Sandcastles, Andrew Harman

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I spotted Sandcastles  by YAY Games on Twitter and really fancied it, and for a mere £13, I thought why the hell not?  It’s amazing how much fun can be packed into a small box with cards.
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If you saw my unboxing video then you may have seen that these cards are more like square tiles and have various graphics depicting buckets, crabs and seagulls. They have different patterns around the outside that are the ‘walls’ and you use these to build and connect your sandcastles. In a two player game you randomly choose ‘objective’ cards that will score you points e.g-  ‘largest’ sandcastle, the ‘tallest’ sandcastle, a sandcastle featuring 4 bucket cards etc. You play by selecting a card each turn, either by drafting from three central cards, or from the draw deck in order to build your castle. Some of these cards are attack cards and these can be used to mess with your opponent, steal their cards and ruin their glorious sandcastle. When an opponent attacks you can play a card back on them to deflect their attempt, e.g – they play a crab to poke your castle, but you reveal a seagull to eat their crab, but they happen to have a bucket to throw at your seagull, so it’s like rock/paper/scissors and really fun!
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 You can build several sandcastles at once, but you can only set aside your sandcastle for scoring when it’s been completed and all of your sandcastle walls are joined up and closed off. A two player game finishes when the wave card appears. It took about half an hour to play and I never got bored or found it repetitive. It was really genuinely good fun!
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There’s a variant for 3-7 players and for solo play. I’m really looking forward to playing solo, in fact it was the main reason I bought this game as it has a solo option.  Unfortunately spare moments are few and far between, because my current life situation just doesn’t include alone/down time really. I remind myself that it’s not going to last forever and it’s nice to have games with solo play for when the time is right.
Sandcastles is a very good and worthwhile purchase in my opinion, and you can buy directly from the YAY website or from Square Orange. More info on the game here.

Back This! Mint Works, Justin Blaske

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Meet Justin Blaske, a designer from Nebraska, USA. I originally spied Justin’s latest game Mint Works on Instagram and I was really drawn to its quaint low key design and quirky name. I thought it looked super cool and wanted to find out more. Mr Blaske kindly allowed me the PnP, which I did indeed print and play. I’m happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did the other players. For me this is an absolutely lovely and beautifully designed little gem. A cute filler and perfect travel game, easy to teach for new gamers but enough strategic decision making and minty rewards for more experienced players to get their teeth into. Yes I loved Mint Works, and hope very much to get a finished copy arriving on my door step in the near future. It went live on Kickstarter today, it’s a great campaign (I love the promo video, it’s perfect) and you can find the link at the bottom of the page. 

I’ll leave it to Justin to tell you more…

What was the inspiration for Mint Works and can you tell us what it’s all about?

Well, this game came about very differently than my typical game ideas. Mint works ended up being created in response to a design contest on BGG. The contest, run by R4D6, was to create a game that, with all of it’s components, would fit within a mint tin. When I saw the competition, I thought it was really neat, but had no ideas what I could do for that. So I subscribed to the thread to see what came of it, and moved on. A few days later while I was relaxing around the house the idea came to me. Why not make game that used the mints themselves as components! From there, worker placement seemed like a good direction to go. That’s when I locked the name “Mint Works” down, since your mints were doing your work for you, ha! From that point, I started throwing together ideas, realized I could make it simple enough that it could be a gateway style game, and being pocket sized in a little metal tin made it even better for that idea. People could carry this around in their pocket and the game wouldn’t get damaged!

Is this the first game you’ve designed and what lead you up to this point as a games designer? 

Nope, My first game was Area 1851, and I was lucky enough to get that published! It’s had pretty mixed reviews so far. Some people love it, some people think it’s ok, and some people hate that it exists.  If I look at my projects listing Mint Works is my 7th design. Which now that I look at this list, kind of blows my mind how many different projects I have going.

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How did you find creating the campaign? 

Well I had created one campaign before this, for Area 1851, and that was a bit of a mess. I had no idea what I was doing, both in term of Kickstarer design, or the game design industry as a whole. So it’s a good thing that it failed initially, I think – it gave me time to get a better context for Kickstarter and game design as a whole. The Mint Works campaign I think will be much better, and I dare say successfully fund. My abilities as a graphic designer have improved over the years and I’ve done a lot more research into creating a campaign. Not to mention actually being a part of the gaming ecosystem now for several years. When all is said and done, When you buy a copy of Mint Works from your FLGS store you’ll find a ton of fun, in a tiny little tin. The final graphics haven’t been submitted to the manufacturer yet, so it’s possible for things to change a slight amount, but what you see in the campaign page, and in review videos will be pretty close to what you get at the end.

Have you got anything else in the pipeline for Mint Works such as expansions or any future games you’re working on?

Mint Works is so small and compact, I’m not sure what would be a good expansion or addition to it. I struggled to come up with meaningful stretch goals for the campaign, that would still fit in the tin!

I’m not opposed to expanding on it, introducing more advanced concepts and leading new player deeper into this wonderful hobby we all enjoy. However, I don’t think it would work well in the mint tin form factor, an expansion for Mint Works would likely be a little bigger box, that accepts all of the original mint works components. As for other games, yes there are lots in the pipeline, and having my buddy Mel join up with me has brought even more creative engergy to the mix. We are pitching a game we initially called “Dungeon Town” during the publisher speed dating event at GenCon this year. I’m also working on a few other projects to potentially release from Five24 Labs, as well as projects directly with other publishers.

 

I love the simple but attractive illustration and design, was this all created by you?

I wish it was! The game’s initial layout was my idea, and a friendly BGG user by the name of Felix (BGG user ID skoll) offered to do some layout/design for a small project for a geek gold donation. I messaged him and he came up with what became the final design/layout. After that, I’ve made a few tweaks here and there. All of the central images on the cards are from the amazing artists over at Game-Icons.netI’ve attached an image to show you the evolution of the cards from initial PnP to near final design.

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Lastly I’d love some advice as an aspiring designer myself, any hints, tips, and ways not to go mad in the process? 

I guess, my best advice is, make things you love playing, or wish you could play. If you aren’t enjoying the game, it becomes much more difficult to finish the project. Also, don’t be afraid to collaborate and worth with other people. Participate on design forums, both on BGG and Facebook – there’s a lot of people out there doing a lot of neat things. Do a competition or two as well, the constraints can really bring out neat ideas.

Most of all though, just stick with it – and if you find yourself in a rut, shelf it for a bit, maybe it isn’t as amazing as you thought it was, maybe it is. Coming back a few weeks/months later will really shed fresh light on on it. Also, if you plan on going to Kickstarter, read Jamey Stegmaier’s book and blogs, and James Mathe’s blogs as well. Really crucial stuff in there to at least see, even if you don’t want to follow it to the letter.

Thanks to Justin for talking to me, and take a look at the finished product here!

Ravenous River, Isaac Shalev

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When I read the description of this game I immediately thought of the logic puzzle about the chicken, fox and grain (and my favourite episode of The Office ‘Training Day’). In the past I’ve been pretty useless at logic puzzles so I thought this would be challenging. And if all else failed I could just enjoy the lovely animal illustrations by Felicia Cano!

As it turns out Ravenous River isn’t so much of a logic puzzle as a mini strategic bluffing game. In Ravenous River you choose (in secret) two ‘Totem’ Animals and find a way to get them into a position where they won’t be eaten by the other creatures. You need to ensure that your animal is not on the bank, the boat or ‘home’ with another animal that’s directly  above it on the predatory chain. You can discard action cards to place an animal or use the action card ability to move the animals or boats. It’s as simple as that and as tricky. In a short time frame you’re attempting to foresee all the outcomes, assess whose going to eat who, figure out your opponents Totems and bluff your own. If you can crack that last part then you might receive a VP for surviving, gain an additional VP for eating a creature and if it’s a creature whose already eaten you can nab that VP from your opponent too. If that makes sense? It will when you play it!

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For such a small stature game it’s very clever, with a lot to think about, and that embodies everything I love about small card games. It doesn’t come with a huge amount of cards or pieces (the rules are like ‘if you run out of wooden cubes use something else like Animal Crackers’- that’s the spirit!) but I mean wow this card game cost £7.50, I think that’s the cheapest game I’ve ever bought. A very decent price point for such a lovely smart little game!

I must admit I’ve not been much of a critic recently, but I’m pleased to say that I’ve been happily surprised by the last few games I’ve played. I’ve also been enjoying the uber popular 2013 eurogame Rokoko (even though I’ve lost every game I’ve played so far!) and I still need to play Neanderthal at least one more time before I can write up an accurate post. Thanks for reading! More Info