BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.


On Playtesting: Small Steps, Giant Leaps


Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Sun Tzu

How does change happen? That’s the question that’s been occupying me, in amongst the many recent playtests of my and other designers’ games. The initial creative spark is remarkable enough, but no game arrives fully formed, and so all games once created go through a process of change. Playtesting is the method we rely on to both initiate and validate those changes, and it is the very blackest of arts.

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Europa Ludi 2012

Europa Ludi

A few days ago I included information about the forthcoming Europa Ludi contest in a list of five international board game design contests — little did I know that I was preempting the announcement by a matter of hours!

Details of how to enter, and information about its schedule for 2012, are being posted on the new Europa Ludi website. So far the information is only in French, Spanish and Catalan, but Matthieu Nicolas, the Europa Ludi contest manager, has confirmed that the English and German information will be posted in the next day or two.

If you are a budding game designer and would like to enter, you need to be quick: Submissions must be received by 15th February.

Good luck to any and all entrants, and also to the organizers during the inaugural year of the contest. The Boulogne-Billancourt and Granollers contests have both had a successful history, and surely now have a bright new future together — and a rather fine logo, to boot!


Announcing ‘Divinare’ — Coming Soon from Asmodee!

In which I can finally, with great excitement and not a little pride, take the wraps off ‘Divinare’ — the new name for my game Oracle Pathway!

Divinare from Asmodee

Yesterday, Asmodee made the first public announcement of the game by featuring it in their 2012 schedule, and included this not-quite-100%-final-just-yet box artwork. I have been bursting to share more about the game with the world for months, and now I can!

Divinare — Latin for “to foresee” — features the most wonderful and evocative artwork by French illustrator Benjamin Carré and is set in Victorian London at the very end of the 19th Century. Players test their predictive powers of chiromancy, crystallomancy, tasseomancy and astromancy, and take the part of one of four colourful characters to compete in the illustrious ‘International Contest of Mediums’.


The Designer’s Diary: International Board Game Design Contests

In which, primarily for my own reference, I collate the details of five board game design contests that are all open to international submissions. If you know of any other regular contests that I’ve missed, do let me know!


Europa Ludi (France/Spain)

Europa Ludi has been newly formed in 2012, and combines the existing Boulonge-Billancourt and Granollers contests. The schedule for this year’s contest has not yet been announced.

Hippodice (Germany)

The 2012 contest is already underway, and the winners will be announced in March. Submissions for the 2012 contest were made in November 2011, with shortlisted prototypes requested in December.

2013 contest details
Deadline for submissions: November 2012
Winners announced: March 2013

Premio Archimede (Italy)

The Premio Archimede contest is run every two years by studiogiochi in Venice.

2012 contest details
Deadline for submissions: May 31st 2012
Winners announced: September 29th 2013

Lucca Comics and Games: Gioco Inedito (Italy)

The contest is only for card games, and each year the contest organizers choose a theme, with is typically only a few words. For example, the themes for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 contests were ‘Nessun Dorma’, ‘15 Minutes’ and ‘Jungle!’.

2012 contest details (not yet confirmed)
Deadline for submissions: July 2012
Winners announced: October 2013

Ludopolis (Portugal)

The contest is being run for the first time in 2012 as part of the Ludopolis games festival held in Lisbon in June. Deadline for submissions has already passed and this year’s winners will be announced in June.

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Gaming Bits and Pieces: Happy 2012!

Things have, I admit, been a bit quiet here at BrettSpiel Towers of late. But worry not, dear readers! There has been lots going on — I’ve simply been neglecting to write about any of it. So, what’s new?

Oracle Pathway: Le chat est sorti du sac

The Big News is that Oracle Pathway is coming, and it’s coming fast! I can’t tell you (yet) what it’s going to be called or very much about the theme, but I can tell you that Asmodee are doing a top-notch job. The publishing contract was only signed last September, but since then the team at Asmodee have been working flat-out to get the game ready to show at Nürmberg in just a couple of week’s time. And, as a way of teasing out the big reveal, Asmodee have so far published two ‘behind the scenes’ articles (in French) documenting their development of the game. Your French may be better than mine, but if not then you can at least enjoy Google’s entertainly odd interpretations…

There is some information in these articles about the exciting thematic direction Asmodee have taken, but the main visuals are all of my original prototype. (The only clue to the new look is the little ‘eye’ graphic connected with the second article.) I have seen all the key component artwork and, just this week, the first sketches of the cover artwork; I hope to be able to share some of this soon. I just need clearance from Asmodee HQ!

’Twas the season to be gaming!

Just in time for Christmas I took delivery of a big shipment of lovely new games, which represented part of my spoils from last year’s Concurs Ciutat de Granollers de creació de jocs — the very contest that put Oracle Pathway on its path to publication. While I was away with my family I was able to try out some of the new games, which meant repeated plays of HeckMeck Barbecue, Zooloretto Mini, Level X and The Spiecherstadt — plus our first experience of the curious delight of Geistesblitz. In the New Year I also picked up a cheap copy of Fast Flowing Forest Fellers (thank you: The Works!), so my collection continues to grow. Alarmingly.

The Speicherstadt, Level X, Geistesblitz, Heckmeck Barbecue, Zooloretto Mini, Fast Flowing Forest Fellers

I was pleased with all my new games, and although switching from the regular HeckMeck mindset to the new demands of Barbecue was a little jarring at first, the game certainly grew on us. The components are wonderful and the gameplay rather more subtle than it at-first appears — the cunning Doktor does it again!

Zooloretto Mini was a hit, but I am now curious to try the original. There was quite enough game for us in the Mini version — does the bigger box really deliver anything more? Level X played less well with the others, although I rather enjoyed it’s simple brand of combinatorial dice-based tactics. 

The Spiecherstadt was a step up from the other games, but went down surprisingly well with my mother and sister, with whom Pickomino has gotten the most plays in the past couple of years. I wasn’t sure the little Stefan Feld brain-burner was really going to hit the spot, but they were both up for the challenge and more than capable. (I, with all my gamer sensibilities, floundered about and lost both times.)

Geistesblitz was a lot of fun, although somewhat bewildering at first — I would love to see how kids play this one, since I think we were all a little too sober and cautious. And Fast Flowing Forest Fellers delivered a suitably speedy race game, with plenty of good-natured but ungentlemanly pushing and shoving thrown in.

Saturday 7th January: Gaming at the Grad Pad

The monthly board game meet in Cambridge’s well-appointed University Centre (do come along on the first Saturday of each month if you fancy it!) was another great opportunity to play games old and new. I avoided getting pulled into anything too heavy, and instead stuck to lighter fare: Carcassonne: Hunters and Gathers, 7 Wonders (including Leaders), Dixit and a furious round of Bohnanza to finish.

Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, 7 Wonders, 7 Wonders: Leaders, Dixit, Bohnanza

Given all my Carcassonne experience I was expecting great things, but in our 4-player match, I came last (albeit by a slim 6 points). And, just to compound my defeat, all three of my competitors managed joint first!

I did rather better in our 6-player 7 Wonders match, pulling off a rather stunning, although highly unexpected, win. I’m no 7 Wonders aficionado, having only one previous play to my name, but I was lucky that my Leaders gave me a hint at a strategy which, largely thanks to my demilitarized neighbours, paid off handsomely. I do really like both the base game, and the clever way that the Leaders expansion has been slotted oh-so-neatly into it, but the fact that in a 6-player game I only really ‘played’ with my immediate neighbours, and even then tangentially, is curious. Games that can scale to 7 players are good news for gamers, but I’d rather see them deliver more of a genuinely communal experience.

I’d always wanted to try Dixit, and now that I have I can say that it certainly deserves its success. Because of its openness and creativity, it’s a game that will adapt to almost any group, and the tension and interest created by its scoring design does an excellent job of keeping all the players involved in every round. And it has small wooden bunnies, so what’s not to like?

Bohnanza is another very well-known game that I have played only a few times, and then only with adults. Playing a 4-player game with two experienced under-10s was, in contrast, a delightful revelation. Their own approach to the subtle art of negotiation turned the game into something more akin to the raucous brawl of Pit — and the game was quite the better for it! There was no chance to carefully consider other player’s positions; no time to deliberate on the mathematical consequences of any particular trade. I simply had to brave the storm, knuckle down, up my game, and learn to play by their rules.

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