Game Conventions Moving Online Soon! *UPDATE*

UPDATE: We have removed all information regarding the Origins Online event in solidarity with the mass outpouring of support for POC and other marginalized voices, in the wake of GAMA’s lack of response to the recent protests.


san diego comic con

[Image courtesy of coolduder.]

Although some businesses and public spaces are beginning to open up, there’s no denying that the coronavirus is still having a devastating effect on large public gatherings.

For example, San Diego Comic Con, one of the premiere destination events for film, TV, and comic book fandom, is trying to figure out how to move the convention, or some significant aspect of it, online. But with so many participants and vendors to wrangle into some shared virtual space, things aren’t looking good for one of the biggest events on the entertainment calendar.

Maybe they can take a few pointers from the puzzle and game industry, because it seems like those fields are way ahead.

Not only did crossword fans get to enjoy Crossword Tournament From Your Couch back in March, but several gaming conventions are moving online in the hopes of bringing fans together and salvaging at least part of the year’s usual revelry and profit.

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Over Memorial Day weekend, the team at Paizo are hosting PaizoCon Online, a celebration of roleplaying games under the Paizo banner!

Six days of gaming — spanning May 26th through May 31st — allow for fans to stay safe at home as they play Pathfinder and Starfinder games.

If you’re looking to explore some D&D-style fun, either as an experienced player or a newcomer, click here to check out the full details on PaizoCon Online!

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And not long after that, the team at Renegade Game Studios is hosting Renegade Con: Virtual Edition.

Running from Friday, June 5th, to Sunday, June 7th, this free event (just sign up here!) brings together digital demos of new Renegade games, workshops, and panels featuring game designers and artists!

Everyone who signs up for a free ticket will have access to:

  • Shop the convention specials during the event
  • Get into free panels and workshops including The State of Renegade where we’ll talk about future projects on the horizon!
  • Demo upcoming and new games!

Several of these events are also serving as fundraisers for various companies and event organizers that have suffered losses during the pandemic — including the Con of Champions fundraiser this weekend for Tabletop Events — so if you want to support the games industry, be sure to sign up and check out one of these events.

Maybe the folks at San Diego Comic Con will do so as well and pick up a trick or two along the way.


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The King of the Monsters Rampages Across the World of Board Games!

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When it comes to licensing and variant titles, no board game comes close to the empire of different versions available that has been amassed by Monopoly.

Not only can you get one tailored to every one of the 50 states, but there’s a version of Monopoly for practically every pop culture phenomenon out there, covering everything from Game of Thrones and Star Wars to Spongebob Squarepants and The Office. There are versions with credit cards instead of cash, and even a cheater’s edition where players can be handcuffed to the board.

Sure, other classic board games are following suit. You can find versions of Clue centered around The Golden Girls or Dungeons & Dragons, and a Nightmare Before Christmas version of Operation out there.

But that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the myriad versions of Monopoly that are available for board game fans.

Even Godzilla is getting in on the fun.

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[Image courtesy of Mental Floss.]

Yes, there’s a Godzilla-themed Monopoly game now, complete with renamed properties, monster-influenced money, special game pieces, and rebranded Chance and Community Chest cards.

There are even factories and bases to build instead of houses and hotels.

But I must ask the obvious question. If you’re moving a monster token around the board, why aren’t you smashing houses and hotels instead of building bases and factories? I mean, the only monopoly your average kaiju is looking for is a monopoly on destruction, am I right?

Maybe a few intrepid players will cook up some fun variant rules that encounter the monsters to rampage rather than rebuild.

Of course, if you’re looking for an excuse for destruction, maybe the accompanying Godzilla-themed Jenga will be more up your alley.

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[Image courtesy of Bloody Disgusting.]

Yes, it’s just like normal Jenga, except the tower pieces are painted to look like pieces of a building, and Godzilla is slowly marching toward it, his atomic breath glowing as he anticipates the unbridled joy of knocking over yet another skyscraping edifice.

That’s certainly more in keeping with the King of the Monsters and his traditional manner for dealing with massive man-made structures. It won’t be as destructive as, say, Smash City or Terror in Meeple City, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

And, honestly, if there are two games that could use a little destructive sprucing up, it’s Monopoly and Jenga.


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The Coronavirus Hits the Board Game Industry

coronavirus

[Image courtesy of NBC News.]

The coronavirus has dominated the news recently. Health organizations in numerous states and countries have posted informational guides on identifying the virus and the stock market has taken a hit due to an upswing in reported cases.

After a few weeks of reporting, we’re starting to get news stories about the global economic impact of the coronavirus, as boats loaded with shipping containers from China are being held up (if the warehouses and factories have been allowed to ship out products at all).

This has hit the board game industry particularly hard.

As you might expect, many board games are manufactured in China due to the competitive pricing available there, but the one-two punch of Chinese New Year and the coronavirus have left many game companies in the lurch with regard to product availability.

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[Image courtesy of How Stuff Works.]

Chinese New Year is a period of tremendous turnover for staffing in factories in China, so production is often shutdown entirely or severely curtailed during the holiday. As new employees are hired, their training time also eats into production time.

Additionally, the Chinese government mandated that all “non-essential” companies stay closed until February 9th, and board game production is naturally considered non-essential. The ports are similarly either closed or dramatically reduced in staff.

Oh, and for many companies, that directive has been extended until March 2nd at the earliest. (Some publishers have speculated that delays of three months could be looming.)

So even in the areas where employees and manufacturers are thankfully healthy, they can’t work. I’ve gotten updates from a half-dozen different board game Kickstarter projects regarding coronavirus-related delays. Whether they’re trying to start production or they’ve got all their games printed, but trapped in warehouses waiting for shipment, they’re in limbo during this crisis.

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[Image courtesy of AGU.]

Our hearts go out to those affected by the virus. Here’s hoping the hard-working folks in those factories stay healthy, and can return to work soon.

But if you’re wondering why your Kickstarter goodies haven’t been delivered yet, or why your favorite game’s latest expansion isn’t on shelves yet, here’s why.


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Requiem for a Game Shop

A friendly local game shop (FLGS) can fill a lot of roles. A laboratory to try out unfamiliar games. A sample size to poll potential customers and test new products. A gathering place to share puzzly experiences. A social center to make new friends.

Sadly, there’s one fewer place to enjoy those simple pleasures now, as my friendly local game shop is closing this month.

I don’t know why, precisely. Maybe the 2019 financials weren’t as rosy as they’d hoped. Maybe the landlord raised the rent to unreasonable levels. Maybe the omnipresent threat of cheaper online purchases won out. (I certainly didn’t mind paying a little more for a game there, because I knew who the money was going to. But not everyone feels that way.)

I’m not entirely surprised. Last year, they cleaned out their comics section to focus more directly on games, RPGs, and miniatures. It opened up some space in the store and generally made for a cleaner, more accessible floorplan, which was a plus. But I guess it wasn’t enough.

It’s a bummer.

Sure, there are decent game selections at stores like Target and Barnes & Noble, but nothing as varied or extensive as the spread at the FLGS. I can’t tell you how many games I stumbled across there that I’d never even heard of, whether by wandering the stacks or seeing a play-through of a new acquisition demonstrated by the staff.

It was the perfect place to discover games, often serving to inspire gift ideas for friends. (Similarly, I miss Toys R Us, as simply browsing the selection there led to plenty of spot-on purchases for nieces and nephews.)

I usually stopped in a few times a month. I didn’t always buy something — my game library is pretty beefy already — but I liked to see what was new, what was moving a lot of copies, and what the locals were playing. I even got to meet local designers who were showing off their wares, which was always a treat.

I’ve been back twice since the announcement, and it’s nice to see how loved the place was, even if that couldn’t ensure its long-term success. Regulars have already snapped up tablecloths and other materials with the shop’s logo, and I know at least one person offered to buy the sign outside. I’ve heard several customers lament that they didn’t know where they’d go now for game tournaments, RPG events, and other game-centric fun.

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The back tables — usually reserved for trying out new games, hosting tournaments and launch events, or serving as gathering places (charged by the hour) for roleplaying groups to indulge in some social storytelling — are instead full of games, equipment, snacks, promotional materials, and everything else they can slap a tag on and price to move as they liquidate their stock.

But, for the most part, the energy there is good. Games are vanishing from stacks of in-store inventory, as are displays, signs, neon lights, and other trappings of the store. The staff is in decent spirits.

I’m not sure if I’ll go back again before it’s all said and done. But it was nice while it lasted.


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A Game Kerfuffle in Wisconsin Politics?

We have a game day in the office once a week. Wednesday has been known as Game Day around here for years now, and we have a small group of regulars who use their lunch hour to eat, socialize, and play games. It’s a marvelous way to break up the work week, meet new friends, try out new games, and relax a little.

Those are all positives. It has never impacted productivity or caused any problems, save for the occasional scheduling snafu when people need the conference room.

But apparently, similar activities are causing problems in the Wisconsin State Senate.

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[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

According to a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal, the legislative pages have been playing games during work time.

There are conflicting reports about how much time has been spent playing games; some folks are upset with people playing games on company time, while others point out that downtime is common and as long as their duties are being performed capably, what’s the big deal?

Well, the game they’re playing is probably what’s raised eyebrows.

secrethitler2

[Image courtesy of the New York Times.]

It’s called Secret Hitler, and given the emotionally charged political climate in the United States, it’s understandable how this particular choice of game might be controversial.

For the uninitiated, Secret Hitler is a social deduction game, similar to Werewolf, Mafia, and other games, where the goal is to root out a hidden traitor among the players.

Only in this case, as the game’s title states, instead of a mafia member or a werewolf, it’s a Secret Hitler lurking among the players, as well as players trying to place the Secret Hitler into a position of power.

More controversially still, there’s an expansion pack to the game that adds members of the current administration to the game.

It’s unclear which version of the game has been making the rounds in the Wisconsin State Senate offices. After all, in February 2017, free copies of Secret Hitler were shipped to all 100 members of the United States Senate by the game’s creator.

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[Image courtesy of TabletopFinder.]

Now, I am purposely not going to make any statements about this administration, regardless of my personal feelings. I make a point of not getting into politics in this blog. It’s supposed to be a place for puzzle and game fans to find out news, read reviews, and revel in all things fun and puzzly about the world.

That being said, I’m sure the choice of Secret Hitler was deliberate.

Maybe it was intended as a way to blow off steam in a political climate that is more tense than ever. That certainly wouldn’t be the most diplomatic choice, but you can easily see how it would make for a tongue-in-cheek way to defuse office stresses.

On the other hand, maybe it was intended as a statement, a sly shot at the current administration and ill feelings towards particular people in the government or political limelight. I don’t know.

But it’s pretty clear to me that it’s the game that got these pages in trouble, not the act of playing games. If they were playing Forbidden Island or Fluxx or Chutes & Ladders or any of a hundred other games in their downtime, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal.

I’m curious to see what the fallout from this story will be. According to reporter Riley Vetterkind, the game has been confiscated and HR is investigating the matter.

I hope nobody loses their job because of a game, whether it’s a political statement or just a ballsy choice of time-wasting and indulgence.

But it makes you wonder if any other games are popular in political offices and whether they’d prove as controversial as this one.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Astronomy Fluxx

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[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

There are plenty of games that center around space, whether you’re forming constellations, repairing your ship, traveling the galaxy, escaping a black hole, or building a civilization. But while you’re worrying about air supply, celestial objects, or other aspects of life in space, you’re rarely reminded of the incredible wonders that can be found beyond the Earth.

It’s unusual indeed for a game to evoke that sense of awe, no matter how fun the actual gameplay may be. Which makes Astronomy Fluxx, the latest offering from the crew at Looney Labs, such a delight.

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For the uninitiated, Fluxx is a card game where you collect keeper cards and put them into play. Different combinations of keeper cards complete different goals, and each player has the chance to put different keeper cards and goal cards into play in order to win. So you might find yourself working toward completing the goal at hand when suddenly somebody plays a new goal, and the object of the game changes.

Along the way, players affect how the game is played by utilizing action cards and new rule cards which alter what players can and can’t do. Suddenly, you’ll have to trade your hand with another player, or start drawing three cards each turn instead of one.

In Astronomy Fluxx, the gameplay is simplified from previous editions of the game — there are no ungoals or creepers complicating play this time around — but the gameplay doesn’t suffer in the slightest.

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Before I get into the rule cards and other ephemera of the game, I have to mention how blown away I was by the art. Using NASA images as photographic source material (instead of the usual charming drawings usually seen in Fluxx games) really infuses the theme of the game into every aspect of the gameplay. The planets burst to life in every keeper card, and the goal cards are eye-catchingly gorgeous.

Some of the goal cards reference specific events from the history of space exploration — from the first man in space and the moon landing to more recent endeavors like the New Horizons spacecraft flyby of Pluto — which certainly brings a smile to this astronomy buff’s face each time I play.

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In addition to the usual rule change cards regarding how many cards to draw, how many to play, hand limits, and so forth, they’ve introduced rules to make use of bonus educational information at the bottom of each keeper card. One card allows you to draw additional cards if you can name the year certain events happened, and another offers a bonus card per turn for a constellation you can name. These cards continue the tradition of Math Fluxx, Chemistry Fluxx, and Anatomy Fluxx of rewarding players for learning about the subject of the game.

Astronomy Fluxx also incorporates the planets into the gameplay in a unique way with certain rule cards that involve planetary orbits and centers of gravity that move from player to player during the game. Each adds an intriguing mechanic that I’ve never really seen before in a Fluxx game, and it really creates a fresh challenge, even for experienced Fluxx players.


All in all, I was absolutely wowed by the depth of creativity that went into the latest offering from Looney Labs. This is a game that lives up to the chaotic, replayable spirit of Fluxx, but with innovative gameplay, solid educational information, and a game-changing shift in artistic style. Their educational Fluxx series continues to impress.

Astronomy Fluxx is available now from Looney Labs and select retailers!


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