Archive for the 'Game design' Category

There are only 2 Tomatoes…

…and they are Jordi and Alvaro!

Although 2Tomatoes do sell a lot of The Walking Dead products, there is a lot more to it than zombies. 2Tomatoes is a relatively new Spanish publisher based in Barcelona. They have a good range of products, including Belfort, Yokohama and Root, amongst others, mostly localised for Spain and France. We were impressed by their ability to work successfully across companies in different countries with different cultures and to create their own products too.

Our first partnership with 2Tomatoes was for Tony’s excellent Guilds of London, back in 2016.

Cover of the Spanish version of Guilds of London

Then, as with our colleagues at Frosted Games, we embarked on the Pocket Campaigns series, starting with the 2nd Edition of The Cousins’ War. I must admit I didn’t know that the Wars of the Roses would be a popular topic outside the English-speaking world, but it has proved to be welcomed by both Spanish and German players. There is a possibility we may be looking at a French edition too, if we collectively decide to make a third edition.

Now we have embarked on the next phase of the Pocket Campaigns series together, with The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress. Our Kickstarter has funded within 42 hours of its start! This is mainly due to the expertise of Jordi and Alvaro, who have really shown us a thing or two about marketing (not one of SSG’s strong points).

 

2Tomatoes in their own words: “We met at uni and after having adventures more or less all over the world we founded the company with a simple goal in mind: make games that are different, that stand out. We’re very passionate about what we do and we only publish games that we love. It is a lot of work but we can live with the burden. Expect more from us soon…

“We fell in love with The Cousins’ War in the first game. Simple rules yet meaty decisions in a small box for 2 players. It’s not only a great game, but also an amazing product. When we tested The March of Progress & Ming Voyages some months ago we felt the same way. It was an easy decision to make to join SSG Pocket Campaigns series.”

Frosted Games with a cherry on top

As you’ll know from elsewhere in this blog, we at Surprised Stare Games have partnered with 2Tomatoes Games and Frosted Games for our latest presentations, The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress. We’ve had a long association with Matthias and his team. Our serious co-publishing history going back to Guilds of London in 2016, though I think we had some expansions in the inventive Advent Calendar that Frosted produced around that time. Besides their help in bringing our games to the German market, Matthias has also generously helped us, a small UK indie company with no paid staff, to navigate the intricacies of the German VAT system – for which I am personally very grateful!

In 2018, we co-published The Cousins’ War 2nd edition, also including 2Tomatoes, to form our Pocket Campaigns partnership.

CW_gameboard_back_picOnly

More recently, Frosted Games published the German version of:

our solo science fiction game, designed by Tony and illustrated by Alex Lee. But why are Frosted Games special? Well, in their own words:

“Frosted Games is meant to be just that: providing games, that are done to perfection. As you would finish a marvelous cake right up to the frosting. Frosted Games is a small publisher focusing on a select group of excellent games – as long as they are innovative or if their mechanisms are deeply intertwined with their theme. We publish historical highlights like Watergate or expert mindbenders like Cooper Island, but also localize exciting titles like Dawn of the Zeds, Lux Aeterna or Sidereal Confluence. Frosted Games‘ hallmark is excellence in games, both in gameplay as well as in execution.

We love the Surprised Stare Games designs because they combine what we stand for and love: innovative mechanisms wrapped in an enticing thematic coat of history. It is a great way to make history a fun thing and we even have a line for this in Germany called „Playing History“. The Pocket Campaigns are a great addition to this line and we are happy to partner with Alan and Tony.”

Their track record of excellence certainly bears out their aims.

Our Kickstarter campaign for the Pocket Campaigns games The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress went live today.

 

The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress Kickstarter is now live!

It’s the first Kickstarter we’ve done ourselves, so we’re a bit excited!

Here’s the link to the project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1031232934/the-ming-voyages-and-the-march-of-progress

Additionally, I’ve just updated the online rule books for the games, as an added bonus. These aren’t final layouts with artwork, but they’re very very nearly final text:

The March of Progress rules: http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MarchOfProgress/TMoP-Rulebook_ForKickstarter.pdf

The March of Progress scenarios: http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MarchOfProgress/TMoP-Scenarios_ForKickstarter.pdf

The Ming Voyages 2-player rules: http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/Ming/TheMingVoyages_2-playerRulebook_ForKickstarter.pdf

The Ming Voyages solo rules:
http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/Ming/TheMingVoyages_SoloRulebook_ForKickstarter.pdf

Pocket Campaigns in a Can(nes)

SSG is not at The International Games Festival in Cannes in person, unfortunately. However, thanks to 2Tomatoes, our new games The March of Progress and The Ming Voyages are being advertised, so we’re there in spirit!

The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress at The International Games Festival at Cannes. Thanks to 2Tomatoes for being there. And to Bez for the picture.

Our Kickstarter for the games starts on Monday 24 February 2020 at 17:00 UK time.

 

The Ming Voyages: Treasure and Conquest for 2 players

The Ming Voyages is one of our new Pocket Campaigns games. It’s the closest to the first Pocket Campaign, The Cousins’ War. David J Mortimer and I designed it as a different take on the multi-use cards and separate dice-based battle system introduced in the earlier game.

The Ming Voyages box 3D

The Ming Voyages box 3D

The initial idea was that an asymmetric 2-player game would be very interesting, in contrast to simply drawing from the same deck and having identical starting positions. The Ming Emperor starts with 3 cards and draws 2 cards per round creating a hand of 5 cards. The Barbarain Overlord starts with 4 cards and draws none. Players swap hands when each one has played a single card. Then, rinse and repeat.

As in The Cousins’ War, a player can use a valid action in their opponent’s turn, and part of the game is to limit the efficacy of these extra reactions. For the Ming Emperor, the added complication is that only actions keyed to completed voyages – each voyage being numbered – can be used as reactions. For the Barbarian Overlord, the least powerful cards have no useable action at all (they can only be used for 1 Command Point on the Overlord’s own turn), and many reactions are positional, so may not always be available. This is balanced by a number of cards whose power for the Barbarians is increased when the Ming have completed 4 voyages.

Examples of cards from The Ming Voyages, near-final artwork

Examples of cards from The Ming Voyages, near-final artwork

This new system enables each player, particularly the Ming Emperor to seed the opponent’s hand with cards that might contain actions useful to the non-active player as reactions. The thematic background to this idea was that the Chinese, throughout their Imperial history and including during the Ming dynasty, used Imperial personnel, agents, traders, courtiers and ambassadors to penetrate into the ‘lands of the barbarians’ (basically, any non-Chinese was a barbarian). Besides the usual rounds of negotiations and trading relations, the Chinese had networks of spies and gift-giving officials, whose purpose was to discover the aims and intentions of potentially hostile peoples beyond their borders. Gifts of silk and other luxuries were bestowed on chieftains and rulers in order to bind them to the Chinese economy, and thereby ward off aggression; at least in theory. From these historical traits, we developed the notion that only the Ming Emperor draws cards, and they effectively choose within limits what cards the Barbarian Overlord receives. At the least they know what’s in the Barbarian Overlord’s hand. The Ming Emperor can take cards out of the stream of cards given to the Barbarian Overlord by playing cards into their reserve, or by timing the use of cards to minimise the Overlord’s ability to take advantage of actions during the Ming turn. The Barbarian Overlord can also do this, but to a more limited degree, because their hand is only what they’ve received from the Ming.

Although it might seem that the Barbarian Overlord is weaker, in fact, besides the obvious attack cards that enable them to invade and conquer Chinese Borderlands, they have many cards that can impact on the Ming’s ability to set sail on voyages by raiding for gold and by disrupting the ocean-going junks. In addition, only the Barbarian Overlord can use Command Points from their reserved cards to reinforce their normal CP actions. Where a normal CP action can produce an attack of 3 Horde pieces, this can be increased to a potentially devastating 6 Hordes using reinforcements.

The Ming Emperor can win a major and immediate victory by completing all 7 treasure voyages. But pressure from the Barbarians on the borders cannot be ignored, because the Barbarian Overlord can win a major and immediate victory by conquering all 5 Chinese Borderlands. If neither player can achieve their major victory, a minor victory is awarded from the number of voyages completed plus Borderlands controlled (for the Ming Emperor) and the number of voyages not completed plus Borderlands controlled (for the Barbarian Overlord). The Overlord wins a tie, so the Ming Emperor has to be resourceful.

Players operate the battle sub-system with our signature 3 dice each side to resolve invasions and defensive counter-attacks. Rather than bluffing, as in The Cousins’ War, in this version the attacker rolls their 3 dice first, and chooses whether to use reserved cards to re-roll. You can spend each CP on reserved cards for one re-roll of any number of your dice, the target being to get the best triple, double or single that you can muster. Then, once the attacker has finished, the defender rolls their dice similarly, and can also use reserved cards to re-roll. As in the earlier game, a better triple beats an inferior triple, a better double beats a double and a better single beats a single (ties are re-rolled); these result in the loser removing 1 Troop or Horde. However, triples beat doubles, and doubles beat singles – but these are Devastating Blows and the loser removes 2 pieces. Battles continue until only one side occupies the Borderland, so they can be bloody affairs. Of course, as in The Cousins’ War, the luck of the dice can play a part. This wouldn’t be war without a chance element, and you have to take into account in your tactics and strategy that you might unluckily lose or fortunately win.

I hope this has whetted your appetite for The Ming Voyages. If you’d like to know a bit more, Paul Grogan @ Gaming Rules! will be doing a live tutorial and playthrough of The Ming Voyages on Thursday 13 February at 2pm. Please feel free to join us!

The March of Progress: the basics

Here’s a little bit about the basics of The March of Progress, one of our new Pocket Campaigns series games.

The introductory scenario gives you the fundamentals of the mechanics of the game. It’s primarily abstract at this stage; the historical stuff comes in the other scenarios. Each player has a home country card, and between these cards is the neutral country. The maneouvre space is restricted to just these 3 spaces. You start with 1 army each, in your home country, and 2 armies in stock. The neutral country has no armies. Each of your armies is worth 1 combat strength, and your home country can generate 3 VPs whenever you score. The neutral country generates 2 VPs if you control it when you score.

Initial set-up for The March of Progress, Introductory Scenario

Initial set-up for The March of Progress, Introductory Scenario

You have 8 Action cards that enable you to move your armies, attack enemy armies in the same country, recruit new armies, fortify your armies – gaining 1 combat strength in defence -, increase your armies’ strength and finally, score VPs while also returning all your cards back to your hand. Each turn, you each play a card face down, simultaneously reveal the cards, then carry out the actions you’ve chosen in a standard order. Your played cards stay in your discard pile till you play your Score card, at which point you score VPs and get all your cards back into your hand. You can choose when you Score, but you cannot Score unless you have discarded at least 1 other card, so you can’t simply Score every turn.

A key feature of the strategy of The March of Progress is increasing your armies’ combat power. The Strength card enables you to add 1 permanently to all your armies. However, to do this you have to decrease the VP potential of a Country you control. This is a bit like devastating the countryside in order to gain military strength or resources. Ideally, you want to increase your military might by decreasing the VP potential of enemy or neutral countries, not your own, but to do that you’ll likely have to fight, or at least get into the neutral country before the enemy. But you also want to recruit extra armies, which can only happen in your home country, and you want to earn as many VPs as possible from your own and the neutral country, because you win by getting the most VPs. So, there are a lot of choices to make right from the start. Do you advance rapidly into the neutral country with a weak force in order to gain VPs or strength before the enemy arrives? Or do you stay put and recruit, or stay put and strengthen your armies before moving? You only have 1 Recruit card, so before you can recruit your third army, you’ll have to Score – is it worth scoring quickly, but possibly with less VPs, in order to get your third army into play soon? It’s also worth noting that the Strength card that increases the combat strength of your armies only comes into effect after the Attack actions – this reflects the time it takes to deploy new weapons and train with them. So, you might lose a battle with your existing weak army before your new power matures.

A game in progress. As the Blue player has the initiative, they will win the battle in the Neutral Country.

Owing to the multitude of choices that you and your opponent might make, reading your enemy can be a vital part of the game. If you know your enemy is cautious, maybe you can risk a score when they have the option to move, hoping that they will recruit or strengthen their armies, rather than moving into a country you control. But if your enemy is aggressive, maybe you can take advantage by fortifying your armies, and watching the enemy hurl themselves forlornly at your positions. You also need to pay attention to who has the initiative – this can enable you to force the enemy to move first, so you can react accordingly, or even help you to defeat your opponent before they can attack you.

These are the types of choices you’ll need to address in the introductory game. After that, the 4 historical scenarios provide glimpses of the new strategic imperatives from the 18th through to the mid-20th century.

If you’d like to learn more about The March of Progress, Paul Grogan will be running through the game on a live stream video at 4pm on Thursday 13th February. The video will be available online afterwards.

The March of Progress: Marching On!

Thanks to Klemens Franz’s hard work, we now have near-final artwork for The March of Progress, due for launch soon. It’s come a long way since the old days when it was called ‘Politics By Other Means’!

Here’s a picture of WW2 in the West in progress. It’s the biggest of the scenarios, a 2-parter in fact. The Germans start with stronger armies and a better ATTACK+1 card for Blitzkrieg, whereas the Allies can pay to play both their MOVE cards in the same turn, reflecting their potential for greater resources. The Germans have to win both halves to win the scenario, whereas the Allies ‘only’ have to occupy Berlin! The second half of the game introduces German V Weapons and Allied Air Power. This picture includes artwork prior to final layout, so it still has some rough edges – but I hope you get the general glory of it all.

Partly as a result of the development of this scenario, I’m beginning to wonder about the possibility of a World War 2 Total War Pocket Campaigns game!