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Sunday, 17 May 2015

Periorbis - the Asteroid Mining Board Game


Alright, so you're anxiously waiting for Planetary Resources to go public so you can by stock and you're wondering when Deep Space Industries are going to jump on the social media bandwagon so you can get more of an asteroid mining fix. Yepp, been there done that. Doing that!

So of course, even though I wanted to avoid posting about Kickstarters for a bit, I simply can't resist telling you about Periorbis - a bonafide asteroid mining board game, by Gareth Newton-Williams! Originally it was actually called Asteroid Miner but had to change it as there was already a game with that name. A bit of a pity as I think a more straightforward name than Periorbis (although I actually like the name!) might attract a wider audience. Anyway...

Game content. Lots of stuff and very nice looking too!
It's an economic game where each player is head of a fledgling asteroid mining company and need to hire crew, prospect asteroids, negotiate contracts and then actually go to the big space rocks to bring home the bacon, or ore in this case. The different crew you hire are good at different things so while some might be better at actual mining, others are better off staying at the base researching better propulsion methods or overseeing the contract negotiations. It's a bit of a mix of worker placement, pick-up and deliver and economic engine building. When reading about it my first thought was "hmm, so kind of like Power Grid... in SPACE!" which is aweseme in pretty much every way possible!

Game board.
With that said it's certainly not a bleak clone or PG wannabe, but very much its own game. For those looking for that particular stand-out mechanic I'd say it's all about the asteroids and their different orbits. Above you have a picture of the Periorbis game board and as you can see the main element is the band of asteroids circling... the planet (as it's obviously not Earth). The orbits are separated by three distance (or delta-V if we want to be correct, and we do) bands and separated into 12 sectors. Each sector represent one turn of the game and you start at 1. The asteroids in the closest band in a sector represent the ones that are easiest to get to and are available with the starting technology. To get further out you need to research better propulsion. If you compare sector 1 and sector 2 you can see that things have switched around a bit - the teal asteroid that was further out is now closer in and the red one is nowhere to be seen at all! This really is a great way both to represent simplified yet relevant orbital mechanics AND to make a dynamic arena of fluctuating resources. I was impressed by what a simple solution Gareth used to create this both thematic and interesting mechanic.

The crew cards. Great hard sci-fi art and you can see the skill values at the bottom of the card.
I mentioned crew earlier and while you start with a few basic office drones you really want to try and nab some of the more skilled workers that are out there looking for job. This nicely ties into player order and the overall economics as they need to be payed each turn and the more skilled they are the more money they want. There's also the player board (below) where you house your workers (on the numberd spaces) and then send them to work in the different rooms like R&D and contract negotiation. That is, if you're not rocketing them around the solar system to a small lifeless boulder devoid of air and other pleasentries. Speaking of rockets, you use your crew as pilots to fly other crew (miners) around and then there are ore haulers that dock to the station where you're located and need to be filled up with ore in different configurations. Here's where the contract negotiations come in as you want a skilled negotiatior to get you a good deal and then be able to deliver the actual ore in as an effective way as possible. Yeah, you'll probably have to upgrade the cargo capacity of your mining ships so you can bring more or (and miners!) back. Lots to think about!

Player board.
I won't try and explain the entire game (I'll leave that to Rahdo, below), but I want to impress on you, my dear reader, that I think this is an impressive game not only because of the really great theme and evocative art but because of the actual mechanics! I come across kickstarters all the time that has great concepts and look beautiful but when you actually check under the hood it just seems to be a mess of cables and gears. Not so with Periorbis - this to me looks like a tight and very interesting economic game where competition is fierce and the scores great. If I came across this with the old euro setting of merchants in italy or farmers in medieval Germany I would STILL be all over it!

There's still a day and a half left to back, shipping to the US and within EU are included in the very reasonable price of £44/$66 for a copy of the game. Of course, it's also already funded but I'm sure some extra unlocked stretch goals wouldn't hurt!

I'll put Rahdo's runthrough and final thoughts here for your conveniance. Check out the run through if you want to know more of the actual mechanics, and the final thoughts if you just want to know what he thinks of the game.





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Thursday, 14 May 2015

Painted Undead for MYTH



I don't know if I mentioned this, but with the recent MYTH Journeyman kickstarter that I backed I felt that i needed to get a good solid base for the game and hunted down a Captain level pledge from the original kickstarter. So now I've got a bunch of models waiting to be painted! Isn't that a change of pace... hehe!

Shamblers and lair.
I decided to start with the undead as they are the easiest minions to deal with for the heroes and since I really like the look of the miniboss Yardu - the undead giant. The minions were given a very basic paintjob of white undercoat followed by a black wash. Some brown wash for details here and there as well as picking out some features in grey/white but, besides weapons, that was pretty much it - very quick! I was going to clean them up more after the first wash but came to like the dirty look so went with it. Lair got pretty much the same treatment. Love the sculpts for these guys as they're very characterful (which goes for most of the MYTH stuff though).

Nasty Soulless with their nasty magic attacks!
The Soulless took the longest since they have several different things going on with a number of different colours and techniques needed. I was thinking about going heavier with the OSL from the staff, but in the end decided against it since it would simply add too much time. Happy with the way they look now.

Yeah, I know... full frontal and then from a sliiiiight angle. Hehe!
Yardu was fun to paint and I decided to go with some simple non-metallic metal and actually make it look a bit shiny rather than the usual rusty armour you see on undead usually. It's clear from the quests that Yardu is not simply a necromancer's puppet but an entity with his own agency. The idea is to reflect this in his (relatively) well kept weapons and armour; I imagine him sitting in some cave somewhere, polishing his sword and oiling his armour, making plans for the coming day...

These guys were great fun to paint! I think it has a lot to do with the art style as everything has a cartoony yet gritty feel to it. The sculpts are solid and while the details ar there they're sparse enough to make painting quick and easy. I could probably bang out a dozen of these faster than a single Infinity miniature (sure, at a lower standard, but still).

Nex up will be one of each hero and the traps since those will see a lot of play. Then I'll get started with the arachnids as I'm looking forward to getting the Terror with 1000 Legs on the table! I also have the orcs undercoated and when they're done it's time for the Tailless.

Of course, I'll be mixing it up with some Infinity and soon, hopefully, Dropzone Commander.

The whole gang!

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Monday, 4 May 2015

May the Fourth Be With You!


Well, got to do something Star Warsy today, right? Here's my collection of Rebels ships for X-Wing. So far movie ships only, but I will be adding a YT-2400, an E-Wing and maybe a K-Wing or two later on.

Also, this picture really shows how glaringly obvious the clear flight stands are. I've been thinking about spraying them black for a while now which would make them blend in better with the space mat.

And I need to magnetize the other two B-Wings.
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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A First Look at Dropfleet Commander!




Hello there, dear readers! I've been a bit absent around here as my analogue life has been a little hectic. There are some The One Ring reviews waiting to be published, some Infinity mini impressions as well as a bunch of other stuff. As things wind down here and we're back in Sweden I'll hopefully soon be back up to speed.

However, right now I want to talk to you about something really exciting and that is the upcoming spaceship battle game from Hawk Wargames called Dropfleet Commander. Or at least that seems to have become the official title after only being an internet moniker. Hawk Wargames is of course the producer of the 10mm sci fi wargame Dropzone Commander and that they have a spaceship game in the works has been known for a long time. It's also been known that Andy Chambers is the main designer behind it and as I think that he's one of the few innovative designers coming out of GW (and actually making good games while actually working for them!) it certainly made me pay attention. The last game designed by Chambers that I have played is Dust Warfare which I enjoy quite a bit.

Until now the details have been fairly sparse - having battles taking place around gravity wells rather than in deep space and most of them being centered around actually landing all those troops you play with in the ground game. Still, not much talk of mechanics and even less about what the actual ships will look like. Well... with one exception of course. For a couple of years now a huge spaceship model in 10mm scale has accompanied Hawk Wargames to various conventions. I'm sure you've seen it. If not, below are some pics courtesy of the great guys over at Orbital Bombardment (check out their podcast if you're interested in DzC!). The Avenger is a New Orleans class strike carrier in Dropfleet Commander and we have been told it's one of the smaller ships in the game. Each of the blue hangars contain an UCM Condor ready to drop.





So yeah, it's big. And now we finally know what a couple of other ships will look like, as well as the Avenger in fleet scale. At Salute Hawk Wargames brought some UCM models for the upcoming game and talked a lot more about the scope of the game and some of its mechanics. First, let's have a better look at the modes. There's a nice picture at the top of the page and here you have individual shots of the ships:

This is a Beijing class battleship and according to Dave this is about as large, or at least long, any of the ships will be. Some (dreadought!) will be more massive, but they won't get into "silly territory". I'm reeeeally glad to hear Hawk are actively taking a stand against the oversized monstrosoties from Spartan Games. Of course, speaking of oversized... those guns... they grate on my optic nerve!


Berlin class cruiser (in the middle). You can see that it, and the bb, have some big fixed forward gun.
Moscow class heavy cruiser.

And here's the New Orleans strike carrier in a slightly smaller format. I like how different it looks from the larger ships as it is meant to actually enter atmosphere and offload ground forces. More streamlined to not immediately burn up.
Paris class cruiser.


Apart from those cartoon looking guns on the larger ships I think they look really good and have style all of their own. While not super hard sci fi, they have more of a realistic feel to them than most other spaceship  models out there (not counting the guns of course). So we have the small New Orleans Strike Carrier that  drop troops from orbit, two different cruisers and a battleship.

Now the real juicy bit as far as I'm concerned is not the models but that talk about the actual gameplay, which sounds very intriguing! Here's an interview with Dave and Andy Chambers where we finally get to hear what the game will actually play like.


If you don't have the time to watch, here's the tl;dw:
  • It's a completely new rules system and NOT a re-skin of Dropzone Commander (hear that Spartan Games?!).
  • It's an Orbital Combat Game - not a deep space combat game. It will take place above a planet and a ground combat zone the size of France or Spain.
  • You interact with the ground and actually drop troops into cities while ground and space defences try and stop you.
  • There are three levels of play; high orbit, low orbit and atmosphere. 
  • Things move slowly in atmosphere - "like moving through soup".
  • You don't win by destroying the opposing fleet but by dropping enough ground forces.
  • Avenger is frigate size and although one of the smaller ships in the game it's about the largest that can enter atmosphere. Larger ships burn up if their orbit decay.
  • Points wise, similar to Battlefleet Gothic but the smaller ships have a lot more damage points (instead of just one).
  • Weapons don't have a range value (or rather, they're all infinite) but ships have a Scan value (the example given by Dave is 9") and a signature value and it seems like you add these together to see if you can hit. Larger ships have larger signatures of course, and it also goes up when using lots of energy (firing weapons, changing vector). You can also ping enemy ships or try to run silent to not get detected.
  • Missiles can only be taken out by counter measures when entering within actual Scan range. This seem to imply that missiles will be actual counters a la Battleflett Gothic. Missiles can and will be taken out by countermeasures automatically when fired at long ranges, so they only work up close (inside your own scan range).
  • Andy pointed out that he didn't want to make yet another Age of Sails in space, like BFG, but something more modern with the emphasis on ECM vs ECCM rather than broadsides (I heard Andy took inspiration from the old naval wargame Harpoon when designing this).
  • As for visual design Dave wants to really tie it all together and there are many small details in regards to this. Take the point defence lasers at the rear of the Avenger. They're just little nobs on the DfC model but if you look at the large 10mm model you see that they're actually the same cannons as the Orbital Defence Laser you can buy as a scenario model for Dropzone Commander. Very cool!
  • There was some mention of campaign play, but no solid info.
  • Release aimed for late 2015/early 2016, but Dave said he don't want to rush it.
And some additional info from Andy Chambers' Facebook page (thanks jgcpalmer from the Hawk forums):
  • It will have slightly more ships per side than Battle Fleet Gothic.
  • If everything goes to plan, there will be demos going on at GenCon.
  • Internal testing is going on right now, but there will be some external testing too, and Andy Chambers will "send up a flare" when the time comes.
  • Someone asked, "will the game have carriers and actual fighter/bomber miniatures?" and Andy Chambers replied "Of course!"
And finally from Hawk Wargames newsletter #40, mostly confirming the above, but with a couple of bits of new info:
  • Dropfleet will be an Orbital Combat game in which the vast majority of your games will take place in orbit above a planet's surface. The game has been designed for this from the ground up by Andy Chambers and is an entirely new and unique ruleset.
  • A typical gaming table is 4'x4' and will show the surface of a planet rather than the more typical 'starfield' style space combat table. The area covered will be around the size of a large European country/US State.
  • Delivering your troops to targets on the surface will be crucial for victory and most missions will be tactical and objective focused. Space stations, static defences, ground troops, cities and other scenery play an integral part in the game.
  • Three altitude layers (High Orbit, Low Orbit and Atmosphere) are present in games and have various effects. Only certain ships (such as Strike Carriers) can go atmospheric and each layer has advantages and disadvantages in different tactical situations.
  • Weapons range is neither absolute nor fixed. It can change based on the power of your ship's scanners, the enemy ship's signature and the enemy's actions (firing several weapons greatly increases a ships signature for example). Stealth is frequently crucial!
  • A framework for linking games of Dropfleet and Dropzone will be present in the rulebook, opening up many exciting possibilities for campaigns and narrative settings. 
  • We still have a lot of work to do on fleet balancing and sculpting before release although the core ruleset itself is 90% complete. At this point we anticipate a release date around the end of this year/early next year as none of us want to rush this exciting and ground-breaking project! Stay tuned for more information and previews throughout this year.
  • The image at the top of this article gives you an idea of the size comparisons between the various ship classes. A typical tournament-sized fleet will be around twice this size. 

That's about all the info I've been able to find and to me pretty much all of it sounds spot on what I want from a spaceship combat game. Sure, the planetary invasion bit wasn't on my wishlist per se, but I was desperately craving something other than lining up two fleets in deep space with some asteroids and a nebula for cover and this is certainly different! It also gives the game 3D space in a fairly elegant way without it getting too complex for large fleets of ships. 

I think it sounds really cool and I know for sure now that I won't be investing in Star Wars Armada until I know more about Dropfleet Commander. The scan and signature bit alone made me squeal in delight as it is one of my favourite parts in Lightning Strike. To also have this game be constructed from the beginning to integrate with ground game has me thinking that I'll finally be able to play out those large campaigns that I used to dream about doing with BFG and Epic back in the day.

Overall, this has gone from "need to know more, because it might be cool" to "this sounds almost to good to be true, and the models are fantastic as well!" which means I need to get my friends into Dropzone to kind of make them ready for Dropfleet. Hehe!

When I know more about it I'll let you know.

Oh, and don't forget that Fire Broadside is on Facebook now too. That's where I post most of the small newsy stuff as soon as I see it.

UPDATE: Check out Brückenkopf Online for some really great pics of the ships (like the one below)!


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Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Kickstarter Roundup - When it Rains it Pours!

Although I've backed a number kickstarters I'm not the kind of guy to scour it for new projects and only check out stuff I come across during my usual journeys across the net. So the reason that I feel the need to make an entire post (a roundup even!) about kickstarter projects is simply because I've come across several really interesting looking ones that are all active right now. I'll simply list them in order of time left to pledge..


FAITH: The Sci-fi RPG - 20 HOURS to go (yes, hurry!), 115% funded, $69 sweetspot. So this is a narrative/story-now focused roleplaying game that you play entirely with cards! You don't even need a pen and paper for the character sheets as you can do all of that with the tokens provided. If you think this sounds like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd ed. (but "even worse"?) then you need to think again. It seems to me like this is a much more focused experience with the kind of collaborative storytelling that you see in FATE or any number of recent indie titles. While there are cards for things like gear and NPCs the ones you use to drive the game forward are more like a poker deck (in fact, you can use a regular poker deck if you want) where you play cards to raise the skill you're using. The setting is sci-fi but of the softer variety. Humans are all but extinct and there is an ongoing cold war between two alien races. Also, the art is beautiful! The setting sounds interesting enough, but is secondary for me though as I'm more interested in the system that seems fairly innovative. Apparently hacking is a big thing which is a plus in my book. Yeah... if it sounds like I don't know all the ins and outs of it that's because I literally discovered it an hour ago. Check out some of the preview videos and then decide for yourself. Only 21 hours left as I write this!

Above and Below - Storytelling Board Game - 14 days to go, 345% funded, $50 sweetspot. Next up we have the latest board game from designer Ryan Laukat - the man behind City of Iron, Eight Minute Empires, Empires of the Void and The Ancient World. So far I have only played Eight Minute Empires: Legends, which is a nice and quick 4X filler but I really would like to get my hands on City of Iron as it seems really cool. Anyway, Above and Below is a game of two parts where each player is trying to build the best village. Above ground you construct buildings and recruit more villagers (basically workers that you can place) and below ground you can go adventuring, which means the game suddenly turns into a choose-your-own-adventure style game like Agents of Smersh or Arabian Knights. It might sound odd, but it seems to go together really nice, and the resource management aspects of the Above game I think are meaty enough to keep a gamer like myself busy while still approachable enough to make my wife want to try it. And speaking of approachable - look at that art! All of Ryan's games look good but this is, in my opinion, his most beautiful and evocative yet. I guess you could argue it gets a little samey with most of the art simply being different style buildings but there's something about those brick houses and that cloudy sky that just gets me every time I look at it! Very Nausicaa/Laputa feel to it that's simply awesome!

MYTH: Journeyman - 18 days to go, 338% funded, $120 sweetspot. Yeah, so this is the only project in this list that has mountains of plastic. I've grown weary of most of the miniature games or miniature heavy board game kickstarters, but I will make an exception now and again. I didn't go for the original MYTH kickstarter back in 2012; I looked at one of the early playthrough videos and it simply didn't look fun at all. Of course, much later as I read about it more indepth I thought it sounded awesome and when I actually got to play it had lots of fun! Yes, the original rulebook wasn't very good (but evocative) and there's been a lot of drama on BGG and other places. However, it is a really cool dungeon crawler that is very different from all Descent clones out there and I think it might become a corner stone in my game collection. So even though I've still to get the base game I'm looking at this new expansion kickstarter and thinking that I really shouldn't miss it! It comes with the new Journeyman cards for all the heroes which will allow you to level them up to become stronger - either as light or dark heroes. There's also new monsters, new items and new quests. In fact a large part of the quest system has been reworked so that you can, if you want, play MYTH with much more structure with pre-determined quests etc. While this is good to have the whole free form thing is what attracted me to the game in the first place! As I'm typing this the $120 level is a good deal, but not a super deal but it hasn't even been two days and I imagine this might get a little crazy toward the end, just like MYTH and MERCS: Recon did. Megacon has also done a lot to try and fix many of the "bugs" in the original game, with a completely new rulebook and new hero, item and quest cards as well as a new set of trap cards with new rules for traps. If you liked the idea of MYTH but thought there were too many bugs, give it another look now.

Far Space Foundry - 22 days to go, 56% funded, $39 sweetspot. This is the only game in the list which isn't funded yet, but don't let that stop you! As is often the case when I discover new board games, I found Far Space Foundry through its excellent art deco art style and I as I read more about it I was happy to see that it seemed to be a really cool game as well. It's a game about resource management, logistics and efficiency where you collect your resources during the first half of the game which you then use to turn into different products in the second half of the game which will net you points. The main mechanic is the roundel on Space Foundry Alpha that is mining the resources where you need to dock your shuttle to bring the resources to your warehouse. You use pilots to dock to the roundel and depending on where you dock you get different special abilities. After a set number of turns you take the resources you've managed to collect in your freighters and go Space Foundry Beta which has a different roundel and this time you need to bring the resources onboard to build stuff like mechs and space suits that the empire has use for. At the end you get points for the stuff you produce and actually fit into your freighters. No points for stuff produced but left behind! So it's kind of worker placement-ish, but with great emphasis on logistics and how to most efficiently get what you need while not wasting resources that won't fit in your freighter, or have a freighter with leftover space in its hold. There's just something about these kinds of games that fascinate me (I'm dying to get to play Panamax for example) and as it happens the theme and art also really appeal to me. For a measly $39 I definitely think it's worth checking out!

Blades in the Dark - 29 days to go, 799% funded, $20 sweetspot. I'll end the list as it began - with a roleplaying game. I came across this in my G+ feed and became immediately intrigued! The core concept of the game is that you play as a band of scoundrels at the very bottom of the criminal strata and you're trying to work yourself to the top. The default setting is industrial fantasy, so there are ghosts and magic and demons but instead of your typical medieval fantasy it's set during the industrial revolution. Computer games like Dishonoured or Sunless Sea/Fallen London are good examples of industrial fantasy I'd say, which shouldn't be confused with steampunk. However, the game is meant to be very hackable and there are alternative settings included as stretch goals - one as a more traditional dark fantasy setting and one French colonial/Heart of Darkness type setting and I'm sure there will be more coming (a cyperpunk setting has been hinted at as well). The game is also meant to be playable with very little preparation and the focus is on scores or heists but with all the planning (that can take aaaaages if you have players in your group that are anything like mine) handled very quickly to immediately get to the action. Players can later use flashback sequences to the actual planning if they want to expand on how to to something during the actual score. The system is hinged around the concept of desperate, risky and controlled actions which can all lead to different outcomes that are a lot more interesting than the binary pass/fail. It looks like a lot of fun, and when it's this cheap it's hard to pass up!


And those are the projects I'm looking at right now! I won't be backing all of them as I simply don't have the budget for it, unfortunately. But I really think they all seem like great games and certainly deserve to be produced and played. The ones I don't back now will definitely find their way into my collection when they hit retail. 

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Friday, 6 March 2015

Phil Eklund Interview - Upcoming Game Releases!

Do I have a treat for you today my friends! As any long time reader of Fire Broadside knows I'm a great fan of the works of Phil Eklund, head of Sierra Madre Games and designer of games extraordinarie. I have written an extensive review of High Frontier with accompanying play reports as well as thoughts on Bios: Megafauna and Pax Porfiriana (and there's more to come!), so when SMG announced a very juicy looking list of upcoming releases on Facebook I decided to do a quick interview with Phil to see what we have to look forward to.

Well, it was meant to be a quick interview, but it ended up a little longer than anticipated. Here we go...

Fire Broadside: Even though I'm sure most of my readers know very well who you are, could you tell us about yourself and what you do?

Phil Eklund: For 35 years I was a rocket scientist at Hughes Aircraft in Arizona (actually only an aerospace engineer, but "rocket scientist" sounds so much cooler).  For almost as long, I have been producing boardgames; the first was an early hexmap version of High Frontier in 1978. There seemed so much unexploited gamespace between "wargame simulations" and "amusing euro abstractions", gamespace for cool simulations that emphasized the important parts of reality. This led to a series of games that broke processes down to their fundamentals, applicable to a wide range of different topics.  In other words, applying scientific induction to games, like Newton did when he integrated the motion of the moon with that of a falling apple.  For the last three years, I have retired from the rocket factory and have been working on games full time in Germany.



FB: A month ago Sierra Madre Games announced three confirmed 2015 releases and a number of possible releases. Lets start with the confirmed releases first. Neanderthal is a prequel of sorts to Greenland and they share many of the same mechanics. In which areas do Neanderthal differ from Greenland and how do the two games connect?

PE: Neanderthal ends just about where Greenland begins, with all three players as polytheistic tribes.  Many of the things Greenlanders take for granted - starting daughters and their survival skills, a starting "alpha" hunter, a starting council of 6 elders, monogamy and marriage, fire and fire starting, spears and projectiles, boats and sleds, speech and negotiations - have to be earned in Neanderthal. Therefore players can add up their points accumulated in Ice Age Europe, and practically plunk their achievements into the equally frozen island of Greenland, and continue playing for more points.

Because Neanderthal deals with the very roots of humanity, at the brief period when culture was invented, it can investigate wildly different sexual strategies.  Some will be startled to see concepts such as wanderlust, promiscuity, homosexuality, and rape introduced in the context of survival over many generations, which has never been done in a game before. Also novel are the origins of endearments, jokes, swear words, and anthropomorphisms, following my theory that the words least explicable today are the ones most likely primal to our cognitive fluidity.  Other concepts not found in Greenland are neolexia (i.e. words for thinking vs. for speaking), mental portals (i.e. cognitive fluidity), dependents, maturity, gathering, and preconditional tools.  Disks represent your vocabulary in Neanderthal, and are handled in a very different way than disks in Greenland. If your hunters bring down big game, they may have to face ferocious predators intent on stealing the kill. A final practical difference, since Neanderthal has no re-rolling, so the turns go faster. 



FB: As for the 2nd edition of Greenland - are there any major changes to it or is it mainly meant to update the rulebook to the latest iteration and correct misprinted cards?

PE: There are no major differences in the second edition.  But the following novelties are possible, pending forthcoming price estimates: rules errata, plastic figurines for the alpha hunters, enlarged placards for the elder tracking, more dice, and three additional cards.  Finally I have hired a talented French graphics designer who studied in Japan, so the cards and placards should have a dramatically different look.


FB: You usually handle the graphic design yourself for your games. How did the decision to it differently this time come about? Should we expect future titles to get this treatment as well?

PE: I was impressed by the minimalist depth the artist, Karim Chakroun, was able to impart to the layout of the cards and placards. His icon designs and incorporation results in cards that are far less cluttered, a completely different style that captures the essence without the detail.  But some like immersive detail, and the flavor text will remain. If the feedback in Neanderthal and Greenland is good, then I will let Karim design all my cards. 


FB: That will be very interesting to see! Karim is of course the talented artist behind games like Alien Frontiers, Space Cadets and Factory Fun, among others.
Now, Pax Pamir is the first of your games where another designer has used your mechanics to make his own game. Have you been involved in the design process or has Cole Wehrle worked mostly by himself?

PE: Cole is the designer, and I am the developer.  My son Matt broke the second major version of the game in playtesting, but Cole and I have undergone a major design revision that I pin high hopes on. Especially exciting is Cole's new ideas in spy deployments, counter-espionage, movement, and disinformation, which are more comprehensive than their treatment in other Pax games.


FB: I personally enjoy seeing different designers' take on a core mechanic, like with the COIN series from GMT for example. Do you think we'll see more of this coming from Sierra Madre Games in the future?

PE: Standard mechanics perhaps, but standard concepts certainly.  The 12-card Market mechanic has become a staple for both the Bios and the Pax series,  and the latter series will feature versions of the topples, regime-based victory, tableau-activated actions, and the division between makers and takers. Standards for the Origins series (including Greenland and Neanderthal) are elders and elder actions as the basis of value, intermarriage as the standard in player interaction, and a brain map to track lingual rearrangements according to the best theories of the origins of consciousness. Politically, I have used the concept of a BSU (basal societal unit) for games as disparate as Origins and High Frontier.  The BSU is the basic collective for which rights are defined and defended in a society. 

Notice that I use universals a lot in my games, such that games on totally different subjects use the same objective concepts. One of the biggest advantages of games and gaming as a media of knowledge is that they are inherently immune to the new orthodoxies that all knowledge is subjective, and we all live in our own "reality" that is "socially constructed". The reason that games are immune to such deconstruction is simple: games can only be enjoyed if everyone plays by the same set of objective rules. If the rules are objective enough, you can discover something of the universe for yourself.  This flies in the face of academia today, with its disparagement of facts in history, its treatment of reality as plastic and the fashions of the time as better than the evolved understandings produced by experience and validated by the assent of successive generations. 


FB: Alright, some quick questions about the possible releases. Play testing for High Frontier 3rd edition is well underway and I know a lot of people who will be very happy to see it in print again. What are the main additions or changes that might be interesting for owners of previous editions?

PE: What existing owners of High Frontier will be most interested in are the 34 new cards. This includes new robonaut, thruster, refinery, reactor, generator, radiator, freighter, and gigawatt thruster cards, as well as cards used to indicate ventures and glory, and alternate crew cards provided for all factions. There are not so many rules changes or extra rules, but there are some new stuff: the Rocket Diagram is replaced by a Fuel Strip allowing fungible fuel tanks and the carrying of different fuel grades. The Lander Fuel Penalty is replaced by lander burns. Triangle burns are eliminated. Water Theft is replaced as a felony by Hijacking. Powersats and Push Factories only push thrusters with the push icon. The cost of multiple operations has changed. Ending the game has changed.


The current version of the playmat in Vassal. A little clearer looking with better tracking options for multiple crafts (rocket/Bernal) and type of fuel (isotope/water/dirt). 

FB: So there are quite a few new features in the third edition. The new fuel strip certainly looks a lot less intimidating than the current diagram. Will there be an option for current 1st and 2nd edition owners to buy some kind of upgrade kit?

PE: That is supposed to be a stretch goal in the High Frontier kickstarter campaign that is scheduled to be launched by Jon Compton of One Small Step in June. 


FB: High Frontier Lite raised quite a lot of eyebrows in my neck of the woods and there has been a lot of speculation on what it might look like. I'm guessing some kind of stripped down version of the basic game. Or is it something completely different?

PE: The idea here is to publish a version of High Frontier using a map designed by rocketeer Dr. Bob Zubrin.  Actually two maps, a geocentric one (for WWIII in space) and a heliocentric one.  This hybrid game, to be included in Bob Zubrin's Space, will be called "Space the High Frontier".  It will use the movement rules, operations rules, patent cards, and fuel tracking from High Frontier (basic game, 3rd edition) while moving on the heliocentric map. 


FB: Will the cards and pieces necessary for this game be included in the Space game box or do you use the ones from your HF3 game?

PE: Space will be its own game, with its own pieces.  However, for the hybrid game "Space the High Frontier", you will need both Space and HF3 to play. And it will get published only if the kickstarter campaign is successful.


FB: I see. This leads us neatly into my next question. Last year we learned that Sierra Madre Games will be publishing Robert Zubrin's game Space. While it is a different game from High Frontier it shares the philosophy of providing a game where the physics are represented as correctly as possible. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

PE: This game, designed by the legendary head of the Mars Society, is rather more abstract than my own designs.  It is a bit like chess in space, and includes only a couple of pages of rules. It should be quite accessible to youths, who might be tempted to taking a step farther out with Space the High Frontier, aka High Frontier Lite.  


FB: Yes, Robert Zubrin is of course the man behind the Mars Direct plan (that I have successfully replicated in High Frontier!) and also an aerospace engineer.  Speaking of Mars Direct - I just have to take this opportunity to ask even though it's not board game related - what's your thought on its feasibility? I've read The Case for Mars and it all sounds great, but as a layman I don't really have the knowledge to judge it on its engineering merits.

PE: I  agree with Bob that Mars Direct is the engineer's way to Mars, and really the only way to get there at the moment.  But we bicker on whether Mars is a worthy destination or just another "one small step".  The premise in High Frontier is that space will be opened up not because of living space or resources, but because of a return on investment in space-processing and manufacturing, using conditions unique to space. Conditions not available dirtside at the bottom of another steep gravity well.


FB: Moving on to Pax Porfiriana. We've seen images of the Collector's Edition on bgg. There's a nice big fold out board included, what else might us Pax enthusiasts look forward to? And do you have a rough price point?

PE: I don't have a cost estimate yet for the English Pax Porfiriana Collector's Edition.  It will have a board, and a much bigger box. The rules will be far prettier, but the contents for the rules and cards will be about the same. I should have the English edition available at Booth 3P-100 in Spielmesse Essen, October 2015.

The board included in the Pax Porfiriana Collector's Edition is currently planned to include an optional board for Pax Pamir printed on its other side.  If so, then owners of either Pax Porfiriana or Pax Pamir can order just the map as an upgrade to both games. That is the plan, anyway. 


Render of Pax Porfiriana Collector's Edition prototype (of course, things might change between now and publication).

FB: Pax Porfiriana was a big hit and there has been murmurings of a sequal ever since it was released. Now of course we have Pax Pamir coming out soon, but you have also been working on your own game - Pax Renaissance. I remember you mentioning that you scrapped one iteration of the game last year and shifted focus to Greenland. How has it progressed since then?

PE: Pax Renaissance has been launched with playtesters twice since then, and both times failed.  My co-designer and chief playtester (and son) Matthew is the chief game-breaker here. This is to be expected for an ambitious project, and we are testing similar concepts with Pax Pamir, which deals with many of the same problems - e.g. integrating a map with a tableau, market refreshing, closed economic systems, providing enough information for players to understand the game status enough to launch strategies and campaigns, and navigating the shadow world of intelligence.  If Pax Pamir is successful, I will copy these concepts onto the bigger project Pax Renaissance. There are still big problems: how to incorporate polymaths, religion, renaissance zones, classes of society, the rise of capital in the overthrow of medievalism, bank loans, trade routes, and printing presses.


FB: Finally, not related to the new releases but I have to ask anyway, any news on BIOS: Genesis/Earth?

PE: Following the failure of the first prototype, I have been accumulating data for a new prototype launch. Such as the 5 thresholds for replication according to Richard Dawkins. Not this year, unfortunately. 


FB: Thanks for joining me here on Fire Broadside, Phil! I know I'm not alone in looking forward to the new releases.

PE: Thanks Martin.


So there you have it boys and girls, some solid info on upcoming releases from the man himself! Now go and re-read those books on rocketry, the Pleistocene and Afghanistan colonial history and I'm sure you'll be well prepared for what's to come...

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