Celebrity photos used under Creative Commons licensing. Photo credit (left to right): Edward Liu, Gage Skidmore, Gage Skidmore, David Shankbone.

Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne are just rich dudes, but they're rich dudes with crazy suits. The same can't be said for Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, Morgan Spurlock, and Harry Knowles, but starting next month, they can all fight toe to toe. The celebrities behind Comic-Con The Movie Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope will be receiving their own HeroClix figures, so if your table starts to look like "Wargames of the Rich and Famous," this should explain why.

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Game publisher Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) has issued a challenge to board and card game designers: we'll provide the theme, you bring the mechanics. AEG has been hard at work for over three years fleshing out their newest setting, Tempest, a fictional city-state that will provide a common world, cast of characters, and overarching plot line for an entire range of new games.

As a start, AEG plans to publish three Euro-style strategy games set in the Tempest world: Dominaire, Courtier, and Mercante. These three games respectively give players a Tempest-themed take on area control, set collection, and auctions, which are all tried-and-true mechanics for Euro strategy.

The first three Tempest games, from designers Jim Pinto, Philip duBarry, and Jeff Tidball, will be released during Germany's Essen Spiel gaming expo in October 2012.

But AEG doesn't want to stop there. They are looking for fresh ideas, and that's were you come in. Any potential game designer, experienced or not, has been welcomed to register for AEG's Tempest designer website, where the publisher will peel back the curtain on all of the characters and plotlines that can be incorporated into future Tempest games. After digesting the resources, designers have an open line of communication to pitch new game ideas directly to AEG.

If this sounds like your kind of challenge but you need a kick-start to your motivation, take a look at five areas where the Tempest setting might be a good fit for future game design:

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The sales figures for this years Origins Game Fair have been announced, and while the event did experience a decline, the final tally surprised many attendees who expected worse. As reported by ICv2, Origins experienced only a 1.5% dip in badge sales. However, these numbers have been hard to swallow by a gaming community that insists this year's Origins had a distinctly different vibe, one indicative of a much larger drop.

But is the number of badges sold explicitly linked to the vibe of an event? The short answer is no, so I reached out to convention organizers and attendees alike to determine how both the sales figures and observed attendance can both make sense.

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If you want to make your head hurt, play chess against an expert opponent. If you want a chess player's head to hurt, sit them down in front of The Duke.

Abstract strategy games such as these don't get a whole lot of love in most gaming circles, where engrossing theme or deep mechanics rule the day. The Duke has neither, but Catalyst Game Labs is Kickstarting this abstract game for its deceivingly simple design that packs a few tricks up its sleeve.

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Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule! is a card game that eschews the typical take on fantasy, gruesome orcs and grizzled knights, in favor of more lighthearted characters. Much in the way that Shrek gave families a fantasy movie with cross-generational appeal, Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule! aims to be a satisfying gaming experience for players of all ages, not just the adults who consider gaming their hobby. With Father's Day coming up this weekend, it's time to spotlight a game that dads can play with their geeks-in-training.

As a crowdfunded game, Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule! doesn't exist yet on store shelves, but that's just a matter of time. The project is already well past its Kickstarter funding goal, and is set to be published by Game Salute. The project is still running through the weekend though, so there is still time to hop on board if this preview gives you the urge.

Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule! is a card game that walks a fine line between artistic and competitive design. That doesn't make it a bad game though, just one that is given a boost by its style. Just take a look at some of the card artwork:

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Mark your calendars for this Saturday, June 16th, and get to your local game store.

Comic book fans aren't the only ones who get free stuff, roleplaying game players have their day too. But unlike comics which just require someone to open a book to get involved, RPGs have a much higher barrier to entry. You have to convince a whole group to play, and someone has to put extra work in to actually run the game!

Roleplaying games can also carry a bit of a stigma, as they can evoke the most negative of geek stereotypes in outsider's mind. Check those judgements at the door. Self-identifying gamers owe it to themselves the experience of having tried an RPG at least once in their lives, and Free RPG Day is just the way to do it. Read More...

It's that time of year again. Magic: The Gathering is about to receive its annual core set upgrade, with Magic 2013 comprising a 294-card mix of new and reprinted content.

Core sets are released each year to tweak the basic strategy of Magic. Some cards return, others do not, and this new mix serves as a base for the year's three-set expansion block. In October, that new block will roll out with the first set Return to Ravnica, bringing back themes from the Ravnica setting last seen in 2005-2006.

Since Standard-format Magic tournaments mandate use of the most recent sets only, it's tempting to read into the tea leaves of early spoiler cards and try to guess what strategies will rule the Pro Tour scene. I would resist that urge with today's card, "Worldfire," which is the best example of a "nuclear option" for any Magic player with their back against the wall.

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 "I always have way too many ideas, with no way to pursue them all. I’m constantly thinking of what I should prioritize, what game I should work on next. All day I’m thinking about games, my brain is just wired that way. " - Touko Tahkokallio, designer of Eclipse.

It's hard to understate the success that the board game Eclipse has experienced since its release in late 2011. Yet in an industry where the designer's name can significantly impact sales, gamers have been left with a common question: who is Touko Tahkokallio? In his own words: "A 30 year-old Finnish board game designer, who also works for a digital game company as a primary job." I recently had the opportunity to chat with the rising-star designer about his history as a gamer, the experience of Eclipse's reception, and what the future holds.

After riding a wave of buzz from the Essen Spiel 2011 trade show, Eclipse became the talk of the industry as it went on to scorch the charts at BoardGameGeek.com. The website maintains a massive database of board game info, but of particular note are their rankings (generated by an algorithm that accounts for user ratings among other factors). Fans place particular emphasis on the "Top 100" here, and Eclipse has made quite a splash. Out of nearly 60,000 games, Eclipse now ranks at number 6 with an average user rating of 8.35/10.00.

Players of Eclipse have spoken, and made their judgement of the game well known in the process. But what are they actually doing after trying the game out? Snatching up copies wherever possible. Eclipse's initial print run is completely sold out, and even with a reprint due to arrive later this month, would-be owners seeking a copy are still bidding upwards of $200 on eBay. With an audience not afraid to vote with their wallets, it has become impossible to deny that Eclipse is red hot.

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Over the past two years, Wizards of the Coast has produced numerous Dungeons & Dragons-themed board games, but none quite like Lords of Waterdeep. Past efforts were well received but undeniably played things safe, serving as distilled versions of D&D 4th Edition or re-themed war game designs. Now, Wizards has thrown their hat into the ring of European strategy, where games are judged only according to their traditional definition: as a test of skill.

It's out of character to say the least.

Euro strategy games are often bemoaned for their lack of theme, challenging players to lose themselves in the worlds of crop farming or resource bartering. The Forgotten Realms of D&D are a world apart from these bland experiences, but will strategic gamers appreciate the setting? Can thematic gamers embrace an economic competition? Read More...

At last year's Gen Con, Star Trek: Fleet Captains from WizKids was one of the show's highlights. Featuring 24 sculpted ship figures, Fleet Captains let Trek fans conduct tabletop space battles between the Federation and Klingons using WizKid's popular HeroClix system.

Yet even though there is a large well of source material to pull from, fans of Star Trek: Fleet Captains have been unsure if the game would ever receive additional content. With a $100 price tag, it was no certainty that Fleet Captains would sell well enough to finance the release of another fleet, but those questions have now been answered. WizKids has announced the upcoming release of the Romulan Empire expansion.

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Hobby gaming is still searching for its definitive award, but over the weekend, a crowd of game designers and industry professionals gathered to partake in the 2012 Origins Awards ceremony. Little metal statues exchanged hands. Many tweets were written. Now you're going to read about it!

The Origins Awards are presented by the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) for outstanding work in the game industry, and cover all manner of games, books, and accessories. Members of GAMA narrow a wide field down to five nominees per category, and the final results are determined by popular vote of attendees as the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, OH.

While often panned for a nomination process that somehow manages to overlook critically-acclaimed titles year after year, the good news here is that more often than not, the best of the nominated products took home the trophies this year. Let's take a look at who won:

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What's a publisher to do when a once-popular title is replaced by a newer version, even though there is still some life left in the original? For Alderac Entertainment Group and their Thunderstone card game, the answer is simple: give the old version away. Starting today, Thunderstone is available as a free print-and-play downloadable card game.

Taking a tabletop game from store shelves to a free download could be as simple as uploading a few PDFs, but AEG chose to first make some upgrades to the set. The original Thunderstone has now been given a complete facelift. The card layout has been revised and new artwork added to help Thunderstone match the style of its successor, the newly released Thunderstone Advance.

"The original Thunderstone for us was a great success," AEG Senior Brand Manager Todd Rowland told me. "It was reprinted and sold out many times over (at least 6 from my recollection), and built a very large playerbase for the game. We thought it would be fun to give the player's a lot of added value to their new Thunderstone Advance game," Rowland explained.

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Wizards of the Coast needs your help. The Dungeons & Dragons publisher famously handed down an early death sentence to <D&D 4th Edition last year, a mere 3 years and change after the game originally hit store shelves. In its stead, WotC has been working on its most ambitious D&D project yet: a new edition that promises to unite fans of all prior editions under the banner of a modular rules set.

This new system has been evolving over the past year under the working title "D&D Next," and there is still a long road to travel. With such ambition comes inevitable missteps, ones that can only be flushed out with round after round of playtesting. That's where you come in. Public playtesting began last week, and after some initial hiccups, the D&D Next playtest rules are available for download.

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Each May, a panel of German game journalists convene to nominate nine games for the country's "Game of the Year" awards. The average American has almost zero chance of knowing these titles, yet hobby gamers clamor for the news. The nominated titles won't mire in obscurity for long, so these gamers use the Spiel des Jahres (the award's name) new to get a glimpse into the future.

But why do gamers latch on to this specific award? The simple answer is that Germany was there first, and America hasn't been able to field a compelling award of its own. In fact, the award's popularity has played a big part in the modern board gaming boom.

While board game design had largely grown stale in the late 20th century, great titles were still being published in Europe. Germany's Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) awards put a spotlight on the best-of-the-best, allowing gamers worldwide to identify those titles and import them. The fame that early winners such as The Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne received was a major factor in lifting the board game industry to its current levels of popularity.

According to Scott Tepper of BoardGameNews, a nomination alone is good for 10,000 sales, and a winner can expect their game to sell several hundred thousand copies. These are huge numbers in an industry where games rarely reach such totals. In any case, this year's nominations are in, so read on for a look at the potential winners.

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Opportunities to have an established game designer critique your prototype don't come along very often. They also don't typically come in such a unique form. Richard Garfield, the man behind Magic: The Gathering, Robo Rally, Netrunner, King of Tokyo, and more, has put himself up on eBay.

As you can see by the bidding in the recent screenshot above, you may be able to score Garfield's services at a bargain-basement price.

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