Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tannhäuser Update - Rules 2.0 PDF on sale Today!

Whatever the bugs were, they are finally fixed and the Tannhäuser Rules 2.0 are now available at Drive Thru RPG and RPG Now.

I have not read through them yet, but here is a quick peek at what you will get.

In addition to the previously spoilered Death Match Mode there are a number of other modes.

There are also Tactical Maps for all three existing maps. This is a welcome inclusion.

Another nice touch is the inclusion of the original  TOY Thanks section...

... with a call out to many fans that worked to support the game.

I'll put up a full report later.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tannhäuser Update

Game Spotlight - Summoner Wars Expansion

The first expansion for Summoner Wars is coming in late June/early July. It features two new Factions. The dread Fallen Kingdom and the righteous Vanguard will be making their way to your tabletop soon. Colby Dauch and his team have done a great job with these new factions and I am excited to preview a few of the new cards.

Artist John Ariosa does a beautiful job with the new cards. The illustrations on the Fallen Kingdom cards are particularly nice, walking the line between radically new and familiar. You immediately know they are undead, but the art still feels fresh. They look great on the table.

The Fallen Kingdom faction gets into hand and discard manipulation letting you put units into your Discard pile instead of your opponent's Magic pile. You can sacrifice your own units for Magic points and stack up your dead opponents to power up your own guys. Fans of Black M:tG decks and Utgar zombie and vampire armies in HeroScape will love these guys.

The Vanguards are the polar opposite, they are the warriors of light. Healing and Protection are their strengths. They are the first humans, and have that Magic white deck vibe.

The Vanguards also have a Champion that can fly. Here is your first look at Sera Eldwyn, their Summoner. She may look all sweet and innocent, but she's got a ranged attack and can heal your troops.

The creator of Summoner Wars, Colby Dauch, took some time out to answer a mess of questions.

Has anyone come knocking at your door looking to buy you out of the game? Would you sell if they did?
No one has come knocking about buying the game out, but I have had a few offers for translation prints.  Everything has a price, but my price to sell out the game would be pretty steep.  I believe in it, and I'm having too much fun with it.

How is the deluxe board pre-order doing? 
Very well.  The deluxe board will be going to print as soon as I have a proof approved.

What is your expected release date for the expansions?
The expansions have run into a bit of rocky water.  Some delays on our end and some delays on the printer's end is going to make getting the expansions out in June a tough squeeze.  We are doing everything in our power including air shipping some of the product to try get them out in June.

What cons will you be at this summer?
Origins and GenCon.

How many demo games have you played at cons?
If I had to throw out a guess, I'd say I personally have demoed the game around 50 times.  Multiple that by about 3 if you want to figure about how many times my team as a whole has demoed the game.

How much playtesting do you do on the expansions?
As much as we can.  I've even developed a private module for Vassal that the playtesters use to playtest new cards with one another.  It has worked wonders in getting more games in.  Lots of games equals lots of data to evaluate and lots of opportunity to catch abusable cards.

What is your feeling about 'power creep'?
I'm not going to bring into question the practices of other game companies, as I think it is an unprofessional thing to do at my position.  But I will say that Power Creep will have no place in my games.

How do you avoid 'power creep'?
Power Creep is a balance issue and it is avoided via the same process that all other balance issues are handled - lots of playtesting.

Including the 2 new factions, which one best fits your play style?
Good question.  I really enjoy variety.  So I don't know that I have a good answer for you.  I really like to mix it up constantly with the factions.  If I had to pick one I'd pick the Cave Goblins.

What is your favorite card from the new factions - game play?
My favorite bit of game play from the new factions is the Stalwart Archers.  They strengthen one another, and I really like the challenge presented by arranging them and moving them into position for maximum effect.

What is your favorite card from the new factions - art?
My favorite bit of art from the new factions is Dragos.  It looks like he is sliding a dagger out from under his cloak and giving this wickedly petulant look as he does so.  I really like the design of his clothes as well.  The details on his one big shoulder pad are very cool.  Getting back art on a project may be my very favorite part, it is the first time in the process that your ideas feel completely real.  It is a great thrill.

Is John Ariosa working on the art for the next set of expansions?
Art for the first Reinforcement Pack is already complete.  John did all the work and it has some of my favorite pieces he has done thus far.  There is this Phoenix Elf champion chick riding on a giant

What are the next ones going to be?
Well the next set of card packs is going to be some Reinforcement Packs, so they will be more Tundra Orcs, Phoenix Elves, Mercenaries, Guild Dwarves, and Cave Goblins.  The next two factions after that are going to be the Cloaks and the Jungle Elves.  The Cloaks are this faction of rogues that have all kinds of trickery in store for their opponents.  The Jungle Elves are this race of Tribal style elves whose magical war chants grant them all kinds of versatile powers.  They also call on the aid of various jungle creatures in battle.

Do you have any other game designs coming up that you can tell us about, for Plaid Hat or for other companies?
Plaid Hat has a couple of new games in the works.  I don't think I'm ready to reveal much about them just yet, but keep your eyes open, you aren't going to want to miss them.

What game that you don't work on do you play the most?
I think we are like a lot of gaming groups.  We go on kicks where a particular game, old or new, will get played more often than others.  We've played a good amount of Betrayal at the House on the Hill over the last year.  It is just the right length to keep my less-than-hardcore game group at the table and it rarely fails to offer some fun twists for us to ride though.

Thanks, Colby for taking the time for this email interview. I hope everyone gets out to the conventions and gets their friends playing Summoner Wars!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pulp of the Week - Doc Savage #14

April, 1934  - The Monsters

The Monsters is another terrific yarn from the mind of Lester Dent. Eschewing the exotic locales of recent issues, Dent puts Doc right in the heart of America, in Upper Michigan. For those that have seen the Bantam cover it should come to no surprise that the novel involves giants. The cover painting by James Bama is one of my personal favorites. The hand wrapping Doc to crush him. As you can see above, James Bama took a bit of inspiration from Walter Baumhofer.

The ever-prescient Dent (or maybe history is repeating itself in our time) came up with this one: "Doc set up his radio apparatus. Working through a station on Long Island, which transposed his words from the ether to land-line, he got in touch with Renny." Land-line. Nifty.

There aren't a lot of new gadgets here, but the action is good, the story is good, and the writing is good. Dent captures the culture of fur traders well, just as he did with Tibetans or South Americans.

There is the usual bit of insensitive language, this time it's  regarding some traveling circus acts and a fur trapper named Bruno Hen who Dent calls a "breed," probably referring to a mixed race heritage.

The story plays out well with an airplane dogfight, shoot-outs, and huge explosions.

For this review I read my Bantam paperback 4th printing, July 1974. The pulp cover is by Walter Baumhofer and the paperback cover is by James Bama. They are both classic covers.
I give The Monsters an 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tannhäuser Tuesday - May

Fantasy Flight Games was quiet for months, but now seems to be moving ahead with the relaunch of Tannhäuser!

From Yesterday's FFG announcement:
"The Reich Troop Pack includes new Schocktruppen and Stossstruppen figures, while the Union Troop Pack comes with new Commando Alpha and Commando Delta figures. Additionally, these expertly detailed pre-painted figures all feature an alternate color scheme, making it easy for players to differentiate these new troops from the ones found in the core game.

These Troop Packs give players new options when constructing their forces, and they provide an all new equipment pack for their Troops! Each pack also features brand new background information, a unique scenario, and all new tokens in addition to the ones found in the core set. With these packs in hand, players will now be able to use the alternate organization of two Heroes and three Troopers. As Troopers are the only characters able to benefit from reinforcement, they are now more important than ever."

The paint  schemes on these new troops looks to be the same as the previously released convention photos last seen here way back in... December 2009.

The Revised Rulebook has been updated in FFG's Upcoming section. It is now listed for May! and "on the truck." They should be in stores in a few weeks!

The Tannhäuser: Union Troop Pack and Tannhäuser: Reich Troop Pack are expected by Summer '10. FFG's Upcoming page shows them at the factory. These packs will retail for $19.95. These packs will be a great addition to the game and are sorely needed.

The Daedalus Map Pack listing indicates it still being "In Design." That puts it very unlikely to meet the long promised Spring '10. The listing was last updated April 2nd.

But when will we get to see these?

I think I'm beginning to feel U-Chronic!

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.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Game Spotlight - Monkey Lab

Monkey Lab
Game Design - Dan Manfredini
Illustrations - Llyn Hunter
2 - 4 Players

Monkey Lab was released as part of AEG's initial flurry of board games in 2009. Designed by Dan Manfredini, it is a nice family game that requires planning ahead and has just enough randomness to make it unpredictable. The planning comes from plotting your moves and using your cards in hand. The factors against you are the other players and the hidden objectives.

Each player gets one of the monkey figures and places it in the lobby of the wicked research lab where they have already escaped. Your goal is to open up cages and rescue as many other monkeys as possible. To reveal the contents a cage, you flip the token and reveal the number on monkeys in the cage as well as the items required to be in the room in order to bust those monkeys out.

The game comes with four double sided map tiles which can be put together in a large number of ways. After laying out the board, you mix up the crate tokens and put one in each room. (The game comes with more crate tokens than there are rooms.) Then you mix up the item tokens and place two of them face down in each room. Finally, you flip all the item tokens over, put the monkeys in the lobby, and put the security guard just outside the door.

Each player gets three cards in their hand and can take three actions per turn. The possible actions are to move to an adjacent room, pick up, drop, or swap an item (you may only have one), play a card, fight another monkey, reveal a cage, or open the cage (if you possess the proper combination of items.)

The cards let you move the guard to any room, take an item from another monkey, move your monkey two rooms, swap all the items between rooms, or move one item into your room from another room. There are only five different cards, so there is a good chance you will have the one you want.

The guard can be pesky because if you finish an action and are in the same room as the guard, your turn ends. So you are trying to move to a room, reveal which items the crate needs to open it, get those items to that room, and still have an action left to open it. That would be easy if there were no other players trying to mess up your plans.

However, all the other players are waiting for you to make a mistake, like opening a crate at the end of your turn.  They'll see what they need and swoop in. Each monkey is allowed to carry one item at a time. If your monkey has the item pictured in the corner of their card, you can fight the other monkeys in your room. If you win, the other monkey drops their item and you get to put the losing monkey in any room on the map!

To win you have to use your cards well, plan your moves, and be ready to swipe the crates other players have revealed. There is quite a bit of 'take that' in this game and that adds to the fun. All kids may not quite see it that way, however, especially the younger ones. AEG has rated this game 12 and up, but my 8-year old played just fine. I think their rating had to do with the theme itself (caged research monkeys) as well as the ability to mess with the other player's plans.

Monkey Lab is a fun, fast game that involves puzzle solving and planning ahead. I enjoyed this game and so did the kids.

 Behind The Game

I took the opportunity to ask Todd Rowland, Senior Brand Manager at AEG, and Designer Dan Manfredini some questions about the game.

How did Monkey Lab come to your attention?
Todd Rowland - Monkey Lab was brought to us by Jim Pinto, who knew the designer.  We tried it out and liked the game so we went with it.  It was in our early days of "hrm, what do we publish now that we want to try board games" but it was the right choice!

Was the game finished, or did you spend a lot of time developing it?
Todd - It came to us pretty much finished. These days we generally look for out of house games that are around 80-90% finished so we can put our own polish on them, but this one luckily came in ready to go.

How did AEG end up as the publisher? Did you bring them the design, or did they seek you out?
Dan Manfredini- After a lot of rejected submissions, I was beginning to feel a bit worn out. But then luck hit! My friend offered me a tip that AEG was branching out into board games and that they were accepting design submissions. I hopped to it and submitted a few designs. Within a few days, they responded and they enthusiastically wanted to publish Monkey Lab. I was ecstatic!

Once AEG had the design, how long did it take to see it through graphic design and production? Did you have any input in this?
Dan - Once they decided to print the game, I sent them a list of notes about my opinion on components and how I thought the game would look. After a few months, I started receiving preliminary art. A lot of the layout was based on the prototype I sent them, though I gave some other suggestions along the way. Because of shipping problems and other concerns, it took about a year and a half from the moment I signed the contracts to the point it was for sale.

Regarding the plastic Monkeys and the Security Guard - How important do you think these pieces are to the game? They could have easily been cardboard counters but you chose to make them figures.
Todd - They could have been cardboard, and in some games with a larger number of pieces that can be economically unfeasible to do cool figures, but in this case it worked out.  Plus with this being a game that kids can play, the figures only add to the fun.

Did you play board games as a child? If so, what were some of your favorites back then? 
Dan  - Yes, I loved playing board games as a kid. I had all the standard games like Monopoly, Sorry!, Risk, and Aggravation, but I also had a blast playing Ripley's Believe It or Not, Whatchamacallit, Buck Rogers: Battle for the 25th Century, Omega Virus, Fireball Island, and HeroQuest.

Can you tell the readers a little bit about your background and how you got involved in Hobby Games? Are you an avid game player? If so, what are some of your favorites? 
Dan - Sure, though I'm not sure where I crossed the line into Hobby Gaming. I remember getting my first Magic: The Gathering card (Norritt, for those interested) from my brother as a promotional item in his comic magazine. I was intrigued the art and the symbols, and wondered what it could all mean. That lead into the world of collectible gaming of Magic, Star Wars, Star Trek, Netrunner, Lord of the Rings, and anything I could get my hands on. Living in Illinois at the time, I naturally went across the border to the huge gaming convention Gen Con in Wisconsin (and then Indiana). During that time I played my share of "modern" board games, but at the time I still didn't realize there was a whole world of euro games out there. When I moved to Austin, I was amazed at the number of board gamers here. Through weekly game nights at my local gaming shop, I discovered so many games and my collection grew quickly.

I play games several nights a week. Some of my favorite board games include Rat Hot, Notre Dame, and Hacienda.

Where do you live?
Dan - I live in Austin, Texas, which is also home to a surprising number of other board game designers such as Ian Cooper (Taktika), Jonathan Leistiko (Island of Dr. Necreaux), Marc Majcher (Honeypot), Justin De Witt (Castle Panic), Andre Monserrat (House of Whack), and Chris Christenson (Hunting Party) just to name a few.

Not to mention Steve Jackson Games. Do you make a living off games?
Dan - No, though someday I hope to modestly supplement my income. Reach for the stars!
What is your profession?
Dan - Ok, I guess games do pay the bills. I am Software Engineer for a casino gaming company. Although they are still games, slot machines are a world apart from board games.

When did you start creating games?
Dan - I remember making board games out of construction paper and bringing them to school in the third grade. I just liked being able to create something that people could interact with. Off and on throughout my life I've been making board games, though for the last five years or so it has been a real passion for me.

What was the inspiration for Monkey Lab 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?
Dan - Strangely enough it started when I decided to take a night class about video game design. In that class, the teacher wanted us to design board games to prototype video game concepts. That was right up my alley! We brainstormed a bunch of ideas and the class decided that we would all design our own games with the topics of "monkey" and "escape". (Monkey Lab was sooo close to being about monkey zombies). After making a prototype and playtesting it with others, I had the urge to continue with the game long after the class had ended. I playtested with a lot of other people and got plenty of positive feedback. It wasn't until that moment that I realized that getting published might be an achievable goal.

I playtested, listened to feedback, researched other games, tweaked, and repeated it all so many times. After about six months I decided to try to submit the game to publishers. During that time I had to be very patient while I waited to hear back from them. Luckily for me I had plenty of other game ideas to work on while I waited.

Do you have any other game designs coming up that you can tell us about, for AEG or for other companies?
Dan - I have several designs that are currently being looked at by publishers. To be brief about it here's my elevator pitch for the three games: Mad Max meets Fairy Tale. Talisman meets Euro. Deep Space 9 meets Jabba's Palace.

What game that you don't work on do you play the most?
Dan - Lately, I've been playing a lot of Go Away Monster! with my son. He loves it!

I would like to thank Dan Manfredini and Todd Rowland for taking time out of their day for this email interview and to AEG for providing the review copy.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pulp of the Week - The Spirit #1

The Spirit #1
DC Comics - $3.99
Written By Mark Schultz
Art By Moritat
Colors By Gabriel Bautista
Cover By Ladrönn
Alternate Cover By Mark Schultz

The Spirit takes place in Central City and Denny Colt is an ex-cop that has died but keeps fighting for justice in the midst of corruption and organized crime.

Mark Schultz got it right. The story is satisfying as it is, but leaves the door open for the plot to advance in the next issue.

The Spirit is a First Wave Universe comic that feels like it takes place in the neo-noir retro-present that is what was advertised as the First Wave Universe. I have not read the Spirit before, nor have I seen the recent movie. I have a general knowledge of the character, but I am no aficiando. That said, I thought the Spirit #1 was a great start to a series. There is a story here. Beginning, middle, end. But it is also part of a longer story.

The art is evocative and feels right. I liked this comic quite a bit.

Back-up Feature
The Spirit - Black & White
Written By Denny O'Neil
Art By Bill Sienkiewicz

This is a short 8 page story. A whole story in 8 pages. Leave it to veteran O'Neil to have a beginning , middle and end in 8 pages. Sienkienwicz provides his trademark art; highly energized and full of character.

It turns out I like The Spirit better than Doc Savage. Well, in the First Wave universe so far, anyway.

I give The Spirit #1 an 8 out of 10.

Alternate Mark Schultz Cover