Saturday, July 22, 2017

GJJG Game Reviews - Herbaceous - by Pencil First Games

Herbaceous
Designers: Steve Finn,
Eduardo Baraf, Keith Matejka
Publisher: Pencil First Games
1-4p | 15-20m | 8+
GJJG Game Reviews - Herbaceous - by Pencil First Games
Disclaimer

One hobby that my wife and I have is gardening.  Maybe I should say 'had' though.  As our boys have gotten older and more involved in extracurricular activities, and homeschooling them has gotten more time consuming, gardening has taken a bit of a backseat (and the sorry state of our garden is the result).  Fortunately they're very interested in gaming and my involvement in the hobby has grown immensely in the last few years.  But I still miss my time gardening and enjoy the little time I get to spend outside, even if it's just pulling weeds or mowing the lawn.  Fortunately there's Herbaceous, which let's us scratch that gardening itch without all the sweat and dirt.

Herbaceous is a quick filler for one to four players from Steve Finn (Biblios, The Butterfly Garden) and Eduardo Baraf (Gempacked Cards, The Siblings Trouble), both very well known for their quick, family friendly games.  Herbaceous even has a solo variant designed by Keith Matejka (Roll Player, Bullfrogs).  But the star of the game is the gorgeous artwork by Beth Sobel.  As in all of her artwork, the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.

So, we know the game looks great, and had some great names attached to it.  Does it stand up to expectations?  Read on to learn more.

Game Overview:
Herbaceous is a pretty simple game to learn.  There are really only two steps on each turn: Pot and Plant.  The idea of the game is that you're planting an herb garden and then potting those herbs for use in your kitchen once they're growing in your garden.  Each player will have their own garden, plus a community garden that everyone has access to, and four pots that they'll eventually fill with herbs from the gardens to score points.
Fill your containers with herbs from your garden to score points.
On your turn you'll have the option to pot your herbs before planting.  I'll cover this step more in a bit.  Then you get to plant.  When planting herbs you'll draw two cards, one at a time. For each card you'll need to decide to either plant it in your own garden or the community garden.  One card has to go in each garden, so if you place the first in your garden the second must go in the community garden.  Placing an herb in a garden means you just place the card face-up in the appropriate location.  That's it!
You'll have a private garden, public garden, and your containers to collect herbs in. 
After a few rounds you'll decide that you want to start your turn by potting some of the herbs that are growing in the gardens.  Each of your four pots has a different requirement for scoring.  The purple pot requires one card of each different type of basic herb (there are seven different basic herbs).  The blue pot requires all of just one type of herb.  The black pot requires matching pairs of herbs.  The green pot takes up to three of any type of herb, but this is the only pot where the special herbs (there are three of those, but they're more rare than the other herbs) can be potted.  The special herbs also give bonus points, and the first player to pot all three of them in their green pot earns an herb biscuit bonus of five points.  Each pot scores you more points the more you fill it, but once you put stuff in a pot you can't go back and add to it.  When you choose to pot, you can take herbs from both your garden and the community garden.
Once you add stuff to a container you can't add anything more.
The game plays until everyone has potted their herbs, or until the deck runs out.  This is usually after about 20 minutes, so you can play several games in a short time!

Components & Packaging:
Even though Herbaceous is just a card game, the components are all top notch.  Everything from the linen embossed quality cards to the super thick box with UV spot varnish is premium.  Thanks to the very successful Kickstarter, there are even garden markers for each player to designate their own garden area and a great insert to keep everything nice and organized.  The markers have no real purpose in the game, but are a great, thematic way for each player to identify their own garden area.
The box, insert, and component quality is excellent! 
What really stands out about every aspect of Herbaceous, though, is the artwork.  Even if the game components were of the lowest quality, Beth Sobel's artwork would still make Herbaceous a stunningly beautiful game.  With Beth's artwork on top notch components, Herbaceous is probably my most beautiful small box game.  This is artwork that any gardener would love to have framed on her (or his) kitchen wall.  Beth has been creating some of the most gorgeous artwork in board games today (Between Two Cities, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival, The Last Garden, Viticulture, etc.) and Herbaceous owes as much to her as it does to the designers.  It's her artwork that really makes Herbaceous a joy to play.
Every single piece of artwork is DELICIOUS!
The only thing that might make these components better would be scratch-n-sniff! 
Score: 10/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Rules and setup are a breeze.  Herbaceous only takes about 20 minutes to play, so quick setup and learning are essential.  Setup consists of passing out four pot cards and a garden marker to each player (a reference card, too) and then shuffling the herb cards.  Depending on the number of players, you'll also need to remove some of the herb cards from play.  If you're playing with the flavor pack mini-expansion, you'll also shuffle two of the three spices into the deck.
All set up and ready to start playing.
I pretty much covered all the rules in my overview above.  So it's super fast to teach Herbaceous.  You can be up and playing with new players in less than five minutes!  If you're playing with the Flavor pack, when a spice card comes up, everyone does what it says, then you continue on with your turn.

Score: 9/10 x2

Gameplay:
Both Steve Finn and Ed Baraf are known for designing fun, light games that are great filler and family games, and Herbaceous may be the best yet from either of them.  Dr. Finn is probably most well known for Biblios, a great casual game of set collection, press-your-luck, bluffing, and bidding.  Herbaceous borrows quite a bit from Biblios, particularly that game's initial phase of collecting and distributing cards.  In fact, when I first described the gameplay oh Herbaceous to my wife her response was "that sounds like Biblios light", and it sort of is.  Herbaceous takes the collecting mechanics of Biblios and makes that the entire game.  This is great news for anyone who doesn't like the bidding phase of Biblios (like my wife).  That said, Herbaceous is definitely not just a rethemed, lighter Biblios.

For all that Herbaceous shares with Biblios, there are a few features that really set it apart.  Both games have a similar press-your-luck mechanic where you draw a card, decide where to put it, then draw again, but in Herbaceous you are only drawing two cards per turn, so the feel is different.  The press-your-luck element doesn't feel quite so stressful, especially since the card you didn't take will go into the community garden, so there's a chance you'll still get to grab it if it's the card you need.
Cards added to the community garden are still available for your use, until someone else grabs them. 
The set collection is also much more straightforward in Herbaceous.  Since all gardens are publicly visible, the decision of what to keep and what to put in the community garden is fairly strategic at times.  You know what everyone is collecting, so you can make decisions based on known info.  In Biblios the sets everyone are collecting are much more secretive, especially since some sets may get dumped during the auction phase, and you never see what someone takes, only what they offer up publicly.  Herbaceous is both more friendly and occasionally more cutthroat because of this public information.
You can see who is collecting what, and set scores are very clear, so sometimes you'll
take a card you don't want just so someone else can't get it.
My wife enjoyed Herbaceous a lot more than Biblios and everyone else I played with had a great time, too.  Turns move quickly, so there is very little downtime.  The hardest decision is when to pot your herbs, but since that happens at the beginning of your turn it's something you can be thinking about and planning between turns.  At least until the player before you pots some herbs and uses those plants from the community garden you were planning to snag.
Building a set and scoring some points!
Also available for Herbaceous is the three-card mini-expansion called the Flavor Pack.  If you choose to use these, two of the three are shuffled into the deck.  When they come up they 'spice' things up a bit.  Each spice has an effect that affects all players.  This might allow players to steal herbs from a neighbor, add something to an already potted set, or take an herb from the community garden.  These do exactly what their name implies.  They don't change the game drastically, just spice it up a bit.  Unfortunately the flavor pack isn't available in retail copies of Herbaceous, but if you really want the cards, keep an eye on the next Pencil First Games or Dr. Finn Games Kickstarter to grab a set.
The flavor pack is very flavorful!
One other thing worth mentioning is that Herbaceous has a solo variant as well.  The solo variant was designed by Keith Matejka, of Roll Player and Bullfrogs fame.  I found the solo game to be very light.  It's more of a snack than a savory meal.  Play is very similar to the standard game, except you start with half the deck and on each turn you put one card in your garden, one in the community garden, and one gets discarded from the game.  Whenever the community garden fills up to five cards they're all discarded from the game, which does provide some tension and forces you to make some critical decisions.  However, with so many cards removed from the deck I felt that there was way too much luck in the solo variant.  Mechanically it worked, but I felt like my success was based more on chance than skill.  So while I love Keith's games, and I think Herbaceous makes a great multiplayer game, as a solo game it felt a bit bland.  I won't knock the score though, because the game is really meant to be multiplayer, and that's where it is most delectable.
While still fun, the solo variant felt like just a diversion, not a full game. 
There is also a team variant, however I didn't get a chance to try that out.  In team play players draw three cards each turn, one for their garden, one for the community garden, and one for their partner's garden.  Team scores are summed at the end to determine the winning team.  Expert team variants include limiting tabletalk and having the team only score the lower teammate's points.

Score: 9/10 x3

Replayability:
Herbaceous plays very quickly, especially after you have a couple of plays under your belt.  You can knock out a game in under 30 minutes pretty easily, and even under 20 minutes sometimes.  It's a great game to introduce to new players, warm up with at game night, as a filler, on your lunch break, or just to play whenever you have a few minutes.  Setup is quick, cleanup is fast, and it looks gorgeous!  Herbaceous is definitely a game that'll hit the table quite often if you like quick fillers.
Fortunately if you don't get the herb biscuit at first you can play another game!
Unlimited herb biscuits... I wish life was really like that!
Score: 8/10 x1

General Fun:
Everything about Herbaceous is fun!  From the beautiful, thematic artwork to the tight mechanics, Herbaceous does everything right.  It offers a game that is light enough to allow for social conversations, but strategic enough that it doesn't just play itself.  You can play this with non-gamers and have a great, casual time, and you can play it with seasoned gamers and have a great, cutthroat time!  I've had a blast with everyone I've played with, from family to gamers, kids to adults.
Filling up your containers with savory herbs is a ton of fun! 
Score: 8/10 x2

Overall Value:
Herbaceous has a $25 MSRP, but you can find it for about $22 on Amazon and other online retailers.  For a game that is essentially a large deck of cards, that may sound a bit high, but the component quality, gameplay mechanics, and box size all feel right for that price.  Considering that four people going to a movie for two hours is about $50, you'll definitely get more entertainment than that from Herbaceous.  It's well worth $20-$25 for such a beautiful, fun game.
For $25 or less you can get cards that are almost worth framing!
Score: 8/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
When I first saw Herbaceous I was drawn in by the artwork, but after reading about the mechanics I wondered how similar it would be to Biblios.  I didn't back the Kickstarter because of this concern.  My gaming budget is limited and I thought I didn't need another game just like Biblios in my collection.  But when the opportunity to review Herbaceous came up I jumped at the chance.  I'm thrilled that I did!  Herbaceous definitely stands out as a unique game, even though it shares some mechanics with Biblios.
I could sit and stare at these cards all day...  Except I'd get hungry and have to search down an herb biscuit...
 The more I play Herbaceous the more I like it.  Each game is different, and timing when you pot your herbs is critical.  I like the open information and interaction that the community garden promotes.  I like the swiftness of play and how games can be casual or very competitive depending on who you play with.  I absolutely LOVE the artwork!  I really can't think of anything that I don't like about the game.  If you want a quick game that you can play with just about anyone, grab a copy of Herbaceous now!
These special herbs get you some bonus points if you have them in your glass jar.
 Overall Score: 87/100



Want another opinion?  Herbaceous was also reviewed by Dane on the Everything Board Games Network!  Check out his review here!



Did you like this review?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.








GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 77: Bryce McNalley

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples.


Name:Bryce McNalley
Email:info@dicederbi.ca
Location:Alberta, Canada
Day Job:I am a Lieutenant Firefighter / Paramedic for a suburban community outside of Edmonton, AB. Working full time shift work has given me some challenges developing my games, but as a whole I feel it has been advantageous. It is however quite the contrast from career to hobby. One day however my hobby WILL become my career.
Designing:Two to five years.
Webpage:dicederbi.ca
Blog:tumblr.com/dicederbi
Facebook:facebook.com/dicederbi
Twitter:@dicederbi
YouTube:youtube.com/dicederbi
Instagram:@dicederbi
Find my games at:Amazon (Canada) as well as many other online stores. They can also be ordered directly from www.dicederbi.ca . There are not currently any USA dealers...but I will have many of them soon.
Today's Interview is with:

Bryce McNalley
Interviewed on: 6/16/2017

Coming up in my review queue is a fun dexterity game called Dice Derbi by Bryce McNalley. Here's a spoiler: it's not a deep, meaty Euro, but it's a ton of fun! It's great to get non-gamers playing something and great for outdoor play. This is the first game that Bryce has published, but he has a whole line of similar games planned. I'm really looking forward to seeing what Bryce has up next, but read on and you can learn more about Bryce and his projects!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I began designing tabletop games because I recognized a new play style that I incorporated into my games designs, and have decided to run with it and take it all the way. My passion is enriching people's lives and I find that the games market is a very genuine way to do this.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I am currently working on an entire library of games for my company, %90 of them are top secret (not even my wife knows) but I have concepts and prototypes for many of them. There will be another title released very soon however...

Have you designed any games that have been published?
My original creation called "Dice Derbi" is published and already has sold hundreds of copies, and I look forward to selling many many more to gamers all over the world. My mission is to "Bring FUN and ADVENTURE to game nights across the globe!" and I plan on doing whatever I have to do to achieve it.

What is your day job?
I am a Lieutenant Firefighter / Paramedic for a suburban community outside of Edmonton, AB. Working full time shift work has given me some challenges developing my games, but as a whole I feel it has been advantageous. It is however quite the contrast from career to hobby. One day however my hobby WILL become my career.

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
I am a big fan of party games so you will usually find me playing games with friends at a get-together or at home for an intimate gathering. I enjoy playing games outside as well and that is why I have accustomed Dice Derbi to be playable on picnic tables.

Who do you normally game with?
I have a small group of friends that usually game together, and my family is also very into games. Whenever we get together for holidays there are always many games out and being played. Anything from Scrabble to Outburst, Monopoly to Chess, and Dice Derbi to Cranium.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Well obviously we would have to bust out Dice Derbi and have a few rounds of it, I would let people provide some insight into my future titles, and then we would wrap things up with the Drinking Game version of Dice Derbi (soon to be released as a pdf download / add-on to the original game) and we also like Cards Against Humanity.

And what snacks would you eat?
Chips and dips...that is all there needs to be!

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I am a big music fan so absolutely there has to be ambience and mood. Music is by far the best way to create this. Turn the lights down and turn on some classics or even top 20.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
My go-to store up to recently has been River City Games as they always have a great selection of what I need. However since several stores now carry my game as part of their inventory, I have to honestly say all of them because they are all unique in their own regards and I have developed relationships with the people that work there and run them. That is after all the most important part, the relationships we get to build with each other!

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Aside from my own creation obviously, I would have to say that my favourite game is Slang Teasers. A classic that takes me back to my childhood every time I play it. Very rare these days, but still a classic that deserves to be reborn.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I love group interaction in games. It's a great way to get people involved and create great memories. There are also times when I enjoy a 2 player game of crib or something similar with my wife, but I definitely prefer bigger crowds when playing games, and I think my line of games reflects that.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
It truly is a shame that more people don't play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit...especially against me...I love the movies, I love the game!

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Video Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
Yes

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
When I design my games, first of all I come up with a play style that is similar to all the other titles that I am working on. Afterall, it is the play style that makes my "Derbi" games unique. I usually think of a suitable game or sport that already has been established in the world, and put it into a game style that can be played on tables.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
No I never have entered a competition, but it is something that greatly interests me and something I would jump on for sure if I had the chance. Being that I am still relatively new to the industry, I am still finding out new and exciting ways to get my game in front of people.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
You have to stand in awe of some of the great names in the industry, and for me it goes to Parker Bros or Mattel.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
It's actually pretty funny because whenever I have an idea I always say "uh oh....(and then I grab my head) "my brain is getting stormy!" I get my inspiration from my hobbies and passions. I am an avid outdoorsman and so making games based on those passions that already exist comes like second nature to me.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I do most of it myself and with my immediate family, but I also do have a large group of people who give me input through trials and test-runs. It makes things go much smoother having people I can depend on to help me out (and give me the honest truth and sometimes ridicule/critique ).

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I like to work alone for the most part, however I do rely on artistry from other professionals, because that is definitely NOT my strong part. I design them, let others do the artwork based on my drafts, and then together we make a masterpiece.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
The biggest challenge I think we all face as game designers is coming up with new and exciting ways to get people to play. Board games have been around for a very long time and people usually buy one, play it a couple times, and then quickly stack it with the rest of their games in the storage closet. Well, I am hoping to make a change to that habit.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
I think the best way to answer this question is to say that I would be more than flattered to be doing this within ANY IP. I think truly that whoever gets to do this for a living is very fortunate. I think we all grow up wishing to make games for a living in some way, shape, or form.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
I honestly have yet to experience this "sensation" of wanted clairvoyance. I am sure it will happen some day, but in the meantime I have nothing but positive feedback from most people. I guess if I HAD to choose something I would say "Why didn't anyone tell me to do this a long time ago!" I have undergone a lot of personal growth over the past decade and learned a lot about chasing dreams and entrepreneurialism. Needless to say it's been incredibly rewarding.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
TAKE YOUR TIME! Test everything, take no shortcuts, and accept nothing but perfection. Don't rush things to meet deadlines, don't try to cut corners on quality, and never stop dreaming!

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: I currently have one game called "Dice Derbi" that is published and available for sale.
Games that will soon be published are: That's top secret....haha
I'm planning to crowdfund: possibly some titles in the near future...
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: 2
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: 5

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
There are a few boardgame groups that I am a part of on Facebook yes.

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Star Wars ALL THE WAY! I want to be seen flying my Millennium Falcon sipping an ice cold Coca Cola Classic, with Empire Strikes Back playing on VHS in the background. I can see the illustration already...haha.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I enjoy fishing (obviously as my game Dice Derbi is based on that) and I also love hunting and camping. I play sports of all kinds including Volleyball, mountain biking, swimming, and much more. I am also very involved with music as a second passion. I play guitar, drums, and also sing and have even written my own music. I mess around with video editing, and I am very big into professional development and helping people achieve their goals and dreams.

What is something you learned in the last week?
I learned what a FLGS is from the previous question...

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
I love the Top 20 type music, classics from the 80's and 90's and generally anything with a catchy tune or beat.

What was the last book you read?
Master Money - by Tony Robbins (A MUST READ!)

Do you play any musical instruments?
As stated above, yes I do. Guitar, drums, vocals, a bit of piano and I even played trumpet in my younger days.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I once hypnotized my sister and made her chase Smurfs around the campfire.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I like to think I have done many crazy things in my lifetime, but one thing that always stands out in my mind is when I was given the "pleasure" of being the first one to test out the new trolly ride in our treehouse. I actually got nominated because I was the youngest and didn't know any better. BUT, none the less I sat on the ride and flew 20 feet in the air across the zip line to the landing platform on the other side. SCARY? Hell yeah! Worth it? UNDOUBTEDLY!

Who is your idol?
I have a couple idols but one of my biggest ones is Leonardo DiCaprio. He's an amazing actor and I just really like his style. Aside from that I also am a big fan of Tony Robbins, Jim John, Nick Sarnicola, Blake Mallen, and my brother Arliss.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Oh wow...what WOULDN'T I do? I would take huge advantage of my knowledge of the future and establish a big chunk of wealth. Make myself famous, and then go retire on a lakefront mansion where I can fish and hunt every day.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
I am very much an extrovert. I like to think of myself as a people-person and very outgoing.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Luke Skywalker ( kind of a controversial superhero, but he's by far the right choice).

Have any pets?
I actually just put down my great dane of almost 8 years, Apollo. He was my best friend his whole life and we had many great times together that have lead to some awesome memories. There are also 3 cats in our family.

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
I really hope that dice live on! They offer such a tremendous experience with games. BUT as far as I am concerned we could put all the horses, tomatoes, and tax collectors under that asteroid and let it smack down!

If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
I want to give a big shout out to the person who read this thing through to the end. The person who might be where I was back when I began, thinking to themselves "can I do this?". There is nothing more satisfying that making it on your own terms...GO FOR IT and don't look back!

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

"The only limitations are those you set up in YOUR OWN MIND! There is no such thing as impossible. If you can believe it, you can achieve it!"




Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

Did you like this interview?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Eye on Kickstarter #24

Welcome to my Eye on Kickstarter series!  This series will highlight Kickstarter campaigns I am following that have recently launched (or I've recently discovered) because they have caught my interest.  Usually they'll catch my interest because they look like great games that I have either backed or would like to back (unfortunately budget doesn't allow me to back everything I'd like to).  But occasionally the campaigns caught my attention for other reasons.  Twice a month, on the 2nd and 4th Fridays, I'll make a new post in this series, highlighting the campaigns that have caught my attention since the last post.  In each post I'll highlight one campaign that has really grabbed my attention, followed by other campaigns I've backed or am interested in.  I'll also include links to any reviews I've done.  Comments are welcome, as are suggestions for new campaigns to check out!

You can also see my full Kickstarter Profile to see what I've backed or my old Eye on Kickstarter page that was too unwieldy to maintain.  Also, check out the 2017 Kickstarter Boardgame Projects geeklist over on Board Game Geek for a list of all the tabletop games of the year.

So, without further ado, here are the projects I'm currently watching as of the second Friday of July, 2017:


HIGHLIGHTED CAMPAIGN
The Stonebound Saga
  • People Behind the Meeples Interview
  • Formerly Land of Zion, The Stonebound Saga has absolutely amazing artwork and intriguing gameplay. The designer, Eric Bitterman, somewhat local for me (only about an hour away from where I live). If you're into expandable style card games (ECGs) be sure to check this one out. It's worth it for the art alone!


A high fantasy themed strategic card game with unit positioning, resource management, and high replay value for 2-6 players.

In the Stonebound Saga you and your opponent control a group of 'Stonebound'; those from the world of Telios who have responded to the 'Speaking Stones'. These Speaking Stones began humming and pulsing when the lost city of Lux reappeared after disappearing thousands of years ago. Those who respond to the stones and hone their power become known as Stonebound. These stones are equipped to their weapons and armor to enable feats of incredible power and skill unlike anything the world has seen.

Players pre-construct or draft teams of stonebound who are training against each other in preparation for an impending battle against a force known as Tenebris.





Legendary Creatures
  • People Behind the Meeples Interview
  • Legendary Creatures is the latest game from designer Christopher Hamm and published by Pencil First Games (Eduardo Baraf of Edo's Game Reviews fame). As with all of the other Pencil First Games titles, Legendary Creatures looks like a top notch, casual game perfect for families. It has some interesting deckbuilding mechanics blended with adventure and excitement!


Pepper and Carrot: The Potion Contest
  • Have you heard of the web comic Pepper and Carrot? If not, go check it out now! This is an adorable web comic about a young witch and her pet cat and all the adventures they have. It'll remind you a little of Calvin and Hobbes, and the artwork is amazing. This game is a casual tile puzzle game inspired by the comic. It looks like another great family game, especially if you like puzzles and programming games.


Beasts of Balance & Battles Expansion
  • I first saw Beasts of Balance when it was originally on Kickstarter (as Fabulous Beasts) last year and thought it looked pretty cool, but the price was pretty high. Then we found a copy of the game at a store in a mall around Christmastime. They had a demo of it set up, but unfortunately I didn't get a chance to play... because my son and his friend hogged it all evening! They didn't want to leave the store they were having so much fun! So I'm seriously considering backing this for my sons for Christmas this year.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 76: Katie Khau and Jessica Chu

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples.


Name:Katie Khau and Jessica Chu of cow&duck studios
Email:heiferheist@gmail.com
Location:Chicago area, Illinois
Day Job:Katie: industrial designer - Jess: an insurance assistant for a lawyers professional liability insurance company
Designing:Two to five years.
Webpage:cowandduckstudios.com
Facebook:cowandduckstudios
Twitter:@heiferheist
YouTube:Heifer Heist
Other:Indie Game Alliance!
Find my games at:bellwethergames.com
Today's Interview is with:

Katie Khau and Jessica Chu of cow&duck studios
Interviewed on: 6/12/2017

Katie and Jess hail from my alma mater, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. There they are members of the game design community. I wish that existed when I was there! During their time there they created Heifer Heist, which won several awards. Since then they've continued making games and have a bunch of fun, and funny games designed. Read on to learn more about this design team and their other projects!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
We took a game design class in college taught by a video game studio director who suggested we check out a local board game design competition, CUDO Plays. We took Heifer Heist to the competition and life has never been the same since! After the class, the game design bug caught us and we're constantly thinking of new designs.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Heifer Heist, Windup War, Pitch Fight, Total Party Wipeout

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Windup War - The Cutest Combat Card Game! Published by Bellwether Games!

What is your day job?
Katie: industrial designer - Jess: an insurance assistant for a lawyers professional liability insurance company

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
Around a big ol' table with lots of room for lots of friends (and food)!

Who do you normally game with?
Our friends in the Champaign-Urbana area, who help us run the board game competition, CUDO Plays!

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Social deduction games are the best with friends for the obvious reason, but the usual crew also really enjoys testing each other with psyche-outs.

And what snacks would you eat?
We tend to get take out or do a potluck, stuff that isn't finger food.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
We don't normally have music playing, although when we do, it's specific music for the game. For example, we use the One Night Ultimate Werewolf app and it has music by default.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Titan Games in Urbana, Illinois! The owners are incredibly knowledgeable and friendly and always make time to talk with everyone!

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Katie's current favorite: Koryo - Jess's current favorite: A Fake Artist Goes To New York - least favorite that we still enjoy: The Banishing. It's so punishing but we keep trying! Worst game ever played: Arabian Nights.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Favorite: social deduction! Least: roll and move.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
The Dune board game!

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Video Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
Depends on the gaming group

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
We take a holistic approach to our designs. We tend to design with both mechanics and theme at once. The mechanics will be influenced by the theme, and vice versa. For instance, in Windup War, we began with the idea of a tiny toy war with windup soldiers, which then influenced the mechanic of programming, or "winding up", actions!

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Yes! We have entered Heifer Heist into CUDO Plays, a board game design competition in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, which won the Visual Design and Marketability Awards; Windup War came out of the DFW Nerd Night Game Design Competition; and Total Party Wipeout came out of the Collapse Cards 10 Day Game Design Challenge!

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Designer: Seiji Kanai! Artist: Kwanchai Moriya!

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Sometimes we make a really good pun and we design a game around that. That's it. That's all we do.

One time, Jess kept saying "transportato" as a portmanteau of "transport" and "potato" and insisted it be a game about transporting potatoes. And now we're designing Transportato: the game! What a time to be alive.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
As often as possible, with all kinds of players, especially those outside of our gaming group!

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
We pretty much design with anyone who wants to jam! Also, we have each other! Having another person to bounce ideas off of really helps.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Finding time to really work on designs, since we both have full-time jobs that leave us with not much free time on workdays.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Animal Crossing or Don't Starve! We played a lot of both of these video games and we think there's a lot of potential for companion board games!

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Don't be afraid to reach out! Nearly everyone in the industry is super nice and helpful, and advice is free and flowing.

Also, once you start designing, you're in it for life! Everything we do, we look at through the lens of game design.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Playtest early and playtest often!

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Windup War
Currently looking for a publisher I have: Heifer Heist; Pitch Fight
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Total Party Wipeout
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Transportato, Throw Me A Bone

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Card and Board Game Designers Guild!

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Both; neither for Katie and Coke for Jess; and who even uses these anymore?

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Video games! Currently Jess is very into Stardew Valley.

What is something you learned in the last week?
If you playtest long enough, people will start suggesting you put in mechanics that you had just taken out to test...

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Katie: For music, alternative rock or video game music; Jess: I generally don't have a preference for any, but people start looking at me weird when I add remixed YouTube let's play memes to the party playlist

What was the last book you read?
Katie: Welcome To Night Vale (the novel) by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink; Jess: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Do you play any musical instruments?
Katie: Piano; Jess: Piano, guitar, ukulele

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
Katie collects miniatures! Jess has put about 500 hours collectively into the Binding of Isaac games and used to stream horror video game playthroughs. Good times.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
We stayed at an arcade until 2am, when they shut off the power. Does that count?

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
We accidentally joined a board game design competition, and now every day we're working on games!

Who is your idol?
Jess: The Game Grumps, Arin and Danny. They're really amazing creators and I aspire to be as motivated as they are.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Katie: Go back 10 minutes and eat that cookie again.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Por que no los dos?

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Jess: Probably one with flight and water control powers. Like a flying Sailor Mercury!

Have any pets?
A turtle named Reptar and a fish named Patrick! They are good brothers who try and eat each other.

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
Katie: Skull will hold up. Don't really want anything to be under the asteroid though...; Jess: If I had to sacrifice anything to be crushed by an asteroid, I'd probably pick my middle/high school creative writing. Not good stuff!

If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
Shout out to Dennis of Bellwether Games! He's been an amazing publisher to work with and we wouldn't be where we are if we hadn't met him!

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Thanks for reading!




Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

Did you like this interview?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 76: Stephen Avery

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples.


Name:Stephen Avery
Email:SteveAveryGames@gmail.com
Location:Atlanta, GA
Day Job:This is my 22nd year teaching art. I was a fine artist for a few years before that and missed the social interaction (and steady paycheck!) It’s a wonderfully rewarding job.
Designing:Five to ten years.
BGG:StephenAvery
Facebook:Stephen Avery and SteveAveryGames
Twitter:@Stephen_Avery
Find my games at:Game Salute, Cmon, and Tabletopia(Metal Dawn)..Or look me up at a convention
Today's Interview is with:

Stephen Avery
Interviewed on: 6/8/2017

Steve Avery is a designer you may be familiar with, and if not, you probably will be soon. His first published game was the hit, Nothing Personal, and he recently had Metal Dawn funded on Kickstarter. He also designed Ta-Da, published by Cool Mini or Not. With a whole slew of other game designs in the works, Steve is a designer to keep an eye on. To learn more about Steve and the projects he's working on, read on!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Five to ten years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I was inspired by my friend and mentor Richard Launius. I had help playtest and develop his early designs and was fascinated that he altered *everything* to suit his idea of what the game experience should be. It got me tinkering on my designs and altering some of my favorite games to see how changes impacted the game experience.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I have a big game that I'm sworn to secrecy about but other games are in the works. Many of them are co designs because I love working with other people. Over the years I've made many designs and this year I'm steeling myself to hold off from new projects until I can get the other designs sold or shelve them. Some of the designs I'm refining are:
Crash and Burn- a mad max card game
Pulp Adventures- an adventure game in a comic book format
Possessed - a hidden traitor ghost story game
Who's the Master? - a kung fu card game with powers
Strike Force Z- A game that uses rubber band guns

Have you designed any games that have been published?
My first game was Nothing Personal. I loved the production quality on it and brutal gameplay. Last year CMON published Ta-Da! a frantic party dice game with crazy stunts. Right now Metal Dawn will be published (knock on wood) with Everything Epic Games. It successfully funded on Kickstarter on June 22. Metal Dawn is a cooperative game where players defend Washington DC against an awakened AI and its forces.

What is your day job?
This is my 22nd year teaching art. I was a fine artist for a few years before that and missed the social interaction (and steady paycheck!) It’s a wonderfully rewarding job.

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
I like going over to friend's houses. Although I go to a lot of conventions, the best gaming is with a few close friends.

Who do you normally game with?
The person who got me into board games is Frank Branham. He is a veteran alpha gamer with the taste for the eclectic and bizarre. 15-20 years ago I introduced myself to him to recruit him into a role playing game and he got me hooked on board games.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
My favorite games are co ops, dice games and light ameritrash (or adventure) and negotiation games. Some of my favorites are Thunder Road, Star Wars Epic Duels, Decent, I'm the Boss, and Betrayal in the house on the Hill.

And what snacks would you eat?
Yeah- unfortunately I eat everything. When gaming it’s easy to chain snacks non stop without even thinking about it. However, lately I've been bringing wasabi peas to game nights. It’s almost like I'm eating healthy.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I like to play music to fit the game. So spooky music if you're playing a Mansions of Madness.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
I don't really visit FLGS. I spend most of my time working on game design or spending time with my family. However my kids are getting older and I can foresee a time when I may visit FLGS more.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Masmora is my latest favorite. My game room is at capacity so I really have to love something to buy it because something else has to go to make room. Least favorite? I've cut so many games I still like from my collection- I'll go with Scotland Yard. It’s not that it’s bad but I would rather play Shadow Ops. (Big Shout out to Emmerson!!) Worst game. I discovered early on that games you hate, someone else will adore...I hate playing Ricochet Robot. It’s a logic puzzle with no interaction. You just stare at the board and announce. I can do it in 7 actions. I can do it in 5 actions. OMG torture.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I'm not really about game mechanics. I'm all about theme and how to best convey an experience. That said, I am always attracted to Dice allocation games.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
War on Terror (by TerrorBull Games.) It’s a crazy negation game with cardplay, a spinner, and the Balaclava of EVIL!

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, RPG Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, RPG Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
Yes

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
It’s always always about the theme. I won't ever be the guy that comes up with a unique mechanism...but I will definitely capture the flavor of the game and really give the players and experience.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I haven't entered many. I did get semi finalist at Spring 2015 Hasbro design competition.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I worship the holy trinity of Launius, Daviau and Lang.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Other games...when I think they should deliver a certain experience. Sometimes movies as well. You wonder, "How would this translate into a board game?"

How do you go about playtesting your games?
That is my Achilles heel. I don not have a group of people near me that enjoy play testing games. I have resolved to go outside my normal channels to find some but so far I've not had much luck.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I love co designing. Conversation spurs ideas and motivates me. I can get a lot done quickly if I'm excited and have someone to bounce ideas off of. It also gives me a good excuse to call and spend time with my friends. So far I've co designed games with Richard Launius, Robert Burke, Pete Shirey, Chris Bartarlis, Tom Vasel, and most recently Alan Gerding.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Play testing by far. Many of my designs would be so much better with more input.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Indiana Jones ..especially once they reboot the franchise. Avengers would be my second.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
You don't have a game until it is sitting on the shelf. There are so many things that can happen between signing and it being published. Roll with the punches. There are a lot of them.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Try to be as receptive as possible to input. If you hear something more than once, it probably needs to be looked at.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Nothing Personal and expansions. Ta-Da!
Games that will soon be published are: Metal Dawn, All Hail Caesar, Smash City, Oni , (Project X- withheld NDA)
This is what I have currently crowdfunding: Metal Dawn https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/everythingepicgames/metal-dawn/comments
Currently looking for a publisher I have: Pulp Adventures ,Hollywood Dice, Bouncin' Dice, Micro Arena, Flip Heroes, Gotham
I'm planning to crowdfund: All Hail Caesar (Fall 2017), Oni (no date set), Possibly Crash n' Burn (spring 2018)
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Strike Force Z, Crash n' Burn
Games that I'm playtesting are: Kung Fu Action Theater
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Possessed, Un named RPG with Jellybean Games
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: I'm purposely keeping from starting new projects until I wrap up an refine some old ones.

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
I am but I don't keep track of them.

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Both! though if I could only have one I'd go with Star wars. In Atlanta Coke is king. Lastly..I'll just stream Netflix.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I love making art and have a well equipped studio. Also hiking, and gardening.

What is something you learned in the last week?
The definition of Sologamy

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
some of my favorite bands: OkGo, Matt&Kim, the Gorillaz. I love comic books, Sci Fy and Fantasy. I am a superhero movie junky.

What was the last book you read?
Shotgun Arcana by R.S. Blecher. A great read with a weird west setting.

Do you play any musical instruments?
When I as a kid I played trumpet...Until I got braces. That ended my budding music career :D

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I can drink my weight in rum. Though most people wouldn't be surprised by that.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I have the reputation of being somewhat of a party animal. I (redacted) at GenCon. I've also super glued my tongue.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
That sometimes happens with art. I once had a bronze casting where the flashing (leaked bronze)

Who is your idol?
Billy Idol...I mean it’s part of his name. Or Indiana Jones ...Indiana Idol

What would you do if you had a time machine?
I would go back and play pranks on myself...Though maybe that's actually happening

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Extrovert BAYBEE...

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
The Punisher. I also love Daredevil and other highly acrobatic heroes- probably because I'm so clumsy.

Have any pets?
Two Pugs: Frank and Carly. They're the best dogs ever!

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
I say let’s just have a clean slate. We've had a good run.

If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
I am thankful to have many friends in the game industry. If you're my friend, you already know it...If you're not, come hang with me. You'll probably be mystified why anyone would want to associate with me. :D

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Please come say Hi if we're ever at an event together. I love meeting new people




Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

Did you like this interview?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.