When I checked in to get my wristband for 2019’s BostonFIG Fest the guy at the table astutely observed that I probably wanted directions to the board game area. I’m telling you, this sweatshirt I have with “BOARD GAMES” emblazoned on the front is a game-changer. It’s like thematic clothing.
I’ve never actually been to the digital game part of BostonFIG, not because I don’t play digital games (I definitely do!) but because both this year and last I’ve found my time absorbed by the tabletop area. I was systematic about going through each aisle, but there were still games I saw people talking about on twitter that I don’t remember seeing. It’s not a huge convention, and it’s singularly focused on people demoing games, but it’s a fantastic snapshot of what small and independent publishers and designers are working on in the New England area.
Overall I found the selection of games to be far more diverse this year than last. I became fatigued in 2018 by the sheer number of frivolous party games and MtG-aspiring 2p card games. This year I jumped from a cooperative tile-laying game to an innovative 2p card game to a light area control euro back to back to back. I even demoed a couple of games that were genuinely heavy. Let’s look at the highlights, otherwise known as the games I remembered to take pictures of and/or jot down some notes about:
I apparently didn’t get a picture of this one, but imagine a cooperative space Carcassonne where you’re trying to chart a path through the cosmos while being chased by some kind of entity. It’s about puzzling out in what order to place your tiles with a bit of push-your-luck. I didn’t get a full demo, but the brief explanation I did get made Space Chase sound intriguing.
This was my game of the event, as it takes a design idea I’ve been toying with in my mind and turns it into a sleek, unique card duel. The idea is that you’re playing as psychic fighters, which manifests itself in the game by the fact that you play cards in reverse order. The opening play will be the last punch thrown in the fight–if you can survive that long.
This game is still in a fairly early state (there was a sign at the booth indicating that they’re looking for artists), and even with a scripted opening set up by the designer, I was immediately hooked. More than a gimmick, the backwards play makes sense and requires you to adjust the way you think about this kind of game. Any kind of fighting game is going to have to deal with the issue of snowballing. Despite what you see in movies, most fights in real life go to the person with the early advantage. Violence is quick and disorienting; land the first punch and you’re more likely to land the second.
A game like Exceed dispenses with all efforts at realism, instead simulating the long matches of fighting video games. Fight Sequence splits the difference in terms of realism, but also doesn’t really care about snowballing because the first part of the fight is the last play.
It also uses a “speed” system to simulate quick back and forth flurries of activity. Every attack, in play, has to be followed by a quicker attack or a defensive move. So in your developing card-timeline on the table you’ll often have a few attacks in a row before someone is forced to retreat or regroup. The level of thematic integration here is subtle and fantastic. Someone do the art for this thing, get some unique fighters and perhaps some deck customization, and let’s get this in the market!
Here’s another one close to being ready for prime time. Immateria is a smart looking abstract game with four different types of pieces, each powerful in their own way. On your turn you’ll either place a piece or activate one already on the table, trying to capture your opponent’s “king” (though it’s given another name here) or push it off the table.
In my game my opponent and I started by clogging up the center lane with pieces, as two of the abilities deal with linear movement. It was a series of powerful moves, but ones easily countered. After that we had to think a bit, incorporating the second dimension, trying to lay traps for the other person to fall into. Immateria has a classic look to it, and while the design seemed a bit fragile (potentially solvable?) that’s a gut instinct based on little actual experience with abstract games. Trying to find moves my opponent couldn’t immediately counter with symmetrical play was a fun puzzle, and I can see two people having a good time leaning into this one.
Far from the austere academic feel of Immateria is Burned, a zany sand timer, dice rolling fit of insanity where everyone is trying to work a kitchen line without burning anything. It’s simple as can be, with cards in the center of the table indicating what “dishes” are available to cook, and only the speed at which you can roll dice in your way. As soon as you roll the right set of numbers, yahtzee-style, you grab the card and slap a sand timer on it. If the timer runs out and an opponent grabs it before you do, you lose points.
You’re also racing to get the high-point cards from the center before someone else snatches them. In a game where you want to keep your head down and get those dice rolled, it pays to keep an eye open to what the rest of the table is doing. There are some cards that provide upgrades, like more dice or faster sand timers, but not enough to overcomplicate. The only problem I had was with my own clumsiness as I had to hunt down no fewer than three dice from underneath the table after my match.
Mechanica is the most polished game I played at BostonFIG. It’s already been funded on Kickstarter and they were showing off a near-complete copy of the game. It’s a nifty little engine builder where you build up a robot factory by upgrading the machinery in an assembly line of sorts. So you’re not only trying to find the best combination of machines, but you’re trying to assemble them in a logical sequence.
I liked the spatial aspect of it in my short demo, though it felt slow to get to the interesting parts. I’m not quite sure if there’s enough complexity and thought required to sustain the game over many plays, but I’d want to get in a complete game before passing any actual judgement. The aesthetic is nice, though a lot of the important information is in extremely small print.
A bit more visual polish and better-than-it-appeared depth and Mechanica could be a nice little euro–something along the lines of Dice Forge.
Breach: The Worldwound
A proper heavy cooperative game inspired by nothing less than Spirit Island, Breach: The Worldwound is still in an early stage of development but shows promise. I’m also kind of mesmerized by the title right now. It’s getting harder to say and less sensical the more I look at it.
Anyways, it’s a fantasy tableau building kind of thing where you and your teammates try to fight monsters, protect land, and…close portals? We didn’t get to that last part in our abbreviated demo. I did get a bunch of cards that exponentially increased my power and murdered some monsters.
Play is freeform, with people taking actions whenever they want. Right now the game is in what feels like a pre-edit stage, as there’s so much information to digest to even begin to understand what you can do. Without structured turn orders (which I like!) it’s like trying to grab something just out of reach. It’s visually cluttered.
But I spoke with the designer, Jason Riddell, and he’s going to tinker with the design a lot. The core is solid, with four different primary stats you’re trying to upgrade and some interesting decisions around those upgrades. The cards you can purchase to improve your abilities are also the HP for the location you’re in, so if you grow too greedily you could doom the place you’re trying to save.
I could talk a lot more about what I saw, but I know there are a lot of changes coming to Breach and I want to see the next iteration. Right now it could go a number of different ways.
I got some good plays in at BostonFIG and the event is improving. Last year I was a bit discouraged about what I saw, but this year returned some of my faith about the state of local game design. I can’t wait to see what next year brings, and I look forward to tracking the progress of some of these early designs!