Perfect Information Podcast Episode 28 – Abandon All Hope…

The podcast is coming from within the house!

The scariest day of the year is upon us, but since our episode goes live 6 days before… let us all wallow in the traditional forms of the spooky, creepy and disturbing.

We first witness first-hand the selection process by which gamers, who have committed unpardonable sins, are sent to the various levels of hell. (01:00)

Shortly thereafter, T.C. Petty III. brings us the scariest Deep Design segment yet, in which he talks about the utter failure of board games to create fear, among other less unsettling thoughts. (31:00)

Even in hell, the guild stays open and we talk about what you think about the relevance of gaming conventions, and the necessity of visiting one as a respectable gamer. (46:41)

We also do not hesitate to tell you all about the frightening offers of our sponsor: Yolo-Games. (01:04:00)

Nick Mariner joins us then to also talk about scary games… it’s like this is a theme episode or something. (01:21:48)

And finally we review a game, that could not be more appropriate for the season. Because what’s scarier than the rise of fascism? Secret Hitler. (01:21:48)

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I have a Honshu you will like this game – A review

A few years ago board gaming as we know it, i.e. Western European designs in their various forms and shapes, was subtly but profoundly disrupted by the arrival of a new school of thought in games design: minimalism. Namely, Japanese minimalism. Its most prominent, and by now in some circles thoroughly worn-out representative being Love Letter by Seiji Kanai. It was a hilarious amount of fun in mere 16 cards. The word microgame began making the rounds, and popularised this notion of few rules and even fewer components providing an entertaining, even challenging gaming experience.

To Honshu – Thanks for everything, Julie Newmar!

And it is this tradition that Honshu seeks to follow, but – as it turns out – it is somewhat mislabeled. Even though the game’s art, setting and eschewing of fanciful and numerous components almost seems to invite comparisons to other Japanese games, its publisher is the premier delegate of Finnish gaming: and its designer is Kalle Malmioja. A name that is almost as close to Japanese as my own.

Fine, so the simplistic and reductive argument of putting national labels on a game seems thoroughly fruitless. We can move on from here and pay attention to the game’s blurb itself: Honshu is a trick-taking, map-building game. The map-building is quite accurate. You spent your time playing cards on top of one another to create a sprawling map of squares, symbols and occasional wooden cubes in the hopes of best maximizing your VP count at the end. But it is the suggestion of trick-taking that gives me pause.

To call Honshu a trick-taking game is about as accurate as calling Dice City a roll-and-move game; or Risk a worker placement game. If you really squint, and tilt your head a bit to the side; you’ll find it’s nonsense. You simply play cards with numbers on them, which then determine turn order when it comes to picking a card to add to your expanding map, and playing a card from your hand next turn.

Regardless of which vague category you want to argue the game belongs to, Honshu is – at the end of the day – a surprisingly meaty game with all the drawbacks that such meaty games can bring to the table. Namely: analysis paralysis – the bane of gaming everywhere. It is actually quite impressive how a small set of cards can put some people into that perpetual state of indecisiveness, that hobbles even the most leisurely activity. The main, if not only source for this, comes from the second “big” rule of Honshu: once you’ve picked up a card, you must add it to your map by covering at least one segment of an old card or the new one. Your map grows and expands by way of parts of the cards you’ve picked, and with it the opportunities to score victory points. In a sense, Honshu manages to feel reminiscent of Carcassonne here: that classic dudes-on-a-map game.

The social deduction element of the game should be apparent in this picture

After adding the 12th and final card to your map, the game ends and you count up the four different ways of scoring points. Now I am sure, there are some number crunchers and math-whizzers out there, who will be able to plot out the perfect and most successful route to victory. And I’m also sure that when that happens, this game will become unplayable to me. But I think I will get a lot of plays out of it before that happens. If we consult our patented Mariner’s Scale for Competitiveness, we find Honshu doesn’t score particularly highly there. It only has one tie-breaker rule. ONE! Like any decent game, it eschews the need to crown a single person victor (or victoria) at all cost and is satisfied with just letting a game end, and two or more people basking in the glow of having done well.

Play Honshu for fun, and fun will be had. It plays smoothly, it gives you decisions that are just challenging enough to be fun, but not so pivotal as to become stressful. And above all you end up with a colourful patchwork of a landscape to look at. A small little VP generator that may or may not win you the game.

Play Honshu for points, though, and you should get supplexed by the Iron Sheik for dragging it out.


A Small Slice of Essen

The seismic shock that was Spiel 2016 can still be felt throughout the channels of board game media. New games everywhere. Rushed reviews hitting the intratubes faster than Star Wars sequels are getting announced. 

We’ve chosen this opportunity to release the second wave of interviews we recorded in Essen. 

In this slice you will find interviews with Horrible Games (01:42), Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro (10:14), Japon Brand (20:28) and the legendary Mike Fitzgerald (34:51).

And if that isn’t enough to give you a taste of what being at Spiel is like, may I suggest the written word?


…oh, just one more thing.

I’ll See You When You Get There – A Spiel experience

When I close my eyes, I can still hear the roar of tens of thousands of gamers rummaging through the halls. They’re chatting, arguing, haggling, explaining and simply playing. My body still wants to use those reflexes that let me weave through the bulk of people to get to the next booth… to the next must-see game… to the next exciting thing…

Spot the gamer hiding in this picture

Spiel is an experience unlike any other. I’ve been there now a total of 6 times. Starting with a rushed one-day excursion, where we left Berlin in a group of six roleplaying nerds and rushed home at night after the halls closed. The following year, a handful of us returned and even managed to find a place to crash at night. We were already drifting away from RPGs and finding our way into boardgames. I brought back Battlestar Galactica that year. The next time I went, I went on my own. An experience I do not recommend. Spiel is – like boardgames – a social event. If you don’t have somebody to share it with, to interact with and talk about games with… it can be an unnervingly alienating four days to go through. (Even worse than couchsurfing with a home nudist. Which all things considered wasn’t as awkward as the image, I have just evoked in your mind, would suggest.)

I also remember getting one of the first five copies of the Game of Thrones board game (2nd edition) because I rushed to the FFG booth way back then. An utterly silly and needlessly nerdy thing to be excited about or proud of, but still… a memory that makes me smile.

In the end, Spiel has always left me energized and in some cases even rejuvenated about this hobby. To be lost in a sea of gamers for four days, to leave the halls and go to any of the hotels, restaurants or even train stations nearby and overhearing only conversations about boardgames. To feel – even for a moment – that this hobby has engrossed not just these few, these merry few, this band of buggered… but everyone (EVERYONE! #GaryOldman) is as fantastic a feeling as I could wish on anyone in this hobby.

Cynical voices will undoubtedly point out that Spiel is a sales fair at heart, not a gaming convention. That playing games and meeting people is a fortunate byproduct, but that proper gaming conventions are somehow purer. To this I say… poppycock. Of course Spiel is a great place to stock up on games, both new and old (and when I say old I am mainly talking about 8-24 months). But if you managed to get your nano-Kardashian-sized derriere into Essen, chances are you’re at least waist-deep in the hobby and know that collecting exciting games, owning them… shapes us as gamers as much playing the games themselves does.

Yes, Spiel is a place to buy new games. It is also a place to try out new games. Although maybe not the type that last 2+ hours and need laser-sharp focus and concentration. It is admittedly too crowded, too noisy and too much of everything to really sit down and play the next great tome wedged in the deepest and heaviest end of the spectrum. But then again, it is still possible for the right game to pull you in, to let you forget everthing around you and just emerge yourself in the joy of discovering a new flavour in this hobby.

In that sense, Spiel might almost share some similarities to a sense deprivaton tank. But instead of being filled with water and no light… you only see and experience thousands of games and tens of thousands of gamers. I actually find myself delegating things like eating and drinking to an afterthought, a sideshow to the main event. I walk ridiculous distances when I am there. Up and down the same halls, back and forth from one booth to another. I’ve been here often enough to start running into familiar faces, even in a crowd of more than 100,000 people. And with each visit that number grows, and it’s fantastic.

Friedrich Merz Verlag (the people behind Spiel) have just recently announced that not only are they going to include yet another hall next year… bringing the total number of halls in use during Spiel to 8 out of 12, but that this year once again saw a new visitor record by luring 174,000 game fanatics to Essen.

People with more experience than me might want to argue that Spiel isn’t the best 4 days of gaming on the planet. And maybe they are right. But I seriously doubt there is a more satisfying place to be for gamers each year.

I know that next year, when I dive into the mass of gamers rushing through the halls, the same thought will pop up in my mind for better or worse.

This is my tribe.

These are my people.

Welcome back.


[Voices from the Driver’s Seat] – Getting Published in the RPG Industry

[We are proper chuffed to welcome another industry giant to the ranks of people we’ve conned into writing down their thoughts for us. This time it is Cat Tobin, managing director and co-owner of Pelgrane Press, who offers her insider experience on everything RPG- and gaming-related. As a consummate professional she knows all the secret handshakes, passwords to insider lodges and where to get the best soy-milk macchiato in Europe. Invaluable and incomparable experience that she was willing to share with us. Enjoy.]

When I do panels, a question that often comes up (if it’s not the panel topic) is “How do I get published in the RPG industry?” There’s clearly no quick answer, but here are some quick thoughts on it.

First of all, write stuff (and finish it!)

It’s been said many times before by everyone who’s ever given advice on writing or being published, but it’s worth saying again: if you genuinely want to be published, you have to write; if you want to be a better writer, you have to write; if you want to write, you have to write. But let’s assume you’ve cleared this hurdle, you’ve written some stuff, and you think it’s pretty good. What’s your next step?

Secondly, self-publish it (seriously!)

I would always advise someone who has written their own setting or game to publish it themselves. Many of the most respected game designers and writers in the industry today, particularly in the progressive field of story games, are self-published. By publishing your own work, you have full creative control over it; you decide entirely how it reads, looks and plays. You also reap the full financial rewards from it (disclaimer: financial rewards may go down as well as up), and you don’t need to worry about finding the right publisher or dealing with complex contracts once you do.

Last resort (submit it to a publishing company!)

Unless you want to write for an already-published setting or system, you really should try and self-publish (see above). Generally speaking, publishing companies have more great ideas for games than they have the resources to publish, and it will be particularly difficult to get them interested in your setting if you are a first-time author.

If you are submitting something to a roleplaying publisher, I would advise you to send in an initial pitch first, like you would to a book publisher. This pitch should detail your idea, its key selling points and give a rough outline of the project. (Around 500-750 words is the sweet spot). The publisher will then let you know if it’s something they’d like to commission, and you don’t have to go through the heartbreak of throwing away a year or more’s work.

It should go without saying that your submission should be clear, concise and respectful. You should also make sure that you have strong ideas and your work is well presented – most roleplaying publishing companies don’t have time, or the inclination, to translate submissions that are carelessly spelled or have bad grammar or punctuation.

It should be targeted to that particular publisher. Explain how you see your submission fitting in with their existing products, and why it will appeal to their target audience, so they know you have a marketable product, and that you know their company and their systems. Mention any previous experience with their products or systems, too.

The more familiar a publisher is with your work, the more likely they are to publish your work, and think of you when they have a freelance opportunity. If there is a publisher you would particularly like to work with, take the initiative and make them notice you above all the other fans, so that when you come to submit your ideas, or they have opportunities they need filling, you have a wealth of experience to back it up. Here are some ways you can make yourself stand out:

Social media

Get in their (literal) Face(book). Make sure you’re an active member on their forums, and post on your own social media about their products. Write sample classes, monsters or adventures for their system, or actual plays of their games, and link to them on their social media. Hearing about their games gives writers and publishers a warm, fuzzy feeling, and makes them think well of you.


Many games companies put out open calls for playtesting. Sign up for them, playtest the games, and submit well-written (i.e. clear, concise, thoughtful) feedback before the deadline. This shows not only that you are passionate about their games, but also demonstrates your composition skills and ability to work to a deadline.

Community work

Become part of their Organized Play system, if they have one. Write convention adventures for their games, and run them at your local convention. Offer the publisher the adventures afterwards to add to their adventure banks (making sure they have no spelling or grammatical mistakes, are well-structured, easy to follow, and clearly laid out). If the company has a webzine, offer to write articles for that, too.


The competition is fierce if you want to get published in the roleplaying industry. But there are opportunities out there, too – and there’s never been a better time to dive on in there.


Right a Wrong – Steal This Game

Why are you saying sorry? You didn’t do anything.

This was the response I got when I went to the Ludicreations booth to commiserate on the theft of their cash box this Sunday at Spiel 2016.

steal-this-gameI caught them in the middle of the graphic design process for their latest Kickstarter release, Steal This Game, a project brought together in the twelve hours that had elapsed between the theft of the money and my stumbling over to their booth.

”What can you do?” People asked me. Nothing. There is nothing we can do, and then we thought, we can do what we’re best at, running Kickstarter campaigns for games. The problem is we didn’t have a game…but we had David.

Enter David Turczi, long time Ludicreations collaborator and independent game designer in his own right (Redacted, Anachrony). David was tasked in designing a game in an hour. He didn’t need that long.

Within twelve minutes we were sitting at a table and play testing. Thankfully the Unperfekthaus sponsored us with a bottle of rum.’ A Ludicreations representative told me.

Steal This Game is two-player head-to-head that pits thief against exhibitor at Spiel 2016. The stall holder then plays a three-cup game to prevent the thief from succeeding in their aim of running away with the day’s takings. Steal This Game is the latest in a long line of innovative titles that have been put out by the publisher in recent years but the first to be inspired by such unique conditions.

Ludicreations was started with the intention of putting out one game, 2013’s Byzantio , but if you want to make god laugh, tell him about your plans.

A wet man is no longer afraid of the rain, so we thought we’d carry on.

Subsequently they have gone on to publish some of the most thematically innovative games in the industry.

…and then, we held hands, tells the story of a relationship and the participant’s struggle to keep it on an even keel. Crisis, their biggest game to date, uses a futuristic landscape to explore the Greek financial crisis and the challenges in rebuilding a country after collapse. In Kune v Lakia: A Chronicle of Lapine Divorce Foretold, kune_v_lakia_04_overviewplayers take on the role of advocates as the royal couple prepare for a life apart and contrive to get the very best out of the deal.

But it is with new designer, Todd Sanders that they are embarking on their most ambitious project to date.

Todd is a true renaissance man…he is an architect, a wood worker, he translates French poetry…

 They have found a windfall of games for the future.

We have at least twenty of his designs that we plan to publish over the next ten years.

This year sees the first of these, They Who Were 8, a game based on a cycle of Sanders’ poems that places the players in the position of spin doctors for a group of mischievous and capricious gods. Next year sees the publication of Ludicreations first solo game, also by Sanders, which utilises an array of unsettling Victorian advertising art.

Ludicreations are currently one of the most exciting publishers in the business and are pushing the art of board game publishing into directions that hobby hasn’t entered before.

So it is no surprise, that when confronted with calamity, that one of the most innovative publishers came up with one of the most innovative solutions; and it is no surprise that the gaming community rallied to their support and, at the time of writing, the Kickstarter project currently stands at $24,476.

Steal This Game is currently running on Kickstarter and the campaign will end on October 30th.


Perfect Information Podcast Episode 27 – The Lords of Spiel

We’re off to see the wizards; the wonderful wizards of Spiel

In this brand-new episode our intrepid heroes Ben & Georgios make their way to a magical, far away place called Essen to join the legendary convent known only as Spiel.

There they seek the council of the bearded illusionist Gil Hova, speak to the passionate Fabien of Matagot (19:08), meet the wise man Francesco Nepitello (36:50) before resting at a nearby guild (54:37).

But before dallying for too long they return to speak to the wily trickster god known as Vlaada Chvatil (1:00:57). They also meet with young dreamwalker Chris Darsaklis (1:09:09) and run into the notorious greenseer Friedeman Friese (1:15:08). As the convent nears its end, they first meet with grand old master Bruno Cathala (1:23:11), before sitting down with the keeper of the Stronghold: Stephen Buonocore (1:30:31).

Stay tuned for part two….

It Goes Ding When There’s Stuff – A Captain Sonar review

Even though gaming is an essentially social hobby, most board games do not really allow for team-based play. The number of games that are designed to allow shared victories (outside of ties) is comparatively small. Yet with cooperative games first making a bigger splash some years back, followed by social deduction games gaining a bigger presence in the hobby… the idea of team-based play seems to have slowly become more palatable to the hobby at large.

As such a game like Captain Sonar isn’t quite the oddity, it would have been 10 years ago. While the theme itself – submarines engaged in a cat-and-mouse style conflict – is hardly ground-breaking, the core concepts of the game are worthy of at least a passing mention: two teams of up to 4 players each engage in the time-honoured tradition of killing each other under water for sport. Or country. Or whatever.

Cover art by Matagot

To do so, each player takes on pivotal roles of the submarine’s crew: ranging from the Captain, First Mate, Chief Engineer, Radio Operator, the Skipper, the movie star, the millionaire & his wife and the Professor (citation needed). In a particularly inspired bit of game design, the basic actions of moving around the map in secret both helps and hinders you in achieving your objective. It allows you to load up special actions (like firing torpedoes, using the Sonar, etc.) which you need to find and damage your opponent’s ship. But it also threatens to damage your own ship unless you resurface eventually, and therefore broadcast your location to the other team. Thereby making yourself an all-too-easy to shoot target. It is this balance of necessary action and involuntarily imposed limits on said actions, that drives the tension in Captain Sonar. You need to move and prepare your attack, but at the same time you need to choose whether to mount an offensive or defensive maneuver. Hiding from the other team, or charging them with fully loaded torpedoes. Provided your Radio Operator has pinned down their location, by eavesdropping on their Captain’s every order. All this happens in real-time, i.e. a virtual time limit driven by the other team’s decision to either hurry through the game or pacing themselves deliberately.

By now the obvious game to compare Captain Sonar to is Space Cadets Dice Duel. They are both team-vs-team; they are played in real time (although CS provides a turn-by-turn variant as well). But once you look closer you’ll note that the experence itself differs fundamentally. Captain Sonar is a comparitively cerebral affair, and that is not least in part due to the gaming relying heavily on coordination among team mates. In play it has more in common with Space Alert, than with Dice Duel. Whereas Space Alert simulates the existence of an opponent by randomly throwing monkey wrenches into your well-oiled machinery… Captain Sonar pits an actual team of players against you.

You scramble around in your stations, constantly checking and rechecking with your team mates which options are available to you. Whether a torpedo can be fired or should be fired. Whether you can run silently to throw the opposing radio operator off your scent. Or whether you need to resurface to allow your systems to cool down, and unlocking the special actions of your ship.

All while your very own Ulrich Mühe sits across from you, carefully listening to every word you say, piecing together your plans… and most of all your hiding place. Getting ready to inform their Captain when to strike that devestating blow against you. If that sounds tense, that’s because it is. But this tension never seems in danger of turning sour, of fueling resentment amongst players the way that many other tense games never fail to do in their passive-aggressive furor.

What Captain Sonar succeeds in, is forging bonds between your team mates as you learn the ropes and face off against the other submarine. You learn to make gut choices based on your radio operator’s incomplete intel. You learn to anticipate your captain’s choices so as to keep the systems operational long enough for them to trigger a special action. You learn to coordinate the flow of information from one station to another and assissting the captain in making the best possible choice. And most of all you taste the addictive mead of leadership, when you alone are responsible for making sure that your team’s efforts pay off in victory.

Pictured here: effusive excitement & frantic play

Captain Sonar is a rush. As you continue playing you become experts in playing off of each other, experts in assissting and supporting each other’s stations.

In my review of Space Cadets, I argued that the game succeeds because it lets people contribute individually for the good of the group (typical socialist blather). Captain Sonar does something similar, but produces this effect by interlocking every player’s actions with those of another. Every action a player takes immediately affects somebody else’s options. The game never seems to wind down until it is suddenly over.

As a final consideration, many people seem to suggest that Captain Sonar is only a sound investment, if you can regularly get 8 people to the table. I’d argue that almost any number is fun, but I will concede that with a full complement, the game becomes truly unique and the strengths mentioned above really come through. With six players it retains much – albeit not all – of its feel. But with five or less, you get a decidedly different, but no less engaging game. But to be fair, the market for games covering 2-5 players is hardly lacking. There is a very high chance, you have enough games to choose from if you have less than six players. A game of “Advanced Battleship” might not have quite the same appeal.


A Small Slice of Pre-Essen

In this week’s slice we sit down to stoke the fires of hype for Spiel 2016.

So we talk about the games that didn’t make our Top 10. And dole out some well-meaning tips for everybody visiting Spiel this year. 

Finally, I can announce that we will not be travelling incognito but sport conspicuous t-shirts with our splotchy logo on it. If you’re in Essen, keep an eye out for us. You will recognise us by our pained and awkward facial expressions. Or maybe join us for a game of whatever hotness we deemed worthy picking up that day!


Too many games. Too many people. Too little time. 

Speakers’ Corner – The Importance of Being Essen-ist

We are doing something new starting this month: we’ve invited some of the finest minds and wittiest wordsmiths to pen something for our lowly site, so as to make it seem like less of a soapbox for two opinionated gamer hipsters, and more of a proper wooden pulpit. The illustrious Tony Boydell (work force of Surprised Stare Games – and more importantly creator of Guilds of London will kick off this bi-weekly column).

It’s October which means almost 100% of my gaming thoughts turn, inevitably, to Essen Spiel. Since I am part of a small, independent publisher – Surprised Stare Games Ltd – all, bar one, of our visits have been with an Exhibitor’s Stand at the end of it. Thus, my experience of the biggest-and-best games Fair in the world has been from a behind-the-scenes POV, which means that I have never suffered the interminable, Autumnally-chilly Thursday morning queue OR the tsunami of wobbling geek bodies extruding through the turnstiles OR the panicked dash to ‘Place X’ to collect ‘Promo Y’/limited English language edition of ‘Game Z’ before its all gone.

Instead, I can wander the cavernous Halls on the setup days (Tuesday/Wednesday) and am free to chat-and-blag without pressure; patting pallets of shrink-wrapped goodness as I pass, calling out a cheery ‘Halloo’ and generally feeling much more important than you lot. When ‘the show’ has properly kicked-off, I can cock my snook at the early-bird public – sitting on their rucksacks on the concourse or shambling out of the U-bahn – an hour before opening and, maybe, withdraw some Euros from the Messe cashpoint while it still has notes in it or even – and this is the most precious privilege of all – take a poo in a toilet facility that still flushes.

Aside: For exhibitor and punter alike, easy and regular access to food and water is important as neglecting one’s nutrition/hydration will only lead to rasping voices and light-headiness: try and avoid paying Messe prices for such items by taking a trip to the supermarket on the way in or sneaking a couple of extra rolls off the hotel’s breakfast buffet.

However, it’s not all gravy for ‘we, the elite’: the set-up day is fraught with interruptions from ‘the Press’ who, like us, get to mooch around, dodging fork-lifts and that surly, moustachioed ‘bear’ of a German with the giant wheelie-bin (the one who seems permanently-enraged that we have rubbish to be disposed of). The ‘Press’ come in all shapes-and-sizes from the legitimate ‘published’ journo (nice clothes and, possibly, a hat; doesn’t stink like a rat’s arsehole) to the ‘happy internet amateur’ (runs a website only read by his mates) or – sweet Barnaby Rudge preserve me – the ‘podcaster’. Time spent schmoozing might be good for ‘exposure’ but it also hoovers up VCT (Valuable Collecting Time)! Another disadvantage is the duration of a show day itself: 10AM through to 7PM. That’s nine hours of standing, leaning, smiling and demoing in a voice loud enough to rise above the hubbub; that’s 540 minutes of being asked ‘Could I take one of the Demo copies at the end of the show?’ or ‘Could I have a discount because I am a reviewer, please?’ (bloody Rahdo!) or ‘Could you tell me where there is a toilet not overflowing with wurst und kartoffel?’

Oh, I’m not really complaining; Essen Spiel is utterly fantastic and breathlessly-wonderful and undoubtedly the best place for a gamer to be, so make sure to pop by Stand 2-E119 (that’s in Hall 2) and say ‘Hi!’. I might even have a promo for you…