The Czechs are at it again. Czech Games Edition is hard at work on a crop of promising new prototypes. Last year around this time I had the opportunity to try out five prototypes by Vlaada Chvatil and Vladimir Suchy, which I reported back on here. Far from resting on their laurels, CGE recently demoed four brand new prototypes, three of which are notably by new designers. I’m here to report on these upcoming games from CGE, with some guest reporting by Mark Jackson and the rest of the OG gang.
The current working titles for these games are: Goblins Inc., Mayan Ages, Steamferno, and Dungeon Lords: The New Paladins. However, please keep in mind that these games are works in progress and most everything about them is subject to change, including the names. The Dungeon Lords expansion is being designed by Vlaada Chvatil of course, but the other three are by designers new to the CGE fold. The descriptions of these prototypes are provided with the permission of CGE and the photographs below were kindly provided by Petr Murmak of CGE.
Goblins Inc., designed by Filip Neduk, is a game where the players are goblins building a doomsday machine out of tiles each round and then using the machine’s weapons to try to destroy their opponents’ machine, all while their opponents are trying to do the same thing to them. It’s a team game, but with only one winner, like Njet, Wars of the Roses, and Krakow 1325. It’s a four-player game and each round you have a different teammate that you work with to build a machine together and try to destroy the other team’s machine. Many of your points come jointly from these shifting teams, but there also secret, personal achievements that you are working towards for additional, individual points. Ultimately, Goblins Inc. is a game of tile building and destruction, and thus has a lot in common with Galaxy Trucker. As a big fan of Galaxy Trucker, I really enjoyed my two plays of Goblins Inc., particularly given the new team element, but for anyone who didn’t revel in pieces falling off their ship in Galaxy Trucker, you may want to be somewhat wary of Goblins Inc.
Before describing the game in more detail, I’ll repeat my warning that I just played a prototype and the game design is still in flux, particularly so with Goblins Inc. which I believe had some significant changes made a couple days after I tried it. So with that being said, my games of Goblins Inc. lasted 3 rounds with each round involving a different partner and each round being divided into two halves. The first half is for construction and the second half is for destruction. Unlike Galaxy Trucker, the construction half does not have a speed element. In the construction half, one player on each team draws 5 random tiles from the central face down pool, picks 3 to keep and 2 to pass to the other team. Once both players pass 2 tiles, they each add the 5 tiles they have to their team’s board. The board is a straightforward grid with a central cabin space and a few spaces randomly blocked off each round to make building slightly more variable and tricky. While those two players are adding the tiles to their teams’ machines, the other two players (one on each team) draw 5 tiles each and follow the same procedure. This process continues four times until 20 tiles have been built onto each machine, at which point the board will be full.
The tiles represent four different things: guns, shields, gears, and decorations. The guns will be used to roll more dice during the destruction phase to increase your chances of causing more destruction. Yay destruction! The shields are used to cancel out hits inflicted by your opponents. The gears are used to give you special abilities during the destruction phase, with more awesome special abilities being available if you have more gears on your machine. Lastly, the decorations are mostly useless, but have lots of connections that make building easier (like pipes in Galaxy Trucker) and also are tied in to scoring for some personal, secret missions.
Speaking of the personal, secret missions… each player has a deck of cards (the same deck of cards for each player I presume). Each card shows a different secret mission and a point value. At the beginning of a round, everyone draws several of these cards, giving each player specific goals in terms of how they want to build the machine and what tiles they want to pass. After the machines are built, each player discards one of their cards to the bottom of their deck, reducing their options. After the destruction phase, players will get to play all of the secret missions that they satisfied and earn the number of points listed on each card. For example, a secret mission might involve destroying a certain number of a certain type of tile on your opponent’s machine, or having a certain number of a certain type of tile destroyed on your own machine. These can cause you to pass certain types of tiles or hold certain tiles in order to increase your chances of earning these individual points later in the round.
Once the construction half of the round is completed, it’s time for destruction! First the players load up their shields with tokens (like the battery tokens in Galaxy Trucker). Now one player on each team secretly and simultaneously decides which direction their machine will face. I didn’t mention before but the machines have no natural facing, so they can be rotated to have any of their four sides facing the opponent. You can have guns facing in any and all directions, it’s encouraged even! So you pick a side to aim at your opponent, generally the side with the most guns. Although keeping in mind that the side you shoot with is also the side where you’ll generally have to absorb hits from your opponents. Then each team secretly and simultaneously decides how to spend their gears. Remember those gear tiles? Each round you get to use them for a special ability. This includes things like aiming at a non-exposed side of the opponent’s machine, getting to re-roll dice, or counting one die twice, etc.
Now comes the dice rolling! Each team rolls a number of six-sided dice equal to the number of guns they have aimed at their opponent. As an aside, the tiles actually depicted axes, drills, and all manner of weaponry, not exactly guns per se. Each die hits the opponent in the column that you rolled, but any 1’s are a malfunction that hits yourself, which you re-roll to determine in what column you hit yourself. The hits are applied simultaneously to each team, and may cause entire hunks of your machine to fall off if they’re longer connected to the center tile. That center tile by the way is where you and your teammate’s goblin figures reside.
So what’s the goal here? You’re trying to either knock off all the guns from the opponents’ machine or kill both enemy goblins by hitting their center tile twice (which is where the enemy goblin figures hang out). Assuming neither team accomplishes either of these things in the first barrage, you do it again, and again, and again. It’s repetitive, but fun. Frustrating if your partner keeps rolling misses or malfunctions, but hilarious when your “teammate” decides to face your machine backwards so your opponents knock off more of a certain component type so that your “teammate” can satisfy one of his personal goal cards. The round ends as soon as either team accomplishes one of the two objectives. Both members of that team get a card worth a bunch of points, and then all four players have a chance to play as many of their personal goal cards as they satisfied. Now you switch teammates and do it all over again.
It ran a bit long, but I believe CGE recognized that and was working to reduce the game length slightly. I really enjoyed the game, but just thought that it’s the kind of game that is best if it’s closer to 60 minutes rather than taking over 90 minutes. The shields were also fairly powerful when I played, in that they could protect themselves or adjacent tiles, but I believe this is being adjusted as well to make sure the decisions are interesting when selecting which tiles to keep and which to pass. Overall, it was a very clever, enjoyable, and promising prototype. It appeared somewhat similar to Galaxy Trucker, but still felt different enough to be worth having both. The faux-team aspect was a critical element that made the game engaging and kept each round fresh. I’ll be looking forward to investigating what the goblins are up to in October when the game is expected to be released.
Mayan Ages, designed by Daniele Tascini, is a fairly involved worker placement and resource management game. The board is dominated by a giant gear system that is sure to attract attention. I played the prototype three times and every time people kept coming up to look at the board and see what the intriguing gears were all about. Luckily, for me at least, the gears were less difficult to comprehend in action than they appeared at first glance. I had worried that the game would involve too much spatial or abstract thinking to plan for the movement of the gears, but in reality the gears are just a simple, efficient method of rewarding patience. This time, it turns out, patience is a virtue. On the other hand, while the gears were easier to grok than I had feared, the game is still a relatively complex, heavy game of managing your resources carefully and choosing among a wide variety of approaches to score points.
I’ll gladly be a broken record and reiterate that I played the Mayan Ages prototype three times, but it was a prototype and I’m fairly certain that CGE will continue to modify the game in the months ahead, so everything is subject to change, even the name of the game. With that being said, as I experienced it, Mayan Ages was a game divided into 2 years, with each year having 13 months (as in the Mayan calendar I gather). So the game could take up to 26 turns, with each turn representing one month out of the two year game. However, just like in Caylus where the game can speed up depending on the players’ decisions (with respect to the bailiff and provost), Mayan Ages can go at double time if players put a worker in a certain spot on the board. Regardless, my games all took around 120 minutes. This clock system is all handled fairly cleverly by one of the wheels in the gears being spun either one or two spaces after each turn, and the game ending when that wheel has completely spun around twice, signifying the end of the second year.
So what do you do on each of these turns? It’s simple actually. You either add as many workers as you’d like to the board or remove as many workers as you’d like from the board. You can’t do both in a turn, just one or the other. You start the game with 3 workers, but can earn more during the game (it’s “family growth,” Mayan Ages style). If you choose to add workers to the board on a turn then you need to pay food. The game uses the 1-3-6-10-15 scale to good effect here by requiring increasing marginal payments for each additional worker placed in a single turn. So expensive efficiency or cheap inefficiency, you make the call. When you add workers you need to decide where to put them, as in any worker placement game. There are many different spots to choose from in Mayan Ages, each of which can earn you different resources or abilities. The key in this game though is that you don’t get anything for adding a worker to the board. You get the resource or ability when you remove the worker from the board later on. Remember that part about only adding workers or removing workers in a single turn from the beginning of the paragraph? That part was important. You either get to remove workers and thus do stuff, or add workers and thus prepare for doing stuff on future turns… not both.
So what was all that noise about patience and gears earlier on? The deal is that you have to add workers at the beginning space of each wheel on the gear, that is the first open space. The beginning spaces are less powerful generally speaking. After everyone takes a turn, the wheels rotate (one space forward generally, or two if someone takes a particular action). So all the workers on the board advance one or two steps as they’re carried inexorably forward by the gears. This is handy because they’re generally being rotated into spaces that offer better rewards. You can leave workers out there for a while, and only when you choose to remove a worker will you trigger the reward corresponding to the space he (or she) is adjacent to. One trick though is that you must add or remove at least one worker each turn, so you can’t just twiddle your thumbs and watch your workers improve. If you do get a worker to the top spot on any given gear, then the worker can trigger any of the possible spots on that wheel when removed, but if you wait another turn then the worker is crushed in the gears and returned to the player with no reward – ultimate sadness.
You’re probably wondering what the point of all these workers and gears are. It’s to gather resources and earn points of course. One wheel is primarily aimed at earning food, which you’ll recall is needed to place workers. It’s also needed to feed your workers at the end of each of the two years of the game, because every game these days must requiring feeding of course. The second wheel earns you resources: wood, stone, gold, and crystal skulls. Note to self – all of the games that involve wood, stone, and gold as resources should probably also have crystal skulls. The third wheel earns you the ability to build a building, advance on the favor track, or move up in a temple. Buildings cost resources and earn you points among other fun benefits. The favor track works a lot like in Caylus where you can specialize in different areas for benefits that make your other actions more powerful. The temples reward players with points and free resources at the middle and end of each game year, particularly the player at the top of each of the three temples, so moving up in temples is often a good idea. The fourth wheel earns you a variety of different abilities, like extra workers and the chance to trade resources and food with the bank. Finally, the last wheel is the cave of wonders where your workers venture forth to place crystal skulls deep within the heart of the cave, thus earning glory, renown, and… victory points.
Mayan Ages is a thinky affair. It’s got workers, resources, feeding, long-term planning, multiple paths to victory, the whole kit and kaboodle. Fortunately the turns are generally short and sweet. Add or remove workers, if adding then figure out which wheels you want to go on based on what resources you need to earn or what ability you’re looking to use. If removing then figure out which workers to cash in for the thing they’re currently standing on and which workers to leave on the board so they can continue advancing. There’s a fairly nice flow to this back and forth and adding/removing of workers. You want to find the right rhythm of how many to be adding or removing at any given time. You want to figure out which favor track to exploit, whether to build buildings, or advance in the temples, or focus on the crystal skulls. You may come out of all this with a bit of brain burn, but it probably won’t be because of the gears, which actually facilitate the game and make it run more smoothly than it otherwise would. The game is expected to be an Essen 2012 release.
Steamferno, designed by Tomas Liska and Frantisek Neznaj, is a cooperative game where the players are working together to kill blobs. What are blobs you ask? They are relentless little monsters that go squish easily but like to swarm you in large numbers, making your life difficult and sometimes a bit on the short side too. It’s a scenario-based cooperative game so what you and your teammates are trying to do depends on the scenario. You might be trying to lead a non-player character to safety or trying to collect certain items from around the board or some other seemingly hopeless task. The board is modular, with tiles configured differently depending on the scenario, but ultimately forming a grid for possible movement, with columns obstructing places, items strewn about, and blobs galore.
This game is not scheduled for release until 2013, so it’s even less solidified than the previous two games discussed above, which means I’m going to discuss the game in slightly less detail. I also only tried the Steamferno prototype once, whereas I had the chance to try Goblins Inc. twice and Mayan Ages three times. I got to play Steamferno with fellow OGer Jennifer Geske and while we thought we were doomed from a few turns in, we managed to emerge victorious by the skin of our teeth. It was a very tense and challenging game though, and I imagine it will have varying difficulty levels like any good cooperative game.
So generally speaking how did Steamferno work? It actually reminded me vaguely of Space Hulk: Death Angel, but then again, everything reminds me of some other game as you may have noticed above (and as my game group laments when I’m teaching a game and constantly cross-referencing others). So Steamferno… each player gets to be one of a handful of unique characters, with different sorts of specialties (along the lines of familiar character tropes, like the slow brawny dude or the faster archer or the tricksy one). You get a miniature to match and a set of three unique action cards. After setting up the scenario as mentioned above, you play a series of rounds until either you and your teammates all die or until you achieve whatever the goal for that scenario happens to be. On your turn you get to move around and attack blobs for the most part. Sometimes killing a blob actually causes it to split into two blobs, that’s sad. Sometimes a super, mega blob of death is added to the board, that’s even more sad. While doing your move and attack, you can use those action cards mentioned above, which are unique to the character you chose at the beginning. The action cards make your movement and attack significantly more awesome, generally speaking, but the trick is then the used action card is unavailable for the remainder of that round and for all of the subsequent round. This is the part that felt like Death Angel since you used an offensive, defensive, or movement-based special ability, but had to use a different one on your next turn, while waiting for the used one to charge back up essentially.
After you and your teammates move and kill blobs, you flip up an event card, that might cause those super, mega blobs of death to come out, or other nasty things to happen. In our mission we were trying to lead a non-player character scientist to an elevator so the scientist could escape from this deadly dungeon of doom. After we moved, the scientist would move a fixed number of spaces along the shortest, unobstructed path to the elevator. Blobs would attack the closest thing to them, so we were trying to get between the blobs and the defenseless scientist, with varying levels of success. Sorry scientist buddy for all those times I got out of position and you got smacked by blobs. I also saw other folks playing a scenario where they had to run around the dungeon looking for three items, pieces of some larger item that had to be reunited… maybe like a steam punk era Triforce. The items on the board were face down, so you had to find the right ones, although the wrong ones were generally helpful in some other way, like a new weapon or a first aid kit.
I like cooperative games like Ghost Stories, Pandemic, and Red November so Steamferno was my cup of tea. Nasty, brutal, and vicious tea of course. If you’ve tried those cooperative games in the past and they didn’t do anything for you, then Steamferno is not likely to change your mind. But for fans of cooperative games, it looks to be another solid entry into the cooperative pantheon. It’s got a bit more of a dungeon crawl feel, along the lines of Descent, but ultimately is about coordinating with your teammates to move and attack in some semblance of an organized fashion. It’s fun when the blobs go squish, or squee, or squop… but they keep coming and it’s not uncommon to be surrounded on all four sides by menacing blobs as far as the eye can see.
Dungeon Lords: The New Paladins (by Mark Jackson)
Dungeon Lords occupies a special place in my theme-gamer heart as it manages to use worker placement and resource management mechanisms in a thematically sensible way. In other words, I can explain the entire game in terms of the admittedly oddball theme of building a dungeon and keeping those pesky adventurers from screwing up your masterpiece.
As I only had the opportunity to play Dungeon Lords: The New Paladins one time, I won’t attempt to give every possible detail. I will, however, give you a one-sentence review that you’re welcome to quote:
“Hey, if you like Dungeon Lords, this is Dungeon Lord-ier.”
This could easily have been called Dungeon Lords’ Big Expansion – similar to the expanding of designer Vlaada Chvatil’s well-loved Galaxy Trucker game system, this is going to be a box chock full of dungeon-y goodness.
The title reveals the first problem you have to deal with as a dungeon lord – there are now two paladins hoping for a quest that appear each year. One is, well, weaker – he may well have flunked Questing 101 – but the other guy is a beast.
Luckily, you have new beasts of your own to recruit: there’s an odd-looking “birdie” creature, a beholder, a Cthulhu-ish tentacled thing, as well as others. In addition, you also receive some dungeon petz (yes, the game has a product placement tie-in) in the form of cards that allow you some extra firepower or other ways to thwart the adventuring party (I was particularly fond of the Direbunny).
Fresh off his not-so-successful tour with the Knights Who Say Nee, Sir Robin’s minstrel has trained a bunch of loud-mouthed troubadours to buck up the spirits of the adventurers. These golden-voiced cowards run straight to the back of the group… but their singing wards off one wound per adventurer up to the number of symbols on their tile. Of course, once an adventurer dies, that number of symbols is reduced by one as they sing funeral dirges for him (or her).
With all these new adventurers and beasties, you need extra time to prepare… and so a fifth season has been added. Adventuring parties are larger (4 instead of 3 ill-mannered louts) – which means that you now have five rounds of combat, rather than the original four.
There are also alternate boards for each of the various places to send your minions. Each season (skipping the first), one of those boards is placed over the original board and offers some interesting new decisions to struggle with as you work to keep your minions busy and productive.
Finally, there’s just a whole lot of “more”: more traps, more combat cards, more special effect cards, etc. They are still fine-tuning balance and interaction issues with these, but suffice it to say that there are some nifty twists and turns hidden in these decks.
Look, if you weren’t a fan of Dungeon Lords in the first place, nothing here is going to change your mind. On the other hand, if you really enjoyed the game and are willing to devote 15-30 minutes more per game, there’s a lot to like here. The minstrels are profoundly frustrating and require some new ways of attacking adventuring parties… at the same time, the new monsters and petz give you more flexibility in how you go about the task of shutting down the pesky humans.
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Other Opinionated Gamer Opinions
Rick Thornquist: I got a chance to play Mayan Ages and liked it a lot. We’ve seen a lot of worker placement games lately, but Mayan Ages adds some interesting twists to the genre. The gear mechanism is sexy, and though some may say it’s not really necessary, its job is to facilitate the gameplay and it does that quite well. I’m very much looking forward to seeing this one when it’s complete.
Dale Yu: I played Mayan Ages and liked it a lot. At first, I thought the gears were just a gimmick, but it’s actually a pretty ingenious mechanic to make sure that you move all the different tracks forward. Is it necessary? Not entirely, as you could simply adjust each track manually. However, it sure is cool. It’s really a meaty game, and there is definitely a lot to think about with the multiple scoring options. I am looking forward to the production version of the game, and I’ll be curious to see how they end up making the gears – whether it be heavy pressboard or maybe even plastic! I did not get a chance to play Goblins, but I sat in and watched parts of two games being played – and I’m sad to not have had a chance to get in my own play. I am interested to see how the team play twist works in this Galaxy Trucker styled game.
Larry Levy: Mayan Ages was easily my favorite new game at the Gathering. I played it twice and both times I really enjoyed the thought processes required. The key to the game is the rule that you must either place or remove workers on your turn (but not both); this makes proper planning essential, while still keeping the number of choices very manageable. The benefits from the different gears are nicely varied, so that different strategies can easily be pursued. There’s a reasonable amount of player interaction; in fact, screwage would be entirely possible once the players get a bit experienced. It really hit the sweet spot for me and I can’t wait to see the published version.
The gear mechanism gives the game a real “Wow!” factor, but the game would also be much more awkward to play without it. In that regard, it’s similar to the Production Wheel in Ora et Labora, which improves on the seeding procedure in Le Havre, except that the benefits provided by the gears are even greater than those from Rosenberg’s Wheel. Petr Murmak of CGE assured us that the final game will include gears; the only question is how they’ll be implemented.
I also got to play Goblins Inc. twice. The game has promise, particularly in the design portion. There were some issues in my games, but as Tom mentioned, this design is at a much earlier stage of development than Mayan Ages is. It’s reasonably light, but like Galaxy Trucker, which it resembles to some extent, it has some meat. Right now, I’d like to see what direction the final version of the game takes before evaluating it, but based on my early plays, they’re off to a good start.
Brian Leet: Mayan Ages is the only one of these I got to try, and only once at that. It is quite easy to get lost in the wow factor. The summary above is spot on. Any trepidation that the gears will add too much complexity to the play is unfounded, and yet they do add a fun and unique element. The rest of the game is composed of the familiar, in a well balanced way. There are at least three economies you must balance as a player, actions to place or withdraw workers, collecting and spending corn to feed your workers, and collecting and spending resources for other benefits.
The game contains three sizes of gear, and perhaps the biggest challenge for CGE will be how to bring it to market in a way that is pleasant, durable, and meets an affordable price point. I have no inside information, but suspect that they may need to make some tough long-term decisions as some products likely require very high up front tooling costs but would be better quality and lower cost for reprints or re-use of the gear shapes in other efforts, while alternatives may be lower cost up-front but a higher ongoing per unit cost.
The gameplay itself is fun, but the only real mode of interaction is taking the locations of interest to the other players. The game also (as I played it – remember, things may change) features the now oft-used mechanism whereby a player may select to go first, consigning the player to his or her right to be last for the coming round. These two factors may hinder appeal among some of what I see as the most likely audience – serious gamers willing to drop more moolah than average for a unique title.
With that said I predict this will be quite a popular game for the seasoned game geek, because it has an element that is so unique. And, after all, most of us at this point are looking to only add titles to our shelves that are in some way special compared to the classics we already own. Final sales price point will ultimately have a big impact on how broadly popular this title becomes.
Mary Prasad: Mayan Ages was my favorite game of the Gathering and may even become one of my overall favorite games (well, until other TBD future favorites are released, wink). I loved the gear mechanism – it clearly showed the state of your workers, as well as those of your opponents, at a glance.
The jury is still out on Goblins Inc. (appropriate since it is a prototype); I really love Galaxy Trucker (especially with all the crazy expansions!) so it will have to be extra special to win me over. The team play is interesting (although switching seats is kind of annoying – I tend to “root” when I play, have a drink and snack nearby, notebook, pen, Tichu deck). In my opinion, the individual goals and trophy points need work. I would rather be allowed to choose some number of goals from all the cards each round. Also, the goal points won’t help you enough if you lose each round – it would be difficult, if not impossible to win the game without winning a round. I would like to see another path to victory here. Lastly, the gear points for a special ability, and maybe even the abilities themselves need adjusting. One of the less expensive abilities seemed to be more useful than the more expensive ones and some abilities seemed to be too expensive for what they could do.
Jennifer Geske: I like worker placement games and have played quite a few of them. Mayan Ages strikes a fine balance of strategies and tactics. You have to think strategically because workers activate when they are removed and not when they are placed. So you have to carefully orchestrate moves in the next several turns to carry out your strategy while paying attention to what others might do to upset your plan. Like others who enjoy worker placement games, my instinct is to find the optimal strategy and try to improve on my execution of that strategy. Well, you can’t quite do that in this game, as you are dealt a choice of starting positions so it’s best to choose a strategy that works well with the starting setup. The variable starting setup improves the game’s replayability as I tried something different at each of my 4 plays at the GoF. I tried Goblins Inc. as part of the first playtest group when we played with mismatched decks and didn’t quite know what we were doing. I am not a fan of games where you play multiple rounds of the same game, which is kind of what you do in this one (but with different private goals and different partners). Like some others have commented, I would like to see how the game plays with different rules about the goals – maybe players can set aside a ‘final’ goal that is worth double points so there’s a way to catch up in the last round. Steamferno is surprisingly fun, given that I don’t usually like games with an adventure theme or dice. I played it 3 times, all as two-player games with different scenarios. In one game I spent the first half carrying around a First-Aid kit trying to heal an NPC character under our protection (the goal in that scenario is to reach a destination with the NPC alive) while the NPC kept running away from me. In another game, my partner and I had to take turns guarding the elevator (and dodging attacks) so the ‘blobs’ would not take away our only means to escape. I never managed to find a group of 4 to play the Dungeon Lords expansion, so I will have to wait patiently for its release this fall.
I should have noted that the Dungeon Lords expansion shares another characteristic with the Galaxy Trucker expansion – you probably shouldn’t use it with people who haven’t played the base game a couple of times.