Playtesting Games at ProtoSpiel North

ProtospielNorthLogoSen and I recently attended ProtoSpiel North in Hamilton, ON where we got to playtest some of our games, playtest some other designers’ games and also pitch our games to some publishers that were present. ProtoSpiel is an event that started in Ann Arbor, MI where designers would get together to playtest each others’ games – and for three years now, Hammercon – a board gaming event in Hamilton, ON – has been holding ProtoSpiel North with the same intentions.
There were many Game Artisans of Canada in attendance from all over Ontario, which is great for many reasons:
  • GAC LogoWe chat with them on our private forum all the time and it’s always great to spend some time with them in person – learning more about who they are and actually getting a chance to play the games that they’ve been talking about online
  • Playtesting with game designers is always awesome. While you always need to playtest with non-designers (and sometimes non-gamers), the feedback you get from designers is almost always awesome!
  • We continue to extend our presence and awareness in our quest for global domination…er – better board games.
I’m going to break this down into three topics:
  1. Playtesting our games
  2. Playtesting other designers’ games
  3. Pitching our games to publishers (including a video of us pitching!!)
Playtesting our games
What’s That: Sen and I partnered up with Stefan Alexander and have been working on a party game the requires an App. Stefan is a programmer and has been able to program the app, and we’ve been tweaking it over the past few months. This is the game that I actually pitched to Repos Productions at the Gathering back in April – but we still haven’t handed it over fully as we’re not happy with the App yet.
whats-that-beaverThe game involves players individually looking at the smart phone and their own unique clue, and then everyone has to make their clue out of an artisitic medium. Then players cooperatively try to guess what everything has in common.
Our latest playtest was very rewarding. We found out that it is indeed fun and that it creates a lot of laughs, and we learned that we need to do three things to make it all work:
  1. Currently players have to type in the answer using an assortment of letters that appear at the bottom – but this actually can turn the game into a bit of a word guessing game. We will revert back to what we had previously – where any player can shout out the answer and check to see if they are right.
  2. We need to more artistic mediums as people didn’t like having two of the same in the game. We brainstormed and came up with two fun ones!
  3. We need to ensure the clues are super easy by themselves to create – but not too easy that you can guess what the answer is without even knowing the other clues. Should be do-able!
simplicitySimpliCITY: Sen and I were very happy with where the game was at – but after one playtest on the Friday night, one of the other playtesters gave us an idea that sounded awesome! The idea was to remove the very fiddly tracks that kept track of what players built, and instead resolve the effect more immediately. After brainstorming we realized that we couldn’t do everything immediately, but we could do it for some of the tracks. We woke up early on Saturday morning and changed some cards and found some tokens just in time for pitching it to publishers!! I’ll get more into this crazy plan in my next post!
Rock, Paper, Wizards: Sen and I have partnered up with Belfort artist – and game designer of Wasabi and other games coming soon – Josh Cappel – to make Rock, Paper, Wizards. We had pitched this game to Z-Man games at the Gathering in April and Zev really liked it and took it back with him to assess with his playtesters. A month or so later and we get some notes from them saying that they don’t want to give the prototype back to us yet, but they also don’t want to publish it as is yet. They gave us some feedback on some things that they’d like us to fix.
Since then, the three of us have tried so many different variations that tried to fix it, but we always ended back where we started. It has been one of the most frustrating games for us – mostly because it always felt like we were so close to something really good.
We learned that a game with guessing whether someone is bluffing or not – that players need two things: motivation on who to attack and information about some of the cards so they can have some odds on whether someone is bluffing or not.
rpwIt’s rare that the three of us are in the same room, so we spent a good deal of time brainstorming ideas on how to fix this idea. One of the ideas from Josh was something as simple as “What if the spells we’re casting always hit their target?” At first it was dismissed since that would entirely remove the bluffing element altogether – but later on we thought more about it and realized that the fun part of the game is throwing hand gestures at each other – not the bluffing. We were so locked into the game being a bluffing game that we forgot our own advice: follow the fun!
So we brainstormed our new idea and quickly came up with some motivations and parameters. A quick playtest later in the week proved that we were on the right track! I’ve playtested it a few more times and am very excited with the direction the game is taking!
It was great to playtest these games with other designers. We got some great feedback and we’re excited about each of these games now more than ever!
2) Playtesting other designers’ games
I like to think I spend more time playtesting other peoples’ games rather than my own at these kinds of conventions. I got to playtest these games:
express-deliveryExpress Delivery by Yves Tourigny and Al Leduc – an interesting fed-ex kind of pick-up-and-deliver game
Tip Top Towers by Daniel Rocchi – a cool balancing block game played on a wobbly plate
Wild West Poker game by Francios Valentyne (can’t remember exact title!)- a very thematic Wild West deck building game in which all fights are done with poker hands
Superhero co-op game by Mark McKinnon – a game where superheroes are trying to save aliens from planets that are getting sucked into a vortex
topsy-towersRescue Rockets by Josh Cappel – a flicking game that should get published! You play on any table and use things on the table as obstacles in an effort to rescue astronauts from planets – very neat!
8-bit Bomber by Daniel Rocchi and Daryl Chow – a Bomberman kind of game with a cool puzzley movement mechanic that is fun and interesting
Londonderry by Daryl Andrews and Stephen Sauer – Daryl asked if I could be his wingman during the play session of this game with Mercury. It was great playing with Doc and Kevin from Mercury! Not only have I pitched games to them twice before, but I’ve even played a game of Keyflower with them at the Gathering this year. It was fun to play a game with them again! You know you’re in a publisher’s good books when you’re both smack talking each other throughout a game! It was a great play session and they expressed some serious interest in the game.
rescue rockets
It’s always interesting playtesting other designers’ games as you can see how that person thinks and how they try to balance aspects of the game, or come up with solutions to problems that Sen and I have also encountered. I’ve always said that if you are a game designer – then surround yourself with other game designers!! You learn so much – even if you just playtest their games all the time.
In our next post I’ll share how we pitched our games to the publishers that were there, including sharing a video of one of our pitch sessions!
-Jay Cormier
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Pop Goes the Weasel…getting published!

Well, all has been quiet on the Bamboozle front for awhile. Let’s catch up:

August

  • Sen and I got together for 6 days of game designing in August. We came up with three brand new games and tweaked others:
  • New game: Aladdin – a trick taking game in which the player with the lamp can make game-changing wishes!
  • New game: Unnamed Abstract game – it’s a nice and simple game of placing a random gem onto a board and when you make a row of 3, you take the other 2 gems and leave the one you placed.
  • New game: Unnamed Tower Defence game – this is the one I’m most excited about as we found a way to abstract out the fiddly-ness of stats that a computer does automatically. Can’t wait to get more time in with this one.
  • Tweaked: SimpliCITY – finally took the feedback we’ve been getting from publishers and made it way less multiplayer solitaire!

September

  • Worked with Toy Vault to finalize the rules and list of words and phrases for But Wait There’s More. We had a very productive 2-hour Skype call with them and we’re now all on the same page. Once things get signed in ink expect a huge and very exciting announcement with this one!

October

  • Found out that our game Akrotiri will be coming out from Z-Man in April, but it will be launching in late February at the Festival des Juex in Cannes. We got to see some art and we’ll be sharing it as soon as we’re allowed. Rest assured that we are very happy with how it’s looking. Very unique style that should help it stand out from the crowd. Sen and I are seeing if a vacation in France around the end of February is possible!
  • Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 12.14.13 AMWe got word from a publisher that they are interested in publishing our kid’s game, Pop Goes the Weasel!! This isn’t 100% official yet, but he said to expect a contract when he returns from Essen. We’ll announce which publisher once it’s 100%! It’s cool because it will be our first kid’s game to be published!
  • Sen attended a Game Artisans of Canada gathering called Cardstockawa. He got to playtest many games including some of ours: Aladdin, Abstract game, Rock Paper Wizards. 

November

  • Coming up in November we are going to attend Hammercon and Protospiel North. This is a fun weekend in Hamilton, ON where designers from all over can get together to playtest each other’s games. Good things always happen when designers get together!!
  • Sometime in November – December at the latest – our first expansion is coming out for Belfort! It’s very exciting and has got us thinking about the world of Belfort. We poked the publisher a bit and told him we’re toying around with making a quick dice game set in the world of Belfort. He said he’d be excited to see what we come up with!

Other than that, we’re going to continue to hone our existing designs through numerous play tests while we wait to hear back from Amigo about our game, Lions Share and Repos Productions for our game, What’s That? So a bit quiet on the blog, but busy as ever behind the scenes!

-Jay

Gathering: Pitching to Mercury and Wrap Up

Here’s the final post in our lengthy series of pitching to publishers at the Gathering in April. It was an unbelievably amazing time and one of my favourite weeks every year! For previous posts in this series check them out here:

  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
  6. Pitching to ThinkFun
  7. Pitching to Hasbro

Our final pitch of the Gathering was to Mercury Games. Last year Mercury Games was a new kid on the block – having no games published yet. Last year they were looking for their launch title and while I didn’t think any of our games that we had to pitch at that time would fit their bill, there was another game from another designer (a fellow Game Artisan of Canada) that I thought would be perfect for them.

I had showed them a sales sheet for a game called Quarantine. They liked the concept and then phoned Mark that same day and asked for the rules. The next day they phoned him again and asked for a prototype. A couple weeks pass and they signed Mark’s game to be their first game! In fact, Quarantine should be available now from your local game store!

QuarantineSo fast forward to this year and the Mercury gang sought me out and said that they’d like to look at what we had to pitch. Mark had contacted them earlier and told them he had a couple new designs and so they were eager to check them out as well as anything else we had to pitch.

The pitch session started that night and then continued the next day! We pitched a bunch of our games and the main game of ours that they liked was Clunatics. They were unsure about the party game space but had a really good time with the session that they are interested in talking with us about it more in the future.

I showed them another Game Artisan of Canada game from Graeme Jahns (designer of Alba Longa) called Iron Horse Bandits. I explained the game to them and walked them through the first round, but then had to leave them. It was the second last day of the event and Sen and I had to type out the rules to Lions Share and Pop Goes the Weasel for the two publishers that wanted them – because, as you might remember, I lost all my files when my computers were stolen.

They came back after playing it and had a good time with it but also some concerns. I’ve shared them with Graeme and he’s already made some changes to the game! They also played Mark’s two games: You’re Fired and Garden Plot. They liked Garden Plot a lot but wanted to see some changes to You’re Fired before seeing it again.

I had a really good time with the Mercury gang. We ended up grabbing dinner together, along with Chris Handy and just hung out and chatted – sometimes about the gaming business and sometimes not. That’s one of my favourite things I love about the Gathering – just chilling with publishers and getting to know each other. We also got to play a full game of Keyflower with Mercury and it ended up being my favourite game of the event!

So that about wraps up our amazing Gathering journey this year! There were many more stories that happened during the week that are worth sharing:

Rob Bartel arrived late this year (last year he and I were tag team buddies in pitching GAC games!) and when he got here I offered to show him the prototypes that we were pitching this year. We found an open table and I started to unpack one of my games. As I was explaining one of my games it caught the attention of Peter Eggert from Eggertspiele. I saw him looking in and so I asked him to come over and have a seat. As soon as he sat down I asked him what kind of games Eggertspiele was looking for. He said he was looking for medium weight Euro-style games that take about an hour to play.

daryl-londonderryI didn’t have any game with me that fit into that requirement, but I asked fellow Game Artisan of Canada, Daryl Andrews if his game, Londonderry, fit into his requirements. Daryl saw that we were talking to Peter and had added himself to the end of the table! Good move! Daryl said that his game fit exactly within his requirements and so we all decided to give it a try. I packed up my proto and we set up Londonderry – which I had yet to play!

We played a full game and much to my surprise it did indeed last exactly an hour. Also to my surprise (no offense to Daryl at all), I loved the game! I told Daryl that besides all of Sen and Jay’s designed games, it was my favourite prototype I’ve ever played. Peter was also very impressed with it and started chatting with Daryl about it. Throughout the rest of the event Peter played it another two times (at least) and was ridiculously interested in it! Awesome!

It was also fun to play games with Vlaada Chvatil (Dungeon Lords designer) and William Attia (Caylus designer). I loved playing Coup with Vlaada and Hanabi with William (I hope Hanabi wins SDJ this year!). I also purchased Chris Handy’s new game from Rio Grande, Cinqe Terre and got to play a game with him and Vlaada! Fun efficiency game!

The entire 10 days was a whirlwind of pitches and gaming. One night at 2am someone asked me if I wanted to play Terrra Mystica. Yes. Yes I did. So 5:30 am rolls around when we finally finished (our sleepiness might have factored into our analysis paralysis!). I felt like I did last year at the Gathering – that this was the most productive 10 days I have spent all year as a game designer. Playtesting our games, getting feedback from other designers or publishers, pitching games and getting publishers interested enough to want to take them back for further assessing – not to mention just the general contact building and friendship making that happens at the Gathering. Amazing.

So now we’re back to tweaking, designing and following up. We should hear back from R&R about Pop Goes the Weasel by the end of June and we need to finalize What’s That for Repos Productions asap! We should also hear back about Lions Share within a month or two from Abacuspiele and we have some tweaks for Rock, Paper, Wizards based on Filosofia’s feedback that we need to continue to test. So the machine continues! I love designing games!

-Jay Cormier

 

The Gathering of Friends: Part 2 – The Lay of the Land

When I got to the Gathering I got my name badge and a goodie bag full of freebies! The goodie bag had some card games (including a special Tichu deck with new pictures of people who have attended the Gathering in the past), some expansions to other games (like the expansion to fellow GAC member, Roberta Taylor’s Octopus’ Garden) and even the full box version of Two by Two from Valley Games (and designed by fellow GAC member, Rob Bartel!).

The name badge system was awesome as they were colour coded to help you identify people a lot easier. With this information it was easy to identify the publishers as you walked around.

  • Red Badge: First year attendee (so I had a red badge!). Generally speaking, red badge attendees are always welcomed by others and made to feel at home pretty quickly. People were constantly shaking my hand and welcoming me to the Gathering. It was very nice!
  • Grey Badge: Anyone who has been to the Gathering for the last 9 years
  • Black Badge: Anyone who has been to the Gathering for 10 years or more
  • Blue Badge: Publishers

    After I got my badge, I surveyed the layout.

Basically there was a large convention room with tons of tables set up for open gaming. Off to one side were the prize tables! Everyone was encouraged to bring something for the prize table. If you contributed to the prize table, then you could participate in the prize draw at the end of the Gathering. Near the Prize tables was a table full of brochures for local restaurants and more freebies. I found an expansion to Valdora and another for Mondo there! Around the edges of the room were tables where people stored the games they brought.

Oh look, Pierre Poissant-Marquis (right), half of the design team of the game Quebec is playing Belfort!

Generally speaking, anyone could grab any game and start playing at any time, as long as they returned it when they were done with it. Outside of the convention room were a few open areas with more tables ready for open gaming. These tables were used for the poker tournament that happened on one night. Finally, down the hall there were a couple of rooms with a few more tables. During the day we found these to be a bit quieter and therefore made it a favourite spot for us to pitch to publishers. In the late evening one of these rooms were used for a large Werewolf tournament! There were always water stations all over the place to ensure you stayed hydrated throughout the event, so that was nice! On a whole, the hotel and its staff, while a bit gungy (the hotel, not the staff), were prepared and made us feel welcome.

I found Rob and saw that he had a spot along the tables around the edges of the room, so I added my prototypes to his pile. Once we were set up then we were free to either start our own game, or join another group that’s about to start playing a game. It was always easy to find people to play a game of anything! Some of the times it would be a prototype and other times it would be a ‘regular’ game. There were a lot of designers there who, like Rob and I, were looking to get some feedback on their designs, as well as pitch to publishers. Friedemann Friese had a table dedicated to his games for the entire event. I wanted to check them out but never seemed to line up when the table was free. While the hotel offered a mini café in the latter half of the week, most of the meals were either at TGIF, which was in the same hotel, or a restaurant in the casino across the street. Sometimes people with cars would drive others to another local establishment nearby (Duff’s Buffalo wings!) or a few times we walked to a nearby Indian restaurant.

Even though I stayed up late on some days (3am) and woke up early on other days (8am), there were always people playing games somewhere in the convention area! Sleep is for chumps!

There were quite a few tournaments throughout the week ranging from 7 Wonders and Tichu to Loopin’ Louie and poker. The winners of each tournament got first choice of the prize table on Saturday night! Before the prize ceremony there was a flea market. Those that could travel with their assortment of games offered them up for sale to the rest of us. Since most people had to fly, it was a tough decision on what they could buy and what they could pack! I managed to pick up a copy of El Cabellero – a Wolfgang Kramer game that is out of print and one that I’ve been looking to get for a long time now!

[Sen:  Really?  That’s the single game of my collection that I’ve ever sold, IIRC.  Well, you know what they say about one man’s treasure…]

The prize ceremony was really the only time we were all together as one group. The hotel removed all the gaming tables and set up chairs theatre-style to fit all 400 of us in the room. Alan took the microphone and reviewed some things about the next year (I’m already pre-registered!), and then showed off the high-end prizes that people brought for the prize table. Some of the highlights included:

  • a crokinole board made by fellow GAC member, Mike Kolross, (plus graphic design by another GAC member, Mark Klassen) in the shape of a record with the label being Alan Moon’s Ticket to Ride,
  • handmade table covering with a Tichu mat on one side and a Can’t Stop and Liar’s Dice on the other – complete with all the dice and cups
  • a copy of the impossible-to-find game, Hotel
  • Big Boss from Wolfgang Kramer – another hard to find game
  • The Cookies of Catan – a fully playable and edible game of Settlers of Catan!
  • Line for Life for an upcoming game called D-Day Dice (designed by another fellow GAC member, Emmanuel Aquin). The Line for Life meant that the person would receive every expansion they ever make for this game for free!

I was called somewhere in the middle of the pack, but I managed to get the exact game I was hoping to pick up – Castles of Burgundy.  It was a game I had wanted to pick up in Essen last year, but they sold out too quick!

Up next I’ll get into the specifics of what it’s like to pitch to publishers at the Gathering!

-Jay Cormier

Alba Longa – Overview Video of New Euro Game

Alba Longa is the new Euro game from Tasty Minstrel Games (actually from Quined and Huch & Friends – but brought into the Americas by Tasty Minstrel). The designer, Graeme Jahns, is a member of the Game Artisans of Canada, that I also belong to, and so we thought it would be a good idea to make a video that showcases this award winning game. We decided to make a fun and informal ‘interview’ with me asking him general questions, instead of just doing a rules dump!

I had the pleasure to playtest this game about a dozen times (maybe more?!) and really enjoyed it – even though it does have a little bit of direct combat in it. Check out the video to learn about Alba Longa and then head over to Tasty Minstrel’s website to pick up the game for $40 – until March 2nd!

Protospiel North @ HammerCon III: The Aftermath

Sound ominous, no?

Jay and I had a great time in our old stompin’ ground of Hamilton, ON.   We registered at the event, got into our hotel and met up with the Ottawa crew.  They had already eaten, so we dragged Daryl, our partner-in-crime for the weekend, to our first FLGS, Bayshore Hobbies (home of the infamous “no farting” sign) and then to dinner at our favourite dive, Tally Ho! (where they’ve been “Now! Serving Souvlaki!” for at least 15 years).

From there, we headed back to HammerCon and linked up with Yves, Al, and the other Daryl.  

Ken and Josh also came from the Game Artisans of Canada crew, but they were elusive and couldn’t be caught on camera.  Much like the Yetis that attack in the Belfortian winters, as it were.

We played a lot of prototypes, sharing our experiences with newer designers and gaining knowledge from the veterans as well as the Snakes & Lattes crew and reps from ElfinWerks and Tartan Grizzly.

Here’s a list of prototypes we played (note: game descriptions are not provided as I do not have permission to discuss details here):

  • Daniel Rocchi’s Zombie Dash (needs a new title as someone just released a game with the same name)
  • Our Akrotiri
  • Al Leduc’s Cat Dice (that he whipped up right there and then)
  • Al Leduc’s Monkey King
  • Al Leduc’s and Yves Tourigny’s Criminal
  • Our EIEIO
  • Our Lost for Words
  • Our Swashbucklers
  • Our Hog the Remote
  • Jay Cormier’s, Gavan Brown’s, Ryley Tolman’s, and Graeme Jahn’s Like It
  • Al Leduc’s FrankenDie
  • Al Leduc’s and Yves Tourigny’s Galaxy
  • Josh Cappel’s Shutri
  • Daryl Chow’s Garden Bingo

Jay sat in on a discussion of Jonathan Lavallee’s RPG Air, and I watched people playing Yves Tourigny’s Quick or the Dead and Francois Valentyne’s Give it to the King (featuring awesome handcarved miniatures).

Yves and I took notes as players from Snakes and Lattes went through Midnight Men.  This was the first time on the new board with the mini-cards.  Overally, it went well and we will be taking all the feedback we got from them and the other group that played, evaluating it, and streamlining the game to provide as heroic and narrative an experience as possible!

I would have liked to play Stephen Sauer’s Potions Level I game as well as Francois’ games, but didn’t have time between running other games, sadly.  Micah Fuller’s Colonies of Mars was intruiguing and Josh Derkson’s Astral Vanguard looked stunning with extremely nice playing pieces.  I also heard a lot of good things about Rob Maxwell’s Mercenary game.

We got to demo and play Belfort a ton.  We got a lot of positive feedback about the game – it was featured as part of the Speed Gaming sessions (in which teams of 4 players would learn new games in 15 minute rotations – this really helped Jay and I with our demoing skills!) and as one of the final games in the Great Canadian Boardgame Blitz (Daryl Chow won Belfort and placed 2nd Overall!)

Jay, Josh and I also signed Belfort and Train of Thought for players and the FunGamesCafe store sold out of all copies!

All in all, a great weekend with friends and games, a great way to cap of Jay’s trip to Ontario, and a great way to celebrate my birthday.  Who could ask for anything more?

Better wings, maybe.

I’m looking at you, Chesters…

~ Sen-Foong Lim

Going to Essen!

For those not in the know, Essen is not just a city in Germany, but it’s also synonymous with the world’s biggest board game convention. Also known as Spiel, Essen is attended by as many or possibly even more people than the San Diego Comicon! The amount of space this thing takes up is unbelievable: 12 Halls and each of them are many football fields in size. Almost every publisher will be there from all over the world, with many of them using Essen as a launch pad for their newest games. Essen is the place to get the latest and greatest games, that might not make Stateside for another 3-12 months.

The primary reason I’m going though is as a designer and to meet up with publishers. Following Steps 18-22 of this blog, I’ve emailed them in advance, prepared, packed and am now ready for Steps 23-27: at the convention. I am bringing 6 games to show to publishers and have about a dozen meetings set up throughout the event. At the very least it will be a good opportunity to network and get my face/name out there.

The secondary reason I’m going is to try and find a European or Asian publisher for Train of Thought or Belfort. I’m bringing a copy of each (oh, did I mention that I just received my copies of Belfort?! Huzzah!).

The tertiary reason I’m going is to demo Belfort! I’ve already had some people email me with some requests to play it. Should be a good opportunity to get some awareness out while I’m there.

The great news is that I won’t be doing this alone. Three other members of the Game Artisans of Canada will also be coming, which will be great for networking and actually playing some games!

So my posts will be infrequent for a week or so, but then expect a flurry of posts as I regale the adventures I’ve had during my first trip to Essen.

-Jay Cormier

Step 31: Get to Know Other Designers

<caveat – this probably should be somewhere near Step 12, and will be ret-conned in later!>

As a game designer, I have found it extremely helpful to surround myself not only with great playtesters, but also other game designers. Initially many people think that you might not want to talk to other game designers about your unpublished games because they could steal your ideas. I have never thought this was an issue, mostly because everyone and their brother has a dozen ideas for their own board games. The ideas aren’t what’s lacking. What’s lacking is the ability, and often the experience and knowledge of how to get a game to market. This is where fellow game designers can be a big boon to you.

I belong to a group called the Game Artisans of Canada. This group was founded in 2008 by a few game designers with an interest in sharing stories and experiences in an effort to help each other get their games to the market. Many of the GAC members have games published already, including Rob Bartel with Two by Two, Sean Ross with Haggis and Matt Tolman with Undermining – to name but a few. There are different chapters across Canada which each meet up on a regular basis for play testing. In addition to this, they have an online forum which everyone across Canada can ask questions, share playtest sessions or debate game design philosophies. There’s a whole process to become a Game Artisan, which involves a trial period as a Journeyman and a lot of mentorship from your local chapter.

Attendees of Cardstock 2011! Look at all that brainpower!

In addition to our chapter meet ups and the online forum, GAC has an annual get together called Cardstock. This is heaven for game designers. 20 or so designers meet up and playtest each other’s’ prototypes over a long weekend! This year it was in Calgary and many of us flew in to take part in this experience. I was flabbergasted at all the creativity and brainpower that was at Cardstock. Every game that Sen and I brought to Cardstock left a much better game. Talk about invigorating!

The Game Artisans even have their own newsletter called Meeple Syrup that is dedicated to celebrating the organization’s successes. Issue 3 was just released and is available here.

Sen and I joined them in 2010 and have had numerous examples of how they have helped us become better designers and probably published more often.

1. Game Designers make the best playtesters. Game designers understand the need for balance and how a suggestion can lead to other issues. They understand that sometimes a playtest session needs to stop in order to tweak the rules before starting again. The feedback we get from playtesting with other game designers is always fantastic and leaves us excited to take another crack at it.

2. Game Designers have a ton of various experiences that each of us alone don’t have yet. Have a question about how a contract should be worded? Ask GAC. Not sure how to contact a publisher? Ask GAC. Trying to figure out how to solve a game design problem you’re having? Ask GAC. There’s a ton of knowledge amongst all the members of GAC.

3. Game Designers have contacts. We have already experienced a few examples where one GAC member has helped another get a game to a publisher and get published!

  • Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games asked me and Sean Ross about our opinions of the game Alba Longa, designed by GAC member Graeme Jahns. It was being published in the Netherlands by Quined and Michael was thinking about bringing it to America. I told him my honest opinion, as did Sean, and he decided to co-publish the game with Quined.
  • Quined then asked Graeme if there were other designers with games that he think they’d be interested in. Graeme thought of our game, Akrotiri and they were interested enough to send an email to us asking us for the rules. After reading the rules, they asked for a prototype. They’ve played the game twice and are still fascinated by it. Time will tell if that turns into a publishing contract!
  • Rob Bartel introduced us to Gamewright and they now have our game Jam Slam and are still deciding about whether they are going to publish it or not.
  • Dylan Kirk has contacts in China and when one of them asked if he knew of any games that might be a good fit for them, he told them about Train of Thought. On my trip to Essen coming up, I have a meeting set up with that publisher to see if they’d be interested in publishing the game in China!

4. Blind Playtesting! With different chapters across Canada this gives everyone that’s part of GAC the ability to get their game blind playtested. This means sending the game to another chapter with the rules, and letting them figure it out on their own. This is so valuable as this is the experience that a publisher would get when we would send a game to them – so the feedback from these sessions are extremely helpful.

5. Improved Quality. While this goes hand in hand with some of the other points in this list, it deserves its own callout because I’m referring also to the perceived quality of all games by members of GAC by publishers. Publishers are already starting to recognize the abilities of GAC. They know that if they receive a game from a member of GAC, that it has been playtested by other designers and most likely, even blind playtested. The goal would be to get to a point where a publisher comes to our group to ask for game submissions.

So while you may or may not be able to be a part of something like the Game Artisans of Canada, you should definitely surround yourself with other game designers. Try online places like Meetup.com or Craigslist, or even by asking your local game store if they can host a game designer night once a month – and see who shows up! You’ll become a better designer because of it.

~ Jay Cormier

Online, there’s the Boardgame Design Forum – http://www.bgdf.com – where like-minded people post about their designs. You could also use http://www.boardgamegeek.com and post in your local forum to try to find a design group or start up your own. An online group is a great place to bounce ideas off of people and a local group is excellent for playtesting.

Another thing that a group gives us access to is a huge collective boardgaming experience. Jay and I have played a ton of games, but there’s only so many hours in a day! With the difference in tastes and personal collections, we can draw on the gaming knowledge of many instead of just the two of us. So when we propose an idea, we’ll often get the reply of “Have you played yet? It sounds pretty similar.” While you might think this is discouraging, it isn’t – either we take a look at Game X and decide that it’s similar and we’ve saved ourselves the time of re-inventing the wheel and potential embarassment of pitching it to a publisher; or we find out that our game is different and, hopefully, better!

The group can also help bolster confidence in your designs – there have been a few times when people in the GAC were thinking of abandoning a project, but other members helped the game stay on the rails and move closer towards a final versions.

We also help promote each others’ games through things like newletters and Rob Bartel’s “Canadian Heritage Collection” catalog – a catalogue of games designed or published by Canadians that is sent to Canadian game retailers. Jay will be bringing one of Al Leduc’s prototypes to Essen to give to an interested publisher, Jolly Thinkers. We help with suggesting publishers, using our links and contacts when possible, to get our colleagues’ games in front of the decision makers. Jay will be pitching Matt Musselman’s “Bordeaux” to Queen and Alea at Essen later this month. Fingers crossed!

Help can be as simple as amking a suggestion. Why, even tonight, I suggested that a new designer take a theme that Jay and I had been toying around with and run with it, because his game fit better than any we’ve been able to think of so far! Hopefully, something becomes of it. We just want to make good games and help good games to be made.

In fact, both Jay and I are even working in collaboration with other GAC designers on separate games. Jay is working with Graeme Jahns, Ryley Tolman, and Gavan Brown on a party game tentatively called “Like It” while I’m involved in co-designing Yves Tourigny’s brainchild “Midnight Men” with him.

Like It logo

Like a boss.

“Like It” was sparked at a late-night session at Cardstock 2011 after the group had played “Clunatics” and Gavan seeded an idea. The next morning, Jay, Ryley and Graeme were eagerly discussing it and a quick prototype was mocked up in short order. There’s some really great mechanics in this game that have been great to watch develop over time on the GAC forums. That’s the beauty of the internet – connecting people in Vancouver, Calgary, and Lethbridge in order to create something new.

The Nightwatchman, from "Midnight Men"

The iconic Nightwatchman, bane of evildoers everywhere, brings justice to the streets of Cosmo City in Yves Tourignay's "Midnight Men"

My involvement with “Midnight Men” comes much later in the development of it; Yves had already done much of the work, including the all-important part of getting the game signed to Canadian game publisher Filosophia for a 2012 release. I became enamoured with the project as soon as Yves began discussing it, due to my love affair with comics from a young age, and was eager to try it out. I finally got to play it at Cardstock 2011 and it was apparent that the potential was there, but that there were kinks to work out. I was determined to help with that. After re-creating my own prototype version and tabling it with my local playtest group in London, I provided even more feedback to Yves. So much so that I think I was driving him to drink! I suggested that Yves discuss the possibility of me being part of the development team with Filosophia, but Yves did one better and offered me a role in the actual design of the game. I accepted immediately as I’ve always wanted to make a superhero game myself. Yves has created a richly detailed world and I am honoured to be part of bringing it to life. The progress that Yves and I have made on the game since we began the partnership has been a real testament to the power of teamwork.

This year has been a banner year for Jay and I as designers and it’s in no small part to our links to the Game Artisans of Canada.  2012 will be even better, if all goes as planned.  So, If you’re serious about game design, do yourself a favour and seek out like-minded people. It makes the job that much easier – as the old saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”

~ Sen-Foong Lim