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

Pitching at Origins, part 2

Following up our first guest post by Patrick Lysaght, we have a more in-depth account of how he pitched his game to publishers at Origins. It’s a fascinating story that underlines the importance of preparation and a good attitude! Take it away Patrick…

“GLORY & RICHES” AT ORIGINS

            After writing my first post about the advantages Origins has for designers hoping to pitch their game designs to publishers, Jay asked me to write a more detailed report about my specific experiences with my own design.  Since no game designer in their right mind would turn down an opportunity like that, brace yourself for the short story told long.

INSPIRATION

            To set the scene, I need to give a brief description of “Glory & Riches.”  It is a 2-5 player strategy game of resource management and area control.  The players are medieval fief lords vying for their kingdom’s throne.  To succeed, they need to produce and trade resources, build buildings, train peasants into advanced units, and expand their territory.  The unique aspect of the game is a dueling set of expansion mechanics.  Players can either build their economy and purchase the loyalty of neighboring cities, or train an army for military conquest.  The game typically clocks in at about 2 hours.

I started working on the game just before Thanksgiving 2012 as a fun way to spend some time with my siblings over the holidays.  In February 2013, the game was really coming together, and I started thinking about publishing it.  Jay and Sen have an excellent discussion about self-publishing vs. licensed publishing.  Suffice it to say that my current family, career, and financial situations do not allow me to pursue the self-publication option.  Since I had not yet stumbled across Jay and Sen’s blog, I did what seemed natural at the time.  I opened up my enormous trunk of games, and started looking at the publisher names.  Next, I started looking up publisher websites.  In the process, I stumbled upon the board game designer’s forum (www.bgdf.com).  They had some great advice about how to approach a publisher via e-mail.  Taking the leap of faith, I selected a publisher, and fired off an e-mail.

GETTING SERIOUS

            I picked Rio Grande Games.  I selected them because I whole-heartedly agree with their view of gaming’s role in family and character development.  Also, they flat out make good games.  I don’t think I have played a Rio Grande Game that has disappointed me.  Anyway, I sent their contact e-mail asking for the chance to visit their headquarters to pitch my idea.  In less than 30 minutes, I received a very friendly response from their “Spare Parts Guy” saying that the company headquarters was their owner’s house, and that he would not appreciate me knocking on his door.  He did, however, give me Mr. Tummelson’s personal e-mail.  When I contacted him, he told me he preferred to meet at a convention because they provide the play testers he needs to try out a game.  Also, he told me he would be attending Origins and GENCON.  Since GENCON was out for me due to work commitments (BOO!), this put me on a crash course with Origins.  I immediately requested a meeting at Origins, and he gave me a time that fit his schedule.  Now the clock was actually ticking.

ON THE CLOCK

            Play testing continued through March and into early April.  By now, the game seemed to be working very well, and I thought I was where I needed to be.  This was about the time I stumbled across Jay and Sen’s blog.  My initial response…PANIC!  Boy was I unprepared.  I had only made it to Step 13.  The sudden realization sent me into overdrive.  I prepped sales sheets, researched the convention facilities, and started thinking about other publishers who were attending the convention.  By the time the dust settled in mid May, I had official meetings with Rio Grande and Mayfair, and approved contact points with Z-Man and Asmodee.  Then, just when I started to feel comfortable with the concept of approaching publishers, the game underwent a significant prototype change, and all my products had to be reworked in the last two weeks before the convention.  Despite the stress, the mental gymnastics of working through Jay and Sen’s pre-convention steps gave me a clear, concise way to communicate the game’s core.

MY PITCHES AT ORIGINS

            I walked into the convention with what I considered a realistic goal: convince a publisher to take my game into their development cycle.  As a first time game designer and a first time convention attendee, I thought attempting to get a publication commitment on the spot would probably be out of reach.  My other post talks about some of the things I did at the convention to “get the word out” about my game.  Some of these ideas were spur of the moment, and some were definitely preplanned.  For example, I followed Jay and Sen’s advice all the way down to the roll aboard suitcase and business casual attire.  My focus here, however, is going to be on the pitches themselves.  I will cover them in chronological order.
MayfairGames_logo-mdMy meeting with Mr. Yeager from Mayfair Games was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.  He actually stopped by the table I was demoing my game at before our meeting, but as soon as he realized it was me, he wandered off to get some things rolling on the showroom floor.  I showed up a few minutes early to setup the game board so that he could see the components.  When Mr. Yeager sat down for the meeting, I launched right into my 5 minute drill.  After that, he asked some questions, and I basically ended up walking him through the role of every unit, resource, mechanic, and other component.  After that, I demo’ed a part of a turn.  We ended up spending approximately 45 minutes together.  At that point, he expressed a willingness to take the game into their development cycle, and talked me through the rough timelines and processes.  When I told him about my other meetings, he completely understood, and asked for me to let him know on Saturday if I would be sending the prototype home with him.  At that point, I asked him for some feedback regarding my pitch and prototype.  Mr. Yeager said that my prototype quality was better than average, my delivery solid, and he would be open to hearing about my other designs in the future.  In other words, I had achieved complete and total victory by 2 PM on Wednesday afternoon.
rio_grande_gamesThursday was rough.  I pitched to Mr. Tummelson at Rio Grande and Zev at Z-Man.  Mr. Tummelson stopped me about halfway through my pitch, and said that they would not be interested in my game.  It was a matter of a dice-based military mechanism and player elimination.  These were showstoppers for him.  On the plus side, he spent the next 20 minutes talking to me about the nature of the American game design atmosphere, recommended three other publishers to approach with my particular game, and encouraged me to continue designing games.  Also, he mentioned he appreciated the quality of my prototype and my degree of preparation.

ZMan_LogoI met with Z-Man later than afternoon in the Board Room.  He actually sat down and played a whole game with me.  It took just over an hour, and he asked questions throughout.  Like Rio Grande, Zev identified a few reasons he would not be interested in publishing the game.  He did, however, recommend some adjustments that would help streamline gameplay, compliment my pitch, and say that he would be open to future designs.  While these pitches were disappointing, I gleaned some important lessons and feedback from them.  Later that evening, I had a disastrous game demo in the Board Room.  Basically, one person was convinced the game was fatally flawed, and made it their mission to highlight it to me in a series of games.  By midnight, I was exhausted, discouraged, and genuinely concerned that my game was not worthy to be published.  I had just finished picking up the pieces (literally), and was resting my head on the table when it happened.

THE TURNING OF THE TIDE

            As I was sitting there, a man approached me and asked if I was testing out a prototype.  I said yes, involuntarily regurgitated the pitch I had given countless times in the last two days, and was about to tell him I would be happy to demo the game for him tomorrow when he opened the box.  He said he 5 minutes to kill while his son finished up a game, and wanted to look over my design.  What followed was 15 minutes of critical analysis about the size, material, and number of my prototype’s components.  I was at wit’s end, and was about to let him have it when a singular thought occurred to me.  “Why would this man care that my prototype instruction manual is not on normal letter-sized paper?”  Then the realization dawned on me.  I was speaking to a publisher.  We ended up chatting for about 30 minutes (he actually sent his son back to the hotel room), and he asked me to demo the game for his son the next morning.  Let me tell you, if you are going to have a bad day as a game designer, this is a good way to end it!

The following morning was a blur.  I executed an early morning play test to check a rule tweak to fix the issue highlighted Thursday night.  I met with Stefan Brunell from Asmodee.  We chatted for 15 minutes, and he expressed an interest in reviewing the rules for possible game development.  I demo’ed “Glory & Riches” for the small publisher who had approached the night before.  His son thoroughly enjoyed the game, and the owner asked me to meet him for a second play test that evening.  While killing time, I approached the owner of Stronghold games.  This was one of the companies that Rio Grande had recommended.  Also, I had met him on the first day of the convention while hanging around the courtyard during a fire evacuation.  He had given me his card, and asked me to stop by on Friday.  He listened to my pitch, and said that they might be interested in taking the game into development.

CHOICES

            By dinner time on Friday, I was floating on cloud nine.  I actually played a game that was not my own, had some time to grab a celebratory dinner, and found a quiet corner to reflect on my choices.  Mayfair had offered to accept the prototype, but warned their development cycle is long and relatively closed to designer participation.  Asmodee and Stronghold had both offered to review the rules, and consider accepting the prototype at a later date.  I now had only to hear back on the smaller company’s position.  The owner, his son, and two friends played the game late Friday night.  They finished up just before midnight.  He told me he was interested in the game, but that there were some adjustments that needed to be made.  He offered to take the game into development, and promised a final decision before the end of July.

Ultimately, I chose the small publisher for a few key reasons.  First, the development timeline was so much faster that even a rejection would not significantly delay the game.  Also, running through the development cycle with the small company could identify issues that could be fixed before sending it to a larger company later.  Second, the publisher promised a much more inclusive experience during the development cycle.  Third, I had established a real rapport with the small company, and just felt very comfortable with them.

AFTERMATH

OriginsLogoIn the months since Origins, the small publisher has lived up to his promises with one minor exception.  I have been completely integrated into the development process.  He would identify issues in a play test, and I could tweak, test, and recommend changes for his next test.  Due to some tremendous medical issues, however, he was unable to render a final decision until the first week of October.  I completely understood the delay, but I was still getting a little antsy.  Fortunately, he has agreed to publish “Glory & Riches!”  Right now, it is slated for kickstarter in late spring 2014, and release in late 2014, or early 2015.  As the contractual details are pending, I don’t want to release the publisher’s name.  Hopefully, I can post that soon.  In our conversations since the convention, however, the publisher has made a point of commending my prototype and presentation.  In fact, he said it was one of the key discriminators between my game and several other designs he reviewed at Origins.  My profession has a saying, “Prior planning prevents poor performance.”  In this case, Jay and Sen’s 33 Steps helped prepare me to identify, approach, and present my games to publishers in a professional manner.  You can bet I will be using them again in the future!  I hope my experience can pay forward some of the help I received.  Good luck in your design, preparation, and pitching futures!

-Patrick Lysaght