Issue #166 – Kicksure is Coming

 

The Best in Board Games – In 5 Minutes or Less!
Apr 30, 2014 – Issue #166

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KickSure

I’m really excited about this new service for the board game Kickstarter community. The tagline for the project is “Pledge Without Regrets” – and the goal of KickSure is to make pledging for a game on Kickstarter worry-free. No more wondering if a project is going to deliver, if the game is going to be as good as it looks, or even if you will wish you spent the money on a different project. KickSure doesn’t officially launch until tomorrow – but you can take a sneak-peek at the FAQ page now. Feel free to e-mail me at pidgepot@gmail.com if you have any questions or comments – I’d love to chat with you about it. – Roger

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By |April 30th, 2014|Issue|Comments Off on Issue #166 – Kicksure is Coming

Episode #25 – Michael Cox / Angry Ogre Games

Week in Review is a podcast from Today in Board Games. It summarizes the top news stories from the week and digs a little deeper with interviews, reviews, and more. In today’s episode:

I interview Michael Cox of Angry Ogre Games. Angry Ogre self-publishes a number of board games – four of which are on Kickstarter now, be sure to have a look!

We would love your feedback on this episode! Please leave a comment here or visit us in ITunes and give us a rating and review!

Interview with Ron Draker – Columbia Games, Victory in Europe

1Today’s interview is with Ron Draker of Columbia Games designer of Victory in Europe which is on Kickstarter now!

Give us an overview of your game and how it’s played.

Victory in Europe (VE) starts in late 1939 and goes until the Axis win a decisive victory, Germany is conquered, or the end of 1945.  There are two decks of cards, one for each side, and the numbers on the cards allow attacks or long range strategic movement.  The cards also are sorted by year and Players will randomly draw cards from each year, typically four cards a year.  Some cards have events that can be played with the numbered commands, such as Blitzkrieg that allows the Axis to overstack in one battle.  The player with the highest card value has the initiative and goes first.  The Axis win ties until the turn after the US enters the war.

 

Players will move units that represent armies, air forces, and fleets.  Hard decisions will have to be made about where to use those limited commands for attacking your enemies though.  Should you split your efforts across submarine warfare, strategic bombing, or make out attacks on land?  Combat typically lasts up to two rounds with units having varying hit probabilities depending on their quality and targets.  Those familiar with other Columbia games will find the combat system intuitive.  There also is the possibility of exploitation movement and further combat if an area is cleared and a player has a leader present.

 

The game also features diplomacy where players can try many what ifs by trying to get Spain, Turkey, or other minor powers on their side.  Production occurs simultaneously after each card play and is tied to holding critical minerals and oil and having factories. 

 

The game does an excellent job of rewarding combined arms.  An attack with air, armor, and infantry is tough to stop unless you have combined arms too.  The importance of resources, particularly oil for the Axis, shines in this game.

What innovative mechanic or creative idea distinguishes your game from others?

What sets VE apart from other Columbia games is the use of the command cards for initiating battles rather than movement.  A player may move all units up to their movement allowance during a turn, but only initiate a limited number of attacks equal to the command card played.  This maintains the great tension of card driven games where initiative can switch from turn to turn, but also feels more historical for modern warfare.  It’s a subtle but important departure for this game.

Tell us about the spark or inspiration for this game.

I always enjoyed playing Avalon Hills “Third Reich” when I was young and enjoy grand strategy games.  When I first discovered Columbia’s “Eastfront” in 1992 I fell in love with block games and eventually bought the entire “Masterfront” to link the whole war—a 30 plus hour endeavor to play the whole war—but found as I got older I had less and less time to play monster games.  I decided to take a stab at streamlining what I liked best about 3rd Reich and the Front games in the early 2000s, but then learned that “Europe Engulfed” (EE) by GMT was in development as a block game.  This sounded like the game I’ve always dreamed of, and because designing a game is difficult and time consuming, I put my project aside.  After playing EE dozens of times over several years, I got the itch to dust off my game design and take a stab at further refining the experience to a one evening affair, because my friends and I still found it took 12 hours or more to play EE.

Let’s talk about the design process. Tell us a bit about the iterations the game has gone through and the refinements you’ve made along the way.

This question could fill a book.  I had a basic goal in mind – a quick-playing ETO grand strategy game that covered the entire war.  I knew I wanted to have blocks for the fog of war aspect and knew I wanted it to have simple but elegant rules that captured the right historical limitations without explicitly scripting the game.  I started with hexes, then went to areas; back to hexes, and finally settled on areas because they look better for showing national borders.  I wanted a realistic economic engine and tried lots of ideas, including a version of the spiral production track from SPI’s monster WW II game in the 1980s.  I originally had headquarters like in Columbia’s Front series and elaborate research rules.  Needless to say, it took many, many iterations and trips to Kinkos for copies of new maps to prune what started to be a monster game that would take 20 hours to play to one that now can be played in an evening.  In this pruning process I’ve had to sacrifice things like delayed production times and research for improved weapons.  About four years ago I finally got the core game down to a manageable playing time and since have been tweaking things for improved playability and balance.  Setting realistic victory conditions is one of the hardest aspects of designing a good game, because this is what drives player behavior.  I’ve been very fortunate to have some of the best gamers in the country as friends who have been willing to spend hundreds of hours playing a game that constantly changed.  Their help was critical to finding loopholes or gamey strategies that felt ahistorical.

What has been your biggest challenge in designing this game?

Getting the play time to 3-6 hours while maintaining the correct historical feel has been the hardest challenge.  I shamelessly borrowed concepts from other great Columbia games to accomplish this goal.

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Let’s shift gears and talk about you. How did you get into game design?

I first started dabbling in making my own games when I was a teenager.  I was fascinated with WW II and I remember making my own game about the North African campaigns using hand drawn maps of North custom thin wood counters for playing pieces.  I also made character-building game about campaigns in Poland and France based on the D&D model.  My first published design was “Prussia’s Defiant Stand,” released in late 2007.  After playing block games for many years, I finally decided to take the things I liked best and tweak the things I didn’t like to make my own game.  I chose the Seven Years War because it was a topic of interest and there were no other block games on the subject.

What is your greatest moment as a game designer?

Quite simply watching people have fun playing my game.  I remember the first time I ran a tournament of Prussia’s Defiant Stand at Prezcon, the annual gaming convention in Charlottesville VA, and the sincere appreciation of some of the gamers was very gratifying.

Tell us a little bit about your life outside of game design and gaming: family? work? other interests?

I like to read and travel to places I’ve read about.  I have a busy job with the government and look forward to retiring so I can devote more time to designing games and playing them. 

Do you have any works-in-progress or game ideas you would like to share?

I do have a couple other ideas for games.  I’d like to do a grand strategy block game on WW I, a game on the late 1800s colonial period, and on the Viking invasion of England in the late 900s.  These are only sketched out on paper right now, so don’t be expecting anything soon J

What games have you been playing lately? What have you liked, what have you disliked, and why?

My friends and I play lots of multi-player games such as “Eclipse” by Touko Tahkokallio “Wars of the Roses” by Peter Hawes, “God’s Playground,” by Martin Wallace, and “Dominant Species” by Chad Jensen.  Martin Wallace is one of my favorite game designers and I love his game “Struggle of Empires.”  For a one-on-one playing session, I always prefer to play Columbia’s games.  I like the fact that they use the same basic concepts with subtle changes to fit the historical period.  It means I can pick up any of their games and be playing in minutes rather than hours later trying to understand the rules.  I played a couple games of “Napoleon” today and had a great time.  “Crusader Rex” and “Hammer of the Scots” by Jerry Taylor and Tom Dalgliesh are two of my favorite block games.  I also will never turn down a chance to play “Julius Caesar” by Justin Thompson and Grant Dalgliesh or the venerable “Eastfront” by Craig Besinque.

Share your favorite game you haven’t designed and why?

See above.

A word of advice to your fellow game designers?

I’m still a novice at designing games, but for those just starting out, I think having patience and not getting discouraged by some of the “constructive criticism” that may come your way is important.  It helps to set your ego aside and not take things personal.  Keep your eye on smooth playability and creating difficult choices.  The games with clear rules, hard choices, and fast playtime are the ones I enjoy the most and seem to be the most popular.

Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to? (playtesters, design mentors, your friendly local game store, etc.)

There truly has been a small army of great friends who have helped me playtest my game designs and I can’t thank them enough, but I have to single out Stuart Pierce and Bill Powers who have devoted the most time to helping me refine both VE and Prussia’s Defiant Stand.  Their time, enthusiasm, and dedication made these games possible.  I also would like to thank Tom and Grant Dalgliesh for taking on this project.  They have both been great to work with.

Tell us how (and where) we can find you (social networks, BGG username, website, cons you plan to attend).

I’m usually lurking on BGG – Ron D – and will be at the World Boardgaming Championship in August.  VE should be out by then and I’d be happy to play or coach people on how to play the game.  I’ll be running Columbia Games’ “Napoleon” tournament and hope to see many of you there.

Issue #165 – Arkis Vir

 

The Best in Board Games – In 5 Minutes or Less!
Apr 28, 2014 – Issue #165

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Arkis Vir

Arkis Vir is a turn-based strategy game for the PC, Mac, and Linux. Arkis Vir is an epic-scale 4x sci-fi game that uses traditional and euro style mechanics to achieve both fast-paced and strategically deep gameplay. Arkis Vir features four distinct races, a large variety of ships and planets, an expansive tech-tree, and more. You can get early beta-access plus a full release copy of the game for only a $10 pledge on Kickstarter.

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Counterpoint: 7 Reasons a Board Game is Better Than a Deck of Cards



      Counterpoint: 7 Reasons a board game is (or can be) better than a deck of cards

      This article is inspired by and written as a follow-up response to the recent iSlaytheDragon article:

      “10 Reasons a Deck of Cards is Better Than a Board Game”

      History and tradition. These are two of the things are used as a basis for and that influence our current gaming system and culture. However, just because something is or was a tradition, doesn’t automatically make it the best option. The appeal of tradition for playing cards is based on past justifications for using them, justifications that are no longer as valid in the present because of the change in circumstances due to this more modern age. Also, competition can be seen a fundamental driver of progress, and in this case, a deck of cards doesn’t have nearly the competition to lead to the innovation of new and different games. Constant change makes board games exciting and the market they inhabit flexible and adaptable to the whims of the consumer.

      1. Imagination

      Don’t get me wrong, I love a good strategic game of Euchre or Hearts. A little survivor(ish) out-think, out-play mindset. But let’s not kid ourselves. The deck of cards remains just a deck of cards no matter how many fancy names or unusual spellings we give the title of the game. The fact is that a deck of cards in the end is constrained. You will never see a deck of cards with the ability to simulate the experience of connecting train lines or trying to stop the all-powerful Elder God. The true magic of these games isn’t because of their long tradition and history like a deck of cards but in their ability to capture our whims and imagination however absurd or far-fetched as we play them.

      2. Potential

      If you can think it, you can do it. With a company of four suits plus or minus a joker or two, there’s only so many ways they can be manipulated, exchanged, sorted, or divided in order to give variation. Let’s not kid ourselves with the “world” of games based upon a deck of cards. There are only so many and even fewer that get any sort of regular substantial playtime. And when was the last time someone came up to you with vigor and wanted you to play a new one? It’s the same old shtick, with a couple variations based upon region thrown in. I’m not saying board games aren’t variation upon themselves but because of the first point, these nuances can be more easily overlooked. Even a tacked on theme is still more than anything a deck of cards has. In addition, every few weeks to months, a new game comes along that catches our fascination. Yahtzee with monsters? A 14 card game about fighting for love? Dress making? No game from a deck of cards has that entrancing appeal.

      3. Living on the edge

      When was the last time you got really excited or nervous about losing a game of the ironically named “War?” The playing card games have plenty of competitive games but the only game that comes close to matching that sort of energy as in board games are gambling games like poker and blackjack. And probably the only reason for that is because there’s usually money at stake, not necessarily always due to the base game itself. The charged atmosphere that permeates through the room in a close game of many a co-op i.e. Pandemic, Robinson Crusoe, or even Sentinels of the Multiverse is often palpable. The ability to generate enthusiasm for gameplay cannot be discounted and is prevailingly and overwhelmingly in board games favor.

      4. Style

      This is for all those Eurogamers out there. A game based on a deck of cards will never solely depend on the skill of the person behind the cards. There will always be some (and often more) element of luck determining a good percentage of the chance of you winning. There are numerous games like Hearts, Euchre, or even Poker where if you’re dealt a randomly just plain awful hand, there is absolutely nothing you can do to win from that. Where’s the fun in that? At least Robinson Crusoe legitimately feigns that the players have a chance each game. Even the most basic of deck builders allows players to recover when they’re able to buy the cards they need in order to try to make up for lost ground. Feld’ian games and the sort provide those gamers that element where all they wish to do is to challenge another in a purely skill based system to prove who is the best and can do so.

      5. Dynamic Duos

      I’ll go toe to toe on this point. Board games have the ability to play cooperatively with partners and one could argue that they’re becoming more popular and ever present. See recent success of games like Sentinels of the Multiverse and Mice and Mystics. Synergy, chemistry, and social bonding are never more apparent when overcoming the odds and winning in these situations. More often than not, there’s more talk of strategy, ridicule, and experiences following a loss in these situations than when people are winning outright. Which directly leads to the next point…

      6. Traitorous Element

      Let’s face it. Everybody at some point or another wants to be the bad guy. They want to be the one who gets to be the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. There is something so self satisfying about turning the screws the rest of the table, group, or team by revealing that all along you were the reason they ended up with that egg on their face at game end. Quite often this happens at the end, but if it occurs in the middle, now that’s the source of social bonding and trust building those weekend gurus wish they could reproduce from trust falls. It’s easy and commonplace to get irritated at a incompetent partner who can’t take card tricks you need, but it’s on another level completely with the angst it causes with the revelation that someone in your party previously deemed trustworthy openly betrays and undermines the very core reason of the game in the first place.

      7. Social gathering

      A deck of cards can only gather so many people or have so many people be an active part of the game. A common practice often used in more populous events for those looking to do something different presents and divides those playing from the larger group. Board gaming itself is a social jamboree. It’s not uncommon for groups in the 10s, 20s, or 30s to gather together on a regular basis to not only socialize in between games but among, over, and during the games themselves.

      When was the last time anyone get geeked up for a deck of cards based convention or card publisher’s press release? How many conventions are dedicated to decks of playing cards? Right. Now think of all the Cons that board games are part of, let alone ones that are solely dedicated to putting them on as a venue for those of us to meet, mingle, and cohabitate. They bring a sense of belonging and togetherness that many a gamer has longingly found at such gatherings.

By |April 26th, 2014|Article|2 Comments

Issue #164 – Victory in Europe

 

The Best in Board Games – In 5 Minutes or Less!
Apr 25, 2014 – Issue #164

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Victory in Europe

Longtime publisher Columbia Games (Bobby Lee, Napoleon) now brings us Victory in Europe. VE is a strategic wargame for 2 or 3 players played on an oval-shaped map board of Europe. Players maneuver their air, naval, and ground units to gain control of key cities and resources. VE is asymmetric, with the Axis player having a strong advantage in the early game but the Allied player(s) gaining in power as the game progresses. Events are card-driven and components are high-quality. You can pledge for a copy on Kickstarter for just $79.

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Issue #163 – Heavy Steam

 

The Best in Board Games – In 5 Minutes or Less!
Apr 23, 2014 – Issue #163

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Heavy Steam

Mix steampunk with mechs and you get Heavy Steam, the latest release from Greenbriar Games (Zpocalypse). Heavy Steam is a resource management game where each player takes control of a fully customizable steam titan and goes toe-to-toe against their opponent on the battlefield. The game features high-quality miniatures and individual player boards where you control the inner workings of your titan – controlling the flow of steam to the various systems of your titan to ensure it is effective in combat. Heavy Steam is on Kickstarter now – you can secure a copy for a $75 pledge.

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By |April 23rd, 2014|Issue|Comments Off on Issue #163 – Heavy Steam

The Dutch East Indies Press Release

Gems have been discovered in the Dutch East Indies!

First game by Duiker Games, on Kickstarter from April 16 – May 16.

1Martin Looij, a first time game designer and publisher presents The Dutch East Indies, a game that is all about trading, stealing, thinking ahead, building and breaking down, and collecting as many gems as possible. The game is currently live on Kickstarter after multiple years of design, and hundreds of hours play testing by many independent teams of test players.

The game features a lot of heavy wooden components, such as 10 wooden islands, 10 large wooden ships, and wooden barrels and gold bars. The regular version of the game is listed for $70, which includes US shipping and heavily discounted worldwide shipping. There is a deluxe version too, which allows play with up to 8 players.   The game will be fully Kickstarter exclusive.

About the game:

In The Dutch East Indies, it is the 17th century and you’re captain of a Dutch, British, Spanish or Portuguese vessel. You get a letter from your king: Precious gems have been found in the East Indies! And your king has asked you to set sail and bring those gems back to him!

But it’s not as easy as it sounds…

First of all, those gems have not been found on uninhabited islands, but by the local folk. Those locals don’t know the value of the gems, and are willing to trade them for other goods. So your king has stocked your hold with barrels and barrels of user goods. Your king also sent along some gold bars, and if you run out, you may get some of those from the locals too.

Why do you need those? Well, you might want to buy an extra sail, or expand your ship’s cargo space, or add on an extra cannon, because you are not the only one at sea…
Remember I said you are one of four captains. Those other captains, your fellow players, have the same mission as you. If they grab enough gems and get them home safe before you do, you will lose the game. Or they might just try to steal *your* gems… And if that’s not bad enough, there are pirates who have it out for you too! Get too close to them, and they’ll blow your ship to smithereens!

Good luck, captain, you’ll need it…

By |April 23rd, 2014|Press Releases|Comments Off on The Dutch East Indies Press Release

Episode #24 – Michael Fox / Sprocket Games

Week in Review is a podcast from Today in Board Games. It summarizes the top news stories from the week and digs a little deeper with interviews, reviews, and more. In today’s episode:

I chat with Michael Fox – a man of many hats. Michael is the host of the Little Metal Dog Show, he runs his own publishing company, Sprocket Games. Michael also assists Game Salute in the management of their Kickstarter projects. In this interview we specifically discuss Michael’s current project Of Mice and Lemmings which is on Kickstarter for a few more hours (as of the time of this post).

We would love your feedback on this episode! Please leave a comment here or visit us in ITunes and give us a rating and review!

Eggs and Empires Review



      Eggs and Empires — Small card game with eggcellent gameplay

      Currently funding on Kickstarter right now, 83% of goal with 21 days left
      Created by Matthew Riddle

      First impression

      Maybe you were like “Eggs? Who wants to play with eggs? What is this? The poultry card version of Game of Thrones?”

      I assure you, the name is a misnomer and the game plays more like a tactical Love Letter than a trumpeted up cock in chainmail. The alliteration of the title is of a similar draping to that of Cutthroat Caverns in the sense that it had as much to do with caverns as this really has to do with empires.

      I’m the guy in the group, you know, with my family and friends who is “The Rule Guy”; responsible for the knowing them and explaining it (usually at least 3 times) to everyone else. Unfortunately for them, I’m also sort of a “read it through once or twice and then wing it as we go” sort of guy as well. So, I did my usual ho-hum read thru and then a quickie again, and dove right in with my group of 4.

      Eggs & Empires is a 2-6 player card game that does a lot of things well in a little amount of time and with a minimal amount of stuff. That being said, don’t discount the junk in its trunk. Each player has a deck of 10 character cards that are used to collect victory point Egg cards from the community pool. Each turn only a limited number are put out, usually around 1-2 less than the total number of players.

      Art – Aesthetics/Functionality

      Above is a larger sample of the art by Cristian Chihaia, the illustrative hand behind the art on the game cards. I wanted to see his other work after seeing the art on these cards. The meticulous detail and shading of each character and the background that he has done shows the effort and the skill behind the artist in this case. It provides that element that allows the nice falsity layer of theme to work in this case.

      Granted, PnP doesn’t look nearly as gorgeous but especially from what I’ve seen from the prototypes, it translates very well onto actual quality card stock.

      Gameplay: Simplicity/Decision Making

      The game itself is relatively straightforward; think of more like Love Letter draped in a Game of Thrones mask with spoils (both senses of the word) in the community pool for players to collect each turn. Rules were only two single sided pages long, making it a quick learn.

      Three rounds made up of 9 turns each for players is the complete length of the game. Sounds long until you realize the turns feature simultaneous lay down and reveal similar to 7 Wonders but much quicker decision making and resolution. This keeps the game speeding along and without analysis paralysis. As I mentioned, each player has a deck of 10 cards; each with a number 1-10 in the upper left corner. One card played per round and the number determines initiative order, highest selecting first. First initiative person then gets their pick of the “Egg” cards in the middle. Players are required to take these cards unless otherwise specified by a character ability (more about this in a little bit). These Egg cards are each worth a certain number of victory points.

      Rinse and repeat? Easy right? So high card wins? Nothing to it. Mama taught me that with War.

      Hold on a second

      Here’s where strategy comes in. Egg cards aren’t limited to positive values; no, a good third of them are actually negative victory points. Me no likely high cards anymore. The cards vary from +15 to -9(ish) and a lot in-between. In our game, there were many turns where only negative value Eggs were present in the collection pool. Adding to that element is that each card has a special ability that interacts with the selection process. For example, if the Shepherd (3) gets played at the same time another player plays the Blacksmith (8), the Shepherd goes first ignoring their usual initiative number. Or, if more than one plays the Dark Priestess (9), then anyone who played it doesn’t collect an Egg card at all. Like they say, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

      Other useful abilities include The Mage (7) has a fail-safe with the ability that doesn’t allow for you to take any face-up negative Egg cards period, and the Courier (4) who when he collects a card, may give any Egg card to another player. Another nice caveat is that the collected Egg cards players get each turn are also placed face down, which doesn’t others to keep track as easily to in game scores .

      Did I mention that you can only have three cards at a time in your “hand”? Well, now you know. Three cards per turn with a one card draw in-between turns. You’ll also notice that there are nine turns for ten cards. This means one card doesn’t get used every round.

      Games are quick to the draw and especially as abilities get used more effectively. The Courier is a useful as a limiter as it can quickly become a negative victory point dumper on the leader during rounds. Obviously I’m not speaking from experience here or anything, although I might have accomplished the only pure negative round of any of the players during any game. That being said, games are still quite competitive and even in that game I still only lost and was separated from the winner by less than 20 points. The fact that it remained this close throughout and no one really knew who won until the last tally was done shows that Matt has put in the time not only designing this game but also balancing it out to the point where avoids becoming chase the runaway leader.

      Criticisms

      The biggest letdown for us was the tie-breaker system. Referred to in the rules as something akin to “the last person to have been eaten by the dragon gets the tie-breaker marker” followed by The closest person to the left of the person with the tie-breaker marker” wins any ties between players playing the same number card. Clear as mud to anyone else? We thought so too. We actually just MacGuyver’d it for our game and used a D6 to determine ties. Work well and didn’t end up detracting at all from the gameplay.

      I’d also think that maybe in the future adding a few more elements, even 2-3 more character cards in order to facilitate a small amount more of strategy that goes into choosing which characters you don’t get to use during the rounds. This might add to the replayability down the line for many gamers.

      I only had a print and play version of Eggs and Empires, which, obviously has the limitations based on the printer used. But more importantly in this case to this reviewer, the group of guys I played with aren’t board gamers at all (until I slowly started corrupting them months back) but really lapped it as well. This was a group who’s never played Love Letter, couldn’t spell Resistance, and had never heard the words Coup uttered outside the context of being a cage for chickens. By the middle of the second round, you could see strategy starting to seep in and third round was over in a matter a minutes with discussion of moves and analysis remaining for minutes afterwards.

      Final Thoughts

      All in all, definitely worth the investment if you enjoy this genre of card game or you’re looking for another Love Letter-isk game. It’s currently funding on the Kickstarter for the low price of $16. It definitely has found a way into our rotation of more filler type games like the ones I previously mentioned and it is more than different enough, and yet friendly enough to non-gamers, I would continue to use as also an introductory game as well.

      So go here if you’re interested in checking it out more or pledging.