The Gathering of Friends 2016 – Bamboozle Brother Summary

The Gathering of Friends is always my favourite week of the year (ok, with the exception of the week I got married this year!), and this year was as fun and productive as usual. Here’s a summary of the shenanigans that the Bamboozle Brothers got up to over the last 10 days.

Pitching new games

We pitched fewer games than usual this year, mostly because we’ve been busy working on licensed games. We still managed to meet with a bunch of publishers.

Filosofia: We showed them 9 Thieves and a set of three games set in the Arabian Nights stories, each designed by different designers. They liked 9 Thieves and gave us an idea to improve it, which we did for our next pitch.

Wizkids: Right before the Gathering a contract expired for Rock, Paper, Wizards, a game that another publisher had of ours, which meant that it was back on the market. Zev from Wizkids remembered liking it last year, so after a round of playing the game again Zev wanted the game! He had an idea that seemed like it would break the game, but the underlining issue he was trying to solve was a valid issue. This was a game we co-designed with Josh Cappel (yes, THAT Josh Cappel – the artist for Belfort!) and Josh had a brainstorm that solved the issue even better and made everyone happy! Huzzah!

I also pitched to Zev a game I designed with non-Sen designer, Shad Miller, called Skirmishes. He really liked that one and asked to have a copy to evaluate.

Zev from Wizkids examines Skirmishes

Zev from Wizkids examines Skirmishes!

Stronghold: I showed Stephen Skirmishes because I thought it was something he’d be interested in – and he liked it and said it was very clever, but he already had a battle game coming out this year.

USA-opoly: I wouldn’t have thought to pitch anything to him based on the games that they’ve made. I had the fortune of sitting beside Tony from USA-opoly on a 2 hour bus ride to Toronto to visit Snakes and Lattes and see the Blue Jays game. Seems like they are trying to publish their own games and the timing is perfect! I showed him some games and he seemed intrigued, but none of our current games seemed to match what he was looking for. 

Huch & Friends: I always enjoy pitching to Britta and Benjamin as they are very nice, fun and professional. They are also the fastest publishers to respond to an email in my experience so far! We showed them our games and she ended up liking two of the Arabian Nights games, one of them being our Aladdin game. Yay! They have also had our Herdables game for a coulee years and think they might want to publish that one too…so fingers crossed!

North Star: it was more of a lengthy conversation than a pitch as we chatted about where they’re at and where they want to go with their business. It was great to learn where they’re going and what they’re looking for in the near future. Could turn Into something exciting!

Pretzel Games: Well this is a first – we pitched a game to a publisher that we never play tested. Not only that, but we didn’t even have a prototype! Whaaa? We were told by Martin that he was looking for some outdoor games, so Sen and I came up with an idea for an outdoor game, but we didn’t want to put time and resources into making the game if the concept wasn’t even interesting to Martin. After our pitch we brainstormed some more on some production challenges and he ended up liking it and wanted us to proceed to the prototype stage! Sweet.

Matagot: Stefan is pretty new with Matagot so he is still trying to understand what they’re looking for, but he liked Skirmishes and wants me to take a picture of the game fully set up so he can show it to his team.

Indie Card and Board: This was an impromptu pitch when I saw Travis walking around, not looking busy. He had seen me playing/pitching our word game, Chainables in a restaurant with Tony from USA-opoly and had commented that it looked cool. I figured that it wasn’t the kind of game that Indie would publish but thought he’d like to play a game. He did, and enjoyed the game (not to publish it tho!), and then I transitioned that into a pitch for 9 Thieves. He seemed to like it and gave us a couple of great ideas to tweak it. So yay for improvements at least.

Promoting Games

Sen and I had 2 games that we were asked to help promote while at the Gathering this year, Junk Art and Godfather: A New Don. 

Junk Art is the second game from Pretzel Games, with the first being the hit from last year, Flick ‘Em Up. Junk Art involves 15 wooden pieces in 4 different colours for a total of 60 wooden pieces. There’s a deck of cards with each piece having its own card. There are many ways to play the game, but mostly you’re challenging players with cards to place those pieces onto their own base, trying to get points for placement or for having the tallest structure. 

Matt Leacock (designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Island) is amazed by his own creation!

Matt Leacock (designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Island) is amazed by his own creation!

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Willaim Attia (designer of Callus and Spyrium) trying Junk Art!

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Josh Cappel (designer of Wasabi and artist for Belfort) trying some outlandish moves.

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Some great reactions after a piece is added to a structure! They’re playing the Montreal variant which has players inheriting the structure that they were just passing cards to in the previous round. This mode causes the most insane structures!

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Travis from Indie Card & Board calling to order his own copy of Junk Art (I can only assume that’s what he was doing). This mode was called Gujarat where each player takes all the pieces of one colour.

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Eric Lang staring contemplatively at his winning structure while playing the Monaco variant.

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Phil Walker-Harding is trying to compete for tallest structure in the Home Town variant. This is considered to be the main game and has a lot of strategy!

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Mike Gray – the man who brought Bausack to America and called it Bandu, plays Junk Art!

The game seemed like a big hit at the Gathering this year with the game being played multiple times per day by different game groups. I heard Tom Vasel and Zee Garcia played it for about an hour one day too! Junk art is being released at GenCon. You can check out a trailer for the game here:

Godfather: A New Don is published by IDW Games and was air shipped to the Gathering. It was a final art prototype, meaning that the quality of the components were not final (and some pieces were hijacked from other games!). I got to get this game played at least 4 times during the con and everyone seemed to really like how streamlined the game is. If you like dice rolling and area majority, then we have a game for you! Add to the mix that players have to offer dice to the Godfather every round, the ability to muscle other players out of your neighbourhood and the fact that you can invest in Vegas and you’ll find it pretty difficult to not talk like mafia and quote the movie while you play it!

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Meetings with publishers

We spent some time not pitching – but business stuff!

We spent a couple hours at least with Martin from Pretzel Games discussing and brainstorming the first expansion to Junk Art. The game isn’t out yet but they believe in it so much that they want to have an expansion ready ASAP. It was maybe my favourite part of the whole week as 2 designers and a publisher brainstormed through game play and publishing challenges to figure out how to make our cool ideas come to life. Needless to say, we’re pretty excited about it!

We had a lunch meeting with Mercury Games and talked about the two games of ours that they have in the pipeline, Zombie Slam and What’s That. Both require an app to play the game, and they have recently hired an app developer (another Game Artisan of Canada!). So we talked through the timing as well as the future of Mercury.

Playtesting 

We wanted to get a lot of play testing of our games with other people done at the Gathering – and we did!

Powers (a game based on the comic, coming out later this year form IDW Games) was played twice. The first game had Matt Leacock as a player but the game broke down and made us realize the importance of the set up. We got some great feedback though and we tweaked it for another playtest later in the week. The second test was better but still messy. We have ideas on how to clean it up and continue simplifying while still ensuring there’s a challenge for players who’ve played it a bunch.

Godzilla (a game coming out from Toy Vault) was played numerous times, and three times by me. All the games were great, but it’s obvious that the Godzilla deck is not well constructed, so we have to change which cards are in the deck. Easy fix!

Skirmishes (by Shad and me) got played by Sen and me before we left for the Gathering and it made me change one big thing in the game that makes the game easier to comprehend the first time playing. 

But Wait There’s Even More (a game from Toy Vault). The first print run has sold out, but instead of just reprinting, we’re thinking of printing a new box, full of 100% new content. This way, existing fans can buy it – but newcomers can buy it as well! We tested all the new phrases and got to tweak a few of them as well as a new rule for this edition!

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Phil Walker-Harding (designer of Sushi Go and Cacao) pitches some crazy product to the rest of us!

I got to playtest other designers’ games as well, like Matt Leacock’s new family co-op game, Mike Kolross’s G-Men, Phil Walker-Harding’s Spy Craft, Mike Gray’s Water God, Josh Cappel’s Dead Run, Al Leduc’s Dogs on the Bed, and probably a few more that I can’t recall.

Played games

I did find some time to play some games as well while I was there! 

Codenames Pictures: This was a no-brainer. Take the hit party game Codenames, but replace the words with images. The images are all kind of weird too – which makes it interesting. This will play better when you have friends that have different native languages.

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Karuba: a fun and light game that’s like Take it Easy with a theme. Played this one a couple times.IMG_4303

Team Play: a nice light partner based card game where each player has a goal of the cards they need to collect in order to score points. Players can draw cards as well as pass cards to their partner. Pretty fun and easy.

Colony: Kind of like Machi Koro but has a bit too much downtime between turns. I heard it’s great with 2 players – and it would probably get better with repeat plays.

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Ulm: I played this last year as well, and it should be coming out this year from Huch & Friends. I really like it and look forward to playing it again.

Ulm!

Tichu: I partnered up with Stefan Brunelle and we beat Zev and Ignacy’s wife, Merry. Love this game. 

Strike: Weird that this is a published game…it’s just a bunch of dice and a plastic mold inside the box that you roll them in. Super random obviously but fun for 4 minutes I guess.

Rollers: this one was a fun game but it just lasted way too long for us. We thought it was over but then we realized that it’s the player to get 5 points first…so the game continued. 

Adrenaline: A cool PvP game that emulates a first person shooter in tight quarters – but it does so with no dice rolling. It has a bit AP, but I thought it was very neat!

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Wonky: a neat idea for a small balancing game. Not sure how much replayability it would have though.

Broom Service: a neat idea about being cowardly or brave…though it can be punishing.

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Broom Service in action!

Designed

Sen and I didn’t have as much time as we thought we would, mostly because he had to leave for 4 days in the middle to go back to work. Boo! But we ironed out quite a few things in the car ride there and back at least!

Josh Cappel had an idea for a game while at the Gathering and asked me for help trying to turn it into a game. We made some good progress on it and we’ll continue working on it together.

Other shenanigans

As mentioned before, 40 of us got on a bus and rode into Toronto to hang out at Snakes and Lattes and then to the baseball game. I’m a huge Blue Jays fan so this was exciting! I was surrounded by Germans and Australians who had never seen a baseball game…ever! So I was able to help them throughout the game with some rules explanations.

The Skydome ...uh I mean, Rogers Centre!

The Skydome …uh I mean, Rogers Centre!

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Getting ready for the game to start!

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The CN Tower…obligatory photo.

All the rooms had fridges and microwaves this year so we did a grocery run when we first got there which was my breakfast and lunch every day. For dinner I had a lot of yummy Indian food as there are many options close to the hotel. We did our annual walk over to the Canadian side to have dinner at a nice wood oven pizza place. We had around 18 of us this year, with numerous designers and publishers. On another night, eight of us drove into Buffalo to eat some great meat at Dinosaur. We were well fed.

We had our largest turnout for our annual soccer game, organized every year by Richard Bethany. This year we each had a sub plus a full team of 6 on each side (half field- hey we’re old!). One of my favourite activities every year.

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The final ceremony started with a humourous magic act and then quickly proceeded to the prizes! Everyone that donates something, like a game to the prize table, goes into a draw and gets to take something from the prize table. It’s not just games though…there were numerous hand made options like meeple pillows, hand painted miniatures for popular games, handmade gaming quilt – plus some super hard to find games like Indonesia and Antiquity. I managed to snag Super Motherlode because it’s from Roxley Games…and they’re just awesome (they’re doing a Kickstarter for Santorini that end soon). 

That’s it in a rather large nutshell. Even though the atmosphere is casual and relaxed it never feels like there’s enough time to do everything. Maybe it should happen twice a year? 🙂

Jay Cormier

Sent from my iPad

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The Gathering Approacheth

Gaming heaven starts later this week at a hotel in Niagara Falls, Buffalo. The Gathering is in its 26th year I believe and is full of 400 of the nicest gamers you’ll ever meet. The event is an invite-only kind of affair, and I feel damned lucky to be on the invite list!

In addition to playing numerous games for 10 days (yes, the event lasts for 10 days!!!), I get to hang out with other designers while we playtest each others’ games. This is a fantastic opportunity to get some fresh eyes on games that have only been played in our playtest groups.

Finally, and possibly the most exciting aspect about the Gathering is that there will be publishers there! This has been the best event to pitch games at because everyone is way more relaxed. It’s great to actually chat and get to know the publisher…hey – they’re people too you know! 🙂

This year Sen and I are not pitching as many games. This past year we’ve been fortunate enough to have had a few publishers ask us to make specific games for them, so that’s been keeping us busy. That said, here’s my plan for the week:

junkartShowcase upcoming game of ours called Junk Art from Pretzel Games. The publisher will be there and we’ll have some copies of the game to show off and see if we can generate some interest in it!

Showcase upcoming game of ours called The Godfather: A New Don from IDW Games. The publisher will not be there, but they are providing us with a final art prototype to showcase for those interested in giving it a whirl!

Playtest:

  • Powers: A game based on the comic, coming from IDW that we think is pretty solid – but would be great to have some new people try it.
  • Godzilla: A 2 player card battling game coming from Toy Vault. This game has made huge improvements over the last year and we’re now ready for more people to try it out.
  • Mystery of Mister E: A deduction game that is being assessed by a publisher right now. We want to get some ideas on a better graphic layout to make the game easier to grok!
  • But Wait There’s Even More: We are planning on releasing a stand-alone sequel to But Wait There’s More with 100% brand new content. We’d like to play a few rounds throughout the week to ensure our new assortment of phrases work as good as the first version.

Sen and I will also spend some time together working on some new designs – which is always exciting! Now that I don’t travel back to Ontario that frequently for my job, Sen and I have a lot less time together throughout the year, so this week is especially important. Hopefully we’ll figure out a direction for Belfort: The Dice Game as well as some Top Secret projects that we’re super stoked about.

Finally – we’ll be pitching these games:

  • Law of the Jungle: Some publishers saw this game last year when it was called Lion’s Share – but the game has changed so drastically that we want to show it again.
  • Chainables: It’s been hard for this clever word making game to find a publisher…but maybe some day!
  • Arabian Nights: This is a cool concept where we’ve partnered with 2 other designers and we each made a game set in the Arabian Nights world. The concept is that you can play any of these 3 games on its own – or you can play them in succession, and depending on the order you play them in, objects from the previous game will show up in the subsequent games! The three games are Aladdin, Sinbad and Ali Baba.
  • 9 Thieves: A 2-5 player betting and deduction game about moving thieves around a ballroom to steal loot, while avoiding the gaze of the guards. Bet on which thief will steal the most money!
  • Skirmishes: A game I designed with another designer named Shad Miller. In it you play a war chief who must give orders to 3 different battles all happening at the same time. It’s a tight game of playing efficiently and it has a lot of room for growth.
  • Burning Rubber: A game Sen designed with another designer where you impact the odds of specific cars in a race – where the race is an actual race of ‘beads’ running down a track. Very visual!

I’ll post updates as I can throughout the week! Unless I’m too buy having fun.

-Jay Cormier

 

The Gathering of Friends, Part 2

My last post detailed all the games that Sen and I pitched to the various publishers that were at the Gathering, but this post will be all about the games I played –  in no particular order!

IMG_2132Thunderbirds by Matt Leacock: I really liked this game! I have no familiarity with the TV show, so I’m happy to say that this game is still entertaining without that background of knowledge. We played it without any of the expansions and we barely won. I like how players control characters, and while each character has their own mode of transportation, any character can take any vehicle – and can even take other characters with them. It’s an interesting idea that really makes it feel like we are all a team and we have to work together.

IMG_2133Then a few days later we played it again but with the Purple Hood expansion – and I have to say that I liked it even more. Now the bad guy isn’t controlled by AI – but by one of the players. That player is trying to accomplish his goals while trying to make it difficult for the rest of us. This was really fun and it really felt like there was a narrative to the game we played. There are even two more expansions that we didn’t get to try! Wow! Looking forward to this one.

IMG_2114Red7 by Carl Chudyk and Chris Cieslik: This was a fun game that I ended up playing a few times over the week. It’s a simple idea where you have to be winning the game when you’re turn is over – or you lose and are out. So you can either play a card in front of you, or change the rule of how you win – or both. It’s fun and light and interesting! From the designer of Glory to Rome and the upcoming Mottanai.

IMG_2138Ulm: I’m not sure who designed this one actually. We played a prototype from Huch & Friends and this is one that will be coming out from them. I really enjoyed this game! It has an interesting action selection method where you slide a token into a 3×3 grid and the colours of the tokens in the row/column that you affected are the actions you can do this round. Really cool!

IMG_2118Castaway Club by Vladimir Sluchy: This is the spiritual successor to Last Will. It uses the same icons as Last Will and has a similar theme. Instead of trying to go broke, you’re trying to lose reputation. The game comes with three modular boards and you can use any two of them – or you can swap in the entire game of Last Will as one of the modules! Cool! I had fun with the game and fans of Last Will should check it out.

IMG_2126Flick ‘Em Up by Gaeton Beaujannot and Jean Yves Monpertuis: What a fun concept for a game! It’s a flicking game – but players play in teams – good guys or the bad guys. Players move their wooden figures around by replacing the wooden figure with a disc, flicking it and then replacing the disc with the wooden figure. Or a figure can shoot by placing a smaller disc at the side of a wooden figure and flicking it towards an opponent. What’s really cool is the production quality! Holy crap – it’s amazing! Every game will be photo worthy for sure! Also interesting is the fact that the game comes with 10 scenarios. So replay value is very high! If you like flicking games, then you have to get this one!

IMG_2124Bang The Dice Game by Michael Palm and Lukas Zach: I was never a huge fan of Bang – but the dice game is more accessible and more fun. I enjoyed it!

IMG_2121Tiny Epic Kingdoms by Scott Almes: We didn’t have an interesting game here unfortunately. This is the kind of game that you have to know how to play it in order to really enjoy it. I am 100% in winning this game so far because I think I know how to play it correctly! 🙂

Unannounced Matt Leacock party game – Can’t talk about it but it’s such a great idea! This will definitely get picked up.

IMG_21657 Wonders: The Duel by Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala: I am a fan of 7 Wonders and this 2-player only, stand-alone game is a great game! It really has all the feeling and concepts of a 7 Wonders game but offers new strategies with the pyramidal stacking of the cards. The game can end immediately if a player gets their token to the end of the war track or if they get one of each of the 6 science symbols – so that keeps your opponent on their toes and altering their strategies along the way. I’ll be picking this up!

Codenames by Vlaada Chvatil: It’s not announced or even picked up yet so I can’t show pictures but this seemed like the hit of the Gathering. There was always someone playing this game!  It’s a small word/party type game that is great for thinky people!

IMG_2145Birth by Takashi Sakaue: A cool Japanese dice rolling and moving around a circle game that has more to it than you might think. Clever game that I’d play again.

IMG_2149Time Stories by Manuel Rozoy: I know there are a lot of people that are super excited about this game, but it fell a bit flat for us. The concept is interesting but the execution left us lukewarm. When we had to go back through a third time, you could tell that everyone was a bit exhausted and didn’t want to go through the paces of the stories to get to where we had to go. The storyline of the game we had to play was lacklustre and I think I would have been more into it if the story was more intriguing. Maybe this is a game that would appeal to role playing gamers more??

IMG_2151Mysterium by Oleksandr Nevskiy and Oleg Sidorenko: Finally I got to play this game – and I really liked it! One player plays a ghost and has to let each of us know who killed him by giving us dream cards that will remind players of Dixit. In fact I saw people playing the game with Dixit cards! This is a great party game as everyone is involved and engaged (though the ghost player can’t really chat with others). Really fun game!

Beasty Bar by Stefan Klob: A fun game that harkens back to Guillotine where you play animal cards in an attempt to get into a club. It’s fun and a bit chaotic. More plays of this would help me know if familiarity increases skill or not!

IMG_2162Welcome to the Dungeon by Masato Uesugi: This is a great little mini game that has a fun push your luck element to it. We had a lot of loud outbursts throughout the game as players would push their luck and then win! Players simply take a card from the deck and decide to either place it face down in the dungeon or face up outside the dungeon but then remove one of the artifacts or weapons that the character can use to battle these monsters. Eventually players start to pass instead of taking a card – and the last player in must then go through all the cards in the dungeon with the equipment that he or she has left. Very fun – and it comes with four totally different characters with their own equipment.

IMG_2172Porta Nigra by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling: I’m a big K&K fan so I’ll play anything they make. Unfortunately this one was a bit too abstract for me. I prefer their games that have some theme to it. The theme in this game could have been anything really – and so it becomes a mathy game of efficiency. And that is fun and interesting, but it’s a bit cold for my tastes. Other people claimed it their favourite game of the Gathering!

That’s about it. I did play some more prototypes of games that aren’t signed yet by some Game Artisans of Canada as well.

All in all – a super fun week and I’m already counting down the days for next year’s Gathering!

-Jay Cormier

The Gathering of Friends Review, Part 1

IMG_2176Well, 10 days of gaming heaven has come and gone! Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends is an invite-only gaming event full of gamers, designers and publishers. It’s my favourite 10 days of the year as I get to hang out with friends old and new – and play a bunch of games!

I’ll split this into two posts – one about the games we pitched to publishers and then a second one about the games we played.

Pitching to Publishers

Godzilla-spreadsheets

Jay working on Godzilla spreadsheets…fun!

Sen and I are in a bit of a lucky spot since many of our games have been picked up, which means we didn’t have a lot of new game to pitch. This meant that we had more time to work on games that were already signed while we were together. We must have spent at least 3 hours a day working on Godzilla which is due out later this year from Toy Vault.

Our first pitch was to the German publisher, Huch & Friends. Their representative is Britta, who last year took a couple of our games back with her. One was called Herdables and since we didn’t have any other plans for that game, we let her sit on that one all year. Well she brought good news with her as she said that everyone at Huch & Friends likes the game, and they’re now only trying to figure out how to manufacture it. They’re thinking of going with super thick cardboard instead of wooden tokens. Cool by us!

800px-Huch_&_Friends_logoThen we pitched our game called Chrono Chicken. Ok – dumb name…so dumb that we didn’t even tell her the name of the game when we pitched it! It started as a game called Coaster Quest as it used actual drink coasters to play the game. But, as usual, the game changed drastically from its inception and instead of coaster it now used these cool two-dial secret spinners. We played the game – in which players secretly choose a number from one of the tokens on the table – by using their secret dials. She really liked it – and started talking in German with her cohort from Huch & Friends (dang – I forget his name!). They brought out their Huch catalogue and indicated a game that they have coming out later this year called Gum Gum Machine – a steam punk game about gum ball machines. She said that our game might make a good companion to that game – maybe call it Gum Gum Mini! So she agreed to take that game back to assess further.

Then I pitched my first solo design to her. Now, I pitched this game to her last year when it went by the horrendous title, Ingnotus (Latin for unknown). She liked it last year but after assessing it she said that they couldn’t think of a theme for it (I had submitted it as a pure abstract game). So I worked on it this year and I came up with a theme. In doing so the game changed a lot – for the better! It’s now called The Mystery of Mister E (Now that’s a cool title – finally!). We played the game and she liked it a lot more than the previous version. She took that game back as well. Huzzah!

ZMan_LogoI was able to pitch to Martin from Filosofia / Z-Man, but not our games! Instead I had two games from other Game Artisan designers that I wanted to show him. One was called City Builders: Rome from Andrei Filip – a co-operative Euro game that I only brought the sales sheet for him to see. He was interested and I have connected him with the designer. Then I showed him a quick reaction dice game called Joust from Graeme Jahns. He really thought it was unique and would like to see it again if he could figure out how to get the number of dice moulds down.

Sen is brainstorming with Andreas from Zoch

Sen is brainstorming with Andreas from Zoch

We pitched to Zoch again this year, but we didn’t really have anything new! So instead we spent time talking about the kinds of games that Zoch is interested in and he let us know what they’re looking for – which included some IPs! We’re already working on them now!

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Playing Lions Share with Hasbro and Josh Cappel!

Hasbro had a new representative and with it he brought a new way of thinking. He’s super interested in meeting with designers as he wants to create a network of designers that he can access when he needs them. He ran down how he wants to work with the Game Artisans of Canada in the future. He was excited to see that we had an organization across Canada as it will allow him to be super efficient. He’s planning on visiting us once or twice a year where only Game Artisans will be able to pitch games to him! Pretty awesome!

We did end up pitching our game, Lions Share to him and he liked it, Hasbro_logo_newthough we actually came across a game-breaking situation that had never happened before. Dang. Oh well – we know how to easily fix that in the future. Still – good to get in front if him and show him what we have.

We had been working with Ed from Toy Vault all week – either on Godzilla (our upcoming card battle game) or a Naughty version of But Wait There’s More (we learned how to make this work!) – but we finally had some time to pitch our revamped Firefly game to Ed as well. We showed it to him last year and he had some specific feedback so we addressed each of those requests and showed him the new version.

toy_vault_logo_07The new version played out much better, but Ed had concerns that the new actions didn’t make it feel like Firefly. Before characters could only move into empty spaces, but now they can swap with other characters – which implies that they’re hiding behind each other and throwing each other into harm’s way. Not very Firefly!

Then as we were packing up, we cam up with a totally new way to play that might allow it to fit with a more wacky license. The game played a lot faster and seemed to work fairly well actually. It was wild – quite the drastic change in gameplay and we managed to make it work. We’re now back to the drawing board with this one to see what theme works best with the mechanics.

Sen lining up a shot in Flick 'Em Up!

Sen lining up a shot in Flick ‘Em Up!

There was a new game at the Gathering called Flick ‘Em Up, which is the first game in Z-man’s Pretzel line up. It’s called Pretzel because you can have a pretzel in one hand and still play! It’s a flicking game with cowboys and bad guys and it looks amazing! It comes with 10 scenarios which helps give the game a lot of flavour! We were happy to be asked to contribute a couple of scenarios to this game! Not just because the game is pretty darned cool – but because the second game in the Pretzel line up is one of ours – called Junkyard! That should be coming out next year!

mercury-logoFinally we pitched Zombie Slam to Mercury. We had tweaked it since last year as we had feedback that it was super hard to stay human throughout the game. The new ideas worked a lot better and we had a human survivor win the game! They really seemed to like this game! Mercury is currently working on their first app-assisted game and then their second app-assisted game is actual designed by Sen, Stefan Alexander and me. So this would be their third app-assisted game. We all came up with even more ideas on how the app could work with this game and it got us all pretty excited about it!

I ended the session by pitching a game I designed with Shad Miller called Q-Bot. I knew it wasn’t really the kind of game they publish as it was an abstract game with wooden cubes. They liked it better than last year’s version but that’s about it.

Coincidentally, while we were at the Gathering we also had some phone meetings with Ad Magic who is considering publishing 1-5 of our games in the near future! More to come on that as it’s finalized!

So all in all – an atypically quiet week for us on pitching games. I think it might be like that going forward because now we’re being asked to make specific games by publishers – and that takes time away from new designs. One day we’ll be able to quit our day jobs and focus on game design full time. That’s the goal at least!

Next up I’ll review the games that I played at the Gathering – from new and existing games to upcoming unreleased games from prolific designers!

-Jay Cormier

First review of our upcoming game Akrotiri!

Akrotirifin3finAnd it’s a good one! Adam from The Daily Worker Placement has given an overview and his thoughts on this 2-player Z-Man game from Sen and I. Adam got a chance to play the final art prototype at the Gathering of Friends. A final art prototype is when the publisher takes all the finished art and makes their own version of the game. They even print the box art image and tape it to another box to make it look complete. The only thing that’s usually not final are the components. In this game the temples are wooden houses (but they’ll look more like temples in the final version) and the boats were made out of erasers!! Good idea for a prototype actually! Other than that – the art is 100% final and it’s now being sent off to the printers.

Thanks for the review Adam – can’t wait for you – and others – to get your hands on the final version later this year!

And here’s an interesting development: While we were at the Gathering of Friends – Akrotiri was being played by a bunch of people. One pair had a weird situation where the secret goal card one player picked up after excavating their 5th temple was already accomplished and was worth 13 points! Wow – that’s quite the swing of points so late in the game – though it’s very rare for it to be so dramatic like that. But still, we came up with a solution for those that want even less luck in their game. The main game will still remain as is, but for more advanced players they can flip 4 more Goal Cards face up near the board and any time a player has to take a Goal Card then they must take from one of the face-up Goal Cards. This means players can plan for specific goals and try to excavate easier temples in order to get the goal card they want faster! We added this to the main rule book – so it’s official now!

-Jay Cormier

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 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

 

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.

SOS-ex1

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

Gathering: Pitching to Asmodee, R&R Games and Abacuspiele

Continuing the series of my board game pitches to publishers at this year’s Gathering of Friends. Previous posts:

  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

I met up with Stefan from Asmodee later in the week and let him know that I still had more games that I wanted to pitch to him.We quickly found a table, and played a few games. I showed him Lions Share, Clunatics and Top Shelf. Wow,Top Shelf? That was the first game Sen and I fully designed. I brought it with me because I still had fondness for the game and think it still works – and also wanted to hear some feedback on the direction we should go with it.

TS-top of boardTop Shelf is a tile laying, matching game where you’re trying to make four in a row.We played the entire game, which is always a good sign. He liked the design but it wasn’t something that fit with Asmodee. He thought a different theme would help though. So, something to think about.

He had similar reactions for Lions Share and Clunatics. No real feedback to make the game better or different, they just didn’t fit with Asmodee.Well, you can’t argue with that!

Next up was R&R games. Right before I was about to begin, a guy named Doug comes over with his camera and asks if he could record the pitch as he was making a documentary about board games from the designer’s perspective (It’s called Adventures on the Tabletop and will be on Kickstarter soon!). Frank from R&R didn’t mind, so he set up and I began.

Now I have to say that Frank indicated that he didn’t have much time. So since I didn’t have sales sheets (see explanation here), I told him I’d give a 15 second pitch on each game and he could indicate which ones he’d like to know more about or not. I started with Lost for Words and I gave a very quick overview and asked if that was in the keep or discard pile. He wanted to know more immediately so I explained a bit more of the rules.Then he wanted to play a round. So now I’m all out of sorts and have explained half the rules and now have to backtrack to explain exactly how to play and it’s all a bit befuddling. Lesson learned here is to either have sales sheets (uh…yeah) or give the 15-30 second pitch, then if there’s interest, figure out if it’s worthwhile to jump right into a round or give more highlights. For a lighter weight game, it’s probably better to just jump right into a round! And of course this was all caught on video by the documentarian! Great.

Regardless, Frank was thinking it would be too hard to market a word game.Yep – it would be.Why do we keep designing word games? 🙂

ex-neigh1Next up was SimpliCITY and Frank thought it was good but gave us the exact same feedback – too much multiplayer solitaire. Hmmm…I think we’re going to have to rethink that game a little bit.

Update – since the Gathering, Sen and I have been tweaking SimpliCITY to add some more interaction and we’ve come up with some really neat ideas. I’ll be playtesting them tomorrow!

Lions Share also didn’t work for him, but you know what did? Pop Goes the Weasel! This is our kid’s game that uses roll and move – but adds one element of choice to it. He said it filled a hole that they had right now. Yay! Frank ended up taking Pop Goes the Weasel back with him.Three prototypes now with publishers!

Just as Frank left, Matthias from Abacuspiele found me as we had set up an informal meeting to pitch him games and it was happening right now! Doug kept rolling, but this time I slowed down and took control of the pitch session a lot more. The good news is that Doug mentioned that he’d be giving me the footage of the pitches, so I can share them right here on this website! Stay tuned for that.

I started with Lions Share and he expressed interest in it. This was our card game that had players playing in between each other and sharing cards that they won with their opponents. He wanted to take it back with him! Huzzah – four games taken back by publishers! He also showed interest in another Artisan’s game called Garden Plot and wanted to take that one back with him.The other games I pitched to Abacuspiele weren’t as much of a fit, but he did seem to like them…but again, just not for Abacuspiele.While that’s an easy out for a publisher – it’s still nice to hear!

Next up I’ll be regaling you with our pitches to ThinkFun, Hasbro and Mercury Games! Wow – busy week we had!

-Jay Cormier

Gathering: Pitching to Filosofia and Z-Man Games

This is the third in our series of pitching to publishers at this year’s Gathering. You can read about the here:

  1. Intro and overview of the Gathering
  2. Pitching to publishers overview
  3. Pitching to Asmodee and Repos

logo_filoUp next I got to sit with JF from Filosofia. I showed him our app game,What’s That.When you’re at a convention and a publisher wants to take your game – as was the case with What’s That with Repos, you never have to give it to them right away. I always tell them that I’d like to show a few more publishers but I will come back at the end of the event to hand it into them.This is good for a couple reasons:

1) It lets you see which publisher is more interested in your game.The more interested they are, the more likely they will want to publish it!

2) It lets you assess which publisher you’d rather work with for your game. Do you want your game to go back with a first time publisher or an established publisher? They both have their benefits – but you now get to make that choice!

3) Once you give it to one publisher, but more than one are interested, well now you know which publisher you can send it to next if that first publisher decides to pass on your game. It’s great having a line-up of publishers wanting to take a closer look at your game!

Unfortunately for What’s That, the app kept crashing – sometimes right when we wanted to see what the answer was! It was frustrating – but it was a new app, made by fellow Game Artisan of Canada member, Stefan Alexander.We didn’t have much time for QA so we just went with what we had. I think the problem was that if I received a text message while we were playing then it crashed. I think they weren’t really interested in it anyway…!

Next up was Pop Goes the Weasel.They thought it was too confusing for kids. We did come up with one good idea that simplifies the game for kids, but still retains the ability to play the game as is for slightly older kids.

By this point I had Josh Cappel (artist extraordinaire of such board games of…oh I don’t know…Belfort!) joined us so we pitched our new game, Rock, Paper, Wizards to JF. Yep – Josh joined forces with the Bamboozle Brothers and the three of us created a brand new game! It involves bluffing and pointing weird finger gestures at other players!

Ed Bryan from Toy Vault also came by and helped us playtest this one. Ed’s another good wingman for me! The game went so well that he brought Zev over to play it. Zev IS Z-Man Games, but Z-Man Games is owned by Filosofia. Zev liked it a lot and wanted to make sure they took this one back with them. Yay! Two games now being requested by publishers!

Update: We have received an email from Filosofia after they played it and they said that while they don’t want to publish it as is – they don’t want to give it back to us. They had some concerns and asked us to see if we could review some options. So we are!

Junkyard-photo2We were then told that they did get the new sample of our game Junkyard from the manufacturer’s in China. Last year at the Gathering I showed them Junkyard and since then we’ve been figuring out a way to make the game. Everyone at Filosofia loves the game, but the cost to produce 52 wooden pieces is high.When I visited Filosofia in November we came up with some ideas on how to reduce costs.The biggest idea was to reduce the size of the pieces by 20-25%.We got a quote from Panda on how many we’d have to make in order to get the per unit price low enough to retail it for $30-35.The pricing and quantity worked out for Filosofia, but they wanted to see a sample of the product before committing.They brought this sample and we got to play the game with Zev because he has never played Junkyard.After a fun game of Junkyard Zev gave his thumbs up to the game. So this meant that everyone is on board! The next step for Junkyard is to ask for another sample with a varnished finish of some sort as the pieces are a bit too rough as they are now. But yay for progress!

We were also given feedback on the three other games that Filosofia had since November. Jam Slam was one of them that showed the most promise so JF wanted Sofie to play it. I learned something about pitching in this pitch session.

Jam-Slam-logoThe game is a simple game of listening to a clue and slapping a card that has that information. For older kids it has an advanced variant where you get bonuses if you collect the most or least of a specific thing. I thought we should play with this since we’re all adults and it would make it more of a challenge – and therefore (in my mind) – more fun.Well that was wrong. Being new to the game, Sofie was confused by the multiple motivations. She boiled it down to show that the game had three motivations and a kid’s game should only have one motivation. So the lesson learned is to always show your game as the base concept first, before throwing in variants or expansions! So she decided to pass on it but gave us some interesting insight into the design.

JF also shared some comments from the playtests of the other two games they had of ours and from this we learned another lesson.The feedback for our card game, Lion’s Share was that there was fun there – but there was too much memory in it.Wait – what? Memory? There’s no memory at all in the game.Why would they say that then? Think about it for a second…..yep – they played the game wrong.And who’s fault is that? Ours.We re-read the rules and found a section that could be misinterpreted. Damn. Sometimes you have only one chance with a publisher and if the reason why your game fails is because they played it incorrectly, then you’re hooped! By playing incorrectly, they didn’t get the experience you wanted them to have so they only thought the game was mediocre.When you found out they played it wrong, there’s little motivation for them to play again because their experience was only mediocre before. So the lesson here – blind playtest your game! Have some other group playtest your game without you there to guide them or help them out.This will help you ensure your rules are being interpreted correctly.

Whew! That was a busy first day! And there are still more pitches ahead – so stay tuned!

-Jay Cormier