Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Best Kickstarter Previews & Prototype Games of 2019

The Best Kickstarter Previews & Prototype Games of 2019
3 Kickstarter Previews, 11 Prototypes, and a few Honorable Mentions

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Well, another year has come and gone.  I still haven't gotten back to my previous level of reviews and Kickstarter previews, so I only saw a few Kickstarter games this year before their campaigns launched.  I do have three to highlight this year though.  I also played quite a few prototypes again this year, despite missing out on Protospiel Madison and one day of Protospiel Chicago this year.  There were a ton of great prototype games this year, so I have a top 11 list (10 and one expansion prototype) as well as a few honorable mentions.

Top 3 Kickstarter Previews:
(k-f) Kickstarter failed.  (k-s) Kickstarter was successful.  (k) Kickstarter hasn't launched yet.

Honorable Mention:

Afternova (k-s) - by Andrew Nerger & Jeff Chin of  Road to Infamy - I played a version of this at Protospiel Milwaukee that they were testing out.  The variant I played was just OK, but the game had promise.  The version that hit Kickstarter, I believe, went back to how they were originally playing since the way they tried out at Protospiel didn't work out so well.  This was successful on Kickstarter though, so it looks like it turned out pretty good.

Paradise Lost (k-s) - by Tom Butler and Green Feet Games - I played a very early prototype of this last year and it made the top prototypes list for 2018.  This year the game was a hit on Kickstarter and looked absolutely incredible.

Honey Buzz (k-s) - by Paul Salomon and Elf Creek Games - This just finished up an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign a few weeks ago.  This is another one I played an earlier prototype of in 2018 and the game made the top prototypes of 2018 list.  The final version was quite a bit different from the version I played, but kept most of the core elements.  The artwork in the final version is absolutely incredible and if the gameplay improved even a fraction of how the artwork improved this will be a top game of next year when it's released.

The Top 3:

3 - Fry Thief (k-s) - by Patrick Rauland and Laid Back Games - This game made the top Kickstarter preview list last year, too.  I played the prototype a few times in 2018 and then got a chance to review it before its Kickstarter campaign early this year.  Fry Thief is a light, fast, hand management game for two players with asymmetrical powers and goals.  I'm thrilled that its campaign was successful and look forward to seeing the final game soon!

2 - Runika and the Six-Sided Spellbooks (k-s) - by Shannon Kelly and Fox Tale Games - In 2017 a game called Lucidity: Six-Sided Nightmares made my top Kickstarter previews list.  Last year it made my top new-to-me games list.  This year, designer Shannon Kelly was back with a new game that uses similar dice, but with a whole new theme and new mechanics.  The second game in the six-sided series is another great game.  This time it's a real puzzle game, with similarities to games like Sagrada, but with even more puzzel-y goodness!  My game group and I are really looking forward to trying out the final game with all the Kickstarter stretch goals added in.

1 - Legacies (k-s) - by Jason Brooks and Brookspun Games - I first played Legacies at Protospiel Milwaukee in April and loved the game.  I followed along with the development (mainly tweaks and balancing) over the summer and then just before the Kickstarter launch I had the opportunity to play a nearly complete prototype at my 24 Hour Game Marathon for Extra Life.  The refinements to the game really made it play smoothly, and the artwork was absolutely gorgeous.  I was thrilled to watch the Kickstarter campaign really blow up and earn over $130,000 for the designer/publisher, Jason.  It's his first published game and he should be very proud of having something so ambitious and successful.  This is going to be a top contender for heavy game of the year next year!

Top 11 Prototypes

I only went to two Protospiels last year, and missed Friday of Protospiel Chicago, but I did play a few prototypes at Gen Con.  My local game group is also expanding and two more members have prototypes that they're working on, too.  That said, the caliber of game prototypes that I played in 2019 was incredible.  I could have made a list with almost all of the games I played because almost every one of them was excellent,  So I worked to narrow it down to a top 10.  These are some really great games, so keep your eye on them!

Honorable Mentions:

While these didn't quite make my top 10 list, I did want to highlight these games that members of my game group are working on.  I really look forward to playing them more and seeing how they evolve.  I'm excited that more members of my game group are catching the game design bug!

Shattered Soul - by Kirk Rudzinski (and partners) - This is an interesting dice management game that has some pretty unique mechanics.  It's a cooperative game with some similarities to Thanos Rising, where players take turns using their character's abilities to battle baddies.  That's about where the similarities end though.  In Shattered Soul each character has completely different abilities and ways that they use the dice in the game.  This adds to the complexity since every character has its own play style, rules, and mechanics, but it really adds interest to the game.  This game is pretty far along and Kirk and his design partners have plans to Kickstart it sometime in 2020 if it's not picked up by a publisher first (I understand it's actually being looked at by one or two).

Un-named Drafting Game - by David Bunting - This was an interesting drafting game where players are drafting elves, dwarves, wizards, and other creatures in an attempt to collect gems for points.  Each character card triggers various actions, some that help you and some that hinder opponents.  The game played pretty smoothly, but needed some balance to the cards' abilities.  I look forward to seeing how the game evolves and changes.  I hope David brings it out so we can play it again sometime!

The Top 11:

Expansion - Lockup: A Roll Player Tale - Catacombs & Shadow Kings expansion - by Stan Kordonskiy - Lockup was one of my favorite Kickstarter Preview games from last year, and (spoiler alert) the final game is going to make it onto my top new-to-me games of 2019 list this year.  So I was super excited when Stan asked me to playtest an expansion that he's working on.  I"m not quite sure how to fit this in the top prototypes list this year since the base game is so awesome, so I'm just listing it here without a number instead.  Suffice to say, the expansion is really great, adding two new modules that can be added separately or together.  One adds the Shadow Kings, which add a foe that your crew may have to deal with at the end of each round and the other adds a new crew member, the Digger, who will work to dig tunnels under the prison, gaining reputation and other rewards.  Keep your eye out for this expansion some time in 2020.  It'll be a great addition to Lockup, adding interesting decisions and fun gameplay without adding complexity simply for the sake of adding complexity (I really dislike expansions that do that).

10 - Nineveh Cards - by John McCarthy - Nineveh isn't a game, but a game system.  It's a deck of cards that allow you to play over 25 different games.  I've played several of the games on several different occasions now.  Some are better than others, but my experience showed that they were all pretty similar, borrowing mechanics from bluffing and deduction games like poker or dueling games like Magic the Gathering.  They all seemed to scratch the same itches, so I talked to John about thinking outside the box and trying out different mechanics, like drafting, resource management, worker placement, etc.  I haven't had a chance to pay any of the new ideas, but I'm excited to try out what they've shared recently.  I think the system is interesting and flexible and I can't wait to see how new game ideas evolve and take this deck to new places.

9 - Junkyard Robots - by Nyles Breecher - This was an interesting game about dice drafting that used a whole pile of d20 dice, giving you the tactile excitement of rolling huge handfuls of dice.  By choosing various actions related to different dice values you'll be working to collect resources and build robots that give you various abilities, points, etc.  Then all the dice in the action you chose get rolled and redistributed to other actions.  It was an interesting blend of action selection, resource management, and drafting.  I haven't played since April, but have watched the game develop a bit over Facebook and look forward to the opportunity to play again.

8 - A Second Babel (previously Tower of Babel) - by Eric Jome - Eric is known for disliking cooperative games and dexterity games, so what did he design in an afternoon at Protospiel Milwaukee while playing with pieces from the design bits sample table?  A cooperative dexterity game!  And it's actually pretty good!  layers work together to build a tower as tall as they can, placing meeples on the tower at various heights to score points.  You must get all the meeples placed before the last piece is placed and then they score points the higher they are.  It's a quick, fun game of trying to best your cooperative score.  From what I've seen of the game since April, it's evolved a bit for some more interesting options, including competitive variants!

7 - Unnamed Prototype - by Patrick Rauland - Chingles?  Coins?  The name was undecided, and the gameplay was very, very new when I played this in April, but it was a wonderful abstract puzzle game.  The idea was that it might be a game played in taverns in a fantasy realm using coins the players had available.  Players take turns taking actions from a row of action cards that let them manipulate coins (both theirs and sometimes opponents' coins) on a grid, trying to match patterns depicted on cards to score points.  I really liked the idea of this and hope Patrick keeps working on it!

6 - Invisible Cities - by Dan Germain - Dan designed my favorite prototype from 2017, Globalization, and this year he had another very interesting prototype.  This is a tile manipulation, area control game where players are using action cards to manipulate their tiles on the board in order to control the population within cities on the board.  There are three rounds (we only played two), and in each round four cities (of nine) will score.  On a player's turn you'll first play a card from your hand that changes the board a bit, or gives players bonuses like resources, or other actions.  Then you'll get to move one of your tiles, swapping places with a weaker tile on the board.  Finally, you can spend some resources to take another action that can do things like upgrade your units, etc.  When you move tiles around the board they'll sit in spaces surrounding the various cities.  When those cities score each round you'll gain points based on the population of the city multiplied by your units' influence around the city.  I really loved the way players jockeyed for position around the cities.  There were some rough spots with when cities were scored, and having limited options at times, but I think we talked about a lot of really great ways to address these issues and I really look forward to the opportunity to play this one again.

5 - The Great Pyramid of Dice-cerius - by Randy Ekl - Randy consistently brings great mid-weight games to Protospiels and this roll and write is no exception.  In The Great Pyramid of Dice-cerius you're working on building a pyramid by combining a d6 die with another die with 8, 10, or 12 sides.  The catch is, you can't put a number in a level twice, numbers added to the pyramid must decrease in value from a middle high to lows at the sides, and you can't build on an upper level until there is at least one number to support it on a lower level.  As you build your pyramid you'll collect various resources that give you abilities and points.  It was simple, but offered a lot of choices.  All the game really needed was some balancing and some minor tweaks.  I look forward to my next opportunity to play!

4 - Cats or Dogs - by Maxine Ekl - This game made it onto my top prototypes list last year, too.  I still really like the game and the latest versions I played this year made some interesting changes.  Some were for the better (like simplified scoring) and some didn't go over so well (like the rescues in April), but I really like how the game is evolving and the unique mechanics of having multiple tricks open at one time.  At its core this has remained true to its original feel from when I played it in late 2018 and I can't wait to see how it gets refined and cleaned up in 2020.

3 - Apogee-Perigee - by Randy Ekl - Wow, three of my top 5 prototypes are by the Ekls!  That's because they design some really great games!  I first played Apogee-Perigee in April 2018 and it felt way too complex back then.  By September 2019 the game had really started to come together.  My latest play was interesting, had great interactions, and great flow.  We talked about some interesting changes to the theme that could drive some more integrated mechanics, and I'm thrilled that this one is finally coming together.  It's an interesting type of worker placement, resource management, and engine building with a kind of rondel since your actions also move a rocket along in its orbit, but you also have the opportunity to change your orbit and get into a different set of actions and resources.  This was a lot more fun this time around and I think the next time I get to play it'll be even better.

2 - Endless Winter - by Stan Kordonskiy - Stan has been designing some really, really great games lately.  I think before long he'll be a household name among hobby gamers with titles like Lockup, Rurik, and Dice Hospital already attracting a ton of attention.  In Endless Winter you play as a tribe of hunter/gatherers struggling to survive and expand in the ice age.  Mechanically it's a worker placement, deck-building game with elements of resource management and area control.  Each round consists of up to four turns per player and there are six rounds total (well, there were supposed to be seven, but we felt the game was drawing to a good conclusion in the sixth round, so that's where Stan decided to end it).  During your turn you'll go through three steps.  First is a refresh phase where you'll do some basic cleanup steps, like drawing up to a hand of five cards if you haven't already, etc.  Next you'll get to do your actions.  First you can play any tool cards from your hand for the actions they give (things like drawing more cards, gaining food, manipulating camps on the land tiles, adding to your hunting capabilities, etc.).  Then you'll get to take one tribe token (a worker meeple) and place it on one of several different worker placement locations.  The first player to use a location gets a bonus, then you can pay 'hands' or manpower to use the ability of the location with the more hands you add the stronger the ability becomes.  You'll have different tribe members in your hand that each count as one hand, but for certain actions they may count as two hands.  You can also spend food to add hands and make the ability stronger.  Then you'll get to use the ability, which may be training or promoting more tribesmen, crafting new items, hunting, migrating, or settling.  Through these abilities you'll grow your tribe's skilled workforce, build tools that give you more benefits, add more food resources to let you strengthen more actions, and explore more area by expanding outward and establishing camps.  There's a lot going on in this game, and like many engine building games, you start out feeling a bit helpless, but by the end of the game you're doing tons of awesome stuff.  Aside from a bit of balancing, the game played great mechanically.  The theme was great, too (I can see it having awesome art and components, like Rise of Tribes).  Even though there's a ton going on, it's pretty straight forward mechanically and would be easy to teach to experienced gamers (it's not a gateway game by any means, but it's not difficult once everything clicks if you're familiar with the core mechanics).

1 - Roll Player Adventures - by Keith Matejka, James Ryan, and Pete Ryan - The Roll Player series of games is one of my favorites. I really like the dice drafting of the original game and what the expansions bring to it, and the two standalone games in the Roll Player universe are two of my favorite games of 2019 (spoiler), but I think all of them are going to pale in comparison to Roll Player Adventures when it comes out next year.  I almost put this in my Kickstarter Preview list, but what I played was early enough in the development cycle that I think it's a better fit here.  Hopefully I'll have the chance to play more as we get closer to the Kickstarter.  We only played the intro adventure/story.  Keith was mainly testing out how easy it was for new players to learn the game through the tutorial, which adds information and mechanics as you go.  Even in a very basic adventure the story was interesting and fun.  We could really see how a larger adventure would offer a TON of options for different story arcs, ways to develop characters, and plenty of choices.  One of the cooler mechanics was how you can use various items at different locations to find out what they do, even combining two items together to see what happens when you
use both at the same time.  The dice mechanic for resolving encounters felt thematic in a Roll Player way, too (encounters had some similarities to how bombs are disabled in FUSE).  While I was at Gen Con James Ryan was playing at nearby tables while I was demoing Lockup and everyone came away from the game awed by it.  The stories and adventures really flesh out the world of Roll Player and the mechanics are fresh, yet true to the Roll Player spirit.  I really can't wait for this one to be finished.  It's going to be a HUGE hit!  There's still lots of story to write, but the fact that the game uses everything from Roll Player in some way, even letting you use characters created in Roll Player for your adventures, is really, really awesome.

Well, there's my lists for 2019.  There are some really, really awesome games coming up in the near future and I'm thrilled that I've had the opportunity to play some.  Next year my plan is to hit up a few more standard conventions and take a break from Protospiels (I'll probably only attend Chicago) in the hopes that I can get more publisher attention on my own designs.  I'm going to really miss playing so many awesome prototypes, but hopefully I'll have the chance to revisit a few of these and play a few new ones as well.

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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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