Tag Archives: Pandemic

Boardgames in the News: Gaming at a Distance

With so many people tucked up at home there has been some debate as to whether this will encourage people to play games more.  Among gamers, there has been a lot of discussion about solo games where players compete against the game, but this loses the social aspect.  Online gaming is also an option; this can enable playing with real people, but loses the tactile element of gaming that so many people love.  In most cases though, people are not “home alone”, they are with family, so perhaps this is an opportunity to play games with them?

Cities of Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

The occasional board game column in The Guardian has published a list of twenty family games including some modern family classics like, Ticket to Ride: London, Splendor, Kingdomino, Dobble and (inevitably) Pandemic.  It also includes a few, more recent games, like Wingspan, and Just One, as well as some less well known games like Patchwork Express, Legacy of Dragonholt and Blue Lagoon.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

There has some suggestion that there has been a flurry of buying games to play with their families, but is there any real evidence of this?  Anecdotally, there have been comments that prices of games have increased on Amazon.co.uk which could indicate an increase in sales.  The website camelcamelcamel.co.uk tracks prices on Amazon, and it seems to indicate that prices for many popular light games have increased in the last week.

Ticket to Ride: Europe on camelcamelcamel.co.uk (23/03/20)
– Image by boardGOATS from camelcamelcamel.co.uk

There is another possible reason though: Amazon has suspended warehouse services (storage and shipping) of non-medical supplies and “high-demand” products for third party sellers.  This would have the effect of pushing prices up.  A lot of Friendly Local Games Shops sell online though, and many of these have sales on at the moment, so why not support one of the small businesses that are struggling at the moment, and leave Amazon to deal with toilet rolls and hand sanitiser?

Boardgames in the News: Covid-19, UK Games Expo and Other Stories

In all probability, the Covid-19 Pandemic will be a crisis the like of which this country hasn’t seen for eighty years.  It is estimated that Covid-19 is fatal in around 1-3% of cases;  if 50% of the world population get the disease, around 1% of the seven billion people on this planet will die.  That’s a lot of people, seventy million in fact—roughly the population of the UK.  To put it in perspective, around twenty million people died as a result of  the First World War, that’s approximately 1% of the world population at the start of the conflict (around two billion).  The death toll in World War I occurred over four years, but it is likely the impact of Covid-19 will take place over a period of months.

Covid-19
– Image from bioworld.com

So, Covid-19 is likely to be devastating, but not necessarily in ways people expect.  Yes, loved ones will die and every loss is a tragedy to those affected.  It may be the society changes that are longer lasting though.  For example, more and more people are working from home, this is better for the environment, but not necessarily good for mental health unless managed properly.  The recent Government advice to “Avoid pubs … and other such social venues” has emptied local pubs and coffee shops, and decimated the takings in businesses that already run on tight margins.  Board game cafés like The Ludoquist and Thirsty Meeples have closed and The Dice Cup, while still open, is clearly struggling.

Closed Sign
– Image from squaremeal.co.uk

All over the UK Games Clubs have been suspended or and conventions have been postponed, including Ellesmere Port and Chester Centurions, the Epsom Games Day, SpringCON, Salute 2020, Hemel Games Club, STAG, TringCon, Oxford Meeples and boardGOATS, while others like Variable Mages are considering their options.  Z-man Games have also announced the cancellation of their Carcassonne and (ironically) Pandemic tournaments.  All these use local amenities, pubs, halls and cafés that rely on the support of regular custom.  If these close, it is unlikely they will reopen, and, as Joni Mitchell once said, we won’t know what we’ve lost ’til it’s gone.

UK Games Expo Logo
– Image from ukgamesexpo.co.uk

If people work together though, we will get through this.  A shining example is that of the UK Games Expo which was originally scheduled for the last weekend in May.  The organisers have just announced that it has been rescheduled for Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd August.  Sadly, this clashes with Tabletop Scotland, but they have very graciously agreed to postpone the Perth event to allow the UKGE to take place.  It is with such understanding, cooperation and consideration that we will beat this thing.  And beat it we will, as long as we work together.

– From RetroTop10 on youtube.com

 

Boardgames in the News: The Great Escape?

Over the last decade, Asmodee has swallowed most of the big names in modern family board games, including the likes of Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures, 7 Wonders, Dominion, Agricola, and Pandemic amongst others.  This has been through the relentless acquisition of the companies that produce these titles, in particular, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, Lookout Spiele, and Repos Production.  This monopolising of the market cannot be a good thing for gamers, indeed the effects are already being felt with the introduction of Minimum Advertised Pricing (MAP) and now the loss of customer servicing for all Asmodee products.

HeidelBÄR Games Logo
– Image from twitter.com

There is perhaps a glimmer of hope, however.  Three years ago, the German publisher and distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag was acquired by Asmodee, with the publishing part splitting off to form the Asmodee Studio, HeidelBÄR Games.  Last year, however, ownership and with it the nucleus of the HeidelBÄR team, was transferred back to the previous manager, Heiko Eller-Bilz.  The resulting enterprise is much smaller than it was, but the most important asset, the people, are in a position to develop new titles.

Plaid Hat Games Logo
– Image from plaidhatgames.com

More recently, Plaid Hat Games have made a similar, slightly slower, journey.  Around five years ago, Plaid Hat Games was bought out by Canadian company F2Z Entertainment, then the parent company of Z-Man Games, Filosofia Éditions and Pretzel Games (now known as Asmodée Canada).  However, earlier this year it was announced that Plaid Hat Games had been reacquired by Colby Dauch, the original founder, albeit without the rights to some of their biggest products, including Dead of Winter, Aftermath, and Mice and Mystics, which remain with the Asmodee Group.  Plaid Hat Games retained the rights to Summoner Wars though, and are currently developing a new product, Forgotten Waters, which will be the first game released by Plaid Hat after their Great Escape.

Forgotten Waters
– Image from plaidhatgames.com

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: Who are PAI Partners and what do they want with Asmodee?

A couple of months ago, Reuters reported that according to un-named sources, investment bankers had been hired to run the sale of Asmodee.  The claim was that the sale “could value the company at over €1.5 billion”, but there was no credible information as to who the potential buyers were.  This mystery has now been solved with the announcement that PAI Partners have entered into exclusive discussions to acquire Asmodee, a company with an enterprise value of €1.2 billion.  So, who are PAI Partners and what do they want with Asmodee?  Well, PAI is a European private equity company, that grew out of the merger between the French banks, BNP and Paribas in 1993, with a management buyout completed in 2001.  They have invested in a wide range of companies covering everything from yoghurt (Yoplait) to tyres (Kwik Fit) to cargo handling (Swissport).  Obviously PAI are interested in making money from Asmodee, but at this time there is no evidence to suggest that would by by asset stripping.  Price increases would be almost inevitable however, as the Studios would be under pressure to provide a good return on the investment.

PAI Partners
– Image from paipartners.com

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: Asmodee For Sale‽

Over the last few years Eurazeo have developed Asmodee from a small French games company primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble, into an industrial conglomerate swallowing up the likes of Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, and Lookout Spiele.  In the process, Asmodee added some of the most high profile modern boardgames to their portfolio, including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, SplendorDead of Winter, Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and as of this weekLove Letter.  Speculation as to the end result has been rife, here and elsewhere.  Indeed, three months ago we raised the question:

…it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Eurazeo going to make their “controlled exit”?

Reuters now reports that according to un-named sources, the answer is, “Sell Asmodee”.  Apparently, investment bankers have been hired to run a sale process which they claim could value the company at over €1.5 billion (quite a return for Eurazeo who originally paid €143 million for Asmodee in November 2013).  As yet, there is no credible information as to who the potential buyers may be, but if the news that Asmodee is to be sold is true, there will no doubt be plenty of speculation over the coming weeks and months.  Possibilities range from a major toy manufacturer like Hasbro or Mattel wanting to add expand their range of boardgames, to venture capitalists companies going for maximum short term profits, leading to reduced quality and increased prices.  No doubt, time will tell…

Asmodee Logo
– Image from
escapistmagazine.com