Is There a Nocturne in the House?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

As the weather turned chilly, I went back to Germany to attend the Essen Game Fair, the largest tabletop game convention in the world. There, as you may have seen on the Paizo blog, dozens of demoers showed off ten different Stonehenge games. Hundreds of players hopped from table to table trying all the games.

But none of them got to see what you get to see now. Here I'll describe all of the games in the first Stonehenge expansion, Nocturne. This expansion provides new orange and black pieces for use in six- and seven-player games. And we got four more of the greatest board game designers in the world to invent three clever new games with a nocturnal theme. (Then I snuck one more in under the cover of night. More on that soon.)

Sun & Moon, by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede: With many apologies to Puerto Rico and Settlers of Catan, for my money the single best game of the German revolution is Wrede's Carcassonne. So, after it became clear that the Stonehenge main game was in good hands, I made a beeline for Klaus-Jürgen. As the most German of the Stonehenge designers so far, Klaus-Jürgen turned over the most German of all the Stonehenge games so far.

Sun & Moon is about cults. Specifically, there are two: the Sun Cult and the Moon Cult. Players divide into two cults of one, two, or three cultists each. They spend the rest of the game manipulating druids to move the pieces of the giant trilithons. (This is the first Stonehenge game to start with the trilithons in their component parts.) Your fellow cultists can help by marshalling resources, but the opposing cult has a chance to take control of those resources before you can get to them.

There's some very nice game-designer sleight of hand in this game. You think you can see all the cards you need in front of the other players, but just before you get to use them, somehow it doesn't quite turn out the way you'd planned. I'd expect nothing less from a master like Klaus-Jürgen.

The Star Gate, by Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget: In my quest to get every game designer named Bruno to work on this line, I asked original Stonehenge designer Bruno Faidutti to introduce me to his frequent co-designer Bruno Cathala. Bruno C introduced me to his frequent co-designer Serge Laget, and the two of them enthusiastically set to work on one of the best-themed games in the line.

Bruno and Serge suggested that to them, Stonehenge was the perfect star gate, a way for archaeologists to unlock the secret of travel through the stars. To open the gate, the rocks of Stonehenge must be triggered in a specific order, and the archaeologists must puzzle out that order. And so the game becomes a strange and delightful guessing game, a la Clue, where everyone has some information but no one has all of it. You pick a stone, and the player who knows its location tells you whether you've gained any valuable information. When you think you've figured out the location of a triggering stone, you can lock in your guess. But if you're wrong, other players will leap ahead of you.

We spent a lot of time trying to figure out whether there was a particular strategy that would always work. Everybody had a theory, but no one could consistently win. That pleases me greatly. I've never seen a game like this one, and am thrilled it's in Nocturne.

Stonehenge Hippie Festival, by Andrew Looney: If I asked a room full of the top 100 game designers to guess which of them had designed a game called "Stonehenge Hippie Festival," 99 of them would say Andy Looney, the permanently tie-dyed owner of Looney Labs. The one who wouldn't get it right would be Andy, who would be too busy flashing back to Woodstock to realize the question had been asked. Hey, we only go to the professionals here.

Speaking of professionalism, Andy blew me away by having his game designed before I could send him a set of pieces. (You can read about that in Andy's blog.) In the game, you are attending the Stonehenge Free Festival, a real-life musicfest series that ran from 1972–1985. You want provisions for the festival, and go from booth to booth trying to get them. Actually, you can do a lot more than that. You can hang flags off the trilithons. You can bogart someone's bottle of water. And you can dance. Oh boy, can you dance. That's about all I can say about this game that will make sense until you pick up the rules.

And hey, how about that fine Howard Lyon piece of art at the top of this section? I'm sure I speak for Andy when I say that's a festival we'd both want to attend.

Battle of the Beanfield, by Mike Selinker: Or maybe I wouldn't want to attend that festival, as the events of this game will show. I certainly didn't plan to put another game of mine into the set, but when I read Andy's rules, my eyes turned to the history of the Stonehenge Free Festival. It ended on June 1, 1985, when jackbooted British cops took truncheons to busfuls of hippies in a nearby beanfield. This terrible incident became known as the "Battle of the Beanfield." This was an unjustifiable tragedy, which I looked at and immediately said, "Game."

So, as a tribute to my boy Andy, I designed Stonehenge's first solitaire game, and the only one not to use the board. Instead, you use the card box as a "bus," and bars which represent hippies. The eight figures represent bobbies looking to crack some hippie skulls. Your job as the driver of the bus is to play cards in front of these bobbies, freeing the hippies from the cops' clutches and getting them back on the bus. As in solitaire, you want to get as close as you can to clearing the board.

This game might not have been included in Nocturne without Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens, unbidden by me, dedicating her nights to playing about 80 games of it, and keeping meticulous records of how close she got to a perfect game. Now, Lisa's a busy woman. But I figure if she decides to play 80 games of something, we should give you a chance to play it as well. So Battle of the Beanfield snuck in as the final game of the set. If you lose a few weekends playing it, blame Lisa.

Of course, the other great advantage of Nocturne is that for your Stonehenge games, you now have a bunch more pieces. If you've wanted to bring in more players, now you can. Or if you just really like the colors orange and black, now you've got orange and black. And, oh yeah, four more fun games, with the promise of lots more to come. Have a great night.

Mike Selinker
Titanic Games Brand Manager

Mike Selinker is the Titanic Games brand manager. He has helped design and develop Stonehenge, Key Largo, Axis & Allies, Pirates of the Spanish Main, Gloria Mundi, Unspeakable Words, Risk: Godstorm, and many other games. He also directs the design studio Lone Shark Games, Inc.

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Tags: Nocturne Stonehenge Titanic Games
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