The Gathering of Friends 2014: Part 2

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William Attia (designer of Caylus and Spyrium – and representative for Ystari Games) and Cyrille Daujean from Days of Wonder play my deduction game, Ignotus!

Days of Wonder and Ystari
Our second meeting was an impromptu meeting with Cyrille from Days of Wonder and William Attia (designer of Caylus and Spyrium) from Ystari. I knew William from last year, having played many games with him, and struck up a conversation with him and Cyrille. Even though I knew that none of our current games would really fit with either company, I asked if they were open to looking at some of our new prototypes. The event had just started and they weren’t busy so they decided to look at our new games!
I was right – we didn’t have anything that fit with either company! But that’s ok – they were really interested in a game I designed by myself – foolishly titled Ignotus (Latin for Unknown) – and they just wanted to play it because they liked deduction games. They both enjoyed playing it! Cyrille also gave us a contact at Blue Orange as he thinks our game called Herdables would fit well with them! How nice!
Abacusspiele

A table full of prototypes waiting to be pitched!

A table full of prototypes waiting to be pitched!

Every year I have pitched to Matthias from Abacusspiele and every year he has taken one of our games back with him, though they have yet to publish one of our games. Daryl Andrews, a fellow Game Artisan and myself set up a table full of the prototypes that we wanted to show off to him!

I like Matthias and got to play a few ‘real’ games with him at the event throughout the week – including a really late game of Tichu one night – and he was happy to look at what we had to present this year. I showed him what we had and we played through a few rounds of Ignotus and Zombie Slam. He liked both of those and requested rules for each to be sent to him so he could assess them further. Yay – 3 for 3!
R&R Games
We met up with Frank from R&R Games because he had a contract for us to sign for a game that we pitched to him last year called Pop Goes the Weasel. We had been negotiating it previous to the Gathering and so it was the perfect time for all of us to convene and sign multiple copies of the contract. He also let us know that they have been doing focus groups with it already and that they will most likely change the name of the game. Apparently the title makes parents think that the game is purely a kid’s game and not a family game. They’re not sure what the title will be yet – but they’ve also already replaced the mulberries with bananas! We’re pretty cool with these kind of changes since they’re based on a business decision that makes sense. This is another reason why it’s good to partner with publishers who have access to doing things like focus groups!
We didn’t end up pitching any of our new games to Frank this year since he said his plate was now full of family and party games and that they were actually looking for more Euro style games – which we didn’t have this year.
Zoch

Daryl Andrews pitching his games to Andreas from Zoch

Daryl Andrews pitching his games to Andreas from Zoch

This was a nice surprise as we’ve never pitched to Zoch before! Zoch is a pretty big deal in Germany, especially with thei big hit Ghost Blitz. We knew we would have a game or two that Zoch might like! The Zoch representative, Andreas, ended up being a good friend throughout the Gathering. We played many games together – including some fun Zoch games like Polterfass and Leg Los! After pitching our games he expressed a lot of interest in Zombie Slam! He expressed some concern that Zoch wouldn’t do a zombie game though – especially if it had guns in it, but he really liked the mechanic. We chatted and found out that he probably could do it with ‘cute’ werewolves and no guns. That could work!
Andreas mentioned that they were looking for a quick reaction game for next year so Zombie Slam might fit the bill. We also told him about our game Pig Goes Moo (previously called Ei-Ei-O!), which we didn’t bring for some reason (d’oh!). He expressed interest in that one too and asked us to mail it to him asap.

Next up we’ll regale tales of pitching to the likes of Huch & Friends, Toy Vault, Mercury, Hans Im Gluck, Think Fun, iEllo and Repos! Wow!

-Jay Cormier

Sens-TurnAnd again, more pictures to complement Jay’s words!

Ystari’s William Attia (who just celebrated a birthday – Bonne Fete!) and Cyrille Daujean (DoW) burn their brains to try to figure out what’s what in Jay’s solo effort, Ignotus.

IMG_0816We return the favour by getting a convention exclusive playthrough of Five Tribes, the next Days of Wonder product, facing off against the designer himself, Bruno Cathala.

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Jay pitches our card game, Lions Share, to Andreas (Zoch).

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Fair is fair, so we learn how to play Polterfass aka “Rumbling Barrels”, a dicey betting game, from Zoch with Andreas and Jasmine (Hans im Glueck).  One of our faves from the con!

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One of my personal favourites is a great drawing game where you use bits and pieces to create items for people to guess.  The twist?  You lose materials as you play, so you have less and less bits to draw the items with as you progress!  I *slaughtered* everyone at this game.  Andreas gave it to me to take home!  Game recognizes game.

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Later, we get Andreas to try out a game, Topsy Turvey Towers, from a fellow Game Artisan, Daniel Rocchi.

IMG_0884 I also destroyed Andreas (not really) at Machi Koro, so this pic is just to commemorate my victory.  IMG_0886

~ Sen-Foong Lim

 

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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

 

Gathering: Pitching to ThinkFun

Continuing in our series that recounts the experiences we had at this year’s Gathering. Here are the previous posts in this series:

  1. Intro and overview of the Gathering
  2. Pitching to publishers overview
  3. Pitching to Asmodee and Repos
  4. Pitching to Filosofia and Z-Man Games
  5. Pitching to Asmodee, R&R Games and Abacuspiele

What’s great about the Gathering is that everyone is wearing a name badge. Even better than that, the name badges are colour coded so you can tell if someone is new to the Gathering, a 20 year veteran to the Gathering – or a Publisher! How great is that? At other conventions, the publishers have booths, so it’s pretty easy to know who they are, but their objective at most conventions is to sell games. At the Gathering, their objective is to have some fun playing games – as well as check out some pitches for new games.

This means that you can approach publishers at the Gathering to see if they’re looking at submissions right now. For me, this worked perfectly. I would see a Blue Badge (the colour of publishers) and ask them if they’re looking at prototypes while they’re here at the Gathering. Sometimes they’d be open to seeing pitches right away, while other times they’d schedule me into a time slot on another day. I had a 100% success rate in approaching publishers and getting them to check out my prototypes! I love the Gathering! 🙂

ThinkfunlogoI approached Tanya from ThinkFun in the hall, and having remembered meeting her last year, said hi and asked her if she was looking at prototypes. She brought out her schedule and slotted me in for Friday at 11am. Sweet!

By the time Friday came, Sen was now at the Gathering, so we had maximum Bamboozle Brother effort in effect! This helped with our pitches a lot. I was still the main ‘pitch man’ but Sen helped in organizing and then in the discussions after the pitches. We found that this worked well and we avoided talking over each other this way.

We met up with Tanya and found an open table in the main room to pitch our games. Remember, we didn’t have time (or the files!) to print out any sales sheets, so I had to pitch the old fashioned way – by bringing out each game and showing them one at a time.

carry-onSide note: I had brought this carry-on bag with me to the Gathering that had a long handle and wheels. You know, the kind meant for carrying your laptop and some files? Well, I used this to lug all my prototypes around. I had packed my prototypes into separate baggies or the smallest box I could find. Space is definitely an issue when you’re bringing multiple games to pitch!

I would bring out a game, show her the logo and state the name of the game, then as I was opening it up and removing the necessary pieces (not all the pieces, just enough to show a demo), I would give the elevator pitch. I would explain the concept of the game and why I think it’s unique, or what I like most about the game.

Examples:

SimpliCITY: I really like tile laying games but I hate waiting for each person to play before it’s my turn – mostly because the board changes so much that I will usually just wait and not plan too much until it is my turn. In SimpliCITY, each person is working on their own city, but they are interacting by trying to achieve specific goals before other players.

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Short Order Showdown: For some reason, I’m really good at quick reaction games. And when we played this one with friends, they liked it but said that they never wanted to play with me again because I always won. So what we did with this game is added a clever catch up mechanic to it that keeps it challenging for all players.

Lions Share: It’s a collecting game, but it has 3 unique features:

  • You play between players, so you’re playing against the player on your left and on your right
  • what you’re allowed to play changes each time a set is collected
  • when you do collect a set, you have to share half the cards with your opponents

And so we pitched game after game to Tanya and she took notes about each one. After we pitched pretty much every game we had to her (we forgot to pitch Top Shelf to her for some reason!), we found that almost 2 hours had passed! Tanya mentioned that most of her pitch sessions last 30 minutes…maaaaybe 60 minutes, so it was a testament to the quality of our games that she kept wanting to hear more pitches!

In the end she liked 4 of our games: Lost for Words, Chainables, EI-EI-O and Pop Goes the Weasel. She asked to have a sales sheet sent to her in the following week. Overall I was ecstatic with our pitch session with Tanya. She shares the same overall objectives as we do – which is that we all should help each other in this small world of game-making because it will only help all of us in the end. I can see a long a fruitful relationship with Tanya as we now have an open door to pitch anything in the future!

Update: We sent her the sales sheets and within a week or so we heard back that while none of the games we showed her were perfect for ThinkFun right now, she’d be open to seeing more from us in the future – which is always good!

Next up…the big one – we pitch to Hasbro!!! You’re not going to want to miss this one.

-Jay Cormier

The Gathering 2013: Pitching to Asmodee and Repos

Logo_AsmodéeI knew Stefan from Asmodee because not only did I meet him at last year’s Gathering but I met him at his office last November when I found myself in Montreal. He gave back three of our prototypes that Asmodee ended up passing on, but was open to seeing more. But before pitching he brought over Cedric from Repos Productions to sit in on the pitch.That’s what I love about the Gathering – and maybe the whole board game industry: everyone’s trying to help everyone.Whether you’re a designer or a publisher, everyone seems to want to help each other out.That’s really cool.

So Stefan acted as my wing man as he wanted me to show Cedric the games that Asmodee just passed on!

ex-neigh1SimpliCITY: We played a few rounds of this simple city building game and Cedric liked it but passed on it because he thought it was too much ‘multiplayer solitaire,’ which simply means that everyone is working on their own thing and once in awhile look up to compete in something together…which is true of SimpliCITY. It’s not a terrible thing, as there are popular games out there that are like that, but it’s not something that Repos wanted. Fair enough. One interesting lesson learned here: since Asmodee had this since November, I hadn’t played the game since then either.That meant that I was a little rusty on some of the rules on how the bonus goal cards score. Nothing looks more amateurish than lack of confidence and knowledge about your own game. I actually had to look in the rules! Yikes. So lesson learned – make sure you know your games inside and out before you pitch them, which sounds obvious – as it is rare to get a game back from a publisher on the same day that you pitch it to another publisher!

ex-chainable1Chainables: We played this for 1 minute when he realized it was just a word game and that wasn’t something he wanted.

EI-EI-O: This quick reaction, barnyard animal game has seen quite a few interested publishers, but Repos wasn’t interested as he thought there were many somewhat similar games like that out there already.

What’s That: This was our new party game that we haven’t shown to any publisher yet. It uses an app to give unique clues to each person. Cedric and Stefan loved it and Cedric asked to take this one back with him.Yay!

Pop Goes The Weasel: They had fun with this family/kids game, but Cedric was unfamiliar with the nursery rhyme jingle so he didn’t understand why we were doing anything. Once we realized this, Stefan explained the rhyme to him and he understood the game a lot more. He ended up passing because the title and theme makes it very North American-only.

Cedric mentioned that he was sorry that he had to pass on the games because they are all good games that work – but just not for Repos.That’s a nice thing to hear. So a pretty good pitch session! Any pitch session where a publisher wants to take one of your games is a good session.

In addition pitching my own games I was also pitching some games from other Game Artisans of Canada. Many of the west coast Artisans gave me their sales sheets and their prototypes to pitch.We Artisans stick together and help each other succeed whenever possible so I pitched their games to Cedric and Stefan. Cedric expressed interest in Iron Horse Bandits so I brought it out and showed them how it worked.They ended up passing on it but would see it again if a few things get tweaked.

Next up – pitching o Filosofia and Z-Man Games!

-Jay Cormier

Pitching to Filosofia and Asmodee, part 4

Logo_AsmodéeOn Monday I had my meeting set up with Stefan at Asmodee. I met him at their office and after grabbing a bit to eat and chatting about the business, we sat down for some game pitching! I was now 3 games lighter since Filiosofia kept Lions Share, Jam Slam and Clunatics, but that still left me with five more games to pitch. I laid out the games and started explaining the games when Stefan jumped in and recommended we play Chainables first as it seemed easy and would allow us to eat while we played.

Chainables: Three of us played this word game and we played enough rounds for them to understand how it played. They liked it but didn’t offer too many more comments – so I cleaned it up and moved onto the next game.

Simplicity: Stefan and I played Simplicity and even finished the game (it is a pretty quick game!). I showed him the expansion that we had designed with it and he asked to hold onto the game for further evaluation. He said he’d probably play it with the expansion as it seemed like a good idea. Cool!

EIEI-O: Stefan had expressed interest at the Gathering but it was with another publisher at that time. It has since been released by the other publisher – so I was able to pitch this game to Asmodee. EI-EI-O is a quick reaction game where you have to make the sounds and actions of common farmyard animals. Stefan got more people from the office to play the game. I decided to stay out of playing the game and just flipped the cards and rolled the die! The game was a huge hit with tons of laughs by everyone involved! Lots of wrong sound effects for the animals and awkward actions. They definitely were interested in this game and are already planning on sending the game to France for evaluation.

Short Order Showdown: We played a few rounds of this, but I did a poor job explaining some of the rules and it caused some confusion. My bad. There certainly was a language barrier – but I do take responsibility in not explaining the rules as well as I should have. That might have been part of the reason why they ended up passing on this game.

l4w-1Lost for Words: Lost for Words is a word-making game that Sen and I made because we didn’t like how slow Scrabble is to play. It’s a fun game for word fans but it fell rather flat with Asmodee, possible because of the language barrier. I wonder if this game will ever find a publisher!? I hope so because the response from word fans is always fantastic!

After this, one person in the office asked to play Chainables again as he found it very interesting. That was a surprise to me! Not that the game isn’t interesting – but that they would be interested in an English word-making game! We played it with 4 players and brainstormed a bit about the cards since they were too big. One person thought it would be better if they were tiles, and placed on a rack just like Scrabble. That’s cool! That would be very slick methinks! They asked to hold onto Chainables for further evaluation. Huzzah!

Stefan had to get ready to head off to BGG.con the next day so I left with only Lost for Words and Short Order Showdown! That means, after these two meetings (Filosofia on Friday and Asmodee on Monday) we had these games being assessed:

Filosofia

  • Junkyard
  • Clunatics
  • Lions Share
  • Jam Slam

Asmodee

  • EI-EI-O
  • SimpliCITY
  • Chainables

A very successful couple of days pitching games! Who knows, it’s very possible that both Filosofia and Asmodee will pass on all these games, but as usual, Sen and I are optimistic about many of these games! Stay tuned to this blog to see what the future will hold for these games!

-Jay Cormier

The Gathering of Friends: Part 4 – Pitching to Filosofia and Z-Man Games

I had a 10 A.M. meeting set up with Filosofia and Z-Man Games so I got there in and set up Akrotiri with time to spare.  As some of our more faithful readers might recall, Z-Man has had Akrotiri for a while now, but with the acquisition of Z-Man by Filosofia, Sen and I felt they might need more time to figure things out.  We had heard that they played it, liked it, and needed more time with it.

We played a 5 player game with Zev, Sophie, JF and Martin – all from Filosofia – plus Rob Bartel (one of our GAC colleagues). This wasn’t a typical pitch because they knew the game as they had all played it; this was more of a confirmation of their desire to publish it or not. There were also a few new concepts and mechanics added to the game since some of them had played it last, so I wanted to highlight those changes for them first-hand.

Overall, the playthrough went well.  We learned that there was too much downtime for a 5 player game so it will be a 2-4 player game if they do pick it up.  We also learned that getting new goal cards was too expensive and added an unnecessary level of thinking to the game.  We brainstormed some ideas on the spot and came up with a great solution – giving players free goal cards after finding their 2nd and 4th temple.

JF really seemed to like Akrotiri and proposed we play it again with fewer players to playtest this new rule and consider its effect on downtime.  Zev and Sophie had another meeting to go to, so JF and I quickly set up a 2-player game.  The new idea worked beautifully! The game took less than 45 minutes to complete and it was great to receive new goal cards throughout the game!

We packed up Akrotiri and moved on to EIEI-O. Now, here`s an interesting story about the power of social networking!  Dylan Kirk (designer of Genji and fellow GAC member) is a friend of Joyce Lam –  owner of the Chinese game publisher, Jolly Thinkers (which is also a gaming cafe).  Dylan recommended that she check out Train of Thought as a possible import, as Jolly Thinkers specializes in educational games and he thought the game might have potential for ESL students.  Since both Joyce and I went to Essen last year, we arranged to meet up while we were there.  I showed her Train of Thought, which she enjoyed and took a copy back with her to China. She tested it there and found that it didn`t work as well as planned, unfortunately. No biggie.

Months later, Joyce emailed me and asked if we had a nice-looking prototype that we`d like to get professionally printed as she knew someone who was starting up a boardgame printing company that wanted to have a portfolio of some designs. Sen and I thought about it and decided to submit EIEI-O – our is a quick reaction game of making barnyard sounds and wacky animal actions.  When the final product came off the presses, Joyce sent us a picture of the game in it’s printed glory – it looked great!  So, being proud of our brainchild, Sen and I posted the picture on Facebook – like any other loving parent would!

Here’s where Filosofia comes in.  Sophie is Facebook friends with Sen – he`s working on another game (Midnight Men) with Yves Tourigny that has been signed by Filosofia.  So when she saw the photo, she commented that she would like to see the game sometime – pretty wild!

And now back to the Gathering.

Luckily, I received our nice, shiny copy of EIEI-O exactly one day prior to me leaving for the Gathering – talk about timing!  JF was keen to play so we gathered a few other people to take it for a whirl. It was quick and fun.  Everyone seemed to enjoy it. As we were finishing up, Sophie came back to the table so we played the game again! She brought Matthias from Abacuspiele with her to play.

After just one round of playing, Sophie said that she`d “like to do it”.  Double entendre aside, I still had to ask for clarification, querying if that meant we were moving towards a contract.

She said yes!

WOW!

Not only that, but Matthias liked it as well.  Sophie asked if he`d like to do the German version of the game. They asked for another prototype, but I only had the one!  So she asked me to send her the files as they have access to a print-on demand service that can produce short runs. She said she`ll make a few more copies and send one to Matthias to assess.

WOW!

Second day at the Gathering and we actually got a game signed!  The only issue was that they want a different title for the game. Apparently, EIEI-O doesn’t translate well in German! Sophie made a bet with me that whoever comes up with the title gets a free meal from the other person at the next Gathering!  I jokingly pointed out that she has final say on the title so the contest seemed a bit fixed.  She replied that she was trying to bamboozle me. It was a funny moment as she had only recently learned what “bamboozle” means!

Sophie then asked how the second game of Akrotiri went and JF was very enthusiastic about it. I asked Sophie what the next steps for Akrotiri would be. She said that she’d like to play it as a 2-player game one more time when she gets back to work and she’d let us know in 2 weeks. She asked if we’d be open to making this a 2-player only game. I said we were open to it, but it works perfectly well as a 2- to 4-player game. So, we’ll see what she decides. We’re hoping to keep it 2-4 players.

The Filosofia crew were evaluating a few other designs from an American designer, Chris Handy (who I went to see Cabin in the Woods the night before), and they asked if I could stick around to play his prototypes. Of course I could! Apparently, Z-Man has had one of Chris’s designs for quite a while and were using the Gathering as an opportunity to come to a decision (much like they did with Akrotiri).

The first game, Heist, was a tactile game in which players reach into a bag to feel for specific shapes, depending on which room they entered. It was a fun idea, despite some challenges.  When broke for lunch at TGIF, Chris, JF and I brainstormed about how to improve the game. We came up with some more ideas on how to speed up the game and make it more of a fun party game. One aspect this process reminded me of how rigid Sen and I were originally in regards to changing the scoring for Clunatics – Chris really wanted the card that determined which room each player wanted to enter to be revealed one at a time. Once we determined that the amount of strategy that process added didn’t really fit well with the type of game Heist was shaping up to be, we decided a simultaneous reveal would be much better.  A few more tweaks were added and we tried this new version of Heist – it was awesome! As we finished one round, we saw Zev walking around and got him to play a second one with us now that we tweaked the rules. The game couldn’t have went any better! It was fun, engaging and tense.

In addition to Heist, we also worked on another game by Chris called Wild Wild West. We fiddled around with the rules on that one too and made some progress in the right direction (in my opinion at least!). I think it was good for JF and Sophie to see how collaborative I was during this whole process. I tried to ensure for my entire time at the Gathering that it wasn’t all about our designs.

Afterwards, I showed them Junkyard and Eat at Joe’s. JF liked Eat at Joe’s and thought that it would be a better fit with a publisher like Gamewright. Then we played Junkyard.  I informed them that Wiggles 3D had exclusivity until June 1st. JF expressed a lot of interest in Junkyard and asked a few times to let him know if Wiggles 3D passes on it. It’s reassuring to have multiple options for our games!

Finally, I asked JF if he’d be interested in seeing a game of ours that is currently in Alpha state. I had brought Box Office (crappy title!) more to play with other designers to get some input on which direction we should take the game.  I had played it earlier with Rob and got some great ideas about where to go next but I decided not to waste this opportunity with JF, because he’s a movie nut like me. I showed him the concepts and some of the mechanics we came up with and JF was impressed. He said he would definitely want to see this game once we get it polished!

Wow – that was unexpected!  To have a publisher want to look at a game that we haven’t even finished yet? Coolsville!

We were hungry so we walked over to Canada to find something to eat. It was nice to get some fresh air, see Niagara Falls, and eat something that wasn’t from TGIF!  At dinner I got to hear the whole story from Chris Handy about how he got into game design.  We realized that our passion for game design very similar. Later on, I invited him to join the Game Artisans of Canada. Even though he is American, he can join as a Friend and still get a benefit from the group.

Then, looking at the clock, I realized that the day was now over and I had spent the entire day with Filosofia – what a great day!

-Jay Cormier

Status update on all our games

Taking a little time out to give you all a status update on all of our games that are in active development.

Board games go through a few phases when they are being developed.  The most common phases you’ll hear people talking about are: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Published.  There are more if you want to sub-categorize them, but these are the main categories.

Alpha usually means that the game is mostly an idea or a concept.  There’s still a prototype, but the core rule-set is constantly changing.

Beta games have been playtested numerous times and are generally working but are being endlessly tweaked.  A game will spend most of its time in this phase.

Gamma games are generally done and are ready to be shown to a publisher.  Some small tweaks could occur – or a publisher could develop the game even further with more tweaks – but the game is working very well after a ton of playtesting.

Here are the games that Sen and I have at each of these phases along with a brief write up on each.  If you’re a publisher and are interested in learning more about any of these – just let us know.

Published

Train of Thought – a party/word game in which one player tries to get other players to say a hidden word using connected three-word phrases.  Available from Tasty Minstrel Games in January 2011.

Belfort – a resource management strategy game that has players competing to build the most buildings in each district of a new castle as well as employ the most elves, dwarves and gnomes.  Available from Tasty Minstrel Games in Q2-Q3 2011.

But Wait, There’s More! – a laugh-out-loud party game that has players pitching the most ridiculous products to each other in an effort to have their product chosen more than anyone else.  Available from Tasty Minstrel Games in Q4 2011.

Gamma

Akrotiri – a tile laying strategy game that has 2-5 players sailing their boats around the Mediterranean in an effort to make money by shipping resources so they can fund their expeditions to find hidden temples.  A unique system allows for players to have a specific map to a hidden temple – but will also be 100% different every time it’s played.  Currently being reviewed by Z-Man games.

Jam Slam – a quick reaction game in which 3-6 players listen to one player call out a specific ingredient and then try to be the first to slap a card with what was requested before the others.  A hilarious game that has ear-eye-hand coordination! Was a semi-finalist in the Great Canadian Game Design Competition.  Currently being sent to Gamewright for review.

Junkyard – Players place oddly shaped wooden blocks on their own tower of junk in an effort to score more points without knocking anything over.  A unique system that uses cards to help players strategize while keeping some randomness makes this balancing game different than any other on the market.  Currently being sent to Asmodee for review.

Lost for Words – 2-6 players try to find the longest word in a straight line by adding a tile with letters in a 3×3 grid to a growing board of other tiles.  The player to shout out the longest word in the time limit places the tile and scores points.  Currently being sent to Asmodee for review.

This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us – Currently a Games-on-the-Go product consisting of 25 tiles in a matchbox sized package.  This game has 2-4 players placing tiles and trying to get more of their cowboys in an enclosed town than opponents.  Currently waiting for a publisher.

Hot Property – Currently a Games-on-the-Go product consisting of 25 tiles in a matchbox sized package.  Hot Property involves 2 competing real estate agents placing tiles and creating neighbourhoods in an effort to have more of their coloured houses in as many neighbourhoods as possible.  Currently waiting for a publisher.

EI-EI-O – Currently a Games-on-the-Go product consisting of 25 tiles in a matchbox sized package.  EI-EI-O is a quick reaction game that has 2-6 players acting and sounding like animals quicker than their opponents.  Currently waiting for a publisher.

Top Shelf – 2-4 players place various candy products on a shelf in a convenience store in an effort to grab the attention of potential shoppers.  Get 4 of the same type or colour in a row to score – but make sure some of those are from your brand!  Currently waiting for a publisher.

Beta

RuneMasters – a non-collectible card combat game that uses a never before seen mechanic of placing rune-sticks in specific configurations to ‘cast’ creatures into combat.  Still in early beta but has been through about 8 iterations so far.  It has come a long way already as we’ve simplified it a lot while retaining everything that makes it unique.

Clunatics – a party game that has one person trying to get the others to say a specific phrase out loud – but they only can give the smallest of clues.  There are 15 different ways a person can give a clue and they only get to use 5 of them on their turn.  Lots of hilarity with this one – and it’s almost in Gamma.

Lion’s Share – a card game for 2-5 (maybe 6?) players in which they play animal cards on one of the two tables at a restaurant.  Players have to follow colour, number or animal type.  One animal is deemed to be the Alpha animal and if it’s played on a table – that player collects all the cards into their score pile – but before they do, they must share 1 card with an opponent.  This one is almost Gamma.

Scene of the Crime – One of the players is guilty of the crime and the other players try to determine who did it by placing small tiles that contain different evidence types on the board.  The evidence is played in sets on the board – and looks like Scrabble except instead of letters, there are various evidence tiles on the board.  If a player can find evidence of an opponent in an area on the board that matches a clue – then it leads players to believe they are guilty.  This one used to be Gamma, but we brought it back to Beta to figure out some issues.

Hog the Remote – a party game that has one player using a set of picture cards to get other players to guess the name of a TV show.  It’s kind of like charades but using pictures instead of acting.  This one was coming along great and then we saw that ??? came out with a game that shared some similarities.  This one has been shelved indefinitely for now.

Collectibles – a card game in which players trade rare collectibles in an effort to score the most points with the best collection at the end.  This one seemed to play well, and has been in Gamma, but we’re both kind of dis-enchanted with this one right now.  We like the mechanics and might use them in another game down the road.

Up in the Air – a 4 player partner card game that has players juggling various objects in an effort to keep everything … up in the air the longest.  This was in Gamma and after some feedback we changed the game until it turned into an entirely different game called Junkyard.  We still like the mechanics of this one and might revisit it.

Alpha

Bermuda Triangle – a re-themed version of our Gamma game Night of the Dragon.  While Night of the Dragon was a fun game for families, it never got picked up by a publisher.  Recently we were motivated to re-theme it to the Bermuda Triangle and it’s really working – though it’s making it almost an entirely different game that uses the same core mechanic.  I’m looking forward to making this one work as it involves time travel!

Dice Fu – a game that uses dice in a new way as players assign dice to combos on their various fighters in an effort to defeat their opponents.  Needs a lot of work – but it’s very interesting so far.

Box Office – A game about scheduling when your movies should be released in an effort to make the most money.  I really like the concept but we need to work a lot on the mechanics to make it more fun and less simulation.

Time Management – Players play managers of a store and they try to attract more customers than opponents by hiring the right staff, training them and delegating tasks.  This one was way too simulation – so we thought we might turn it into a game for the office crowd to be used to teach various skills.

City Planning – this one’s so much an Alpha game that we haven’t bothered coming up with a better name for it at all!  This started as a party game and then it seemed like it would fit better as a strategy game.

-Jay Cormier

We have a few other games have been sitting on the back burner after we tinkered with them in Alpha / Beta. For interest’s sake, here’s a look at some of our shelved ones and the reason for stopping the specific project:

Xtaxatax (pronounced “Stacks Attacks”) – was a 2-player game where there were stacks of discs that had stickers on either side of the disc, depicting unit type/strength/etc. The cool idea was that the stacks could be flipped over in the midst of battle to really change up the game and that as you stacked units on top/on bottom, the complexion of that battalion changed. We stopped this one mainly because we couldn’t figure out how to make a good proto for the discs such that they’d stay linked. I was thinking magnets, but didn’t know how to do it. Also, Jay’s not the biggest fan of games that involve ranged combat or too much in the way of math or memory. I am a fan of ranged combat, math and memory games, so just writing this makes me want to pull out the prototype to see if there’s something salvagable in this game.

WerkQwerks – A party game concept we came up with that never really came to fruition. It revolves around one player being the project manager and the rest of their team having to perform some mundane tasks, but with some limitations (i.e. their quirks). I think we put this on the shelf due to lack of interest – not that it’s a bad idea, but that we were focused on making a more “gamer game”. Again, just writing this makes me think – FUN! Of course, I also thought The Dig would pan out…

Sexxxy Game – HA! This couples game was a social, real-time, kind of game where players would have trigger words and responses based on double entendres and sexual innuendos. Reason for shelfing – we could never find girls to playtest with us. And I’m married! Honestly, though, it was the prototyping that was difficult as the game was supposed to be played in the real world while on a date, not around a table. Still a cool concept. It’s a bit too niche, though. A game for couples? Would that sell?

FlickWars – Jay and I both get a kick (or maybe that’s a flick) out of skillful dexterity games. We wanted to make a crazy flicking game where you’d use carroms to break down castle walls, etc. We started to prototype, but it just got difficult as neither he nor I are woodworkers. We’d have to borrow tools, ask a lot of people to help, etc. In the end, we shelved it because of the difficulty in making the physical game and now that we’ve got our dexterity fill through Junkyard, I don’t think this will see the light of day anytime soon. Besides, companies likehttp://www.uncleskunkletoys.com do a much better job at this type of game than we could ever really hope for! Seriously – take a look at that site. Those games look AWESOME!

Castle of Dr. Knizia – Another game that we actually playtested with real human beings other than ourselves or significant others (poor dears). It involved exploring a castle and going through doorways, always worried about what was on the other side – did you sneak through like a mouse, or burst through, sword drawn and ready for combat? The niftiest mechanic was how the monsters got placed in the castle. I even made these card holder things out of balsa wood to indicate which monster was represented by which chip on the board. It was one of our earliest attempts at a “gamer game” so it was clunky at best – so it got abandoned in favour of other games that we could build from the ground up, instead of having to try to strip things away and see if it still worked out. We were focused mostly on Scene of the Crime in an effort to get that in front of a publisher, so adieu, Dr. Knizia. Maybe some of your cool mechanics will be used in other games.

Contract Game – Based on the theory of lowballing to get awarded contract and then trying to fulfill it under budget, this was set in a fantasy realm where there were Giants used as cranes, Mermaids used as plumbers, etc. I still love this concept and it may be revived for an expansion to Belfort or a game set in the same world.

MMA Card Game – As a martial artist and BJJ competitor, I love mixed martial arts (MMA). As a game designer, I love card games. So I figured, I could combine the two together! It never really came of anything, because Jay wasn’t interested much, so it kind of just sat there. We generally focus our energy on games that we’re both keen on. I am currently talking to my training partner and video game designer, Tim Fields, about doing an online Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game that’s turn-based, so concepts from here could get used in that game.

Pants on Fire – A case of a title coming before a game. Honestly, that’s happened a fair bit with us! We get enthralled by a title that is evokative. And quicker than you can say “Train of Thought!”, a new game is born. Not so with Pants on Fire, however. We just never figured this one out – we wanted to make a trick taking game, but this didn’t flow. And now that there is another game with the same title, this one will probably never be completed.

Heroes – This one has kind of gone through a few conceptual changes between spies and superheroes and organized crime and zombies and other things. We have a really, really interesting concept of how to do a map-based game with no real movement. We have a “patrol zone” concept that we really like. Jay was leery of doing a superhero-based game without having access to existing licensed characters and we were investing more time into Belfort at the time. There are definitely concepts and mechanics from this game that will get another look.

And last, and definitely least…

The Dig – Ah, our albatross. This one just didn’t work. Too mathematical/procedural. It just didn’t play like it did in our heads. We wanted a game that rewarded co-operation and sharing and pooling of resources, that still had a single winner in the end. Let’s just say that this isn’t that game. This isn’t even a game – it is an exercise in frustration. We still like the theme of digging for treasures, but this will take a lot of work to get a game out of it.

Wow.

Just reviewing them makes me think very fondly of a few of them in particular and makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just make some of the ones that Jay and I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on to get them to Beta Stage and then involve Jay to do the refinement.

Essentially, that’s what happened with Akrotiri – though it was not through disinterest. Jay had the idea and it intrigued him so much that he started to work on it solo in BC and had a quick proto done in a day or two. In his making of the proto, it not only allowed me to play it and become more interested in it, it progressed the game faster and faster until it reached a solid Gamma format in very little time.

There are many times where one of us fail to be super-interested in a game until the prototype is made – and that is often the most difficult part of the process. To invest all that time, effort, and sometimes money into making a prototype that you’re not hyped about can be tough, especially when there’s all sorts of other cool ideas floating around in your head. But if one person on the team believes strongly that there’s a good game in there somewhere, maybe that person should go solo and make the proto. To paraphrase Field of Dreams, if one makes it, the other will play! And if the other plays, he may actually like it enough for both of us to invest more time and effort into developing it.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years of designing games, it’s this: when in doubt, make a proto. You will find out if there’s a game to be had quicker than you will bandying ideas about in your head or online. Making the prototype is DEFINITELY the key phase in taking a game from concept to reality.

Concepts are good because they’re fluid – nothing’s written in stone. But a prototype is more hands on, more engaging, more understandable. There are visual and tactile components that, like a rug, tie everything together. People can’t play a game that only exists in your head, even if it’s the best game ever!

So, if you’ve got an idea for a game, just get to work and make a proto. What have you got to lose?