RPGFan is staunchly RPG-focused, for the most part. Sure, we dabble in adventure and roguelike titles, but we're otherwise faithful to our niche. On occasion, such as with our E3 awards, we make brief asides to non-RPG titles. This feature is no different. Here in the Bits 'N Pieces section of our Origins 2016 coverage, we talk about smaller titles loosely related to RPGs, such as the Tiny Epic games. In addition, we tackle stories that not only give a broader overview of where the board game hobby is going, such as entire companies geared towards accessories and gaming components, but also the struggles of blossoming developers. In this way, we find a common thread across mediums as independent developers in both forms of entertainment trudge through the same muck in hopes of discovering an elusive orchid. Enjoy!
by Luna Lee
In 2008, Cynthia and Chris Landon looked at their board game pieces and thought, "We can make this better." They embarked on designing their own customized meeples (those little person-shaped figurines that represent players in modern board games), sold some to interested parties, and thus, Meeple Source was born. Soon, their product line expanded to also include game component upgrades, premium resource pieces, hundreds of unique meeple characters, and board game accessories. Onlookers at the convention commented on using these stylized figurines for their Dungeons & Dragons characters, since classic characters such as wizards, elves, bards, etc. and monsters like minotaurs, mummies, and necromancers are available.
Even non-game related characters occasionally get turned into meeples, like the cute Totoro pieces above. If it were up to me, I'd love to be the "Totoro" or "Cat Bus" player instead of just "purple" or "green." Though Meeple Source labels most of their meeples for specific games, nothing stops players from buying a set of Grim Reaper meeples and proceeding to use it in every game.
Additionally, Meeple Source also produces resource and component upgrades that can apply to many different games, with tokens such as hearts, animals, meat, barrels, gold bars, stone, blood drops, bombs, and more. For Euro games that tend to place a lower emphasis on presentation, these upgrades can easily raise the aesthetics of a game to entice less enthused friends to try them out.
Though the prices are a little steep, the pieces are made of high quality, solid wood and painted consistently. Games that Meeple Source has upgrade kits or premium resources for include: Agricola, Bang! The Dice Game, Elder Sign, Dominant Species, Pandemic, Power Grid, Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Lords of Waterdeep, Robinson Crusoe, Dungeon Petz, and Tiny Epic Kingdom.
by Luna Lee
One of the biggest frustrations for any board game collector (I swear these games just multiply by themselves!) is the day one decides to sleeve their cards and realizes that the game no longer properly fits in its original box. Inserts are rendered useless and pieces no longer stay in place. It's a terrible situation for the obsessive-compulsive — myself included.
Enter: The Broken Token. Since 2013, The Broken Token has been working with various board game publishers to create licensed inserts for board games so that you can store everything, expansions included, into one tidy little box. Made of baltic birch, the wooden inserts are light but surprisingly durable, lending a pleasing aesthetic to an opened box. Some assembly is required, but it is generally simple and can be done by hand, though users can optionally use a soft mallet or other pounding device, glue (wood glue or white glue is ideal), sandpaper, a hobby knife, and tape (clear or masking) to step up their game.
Not only are inserts frequently designed for potential expansions, the designers also take gameplay into account. For instance, with Carcassonne, tiles can be shuffled and placed back in the insert to be held in place for drawing; while containers that hold components like abbots, towers, and wagons can be easily lifted out of the box and placed in a centralized location for players to access. No more "Oops I knocked the tile pile over" or "Oops I dropped a piece on the floor while emptying them onto the table during setup." For those who love seeing objects in their tidy and ordered spots, The Broken Token hits all the right notes.
Aside from inserts, The Broken Token also offers generic token trays, card cases, and accessories like dice towers and tabletop card holders. Popular games with designed inserts and cases include: 7 Wonders, A Game of Thrones, Ascension, Battlestar Galactica, Carcassonne, Castles of the Mad King Ludwig, Dead of Winter, Dominion, Flash Point, King of Tokyo, Lords of Waterdeep, Mage Knight, Magic: The Gathering, Marvel Legendary, Pandemic, Power Grid, Splendor, Thunderstone Advanced, and Zombicide.
BetaBotz is a frenetic, interactive bidding game in which players upgrade their robots over ten rounds while simultaneously completing missions. After auctioning for a base robot, parts are then bid on, followed by a mission round that requires certain stats. Players can partner up and play "code cards," which can buff or debuff oneself or others, affect the mission, or impact the game in some other way. This melding of mechanics from other games provides a fantastic entry-level experience that veteran gamers can appreciate — except it hasn't actually been published. Yet.
One of the primary draws of Origins is the opportunity for guests to demo prototypes and future releases. Independent developers from across the nation come here for a chance to boast their wares and ideas. With the advent of Kickstarter, dreams can easily become a reality, though having a good idea alone won't always get a game off the ground.
Lead designers Gargitt Au and Zack Connaughton have worked on BetaBotz over two and a half years, finely tuning the balance in order to create a satisfying experience that all can enjoy and appreciate. Veritably, this was our experience. Au shared that he's an engineer for Boeing, but his true passion lies in gaming. His story resonated with me as his hope and authenticity were apparent not only in how he talked about his game, but the evident frustration when he talked about funding. For Au, starting a gaming company is the long-term goal that begins with BetaBotz. While the design is clearly fine-tuned and expertly crafted in its simplicity, the production and art bear significant costs. He has one failed Kickstarter to date as he seeks $35k in funding, with the most recent Kickstarter ending just over $20k. With Gen Con, a much larger board gaming event in Indiana this August, on the horizon, Au hopes that additional exposure might earn his game the backing it deserves.
Admittedly, BetaBotz as a game doesn't have much to do with RPGFan, but Au's story and struggle are analogous to the challenges independent game developers everywhere face. His tale also accentuates the love people of all walks of life have for gaming and the impact community can have— the kind of community apparent throughout Origins as I heard tales of people who love the event just to meet up with old friends from across the country or even overseas. What's more, I was astonished by the devotion and support Au enjoyed as family and friends painstakingly spent hours every single day to spread the word about BetaBotz to attendees while also playing demos with passersby. With tales like Au's, the image of gamers sitting isolated in their basements will continue to fade. Origins is a place where dreams can come to fruition. If there's any justice in this world, so will Au's.
Gamelyn Games was named after its design style. According to its web site, "Gamelyn" can be defined as, "A knight of approachability. Creating Tiny Epic experiences one thought-provoking adventure at a [sic] time." After dabbling with Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Tiny Epic Galaxies, we agree in-part. Founded in 2012, they've launched three Tiny Epic games, Defenders being a cooperative adventure we did not have a chance to try. Presently, they have hopes of releasing Tiny Epic Western and Tiny Epic Quest soon.
We got a couple games of Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Galaxies in, and had mixed feelings. Kingdoms boasts no chance components as each game only differs based on one's starting fantasy race (several choices are available), and, of course, one's decisions. Overall, Kingdoms is all about victory points earned through using resources to progress one's abilities or infrastructure while simultaneously conquering lands, sometimes from opponents. Resource management based on types of terrain conquered is crucial not only in unlocking one's racial bonuses, but also combat. When invading another player, players secretly decide how much of their resources they're committing to the conflict before revealing the die, expending resources equaling the number, each carrying different values. This, combined with each race's humble abilities, is essentially the game. While not entirely impressed, the experience was truly "tiny" and a little bit "epic."
Enter Galaxies, a game emphasizing die rolls in an almost Yahtzee-esque approach to conquering planets and exploiting resources. Here, players can re-roll dice once and use resources to re-roll again. Unlike Kingdoms, the choices here are far more interesting as each planet in the pool boasts unique rewards that can drastically affect gameplay, though rarely blow the game wide open. Although rolling dice is heavy on the luck factor, most of the time players can use the dice for something, even if not to one's preference. Decision making feels meaningful and the thrill of seeing what planet comes out next adds a level of excitement not present in Kingdoms.
Based on our brief experiences with these titles, we feel that the size and intended duration of these games favors design with at least some luck, which may be why Kingdoms falters. We also have to note that Kingdoms is the first of the Tiny Epic series and the company's abilities should not be judged by this title alone.
The team we met at Origins seemed particularly excited about their upcoming Tiny Epic Quest, a game they describe as a nostalgic adventure into the old Nintendo era of The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. Controlling a small posse of elves, each player is trying to save the world. Gameplay takes place over day and night phases, each with its own role in the adventure. Day offers opportunities for acquiring quests, while night is when quests are attempted. Based on the game's description, this may involve a sort of "press your luck" mechanic based on equipment retrieved during the day phase. The winner is decided by victory points earned through slaying goblins, spells learned, and completed quests. Thematically, Tiny Epic Quest sounds starkly familiar to games of olde. The Kickstarter will launch on October 28, 2016.
We hope you've enjoyed reading our feature on Origins Game Fair and share our view that the meshing of mediums is a welcomed inevitability as video games and board games have so much to gain from one another. Although this certainly isn't the first year to suggest this trajectory, it's a powerful continuation of this pattern.