Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Game Spotlight - Infinite City plus Bonus Dust Tactics and The Adventurers Info

Infinite City
Alderac Entertainment Group - 2009
Designed and Developed by Brent Keith
Art by Charles Urbach

Infinite City is a tile laying game with an incredibly simple set of rules that plays out with a lot of strategy.  Your goal is to have the most tiles that are in adjacent groups of 3 or more. The game starts five tiles layed out on the table like a plus sign.

Each tile represents a building in the city. They are shuffled and each player (from 2-6) receives a hand of five tiles (circumstances may provide you with more than that, but you won't start your turn with less.) You lay a tile along the edge of any other tile on the table, place one of your colored markers on it, and follow the directions on the tile. This may trigger other effects. Some tiles allow you to place a token on another tile. If you choose a face down tile, you flip it over and follow
the text on that tile. Chaining together moves is good and part 
of the fun.

When your turn is done, play rotates around the table until the game ends. This happens when one player runs out of their colored tokens or all the Power Plants are all on the table.

Scoring is easy enough. If you have 3 or more tokens  on adjacent tiles, you get one point for each tile in the group.
Some of the tiles have a numerical value in the upper left
corner. All players with tokens on one of those tiles adds that numerical value to their score. Finally, some of the tiles have silver borders with rings. Per the rule book, "The player controlling the most silver-bordered tiles gains a bonus equal to the number of those tiles. If two or more players are tied, each gains that bonus."

Add all those points together to determine the winner.

Infinite City is a simple game to learn, but I can see that it will take some time to get good at it. The game has received some criticism for being too random. The same could be said of every card game. Playing multiple tiles in a turn is the key to winning, but sometimes that is not possible. You also have to play to disrupt your opponents. Some people do not care for this type of game. 

I have yet to play with a large group, but keeping a low profile in a game that size seems like a good strategy. Don't draw too much attention to yourself and work to build a good hand to let you make a few big plays. With five turns between your own, I suspect the scores will be low.

The production values are nice and the artwork by Charles Urbach is beautiful.

Behind the Game

Once again, I had the opportunity to interview Todd Rowland, Senior Brand Manager at AEG, who talks about far more than Infinite City. Brent Keith, the Designer of Infinite City also answered some questions.

How do you feel your foray into the board game world has gone? How did the success of the releases compare to your expectations?
Todd Rowland - So far we've been really blessed.  We started our first serious year in board games with two big successes, The Adventurers and Thunderstone.  These two put us in a strong position coming right out of the gate.  Some of our other games that didn't perform quite as well as hoped didn't hurt as much, and some of the others are now having more time to work their way through the market and still turn good profits for us.  Thunderstone is releasing two anticipated expansions this year, and The Adventurers is heading to a rather large national chain this summer, so we're quite happy!   It has also given us a good position to try some interesting new games in the future.

What are the next releases for AEG?
Todd - Well we have Dust Tactics, which I know you've heard of.   We also have "Tempest" which is our code name for a line of board games releasing later this year that could possibly change the way people look at board games and the worlds they are set in. We certainly haven't seen anything like it before.  City of Thieves is a game of pilfering featuring amazing miniatures by the same artists who did The Adventurers.  We also have the above mentioned Thunderstone sequels and several other new games in the works as well!

I'll drop a hint that people who abhor CCGs just might find a reason to enjoy the L5R CCG later this year too.

Regarding Dust... The announcement calls the Dust Game a "miniatures board game." What does that mean? Is it a boardgame with awesome pieces or is it more a miniatures game with a simplified rules system, with terrain and line-of-sight and those more table-topy things. Do the figures make a difference to the play of the game? Will this be out before Gencon?
Todd - It's a miniatures game in a box, a skirmish game with all the table-top things, but a modular board and scenario booklets, etc.  Its very self-contained but it will be expanded in the future with artillery sets, command groups, etc.  The figures all make a great deal of importance, as if your flame-thrower troop is taken out, no more flame throwing!  Did I mention that every single figure is uniquely-sculpted?  You'll know exactly where that flame-thrower you want to take out is located.  The game is set to release at GenCon and we will be running all day sessions of the game in the board-game hall and at our exhibit booth.

Will the Dust expansions include more map tiles? Are there rules for playing using regular minis tabletop terrain?

Todd - Yes, it will include maps, and using regular terrain won't be difficult at all, if you keep the general measurement rules for movement and spaces common.
A new figure for The Adventurers is coming out. When and how is the promo figure for the Adventurers going to be released? Will she be prepainted? How do we get one?
Todd - She will be pre-painted.  As to how to get one. We'll be announcing soon!  You'll be on the short list of people who hear first.

Thanks! I'll be sure to share that news with my readers.

How long have you known Brent Keith (designer of Infinite City) and what led to him being hired at AEG?
Todd - I've known Brent since the early Legend of the Five Rings days.  We were both players, and at about the same time, he was hired by AEG for design, and I was hired for management.  We worked together on the Warlord CCG at first, then we moved to L5R, and now we're both working on various products.

Brent, Can you tell us a little bit about how you went from being a Legend of the Five Rings player to working for AEG? How long have you been with AEG and what position did you start in?
Brent Keith - For a long time, I was just another player. When Clan War came out, I latched onto it. After a while, I had asked enough questions of a local who happened to be one of the playtesters (as well as rules guru) that I wound up helping playtest the last couple of publications before it went dark. That lead to my playtesting other AEG games, including Legend of the Burning Sands, L5R Diskwars, Warlord, and eventually L5R itself.

While playtesting Warlord, I sent in a slew of card ideas, and also answered many rules questions online. The original rules guru stepped down, and I was asked to take his place. After a few months in that role, the then current designer of Warlord left AEG, and I was asked to take his place as Warlord design lead. That was in the fall of 2003, and I have been with AEG ever since. I spent the first couple of years essentially as a freelance contractor working remotely, and moved to California in summer of 2005 to work in the office full-time. A couple of months after that, there was a huge shakeup in the office with a large staff reduction, and I found myself having gone full circle and returning to L5R - this time as the lead designer.

Do you still play L5R? Are you still designing for that game?
Brent - I do still play on occasion, but not very often right now. Most of what I currently do for the game is either helping in the pre-press stage (reviewing graphic design, checking that all elements such as the proper blacks are in place, and the like), or helping brainstorm at a higher brand level (such as designing the Race for the Throne, and helping design the second megagame). Most of my time these days is spent on other projects.
Did you play board games as a child? What were some of your favorites back then?

Brent - Absolutely. My family played Spades and Aggravation (a variant of Parcheesi) quite a bit, and there were numerous others which made frequent appearances, depending on my age: Monopoly, Axis and Allies, Twixt, Chess, Shogi (the Japanese version of Chess), Checkers, Trivial Pursuit, the usual run of Parker Brothers Milton Bradley, and Hasbro games - not a lot of big surprises, but many games played over the course of time.

You were an avid L5R player. Was that your introduction to hobby games?
Brent - That depends a lot on how you define "hobby games". I first played Axis and Allies in 7th grade, and my first time playing D&D was around that time as well. In 4th or 5th grade I played "Star Wars: Destroy the Death Star" from time to time, and it can be argued that it was an early "hobby game", even if it was a mass-market media tie in. 

During college I ran into many more games, such as Cosmic Encounter, Rail Baron, Settlers of Catan (I was dating a German doctoral student at the time, so it was a year or so before the English release), Kings and Things, Civilization... the list goes on. That said, I simply thought of them as games, and made no differentiation between "hobby games" and "mass market" games. To be honest, I still don't, but at least now I know what people mean when they do. (You can find Settlers of Catan in most toy stores these days. Does that mean it is no longer a hobby game?)

My first exposure to CCGs was Magic, back in 1994 (two frustrating months before Revised hit the shelves, and after Unlimited had become very hard to find). A couple years later, I tried Legend of the Five Rings (just after the Shadowlands expansion) - and rapidly changed addictions.

Outside of work are you an avid game player? If so, what are some of your favorites? 
Brent - Most definitely. My list of favorites is fairly long, so I will just mention a few here:
* Advanced Civilization
* Cosmic Encounter
* Illuminati (with full cheating rules)
* Go
* Citadels
* Apples to Apples
 (Yes, most of these are older titles. It takes a while for one to make it up into my "favorite" category.)

Where did you grow up? 
Brent - In Houston, a stone's throw away from NASA and Mission Control.
(Standing on the high-dive board at the local swimming pool, I could literally see rockets. How cool is that?)
When did you start creating games and not just playing them?
Brent - In elementary school, I programmed a basic x-wing vs. tie fighter game on my home computer (a TI 99-4A, back in the days of wood burning computers and cassette drives).

 In high school or college, I designed a chess variant inspired by the "Dragonchess" article in Dragon magazine issue 100. (It rapidly faded into a much deserved obscurity. It was... bad.) Also around that time, I started adding "house rules" to a number of games I played with others. As mentioned above, I sent many card ideas in for L5R and Warlord long before I was hired, and once at AEG I was designing card sets on a regular basis.

What was the inspiration for Infinite City and tell us about the developing and playtesting. How long did all that take and did you do it yourself or did that happen after AEG was going to publish the game?
Brent - In this particular case, the art came first - or, rather, the artist did. After all the fantastic work he had done on the strongholds, someone in the office made an idle comment about his style being unique enough that it could fill a whole game. That got me to thinking about what form such a game would take, knowing he was so strong at doing buildings. Once I had the idea of each tile being a building, the rest followed quickly.

I first brought a prototype into the office in December of 2008. It was quickly added to the schedule with the intent to release in October or November of 2009. Due to some production and printing delays, release was pushed back to early 2010, which still makes it one of the shortest turn arounds from initial idea to release that AEG has done.

When you decided to expand beyond the CCGs where did Infinite City fall in the development  path - early or late? Was it always there or was it a surprise?
Todd -It was early. We had several games that came to us from designers, but Brent, being in house spearheaded Infinite City (and also Myth: Pantheons) which were designs he had been kicking around on his own.  We're definitely glad he did.

Can you tell us a little about the artist, Charles Urbach? His portfolio is very character oriented, how did you decide that he was the guy for future-deco architecture?
Brent - That was a pure lucky break. I came across his art at a local convention (Marcon, in Ohio) a few years ago while working on Warlord, and suggested he send his portfolio to AEG. Later, when I was on L5R, I took another look at his art, and passed it along to the person then acting as art director. We had him do a couple of character pieces, and reception in the office was lukewarm. By pure happenstance, he was assigned a holding - Yotsu Dojo.

When the art for that card came in, we were all stunned. In the very next set, we asked him to do the strongholds - and he has been doing them ever since. Since that time, his work has defined the visual look for all the clans' architecture.

As described above, that lead us to want to do a game using just his art for the buildings - and I made the deliberate choice to give him free reign, within the boundaries of "futuristic" and "internally consistent". The futuristic art deco organically developed from there.

The art is fantastic. Was the direction for the art just part of the natural progression of the game or did the art drive the development of the different tiles?
Todd -I think it was a natural progression. We had some ideas of the sorts of buildings a city would have. Obvious ones like a Police Station or a City Hall, but Charles Urbach took those and crafted a whole world himself with a very art deco look.  We knew Charles from his work on stronghold cards which single-handedly redefined everyone's view of Rokugan in L5R, so he was a natural choice for Infinite City. 

Were there a lot of tile effects that didn't get used and was it complicated deciding how many of each tile to use?
Brent - Most tiles were designed after the initial mix of buildings was chosen, rather than the reverse, so most of the initial tile designs made it into the set. That being said, as playtest continued many more designs suggested themselves - making future sets (if any) easy to design.


At what stage of the design did you decide to go for 6 players?
Brent - Very early on. The bigger question was whether it would work well enough with 2 players to put it on the box instead of 3.

How long did it take to see Infinite City through graphic design and production? Did you have any input in this?

Brent - Once we started serious work on art and graphics, it was about three months. I was involved with the art from the outset, but early on, I was not very involved in the graphic design. Midway through that changed, and the graphics changed from a more techno design which was good (except for the logo) to its current deco look - one which I believe to be fantastic. (Same graphic designer the whole way through, and I hope the general look he had initially designed can be applied to another game.)

Are you designing any expansions?
Brent - An expansion is designed, but we are waiting to move forward until we have a stronger idea of how an expansion would fare in the marketplace.

Besides games, work, and family do you have any passions or interests that you'd like to share with us?
Brent - Those three do tend to eat up a big portion of my time, especially with a 2 year old running around. Outside of those, I enjoy science fiction and fantasy books and films, and occasional inline skating.

Do you have any other game designs coming up that you can tell us about, for AEG or for other companies?
Brent - I have a couple in early stages, but none far enough along that I feel comfortable talking about them yet.
What game that you don't work on do you play the most?

Brent - Narrowing it down to a single game is nigh impossible. I like to play almost any type of game, so I generally try to jump in on whatever is going at the time.

I would like to extend a big thank you to Todd and Brent for taking the time for this email interview. I really appreciate it and enjoy the game.

1 comment:

The Hopeless Gamer said...

Great interview. AEG is one of those game companies that's kind of a mystery to me, so this was a very welcomed interview from you guys. I'm really really looking forward to Dust Tactics!