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Svarog's Den - Board Games

First Impressions of Captain Flip and PlayPunk’s SPIEL Essen 24 Release

by W. Eric Martin

To continue with coverage of French-speaking companies showing off upcoming releases at SPIEL Essen 23, let’s look at the first two titles from PlayPunk, a company I first wrote about in July 2023.

• PlayPunk’s debut title — due out in February 2024 ahead of the game fair in Cannes — is Captain Flip, a family game from Remo Conzadori and Paolo Mori for 2-5 players.

To set up, each player places a game board showing the same pirate ship in front of themselves. (The game will include four pirate ship designs.) On a turn, a player draws a tile from the bag and places it on the table without looking at it. If they like the ability on the tile, they place it in the lowest empty space in one of their ship’s columns; if not, they flip it over, then place it.

Thomas Provoost (l) and Antoine Bauza

The game includes nine types of tiles, so you can’t be sure of what you’ll get when you flip — other than getting something different. The tile types are:

— Cartographer: Take the treasure map, which gives you 1 coin at the end of your turn.

— Navigator, which immediately earns you 2 coins per cartographer on your ship.

— Cook, which immediately earns you 1 coin per tile in the line where you place it.

— Monkey, which immediately earns you 1 coin, then flips an orthogonally adjacent tile of your choice, activating its ability.

— Cannoneer, which immediately earns you 5 coins — but which blows up your ship if you ever have three on board.

— Parrot, which is worth -1 coin at game’s end, but has you immediately draw and play another tile.

— Swabby, which earns you 1-25 coins at game’s end depending on how many swabbies are in the same horizontal line.

— Lookout, which earns you 4 coins at game’s end if no tiles are above it.

— Carpenter, which earns you 3 coins at game’s end if no cannoneer is in the carpenter’s row or column.

Cartographer and swabbyDepending on the game board, you receive a bonus when filling certain spaces or columns, and the game ends the round that someone completes their fourth column.

At SPIEL Essen 23, I played Captain Flip with Thomas Provoost and Antoine Bauza, founders of and developers for PlayPunk, and Bauza crushed the two of us with his best score ever.

As you can tell from the powers above, each player is pretty much doing their own thing, with the cartographer being the only way to affect another player’s score. (Bauza held the treasure map for nearly the entire game.) However, unlike a solitaire-ish game such as Cascadia, Captain Flip delivers a jolt of excitement each turn because you have no idea what you’re getting; you’re pulling the slot machine, then weighing the odds as to whether the opposite side of the tile might be better, whether the parrot in the hand is better than whatever is in the bush.

Thanks to the monkey, the game has a slight memory element since you flip and activate an already played tile. Maybe you buried a navigator since you had no cartographers, but now you want to bring him back for a big score — or the cook will now feed a full line of tiles, or you want to hide your second cannoneer just to be safe. You won’t necessarily have seen the backside of every tile, though, so the monkey can also let you continue to pull the slot machine.

Captain Flip reminds me of 2021’s Fairy Tale Inn from the same authors (overview here) as in both games you try to maximize the powers of special characters as you fill columns from bottom to top, but Captain Flip has a wilder, looser feel due to the randomness of what comes your way each turn. You’ll congratulate yourself on smart play when you win and blame ill fortune when you lose, making it an ideal family game for the players in Cannes and beyond.

• PlayPunk’s second title, due out at SPIEL Essen 24, has a working title of “Archonte” (French for “archon”). This design from Grégory Grard and Mathieu Roussel is for 2 or 4 players, and it falls into the family-plus category as the rules are relatively straightforward, but it features lots of different card powers, bonus tiles, and upgrades that you will want to interweave for maximum effect.

Mock-upI forget the backstory of the game’s setting that Thomas told me, so I’ll relay everything here in a bare bones way. You represent a major power in the solar system, and to win the game you need to claim a specific planet’s influence three times, claim influence from four different planets, or claim influence five times in any combination.

The game board shows five planets (Mercury, Earth, Mars, etc.), with an influence token at the center of a track, along with a random bonus token. A separate game board shows an upgrade track in three categories: human, alien, and (I think) cyborg. (I will likely mess up game terms in this description as I was engrossed in gameplay and forgot to take notes or photos, so that’s a good sign, but also bad.) One player starts with the captain tile, and the other player starts with one “materium”, a resource needed to claim upgrades. Each player starts with money and 4-5 cards in hand.

On a turn, you will most often play a card from your hand onto the matching planet, first paying the cost of the card (with a 1 coin discount for each card of that color already present), then carrying out the card’s effect. Each card automatically gives you one influence on the matching colored planet, so you slide that planet’s token one space on the track toward you. If you move the token off the board, you claim that influence, along with the bonus token; the influence token will be replaced with another of the same color, but the bonus token is only for the first to grab it.

The card effects vary in all the ways you think they might: filter cards in your hand; gain additional influence on the same track or another one; return an influence token to the center of the track; gain or steal money/materium or make the opponent lose it; discard already played cards for a bonus; and so on.

Paolo Mori (l) and Remo Conzadori play “Archonte” at SPIEL Essen 23 (image: PlayPunk)

Another action you can take is to discard a card, pay the proper amount of materium, and advance on the upgrade board in the track matching the discarded card: human, alien, or cyborg. The second space of each track has a random bonus token, with something lesser underneath for the player who arrives second. Advance all of your tokens one space on each track, and you immediately gain one influence to use on a track of your choice; advance everything to the second space, and you gain two influence.

Finally, you can discard a card to claim the captain tile and a bonus related to the card’s type. When you hold the captain tile, you refill your hand to five cards at the end of your turn; if you upgrade the tile, then you can hold six cards. The player without the tile starts the game by drawing five cards, then discarding to four, and during the game they refill their hand to only four cards. That one card difference doesn’t seem like much, but some powers let you filter cards or play additional cards on a turn, and the more cards you see, the more options you’ll have for advantageous play.

I played Thomas in a two-player game and dug the game design, the core of which is solid and the details of which are still being honed. Changes were written on the upgrade board, and I know from experience with multiple titles from Repos (which Provoost previously co-owned) that he and Bauza will play this game dozens of times and have it playtested hundreds of times, tweaking little things until everything works smoothly.

On my first turn, I used a card power to discard a card from my hand and gain money equal to its cost (10), which gave me a huge pool to fund future plays. I kept stealing Thomas’ money to reduce his cardplay options, but he focused on the upgrade track and advanced that way. Strangely, I kept drawing cards in only three of the five colors, so once I finally noticed that, I concentrated on one of the colors and was one turn away from claiming my third influence in that color when Thomas used a card power and bonus token to grab his fourth different influence token and win.

The design gives you rich options each turn, but in a streamlined way. If you hold the captain tile, for example, you’ll ignore that possible action. You can just play cards and do stuff, advancing toward one of the victory conditions by default, but you can also plan your next 2-3 turns, akin to hiking up a hill in which your course for the next twenty feet is clear, but beyond that…you’ll have to assess again once you’ve made progress.

For the four-player game, you compete in teams, with each player being able to play cards only on the central planet and the two planets on their half of the game board. Upgrades and resources are shared.

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