The Battle of Versailles (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2024Players: 2 (only)
Designer: Eloi Pujadas, Ferran RenaliasLength: 30-45 minutes
Artist: Malen CompanyAge: 10+
Publisher: Salt & Pepper GamesComplexity: 2.5 / 5
Plastic (by weight): unknownAir (by volume): unknown

The Battle of Versailles is on Gamefound right now >>

This week, Hope Thompson joins us on the blog with her review of a game about the fashion show held in 1973 in Versailles, France that pitted newcomer American designers such as Anne Klein, Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows and Bill Blass against the stalwart French designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro, Pierre Cardin and Christian Dior. In this article, Hope‘s father, David Thompson, talks to her about her experience of playing The Battle of Versailles by Eloi Pujadas and Ferran Renalias from Salt & Pepper Games.

David Thompson: “Hey, Hope, how are you?”

Hope Thompson: “OK.”

DT: “We, well you, were invited by Tabletop Games Blog to do a guest review on a game we’ve been playing a lot lately: Battle of Versailles. So let’s take, like, one or two minutes to tell people who you are.”

HT: “My name is Hope. I’m David Thompson‘s daughter.”

DT: “All right. So we’ve been playing this game called Battle of Versailles. It’s a two-player game. It’s on Gamefound right now. It’s being published by Salt and Pepper. It’s exclusively for two players and it takes about 30 minutes to play. That’s what it says on the box and that’s pretty much been our experience. It’s been about about 30 minutes. Right. So what we’re going to do for this interview is, I’m just going to go through and ask you some questions and we’ve played, to give people that are reading or listening to it, we’ve played this probably, like, six or seven times, would you say?

So we’ll just go over some basics. OK. Let’s not bury the lead though. What do you think about the game?”

HT: “I like it. It’s really fun. It’s definitely a strategy pro game, which is fun, and the card games are fun too, so I like it. It’s really fun.”

DT: “OK. So two thumbs up, two Hope thumbs up.”

HT: “Two thumbs up.”

DT: “OK, alright. So let’s talk about it. So what is, in your mind, what is the game about, The Battle of Versailles? What do you know about it?”

HT: “That I guess it was, like, a fashion battle between the French and the Americans.”

DT: “Yeah, we, you know, we haven’t dug into too much detail. It was a fashion show between the Americans and the French. So the French were, like, the establishment basically. And the Americans were, like, the newcomers. And I think it’s 1973, is when it’s set, right. When you were playing the game. How do you think the game helps tell about that fashion show at all? Like, do you learn anything about it by playing the game?”

HT: “Personally, not as much, but…”

DT: “Like, you don’t learn the details, no”

HT: “No, you wouldn’t learn the details by looking at the game, but it does a good job of, like, showing some detail within, like, the designs and, like, how some dresses might be set up during that time. Like, how many dresses back in, like, 1973 would have been, like, styled and worn, if that makes sense.”

DT: “Yeah. So let’s talk about that real quick. The art in the game is not like typical board game art.”

HT: “I really, really like the art. It’s beautiful and they do, like, a good job, even with the people. You can tell it’s a bit more hand-drawn, if that makes sense, like, with, like, dresses, you can see, like, how they would flow and the colours that are put together are, like, really good. I really like it.”

a close-up of one of the dress cards in The Battle of Versailles showing a purple dress
Hope’s favourite dress (Photo courtesy of David Thompson)

DT: “Yeah, I don’t know the exact specifics, but I think that they had an artist, like a company, that actually does art for fashion magazines and stuff, do the art for the game.”

HT: “Yeah, it’s very magazine.”

DT: “Yeah, like a fashion magazine, right? Yeah. Can you give like a very brief overview of the game, like just generally how it plays?”

HT: “On, you just kind of exactly, you just walk through the tiles like you draw your cards and then you take turns playing your cards and some, there’s actions on the event cards that will cause you to flip over a player card action or draw the cards, and then once you get over here, you get to the income tiles and you place your cards face down and then you would flip them and whoever has the most income would draw two tiles. Then the losing person, the person who had less amount of money would draw one tile and then you would come and you would do those actions. Then you would go to the designers and see if you completed the objectives that the designers are looking for. Then you get to the, like, the scoring part and you see the prestige and you see, you would add up the points on your cards if they’re showing, you would look at the stars and you would calculate how much you’ve earned throughout the round and then you would start the round over.”

DT: “Yeah, it’s a really clever way, you know, there’s this, this physical representation of the runway and the runway model is moving down the runway and every time she moves to a new tile, you just take those actions. And so it’s a really clever way of tracking the actions over the round.”

HT: “And the model she progresses with you. So like, once you’ve done this action, you would, she would just walk to the next part and then she would keep going throughout the round. And then when that round was over, she would come back to the start and you would do that five times for the five rounds.”

DT: “So a few of the actions that you walk through, like drawing a card and scoring prestige and stuff, income, those are special ones, but most of the actions, five of the nine tiles, are play-a-card tiles. So there’s two types of cards in the game. There are dress cards and celebrity cards.”

HT: “And then there’s events.”

DT: ” And then events, yeah. So talk about just the dress card. I guess it’s the most basic card, right?”

HT: “Really, the dress card, it’s a picture of the dress. And then what, like, objective does that cover, your prestige points and then, if you wanted to, instead of playing your card here, you could play it face down for the point value at the bottom for the income or, cause there’s the slash, you do one or the other, or you could just play it for three cards and then you could, like, discard it so that you can earn those cards.”

DT: “Yeah, and event cards are very straightforward. You just play it for the event, it tells you what to do and the last thing is celebrities, right? So you can play celebrities.”

HT: “Right. So the celebrities, you would, because you take turns depending on who goes first, you would start face down and you could say: ‘OK, I’m going to play a celebrity.’ And then you play it up at the top with your others. And then there’s the, what, the special thing that they do. So this, she’s the singer and actor. She upgrades the income tile and when you upgrade the tile you just flip it over to the next best thing. And then you would do her power. And then there’s also powers listed at the top. So when I placed her, I got to take an extra card, but there’s multiple different, like, special things you could do depending on where you put it, and then, put the card, and then if you get all seven, I think, you win the game.”

DT: “An instant victory. That was an amazing segway into the last thing I want to talk about. So winning the game. So when you play the game, one thing we really didn’t discuss is you’re either playing as the Americans or the French, and they play very differently, right?”

a close-up of the model standee who walks along the game's runway
a close-up of the model standee who walks along the game’s runway (Photo courtesy of David Thompson)

HT: “Yeah. So they are, the instant victories are different for both, like, countries. So with the French, you are trying to either get 20 points at the top, you can see the yellow marker, it shows how many points you have, or you’re trying to get 15 of these little blocks at the bottom of the tiles, at the top, that also show more, like, special abilities that you can do. So, and then you can also do the seven celebrities. that’s with the French. For the Americans, basically, he would stack the cards like on top of each other and you were trying to get six different styles of dresses. Or you could do the 20 points.”

DT: “Yeah. That’s awesome. OK, well. I think that’s everything we want to talk about. Were there any final thoughts you had on the game?”

HT: “No. I just really like the game. I mean, the one thing I would ask for is, like, more variations of the model. I mean, obviously, she’s beautiful, right? But, you know, if there were more models and more dresses and you could mix and match depending on what you look like. But I mean, that’s really it, I really like the game. It’s a fun game. It’s very strategy-based. It’s a very card-heavy game, right? You’re just playing with your, like, deck of cards. Yeah, it’s a really fun game.”

DT: “OK. Thanks, Hope.”

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Videos

Transparency Facts

  • David Thompson was sent a review copy of the game by the publisher.
  • David Thompson has several games published by the publisher.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Fear Leads to Anger – X-Wing Miniatures fans claim company is ruining tabletop skirmish game (Topic Discussion)

In this latest guest post, Samuel Webb, an experienced news reporter and copywriter based in Coventry, discusses why some X-Wing Miniatures fans are unhappy with the company that they claim is ruining this beloved Star Wars tabletop skirmish game.

The X-Wing Miniatures Game was once the most popular game in the multi-billion-dollar world of wargaming. Released in 2012, it featured ship-to-ship dogfighting between the iconic craft of the Star Wars universe, including X-Wings, TIE fighters, and the beloved Millennium Falcon. The gameplay was widely praised for its secret movement dial mechanic, beautifully pre-painted miniatures, and fast-paced rules. The Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) Disney franchise sold like crazy and tournaments attracted hundreds of gamers. It was revamped with a second edition in 2018 that streamlined and improved the rules and added prequel and sequel factions like The Republic and First Order. In 2020, the Star Wars licence moved from FFG to Atomic Mass Games (AMG), another division of parent company Asmodee, the tabletop monolith behind games like Carcassone and Pandemic.

Now, many fans are furious with AMG, accusing the studio – which also oversees Disney stablemates Marvel Crisis Protocol and Star WarsShatterpoint – of giving up on X-Wing despite a passionate fanbase that has invested heavily in the game and continues to organise events despite dwindling numbers. Players point to a slow-down of game-balancing points updates, sporadic or non-existent communication with fans, poor organised play support and a dearth of new miniature releases despite fresh Star Wars ships appearing in TV shows The Mandalorian, Ahsoka and Andor. A sweeping rules and gameplay overhaul, dubbed “X-Wing 2.5“, following the pandemic also sharply divided fans.

Despite repeated attempts, neither Asmodee nor AMG provided a comment for this article.

“Its soul is now dead and gone.”

Former world champion Oliver Pocknell says it is impossible to ignore AMG’s effect on the game’s popularity and is damning of their approach to play-testing and balance, claiming some ships and play styles are wildly overpowered.

The teacher from Brighton said: “Popularity wise, the game has been struggling. It’s not just down to AMG that these changes have happened, the game has been through the COVID years, but I can’t help but blame AMG for a large part of this. The biggest problem AMG face is their frankly terrible communication skills. They are damaging their reputation repeatedly by not communicating regularly or effectively. In the past few months we have had developers tell the community on stream: ‘If you don’t like our game, you can quit’.

“It is this mix of radio silence, combined with incompetence, that has caused so many players to feel frustrated and abandoned by this new version of the game that feels so very different to the game that they started and enjoyed.

“This was my biggest hobby and I’ve made some lifelong friends playing the game, but I have completely lost all motivation to play the game as it feels as if its soul is now dead and gone. I no longer want to play a game of X-Wing for fun anymore as it is just boring to me. The real shame is it feels like most of this could have been avoided with some proper communication.”

Dave Cook, an X-Wing player from Plymouth in the UK, said the lack of new ships is “pretty woeful”.

He added: “It’s hugely disappointing to see their other games churn out release after release while X-Wing got barely a trickle. Our community here has massively contracted, we have gone from about 20 regular weekly players to less than a handful. Many players have just drifted away. I have moved on to other games, namely Kill Team, Battletech and Adeptus Titanicus. I still love X-Wing but don’t feel AMG really wanted the game and that’s pretty apparent by how it’s been piloted.”

some of the painted miniatures from X-Wing in play
some of the painted miniatures from X-Wing in play (Photo courtesy of Samuel Webb)

“It feels like they just don’t care.”

Walsall-based Liam Baker, one of the hosts of X-Wing podcast Sith Takers Snap Shots, says he has “zero confidence” in AMG’s ability to help the game thrive.

He said: “I personally feel like X-Wing is an unwanted game for them and it feels like they just don’t care. The support for the game has been poor. There isn’t an understanding of what the greater community wants and needs.

“We were treated respectfully and well by FFG. Our emails containing questions were replied to, promises of follow-up emails were acknowledged and fulfilled and we had communication regarding new projects and releases.

“My enthusiasm for the game has dwindled. I’ve lost a lot of trust in AMG over the recent months and that feeling has meant I haven’t bought any Marvel Crisis Protocol in a year, I haven’t picked up the Shatterpoint game and I’ll only buy X-Wing releases – which is a shame because we aren’t getting those.”

François Couret, a former French champion who lives near Brest in France, has been playing since late 2013 and says gamers are drifting away to other, “better-supported” games, like A Song Of Ice And Fire.

He said: “The X-Wing community in Brest has seen a clear decrease since the rules change. The monthly 12-20 people tournament has become a three or four times a year 6-12 people event. We also used to host a 45-person tournament once a year, but it has vanished. Support from AMG is, in my opinion, very poor. They didn’t really explain the rule changes, and the lack of ship releases will probably slowly kill the game. Overall, I think AMG turned an awesome game into a good game.”

“I think we are moving in the right way.”

Many X-Wing gamers are a bit more positive about the game’s future.

Joaquin Felipe Gonzalez Mendez, a UK-based Spanish Chilean, said: “Currently the game is in good health, the store championship season really helped a lot and we started to have new players at our Thursday night sessions. I was happy to see people that apparently left the game playing again this season. The only thing that I miss is new ships for Resistance and First Order, but I think that we are moving in the right way to grow again as a big community.”

Elliot Weights, who lives near Bristol, says his local X-Wing community is expanding.

He said: “Organised play is lacking, however (AMG) is a smaller team. It would be better […] if we had regular new products to shake things up. The comms have improved, they started out a bit shaky and now we get articles and regular updates via a Discord channel. For the size of their team, they are doing a great job.”

How About You?

Now I would like to know what you think. Have you played X-Wing yourself before? Do you think it’s going into decline? Is there still an active community behind it? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music: The Boy Who Never Existed by Michal Mojzykiewicz
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/10072-the-boy-who-never-existed
Licensed under CC BY 4.0: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Gold n’ Grog (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2023Players: 2-6
Designer: Jake A SmithLength: 30-45 minutes
Artist: Taylor StoneAge: 8+
Publisher: Next Adventure GamesComplexity: 1.0 / 5
Plastic (by weight): <1%Air (by volume): <10%

Ho, ho, ho and a bottle of rum! That was the song that accompanied the small boat being rowed by a motley crew of scallywags. We were heading to our secret pirate treasure island to retrieve the loot we had stashed over many, many years. The problem was, none of us knew exactly where we had buried our spoils. We had packed plenty of shovels though to make short work of this small patch of land. After we pulled up on shore and spread out on the island, it was time to dig for Gold n’ Grog by Jake A Smith from Next Adventure Games.

Digging For Treasure

Yes, here is yet another push-your-luck card game for all the family. There are many of these available on the market and they have all started to look and feel very much the same. You simply draw a card and decide whether to push or stick. Some cards will have actions on them that might allow you to steal from another player or protect yourself from others. There are all sorts of variations on the theme, but they’re not really that much different from each other.

So when I was offered a review copy of Gold n’ Grog, my expectations were set accordingly. Yet, as soon as I started to read the rules, I knew there was something a bit different here. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but the game seemed to do something special. I knew I had to dig deeper.

The rules were simple enough, so I decided to recruit a crew of fellow players and set up the game. That’s when it hit me. There is something very literal. The theme of digging for treasure is directly implemented in the way you draw cards. No, there is no boring draw deck or multiple piles of cards that you have to cut and choose. You simply shuffle all the cards and spread them out on the table.

The cards have a little cartoon-style island drawn on their backs. So when you see the spread out pile of cards, you are immediately reminded of a real treasure island. The island is thinner at the periphery and thicker in the middle, purely because that’s what naturally happens when you spread a deck of cards out on a flat surface. It’s such a simple thing, but it’s immediate and visually very enticing.

you're literally digging for treasure among the pile of cards
you’re literally digging for treasure among the pile of cards

Gold N’ More

Not only that, as you draw a card, you feel like you should dig into the island and go for a card that’s a bit further down. You end up literally digging for treasure among the messy pile of cards. I really didn’t expect much of Gold n’ Grog, but this simple idea is amazing.

The rest of the game is your usual fare. Many cards in the deck represent treasures of different values. There are also item and action cards that you can use to attack other players or protect yourself. Of course, there are also enemy cards, which you have to try and defeat by playing the relevant item card from your hand, or they will steal the loot you dug up on your turn.

It’s the sort of thing that you would expect from other push-your-luck games. You want to keep drawing to get more points, but you have to be careful. If you can card count, you can also work out at what point the island is likely to have more threats than treasure. Personally, I’m not that good at card counting, but of course, as you watch other pirates dig up more and more gold, you know your chances of getting a decent pile of loot are dwindling.

Grog for all the Family

The illustrations and the simple gameplay make Gold n’ Grog the ideal family game. Kids love attacking their parents. The game is also great fun with friends. You can finally show your true colours. It’s especially fun when you can deflect an attack back to the attacker.

So, yes, in that way Gold n’ Grog is very much like many of the other push-your-luck family card games out there. There aren’t too many surprises, but that’s not a bad thing. Where the game does stand proud above the rest is the card pile island. I really can’t get over how such a simple idea has such a huge impact on the gameplay experience. It’s not even like it’s a gimmick. After all, you need the cards for the game.

If you fancy yourself as a ruthless pirate, then I would strongly recommend you give Gold n’ Grog a go. Dig for card treasures, push your luck and fend off attacks from enemies and fellow players alike. It’s a lot of fun and the perfect game for a little bit of light entertainment and socialising.

Useful Links

Videos

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I was sent a free review copy of this game by the publisher.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music: In Pursuit Of A Pirate by Tim Kulig
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/8520-in-pursuit-of-a-pirate
Licensed under CC BY 4.0: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Music: The Song Of Sirens by Alexander Nakarada
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/9663-the-song-of-sirens
Licensed under CC BY 4.0: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review:

No Win Situation – a look at victory conditions in board games (Topic Discussion)

Whether we play competitive or cooperative games, we all expect someone to be the winner. Even if it’s “the game” who wins in a cooperative game. In fact, there is usually a single winner or a team in team games. Most games will list one or multiple tie-breakers to decide who is the ultimate winner. So the idea of victory conditions has become second nature to most of us in the board game hobby. Yet, there are games that don’t elect a winner and in this article, I want to talk about what this might feel like.

I was inspired to write about this topic after listening to Amabel Holland talking to Liz Davidson in an episode of the Beyond Solitaire podcast. At some point during the interview, Amabel got to talk about her game Endurance, which doesn’t have a victory condition. The game is about Antarctic survival and is based on Ernest Shackleton‘s 1914 expedition. Back then, it seemed like the whole crew of the ship would be lost, but miraculously, they were all saved.

In the game, it is your job to try and save as many of the team as possible. However, there is no victory to be had. You’re not trying to bring back a certain number of people. You don’t lose if things don’t go your way. It’s all about basic survival. It is for you, the player, to decide whether bringing back the whole crew is the only true victory or saving even just a single deckhand is a win. After all, you are facing an impossible situation, so being able to rescue just one person is a miracle.

Victory, Loss and Game End Conditions

At this stage, I just want to go over a couple of terms.

While Endurance doesn’t have any victory or loss conditions, the game does end at some point. There are, in fact, a number of end conditions. So it’s not like you play Endurance forever. However, the game does force you to carry on, even when things seem hopeless. You can only stop when you have either rescued everyone, when there is a mutiny or when all lifeboats are lost.

That’s quite important to note. Sure, there are games without an end condition and you expect those to have neither a victory nor a loss condition. However, when a game ends, we are all so used to always choosing a winner.

Let me also talk about loss conditions next. To me, victory and loss conditions are almost the same thing. One tells you who won and the other who lost. Many games have a mix of both and sometimes one precludes the other. For example, in The Rich and the Good, whoever has the most cash after selling all of their shares at the end wins. Except, the player who gave the least amount to charity always loses, even if they had the most cash.

Loss conditions are also often favoured in cooperative games. The team loses when a certain thing is true. Cooperative games do also have victory conditions, but explaining when the game ends with a loss makes it easier for players.

At the end of the day though, you can rephrase all victory conditions as loss conditions and vice versa.

a black-and-white photo of the Endurance caught in the ice
(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Hollow Victory

So let’s go back to looking at games with end conditions but without victory or loss conditions.

I think when a game doesn’t decide who wins or who loses, let alone the order in which players are ranked at the end, it leaves that choice open to the players. It’s a clever design choice that can be used to really involve the people around the table.

In a serious setting, it forces everyone to think about what the game is about. Using Endurance again as an example, without the game telling you what is considered a victory, you have to decide how well you did saving people trapped on the ice without hope. You have to think about what these people went through as you sit in your warm home, drinking a warm drink and maybe a snack to hand. You have to choose what victory looks like for yourself.

In a lighter setting, removing loss and victory conditions from a game can elicit discussion. For example, in Bez‘s game A game about drawing creatures, complimenting the drawings, then complimenting the compliments there is intentionally no winner. Everyone just draws a creature and then has to compliment everyone else on their drawings. Finally, everyone has to compliment everyone on the compliments they have received. Nobody is asked to choose their favourite drawing or award scores. The game merely encourages everyone to look at the positives and find something that hopefully leaves another person feeling a little happier and receiving a positive note in return.

No Responsibility

It is so easy for us to let the game decide who has won. Wanting to have an objective adjudicator rank the people around the table is something I can relate to, because I am quite a competitive player at heart. So when the responsibility of choosing a victor is handed over to us, we realize what we’re actually asking for. It allows us to focus on what we were actually simulating when we were playing the game.

It is especially pertinent for what I call “serious” games, such as Endurance. It’s only natural to play a war game and want the “good” side to win. Yet, I wonder what war games would feel like if there was no victor or loser in the end. After all, over a certain number of turns and rounds, we sent people into battle to kill the opposing forces. That killing is justified by the game simply because one of us has to win. Remove the victory condition and maybe you start to see the suffering that wars cause.

Even games with less sensitive settings could benefit from removing loss and victory conditions. Imagine there being no winner in Monopoly. We could all just play property developer and try and get a large, varied portfolio of properties, houses and hotels. There would be no need to compare who had the most money or who was able to hang on the longest without going bankrupt. I feel the game would suddenly become something very different. Maybe there would be a lot less arguing and shouting.

How About You?

Now I wonder what you think about games without loss or victory conditions. Have you played any? Are you interested by the idea? What do you think games feel like where nobody wins or loses? Do you think games without loss or victory conditions are a good idea? As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you think.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music: “Lonesome” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Music: “Solitude” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article:

2023 – A Year in Review (Saturday Review)

Another year is almost over – and what an eventful year it has been. It is time to talk about everything that has happened, the events I attended and the games I played, give you all an update on the financial state of the blog and maybe share some sneak peeks for the year ahead. So, here goes…

Conventions, Events and Exhibitions

As seems to have become custom for me, let me start with the conventions, events and exhibitions I attended this year. There were only two: UK Games Expo and Berlin Con. Both were very special in their own unique way.

UK Games Expo

I used to attend the UK’s largest board game convention as a member of the press for a number of years, but the costs for travel and accommodation had always worried me a bit. So I thought it was time to change things up. I decided to apply as a game demoer and was lucky enough for Asmodee to hire me for all three days of the show. That meant that travel, accommodation and food were all paid for and I even got a small salary on top. It basically meant I got paid to do what I love doing, which was amazing.

You can read more about my experience of UK Games Expo 2023 in my review. There just isn’t enough space in this article to cover everything.

Berlin Con

I also attended Berlin Con this year. It was my first time, but I had a press pass and was on home turf. If you didn’t know, I am a born and bred Berliner. I was able to stay at my parents’, which meant I only had to pay for travel and food, but given I could cook for myself, that expense was relatively low. As you can see in my review, the event is the perfect size with a great mix of exhibition space and open gaming tables.

While I was in Berlin, I also attended the Spiel des Jahres awards ceremony. I got a complimentary invite as international press, which was a real honour and got to speak to many of the designers and catch up with a number of the German board game people, whom I had previously often only known from social media. I also recorded interviews with the award winners, which you can hear in an episode of the Brainwaves podcast.

left to right: Shaun Newman of Gamealot and Oliver Kinne (photo courtesy of Shaun Newman)
left to right: Shaun Newman of Gamealot and Oliver Kinne (photo courtesy of Shaun Newman)

Meeting Friends, Old and New

That leads me nicely to the next topic: people. I think this year has been very much about people for me. I finally got to meet so many wonderful board game hobbyists in person, when I previously only knew them from social media.

UK Games Expo

Let me first talk about the wonderful Shaun Newman of Game-a-lot. I first met him during a board game design contest, where I was a mentor and judge. He has since started supporting the blog via Patreon, which is wonderful. After having known him for so long, it was amazing to finally see him in person at UK Games Expo. Even though it was only a short hello, it was very special.

It was also great to finally meet the wonderful Roland MacDonald whose amazing illustrations you will have seen on many a game. He’s been so very busy in 2023, but he made time to pop round, say hello and give me one of his art books at UK Games Expo. I have it sitting here on my board game shelf in pride of place.

My probably favourite moment of the event was meeting Daniel Newman, trick-taking maestro a la excellence and not only eat fish and chips with him, talk about our shared interest that is trick-taking games and get some previews of his upcoming games, but also play one of his games, Enemy Anemone. I have since endlessly bored my family and friends by talking about this special moment.

I also need to speak about Martina Fuchs and Manuel Fritsch, who are members of the Spiel des Jahres jury and who represented the German board game association at UK Games Expo. They had all the nominees for the year’s award at the event, which took place about a month before the winners were going to be announced. Martina had contacted me beforehand and asked if I was willing to take the games off them, so they didn’t have to take them back to Germany and donate them to good causes, which I happily obliged.

Berlin Con

I met Martina and Manuel again when I was in Berlin, along with many other people from the German board game bubble: Dirk Roos, Nico Wagner, Stephan Kessler, Julia Zerlink and Maren Hoffmann.

At Berlin Con, I finally got to meet the wonderful Uli Blennemann from Spielworxx. He had already been very supportive and helpful on social media and he didn’t let up when I met him in person. It was great to see him and talk about all things board games. He’s such a lovely person.

I also have to thank Ben Maddox of Five Games for Doomsday for being so welcoming and inviting me to a game of Blood Bowl: Team Manager on the first evening of Berlin Con. It was so great to finally meet him in person and hope that some of his mega-celebrity status would rub off on me.

Uli Blennemann of Spielworxx demoing Magnate from Naylor Games
Uli Blennemann of Spielworxx demoing Magnate from Naylor Games

Other Happenings

2023 was also a good year for doing some things outside of Tabletop Games Blog.

I was invited to join the Brainwaves podcast crew as a regular presenter and have really enjoyed working with Iain McAllister and Jamie Adams and am honoured to be part of the team. I have gained a much better insight into how much work Iain puts into getting the articles written up, organizing the recording and then getting everything edited and published.

Let me tell you: it’s a lot of work. So if you’ve not listened to the podcast yet, please do. It’s the best board game news podcast out there, if you ask me. If you like it, please support them in whatever way you can.

I am also pleased to say that I was able to use my language skills in a professional capacity. I worked on a number of games this year, translating some from German into English and others from English into German. You can find out more on my other website, Make My Game Travel, but let me just mention the main projects I have had the honour to be a part of.

The probably biggest and most exciting one is EPOS – A Gentes Game coming from Spielworxx in autumn 2024. There is a lot more work to be done, but it has been so interesting to work on a game of this calibre and size.

However, I also loved working on Ecosfera from Julibert Games. I have previously worked with this independent publisher and it has been a pleasure. Their games are always very interesting and tackle some really important topics.

So if you want help or know someone who needs translating a game from English to German or German to English, please get in touch.

Finances

Now comes the boring bit – the blog’s finances.

First of all, I have had some really good commission deals that gave me a bit of extra income. Like always, if I get paid by a company, I won’t review their games. So I had to choose carefully what I was advertising on the site, but I think wooden puzzle boxes, board game accessories and other hobby-adjacent products are fine.

So here is a rough breakdown of the income and outgoings. I’ve been rounding the amounts up to the nearest £10.

Cash Expenses

Blog hosting (including domain name, email, etc.)£190
Board game purchases (including discounted review copies)£1,330
Event attendance (including tickets, travel, food, accommodation, etc.)£520
Cash Expenses Total£2,040

Cash Income

Ad and affiliate income£320
Board game sales (I never sell free review copies)£570
Ko-Fi and Patreon support£440
Cash Income Total£1,330

Cash Profit/Loss

Cash Income minus Cash Expenses-£710

So that means that I have made a cash loss of around £710 in 2023. I will talk about this some more later, but I think you can see that I cannot continue investing this much into the blog.

Next are the non-cash benefits, like the cash equivalent of getting free review copies, press passes to events, etc. These are things that save me money, that I would otherwise have to spend, but of course, they don’t allow me to pay my bills or buy food.

Non-Cash Income

Review copy cash equivalent£570
Events attendance cash equivalent£110
Cash Equivalent Total£680
the nine Spiel des Jahres 2023 nominations and some other games
the nine Spiel des Jahres 2023 nominations and some other games

Looking Ahead

Tightening the Belt

So, after taking a sobering look at my outgoings and income, I think we can all see that there is a fair amount of money being invested. Given that belts need to be tied tighter, I simply cannot justify investing that much into the blog in 2024.

However, that doesn’t mean I will stop. I don’t think I’ll ever stop, to be honest. It does mean though that I have to reduce the amount of money I spend on games for review. That’s the biggest line item in my accounts and the easiest one to tackle.

Already in 2023, I have been sent a lot more free review copies than before. In 2024, I need to rely on this more. I also want to expand on having guest reviewers on the site. Already we’ve heard from Gavin Jones and Hope Thompson. It’s not quite as easy to find the right guest reviewers as it is to have someone write an opinion piece on the blog, but it’s certainly something I’m looking at more. So if you want to review a game on Tabletop Games Blog, please do get in touch and let’s talk.

If I am unable to fill the weekly review slot, then I will just have to cut back and only publish reviews when I can. I’d prefer to stick to the weekly schedule, but needs must. Let’s see how it goes. I’m quite hopeful at this stage, especially as there are still a number of games due to arrive that I have already paid for.

A Good Year Ahead

Other than that, I think 2024 will be another great year. I’m planning to attend the same two conventions, UK Games Expo and Berlin Con, again and also demo again for Asmodee. So, if you’re going, let me know. I’ve made more time for UK Games Expo, so hopefully, we can meet up and maybe even play a game together or two.

I also expect to play a lot of games again in 2024. I seem to have a good mix of playing with my games group online, with the neighbours in person and sometimes with the family. I am also trying to attend board game play events more and get even more playtime under my belt.

All in all, 2023 was great and 2024 will be even better. I hope to you see then. In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday season, relax, recharge and get ready for another year of fun and excitement.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music: “Stars” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Music: “Pleasure” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review:

Games nights – Tabletop Games Blog

Let’s kick off this group with a conversation about games nights. I am part of a four player group that has a private weekly session where we play various modern tabletop games, including Rising Sun, Clans of Caledonia, Near and Far, Star Realms, Hardback and even Fluxx. We’re looking forward to trying out the new 7th Continent soon. So do you have a games nights group yourself? What games do you play?

A new take on “Choose Your Own Adventure” books

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll probably have had a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, where you read a description of a situation, and then choose between a number of different options that take you to different sections of the book. If you make the right choices you will eventually get to the end and win – and if you die along the way, you can simply start again.

The most recent incarnation of this idea is “7th Continent”, which dispenses with the book. Instead you build a map as you choose between different actions and go from one place to the next, hopefully not getting injured along the way and making it safely to the end.

The game is a really exciting co-operative game, where you take turns to make decisions. The people in your group can decide to help you, or leave you to try things out yourself each turn. That way nobody is forced to do something they feel is the wrong choice in a given situation.

We played the game for the first time last night and it’s really great fun. The save function allows you to stop the game at pretty much any point and restart it another time, returning you to the same point in the game.

If you were a fan of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, you will probably love “7th Continent” – but please let me know what you think, if you’ve played the game yourself.

Here is a link to the game’s homepage: https://the7thcontinent.seriouspoulp.com/

How important is theme for tabletop games?

In my view, themes very often make or break a game. Even a game with the most amazing gameplay will be broken by a badly chosen theme. Of course, different people will like different themes. However, irrespective of what people like, blending theme and gameplay is vital to a game’s success – and here is why.

First of all, a good theme makes a game much more accessible. Abstract games like Chess and Go have very little theme at all, and for many people that makes them very hard to learn. Clans of Caledonia’s theme on the other hand makes decision taking feel very natural, because it is very clear what consequences each decision has. Terra Mystica’s theme on the other hand goes against the gameplay, and the game would be better as an abstract strategy game with only a minimal theme.

Secondly, a theme changes how entertaining and enjoyable a game is. Fluxx for example applies the same basic gameplay to different themes. The original Fluxx is great fun, but when you play Oz Fluxx or Pirate Fluxx, it feels like you are playing a completely different game that is more fun to play.

To further strengthen the power of a theme, it needs to be applied to the artwork and design of the game. Scythe’s miniatures for example really add to the theme and take you deeper into the game’s world. Realistic resources are another example, but whatever you do, it is important it doesn’t feel gimmicky.

So how important is theme for your game enjoyment? Do you have a favourite theme? What games do you think benefit from a good theme? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and get the conversation going.

Gateway games – Tabletop Games Blog

Most of us will have played traditional tabletop games, such as Monopoly, Game of Life, Yahtzee or Risk. However, what if you want to move towards more modern tabletop games? What games are there that introduce you to new game mechanics? What games are you gateway to this new world? There are definitely a number of “classics” that you will return time and again, even when you are a more experienced tabletop game player.

Carcassonne is one of them. It is an amazing, very easy to learn, yet varied tile laying game. Each time you draw and lay a tile, you extend a map with roads, towns, fields and other features. You can claim these features to gain points. There is plenty of randomness in the game to give people of all ages and experience a level playing field – but there is still enough room for some strategic thinking. The game has a number of expansions that will give you many hours of fun.

If you like games of bluffing and deduction, then Love Letter is probably a good fit. It is a card game where you try and finish with the highest card, while not revealing what card you have. Players take turns drawing and playing a card, slowly trading up, while at the same time trying to outmanoeuvre their opponents. It is suitable for players 8 years and up and very easy to transport, so ideal for holidays or even for a quick game in the restaurant while you wait for your food.

If you want to try a co-operative game, have a look at the Forbidden range of games, like Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert. They are games where all players work together against time to find treasures and escape. The games require everyone to help each other, or everyone will lose. It is great for players 8 years and up and very easy to learn.

There are many more gateway games, but the above are a good starting point. Have you got a good gateway game you want to recommend? Have you tried one of the above games? Let me know your thoughts and get the conversation going.

Chance or strategy – Tabletop Games Blog

All games are a mixture of chance and strategy – Yahtzee is virtually pure chance, while Chess is virtually pure strategy, and there is a whole range in between of course. Chance and strategy affect specific aspects of games.

The more chance there is in a game, the more variable it is – but at the same time it levels the playing field, giving players with varying skill and ability a more equal game experience. Yahtzee is the classic example of a chance game – each turn is completely reliant on the outcome of a dice throw, so every player has an equal chance of winning. There is only a very small amount of decision making involved.

A game with pure strategy means that players’ experience becomes vital. The more you play Chess, the better you get at it – and the more you play with people who are better than you, the more you learn. Strategy games require players of roughly equal experience, or the game becomes very frustrating and boring.

Modern tabletop games usually have a good mixture of chance and strategy. Even strategy heavy games, such as Rising Sun, have an element of chance – the shuffling of Political Mandates for example. Artifacts, Inc. is an example where chance plays a huge role, because you roll dice on each turn, but then there is a lot of strategy when you decide where to place your dice.

What do you prefer in a game? Chance or strategy? Do you have a favourite game which has a nice balance of both? Please reply to this conversation with your thoughts.