Thursday, January 23, 2014

Unpub 4 - Day 2

Well, Day 2 of Unpub 4 started with even less sleep than the previous day.  When we got to the site, we were treated a pancake breakfast and a panel discussion with a group of publishers - I won't try to name them all here because inevitably I'll forget someone...

After the panel, I headed over to try Nate Levan's New Bedford - I'd heard some good word of mouth about this game and wanted to give it a try.  I'll give a further review below when I comment on all the games I played - but I'm certainly glad I did play it. 

Santa's Workshop Day 2

I should mention that towards the end of the con on Saturday night - around 9:00 or so, I had a young lady named Tierna stop by my table and eye up my game.  When I asked if she was interested, she nodded yes, and I gave her a quick explanation.  Since it was getting a bit late, I promised her a game on Sunday.  After playing New Bedford, I found Tierna at Daniel Solis' table, and she agreed to come over when she finished up.  Not only did she come over, she brought her sister Becca and her dad Mike with her, and we got in a 4 player game of Santa's Workshop.  Tierna was 10 years old, and I was eager to see how she did, as I originally conceived of the game as a more "family game".  It took us about 1:15 to finish, and I got some good feedback.  Tierna did ok - she jumped out in the lead, but faltered towards the end.  I think the full game may be a bit much for the under 12 crowd.  Becca, who I'm guessing was about 16 or so, had an interesting quote at the end.  She told that when they decided to come to the con, she marked every game in the program on a 1 to 5 scale.  She had my game marked as a "1", which meant she had no interest - and she only played because her sister begged her to.  She then stated that she really enjoyed it, and had no idea that it would be such a fun game.  This, of course, only served to back up Game Salute's point that the theme might drive away "serious" gamers.

After some more time at other games, I saw two folks eyeing up my table and hurried back to see if they were interested in player.  I recognized the woman as long time owner of "Our Game Table", Kathy Stroh.  I convinced Bill and Kathy to sit down for a 3 player game.  We finished our game in under an hour, and again I received valuable feedback.  We found a couple of cards that needed tweaking, and Kathy opined that she thought the game play was a little too deep for the theme.  Hmmm...familiar territory here. 

That was it for SW for the weekend - a grand total of 4 playtests.  Between the playtests and the Game Salute session, I got great feedback.  So, where do I stand with Santa's Workshop now?  I feel like I have a bit of a mixed bag.  I got nothing but positive feedback from playtesters.  My aggregate scores on from my feedback forms were as follows: 

Game Length:  3/5
Learning Ease: 4/5
Decisions: 4/5
Downtime: 4/5
Interactivity: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Fun: 4/5

My lowest grades on individual feedback forms were a 2/5 on game length and 2/5 on interactivity.  The game length doesn't surprise me, as I know the game is too long.  I should also mention that my scores may be skewed a little high as I got one sheet that was all 5/5 (thanks, Tierna!) .  But all in all, I think I got good scores for my first ever game, with only 3 playtests ever coming into the con.

In terms of mechanics, I need to tighten up the game for play length.  I originally wanted a game that could hold 6 players just because I don't think there are a lot that do that well.  Unfortunately, I think I'm going to have to scale back.  I think I'm going to cap it at 4 players.  Perhaps if some other tweaks bring game length down, I'll revisit that.  But the other reason to go to 4 players is that makes it easy to limit # of spaces per # of players -> n-1, it's that easy.  When you get to 5 and 6 players, only taking one space per room away isn't enough, and I'm having a hard time figuring out where to make that transition from n-1 to n-2.  And it seems like it should differ per room, which is complicated.  The other play length decision to make is to cap the game at 9 turns.  I originally wanted 12 turns for the "12 Days of Christmas" theme - but that's just too long...and I'll talk about theme in a minute.  As far as other mechanics...there are some coal cards that need tweaking, I need to simplify the "magic mirror" card, and I need to play with the Reindeer track - tweak the scoring, and perhaps add some more theme to that somehow.'s the big question...what about the theme?  Game Salute didn't really think the theme would work.  Several comments and feedback I got seemed to reinforce that - "I wasn't expecting such a deep game with this theme", etc.  However, some folks seemed to think with the right artwork and box presentation, that might be able to be overcome.  I think I'm going to stick with the general theme for now, but with a bit of tweak.  Instead of building gifts leading up to Christmas Eve, I think I'm going to set the game at the South Pole, with the teams of elves competing to see who gets called up to the "Big Leagues" of the North Pole.  I did have a little issue, theme-wise with wondering if Santa would really let the elves get away with shenanigans as they were actually building toys for children.  By making the game be about a "boot camp" of sorts, I can get away with that.  I can possibly also work in more theme with the reindeer - such as teaching them to fly or somesuch.  I think this could lead to more "edgy" artwork as well - maybe Santa painted as a sort of drill instructor or somesuch, and some sort of tagline "Before they made it to the North Pole, they had to claw their way up from the South".  Ok...that's terrible.  But you get the idea.  I talked to Chris Kirkman and Darrell Louder about giving it a try at Prezcon - I'm interested to hear what they say.  Maybe get it in front of some publishers at Cons later this year and get more feedback.  If theme is a continuing issue, then I bite the bullet and try to retheme it later this year.  Maybe competing toy factories, or something like that.  I just don't want it to lose any of it's charm. be continued, I guess. 

Other Games I Played

I have this terrible nagging feeling that I'm forgetting a game I played, but I'll press on.  In Part 1 of my recap, I talked about Ben Rosset's Brew Crafters Card Game, so I won't repeat that here.  The first game I played at Unpub was Ohalo by Andrew Lenox and Jason Kotarski.  Jason is the designer of Great Heartland Hauling Company, which I talked about here and hereOhalo (named after the archaeological site) is a card game, with the unique mechanic that to start each game turn, you take the resource cards and kind of throw them up and let them land in a pile - some face up, some face down.  You, as a hunter-gatherer, have a few different action you can take.  You can gather various fruits & mushrooms - which entails trying to slide together resources of the same type using one finger and not disturbing the rest of the pile.  You can hunt for various animals - the more of which you gather, the better your score.  You can collect wood...which is then used to build various buildings - those which allow you to store resources for points, or do actions more efficiently, etc.  We only got to play about a half a game, because I had to demo SW, but I must say, I really enjoyed it.  The sliding of the cards in the pile was my favorite part - and a very fun mechanic.

Ohalo - I managed to move some berries around the entire edge of the pile!

Next I'll talk about another Jason Kotarski game, Sunset Shuffle.  This is a dice rolling game that consists of 6 turns.  On each turn, that turn # is wild.  In other words, on turn 1, all 1's are wild, etc.  Three more card are flipped up, which will number between 1-6, and your job is to put pairs of dice on each number card (the dice matching that number).  The catch is, the first two people to place dice get a "lifeguard" die, which they have to roll as well, which does things like block their numbers, although it can be passed on.  This was a fun frantic dice rolling frenzy, and all through the con, if I heard lots of shouting and yelling(in a good way), it tended to be coming from that table.  I like the lifeguard die mechanic, although with such a fast and furious game, it can be hard to tell who placed dice first.  Maybe a lifeguard die on each card, and the first person to place on a specific card gets that die.

Brew Crafters The Card Game was not the only Ben Rossett creation I tried at Unpub.  On Sunday I sat down for a game of Building the British Royal Navy.  In this game, you are bidding on contracts from the British Navy to build their warships.  This game is all about bidding and auctions - which I understand is a departure from how the game first started out.  In addition to bidding on the warships themselves, you have to bid on materials, and then the services of the subcontractors to build the hull and armaments.  Ben had the game limited to 10 bidding chits per player, all at pre-defined values.  By the third epoch, in our 4 player game, we were finding the services of the sub-contractors to be in high demand - too much so, in fact.  We were also a little frustrated with the specific values on our limited tokens.  I think we gave Ben some valuable feedback - we talked about still limiting the number of bidding chits, but letting the players decide how much each was worth.  I think there's a gem of a game in here - I like the theme, and I like the idea of a game that is exclusively auctions.  But, it's a bit raw now - but that's what Unpub is for, and I expect next time I have a chance to play it, Ben will have made substantial improvements.

I mentioned New Bedford at the top of this blog, and this was one I heard some rave reviews about.  I was happy to discover that designer Nate Levan is a fellow Hokie - Aerospace Engineering, even.  Go Hokies!  New Bedford is a game about building a coastal town around the whaling industry.  Starting with a town base and docks, you send your two workers out to collect resources, build new buildings and launch your whaling vessel to hunt.  Each building that is built will provide new actions, but to use them you must pay the building owner.  For the whaling, how far out to sea you launch depends on how much food you pack on board.  Each turn your whaling vessel draws closer to shore, and you draw chits from a bag.  They will be one of three different types of whale, or open ocean.  When you get back to port, you pay to have the whales processes - either $1, $2 or $3 depending on the whale type, with the more expensive being worth more VPs (I know Wright Whales are the cheapest, and Sperm Whales are the most expensive, but I'm blanking on the "middle" whale).  The game lasts 12 turns, and the player with the most VPs wins (you can also get VPs from money and certain buildings).  Our 3 player game lasted less than an hour, and that felt like about the right amount of time - maybe a little too quick!  This is a very polished game, and it was easy to see why it was getting some buzz.  I had very little in the way of suggestions - I thought maybe it would be neat to have more than 20 buildings in the game, and you could just draw 20 randomly at the start to get some variability - Nate was way ahead of me, already having more buildings in development.  We talked about some of the chits drawn from the bag having "events" such as storms - I think that would be a nice addition, if not overdone.  We talked a little about getting players access to a 3rd worker - but my fellow players were more interested in that than I was.  So...a very impressive game, one that I feel is essentially "done", and I wouldn't be surprised to see it on store shelves this time next year.

Final Thoughts

So, my first Unpub...with my first was the overall experience?  In a word - fantastic.  The convention is clearly outgrowing it's roots.  Next year it will be at a different location (as yet undisclosed), and Darrell tells me it will be more like a "traditional" con - the con in the hotel where everyone is staying, vendors, more traditional con hours, etc.  I'm really looking forward to seeing where he takes it.

I mentioned in Part 1 that there was some raffles.  Darrell had a ton of games to raffle off, dontated by companies that weren't even there in person, such as Stronghold Games.  (I'm guessing more and more publishers will start showing up in person in the future.).  Anyone who playtested a game could get a raffle ticket for each feedback form they turned in.  Randy gave me his as he left on Saturday.  I kept just missing by a few numbers.  Paul won twice!  There were lots of good games, and I admit I was a little jealous of the winners.  Then right before we left on Sunday, Darrell called for a kid to come to the stage.  As it happened, Tierna, who playtested for me went up.  Darrell asked her for a number between 1 and 52 (the number of designers registered).  She picked "36", and Darrell calls out "Is Keith Ferguson here?"  I proceeded to the stage, thinking I had just won a game.  But no...I was getting a different prize...the first official (and free) registered Game Designer for Unpub 5!  Wow!  I was still a little down after my Game Salute feedback, and I have to say, this really made my day!  It definitely motivated me to come back next year with something even better.  Maybe it will be a re-worked Santa's Workshop, maybe something different (I've had a flash of inspiration on a new game in the last day or two).  Either way, I'll be happy to be there - one of the things I haven't really touched on is how nice it was to meet a bunch of fellow designers (I'm not sure I can really call myself that yet...).  It's a great, friendly, supportive atmosphere, and I definitely look forward to meeting those that I missed this time, and playing more of their games!

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