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.

 

 

Codenames

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.

 

 

Norsaga

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.

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Writing Effective Adaptations, Part 3

Adapting other media into tabletop games can be quite rewarding if done well.  Trying to do it well has its pitfalls as well:

Carl Klutzke related this story in the comments section: “Several years ago when I went to the Game Developers Conference, I met some folks from Disney Interactive who were tasked with making computer games from Disney’s IP. They really wanted to do good work, but their management just wanted them to crank out something fast, because they knew the game would get bought whether it was good or not. They were some very frustrated people.”

Gentle reader, it would be nice to reassure you that these poor designers were in an unusual situation. There isn’t. A similar experience arose while I was dealing with a certain IP.  They were eager to see their characters and setting on game shelves but expected no more than a couple of weeks design time.  Rushing the product to market, to cash in and get out, seemed to be their only goal.  Since my desire was to create lasting products, I withdrew.  Carl’s tale of these poor souls implies to me that it was wise to do everything possible can to avoid falling into their situation.

So how does the modern game designer go about creating a quality adaptation?  Here is my process.  It may not work exactly right for you but should demonstrate a framework you can adapt it to fit your process.

 

 

Go To School

Learn all the characters, learn its tone, its pace, its structure.  Immersing oneself in the property is a common game designer technique.

TagonRuns.pngWhen developing a game for Howard Tayler’s Schlock Mercenary, I went back to the comic’s archives.  I read every episode.  At my side sat my trusty design journal, steadily filling with notes on characters, plots, recurrent themes, tone.

Then I read them again.  And again, always looking for details I may have missed.

 

The Game Emerges

You have a large vocabulary of game types and game mechanisms.  You have an encyclopedic knowledge of the source material.  Send your brain to swim through all that knowledge.  Let mechanism and theme, plot and type swirl together in your mind.  Look for the big picture. Allow the details to remain blurry.  From this interplay of ideas, your designer’s eye will see game potentials emerge.

After my second reading of Schlock Mercenary, I saw that stories were usually mission-based.  My game would need to have a mission-based structure.  Players would likely want to play their favorite characters from the comic.  Could this game be fully cooperative?  The mercenary team Tagon’s Toughs was filled with practitioners of enlightened self-interest–How about partially cooperative?

In the end, three different treatments of Schlock Mercenary were written.

 

 

The Proposal

Armed with a good general plan for your treatment of the game, it is time to run this plan past the creators.  You will need them behind it–talking your work up, promoting the game, building anticipation among his or her fans.  Besides, there’s little sense in putting hours into developing a design the IP holder rejects.

My publisher and I discussed the the three different treatments and selected one as having the best potential.  From there, I created a three-page proposal.  This proposal covered the game’s core engagement and showed a component concepts.  Clip art pulled from the Schlock Mercenary website was all we needed to convey the general idea.

 

 

Development

Supported by the creator’s blessing, launch into the development process.  Create, test, edit, test more, create more, test more.

Ideally, you will find test groups that are already familiar with the source material. Alternatively, persuade your test group to become familiar with the source material.  If neither are possible, proceed anyway.  It will be a bit more difficult but so long as you keep service of the source in mind, you will still be on course.

We tested the game twice a week for a year, constantly making adjustments.  We deliberated over its best and worst features.  We deliberated over the best parts of the Schlock story to focus on and which parts to shift into the background.  

After that year of development, we had a game in which every mechanism worked exactly as intended.  We had a game in which every major part of the Schlock Mercenary universe was features.  

Unfortunately, we also had a game which was rote, repetitive, and lacking in drama. We had a bad game.

 

 

Contingency Plans

Part of any successful artist’s process is the ability to learn from mistakes.  Some ideas simply don’t work.  We all have them.  We all find ourselves facing a problem that is completely unsolvable.  Be reassured that you are among good company.  Remember Albert Einstein’s assertion that 99% of his ideas were bad.  Accept that your best solution will sometimes be to back up and attack the problem from a completely different angle.

Howard Tayler and I were scheduled for a progress meeting at Gen Con.  At that meeting, I had the uncomfortable responsibility of sharing with him what I have already shared with you–that the game wasn’t fun.  He didn’t want his name on it and neither did I.

This could have been the end of the story.  It isn’t.  I went on to tell Howard about a skirmish system I’d been developing–the TacDice System–which was testing particularly well.  We discussed making the Schlock Mercenary game more compact, of focusing the game around the dramatic (and frequently ridiculous) fight sequences of his comic.  We played a skirmish using my proto and Howard enjoyed it.  We had a new plan and went to work from there.

When Schlock Mercenary: Capital Offensive released, both critics and fans received it positively.  We had succeeded in serving Mr. Tayler’s property faithfully and in making a good game.

 

And then I approached the great team at Greater Than Games about our interest in creating a similar TacDice game for their excellent Sentinels of the Multiverse property and Sentinel Tactics was born.

 

The road to success is a toll road.  Our failures are the toll.  Accept them and keep always moving forward.

 

 

What do you feel is most important quality for an adaptation? What’s your favorite adaptation? Have you written one? How did you go about 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.