If you’re usually chasing after the latest and greatest, Origins is one of the premier events to attend every year. Here, I got my hands on some fantastic demos. While I’m rarely shy about doling out bad news when a video game doesn’t deliver, I’m going to remain positive here, as most of the demos are for games that are still being worked on or I only got my hands on for a few rounds.
Deal with the Devil
Released in 2022, Deal with the Devil is another one of Czech Games Edition’s latest works that makes a splash into the board game scene. CGE doesn’t put its brand behind just any game, which means Deal with the Devil has to be something special. Essentially, players are trying to collect victory points by collecting resources and constructing buildings. I know, I know. But in order to do this, players must trade with each other. In order to do that, they may have to make a deal with a secret devil hidden amongst the players, or perhaps a cultist ne’er-do-well by pawning off a piece of their soul.
So, what we have here is a resource management style game combined with hidden role. Four—and only four—players are required to play, which makes this unique in that most games beyond two players have a band of players that can sit at the table. With two mortals, a cultist, and a devil, the balance is likely crisp, and in our few rounds playing the game, we had a ton of fun sleuthing, deducing, or extracting soul fragments.
When players enter the trading phase, a sliding cardboard envelope with a chip inside determines, at random, which player gets your trade using a smartphone app. The offers typically contain resources—grain, brick, money, etc.—and at the top corner of the envelope lies the class of the mysterious player. See those devil horns? That means the juicy offer’s made by Beelzebub himself. You can strike it rich, and only for a shard of your soul.
Soul fragments enable players to stave off pesky members of the Inquisition who are after your hard-fought victory points. If you lack a soul, expect to get fleeced unless you can bribe them with riches or rare materials. Your soul also allows you to avoid a witch hunt. At a certain point in the game, players can vote on who they think lacks a soul. If two or more players guess you and you have a missing soul, it’s going to cost you; if you’ve maintained your soul, you gain rewards for being falsely accused.
In this way, finding out who the baddie at the table is gives the mortals an edge because they can keep the devil at bay. Unfortunately, the devil’s absolutely loaded and can claw their way back up if they’re found out. The whole affair had us laughing and carrying on. Out of all the games we demoed, this was the game we kept coming back to for theory crafting and recalling funny stories.
Wandering Towers is another game released in 2022 that we not only demoed, but I bought with my four-year-old daughter in mind. Published by Capstone Games, a company mostly known for their heavy Euro-style games, Wandering Towers boasts accessibility and an amusing gimmick with its components.
Designed for two to six players, everyone has wizards spread out in a ring of tiles. The goal is to get each of your wizards into the black castle. Pop a wizard in, and the castle moves. Thing is, the ring is littered with parts of a tower and empty spaces, and these towers can move. Every player draws three cards that can either move a wizard, the tower, or gives an option between the two. Each card has different values and sometimes lets you roll. When moving a tower, players can hide and cover up a wizard or group of wizards, depending on how many are standing in that one spot. Then, another player can move a tower on top of that tower. In theory, players can have a tower that is nine floors high. Don’t worry, that bottom wizard can be revealed with any tower card movement, as players can grab a tower from any floor and move that stack.
Another benefit to covering up other players’ wizards is that you fill a potion with mysterious power. Every player has three or four empty potions to start. Filled potions allow players to cast spells, which are bonus actions that can do all sorts of wacky effects from moving the castle forward to pulling a wizard out from a tower to the top of the tower.
Beer & Bread
Ever wanted to bake beer and brew bread? I haven’t, because I don’t think that’s how those things are done. Also, you’ll probably end up with zero victory points because Beer & Bread is all about sweet, delicious, never-fattening carbs. Mmm.
In this hot two-player game published in 2022, players have the opportunity to collect resources, play cards, and gain points by making beer or bread. The card play is the focus in Beer & Bread; each card has three essential uses: a recipe to make beer or bread, an income of resources for that round, or a special ability. During the growing season, players have several resources to draw from in the pool and must exchange their hand of cards with their opponent after both play a card out of it. During the off-season, resources greatly diminish and players don’t exchange hands.
My friend and I had a great time puzzling out when to use what card and how to use it for ourselves while trying to deny each other a benefit we appeared to need. With two-player games like this, a feeling of solitary play can sink in, but Beer & Bread seemed highly interactive as cards were exchanged so frequently, and my “friend” collected all the resources of a type I really needed in the off-season. That’s okay, though, because I wasn’t planning on winning, anyway.
Win or Die
I had the good fortune of speaking with Whales Entertainment president Hanshi Li, who helms a company looking to localize popular board games from China to the Western world. They had a sizeable hex-grid board with plastic standees that held cardboard units spread out on their table in the dealer’s hall. On the other side of the table, large cards stood with a picture of the unit and paragraphs of text explaining abilities. Clearly, we were witnessing an exercise in deep strategy.
Titles like Win or Die excite me because they’re already vetted in other parts of the world, and companies like Whales Entertainment are making them possible to play for those of us who don’t speak Chinese. Think of your favorite Japanese-only RPG that got translated into English. I wasn’t able to squeeze a release date or details beyond the prototype out of the president, but what was set before us looks promising and something any of our strategy RPG-enthusiast readers would enjoy.