Friday, 19 August 2022

Deep Sea Adventure


The Game

Deep Sea Adventure is a game from Japan. It is small and compact, not just in terms of components but also in terms of gameplay and rules. You are deep sea divers hunting treasures. During the game you will make three dives, each time trying to bring valuable treasures back to the submarine. The player who manages to collect treasures of the highest total value wins. 

This is how the game is set up. You create a path using tiles in four different shapes. The tiles form your dive path and they are also the treasures. Their values are unknown initially, since they are face-down.  You only know the value range, and that the darker a tile is the higher the value range. You dive by rolling two dice. The die faces range from 1 to 3, so with two dice, you will roll between 2 and 6. 

If you run into another player when moving, you skip over the space. This is convenient. You are using your opponents' pieces to move further. When you land on a treasure tile, you may decide to pick it up. Once you pick it up, you are committed to bring it back to the submarine. You don't own it yet though. It's yours only if you manage to make it back to the sub before oxygen runs out. 

Once you have a treasure in hand, two things change. Firstly, your movement slows. You deduct the number of treasures you carry from your die roll. The more you carry, the slower you become. Secondly, you start consuming oxygen. There's an oxygen tank back at the sub which is shared by all players. At the start of your turn, you reduce the oxygen level by 1 for each treasure you carry. If everyone is carrying treasures, the oxygen depletes quickly. You need to make it back to the sub before the oxygen runs out. You don't die if it runs out. This is not that kind of game. You'll still make it back to the sub, but you must drop all the treasures you are carrying. They sink to the bottom of the sea. 

When you pick up a treasure tile, you replace it with a round token. This is just temporary. Within the same round, if someone else later lands on the round token, he can't pick it up, because it isn't a treasure. It just forms part of the path. 

In the first half of a round, everyone dives downwards. Eventually every player will decide for himself that it's time to change direction and head back to the sub. Once you turn back, you can only move up until the end of the round. 

If anyone fails to bring his treasures back to the sub, they sink to the bottom of the sea, i.e. to the end of the path. These abandoned treasures are stacked into threes. In the second and third rounds, if you manage to reach any of these stacks, you can pick them up, and a stack is treated as a single treasure. That means it only slows you down and consume oxygen as if it is one treasure. However for scoring purposes you do count the points on all three tiles in a stack. This is a high risk and high reward element of the game. 

The Play

Deep Sea Adventure is a push-your-luck game and also a group psychology game. It is a game of chicken. If everyone is bold (or greedy, depending how you put it), you can go pretty deep without starting to consume any oxygen. Once anyone picks up the first treasure, the dreaded countdown begins. When players start consuming oxygen, the usage can accelerate and the oxygen can deplete very quickly. I did a 4-player game. When each of us had just one treasure, I would be seeing the oxygen level drop by four before my turn came again. This was terrifying, especially when my movement was already slowed by carrying a treasure. 

We all want to be greedy, because if you aren't you won't win. Yet the greedier you are, the bigger the risk. If you fail, you end up empty-handed. It's all about risk assessment. Yet it is impossible to perfectly gauge the risk. It's not just the luck of the die rolls. There's also the psychology of your opponents. Your opponents' decision affect you. When you are clumped together, everyone moves quickly because your pawns help one another. Also, the number of treasures your opponents carry affects oxygen consumption. 

Die rolls are exciting because they can produce expected results, both good and bad. They create an urge to gamble. They sometimes make you more optimistic than you should be. Yet sometimes when you get lucky that feeling is wonderful. 

There is no direct aggression, but you can intentionally sabotage your opponents. Let's say one particular player is doing particularly well and it looks like he's going to get back to the sub with a valuable treasure. The rest can try to force him to fail by taking more treasures. You can decide to sink and drag your opponent down with you. That shared oxygen tank mechanism is clever. 

One possible situation is you get back to the sub with a lot more time to spare than expected. Once you are back, you no longer consume oxygen from the tank, and you are leaving more for your opponents who are still racing back. You might regret not having taken one more treasure. Aaah... it's so tantalising to try to find that perfect balance of risk and reward. You want to go right up to the edge where the reward is the highest, but where that edge is is highly uncertain.  

This was the second round in our game. A few of us failed in Round 1, thus the stack at the bottom of the sea. When a new round starts, round tokens (due to treasures having been picked up) are removed. This shortens the path and makes higher values treasures more easily accessible. This creates escalation in the game. 

Since most of us got burnt in Round 1, we were all more conservative in Round 2. However one particular player went all out and dived all the way to the bottom. He claimed a stack of three tiles. The rest of us thought he was doomed, since we had all turned back and he had no one to leapfrog over as he headed back. However he made it back to the sub just in time. Those of us who made it back to the sub no longer consumed oxygen, and what was left in the tank was enough to get him home. 

With one player leading by a mile at the start of Round 3, the rest of us knew it was all or nothing. We all gambled, and we all lost terribly. So the player who hit the jackpot in Round 2 won the game comfortably. Going against the flow might be a winning formula. Sometimes.  

After all that toiling and all I got was this lousy 4pt treasure.

The Thoughts

Deep Sea Adventure is a game with that particular Japanese style which I highly admire - concise and clever, both in terms of components and gameplay. This is the minimalistic school. It is almost a microgame. Play time is short so it works well as a filler. I have an uneasy relationship with this kind of game. On one hand I greatly admire them, and I want to make games like this myself. On the other hand, when I arrange game sessions with fellow seasoned gamers, we don't plan our sessions around games like this. Our main event is almost always some heavy strategy game. I pick minimalistic games only when I plan sessions with non gamers or casual gamers. At these gatherings we play multiple games which are lighter and shorter. 

Boardgames as a hobby for me is changing. In the past few years I have done more and more game design, and I am playing published games less. Up till now (August) in 2022 I have not yet bought a single new game. Five years ago this would have been unthinkable. I do still play new games, just that they are other people's games. I have shifted from a pure consumer to a mix of creator and consumer. It has been fun and rewarding going into the game maker side of the hobby, and I guess that's what's important. Deep Sea Adventure is the kind of game I want to learn from. I think to make a commercially successful game in Malaysia it needs to be a light game with mass market appeal. It has to be accessible. So that's where I'm focusing, even though my favourite games tend to be heavy Eurogames. I have thought about creating a heavy strategy game, and I have some ideas. However I have not actually started work on any such project. My many projects designing light games are already keeping me busy. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2022

boardgaming in photos: Sushi Go, 10 Days in Asia, China, Bohnanza


Normally I wouldn't be planning to play Sushi Go, because I've played Kuih Muih, and I know they are very similar. I just happened on a chance to try it, so I thought why not. 

In summary, Sushi Go is 7 Wonders simplified. You play 3 rounds. Every round everyone starts with 7 to 10 cards (depending on the number of players). You pick a card from your hand, and pass the rest of the cards to the player next to you. Everyone does the same, all at the same time. You then play the card you have just picked. Everyone knows what cards everyone else is collecting. Repeat this pick-then-pass process until all cards have been claimed, and the round ends. You do scoring. The different types of cards score in different ways. E.g. you must have the most or second most of maki rolls to score. You need to have a pair of tempura to score. Once scoring is done, you'll discard most of your cards. Only a few types of cards are kept for end game scoring. Rounds 2 and 3 work the same way, and then the game ends. 

The game plays fast! There are no turns. Everyone is doing the picking and passing at the same time. Usually you'll only pay attention to the player next to you, because you want to avoid passing to him cards which help him. It's not always easy to avoid that. There will be cards you want to collect, and it's not always worthwhile to forgo a card you want in order to take a card your neighbour wants. 

Compared to 7 Wonders this is definitely easier to learn so this works better with new players and non-gamers. It does look very similar to Kuih Muih, but the core mechanism is a little different, resulting in a slightly different play experience. Compared to Sushi Go, Sushi Go Party comes with more cards, more than what you need to play a game. When you set up a game, you only choose a subset of card types. That means you can play a number of variants, depending on the card type combination. 

I first played Animal Upon Animal quite some years ago. I am playing it again in recent years because of the children learning programme I'm involved in. This is a game which works for both children and adults. I used it in a recent training session I conducted (for adults), and it is equally exciting, if not more so, when the players are all adults. This is a dexterity game where you need to stack up the animals and avoid causing the whole structure to collapse. 

In July I organised another boardgame gathering for my BNI friends. They are mostly non-gamers, so I generally picked light-weight games. What do you think of this selection?  

Lost Cities is a classic and a good filler when waiting for others to arrive. It was well received. 

I took the opportunity to get my friends to try my upcoming game Dancing Queen. I wanted to see whether it works for non-gamers. I didn't get much response, so maybe this isn't really something for non-gamers. 

Another game which was popular was 10 Days in Asia. Alex immediately asked me where he could buy this. Unfortunately it is now out-of-print. 

I like describing this as mahjong. There are elements I call "self draw" and "waiting for a single tile", which are terms used in mahjong. The game isn't really like mahjong. I make it feel like mahjong so that new players are more comfortable with it. 

KLASK is easy to learn and engaging. This particular set was not very well balanced. We had to put a folded piece of paper under one of the legs to make it better balanced. 

Bohnanza, or the bean game, is a classic from Uwe Rosenberg (Agricola, Le Havre, A Feast for Odin). He was famous for Bohnanza well before he was famous for Agricola. It was great fun bringing this game out again. It works well for new players. It has plenty of player interaction, because this is a negotiation game. The magic of Bohnanza is a sight to behold. This should be a hall of fame game. 

In my BNI community there is a phrase often used - Givers Gain. When we played Bohnanza we kept teasing one another - givers gain! You don't really need this stink bean so you might as well donate it to me. I'll be forever grateful! 

I taught the group China. This is a game I greatly admire. Unfortunately it didn't pan out. I had thought this was a straight-forward game, but the group felt it was complicated. I guess the core rules are not complicated, but indeed there is some depth in the strategies. 

I probably should not have elaborated so much on the tactics. If I had simply stated the rules, the game might have gone better. When I enthusiastically explained the strategic considerations of this situation and that situation, I was confusing them more than educating them. They gave me blank looks and said, whatever you say, I'll trust you. I should have let them explore the tactics at their own pace, even if they didn't quite figure out all the intricacies. I had overwhelmed them with unnecessary information. 

Red had created a chain of at least four connected houses, so he would score a bonus. 

Bella Little Flower is a game for young children. I taught this at recent lesson. On your turn you roll a die to move Bella the sheep. If she lands at a spot with flowers, you collect all the flowers next to her. Your goal is to collect as many flowers as possible to make a necklace. At the end of your turn, you draw a flower tile, and add the flower to the spot matching the colour of the flower. For adults, this is barely a game. It certainly isn't very interesting. However now that I'm running a learning programme for children, I've learnt to appreciate these children games and how they help kids learn. Many elements in a well-crafted children's game create a learning experience for the children - the artwork, the game components, how the children need to count and move a game piece at the same time, and how they need to match the colours of two components. Adults take these for granted, but for children the experience of playing a game gives them much sensory input and thus triggers learning. 

Friday, 12 August 2022


The Game

PARKS is a recent and popular game. I saw it available at the Board Games Together public gaming event at Chinatown (Petaling Street), and asked the organiser to teach me to play. 

The theme is the many national parks in the USA. The core mechanism is based on this track at the top built from multiple tiles. When a round starts, every player has two hikers at one end of the track. On your turn, you must advance one of your hikers to a new tile. You can walk as far as you want, and normally you will land on a vacant tile. The tile you land on gives you some benefit, usually in the form of resources. Some allow you to take specific actions. When both hikers of all players reach the end of the track, the round ends. You play four rounds. Every new round a tile is added and all tiles are shuffled to make a new track. This keeps things varied and you will have to adjust your tactics accordingly. 

The icons on the tiles indicate what you gain when landing on them. In most cases you collect resources. You can exchange specific combinations of resources for park cards, and park cards are worth points. This is your main source of victory points. Cashing in resources for park cards is an action which some tiles allow you to perform. You can't do this any time you want. You need to land on a specific tile to do this. The final tile always allows you to do this, so every round you have at least two opportunities because you have two hikers. 

The campfire allows your hiker to land on a tile which has other hikers. You only get to use your campfire once per round, use it wisely. Once it is used, you douse it, i.e. flip it to the other side. You reset it at the start of the next round. 

The largest cards in the middle are the parks. You can see what resources they require and how many points they give. Whenever a park is claimed, a new one is drawn to replace it. All the other cards you see here have different functions. The canteen (bottle) is an equipment which allows you to convert water to another resource type. There are powers you can buy which give you permanent abilities. There are also cards which introduce special rules for each round, e.g. giving extra resources when you collect a particular resource type. 

When setting up a round, every tile on the track gets seeded with one resource. Whoever is first to land on the tile claims the resource on it. The end tile offers three different actions. Whoever uses these actions early gets a discount. Both of these encourage players to go fast. However, in general there is incentive to go slow. Going slow means your hikers are stopping at more tiles to claim more benefits. These add up. Hikers who are quick to reach the end do nothing and just wait. The only exception is the last hiker still moving. This hiker is no longer allowed to move step by step and must immediately go to the end tile. When there are two hikers remaining, they can collaborate and both take their sweet time moving one step at a time, collecting tons of resources as they go. 

This is a secret objective you draw at the start of the game. If you can achieve it, you earn a bonus. This particular one I drew gave me points if I managed to collect enough parks to have 12 or 18 of the same icon. I chose to go for parks needing water. I managed to get myself a permanent power of discount by 2 water whenever I claimed a park. This helped tremendously. 

These were some of the parks I claimed. They all needed water. At the top right there's a camera. This is another way of scoring points. Players need to fight over this camera because there's only one in the game. When you perform the photo action, you first claim the camera if it doesn't belong to you yet. You may then pay two resources for a photo, which is worth 1pt. If you already own the camera when performing the photo action, you take a photo for just one resource. 1pt doesn't sound like much, but if you do this regularly it is lucrative. 

The game is colourful and eye-catching.

The Play

PARKS reminds me of Tokaido. It has that vibe of taking your time to enjoy the scenery. That "it's the journey not the destination" feeling. The central mechanisms are different. In PARKS the turn order is fixed compared to Tokaido where it is always the player who is behind who takes the next turn. However in both games there is that same incentive to go slow. Slow is more. You are pressured to go fast only when there is a specific spot you want desperately. 

There is significant player interaction, almost like a worker placement game, because you usually can't enter a tile occupied by someone else. You pay attention to what your opponents are collecting, because if they are going for the same parks, you need to race them. You try to deny your opponents the use of their special abilities. If an opponent has many canteens, you know he will want to visit tiles that provide water. You would want to occupy those tiles to foil his plans. 

There is no direct attacking between players. The competition here is of the Chinese dinner type. The food is all at the centre of the table. It's all about being faster to grab that chicken drumstick which most people want. This is an open information game, so there can be analysis paralysis if you play with friends with a bit of such tendency. The only secret information is the objective card drawn at the beginning. This doesn't seem to have a big impact though. 

The Thoughts

PARKS is a resource collection and conversion game. For me personally, it is a rather typical Eurogame, i.e. been there, done that. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, just that there's nothing truly new and exciting for me. But this is my problem. I think this game will bring joy to many other people, despite being just okay for me. It's a mid-weight strategy game. There's decent player interaction. The art is lovely. The components are excellent. It's a well-crafted play experience. I will use pop songs as an analogy. For me, of course pop songs from 20 years ago are superior to those today.  Pffttt. Those are songs from my time. The youth of this day and age will like the current pop songs. The songs from my era would be called classics, or simply old songs. Outdated songs. If I try to objectively compare PARKS with mid-weight Eurogames from 20 years ago, I might reluctantly admit that PARKS is better, because today the boardgame industry has higher standards for artwork and game components.  

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Dancing Queen progress

The work on publishing Dancing Queen is moving along. I should start doing a bit more marketing like releasing information and sharing updates of the project. I still plan to have the game released in November 2022. There's still a lot of work to be done. 

Previously I had decided to go with the Japanese manga (comic) style art. It was the most popular choice by far in a survey I did. Some commenters suggested to have more dancing in the art work. This was supposed to be a game about dancing, but the two main characters didn't even seem to be dancing. That made sense. 

This is the current version, with some adjustments made. There is a bit more feeling of motion. Also I have picked the light background. 

It took some effort to design the card fronts. It was challenging to come up with a way to communicate the 18 different powers on the cards. Previously I mostly tried to communicate using symbols. My artist now suggests having the text explain the power clearly, and then use symbols just to list the point values. This image above is our current card power notation. The image below is the previous version of the same card. 

I am changing all the card names to song names. I am standardising this. Previously my card names were a mess of different things. I am not used to the new names yet. When I think of a card power, the old name is still what comes to mind first. It'll take me some time to relearn this. 

The artwork is not all done yet, and what we have so far isn't finalised, but I couldn't wait to create a new playtest copy of the game. I wanted to get a feel of how the game will be using this new art style and notation. I wanted to start testing this. I had goosebumps seeing this art concept transform into something physical. I felt like a pregnant mum when the baby's kicking. 

One important reason I made this playtest copy was I wanted to try how the game feels after being converted into a pure card game. The previous version of the game has two reference sheets, each the size of half an A4 sheet. I can't squeeze all that information into a single card, so I'm splitting it up into four cards. Not ideal, but it's a compromise I have to make for the sake of portability. I want the whole game to fit inside one small deck. 

The 7 trophies and the microphone used to be yellow and black cubes respectively. I'm converting them all to cards as well. Dancing Queen, the 9 card game, will become a deck of 25 cards. 

Four cards will make a complete reference table, like this. This was created by me, not by my artist. It will look better when done by a professional artist. I just wanted to test this format out early and get some feedback early. 

We don't have the art for the trophies and the microphone yet, so I downloaded some clipart from the internet to be used as placeholders. We earlier decided to change the microphone to a spotlight. Now we will likely change the spotlight to a disco ball. That should fit the theme even better. Julian said the spotlight would end up like floorlights, depending on where you sit. 

I have started asking friends to test this version for me. It was exciting for me to see this being played at the table. Once Dith and Julian started playing, they found a few issues. Thankfully these were just text and notation errors, and not game mechanism problems. The core game mechanisms have not changed from the previous version which won the contest. Only art, names and how the rules are explained have been modified. One potential problem is the text might be too small and hard to read. I wonder whether this will be a major issue, or this is just an old people problem for me and friends of my age. We needed reading glasses when playing the game. 

We are still adjusting the card front. This is another version with a bit more colour. Do you like this one better? 

Friday, 29 July 2022

Yes! Ginseng

The Game

Yes! Ginseng from Taiwan is a light game about the many delicacies found at a typical Taiwanese night market. The game comes with a pair of chopsticks! They are not used as a game component. They just add to the theme. It looks like you are buying a pack of takeaway food. 

During play, three order cards are made available at the centre of the table. These are what you compete to fulfil. Each order specifies the ingredients needed to complete it. On your turn, when you have the right ingredients, you may turn them in to claim the order card. Whenever an order is claimed, draw a new one to replace it. When the order draw deck is exhausted, the game ends. Whoever has completed the most orders wins the game. 

You earn money when you complete an order. You can spend $2 to buy a special card. These cards have a wide variety of powers, some offensive, some defensive and some supportive. 

The cards are large and pretty. Those with coloured backgrounds are the ingredients. Those with white backgrounds are special cards. The hand limit is 8 cards. You have to discard at the end of your turn if you exceed that. 

The five types of ingredients are grain, meat, seafood, vegetables and soup. 

The special cards drawn in red are the offense cards. The Cockroach prevents an opponent from fulfilling orders for one turn. 

Among the ingredient cards are some which have spoilt. They are useless cards. You can't discard them until you have more than 8 cards. The card backs are the same. If an opponent tries to steal ingredients from you and he picks a spoilt ingredient, you can laugh at him. So I guess they serve a purpose. 

The order cards are pretty. The semi circle on the left tells you what ingredients are needed. The more ingredients an order requires, the more cash you'll earn. 

I like the name of this card. This is a support card. On the turn you play this card, you may substitute meat and seafood with vegetables and grains. 

The Play

Yes! Ginseng is a simple game. On your turn you draw 3 ingredients, and then try to fulfil as many orders as you can. If you have money, normally you just spend them to buy as many special cards as possible. When a good opportunity arises to play a special card, you do it. It's a light game and there is not a lot to think about. Sometimes you think about who to attack. 

Victory is determined by the number of order cards. So normally you will prioritise completing the orders requiring fewer ingredients. That's a more efficient way of using ingredients. The harder to complete orders do give you more money, and you can spend money on special cards. If you like attacking others, you can decide to go for money. Yes, in this game the rich bullies the poor. Capitalist pigs! 

There certainly is luck. If you are unlucky you keep drawing spoilt ingredients. Player interaction is one way the game naturally creates balance and neutralises luck. Any player who gets lucky and stands out will be ganged up on by the rest. Your completed orders is open information. Everyone knows who is in the lead. 

3-player game in progress

The ginseng card is equivalent to two jokers

I managed to complete 8 orders

The game comes with a booklet which introduces the various local foods in Taiwan

The Thoughts

We should have a category of games called travel souvenir games. In Malaysia, Kaki Lima would be such a game. Yes! Ginseng is this kind of game. It contains cultural elements of Taiwan. A gamer visiting Taiwan would be happy to bring a copy home. This is applicable for non-gamers as well. 

From the game mechanism perspective, the game is simplistic. There is not a lot of depth. There is not a lot of strategy to think about. You play almost on auto-pilot. You'll always try to complete as many orders as possible, and buy as many special cards as possible. Money doesn't have any other use, except for being the tiebreaker at game end. You may decide to keep some money when you are near game end, if you think there's going to be a tie. Normally you just spend it all. There's a special card which robs you if you have $2 or more. Old timers like me are not the target audience of Yes! Ginseng, unless I'm visiting Taiwan. However the game mechanism being so simple means this is a game that can be easily learned by non-gamers. 

If I assess the game as a product and not just based on the game mechanisms, this is a solid product. It is pretty, accessible and well-produced. It's the kind of product you like at first sight.