Tag Archives: Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

Boardgames in the News: Cooperation and the “Alpha Gamer Problem”

Competition is one of the main characteristics people associate with board games, however, in the modern world of Euro games, this is no longer true.  Firstly, one of the primary qualities of Euro games is the lack of “direct interaction”.  This means that although there is competition, it is difficult for players to be “nasty” to each other.  This is an important aspect of modern gaming as it takes away the aggressive element and makes them more inclusive, particularly for families.  These games still have winners and losers though, and while everyone likes winning, nobody likes losing and some people really, really hate it.  This is where “cooperative games” come in:  instead of players competing against each other, everyone works as a team, trying to beat the game.

Pandemic
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

There are now hundreds of cooperative games available, but although the first of these date back to the 1960s, the explosion really happened about ten years ago following the release of Pandemic.  Designed by Matt Leacock, Pandemic is a very accessible game where players are disease-fighting specialists whose mission is to treat disease hot-spots while researching cures for the four plagues before they get out of hand.  The game board features the major global population centres and on their turn, each player can travel between cities, treat infection, discover a cure, or build a research facility. The clever part of the game is the two decks of cards that drive it.  The first of these enables players to travel and treat infection, but also contains Epidemic cards that accelerate and intensify the diseases’ activity. The second deck controls the “normal” spread of the infections, with players drawing a set number of these, that increases when Epidemic cards are drawn.

Pandemic
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Since Pandemic, a large number of cooperative games have been published, including Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky, all of which use cards in a similar way to Pandemic to increase the threat.  All of these have been designed by Matt Leacock and have a very similar feel, though a different theme.  There have also been a number of variations on the Pandemic game which retain the original theme, including the well-regarded Pandemic Legacy titles which change the feel a lot.  Other similar games by different designers include Ghost Stories, Freedom: The Underground Railroad and Flash Point: Fire Rescue, each with a different theme, but with changes to the mechanism (Flash Point for example uses dice instead of cards) and varying degrees of difficulty (Ghost stories played with four is supposed to be one of the most challenging games of its type to win).

Forbidden Island
– Image by BGG contributor DLCrie

Not all cooperative games are family friendly and accessible.  Arkham Horror is set in the H.P. Lovecraft‘s Cthulu mythos.  Each player is a resident of or visitor to the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusets during the 1920s and takes the roll of a character ranging from a gangster to a college professor.  The players discover a nefarious cult attempting to awaken a great evil, and, to prevent an invasion from other realms, they must seal off access to Arkham.  To survive, players must equip themselves with all manner of weapons, and spells, while searching for clues to aid them in their mission.  The game has a substantial rule set and the games are epic experiences which take four to five hours to complete (and are therefore not for the faint-hearted).

Arkham Horror
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

While there is plenty of variety available with cooperative games, there are two often cited problems.  Firstly, many players find that cooperative games lack “something”.  In reality, this is largely just a matter of taste, in the same way that some gamers feel that “Euro Games” lack something when compared with highly random dice-heavy games with player elimination.  Perhaps a more fundamental issue is that of the so-called “alpha gamer”. This is where one player effectively becomes the general, and tells everyone else what to do.  This problem arises because most cooperative games are essentially puzzles that can be solved by one player.  Some games designers have tried to fix this issue by adding hidden information, usually in the form of cards, and a rule that players cannot share such knowledge.  Simply instructing players not to share knowledge is much easier said than done, however, as even a slight inflection in the voice or a change of expression can give away a lot of information.

Hanabi
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

In 2013, a very simple, yet clever card game called Hanabi won the Spiel des Jahres.  The idea is that instead of every player looking at the front of their hand of cards and showing the backs to all the other players, hands are held the other way so that each player can’t see their own cards, but can see everyone else’s.  In principle this means players can discuss what a player should do, but a lot of information can be given away accidentally.  For this reason, the best, most intense games of Hanabi are played in near total silence and stony faced.  This is actually extremely hard to do, which is why for many, The Game, a similar cooperative card game nominated for the Spiel des Jares in 2015 has proved to have more longevity.  This is because players can discuss anything they like as long as they never give away specific number information.

Shadows over Camelot
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

One of the early cooperative games was Shadows over Camelot, which is a hand-management and deduction-based board game where players are knights of the Round Table collaborating to overcome quests like the search for the Holy Grail.  In order to get round the “alpha gamer” problem Shadows over Camelot introduced a traitor mechanic.  At the start of the game, players are given a Loyalty Card, one of which says “Traitor”.  The player that draws the Traitor card then tries to sabotage the efforts of the Loyal Company.  Initially the Traitor hides within the Company, so players have to be very careful about what information they disclose as the Traitor could use it against them.  Worse, players have to be very careful about what information they believe as it could be given by the Traitor in an effort to mislead.

Shadows over Camelot
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Initially, the Traitor acts as one of the loyal knights, but as suspicions mount, players can accuse others of being a traitor.  If outed, the Traitor’s actions become more limited, but potentially more devastating.  Stacking the deck in different ways can be used to introduce different levels of doubt.  For example, four players drawing from eight Loyalty Cards including one traitor, are unlikely to to have a traitor, but the possibility is just enough to keep people on their toes; at the other extreme, if there are no excess cards a traitor is guaranteed.  One of the problems with the hidden traitor in Shadows over Camelot though, is that it doesn’t scale well with the number of players: seven knights playing against one traitor are still likely to win, whereas three knights are always going to struggle.

Lord of the Rings
– Image by BGG contributor fubar awol

In Shadows over Camelot, the scaling problem was fixed with the Merlin’s Company expansion, which introduced a possible second traitor.  Expansions also arguably improved one of the most intense, cooperative games, Lord of the Rings.  This twenty year old game follows the journey of the Fellowship of the Ring, with players taking on the roles of the hobbits.  It is also a card driven game, which players lose if the ring-bearer is overcome by Sauron, or win if the Ring is destroyed by throwing it into the volcanic fires of Mount Doom. The Friends & Foes and Battlefields expansions add complexity and variety, while the Sauron expansion introduces a semi-cooperative element with someone actively playing the Dark Lord.

Lord of the Rings
– Image by BGG contributor takras

The semi-cooperative, “one versus many” style of game is not new, indeed it was the core mechanism of the winner of the 1983 Spiel des Jahres Award, Scotland Yard.  A staple of many charity shops, this is still a popular family game that still holds up more than thirty years later.  Although modifying the cooperative nature solves the “alpha gamer” problem, it doesn’t fix the other problem:  if one player is significantly weaker than others, everyone suffers.  This is issue inherent in any team game: the team is only as strong as its weakest link, however, it is a particular problem when the weak player is the Traitor.  This is actually a problem in any game where one player has a pivotal role though; Codenames, for example, can be a truly awful experience if the wrong person gets the job of “Spy Master”.

Scotland Yard
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

Despite the issues associated with cooperative and semi-cooperative games, they continue to be very popular.  In the recent years, The Game and Hanabi have featured strongly in the Spiel des Jahres awards and nominees, while the top two games in the BoardGameGeek ranking, Gloomhaven and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, both feature cooperative play as well.  With epic campaign games like Kingdom: Death Monster and The 7th Continent continuing to build on and develop the mechanism, cooperative games are clearly here to stay, even if they aren’t suitable for every group.

Kingdom Death: Monster
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Boardgames in the News: How to Spot Fake and Counterfeit Games

Over the last few months, there have been increasing numbers of reports of fake or counterfeit games.  The quality of these forgeries is extremely variable and a huge range of games appear to be affected, from popular gateway games like Ticket to Ride: Europe, 7 Wonders or Dominion to more complex games like Terraforming Mars.  Card games like Codenames might be thought of as an obvious target due to how simple they are to reproduce, however, one of the most affected games is Azul, and reports suggest that it is the cardboard components that are poor quality—the plastic tiles are indistinguishable from the genuine articles.

Codenames
– Image from czechgames.com

So, how does one spot a counterfeit board game?  The answer is basically the same as for anything else.  Firstly, look at the quality.  This is probably the strongest indicator and if the quality of the fake is particularly high the buyer might not mind so much, or even notice.  Things to look out for include:

Splendor
– Image from imgur.com by BGG contributor ceephour

Some counterfeits are very high quality however.  This can be due to the so-called third shift work“, where a game is made in a factory that is nominally closed overnight, but the workers gain access and create bootleg copies with stolen material or off-cuts. Some of these are very good, but in some cases they also use parts that failed the quality control tests.  In such cases, the seller maybe more of an indication.  If buying on ebay or Amazon market place, beware if the seller has a strange name, claims to be located in the UK but isn’t, and has a very long delivery time.  In such cases, the scam is often to get payment a long time in advance, so that by the time the item is delivered (if at all), they are long gone.

Terraforming Mars
– Image from imgur.com

Thirdly, don’t imagine that Amazon is safe either:  there are three types of transaction, “Shipped from and sold by third-party seller”, “Sold by third-party seller and fulfilled by Amazon” and “Shipped and sold by Amazon”.  Amazon only “sells” authentic items, however due to “commingling“, their stock can become contaminated by fakes.  This is because when an item is sold by a third-party seller and fulfilled by Amazon, the third-party seller ships their item to Amazon who add it to their pile in their warehouse before they ship it on.  If the third-party is dodgy, the person buying from them may get lucky and get a copy from Amazon’s stock which means someone else will be unlucky…

Finally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is—caveat emptor: Buyer Beware!

Spiel des Jahres Nominations 2018

Almost every time we’ve played Azul, the topic of conversation has moved on to the Spiel des Jahres and how it would be a travesty if it did not receive at least a nomination. It was with this in mind that we read the Spiel des Jahres nominations when they were announced this morning.  There are three nominees in each of the three awards:  a children’s game award (Kinderspiel des Jahres), the “Advanced” or “Expert” Kennerspiel des Jahres, and the main Spiel des Jahres (often interpreted as the “Family Game” award).  In addition, for the first time since 2010, there is also a special award for Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 by Matt Leacock & Rob Daviau, reflecting Pandemic, Forbidden Island and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 that were all nominated, but failed to win a prize, and have had a significant influence on cooperative and legacy games as a whole.  The other nominees are:

  • Kinderspiel des Jahres
    Kinderspiel des Jahres 2018Emojito! by Urtis Šulinskas
    Funkelschatz (aka Dragon’s Breath) by Lena & Günter Burkhardt
    Panic Mansion (aka Shaky Manor) by Asger Harding Granerud & Daniel Skjold Pedersen
  • Spiel des Jahres
    Spiel des Jahres 2018Azul by Michael Kiesling
    Luxor by Rüdiger Dorn
    The Mind by Wolfgang Warsch

Firstly, more than half of the nominees were designed by either Wolfgang Warsch, or Michael Kiesling, so huge congratulations to them.  In our view, Azul richly deserves it’s nomination and it would be no surprise if it ultimately wins the award.  Of the other two nominations for the “red pöppel”, The Mind has received quite a lot of attention, and is a bit like a cross between Hanabi and The Game (both of which have been acknowledged by the Jury in the past, in 2013 and 2015 respectively).  Luxor has a good pedigree as it is designed by Rüdiger Dorn (also designer of The Traders of Genoa, Goa, Istanbul, and one of our group favourites, Las Vegas), but it is a bit more of an unknown as it has only just come out.  Usually the Kennerspiel Prize winners are a good fit to our group, but this year they are also largely unknown to us, so there is clearly a lot to discover before the winners are announced in Berlin on 23rd July (Kinderspiel des Jahres winners will be announced in Hamburg on 11th June).

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de

 

Boardgames in the News: So, What’s the Big Deal with “Legacy Games”?

Legacy games were the latest, greatest thing in boardgames in 2011, when the first “Legacy Game”, Risk Legacy, was first published.  Although Risk Legacy, was the first of this style of games, it was the arrival on the scene of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, four years later, that really raised their profile, and with it’s arrival, there was a lot of debate.  Legacy games are board games where changes are made as players play; think “Choose Your Own Adventure“, only with a boardgame instead of a book.  The difference is that the changes that are made are permanent and affect game play the next time.  Examples of these changes include permanently marking cards, adding stickers to the board, destroying components, opening sealed envelopes, and so on.

Risk Legacy
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

These changes are designed to be permanent and are typically part of a campaign that can only be played through once.   And this is where the controversy lies:  hitherto, boardgames have been toys that provide entertainment time and time and time again, and have a resale value, Legacy Games can only played through once and have little or no resale value once the campaign has been started.  There are other issues too, for example, for the best experience, these games need to be played with the same group every time, and as such, are not ideal for games groups where different people attend each time.  Designing them is considerably more complex than normal games as well, as all the alternate paths have to be balanced and every possible eventuality play-tested.

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
– Image by BGG contributor Six8

There has been a lot of demand for the development of Legacy Games with a reset capability, and games like Fabled Fruit and Charterstone have been produced with this in mind.  Unfortunately, this completely misses the point:  the excitement of the true Legacy Games generate is precisely because they cannot be reset.  This is not to say that “Fabled Games” and other reset-able “Legacy-style” games are poor games, in fact, because they need more play-testing than most games, the opposite is often true.  And these games still have the feeling of exploring the unknown, but there is something they cannot reproduce.  The fact is, boardgames are very precious to gamers, and as a society people are taught to take care of games, so permanently damaging them is something everyone is taught not to do, a bit like permanently damaging a book.  For this reason, there is a frisson of excitement that comes with permanently changing a game and that is the true mark of a Legacy Game; love it or loath it, the knowledge that the game can be reset removes this defining aspect.

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
– Edited from image by BGG contributor Muse23PT

Boardgames in the News: More Games Reporting from the BBC

In recent years, there have been a number of short articles on the BBC especially on the radio; over the Easter weekend there was more Gaming Goodness.  Saturday Live is the Radio 4 Saturday morning magazine show presented by Aasmah Mir and the Rev. Richard ColesLast Saturday, guests included the comedian Milton Jones, the fiddle player Sam Sweeney (formerly of Bellowhead) and Catherine Howell, collections manager at the V & A Museum of Childhood. This latter guest was of particular interest as Catherine Howell curated the museum’s exhibition “Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered”.  This traces the the history of boardgames from Senet to Pandemic: Legacy and beyond and comes to the end of its run on 23rd April 2017.

Samira Ahmed with Tom Vasel
– Image from samiraahmed.co.uk

Perhaps more interesting though was the Radio 4 documentary broadcast on Good Friday, called “Do Pass Go”.  Part of the “Seriously…” series, the half-hour program was presented by Samira Ahmed and included interviews with designers, reviewers and gamers with a visit to Spiel 2016 at Essen.  Much more than the usual five-minute clip, this is an in-depth study of the resurgence of analogue table top games in an increasingly digital world.  Both this and the Saturday Live article are available on iPlayer and for those who would like to know more there is also a blog post covering the making of “Do Pass Go”.

Spiel des Jahres Winners – 2016

The 2016 winner of the coveted German Game of the Year or Spiel des Jahres award is Codenames.  Codenames is which is a word-based deduction game played in teams.  Each team has a leader who gives clues to the rest of their team who are trying to choose particular word-cards from an array.  The trick is for the leader to come up with a clue that covers multiple correct answers so that the rest of the team can identify the complete set before the opposition.  It’s not really a game that really suits our group as several of the regulars aren’t very keen on social deduction games, but it is very quick to play, so, although we would probably have given the award to one of the two other nominees, Imhotep (manipulating large wooden blocks) or Karuba (“boardgame Bingo“), it may well end up as the “Feature Game” next week.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

At the same time the Kennerspiel des Jahres was awarded, which honours more challenging games.  It was introduced in 2011 to replace the jury’s habit of intermittent special awards for games too complex for the Spiel des Jahres (notably Agricola which was awarded a special “Complex Game” prize in 2008).  This year the Kennerspiel des Jahres award went to Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King, which is one of our favourite games.  This year was a bit of a “Marmite” year for us as there were a lot of games on the lists that don’t really fit our group, including the two other Kennerspiel des Jahres nominees (Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E Stories).  The Kinderspiel des Jahres award was announced last month and went to Stone Age Junior (aka My First Stone Age), which is a simpler version of the family worker placement game Stone Age.

Stone Age Junior
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Spiel des Jahres Nominations 2016

This week, the Spiel des Jahres Award nominations were announced.  There are three awards, a children’s game award (Kinderspiel des Jahres) and the two that interest us more, the “Advanced” or “Expert” Kennerspiel des Jahres and the main award, the Spiel des Jahres (which is often interpreted as the “Family Game” award).  This year there are three nominees in each category:

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the possible winners of these awards and we felt there wasn’t really an obvious winner this year; now the nominations have been announced it is clear why we felt that way.  Our group are not huge fans of the “social deduction” games that have become popular of late, and since three of the six nominations in the two categories of interest to us are of this type, they are not games we have focussed on.  That said, we are very, very fond of Isle of Skye, and Karuba got its first outing last week and probably deserves another go.  Imhotep was only only released a few months ago and hasn’t yet made it to the table, but otherwise it looks like this year will be a fairly quiet one from our point of view.

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de