Dramatic Structure For The Modern Game Designer, Part 1

Good writers know that stories need good pacing.  They also understand that there is no one correct pace. Each story requires its own pace.  Think about the best movies you’ve seen, the best television shows you’ve watched, the best music concerts you’ve attended, the best standup comedy you’ve heard, the best meal you’ve eaten.  Each of them has a pace which maximized your experience.

Good game designer is the same.

A Brief Overview

Our understanding of dramatic structure begins with Aristotle’s observations in his text Poetics.  It was here that he asserted tragedy must have a beginning, a middle and an end.  The beginning–prologue and parados–is for exposition, to introduce the major players and their interrelationships.  The middle was filled by alternating short scenes–episodes–and songs–stasimon.  The end–exodus–brings resolution to the story.

A modern view of the three-act structure uses the first act not only for exposition and introductions but also to confront the protagonist(s) with a major event.  The protagonist is now moved (or even forced) to respond.  Big Jake’s grandson has been kidnapped.  Walter White has cancer and no way to pay for his treatment.  Alex Parrish has been framed for a terrorist attack.

Three act

Image from Lydia Kang

The second act is filled with rising action.  Will Luke rescue princess Leia?  Will Ellen kill Herod and thereby avenge her murdered father?  Will Inigo find and defeat the six-fingered man?  Will Simon steal the statue or will Nicole’s father’s forgery be detected?  The protagonist usually begins the second act unable to resolve this issue.  She must learn new skills, build new alliances, or find new strength within herself.

Resolution arrives in the third act.  All forces are brought together into a focal point.  The protagonist faces her greatest challenges.  Dramatic questions from the second act are answered.  The protagonist achieves a new sense of her abilities and her identity.  Cage has defeated the alien invasion by becoming the hero the world needed him to be.  Rocky Balboa has lasted 15 rounds with Apollo Creed and embraces his beloved Adrian.  Batman defeats his surrogate father Ducard and rescues Gotham City.

Kenneth Thorpe Rowe justifies the three act structure beautifully in Write That Play (1939) by asserting that it is “clearly more basic to the fundamental structure of a dramatic action than Horace’s five. There is an attack, a crisis, and a resolution. . . . There is a natural symmetry and balance with adequate flexibility inherent in the three-act form, with the first act introductory and springing the attack, the second act developing the action to the crisis, and the third act for the resolution.

Extending the Three-Act Structure to a Game

In a game, the player is the protagonist.  This makes every part personal.  It is you who is confronted with challenges.  It is you who must learn new (in-game) skills and build new (in-game) alliances.  It is you who must overcome your greatest challenges (often in the form of the other players).  

Is a three-act structure a useful model for games?  I believe that it is.

DOOM consumed many hours of my college life.  Its play was more compelling than any action game I’d seen before.  And its play follows the three-act structure fairly closely.

DOOM Act 1 (exposition and introductions, you are forced to respond): What is that? Hey–it wants to kill me!  Hey–everything wants to kill me!  Hey–even the green water wants to kill me!

DOOM Act 2 (learn new skills, finds new strength within yourself):  I see better and better weapons.  I’m learning to strafe.   I’m pushing forward and defeating all of these nasty and disagreeable creatures!

DOOM Act 3 (final conflict and resolution):  That is one nasty level boss!  This is the moment I’ve been playing for.  I have bigger guns.  I have sharper skills.  Either I will destroy that monster or it will destroy me!
Zong Shi is a worker placement game I began developing in 2004.  My design skills were less sophisticated than they are today but I happened to stumble my way to a three-act structure.

Zong Shi Act 1 (exposition and introductions, you are forced to respond): Players draft starting material and event cards. Players decide which projects to build first.

Zong Shi Act 2 (learn new skills, finds new strength within yourself): Completed projects give each player special powers.  Secrets of alchemy enable players to trade one material type for another.

Zong Shi Act 3 (final conflict and resolution):  Players push for endgame.  Any player with a sixth project completed triggers the endgame but final victory is in the point value of those projects.
So some games do exhibit a three-act structure.  And as time goes by, I find it increasingly useful to look at each design from this point of view.  Must every game fit this structure?  I don’t think that’s necessarily the case but if a game does deviate from this structure, it should do so deliberately and thoughtfully.

In part 2 of this article, we look at how to maximize the impact of your game by mapping its tension.  We will also look carefully at maximizing the quality of playtime in games.

What do you think of the three-act structure in games?  Would you pace games differently?  Did I miss a step?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Great References

This series been one of the most effort-intensive articles I’ve yet written.  Three sources were particularly valuable.  Jennine Lanouette wrote an excellent summary of the history of the three-act form for a post on Screentakes, her defense of the form in this later post, and Wikipedia’s article on the three-act structure was also a valuable resource.


Taking It Further

Valley of the Kings AfterlifeTodd Rowland of AEG did a video at Gen Con 2015 with W. Eric Martin, showing off  Valley of the Kings: Afterlife. In describing the game, he called it an “expandalone.” This term was entirely new to me but what a delightful compound word it is–a perfect description for game expansions which can also be played without its core set.

Ava Jarvis and I begin discussing this concept and through this discussion, we came upon a range of ways to build upon an existing game.  In the industry, we generally lump all of these ways under the generic term “expansion” but palpable differences exist between the types. Today’s article is an attempt to begin codifying those differences and to assign a term to each.

Caylus Premium EditionReskins

Because they involve no rule changes or new components, reskins are the lightest type.  Most reskins are fan projects and there are some great ones out there such as the 8-Bit Mario version of That’s Life. Some are official versions, as in the case of Mike Doyle’s gorgeous Caylus Premium Edition.


What about the case in which a designer revisits an earlier work, changes the theme, and also introduces new components or rules?  These are the rethemes.  

A retheme is more than a reskin because it offers new play through new rules or new components. Rethemes are not extensions because they are ready to play out of the box.  Rethemes are not expandalones either; they are not cross-compatible with their forebears.

Let’s take Reiner Knizia’s Schotten Totten as an an example.  In 2008 he rethemed Schotten Totten into a movie tie-in for Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.  Each game stands alone.  Each is clearly built on the same engine but they are not cross-compatible.

Michael Schacht’s China is similarly a retheme for Schacht’s earlier Web of Power.

Another good example of retheming is in the many licensed versions of Risk.  Its core mechanism has proven flexible enough to support Star Wars, Doctor Who, and even Plants vs. Zombies.


Extensions are small additions to an existing game.  This could be a couple of new cards to play, a new character to play, a new treasure to collect, but no fundamentally new ways to play. A single booster pack in a Magic: the Gathering set would be an extension for that set since it extends that set without introducing introducing any mechanisms unique to it.  The expansions section of the BGG Store is filled with further examples of extensions.


For me to be willing to call something an expansion, it’s got to offer a new way to play the game.  There don’t have to be a large number of bits but there needs to be a great deal of play.   It is weight of play caused by these changes which makes them expansions, not the weight of the box in which they arrive.

vEXATION eXPANSIONThe Vexation expansion for Transamerica/Transeuropa consisted solely of 18 wooden links in player colors and a small set of directions–but what a difference this modest addition made!

The first expansion maps for Rolling Freight introduced multiple new mechanisms–canals, caravan routes, and dropping prices.  If these were new maps without correspondingly new rules, they would be extensions.


And now we return to the beginning of this piece, the awesome expandalone. Like the pop idol on any teenager’s wall, expandalones are what all designers dream of creating. And why not? It is at the same time an expansion of gameplay for experienced players and an introduction for new ones, marketable to fan and neophyte alike.

Valley of the Kings Afterlife
coined the term for me but other expandalones immediately come to mind; Dominion: Intrigue, Ascension: Heroscape MarvelDawn of Champions, and any preconstructed theme deck for Magic: the Gathering.  Card games utilizing deck construction clearly lend themselves to to the creation of expandalones but the list needn’t end there.  The Heroscape Marvel tie-in is a wargame expandalone, for instance.

It’s a big world of boardgames.  that world is multiplicatively bigger when designers and publishers expand, extend, recycle, and repurpose their games.  And this was an attempt to codify these works.

What do you think of this spectrum?  Would you classify game expansions differently?  Did I miss a category?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress (https://wordpress.com/) and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Seen and Heard

Hello everyone!  Today, rather than taking on any one specific topic, it seems like a nice time to dance around a bit and look at everything that’s passed through recently.  

Primal Games–the Meme?

Reader Reed Berkowitz took my post on primal games one step further by creating a meme pick to support it.  Here’s the picture and you can check out his twitter feed here.

Primal Game Design

Tuning In To Kickstarter

Most everyone I know has hit some form of Kickstarter fatigue.  Despite that, this week saw two you should definitely check out. I playtested both and found both to be loads of fun.

Take Out The Papers and the Trash

Garbage Day first landed on our game table a few years ago.  Shane Willis had a delightful dexterity game and was sure to do well if it could only find a manufacturer that could fabricate its plastic garbage can.  He found that manufacturer in Mayday Games. If dexterity games are your thing, be sure to take a look at this one.

Garbage Day Proto

Television Programming: the Home Game

Regular readers know I first saw The Networks about 18 months ago.  It was a solid game then and in the interim, Gil Hova only made it better.  It’s a hoot!  It’s a game by Gil Hova.  Is there really anything else to say?

The Networks

Well, I Made the Big Time At Last.

Although I knew negotiations were in the works, I had no Idea Barnes & Noble had moved forward.  Game Developer and all-around snazzy dude John Eyster spotted duck! duck! SAFARI! on the shelves and sent this pic by way of proof.


I’ve been trying to break into a mass outlet for some time and making it to B&N is the first breakthrough.  Now to extend this inroad…

How about you?  What exciting games have you seen lately?  What wonderful tales do you have to tell?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Primal Games

Primal games are so clean, so clear, that they seem ancient even when they’re new.  

Go is primal.  Its rules are immeasurably concise while its components are simplicity itself.  So are Blokus, GIPF, and Qwirkle–AKA Scrabble for cavemen.

Chess is not primal.  Its rules are littered with patches–en passant springs to mind.  Furthermore, its components fail to justify their existence–consider how many equally good abstract games start by changing the pieces of chess.

Primal games needn’t be trivial or simple however.  Consider for instance that while Deep Blue defeated Yuri Kasparov in 1997, organic Go masters are still undefeated by their silicon counterparts.

It can be difficult to overcome the desire to add a twist here or a wrinkle there.  Nobody But Us Chickens has been my best attempt so at this style far and even it has a few too many twists to truly call it primal.

Or is it that no one truly creates primal games?  Have they truly always existed?  Are their designers uncovering them rather than creating them?  Modern artists in the twentieth century faced such dismissive accusations as well.  Elegance is hard work.  It’s even harder work to make things look easy.

So where do we begin?  Where does a person begin when setting out to create primal games?  Dominic Crapuchettes once asserted that every rule in a game should fight to justify its existence.  What if you took that attitude further–to insist that every game element, every rule, every component–justify its existence?  I believe this would be right way to start.

Adopting this mindset can be a major challenge.  Us designers generally start charmed by game structures.  We want to create our own structures, to impress other game aficionados with our clever mechanisms, to spread our flourishes across the hobby like magic dust.  But to create a primal game is to deliberately step into the background, to create an experience so pure that it feel more as if it always existed rather than being a contemporary product.

I’m absolute rubbish at writing primal games but I enjoy playing them and admire the style of any designer that can pull them off.  Please show me how it’s done.

How about you?  What’s your favorite primal game?  What game came close but didn’t quite make it?  Have you created a primal game?  what was your process?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Having Something to Say

My annual pilgrimage to Gen Con harvests bushel upon bushel of ideas. I generally meet with at least six publishers and shoot for ten. Each is looking for games to fit certain needs and I want to supply as many of those as possible.  We do a large amount of brainstorming, looking for the best idea to fit each need. If we find something promising, it becomes my job to take that idea home and develop it.

As I work to develop these ideas into worthy games, some energize me while others drag me down.  This led me to a discovery about myself – not necessarily a good thing – to really get a project moving, it has to have something to say.

What does that mean?

It means that the game has to go someplace new. It has to speak up for itself and say you haven’t seen this before or you may have seen this before but I’m doing it better.  Offering anything less leaves me feeling more photocopier than designer.

For example, my first published game reverted to me about a year ago and started searching for a new home. While I’m still proud of this game as it is, I also challenged myself to recreate it. Twelve years of experience let me look at the game in new ways. This was where the project began to have something to say–it wanted new play experiences from the same core experience.

This understanding guided the brainstorming which followed. We focused on ideas that updated play and scoring mechanisms. I created several different prototypes, each with these ideas in mind. Of course most of these prototypes failed.  Some were flat, which is bad, while others were convoluted, which is even worse.  But because I knew what the game wanted to say, it was much easier to spot the prototypes that had real potential.  And out of this, one solid contender emerged.  Today, that contender is in the queue with a major publisher.  Because it has something to say.

To be clear, innovative elements alone do not give a game something to say.  I’ve seen hundreds of eurogames with creative–even baroque–elements that still saying nothing. For a game to say something, its elements have to serve its core engagement. It has to energize players. It has to feature interesting decisions. It has to flow.

So what does all of this have to say about me?  Am I artist or elitist?  Visionary or fool?  Honest or hung up?  I’m not entirely sure.  

How about you?  What does it take to get you excited about playing a new game?  What does it take to get you excited about writing a new game?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Gen Con 2015 After Report

GenCon Intro“The best four days in gaming” they call it and I cannot disagree. GenCon 2015 was last weekend.  It’s a great opportunity to get broad data on the whole of the industry, to see the direction each company is taking, to see some old friends, and to make new ones.

Through the experience, we featured three games and saw a number of other interesting ones.  Here are some of the highlights from Indianapolis.



Sentinel Tactics

Luther took the lead with Sentinel Tactics this year while I focused on Dragon Tides.  His coverage will be appearing here soon. Here’s a picture to tide you over…

ST Tourney
The Sentinel Tactics tournament, going strong.



Dragon Tides

There’s an annual horror story at Gen Con–the critical game that arrived late or not at all. APE Games was the recipient of this dubious distinction last year when the entirety of their booth waited until opening day to arrive. Luther and I were immeasurably relieved to see that we were not this year’s candidate. Our printers proofs of Dragon Tides arrived and we could finally share it with the world.

Whole the Sentinel Tactics tournament progressed, a steady stream of players was experiencing Dragon Tides for the first time.

DT 1  DT 2

Immeasurable gratitude must be given to these fine folks for taking DT out for a spin. It was a blast taking them on, even if they did mow through my minions like the veritable thresher through wheat.



Rolling Freight

The second expansion for Rolling Freight will be coming soon. Gen Con’s Puffing Billy tournament created the perfect opportunity to share these maps with rail enthusiasts.

For you designers out there, Expansion #2 is a good example of listening to public demand. We saw a large number of requests on the message boards for two-player maps and for faster-playing maps. These maps–one for Mexico, one for the Austro-Hungarian empire–were created specifically to respond to these demands.



Formal Ferret Games

Gil Hova’s came down with a major mental affliction last year when he announced his intention to self publish.  It was then that Formal Ferret Games was born.  With all teasing aside, Gil has already revealed some remarkable designs.  Gil was tireless at Gen Con, dashing here to show his solid eurogame Battle Merchants from Minion Games, scampering there to preview his new pharmaceutical pitch game Bad Medicine, and clambering over there to preview his television programming game The Networks.  I’ve played them all and am humbled to see how good each one is.

Gil Hova

Gil Hova teaches Battle Merchants to a rapt audience.


Quartermaster General Expansion

The core set of Quartermaster General was one of my final purchases at Gen Con last year. We liked it so much that their Air Marshal expansion pack was one of my first. If you enjoy card-driven wargames, definitely give it a try.



But Wait, There’s More!

BWTMJay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim are neat-o guys so it follows that they would create a neat-o party game. Put simply, players have to make pitches for products in the late night infomercial vein. Each product must include special features in their pitch–the eponymous “but wait, there’s more” of the game. My group enjoys this kind of game quite a bit, having already tried Ewen Cluney’s anime-TV pitch game Channel A and eagerly anticipating Gil Hova’s pharmaceutical pitch game Bad Medicine.  I’m expecting this one to be a big hit at our table.




Having played this gem only a few weeks ago, it went directly onto my MUST BUY list.  You can check out my overview of the game here.  As yet, Codenames still stands as this year’s pick for best game to play with nongamers.




I hadn’t seen its Kickstarter but the a group playing Norsaga in the boardgaming hall caught my eye and when that game wrapped, designer Kevin Bishop kindly gave me a walk through.  At its heart, Norsaga is a game of building your family tree.  At a glance, Norsaga is reminiscent of Familienbande by Leo Colvini.  However, I found Bishop’s approach clean and engaging.  I plan to pick up a copy sometime soon and take it out for a full play.



Dice CityDice City

This game was only loosely on my radar but I did get to play a brief overview.  Vangelis Bagiartakis game is at its heart a combination of Dominion with Kingsburg.  Some players compared it to Machi Koro but I found its decisions to be significantly more interesting.  The booth demo only allowed for a few short turns but that was enough to convince me that Dice City deserves a try when it comes out in October.




Those were my highlights of Gen Con 2015.  How about you?  Were you at Gen Con this year?  What stood out for you?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Gen Con 2015 Schedule

This week is that special week–the week when gamers across the country and around the world converge on Indianapolis for Gen Con. For my part, I’ll be running a number of demos and would love to see you there. Drop by for a game or simply to chat–look me up!

Dragon Tides   10:00 AM – 12:00 PM   Hall D, Table Green 56
Rolling Freight  12:00 PM – 2:00 PM    Puffing Billy Area
Dragon Tides   5:00 PM – 7:00 PM     Hall D, Table Green 57
Rolling Freight   7:00 PM – 9:00 PM    Puffing Billy Area

Rolling Freight   12:00 PM – 2:00 PM     Puffing Billy Area
Dragon Tides   6:00 PM – 8:00 PM     Hall D, Table Green 56

Dragon Tides     10:00 AM – 12:00 PM   Hall D, Table Green 56
Dragon Tides     6:00 PM – 8:00 PM     Hall D, Table Green 55

Dragon Tides     10:00 AM – 12:00 PM     Hall D, Table Green 56

Forget Your Fears

It’s a cliche but true nonetheless; gaming has brought a lot to my life.

In an effort to give back, I give talks and participate in panels at a number of conventions. These sessions tend to have titles like Networking in the Game Industry, Curating Licensed Properties, and Finding and Serving Your Core Engagement. With titles such as these, you would be right to say that our audience will be filled primarily with freshman designers.

Being new to design, attendees also tend to be a little bit timid or hesitant. That’s okay. It’s perfectly natural.

If you’re in that audience, I want to see you succeed. I really do. And so do the panelists sitting to my right and left.

Each of us begins as a beginner–a beginner who needs encouragement, support, help. We understand the position you’re in. We were there. You can depend on our sincere desire to see you succeed.

Some of us however need more. Some of us have a devil on our shoulders and we need to talk about it.

We all have them; the fears and the doubts that fight back against our own best interests. What I speak of now is bigger than that. This little bastard digs its pitchfork into your shoulder and whispers its foul lies into your ear and it must be stopped

Looking at my body of work, you might think this kind if thing came easy. Not at all.

The day of my first meeting with a major publisher that demon had me terrified. I was convinced the the scout would laugh at my work or berate me for wasting his time. Reaching out across the cellular network, Debra was the voice of reason that got me to the table.

So let’s talk about some of the most common fears and dispel them.

I didn’t bring my proto because it’s not ready to test.


51st State started with only a handful of cards and the question “is this interesting?”

Your game is ready the test the moment you have bits to move and rules to guide them. To wait longer is to waste development time.

My game isn’t good.


Be assured that every game of mine started out as bad. Many of them still are.

Playtesting is all about turning bad games into mediocre games. And turning mediocre games into okay games. And okay games into good games. And good into excellent. It’s an iterative process. If you want your game to be excellent, put your proto on the table and get to it.

No one plays/publishes this kind of game.


The only people in a position to measure your work are the people you share it with. When you decide not to share your work, you are pre-rejecting it.

Share your work with everyone. Some of them may indeed reject it. But others will love and admire it. Provided that you give them a chance.

Furthermore, it may be true that no one has published a game like yours. What if no one’s published a game like yours because no publisher has yet seen a good game like yours? You could be filling a critical gap in the gaming landscape!

My game’s theme has been done to death.


Consider what Fiasco did for role playing. Consider what Star Realms did for deckbuilding. Consider what 1960: Making the President did for political games.

Great games reinvigorate bloated genres. Make yours the best game ever to serve its theme. Success will follow.

These are the lies I hear regularly. And these are the responses I give, whether it is your demon speaking or my own.

For further encouragement, I urge you to check out Austin Kleon’s enlightening books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work.

What are the lies your fears tell? How did you move past them? What did you learn from the experience? Share with your fellow readers in the comments below. And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog. If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

New Games (to me)

Like the town cobbler whose children go barefoot, being a game designer often means that you don’t play any games.

Last weekend was a reprieve from this sorry condition, a little break from design and just play. Or so I thought. It seems that even when taken out of the workshop, the steady stream of analysis continues.

These are the new (to me) games I played and what I thought of their design.


AquaSphereStefan Feld is known for introducing one pivotal element into each game and wrapping myriad scoring opportunities around it. AquaSphere obeys that format. In this case, the principal mechanism is ousting the previous player’s pawn when an area is selected. Your pawn goes in its place and the previous one goes to a holding area. Should too many pawns be in the holding area, some get returned to the owner’s play mat. And did I mention that getting pawns *off* your mat is one of the ways you score? This element gives AquaSphere a direct competitive element most eurogames lack. It will be interesting to see if other euro-style designers make this a trend. If so, we may see a revitalization of the style.


CodenamesIs there anything Vlaada Chvatil can’t do? I mean really! He’s brought us a co-op game, a pattern game, a fantasy exploration game, and now a partnership word game. Had I not met the man personally, it might be reasonable to accuse him of being a team acting under a single nom-de-plume.

In any case, Codenames has all the elements needed to be a breakout mainstream hit. At heart Codenames is Password meets Hollywood Squares. You give a one-word clue and a number to your partner. Your partner tries to find the words associated with that clue with the number indicating how many fit the pattern. There are a couple of small wrinkles but that’s the main point.

Unless GenCon holds a major surprise in its aisles, Codenames will be this year’s pick for best game to play with nongamers.


PanamaxBeing born in the Panama Canal Zone gave me a particular interest in all things Panamanian. Discovering that there was a meaty game about moving cargo through the canals made it a must-buy. And then it languished on my shelves. A few friends stepped up and walked me through my first play.

Panamax is essentially a rail game set in the canals. Each player has a company to manage but can buy stock in other players’ companies and thereby profit from their successes. I have believed for some time that the mechanisms of rail games needed to expand into other settings and this one is a solid example of that concept.

Guns & Steel

Guns & SteelFrank Branham introduced me to this compact Japanese game. It is thematically a civilization game centered wholly around its tech tree. The tech tree is dealt out at the beginning of the game and each player gets a starting hand of resource/technologies. Managing those cards to acquire new resource/technology cards is the heart of the game. In my mind, this game is a super-streamlined version of Innovation. Clean and well-designed, this game played well with two players and Frank stated that three was the magic number.

The Golden Ages

The Golden AgesEarly in my play, I dubbed this “Civilization: the Euro” and that’s a pretty good summary. The game plays over four eras. Players may change leaders at the beginning of each era. During eras, players compete to take control of resources on the game map, to develop technologies, and to purchase wonders. These are all recognizably elements of a Civ game. But all these activities are in the pursuit of Victory Points and this makes the entire experience undeniably “Euro.”

Have you tried any of these games?  What were your thoughts of them?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Protospiel 2015 After Report

Last weekend was the Protospiel main event, organized by all-around spiffy guy David E. Whitcher.  It’s a great opportunity to see some creative folks in action, to have them dissect my work, and to get a sense of the general trends in design.

Courtesy toward other designers’ work forbids discussing most of the games in detail, but I’ll share will all of you what I can.

Mayfair has a license to create a series of Star Trek games and Protospiel organizer David is also the author of Star Trek: Five-Year Missions.  He kindly gave us all a full playthrough.

ST Five Year Missions at PS

The Crew of the USS Protospiel

Star Trek: Five-Year Missions is a fully cooperative game.  The eponymous missions are events and players roll dice to satisfy them.  This is definitely a family game–think of it as a notch or two up in complexity from Catan and should therefore be a solid addition to the Mayfair line.

Francois Valentyne brought an excellent design which contained a tile-laying element, a pick up and deliver mechanism, and an economic element.  It’s a testament to Francois’ flair as a designer that all of these mechanisms fit into something that still qualifies a a family game.

The majority of other games at Protospiel were instead in the “gamer’s game” category–Kennerspiel candidates if you will.  Magic and magic users were a recurrent theme.  Some were abstract, as a eurogame might be.  Others were quite literal, like a magician’s duel.

Another common theme was global war a’ la Risk or Dust.  Some were serious, some were ironic–to be played only with tongue firmly placed in cheek.

Racing games were rare, although Michael Brandl brought one of which I am quite enamored.

Two of my own prototypes also hit the table this year.

The Grand Sorcery drafting game (described last column) was tested with three different groups.  Their feedback was overall positive.  Everyone agreed that the game needs more development but the flow of the game interested several players as did the multiple ways in which each card could be used.  One publisher even made an unsolicited request to see it!

Grand Sorcery at PS

Grand Sorcerers hard at play

The other game was Muster & Battle–the working title–a civilization game in the spirit of Manifest Destiny.  I’ve been developing this one for about three years and Protospiel has been a consistent touchstone throughout.  When it was little more than an alpha, it was the Protospiel crew that dissected the underlying engine.  When it was one year older, it was again the Protospiel crew which gave the critical outside opinion and helped keep it on track.  Now in late beta, the Protospiel crew again stepped up to analyze its moving parts.  I cannot imagine M&B would be half the game it is were it not for all of their assistance.

M&B at Protospiel

Muster & Battle shown here at its first Protospiel

Have you attended a Protospiel event?  How was it?  What did you learned from the experience?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.