The World of DnD awaits…

Today I’m going to take you into the world of Dungeons and Dragons. Sure, you’ve probably heard about it before, but if you’re not quite sure what all the fuss is about, let me tell you all about this fantasy story-telling fun!

Have you ever daydreamed about being a hero?

In every fantasy epic, be it The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, there are characters who face impossible odds to defend something they believe in. In a game of Dungeons and Dragons, you and a group of friends become those kinds of heroes.

Dungeons and Dragons is a role playing game. Simply, that means that each player takes the role of a unique character in a made up world. In other words, Dungeons and Dragons lets you loose in a limitless fantasy realm and allows you to be whatever kind of person you want to be. Be it a battle scarred fighter, a cunning if untrustworthy swashbuckler or a brilliant but exasperating sorcerer, the only limit to who you can be is your imagination. In every group, one player takes the role of the Dungeon Master or DM, who plays the parts of the other characters in world. This includes both the heroes’ allies and the monstrous foes that they must overcome.

For a game of D&D, you need nothing more than pencils, some paper, a few dice and people to play with. If you’re thinking of getting started, the best way to try the game is by playing it and if you’re based in Liverpool, you have a lot of options. You could try coming along to one of our D&D taster sessions, which run a couple of times a month on Sundays hosted by our DM Will. There’s also the Liverpool D&D group on Meetup and on Facebook, which allows you to get in contact with other people interested in starting a game and see what public D&D events are going on in the city. If you already have a group of friends interested in playing you can try the excellent Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set, which has everything you need for 6 people to play D&D once a week for about 6 months. There are videos galore all over the internet showing you the ins and outs and D&D features in so many TV shows… It’s obviously what the cool kids are all doing!

So no matter how you get playing, if you’ve ever thought you’ve got what it takes to be a hero and just haven’t had the chance, Dungeons and Dragons is your opportunity to prove it.

The next Taster Session at Sugar and Dice will be on Sunday 20th August – for more info click here or give us a call 🙂

*Thanks to Will for co- writing this article

Playtesting – An interview with Koen Hendrix

Today we would like to introduce Koen Hendrix who knows all about why Playtesting is so important when creating a new board game:

Tell us a little about yourself…

Hi! I’m a Dutch guy who immigrated to Liverpool over 6 years ago. I live in Kirkdale and work in the Baltic Triangle, and I love board games, both playing them and designing them. I’ve managed to professionally publish a card game called “Dragon Punch”, and I’ve got a few more ready to be published. Apart from gaming I spend my time web designing, climbing, and trying to raise a kid.

What’s ‘Dragon Punch’ all about?

It’s a super-quick super-tiny fighting game, inspired by video games like Street Fighter. Each player has 7 cards in their hand, which are various attacks, defenses. and special moves. They all have different attack speeds and hit locations, and you try to outwit your opponent by choose the right move at the right time. As you get hit, you gain more powerful moves. First one to knock their opponent out twice wins!

Because the entire game is so small and is played with all cards in hand, you can literally take it anywhere and play it anywhere. You can play it on the bus, at a festival, standing in line for a roller coaster… or in a roller coaster, for that matter. Although I haven’t tested that.

How did Dragon Punch become so successful?

I like to think it was because it was such a fun little game — like a smarter, supercharged version of rock-paper-scissors — and most reviewers seemed to agree with that. The great art contributed a lot too. But mostly its tiny size made it really cheap, and that definitely helped to bring in a lot of people in.

 

Why is Playtesting so important?

In the first instance, because all game ideas are great in your head. But as a German general once said, “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy”. Only once you literally put your cards on the table and try to play your idea will you discover whether it actually works or not. Or rather, which parts work and which parts completely fall apart. It’s not uncommon for your first playtest to end after the first round!

After you’ve beaten your original idea into a playable shape, you need other people to stretch your game to its limits and see whether it still works as intended. You try to answer questions like, do people understand the rules easily? Is there drama, is there a sense of achievement? Is there a good balance of uncertainty and skill? Is waiting kept to a minimum? Are there interesting decisions all the way through? Are there multiple viable strategies? Is there enough variety in repeated plays? For more social games it might be more about whether the social interactions — like arguing, acting, bluffing, lying — are interesting and fun.

At the end of the day, you simply want to have a game where complete strangers play it and go, “That was awesome! Can we play it again?”

 

How do you come up with an idea for a new board game?

For me, it’s quite different between theme ideas and rules ideas. For game rules, I tend to get ideas by just playing games or watching video play-throughs of them. I try to discover how the game’s mechanics work together to create interaction and interesting decisions, and if I like something I’ll try to create my own variations on those systems. For themes it’s the opposite: I try to find fresh themes from outside the board games world, such as video games, TV, children’s books, anything. I tend to look for original or silly themes, something that would make the game stand out on the crowded board game marketplace. There are already too many games about battling armies, or fantasy dungeon crawls, or pirates… but none about planespotting, or kids pretending to be superheroes, or about dinosaurs on bicycles (I think).

It’s also important that the theme isn’t just a pretty backdrop, but immediately provides some interesting decisions that the gameplay can be based upon. For example, I recently watched Planet Earth 2 on TV, and loved the piece about how langur and macaque monkeys thrive in Indian cities. That’s an original setting for a game, and it also provides some mechanical ideas: macaques versus langurs suggests a team-based game; there could be a territory-control mechanic with some areas providing more food than others; there could also be a push-your-luck element in trying to get the most food… lots of possibilities!

 

Can you share any details of your upcoming designs?

Sure! I’ve recently co-designed a card game about Roman sea traders, which combines push-your-luck and set collection mechanics. It’s currently being playtested, and my American co-designer will be pitching it to a publisher soon, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for that.

Another thing I’m busy with is “Bennets & Bonnets”, a game about dressmaking and outfit-assembling set in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice world. Each player tries to look their best for a series of balls, but of course you also have to study, and your sisters might just steal your best bonnet. Mechanically it’s a card drafting game, similar to Sushi Go, with a few extra twists thrown in. This game just made it to the finals of the UK Games Expo’s “Wyverns’ Lair”, which is like Dragons’ Den for board games! If you’re at the UKGE on Saturday afternoon, you can come and watch.

Of course you can play these (and more) at our next Playtesting evening at Sugar & Dice, on June 1st.

 

Do you have any top tips for aspiring board game designers?

Start creating something! It doesn’t really matter whether it’s an adaption of an existing game, or something completely new, or whether it’s full of copyright-infringing art. As with any creative hobby you might take up, your first creations won’t be masterpieces. Enjoy the creative freedom, don’t be precious, and just start flexing your game design muscle. If you have specific questions, you can find various friendly places online where amateur game designers gather. Game design can involve a lots of disciplines — math, art, design, writing, history — so shouts for help are common.

I would also advise aspiring designers to start small. It is awesome to dream of big world-spanning games, with a massive board, 300 cards and 200 miniatures… but creating such a mammoth is harder on every level: Writing the rules will be harder. Crafting a prototype will be harder. Getting people to test it will be harder. And successfully publishing it will be far harder. So I’d suggest to cut your game design teeth on some smaller games first, making it easy to iterate through different ideas.

And if you prefer a face-to-face chat, I’d be more than happy to talk to you too 🙂

 

Links:

You can find, like and/or message me (please do!) on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MostMons

You can buy Dragon Punch on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dragon-Punch-Level-99-Games/dp/1936920565

And of course you can find me at Sugar & Dice’s Playtesting evenings, next one on June 1st.

Liverpool Go Club – Two Eyes

Monday evenings at Sugar & Dice, Liverpool’s Board Game Café, sees several tables of gamers enjoying fun and friendship of all manner of games. Amongst them are Go enthusiasts playing at the Liverpool Go Club.

Known as Igo (囲碁) in Japan, Baduk (바둑) in Korea or Weiqi (圍棋) in China, it is one of the oldest boardgames in existence and, in our humble opinion, one of the greatest. It definitely hasn’t been around so long for no good reason.

Today, Doug from our Go Club give us a lesson:

Go is a fighting game – the board represents the uninhabited world bounded on all sides by the seashore and the objective is to gain more territory on the board than your opponent. The 2-person game is played with black and white stones where opponents play alternatively throughout the game with stones placed on any intersection on a 19 x 19 grid. The early stones are played on the board usually around the corners and the sides where it is easiest to surround territory relatively free from attack. But after a while, several different sets of black and white stones will get into territory fights and this is where it all gets nasty! Create two eyes in a group (marked with red circles) and it is safe from attack because the opponent (white) cannot play a stone in each eye simultaneously to completely surround the black group and capture the black stones as prisoners.

Go is an easy game to play, but needs a good analytical mind to play with skill – but then games enthusiasts have often developed good strategic and tactical skills and also have a cunning streak! In the diagram, you are black to play – can you make two eyes? Can white make two eyes? It’s not so easy now!

If you’d like to come along and try the game, then join us at Sugar & Dice at 7pm on a Monday. The group are a lovely bunch who are happy to teach you the basics or get crushed by experts, after all every loss is actually a gain… in learning new tricks! If you’re interested, then contact the Liverpool Go Club, chat to the staff in the café for more information or come along from 7pm on Monday evenings. If you’re not in the Liverpool region or just want more information on this fabulous game, then head on over to the British Go Association’s website.

*With thanks to Doug for writing this piece

Toilet Twinning

Today is World Water Day and if you’ve visited Sugar and Dice, you’ve probably also visited our toilet and perhaps you even spotted our little frame showing that our toilet has been twinned.

Today, I’d like to tell you all about it.

Did you know that 1 in 3 people worldwide do not have a loo? In 2016, more than 18,000 people twinned their toilets – including us! When I visited the smallest room in the house of a friend, I noticed they had twinned their toilet and I instantly felt Sugar and Dice needed to get involved. Toilet Twinning is a charity that focuses on providing developing countries with clean water, basic sanitation and hygiene education, which in turn helps to prevent the spread of disease. Because the children are healthier, they are more likely to go to school and adults are well enough to work their land and grow enough food to feed their family. Family by family, community by community, nation by nation, they are flushing away poverty and it’s amazing to look at how many toilets are getting twinned on their map!

We chose to twin our toilet with Malawi, as my dad actually used to live there and we have many connections still now to the country. Here is a photo of what we made happen and it makes us really happy to think that people are getting use of not only our toilet in Liverpool, but also in Malawi 🙂

For more information, check out their website: www.toilettwinning.org or pop in and check out our toilet!

Sugar and Dice’s Top 5 Games for Family Christmas Fun

Christmas time is all about coming together with loved ones and all that jazz. We all have those memories of gathering around the table after eating far too much turkey and playing traditional classics like Monopoly and Scrabble. Half-way through the game, the arguments start and components going flying across the room.

Here is a list of our 5 favourite games to get you together around a table and having some giggles. We have them in stock too, so come and grab them quick before Santa takes them all!

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1) Cash ‘n’ Guns – Are you tired of your family taking all your money? Have you been eyeing up that heirloom? Is it time to settle that family feud once and for all? In this game you get to recreate a Mexican standoff and try and get all of the loot for yourself, from money and diamonds to famous art paintings, whilst choosing carefully which of your family members to shoot at with foam guns. Hilarious fun!

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2) Obama Llama – We’ve all done Charades and Pictionary, but here is a brand new party game taking the world by storm! By UK designers Big Potato, it’s a team game where you have thirty seconds to find words that rhyme with other words, for example Obama rhymes with Llama… Can you find the RHYME in TIME?

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3) Coup – Everyone takes on a secret identity as you try to deceive your fellow players and try and deduce what everyone else is up to. The game will have you bluffing and lying, so make sure to practice your best poker face! The game takes less than ten minutes, but once you start you won’t be able to stop.

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4) Carcassonne – You place tiles in order to build the Medieval city of Carcassonne. The game play is very simple: All you do is draw a tile and then place a tile. Occasionally you will place a ‘meeple’ (pawn) on your tile to get points. It’s a firm Sugar and Dice favourite and we even have a Junior version available for the little people in your life.

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5) Codenames – This game won the boardgame Oscars of the year and for good reason! A wonderful group game where you have to give crypic clues to your team members and try to connect words without giving too much away to your opponents. We’ve written about this game here and have created many happy family moments, mostly including the word ‘ham’.

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SUGAR AND DICE ARE HIRING

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We are looking for a variety of lovely people who want to join our team of happy, friendly staff. We are looking for full-timers as well as flexible workers who are available until midnight on weekdays and weekends.

Your job will include helping out in the kitchen, serving food and drinks to our guests and of course explaining boardgames to the various groups of people that come to visit. Basically, we want to make sure our guests have the best time ever at Sugar and Dice.

Does this sound like you? If so, send your CV with a cover letter to hello@sugaranddice.co.uk. Please outline why you want to work at Sugar and Dice, list relevant experience, what kind of board games you enjoy and the hours you are available to work, including a start date.

We look forward to hearing from you,
The Sugar and Dice Team

*Applicants must be over 18.

Venue News – It’s Happening!!

Yippeeeeeeeeeee! So we have been given the go-ahead for our chosen venue and we are so delighted! It’s been an interesting journey, from viewing properties that needed so much work done to them that it would’ve been quicker to knock them down and start over, to losing two venues we had fallen in love with. We were just about ready to give up – I can tell you there are so few suitable commercial properties in Liverpool and then the moment you show interest in one, the price doubles, there are suddenly ten other people interested and for us as a start-up business it’s even harder to push through the competition… However, it’s been worth the agony and the wait… We’ve done it and we absolutely LOVE the place.

We got the Keys!

We were looking for a place within walking distance to all the important sights in Liverpool with good transport connections,  where people would enjoy coming to, in an area with good parking (free after six in the whole area) that we could make our own. The previous owner has left the place in a bit of a mess, so we have to clear it all out (for example: there is bread still there from last year and I’m not going to tell you what colour it is now… ahem). We are knocking down a room and building a new kitchen from scratch into the newly made space  and the heaters/lights need to be moved around and hopefully upgraded. Then comes the fun bit – painting and decorating it to make it your new favourite place!

As most of you have probably seen, we have also launched a Kickstarter campaign to help get Sugar and Dice off the ground. We’ve pretty much maxed out our credit cards, especially after quitting our jobs to work on this full time almost a year ago. We have saved up for the rent and lots building work, but we are hoping for a little bit of help to upgrade the place to something really spectacular. The current lights are randomised and different strengths. Winter is coming – as Game of Thrones keeps telling us –  and we want to make sure you can see those board games once those dark winter nights arrive. Tables are also a huge expense, but a necessary one – we want you to sit with your friends comfortably for a few hours and be able to fit your game, your dinner and your drink on the table without feeling squashed. We also want to move the radiators around and get a top oven so we can bake everything on the premises. A commercial dishwasher is another thing we really would love to have, so we have more time to chat to you all instead of washing up all day long. More information is on the Kickstarter website.

Our Kickstarter runs for another 5 days. We have made over half of the target and it’s incredible! Such a lovely feeling to know so many people are excited for all the gaming goodness in the cafe. We were featured on Independent Liverpool too and this has all helped to bring together a community of board game lovers in Liverpool.

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We obviously then need to fill the place with shelves and shelves of amazing board games. As we will be putting our entire collection into the shop, we are already wondering what to with all the space we will soon have in our living room – haha!

The full address will be revealed in a few days – but I can tell you that it’s near the Albert Dock and is about four minutes walk from Liverpool One. We are so so soooooo excited to meet you all there soon!

Testing the Menu

There are so many difficult things to consider when opening up your own café, from location and decor to PR strategies and kitchen equipment. However, my favourite thing until now has been researching the menu. Oh yes, that literally means it is our job to eat, whether it’s testing the best chocolate brownie (OMG you lucky people – they are incredible!!) to figuring out which veggie burger will be the most popular. It’s a hard task, but somebody’s got to sacrifice their stomachs and that’s what we’ve been doing for you all this week.

It’s been quite challenging actually… Trying to decide if a delicious vegan burger dribbling with sweet chilli sauce and sun-dried tomatoes can be topped with a burger made from quinoa, tomato, red pepper and guacamole sauce… But who am I kidding? Can you beat a mushroom and halloumi burger? I don’t think it’s ever been done… and so we tasted, discussed, licked our fingers and then tasted them all over again…

How is it possible to choose between these tasty burgers?
How is it possible to choose between these tasty burgers?

In the end we loved them all so much we still haven’t decided. And that’s just the burgers! Imagine having to decide on salads, sandwiches and cakes… well, it’s a hard job but someone has to do it! I guess it’s back to the dinner table for now…

Finding a Venue

So most of you out there have probably had to look for a new home at one time or another; whether it was university accommodation, moving out of the family home or even finding a new place to live abroad. And if not, how about trying to find the right hotel to stay at during your last holiday? Either way, I’m sure you can remember how hard it is trying to find that perfect place.

Your Sugar and Dice Team have moved all over the world before we settled in the lovely city of Liverpool, so we know it’s a struggle, but imagine searching for that perfect venue for your dream café! Let’s just say that it feels like a full-time job where you have no control at all over the outcome. We’ve been searching since the beginning of the year. Now it’s already August and we have found a venue, but we are still waiting for the go-ahead. It’s been very stressful over the past months as one place after the other fell through.

The first place we found back in January was an enormous basement – we could have fit around 200 people inside with a huge kitchen, kids play area with huge board games, relaxing section for people who just want to chill on sofas and read books… To cut a long story short, we went for the property and suddenly the price shot up. Then there was talk of creating another basement underneath ours. Then apparently the building had been set ablaze a few years ago… We loved the place and the location, but we just didn’t trust the owner or the Estate Agents who sometimes took weeks to get back to us. So it was back to Square One.

Next we found the perfect place. It was a great size, amazing location and already in a good condition. We immediately went for it, but there seemed to be a lot of competition. The landlord was hard to get hold of, so for months we waited patiently, hoping we would get the venue. One day the landlord said yes, the next he said we were his second choice, then he was worried because we were a start-up company, then about three months of waiting, we were suddenly told the landlord had decided to rent it to his friend. Apparently this had been the plan all along, we were just made to hang around waiting to find that out.

Some of the properties we've seen need quite a lot of work...
Some of the properties we’ve seen need quite a lot of work…

It’s exasperating. We have looked at so many places. Most had no flooring, no toilets, no rooms, no radiators or heating. The last one we looked at was a great space, but the previous tenant had gone bankrupt and just decided in anger to trash the whole place. Every single wire in the building had been cut, the floor tiles had been smashed, the walls had holes axed into them… We’ve seen places where mould grows like mushrooms bigger than the size of my face, stepped into weird green gunk growing on floors, jumped in surprise as abandoned shops had pigeons living inside…

And then finally we found a venue once again that we loved. The location is fab, the area is lovely and there is lots of parking nearby too. It is a tad on the small size, but we can work with that and will make it cosy. We just want to have a place we can call Sugar and Dice Café and we hope we’ve finally found it! Excitingly, the landlord is happy for us to move in immediately, so we are working on all the paperwork and should have news for you by the 24th of August! So we are just going to need you all to cross your fingers and toes and everything else for us. We are nervous, terrified, preparing and mostly excited for our new adventure to begin. Here’s hoping I can give you a venue address soon! 🙂

Congratulations to Codenames

It’s been quite an exciting week for board games as the Spiel Des Jahres was announced! It’s like the Oscars of the board game world, when some of the finest board gaming minds come together to pick the best game of the past year. I’m glad I don’t have to decide, as it feels like an impossible task! Almost every game we play we absolutely love and to have to pick just one out of all the games that have been released in Germany in the past year… well… I don’t envy that job at all!

We actually thought that Karuba would win as it’s definitely family-friendly and such a different style of game to the hundreds we have played, plus every time we play it the game makes people laugh, agonise and panic, but the committee of Germans has spoken and we have a winner!

Let me tell you about Codenames. The hardest thing is probably splitting your gaming group into two teams – how do you choose which side to play on? There is a red and a blue team which each having its own team leader, so dividing Liverpool against Everton fans would work… But I would suggest pick the people who know you best – this game is all about giving cryptic clues to your partners and hoping they understand what you are trying to tell them.

The playing field
The playing field

Next, you create a grid of 25 cards in a 5×5 pattern and each card has a random word on it, for example ‘ham’, ‘buffalo’ or ‘opera’. Then in battle-ship style, the red team leader has to get their team to guess which of the 25 words belong to red and the blue obviously are looking for the blue cards.

The team captain (or 'spymaster') uses this square as a key to what colours the words need to be in order to win the game.
The team captain (or ‘spymaster’) uses this square as a key to what colours the words need to be in order to win the game.

The way you guess, is by giving a one-word clue and a number to say how many cards have that one clue in common. I have no idea how you would come up with a clue that connects ‘ham’, ‘buffalo’ and ‘opera’, but that is the challenge. You also have to be careful that another random word can’t be accidentally and confusedly connected to the clue. There are some words that are “innocent bystanders” and one word (the black cross) that makes your team lose instantly if guessed.

Here you can see that both red and blue are neck-and-neck, both needing just one more correct guess to win. You can also see the 'innocent' grey cards that were wrong guesses...
Here you can see that both red and blue are neck-and-neck, both needing just one more correct guess to win. You can also see the ‘innocent’ grey cards that were wrong guesses…

It’s a hilarious and silly game, full of confusion and bizarre clues. I (Vanessa) am a bit 50-50 on it, as I think it can be pretty dull waiting for someone to come up with a clue for a few minutes. Obviously using one clue for one word is boring, so you try and get creative to use one clue for a few words, but it seems not everyone is skilled in this way. I certainly am not. I would ALWAYS recommend using the timer to speed things up and the more players the better. Even though it says the game can be played from 4 players, to me it just doesn’t really work unless you have at least six or better still eight players. It’s been interesting to see the reviews about Codenames since winning the prize as it’s been very mixed. Many people are delighted and absolutely love the game, however there are also lots of people who don’t really see it as a ‘family game’ or a very fun game… Luckily for all of you, we have a copy of Codenames at Sugar and Dice so you can find out for yourself!