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.


Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 3

The Story So Far…

A new microgame is in development.  Duel supports two players, each with a deck of about 20 cards.  The game ends when a deck runs out.  The player controlling the majority of a 3×3 grid wins.


APE Games Introduction

Duel had undergone about a half dozen tests when Kevin Brusky–Mister APE Games–came by our Monday playtest session.  As the publisher of both duck! duck! GO! and Rolling Freight, we have an excellent working relationship. He was there to check on the progress of a game I’m developing for APE and to provide feedback on the other prototypes floating around the design group.

While he was there, I used the opportunity to give him a brief overview of the microgames I was developing.  This one stood out for him.  It could be sold at a low price point, was highly portable, and engaging.

Could it be expanded? Why yes, yes it could.  the current playtest set is entirely symmetrical but that was never its final intention.  The next logical step is to create even more sets, each of which has its own flavor but could be played against any other one.

We began brainstorming matchups that could go into a two pack–Pirates vs. Sea Monsters, Dungeon Crawl Characters vs. Fantasy Trope Monsters, Ninjas vs. Samurai, Aliens vs. Military, Zombies vs. Survivors, Werewolves vs. Vampires, Golden Age Superheroes vs. Supervillains, Kaiju vs. Giant Robots, historical wars like Hannibal vs. Rome or British vs. Zulu or Waterloo.  We also discussed a few others that might be fun to play with even if we didn’t yet know who to match them with–Chibi Anime Characters, Film Noir, 90s Action Movies.

news_rarrrIn the end, we decided to focus on archetypes which would be quickly recognizable and mechanisms which would support these archetypes.  Zombies vs. Survivors has seen plenty of coverage and I want to explore new ground so that pairing was set aside.  APE just released the RARRR!! Kaiju game so Kaiju vs. Giant Robots was also set aside.  The first deck sets selected to create would be Pirates vs. Sea Monsters and Kung Fu Masters vs. Shogunate Warriors.


Brainstorm: A New Action

Before diving into these new themed decks, there was a larger issue to tackle.  The game needed an extra dash of…something.  I wasn’t sure what yet.  Each time I’d played the game, a part of my mind was begging for another option, a new action which would give the game a bit more tactical depth.  A couple days of journaling identified a missing action–movement.

Here is the relevant journal excerpt: “As an option on your turn, you may move a [card] one space orthogonally.  With this rule, I can create units that can move further, move diagonally, jump, cannot move at all, etc.”

This change also opened up the endgame.  The new endgame rule became “if you have exhausted your deck and hold 3 (or fewer) cards at the beginning of your turn, you may declare the game over.”


A Shout Out For Microgames!

Boardgamegeek user Odd Hackwelder contacted me recently.  He runs the Microgames Facebook Group which I checked out and can say is pretty darned cool.  Those of you interested in Microgame design should direct your browser there and give it a look.


Next time, we look at how powers were created for the game and their implementation into the first set of themed decks.  See you Friday!


What’s your favorite Microgame?  What do you like best about it?  Have you written one? How did your players respond to it?  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.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.

Using Playtester Feedback, part 3

Playtesters are the sole authority of their own experience.  There is not a single person in existence better qualified to comment on the player’s experience than the player herself.  We designers need our playtesters to share their experiences with us.  It is critical to gather as much of these as possible.

It would be ideal if our playtesters could state exactly what issue they see in our design.  In that case, they could point us directly where we need to put our eyes.  Unfortunately, that will seldom be the case.  Be mindful that playtesters are not generally experienced designers.  They know what they like (or don’t) but they may not be able to fully articulate why they like it.  This is not to say in any way that their feedback isn’t useful but instead to emphasize the role of playtest data as an indicator.  This is why it’s so very important to ask follow-up questions.

I recommend that your follow-up questions should be structured along the lines of “What is the issue you’re seeing” or “how would your change address that issue” or “let me say this back to see if I’m fully understanding you”  and “What if the game (had/didn’t have) _____. Do you think that would address the issue?”


Sarah Aronson Uses Her Feedback
Writer Sarah Aronson related her relationship with feedback in a 2012 post on Through the Tollbooth.  She says that the feedback she receives points her to what is working, to what is not working, to the seeds of good ideas which need watering and a bit of TLC.  Aronson used her next post to share some of her key questions: where are the hooks that pull you in?  Is the plot balanced? What were the most memorable moments?  How was the pacing?  How was the length?


Daniel Solis Listened Beyond the Comments

Designer buddy Gil Hova is one of the folks I consulted while working out my thoughts for this series.  He referenced a blog post by Daniel Solis in which Daniel laid out his process for evaluating playtester feedback.  Daniel says near the end of the article “I didn’t end up using any of these new suggestions directly, but instead tried to suss out what those suggestions were trying to fix. They were trying to make early choices matter.” Again, playtester feedback may not be the solution but it is a valuable indicator.


Gil Hova Listened Beyond the Comments

designer_headshotGil also shared his experience applying Daniel’s approach.  Gil brought his new game Primetime (which is excellent by the way and you should plan to buy a copy as soon as it drops) to a gamer con and showed it around.  The first two groups each told him that it was boring to have so much money but little to do with it.  “I should be able to spend money to X,” they said where X was any number of player options.

Gil stepped back and asked what underlying problem might lead to these comments.  His conclusion: it was not a problem of too few options for the money, it was a problem of too much money!  He tightened the game economy up drastically and the game began to sing.


An Enhancement For Rolling Freight

Rolling Freight came with us to BGG.Con a few years ago, shortly before it went to the printer.  This would be our last chance to get outside feedback, to look for loopholes in the rules and the like.  One of the players mentioned that improvements lost value over the course of the game and that they should therefore get cheaper as the game proceeds. Through three years of development, this idea had never occurred to any of us–what an awesome idea!

That idea had to be left out of the core set.  Rolling Freight was already a bit rules-heavy and I was concerned that the extra rule would have been the straw that broke the camel’s proverbial.  But I held on to it.  And I put it in Expansion #1: Great Britain/India.  And it will appear in Expansion #2: Austro-Hungarian Empire/Mexico as well.  A huge breakthrough. All for the low low price of listening to a playtester.


The last three columns have been devoted to my thoughts on the relationship between designers, playtesters, and their feedback.  This topic–like core engagement–is an essential tool in the designer’s toolbox.  It is one to which we will often return.  The phenomenal Julia Cameron who we can imagine knows a thing or two about the creation as she has been an author, artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, and journalist remarked in her book The Artist’s Way that

“All too often too often we try to push, pull, outline and control our ideas instead of letting them grow organically. The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.”

Researching this series led me to evolve my position as each new source made it progressively clearer that this is a broad concept with no simple answers.  Reading your comments led me to adjust my position as each new response made it progressively clearer that we all will have our own take on the issue.  Writing this series has matured me as a designer.  I hope that in reading it, you have too.


If you’re near the west coast this weekend, I have the honor of attending Protospiel San Jose.  Grab your prototype and drop by. I’d love to see you there! 🙂


How do you playtest?  What sorts of feedback are you seeking?  Do you give directed instructions or do you encourage testers to explore your game?  How do you record your data?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create and account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.