Friday, October 31, 2014

Board Games in Application

The world of board games is no stranger to all kinds of digital aids, which rose in popularity with the introduction of smartphones. Unofficial scoring helpers for games such as Agricola or 7 Wonders, a life and status tracker for Sentinels of the Multiverse or set randomizers for different deckbuilding games seem as natural as a scoring pad or a simple sheet of paper and a pencil. But is this just a novelty or a great shift in gaming?

7 Wonders Scorer by Forrest Wang

If you’ve been to Essen this year, you probably had a chance to play XCom: The Board Game from Fantasy Flight Games. Perhaps you were one of the people who bought Alchemists from Czech Games Edition. And you know that, in essence, both of these games require a digital component to play (with Alchemists introducing a token alternative to having at least one smartphone at the table).

Alchemists has recently been “ran through” by Richard Ham (known and loved by the gaming community as Rahdo). The naturally mouth-watering main part was then supplemented by Rahdo’s opinion on digital components in the runthrough finalthoughts. Suffice to say, that he his attitude was quite positive, with a few very good arguments against all the things people seemed most unhappy about when it came to fusing board games and digital applications.

Alchemists official cover by CGE
(source: BGG)

The truth is that I wholeheartedly agree with most of the points in the video. Making the argument that Alchemists would be unplayable in twenty years, which seemed to surface most often when it came to both the newest CGE outing, as well as when XCom was being discussed, is indeed not a very strong one - especially now, when finding all sorts of digital media from two decades ago seems easier than ever. The same goes for all sorts of “no smartphones” table policies. There is, however, one thing that surfaced in the general discussion – an argument mostly made by all those truly excited about including digital elements in board games.

Alchemists by CGE
Selecting another position
on an iPhone @ Spiel 2014.
(source: BGG)

On a somewhat personal note I should say, that I am not sold on the idea of mandatory application use for my board games. Although I love the social aspect of gaming, I also find the physical aspect of games very appealing. Simply put, I like touching and moving the components, and distancing the player from some of the game elements by putting them behind a touch screen is something I am not crazy about. Still, what the enthusiasts say is that this step allows for introduction of mechanisms simply too complicated or too fiddly to implement in a fully analogue game. And that resonates with me on a completely different level.

From a designer and publisher perspective it might be extremely tempting to start looking closely at the possibility of removing some of the in-game busywork and hiding it within the depths of a simple app. But there are broader implications everyone – those who make games and those who play them – should possibly consider. And it is one of the elements that makes board games what they are today, possibly even being responsible for their growing popularity in a world that seems completely submerged in its digital existence.

The Settlers of Catan cover
(source: BGG)

Since Settlers of Catan made its glorious appearance on the market, paving the way for games very unlike older American titles – complicated, heavy with rules, often convoluted or inconsistent enough to make them very niche products – tabletop gaming was about simplicity. Board game mechanisms can only be so complicated, and beyond a certain level lies a realm of games played only once a year, or only be their greatest and most devoted fans. The trick is – and has been for the last twenty years – to design systems that introduced interesting decisions or simulated complicated ideas in a simple, digestible form.

Make no mistake: introducing digital components to a tabletop game is a great opportunity, but I sincerely do not think that these elements will start taking over board gaming anytime soon for a simple reason. The more complex systems have already ruled the tabletop gaming world and (although still existing and doing well) they failed as its mainstream. Reintroducing them using mandatory apps is a novelty that is probably here to stay, but not dominate the scene. When it comes to high complexity simulations with internal systems hidden away from the players, we already have those: they are called videogames.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

First post-Essen thoughts and some more pictures

Essen 2014 was awesome! So many people we had seen in the past came by our booth again, lots of handshakes and hugs made Essen feel like a gathering of old friends, brought together by teh same passion - board games.

For the first time in the history of NSKN Games, we sold out in Essen having more than one product at our booth and the quantity was not negligible. Delivering more than 200 Kickstarter rewards while serving a lot of customers was another big challenge, but we seem to have passed the test.

It's hard to draw all the conclusions after just a few days, but the whole NSKN team has returned with a very good feeling. Next week we'll have to look more in depth into what this event represented for us and we'll come back and share the conclusions.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Essen 2014 - day 2 & day 3

This year's Spiel Essen turns out to be a truly amazing experience. We continue our story in images with photos from day 2 (Friday) and day 3 (Saturday).

Day 2 - what was supposed to be the slowest day...

Happy owners of brand new Progress: Evolution of Technology

Explaining Progress

...and playing Versailles

Happy girls

Day 3 - the "sold out" day

Hard thinking and... watching

Progress countdown on Saturday morning

Game delivered!

That's what we call original

Around 11;00 AM

One of the last copies of Progress delivered at Spiel

4 copies left

and just a few minutes later...

With Progress sold out, we still invite you to visit our booth. We have a few copies of Praetor and a few of Versailles for Sunday.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Essen 2014 - setup and day 1

Being in Essen for Spiel is always an amazing experience, but this year's first day has exceeded our expectations by far. Since another big day is ahead of us in several hours, we'll let the pictures do the talking...

Day -2: leaving home

Leaving friends at home...

Day -1: setting up the booth

No less than 10 pallets of games made it to our booth in Essen

The setup day was looooong

... and it included climbing a giant ladder

Day 0: the day before the official opening

Delivering Kickstarter copies of Progress

The game have slowly found their places on shelves... and everywhere else

Game previews at the BoardGameGeek booth

Day 1: Spiel '14 Essen has finally starter... full speed ahead

Playing tables

The stock of Progress is running low from the morning hours... should we have brought more games?


Progress: Evolution of Technology

And Versailles again

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Our Essen Hotness

From a publisher’s perspective, a convention or a trade show is exciting, but also somewhat stressful. It’s both about preparing everything in advance, as well as performing at peak efficiency for an extended period of time, to make sure that our games and – more importantly – the people who visit us, get all the enthusiasm and the positivity they deserve. And with Spiel 2014 starting in merely a blink of an eye, we can’t but get more and more excited with what awaits us in Essen.

Spiel is a celebration of games and gaming, and as passionate gamers we would lie if we said that only Progress or Versailles excites us. There is a fair amount of gaming goodness we will be more than happy to get our hands on, not just to see “what the competition has to offer”, but to simply have fun with when the dust finally settles.

Image source: 
It seems that the game that equivocally excites all of us is Hyperborea by Andrea Chiarvesio and Pierluca Zizzi. It’s no secret we always had a soft spot for civilization and empire building games, so this one made us all interested from the first day it became a visible blip on our gaming radars. With good looking area control action and an immensely interesting pool building mechanism, Hyperborea looks like a game that will put a pretty cool twist on the “dudes on the map” genre, while showing off some clever Eurogame moves, asymmetrical player powers and some truly awesome art. Simply put: we cannot wait to see it in action.

And speaking about civilization building games: we will definitely be checking out Historia and Omega Centauri. The former seems to be sporting some really innovative approach towards civilization gaming in general, while the latter looks a little more straight up – but as a solid 4X game in space has a pretty good chance of making the creators of Exodus: Proxima Centauri quite excited about placing it on their Essen loot pile.

Image source: 
There is also a lot of excitement about The Battle of Five Armies, as some of the NSKN folks are great fans of War of the Ring, while others (myself included) are fatally drawn to everything having anything to do with the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. And with some reviews already up, as well as having the exact same set of designers (Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello) as the legendary WotR, the culminating battle of The Hobbit in a board game format really looks like something we might want to have on our shelves.

Image source: 
No Spiel would be complete without a new game by Uwe Rosenberg, and, more recently, without an offering from Stefan Feld and Antoine Bauza. And although we are slightly disappointed that Fields of Arle is a two player game only, we will definitely want to check it out, as well as take a good look at both Aquasphere and La Isla. And personally, I really can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Samurai Spirit.

Image source: 
To tell the truth, the list could really go on. We want to try out Nations: The DiceGame, visit the Z-Man booth to see how Battle at Kemble’s Cascade makes an early video game go completely analogue, get a fix (in form of a new board) of the fabulous Concordia or witness with our very own eyes, how Phil Eklund and Philipp Klarmann managed to make a negotiation game for not only three or two players players, but also for one (some of us even want to visit actual Greeenland but that is a completely different story). We will delve in the Essen gaming hotness, but…

At the end of the day, we will be most excited to see everyone who deems our humble abodes welcoming enough to visit us, stay awhile and play our games or just say hello. We will be – and in fact we already are – most excited to see our old friends and make some new ones. Because, believe it or not, gaming is much more about the people than the games. So, as much as we are happy to be presenting, selling, playing, demoing and experiencing games, we will also be happy to share this experience with others. 

And, in a way, that is what our personal Essen Hotness is all about.

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