Back From Essen

After many years, I have finally popped my Essen cherry.  This is a big deal for me: I first heard about the event in the early 90's, and have promised myself ever since that one day I would go, but factors including finances, time, anxiety, and cowardice have always combined in various ways to hold be back.  This year, Cubicle 7, the publisher who have signed two of my games, asked if I would like to go along and help, and my very understanding wife gave me a nudge in the right direction, so I said yes, and off we went.

I spent most of my time on the Cubicle 7 stand with their team, Dom, Jon, and Becky, who are all jolly fine people to work with.  My task was to explain the basics of the non-roleplaying games on the stand to anyone who was interested.  This was mostly focused on the new releases, Cthulhu Tales, and the preview edition of my game, Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey, but there were also three Doctor Who games that I was covering as well.  Between them, it meant that I was talking an awful lot, but it was good practice to develop concise game explanations -- not actually a full rule runthrough on any of them, but intended to be enough to give a decent feel for what the game involves.

I did manage to look around the rest of the show during my breaks, and while I didn't get to play, and whoa! This is a huge show, making UK Games Expo look like a minor local event.  There were entire game shops with walls, windows and doors, within the halls, vast areas of demonstration tables, and some of the publishers had stages with cameras and large screens overhead, where presenters were hosting game shows to showcase their latest releases. All this time it was easy to just get swept along in the flow of a huge crowd on the move.

A small part of one of the halls on one of the quieter days!

One of the highlights of the event for me was selling out of Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey on day 3.  OK, so this was a very small print run, so the expectation (or at least the hope) was that we would sell out, but it was still amazingly gratifying and I owe a big thankyou to everyone who shelled out for a copy.  Given comments from people after the stock had gone, we would probably have been able to sell at least a few more if we had them.

And I owe an even bigger thankyou to the woman who came by the stall to tell me that she bought a copy the day before and had played it, loved it, and told all her friends about it.  Unfortunately we had sold out by this point so we couldn't sell more to her friends, but it was one of the most amazing experiences of the show.  I know that the game is sure to get criticism sooner or later, but the fact that at least some people are so enthusiastic makes it all worthwhile.

My favourite pic from the weekend and the source of much personal pride.
There were so many other highlights though, most of which actually involve interactions with people.  One of the big ones was meeting fellow designers published by Cubicle 7, Jeff Tidball, Francesco Nepitello, and Marco Maggi.  These are three of the nicest guys around as well as being great game designers into the bargain.  I was totally blown away when I spotted Francesco enthusiastically explaining about my game to someone he knew.

Then there was the guy who complimented me on my style of explaining games, which was really nice of him. And the high fives, handshakes, and fist bumps from so many other people I knew around the place -- and from all those I didn't know beforehand! There were also those funny moments, like when we were trying to arrange a team game of Cthulhu Tales with the designers only to realise that we had just sold our demo set so we couldn't.

SPIEL is different to other conventions I have been to in that it closes early every evening and kicks everyone out, but this means that there is a thriving fringe fair, with gaming areas set aside in many of the hotels, and parties and other events organised all over the town.  One evening I just crashed out in my hotel room to rest, but the other nights I was out and about, including a great Playtest UK meetup where we got to play a bunch of prototypes, including ones from some of our international friends. I didn't take a game along myself, and was very happy to just play and give feedback.

So, that was it.  I flew back home on Monday, absolutely knackered but happy to have been.  I'm sure I will go again, maybe next year, and maybe I will join the procession of game designers doing the rounds of pitching games to publishers.  That's a decision to make later.


Giftmas at Essen!

This is not a drill!  Something that I really wasn't expecting appears to be happening.  My first signed game design, Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey, will be available for purchase at Essen!
Image nicked from Cubicle 7 for promotional purposes.

The down side is that this is actually not a full release, but only a limited edition, "pre-release" version, and there is a serious emphasis on the "limited" there: it's a very short print run, and is there as a kinda promotional release for the main run in a few months time, but I am really excited to have one of my games actually available for people to buy and play.

Unfortunately there isn't a Board Game Geek database entry for the game yet, but that should follow soon. 

So, the upshot is that if you are in Essen and fancy getting yourself a lightweight game about unpleasant people swapping inappropriate gifts, come along to Hall 6, C120, and grab a copy while stocks last!

Here is the Cubicle 7 news item that includes the Giftmas news.


Ich Gehe Nach Essen

I first heard about the SPIEL games show in the early nineties, when I was introduced to the joys of German games, and I have wanted to go ever since. In all those years, finances, time, confidence, and all manner of other factors and excuses have conspired against me going, but finally I get to go this year!

In case you don't know about the event, SPIEL (held in the town of Essen in Germany, and often just referred to as "Essen") is generally recognised to be the biggest board game show in the world.  There is some argument about whether GenCon (in the USA) is bigger, or is even a valid comparison, but that doesn't really matter, SPIEL is a huge event.  This is the event where hundreds of new games are launched each year, and thousands of geeks mingle with many thousands more families, all looking for the best new games and bargains.   It's also a place where freelance game designers take the opportunity to meet with publishers (pretty much every publisher worth noting has a stand) to pitch designs.
Image yoinked from the SPIEL website.
For my first visit to SPIEL, I'm not planning on pitching any games; the intent is mostly to get a feel for the place and, you know, just be there.  I'm travelling with Cubicle 7, the publisher who has signed my first two games.  Unfortunately the games are not yet ready, but hopefully it won't be too far into 2018 before they are available.  Anyway, I will be working at their stand for most of the time, so if you are going to Essen (between 26th and 29th October), please do pop round to Hall 6, stand C120, and say hello. 

It's all very exciting for me! 


Roll, Move, Race

Game designers are always talking about "rehabilitating" old game mechanisms and styles to make something new.  Recently, Kingdomino made a nice game inspired partly by dominoes. A few years back, Oddball Aeronauts was a brave stab at working with Top Trumps. And so on.  One mechanism that keeps being talked about is the much-maligned "roll and move": you know, you roll the dice, move around the board, and something may happen.  

Basically, the benefit of roll and move is that it is so intuitive for people brought up on a diet of snakes & ladders, Monopoly, and Cluedo, but on the downside it tends to remove choice and agency from players.

A couple of days back I was talking about this with my colleague, Phil, who also designs games, and this got me thinking.  After sleeping on it, I had a thought about a possible game using tiles (polyomino-style, a bit like Tetris blocks) to build a board and have players able to control that element, then roll dice to move around the board as a race.  Some of the squares on the tiles could have special things happening if you land on them, so you're trying to place board sections to provide handy benefits to you.

About an hour of work yielded a very basic prototype that I could try out on my own...

Roll, move, place tiles... Not much to it, really.

The rules:

  • You start off with two of the board tiles in hand, and your pawn on the edge of the board.  A couple of tiles get placed to make a start to the board.
  • On your turn:
    • You roll a die.
    • You may optionally place one board tile somewhere.
    • You move your die roll's worth of squares in one direction.
    • If you fall off the board tiles, you go back to the start.
    • If you finish on an arrow, you then move one space in that direction.
    • If you finish on a "tile" icon, you may draw one tile from the stock.
    • If you finish on a die icon, you get to roll an extra die next turn and choose which die to use for your move.
  • You win if you get to the other side of the table first, or if, when the tiles run out, you are closest to the finish.
That's about it.

So I was moderately pleased with how this turned out as a first attempt.  It did feel like there were choices to be made, though they were very light -- and this is fine with this sort of thing.  I think that the choices of effects on the squares were a good start, but there need to be a few others; in particular I like the idea of allowing players to gain lasting power-ups, so that is something to look into. 

We'll see where, if anywhere, this one goes in time...


Spoons FTW!

This is news from a few days ago, but I was a little surprised but very grateful to find out that "One Day at a Time", my game-like activity about managing spoons, has won the August 24-hour game design contest.  It's not something to get massively excited about (my winning entry got 4 out of the 10 votes cast, so it's not exactly a huge mandate!) but it's a really nice, warm feeling.
I'm being really lazy here and reusing a picture. This may be in-keeping with the theme.
The surprising element here is that I deliberately avoided specifying any way to win or lose (which is why I refer to it as a game-like activity), and wasn't trying to make the activity particularly fun.  It's all based on playing the game in a series of "days", on each of which you have a pile of tasks to do and you have to choose which ones to do and which to postpone.  Sometimes you'll be able to keep things under control for several days in a row, but then one day will come when everything will fall off the rails and you end up with a massive pile of uncompleted tasks which roll into the next day. Sometimes you can recover from it and sometimes it just gets worse.

This whole exercise has prompted a number of conversations with various friends and acquaintances regarding the whole "not having enough spoons" thing. A few have asked if I'm going to be developing this more and getting it published.  My natural response to this is that I have no plans along those lines: One Day at a Time was an interesting exercise for me, and allowed me to explore (briefly) a different facet of game design to what I have done before, but I don't think I have the strength to turn this into a really good game while being respectful to its inspiration.  And trying to pitch the game is a prospect I don't relish; it would take an extremely specific type of publisher to want to make and try to sell this!

Of course, there are elements of the game that I may reuse, and it has given me a taste for playing with non-standard styles of game, so maybe it will lead to something else in future. But for now, I'm drawing a line under this one.   Thanks to everyone who has voted, commented, or otherwise shown support.