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 Grokking the Difference: Jeff Tidball on Unknown Armies vs. Over the Edge Posted: 2018-05-21T11:22:00.002-05:00 Atlas Games

People sometimes offer vague descriptions like ''It's about weird stuff' when they're trying to describe Atlas Games RPGs, especially Over the Edge and Unknown Armies. That kind of description is is accurate but insufficient, like describing a car by saying, 'Well, it's an object,' or describing Star Wars as 'a story.'

The perennial 'weird stuff' description especially falls down when it comes to describing how Over the Edge and Unknown Armies are different from each other. It turns out that there are as many ways to talk about the difference between those two games as there were people around the Atlas Games conference table on the day the question came up. Here's my personal take: 

Over the Edge is a game with international flavor that's best at telling stories about political conspiracies and outré behavior. It's about how people relate to each other in strange ways. Over the Edge has secrets that people keep from each other, but the secrets are MacGuffins (sometimes conceptual, but still) around which dramatic relationships revolve, rather than ends in and of themselves.

Unknown Armies, on the other hand, is a game about occult knowledge and the secret underpinnings of the universe. It asks the question, 'What will you sacrifice for power, to reshape the world in your own image?' It's about how the protagonists define themselves. Its secrets are their own ends, things its characters must find out because their demons drive them to it. Although it can be played on a global scale, Unknown Armies retains a uniquely American outlook and feel even when it's taking place in the farthest corners of the globe.

Naturally, these generalizations have their shortcomings too! Neither definition is true for all aspects of their respective games' backgrounds. Over the Edge has secrets that primarily drive inter-group conflict, and Unknown Armies has outré behavior. But broadly speaking, if you were presented with a series of character or adventure summaries and had to use these definitions as your only working understanding of these two games in order to sort them, they'd guide you to a high degree of accuracy.

The best news? Both games are awesome! If you're only familiar with one, try the other. And if you've never played either of them, now you have a way to figure out which you'll explore first.

 Witches of the Revolution in Spanish Posted: 2018-05-05T16:44:00.001-05:00 Jeff Tidball
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army's defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla. Was witchcraft involved? Who can say. But consider: If witches helped the American revolutionaries defeat the British — as Witches of the Revolution supposes — why wouldn't they want to stick it to the French, too? Read more about Cinco de Mayo on Wikipedia and draw your own conclusions.

In any case, to celebrate, we've released the rules for Witches of the Revolution in Spanish, nicely laid out in PDF format. Have a look!

 Butt-Kicking Feng Shui 2 Bundle of Holding! Posted: 2018-04-11T11:32:00.000-05:00 Jess Banks
We've got a very special Bundle of Holding sale going on right now. Other Bundles have featured our classic RPG line Feng Shui, but this is the first one to offer the bestselling update, Feng Shui 2!

For just $14.95, you can get our Feng Shui 2 releases in PDF, and for just $10 more, you get some of the greatest books from the original edition. That's over $120 of high-flying kung fu action for just $24.95.

As an additional bonus, you can feel good about your support of The National Film Preservation Foundation's work with your purchase. You'll be contributing to make sure the best of Asian action cinema will inspire generations to come.

Run with the speed of a thousand feet to Bundle of Holding to get your books of mystical wisdom!

 Improving Conventions for Everyone Posted: 2018-04-04T12:33:00.000-05:00 Jess Banks
Bright lights are shining on harassment in every part of society, and it's no different in the game industry. The time has arrived when victims and witnesses can seek justice for harassment at conventions and trade shows. I've got some pretty hair-raising stories I could share about creepy stalkers and inappropriate physical contact at game conventionsonce while holding my three-month-old son in my arms! Open secrets finally have consequences. And more fans and makers are insisting on the ethics of the industry we love so much.

San Diego Comic Con anti-harassment policy
(photo credit
It's been more than a year since Atlas Games joined Pelgrane Press in requiring conventions to have an anti-harassment policy in order to receive our support for their events. We insist on a clear definition of harassment, a public procedure for violation, and a policy that's easy to find in the convention's physical space and online materials.

Overall, our stance has been well-received, and conventions have responded by adding and expanding their protections for attendees of all kinds. I've had productive discussions with folks about how a clear anti-harassment policy actually boosts attendance, since people can see before they even register that they'll be supported. And it feels great to support a con that's improving the experience for everyone.

Anna Kegler (L), Rochelle Keyhan (C), Erin Filson (R)
of geeksforCONsent (photo credit Brian van der Brug)
If this is a stance you support, you can bring it to the attention of your other favorite publishers. The more these become community standards, the more leverage we'll have. But don't forget that you can also have a major impact by asking your local conventions about their anti-harassment policies and encouraging them to post them prominently. Local organizations who are skeptical can look at the policies of large cons like the Origins Game Fair and midsize ones like CONvergence. Our conventions will only become more fun for more people with these efforts.

 A PAX Primer Posted: 2018-03-22T11:01:00.001-05:00 Jess Banks
Convention season used to be a summer thing, but these days you can find a convention any time and place. One of the cons that's both spread out and sized up is the series of PAX shows across the calendar and the globe. Their next convention, PAX East, is coming up at the beginning of April in Boston, and since Atlas will be there, we thought it would be fun to look at the PAX family of cons.

The creators of the popular webcomic Penny Arcade started PAX in 2004, at a time when they saw disconnected fan conventions for everything from anime and comics to video games, but none that celebrated geek culture all together. They definitely found an audience for this unified approach, and attendance at the show doubled year after year, from 1337 in 2004 to over 70,000 in 2011. Fans enjoy video game previews, open play, LAN parties, tabletop gaming, panels, and performances. And with all those features, PAX has attracted a more diverse attendance in terms of gender and race, which has allowed them to take positive steps to build a safe, accessible convention.

PAX has introduced a number of shows in places beyond Seattle (whose event was renamed PAX West). PAX East, PAX South, and PAX Australia have expanded the brand successfully around the world. They launched PAX Unplugged in 2017, creating a new kind of tabletop-focused convention for a whole new audience. And there are even "Powered by PAX" events starting up in other places, like this spring's convention in Paris.

Whether it's your first PAX or you're a veteran, and say hi to your Atlas Games friends at PAX East this spring!

 Interview With An Artist: Cursed Court's Lee Moyer Posted: 2018-03-15T12:00:00.000-05:00 Jess Banks
Ozma of Oz by John Neill
Distinctive art and design are a major factor in a person's choice to pick a game off the shelf. Artist Lee Moyer created the compelling look of Atlas board game Cursed Court, so I talked with him about his choices and inspirations.

There's a lot of Art Nouveau influence on your Cursed Court art. Why did you choose that style?

"Art Nouveau combines richness and theatricality in a clear recognizable style. I grew up admiring John R. Neill's illustrations of the Royal Court of Oz, but it's the poster work of Alphonse Mucha that best defines the style."

Mucha poster
for Lorenzaccio
The costumes don't conform to any one time period, but they each suit the character very well. How did you decide to focus on the look rather than historical accuracy of some kind?
Character image: The Merchant

"I think we ascribe a conformity to European courts and cultures that is drastically oversimplified. My goal with this court was to create characters that were archetypal, not specifically historical. This allowed me greater latitude than 'simple' Elizabethan or Venetian fashion. In this case, the Duke's costume is based on a real courtier (though radically different in color); the Jester is wearing motley that was sewn for me many years ago by the brilliant Yvonne Parham (though much toned-down); the Merchant's clothes come straight from a Mucha magazine cover. The rest are pretty much made up from whole cloth."

You feature a diverse group of races, ages, genders, and ability among your characters. Was that important to you?

"Absolutely. Games have a huge and diverse audience, and representation is crucial. And while this group of characters may seem atypical to some, history offers far more unusual examples, like Poland's female King Jadwiga and Pocahontas in London."
Period depiction of Pocahontas at the English Court

Do you have a favorite character? Do you bet on them more often when you play?

"So many of the models I chose for this game are friends. So asking me about favorites is asking whether I prefer Della over Baize, Kira over John, or Jay over Saamanta. I just love seeing them when I play, and imagining how they'll strike people I'll never meet."

 Interview With A Designer: Cursed Court's Andrew Hanson Posted: 2018-03-12T10:30:00.000-05:00 Jess Banks
When we playtested Cursed Court at our Atlas staff retreat, I was struck by how different the game was from anything I'd previously played. So I went to Andrew Hanson, designer of Atlas' newest board game, for some insights on his creation.

Most people have played bidding and betting games of some kind, like poker or casino games. What changes did it require to turn that into a board game?

"My first attempts at making the game were similar to a normal game of poker. The big inflection point was when I added the game board and the 3x3 grid of characters. Almost all of the other changes came as a result of that shift. I described some of those challenges in another article."

Why did you go with the theme of palace intrigue?

"The palace intrigue really centers around the characters. When I first created the characters, I wanted them to feel familiar to players of traditional card games. The intrigue part of the theme is meant to go with the secrets and stakes atmosphere I wanted the game to have."

You made the connection with Atlas at a Protospiel event. What role did spaces like Protospiel play in Cursed Court's development?

"Protospiel events were a huge part of Cursed Court's development. The feedback you get from other designers is invaluable. In addition to Protospiel events, there is a local group of designers near me that meets regularly to playtest each other's games. If you're at all interested in board game design, I suggest you search or ask at your local game store and see if there are any design groups in your area."

Are any strategies unique to this game that differ from other betting/bidding games?

"The most successful strategies in Cursed Court require you to forget about other bidding and betting games. You only have a limited number of chips, and the board ends up having a small aspect of territory control. Players seem to enjoy that shift in thinking as they learn to do better at the game."

What exactly is the curse of Cursed Court?

"The original title of the game was Unlucky Kingdom. That was back when there were only 13 cards in the deck, and the game board wasn't even part of the game yet. Once the game got closer to its final form, it felt like it needed a new name. The alliteration of Cursed Court rolls off the tongue nicely.

"The other main reason for the curse was the different bidding spots on the board. Each of the sets of three or four cards has a name. For example, the Assassin, Sorceress, and Duke is called the Revolt. In fact, all the names involving the Assassin seem to end poorly for at least one of the other characters. Maybe we should have called the game Assassin's Court."

 Round-Robin Rivalry in a Cursed Court Tournament for Retailers Posted: 2018-03-09T08:30:00.000-06:00 Atlas Games
Atlas Games is bringing a new way to experience Cursed Court to the GAMA Trade Show next Cursed Court tournament.
week. Next Monday night, March 12, groups of courtiers vying for influence face off against one another in the first-ever

Game store owners and employees can register. After two round-robin games, the six players with the highest point totals battle it out in a final game. The store whose player wins the final match wins all the Cursed Court copies they can sell in a year! Runners-up packages include Cursed Court, The White Box, and other prizes. And every player wins a Cursed Court promo kit, featuring limited-edition game pieces and other exclusive treats.

Cursed Court promo kits are also available to retailers through distribution, so ask your Friendly Local Game Store to host a Cursed Court tournament you can play in!

 Trading and Dealing at Industry Events Posted: 2018-03-06T10:20:00.000-06:00 Jess Banks
You may be surprised to learn that conventions for gamers, like Origins and Gen Con, aren't the only conventions that companies like Atlas Games attend. Trade shows and open houses are also essential to the way game companies make contact with the stores that bring our games closer to you.

The largest hobby game trade show each year is run by the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) GAMA is the professional association for over 900 game publishers. Their goal is to grow the hobby so more people encounter and enjoy hobby games. GAMA hosts the GAMA Trade Show (GTS) so game designers, game manufacturers, game publishers, and game retailers can network and share the best practices for each side of this relationship. Although GTS is for game industry professionals, streaming channels like BoardGameGeek's BGG News and Dice Tower report live from the show to bring you the latest news in games.

Distributors also host open houses for their retail customers throughout the year, which publishers also attend. Distributors are the companies that collect products from many publishers so they can send a single shipment with many companies' games to a retailer, without the retailer having to order from each company individually. Open houses are spread out, geographically, since there are distributors all across the country and around the world.

Though this kind of get-together is invisible to the gamers who come out for player conventions, trade shows are important for getting games by the publishers you like or haven't learned about yet onto the shelves of your Friendly Local Game Store.

 Cogs and Commissars: A Word from the Artist Posted: 2018-02-16T09:11:00.001-06:00 Cam_Banks
Cogs and Commissars is a clever card game of glorious robot revolution that we are currently funding through Kickstarter. One of the most notable features of the game is its art, drawing on Soviet-era propaganda images and early-20th century science fiction pop art. We asked the artist, Zoran Cardula, how he arrived at this delightful art style.

What was your initial reason for going with this look?
"For many years I have been researching the Soviet style and I believe it has a powerful visual impression depicting the retro-future."

How did you approach the card art?
"Each card is a separate propaganda poster showing the retro futuristic style. The chosen colors give even more power to the game. The characters were a challenge for me, they are worked on both Photoshop and Illustrator, and each part of them is separately created in the style of ’30s, simple but powerful."

What's your favorite image?
"I cannot choose my favorite card but in my opinion the cover is the most impressive as it depicts the game concept. Moreover the leaders are great part of the game (I grew up in a period when the Soviet Union was really powerful). All in all I think the game is a really great concept."

The Kickstarter has unlocked its first stretch goal thanks in no small part to Zoran's dedication and fidelity to a fun, consistent look for Cogs and Commissars. We hope you'll become a part of this revolution with us!

 The People's Test Posted: 2018-02-12T12:38:00.000-06:00 Jeff Tidball

As Cogs and Commissars Kickstarts and comes to the end of its development cycle on the way to production, it’s time to blindtest. When I present or talk to people who are interested but new to tabletop game publishing, blindtesting is sometimes a new concept for them.

Blindtesting is simple: It’s handing a group of players the components of a game as you intend to send them to press, then silently watching to see if they can successfully learn how to play using nothing but those items. During the previous and more familiarly named game production step called “playtesting,” the designer or publisher is often present at a test to explain the game, gloss over inconsistencies, and so on. But as we like to say, “The designer doesn’t come in the box.” That is, when a gamer buys a game in a store, they’ll have to learn it for themselves, without the designer’s help. Blindtesting is how we make absolutely sure that process will go as well as it can, before we spent five figures of cash to print thousands of copies.

Common changes from blindtesting often include streamlining the description of the game setup process, unifying game terms to make sure they’re consistent every single time they’re mentioned, calling out overlooked rules to make them more prominent, adding diagrams in places where testers were puzzled, and clarifying what happens in unusual conditions.

Previous projects I’ve worked on, like Witches of the Revolution, saw substantial revisions to their rulebooks as a result of multiple iterations of the blindtesting process. Other games, like Cursed Court, didn’t change much as a result of that process. Sometimes that’s because the rules are simpler, or more time’s been spent teaching the game to different groups and those insights were brought to bear when writing the rulebook. But as a designer, developer, or publisher, sometimes you’re just plain lucky.

If you’re interested in even more detail on playtesting and blindtesting, there’s a whole chapter on it in The White Box Essays.

If you’d like to give blindtesting a try yourself, you can grab the print-and-play files for Cogs and Commissars, try to play using the cards and rules as we currently intend to send them to press, and tell us how it went! Send your comments to game producer Kyla McT, who you can reach at kyla at atlas dash games dot com. You’ll have fun, we’ll be grateful, and Cogs and Commissars will get that much better on its way to release. Thanks in advance!

 Matt Haga talks Inspiration and Cogs and Commissars Posted: 2018-02-06T10:14:00.000-06:00 Cam_Banks
Matt Haga is the designer of Cogs and Commissars, Atlas Games' clever new card game of robot revolution. We asked him about his inspiration, and here's a little of what he said about it:

"There is no better feeling than knowing that a creation from my mind has moved, inspired, entertained, educated, or in any way left its mark on the life of another human being.

I discovered Magic the Gathering at an early age and played it with my friends, and Dungeons and Dragons a bit later on when I finally convinced some very religious individuals that I wasn’t worshipping the devil or summoning Mephistopheles himself. With Magic I was trying to design my own cards as soon as I understood the game’s mechanics. In Dungeons and Dragons I would spend night after night drawing maps, creating dungeons, and fleshing out stories for my friends to immerse themselves in when we all finally managed to get together.

Of course, these campaigns usually ended up being one or two full nights of character creation, one or two nights of getting the campaign rolling, and then someone couldn’t make it for two weekends in a row and everyone would forget everything - sending us back to square one. But it was still loads of fun.This D&D campaign player absence issue is what actually started me on my journey towards the creation of Cogs & Commissars.

Moving closer to present, my grown up friends and I had not played D&D for years and they expressed to me that they’d love to get together and throw some good ‘ol nostalgia dice. I agreed and got to work, making the most elaborate campaign of my life. Between work schedules, relationships, fickle teenagers, and various dramas, the campaign silently died and board game night was born.

I often thought about the magical formulas which seemed to attract my players over and over again. I wanted to keep my eyes open for fun games to introduce and keep things fresh so I had to know what to look for, but after a while I was having a difficult time finding anything. I wanted something new. It had to be something that we could all play no matter how many of us showed up, it had to be simple enough to grasp for the casual players but deep enough for the rest of us to enjoy, it had to have some degree of personal customization, it had to take up minimal tabletop real estate, it had to have a fun theme, and it couldn’t take all night to complete.

So I started making it myself, and Cogs & Commissars was born."