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

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

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.

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? 😉

He smiled

I remember this moment very vividly – Przemysław is sitting in my office, it’s 2018, a few weeks before the Detective release. The game is already printed and will soon debut.

‘I want you to write me a spy thriller. Cold War era, players taking the role of CIA agents sent to Europe and dealing with some epic KGB operation. Would you be interested?’

He smiled.

***

At that moment, we were after the first demos of Detective at various conventions, and I was pretty confident we have something exceptional here. I knew we would need a follow-up. Changing the role of detectives into spies sounded really cool. New theme, new challenges, different angle and mechanisms.

***

Przemysław Rymer, the writer of the plot, was in heaven. He is a long-time fan of all those books by Frederick Forsyth, Ken Follet, and Tom Clancy. I guess I should also mention his fascination with the political history of Europe. He can quote books by Suworow or le Carre on the fly. He was born ready for this task.

He started building a plot. Based on real Soviet agendas and goals, set in real places and involving historical figures. He was the right man to create the most immersive spy-themed thriller the tabletop industry ever saw. Trust me, he took it seriously.

***

I got the script a few months later. It was around 30 pages long. I was reading it, and it was – believe it or not – sitting on Google at the same time checking the facts and names because the mix between the fictional story and real events and characters was just insane. It was a perfect immersive blend that took me to Europe in 70 in the middle of a secret Soviet operation.

I green-lighted it without any single comment. ‘I love it,’ I just said, and we were able to move to the next stage. Make a game around it.

***

It took us months to write the Vienna Connection. Intense, immersive spy-themed thriller as nothing before seen in the hobby. I read a dozen books about the Cold War era and got into it deeply. The year 2020 was, for me, the Cold War-era year. Books, comic books, movies, TV shows, even podcasts! I consumed it all. I even began to run RPG games with my friends set in Berlin of that period. It was crazy.

***

I have a fantastic job. I work with super talented people and create games I always dreamed of. Vienna Connection is on pre-order now, and if you ever wanted to play as a CIA agent in operations against the Soviets, you must play it. I said it. You must play it. It’s great.

And Przemysław? A few months ago, at the beginning of 2020, I invited him to my office again. I asked him to write me another story. And, yes, he smiled again…

***

Link to Vienna Connection pre-order page: https://portalgames.pl/en/vienna-connection/
Link to Portalcon with new titles announcement: https://portalcon.pl/en
My vlog: https://www.youtube.com/c/PortalGamesStudio/videos

Spiel.Digital as a manifest of virtual limitations

Now we saw it all.
We saw Origins “Epic Failure” Online.
We saw Gen Con “XLS of somebody’s else events” Online.
We saw the Dice Tower “Marathon of Gameplays” Spectacular.
We saw BGG “Not Paid Promotion of Discord” Virtual con
And this past weekend. We saw Spiel “Alternative BGG website” Digital.
So, yes, we saw it all.
We are ready to sum up the whole virtual thing now, but before we do, let me today discuss only Spiel.Digital

Vast exhibitor hall
I saw comments on the Internet that it was too much, too much of clicking, browsing, checking, people were saying that the whole website was too big, they were lost, they were tired after clicking on the site.

That is an interesting shift of perception. I myself dedicated 3 hours on Friday to check as many booths as possible, visiting them one after another. After those 3 hours, I was able to check more than half of the booths at Spiel.Digital in the Expert category.

In a real Essen Spiel, after 3 hours, I would probably be done with one hall. One of eight huge halls. I would just barely touch the event.

I found Spiel.Digital much easier to navigate than crowded halls where I am lost after every 20 meters of wandering. Here it was super simple, click, check what they have, click next, check what they have, next, click what they have… After 3 hours, as I said, I already checked half of the whole show. Super easy.

Hidden games on booths
Although wandering through the halls was much easier than in a real life, finding about the release was so so so much harder. In real life you walk by booth, you see game set up on demo tables, you see components, you can stay for 2 minutes and watch people playing and get some idea about the gameplay. Just look at the tables and get a first impression.

In the virtual world, you enter a booth, and you see a link to Tabletopia. No you are logging in, seeing an e-version of the game, and no gameplay in progress, just you and the table. What do you need to do now? Read rulebook? Look for some players to play? Ask for help? You log out. It is as simple as that. You won’t bother.

I heard yesterday a very interesting point – no hidden gem exploded this Essen. No Aquatica, no Spyfall, no other game that was on nobody’s radar before the show and exploded during the show. Small independent publishers had no chance to become supernova of the fair.

It is very simple – we did not try the new games on a massive scale as we do in the real physical world. No viral recommendation happened.

An Introvert’s dream come true
Visiting a booth at Spiel.Digital was an experience suited for an introvert. You enter booth. Nobody chit chat with you. Nobody asks if you need help. Nobody asks you to join a game. You are alone, nobody talks to you, you can read a description of the game, browse through photos, check videos with gameplay or reviews.

No rush. No crowd. No noise. Only you and the complete information about the game in front of you. Personally, I loved it.

But! But then there are publishers. And publishers…

…Publishers disrespected players
More than half of the booths I checked had no materials dedicated to their releases. It is freaking mindblowing. Publisher pays for the booth. Publisher participates in the biggest virtual show of the year. And he is too lazy to upload a freaking photo of the product. Too lazy to upload a single video. He doesn’t even link a review of the product from Dice Tower or any other YouTuber.

I cannot believe how not prepared most of the publishers were. How disconnected they are from the ways and tools of promoting the product in the XXI century. How lazy their marketing teams are.

Many booths at Spiel.Digital were a sad manifest of complete disrespect to attendees.

Buying games was easy
Spiel.Digital did something revolutionary for geeks who buy games – you were able to buy most of the new releases from one general webstore. Instead of buying games at each separate booth (which also was an option), you were able to check Spiele Offensive and Pegasus Spiele webstores, and they had in the offer most of the new releases. In a few clicks, you were able to buy 20 new releases from all these small and big publishers and have it boxed in one package and shipped to your home.

So efficient. So easy. Click, click and you have a new game from Portal, Kosmos, Amigo, Board & Dice, Hobyworld and all other publishers – packed in one box, shipped to your home.

So much better than holding these insanely heavy IKEA bags through the halls and pulling them to your car in the far, far away parking lot.

But…

Buying games lost the charm
You see the crowd at the booth, people holding the new game, the line of gamers excited to buy the new one hot thing is long, and the energy is here, and the need to be in the line, to buy the game, to bring it home, to have it in hand, to open it in the evening in the hotel, to discuss it in the nigh at restaurant, to show it to other geeks what you bough, discuss it… It didn’t happen at Spiel.Digital, right?

When you go to Germany, when you travel to Essen, you want to bring memories from fair. You buy stuff, because it is Essen, it is celebration of new releases, and you want to bring memories home.

Spiel.Digital lacks of this element. When you sit at home, at your desk, when you browse the catalog, there is no charm. No geeks pressure. No hype. No crazy energy. No people proudly holding the game. No need to have it and to have it now!

You can order it two weeks later from your fav online store. Buying games at Spiel.Digital makes no difference from buying on Amazon.

So why care?

The conclusion
Spiel.Digital by far was the best virtual con of the year. Spiel.Digital by far prepared the most epic infrastructure and gave us tools to enjoy virtual board game convention. We were given so many features to have a great time at the con. The site was mindblowing with all the booths, live streams, Tabletopia integration and all other possible features. It’s a stunning effect of hard work and months of preparations. No other virtual con so far was even close to what we received here. I applaud and respect what was achieved here.

Spiel.Digital did all there is to provide board gamers an event to enjoy.

The question remains, though – was it enough?
And even more important question – is it even possible?

Please, let me know in the comments what’s your take on the virtual cons and Spiel.Digital in particular.

Managing provinces in the campaign mode

Rise of the Empire introduces three pillars that add new gameplay elements to the Imperial Settlers. The first one is well known for all fans who played Imperial Settlers solo variant I published as a free expansion back then in 2014. I will discuss this element today as an opening material for this short series of articles.

Playing Imperial Settlers in the solo campaign mode (free PDF can be found on BGG) or with the Rise of the Empire expansion, you’ll have a series of games that conclude with a special phase at the end of the game – Managing your Provinces. In terms of the theme, it’s the time to manage the growing Empire – taxes, investments, new constructions, and others!

When playing Rise of the Empire campaign, each player receives a dedicated sheet that represents their domain. On this sheet, there is a map where you mark lands and provinces you already conquered. After each game, you mark one new territory. Each of these has a different cost – the cost you must pay to support and keep the province in future games. That’s why the first thing you must do after finishing the campaign game is paying the maintenance cost of each Province you already have in your Empire.

It’s the first of many important choices you must take. When playing Rome, will you conquer the Provinces that have a stone in the maintenance cost? It’s easy to pay for you, sure, but if you spend stone on keeping Province, you won’t have a stone to score points during the game.

As the campaign progresses and you must pay a dozen of resources to keep the Empire intact and keep all Provinces under control, you start to feel like these Roman Emperors, who struggled when the Roman Empire reach the point, when the collapse was the only answer.

After you pay the maintenance cost, the much more fun stuff happens – you draw a new Province card. In the Rise of the Empire, you will find 55 new cards that represent different Provinces. All of them are Production cards, so they boost the Empire’s resource engine. When you play the campaign, you start with all your Province cards already on the table, so the more Provinces, the more strong start in the first turn. The cost, in the end, balances it out in a big way, though…

That’s the first pillar. Gain new Provinces after each game. Get them into play right from the start and have a fantastic start. Have Japanese faction start with the production of Gold and Stone. Play Barbarians who produce a ton of Apples. Command Romans that have a few additional Swords in production from the start… It’s time for your Empire to rise. Eager to find out how it ends!