Interviewing Ruse designers – Sarah Sharp and Levi Mote

31 10 2012

Bonsai Games has partnered with Game Salute’s Springboard program to launch their first major release, Ruse. Today we take a few minutes to sit down with Ruse’s designers and co-owners of Bonsai Games, Levi Mote and Sarah Sharp.

Sarah, Levi, first of all thanks so much for taking some time from your schedule to answer some questions for us! Can you tell us how you decided to work together on RUSE?

LM – Thanks for taking the time to talk about Ruse with us. It really is one of the most special things we’ve ever collaborated on.
We’ve been a couple as well as co-owners of Bonsai for 4 years now and we work together to one degree or another on every project we tackle; games, stories, screenplays, etc…
SS – I will also thank you Jeremiah for wanting to talk with us. We’re always excited to share our games with anyone who’s interested.
In addition to what Levi has already said, we’re very lucky that we collaborate so well and that we share the same passions and interests. It really is a perfect partnership both personally and professionally.

So, whose brainchild was RUSE? And how did the idea first comes to you?
LM – Growing up, my mother’s favorite board game was always Clue. One day Sarah and I were having a conversation about what we liked and didn’t like about that game. I wanted to design a murder mystery game that went beyond deducing what was in an envelope. The best part of Clue is in choosing what to show the other players and using what you know about other people’s cards to deduce what they have learned from a guess. We decided that the most fun way to convey a murder mystery was to allow the players to make accusations against each other and keeping the truth about the murder a mystery right up until the very last card played.

SS – Let’s be completely honest here…Ruse came from an early morning conversation while Levi was in the shower and I was doing my hair. He had been thinking about Clue and we just got to talking. By the time he was toweling off we had the basics of the game laid out, along with a few mechanics. It’s been a very fun and relatively easy endeavor ever since.

Levi, Ruse is not your first game design; is Ruse the first title you’ve co-designed? How was this experience different than flying solo?
LM – I’ve designed several games and as the super-supportive-love-of-my-life she is, I’ve always collaborated with Sarah to some degree. This game in particular was much more a partnership as we worked out the nuances of a storytelling game. Ruse, more so than most games, had to be more than a collection of mechanics; it needed to evoke a feeling of having your back against the wall and scrambling to pin the murder on someone else before it got pinned on you. As a writer, evoking that feeling from the audience is more along her line of expertise.

Sarah, if I’m incorrect, please tell me, but this is your first experience in game design; tell us a little bit about the experience and working with Levi.
SS – Well, I’ve been exposed to game design since Levi and I got together. I’ve seen all the steps from an outside point of view and have always been, along with a few close friends and family, a sounding board for ideas as well as an avid play tester. This was the first game I’ve really been able to get my hands dirty with and have loved every minute of it. Levi is very gifted when it comes to thinking up premises and working out mechanics. I love being able to come in and help him flesh out story elements and the like.

What is your favorite element of the game?
LM – I love that you don’t know who will go down until the last card is played. I love that even in losing you get to be a star and give your dramatic explanation of why you had to do it.
SS – I love the interaction between players and how they really get into the descriptions on the cards. I also love the versatility of the cards themselves. Since Ruse is built on a traditional 54 card deck (Jokers included) it’s easy for anyone to pick-up and can be a “gateway” game for those who aren’t hard-core gamers. I’m also a sucker for Kelly’s art…it’s amazing.

Give us your top 3 games and why?

LM – Twilight Imperium 3rd edition – Epic 4x game

Ad Astra – Extremely underrated resource collection game

Risk – Secretly I want to rule the world.

SS – Rune Wars – It’s totally epic and I love fantasy.

We Didn’t Playtest This At All – We just got this and it’s so addictive! Always looking forward to playing it!

7 Wonders – The scoring is crazy, but the mechanics are stellar.

I just wanted to note that a top 3 isn’t fair…a top 20 would’ve been more like it!

Ruse is a game of accusations; ever accuse anyone of a murder? How’d that work out?
LM – Who told you about that?!? The FBI said the Witness Protection program was airtight!
SS – Look, that’s not something we like to discuss. It was a very dark period and details are a little sketchy. Next question…

Tell us a little bit about the relationship between Bonsai Games and Game Salute; how did the two come together on Ruse?
LM – I approached Game Salute through Springboard. I was looking at self-publishing some games using Kickstarter for funding and I kept seeing these “Springboard Approved” games funding successfully. I emailed them and got a reply from Dan Yarrington to call him the following day. Dan left a meeting to take my call and we talked for over an hour about why we loved games. They looked through our portfolio and picked Ruse as a project they wanted to get involved with.
SS – Yep, what he said. Oh, I will add the Game Salute has been awesome and that it was wonderful to see Levi be able to concentrate on just designing great games and not suffer the headaches of production and distribution anymore.

At the end of the day, when all the games are back on the shelf, what matters most to you?
LM – Family, I think we all define what that word means to us in different ways. Games bring families together and if we can help do that even one night a week; I’m doing work I can be proud of.
SS – I second that notion, except I would add friends to the mix too. There is something about face-to-face interaction around a game table that just makes life better. Like Levi said, it brings our family together and we have met amazing people through sharing this hobby and in return have made some really great friends and made other friends into family. It’s incredible, really.

Ruse will be crowd-funded through Kickstarter; what would you say to a potential backer who may be on the fence right now?
LM – There are few things cooler than watching multiple generations play a game together and this game appeals to multiple generations.
SS – Get off the d**n fence and pledge already! We’ve play tested this game with hard-core gamers, people who hate games, even random people in airports! Everybody loves it and you will too. Do yourself a favor and get two or three copies, because someone’s going to “borrow” your copy and it’ll never come back. Yeah, it’s that good!

Now for our favorite feature of the interview: Answer the next questions with a single word or phrase! Your answers will speak for themselves!

Dr. Strangelove or Dr. Who?
LM – Dr. Doom
SS – Dr. Who

Who wins the fight, a Jawa or an Ewok?
LM – Jawa
SS – Ewok – they won the Battle of Endor!

Favorite artificial flavor?
LM – None!
SS – Blue Raspberry

Favorite viral video?
LM – Cat-Jump-Fail
SS – Gangnam Style (thanks kids!)

Frodo or Bilbo?
LM – Bilbo.
SS – Bilbo

We would like to thank Levi and Sarah for taking some time to chat with us about their upcoming game! You can check out their Kickstarter campaign here! Check back for a review soon!

As always, thanks for reading!

Days Of Wonder Announces a New Map Pack—Africa!

30 10 2012

The immensely popular Ticket To Ride is getting a new map pack—The Heart of Africa. This one will only have one side (which seems like a wasted opportunity to me), and you’ll have to have a copy of either Ticket To Ride or Ticket To Ride: Europe to play it.

From the publisher:

This expansion introduces 45 new terrain cards, divided into three different terrain types. Each type is associated with different route colors: Desert/Savanna cards for yellow, orange and red routes; Jungle/Forest cards for green, blue and purple routes; and Mountain/Cliff cards for black, white and grey Routes. Players can draw terrain cards just like train cards and they may use these to double the value of the routes they claim, under certain conditions.

Days Of Wonder expects this to be available in early December—so in plenty of time for Christmas presents. The game retails for $25, and you can preorder directly from Days Of Wonder here. Thanks for reading!

Mission: Impossible Machine: A Review

30 10 2012

– By Jeremiah

The concept behind the quick-playing filler Impossible Machine has its roots in the incredibly unnecessary mechanical creations of Rube Goldberg; but for some reason when I play this game I keep hearing the Breakfast Machine music from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure by Danny Elfman. Anyway, up to 5 players are given a deck of cards that consists of random bits and pieces to use in the creation of an impossible machine, along with a few eradicate cards thrown in to mess with your opponents.

The Game – Setup is pretty quick and easy; each player selects a colored deck, shuffles up, and draws a hand of 7 cards. On a turn a player can play three cards; all three of these cards can be components of the machine or an eradicate card that wipes out a card of the machine and allows you to replace it. Each component card has an input type and an output type—levers (up and down, push or pull), gears, and electricity. When playing your component cards the input of the card played has to match the output of the card it’s played next to. Some cards split their output and allow the machine to grow in different directions. Players can also insert cards into the machine again provided that the inputs and outputs match.
The final type of card is a Catalyst card, these are the cards that give the machine its purpose. Once a player attaches a catalyst to the machine it sets the machine in motion on the end of the next players turn (assuming of course, that player hasn’t eradicated the Catalyst). Once the machine is in motion, at the end each player’s turn—starting at the beginning of the machine—three cards are turned face down. As long as cards are face up they can be eradicated and replaced, or cards can be inserted in between them. Once all the cards are turned face down the round ends, and players score a point for each of their cards, and 2 points for each of their Catalysts in the machine. The player with the must points after three machines wins the game.

Did I Like It? To be honest, it feels like there’s a lot missing from the game. The theme of the game is interesting for sure, and has its charm, but the game itself seems sparse. And often just a turn or two into building the machine a Catalyst seems to show up and leave everyone scrambling—or that one player who had a bad draw completely out of the round. I know it’s a filler game, and it’s meant to be light, but to me it felt Uno-ish. It does require some strategizing to plan out a turn in advance, but even those best-laid plans can be dashed pretty quickly. I’m not completely giving up on the game, but it’s not the engaging experience I expected from it—even for a filler.

Thanks for reading our little blog!

Mice & Mystics Are Here!

29 10 2012

Well, not here. But the games are finally hitting the doorsteps of people who preordered. That means the rest of us can order one now!
Mice & Mystics is a cooperative game from Plaid Hat Games—publishers of the card game Summoner Wars. You and your band of adventurers have been turned into mice, and you’ll have to fight your way through rats, spiders, and the housecat to warn the king about the evil going on in his castle. It sounds like players will be creating the story anew each time they play, so it won’t be the same game twice.

I haven’t played it yet, but I’m hoping to soon. This looks like it could be an awesome twist on the cooperative genre. Plus, it reminds me of the amazing Mouse Guard comics. Until we get to play this one, you can check out the game details on Plaid Hat’s site. Thanks for reading!

What You Missed

26 10 2012

Well today brings to a close another week here at TOG. We’ve been busy this week not only churning out more fun gaming news, reviews, and interviews, but we’ve been working at a feverish pitch in the background preparing some really big stuff to be dropped in in the near future! Stay tuned over the next couple weeks—things are going to get fun!

Here’s what we brought you this week:

Monday’s news: We found out that Alien Frontiers is hitting iPads the world over!

Tuesday’s Review: Jeremiah took a look at Stone Age, and the cup that stinketh within.

Wednesday’s Interview: Mythic Battles designer Benoit Vogt, took a few minutes to discuss the game with us.

Thursday’s Kickstarter Weekly: Featured a 3-in-1 campaign from Small Box Games!

As always, we sincerely appreciate you reading our humble little blog, and ask that you help spread the word about us!

Thanks again, and we’ll see you Monday!

Small Box Games Offers Three Games in One Kickstarter Campaign!

25 10 2012

My first experience with Small Box Games was when I Kickstarted their game Tooth & Nail: Factions. It was a great experience—the game came when they said it was (even earlier, I think!), and the quality was great. So I was excited to get an email from them announcing a new Kickstarter campaign.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the campaign is for not one, not two, but three different card games!

Shadow of the Sun is for 3-4 players and is set in the city of Hemloch—one of Small Box Games’ other games.

The Valkyrie Incident is a deck-building game for 2 players.

And Stone & Relic is a kingdom-building game for 2-4 players.

If you back just one game, it’ll run you $23, including shipping. $44 will get you two of the games shipped, and $62 gets you all three games. This is an interesting strategy. On the one hand, $23 is very reasonable for a quality card game, but as you ramp up the price, $62 seems expensive. It’s not that it’s a poor value, but rather that’s a lot to spend at once. (It’s certainly more than my gaming “allowance.”) It doesn’t seem to be affecting the campaign at all—after less than a day they’ve very nearly hit their funding goal, and the vast majority of backers have opted for the all-three-games option.

From the Kickstarter page you also download and read the rules for all three games, so you’ll have a good idea about each game before you plunk down your hard-earned money. Will you back any of these? How many? Which one are you most excited about?

Thanks for reading!

An Interview with Benoit Vogt – Designer of Mythic Battles

24 10 2012

Benoit, this is my first international interview; thanks for agreeing to answer our questions!

You are welcome.

Tell us a little bit about life in Luxembourg, and what the gaming culture is like.

I’ve worked and lived in Luxembourg for 7 years. In Luxembourg people enjoy getting together after work to relax and have fun… So that’s a great place for gaming.

How did you first discover gaming; what game got you hooked?

I discovered gaming with RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons, and then Magic: The Gathering. Then I started extensively playing board games such as Agricola.

Tell us what games you find yourself playing the most of late, and why.

I currently play games like Ascension, Zombicide and Quarriors. I enjoy these games because they are fast-paced and there are not a lot of rules to learn.

So what gave you the idea to design Mythic Battles, and how did you and Pay & Win Games come together to get it published?

I enjoy strategy and confrontation games. I designed Mythic Battles because, with my job and family life, I could no longer dedicate a lot of time to learning new games. In addition, most confrontation games require spending quite a lot of money to play them. So I had three goals with Mythic Battles: I wanted to deliver a real strategic game, with little impact of chance. It is easy to learn, and more accessible than games of the same category. Finally, for 40 euros you can afford a game with two complete armies.

What is it about Mythic Battles that makes it unique compared to other games of the same genre?

I think Mythic Battles is unique as it is a new kind of game: a BBB (Board Building Battle). The game takes place on a gridded board (Board) on which units move. There is a strong deck-building side because the constitution of armies is like building a game in Magic The Gathering (Building). Finally, it is a battle where strategy is a key element (Battle).

In Mythic Battles, are there defined roles for the armies…such as good guys and bad guys? Or are the lines between good and bad blurred, and less defined?

Mythic Battles features battles in Mythic Greece. In this world good guys are not so good and bad guys are not so bad… Clearly good and evil is blurred in Mythic Battles. Warriors are the gods’ toys–they don’t really care about their lives…

Do you think today, in the real world, there are still good guys and bad guys? Or are those lines blurred?

The same way as Mythic Battles, I think these lines are blurred in reality.

Are there any other games you’re working on designing, or will you be focusing on expansions to Mythic Battles for now?

I am currently finalizing the first expansion of Mythic Battles to be released at the beginning of next year. I am also working on other projects. I will be able to tell you more about them when they will become more concrete. Hopefully it shouldn’t take long.

The next set of questions are what we call the 1-Word Response questions. They only require one word (or phrase) responses. Aaaannd GO!

Favorite country you’ve visited?


Favorite American cuisine?


Favorite day of the week?


Have you ever jumped from an airplane?


Sausage or Bacon?


We’d like to thank Benoit for taking some time to chat with us about Mythic Battles! You can order your copy of Mythic Battles through Iello games right here! 

Encino Man Liveth – A Stone Age Review

23 10 2012

– by Jeremiah

I went to game night to find Stone Age was set up and ready to play. I was informed that I “probably wasn’t going to like it…” Thankfully for all of us at the table that prognostication was incorrect.

Stone Age at its core is a resource-management/workforce-allocation game set in…well, the Stone Age.

The Setup – Players are given a player board and 5 of 10 meeples of their selected color, and 12 food tokens. The board is set slightly differently depending on the number of players with a certain number of structures and civilization cards. And then resource pieces are placed in their respective areas—lumber, brick, stone, gold and food.

The Players Turn – Gameplay consists of rounds more so than turns; there are three phases to a round: placement, production, and nutrition. A player is handed the first player/caveman/king looking thing token and gets to decide where he will allocate his first meeples. Aside from the resource areas players can stake a claim at 3 special areas: the field, the hut, and what I like to call the tool shed. These are highly sought after spots and very limited, only allowing 1-2 meeples (the hut require 2 meeples from the same player) to be placed there, as opposed to the other resource areas allowing for multiple meeples. The field allows you to accumulate 1 food each round, moving your counter up the food track—you’ll see why this is valuable shortly. While going to the hut, also known as “The Love Hut,” allows players to bring in an extra meeple from their supply. (Now you see why you have to put 2 meeples there.) Going to the tool shed yields one tool; tools help add to your rolls during the production phase. You can also place a meeple on a civilization card (which allows you to purchase it during the production phase) or a structure chip (which you also can purchase during the production phase). Cards give you special abilities during the game and can score points at the end of the game. Structures score you points immediately but give no special powers.

The Production Phase – Once each player has placed all of their meeples, players go in order making all of their production checks and purchasing anything they may have dibs on. This is where the game gets dicey, literally. For each meeple you’ve placed in a certain area, you get to roll one d6, add the total, optionally modify that total with your tools, and then divide by a certain number depending on the resource you’re going for. (Food/2, Lumber/3, Brick/4, etc.) The three special locations don’t require rolls; they produce just by having placed a meeple there. You gather resources, because they allow you to buy your civilization cards and structures and in turn score victory points. And that’s how you win the game.

The Nutrition Phase – After everyone has gathered resources, bought things, etc., you gather all of your meeples back to your player board, and then pay 1 food token for each of them, minus the number your counter is at on the food track—the higher you get your counter, the less hunting you need to do!

The Game Ends – When all of the civilization cards are depleted, or when one pile of structure cards are depleted. You then add up any final points awarded by the civilization cards and whoever has the most points wins.

The Cup O’Stink – About 25 minutes into game play there was an awkward exchange of sideways glances at one another. We discovered that the foul smell at the table was not due to any of us lacking in personal hygienic aptitude. But it was in fact due to the the cup which was included for rolling the dice. It was made, apparently, out of real rawhide, or some form of leather. Thematically it was cool. But in essence it just stank. Otherwise the packaging was great; Rio Grande included lots of baggies, and perfect compartments for all of the pieces and components to fit into nicely!

The Bottom Line – Stone Age, was really enjoyable. There are some timing questions that took a little digging to resolve and in fact do have a pretty substantial impact on the game itself. But once you get the nuances hammered out, it plays smoothly and is a lot of fun. If you hate games that rely heavily on dice roles, you may be in for a rough ride, as gathering resources + bad rolls can = a bitter experience. But if you think out your turns a little in advance you can hedge some of the randomness. Thematically, the game is fun. If I’m riding a hard-line Christian view of it, yes, the “Stone Age” really wasn’t what games like this, and TV/cartoons make it out to be, neanderthal men living in caves, grunting, and beating each other with large clubs. I view it as a historical fiction game, just as I would look at Battlestar Galactica as a science fiction game. By the way, there is no beating of each other with large clubs in this game; that was pure hyperbole. The “Love Hut,” as it were, will cause some Jr. High-ish giggling, but there is nothing lewd about it at all.

Thanks for reading! And as always we love to hear your thoughts on the games we review!

Alien Frontiers Hits the iPad

22 10 2012

If you haven’t played Alien Frontiers yet, it’s one of the slew of dice-Euros that have come out in the last couple of years. It’s got a science fiction theme, and is a sort of worker placement/area-control. It uses dice, but in a pretty neat way—you use them to get resources, build ships, build settlements, and so forth. My biggest problem is that the end-game is swingy and prone to bang-on-the-leader. There’s an expansion out, and it may have fixed my concerns (I haven’t played it yet).
But the point of this post is that it’s available on the iPad now for $4.99—which is WAY cheaper that the actual board game.

What You Missed…

19 10 2012

Well, we’re not sure why it happened, but it was a record-breaking week here at Theology Of Games! And we couldn’t have done it without you. (No, seriously. That’s how it works.) Thanks for reading. Here’s the week’s wrap-up.

First we told you about the 2nd Netrunner pack that’s coming (we haven’t even seen the first one!).

We reviewed that great, cheap, fun, and easily-found-at-Target game Spot It!

We gave you a bonus interview, with the folks behind the Extra Life benefit.

Then we interviewed the folks behind the upcoming deck-builder Pixel Lincoln—both Jason Tagmire and President Lincoln himself!

We gave you the news that Looney Labs is launching an iPhone version of their popular card game Fluxx.

This week’s Kickstarter spotlight was We are Dead, a zombie game—from the zombies’ perspective…

And finally, we revealed that the GenCon exclusive adventure in the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is now available as a print-and-play deck.

Again, thanks so much for giving us a chance. We’re doing everything we can to bring you fun, interesting, thoughtful, and useful posts regarding this crazy hobby of ours. Have a great weekend.

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