Five Families – genesis

Untitled designI am a huge fan of Legacy: testament of duke de Crecy. I believed in the game from the very first play. I remember this game exactly, we were in the office, me, Greg and Lucas, I remember my excitement and surprise that this prototype is actually so fun. I remember long months of very hard work on developing the game, all those tiny details we changed to improve the game play. I remember Essen fair, release of the game and wonderful feedback we received.

Believe it or not, trust me on this or think that this is some kind of marketing bullshit, but the truth is – my kids love the game. We play it once a while on weekends and each time we have a blast.

I am so proud to be publisher of this extremely thematic and fun euro game. And I was so sad we have no expansion for the game, no boost for players to play it again, no new cards and additional replaybility.

At some point this year, after meeting with Portal Games fans at Portalkon I decided that this is it. The game deserves amazing expansion.


If I could point out any problems with the base game, that would be lack of interaction. So many people asked to have a chance to connect their families with different players, make alliances and connections.

It took me some time to figure it out how we can make it happen.

Then it all just clicked. With some small bumps here and there, the expansion was ready in a few days. Then we only needed to play test it, balance it, polish it.


I designed deck of spouse cards that would represent cousins of a player. And then I let players trade them. It worked from the very first play test. Player have cousins in their hand and try to convince other players to marry those people.

‘Here is my aunt. She is pretty, she is a promising diplomat and as far as I know, she might get you a mission from the king…’

‘Here is my nephew. He is stubborn bastard, but trust me, this is best scientist in the Paris. And his father is rich. I mean, really rich. Your family gain lots of money if you marry your daughter with him.’

‘Here is Ann, my wife sister. Amazing women. She lives in Spain and she has a very wide connections there. I strongly recommend you set a date with her and your son…’

Matchmaking phase was a blast. From the very first game. It was funny, it was engaging, it was like a core of Legacy, both thematic and strategic. If other player takes your cousin card, he is welcome you for a help. You gain favor tokens. Collect them.

One day, one round you will use them…


So we have a new board with special actions. Spending favor tokens you can use space blocked by other player. He owns you a favor, he won’t block the action. Spending favor tokens, you can ask other player for money. He owns you a favor. Spending favor tokens you can get additional action pawn. Somebody helps you. He owned you a favor…

We put different value on cousin cards. Some are very powerful and will bring you many favor tokens. Some are weak, but you’ll get only one favor token.

The euro game begins. Build on thematic construction, build on thematic fundaments, we designed euro mechanism. Trade powerful cards that will help other players, but will provide you with many favor tokens? Trade crap so your opponents don’t get advantage, but forget about special actions activated for favor tokens?

Think. Make decisions. Play to win.


And when it all worked and made a perfect sense, we made this families like factions. Just like most of Portal Games games. You have a house of diplomats with really nasty, mean cards. Think of dark elves. Think of Egyptians. You have a house of merchants, with no prestige at all, but rich like a king. We have house of architects who change ordinary mansions into amazing buildings with special skills.

Now you play a house of… Now you play an unique family. Now you adopt your strategy to the deck of cards you start with. You play differently if you play with diplomats, you play differently if you play with scientists…

Theme meets euro mechanism. Again…


There is more in the expansion and I will talk about this in the next article. Let me just tell you today the same thing I tell you about every game we put. I am proud of this design. I believe in this design. I sacrificed many weekends, nights, afternoons working on this stuff. And I can not wait for you to play it. Because I know we did a hell of a job with my team. Again.

You can learn more about the expansion at Portal Games websiteYou can pre-order expansion at Portal Games webstoreExpansion is scheduled for Essen 2015. 



Banter – the key to success

medium_4535868510Board games provide social experience. We play to meet people. To have fun, to tell jokes, to laugh. Sometimes we also play to win. But let’s face it. If the reason I am in this hobby is winning, I should quit. I don’t win that much. But I do have much fun, I do tell jokes, and I do laugh all the time.

Yesterday’s #boardgamehour was dedicated to banter. As Walt explained to me (since I didn’t know that English word before) banter is: “Table talk. Conversations with jokes.”

Man, playing games for me is all about banter. I am not playing games. I am bantering games!

One of the games that let’s you banter a lot is Michiel Hendricks ‘Legacy: testament of duke de Crecy‘ published by my Portal Games. At the beginning it looks like boring and dry euro about marriges in XVIII century. Not fun at all. But if you start play, you will discover that author designed cards in an extremely smart way and with a help of publisher (that would be me!) who added cute artwork we have one of the most funny euro games out there!

In the game you choose Friends cards and put them into play as a husbands and wives of your children (and grand children and so on). You choose who deserves to join your family. In a second you are grabbed with a theme. And your fellow players begin to banter…

pic1760858_mdYou’ve just put into play David, the shoe maker. Your family looses Prestige and all players will make laugh of your daughter who had to marry such a dude. Is she pregnant already? they ask. Are you happy with your son-n-law? How’s his family? Do they fancy art? Yeah…

You put into play Constant, the king’s relative… Your family earns a lot of money and Prestige, but… Yeah, bantering again. This man is infertile! You gave up grandchildren just to earn Constant money?! Do you love your daughter? You made her marry such a pig?!

pic1760508_mdWe can go on. Just imagine the moment when you put into play Friedrich, the blackmailer. You can see what’s going to happen, right? You can hear all those nasty jokes about your poor daughter thrown into arms of Prussian beast! But on the other hand, if your son will marry Margareth, hot Prussian physician, that’s other story. You gain Prestige, you have hot lady in your family and now you can look at fellow players with pride in your eyes…


The trick Michiel introduced in Legacy is so damn simple. No fluff on the cards. Just name, name of the card which at the same time acts as a fluff. Look at those cards:


Sarah, the revolutionary. And that’s it. We see here hot Merida-look-like girl who looses 1 VPoint if you have another US character in the game, because she is a revolutionist! What a lady! I want her!

6Elena, the art collector. She get’s 3 cards when you put her into play since she knows many people. Again, I have to say! What a lady!

9What about Michael, the ambitious officer? We all want to have such a person in our family! Young and ambitious! This is a good husband for your daughter!

And so on, and so on.

Each card has funny title. Each card makes you comment. Each single card makes people banter. Say jokes and laugh. This is conscious choice that Michiel did. He removed fluff from cards. He changed names of the cards into funny fluff itself. And he succeed. We added funny pictures and here it comes – amazing social experience. Pure fun. Jokes and laugh.


I do like to read reviews of Legacy, because each reviewer points out this aspect of the game – jokes and bantering, all the time.

Little Metal Dog wrote: As the game progresses and this immense tableau starts to spread out before you, passers by are drawn in almost magnetically, wondering what on earth is going on and why you appear to be building some sort of pyramid while you rant about needing more money to give your great-grandchild the mansion they so desperately require. All the while your opponents are mocking your decision to marry off the youngest heir to the Gardener’s daughter but you did it anyway because love must prevail and it’s the only card you had at your disposal that worked…

Space Biff wrote: Like when you marry your highborn grandson to Arianne the Courtesan because it doesn’t require an action (scandal!) and you really need her plush dowry so you can afford a banquet for your daughter. Then Arianne gives birth and dies thanks to a complication. Thank goodness! What a stroke of luck! Now you can marry your grandson to Isabella the Castilian Princess, a much worthier pairing, and one that will bring a whole set of new friends into the fold.

Drive Through…just listen to Joel Eddy in his “Your Horrifying Comical Testament” video at 18:04 min:

photo credit: zenobia_joy via photopin cc

Golden Geek

Few days ago nominations for Golden Geek Awards began – biggest and most important award from players. There is a few famous awards in our hobby:

Spiel des Jahres – award from Germany, oldest award in our hobby. It all began in 1979! This award is super important in Germany – when you get it, your game will sell like crazy. Rest of the world looks at SdJ with interest and respect.

International Gamers Award – award organized by group of reviewers and insiders from our hobby. These are gamers from different parts of the world. There are 20 people involved in the committee. First award was given in 2000. I have an honor to got nominations for IGA for my three games: Stronghold, Pret-a-Porter and Robinson.

The Dice Tower Awards – young award (founded in 2007). Committee includes people from The Dice Tower Network – biggest group of podcasters. In 2009 Portal Games was nominated for Small Publisher category and last year Robinson Crusoe was nominated for Game of the Year category.

And there is a Golden Geek Award, award where committee is quite big – these are users of On one hand this is very young award (it all began in 2006), on the other hand number of people allowed to vote is mind-blowing! has 800 thousands users and although not every user can vote, this is still damn huge committee! This is vox populi. These are gamers for whom we do design games! I had a honor to got nomination for Golden Geek for Stronghold and for 51st State.

What’s coming this year? Couple of titles have a chance! Geeks can vote for Robinson Crusoe, Legacy, Theseus and Voyage of the Beagle. This is resume of my work for the past few months 😉

If some of these titles make you happy, if you had a good time with one of these games, if you think that some of these areworth nomination… Don’t hesitate! Here is link to voting page.

This is time for you to act. This is how you say Thank you to publishers and designers. This is how you show your respect to thier work.

If you find my work worth your vote, I say Thank you. Thank you very much!

Sometimes mate, success can get you killed…

I was afraid of 2013. No, really. Look at our previous years. There was a sad cycle going on…

We published Neuroshima Hex. It was amazing success for our small company then! We were first time in Essen, we got great reviews, licenses were sold to ZMAN and IELLO. We were in heaven.

We published Witchcraft. I love this game, but we had no success with it. It wasn’t popular, it was too abstract and heavy, barely we managed to sell all copies. No reprint ever done. No licenses sold…

We published Stronghold. Man, that was ride of my life. We were sold in a few weeks, we sold licenses to US, German and French market. Countless nominations for awards. Great ratings. We were in heaven indeed.

We published 51st State. It wasn’t that bad. Although we screw up with rulebook, with tokens… We did lots of mistakes… Game got good ratings, got some nominations for awards, was licensed… But it was few miles away from being in heaven…

Well, 2011 was far from heaven. It was quite opposite than heaven. We published Pret-a-Porter. What a crazy idea that was! Yeah, game had great ratings at BGG. Yeah, was nominated to IGA, Polish Game of the year, even Tom Vasel said he may like fashion… But sells were terrible. After two years we barely sold all copies. No licenses sold. No commercial success. Never again I will do a game about fashion

OK, that was heaven. Robinson Crusoe. What can I say. You know everything…

And here we are, 2013. I was scared. It seemed that for the past few years we had this sucking cycle – after very good year for us, there is a year of much smaller success. It seemed like for small company like ours creating worldwide known game is very exhausting. Game that goes year after is never that popular. It is good, it has good reviews and ratings, it even gets awards, but it has no commercial success.

So here we are, 2013, year after Robinson. My experience say this year may suck. I was really scared.


Last week I announced pre-orders for our bundle pack, for Legacy, Theseus and Voyage of the Beagle. 

Soon after you decided to send me an email.

Yes, you. I mean… All of you.

I should expect unexpected…

This weekend I sent 290 (two hundred and ninety!) emails as replies to your pre-orders and questions. There were moments when I almost cried in front of monitor. I spent whole damn Saturday and whole damn Sunday answering your emails. It was hardcore weekend.

I replied one email, I received 2.
I replied one email, I received 3.

At some point, Saturday evening I got breakdown. After spending 6 hours with my laptop replaying emails, I got more emails in my inbox, than before I start replaying. Never had such situation in my life before. emails were coming faster than I was able to answer…

But I survived. I will remember this weekend for a long time, but I survived and I replied every single email I received from you guys.


Today I am happy to announce that it looks like Portal Games has grown up. We are adult company now. We had a tremendous success with Robinson Crusoe and this year, second time in a row we are doing damn good again, this time with Legacy and Theseus. 

At this moment I have twice as much pre-orders for Legacy as I had for Robinson.

And you keep sending me new ones. Every. Single. Hour…

Essen 2013, we are coming. Second time in a row, we are going to rock and roll!

It’s time to call my bluff

The Legacy is ready. We sent all files to print. Adventure that started last autumn has finished. Our office is literally covered with dozen of versions of prototypes of the game. We were printing and cutting those damn 240 cards countless times for the past months. Yesterday my kids cut last version of prototype (we take it to Polcon this weekend). And that’s it. Never ever again. Next time I have The Legacy in my hands, I will have final product. Can’t wait.


The game was refused by dozen of game companies. Michiel was looking for publisher for a long time before he met me. I saw a potential in his prototype. I believed in it. So I spend nearly one year working on the game and then I put my money into the game. I make it real.

In a few weeks we will know who was right. Me or other publishers…


Today we posted final cover, tomorrow we post cards, on Monday we post rulebook and on Wednesday I hope to start pre-orders. Pre-orders with goodies, with extras, pre-orders that will satisfy true geeks. We put a good effort to make this product as awesome as possible.

In a few weeks you will get The Legacy into your hands. You’ll open the box and start play.

It’s time to call my bluff. Is this game really so cool as I was telling you for the past few weeks…?


Ah, one more thing! I have to say it. Sorry Michiel, but right now I am kinda sick of your game. I need a break… And Walec needs a break too… 

You have 8 weeks…

I didn’t pay too much attention to solo variants for board games before. I saw boardgaming as a social experience and I rarely thought of it as a way to play alone. None of my previous games had solo variant (except 51st State for which I was asked by fans and finally designed one).

Then Robinson came. Solo play was so much deep in the theme that I had to design solo variant. It was not hard. It just worked right from the beginning.

I would forget about it right after releasing the game if not players who… really played this variant! It turned out everybody recommend it, and people really like it… I started to search forums and I learned something – gamers like solo variants. They like when game has good solo variant. This is one of traits my games should have. A good solo variant.

That was exactly what I told Michiel when we met in Bremen in February 2013. We need solo variant.

Michiel said he has no solo variant yet, but he can design one quite easily. The Legacy has no direct interaction (OK, it has but not too much) and we will only need to simulate the fact that players block each other on the main board. We will have solo variant, said.

And that would be true if not me asking a strange question again…


We were in the office. Walec was working on spouse cards with his desk looking like one big family tree. He was grumbling to himself, changing cards in the tree, taking some notes… 

‘You know what would be cool?’ I ask.

That is the phrase that freezes the blood in the veins of my employees. They hate when I have this ‘cool idea’ moments.

Walec stops grumbling.

‘What?’ he asks.

‘It would be cool if we could turn it top down. In solo variant you would start in modern days and you would try to discover truth about your ancestors. You would start with some initial information about your family and you try to discover the rest and fill blank spaces.’

‘Yes, it would be cool.’ he says with tone of his voice saying: ‘This is beautiful dream boss but don’t you even dare to think that we could do this!’

I am not good with this whole tone thing.

‘I love it already’ I say. ‘I can imagine myself sitting at the desk with all these cards and some clues about my family. I can imagine looking for answers and digging in the past. With hot tea, good music, late in the night. That will be best solo variant ever.’

Walec is in consternation.

‘You have 8 weeks.’ I say. ‘Try to design it that way. If it is impossible we will pass on it and we will stay with a classic solo variant. But I believe it is worth a shot.’


8 weeks passed like a day. We are back in the office. Walec is making set up for solo variant. He is a little bit nervous. He worked on this variant like crazy and today I will decide if we keep working on that or we cancel it and go back to basic variant.

‘You start here. Here are your parents. You draw this two cards now. These are your first clues. They represent some old documents about your family you found in the attic. Old letters or something like that. Later on you will draw more these cards, older and older up to the manuscript from 18th century. Look, this one says your mother had two sisters, and the other one says your grandpa was a famous scientist…’

He explains me everything and shows me all available actions, and all these cards he designed and he talks and talks, with all these information about balance and ideas behind rules and I can’t stop him because he is talkin’ damn fast. It seems that when he is nervous he talks a lot. I can’t find even a one second spot to interrupt him.

At some point I know literally everything about this variant. And since the very first sentence he said I knew it was brilliant – we have a mystery here, some old letters and documents, old family, digging in the past…

I would tell him that I love this variant and he has green light to finish and balance it but I can’t say anything because he is still talking like a mad! This is getting ridiculous.

[You know that feeling, right? You can’t stop talking because you are afraid what you will hear when you are done. So you keep talkin’ and talkin’…]

Finally he is done.

‘What do you think?’ he asks and shuts up.

‘I love it.’ I say.


I want to give credit to Walec. Michiel is author of the game and he will be on the cover. I am front-man of Portal Games and I will be always in the spotlight. Walec? He will be mentioned on the last page of the rulebook. Small font. Additional material section. No one would ever knew that he did the impossible.

He took components of The Legacy and he designed small mini game for one player. I own him this post.