All`s Well That Ends Well – EuroCup, day 2

Thomas:

And then you realize: In life, there is one thing more important than football and board games: It’s life itself.

During the game between Denmark and Finland, Christian Erikson suddenly fell down on the pitch and had to be reanimated. He was fighting for his life. Thousands of people in the stadium, friends, and family, and millions of people watching at home, were shocked. Erikson was brought to the local hospital. After a while, rumors suggested, Christian was conscious, but no one knew for sure. About an hour later, the good news came out: Christian Erikson was awake and was even able to talk. A huge sigh of relief.

I couldn’t imagine the rest of the game would be played that night. But it happened. Players decided to play again. It was said, Erikson also wanted the game to continue.

It was great to see the fans of Finland and Denmark, sharing their emotions together. Shouting Erikson’s name. When the Danish team entered the pitch again, the Finnish players applauded for them. It was a terrible event, but there were some beautiful moments.

I once experienced myself, there was a situation with a fan who had to be reanimated during a match of my hometown club. It’s shocking, but at the same time, it’s great to see how many people want to help.

Of course, Denmark was shocked. There’s only one subject to talk about on the streets today. For the Fins it was a strange evening as well; This, being their first-ever match in a big tournament. They will never forget. But of course first of all it’s about Christian and his family. I hope they get through this and I wish them well.

Finland won the game 0 – 1. But who cares today. I hope Denmark will pick themselves up and play a fantastic rest of the tournament.
Tomorrow I will talk about board games (Eleven) and football again. Somehow it feels less important today.

Thomas Jansen is the designer of Eleven: the football manager game. Ignacy Trzewiczek is the developer of the game. They both will share their thoughts about EuroCup 2021 and also talk about the design or development of Eleven. Be with them every day during Euro! If you like football and board games, please, share the news about Eleven!

You can learn more about Eleven HERE!

EuroCup, day 1

Ignacy:

The whole world is watching—the opening ceremony and then the first match—the highest pressure possible. It’s the start of the four weeks worldwide event, the first of 51 games. It’s the hour you were waiting for your whole life. I cannot imagine what’s happening in the dressing room, what’s happening when you walk out of the tunnel and enter the pitch. What’s in your mind when you hear the crowd and realize this is it – the opening match of EuroCup, and you are in. The moment you will remember your whole life.

It’s your hopes and dreams. It’s all the fans, supporters, media, everyone’s hopes and dreams to be part of the great game, to experience something exceptional, to see goals, and saves, and tackles, and beautiful passes, and smart plays, and effort, and heart, and drama too.

It’s the first game. The whole world is watching.


Thomas will write and analyze yesterday’s match below, so let me diverse from Euro for a second and talk about the first game… in board games.


When I told my friends and playtesters that I signed a football manager game, they were more than intrigued. Many of them work with me on my designs for more than a decade. Martin was helping me in 2009 with Stronghold, and then in 2010 with Pret-a-Porter; Maciej, on the other hand, was my main playtester for Imperial Settlers. He also designed a solo variant for Imperial Settlers.

They have trust in the games Portal is doing. They are with me for years, being one of the most trusted playtesters I have. It’s a great team of geeks.

They are also football freaks. We play football every Monday forever. We share two passions – board games and football.

So as I said, when I told them that I signed a football manager game, they were more than intrigued.

This first game of Eleven was like opening the Euro. Excitement, hopes, dreams. Martin came to my house to play it. I set up the game, explained the rules, and we played.

That very evening, the first time I showed him Eleven, we played only one round. After the last phase of the round, Martin smiled and gave me that look. It said everything.

This look said, ‘It’s really good.’
This look said, ‘You lucky bastard.’
This look said, ‘I’m in. I want to be in the dev team.’

We talked for an hour about the game and were super excited about upcoming months of work.

Eleven delivered. Eleven was everything Martin hoped for. Eleven is a football manager game we all waited for.


***

Thomas:

For me, Euro2020 started yesterday, right after work.

I like football. My main focus is on club football. Especially the smaller clubs. They were part of the inspiration for designing Eleven. The fight against relegation has intrigued me just as much as trying to become champions. I enjoy the stories behind a season of small clubs. Not being relegated at the end of the season can feel just as good as becoming a champion. I wanted players—when playing Eleven—to experience these dramatic emotions in one of the scenarios of Eleven. Just try not to relegate. Easy, right?

After a disappointing season with my club, I had to change focus. So, I went into a supermarket and bought the ‘Guide to Euro2020’. I read about all the national teams, star players, and stadiums. I really got excited. This is going to be great. I picked my favorite countries, mostly underdogs, and I was ready for the tournament. Ready to watch the first match between Italy and Turkey the next day.

Of course, Italy was the favorite to win this match. If it was about the national anthems, they are definitely finalists to me. What a great song! But it’s not. And Turkey has a dangerous team. They took 4 points from France during qualifying. They beat the Netherlands with a deserved victory. They are fast and deadly. Unfortunately for Turkey, as the first half progressed, the Italians got more and more dominant in the game, resulting in lots of chances. The Turks weren’t able to counterattack, which is normally their strength, due to the fast intervention of the Italians.

But Nevertheless, 0 – 0 at halftime. After the break, Italy got their well-deserved goal; unfortunately, it was own goal. I felt a bit sorry for Turkey because they defended quite well and were unlucky here. After the goal, it went loose. The Turkish wall collapsed. Full time: 3-0.

Italy has shown its strength, and I definitely think they will become the group winner. Although Turkey failed both in defense and attack against a different opponent, they may be able to play the game they like and still end up as number 2 in the group.

I enjoyed this game! I have seen worse at the start of a tournament. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s games!

Thomas Jansen is the designer of Eleven: the football manager game. Ignacy Trzewiczek is the developer of the game. They both will share their thoughts about EuroCup 2021 and also talk about the design or development of Eleven. Be with them every day during Euro! If you like football and board games, please, share the news about Eleven!

You can learn more about Eleven here: https://bit.ly/3xidfAg

Soak with a spy theme

I received the story script and several additional pages of rules for the game from Jakub Łapot and Przemysław Rymer. I read them and was really impressed by the new concepts. The idea of different zones where players could act, the exposure rules, and even the death of the agents! There was a ton of theme in that first draft.

I built the prototype and played it by myself to see how it all worked.

An hour later, I had my answer. None of these ideas worked—literally, nothing, not a single piece functioned as planned.

Was I devastated?

Not at all. That’s how it all starts. Every damn time.

***

It took us another few months of research to make a comprehensive list of ideas for the mechanisms of a spy game. I watched lots of movies and TV shows about spies. I read books. I read comic books. I did the same gig as always—I soaked with the theme. I had a notepad full of ideas.
What’s important for the spy theme:
– codes
– secret messages
– gadgets

I combined it all with the initial ideas from Łapot and Rymer. I was ready to build a set of rules that would work. Testing began.

***

Rymer wanted to use real code cards from the Cold War era. I was skeptical. I was afraid it would be too difficult for players to understand. But after all, it wasn’t that bad. And I admit, when I gave playtesters a real code card from the Cold War and told them it was real shit, they were ecstatic.

This is a real thing. We are receiving messages from the CIA. We need to decode them. We are spies.

I wanted players to also decipher KGB messages. That was, for sure, the task players would not be able to do. We had to come up with a supplementary idea, something that would feel like deciphering the message and yet, would be doable by a random geek who’s not working in secret intelligence. I bought Ken Russell’s books about puzzles and looked for some ideas. Few hours into reading, I had my first Soviet cipher. I used simple mathematical tasks and equations to challenge players. I tested this idea with the playtesting group a few days later. It worked awesomely. First try, the first score, touch down.

I also wanted players to look for the secret words and sentences in the intercepted messages and understand the additional meaning of what was said. This is yet another essential element of all spy movies. They always say something like: “King beats Bishop on C4,” which means that explosives are prepared, and assassination of the cardinal is in the works! Stuff like that is always a part of the spy movies! KGB agents don’t talk like that, but nobody cares—it’s the theme, it’s how it’s done in books and movies. We did the same in the game—players must intercept messages, listen to them, and then think about what was said and what each word meant. That’s silly fun, that’s us, geeks, being smarter than Soviets, that’s what being a freaking spy is all about!

***

Vienna Connection. Decoding real code cards. Deciphering secret messages. Reading between the lines. We put it all. We build the experience. We made you a spy.

Are you ready, agent?

***


More about the game: https://portalgames.pl/en/vienna-connection/

My vlog: https://www.youtube.com/c/PortalGamesStudio/videos
My Twitter: https://twitter.com/trzewik

Twisted mind

The movie starts. The title shows up. It’s called ICE. “Oh, it’s gonna be about hackers, network, very fast computers,” I think and got a little surprised when a few minutes later it turns out it was about actual ice. Winter, snow, ice, you know.
So I am sitting in my room and think what’s wrong with me.
Why when I see ICE, I think computer.
Why, when I see SAND, I think spice.
Why, when I see ACE, I think amber.
Why, when I see POTATO, I think Mars.
Why, when I see PIGEON, I think Rutger.
Why when I see…

So tell me… How twisted is your mind? 🙂

Photo by Michiel Alleman from Pexels

Time machine

George R. R. Martin, Robert Sheckley. Roger Zelazny, Robert Silverberg, all those science fiction icons are renown for their great novels, but also for brilliant short stories. Today we live in an era of thick 500 pages-long books that always are the first part of long series. The market changed. Today no one sells a good idea in the form of 20 pages short story published in a weird fiction magazine.

It was different back then. The whole genre, the golden era of science fiction, shined with brilliant concepts about time travel, first contact, weird gizmos, and all different space adventures. I was first introduced to science-fiction in 1990 thanks to the anthology Rakietowe Dzieci (Rocket Kids) that somehow ended up in my hands. I was 14 year old and I was a perfect target of this book. It was 240 pages long collection of science fiction stories. The tome collected:

  1. Ray Bradbury – The Small Assassin
  2. Mark Clifton – Star Bright
  3. Fritz Leiber – A Pail of Air
  4. Jerome Bixby – It’s a Good Life
  5. Poul Anderson – Terminal Quest
  6. Theodore Sturgeon – Mewhu’s Jet
  7. Frederik Pohl – The Man Who Ate the World
  8. Gardner Dozois – Chains of the Sea

The stories sucked me. I wanted more. I started looking for more things like that. I discovered Sheckley, Zelazny, Silverberg, and all other great sf writers. It took me less than a few months to become sf nerd.

It was 30 years ago, and although I love some thick books of the size of the brick, although I love my Game of Thrones, Dune, and other epic novels, I kept in my heart this special place for a good short story. For the brilliant idea, for the gig you sell on 10 pages and close with a clever punchline.

I mention this to provide you some context to the shoutout I am going to give today. Shoutout to LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS, the anthology of animated shorts that is a magnificent tribute to the golden era of science fiction, to the weird novels, pulp magazines, and the brilliance of the right punchline.

Do yourself a favor and watch the series. And if by any chance your story relates to mine, and you discovered sf through brilliant short stories from Sheckley, Silverberg, and Zelazny, I have good news – LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS is a time machine. Fasten seatbelts. You are going to be 14 years old again.

(Photo by Rakicevic Nenad from Pexels)

A good company

This Tuesday, just out of nowhere, two of our former employees decided to drop by and visit our HQ. One came around 10 a.m., the other two hours later. Still, the scenario was the same – quick chat with me, congratulations on the Robinson Crusoe campaign and growth of the company, then run around the office talking with old friends in the team, then some scavenging in the warehouse and grabbing some boxes, and then goodbye, thanks for dropping by, see you next time.

That two visits put me in a much better mood than you’d expect. Put a smile on my face for long hours. Because you know…

Money. I built a businesswise successful company. It started as a small project literally in my bedroom, with me dreaming about publishing the best magazine about RPG. Ended up with the worldwide known brand, 40 full-time employees, and solid revenue.

Games. I built a company that puts out year after year games that excites gamers all around the planet. We added value to the hobby publishing games like Robinson Crusoe or Neuroshima Hex, and managed to put our own stamp in board gaming. We have a great community of fans who love our games and follow our process and journey.

People. And last but not least – I built a company that people like to work at. The team that enjoys each other, the energy and craziness, the passion and dreams. Having my former employees visiting us regularly, having people who worked here still being engaged with the brand, and cheering for our success is something really exceptional. Our ways split, they left the company but never turned their back on Portal.

I built a good company. And that puts a smile on my face.

Uncharted territory

I met Joel in person for the first time at Gen con 2012. I was running demos of Robinson Crusoe. I knew him as a YouTube reviewer and was very excited when he came to the booth to learn the game. He didn’t say a word for the whole game, and frankly speaking, I was terrified. He was really silent during the game, and I was pretty sure he was bored to death with it. After the game ended, he said he loved it, congratulated me, and left. 

I think the word that describes my feelings at that moment is “perplexed.”

***

I met Joel the very same day, in the evening. I was invited by fans to play a football board game and when I came, I realized that Joel was invited too. I sat next to him. We played.

He was calm with his emotions again but opened a little more. And he regaled me with super funny comments about football and the game through the whole night. His sense of humor was right at my alley. That game night was a blast. It is still one of the highlights of all my gaming.

***

I mention Joel today because last week, he recorded a new episode of his vlog, a celebration video – it’s been 10 years since he started his channel. Quite the anniversary! It’s one of the most respected review channels in our hobby, with a great audience. Joel doesn’t go for clickbait content, doesn’t run to review all the hotness; he does his thing, deep, thoughtful reviews of games he plays. I respect that a lot and love the content.

In the anniversary video, he said words that struck me, and I wanted to follow up today on what he said – that is how discovering new games and genres is an important part of our hobby. It’s the search for the spark, as Joel said, it’s entering the uncharted territory as I’d describe it.  

I remember myself in 1993 when I read about RPG for the first time. Had no clue what it was, but it sounded so amazing and was like nothing I saw before. More than a year later, after long months of reading about it and trying to figure out how to play RPG, I finally played it, and it changed my life. I fell in love and became obsessed with RPG. And then I discovered something called Warhammer Battle, and that was a new uncharted territory. I discovered miniatures, terrains, rulers, and all that jazz. And then I discovered board games. And then I discovered historical war games. Each step in these unknown territories was like a beginning of an epic adventure, it was Sam leaving the Shire, it was the beginning of something new. 

You’d say I saw it all. You’d say there is no uncharted territory anymore. You’d say it is over.

You’d be wrong. 

The spark is here. It’s called Rangers of Shadow Deep, I discovered thanks to Joel’s channel. It’s called Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, I discovered thanks to Grant Rodiek. It’s called Risk Legacy I discovered thanks to Rob Daviau. It’s called The Mind. It’s called solo gaming and Arkham Horror LCG…

Been in gaming since 1993. Thanks to brilliant designers, I’ve been exploring uncharted territories for all that time. 

Lord of the Rings

A few days ago, Chevee Dodd, in his daily vlog, told a story about him discovering and falling in love with the J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Interestingly enough, my experience was far different, so here I am, with my very story. Let’s get back in time. I am 14 years old. It’s 1990.

***

It’s one year after communism collapsed in Poland. It is the first year of freedom in Poland. I am a 14-year-old bookworm from a rather poor family, as many families in Poland back then. I heard about this famous novel that just got published. It consists of 3 tomes and is very expensive. Know nothing about it besides the fact I must read it. It’s called The Lord of the Rings.

I don’t remember how on Earth I made it and could afford to buy the book, but I precisely remember – believe it or not – the bookstore in Sosnowiec, I remember me stepping inside and purchasing the book. It was 30 years ago, but that was an important moment in 14 years old Ignacy’s life. It burned on my hard drive forever. I got the book. Three tomes. Pure joy.

***

It was boring like hell. I was so disappointed. Forty pages of birthday party? What the hell is that?

I put the book aside. Worst spent money ever.

***

It was a costly book. A few weeks later, I gave it another try. I crawled through the birthday part and ended up with two stupid hobbits walking, and walking, and walking, and walking, and walking…

I put the book aside. Worst spent money ever.

***

It was a costly book.

We had family in the countryside, and my parents took me for a weekend in the country. Small old hut, no TV, water only in well, chickens, ducks, and all the inventory running all around. Countryside, you know.

I had the book with me and was ready for the third attempt.

Survived the boring birthday party chapters. Survived hobbits walking. Entered The Inn of the Prancing Pony. Met Strider. Met Nazguls. A few hours later, Gandalf was dead, Boromir was dead, Merry and Pippin kidnapped, Frodo and Sam left the party, Aragorn was giving a speech about rescuing hobbits from Uruk Hai.

And I was in the middle of nowhere, in the freaking countryside village, and Two towers was left at home. I took only the first book with me.

Who could expect I’d need a second volume?

Never before I waited to come back home so eagerly. I was ready and packed in the car on Sunday morning, asking my parents if we are going home already.

***

It was a costly book. Best spent money ever.

I did it justice

I remember being a kid and being honestly perplexed when my school friends were complaining about Robinson Crusoe. Thick, boring book, with no dialogues. They whined. In Poland, Robinson Crusoe was mandatory reading in school. Every kid was complaining. For me, it was the novel of my life, even though my life was like ten years long at the moment. I loved it.

Years passed. High school. College. Life. I was a book worm, and geek, and a gamer. I discovered RPG, found a game company, wrote few RPG games, started a family. Robinson Crusoe was with me all the time. I read it few more times, watch all the movies about it, even designed an indie RPG game about castaways that never got published.

Then I discovered board games. I designed Witchcraft (2008), Stronghold (2009), 51st State (2010), and Pret-a-Porter (2010). Early 2011 I felt I am ready. I felt I have enough skills and knowledge about game design to do Robinson Crusoe justice and make it into the best board game I can ever design.

It was 10 years ago.

As for today, the game has nearly 100k logged plays on BGG. It sold in more than 200k copies worldwide. Released in 12 different languages all over the planet. And exactly today, on Sunday, April 11th, 2021, the new edition of the game, this full-blown fantastic Collector’s Edition, passed 2 million USD on the Gamefound platform. Quite the milestone.

And even though the design is 10 years old, I still look at it with pride and satisfaction, and I strongly believe I did Robinson Crusoe justice.

I like to think that this 10 years old Ignacy would be pretty darn proud of me right now.

The power of different angle!

‘I don’t like it’, I said when Joanna approached me with her idea for the newest expansion for 51st State. ‘Try it though, give it two or three weeks, see what happens. It won’t work, but you need to see it by yourself.’ I said and gave her green light.


It was early March 2020, and her idea for the expansion was a semi-coop variant for the game. Moloch attacks all players at the table, and they need to fight against each other, as usual, and additionally against Moloch cards. It makes perfect sense for the theme of Neuroshima world, but I really hate semi-coop games.

I had so many bad experiences with semi-coop games that I am basically done with this genre. It is tough to design a game that keeps everyone equally engaged for the whole game and to keep players who know that they have no longer a chance to win interested in the game.

So I said Joanna, I vote against the idea, but she should try it anyway.


COVID hit, we all ended up at home working in home office mode, and the playtesting process became super difficult. After few weeks, Joanna said she finally have it ready to show and that she built the prototype on Tabletopia.

I am not a fan of playing board games on the computer. Back then, in March or April 2020, when it all was new to us, I really was not a fan of the tool. But that was the only tool we had. So we played.

The test took us more than two hours. Operating on Tabletopia was a dreadful experience, talking over Skype, trying to understand the prototype, trying to understand Tabletopia, trying to keep my dogs silent for more than 5 minutes. It was 2 hours horror, but…

‘It’s not that bad.’ I said. ‘Maybe I was wrong. Keep working on it. You might have here something.’


Joanna worked on the expansion for another few months. We all struggled with playtesting, the brainstorming was difficult on Zoom, creating new versions of the prototype was taking much more time than the regular pen and paper method when you can scribble on the card, tweak one or two words and continue playtesting with the new version.

At some point, after months of work and many iterations, it was ready. It was much better than I expected. And what’s more, it was everything I would never create by myself. I would never create a semi coop expansion. I would never create an expansion with double-sided cards. I would never do an alternative co-op variant in 51st State.

Moloch changes the game. Adds a new angle. Throws at players new challenges and choices. It’s manifest of Joanna’s talent and manifest in general of diversity in design. The beauty of different approach and ideas. It’s like First Martians and On Mars and Terraforming Mars, three great games, three different methods, three examples of the power of design.

I was wrong when I said semi-coop is a bad idea. But man, I was so right that I let her work and do what she wanted. She did something I would never do.

So the bottom line, kudos to both of us, right? 😉