13 June 2020

Six Pack - N.º 4 - Player boards


The sides of a dice.

The sides of the hexagon.

Photographs without comments.

Gathered together under a common feature.

Concordia, designed by Mac Gerdts, art by Marina Fahrenbach
(PD Games, Mas Que Oca)

Solenia, designed by Sébastien Dujardin, art by Vincent Dutrait
(Pearl Games)

Star Wars Outer Rim, designed by Corey Konieczka and Tony Fanchi, several illustrators
(Fantasy Flight Games)

CO2 Second Chance, designed by Vital Lacerda, art by Ian O'Toole
(Giochix, Mas Que Oca)

Blackout Hong Kong, designed by Alexander Pfister, art by Chris Quilliams
(Eggert Spiele, Mas Que Oca)

Agricola, designed by Uwe Rosenberg, art by Klemens Franz
(Lookout Games, Devir)

7 June 2020

And the major league is back!

Disclaimer: I had a small participation in the final game development stage, by translating the rules into Portuguese.

Championships slowly are resuming, awakening from an off-season hibernation. Teams are now back on the field. The referee whistles. The ball rolls over the grass. Coaches gesticulate. Players run, jump, pass, dribble, shoot, defend. As for the spectators ... they are still at home. These are the possible conditions, in June 2020.

But even if you cannot yet take your place at the stadium, you can now bring the stadium into your home!

Such is the purpose of Counter-Attack, a game designed and launched in 2019, before time has stopped, and which arrives directly from Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, just a few dozen miles from Glasgow, home of the eternal rivals, Celtic and Rangers.

A game designed by Colin Webster, a football (soccer) fan, and admittedly intended above all for football fans. And it could not have been otherwise, when the intention is to simulate a football match between two teams, searching to score goals, during exactly the regular 90 minutes of an official match.

Firstly, teams must be set up, naturally comprising eleven first-team players, goalkeeper included, and five substitutes.

The proposed method for choosing players is based on a combination of randomness and choice: you shuffle the cards; draw the first four face-up; opponents choose players for their teams, one by one, taking turns alternately; this process is repeated until each team has 16 players. A process that recalls, to some extent, the way teams were selected when playing in school or on your neighbourhood!

Nothing will prevent you from opting for different selection procedures, to the taste of each one, and enabling a greater or lesser approach to real teams. After all, this is about fans and football connoisseurs, and the drive to best mimic "your" real life team will be unavoidable.

Then, assuming the role of coach, you must define the starting formation and who sits on the bench, as a tactical or strategic reserve.

There are 46 different players, in the base game, each represented by a card, holding their name, nationality and the performance level for the main abilities: pace, dribbling, heading, high pass, resilience, shooting and tackling, in what concerns field players. Goalkeepers also have their own aerial and saving abilities.

And here comes the critical role of the coach: to define a strategy, depending on the players available, and on what he knows about the opposing players. After all, this is a game with no hidden information.

It is therefore a matter of combining individual characteristics of each player, defining a play attitude, balanced towards the offense or the defense, defining a tactical system, 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, and keeping the options open with those sitting on the bench.

It is time!
Both teams enter the pitch.
Sides and starting ball possession are drawn.
Greetings exchanged.
The ball awaits on the center spot.

The slots on each side of the board are used to position each team's player cards next to the respective player number, fostering a swift association between player tokens and their specific abilities.

To keep track of players already used at a certain moment within a playing turn, you just move the corresponding cards up or down.

A simple and elegant solution, avoiding the need for other auxiliary tracking elements or additional table space.

A typical issue in team sports’ games is how to represent movement and actions taking place simultaneously, while preventing the process from becoming too complicated, excessively slow, or deeply unrealistic.

In Counter-Attack, the base movement of football players depends only on their speed, as indicated in their individual ability. On the other hand, the movement of teams as a whole, during a turn, takes place in three steps, allowing for almost simultaneously adjustments, in reaction to the opponent team choices: the team holding the ball moves 4 players; then, the opponent team moves 5 players; finally, the first team moves 2 new players, but only up to two hexagons each.

Furthermore, it is possible to attempt a tackle, during an opponent’s movement carrying the ball, to intercept passes or shots, or even to dispute high balls, increasing the range of possible interactions.

Passes come in various shapes and forms, overcoming the 2D frame of the game board: standard pass, first-time, high pass, long ball. And to validate some of the options available in every moment, you will be using a transparent ruler to check their ranges.

Then, there are specific rules for corners, free kicks and penalties, headers, shots and first-time shots, goalkeeper’s movement and saves, in short, everything that you would usually find in a live football match.

Many of the actions are resolved as a duel between characteristics of the opposing players, such as dribble and tackle, shot and save, header and the aerial ability of the goalkeeper, header against header. The base values are combined with a die result, and can also be further modified by other factors, such as the distance to the ball trajectory.

It is thus a simulation that combines players-characters, with an essentially deterministic movement, and with the result of actions as defined by individual characteristics and die results. But make no mistake. The use of dice does not make it a game relying on luck, but one that rather requires a collective strategy, to better take advantage of individual strengths and mitigate weaknesses.

And there is more to come!

Yes, there is a referee, with his own unique profile, some more permissive than others. Ready to whistle when a foul is committed, during an unsuccessful disarming attempt, here the fair-play reigns and there are no intentional fouls, and even to book the missing player with a yellow card.

In addition, players may be injured, reducing their ability to move for the rest of the game, and perhaps even leading to a forced substitution.

To further increase the pressure, and keep the game flowing at a fast pace, hourglasses come into play, limiting the time for each coach to complete his turn.

No attempt to stall the show are allowed! There is no time to waste, no sandbagging,

Recommended for more experienced players, who master well all rules and game processes.

From games to tournaments and full championships is just a small step, one which few fans will hesitate to take.

With multi team-kits available, it is possible to reproduce some of the usual colors that fill-in the stadiums around the world, helping to create a true championship mode, which includes the influence of playing at home, injured players to recover between games, booked players prevented from lining up, and even a transfer market.

And everything else your imagination may bring into play!

It reminds me the warm feeling of games and experiences of past times, among other hobby fans, during those good long summer holidays, designing and playing for ourselves. But here, with all another layer, a different touch, that of a completely developed, seasoned, produced, and finished game.

This is Counter-Attack, by Rachel and Colin Webster.

24 May 2020

70 days

March 16, 2020. Confinement Day 1. An inevitable outcome, given what was known. It had just become a matter of when, and the when is now.

The day is still divided into two halves. The work-work one, remaining almost identical for most of the days, mainly lived in front of a computer screen. Even if the work-regime has changed, the word tele has been added to the word work, and the desk is not the same. Yes, the former desk is now out of sight; however, the distance to those on the other side of the network wires is in fact, for practical matters, undifferentiated.

The transitioning to the second half, the work-games one, is no longer made by means of a walk across the city, shorter or longer depending on the route chosen, and depending on the need to extend the interval between these two half-lives. It has now been replaced by a walk on the treadmill, in front of a wall or a window, by a change of room, or by a mere computer exchange, turning off the first and turning on the second one.

Everything else, all those other places that used to be part of ordinary days, seem to have come to standstill, receded, faded.

Cancellations in the world of work-games had begun, shortly before.

The first to fall was LeiriaCon, scheduled for late March. In last year’s edition I only attended it on Sunday, the final day. For this year’s edition I was aiming higher, wanting to experience the full deal, a complete immersion in games, from Thursday to Sunday! Holidays were granted and the accommodation booked. My own schedule was getting regular updates: a match of Newton with João Neves, waiting to be since Invicta Con; a presentation at Leiria Talks, to make people travel across five decades in ten minutes; a seminar by Paul Grogan on teaching and demoing games; the première of the game Rossio; a number of real meetings with people only known from the virtual space, such as Orlando Sá; meetings with publishers, creators, players and other accomplices, from Portugal and abroad; playing prototypes still undergoing  development; playing games; getting the latest edition of Madeira, and also Star Wars Outer Rim. A truly promising event! Plans now on hold, postponed, discontinued.

Almost simultaneously, another cancelled: the realization of a first exhibition of boardgames, in the University library, in Aveiro, with a selection of some of "my” game, from then and now, and of a few more, thanks to the collaboration of several publishers. It remains as an intention, an unfinished sketch, a plan, a possibility, waiting for a future.

Naturally, the regular game meetings promoted by Boardgamers Group of Aveiro, always an occasion to meet people, play games and photograph, have also been suspended till further notice.

And a couple of weeks later, since the current crisis was here to last, it was the turn for the cancelled of RiaCon, in Estarreja.

However, the work-games continued, despite the uncertainties, since much of it is done solo and at distance. Ideas continue to spring, projects to be developed, collaborations to be needed.

A few more prototype tests across digital platforms, with Dawson, Pedro Silva or Andrew Bosley.
Translation or revision of rules for games shared for free, a trend that has grown rapidly in these times, such as Paper Roll & Write, by Orlando Sá, André Santos and Pedro Kerouac, or Par Odin, from the French publisher Old Chap Games.

Translation or revision of game rules, within ongoing or prospective collaborations, always trying to broaden the range of board games available in Portuguese, and to ensure that finalised rules make it easier to discover new games, and contribute to a more enjoyable experience. Contacts across the globe, from Taiwan to Salt Lake City, Seville to Linköping or Minneapolis.

And some more pages were added to the notebooks I keep around for recording loose ideas and for a game in development.

To the work-games one need to add the games played, either in solitaire, at two and event at three player count, taking advantage of the fact that the household gained one more inhabitant, during these times, as well as an additional observer, who quickly exchanged the temptation to knock down meeples and tokens by the coziness of game boxes, things that only cats understand.

Time for diversifying experiences, more than to delve into the depths of a few games, perhaps as a contrast to the new routines, which do not allow for much variation. A combination of regular games, long-awaited debuts, and even recent acquisitions, hit the table: Arboretum (or the difficult art of combining card placement and hand management and control), Azul (already a house classic), Glen More (always a favourite), Jetpack Joyride (a fun race with simultaneous action), Kanagawa (beautiful, one of the recent acquisitions), Keltis (another safe choice), Keyflower (first time played and immediately a fan), Kingdom Defenders (a pleasant surprise, won in a raffle at RiaCon 2019), Photosynthesis (beautiful and original), Sagrada (in puzzle mode), Santorini (still with much to explore, strategy-wise, and wanting to paint some houses), Solenia (another one with original mechanisms and very interesting to play), Suburbia (this one had to be solo), Takenoko (entering the kingdom of the Giant Pandas), Tsuro (within the labyrinth) and Yangtze (another regular)
I have not yet become a fan of online platforms for board games, whether BoardGameArena, Tabletopia or TableTopSimulator. It might be due to the scarce experience I have with them, only a Tzolk'in play, thanks to Pedro's invitation, and some prototype tests. Most probably because I also have a chance to play at home, during these times. What strikes me most is that the difference between digital games and board games gets blurred, when the board is gone, and the screen is ever present. There is something missing: the people around the table, the looks, the touch, the sounds. I believe that, all things taken into consideration, it will be more interesting to play games at distance when each player uses his own copy, or a shared copy is used, and people are connected by video and sound. But then again, this can not be used for all games around.

May 24, 2020. Confinement Day 70. Tomorrow will begin a mixed regime at work-work. The regime in work-games remains at distance.

9 May 2020

"And they are entering the final stretch, still jockeying for position, neck and neck!"

This is another one keeping around, even being almost 50 years old, and exhibiting signs of wear. Wear characteristic of time as measured in circles around the sun, and of time as measured in play turns, carried out by hands, carried out by people around a table.

The image does not fool, and neither does the name. In Jockey we go to the races, horse races of course. Designed by S. Spencer, it was originally published in 1973, by Ravensburger Spieleverlag. And just like other games from this very same publisher, it was introduced in Portugal by the national publishing label Majora, with the side of the box holding the black triangle with the inscription "Jogos de Ravensburg ", Ravensburg Games.

The Carnation Revolution was yet to happen, in Portugal.
Still 7 more years to the release of “Cavalos de Corrida”, Racehorses, the first single of the Portuguese rock band UHF.

It was race day in Ascot, for another edition of the already centennial Gold Cup. One lap at the racecourse, just over 4000 meters in length, or being more accurate, 2 miles, 3 furlongs and 210 yards, in the peculiar imperial system of units. One single lap, for one single winner. One single lap, for a winning team, owner, trainer, jockey and all the others in the backstage. One single lap to score a success for a long winning breed.

The stopwatch froze at 4 minutes, 33 seconds, 46 hundredths of a second.  The furious gallop at more than 30 miles an hour gave way to a relaxed trot. The stress in the track gave way to victories and losses on the stands. Winner: Lassalle, a four-year-old horse owned by Zenya Yoshida, ridden by Jimmy Lindley and trained by Richard Carver Junior (1). A golden age, in full competitive maturity, in which he won, in addition to the Gold Cup, the Prix de Cadran and the Prix Gladiateur (2).

But, in Jockey, we ran on the outside. We are not owners, nor trainers, nor the jockeys themselves ... and we are not the horses either. We are punters! And yes, we will have some influence on the unfolding of the races, supporting ur favourites, in each of the three events scheduled for this afternoon at the racecourse.

First, to bet.

Trying to predict the odds of success of each of the four horses, based on the cards we have in our possession, and deciding: to bet only for the second place; reduce the risk by betting on two horses for the win; to aim solely for the winner; high stakes betting on first and second in the arrival order. The higher the risk, the greater the reward, in case of victory. And after deciding how, we must decide how much.

The bets are, of course, kept in secret until the end of the race, thus fuelling the suspense.

Then, it is race time.

Punters incite the horses, advancing them along the track. Now since no one owns the horses, each punter can advance any one of them in a single turn, and even different horses in different turns.

Since the bets are not known, the racing strategy must be concealed for as long as possible!

Each punter receives a set of cards, which he sees before placing bets, to use throughout the race. Everyone knows their own cards, but not those of your opponents, and there will be no more cards to draw along the way.

There are two main card-types: coloured and neutral. The former is used to advance the horse of the depicted color, and may represent either a specific distance to be covered or a distance conditioned by the race situation. The later, is used to advance a horse that is in a certain track position, not depending on the colour.

In the photo:

  • the yellow horse may move forward up to 30 spaces, if not in first place, but cannot come closer than 5 spaces to the leader, in all a good asset for outstanding reversals;
  • the red horse moves forward 10 spaces, a basic and safe movement;
  • the blue horse, if in first position, triples its lead, racing for the line;
  • the horse currently in second place moves forward 13 spaces;
  • the horse currently in third position may move forward 18 spaces, but no more than one space ahead of the leader;
  • the horse currently in fourth moves forward 20 spaces.

You have to play the right cards at the right moments!

It is a matter of weighing risk and reward, betting, and racing tactics.

Add to it a good deal of concealment and bluffing.

Observe your opponents’ behaviour.

And head straight for the finish line.

In the end, all the bets are disclosed, which may cause some surprises, and then comes the time to determine profits and losses.

And may the next race start soon, just because a single lap is so short! And the temptation to rack up winnings, or try to recover from losses, is there, in Jockey as in all betting games.

Interestingly, this another game involving money, represented by bank notes, and with everything neatly tucked in the insert, like several others of that age, that featured in previous posts, such as Bolsa, the Stock Exchange, and Petróleo, Oil.

18 April 2020

Six Pack - N.º 3 - Of characters

Saltlands, art by Bazsó Lossonczy


The sides of a dice.

The sides of the hexagon.

Photographs without comments.

Gathered together under a common feature.

Squad Leader, unknown artis

Agricola, art by Klemens Franz

Homes, Sherlock & Mycroft, art by Pedro Soto

Magic the Gathering, art by Johannes Voss

Blackout HongKong, art by Chris Quilliams

9 April 2020

Night in shades of blue

The night still arrives at the end of the day. Day 24, Night 24, d.c., during confinement. A night in shades of Blue, not blue the colour, because outside is raining and the clouds are making it even darker, but blue as in the word for Azul, Michael Kiesling’s game.

It could have been a 4-way match, if one disregards the fact that the fourth element at home is a feline. And this one, as usual according to cats’ ways, quickly went from the initial curiosity about those rattling little pieces, almost begging to be pushed to the border of the table and beyond, onto the ground, to a certain analytical distancing from humans, with those looks of criticism and superiority, to finally, and after just a short time, fell asleep in the coziness, and in the appropriate confinement, of the game box. Everyone knows, by the way, that this is one of the main reasons for games to come in boxes.

And therefore, we were three to play, me and my two companions for these times, making time for one of our common favourite hobbies, always present throughout our lives, even if in varying doses depending on time availability and moods.

The choice for the night fell on Azul, acquired just over a year ago and which quickly became one of the most frequent on the table. It is a beautiful game, developed under the artistic direction of Philippe Guérin, with a set of pieces that you really want to handle, with almost zero setup time and straightforward rules. More tactical at two players, recalling variations on the game of Nim, it is a little more unpredictable at three and, above all, at four players, since each choice of a set of tiles will condition the following players, so that much can change until your turn arrives.

The goal: to obtain the largest number of points throughout the game, by strategically laying tiles, and as final bonuses, by completing certain patterns (complete rows, complete columns, sets of five tiles of the same type).

Today, it's another day. Here are some pictures of yesterday.

In shades of blue and white: a classic.

A lot available at the factory, make your pick.

Covering the wall surface.

"Hmmmm ... don't think that's the best option."

5 April 2020

"There cannot be good specialists in building civilizations"

There may be good specialists in carving nails, there cannot be good specialists in building civilizations.”, wrote Álvaro de Campos, a heteronym of Fernando Pessoa, on the usefulness of specialists.

Referring to civilizations, one might also refer to cities. It will be a matter of scale, and of something more, for these small worlds, or large centers, where entire lives unfold, transient as all lives are.

Let us take the challenge of attempting to build cities, from this comfortable room, now more isolated from the outside world, in these strange times. Without any vain attempt, as the engineer wrote, to become an expert in the matter. On top of that, these are really the first steps at the trade, with still no competition with other builders, no interaction with other cities, on my own, alone. Well, not entirely! Dale, the Bot, will be around, developing his own city.

The city memories are being put into writing one day after, another day, a gray one, the rain pattering against the roof, the same room, the same isolation, now without Dale, who has retreated into his own bot world, with the band James playing in the background, the music, a constant across time.

The initial outline of the city encompassed the suburbs, a community park and a heavy factory.

The future residential growth of the cities was anticipated from the start, and is visible during the first development phase, welcoming the Homeowner’s Association, the first offices, duly supported by a business supply store, two lakes, introducing a separation from the industrial zone, and a landfill next to the factory.

The generated activity allowed for an overall average income, there were no problems whatsoever with cash flow, and there was a small population growth.

"And then came the schools", as in the Telegraph Road, sung by Dire Straits, a museum next to them, and another residential area, bringing more people into the city, expanding to the east, where the water surface was also increased.

The school and residential area continued to expand, now with a middle school, a hostel, a bed & breakfast, and a retirement village.

People continued to flock to the city, its population increasing substantially, but the growth rate was decelerating, and costs overcame revenues. Would this be a sustainable city for times to come?

We won't know that, as the history of this town has come to an end.

Some goals were achieved, in competition with Dale’s nearby town, picking up the prizes for the most successful builder, spendthrift, and miser in what relates to income. Money has all been invested to attract the largest population possible, the measure of success for these (and other...) city builders. In the end, reaching 120 points, the title of Architectural Engineer.

Dale’s city is quite a different one, with their vast areas for offices, commercial activities and industries. The almost simultaneous construction of two casinos, something that seemed to appeal to the bot, marked a point of decline for times to follow: although the obtained income was fairly high, turning it into an even wealthier city, the corresponding decline in reputation led to a sharp decrease in population figures, that were not fully recovered.

Now, waiting for the opportunity to test more city concepts, along with other human builders of cities, living up to the motto: Live in the city of tomorrow ... Today!

This is Suburbia, a 2012 game by Ted Alspach, with graphic art by Klemens Franz and Ollin Timm, the bot rules of Dale Yu, and edited by Bézier Games, San José, California, United States of America.