Antoine Bauza is an excellent designer, demonstrated by his wide games portfolio, numerous awards and incredible enthusiasm for the industry. Relatively recent to designing – he entered the industry in the mid-2000s – he has gained the admiration of many boardgamers, and collected many awards, including the Kennerspiel des Jahres for his most well-known game, 7 Wonders. Bauza surprises and impresses me with every game, each one sporting very different mechanics and play styles. Even between his two co-operative games, Ghost Stories and Hanabi, the techniques, theme and feel of the games are incredibly diverse. He never fails to surprise, and his interest in creating unconventional mechanics and gameplay is what I really love about his style.
Here are a few of his games in detail.
Ghost Stories (2008)
You are the mystical protectors of a village, using your wits and martial arts skills to fight the ghostly soldiers of the Lord of Hell, Wu Feng. As monks, you cannot allow the village to become haunted or overrun or else your sacred mission will fail. However, you are blessed with a special ability: Yellow – Enfeeblement Mantra or Bottomless Pockets; Red – Dance of the Twin Winds or Dance of the Peaks; Blue – Second Wind or Heavenly Gust; Green – Strength of the Mountain or Gods’ Favourite. You must keep the ghosts at bay for 45 turns (give or take) until Wu Feng is revealed towards the bottom of the Ghost deck. You must then defeat his horrendous incarnation before the remaining 10 cards of the Ghost deck run out.
This is an age-old battle of good versus evil, placed in an interesting and different context. I love the theme and the simplicity of the turn structure. I also love the complexity required to think several turns ahead and the variety of cards and abilities. This is definitely in my top 3 favourite board games, if not No.1.
White Moon: The monks are further tasked with rescuing villagers as they fight the forces of Wu Feng. Each family has a reward if they are successfully evacuated, but also a curse if they are killed before escaping.
Black Secret: A fifth players is added in this expansion, who plays the Lord of Hell himself – Wu Feng! Wu Feng is able to send ghosts into the catacombs of the town to reincarnate his remains, or use them to control spells to attack the players.
7 Wonders (2010)
Become one of the civilisations responsible for the great wonders of the ancient world and compete to build the most successful society in this great strategy game. Draft the cards you need each round to create synergy with your Wonder and other cards. Similar cards work better with each other, but failing to keep track of your competition can see them destroy you in the military battles between rounds. In which areas will your society flourish? Science, culture, trade, or military? Will you sacrifice cards to build your wonder? The game is filled with opportunity cost and forces you to make the hard decisions.
7 Wonders bypasses conventional turn structure, with Bauza opting for draft-style gameplay instead, where all players choose and reveal their cards simultaneously. This speeds up the game considerably and also negates the need for a game board. Nevertheless, the cards still take up a lot of room so don’t put away your table quite yet. While this game does not quite make it into my top 3, it is an excellent game. It is quicker than most complex strategy games and accommodates a lot more players.
Leaders: This small expansion adds an 8th wonder (Colosseum) as well as ‘Guild’ cards that only appear in the third round. These capitalise on cards you have already taken, like giving extra points for the number of military cards you have. It also adds another phase at the start of the game where everyone drafts Leader cards. These may then be played one at a time at the start of each round and contribute to your strategies in a similar way to the Guild cards except they cost gold instead of building materials.
Cities: Another small expansion, Cities adds two further wonders (Petra and Byzantium), 6 new Leaders, and black ‘Cities’ cards. These have a variety of effects mostly directed at giving a greater early advantage such as increased military or building materials at a greater or riskier cost. This expansion makes the game a lot more aggressive and creates a lot more interaction with the other players. It also introduces a team play mode.
Babel: The first large expansion for 7 Wonders, Babel introduces two new mechanics that substantially alter the game. Firstly, it adds a draft of tokens before the main gameplay begins. These tokens depict laws that would affect all players if introduced such as military wins being worth fewer points than otherwise. During regular gameplay these tokens may be played instead of card, with the card discarded. Secondly, it adds a mechanic where each round a certain colour is revealed and any player wishing to play a card of that colour must pay a tax. If they do not, at the end of that round they will receive a penalty. Each round, the tax and penalty increases.
You are a group of artisans dedicated to the creation of the perfect firework display. Place numbered cards on the correct pile (according to colour) in the correct order beginning with 1 and ending with 5. When the deck runs out the values on the top cards of every pile are your points (e.g. top score would be all 5s). Sounds easy? The catch is that you don’t get to see any of your own cards, they are turned so that only your teammates can see them. You must co-operate to give clues about the colours or numbers of your cards. However, if you take that as your turn, you cannot put any cards down and vice versa. There are also a limited number of clues you can give before you must begin discarding cards to earn more.
Surprisingly different, simple and fun, Hanabi is a completely new perspective on card games.
In this game, Bauza returns to a traditional turn structure where players gain points by achieving goals and performing agricultural tasks. However, this is not a typical euro game. First, the scene is set in the Royal Bamboo Garden of the Emperor of Japan. The play revolves around the growth of the bamboo (actually represented by stacked tokens) and the activity of a Giant Panda (a gift from the Emperor of China) that eats the bamboo.
This game has won quite a few awards for its delightful artwork and overall aesthetic, which alone was enough to prompt me to buy the game. It follows up with light strategy (making for quick turns) and a very tactile game board which grows representing bamboo gardens as the game progresses. This game is excellent as a family game and would be a great start for people looking to get children (8 years and above) interested in strategy games.
Some other games by Antoine Bauza include Dojo (2011), Tokaido (2012), Rampage (2013), and Samurai Spirit (2014), with Sinbad looking to be published in 2015.
With his diversity and creativity in game design, Antoine Bauza brings a new and interesting perspective to board games. If you haven’t come across these games before I highly recommend taking a closer look at them, if not playing them! His love for Japanese culture also shines through his games (Takenoko, Hanabi, Tokaido, Dojo, etc) which is a refreshing change from an industry which tends to be euro-dominant. So, go play and enjoy!