The guy who runs/owns/started Great Northern Games is a friend of mine from work. His first Kickstarter, Noble Treachery, was carried off quite well, and followed what I have to imagine is the pattern for successful crowdfunding efforts.

He and his team of playtesters designed, tested, revised, and finalized the game. Then he sourced the initial physical copy, and Kickstarted the improved art, higher-quality pieces and cards, and basically creating a high-quality boxed set. No design or play work remained to be done.

Well, he’s coming around for a second try with Council of Blackthorn. He invited me to go see the pre-production copy at his desk, so once again the only thing he’s really Kickstarting is the mass production of a high-quality physical copy.

The teaser video is well done: it’s clear Jay learned a lot from his first effort (which was a stalwart effort in itself), and his efforts to source quality pieces and art have been further refined.

Check out the teaser video:


More evidence that the game is basically done – here’s a photo of the already-sourced physical pieces. You can even download the rulebook.

Go to his Kickstarter page, listen to the pre-release reviews, and consider supporting his efforts.

And as always, if you’re even feeling neutral about this, share it around, because networking only works if you cast the net wide!

This was far too long in coming, but in January, the Firing Squad welcomed +Brian Engard, and we discussed game design, self-publishing, and how to broaden the gaming market, among other topics. It’s about a 90-minute interview.

I interacted with Brian first as a contact about the interview with +Steve Jackson, only to discover that Brian has a ton of notches on his belt, from design work with +Leonard Balsera on Fate Core, as well as Spirit of the Century and Shadow of the Century, and Strange Tales of the Century.

He’s also self-published a very different kind of game, called Becoming, which is part improv theater, part RPG, and likely different than anything that you’ve seen before.

Give a listen!

MP3 Audio File

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad. Tonight we are joined by Brian Engard. Game designer and marketing guy for Steve Jackson Games. Brian, welcome.

Brian Engard (Steve Jackson Games): Hi. How’s it going?

Douglas: Good. Thank you for joining me. One of the reasons why I jumped in and wanted to chat with you is because I saw your Daily Illuminator, where you talk a little about yourself and your games. I didn’t really put all the pieces together until I went and got my copy of Fate, and “Ha! There you are.” I know that Leonard was very much involved. Tell me a little bit about Fate, Shadow of the Century, Spirit of the Century, and what’s your history with Fate, Evil Hat, and Spirit of the Century? Continue reading “The Firing Squad welcomes Brian Engard”

Munchkin Treasure Hunt. I finally found one. A bit hard to find, but thanks to my eagle-eyed 5yo, we spotted it in the games aisle of Toys R Us – which has exclusive rights to sell the game.

It was smaller than I figured it’d be. That wasn’t a problem, but it did throw me when I went looking for it. Technically, it could have been smaller still, since the board is much smaller (at least 2-3″ shorter then the square box) on either side; that might have been handy, actually, since it’d be easier to pack away.

Unboxing and setup were a snap, though the bases for the figures were a touch on the too-large side, and some might easily come out. There’s so much room in the box, though, that it would be a trivial thing to glue the bases onto the stands permanently, no harm, no foul.

The play of the game is simple. Roll a die, move spaces, and either do nothing (blank space), roll again (a colored die space), pick up a random treasure (treasure chest space), fight a monster via teleportation (monster space), or traverse a room, in which case you fight the monster in that room.

There are only six monsters to fight, which means there are no real surprises (not a bad thing since I was playing with a precocious 5yo). You have a base power, and you add one or more draws from the Monster Card deck, and possibly a die roll. Then you take your own die roll or rolls (you might get cards from the treasure deck for that) and any extra bonuses you can get, and if you equal or exceed the monster’s total, you win and draw a bunch of treasure cards.

These are the skills that were apparent to me

Simple Rules

  • Roll dice, move squares
  • Turn order
  • “Special” events (run away means you move, but don’t follow the usual pictures)
  • Roll dice, read result on the on-board table in the Entrance Room
  • Distinction between permanent and disposable items
  • Special re-roll and rules exemption cards (sticky fingers)

Math Skills

  • Simple addition of numbers from 1-6
  • Adding potentially large quantities of small numbers
  • Comparison of “which is larger”
  • Basic probability – what are your odds of beating the monster

Decision Skills

  • Basic decision tree: blank, fight, reroll
  • Risk-reward: Take a single treasure with no risk, or a fight with a larger reward
  • When to ask for help
  • Return on Investment: spend how many cards/points
As promised, the game lasted for about an hour, though we weren’t rushing nor were we lollygagging. The game ended with a draw: 49 gold each.

The short version is we had fun, and my daughter enjoyed fighting monsters, and was jealous of my giant really sharp sword (or whatever). She built up a commanding advantage in Permanent items early on, and basically got all of them, winding up with +6 in permanents “in play,” and nearly all of the other ones in her hand. I got two +1 items, but wound up with a lot more valuable one-time cards.

She can add well, but the board and cards distracted her. So I had her close her eyes, and her “math facts” popped right back into her head. She very, very much wants to roleplay with me (score!) one day, and started by asking “is this a board game of roleplaying?” to which I replied “yep.”

With only two players, it’s easy to drive a commanding set of cards and powers, since you’re basically working through the deck and there are no limits to the max cards you can have in your hand (a good choice).

There is also no real downside to just laying the cards out on the table; the game doesn’t end when you get to Level 10 or 20 or whatever, and the amount of help you can get from others is limited by proximity (they have to be within six squares of you). You also don’t play cards to help the monsters, so there’s no real surprise value to keeping them hidden that I could tell.

This is a game that can be used with real success to teach simple math facts, structured turn order, and of course the wonderful +John Kovalic art and amusing descriptions (+5 “That Look from Mom” was an instant success, as were the +5 Full Diaper and the Wadded Up Used Tissue, which I think was a +2) provide the right level of humor for the age range.

It would have been interesting to use 10-sided dice, though, if only for the completeness of adding 1-10 more than once, to give the full range of addition a chance. But there are so many “add a bunch of small numbers” together opportunities that I felt her math skills were appropriately pushed.

With only two players, the game rewards an early slow burn, followed by fighting as many high-level monsters as possible to eat lots of cards. Still, that can be risky and you can burn through a lot of your cards unless, like my daughter, you’re rocking 1d6+6 on every roll from the start. Wenchlet.

With many players, I have to think that the “good” cards will be much more distributed, and the ability to rack up enough bonuses to simply thrash the Troll or Dragon each time will be limited. That will drive more need for help, and a lot more running away. Both of us sought out fights as soon as we had the cards and points to do so, as you would almost always get more for the fighting than you’d spend.

I see high replay value on this one, and it’d be an especially good game with 1-3 adults paired with the balance of kids. Certainly a larger number of slightly older kids could play, and the absence of anything brutally cutthroat like the “buff the monster” behavior found in the Munchkin card game means the odds of table-flipping or tantrum behavior are somewhat limited.

A good time. Glad I got it, and I’m sure my daughter will ask to play again.

The Words of Short Stack Herself:

So how about we ask my daughter what she thought?

What was your favorite part of the game?

Tying with my dad at the end.

Did you enjoy fighting monsters?

Yeah. I especially enjoyed beating the dragon.

What did you think of the math? Was it hard?

Cool. It was not hard at all.

If you could make the game better, how would you make it better?

By being able to answer [the math] right away.

Would it be fun to play with your friends? Why?

Yeah. Because they might like it. Because you might win.

A while ago, a coworker of mine decided to live his dream and publish a boardgame of his own. He worked it, designed it, sourced the art. He started his own game company: Great Northern Games, and made it happen.

It’s now on sale, at CoolStuffInc among other places. +Jeffro Johnson interviewed him about it, and now the full printing is out.

It’s a combined card and dice game – he calls it the Cardicean system, and it’s worth taking a look at.

Here’s the post I did a long time ago.

Congratulations to Jay for his persistence – he’s done something we can admire. Go buy it, play it, and say nice things in public (say, on BoardGameGeek). Preferably in that freakin’ order, thanks.

Second game of Pandemic with Alina, and this time we win. I drew the Medic, which is a crazy-good role for keeping infections at bay. She drew the Operations Specialist.

Once again, we got hit with an epidemic on the first turn of the game. Pretty minimal impact, all in all. She also drew something like four red cards right off the bat, which very quickly led to the Red virus being not only cured but eradicated.

Black was the next to go, this time by me, then some smart coordination led to Blue being both cured and eradicated in one turn, maybe two, as my Medic shuttled back and forth between a few research stations using the “auto-cure” function to wipe out everything in my path. We actually used the “build a research station” function of her Ops Specialist to meet up in a convenient city, pass on a card, and that’s how we nixed blue. Good group effort.

We were going to pull the same trick for Yellow, but a lucky draw for Alina and the fact that she could create research stations anywhere ended the game with a fairly straight-forward victory.

We’re still having fun, so we’ll either up the difficulty to five Epidemic cards, or play a few more times with different roles. That medic power seems really awesome, though,

Purchased and played Pandemic with my wife last night. Interesting game.

I like the cooperative aspect, so that was cool.

She drew the Scientist, I drew the Quarantine Specialist. That was something that was harder to keep track of, and I know that I could have foiled a few outbreaks that I forgot.

We had cured three diseases when we ran out of cards, losing the game. We’d been able to keep the diseases in check, but not eliminate them all.

We’ll probably play again tonight and see if we’ve learned enough to win this time.

I think Alina would like something a bit more violent, interestingly enough, so perhaps there’s a well thought out Zombie cooperative game out there . . .