Tag Archives: Mr. Jack

Boardgames in the News: Are Asmodée Taking Over the World?

Asmodée is the French translation for Asmodeus, and according to Binsfeld’s classification of demons, Asmodeus is the demon of lust and is therefore responsible for twisting people’s sexual desires.  In the boardgame world though, Asmodée (originally known as Siroz) are a small French game publishing and distribution company, specialising in the family market. For example, they are well known for Dobble, Dixit, Time’s Up! and Ca$h ‘n Guns, but they also publish some more challenging games including Snow Tails, Mr. Jack, Formula D, Takenoko and 7 Wonders.

Jungle Speed
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Asmodée was started in 1995 by Marc Nunès, a self-trained entrepreneur developing role-playing games, but quickly became France’s foremost games publisher and distributor.  One of the big early successes was Jungle Speed, launched in 1998, which has since gone on to be one of the top-selling titles in France, rivalling Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Pay Day.  The real turning point came in 2003, however, when Asmodée obtained the French licence to distribute Pokémon collector cards, which opened up the mass retail sector.  This development led to an 18% investment from Naxicap in 2005.  Naxicap’s stake was bought out two years later by Montefiore who acquired 60% of the company as part of a deal with management worth €40-50 million.  Montefiore invested €120 million to finance Asmodée’s international growth, funding the acquisition of the Belgian game distributor Hodin in 2008, the Spanish games developer Cromola and the German Proludo in 2009, followed by the purchase of a 60% stake in the UK-based distributor, Esdevium Games in 2010.  Asmodée also strengthened it’s portfolio with the acquisition of Abalone and partnership with Libellud (leading to the distribution rights for Dixit) in 2010.

Abalone
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

In 2012, Asmodée branched out further, setting up a subsidiary in Shanghai, China,  with the intention of expanding “into a new market taking advantage of Asmodee’s extensive line-up of games and the existing relationships with partners, thus promoting the brand in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan”.  This ambition brought Asmodée to the attention of the Eurazeo, a European investment company and a deal was announced in November 2013 that valued Asmodée at €143 million.   In January, 2014, almost exactly a year ago now, Eurazeo bought 83.5% of Asmodée through an equity investment of €98 million while Asmodée’s management team and original founders reinvested €14 million of their own money.

Ticket to Ride
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

With the backing Eurazeo provided, Asmodée then went big:  in August last year it was announced that Days of Wonder would be “merging into the Asmodée Group of game companies”.   Days of Wonder are one of the biggest names in modern boardgaming, and are often credited with the growth of the modern boardgame industry, thanks largely to their flagship Ticket to Ride games, which have sold well over two million copies to date.  This is not the only “big game” in their catalogue either, they are also responsible for Memoir ’44 and Small World, both of which are popular games, demonstrated by the number of expansions they support and which take Days of Wonder’s total number of games sold to over five million since their founding in 2002.

Small World
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor crosenkrantz

According to Forbes, Days of Wonder generates between $10 million and $20 million in revenue annually, not bad in such a niche market.  From Eurazeo/Asmodée’s point of view, such an acquisition makes sound financial sense, not just because of the commercial value, but because they already provided a lot of the distribution for Days of Wonder games.  This wasn’t enough for Asmodée however, and three months later, they acquired the U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

This was a bit of a change of direction for Asmodée:  hitherto, all the acquisitions had been firmly in the family boardgame and distribution markets.  Fantasy Flight games are a very different animal and their headline games, Twilight Imperium and Arkham Horror are much less family friendly.   Even their X-Wing Miniatures Game which is very popular with fathers and sons, is a long way outside the normal scope of Asmodée, since it is essentially a two-player war game with a Star Wars theme.  However, there are considerable benefits for both parties, since the merger will enable Fantasy Flight to improve its distribution in Europe, while simultaneously giving the growing Asmodée Group access to Fantasy Flight’s North American sales and marketing teams.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission BGG contributor Toynan

Asmodée weren’t stopping there, however, with Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games also becoming “part of the Asmodée family” late last year.  The link with Ystari Games almost certainly comes from their mutual interest in Space Cowboys.  Space Cowboys is a game creation studio created in 2013 by Marc Nunès (who started Asmodée way back in 1995, remember?), Philippe Mouret and Croc (both of Asmodée), Cyril Demaegd (Ystari) and Sébastien Pauchon (GameWorks).  Space Cowboys is a very small outfit, but already has one Spiel des Jahres nomination under its belt in Splendor and looks to be trying for a second with Black Fleet, the gorgeous pirate game released at Essen last year.

Eurazeo
– Image from eurazeo.com

So, what are Asmodée up to?  The concern is that gamers generally like the current diversity in the market and fear that this succession of mergers and partnerships will mean a homogenisation of the games available.  The November 2014 Eurazeo “Investor Day” report spelled out the current state of Asmodée in detail and the good news is that this does not seem to be Eurazeo/Asmodée’s intention.  The report states, “Each studio has its own DNA,” and goes on to say, “Repeated success lies in the full independency granted to these studios, to keep innovating.”  So it seems the diversity is valued, however, by acquiring mid-sized publishers like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight, Asmodée is positioning itself to compete more effectively with multinational toy giants like Hasbro and Mattel, who publish top board game brands including Monopoly and Scrabble.

Eurazeo
– Image from eurazeo.com

So, is it a good thing that Asmodée are setting themselves up to rival the big boys?  Well, Asmodée is not the only company to engage in mergers:  in 2011 Filosofia purchased the U.S. publisher Z-Man Games, and U.S. publisher FRED Distribution (which releases games under the Eagle Games and Gryphon Games brands), acquired U.S. publisher Face2Face Games.  More recently, in late 2013, Mayfair Games (the U.S. partner for Catan) bought a controlling interest in Lookout Games (the company who first brought Agricola, Caverna, Le Havre and Ora et Labora to the market).

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

Clearly a large stable company provides security for designers, as well as providing support for the individual studios who know that one poor decision is no-longer likely to bring about the end of the company, both of which have to be A Good Thing.  However, companies like Eurazeo invest for only one reason:  financial return.  With an effective monopoly, Asmodée are now in a position to squeeze the market, indeed we may already be seeing the evidence of this in the price rises announced at the start of the year.  With this in mind, it will become clear in due course whether Asmodée is good for boargaming in the UK or whether it is genuinely the demon of lust responsible for twisting our gaming desires…

23rd September 2014

We were late starting (again), though by the time we began we knew we were going to be short of people, so we started with Mr. Jack.  This is an asymmetric, two-player game where one person takes on the role of “Jack” who is trying to escape, and the other tries to catch him before the escapes.  We’ve played the pocket version a couple of times before, but this was the first outing on for the big version on a Tuesday evening at the pub.

Mr. Jack

The idea is that four of the characters are active in each round, with the four chosen at random in the first round, then the remaining four are played in the second round before the characters are shuffled and drawn randomly at the start of the third round.  In the first round, the “Detective” chooses one character and plays it straight away; then Jack chooses and plays two from those left;  finally the Detective finishes the round by playing the last character available.  In general, on their turn, a character is moved one to three spaces around the board.  However, each character also has a special ability which may be used to modify their action.  For example, Miss Stealthy, can move up to four spaces and may move through buildings if she wishes, on the other hand, Inspector Lestrade can only move a maximum of three, but must move one of the barriers during his turn.

Mr. Jack

Thus, each character is moved in turn and at the end of each round, the question is asked, “Is Jack in the Light or the Dark?”  If Jack is immediately adjacent to any other character, next to a street lamp, or in line with Dr. Watson’s lamp, he is in the Light, otherwise, he is in the Dark.  The player playing Jack must respond truthfully, thus allowing the detective to eliminate some characters.  If he is in the Light, Jack has survived another round, but may not actually escape until he is in the Dark again.

Mr. Jack

The game began with Green (playing “Jack”) choosing his alter ego at random from the eight possibilities:  Sergeant Goodley, Miss Stealthy, Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Bert, Inspector Lestrade, John Smith, Sir William Gull and Dr. Watson.  Meanwhile Blue set up the board.  Blue had played it a number of times before, and although Green had played the pocket version once, this version was entirely new.  So, Blue felt really bad when she had eliminated half of the characters by the end of the first round, leaving just four possibilities.  Green had a much better second round however, and going into the third, still had three characters left.

Mr. Jack

It was then that Black and Purple walked through the door.  With only two possible characters left, the ultimate conclusion of the game wasn’t really in any doubt, but rather than keep Black and Purple waiting, Blue decided to add a little spice to it the end of the game and guess and got it wrong…  But then, who would suspect Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick Dr. Watson…?

Mr. Jack

With Black and Purple, we decided to play something a little longer that would take up most of the rest of the evening.  After some discussion and presentation of likely candidates, we eventually decided to play Amerigo.  This is a game that we had all played before though you wouldn’t have believed it if you’d been listening to the “table talk”.

Amerigo

In this game players are exploring the islands of South America, securing trading routes, and building settlements.  The game board is made up of a four by four grid of large tiles that make an archipelago.  Players then have two ships each which they sail through the maze of islands, mooring at natural harbours to build trading posts, and then expanding settlements.

Amerigo

The actions available to players are determined through the use of a special cube tower that contains lots of buffers and butresses. The idea is that each of the seven actions has an associated set of coloured cubes:  blue for sailing, black for loading cannon, red for buying buildings, green for settling etc.  At the start of the game, all the cubes are put into the top of the tower a small number get stuck and remain inside the tower to be potentially knocked out at a later point in the game.

Amerigo

There are four rounds and each round consists of seven phases, corresponding to each action where all the cubes available of that colour are poured into the tower.  Most of these cubes come out again, but some dislodge cubes previously caught in the baffles, while others others get stuck themselves.  Of the cubes that come out, the colour that is in the majority dictates the number, while all the colours dictate the actions.  Thus, if five blue, one green and one black come out, players can choose between sailing, building settlements or loading cannon, and in each case, they have five “action points”.  So, the actions that are available are largely predictable, with a slightly random element meaning there is a tactical element (taking advantage of the actions currently available in the best way possible) as well as a strategic (long term plan) element to the game.

Amerigo

Points are available throughout the game for all sorts of things, including being the first person to land on an island and establish a trading post; building settlements on an island; completing an island by settling on its last available space; collecting gold, and moving along the progress and special action paths.  At the end of each round, however, the pirates attack and players have to fire their cannon to repel boarders.  Anyone who has not loaded sufficient cannon to fend off the pirates, loses points and it’s nasty, because these players lose as many points as they would if they’d had no cannon, and they also have to fire the cannon they had loaded!

Amerigo

It was the point-scoring for completing islands that really confused Blue, however and she never really quite got the hang of it.  The islands are divided into two classes:  small islands and large islands.  Building on large islands always scores more points than building on small ones and these points are awarded at the time.  Completing a large island wins the player a treasure chest which they can turn into gold, but there is much more to it than that.  Anyone with a trading post on the completed island scores points determined by multiplying the number on the time marker for that round (which decreases by one each round during the game), by the number from the triangular series that corresponds to the number of trading posts they have (i.e. 1, 3, 6, 10, 15 & 21 for one to six trading posts respectively).  Thus, completing an island on which you have a lot of trading posts scores a significant number of points, but you don’t have to be the player to complete the island and the earlier it is completed, the more everyone scores.

Amerigo

Black started out well managing to get an entire large island all to himself, by blocking off all the trading posts and proceeded to buy some large settlement tiles and build them on his large island.  Meanwhile, Green had a bit of a nightmare as every plan he made got stamped on by Blue.  It was clearly completely unintentional, as Blue had barely enough understanding of the game to manage her own plans never mind upset someone else!  Green got his revenge, however, by picking up the “everyone else needs two extra cannon to fight off the pirates” progress tile.  Nobody else was very impressed, especially purple who had just acquired the “fight off the pirates and get two gold” progress token.

Amerigo

Everyone was quite convinced that Black was the run-away leader as he’d been able to buy two of the valuable neutral settlement tiles every turn instead of just one and a large island all to himself.  However, somehow, Black’s plan to fill the large island hadn’t quite come off and he’d been out maneuvered when building his largest settlements by Green and Blue who carved up the largest free space between them, so by the end of the game it turned out that he’d not actually been able to capitalise on a lot of the buildings he’d bought.  Blue had also had problems building enough having picked up two progress tiles early which gave her two extra action points when sailing and two when buying settlement tiles (planning), but she had decided to get round the problem by sacrificing a turn and moving up the special action track to land on a green space.  This gave her additional opportunities to build whenever white cubes came out of the tower and she ended the game with almost no unused tiles.  This proved invaluable in the dying stages of the game as, despite a late charge from Green (who had a huge pile of “sticks”), she finished eight points clear.

Amerigo

Learning Outcome:  You don’t have to understand a game to win it.

27th Movember 2012

This week, some of the group turned up early to sample the food the pub offers (which was really rather good), and two people managed to squeeze in a very quick “learning game” of Mr. Jack Pocket before it arrived.  Mr. Jack is an asymmetric two player game, that is to say, the protagonists have different goals.  One plays “Mr. Jack” who is trying to escape, the other plays “The Investigator” who is trying to deduce who Mr. Jack is masquerading as.  This version was the travel version, but is still just as much a brain burner as its big brother despite the diminutive size of the box.

Mr. Jack Pocket

Just as the diners finished, the others arrived giving us a total of five people who had braved the flood water.  After a quick game sale, we started the “Feature Game”,  Eketorp.  This is a game where players attempt to gather resources to build their Viking stronghold on the Swedish island of Öland.  In this game players try to second guess which resources the others don’t choose, with a battle and a potential extended stay in the hospital as the reward for failure.

Eketorp

Next, after some discussion we decided to play Citadels.  Citadels is a role selection and city building game.  Each round, players choose a role to aid them building their city, and each is called in turn to perform their turn.  The first of these is the Assassin, then the Thief, then Magician, then the King etc.  You have to be particularly careful of the first three, as (for example) the thief seemed to think royalty was a good target.

Citadels

The last game was a very quick game called Dobble (aka “Spot It”), so we had several goes.  There are lots of different ways to play this, but basically it is Snap, except that each card has more than one symbol.  The idea is to call a correct match more often and faster than everyone else.  Apparently every card has exactly one matching symbol, though a number of disbelievers amongst us felt the need to check…

Dobble

Learning Outcome: Beware the magician who steals all your cards (though perhaps you deserve it if you set the example).

Planning Stages

So, after a lot of deliberation and many trips to the Jockey for a quick card game and a drink (which no doubt started a lot of gossip), we have a “day”, we have a venue, and we have a name, so then we got a website – and this is it.  As the name suggests, we are going to meet on alternate Tuesdays in Stanford at the Horse and Jockey pub.  The intention is that this website will be a record of the games played as well as a way of publicising meetings, so it is only fair to mention here some of the games we played during the planning stages…!

  • Citadels
  • The Bean Game (Bohnanza)
  • Mr. Jack Pocket
  • Saturn
  • Court of the Medici
  • Jamaica
  • Dixit
  • Die Erbtante
  • Jaipur
  • Hamburgum (or perhaps Londonum?)

Yes, we spent quite a lot of time thinking about it and playing games in the pub!

Oh yes, and we have settled on Tuesday 2nd October for the big day.

The Horse and Jockey Pub