Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Unpub 4 - Day 1

Well, as was mentioned in my last post, I spent this past weekend in Delaware at the Unpub 4 convention.  The short version is - what a fantastic event, I loved going, I'll be back next year (more on that in a bit) - but I came out of it with mixed feelings for my game, Santa's Workshop. One big regret is that I brought my camera...and proceeded to take very little pictures.  So, I apologize for the scarcity of pictures in this post.

I drove up with my friend Paul Owen, and after checking into our hotel, we headed over to the local pizza joint for the Unpub "designers dinner".  This was basically a meet and greet and a chance to network with some folks, with a raffle thrown in (idiot that I am, I lost my raffle tickets within 5 minutes of getting them and had to beg for more).  I sat with Nathaniel Levan and his wife Anna and got to know them a little bit (although we didn't figure out until the next day that Nate and I are both Hokies).

After the dinner, we headed back to the hotel, expecting to get in some gaming with various folks.  Although at some point, we heard someone talking about their "sell sheet" - which is basically a 1 page sheet that highlights your game with a basic description and pertinent information (game length, # of players, things like that).  Basically, an ad for your game.  Paul and I looked at each other - neither of us had thought to make up one of those.  So we spent an hour or so in the hotel room furiously throwing something together...and then found that the hotel only had black and white printers.  Oh well, better than nothing, I guess.  After that we did head to the lobby for some gaming, and ran into Ben Rossett, who gave us his Brew Crafters Card Game prototype to try out.  Paul and I played a 2 player game and found the game easy to pick up, and interesting to play.  The gist of it is that you can play each card in one of two ways - as an ingredient in a recipe, or face up in front of you as a piece of equipment or worker that will allow you to brew future recipes more efficiently or for more points.  I ended up playing 10 cards face up in front of me, though in the end Paul beat me by 2 points.  We then played a 3 player game with Ben, and I claimed victory by focusing on brewing Special Reserves.  Inspired by the Dice Hate Me 54 Card Challenge, Ben created this game with only 54 cards, 8 of which were recipe and scoring cards.  My biggest concern in the end was having enough cards to support 4 players.  There may be a few other tweaks, but otherwise I think it's a solid card game.

After not enough sleep, on Saturday morning we headed over to the convention to get set up.  My family has a log cabin advent calendar, which I brought along and decorated with elf meeples in order to try and attract some attention.  That may have been more trouble than it was worth to haul along, but it did get some comments.  In any case, my first actual playtest of Santa's Workshop at Unpub ended up being with my friend Randy, who's a regular at our Tuesday night game nights at Game Parlor.  He had played a few weeks ago when I brought it to GP, and had really liked it.  When he learned about Unpub, he convinced his friends Kurt & Elizabeth to join him there for the day.  We played a 4 player version of SW, and everyone seemed to like it.  I got some feedback on a few minor things like the wording of a few cards.  We talked a bit about the # of players, and how best to restrict the number of spaces in the rooms.  We also only played a 9-turn game, as opposed the 12-turn games I originally envisioned (themed to the "12 Days of Christmas").

I spent some time playing some other designers games (I think I'll detail those in a separate blog post), before getting a group of players together for a 5-player test that afternoon.  I had Anna Rutledge, Andrew, Duane, Rob and Josh (other than lack of pictures, I also really failed on writing everyone's full name down - and getting cards from everyone).  Their 5 player game took about 2 hours, with Duane winning in the end after building and scoring the swing set.  This group used the coal cards the most out of any group that played all weekend.  Everyone seemed to like the game, and I got a lot of good feedback.  Game time was definitely an issue (2 hours, and again we only played a 9 turn game).  There was the interesting suggestion to perhaps have some of the coal cards be used for positive player interaction (instead of just "screw your neighbor" cards).  Anna in particular had a quote that resonated with me later - she said something to the effect of "I wasn't expecting much from this game, but it turned out to be really good."

Shortly after that playtest, I was scheduled to give a 10 minute pitch to Game Salute.  Paul had gone in earlier, so I knew a little of what to expect - about 3 minutes to describe the game, 3 minutes or so for questions from them, and then 3 or 4 minutes of feedback.  I brought just the game board, a player tableau, and some sample gift and coal cards.  I was a little nervous, but I think I did a pretty good job in getting through most of the rules and play style of the game in 3 minutes or so.  The rest of the "interview" took me a little by surprise, as they almost exclusively focused on the theme I had chosen.  In a nutshell, their concern is that with such a "light" theme as Santa's Elves building gifts, a family might buy this game expecting something that very young kids could play, and be shocked when they got home and found a more complex game.  That is, if they bought it in the first place, because with all my pieces and such, the game would probably retail in the typical $40-$50 euro game price range.  On the flip side, they thought gamers - who would likely enjoy the complexity - wouldn't pick it from the shelf because they would think it was a light family game.  On the positive side, they did say they liked a couple of the mechanics of the game, and I should perhaps think about re-theming it.

So, I was understandably a little disappointed coming out of the sales pitch.  My first reaction was to think that they were wrong, and there was room for a game that could satisfy both families and gamers.  (I have plans to include rules for more family-friendly play).  But I couldn't help but think that Anna's reaction to the game only backed up their point - she didn't think there would be much to the game, and was pleasantly surprised when it was deeper than she anticipated. 

That was it for playtesting SW for the day.  I played some other games(more on that later), and then
 we headed back to the hotel for some more late night gaming that night.  Paul and I got in a few 2-player games -
Mr. Jack Pocket and 1955:The War of Espionage.  Mr. Jack Pocket has become one of my favorite games to play on my tablet or phone, and I wanted to introduce Paul to it.  I've not played the original Mr. Jack, though Paul has, and he said it had a similar deduction feel, if much different mechanics.  As for 1955, Paul brought it because he don't get a chance to play it at home much.  This is a sort of "tug of war" game as you try to gain influence in various countries.  I thought it was a mildly interesting game, with some interesting card play, but ultimately too long for the type of game it is.  I had picked up Gravwell at the Unpub vendor, after hearing a bunch of rave reviews.  Ben Rossett joined us, and explained the game, as well as a 4th player who's name is escaping me (must. write. down. names.)  It is indeed a very elegant game, with easy to learn rules, and a depth of complexity that has you trying to get in the head of the other players at the table.  For me, I think it may be a victim of it's hype - I very much liked it, but I'm not sure I would rave about it as much as others have.  At the very least, it serves as a good reminder that an excellent game need not be Agricola-like in complexity.  Lastly, we got in a couple of 5-player games of Coup with myself, Paul, Ben, Matthew O'Malley, and Doug (Who's last name I can't find for the life of me).  This was my first time at Coup - I don't know if I like it better than The Resistance, but it is a very fun game.  And I think Ben Rossett is lying when he says he never lies during the game.

Next up- Day 2...a few more playtests of SW, and my overall thoughts on Unpub...

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