Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Steam Theme


Last week I talked about games that share a system, a set of rules designed for a specific game that later on came to – officially or not – spawn other games, and in some extreme cases, create a new genre. But it’s obviously not the only way to create a group of games some people are fans of, as equally – if not stronger – ties can also come to exist between games that share a common theme. Very much like the ties that exist between different train games.

Would you like to read more? We're moving to the New NSKN Blog. You will find the rest of this article here. Oh, and do tell us what you think of our new blog!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Viking Thing (Part 2)


So it’s a fact: Vikings are coming. Last time I talked about the violent Northmen being a part of the tabletop gaming culture for some time now, making appearances in different types of games – games that do not necessarily make a great use of the Viking theme. But it looks like the times they are a changin’, and we’re about to get some new wave Euro games that will really make us feel like raiders, explorers and traders of the early medieval era.

Would you like to read more? We're moving to the New NSKN Blog. You will find the rest of this article here. Oh, and do tell us what you think of our new blog!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Systemic Success


Modern board games thrive on repeating, remixing and remaking. Taking a few well known elements, adding a few new twists, assembling them in a new way is – in most cases – all the innovation needed for a game to be successful. Thus, it should come as no surprise that some game publishers not only openly reuse old systems, but make it a selling point.

Would you like to read more? We're moving to the New NSKN Blog. You will find the rest of this article here. Oh, and do tell us what you think of our new blog!

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Short Story of Civilization

It’s no secret we like civilization games at NSKN. You could say that it’s a company thing, but I’ve liked them ever since I played Through the Ages, and it was some time before NSKN Games was actually established. This love, a love probably also shared by every other board gamer alive, is bringing me today to talk about civilization games that were able to do two things: present a new take on civ games and amuse us enough to remain in our collections.

Before I talk about newer games, let me first pay my due to the two most important and formative civilization board games – at least in my opinion. The first one is (obviously) Civilization (later upgraded to Advanced Civilization) designed by Francis Tresham. It’s a game a too young to remember in its original incarnation, but its second edition still sits on my shelf – and I do play it on a semi-regular basis.

The second civilization game that seems a cornerstone of not only civ games, but board games in general is Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization. It was one of my first heavier Euro games (yes, I do believe TTA is a Euro game as well as a civ game), and one of the most fascinating experiences in my personal history of gaming. It’s also the civilization game I personally love to go back most often.
Image Source: BoardGameGeek

Through the Ages is a game I wanted to mention also for another reason. Although the game is not new by any stretch of imagination, it was quite innovative for its time, and in a way has never been successfully imitated by another game. Some innovative elements from TTA surfaced in other games, but only two years ago a game with a truly similar approach to civilization games emerged. Nations (if you’re a fan of civ games you probably already knew which game I was referring to) with its strong design and depth managed to find its way onto many gaming tables – but failed (in my opinion at least) as a civ game, remaining “only” a rock solid Euro.

Over the years we’ve had some novel approach to civilization games – as well as some games that would simply take the rather obvious, but still quite entertaining route when it came to game design choices. While extremely fun, FFG’s Sid Meier’s Civilization follows a rather safe path, not really trying to re-define the genre, but solidify it and create a kind of a template many other civ games would be compared to. It also certainly fared much better than the previous Sid Meier’s Civilization which, over the years, has almost universally attracted scorn from its players.

Image Source: BoardGameGeek
It seems that the way to innovate civ games lies in making them shorter. While no less than impressive, Francis Tresham’s design takes six to eight hours to play properly, and with both of its expansions, the FFG Civilization may take a good few (five or six) hours to complete. Building a game that would have this civilization feel without actually taking a whole afternoon (and/or evening) is something many have dipped their toes in. 

This is how we got the spectacular 7 Wonders, which reduced a whole civ game to a few decks of cards, a bunch of player boards and a pile of tokens. This is also where Golden Ages probably came from, this time not doing away with the map component, but still managing to squeeze the civ feel into a much smaller frame – and a smaller footprint.

Image Source: BoardGameGeek
And speaking of 7 Wonders, we’ve also tried out hand at a civilization game that consists mainly of cards and player boards – for that reason many people would instantaneously compare our Progress: Evolution of Technology to Antoine Bauza’s phenomenal design (which only made us blush a little), and will try again in the not so distant future, this time with a completely different design (a light sprinkle of deckbuilding, anyone?).

Innovating in civilization games is no easy task, as it’s very easy to misplace those precious few elements that make a civ game what it is: the sense of building something grand, and the feeling of great progression, of one thing evolving from another. That is why I personally never found Nations appealing as a civ game, that is why Innovation never really spoke to me. And that is why when come around to making another civ game, we’ll not forget its basic building blocks while trying to innovate.

Just to wrap it all up: are there any smaller civilization games you love? Perhaps you know of some undiscovered little gems we should definitely check out? And before you say anything: yes, we’ve Olympos, Historia, Uruk and Uruk II. We like them.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Viking Thing (Part 1)


Vikings are getting more popular again. With the phenomenally good TV series the Northmen once again entered the pop culture stage, this time sporting only beards, but no horny helmets. Vikings are also once again becoming more and more popular as a theme for a game. Does that mean that Vikings are the new Zombies?

No, they’re not – and a short trip to the BoardGameGeek will prove that during the last two years we’ve had many (and I mean many) more Zombie-themed games, than we had board games with Vikings. Still, with games like Raiders of the North Sea doing quite well, games like Villainous Vikings quietly entering the stage, games like Nord awaiting a more general release and games like Viking Fury getting a reprint, we might be on to something here.
Image Source: BoardGameGeek

But let’s start with the simplest question: what makes Vikings interesting for board game designers and publishers? After all, the violent raiders, crafty merchants and bold explorers don’t quite fit the bill when it comes to traditional Euro games (with the “violent raiders” being the part that does all the damage), and history has more than a few explorers and merchants that without the violent streak. So, why Vikings?

The first answer is that it’s because they are popular again. They are popular, so board games having some Viking characters on the cover will most probably be more popular than those without. And it mostly doesn’t really matter if there is any raiding and seafaring in the game, as proven by the excellent Vikings by Michael Kiesling.

Image Source: BoardGameGeek
Vikings (also known by its original title Wikinger) is a rock solid, innovative and exceptionally intriguing design that mixes a tile laying game with auctions and an absolutely unique game of chicken all players will have to participate in every turn. It looks gorgeous, it plays really well, and it almost purposefully does Vikings as wrong as possible. Starting from horned meeples, through absolutely non-violent gameplay (in which our Vikings were more like victims than victimizers) to putting horned warriors on the cover of the game, everything was wrong with the game’s theme.

Nowadays, when Euro games are being designed with the idea of theme and mechanisms coming together more tightly, Vikings are making a comeback – and this time the designers and publishers don’t have to shoehorn the theme into a bunch of mechanical ideas that barely fit the idea of the Northmen. Elements of Euro games have entered American games, more aggressive mechanisms seeped back into European games, and that made a topic like Vikings something that can be fully developed in more or less a Eurogame.

In this new climate Vikings are actually incredibly attractive, as they have almost unparalleled potential: a designer can focus on seafaring and explorations, blend trading and raiding (Merchants and Marauders style – making Vikings the new pirates in the process), go for the power struggle with the titular Viking Thing, or simply show that a compilation of older mechanisms with new ideas can also make for a great game with a really cool theme.
Image Source: www.wallpapers.net
Next time I'll talk a little more about the more current Viking games and what they bring to the table. In the mean time, do you have any specific likes of dislikes when it comes to Viking games? Or maybe there should definitely by an aspect of the cruel Northmen that should be done well in a board game, but has not yet been up to date?
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