Vlaada Chvátil is without doubt my favourite designer, so I’m shamelessly kicking off our Designer Spotlight series by picking the one I like the most. In this series, we’ll try to get an overview of the designer’s work and then focus on three notable games.
Many designers tend to design games of a certain type. They may focus on Euros, or abstract games, or war games. Not Vlaada Chvátil. At least, not any more. He is one of the most varied designers I know of. Let’s have a look at what he’s designed.
Name: Vlaada Chvátil (aka Vladimir Chvátil)
Year of first published game: 1997
Highest ranked game on BGG: Through the Ages
- Through the Ages (2006)
- Galaxy Trucker (2007)
- Space Alert (2008)
- Dungeon Lords (2009)
- Dungeon Petz (2011)
- Mage Knight Board Game (2011)
- Pictomania (2011)
- Tash-Kalar (2013)
- Codenames (2015)
- Star Trek: Frontiers (2016)
- 2016 Spiel des Jahres (Codenames)
- 2012 Golden Geek Best Thematic Board Game (Mage Knight)
Vlaada Chvátil’s work ranges from heavy euros to real-time co-ops to party games. I seem to really like anything he puts his hand to. The three games I’ve chosen to focus on today illustrate the range of games he has designed.
One thing he is known for is a heavy injection of theme. Even his euros/abstract games have lots of theme. He does a great job of bridging the Euro/Ameritrash divide, which is definitely a contributing factor to my liking him so much!
He is also known for ingenuity. Many of the ideas in his games are novel, both mechanically and thematically. He actually has a background in computer game design, and some of these concepts come through in his boardgames.
Players: 2 – 4
Time: 180 – 240 mins
Vlaada Chvátil first came to fame in 2006 with Through the Ages. Many designers have tried to design an epic civilisation game over the years, but they all seemed to come up short in some regard.
Many people have fond memories of playing Sid Meier’s Civilization on the PC back in the day and most civilisation boardgames attempt to recreate the feeling that that provided. In fact, there is a Sid Meier’s Civilization boardgame, which I really like, but most people consider Through the Ages to be the definitive game in the civ-building genre.
It’s not for the feint-hearted though. It is heavy, and at 4+ hours for a four-player game, it is about the longest boardgame I’m willing to play in one sitting.
The game has you developing technologies, marshalling fighting units, managing population and resources, building buildings, recruiting famous leaders from history and lots, lots more.
Rather strangely though, there is no map and everything is done with cards and cubes, which does make it feel rather abstract. There is so much to think about however, that it still manages to draw you in. The time really does fly, despite it being so long.
The only real downside is the downtime on other players’ turns. I would recommend playing with three players as you can end up waiting quite a bit between turns in a four-player game.
Players: 2 – 4
Time: 60 – 90 mins
Galaxy Trucker is a real-time, ship-building game. Players race to grab tiles from a big pile in the middle of the table, which they use to construct a spaceship. Tiles include crew compartments, shields, weapons, engines, power modules, etc.
Each tile has certain connectors to adjacent tiles so you can’t just place any tile anywhere you like; they must connect legally or they will fall off your ship when you start flying!
After players have constructed their ships, they all take a journey through space to test out their new ships. This consists of working your way through a deck of (mostly bad) event cards. If you survive without too much of your ship being blown away, you sell any cargo you managed to pick up en route for points at the end.
The ship-building part is great fun – and surprisingly difficult. However, some people dislike the second half of the game where your ship gets blown up. I can’t imagine why! I don’t take the game too seriously though – I think it’s fun when your ship falls apart!
Players: 2 – 8
Time: 15 – 20 mins
Codenames is technically a party game, but it’s the most cerebral party game you’re likely to encounter. There are many versions of Codenames these days, from the two-player Duet to the risqué Deep Undercover. I’m going to lump them all under the same title.
Players form two teams and each team consists of one clue-giver with everyone else trying to guess the clues. A series of 25 code words are laid out on the table and each clue-giver is secretly assigned 8 or 9 words that they have to get their team to guess.
A clue must consist of a single word followed by a number, which represents the number of code words that the clue connects to. For example, the clue “Flight, 2” might be used to connect the code words ‘Plane’ and ‘Hawk’.
Whichever team guesses all their code words first wins, but the teams have to be careful: there are penalties for guessing the wrong words. In fact, there is always one assassin code word, and if they guess that, they instantly lose the game!
I’ve been surprised at how well this game has gone over with gamers and non-gamers alike. It is not the riotous fun of charades or Time’s Up, but it gets requested a lot and people often want to play again after the first game. The more I play it, the more I like it.
Vlaada Chvátil is one of the few designers whose games I always want to play as soon as they are released. I can almost guarantee that I’ll like them. Which is your favourite Vlaada Chvátil game?