At the end of twenty-seventeen, we published a three-part blog-thing looking at the games we had planned for twenty-eighteen. Writing a little blurb for each of these games was, I found, significantly easier than coming up with some kind of thesis about game design, coming up with a way to express that thesis, writing an introduction to lead me into it, realizing after two pages that I hadn't yet gotten to the topic at hand and so must either (a) come up with a new thesis that matches the new intro or (b) junk the intro and write a new one, look at the piece again in the morning and realize that it didn't really do what I wanted it to do and so I had better start over, and realizing with a sense of - well, not "dread", exactly, but certainly exasperated apprehension - that since I needed two of these blog-things a week that I would be going through this whole process again in about a day and a half. Crossing three of those posts off my list in one fell swoop, just telling you a little bit about each game? Yes, that did quite nicely, and I was looking forward to doing it again in December of twenty-eighteen.
But now it's January of twenty-nineteen (despite dates I've written on checks to the contrary) and I didn't actually get around to writing those blog-things. Part of it I think is that the grind of writing these blog-things twice a week has started to wear a little thin. It's not that writing about games twice a week is hard, necessarily, but I've also got rulebooks to write, games to design and test and develop, research to do, dinner to make, and a life to live - all things that, in the grand scheme of things, are more important to me than having a new blog-thing come out on Tuesdays and Fridays. Don't get me wrong, the blog-things are important in their way; writing about my process and trying to explain it helps me understand it in ways that I wouldn't otherwise, and I value the conversations that sometimes arise from them. It's just that I have a lot on my plate, and the blog-things sometimes feel like one scoop of mashed potatoes too many. I like mashed potatoes, but my stomach is only so big.
So, for a few months at least, I'm going to try scaling it back to once a week - releasing a new blog-thing every Friday. During this period, we'll re-run one of our older pieces every Tuesday, tagged "From the Archives". With 233 pieces posted since we started - 207 of which were written by your humble narrator - there's gotta be a fair number of them that are worth revisiting. Add the occasional guest post - like next Friday's interview with Robert DeLeskie about Wars of Marcus Aurelius - and the whole thing becomes a lot more manageable until I feel like revving it up again. So, that's the first big change for twenty-nineteen.
Having at least temporarily cut my workload in half, I wouldn't feel quite right splitting up my "here's what's coming this year" post into multiple parts - that'd be extra-lazy on my part - so instead we'll try to cover it in one fell swoop.
The first game we release this year will be The Heights of Alma, the second game in the Shot & Shell Battle Series, and one that was originally scheduled for a spring or summer 2018 release. What happened is that we had so many games in our production queue that we moved this design of mine off the schedule so that we could concentrate on making good to our commitments to other designers. My very first published game ever was 2012's magazine game Blood on the Alma, and so it was really interesting for me to revisit the topic a few dozen games later and to apply what I've learned over the last few years.
Heights of Alma isn't the only game we had planned on releasing in 2018 that got pushed back into the next year. One of our longest-gestating projects is Tim Taylor's At All Costs!, an eastern front counterpart to his unique WWI CDG To the Last Man!, put out by Nuts Publishing in 2013. Though many of the mechanisms will be familiar to TTLM veterans, this isn't just a straight port with a new map, but a unique experience purpose-built for the eastern front and the challenges unique to that theater. That being said, rules are provided so that players can "link" the two games and play them side-by-side.
Another game that's been a long time coming is Fred Manzo's solitaire science fiction extravaganza, Escape from Hades. The setting is a cylindrical space prison with artificial gravity. One mapsheet represents the exterior, and another the interior, with port-holes that take you from one map to the other, and each map's terrain "wrapping" around at the edges. Your troops are charged with breaking into the prison, rescuing a purloined princess, breaking out, and then leaving on your spaceship - all of course while dealing with enemy ground units, escaped psychopathic alien prisoners, fighter pilots, and the vagaries of fate. It's a big crazy adventure packed into one of our slender little boxes, and as you might expect, this kind of thing calls for art that really delivers on the theme. That's been the biggest delay; the number and quality of illustrations we need take money and time. Artist Wil Alambre and his team are using a clean and energetic style influenced by sci-fi illustrations of the 1930s and work is proceeding apace.
Besides Escape from Hades, we have three other solitaire games that we've committed to publishing this year. The first of these to be released will be Aurelian, Restorer of the World. This is in the same vein as Agricola and Charlemagne, and it occupies a sort of middle-ground between the two. Like Agricola, it's a very fast game - Aurelian ruled for only about five years - but like Charlemagne, your to-do list is fairly daunting and stretches across an empire. To further speed up play, the combat system has gone from "lots and lots of die rolls per combat" to "one roll per combat", but you still need to maintain and build-up your legions. Because you have more to do but less time to do it in, you're not going to achieve all your tasks, and so you must make hard choices and work with particular strategies in mind.
Speaking of Romans, Robert DeLeskie has a sequel to his popular Wars of Marcus Aurelius. This new design is Stilicho: Last of the Romans. The card angst that elevated WOMA from its States of Siege roots is very much in play here (I'd say it's even more angsty!) and there are more bells and whistles, making for a more complex and challenging experience.
And we're pleased to announced that Brad Smith - whose debut design NATO Air Commander was one of our biggest sellers last year - has a new solitaire air game. That Others May Live is about combat search and rescue operations during the Vietnam War. It's a very different take on the single resolution deck mechanic that powered NAC but every bit as nail-biting.
While many of our games seat one or two players only, there's nothing quite like getting a group of friends together. Two of our games on the docket seat three or more players.
Streets of Shadows, by designers Joseph Miranda and Roger Mason, takes place in German-occupied Paris. Each player represents a faction that can alternate resistance with collaboration, hedging their bets. At the end of the game, loyalty to either the resistance or the occupation will be rewarded depending on which of those sides have more cards in player hands - but of course you don't know what the other players have. It's an area control game with fascinating multiplayer dynamics.
Westphalia is one of my designs, a six-player (only!) negotiation game set during the last few years of the Thirty Years War. Each player has unique victory conditions they're trying to fulfill, and at the end of the game, the players who have met those conditions share in the victory, unless all six players have done it, in which case the game goes to scoring and only one of those players wins.
HEXES AND COUNTERS
We've already mentioned two games set in ancient Rome - Aurelian and Stilicho, for those keeping track - so this is as good a time as any to mention one more. Antony and Cleopatra is an operational-level game by John Theissen. Like his four previous designs for Hollandspiele, it takes a very streamlined approach to operational hex-and-counter wargaming, but instead of covering a few weeks of campaigning it covers three years of warfare. This provides a whole host of new challenges and decisions: how to supply your armies, whether to risk moving by sea, which provinces might be ripe for defection, what types of forces to raise and where to station them. I've enjoyed all of John's games, but for my money this is his best one yet.
It's also got a great map by Ilya Kudriashov. Speaking of Ilya, his PNP game Siege of Izmail won BGG's 2018 PNP wargame contest. We're pleased to announce here that we'll be publishing it.
Sean Chick's Horse & Musket series will see its first Annual released early this year. This is a book with twenty new scenarios from a variety of designers. Battles are taken from throughout the periods covered in the first three games, and uses components from all three.
On the boxed front, the next expansion for the series will be Horse & Matchlock, a "prologue" or "volume zero" that extends back into the seventeenth century. This will have new unit types appropriate for that era. And if luck is with us, we'll close out the year with Volume IV of the main series, Horse & Musket: Tides of Revolution.
Our Shields & Swords Ancients line, spun-off from our medieval series, will be launching with a game on hoplite warfare called With It Or On It. This is a set of six interesting battles from the Greco-Persian and Peloponnesian Wars. Individual units function very much as parts of a larger formation, and gaps in the line can be devastating. Like the Shields & Swords II games, this one takes a broad strokes approach, favoring speed and accessibility.
We'll either see a new game in the medieval line, or a second 2019 release for the Shot & Shell Battle Series (we covered the first, Heights of Alma, earlier), but probably not both - just depends on how much free time I have.
One more series we're proud to be launching is Brian Train's District Commander. These four diceless games for two players cover counter-insurgency operations in the twenty and twenty-first century. Our plan is to release the first two games (Maracas and Bin Dinh) in 2019, with the other two games seeing your table in 2020. Brian is one of our favorite designers - there's a reason why one of his designs got our very first hex number - so we're very pleased to be working with him on this project.
Table Battles will see its next expansion (Gettysburg) soon, and there will likely be one or two more before the year is out. And though I can't guarantee that it'll be released this year, Dinosaur Table Battles is very much a thing, and I am working on it.
BRAVE LITTLE BELGIUM
Here in a category all its own is Brave Little Belgium, the captivating chit-pull design from the dynamic duo of Ryan Heilman and Dave Shaw. Their passion for this project has been evident from the start, and that enthusiasm seems to have been infectious: there's a lot of buzz around this neat little WWI game.So, by my count, that's twenty games - which is pretty much what we aim to get out our digital doors in any given year. I can't guarantee that every one of these will be a 2019 release - some might get pushed into 2020 - but it's certainly enough to keep us out of trouble for the time being!