Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Greedy Claw Crane Game on Kickstarter Now!

Greedy Claw Crane Game
Designer: David Sheppard
Publisher: Twitch Factory
2-5p | 20-30m | 8+
A game I reviewed back in January is now on Kickstarter.  Greedy Claw Crane Game is for two to five players and takes about 20-30 minutes.  It's a very casual dice and token game that is suitable as a filler or family game.

The game comes with a few updates from the prototype I reviewed in January, including:

  • Larger toy tokens - 25% larger tokens means more room for the artwork to shine and easier to read stats.
  • Cleaner backgrounds - one of my complaints was that the starburst background was too distracting from the art and stats.  Well, that's been toned down so now all the important details pop!
  • Larger box - the game will come in a larger, magnetic clasp box (think Biblios).  The box also has updated artwork.
  • Custom Dice - no more stickers on the dice, the production game will feature custom engraved dice.
  • Hidden Goals - in the prototype these were large cards, but in the production game they'll be large tokens.
  • Stretch Goals - if the project is successful you'll get all the above in a fun filler game.  If it does even better there will be stretch goals, including more toy sets!  (Rumor has it one stretch goal set will feature some cameo appearances.)
  • Tabletopia - on April 4th you'll be able to try out Greedy Claw Crane Game on Tabletopia!
All this for just $25 with free US shipping!

So go read my review and then consider supporting Greedy Claw Crane Game on Kickstarter!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 61: Malcolm Armstrong

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples.

Name:Malcolm Armstrong
Day Job:Software Tester
Designing:Two to five years.
Facebook:Malcolm Armstrong
Today's Interview is with:

Malcolm Armstrong
Interviewed on: 1/29/2017

Coming soon to Kickstarter is likely to be the first game by Malcolm Armstrong, Arcane Blaster Casters. It's a project he's been working on for a few years with his partner and they feel it's about ready to see the light of day. So keep your eyes open for ABC and if you'd like to learn more about Malcolm and his other projects, read on!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I played about with in game editors for various computer games when I was young out of curiosity, the curiosity stuck as I moved on to helping design and build online worlds in Neverwinter Nights. I met a friend at university that got me into board games and the addiction struck immediately. My love of game design and my love of board games were a natural pairing.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Arcane Blaster Casters

Have you designed any games that have been published?

What is your day job?
Software Tester

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
At home or a friend's home.

Who do you normally game with?
The artist I'm working on Arcane Blaster Casters with, my partner and 2-3 of our friends depending on how many show up.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Cosmic Encounter is usually on the table, Jamaica is another popular one. Other than those, we have a fairly large rotation of games.

And what snacks would you eat?
There's usually biscuits, chocolates etc available. We also take a break at the end of a longer game to make some proper food.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
We don't usually have music playing when we play games, tried the sound tracks for Escape from the Curse of the Temple and Mysterium once but they were quite distracting. I'm trying to incorporate background music in tabletop RPGs that I run to increase the atmosphere though.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
There's only one in the city that I live in, I must admit I rarely visit it.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Favourite is a toss up between Cosmic Encounter and Jamaica. I love the simplicity of Cosmic's base rules that allows for such a huge swathe of alien powers that practically cheat, yet it all feels fair at the end of the day(if you ignore a few outlying powers), and Jamaica is such an all round nice game to look at and play.
My least favourite would probably be Cry Havoc just now, that's purely because I've only had the chance to play it once and we haven't figured out the nuances of it: In the one game we played, I won by a landslide as the Troglodytes, because the other players didn't realise they had to be aggressive to deal with my expansion. It felt incredibly one sided.
Worst game I've ever played is Berserk: War of the Realms. Picked it up on the cheap, gave it a fair few plays with different factions and it just feels like a complete mess of a game. There's no balance between the factions you get that we could see and the gameplay itself just felt like a big let down.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I'm a big fan of deck building, especially if there's interesting twists that are thrown at you that force you to adapt your deck mid-game.
I have two pet hates in game mechanics: Nope cards and Roll to Move. I've never played a game where I felt like a Nope card added anything, it's always resulted in total disappointment and frustration when one player begins an action to further their goals even a little bit, and they get stopped by another player playing a single card that cancels all their actions. Roll to Move always just boils down to a luck of the dice roll unless there's some form of player mitigation involved.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Caverna or Descent 2nd Ed. I love them both, but they're both huge time sinks and the latter one isn't very popular with my group.

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, RPG Games, Video Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games, RPG Games, Video Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
It's fun when everyone is drunk.

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
I prefer playing about with mechanics first to see what is fun and how different, well established mechanics will mesh together with each other or what twists I could add to a mechanic to make it feel fresh. Pretty quickly after a prototype has proven fun I'll figure out a decent theme for it.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
We entered ABC into the Cardboard Edison competition last year, sadly it only made runner up. It was still a great experience, and the feedback we got was solid.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Though I recognize plenty of designers' names in the field, I can't say there's any one favourite - I like everyone's work.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Usually when travelling, especially on long train journeys or sitting for hours in an airport - when all you have is a pen and notepad and a few hours to waste, it's the perfect recipe for some creative outlet.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
Initially with the gaming buddies. We have several (many) friendly sessions with them to wrinkle out all the obviously bad design decisions and fine tune the game. Once we're confident the idea is good and well refined, there's a few larger gaming groups and playtesting groups are the city we stay in. They've proven to be greatly helpful, giving us many things to think about that we or our group wouldn't have even considered.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I work in a pair. I'm the designer, the other guy is the artist. The positions aren't completely set though - he often brings up ideas and more often than not they're integrated into the game.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
We're a two man team making our very first game. We've spent a couple years making it, testing it and iterating it. That was all easy. We're getting to the stage now where we need to talk to printers, get a kickstarter together, go out and garner publicity. Neither of us are businessmen or marketers, it's proving to be a huge hurdle.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Probably The Culture series by Iain M. Banks. It's this grandiose scale sci fi setting about a futurist race called The Culture, every day people live decadent lives, while the important duties are carried out by wholly sentient AIs. All of the books cover a side portion of the race called Special Circumstances, which is built to deal with interacting with primitive races etc. It's a series that I've been absolutely enchanted by the first time I read the books.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
It's not that hard or scary to do, it's exciting. Find an idea you like, grab a friend that can draw (or learn yourself) and before you know it the pair of you will be attending events and talking to people about why your game is the best ever!

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Don't keep secrets. Yes you might worry about someone stealing your idea and running away with it, but if you don't share your ideas and collaborate with different minds, your games might never reach the glory they might otherwise attain.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
I'm planning to crowdfund: Arcane Blaster Casters - An arena combat game of wild wizardry, where players craft magic using base elements from their hands to create a nearly unlimited variety of crazy and reckless spells.
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: We have about a dozen more ideas on the drawing board. Some of the have very basic paper prototypes, others still very much in the ideas phase. The range from very basic filler card games, to a clan based game where nothing in reality is as it seems.

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Star Wars, Pepsi, VHS.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I love cooking and baking. I play an unhealthy amount of video games. I've also recently picked up drawing and painting once more.

What is something you learned in the last week?
As I'm drawing more, I'm looking up tutorials on basic form for drawing people and animals.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Music - Indie Rock. I love Sci Fi books, though Fantasy isn't too far behind. The old parody comedy films are by far my favourites: Hot Shots, Naked Gun, Airplane etc

What was the last book you read?
Currently re-reading Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks

Do you play any musical instruments?
Sadly not.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
Uh, I'm not sure there's much that is surprising about me. I guess drinking Irn Bru (A Scottish fizzy drink) makes me sneeze.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I can't really think of anything for this, I think I'm a fairly boring person outside of gaming.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
I honestly can't think of anything for this either.

Who is your idol?
I don't really idolize anyone.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
I'd go back to various periods in time and try to show up in as many renaissance paintings and black & white photos as possible to properly mess with conspiracy theorists.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Definitely an introvert, as much as I try not to be.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Ignoring all those super powerful ones you see in comics that can destroy universes by blinking their eyes, probably Multiple Man from X-Men. Being able to make hundreds of copies of myself at once? Sounds great!

Have any pets?
Sadly not.

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
Obviously I'd hope for a strong board gaming tradition to carry on with the next era. There's so many things about our current generation that I'd love to be wiped out completely. I'll go for a wide sweeping impossible dream - I'd like to think future generations could band together under a single nation, rather than fractured countries that constantly war between each other.

Thanks for answering all my crazy questions!

Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here:

Did you like this interview?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Quick Review - Manaforge - Kickstarter Preview

Designer: Bryan Kline
Publisher: Mystic Tiger Games
2-4p | 45-90m | 13+
Quick Review - Manaforge - Kickstarter Preview

Recently it seems like the latest theme fad has been the four basic elements: Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. I recently reviewed both Element from Rather Dashing Games and Dragon Dodge from Hidden Creek Games and really liked both. There have also been a slew of similarly themed games on Kickstarter recently, and here I am getting ready to review yet another. There's a reason the four elements are a perennial favorite. Where as other heavily used themes like zombies, Cthulhu, farming, or dungeons have specific mechanical genres that they work best in, the four elements work in so many different situations, from abstract games to deep, thinky euros, to action packed amerithrash games.

Manaforge is the latest in a slew of games that use this theme to drive the gameplay experience. Does it stand out in the crowd? Does it bring something new to the theme? Or does it get lost in the alchemical melting pot? Read on to learn more about Manaforge.

Manaforge is a dice based resource management and engine building game for for two to four players that takes about 20-25 minutes per player.  It's available on Kickstarter right now (through April 29, 2017) and will be available for $40, including US shipping.

Mechanically, Manaforge is a pretty simple game.  It consists of nine rounds, in which you'll roll your dice for resources, allocate them to activate abilities, and possibly purchase a card for its points or abilities.  At the end of the game, whoever has the most points wins.  But under the simple gameplay lies a great depth that comes from those cards and how they interact with each other.

In Manaforge each player takes on the role of a magician or sorcerer.  However, unlike many magic based games, you aren't setting out to battle magical beasts, duel other sorcerers, or please the king with your spells.  Nope, your life as a magician I a bit more reserved.  You run a business selling magical items to those with more adventurous ambitions.  But you do have lofty aspirations of running the most lucrative magic workshop in the land.
Throughout the game you'll add items to your workshop that will increase your production and items to your
store that will gain you benefits and prestige.
To craft the magical items you wish to sell you need to procure the necessary mana energy.  Mana comes in four varieties: Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire.  You can also harness the arcane energies to produce mana.  Mana is produced on the dice that drive the game.  There are five types of dice, one for each type of mana, plus arcane.  Each type of die produces something different on each of the six sides: two of its own mana type, one of the two complementary mana types (never the opposite type, so a fire die never produces water, wind never produces earth, etc.), a mana gem of its own mana type (more about mana gems in a bit), or a special ability that is different for each type of mana.  Arcane dice produce different combinations of basic mana.
There are five different dice types: Earth, Wind, Water, Fire, and Arcane.
Manaforge begins with a quick draft phase to determine each player's basic Talents.  Each player will receive four Talent cards, choose one and pass the rest to the left until each player has drafted four Talents.  Then they will each choose two Talents and discard the others.  Talents give each player some unique abilities to start the game.  Some are more interesting than others, but all seem pretty balanced.  In addition to their abilities, most Talents will give the player an additional die in the mana the Talent has an affinity towards.  Players also start with one of each basic mana die die (not arcane though, unless a Talent uses arcane) and a few mana prisms, which are basically wild mana gems..
From 20 possible Talents each payer will draft four and play the game with two.
These dice and talents are your basic tools that you'll have to start building your workshop to construct items to sell.

The game plays over nine rounds, throughout three phases: Dawn, Noon, and Dusk.  Each round begins by adding six item cards to the market.  There are 18 of these cards used in each phase, randomly selected from a deck of item cards for each phase, so there's a lot of variety in the game.  Next, all players roll their dice.  Then each player takes their turn.  Once all player have gone the first player token is passed, any remaining items are discarded, items in players' workshops are recharged, and a new round begins.  After the ninth round, scores are tallied and a winner declared!
Technically I won with 52 points, but if you ask my friends they'll tell you I lost because I only got two points.  Thanks guys!
The complexity in the game comes in what players are able to do on their turns.  There aren't too many options, but the decisions you do make are pretty critical to your overall strategy.  Oddly enough, turns toward the end of the game go quicker, especially in the Dusk phase when you have your engine up and running.
Despite there being a lot going on, in the Dusk phase turns move quickly.
There are two types of item cards in Manaforge.  Workshop cards are added to the workshop area of your player board and provide abilities that can be activated for a cost that includes expending the card (turning the card sideways).  These can also be upgraded during the game to gain additional abilities, and you are limited to just four workshop cards total.  Store cards generally give you a one-time benefit.  Sometimes this is a special ability and sometimes points.  Sometimes it's a combination of both.  There are also Wand cards that are a special type of Store card.  Wands give you one to three victory points (Prestige) depending on which phase they're purchased in, plus one prestige for every other Wand in your store.  So as you gain more Wands each Wand becomes more valuable to build.
The Wand game is an interesting alternate strategy.
The cards in each phase have distinctive characteristics that match your goals for that phase of the game. In the Dawn phase there is an even split of Workshop and Store cards.  Workshop cards in the Dawn phase generate different types of mana whereas Store cards give you some small prestige boosts, and possibly extra dice.  Both the Workshop and Store cards are important early in the game to start building your mana engine that will allow you to purchase the more expensive cards to come.
Dawn cards are cheap, and a necessary foundation for a lucrative workshop.
The cards in the Noon phase are more expensive than the Dawn cards, and are 75% Workshop cards.  There are a few Wands, and a Store card that gives you some mana prisms, but the others are all Workshop cards that include more complex abilities.  Many of the Workshop cards give prestige when spending mana, and others have unique effects, like allowing you to spend more than four dice, recharging another card, converting mana into mana gems, etc.
The Noon phase adds a level of complexity to the card interactions that let you complete your mana generating engine.
The Dusk phase is completely Store cards.  In the Dusk phase it's all about gaining prestige.  Hopefully by this point in the game each player has an engine that is churning out a combination of mana and prestige that they can use to really boost their score.  The Store cards in the Dusk phase include the usual Wands, plus cards that give straight up prestige, as well as cards with more intricate abilities.  Usually in the games I've played 2/3 or more of a player's prestige is earned in the Dusk phase, so things really heat up and get exciting as everyone gets to see if their strategies paid off.
Dusk is all about prestige.  Hopefully by this point you have a workshop that is producing all sorts of awesome magical items.
The game ends after the ninth round and the player with the most prestige is declared the winner.

Final Thoughts:
I really liked Manaforge.  I really don't have any major criticisms of the game, just a few nit picky things that really wouldn't affect my general opinion of the game.  Overall though, I found Manaforge to be mechanically simple, strategically deep, thematically fun, artistically beautiful, a great balance between luck and strategy, and a very enjoyable way to spend about ninety minutes.
The board is really not necessary - it only tracks score and gives you a place to put the cards, but it's an attractive addition to the game.
The artwork throughout the game is really captivating and gorgeous.  It thoroughly evokes the elemental magic theme of the game and looks fantastic, especially when combined with the graphic design, item and talent names, and other flavor throughout the game.  Manaforge will look really stunning on your table.
Every single card has unique, gorgeous artwork.  That's 92 unique pieces of art!
Some of the artwork is really stunning.

I really only have two minor issues with the game, and both are already being worked on by the designer.  First, keeping track of earned and spent mana each turn can get a bit fiddly, especially later in the game when you can spend some mana to purchase a card that can then be used to generate more mana, or with other workshop cards that have various other effects.  Oddly enough, it seem like mana tracking is the most difficult in the Noon phase since the Dawn phase is mostly foundation building and the Dusk phase is mostly about maximizing your already built engine each round.  Fortunately the designer has come up with a mana abacus that can greatly ease this mana math.  It's not essential to the game, but it'll help a lot with the mental gymnastics sometimes needed.  The mana abacus will be a stretch goal, so hopefully the campaign will reach it, and beyond.
A mana abacus will really help with tracking earned and spent mana, especially later in the game when your workshop
items really start to create some complex scenarios.
My second minor concern is with the Wand game.  Wands are a very interesting alternate strategy, but they seem underpowered right now.  If you manage to buy a Wand every single round you'll get 54 points.  This is pretty good, since the games I played were won with 47 to 52 points, but getting nine Wands is super difficult.  There are five wands available in each phase, but since only 3/4 of the available cards are going to be used each game, it makes it likely that there will be at least a round or two where a Wand just isn't available.  Then you also have to hope that an opponent doesn't snag your Wand before you have a chance to.  Even if you get lucky and have the opportunity to buy a Wand every round, you also need to generate enough mana each round on only your dice to buy those wands.  That'll be very difficult in the Dusk phase.  Again though, this is something the designer is aware of and is still working on tweaking.  Bumping each Wand's basic prestige by one (or Noon to three and Dusk to five) would make the Wands much more valuable (63 possible points), whereas increasing just Dusk to four points would increase the max to 57.  Somewhere around there I think would make Wand collecting a viable strategy, and one that you might end up getting two players competing over.  Another possibility is to give Wands an ability (maybe re-roll one die of that Wand's element, or complementary elements for advanced Wands).  It won't take much to really make the Wands an exciting alternate strategy, and since it's being worked on, I'm confident that the final game will have a Wand strategy as compelling as the other strategies.
Currently the Wand game is a lot riskier than building up your workshop, but it'll only take a few minor tweaks to fix that,
and I'm happy to say the designer is working on balancing the Wand game right now!
Other than that I have no other concerns with Manaforge.  It played smoothly and everyone I played with enjoyed it.  It was pretty easy to learn and teach (the mechanics are simple and the rulebook is extremely clear, providing great references for all the card abilities and symbology used), and even with all new players every time I played it still went smoothly and only a bit longer than the stated time.  A few players did voice some opinions, generally good, but a few trivial critiques, too.  One player would have liked a slightly altered player mat layout.  Another player felt that another unique player ability other than the drafted Talents might help focus a strategy (however I think that, with experience, drafting the Talents is a fine way to focus your initial strategy).  Other players thought the theme was nice, and fit the mechanics, but felt a bit superfluous, more like a theme pasted onto an abstract game.  I quite liked the theme, and felt it was strongly present in the card interactions, flavor, and artwork.  Maybe giving the Wands a bit of their own powers might help bring out the theme a bit more.   At times the game can also be a bit AP prone, but not overwhelmingly so.  A mana abacus for each player will really help that, though.  But like I said, these were all super minor concerns and everyone agreed that Manaforge is a solid, fun game.
I know you'd love to have this on your table, so back it on Kickstarter now!  I did!
If Manaforge sounds like a game that would interest you, I encourage you to check it out on Kickstarter right now.  It's only $40, including US shipping (a great deal for a game with this many custom dice).

Preliminary Rating: 8.5/10

This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

Did you like this review?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.