Zoollywood (Kickstarter)

It’s a strange time in the world right now. Everyone is in quarantine, either alone or with loved ones. Retail videogame franchises tried to claim they were an “essential service” but ultimately lacked the physical layout and space to operate safely. Brick and mortar boardgame stores, however, which tend to be necessarily more spacious and can set their own safety measures without corporate overlords, have largely managed to stay afloat by offering various forms of “curbside service” using a skeleton staff. That failed “essential service” angle was 100% corporate bs to push profit at the expense of underpaid staff, but it also wasn’t completely wrong. People need something to do.

Most people, however, can’t just spend all day playing games (regardless of the type) and have to distract themselves with other things. Enter a group of unlikely heroes in these dark days. Penguins. No really, I’m serious. “Penguin walks” have long been a thing at many zoos. The temperament (and quite frankly the adorableness) of penguins make this a popular event for zoo-goers, but it’s also beneficial to the penguins. Without people, penguins in some zoos are even helping other animals by replacing humans as the thing other animals get to watch as we were watching them. More relevant to this conversation, is that many zoos have been releasing videos of their penguin walks, including some of the behind-the-scenes stuff most people don’t get to see, like penguins hopping down a stairwell. My social media feed has been full of penguin videos, and it’s amazing!!!

So it makes karmic sense that a game about penguins would launch now of all times. The story is simple. Two penguins are vying for the lead in the next big Zoollywood film. This beak-to-beak audition will obviously happen on an ice flow, with the “scene” being set by a randomly selected set of obstacles.

On a player’s turn, they can take one of three actions. They can Land an egg in an empty space on the board. They can Hatch and egg, replacing it with one of their unused Penguins. Or they can Explore with one of their Penguins. If they explore, they get to move 1 penguin in a straight line until it is stopped by an obstacle. If they move off the board, they swim around to the other side of the ice flow and continue their movement along the same path from there. They can’t move in a way that would create an infinite loop (with no obstacles to stop them) and they can’t run into an opponent’s Penguin. They will, however, kick any of their opponent’s eggs off the board to move through them. A player wins if they can place all 16 of their unhatched eggs on the board, or if their opponent finds themselves unable to take a legal action. On top of those basic actions, players will gain access to event cards that can keep the outcome uncertain until the very end.

When this Spotlight goes live, there will still be time left on a special deal for backers of their previous game, Glyph Chess. But the early bird pledge sold out almost immediately, leaving a single non-retailer pledge level. $49 (CAD) for the base game, plus you can add an extra $21 to that for a miniatures pack that replaces the cardboard obstacles. The extra mini will be available as an add-on later, but pledging it upfront get the project funded faster, and some cool stretch goals out sooner. (They were keeping those a secret, but there’s a spoiler in the comments from a backer who saw the game at Essenspeil.)

Part of the non-gaming side of Bluepiper Studio’s business includes several sets of “art toys” that are absolutely gorgeous. As well, in both component quality and gameplay, Glyph Chess was easily one of my top under-the-radar surprises of 2019. I love the penguins, the gameplay looks deceptively exciting if you like abstract strategy games, which I do. To be completely honest, I’m not in love with the whole “auditioning for a film” thing. It feels forced, but when I can look into the finished game a bit deeper, that opinion could change. Regardless, I’m truly excited at the prospect of getting the opportunity to see more when this fulfills in the fall.

You can find Bluepiper Studio online at bluepiper.ca or on Facebook at facebook.com/bluepiperca.