Is there more to this than first meets the eye?

– Image from geek-retreat.uk

Geek Retreat is a franchise built on a successful venture in Glasgow and then in Newcastle.  Instead of the “Pay-to-Play” model used by a lot of games cafés, they rely on a commitment from customers to buy food and drink at intervals.  They are not simply board game cafés, to a greater or lesser extent they cater for a wider range of interests including collectable games, comics, Pokémon and miniatures.  This varies from venue to venue, indeed, one of the issues they have is that the only thing the shops really share is the branding.  As a result, some are reportedly excellent, while others have a reputation for being very smelly for example and some are cramped, cliquey or otherwise unappealing.

Geek Retreat
– Image from geek-retreat.uk

Further, there are rumours online about the Geek Retreat franchise itself.  In October 2020, Geek Retreat announced their intention to open a hundred venues—a ballsy move given the situation just a few months earlier due to the global pandemic and the fact that we had not yet been through the first Covid winter.  The positivity of that announcement was somewhat tempered by suggestions that the intention was to place these next to existing stores, muscle in in their trade and ultimately put them out of business.  There are other comments to the same effect, but Harry Antony on FaceBook was particularly vocifereous in October 2020:

“I spoke with the CEO of Geek Retreat over the phone because they wanted to find people interested in setting up and managing one of their shops,and they said they wanted to put a shop in every town in the UK, and they would get a contract with the council so only they could set up a gaming/geek culture shop in that town. What’s more, he asked where I lived, and I said I wouldn’t want to set up a shop there as there is already a newly-opened board game coffee shop here, and he said they would be able to put them out of business no problem. When I told him that they were friends of mine and they’ve worked on this for years, he said I need to not be soft and that business is a dog eat dog world. He also said they were arrogant for not taking Geek Retreat’s help to set up one of their franchise shops. I wouldn’t want anything to do with them.”

There is no question statements like this will not have helped the newly opening stores.  Further, with an alleged £5-10,000 upfront fee and 8-10% cut (on turnover, not profit), there is a suspicion that the arrangement is much better for the franchiser than the franchisee.  In a business which already has slim margins and at a difficult time, the high costs can be the difference between make or break.  Since the franchisees get relatively little from the brand due to the lack of consistency, it has been suggested that many of the most successful stores ultimately re-brand as an independent after a year or so.

Tabletop Gaming Logo
– Image from tabletopgaming.co.uk

That is not the case for most of the closed venues listed in the article on the TabletopGaming website, however.  These have closed, thanks largely to the current economic environment aggravated by the factors mentioned above, so perhaps it is no real surprise that the Geek Retreats have such a high attrition rate.  One of these closures is Geek Retreat Oxford.  This was opened in New Inn Hall Street in August 2021 by Matthew Wellington and Andra Gheorghe.  Just six months later it closed and it now looks like it will not be reopening.

Geek Retreat Oxford
– Image from nicelocal.co.uk

Oxford has a strong history of gaming venues with The Gameskeeper on the Cowley Road, Hoyle’s traditional games store at the junction of High Street and Longwall Street, and the highly popular Thirsty Meeples on Gloucester Green (which expanded and moved a couple of years ago).  That Geek Retreat Oxford, which received excellent reviews while it was open, lasted such a short time, is very sad.  But at least Oxford Geeks have other retreats—these need our continued support to ensure they survive the difficult times ahead.

Thirsty Meeples
– Image by boardGOATS

Deutscher Spiele Preis 2022 – Time to Vote

The best known award is probably the Spiel des Jahres: this year’s winners were announced yesterday.  The Deutscher Spiele Preis, or German Game Prize, is slightly less well known, but arguably better reflects the slightly more advanced, “Gamers Games”, with the results usually more in line with Kennerspiel des Jahres category rather than the family Spiel des Jahres award, or “Red Pöppel”.  Whereas the Spiel des Jahres awards are selected by a jury, the Deutscher Spiele Preis is selected by a general vote which is open to anyone, players, journalists and dealers alike.

Deutscher Spiele Pries 2022
– Image from
spiel-messe.com

Voters must include their name and address, so after removing any duplicates, all votes are treated the same with games placed first receiving five points, those placed second receiving four, and so on.  The top ten games from the previous year are included in the ranking, so this year that’s games released in German since the end of July 2021.  Thus anything new at Essen last year or the Spielwarenmesse (Nürnberg) this year, is eligible.  So that includes games like Ark Nova, Cascadia, Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest, Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition, Red Rising and Creature Comforts.

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
– Image by boardGOATS

Voting is open until 31st July; it’s not necessary to submit a full list, so why not take the opportunity to vote for your favourite release of the year?

Spiel des Jahres Winners – 2022

The 2022 Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) winner has just been been announced as Cascadia.   Cascadia is a token-drafting and tile laying game featuring the habitats and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest.  Players take turns expanding their terrain area and populating it with wildlife by taking a terrain and wildlife pair of tiles and adding them to their territory.  Players are trying to create large areas of matching terrain to create wildlife corridors, while also placing wildlife tokens to achieve the goal associated with that animal type (e.g. separating hawks from other hawks, surrounding foxes with different animals and keeping bears in pairs).

– Image by BGG contributor singlemeeple

In recent years, there has been a marked change in the sort of games winning the award with a noticeable shift to lighter games with a general drift away from “traditional board games” like past winners, El Grande, Tikal, The Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride: Europe.  This was epitomised by last year’s winner MicroMacro: Crime City, which is arguably more of an activity than a game.  Although this may make games more relevant to a wider cross-section of the public, it also means the Spiel des Jahres awards are increasingly less applicable to more traditional gamers.  This year’s winner, Cascadia is something of a throwback in this regard, being a more conventional modern board game and not as light as some of the recent winners.

– Image by Ludonaute

That said, the introduction of the Kennerspiel des Jahres or “connoisseur” award eleven years ago, was aimed at filling the gap left by the drift of the Spiel des Jahres Award, with a move towards lighter games.  As such, it is usually a better fit for the experienced gamer, though not necessarily those who enjoy classic Euro board games.  This year, all three nominees were more traditional Euro-type games, guaranteeing that the winner would be too.  The Kennerspiel des Jahres winner is announced at the same time as the winner of the “Red Poppel”, and this year it was another nature game, Living Forest, a game where players are a nature spirit trying to save the forest and its sacred tree from the flames of Onibi.

Cascadia
– Image adapted by boardGOATS from the
live stream video on spiel-des-jahres.de

The Kinderspiel des Jahres award winner was announced last month and went to Zauberberg (aka Magic Mountain), a game where players move sorcerers’ apprentices down a mountain, and ride the influence of the will-o’-the-wisp.  As usual, congratulations to all the winners and nominees.

Boardgames in the News: Kazuki Takahashi Creator of Yu-Gi-Oh! Plays his Last Card

Kazuki Takahashi, writer, illustrator and designer of Yu-Gi-Oh!, was found dead yesterday having died aged sixty while snorkeling off the coast of Japan a couple of days ago.  Yu-Gi-Oh! (which translates as “King of Games”) is a Japanese manga series that spawned an anime series, video games and a very popular collectable card game.  The plot centres around Yugi Mutou, a bullied boy who solves the ancient Millennium Puzzle and as a result awakens his gambling alter-ego.  Thereafter, whenever threatened the alter-ego challenges them to dangerous Shadow Games which reveals their true nature.

Yu-Gi-Oh!
– Image from dicebreaker.com

In Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game, players start with 8,000 Life Points and summon monsters (by playing cards), sacrificing weaker monsters in favour of stronger ones.  Players lose if they run out of Life Points or cards, or if their opponent plays a combination of cards which trigger automatic victory.  In 2011, Yu-Gi-Oh! took the Guinness World Record as the highest selling trading card game with over twenty-five billion cards sold.  This had increased to thirty-five billion as of January last year, with total sales worth nearly ten billion dollars.

Kazuki Takahashi
– Image from yugioh.fandom.com

Boardgames in the News: Playing Diamond Light Source

Diamond Light Source is a particle accelerator near Harwell, Didcot.  The synchrotron accelerates electrons to near light speeds so that they give off light ten billion times brighter than the sun.  It is used by over six thousand visiting scientists per year from both from academia and industry who study everything from fragments of ancient paintings to fossils, from jet engines to unknown virus structures.  As part of their ongoing education and out-reach program, Diamond staff, Mark Basham and Claire Murray engaged with board game designer and now former research scientist, Matthew Dunstan to produce Diamond: The Game.

Diamond: The Game
– Image from diamond.ac.uk

Matthew Dunstan is probably best known for Elysium (nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2015), but also designed/co-designed Chocolate Factory, Pioneer Days, Monumental and Relic Runners.  As a graduate student at Cambridge, he was also interested in structural chemistry and was familiar with Diamond Light Source.  The value of gaming and play in general and as tools for learning and social development are well known, and there are many games with a science education element, including Periodic, Compounded, Inhabit the Earth, ION, and Evolution (the last of which was the subject of a publication in Nature).

Diamond: The Game
– Image from twitter.com

Diamond: The Game1 is a bit different to these, however, as it was specifically aimed at secondary school students (aged 11–18).  The game was intended to enable them to explore the broad variety of science carried out at Diamond, scientific careers and the experiences of being a scientist.  To increase student engagement and attainment, there was a specific emphasis on linking curriculum and classroom learning to scientific applications and the real-life careers available in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.  The initial release was delayed thanks to the global pandemic, so a “print and play” version was released in 2020 with a lighter variant aimed at primary school children.  Schools that would like a hard copy can apply online.

– Video by Paul Grogan

1 Murray, C. et al., Res. for All, (2022), 6(1); doi:10.14324/RFA.06.1.14.

Boardgames in the News: The Increased Commercialisation of BoardGameGeek

While everyone else was still breathing a sigh of relief that the Millennium Bug had been vanquished, to very little fanfare, a small hobby-website went live.  In the first weeks of the new millennium then, Scott Alden and Derk Solko started BoardGameGeek (aka BGG).  It was to be a board game platform based on a 1990s computer gaming news website that Scott Alden had worked on called 3DGameGeek.com.  Using this underlying framework, BGG was built round a database that now contains of over fifty thousand games including reviews, photos, rules addenda, and lots of other information.

BoardGameGeek - August 2000
– Image from archive.org

The vast majority of these data were User contributed, though in the early days, there were no User accounts and Scott Alden took submissions by email and would copy and paste the information into the website hard-coding the User names.  More content meant more traffic though and very quickly, the infrastructure began to creak under the weight of the content that the enthusiastic supporters provided and the visitors it encouraged.  In the early days, the website looked very different to its modern rendition.  In 2003, the website began taking advertising revenue to help support the site financially, and the following year BGG formally started their Patron program so supporters could contribute financially too.

BoardGameGeek - March 2006
– Image from archive.org

As well as being very generous with their time, supporters were also generous with their cash, so much so, that by 2006 Scott Alden was able to work on BGG full time, an event that was accompanied by the first of several a major site redesigns.  Advertising and Patron support weren’t the only sources of revenue, however.  From the very early days, the site had supported a market place, sales from which generated a small income to the site.  Additionally, in November 2005, BGG held its first convention, BGG.CON.  And all the while, functionality was increasing to include, logging game plays, subscription services, forums, video hosting, collection curation utilities etc..

BGG.CON Logo
– Image from twitter.com

At this time, BGG felt like a community and many people made BGG feel like a second home—a group of friends getting together to talk about games.  Since then, BGG has gradually changed.  Perhaps the first occasion when The Powers That Be fell out with a considerable portion of the community was in 2009 when they tried to rebrand BGG as “Geekdo”.  The idea behind the name was quite a good one, with its origin in the Japanese, Dō or 道, meaning “way”, implying a body of knowledge and tradition, as in TaeKwonDo, Judo and other Asian martial arts.  Thus, Geekdo was often subtitled, “The Way of the Geek”.  The purpose was to bring BGG and the new RolePlayerGameGeek and VideoGameGeek together under the same banner.

RPGGeek Logo
– Image from rpggeek.com

Unfortunately, a fondness for the BGG brand coupled with the fact people did not understand the need for change or indeed how to pronounce it (Geek-doo, Geek-dow or Geek-doe?), did not endear the Geekdo concept to many of the site Users.  Underlying the objections was perhaps a more insidious concern though—the feeling that maybe this change meant the preparation of the site for sale.  This was reflected in the way the new brand name was commonly referred to online as “Geek dough”, implying that the change was all about money.  Commercialisation of BGG has always been a problem for a large proportion of the User-base, who have invested their time and money in the site; they see it as a community, their community, when in reality it belongs to Scott Alden and it is his to do what he wants with.

Geekdo.Logo
– Image from
boardgamegeek.com

Since the Geekdo fiasco (which has since been quietly dropped in public, though it still exists behind the scenes), there have been a number of other controversies.  The increase and changes to forum moderation have put the noses of a small, but significant and vocal minority of the User-base out of joint.  Additionally, changes to the layout of the website designed to make it more modern and User-friendly have alienated some of the high-level Users.  These people had no problem with the high density of the material, indeed many, being Geeks comfortable with programming and complex games, positively liked it.  People fear change, but to a large extent, whether these changes are for the better is a matter of perspective.

BGG Ernie
– Image from boardgamegeek.com

For example, abandoning the popular mascot, Ernie, in favour of an “orange blob” was controversial at the time though it arguably made BGG more inclusive and less “white” and “male”.  Changes to the main page and hiding the old customisable front page (now called the “dashboard”) may have made the site more User-friendly to new people, but did the opposite for some who were already very familiar with it.  There has been an undoubted increase in the commercialisation too.  The BGG store (distinct from the Marketplace mentioned above) was started ten years ago as an outlet for hard to acquire promotional games items.  The prices of these items have increased considerably over time though and more recently the Store has stocked high-end accessories too.  BGG has also moved further into the world of retail, opening the GeekGameShop, which sells games, competing directly in the US games market.

BGGStore LogoGeekGameShop Logo
– Image from boardgamegeek.com

More recently, there have been controversial changes to the old GeekMarket.  This was a very primitive way of selling games, but with the ability to subscribe to games through the database, it was cheap, flexible and very effective.  With changes to the market places required by the US Internal Revenue Service, there has recently been an upgrade to the GeekMarket.  At the moment this is only available in the US, but with a 6% sale commission fee (up from 3%) plus an additional 2.9% + $0.30 for payment processing via Stripe, it is considerably more expensive to the User than the old facility.  Additionally, at least in the early stages, the postage options have been more restricted, removing “cash on delivery” making low value and no-ship sales (e.g. at conventions) non-viable.

Gamegenic Logo
– Image from gamegenic.com

This and various other changes to the site seem less User-friendly and more driven by financial considerations.  In the last week, there has been a further development—BGG has signed a partnership agreement with Gamegenic, “to show the community suitable sleeve sizes and optimal gaming accessories for games played on the popular YouTube video series “GameNight!“, i.e. essentially product placement.  This is another way that BGG has changed over the years—initially all the content was User-created, but now BGG hires people to create the most visible reviews and other content.  GameNight! is a weekly video show published on the BGG YouTube Channel.

Asmodee Logo
– Image from asmodee.com

Like Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, and Catan Studios, Gamegenic is an Asmodee studio.  They were set up three years ago, prior to the spate of acquisitions in 2020 and 2021 and the subsequent purchase of Asmodee by Sweden’s Embracer Group AB.  The concern many people have is that this partnership between Gamegenic and BGG is a preliminary to Asmodee taking over BGG.  This fear is not totally baseless as Asmodee have form with this approach having acquired other companies after first signing a partnership agreement with them (Esdevium and Heidelberger among others).  Further, Asmodee showed their interest in board game media and online resources when they acquired the French-language boardgame site, Tric Trac and the online gaming platform Board Game Arena.

Embracer Group AB
– Image from embracer.com

While the long term is unclear, the short-term is more transparent.  The partnership agreement between BGG and Gamegenic will likely lead to the most visible content becoming increasingly laden with product placement.  There will be increased promotion of Gamegenic products to the exclusion of all others with potentially skewed opinions, rather than an unbiased presentation of the best products available. Whether this is a slippery slope or not only time will tell.  On 20th January 2020 though, BGG celebrated its twentieth anniversary, and over that that time it has grown to the point where it has around five million visitors to the site per month.  It would be a great shame if its independence has gone by the time it reaches its twenty-fifth anniversary in three years time.

BGG Corner Logo 2022
– Image from boardgamegeek.com

Boardgames in the News: The Game of Community Planning

Games are very important in our social development have many uses in education and learning.  One of the more unlikely uses has recently been highlighted on the BBC radio program, Positive Thinking.  The episode broadcast last month, introduces Ekim Tan, an architect and game designer.  Ekim who is Turkish and living in Amsterdam, founded “Play the City“, a consultancy firm that uses playing board games to foster collaboration between those responsible for design, policy and budgets for development.

Play the City
– Image from resite.org

The episode of Positive Thinking presented by Sangita Myska is entitled “Making Planning Work for Everyone” and is currently available on iPlayer.