Category Archives: Articles

Characters, Illustrations and Attributes in Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage

Hello everyone! This is the first in a small series of posts where we want to introduce a few key concepts and new ideas of our upcoming game, Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage.

The basic structure of the game is very simple: Each turn, players choose a character card to join their bloodline. This character is his own personality and will act accordingly on all battlegrounds currently in play. The character may then be used to take an intrigue action if the player desires. At the end of the game they will automatically be counted for any mission cards that fit its type.

We’ll discuss more topics, including  battlegrounds, missions and intrigue cards later. This time we want to focus on the characters:

Double-sided Cards

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All character cards come with 2 sides, human and vampire.

The human side portrays the characters as they were in life. There’s all kinds of different characters, beggars and kings, hardened mercenaries and grieving children. For gameplay purposes humans don’t have any special skills, so the only way they affect the game is via their personal combination of attributes (more below). In the first game, almost all characters will be human.

However: after every game players have the opportunity to Embrace one of the humans in their current bloodline – or to endow an existing vampire with additional traits.

Once a character is Embraced, it is turned around to reveal its vampiric side. That side shows a fully colored portrait of the character in their vampiric form, as well as one trait inherent to them. Players will add the appropriate clan sticker and name the character and then return it to the common pool of cards.

Embracing characters like this will not (usually) make them exclusively available to you. They might just as easily end up on another player’s hand in the next round. As this is the main legacy element of the game, it means that you will remain on (mostly) equal footing with players for the purposes of playing individual game rounds.

So it is no problem for a player to skip a few games of a campaign and return later. They might have lost some ground in the meta-game of the campaign – but their chance of winning the current game are the same as everyone elses.

Here’s an early rendition of what character progression might look like (Note that the artwork and layout is alpha-stage):

(From human side to vampire side to first sticker added)

The little quill in the top left indicates the character to be a scholar-type. The three flags on the side of the card that get expanded as the character is developed signal the character’s basic inclinations and dispositions via Attribute Colors. Beyond portrait and name, these  are what gives each character card their own personality.

Character Types and Personalities

The four types of characters in Heritage are indicated by one of these symbols: Sword, Quill, Mask and Coin. As you might imagine, Sword indicates a warlike profession, Quill is for the scholarly types. Coin is for merchants and rich people while the Masks are more on the shady side.  Generally you will need a certain combination of character types in your bloodline in order to complete one of the historic missions in the game (more on that in another post).

As for Attribute Colors, they are the main way that characters interact with the world and they are what fleshes out an individual character for the purpose of the game.

These are the different categories:

Politics/Attitude: Red points to nobility, arrogance, elitism or refinement while Green signifies things like low birth, humility or egalitarian tendencies.

Ethics/Spiritual: Blue signals humanism, wisdom, benevolence or even passivity or meekness. Yellow might mean the character is cruel or evil – or it could stand for passion, force of character or creative destruction.

Origin/Geographical: The characters are roughly divided geographically and culturally by the four cardinal directions, as signified by black (North), brown(East), white(South) and turquoise(West).

Attribute Colors are a way for us to introduce role-playing elements into the game without making the game overly complicated to read and play. They are thematically kept vague in order to give players room to define their favourite characters in the way they desire.

But it’s important to note that Attribute Colors have an absolutely unambiguous effect in gameplay. So if -for example- your character has the green attribute color, it might mean he is an uneducated peasant or it might mean he is a noble striving for a more equal society. But it will always shift power slightly towards the Low Clans if the corresponding battleground is in play.

And since characters always apply all their colors to all battlegrounds in play and their character type always counts for missions, the main consideration for players when choosing them is to weigh those different consequences against each other.

I might, for example, really want to play Elias, my trusted noble knight in order to crush low clan opposition in the Battle of the Vampire Castes, but maybe his choleric personality will hurt my clan so badly that it is not worth it? Oh well… I desperately need warriors for my mission. Good old Elias will do the job!

That kind of situation is typical for Heritage and for us it is one of the reasons we enjoy the game so much: When considering the advantages and disadvantages of characters for your bloodline, the line between theme and mechanics starts to blur.

Tokyo Game Market May 2018

In early May I flew over to Japan for the Tokyo Game Market Spring edition which took place on May 5 and 6 at Tokyo Big Sight. We already talked in the last few Global Boardgames News articles about many new releases there and at the convention we had the chance to play them and buy them for our NiceGameShop.

Traditionally the Game Market weekend starts one day before the actual Game Market with the preview events, the biggest being the Yellow Submarine preview event organised by Macoto Nakamura and the Japon Brand Gaming Party hosted by Japon Brand of course with many international guests.

The first game I tried at the Japon Brand gaming party was this beauty called Monster Empire by Freaky Design.

In this 3-8 player game players try to get 6 different jewels by defeating the various monsters. In a turn a player describes the monster they want to battle with with three features, like “the monster I am going to battle has wings”. But they have to only tell the truth about 1 of these features, the other 2 could be lies. Then all the players simultanously place their pawn to the monster they think the leading player wants to battle. Then the leading player battles the monster by dice rolling and using equipment if they have. If other players participated in the battle the also battle and if they manage to defeat the monster they split the treasure, with the leading player having the first choice.

For many monsters you need your fellow players to defeat it, but you don’t want to many players knowing which monster you want to battle, as you share of the loot will decrease.

Another beautiful game which went kind of hot at the fair was passtally by analog lunchbox. In this 2-3 player game players have two actions in a turn with the actions could be placing a tile on the board and/or moving the player piece on the outside of the board. At the end of the turn it is checked which of this player’s pieces are connected and through how many tiles the connection goes. The more, the better and scoring depends on how many. As you can imagine this is getting brain burny quite easily which is why the publisher put a rule into the rulebook to use a timer and limit a turn to 1 minute.


While the Japon Brand gaming party is all about Japanese publishers showing their games to overseas publishers, the Yellow Submarine preview event is more geared towards publishers showing their games to fellow Japanese publishers as they will have no time trying out games at the event itself.

Meteor is a dexterity dice game in which the players throw their dice on the board and where they land the resources appear. With the resources it is possible to buy upgrades and win the game.

Encyclopaedist is a fascinating 3-player only game. Every player chooses a colored ring and a post-it pad in the same color and writes down secretly one category, like for example “something you can hold in one hand” or “something that makes you wet”. That post-it you hold secretly for the entire game.

In a turn the player moves the pawn to one of the seven spaces. Now each player has to find a word that is fitting for the space. To take the example with “something you can hold in one hand” (let’s say it’s green) and “something that makes you wet” (let’s say that is red), the space where those two categories overlap could hold “water pistol”, but not “lake”, which would move in the red category and the player who chose lake would have to fold the color of their post-it so that it does not show any more. So the further the game progresses the more you can see what every category actually is and by that choosing the right words for every space. Goal of the game is to have your colored post-it with a word in every of the seven spaces.

This is a really clever game and from what I’ve been told a kind of legendary Game Market game which was sold out for a long time and got now a neat new edition by Suki Games.

On the next day I made my way to Tokyo Big Sight for the Game Market. It is always amazing to see the masses of people travelling to Tokyo Big Sight like they are drawn to a gigantic alien space ship. Game Market attendees are only a small fraction of people here, as there were several fairs and conventions on the same weekend.

 

On my way to the hall I found the nice people of Grandoor Games who were just giving the finishing touches to their new game Annecto Punch. This was barely an hour before the doors opened. While Game Market is getting bigger each year and Japanese board game market is growing, most publishers are still very indie and it is not unusual to see a game with handmade components.

This was one of the entrances to Game Market. We could go in early…

As last Game Market Oink Games were the first booth you see after entering the hall. They were one of several publishers with an Essen-style big booth and were showing their new game Moneybags and Zogen, which was just released one month before at Osaka Game Market.

Der Tunnel: Escape from East Berlin by Ficdep Games caught my eye early as I was born in Berlin myself. In this 2-player game one player is the leader of a group of people trying to get to West Berlin and the other player is the secret police trying to stop and imprison the group. In a turn the leader will play their chips facedown in the 3 different areas with Construction for building the tunnel, Funding for making money and City for doing nothing. The secret police plays cards on the same spaces and then cards and chips are revealed. If the secret police played the same person card as a chip there that person gets arrested, bringing the secret police one step closer to the victory condition. If not, the leader may build the tunnel and collect money, depending on the ability also upgrading the persons in the process.

The chips then go back to the leader for the next round but the secret police has to discard all the cards used in that round, making that people safe to play if they weren’t caught in the last round.

The publisher has previously released Kremlinology and I think they are tackling very touchy subjects. Who would like to play as the secret police? But the real gripe I have are the names for the people in the group trying to escape. Curl? What kind of name is that?

One of the prototypes I got to play was Meow-Jong by Li-He-Studio and Aza Chen. This game is simplifying the traditional game Mahjong and is adding cute cats and dogs and will be coming out later this year.

On the second day there was also a steam punk exhibition and many more RPG booths than on Saturday. Yannick Deplaedt, who helped with many Japanese games getting signed by French companies commented on that:

“Saturday was a very busy day while Sunday was kind of bland, unfortunately. The doujin scene might have suffered from the number of visitors. Many amateur designers ended up with lots of stock still available while on Saturday, many games sold out. One fourth of the venue was filled with RPG designers, and I thought that was somewhat a pity, since RPG makers have plenty of events to attend during the year.

I hope these issues will be taken into account for the next edition of the Game Market. I’m afraid most doujin will choose Saturday instead of Sunday (that’s for sure what I will do, or maybe both days if it’s financially an option), pushing the people in charge of the Game Market to draw names and ask some of them to attend on Sunday.”

I have heard a similar opinion by many publishers exhibiting only on Sunday. With the shift from a one day to a two day show only a few publishers could afford to book the booth for two days. At the same time Sunday is drawing a much more casual crowd, similar to the difference in Thursday to Sunday at Essen.

And this is it: our game haul after two days of buying, playing and scouting at Tokyo Game Market. We can’t talk about all the games here, but if you are interested chances are we already talked a little bit about them on our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook channels. And if not please get in touch and we may be able to shoot a video for them.

Many of those games are also available now on our NiceGameShop, so check it out.

One week after Game Market I was visiting the Moonlight Boardgame Festival in Kaohsioung, Taiwan which will be the topic for the next report. I have also filmed both events and the videos are now on the Youtube channel.

It’s not how you play the game, but how the dice were made

Whether at a casino playing craps or engaging with family in a simple board game at home, rolling the dice introduces a bit of chance or “luck” into every game. We expect dice to be fair, where every number has equal probability of being rolled.

But a new study shows this was not always the case. In Roman times, many dice were visibly lopsided, unlike today’s perfect cubes. And in early medieval times, dice were often “unbalanced” in the arrangement of numbers, where 1 appears opposite 2, 3 opposite 4, and 5 opposite 6. It did not matter what the objects were made of (metal, clay, bone, antler and ivory), or whether they were precisely symmetrical or consistent in size or shape, because, like the weather, rolls were predetermined by gods or other supernatural elements.

Anthropology professor Jelmer Eerkens measures a modern die.

Renaissance brings change

All that began to change around 1450, when dice makers and players seemingly figured out that form affected function, explained Jelmer Eerkens, University of California, Davis, professor of anthropology and the lead author of a recent study on dice.

“A new worldview was emerging — the Renaissance. People like Galileo and Blaise Pascal were developing ideas about chance and probability, and we know from written records in some cases they were actually consulting with gamblers,” he said. “We think users of dice also adopted new ideas about fairness, and chance or probability in games.”

“Standardizing the attributes of a die, like symmetry and the arrangement of numbers, may have been one method to decrease the likelihood that an unscrupulous player had manipulated the dice to change the odds of a particular roll,” Eerkens said.

Dice are not common finds in archaeological sites. They are typically found in garbage, domestic areas, or cemeteries, and frequently are recovered as lone objects in a site, Eerkens said. Many are not accurately dated.

After looking at hundreds of dice in dozens of museums and archaeological depots across the Netherlands, Eerkens and his co-author, Alex de Voogt, of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, were able to assemble and analyze a set of 110 carefully dated, cube-shaped dice. Their findings were published in the journal Acta Archaeologica in December.

The researchers found that:

  • Dice made before 400, or in Roman times, are highly variable in shape, size, material and configuration of numbers
  • Dice are very rare between 400 and 1100, corresponding to the Dark Ages
  • When dice reappear around 1100 they are predominantly in the “primes” configuration, where opposite numbers tally to prime numbers (1-2, 3-4, 5-6), a numbering style that was also popular in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Early medieval dice also tend to be quite small relative to their Roman predecessors
  • Around 1450 the numbering system quickly changed to “sevens” where opposite sides add up to seven (6-1, 5-2, 3-4). Dice also became highly standardized in shape, and also were made larger again. Standardization may be, in part, a byproduct of mass production.

Eerkens said he studied dice because they are a convenient item in which to isolate the function from the style, as opposed to other artifacts found in archaeological sites, such as arrowheads, a functional item used for hunting. “A lot of artifacts we study as archaeologists conflate the two… We know for dice they are purely stylistic.”

The study also shows that dice, like many material objects, reflect a lot about people’s changing worldviews, Eerkens said. “In this case, we believe it follows changing ideas about chance and fate.”

The researchers conclude in their article, “Gamblers may have seen dice throws as no longer determined by fate, but instead as randomizing objects governed by chance.”


This article is courtesy of UC Davis.

Media contact:
Karen Nikos-Rose, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-219-5472, kmnikos@ucdavis.edu

Spot the Monkey!

Advertising is a necessary thing for any serious company. When you have a good product, you have to make sure to reach as many people who might be interested, as possible. One major form of advertising that is sometimes viewed critically is “Product Placement”. Some people argue that this kind of “subliminal” advertising is somehow dishonest towards the audience. For us at KBG this is a major part of our promotion strategy.

One of the reasons for us to pursue this strategy stems from the nature of our target market itself. In our country it is not as normal and natural to play boardgames as in Europe or America. So for us, being able to showcase our product in a casual way as a natural part of the cast of the drama, holds a value in itself. If we are going to establish our games as an accepted part of mainstream society, product placement is a perfect way to transmit that message. And honestly, we are also proud to have achieved a position where we can afford to place our games in popular tv shows and series – it doesn´t come free!

Here are some other more or less blatant product placement scenes with boardgames:

ppl3

ppl1

ppl4

 

How To Make Bombs Out Of Farming Animals

In Grazing Lands, players simultaneously play animal cards in different colors, face-down. Depending on the nature of the grazing land (as per the grazing land card of that turn) there is more or less space for a certain color of animals, so when all players’ cards are revealed, some of the animals have to return to the hands of their owners, until the limit is not exceeded anymore. Owners of the remaining animals score points.

In last year’s contest, we found that it was really nice fast-paced card game, that allowed for bluffing, calculation and frequently hilarious outcomes, when the cards were revealed. So we decided to publish it.

As for the gameplay itself, we were already quite happy with it, so not many changes were made to the rules of the game. However, as a part of our long-term strategy, we wanted to try and fit it into one of our existing product lines. One of our more successful

games in Korea is our Boom – Bomb Game:

boomgame_thumb_700

With our move to this theme, we introduced quite a lot of problems for ourselves. At first we thought, that going over the limit in Grazing Lands would be an event that kind of resembles an explosion. That would make for a good first step to convert the theme. But looking closer, that doesn’t really work. Not all of the Bombs are removed and some remain to be scored. So… a partial explosion ? It looked like we might have to go back to the original theme or find a completely different one… Expanding on our “Boom” theme might be ill-advised anyway, considering that bombs are not something that we would want children to become well acquainted with (even if they are cute…).

We found a variant, that would fit the game way better and also help us with our bad conscience: Our little cute bombs are actually not fond of exploding, at all! Because of that, they want to run away from their armory and go to a peaceful place (might we call it a “bomb shelter”?). During their escape, they have to take care. If too many of them try to run at the same time, the guards of the armory will notice.

We replace the lush grazing lands of the original prototype with evil armory guards and instead of cute animals, we have cute and completely peaceful bombs. This is a little weird, but it also means that our game suddenly has a really nice message, that we are happy to send to our younger customers: Instead of Grazing Lands, they will play Boom – Runaway Bombs. And instead of blowing things up, maybe they will understand that war is not fun, even for the bombs themselves!

We are working on completing our design right now and hopefully we will be ready in time to bring this game to Essen. Below let us show two examples of what our Bombs look like right now (Unfinished – Work in Progress):

Granpa Bomb Tries Digging a Tunnel
Granpa Bomb Tries Digging a Tunnel
Engineer Bomb Escapes Via Jetpack
Engineer Bomb Escapes Via Jetpack

Coconuts Story: Part II

Last time we talked about how we first got to see the game and the things that factored into our decision to try to produce it. After making our minds up, we quickly negotiated contract terms and then immediately started to work on the game. So this week we´d like to discuss the development phase and the final steps to publication.

Step Three: Development

Development for Coconuts began around August 2012. We had many things to consider about the game:

– We needed to define the setting of the game more clearly.
Even going for a generic monkey theme, someone has to define what the monkeys will look like: Are they looking cute and friendly or weird and funny? Are they playing on an island or in a forest ? These kinds of details sound trivial to decide but they are a huge factor when it comes to the success of a game in the mass market, so we didn´t dare to take this lightly.

– We wanted to look for ways to improve the gameplay itself
The game in its original state was a lot of fun but we wanted to at least try to make the gameplay a little more varied.

– As mentioned in part I of this article, we had to make a transition from the original material to something that could be mass-produced, without losing too much of the original charm.

Monkey King Rising:

We spent around three months working on the gameplay and theme of the game.We were thinking about a big variety of monkey/ape-style settings and finally found the “Monkey King”. The Monkey King (or Sun Wukong, Son Ogong, Son Goku) is a famous character from Chinese mythology, that is very well known and beloved in all of Asia. He is a powerful demon spirit that gets imprisoned by Buddha for his arrogance and finally gets freed to accompany a buddhist monk on an important voyage to the west.

In the beginning we were not sure whether we could make this theme work well (because the Monkey King never actually had any business throwing coconuts) but it is such a familiar and well known story in our market that we could not resist trying to paste it on.

At the same time we were trying to improve on the mechanics of the game, constantly playing around with the author´s prototype and testing all kinds of little changes. We introduced a different type of basket, that would grant an additional shot when you hit it, in order to give players something to “fight” for. At the same time we were looking for ways to make the shooting more interesting. The catapults of the original prototype were almost perfectly controllable, so we wanted to give players the possibility to show off their skill with special shots.

At this point, we realized that our greedily chosen popular theme was actually a perfect fit: The Monkey King is able to work powerful magic, that allows him to influence people´s mind, duplicate any kind of object and move quickly over big distances. This lends itself perfectly to be mirrored in the game by special cards that force other players to do the special shots or give the active player additional powers.

That kind of matching story and mechanics is not really usual for a mass-market children´s game and we are quite proud of the result.

Monkey Material :

It quickly became clear that we would have to move away from the original launcher structure completely, so instead of relying on a “bending” catapult, we decided to go for a classic spring-based one. This change had a huge impact on the feeling of the game…

IMG_20120808_185650
Early version of a spring-based launcher.

We found that our first spring based launchers were just as precise as the original ones, so we were quite happy with continuing to develop those.

However, there was one problem that we underestimated: It proved to be extremely hard to find a fitting replacement for the coconuts themselves. We continued to change the material until extremely late in the development process, which made the testing process a lot harder than it needed to be.

Step Four: Implementation & Production

Finally, it should be stressed, that the most important part  actually comes after the creative work is already done. Printable artwork needs to be created as well as models and actual molds. A manual needs to be written, tested and proofread. Packaging and promotional material must be designed as well.

So when we finished our work on the game and left everything in the hands of the factory, we were extremely happy, but anxious at the same time.

Step Five: Review

It is too early to know whether Coconuts will be a lasting success from a financial perspective. It has certainly been a great learning experience for us. The process was not perfect and we had to make some compromises to be able to realize the game, but overall we are quite proud of our little monkey game.We´d like to finish the article with a short video of the game in action, played by some of the many of the people who helped to create it:

Coconuts Story: Part I

Publishing games is still a very exciting thing for us! Since one of our favorite projects is finally available in Korea now, we thought we might share a little bit about it and the different steps that it had to go through before finally being published. Coconuts is a dexterity game and not a “eurogame”, but it might nevertheless be interesting to read about the whole process that preceded the publication.

Step One: Acquisition

The usual process in the boardgame business is to wait for the games to get to you, via submissions. Then you choose the best one, develop it a bit to remove the rough edges. And voilá you have your “Spiel des Jahres”.

For us, it is a little bit harder. While we are accepting submissions, we are not exactly the most famous board game company in the world (,… yet!). Much less in the beginning of 2012, when we acquired Coconuts. There were some nice submissions, but overall we wanted to see more.  So instead of conveniently sitting in our office, we were scouting for suitable games at the Board Game Author´s Meeting in Goettingen, Germany, and there we found this:

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA
The concept of launching stuff with catapults for fun is almost as old as humanity itself

The game is about launching little coconuts with your monkey catapults. When you hit a cup, you may take it to your player board. Whoever manages to build a full pyramid of 6 cups first, wins.

What we liked about the game was that it featured quite interactive and dynamic gameplay (mostly by players constantly stealing cups from each other) in addition to the appealing, but not very original “catapult-factor”.

So we took it to our offices in Korea, played and discussed it with others in the companies and thought about the possibility of making this game.

By the way, this game was presented to us by an Agency: White Castle Games from Austria. We´re not saying that as an author you should definitely use their service (because you´ll have to pay for that, while you could just as well send your game to us for free instead :)). But we will say that they are efficient professionals and nice guys as well and we very much enjoy working with them.

Step Two: Reality Check

Sure enough, many people in the company liked the game and we felt that it might be a good prospect. So… we think that we have a good and original game on our hands. At this point in time we have to take a step back and try to analyze:

– What is the target group for the game ? Mass Market, Educational or Gamer, Kid, Family or Adult ?
-> Mass Market/Kid+Family

– Do we have a good way to market this game and to reach this target group?
-> Probably, we will have to get it into the big market chains…

– Is this target group big enough in our market to warrant making this game here
->
Targeting Mass Market, of course the answer is Yes.

– Can we produce this game with an adequate quality, regarding artwork and material, while keeping our consumer price low enough for our target group?
-> Maybe!

– (…)

Some of the answers to these questions seem obvious: A game with little monkeys and catapults and coconuts is definitely more of a kid/family game than an adult game, right? When we look at the last question however, it gets more complicated, especially in the case of Coconuts: The original material (catapults and coconuts) provided by the author, which you can see above, combined two unlikely features: It was both perfectly suitable for the game regarding handling and feeling  and perfectly unsuitable to be reproduced in the mass-market version of the product (Due to price of production, aesthetics and minor issues like flammability).

So we had to choose and make new material that would

fit our price point (to get out with any profits after royalties, discounts and our own running costs, the production cost needs to be a very small fraction of the final consumer price

at the expected sales level
more expected sales = more games produced = lower price per game, but higher risk

for the chosen target group
MSRP of a mass market/kid/family game must of course be lower than that of a game for hardcore gamers.

and still be fun to use in the game
the launcher must be controllable, coconuts must reach all cups comfortably, but not fly too far. Cups shouldn´t fall over when they are hit…

At this early stage of development there is a lot of guesswork that can be hit-or-miss on things that you can´t really accurately predict. Previous sales data of comparable games is of limited help, but mostly this is where it is important to have experience in your market and in making games as well, to put it all together and get to an appraisal of the chances and risks that is as accurate as possible.

While we are certainly the most experienced game company in Korea and we do know our market quite well, this is nevertheless one of the first games we publish ourselves. So for us to go for making this game despite the existing uncertainties might actually not be the most reasonable thing to do. Except that we really wanted to.

We´ll not go into actual numbers, but in the end, after having a thorough reality check, we decided to go ahead and make the game, despite the fact that there was quite some risk involved and despite the fact that we could already see that there would have to be a lot of additional work before we could put the game on the shelves….

That´s it for today!

In the second part of this short article we´ll tell you more about the actual development process of the game and all those other things that still had to happen on the way to publication.