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

Status update on all our games

Taking a little time out to give you all a status update on all of our games that are in active development.

Board games go through a few phases when they are being developed.  The most common phases you’ll hear people talking about are: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Published.  There are more if you want to sub-categorize them, but these are the main categories.

Alpha usually means that the game is mostly an idea or a concept.  There’s still a prototype, but the core rule-set is constantly changing.

Beta games have been playtested numerous times and are generally working but are being endlessly tweaked.  A game will spend most of its time in this phase.

Gamma games are generally done and are ready to be shown to a publisher.  Some small tweaks could occur – or a publisher could develop the game even further with more tweaks – but the game is working very well after a ton of playtesting.

Here are the games that Sen and I have at each of these phases along with a brief write up on each.  If you’re a publisher and are interested in learning more about any of these – just let us know.

Published

Train of Thought – a party/word game in which one player tries to get other players to say a hidden word using connected three-word phrases.  Available from Tasty Minstrel Games in January 2011.

Belfort – a resource management strategy game that has players competing to build the most buildings in each district of a new castle as well as employ the most elves, dwarves and gnomes.  Available from Tasty Minstrel Games in Q2-Q3 2011.

But Wait, There’s More! – a laugh-out-loud party game that has players pitching the most ridiculous products to each other in an effort to have their product chosen more than anyone else.  Available from Tasty Minstrel Games in Q4 2011.

Gamma

Akrotiri – a tile laying strategy game that has 2-5 players sailing their boats around the Mediterranean in an effort to make money by shipping resources so they can fund their expeditions to find hidden temples.  A unique system allows for players to have a specific map to a hidden temple – but will also be 100% different every time it’s played.  Currently being reviewed by Z-Man games.

Jam Slam – a quick reaction game in which 3-6 players listen to one player call out a specific ingredient and then try to be the first to slap a card with what was requested before the others.  A hilarious game that has ear-eye-hand coordination! Was a semi-finalist in the Great Canadian Game Design Competition.  Currently being sent to Gamewright for review.

Junkyard – Players place oddly shaped wooden blocks on their own tower of junk in an effort to score more points without knocking anything over.  A unique system that uses cards to help players strategize while keeping some randomness makes this balancing game different than any other on the market.  Currently being sent to Asmodee for review.

Lost for Words – 2-6 players try to find the longest word in a straight line by adding a tile with letters in a 3×3 grid to a growing board of other tiles.  The player to shout out the longest word in the time limit places the tile and scores points.  Currently being sent to Asmodee for review.

This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us – Currently a Games-on-the-Go product consisting of 25 tiles in a matchbox sized package.  This game has 2-4 players placing tiles and trying to get more of their cowboys in an enclosed town than opponents.  Currently waiting for a publisher.

Hot Property – Currently a Games-on-the-Go product consisting of 25 tiles in a matchbox sized package.  Hot Property involves 2 competing real estate agents placing tiles and creating neighbourhoods in an effort to have more of their coloured houses in as many neighbourhoods as possible.  Currently waiting for a publisher.

EI-EI-O – Currently a Games-on-the-Go product consisting of 25 tiles in a matchbox sized package.  EI-EI-O is a quick reaction game that has 2-6 players acting and sounding like animals quicker than their opponents.  Currently waiting for a publisher.

Top Shelf – 2-4 players place various candy products on a shelf in a convenience store in an effort to grab the attention of potential shoppers.  Get 4 of the same type or colour in a row to score – but make sure some of those are from your brand!  Currently waiting for a publisher.

Beta

RuneMasters – a non-collectible card combat game that uses a never before seen mechanic of placing rune-sticks in specific configurations to ‘cast’ creatures into combat.  Still in early beta but has been through about 8 iterations so far.  It has come a long way already as we’ve simplified it a lot while retaining everything that makes it unique.

Clunatics – a party game that has one person trying to get the others to say a specific phrase out loud – but they only can give the smallest of clues.  There are 15 different ways a person can give a clue and they only get to use 5 of them on their turn.  Lots of hilarity with this one – and it’s almost in Gamma.

Lion’s Share – a card game for 2-5 (maybe 6?) players in which they play animal cards on one of the two tables at a restaurant.  Players have to follow colour, number or animal type.  One animal is deemed to be the Alpha animal and if it’s played on a table – that player collects all the cards into their score pile – but before they do, they must share 1 card with an opponent.  This one is almost Gamma.

Scene of the Crime – One of the players is guilty of the crime and the other players try to determine who did it by placing small tiles that contain different evidence types on the board.  The evidence is played in sets on the board – and looks like Scrabble except instead of letters, there are various evidence tiles on the board.  If a player can find evidence of an opponent in an area on the board that matches a clue – then it leads players to believe they are guilty.  This one used to be Gamma, but we brought it back to Beta to figure out some issues.

Hog the Remote – a party game that has one player using a set of picture cards to get other players to guess the name of a TV show.  It’s kind of like charades but using pictures instead of acting.  This one was coming along great and then we saw that ??? came out with a game that shared some similarities.  This one has been shelved indefinitely for now.

Collectibles – a card game in which players trade rare collectibles in an effort to score the most points with the best collection at the end.  This one seemed to play well, and has been in Gamma, but we’re both kind of dis-enchanted with this one right now.  We like the mechanics and might use them in another game down the road.

Up in the Air – a 4 player partner card game that has players juggling various objects in an effort to keep everything … up in the air the longest.  This was in Gamma and after some feedback we changed the game until it turned into an entirely different game called Junkyard.  We still like the mechanics of this one and might revisit it.

Alpha

Bermuda Triangle – a re-themed version of our Gamma game Night of the Dragon.  While Night of the Dragon was a fun game for families, it never got picked up by a publisher.  Recently we were motivated to re-theme it to the Bermuda Triangle and it’s really working – though it’s making it almost an entirely different game that uses the same core mechanic.  I’m looking forward to making this one work as it involves time travel!

Dice Fu – a game that uses dice in a new way as players assign dice to combos on their various fighters in an effort to defeat their opponents.  Needs a lot of work – but it’s very interesting so far.

Box Office – A game about scheduling when your movies should be released in an effort to make the most money.  I really like the concept but we need to work a lot on the mechanics to make it more fun and less simulation.

Time Management – Players play managers of a store and they try to attract more customers than opponents by hiring the right staff, training them and delegating tasks.  This one was way too simulation – so we thought we might turn it into a game for the office crowd to be used to teach various skills.

City Planning – this one’s so much an Alpha game that we haven’t bothered coming up with a better name for it at all!  This started as a party game and then it seemed like it would fit better as a strategy game.

-Jay Cormier

We have a few other games have been sitting on the back burner after we tinkered with them in Alpha / Beta. For interest’s sake, here’s a look at some of our shelved ones and the reason for stopping the specific project:

Xtaxatax (pronounced “Stacks Attacks”) – was a 2-player game where there were stacks of discs that had stickers on either side of the disc, depicting unit type/strength/etc. The cool idea was that the stacks could be flipped over in the midst of battle to really change up the game and that as you stacked units on top/on bottom, the complexion of that battalion changed. We stopped this one mainly because we couldn’t figure out how to make a good proto for the discs such that they’d stay linked. I was thinking magnets, but didn’t know how to do it. Also, Jay’s not the biggest fan of games that involve ranged combat or too much in the way of math or memory. I am a fan of ranged combat, math and memory games, so just writing this makes me want to pull out the prototype to see if there’s something salvagable in this game.

WerkQwerks – A party game concept we came up with that never really came to fruition. It revolves around one player being the project manager and the rest of their team having to perform some mundane tasks, but with some limitations (i.e. their quirks). I think we put this on the shelf due to lack of interest – not that it’s a bad idea, but that we were focused on making a more “gamer game”. Again, just writing this makes me think – FUN! Of course, I also thought The Dig would pan out…

Sexxxy Game – HA! This couples game was a social, real-time, kind of game where players would have trigger words and responses based on double entendres and sexual innuendos. Reason for shelfing – we could never find girls to playtest with us. And I’m married! Honestly, though, it was the prototyping that was difficult as the game was supposed to be played in the real world while on a date, not around a table. Still a cool concept. It’s a bit too niche, though. A game for couples? Would that sell?

FlickWars – Jay and I both get a kick (or maybe that’s a flick) out of skillful dexterity games. We wanted to make a crazy flicking game where you’d use carroms to break down castle walls, etc. We started to prototype, but it just got difficult as neither he nor I are woodworkers. We’d have to borrow tools, ask a lot of people to help, etc. In the end, we shelved it because of the difficulty in making the physical game and now that we’ve got our dexterity fill through Junkyard, I don’t think this will see the light of day anytime soon. Besides, companies likehttp://www.uncleskunkletoys.com do a much better job at this type of game than we could ever really hope for! Seriously – take a look at that site. Those games look AWESOME!

Castle of Dr. Knizia – Another game that we actually playtested with real human beings other than ourselves or significant others (poor dears). It involved exploring a castle and going through doorways, always worried about what was on the other side – did you sneak through like a mouse, or burst through, sword drawn and ready for combat? The niftiest mechanic was how the monsters got placed in the castle. I even made these card holder things out of balsa wood to indicate which monster was represented by which chip on the board. It was one of our earliest attempts at a “gamer game” so it was clunky at best – so it got abandoned in favour of other games that we could build from the ground up, instead of having to try to strip things away and see if it still worked out. We were focused mostly on Scene of the Crime in an effort to get that in front of a publisher, so adieu, Dr. Knizia. Maybe some of your cool mechanics will be used in other games.

Contract Game – Based on the theory of lowballing to get awarded contract and then trying to fulfill it under budget, this was set in a fantasy realm where there were Giants used as cranes, Mermaids used as plumbers, etc. I still love this concept and it may be revived for an expansion to Belfort or a game set in the same world.

MMA Card Game – As a martial artist and BJJ competitor, I love mixed martial arts (MMA). As a game designer, I love card games. So I figured, I could combine the two together! It never really came of anything, because Jay wasn’t interested much, so it kind of just sat there. We generally focus our energy on games that we’re both keen on. I am currently talking to my training partner and video game designer, Tim Fields, about doing an online Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game that’s turn-based, so concepts from here could get used in that game.

Pants on Fire – A case of a title coming before a game. Honestly, that’s happened a fair bit with us! We get enthralled by a title that is evokative. And quicker than you can say “Train of Thought!”, a new game is born. Not so with Pants on Fire, however. We just never figured this one out – we wanted to make a trick taking game, but this didn’t flow. And now that there is another game with the same title, this one will probably never be completed.

Heroes – This one has kind of gone through a few conceptual changes between spies and superheroes and organized crime and zombies and other things. We have a really, really interesting concept of how to do a map-based game with no real movement. We have a “patrol zone” concept that we really like. Jay was leery of doing a superhero-based game without having access to existing licensed characters and we were investing more time into Belfort at the time. There are definitely concepts and mechanics from this game that will get another look.

And last, and definitely least…

The Dig – Ah, our albatross. This one just didn’t work. Too mathematical/procedural. It just didn’t play like it did in our heads. We wanted a game that rewarded co-operation and sharing and pooling of resources, that still had a single winner in the end. Let’s just say that this isn’t that game. This isn’t even a game – it is an exercise in frustration. We still like the theme of digging for treasures, but this will take a lot of work to get a game out of it.

Wow.

Just reviewing them makes me think very fondly of a few of them in particular and makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just make some of the ones that Jay and I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on to get them to Beta Stage and then involve Jay to do the refinement.

Essentially, that’s what happened with Akrotiri – though it was not through disinterest. Jay had the idea and it intrigued him so much that he started to work on it solo in BC and had a quick proto done in a day or two. In his making of the proto, it not only allowed me to play it and become more interested in it, it progressed the game faster and faster until it reached a solid Gamma format in very little time.

There are many times where one of us fail to be super-interested in a game until the prototype is made – and that is often the most difficult part of the process. To invest all that time, effort, and sometimes money into making a prototype that you’re not hyped about can be tough, especially when there’s all sorts of other cool ideas floating around in your head. But if one person on the team believes strongly that there’s a good game in there somewhere, maybe that person should go solo and make the proto. To paraphrase Field of Dreams, if one makes it, the other will play! And if the other plays, he may actually like it enough for both of us to invest more time and effort into developing it.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years of designing games, it’s this: when in doubt, make a proto. You will find out if there’s a game to be had quicker than you will bandying ideas about in your head or online. Making the prototype is DEFINITELY the key phase in taking a game from concept to reality.

Concepts are good because they’re fluid – nothing’s written in stone. But a prototype is more hands on, more engaging, more understandable. There are visual and tactile components that, like a rug, tie everything together. People can’t play a game that only exists in your head, even if it’s the best game ever!

So, if you’ve got an idea for a game, just get to work and make a proto. What have you got to lose?

Step 5: What Comes First: Theme or Mechanic?

I don’t think we even need to discuss where ideas come from. If you’re really looking for game ideas (and many times when you’re not) you will find them in almost everything. Eventually, when people know that you like to design board games, you’ll find that they often recommend turning a current situation you’re in with them into a board game.

Some people have asked what comes first though – is it the theme or the mechanic? Well there are actually a few more variables that could come first, such as: Title, Genre or Components.

Theme: I would hazard a guess that a lot of games start with the theme. “Hey wouldn’t it be cool if there was a game about trying to escape a mall infested with zombies?” Theme is what gives the game a unique flavour and often will help drive some of the mechanics.

I used to work for 7-11 back in the day and I remember learning that candy bar manufacturer’s pay more money to 7-11 to be placed on the top shelf, instead of a lower one. Makes sense – and it was the theme I liked that motivated us to make our very first finished board game called Top Shelf. It’s never been published, but it still has its place in our history of game design as being our first design! With just that theme we came up with a tile placement game where you’re trying to make matches to get more of your product sold than your competitors.

I showed Top Shelf to a company at a convention and they liked it enough and asked us to send them a prototype. They asked us to take the theme out of the game and just make it a completely abstract game as that was the kind of publisher they were. We obliged but as we did so I felt the game lost some of its magic. Possibly that’s just me as I’m more of a fan of theme-based games than abstract games that have no or minimal theme. I like to feel like the game is telling a story as we’re playing it.

Mechanic: Sometimes we come up with a mechanic first – like tile laying, pick up and deliver, resource management etc… As we fine tune some of the concepts, we throw around some possible themes that might fit. Eventually we lean more to one theme and progress from there.

I had this idea for a tile laying game that had some pick up and deliver mechanics to it. As I started to develop it I made it about delivering various meats on something I called a Smokeboat. Later as the game kept improving we moved the theme over to the Greek Islands and the game became Santorini. It still has the pick up and deliver mechanic but it fits much better with the theme.

Title: Sometimes you come across a title and you think,

“Dang, that should be the name of a board game!” Well, I think that at least! For us we’ve had these titles way before designing any aspect of the theme or mechanic: Pants on Fire (seemed like it would be a great game with bluffing), Mage vs. the Machine (seemed like a cool battle game concept),Hog the Remote (seemed like some sort of quick reaction game about TV) . Some of these made it to prototype phase and Hog the Remote has ever been to a couple publishers already. We actually have a thread on our forum dedicated to possible game titles.

Genre: Since we’re trying to be as well rounded as possible when it comes to designing board games, we want to explore every possible genre of games: kids/family, dexterity, Euro-strategy, war simulation, party games. In my other spare time I work as a children’s entertainer as a character named Bertolt. I thought it would be great if Bertolt had a game of his own. So we set out to create our first kid’s game. We toyed with an idea about Bertolt packing clothes for a trip, but it didn’t work. We then came up with this concept of quick reaction mixed with audible clues. It turned into Bertolt’s Jungle Jam. Eventually it became just Jungle Jam when we pitched it to publishers as they wouldn’t know who the heck Bertolt was. Currently it has been retitled again as it shares the name with a game that was in a court battle against Jungle Speed. We don’t want to be associated with that at all! But our game does actually involve making jam, so we’re now calling it Jam Slam. It’s currently in the semi-finals of a contest for best Canadian Game Design!

Game Components: This is more rare, but it’s possible an entire game can be started because of seeing something you’d like to see in a game. Often Sen and I will go to school supply stores and just walk up and down the aisles. Those stores are great because they often have things in the main primary colours – and in huge quantities. One great example is seeing these miniature coloured popsickle sticks at a dollar store. We bought them for no reason except they seemed like they could be cool.

These sticks have sat in our supply box for a couple years doing nothing. Then just about a month ago I had this idea on how to use these sticks in a game. We’ve spent the last couple of weeks working hard on it and we’ll need to spend many more to get the balance just right, but we’re excited about our new game, possibly called Rune Masters.

So there is no correct answer as to what should come first when designing a game. I think that’s part of what makes designing board games so interesting. Anything can get you started about making a game.

Starting with this post I’m going to add some Game Design Challenges. If you want to flex your designer muscles then give them a whirl. The goal is to be a more well rounded game designer who is able to design any game if requested (imagine having that job?!).

-Jay Cormier

This post brings back a lot of great memories, but even moreso, it brings to light an important aspect of our design philosophy. The “V” from your MVP mnemonic – being able to see the possibilities in all sorts of things and to be able to take the mundane, turn preconceived notions on their ears, and make something fun out of a bunch of cubes and a piece of cardboard is what game design is all about. And then, from that sandbox-type free-for-all, being able to reign things in and create a viable ruleset…wow. It’s a process, but a great one.

-Sen-Foong Lim
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Write a description of 5 possible games. Each game should start from a different point: Theme, Mechanic, Title, Genre and Component. You don’t have to design the actual game or even any rules, just write a sentence or two about how each would work.