Wednesday, April 02, 2008

GameStorm weekend

Last Wednesday I flew to Portland to visit my friend Jeremy from college and to attend GameStorm. GameStorm is a convention with lots of stuff going on, but I was only interested in 2 things, board games, and Protospiel West. In fact, I didn't do much except the Protospiel stuff for most of the weekend. Protospiel is a convention for playtesting prototypes by other designers and giving feedback. Protospiel West is being put together by Travis Ball and Mike Nickoloff from Los Angeles. Mike has a company called Sorvent which is intended to help designers get their games to market. Here's how it went:

First, I spent Thursday with Jeremy and Amelia in their apartment in Salem. We played 2 games of Pandemic, which I'd gotten them as a gift for putting me up all weekend, and Jeremy and I played some Rock Band, Culdcept Saga on the Xbox, and even drafted a couple packs of Magic. We also played a game of his design called Arena, which he'd thought up when he was in Tucson over the holidays. He'd put together a prototype and so we played a game. It took a long time, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. I'll give more details on the game later.

Friday morning Jeremy and I drove up to Portland where he has a condo they're going to move into soon. The condo is brand new, and has absolutely no furniture, so we were "urban camping" all weekend. After a stop there and a quick lunch, we ended up at the convention in time for the first Protospiel West event of the day. Both Jeremy and I played a game called Catch of the Day by Francois (I didn't catch his last name) from Canada. I'll describe the game later, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Much more than I thought I would. I also played BrainFreeze! with Jeremy, and showed Love Means Nothing to him and Francois.

In the Friday night session of Protospiel I ran Terra Prime with myself, Travis, Jeff, and Jonathan playing. The game went well, and the players seemed to like it. Many of the comments afterwards focused on things that could have improved the prototype, and about how many games should be played to test balance. Having played 50 games of Terra Prime I think the balance is pretty good. there were some good, meaty comments made as well, one in particular which I'd like to explore is making the blue and green planets in the further reaches of space produce more than 1 resource at a time. this might help increase their value. Other questions I'm pondering are whether there needs to be a VP given when someone uses your colony (though I like that, even if it doesn't necessarily do anything), or whether to change the way movement works, as some players feel that many of their actions are "wasted" moving from sector to sector.

Jeremy played Arena with Mike, and got some interesting feedback there.

Jeremy and I checked out the main board gaming room as well, and in particular we learned how to play Wabash Cannonball by watching the explanation. Since the game is short, we stuck around and played it after the first group finished. I'm not sure I love the game, but I don't think it's bad either. I don't like that the production quality is so low... I'd left the prototype room and here I was playing a game on laminated cardstock...

In the interim between some of these things I talked Jeremy into playing some Race for the Galaxy, which I know he hates, but which I though he'd like better after playing some more.

Late Friday night we played a few games of Werewolf, which is always fun. There were 32 people though, which means it's a little crazy, and people pretty much avoid logic and go by mob-rule often. Nonetheless, the first game we played I was a Werewolf, and if I do say so myself, I did a really good job :) I threw a fellow werewolf to the wolves (?) for the good of the team, and I convinced several people I was a villager... In the second game I was a werewolf again, but frankly I didn't stand a chance - partly because of he previous game, and partly because (as Jeremy noted) if I were a villager, the werewolves would likely have eaten me very early. They of course did not, and that was something of a giveaway I guess. In one other game I was a villager, and we were down to the wire - one more incorrect lynching and we would lose. It so happened that the seer knew who *2* of the werewolves were, as well as 2 villagers, but she didn't say anything! Needless to say we lost that one.

Saturday we returned and found that Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games was scheduled to meet for 15 minutes at a time with designers so they could pitch their games. I hadn't signed up, and the list was long, but the reality was that there could be time in the schedule as some people may finish early or not be there on time, and it seemed like a bad plan to pass on this opportunity to show my games to a publisher. Jay doesn't accept submissions, he'll only consider games shown to him in person. So I set up Terra Prime and Wizard's Tower on one of the tables in case I got a chance to pitch it. While we waited, we played 2 games of Wizard's Tower. First a 2 player game between me and Jeremy, and then a three player game with Jeff, another designer who had playtested Terra Prime the day before, and who had just pitched his abstract game to Jay right next to us. The 2 player game was incredibly close, a 1 point game, after Jeremy destroyed several of my towers. The 3 player game was good too, with towers destroyed all around.

Unfortunately the session ended before I got a chance to pitch my games, but Travis had set up a time in the morning for me and for Bo to meet with Jay for a longer period of time, since we each had several games to pitch. With about an hour before the next official Protospiel session started, I began to show Jeremy and Jeff my copy of Lost Adventures, the Indiana Jones game by Jeff Warrander and Steve Sisk. we went through the rules and started to play, so when the session started we just kept going. The game ran longer than I'd have thought, but we were talking and sort of messing around part of the time. The turn before the Nazis would find the temple, Jeff revealed it's location to draw some cards. This allowed me to actually dig for the temple before the Nazis found it, earning me the point for that. Jeremy and I headed into the temple with some cards in hand, while Jeff decided to hang back and draw for a few turns. Instead of leapfrogging Jeremy and entering the next room, I decided to let him blaze the trail. This turned out to be a bad idea, as he collected all of the torches strewn about the temple while I got nothing. In the end I delayed the Nazis from finding the grail for one last turn, hoping I'd have a chance to get to the grail room and find the grail, but all that did was allow Jeremy the time to get his pick (he had a 50-50 shot) of grails to a Font and test it... it turned out to be the true grail, so he scored about 5 or 6 extra points for that, finishing the game with 14 points to my 8. Jeff didn't fare as well, scoring only about 4 points. I enjoyed the game, as usual, and I think they did too. we discussed a couple ways to make it better, and the biggest comment was probably to get rid of the revelation mechanic.

At the end of the game Jay was in the room again, and I asked if he had time to look at another game. I had Homesteaders with me which I thought would be a much better fit for Rio Grande, but I wanted to use my allotted time to show him my own games. He said sure, but he had to get back to the main board game room. Unfortunately when I went over there, I couldn't find him anywhere. Meanwhile, Jeremy ran his Arena game again with 2 playtesters.

Later in the evening we saw Jay again, and he said he'd teach Stone Age to Jeremy, Jeff, and I. We had seen the game being played and got a lowdown on the rules earlier in the day, and it looked pretty cool. We sat down to play along with Rachel (the person who taught us Wabash Cannonball), and after about an hour of just talking with Jay and asking him questions, we finally began.

The next morning I didn't want to be late for my scheduled meeting with Jay, so we made sure to get there in time. I pitched Terra Prime and Wizard's Tower to him, and also talked about All For One (but I didn't have a copy with me to show him). As expected, he was not at all interested in Wizard's Tower, as it's an abstract game. However I was surprised at just how disinterested he was in Terra Prime. I'm something of a pessimist, so I didn't expect him to jump at the chance to publish it or anything, but his response was "it just doesn't excite me *shrug*" Maybe for the best, as that game is being reviewed by a different publisher at the moment anyway, so if Rio Grand was all of a sudden interested I'd have other problems.

It had been a while since Jeremy and I had been to a Magic tournament, so we decided to play in the booster draft that was on the schedule: Lorwyn-Lorwyn-Morningtide. We ended up sitting next to each other, and Jeremy passed me good red card after good red card. I passed him a number of good black cards as well. I ended up playing a mono-red deck with a lot of very good cards in it, and I won the whole thing. Frankly though, that's not saying much, as the competition wasn't exactly pro caliber or anything. After one match, my opponent mentioned that there was no need to have more creature D in the deck than your opponent has creatures, and evidently he was passing terrific creature D cards up in favor of mediocre creatures which weren't even in his main color. I didn't feel the least bit bad beating that guy.

After the Magic tournament, the convention had pretty much cleared out. There were a handful of people in the main boardgame room, but that was it. Mike had said he'd play Homesteaders with us after the Magic tournament, but he was nowhere to be found, so after getting some food, Jeremy and I ended up talking to Jay some more as he had just finished teaching Stone Age again. That guy is full of amusing stories! I told him that I had a game to show him that was likely more up his alley, and that we were going to play it as soon as Mike got back, and he said he'd take a look. When Mike arrived we set up the game and I started explaining it. Jay said he had just 1 question... could he bring a copy to the Gathering to test.


I had kinda watched Jay's reactions to the games he was looking at earlier, and he didn't seem very excited about any of them (I heard he was at least a little interested in Catch of the Day). His reaction to Homesteaders looked entirely different, he really seemed interested, and he did ask for a copy of the game to test. Now this game isn't mine, it's my friend Alex Rockwell's, but he's told me before that if I wanted to help get it published, he was all for that. So I left my copy with Jay to take with him, and I look forward to hearing his thoughts on it after the Gathering. It's a good game, and it's the kind of thing Rio Grande would publish, so maybe he'll be interested... who knows? :)

Finally, I ended my weekend by getting up at 5am to make my 7:00 flight. after 5 hours on a plane I went straight in to work, and was so tired by the time I got home that I skipped frisbee practice, fell asleep early, and slept for 11 or 12 hours straight!

I'll post some details of the games I played in another post since this one got long.


Gil said...

Hey, that sounds like it was fun!

I hope Jay got to look at TP. And I'm glad he's considering Homesteaders!

Seth Jaffee said...

Jay did look at Terra Prime. Maybe I did a bad job pitching it, but I was sensing he wasn't too interested, he asked some questions and the answers seemed to go over well so I thought he was becoming more interested - and then he said "It just doesn't excite me."

*Shrug* I was a little surprised because I thought TP was more similar to the kinds of things that Rio Grand publishes than some of the other games he was looking at.

I wasn't entirely surprised at his reaction to Homesteaders, it's more or less what I expected... the game is great, and it's clearly a "Rio Grande" style of game as it's modeled after several different Rio Grande titles. I hope he likes it enough to publish it! Alex said that the help I've been (especially if I manage to get it published for him) warrants my name on the box alongside his, so that's exciting!