Publishers and designers you'd follow anywhere

So I’ve been thinking, there are certain boardgame creators who I will always at least look at their next project and usually be up for getting it almost regardless of theme or type of game. For example, Level 99 Games. They’ve done a variety of games - one on one duelling across several quite different approaches, worker placement, uh…CCG simulator?, train game, puzzle game - and the ones I’ve played have been so good, so varied, so creative and attractively produced that I’m there for nearly anything they do. I don’t really “do” train games, for example, but Empyreal? I was on board. And it’s good! The only things I’ve skipped are older and mostly unavailable titles and Exceed and Sakura Arms, both of which seem like they hit basically the same niche as BattleCON but are less appealing to me for different reasons. (Exceed introduces randomness I don’t find appealing, Sakura Arms apparently involves building your deck every time and a steep learning curve, which is not for me.)

Similarly, my experience with Tainted Grail was so good, and what I’ve seen of games like Nemesis, The Edge: Dawnfall, Etherfields and The Great Wall so exciting that at this point I’m pretty sure I’m all in on Awaken Realms unless they do something completely outside my interest space - a big traditional miniature-based wargame where every model is $10+, a full on hidden role game (Nemesis has elements, but you can play without and it’s a bit more complicated than just “there’s a traitor”, so I’m still interested), that sort of thing.

I briefly felt this way about Stonemaier Games - Viticulture, Euphoria and Scythe are all my jam and super well produced…but I honestly haven’t been interested in anything they’ve done since Scythe. And even before that, Between Two Cities didn’t really light my fire. So I think that bloom is off.

I might be getting there on Chip Theory Games - so far I just think Too Many Bones is terrific, but Cloudspire and burncycle look cool enough that I’ve backed the Cloudspire reprint/expansion and burncycle, and I imagine I’ll be there whenever they do the Hoplomachus solo game project to try that out. If those all turn out as good as TMB. Well then.

And finally, I’m pretty much up for whatever Vital Lacerda does even though I can rarely get his games to table. Especially Eagle Gryphon’s gorgeous productions. My one caveat is that I like his stuff because of how heavy they are. Mercado de Lisboa, while clever, was a little too watered down to catch my interest. I probably won’t grab anything else in that vein either.

There are other designers and companies whose stuff I like, of course, but either they’re not so consistently up my alley that I’ll just get whatever they do (e.g. FFG does games I like but plenty I don’t too, Vlaada is a genius but only some of his games are doing stuff I want to play with), or they’re really basically only doing one thing so far, and I don’t have any idea if I would want a different experience from them (e.g. the folks making Hexplore It - the two volumes so far are great, looking forward to Sands of Shurax and eventually Domain of Mirza Noctis…but it’s all variations on the same game and they can be combined, so.).

How about you?

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I find it difficult since there’s only so many boxes I can fit in the house. It’s not the same as checking out every book from an author or album from a band. So many games I WANT to try, but don’t want to spend £60 on, and no one I know will buy them!

I miss the early days of my hobby-dom, when I’d buy barely anything, but the group brought in pretty much any game I can think of. Now the games that arrive are not the ones I find interesting!

I was on the LaCerda train, but now I’m at the stage where I think my LaCerda section is full. They’re so BIG, and take so much commitment. I’d love to be at the stage where I just have my favourite LaCerda that me and my friends know inside out so no longer need to worry about the rules teach… but that’s a fanciful aspiration.

I’d always be up for trying a Knizia or Rosenberg I haven’t tried before, but not got any interest in owning them. A Feast for Odin is my big Rosenberg game that I’ve committed to. I love it and don’t need any more games to compete with it. To me, these guys are like a really simple pasta dish. It won’t be crazily innovative, but you know in talented hands the simplest ingredients can be great.

Lehman and Wallace I always have time for too. Umming and ahhing if I want to get Res Arcana when I love RollftG so much. Sure they’re different games, but for that weight engine builder, I’ll always choose Roll. Wallace has a knack for economic games, and A Study in Emerald is a marvel of crazy ideas. It amazes me that he managed to publish that game.

And I’ll always try new Pandemics. It’s up there with Soduko or Logic Puzzles for satisfactory tight puzzle with plenty of ways to adjust the core mechanics for variety. Gutted they stopped the new championship editions. The idea of a different designer working on the same game each year was really interesting to me. Sure, I don’t need to own 20 kinds of Pandemic, but think about how great the 3-4 best would’ve been! And how they could have pushed it once the more obvious options were exhausted! Iberia, Rising Tide and Rome are SO GREAT!!

Splotter I don’t have as much experience with, but would always give a shot. You know you’re guaranteed an idiosyncratic take that may or may not work, but will definitely have interesting and unique ideas. Think I will get Great Zimbabwe, but don’t think I’ll buy more beyond that.

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Yeah, space is certainly an issue. I might have to trim down on Lacerda eventually, since I can’t get his stuff played much, but when he keeps doing themes like Escape Plan and On Mars…gosh.

The bonus of companies like L99 and Awaken Realms is they have such varied output that they can cover a lot of positions in a collection without tons of redundancy.

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I definitely pay attention to anything Splotter Spellen does. As well as Level 99 games. Recently Plaid Hat Games (in addition to liberating itself from the Asmodee umbrella) has earned my attention (by me discovering their back catalog). CGE, additionally, has a lot of great output from a wide variety of designers.

I’ve not yet played a Lacerda game, but I have a couple of them on the way.

Knizia games are definitely on my radar and I have several in my collection. Rosenberg and Feld are also well-represented.

And how did I forget Cole Werhle! I adore his mind and think he’s going onto very big things. His approach to game design is just so interesting to me. His modern development of war game principles into more Euro-y boardgames (or at the very least how they’re marketed as more euro-y games) feels quite unique at the moment.

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For now? Cole Wehrle. I haven’t played all of his games a lot but what I have seen of Root, Pax Pamir 2 and the upcoming Oath… just clicks with my brain.

There was a time when CGE could do no wrong in my book especially Vlaada Chvatil.

At the start, after they had just published Terra Mystica, Feuerland was absolutely always getting my attention and they still do. They often offer the kind of games I enjoy. I will not go in blind but I wouldn’t miss their booth at SPIEL for anything. Also, I like that they keep their stuff in print and that they seem to be on good terms with the local stores (not all publishers are the good guys).

There are many more names of either designers, publishers or artists that will make me go “oh, what’s that? let’s have a closer look” but those above are the main ones that come to mind.

I haven’t had the pleasure of playing a Lacerda game yet but I am very intrigued (and still waiting for my copy of On Mars to prove that he makes the kinds of games I enjoy. If it turns out to be true I may get more of those.)

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Knizia - well, not all of them. Knizia has a thing on making kids games too. Which is fine. But with a limited budget, there’s little point on me going through every single thing he did. I just played King’s Gate last night. I’m still exploring his backlog even today.

Kramer & Kiesling on a box is enough for me to buy it.

Splotter Spellen - so far, every game I’ve tried from their Big 5’s are excellent. Bus is fine, but still one of the better games out there.

Uwe Rosenberg - I like both of his big and small box games. He makes Euros that are up my street. I don’t usually buy brand new, but preordered Hallertau.

Andreas Steding - very impressed. I don’t own all of his, but I really enjoy trying them - except for Gugong, If he announce a new game, it’ll be in the wishlist immediately.

Mac Gerdts - When I heard he’s making Transatlantic II, it went immediately into my must-have wishlist.

Board Game Tables has been very good to me. Their output: Q.E. and Bites are superb. I didn’t hesitated on their 3 small box game Kickstarter. Also, if you have their 2021 Calendar, you can see one of my pictures there under the name “LaLunaVerde”.

Michael Schacht and Leo Colovini - Every game of theirs I want to try, but since I’m the only one who buys them in my gaming circle, I end up buying them. Any new game will be in my wishlist.

Not a designer nor publisher, but I’m nuts towards 18xx, at the moment. So, Mayday, AAG, GMT, please, keep pumping out those train games.

I’ll be checking out Vlaada’s back catalogue after COVID.

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This. As far as I’m concerned, Vlaada Chvatil is the absolute best thing to happen to board games. And that includes his coding skills and his rulebook-writing skills as well as game design. Anything he does will get my attention.

I’ll take a serious interest in anything by Ed Beach too.

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As of 5 years ago I couldn’t tell you the names of 5 designers with a gun to my head. Then I started working at a game store, and suddenly realizing as I talked about games that trends started to appear for specific designers.

Let’s get the top two out of the way first:
Vlaada Chavtil is a super-genius and possibly the greatest game designer of all time. That’s not to say he doesn’t have duds (That’s a Question is pretty bad, and a few of his older games aren’t great), but man, when he’s on, his games are as close to perfect as they come. Two of my Top 5 Games are his (Space Alert and Galaxy Trucker), Codenames is the gold standard by which all Speil Das Jahres (sp?) are measured AND all party games are measured, and so many of his games are so completely different and yet rock-solid in their designs. Plus his manuals! Gods, even FFG struggles to make manuals anywhere near as funny, clear, and straight-forward as Vlaada (or whoever on his team handles that element). Tash-Kalar, or Through the Ages, or even the thoroughly ridiculous Bunny Bunny Moose Moose (my official nickname at work due to YEARS of begging the owners to find a copy of the game before I was hired there)… he’s just spectacular.

Wolfgang Warsch… one of my favourite parts of my (paying) job is specific elements of game pitches, and of all those my favourite of my favourites is getting to talk about Wolfgang Warsch. I will grab whichever of his games I’m going to talk about, take a deep breath, and then say:
“Wolfgang Warsch may be a time-traveller. See, his real-world job is a brain surgeon. I’m not making that up, it’s his actual full-time job. He is also one of the most handsome men I have ever seen. Dude is ripped. But when he was taking 6 months off being a brain surgeon - did I mention that he’s actually a brain surgeon? - in order to nurse his sick son back to health, he happened to accidentally design six of the greatest games every made by human hands. If I ever meet him: stab, rotate, extract. It’s just too much talent in one body, he makes the rest of us look bad.”
The Mind is one of the easiest, most accessible co-op games ever. Illusion holds the record for the most times I have personally purchased a game (five: ever time I play it with new friends, they’re always like “Wow, that game is fantastic!” and I just give them my copy because it costs like $15). Quacks is a wonderful little push-your-luck mechanic game that’s a great equalizer for advanced vs beginner gamers. Wavelength is a spectacular party game that works over Skype or Zoom as well as it did in person. And so on. Again, not all of his games are fantastic (Fuji is a bit too fiddly for me), but he is a great designer.

Uwe Rosenberg and Stephen Feld both get honourable mentions for knowing their wheelhouse, and sticking to it. Uwe has only ever designed one game in his life (Agricola, in my opinion the worst game he ever made), and all he’s done since then is buy Ferraris and yachts by redesigning and refining that design (technically, Uwe has made 3 games: Bohnanza, Agricola, and La Havre, but the statement still holds… he has a small pool to draw from, and he just keeps going back to the same designs and making them just a touch better each time). Feld is much the same, although not as consistently “good” (note that I like Uwe, but if you dislike one of his designs chances are very good you’re going to dislike all of them).

Oh, and Phil Walker-Harding holds the record for “I can’t think of any of his games that are actually bad”, and the title for “Most Diverse Designer that Continually Surprises Me Who Isn’t Vlaada” (very few of Phil’s designs share much in common, but they’re almost all good-to-spectacular). Sushi Go, Barenpark, Imhotep, Gizmos, and so on. All different, all great.

Lastly for designers, two Canadians that I’m always interested in are Daryl Andrews (he lives in Waterloo, the town/city I live in, and I encounter him a few times a month in the game store where we geek out about other designers and games we’re excited to play… his best known game is Sagrada, but he’s done some interesting other ones in Kodama 3D, Bosk, and The Quick and the Undead) and Eric Lang (Lang has a specific wheelhouse, solid area-control wargames, not all of which I love and often the art design is cringy-to-awful, Blood Rage I’m looking at you, but he is a voice for diversity and inclusiveness in the industry and I always check out his designs even if they aren’t always for me). Rising Sun was ambitious and pretty solid, The Godfather game was pretty good, and Arcadia Quest is pretty solid silly fun… oh, I should say he usually does area-control wargames, but he dabbles pretty heavily in dungeon crawlers as well, I think his newest one is Munchkin Dungeon, which is the closest I’ve ever come to buying any Munchkin product in over a decade.

Edit: I should also mention three artists that every time I see them I am at the very least heavily interested in picking up the game: Chris Quilliam, another Canuck, Ian O’Toole, and Kwanchai Moriya. Also one artist I hate with the passion of a thousand suns: The Miko, who I hate exclusively for the goddamn arrogance of attaching THE to his name. THE Miko. Screw you, Miko. You want to shorten or change your name for English gamers, fine, but THE Miko!? It makes me mad just thinking about it.

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Ryan Laukat/Red Raven seems like the obviously example. Anything he’s involved in, I know it’s going to a) be pretty, and b) have something quirky about that design that makes it worth playing, even if it’s not the greatest game ever made.

Bruno Faidutti just seems to design a lot of games I enjoy. He seems to like putting in mechanics that suit what I enjoy most about games.

Paolo Mori has designed two of my favourite games (Ethnos and Dogs of War) and turned a game I was kind of indifferent about (Pandemic) into another favourite, so I’ll always be interested in whatever else he comes up with.

As for just as a company, I’ll always take time to check out whatever EmperorS4 releases, just because it’s always an opportunity to find games that are quite different from what Western publishers put out.

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Don’t forget Patchwork/Nova Luna/the other polyomino ones named after seasons that are too numerous to remember.

It’s very odd that he also had a hand in Quarriors/Dice Masters, HMS Dolores, and Secrets.

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All parts of Feast for Odin, which is just a heavier, deeper Agricola.

One design, man. Uwe is a one trick pony… but damned if he doesn’t do that trick really, really well.

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I think the timing/turn order track is unique to those games. I’d say it makes them quite different to worker placement farming games.

Then again, New York Zoo has just arrived, which I think does the timing track thing, but with picking animals to go in enclosures …

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I thought of mentioning the “Brunos”… the other one I really enjoy is Bruno Cathala’s games.

Antoine Bauza is a name that get’s my ears up as well. (famously because of Ghost Stories)

I concur on so many of the names mentioned here.

Oh so true, sadly my partner and I fall on different sides of that divide. Although he likes Bohnanza a bit. But anything that smells of animals procreating and he runs away screaming. I haven’t got him to try Nusfjord yet.

PS: why has nobody mentioned Chudyk yet?

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I admire the design approach of testing out a mechanic in isolation to make sure it works, before implementing it into a larger game.

I wonder how many other designers work in that modular way… without releasing every prototype as a published design.

It seems like where a lesser designer would say “actually, this works better a different way, let’s ditch the old design”, Use says “this works better a different way. Great, that’s two designs sorted!”. Phylogenetic designs!

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Bruno Cathala’s dedicated two player designs always grab my attention. When I game with my partner, we’re usually looking for something that plays in under an hour, has a simple ruleset and a satisfying brain burn. That’s the sweet spot, and he hits it consistently. He’s also one of the great poster children for restraint in design. His one-off titles with Faidutti and Maublanc are among my (and our!) favourites.

Trevor Benjamin is a Canadian designer (based out of the UK I think) that seems to come from the same school of thought as Cathala. He’s also more often than not a collaborator. He can be mechanically ingenious (War Chest, Undaunted) or restrained (Maya, Mandala), but his games always produce something marvelous above the board. He tends to brainstorm/prototype games with his young daughter and I think that’s something that really helps his designs, as they are always easy to grasp and leave you hungry for further play.

For publishers, Capstone, Osprey and AEG are the only ones I pay any real attention to. Unless we count self-publishers like Elzra.

[EDIT] I wanted to add that I’ll also take a hard look at anything Kwanchai Moriya or Peter O’Toole have gotten into. Kwanchai in particular is one of the most exciting working artists today, and O’Toole is single-handedly schooling the rest of the industry in modern graphic design. Obviously there are other prominent artists working in the BG space, but I think these two are really unsung heroes with respect to their work moving design elements forward. They’re making games look better and READ better for all of us.

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I love PWH, but he made a boring forgettable game that Quinns loves. I forgot what it’s called: Egyptian themed set collecting.

I highly regard Quinns’ taste on card games, but that one was a big miss. Im always on autopilot whenever I play that

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I think at the moment Cole Wehrle’s games are probably the only ones I’d pick up without thinking about it. I’d be the same with Splotter Spellen if their games weren’t so expensive/hard to get hold of!

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For me Eros Lin is always someone I’ll look at their games. Burano is one of my favourite games, Round House would be great were it not for a dominant strategy and Sorcerer and Stones is a great semi-abstract. Haven’t tried Jiguan yet largely due to the pandemic times.

Splotter will certainly get my attention. Bus was a disappointment so I certainly won’t go and trawl their older games. Will almost definitely get the new one though and most likely any even more future ones.

Plus much like @lalunaverde 18xx is my big thing currently so I have 8 bought and 11 on ks/preorder. Too many but now the flood gates have opened they’re so good and I’m keeping it only held back by keeping it to mass produced games only. Although I haven’t bought all I could. They are deeply fascinating though and I’m enjoyig so much about all the different flavours and mcguffins are still interesting me. So deep, so interactive, so good.

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All my picks have already been written about extensively (except Carl Chudyk?), but in the order I discovered them:

Vlaada Chvatil for Through the Ages, Mage Knight, Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert, Tash-Kalar, Dungeon Lords, Pictomania, and Codenames. Not sold on Dungeon Petz or Bunny Bunny Moose Moose. Didn’t like Travel Blog, won’t play That’s a Question, not going to bother with his older designs.

Carl Chudyk for Innovation, Mottainai, and Glory to Rome, maybe Impulse. Didn’t like Uchronia, won’t play his new viking Carcasonne thing, interested in Aegean Sea, not going to bother with his older designs.

Cole Wehrle for Pax Pamir 2e and his writing. Not sold on Root, waiting on Oath, looking forward to trying John Company 2e, unlikely I’ll ever play his older designs.

Splotter Spellen for Indonesia, Food Chain Magnate, The Great Zimbabwe, and Antiquity. Not sold on Bus, waiting on Roads & Boats, interested to see what they come up with next, but unlikely I’ll play any of their older games.

Even these guys though, I’m no longer going to buy anything unknown from them again. Pax Pamir 2e and Oath were… moments of weakness. In each case, I’ll try and wait and see what the verdict is before jumping on a second printing.

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