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

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

The Bamboozle Brothers Invade HammerCon III

In it’s third year (as denote by the “III” in the name), HammerCon III is *the* major gaming event in Hamilton, ON – the very city where a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Jay met a strapping young lad destined for greatness named Sen.  These two young go getters forged a friendship that has stood the test of time and now the designing duo is set to return to the city of their birth to play some prototypes and showcase their publications, Belfort and Train of Thought.

HammerCon III has something new this year – an official prototype portion of the convention.  Run by Francois Valentyne (Chaos, TtR: Legendary Asia), Protospiel North is an offshoot of the annual Protospiel event (now in it’s 10th year) that takes place in Michigan – just a hop skip and a jump from SW Ontario.  Designers can meet and play each others prototypes on Friday night; others will get to see the newest of the new during public gaming on the Saturday.

We’ll be welcoming our fellow brothers from the Game Artisans of Canada to HammerCon as well.  Ken Maher, Al Leduc, Daryl Chow, and Yves Tourigny will be showing their wares as will our artist/designer friend Josh Cappel.

Belfort and Train of Thought will be played during open gaming sessions.  Belfort will be one of the games in the Great Canadian Boardgame Blitz segment of the convention as well!  Jay and I are proud to have Belfort be a part of that tournament!

HammerCon III
November 4-5, 2011
Plaza Hotel, Hamilton Ontario