Getting The Most From Protospiel, Part 4

The first Protospiel Houston event was last weekend. This weekend–March 21 – 23 will see another in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. More, listed at the main Protospiel page are coming soon.

Several followers asked for a report from the event.  It is a strict rule of playtester etiquette to keep every prototype you play secret unless its designer specifically gives you permission. Many details have been left out for this reason. With that disclaimer in place, here are some of the high points.



Our attendance target was 30. We had 41 attendees.  We hosted three speakers.  We successfully hosted a design challenge.

We had a great number of playtesters who attended with no affiliation to any particular designer–they were simply interested in being part of the design process and in providing helpful feedback.  

APE Games and Living Worlds Games generously donated to the event.  Without their support, we would never have been able to have Protospiel at all.  These are great companies that deserve your support.  Check out their games.


Murphy’s Law

Not everything went according to plan. Three of our scheduled attendees were not able to be with us due to circumstances far outside of their control.  We wish them well and hope everything resolves itself as soon as possible.


Lessons For Each Of Us

All creative endeavors include plenty of mistakes.  Mistakes are a good thing.  They give us an opportunity to learn, to adjust, to adapt, to improve.  Many of the best teachers and managers I’ve met refer to mistakes as “opportunities for improvement.” It seems to me that this is exactly the right mindset.  The stories which follow each showed me an opportunity to improve.  I hope you will find them useful as well.

The first game played at Protospiel Houston was Cubic Conjurers by Richard Gibbs.  This was a highly interesting spin on a few relatively common game mechanisms.  Once fully polished, this will be a solid addition to any gamer’s collection.  Interestingly, Richard did not plan to bring Cubic Conjurers out.  Lesson: give every prototype its chance on the table.  You might be surprised by the feedback you receive.

I was scheduled to give a talk at 7:00 Friday evening.  Of course, it’s hard to stay on schedule when you lose your flash drive.  One frantic dig through my email found a copy I’d shared with a proofreader.  I downloaded it and went straight to the talk.  Lesson: always have a backup.

A prototype making the rounds over the weekend was strongly simulationist.  Unfortunately, the simulation was so accurate that pure luck could catapult a player forward or leave that player far behind with no way to catch up.  Most of the feedback at the table addressed this issue.  Lesson: Always leave room for skillful play to overcome bad luck.

Another prototype which spent a great deal of time on the table looked quite a bit like a published design.  Although the designers asserted that they’d spent years developing their game and the game it resembled has also been on the market in major outlets for years, they both insisted that they’d never seen the published version.  Much of the feedback at this table focused on ways in which this design could distinguish itself from its preexisting competitor.  Lesson: Market research is essential.

Sunday morning was my chance to run a playtest of a game in development for APE Games with Mr. APE himself, Kevin Brusky.  Although many game elements are performing well, quite a few were far off the mark.  I’d fallen victim to the classic designer problem of trying to be too clever.  Rather than the clever effects I was aiming for, I’d written effects so situational as to be essentially useless. Fortunately, the playtesters spotted the problem and brought laid it out for me.  Lesson: Be prepared to rethink your ideas, particularly the “clever” ones.



Closing Thoughts

Protospiel Houston was a success.  Attendees seemed to be steadily productive.  At our most packed, every table held a game but no players were standing around waiting for space to open up. Guest speakers were well received. And we’re definitely doing it again next year. 🙂


5 thoughts on “Getting The Most From Protospiel, Part 4

  1. sirvalence says:

    I’m glad to hear it was a success. I’m looking forward to Protospiel Milwaukee this Friday… except for the part where my prototypes are never as ready as I want them to be!

  2. sirvalence says:

    Now that Protospiel Milwaukee is over, here are a couple of things that I want to remember to do for future Protospiels (including Ann Arbor in July).

    1. With the designer’s permission, take photos of all the games I test, and get the names of the designer and the game. This is just for my own purposes, not to share with the rest of the world. Many of us will bring the same designs to multiple events, and I want to be able to see them evolve, especially if they are later published.

    2. Again, with permission, get the names of everyone who tests my games, so that if the design is ever published I can give them playtest credit.

    3. Prepare a short 10-15 minute interactive demo for each of my games. There isn’t always time for a full playtest, but there might be time to show the highlights and get feedback. I had a publisher ask to look at two of my game designs, and I wasn’t prepared, so I stumbled all over myself explaining rules and mechanics rather than actually showing the game in action.

    4. Have business cards. Nothing elaborate is necessary, just a name and email address and a surface to scribble notes on. I was asked for these and didn’t have them, and that’s just sad.

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