The Games of Summer

Another crosspost from the latest "Canadian Made, Canadian Played" newsletter. In it, we cover the acquisition of Z-Man Games, provide overviews of some new and upcoming Canadian-designed games, and keep you informed of some upcoming Great Canadian Board Game Blitz tournaments in your area.... Enjoy!

The Games of SummerIf there's one thing we cherish in Canada, it's our wonderful summers. The days stretch on and we soak in every second of sunlight that we can. Ever summer, my wife and I set aside a cupboard in the motorhome for a carefully selected assortment of small board and card games. In the heat of the afternoon, we go for a swim in the river to cool off and then gather around the picnic table to play games under the sun with friends, family, and passersby. When the storm clouds gather in the evening, we move inside the camper and continue on into the night until only the lantern's light is left.

Like The Games of Summer on Facebook Do you have any summer gaming traditions or fond memories? Write in and let us know.

Although summer is often considered the slow season for game-related news, there was a surprise announcement made late in June that will have a significant impact on the Canadian game industry and the games we cover as part of the Canadian Heritage Collection...

In a move that took everyone by surprise, Quebec-based publisherFilosofia Editions announced at the Origin Game Fair that they had acquired longstanding American publisher, Z-Man Games for an undisclosed sum. The buyout appears to have been an amicable one, with Z-Man owner Zev Schlasinger saying "I did not seek to sell the company. But I have always joked that I was for sale if someone came with the right deal: Filosofia did." As always in these circumstances, questions come up as to whether the acquired company was struggling financially. Zev assures everyone that that wasn't the case. "2011 was probably going to turn out to be my best year. I was not in danger of failing at all... basically, it is a deal that came to me, that I liked, that will create a near-invisible change for the better." So what does it all mean? Read on for some insight and analysis from us here at the Canadian Heritage Collection.
Founded by Sophie Gravel in 2002 as an importer and distributor of French-language games from Europe, Montreal-based Filosofia Editions began publishing their own French-language editions in 2006, beginning with Settlers of Catan. Bouyed by that title's success, they quickly established themselves as the dominant publisher within Quebec's robust games market (they now have almost 100 games to their credit, including Z-Man's Pandemic and 1960: The Making of the President). Filosofia has been able to follow a similar business strategy as Rio Grande in the US, partnering with foreign publishers to bring popular games to their domestic market. In the past year or so, Filosofia appears to have reached the saturation point within the Quebec market and likely sees the opportunity for future growth there to be limited. In response, they seem to be switching from an import strategy to an export strategy - they've taken a growing interest in developing and publishing their own intellectual property (including games by talented local designers) and also in reaching out to the broader North American market with bilingual and English-language editions. Their acquisition of Z-Man Games is best understood within that light. The strong Canadian dollar likely made it easy to reach a deal that would be attractive to both parties.
New York-based Z-Man Games was founded in 1999 by Zev Schlasinger, primarily as a means of resurrecting his favorite collectible card game, Shadowfist, which had fallen out of print. He began publishing other card games two years later entered the board game market in 2003, mostly with small-scale projects. The company continued on a hobby basis, slowly picking up steam to the point where it became a viable full-time business. Z-Man partnered with the occasional overseas publisher to bring a European game to the North American market but, with more established companies like Mayfair and Rio Grande already competing in that space, it was hard to compete. Instead, Z-Man focused on developing new intellectual properties, usually from first-time American designers. As the North American game market matured, Zev acquired a reputation for releasing innovative and atypical designs. They were often critically acclaimed but sales remained limited, with the company seeing only marginal growth and the occasional reprint. That all changed in 2008 with the release of Pandemic, a tense cooperative game on an unconventional theme that became one of the top-selling games of the year. The same year, Z-Man also secured the North American rights to Agricola, another smash hit. Those two games finally put Z-Man on the map, generating significant profits and turning the company into a major player. At present, they have approximately 200 games to their credit.
On the surface, very little actually changes as part of this deal. The Filosofia and Z-Man brands will both continue to exist, and Zev and Sophie will both stay on to manage the day-to-day operations of their respective brands. Filosofia will continue to focus on the French-language market while Z-Man will continue to focus on the English-language market and they'll continue to collaborate on shared editions where it makes sense, just as they have in the past. Zev will continue to provide customer service for his games, tour the convention and tradeshow circuit, and be on the lookout for innovative new designs like he always has. Existing contracts with designers, artists, and distibutors will transfer over unchanged. Games already at the printers (includingUndermining, a Canadian-designed & illustrated title) will be remain on schedule. This is a smart deal in a lot of ways, as the two companies bring very complementary skillsets to the table and were never direct competitors (although Filosofia was looking to become an English-language competitor) - both brands can continue to pursue their established strategies and reach out to their existing customers without either having to sacrifice market share to each other. Without knowing the amount paid and the terms of the deal, it's impossible to say whether or not Filosofia is getting value for money but they've shown good business sense in the past and the acquisition doesn't look like it will interfere with or erode their existing business in any way.
The expected changes are fairly subtle and, from what we can tell, mostly positive. Z-Man Games has always been a one-man operation and, as such, certain things generally fell through the cracks. Z-Man has historically underspent of the quality and presentation of their artwork, for instance (although there've been some notable exceptions, particularly the work of Canadian designer/illustrator Josh Cappel, who has worked closely with Z-Man on a number of their titles). Filosofia titles, on the other hand, have generally the rich game aesthetics coming out of France-based publishers such as Days of Wonder, Lillebud, and Asmodee. So retailers can expect to see improved aesthetics and better shelf presence on future Z-Man games. You can also expect better marketing support from them, something that was largely non-existent for Z-Man outside of convention and trade show attendance. As a distributor, Filosofia has a better understanding of retailers' needs and how to serve the channel. In Zev's own words, "because now I have a strong support team working with me, more things will get done like more marketing materials, better flow of product, etc." To better accommodate these changes, the number of Z-Man titles coming out each year will probably shrink, at least for the time-being. This reduction in titles at Z-Man had already been decided on and discussed earlier in the year but they'll now see greater and clearer benefits from doing so. As a result, some games that are not yet at the printer may get delayed or cut and Z-Man will be placing a temporary hold on new submissions. When they resume, however, you can expect Z-Man to carry an even greater number of Canadian designs, thanks to their increased exposure to the Quebec scene. From a curatorial standpoint, the Canadian Heritage Collection won't grandfather in the Z-Man back-catalog but we will flag future Z-Man titles as being Canadian-published.

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New Canadian-designed games continue to grab the spotlight. Here's a rundown of some new and upcoming games that we've been tracking:

Designer: Gavan Brown
Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
Players: 2
Ages: 10+
Duration: 15 minutes
Components: 1 rulebook, 50 punch cards, 9 combo cards, 5 counterpunch cards, 6 boxer character cards, 1 ding! token, 1 clinch / knockout token, 10 health / round win tokens

We've covered this one in the newsletter before but this genre-defining real-time card game is finally available on store shelves and the early reviews are extremely positive. As Eric from Massechusetts writes: "Though each component of the game (punching, staggers, counter-punches, blocking, and combos) is simple by itself, putting them all together can be overwhelming at first. I can't really explain the experience of trying to block your opponent's punches, making sure your own are successful, and keeping track of combo and counter-punch opportunities to the best of your ability...suffice it to say there was more laughter and excitement at the game table than I can remember in quite some time. Our first time trying it out, we played 3 games in a row (not only was it that fun, but we wanted to get better!) The simple elegance of the rules truly allow JAB to float like a butterfly, but the intensely fun game-play will sting you like a bee."

Designer: Jay Cormier & Sen-Foong Lim
Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
Players: 2-7
Ages: 10+
Duration: 20 minutes
Components: 1 rulebook, 200 destination cards, 1 conductor card, 1 two-minute timer, 1 six-sided die

A fun word-association party game. As Ian Collier of the UK writes: "I laughed so much I nearly passed out... Yeah there's a point system etc but like another great word game (Attribute) we had so much fun playing this that we forgot to score it... The most I have laughed for a long time and the most I've laughed at a game EVER. That's well worth the price!" Check out this quick 50-second video for a look at the gameplay:

Designer: Jay Cormier & Sen-Foong Lim
Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
Players: 2-5
Ages: 13+
Duration: 90-120 minutes
Components: 1 rulebook, 5 district boards, 1 collection board, 1 calendar board, 50 property cards, 12 guild tiles, 80 wooden resources, 22 gnomes, 35 elves, 35 dwarves, 60 property markers, 5 player aids

Texas-based publisher Tasty Minstrel continues their roll of Canadian designs with this upcoming Cormier & Lim design which is finished at the printers and due on store shelves very soon. Where their last outing was a light and zany party game, this one's a heavy, Euro-influenced worker placement game where players are managing gnomes, elves, and dwarves to build a medieval city. Here's a 10-minute video interview with the designers:

Designer: Graeme Jahns
Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
Players: 2-5
Ages: 12+
Duration: 90 minutes
Components: Unknown

Designed in Vancouver, this game is turning into quite the international effort. The unpublished prototype won France's Boulogne-Billancourt design competition and got picked up by Dutch publisher Quined Games who then handed over the German language edition to Huch & Friends. Who secured the North American rights? None other than Tasty Minstrel. The game's expected to launch this fall at the Essen game fair and combines worker placement, role selection, and an interesting dice mechanic. In the words of the Boulogne-Billancourt jury, "[Alba Longa] is rich with an astonishing number of possible strategies but manages to convey the clarity of the whole mechanism. The choices offered to the players are numerous and present a contentious interaction too rare in this kind of game."

Designer: Matt Tolman
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Players: 2-5
Ages: 8+
Duration: 45 minutes
Components: Unknown

With Z-Man's recent acquisition by Filosofia, this design out of Calgary will be doubly Canadian (triply, actually, as the graphic design is by JAB designer, Gavan Brown). With the tagline "Mining Rocks!", this game puts players in charge of an UMVee (universal mining vehicle) as they hollow out an asteroid. Bringing the resources back to the refinery on the surface, they fulfill contracts for victory points, research alien technology, and upgrade their UMVee. The components are looking to be top-notch with a double-sided gameboard, plastic UMVees, and nice large player mats giving a zoomed in view of your UMVee with all its upgrades and resources. As part of the buyout process, Undermining was listed as one of the games currently at the printers and unaffected by the transition, meaning it's coming soon. Current estimates are for October.

Designer: Mike Kollross
Publisher: Toy Vault
Players: 2-5
Ages: 8+
Duration: 30 minutes
Components: 1 rulebook, 42 building cards, 30 monster attack cards

Continuing the sweep of 2-5 players games is this officially-licensed, Edmonton-designed Godzilla card game. Light, quick, and self-contained the game's been favorably compared to the classic For Sale. In the case of Godzilla: Stomp! each player takes on the role of a popular Kaiju monster (Godzilla, Mecha-Godzilla, Mothra, and the like) and receives a hand of attack cards numbered 1-5 plus a powerful Rampage card. Over the course of 6 rounds, they'll play every card exactly once, smashing different building cards for points, including a volatile nuclear power station whose value varies based on how many you're able to collect. As Raiko Puust from Estonia writes, "Great little card game. Really fast, really simple and very beautiful game. Takes 5 minutes to learn, 15 minutes to play. Something very easy and yet quite entertaining." With a new Godzilla movie coming to the big screen fairly soon, this is a great impulse buy to have on hand near the checkout counter.

Designer: Emmanuel Aquin
Publisher: Valley Games
Players: 1-4
Ages: 10+
Duration: 30 minutes
Components: 1 rulebook, 24 engraved resource dice, 4 unit marker dice, 4 regular six-sided dice, 4 resource cards, 4 player aids, 52 regular specialist cards, 11 unique specialist cards, 10 regular item cards, 18 special item cards, 6 vehicle cards, 12 award cards, 8 battle maps

Valley Games has taken this popular print-and-play solitaire wargame and given it the royal treatment. Working with the Ontario-based designer, they've turned it into a cooperative multiplayer game for up to 4 players, are including custom dice, applying the lavish artwork so many of their games are known for, and are planning to support the game with a plethora of expansions, including one that will allow another player to join the fray as the enemy Germans. What's the catch? Financing will hinge on an upcoming Kickstarter campaign (if you haven't heard of it, Kickstarter is a fascinating crowdfunding and marketing model that's becoming increasingly popular among American game publishers, professional and amateur alike). As a Canadian publisher, they've faced a few hiccups and hurdles filling out all of the American-centric paperwork but the campaign's expected to launch any day now.

Designer: Roberta Taylor
Publisher: Valley Games
Players: 2-4
Ages: 10+
Duration: 30 minutes
Components: 1 rulebook, 4 garden boards, 1 market board, 1 draw bag, 40 pearls, 26 seagrass tiles, 20 coral tiles, 16 anemone tiles, 16 oyster tiles, 4 oyster with harlequin shrimp tiles, 12 feather worm tiles, 8 sea stars, 8 garbage tiles, 8 relic tiles, 5 clownfish tokens, 5 seahorse tokens

We discussed this one last year when the prototype won the inaugural Canadian Game Design Award. Part of the prize was a publication offer from Valley Games (D-Day Dice was a runner up in the competition) and it's good to see the art on this starting to come together so beautifully. It's already off to the printers and Valley Games is hoping to have the finished product available to show off at this year's award ceremony in October. The gameplay is light and simple but deeply engaging as you attempt to fill your octopus' garden with the different tiles and manage the flow of pearls required to purchase them. Download the rules to get a better sense of the wonderful art and gameplay of this award-winning design.

Designer: Roberta Taylor
Publisher: Whimsy Games
Players: 2
Ages: 8+
Duration: 20 minutes
Components: 1 rulebook, 104 cards

Not content to simply design award-winning games, Edmonton's Roberta Taylor is also beginning to publish them. Prior to her Octopus' Garden win last fall, Whimsy Games was born when her husband gave her the business plan as a surprise birthday present. He had done all the research and negotiation with artists to bring her playful 2-player card game, Sherwood Showdown, to life. The game, early versions of which were designed to be played with a tarot deck, pits players as rival bands of outlaws in Sherwood Forest, vying to capture and ransom the various travellers coming down the road. The art and manufacturing is complete and the initial print run arrived in Edmonton last month. For the time-being, orders can be placed through the Whimsy Games website and special pricing is available for retailers and distributors. Consider showcasing Sherwood Showdown side by side with Octopus' Gardenwhen it releases to highlight the remarkable talent of this exciting new designer.

Like The Games of Summer on Facebook Are these early reviews and previews useful to you and your store? Yes? No? Drop us a line and let us know!

Great Canadian Boardgame Blitz
As mentioned in our last newsletter, the Great Canadian Board Game Blitz (GCBGB) is a circuit of board game tournaments held at Canadian game conventions and retailers. Players take part in several rounds of games over the span of eight hours, collecting points based on their finishing rank in each game. The national finals are then held each summer at Toronto's Fan Expo.

The Canadian Heritage Collection has been working with the GCBGB team to introduce a growing number of Canadian-designed and published games into their tournament format.Wizard, Two by Two, Container, Crows, and Wasabi have all been showcased in recent tournaments and were well-received so consider highlighting these games and bringing in some additional stock the next time there's a GCBGB tournament in your area.

Their upcoming tournament calendar is as follows:
  • August 6 - GameCampLondon (London, Ontario)
  • August 27 - CANADIAN FINALS at FanExpo (Toronto, Ontario)
  • September 10 - Impossible Realities (Saint John, New Brunswick)
  • September 25 - Boardgame Meetup at Rumbletum Cafe (Kitchener, Ontario)
  • October 16 - FallCon (Calgary, Alberta)
  • November 5 - HammerCon III (Hamilton, Ontario)
  • November 12 - Hal-Con (Halifax, Nova Scotia)

Like The Games of Summer on Facebook If you'd like to host the Blitz at your store or local convention or if you'd like to promote, sponsor, or assist an upcoming Blitz event in your area, you can get in touch with Marc Lanctot and the GCBGB team via their website. If you've attended or hosted a previous Blitz event, write in and tell us about your experience.

Like what you hear? Invite your friends and colleagues to subscribe to this newsletter. Have comments, ideas, suggestions, questions, or concerns? Write a Letter to the Editor and get involved. We want to hear from you.

Rob Bartel, curator
Canadian Heritage Collection

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