What Makes A Game Worthy of the SdJ Award?

Camel Up?  Really?  OK, I kind of called it.  I had the fortune of being able to play all of the nominated games prior to the release of the information while at the Gathering of Friends earlier this year.  Most people there really liked Splendor and were giving it the nod, but there was something about it that just fell flat with me.  Camel Up, on the other hand, is mechanically a less stringent game but it creates stories and fun and has people engaged with each other during the game itself; definitely more so that Splendor.

The SdJ award is not to find the best game in the world, contrary to popular belief.  The mandate of the Jury is to promote boardgames in culture much like books and movies are.  They hope to award the coveted prize to games that can help accomplish that goal.

So…what makes a good SdJ candidate?

I  had the pleasure of meeting up with Tom Felber of the Speil de Jahres jury at Snakes and Lattes this week. 

He gave an excellent talk and held a Q&A session afterwards, discussing what makes a game worthy of the prestigious award.  For those of you who weren’t there, here’s the highlights:

The SdJ jury is comprised of just 10 journalists with absolutely no direct fiscal ties to the gaming industry.  They are people who write about games as their job. They play and vote and play and vote and play and vote etc. until the lists for the Kid’s, Strategy, and Overall nominees are compiled.   Each jury member plays in the area of 400 unique games a year, some multiple times.

Tom noted that even though Germans play tons of games as a country, the average German is not educated on what makes a good game, and so the SdJ has become a “seal of approval”.  This has lead to huge sales for the winners.  The lowest print run of a SdJ game that used the award seal was estimated at 200,000 units.  Hanabi, for example, had a print run of 700,000. just for Germany. This is why the SdJ is announced in the summer; to allow lead time for the companies of winning games to manufacture and ship out the necessary volume in time for Christmas, as games are a traditional Yuletide gift.

However, the misconception of the SdJ is that the award is for the best game of the year.  It is really for the most accessible game; the game that will be a great ambassador to the world at large for the hobby of boardgaming. Tom stated that it is unfortunate that the game buying public spends 99% a large percent of their money on the winners of the SdJ, leaving other good games to languish sales-wise.  So that’s why the Jury publishes the runner up and recommended list.  They also want to limit the awards to only the 3 current categories to keep it simple and understandable to the general public.

The winners of each category have the right to use the SdJ seal to advertise their accomplishment for a small licensing fee based on unit sales (2-3%).  This money goes towards financing the awards themselves, participation in fairs like Essen, publications like brochures/websites/etc., and other expenses. The SdJ program also funds a ton of great gaming-related activities like bringing games to soldiers on peace-keeping missions, etc. to further their mandate.

Tom went on to answer some questions on the topic of what makes a game a solid candidate for a SdJ:

  • it can be played again and again
  • it is well balanced
  • it elicits positive emotions
  • it has a solid rulebook that is available in German
  • the game has high production standards for the graphics and components
  • there is no to low violence in the game, so there are no wargames and the rules should be carefully worded around touchy subjects – anything overtly violent or war-like is not going to receive Jury approval, no matter how good a game it is otherwise.

The biggest take home point for me was something that I regularly espouse – rules are an essential part of any game system.  Without them, you just have bits on a board.  The Germans as a people have a technically precise culture and thus hold rulebooks to a very high standards.  Tom stated that the number one reason for a game being excluded is poor rules.  He pointed to Queen Games and Hans im Gluek as being companies that traditionally have well-written rules.  For the SdJ, the Jury will not consider any supplemental aids (videos, web-based FAQs, etc.).   If they can’t play the game solely with what comes in the box, it is immediately excluded.

Tom noted the collegial nature of the German publishing houses – the editors meet yearly to discuss how to write better rulebook.  Tom stated that good rules are clear and simple, use plenty of pictures and give good examples.  He added that good rules need to be readable and a bit of humour can help with that.

Hope some of our readers find this article helpful – maybe you’ll design the next SdJ!  We’re certainly trying our best!

~ Sen-Foong

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Inquisitive Meeple Interviews the Bamboozle Brothers!

Screenshot 2014-07-23 08.16.36Check out this great interview (well of course it’s great – check out the subject matters!) of us by Inquisitive Meeple. A lot of it focuses on our upcoming Kickstarter game, But Wait There’s More! Learn a few things about the game before it launches and check out some new pictures of the components as well.

-Jay Cormier

See Sen on the Nerd Nighters Ep 61

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I jump in (with pants on!) the video feed alongside Paul Peterson (of Smash Up fame) with hosts JR Honeycutt and Andrew Christopher Enriquez as a special last minute guest on the Dallas Fort Worth Nerd Nighters Google Hangout.

Watch the interview here!

If you’re in the DFW area, you *NEED* to check these guys out.  Link to http://www.dfwnn.org for more info on their events.  They are doing so many awesome things in regards to gaming and community building that it makes me want to put on a 10-gallon hat and move to Texas!

YEEHAW

~ Sen

Working hard in preparation for this year’s Gathering of Friends

gof_logo1We haven’t posted in awhile – mostly because the weeks leading up to Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends is full of testing and prototype re-making! If you’re not familiar with the Gathering of Friends, then read this article here as it explains my experience from last year!

So what are we doing to prepare? Well, I’m glad I asked..! We have some new games that we’re working on that have never been pitched before:

Herdables: This is a Bejeweled type game in which you’re trying to get three animals of the same kind in a row. The nice twist to this one is that you must place your 2 animals each turn adjacent to a third animal – each of which is drawn at the end of your turn – which means you can always see how your opponent could play, and alter your move accordingly. A cool 2-player game!

Firefly – With a Cool Subtitle: We were told by Toy Vault last year that they have the license for Firefly games and said they’d look at any Firefly games we pitched them. So we’re not ones to leave a request like that lying around! We came up with a really cool Advanced Incan Gold type of a game – where you have to escape back to Serenity before it’s too late. You don’t control any one character but instead are controlling the story of the characters as they go on missions to collect credits and battle the Alliance! Looking forward to seeing Toy Vault’s reaction to this one!

Zombie Slam: Well some publishers have seen this one…kind of! We had a game called Jam Slam that has been to many publishers – but it was deemed too old for a kid’s game and too young-feeling for an adult game. So what do we do? Slap a zombie theme on it and make it a full on adult game! But in doing so we’ve found many more things to do with the game that align with the theme.

What’s That?: This is a party game that uses an app! We partnered with Stefan Alexander to create the app, and then as a full partner in designing the game. It’s such a cool idea for a game! We showed it to Repos Production last year and they liked it – but we’ve never been happy enough with the app to send it to them…but we are now! I think this one will be exciting!

On top of these three new games we have some others that have seen publishers before but haven’t been picked up yet. Not sure if there will be any new publishers there this year that haven’t seen these – but I might as well bring them!

Chainables – a cool word making game with 2 decks of cards.

Lions Share – an interesting card game about sharing cards that you’ve won.

EI-EI-O – almost got signed last year – but the publisher backed out when they saw another game coming out that had animals and sound effects in it (even though the games are different).

Also I have partnered with another designer for the first time and we’ve got a really cool 3-dimensional tower building game called the Towers of Nakh. I love how it plays and it always draws a crowd because it looks so interesting while you’re playing it.

Finally, I have my first solo project that I hope to have ready. It’s called Ignotus (which is latin for Unknown) and it’s about figuring out a player’s secret goal, which trying to achieve your own.

So we’ll be busy again this year – but I mean that in a good way! I love going to the Gathering and hanging out with other designers, playtesting their games and having them playtest our games – as well as meeting publishers in such a relaxed and casual way. I’ll post more after the event. Wish us luck!!

-Jay Cormier

 

Blatant reposting of awesome James Mathe article

I really loved this article and so I’m just going to link to it here. If you’re an aspiring designer, then heed this advice. I have found myself giving all of this feedback time and time again. It’s all great advice that I strongly support.

Game Design for Dummies – by James Mathe

There is one caveat – if you are making a war game, then it is expected that there will be some player elimination. On the whole though, I’d recommend avoiding player elimination!

-Jay Cormier

This Interview Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us

ThisTown-logoHere’s a funny story: During our Kickstarter campaign for This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us, I opened it up to the backers in the comments section to questions they had for me about – anything! Well, I got a bunch of questions…and then a bunch more. One backer has taken all his questions and my answers and made a couple of blog posts about them! So if you’re interested in learning a bit more about Sen and me and how we design games – there are a lot of interesting questions (and hopefully interesting answers) to be found!

Part One of the interview.

Part Two of the interview.

Thanks Sanders for putting this altogether! It’s a nice way to end off the Kickstarter campaign!!!

-Jay Cormier

Guest Post: Blind Playtesting by Jeff Hunt

whatsyourstoryHere’s another Guest Post for our series, What’s Your Story. This one covers his experiences with blind play testing. It’s an amazing story about taking blind play testing to the max! If you have questions for Jeff, post them below and we’ll make sure he answers them! My first question Jeff is – how did you find so many people to agree to blind play test your game?!

Shifting the Assumptions I have Made

Jeff Hunt

Jeff Hunt – Game Designer

As an introduction, I’m just going to say that I’d been working on a prototype board game called Knight’s Quest for many months now, and have play-tested it several times with my regular group of close friends and game-pals.   Recently, I had the daunting opportunity to invite people from outside my close circle of gaming friends to come out and try my game.   I won’t make excuses in this post, but this play test came at a very busy point in my work life (much weekend and evening overtime to launch a large project at work).
With much help from my friend Kyle, we rented a community hall for part of the afternoon and the evening of our blind play-test.   We invited a total of 28 people to come join us in trying out the board game, with a session of 10 players in the afternoon and 14 players in the evening.  Kyle, Corey (my design co-pilot) and I were there to facilitate, answer questions and referee.
At this point I want to digress briefly.   I’ve played a lot of games.  I’ve liked board games and gaming since my teen years.   I have played a long list of games (that I won’t go into here) but I’ve never had someone from outside my close circle of friends playing a game I worked on or designed.  This was brand new territory for me, and to be honest, prior to the actual day of the event, I was quite nervous about the whole experience. Stage-fright shouldn’t have been a big issue, and the results of this play test session proved that.

The Morning Session
PlaytestPrototype-ReadytoPlayKyle and I had arrived to the community hall early and started setting up the game tables so that they would be ready for the players to begin.  We had 3 rooms on 3 levels, and ended up with 1 active table on each of the three levels.   I gave a preamble speech to the players, thanking them for their time on a Saturday afternoon, and basically setting them free to experience the game with the sole help of the rulebook, quick start guide, and reference page I’d provided everyone.  Then I sat back, tied my own hands, and watched the various players attempt to decipher my rules and get their game started.
I was hit by an avalanche of learning from the minute this began.  Some rules that were very clear in my own (biased) mind were not as intuitive as I’d hoped.  Assumptions I had made (biased) about how gamers would treat game components and rules that (I thought) were explicitly laid out, were being interpreted three different ways at three different tables.   It was chaos – beautiful, beautiful, educational chaos.  I tried very hard not to jump in and advise or help until the players had had a chance to talk things over inside their groups, and only when it seemed like an insurmountable hurdle had come up to block their path toward a successful (and fun) play-test of the game.  If players came to an agreed upon solution to any fogginess in the rules, I simply sat back and watched how that interpretation played out.
I learned that even with a fair bit of technical writing experience under my belt, and years of publishing technical help guides as part of an IT career, talking about game stuff with people of different levels of gaming experience was a whole new sport.   I was going to have to go back to the beginning and re-identify all the unspoken assumptions and hidden pieces of brain-trust that hadn’t been successfully translated into my rules.  I was going to have to unpack them carefully, and then reassemble them in language that a non-gamer, non-me person could easily pick up and understand.
In short, the experience was awesome!  (I mean that.)  I know it sounds a little strange to be so excited about a moment when hard work and carefully crafted rules didn’t seem to line up into a perfectly successful play-test of the game the way I thought I had designed and described it to be played, so bear with me for a moment.
Quite a few of the people who came out to this were associates and contacts who were not really board game enthusiasts, so I was expecting a bit of a learning curve right off the bat. Some of them were avid gamers, however, and they were the most inventive in trying to find ways to make the game work for them.  I was taking notes furiously, both mental and hand-written, to capture any of the bumps, hurdles and blockages encountered by this group.
The whole time, Kyle, Corey and I were asking people if they were having fun, and trying to encourage a social fun aspect to the event.   All of the groups, with only a few gentle nudges in the right direction, managed to get several rounds of play-test under their belt, and were beginning to develop a feel for the play of the game.
About a half an hour prior to our first session ending in the community hall, we had the groups pack up the game and fill out a questionnaire about their time play testing.  Kyle and I had populated the questionnaire with some specific questions about mechanics, and room for some open ended questions and free-form comments from the players.
To my astonishment (and gratitude) two of the players from the morning session decided to come back to the evening session for a second try at the game.  To me this was a sign that I was on the right track to a fun and enjoyable gaming experience.   When the afternoon session was finished, we hurriedly packed up and vacated the community hall for another group’s use, and went off to find a way to kill the time in between the early afternoon session and the evening session.

The Evening Session

PlayTest-inprogressHaving learned a little bit from the morning session and the learning curve involved with getting the game up and running without guidance, I decided to change my preamble speech and provide a 1-turn demonstration of play so that the players could get a look at how the intended play of the first turn would look.
This seemed to get the groups up and running much quicker than the morning session, and resulted in fewer over-all questions about the game, which I believe was a win for myself, the developer.  Again, the learning started flowing in almost immediately.  There was different learning this time, as the evening crowd had more people with gaming experience in the mix.  And we had the 2 returnees from the morning session who had freshly learned how to play the game that day, and may have come in with new strategies to try, or new things they wanted out of the game.
Because about 1/3 of the evening session included some people from inside my immediate gaming circle, it seemed like a very sociable event.  People were chatting and joking around with one another, and everyone seemed to be having a ton of fun.  We had the hall booked for 3 hours again, and allowed the evening session to run for almost 4 ½ hours as there were no other clients waiting for the space.
Again, at the end of this session, we had people fill out the questionnaire, and I thanked them all for their time on a Saturday night.  When it was over, I was exhausted.   I was happy – but exhausted.  It had been a super long day, but a super fun day too.   My game had been reasonably well received by people I know, and some I didn’t, and today, two days later, I feel extremely optimistic that the feedback provided and the observations about rules interpretation will greatly help me tune this game into something totally awesome!

What would I do differently?

If I hadn’t been so incredibly busy with my work leading up to this play-test, I would like to have taken one more very close pass on the rules prior to the event.  I would probably re-order the questionnaire so that the specific mechanics questions came first, and the general impressions questions were last – just so the most immediate feedback might cover some of the specifically complex or troubling mechanics that needed addressing.   I would have the play test in one continuous session over the course of an afternoon, rather than breaking it into two separate and time-limited blocks, and would probably do it in a residence rather than a public building – just to save a couple of dollars.
Other than those notes, I think that, for me, the play test was extremely successful.  I couldn’t wait to start crunching the data and tuning up the rules to make a fun game even more fun and accessible to everyone.

The Feedback

The feedback I received from the players was instrumental in helping me tune my design further.  In my work-life we operate under an iterative methodology.  In my school career, my work was subject to many critiques and subsequent iterations to improve the end product.   Applying this methodology to my game design seemed like a no-brainer.
Probably the most important parts of this feedback was understanding when rules I’d carefully written out in the rulebook were not being interpreted as I understood them.  Also important was finding out some unasked questions that I hadn’t considered or answered because I was so close to the project that they weren’t questions for me.  Aside from some minor mechanics tweaks that came out of various feedback, the biggest change to the game after this was to really take a long close look at the rules and ensure that there were plenty of diagrams accompanying explanations of how the game was supposed to function.
Blind Play-testing sounds a bit imposing, but I now consider it a primary and integral part of any other design I’m working on.
I also received some general feedback about the game being fun, or the theme being nice and that sort of thing, but I try to focus most on the comments that surround making the game play better, and making it easier to understand.  I fully expect that if a Publisher accepts the game into their portfolio that there will be artistic changes and tweaking – particularly since my prototypes generally have clip-art or basic diagrams for many of the printed components.

Conclusion

Blind Play-testing can be tough for a designer – and especially tough for a designer who has never experienced a critique or iterative project.   To set one up on the scale that we did for Knight’s Quest, you have to have some organizational skill, a budget of some kind (if you’re using public facilities), a way to find and invite people to your play-test sessions, and a way to solicit feedback that is meaningful.    Then you have to have the patience and forbearance to either let the play-test take place without you, or to keep yourself from influencing it by interfering with the play-test groups.  Finally, you have to do something with the feedback.
The first few parts can be pretty straightforward.  Invite a bunch of people you know peripherally, or don’t know at all to your event.   Bribe them with Pizza and soft-drinks if you like.  Let them play your game and fill out preplanned comment cards or questionnaires about it.
The best part comes afterwards, when you analyze and react to the feedback.   You can play-test all you like, but if you never evaluate feedback and use it to inspire positive change to your game, you’re probably just wasting your time.
It took me several weeks to go through all the feedback and determine what was useful feedback, what was “fluff” and what feedback could be discarded – and I did discard some suggestions.  Overall the experience was positive for me.  And I think it strengthened both my rule-writing skills and the game design itself.  I would do this again for all of my game designs. However I would caution any designer who is planning a blind play test that the comments are going to range from friendly to not, and treating them critically is going to require some critique-management skills.   Good luck if you organize something like this, and I hope all of your feedback is constructive!

-Jeff Hunt

I also want to thank my good friend Kyle (a co-owner of www.willworkforgames.com) for his work and dedication in helping to arrange and organize this event.  Without his encouragement (and pushing) it may have taken much longer for me to get a play test off the ground.

We want your board game design stories!

whatsyourstoryWelcome to 2014! We’ve been working at designing board games for over 6 years now, and we’ve been writing about how to get published on this site for over 3 years. The goal of this site was to be very transparent and show people how we came to get our board games published. At the time we only had Belfort and Train of Thought being published but now we have six more games coming out this year! While we still have stories and lessons left to tell as we continue to learn new things about getting published, what we’d love to do now is to hear from other designers.

We’re introducing a new segment on our blog called: What’s Your Story?

We’ve already had one guest blogger, Patrick Lysaght, tell us a couple stories about following some of the steps outlined on this site (Pitching at Origins Part 1 and Part 2), and now we’d like to hear from you! Have you used any of the steps outlined in this blog? Have you found success – or even met up with some challenges? Do you have:

  • a story about how you pitched your game to a publisher, or
  • a story about how you make prototypes, or
  • a story about how you play test your games, or
  • a story about contract negotiation, or
  • a story about how you self-published, or
  • a story about how you used Kickstarter, or
  • any story about the design process?

Contact me and we’ll work together to get your story told: jay <at> bamboozlebrothers.com

-Jay Cormier

Another game picked up by a publisher and more updates!

Well 2013 has come and is almost gone, and it was a good one for us Bamboozle Brothers! While we didn’t have any new games actually make it to retail this year, we signed more games and are excited about 2014 as we have upwards of 6 new titles hitting retail. Check them out:

1. Belfort: The Expansion Expansion from Tasty Minstrel Games – this one took a bit of extra time through customs and didn’t make the Christmas shipping cut-off – but it’s something we can look forward to early in the new year! The expansion adds Assistants that you get to choose every round which give each player new abilities (and there are more Assistants than you need, making each game totally different!), as well as Expansion Permits that let you expand your current buildings which unlock specific scoring opportunities that only you can take advantage of!

2. But Wait, There’s More from Toy Vault – Expect to see a Kickstarter for this party game early in the new year – January or February we think. We’ve signed the final contract and so it’s not a secret anymore and I think it’s ok to announce that the game will be set in the Monty Python universe!! How crazy is that? Very exciting to be a part of the Python world!!

3. Tortuga from Queen – Expect a Kickstarter for this one in January! This one used to be called Swashbucklers, but that didn’t translate well to other languages, so it’s been changed to the very piratey island of Tortuga! We’re very excited about this one and have even seen some early art for it. This could be a big hit for us! It’s a simultaneous roll and assign your dice game about finding and stealing treasure from other pirates.

4. Akrotiri from Z-Man Games – we’ve seen almost all the art and the rules, so I’m expecting it to come out in the first half of 2014, but we’re not sure. This is our 2-player strategy game that has tile laying and a pretty nifty mechanic where you have maps that tell you where temples are hidden – even though the map is different every time you play! Very cool.

5. Pop Goes the Weasel by R&R Games – we’re not done the contract phase of this one yet, so it’s not 100% official, but it should be soon. This is our first kid’s game where you roll 2 dice and choose one as movement and the other as how many mullberries you get to take. It’s pretty clever for a kid’s game!

6. This Town Aint Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us by Tasty Minstrel Games – we’re not done the contract phase of this one either but we should be soon! This is a micro game that use 25 tiles full of cowboys, each trying to get more in a town than the others. I’m happy about the gameplay – and possibly even happier with that title!

Once we’re allowed to share, we’ll share more news and pictures of each game! On top of that we have some games being assessed at publishers right now:

1. Rock, Paper, Wizards – We sent this into Filosofia awhile ago and they liked it, but not enough to publish it. We (Sen-Foong Lim, Josh Cappel and me) worked on it for months and finally cracked it in November. We tested the heck out of it and have just re-sent it back to Filosofia. We can’t wait to hear what they think of it!

2. Lions Share – we sent this to Amigo Spiele awhile ago and had a positive email from them before Christmas stating that they already returned all the games that they didn’t like back to the designers – so that means that they still like Lions Share. We’ll see what happens in the new year.

3. Junkyard – Filosofia has had this one for awhile, and they really love it but are having challenges with figuring out how to make it affordable as it uses many unique pieces of wood. They’re working with some manufacturers to try and figure that one out.

4. SimpliCITY – Flux Capacity has expressed interest in this game when we were at Hammercon in November. Since then we’ve tweaked and balanced it even more. Since the publisher lives close to Sen, they’re going to play it later this weekend! Crossing fingers! I really like how this game has evolved!

5. Aladdin: Cave of Wonders – the Game Artisans of Canada are putting together a collection of games, with each one based of a different fairy tale or fable. The idea is that each game in the set could be played on its own, or there would be a story mode with benefits to playing one after the other. This one was just sent to PSI as they volunteered to help us assess the age range of some of the games in the collection.

So 2014 is shaping up to be quite a big year for us! Now we just have to actually start coming up with more game ideas! 🙂

-Jay Cormier