Behind the Board: Eilif Svensson on Capital Lux 2

Luke: Hey folks, welcome to this week’s Behind the Board! Today, we’re talking with the co-designer of Capital Lux 2: Generations, Eilif Svensson! How’s it going, Eilif?

Eilif: I’m doing well, glad to be here.

Luke: So, just to get everyone up to speed here, what’s your history with board game design?

Eilif: In 2007, I published my first game, Connecto, a trivia type game for the Norwegian market. After a while, I was more and more keen on designing euro-style games. First, Mangrovia was released at Zoch Spiele in 2014 before Kristian Østby and myself founded Aporta Games (also in 2014). Since then, we have more or less published games in our own company. Notable titles are Avenue, Capital Lux (1st edition), Santa Maria, The Magnificent, and Trails of Tucana.

Luke: Wow, that’s an impressive line-up! I’m only really acquainted with Capital Lux personally.

Eilif: [laughs] I mean, if you were going to be familiar with one of them, Capital Lux would make the most sense.

Luke: I ran into it on the BGG forums back in 2016, and it seems to still a popular game in the board game community today. What about it do you feel has allowed it to stand up to the competition in recent years?

Eilif: It’s hard to say, but I think the gameplay is somewhat unique, and it has a different table presence. I must say that Kwanchai Moriya has done an incredibly good job in this regard.

The strength of the gameplay is the clean and simple core system. You only have two choices: playing a card in front of you or playing a card in the middle of the table. Even with only these two choices, you have a lot to consider. So maybe the reason is that this core system feels strong and timeless (even maybe classic) in a way?

Luke: Yeah, I can get behind that, and it makes sense why you would want to revisit the design with such a strong foundation. What’s it been like returning to this design so many years later?

Eilif: It’s been really great to discover that we can build so much more around this core system. But to be honest, we didn’t wait that long. We started on this design late 2017, only a little more than a year since it was published. It has just taken a while to finish it

Luke: Wow, that soon after? Fascinating. So then were the ideas implemented in this version of the game things you wanted to do with the original release?

Eilif: No, we met Travis Chance (Kolossal Games), who has been a great fan of this game. He had this idea of more characters/powers in Capital Lux. We thought that was a brilliant idea. Although it took almost 3 years to finish the design, this is the core idea of this new edition. So, thank you, Travis.

Luke: Yes, I think we can all agree to thank Travis for helping this new edition a reality [laughs].

So, tell me a little about your design philosophy regarding the different powers suits can have.

Eilif: This is actually a big question with a long answer. We have had many different philosophies:

  • Variability: We wanted each power to feel unique and bring a new experience. It’s important that each game feel different, depending on the combinations you choose (there are 256 different combinations).
  • Different “families”: There are two different “categories” of powers that are crucial in this game: (1) Every game needs a power that possibly can bring the capital value down, (2) Every game needs a power that makes you draw more cards. Putting them in two different families ensures that these two crucial “categories” are always present.
  • Power tiles vs. characters: The characters represent their respective family and are only suits that can adopt different powers. Each game will feel more different if you only play with 4 different powers each time.

Luke: With so many variable powers, is there a specific ability that stands out to you as one you’re particularly proud of, and if so, why?

Eilif: Actually, I’m quite equally proud of them all. Boring answer, I know, but the thing is that we have discarded 20+ powers and ended up with these 16, each of them having their own characteristics.

Though, I would like to mention the “Mentalist”. It was really hard to design that one. We wanted a power that messed things up a little without being too nasty. So, it took us more than 2 years (we have done other things, too, of course) to land on how the power should work. I’m very satisfied with the fact that we eventually found a good way to balance this.

Luke: Yeah, that one definitely stands out as a more involved power.

It’s interesting to note that one of the new additions to Capital Lux 2 is a solo mode. What was it like designing a solo version of this game?

Eilif: That was a real tricky one. We thought we were finished many times, but we always discovered some more issues. Since Capital Lux in its core is a game with quite a high degree of interaction, we wanted the solo player to feel pretty much the same tension. However, since the values are very marginal (if you bust or not vs. the capital), it’s very hard to create an automatic player. It all became very “swingy”.

Although an automatic player will never replace a human being, we managed to solve the main issues in the end, and I’m really happy with the solo version. It has both high tension and very interesting tactical decisions based on the cards you see. When you win against the dummy player you feel that you deserved it.

Luke: Last question for today, Eilif. What do you hope new and experienced Capital Lux players feel when playing the sequel for the first time?

Eilif: I hope that new players will get a unique experience as players did with the first edition. Not too many people own the first edition, and it has been out of print for a while, so now it’s time for more players to discover this game.

When it comes to experienced players, I’m pretty sure they will find it intriguing that you can play the game with 256 different combinations of power tiles, compared to only 1 in the first edition. They will hopefully discover new ways to play the game depending on the power tiles in play, making the replay-value really high.

Luke: Excellent. Thanks again for stopping by Eilif, it was a pleasure chatting with you.

Eilif: Likewise.

Luke: If you’re interested in learning more about Capital Lux 2: Generations, be sure to check out their Kickstarter page. Thanks for taking the time to stop by; let us know your thoughts in the comments, and we’ll see you next week!

Weekly PnP: Hierarchy

  • Designer: Hugo Kawamata
  • Artist: Daniel Ido
  • Publisher: Button Shy Games
  • Where to Find It: PnP Arcade

Luke: Twas a time of royalty.

Phil: An era of the regal.

Luke: And with antiquated power structures come lots of murder.

Phil: Well that escalated quickly.

Luke: That’s exactly how Hierarchy feels; an episode of Game of Thrones where suddenly one of the key players finds themselves cornered, succeeding the throne to the rightful ruler.

Phil: An episode of Game of Thrones? Sure. But is this a good episode of Game of Thrones?

Luke: One of the best.

Phil: Consider me… intrigued.

Luke: At the start of the game, all 14 cards in the deck will be dealt evenly. Whoever has the Imposter card goes first, playing a card to the central tableau. Then, their opponent must play a card that is higher than the previous card played. Back and forth players go until 1 player no longer has a legal move to make, declaring their opponent the winner with as much fanfare as possible.

Phil: Seems simple enough.

Luke: It is, but each card as a unique effect that will muck things up in interesting ways. The Queen can only be played if the Baroness precedes her, the Usurper reverses the card placement rule, and the Serf is a mere 3 when played but a 7 after he’s entered play.

Phil: Meaning that each game will feel unique based on the card pools each player has access to.

Luke: Exactly. Not only that, but since all cards are public knowledge, players will constantly be assessing the board state, trying to plan around their opponent’s possible actions, setting traps for them or falling into some themselves.

Phil: It’s very cat-and-mouse-like, with the game shifting in a single action. There’s some serious head games going on here in the best ways.

Luke: This is a phenomenal little title that really makes you think, and every win or loss feels deserved. I knew what my opponent has the whole game, yet I was still out-maneuvered. And the human element of trying weird and interesting combinations just makes this game so darn good. It distills what I love about the Unmatched combat system down to a 10-minute title, and one I’d be happy to get to the table time and again.

Phil: So how does that translate to a solo mode?

Luke: Honestly, not terribly well. Hierarchy: Emissary has you playing cards from 2 separate hands to try and get every card into play, using 3 abilities to make the game easier (or potentially more difficult). Each difficulty level requires that you use a certain number of abilities from your pool of options, though you’ll often need to use at least 1 due to what cards you have access to when.

Phil: Seems like a neat idea, but I imagine other games from the Button Shy line-up does it way better.

Luke: For a solo experience, I’d recommend Sprawlopolis or SpaceShipped over this easily. Hierarchy shines at 2 players. Taking away the dynamic back-and-forth gameplay, to me, removes what makes this game so darn good.

Verdict: Hierarchy is one of Button Shy’s strongest titles to date, presenting a puzzle of tactical plays and head games. There may be some AP for the most prone players, but the game is so quick that you’ll rarely feel pressured to take too long on your turn. A wallet-sized marvel.

Capital Lux 2: Generations – A Futuristic Upgrade

  • Designers: Eilif Svensson and Kristian Ostby
  • Artist: Kwanchai Moriya
  • Publisher: Aporta Games
  • Kickstarter Launch Date: May 19th, 2020

Disclaimer: The PnP for Capital Lux 2: Generations was provided to us by Aporta Games for review.

Luke: Back in 2016, a little card game by the name of Capital Lux swept across the board game community’s radar, a compact card game that was lauded for its inventiveness, tight gameplay, and gorgeous art. Since then, however, I’ve heard very little mention of it, nor have I noticed much chatter about it online.

Phil: Seems like the equivalent of a cult-classic, a title reviewers raved about briefly before it disappeared in the neverending machine of “the new hotness.”

Luke: Luckily, Capital Lux is returning to us in the form of an upgraded sequel, including new variable options and a solo mode.

Phil: Just what the board game doctor ordered. It’s resuscitation time!

Luke: Fittingly, the beautiful artwork of Kwanchai Moriya returns, adorning this game with gorgeous images of some crazy futuristic fashion show candidates.

Phil: Seriously, this dude is talented. I’d buy games he’s worked on just to frame them on my wall.

Luke: I personally prefer the simpler and, to my mind, more iconic images of the original game, but the artwork on display here is undeniably beautiful.

Phil: Capital Lux 2 plays almost identically to the original, albeit some slight tweaks for balance and ease of mechanics. If you didn’t get a chance to play the original, the gameplay loop is pretty simple:

  • At the start of each round, players draft 2 cards at a time until they have 6 cards in hand.
  • On their turn, a player will either add a card to the home base, potential end-game points, or add a card to the capital, activating the ability associated with that color.
  • At the end of the round, players compare the total of their home base cards to the total of the capital’s cards by color. If the total of one of your sets exceeds the capital’s, you lose all those cards.
  • After this, whoever has the highest total of each color takes a card from the capital of that color for end-game points.
  • Players play 3 rounds, keeping their home base cards between rounds. At the end of the game, they score based on the cards in their home base, their set aside scored cards, and any coins they may have (worth 2 points each).

Luke: What’s different here is that you’ll set the power associated with each color at the start of each game, with 4 variable powers for each. New components have been provided, including additional cards, tokens, and boards, to allow for a wide variety of options.

Phil: In this way, the original powers are all represented here, making this more a Capital Lux 2.0 than a proper sequel. This may bother some, as this game essentially replaces its predecessor wholesale, including everything the base game has plus some.

Luke: Yeah, it’s an understandable move but a slight bummer. That being said, this isn’t a particularly expensive title, and I’d be more than happy to put more money towards seeing this game make the glorious return it deserves.

Phil: As a 2-player title, this game is a tight battle of wits, pushing players to think closely around their opponent’s moves, navigating around how you think they’ll use the cards you’re pretty sure they drafted. But what’s even more tense is precariously balancing your home base alongside the capital, making sure you never become so greedy that you insult the government on high. It’s a phenomenal blending of mechanics and theme that only accentuates the smart and clever gameplay.

Luke: Yeah, I can’t speak highly enough about this title. The original, in my opinion, suffered from a lack of variability, which this easily fixes. The core loop of the game is still satisfying and fresh, and the new additions feel at home. Some of them are more involved than others, but that’s not such a big deal beyond remembering the modules when returning the game after a few days.

Phil: I think we can agree that the biggest flaw is the solo mode.

Luke: For sure. It felt similar to the solo mode for Gugong, one of our earliest reviews on this site. It’s easy enough to run here, but the AI just feels like a bear to deal with unless you get particularly lucky. I always felt like I was on the backfoot, and rarely played any cards to the capital as I was trying desperately to keep pace with the game.

Phil: And it takes away from that core interaction with other players that make this game sing. This feels like a poker game you’d play on a barroom table, carefully planning your moves while keeping an eye on what your opponents are planning.

Luke: I’m fairly confident that I’ll be backing this title so as to upgrade from the PnP version we had access to into a full-fledged iteration of the game, and I think that’s the best kind of recommendation we can provide.

Verdict: Capital Lux 2: Generations is one of the best small-box card games we’ve played in recent memory, only improving on the ideas the original. Beautiful art, quick gameplay, clever tactics and options, and a good amount of replayability. Fans and newcomers alike should give this title a look at their earliest convenience.

Marvel Champions Monday: Klaw’s Signature Move

Note: This is a part of Klaw Your Way Through May, a content creator collaboration where we each discuss the Klaw villain set. For more on that, click here.

Luke: Signature Moves, thus far, has favored the grand heroes of Marvel Champions, defining what makes some of our favorite playable figures tick. But now it’s time to dive into the scum and villainy that infest this world and see what we can learn about our foes.

Phil: And who better to start with than Klaw, perhaps the most nefarious in his plotting ways.

Luke: Some point to him as the unpredictable adversary; drawing 2 cards for each attack and having such strong scheming options can make fights against him slightly swingier than others.

Phil: I’d say he’s the transition from the easier half of the villain pool to the harder half.

Luke: Which makes him, in my eyes, a great method to test what hero decks can stand up against the big boys and which need to be tinkered with more.

Phil: But what one card best encapsulates what makes Klaw such a dastardly enemy? To us, Sonic Boom tells a perfectly clear tale.

Luke: This card is perhaps one of Klaw’s craftiest tools; there’s no way I’m paying 3 resources just to keep my hero unexhausted, and the fact that some attacks will exhaust me even when I’m not blocking is brutal, promoting a more defensive playstyle.

Phil: Not that you always have the time to be defensive, considering how quick Klaw is to get his engine going.

Luke: And this card is all the more brutal if you’re playing a Leadership deck, potentially exhausting all your allies as well.

Phil: And this tactic of delaying the hero, distracting them, slowing them down and preventing them from acting in a timely manner, is Klaw’s bread-and-butter.

As a skilled mercenary and saboteur, Klaw has a history of studying his foes, determining their weak points, and then acting on them effectively, dismantling the safe-guards of Wakanda to assassinate their king.

Luke: And in terms of mechanics, a hero’s ability to tap for an effect is one of their strongest tools; it’s free, it’s reliable, and it can have particularly strong effects, depending on the hero in question. The fact that we, as players, rely on it so heavily, means that it’s that much more devastating when that option is forcefully taken away from us.

Phil: The image for this card comes from the award-winning Black Panther series written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a narrative focused on the political implications of having a sovereign ruler, the morality of the Wakandan nation, and the implementation of other kinds of government.

Klaw, in classic fashion, looks to invade and take over Wakanda, implementing his own form of rule by becoming Wakanda’s “new god.” Using his sonic powers, he quickly defeats the Wakandan military without any trouble, forcing them to their knees as he stands before them, menacing his new “subjects.”

Luke: Very fitting for the story being told.

Klaw is a tactician of the highest order but does so by allowing his powers to keep his enemies knocked down and at a distance. Sonic Boom, both narratively and mechanically, perfectly presents this, forcing the players to feel his wrath firsthand.

Phil: Or so we think. Do you all feel there’s a better card in Klaw’s arsenal that shows who the character is at his core? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Luke: Thanks as always for stopping by, and we’ll see you next week!

To the Lab! Hulk Spoiler: Banner’s Laboratory

Note: This is a part of a content creator collaboration where we reveal and discuss various spoilers from the upcoming Marvel Champions: Hulk hero pack. For more on that, click here.

Luke: Hey folks, we have a special treat this week! FFG has recently reached out to a number of content creators, giving us a sneak peak into some of the cards being released in the upcoming Hulk hero pack. As you may have guessed, we were one of the lucky few to have this opportunity.

Phil: Oh, that’s awesome! So what kind of card did we get? Some awesome Aggressive ally ready to kick a$$ and take names? A crazy powerful attack that Hulk unleashes on unsuspecting puny humans?

Luke: Nah, we got Bruce Banner’s lab!

Phil: Oooooookay.

Luke: Hey, don’t look so glum! As non-punchy as this may be, this card has fascinating repercussions for Hulk as a whole.

Phil: Well, it’s certainly the first non-physical card we’ve seen so far.

Luke: Yeah, it’s clear Hulk is fueled by those little red icons, so it’s neat to see one that breaks that mold. Additionally, it creates mental resources in the Alter-Ego form? It makes sense thematically, but I don’t know how useful that will be in practice.

Phil: From what cards are currently in our pool of options, the only card that expressly uses mental resources that could be used in Alter Ego form is Second Wind, which might be a very strong option, considering that Hulk could be inclined towards a Protection play style.

Luke: Even still, a free resource is always nice. With this in play, Bruce will be able to sift through his deck with his innate ability while also putting cards into play more easily.

Phil: Meaning he can buff up prior to unleashing his more violent half.

Luke: Right. Plus, the extra recover is definitely a welcome addition.

Phil: The quicker Bruce can heal, the sooner Hulk gets back into the field.

Luke: Yep; it’s clear that this, the only Alter Ego card I’ve seen so far for Hulk, is designed to make Bruce an efficient machine, getting the tools you need to get the big green guy back into the fight.

Phil: Which makes this a particularly useful card if you choose to put it in play.

Luke: Assuming it’s the only non-aggression card in Hulk’s core set, you’ll want to put it in play so you don’t draw into it at inopportune times.

Phil: It’s funny how such a seemingly innocuous card can have such big implications.

Luke: Banner’s Laboratory definitely makes me more excited to give this hero a go when he’s eventually released, as I imagine there will be some rather fun combinations in our future.

Phil: But what are your thoughts? Yes, you, the reader, let us know in the comments what you think of this card and how it could be used effectively in Hulk’s deck.

Luke: Thanks for taking the time to tune in, and we’ll see ya’ll next week with more Marvel Champions coverage!

Behind the Board: Jason Greeno on PnP Arcade

Luke: Welcome back to Behind the Board! This week, we’re joined by one of the co-owners of PnP Arcade, Jason Greeno! Thanks for stopping in, Jason.

Jason: Sure thing, excited to sit down and chat with you.

Luke: So tell me; where exactly did the idea for PnP Arcade come from?

Jason: I grew up in remote northern New York where there were no game stores. When I was kid, that meant I needed to invent games or play the tired old mainstays (Risk, Monopoly etc). 

Now, when we visit my parents ‘up there’, I often wish to introduce them to new games. It occurred to me that many games could be easily printed, cut, and sleeved for play. An idea started to form in my head about printable games.

I had already started a website called Game Design Market which offered art assets to aspiring game designers. That enterprise did not succeed, but it did prove that electronic sales could work. Also, many folks are familiar with RPGNow and DriveThruCards, so this idea wasn’t completely unique. What WAS unique, was that I wanted it to be focused on card and board games.

Luke: And you partnered with Jason Tagmire to make this dream a reality, yes?

Jason: Yeah, I had been designing games for Jason Tagmire’s (JT) company, Button Shy Games. We had weekly meetings to check in on projects and to discuss new ideas. One of those ideas I brought up would become PnP Arcade.

Luke: Speaking of the name, how did you both settle on PnP Arcade as the identity for the site?

Jason: JT and I had a long Slack ongoing conversation about what to call the site. Being both 80s arcade enthusiasts (JT actually owns multiple full size arcade cabinet games) the word ‘arcade’ was an early submission. We knew we wanted a short and catchy name, so ‘pnp’ was an easy addition.

Luke: For sure, I think it works well.

So how would you describe your role in PnP Arcade?

Jason: I’m a graphic designer by day, so I handle most of the art direction and graphics for our site and new game graphics. I also act as one of the scouts seeking publishers and designers whose games fit our special mold. JT has a lot of experience running a niche business which translates into strong instincts for our company’s approach. He also scouts games, and oversees our newsletter and blog development. We both handle our weekly site updates.

Luke: Your website hosts a variety of different companies and types of PnP games; how do you both choose what does and doesn’t belong in the PnP Arcade collection?

Jason: We look for games that are print and play friendly. This means reasonable ink usage (even better if there’s a black & white option), low component count when it comes to printed pages, quality art and design, and of course, a fun game. Being print and play friendly also means not asking that the buyer supply uncommon tokens or game parts.

Examples of successful games on PNP Arcade are roll-and-write games like Robin Gibson’s Paper Pinball series and Roll Estate by Chris Michaud. Also, small card games like Jason Glover’s Desolate and Iron Helm are fan favorites.

Luke: And what do you think makes games like these examples of how to do a PnP well?

Jason: To me, a print and play should have all the things that a mass-market game has: great art, excellent table presence, clear and concise rules, and great replayability. However, games with just a few pages to print and little to no cutting are the sweet spot. While we do have some crafty fans who will build beautifully printed games, not everyone has a lot of time for gaming, let alone crafting that game. If I can print and cut the game in a few minutes and be playing right away, that’s the best result.

Another thing that works well is a game that releases content over the course of the year but works as a standalone playable game with each purchase (so you don’t have to own all the parts). You can see this in practice with our game, Chain Mail from Button Shy Games. JT and I actually designed this one, and you can grab the base game and first Adventure pack for free. If you want to expand your characters, quests, and treasure you can grab additional Adventure packs. That way, you can space out your purchases and crafting. 

Luke: Yeah, I’m excited to see the Chain Mail definitive edition sometime this year.

Now, having said the games that you think work well in this format, is there a specific genre of game you wish appeared more often as a PnP?

Jason: I’d love to see more games that we can play easily over video chat. The pandemic has pushed all of us online, away from our game groups, and I’m hoping that we can find some solace by playing online together.

Luke: And, in this vein, I think PnP Arcade has done a lot to help gamers cope with the world-wide stay-at-home orders, providing tons of games for free to play from home. How can folks support your company during this time?

Jason: Spread the word. The more people that know about PnP Arcade or that give printable games a try will only help grow our community. In turn, more people will join the greater gaming community, and that’s great for everyone

Luke: Having been faced with such a worldwide and impactful event, how do you think the PnP landscape will change in the coming year because of recent events?

Jason: We’ve seen a huge surge in downloads at PnP Arcade. More articles, BGG Geeklists, and Facebook groups have talked about the benefits of printable games. With a larger community comes more game designs and more innovation. When I say innovation, I mean why stop at paper? What I’d love to see next is 3D sculpt files for folks to print game components. Just a few per game would be enough, since current 3D printing is still in its infancy, but the future of printing games from home is huge!

Luke: In regards to bringing new people into the world of PnPs, what would you say to gamers who are hesitant to pay money for PnP games?

Jason: I’d compare print and play to any other crowdfunding site like Kickstarter or Patreon. Even though we have a nice collection of well-known games like The Networks, Fire in the Library, Sprawlopolis, Roll Player, and Dice Throne, a large selection of our games is from first time designers. Buyers can help support the next crop of designers and great games by paying a small price to try new and fun games.

Many of us struggle at the staggering costs of $100+ Kickstarters. At PnP Arcade you can grab a handful of great games for $3 to $5 each. Of course, you have to do a little assembly, but for many gamers, that’s part of the fun.

Luke: If there’s one PnP game you’d recommend folks check out this week, what would it be and why?

Jason: Roll Estate is a great example of print and play done right. It plays 1-5 players and only requires a single page printed. Chris did an excellent job in designing this game and was nominated for a Golden Geek Award for the design.

Luke: Alright, Jason, thanks so much for stopping in and talking with us today. Before we end things off, what projects are you working on right now that folks should be keeping an eye out for?

Jason: We’ve partnered with AEG to sponsor a game design contest which will ask designers to make a video chat friendly print-and-play game. Stay tuned for more on that from AEG and PNP Arcade.

Also, we want to showcase the creativity of the print-and-play community. You can expect new blog posts with photos and stories of folks crafting their games and in a lot of cases, upgrading them with custom components.

One last thing to expect soon: The Prototype Zone. A place where folks can host their unpublished games that haven’t yet received that last bit of polish but are still fun for our community to download and try.

If folks want to submit a game that falls into the mold I listed above, they can reach me at jasongreeno35@gmail.com.

Luke: Well, there you have it folks! If any of what Jason talked above interests you, head on over the PnP Arcade and check out some of these phenomenal games for yourself.

And thanks as always for tuning and reading; let us know your thoughts in the comments, and we’ll see you next week!

Weekly PnP: Bargain Basement Bathysphere

  • Designer: Scott Slomiany
  • Artist: Scott Slomiany
  • Publisher: N/A
  • Where to Find It: The BGG Forums

Luke: So let’s be honest with ourselves; I had never heard of Bargain Basement Bathysphere until Shut Up and Sit Down covered a variety of print and play games a couple of weeks ago.

Phil: Credit where credit is due.

Luke: And I’m certainly glad that they pointed me in the direction of this game; BBB is a very fascinating, experimental title that does a lot right and a few things wrong, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of a rather odd and fascinating game.

Phil: So, from what I’ve gathered, this game is basically a solo legacy version of Oink Games’ Deep Sea Adventure.

Luke: In broad strokes, yes. I definitely agree with Quentin that Deep Sea Adventure is not a game I would call “satisfying” or “interesting” or “fun,” so I’m glad that this new, lengthy, solitary iteration exists for that reason alone. Scott Slominay elevates the original game design in such a way that I found impressive to watch as it all unfolded before me.

Phil: Somewhat literally, considering how many pages you printed for this game.

Luke: Yeah, I definitely killed a couple of trees putting together this title, but thankfully, BBB is incredibly kind with its ink usage, not something I can say for every print and play I’ve come across.

Phil: So how does one go about getting their stinky submersible sinking?

Luke: At the start of each map, players will have access to 5 dice (generally speaking). After rolling them, you’ll need to use the dice results to move about the map. After moving the number of spaces indicated on the die, you’ll check and see if you take any damage from passing over certain spaces of the map without landing on them. You’ll lose power, which will make you lose dice, and oxygen, which gives you less time to return to the surface.

Phil: A cacophony of tension pushing you just as quickly to return home as it does to delve deeper. I love it.

Luke: You’ll want to land on a variety of spaces to explore the depths, find cute little sea creatures, and open new pathways. How skillfully you land on these spots while avoiding or negating negative effects will dictate your victory points, assuming you ever return to the surface at all.

Phil: Dun-dun-DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN.

Luke: Once you’ve had enough exploring, you’ll start to make your return trip to the surface, but if you ever land on a space you’ve already landed on, oops, that’s another damage for you.

Oh, and did I mention depth zones? Every time you enter a new section of the map, you’ll take a certain amount of damage depending on how many spaces you move into that zone without stopping, making for some pretty tough choices depending on how the dice came out for you.

Phil: How dependent is your success on your dice rolls?

Luke: A bad roll at the wrong time can definitely spell your doom very quickly, but for the most part, the game isn’t so punishing as to leave you high and dry very often. I’ve had a few terrible turns where I’ve rolled three 6’s, which can lead to a lot of unnecessary damage, but there are ways to mitigate these situations as the game goes on.

Phil: Ah yes, the legacy elements.

Luke: We won’t be spoiling the details of what you’ll encounter as the game progresses, but it’s worth noting that a new element or twist on the pre-established is introduced every 1 or 2 games, meaning you’ll always have something fresh or interesting to try out.

It’s also worth noting that if you fail at a mission, there’s no do-overs; you’re just going to have to live with your mistakes and keep pressing on. While some might be bothered by this, I found this little detail refreshing, never pressure me to “git gud” before moving on and seeing what more was in store.

Phil: Sounds like a winner if you ask me.

Luke: For the most part, yeah, this game is a triumph of game design, which shows considering I played it 30+ times, but I would say that I wish I stopped after game 24 or so.

Phil: Really? Why’s that?

Luke: There’s a certain point where the game feels like it leaves the strong core it had at the start for just adding more stuff to an overwhelming degree. In the final few games of the campaign, a few new mechanics are introduced but barely have the time to be used before they are thrown away, like an embarrassed parent hiding their unemployed 32-year-old son from house guests.

The final mission in particular feels very out of place, throwing away many of the staples of the game to try something new. It feels thematically jarring and is far too easy to win.

Phil: Never a good thing for a solo game.

Luke: I mean, don’t get me wrong, this game isn’t terribly difficult. After the first 2 games when I got my sea legs, I won almost every game without too much difficulty. Beyond a few of the late game missions, I didn’t have much trouble, and honestly, that’s okay. The core design was so smart and inviting that it didn’t matter how well I was doing, just so long as I got to invest myself in a little bit more of this undersea world.

Phil: Until it just became too much to deal with.

Luke: Exactly.

Verdict: Ultimately, we’d recommend people check out Bargain Basement Bathysphere, as it does so many things well, and for free no less. The game design is generous with ideas that will keep you invested for a time. But if you find yourself becoming tired of the campaign midway through, it’s okay to stop wherever; you’ll likely be more satisfied ending on your own terms.

SpaceShipped: A Pocket-Sized FTL

  • Designer: Lucas Gentry
  • Artists: Sara Beauvais, Marty Cobb, and Daniel Ido
  • Publisher: Button Shy Games
  • Release Date: August 2019

Disclaimer: This game was provided to us for review by Button Shy Games.

Luke: I’ve always been a fan of roguelike video games like Into the Breach or Rogue Legacy. There’s something about the exploration of a freshly-generated world that makes for an unpredictable, exciting adventure. It pushes me to try new tactics, never get comfortable, and always try again… even if it’s a few months later.

Phil: I’ve personally not been a huge fan of the genre, but the idea of stumbling through a new world each time you play is an appealing prospect.

Luke: Enter SpaceShipped, a solo card game that brings the ideas of the classic roguelike FTL to the tabletop and does it surprisingly well.

In SpaceShipped, you are an interplanetary trader who’s looking to make the biggest score of their lives, selling some of the galaxy’s rarest crystals to the highest bidder… that is, assuming you can find them first. Space pirates are on your tale, looking to scoop them all up before you have the chance to make the sale. You’ll have to put together a sturdy ship, a strapping crew, a ship upgrade here or there, and enough credits to finish first.

Phil: There’s no time to lose!

Luke: Players start with some rudimentary equipment, just enough to get by, as well as a handful of credits. Each round, you’ll read through 2 different event cards, dictating what sorts of things you encounter that day. Maybe you’ve stumbled upon a shipyard that’s having a competitive sale or a band of marauders looking for trouble. Events will generally affect how much health you have, how many credits you have, and how you can buy or sell items that round.

Phil: I can see that becoming pretty random at times, although that fits with the roguelike theme I guess. Sometimes, the cards will just destroy you in the matter of a few turns, while other games will give you the chance to go the distance if you can predict the cards well enough.

Luke: You’ll definitely encounter an unlucky game here or there, but they are infrequent enough and quick enough where it’s not really a bother and ends up being funny in a “this is absurd” kind of way.

After your daily encounters, you’ll stop by the local shop, able to buy or sell whatever wares are available. Upgrades will give you power-ups, ships will increase your cargo hold and health, and crew members will give you extra actions or choices you can make.

Phil: Sounds like, for a trader, you’re doing a lot of buying and not much selling.

Luke: I was getting to that! Each round, the Marketplace will dictate the stock prices for the 4 goods in the game. You can either buy goods from the general supply or sell them for the indicated price. And because you can see what the market will look like in for the next couple of turns, you’ll want to plan what you’re buying or selling in hopes of earning the maximum profit.

Phil: Of course, assuming something bad doesn’t happen.

Luke: You have a limited cargo hold, meaning you can only carry so much with you at a time. Some events can make you lose cargo you’re carrying, and others will skip the market phase altogether. In other words, you have a good idea of how to work the marketplace up to a point.

Phil: Now where do the crystals come in?

Luke: They can be found in the marketplace as well, but come at the steep steep price of 20 credits. Once you’ve scrimped and saved enough for one, you’ll have to use one of your cargo hold slots to carry it until you get your second gem and win the game.

Phil: That is, unless those pesky pirates snatch them first.

Luke: After each round, cards will shift to the right, with an encounter moving to the marketplace, a market item turning into a resource, and a resource transforming into the first encounter of the next round. If a crystal ever becomes an encounter again, the pirates earn a crystal, tracked via a set-aside card. If the pirates can gather their crystals before you, you can’t find anymore in the entire galaxy and lose the game.

Phil: Any other ways you can bite the dust?

Luke: Your ship can blow up if you run out of health and shields, and you can’t win the game if you’re in debt, which can give the pirates just enough time to get a jump on you.

Phil: Seems like a lot of game to pack into 18 cards.

Luke: And that’s the rub, isn’t it? SpaceShipped does what it does very well considering its small card-pool, but I can’t help but feel like this game would be so much better with more cards. More encounters, more crew members, just a little bit more of everything.

Phil: I don’t know about that; sure, more stuff can be nice, but I think the quality over quantity approach here is well-founded and benefits the game design.

Luke: The big thing, for me, is that while the game can be hard and tense, there are certain play styles or strategies that I’ve found to spell out victory for me. I’m not going to say that this card or that effect is “broken”, as that devolves into a childish way of talking about game design in my opinion, but I will say that there are certain card combos or specific abilities that have consistently brought me positive results. And when a solo game becomes too easy, it can start to lose its charm.

Phil: So is this a no-go from us?

Luke: Not necessarily; I really like the game design and what the experience as a whole is. It’s smart, quick, and makes you think, even if luck can have a bigger factor in some of your games. I find myself bringing it out now and again, and the small size of the game makes it easy to carry with you onto planes or to a bar. And there are 4 mini-expansions on the way, promising new enemies to face, ships to pilot, and upgrades to install. I have high hopes for the future that can spell out for this little title.

Verdict: SpaceShipped provides a tense adventure in 18 cards and 18 minutes. The choices are interesting and the encounters spice up each game. It’s not always the most fair or exciting experience, but it does something no other game on the market has for me; replicate a roguelike in a satisfying manner. Give this one a chance, especially after the mini-expansions are released.

Marvel Champions Monday: Captain Marvel’s Signature Move

Luke: Welcome back to our mini-series Signature Move where we take a look at what we view as the card that encapsulates what a Marvel Champs hero is all about. This week, we’re taking a look at Captain Marvel, a character that has gone through many iterations over the years.

Phil: True, but it’s clear that this version of the character is based around her most recent reboot in the comics that inspired the film. Her fohawk haircut in particular is a dead giveaway.

Luke: Couldn’t agree more, but unfortunately, most of her cards aren’t terribly thematic, at least not in the grand sweeping way that we saw with Black Panther’s card. There is, however, one perhaps innocuous card that stands out as particularly emblematic of her more recent characterization.

Phil: If I had to take a guess off-hand, I would say Energy Channel. It’s a card that really shows off her raw strength and abilities in a way that feels incredibly cathartic in-game and via the art used.

Luke: It’s certainly one of the better picks and one that I heavily considered, but I’ll come back around to that later. Instead, I went with the fairly tame but potent Energy Absorption.

It’s hard to deny the power behind a 3-resource card, but how it ties into Carol Danvers’ abilities is fascinating.

Phil: For those of you unaware, the most recent iteration of Captain Marvel, similar to her DC counterpart Supergirl, is able to absorb energy to fuel her various abilities, primarily through the use of photoblasts.

Luke: And this is perfectly articulated throughout her deck. Her more aggressive cards require the Energy resource to get their full effect, namely Photonic Blast and Energy Channel, literally having her spend her absorbed energy to let out a burst of damage.

Meanwhile, her core ability as Captain Marvel is to spend Energy and heal to draw more cards, encouraging her to head into battle and take some damage so she can restore herself by absorbing more energy.

Phil: And while the card Cosmic Flight doesn’t play into this, her natural ability to fly in recent comics stems from this power source as well. That card similarly fuels a variety of effects in her deck, such as Crisis Interdiction and Captain Marvel’s Helmet, but these tend to be more passive, defensive abilities.

Luke: Which could be seen as a light commentary on the character; Carol has always been someone who, while having a diplomatic side, doesn’t shy away from a good fight.

Phil: Also, her flight keyword is tied to these few abilities solely, whereas Energy Absorption can be used on just about anything.

Luke: Exactly; even if one of her powers doesn’t need Energy to use it, she can always spend some of her seemingly limitless supply to put it in play if in a pinch.

Now like I said, Energy Channel was definitely one I considered, since it shows off Captain Marvel’s raw strength. The problem is the context of the image from Civil War 2. This image specifically is when Carol accidentally kills [redacted], a fellow hero that she is at odds with.

Phil: The Civil War 2 event definitely did the character a large disservice, writing her as pig-headed to the point of being destructive, making her out to be the “villain” by the end of the event.

Luke: Which, to me, sours this card in terms of representing her as a whole. Accidental homicide isn’t exactly a defining trait for her.

So while it’s a bit more generic, so much so that I’ve been struggling to find the source of the art in question, Energy Absorption perfectly represents Carol in my eyes, showing us how she taps into her various abilities with ease.

Phil: I think that’s a wrap on this one; thanks to everyone who took the time to read this. Let us know your thoughts, and we’ll see you next week!

Behind the Board: Jamey Stegmaier on Rolling Realms

Luke: Welcome back to Behind the Board! This week, we are joined by none other than Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games fame. After our glowing review of Rolling Realms yesterday, we figured we’d reach out and pick his brain about the process of making the game.

Thanks for joining us, Jamey.

Jamey: Of course, it’s my pleasure.

Luke: So when exactly did you start the process of designing Rolling Realms?

Jamey: It was in mid-March, a little after we received a stay-at-home order in St. Louis. I realized that a lot of people were under similar circumstances and were perhaps missing the connection that gaming provides, so I spent a weekend designing the first version of Rolling Realms (then called Nine Worlds).

Luke: Those 9 worlds, of course, based on the various properties of Stonemaier Games. Was it always your intention to feature your other games here?

Jamey: Yes, from the start I worked on minigames that reflected some core aspect of each of our 9 games. This was a helpful design constraint, and I thought that Stonemaier fans–the most likely audience for the game–would enjoy seeing the connections.

Luke: Absolutely, it’s definitely tickled me to see the theme and mechanics at play merged so naturally. Was there a particular design ethos you tapped into to make that happen?

Jamey: Other than reflecting games in our catalog, I wanted the game to infinitely scale so anyone could play along at home, as I planned to host live teach-and-play videos. I also really wanted the entire game to fit onto 1 sheet of paper, including the rules.

Luke: Yeah, that accessibility is certainly a huge boon for the game. Now, was there any one realm that you found difficult to design?

Jamey: Initially, Wingspan was actually the hardest to design, as I couldn’t find a way to reflect the idea of engine building in the game. But over the various live playtests since then, I would say that it’s been the hardest to get Euphoria right, both in terms of clarity and how the dice are used.

Luke: That makes sense, I’ve found that, for me, it’s one of the harder ones to explain.

On the flip side of that, is there any one realm that you take a lot of pride in or enjoy especially?

Jamey: Probably Tapestry, as I love polyomino games. What’s your favorite?

Luke: Hmmm… offhand, I’d say the Between Two Castles realm; it’s always a tense challenge to try and amp up your other 2 realms while balancing how many numbers you put into getting those big rewards.

Jamey: Ah, yeah, that one’s a ton of fun.

Luke: I think the highlighted optional realms designed by fans have been neat to see as well. Is there something you look for in those custom realms that make you feel like they deserve to be featured alongside the official game files?

Jamey: I love that fans have participated in the process in this way, especially since they can see how hard it is to design a game with rules that fit into such a small space. I’m the most intrigued by the realms that can be explained in 10 seconds but still offer a nice depth of decisions. I think Scythe has the most fan designs because people (including myself) aren’t entirely satisfied with that realm.

Luke: Well hey, that’s what the public playtesting is for! As of today, Rolling Realms has moved through 10 iterations through public playtesting. What has it been like seeing the game move through so many versions in a fairly short amount of time?

Jamey: Invigorating! I love getting that feedback in real-time and trying out different revisions. Because it’s not a complex game, it’s easy to iterate and make changes within a short timeframe–that wouldn’t be possible with our other games.

Luke: Yeah, it’s been neat to watch it develop. Is there any element of the game that has seen a more extreme transformation through this process?

Jamey: The way resources are used has changed over time, and I think that’s made a big difference. Now they’re a big part of the game, and you get partial points from them at the end of the round.

Luke: Last question for today, Jamey; do you eventually intend to do a boxed version of this game for those interested, or do you think it will remain a PnP affair strictly?

Jamey: I don’t have any plans to print an official version, though I’m not entirely opposed to it. It’s just one of those games that functions fine the way it is, so I’m not sure an officially printed version is necessary.

Luke: Thank you so much for your time today, Jamey, it was great talking with you.

Jamey: Same, I’m glad you like the game so much!

Luke: And thanks to those of you who tuned in today. Be sure to leave your thoughts down below and we’ll see you next week!