Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Best Kickstarter Previews & Prototype Games of 2018

The Best Kickstarter Previews & Prototype Games of 2018
6 Kickstarter previews, and 11 prototypes

In 2018 I did a lot fewer reviews than in the past.  It's funny how having a toddler will exhaust you, especially one who isn't sleeping through the night yet!  I only played a handful of games heading to Kickstarter this year, but did play a number of prototypes while I was at Protospiel events.  Here's my annual list of the top Kickstarter Previews and Prototypes that I played in 2018.

Top 6 Kickstarter Previews:
(k-f) Kickstarter failed.  (k-s) Kickstarer was successful.  (k) Kickstarter hasn't launched yet.

6 - Fry Thief (k) - by Patrick Rauland / Laid Back Games - This is a game that I've played several times as a prototype and now it's heading to Kickstarter.  I have a review copy that I'll have a review for in January, so keep an eye out for that.  As a spoiler though, Fry Thief is a very fast (10 minute) asymmetrical 2-player game where each player is trying to eat more fries.  One player is the health nut and starts with no fries.  The other player starts with all the fries.  Can the health nut steal and eat more fries than the fry eater before they're all gone?  Fry Thief is a small game that can be carried anywhere, plays quickly, and is super simple to teach (it's a simple play-a-card, draw-a-card mechanic) that is quite fun to play.

- Lockup: A Roll Player Tale (k-s) - by Stan Kordonskiy / Thunderworks Games - Lockup is the latest game in the Roll Player universe.  This is a worker placement style game where players are the minions captured and  imprisoned in Roll Player: Monsters & Minions.  Each player controls group of minions trying to become the top dogs in the prison, but without garnering the attention of the prison guards.  I didn't have a chance to review this, but the game I played was quite fun.

4 - Zoo-ography (k-s) - by Bryn Smith, John Olson / Doomsday Robots -  In Zoo-ography players are drafting tiles (cards in the prototype) that will be used to build a zoo.  The player with the zoo that meets the most objectives wins the game.  I found Zoo-ography to be a fast, fun filler game that would be great for casual gamers, newer gamers, or as a fast diversion for more experienced gamers.  There's hidden depth and variety in the objectives and attractions that you can add to your zoo that experienced players will appreciate, yet a simplicity of play and great theme that will attract casual players.

3 - Skulk Hollow (k-s) - by Keith Matejka / Pencil First Games - Skulk Hollow is another game I didn't have a chance to review, however I was part of the demo team that showed the game off at Gen Con last summer.  Skulk Hollow is a very fun two-player asymmetrical combat game where one player is the small, but numerous Foxen and the other player is the large, powerful Guardian.  The game plays out on a small map, and the Guardian attacks the Foxen as they move around the map.  But there's a second board, too - the Guardian itself.  The Foxen must jump onto and navigate the Guardian's body to attack various areas.  The game was fast to play and a ton of fun!

2 - Rurik: Dawn of Kiev (k-s) - by Stan Kordonskiy / Piecekeeper Games - This is Stan's second game to make this list!  I was part of the playtest team for Rurik and helped provide feedback that helped in the development of the game, so that was quite cool.  Rurik uses a new mechanic called Auction Programming that's really cool.  On top of the awesome gameplay, the artwork is absolutely stunning.  I can't wait to see what the finished version of this game looks like.  Piecekeeper Games is known for awesome quality components and artwork in their games and Rurik looks to have knocked it out of the park.

1 - Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 (k-s) - by Brett Meyers / Thunderworks Games - If you want to find some fantastic games, follow Keith Matejka.  He's directly involved in three games on this list (his own Skulk Hollow, plus he's the owner of Thunderworks Games), plus I believe he was a playtester for Rurik as well.  Keith has a great eye for game design and does an excellent job bringing games to reality.  Dual Powers is no exception.  Of all the games I played in 2018, Dual Powers tops my list of Kickstarter previews.  There are two other two-player games on this list, but Dual Powers just blew me away when I played.  Whether you are a fan of historical games, Euro style strategy games, war games, or even abstract strategy games, Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 gives you something to love. This is an absolutely amazing work of art (both for it's gameplay and for the actual artwork in the game) that I fully expect to be on a number of Top 10 lists for 2019 when it's finally published. It should definitely make the top spot in a number of 2-player lists and I'd be surprised if it didn't creep into a number of other overall lists as well. This earned the highest rating I've ever given a Kickstarter preview, and the game totally deserves it!

Top 11 Prototypes:

In 2018 I didn't have time for any BGG contests, but I did go to three Protosiel events (Milwaukee, Chicago, and Madison).  There were also quite a few awesome games at the Protospiels I attended that I didn't get a chance to play.  These are the ones I enjoyed the most from what I did play, though.

I also wanted to give a shout out to two members of my game group.  On the first Tuesday of every month we work on playtesting games.  In the past these have always been my own games, but this year Kevin W. (Card Sharks and an untitled garden warfare dice game) and Tony C. (Storm Lords) have brought out their own designs.  It's great to see others getting inspired to create games, too.  All three games they've brought out have some very interesting ideas, too, so I can't wait to see how they continue to be developed.

11 - Paradise Lost (Tom Butler prototype) - This was an interesting deduction game that used a journey mechanic similar to Tokaido.  The theme of the game is that each player is a fairy tale character that is trying to save the fantasy realm from an evil witch and a villain.  The problem is you don't know the villain, nor the weapon needed to defeat it.  Throughout the game players are going on a journey to visit three oracles to learn more about the ultimate foe.  Each location on the journey gives you a different benefit or action that you can take, and sometimes a penalty (I chose to stop on the Black Swan spaces that were generally pretty harmful every time, just to see what would happen - I still figured out the villain and weapon, but was last in line to guess).  The overall journey part of the game was interesting and presented some interesting player interaction opportunities, however there were some pretty rough spots that need some smoothing out and the end game felt anticlimactic.  Overall though I think there's a spark of something great here, as long as the fluff can be cleared out and the deduction aspects pushed even further.

10 - Macabre Witches (Patrick Rauland prototype) - This game was developed just a day or two earlier and played excellently for a brand new game.  It's essentially multi-player solo, but does have some player interaction.  Players have identical decks of 13 witch cards, some light, some dark, and with 6 symbols on them (plus several without any symbol).  9 cards start out face down in a grid and players take turns playing one card from their hand face-up into the grid and taking the replaced card into their hand.  Then you take the action of the card you played.  Some actions let you look at other cards, some let you manipulate the symbols, others let you mess with your opponents' grids.  It was a fun, quick, puzzle of a game.  I also got a peak at the artwork Patrick is getting for the game and it is AMAZING!  Keep an eye out for this one, I think it'll go far!

9 - The Ogre's Jewels (Troy Pichelman prototype) - I played this back at Protospiel Milwaukee before it had a proper name (it was Death Trap Bits back then).  At that time it was a component only game without a board (for The Game Crafter's components only contest).  The game has come a long way since then and felt pretty solid and polished by Protospiel Chicago, except for the final battle against the Ogre.  Troy had this out a lot at Protospiel Madison, and I believe a lot of the final balance issues have been resolved, however I didn't have a chance to play it at Protospiel Madison.  I look forward to trying it again at Protospiel Milwaukee in the spring.

8 - Honey Buzz (Paul Salomon prototype) - This worker placement game about bees building hives and harvesting honey to sell at the "bear market" is already signed and in final tweaking before publishing. It's really close! I love the tile laying aspects of the game and it has an interesting variant on worker placement, but it needs just a bit more work to make all the spaces important and usable throughout the entire game. It's solid and fun though and should be successful when it hits Kickstarter in the next year or so.

7 - Goodbye Friend, Hello Dinner (Kevin Jones prototype) - I played this once before, at Protospiel Madison 2016, and had a great time.  So I was looking forward to seeing what had been updated.  This new version has tools and witch doctor cards that added quite a bit of interest and helped drive strategies.  After playing I suggested a chieftain piece in addition to the other pieces that counts double and can't be hunted.  I saw him testing this and a few other suggestions we gave (give everyone a different starting tool) later in the weekend and it was working very well.  I'm looking forward to playing this again in the future.  I didn't have a chance to play this at Protospiel Madison, but it looked like people were having fun with it.

6 - Pyro Tactics (Arkadiusz Greniuk prototype) - Pyro Tactics is a simple abstract strategy game, but has a really unique way of moving around the board to capture areas. With two or three players everyone plays individually and with four players you work together as a team with a partner. You're moving around the grid placing fire gems on the spaces between the main spaces with the goal of being the last player to surround an area to score it for points. The really neat thing about the game was how movement works. Each space has multiple paths to reach it, including straight from one space to another, or around a bend to get to the space. Additionally, you bounce off of other player pieces. This makes for some really awesome combo moves. I had a lot of fun with this one.

5 - Cats or Dogs (Maxine Ekl prototype) - Maxine excels at creating quick, simple games that are a ton of fun. Cats or Dogs is an interesting take on trick-taking in that there are multiple tricks being played at the same time. If you can follow suit you must and if you are winning the suit it'll sit in front of you until someone plays a higher card. Once a trick has three cards in it the winner collects all the cards in the trick. If you can't follow suit you'll start another trick with another suit. So there could potentially be five tricks going on at once (it's a five suited deck). On top of that, each suit is a mix of cats, dogs, and blanks, and you score points for cats or dogs, whichever you win more of in a hand, plus a bonus if you get more of the type that you wagered on at the beginning of the round. I really enjoyed this and can't wait to see how it gets refined!

4 - Rendezvous (JT Smith prototype) - This is JT Smith's game about trying to survive the Wisconsin winter as a pioneer in the 1800s.  I've seen this being changed and developed over the past few years, but this was my first chance to play.  It's a pretty solid worker placement game that incorporates a very tight resource management aspect (food and warmth are very scarce and required to keep your family healthy and alive), some interesting crafting elements, and a neat timeline that reduces the possible worker locations as the year progresses.  It got quite tense in the winter, and we ended our play a little over the halfway mark, but the game does end on a high note as the weather warms back up and players begin to thrive again, if they survived the winter.  Unfortunately the game felt long for what it was.  I think reducing the game to 8 rounds (early/late seasons) with a little more time to build up before winter and only on round of recovery after winter will pull the game together.

3 - Get Your Ducks in a Row (Maxine Ekl prototype) -  I first played Get Your Ducks In A Row in April at Protospiel Milwaukee and had fun with it.  At Protospiel Chicago this seemed to be the hit of the weekend.  It was almost always being played by someone it seemed.  I finally got my chance to play it on Sunday and had a blast with it.  It's core is the same, take actions determined by dice rolls to manipulate ducks on the board.  Since then the game has been refined a bit, but the big thing is Maxine has added a little mini-game in between your main turns where you can shoot twiddly winks at the ducks to try to earn bonus action tickets.  This keeps everyone excited while putting pressure on the active player to make a decision before the bonus tickets are won.  I quite enjoyed this fast, 15 minute game and hope Maxine is able to get it published soon.

2 - Machinations (Brennan Aldridge prototype) - I played a lot of great games at Protospiel Chicago, but I think this is the one that captured my mind the most.  I keep coming back to it and thinking about it.  As it is, it's still very rough and has a lot of excess that still needs to be trimmed, but there's a diamond of a game in there.  This is an area control game unlike any you've ever played before.  That's because, of the five factions in play, everyone controls all of them.  Your goal isn't to have your faction control the most of the board at the end of the game.  Instead, each player gets a secret goal based on a combination of two cards that you are dealt.  That goal may be to have one faction control the most population in a certain region.  Or it may be to have an opposing faction control more of a certain faction's territory.  Or maybe you need to establish the most trade routs.  There are a number of different possibilities and your goal is just as likely to be plotting a faction's demise as it is to build a faction up.  Only you will know your true agenda.  Throughout the game you'll play cards from a hand of cards that will let you manipulate the different factions, but each player will also be an adviser to one of the nations and they'll be able to respond.  Various events can also take place, creating a bit of chaos in the meantime.  One of the coolest aspects of the game is the central relationship grid that indicates which factions are allies, which are enemies, and which are rivals somewhere in between.  One moment two factions can be allies and the next they're at each other's throats.  Think of this as Game of Thrones, and you and the other players are scheming Varys and Littlefinger.  I really, really want the opportunity to play this again after it's streamlined a bit more.  Unfortunately I didn't have the chance to play this at Protospiel Madison, however I know a lot of updates were made to the game.  Some were for the better, but I heard that overall the changes weren't great.  That's disappointing, because I really think this has the potential to be an awesome game.  I hope Brennan gets it back on track and makes this what I hope it can be.

1 - Prime Location (Randy Ekl prototype) - This is the second time I got to play Prime Location and it keeps getting better.  The game is very similar to what I played in 2017, but has the addition of a stock track for each of the locations.  This improves the action of discarding black cards, but still needs some balancing to make it feel worthwhile.  It's close though.  The core of the game is still the same - collecting cards and turning them in to create sums of prime numbers in order to build on locations on the board.  It's an interesting blend of area control, set collection, and racing as you score points on a board that only has prime numbers on it.  Despite being a little heavy on the math (lots of adding up numbers and determining if they're prime or not) and being a bit of a points salad at the end, I really, really like this one and feel it deserves to be published soon.  I'm not the only one either, Randy had several offers to buy the game that weekend!

Well, that's it, my top Kickstarter Previews and top Prototype games of 2018!  I really played some awesome games and love playing prototypes.  It's wonderful to see a game go from early prototypes to published game, and I've been fortunate to witness quite a few games go from prototype stage to full publication now.  Keep up the great work designers!

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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.

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