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

Gathering of Friends 2014 review: Part 3

Our third post reviewing all the pitches we made during the Gathering of Friends this year. It was super exciting and we got to spend some quality time with each publisher. If you missed the first two you can read them here:

Gathering of Friends in review Part 1- ZMan/Filosofia

Gathering of Friends in review Part 2 – Days of Wonder, Ystari, Abacusspiele, R&R Games, Zoch

Huch & Friends

800px-Huch_&_Friends_logoWow – another surprise! We hadn’t met with Huch & Friends before either. Neither Huch & Friends nor Zoch have been to the Gathering before (or at least not in the last 3 years that I attended!). We pitched to Britta from Huch & Friends and found that a lot of our games fit with what they were looking for! In the end she wanted to take back Zombie Slam, Ignotus, Lion’s Share and Herdables. Wow – cool! With Ignotus she mentioned that she’s partnered with another company that specializes in crime based deductive games – how perfect! She also mentioned that our Herdables could fit in her 2-player abstract line.

Toy Vault

toy_vault_logo_07We spent a bunch of time with Ed from Toy Vault. In about a month we’re going to be launching the Kickstarter for our game Monty Python’s But Wait, There’s More so we gathered some gamers and went to a quiet room and filmed the Kickstarter video! We just had people play the game so we would have a lot of footage of examples and people laughing. Mission accomplished!

We pitched our Firefly game to Ed and he had some thoughts on the direction he’d like it to go, so we have a bit of work to do – but we’re excited about the direction this game is going!

Ed also wanted to partner with us in designing a Living Card Game based on the Godzilla IP. That’s pretty awesome! So the three of us will be working to work on a game based on the initial ideas that Ed had for the game. Looking forward to getting to work on this one!

Mercury

mercury-logoEvery year we meet with Mercury and we really love hanging out with these guys! The first year I went to the Gathering was also their first year and they were looking for their first game to launch their new company. I pitched them the game Quarantine to them as another member of the Game Artisans of Canada, Mark Klassen had given me his sales sheet to show around. This year we pitched them all our games – thinking that none of them really fit with their brand. I almost shot myself in the foot by pre-empting the pitch by saying something like, “I don’t think you’ll like these games.” Idiot! Eventually they had to tell me that we shouldn’t base our thoughts on what they might publish on games that they have already published. OK – lesson learned! In the end they really liked Zombie Slam and our App-based game, What’s That? Nice!

Hans Im Gluck

GLUCK-LOGOWe finally got to meet with Hans Im Gluck after continually bumping into each other when one of us was busy! We pitched all our games in the same 30 second overview style that we’ve now become pretty slick at – and they expressed interest in Lions Share. We played the game with them and they liked it enough to want to take a copy back with them – huzzah!

The interesting part for me about this game was that while we were playing it – I realized that it wasn’t as interesting as I had thought it was originally! So after this pitch, Sen and I brainstormed a bit and we came up with one new rule that we thought would drastically improve it. Next up: Think Fun!

Think Fun

ThinkfunlogoWe had a great time pitching to Tanya from Think Fun last year and we specifically tried to make some games that would fit with her line up. We showed her all our games and she played a few rounds of most of them. When we played Lions Share, we played with our new rule that we had just added – and it made the game so much better! Not only that, but Tanya also added a couple of suggestions around the Wild cards that really simplified things a bit further (in a good way!). She ended up passing on Lions Share but she did like Ignotus. She said it would have an outside shot because they’re pretty much locked up for 2015 already, but it’s such a small game that she could possibly make it work. She said that it was great that I suggested that the game could easily be themed to anything else, since the current artwork I made was just symbols, colours and numbers. That’s a good thing to bring up when appropriate!

So after this we had to seek out Hans Im Gluck and Huch & Friends again and let them know about the changes. They both agreed that the new changes did indeed make the game better! Nice!

Next up – pitching to iEllo and Repos!

-Jay Cormier

Sens-Turn

 

MOAR PICS!

This time, we’re   with Britta from Huch and friends!  Here we are playing the game formerly known as Jam Slam, Zombie Slam, with Britta and our wingman, Mike Kollross (Godzilla Stomp!), a fellow Game Artisan.

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We then played Huch & Friends’ Pints of Blood, a co-op zombie fighting game set in a pub with some nifty shifty tiles.  Mike always dresses appropriately for the games he plays, as you can see.

IMG_0863And then we played ZomBeasts, a cute but evil little card game!  Britta beat us handily.

IMG_0862Here Jay is, pitching our Firefly game to Ed (ToyVault).  This one needs some polishing up, but once we get that done it’ll definitely be shiny!

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Moving from one IP to the next, Ed discusses the finer points of rubber suits and the JDF as we plan on making a Godzilla Living Card Game, co-designed with Ed.IMG_0841

Daryl pitches a game that he co-designed with me and Josh Cappel (Wasabi!) to Ed, a game we hope to set in the Monty Python universe and call And Now For Something Completely Different.  Ed liked it and wants to see it with a reduced card set and some more wacky game play.

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Unfortunately, my phone was used to run the apps for the majority of the meeting with Mercury, so I didn’t get any pics of that pitch session.  But I managed to get some pics of Georg Wild and Jasmine (Hans im Glueck) trying out Ignotus.

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Here, Georg explains how Jay can also grow such awesome facial hair over a game of Lions Share

IMG_0878Last, but not least, Tanya (ThinkFun) and Jay play a co-design he did with Shad – The Towers of Nakh

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~ Sen-Foong Lim

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