Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Unpub Mini After-Action report


Well, we had our Unpub Mini at the Game Parlor in Chantilly, VA this past Saturday - and I'm confident in saying it was a smashing success!  In fact, it really exceeded my expectations.  Now that it's over, I can say that I had some trepidation leading up to it.  First, I was nervous about getting enough designers to show up.  Well, we had 5 sign up within the first few days, and I think we had 10 slots filled after a week or two.  In fact, we pulled a Spinal Tap and went to 11 when there was some sort of glitch on the Unpub website that allowed an 11th designer to sign up.  Furthermore, I had a 12th designer, Andre Chautard, contact me a few days prior to see if he could bring his game.  I told him that he should come...I didn't know if he'd get his game out, but it was at least a good networking experience.  Andre did come, and got in a few plays of his game, so it worked out great.
A couple of early designers await the opening...

My next trepidation was our location.  The Game Parlor is the normal haunt for our group, because it's close to many of our offices.  I like the Game Parlor, and I've been going there for 20ish years, but they don't exactly have their finger on the pulse of the gaming industry as much as, for example, Labyrinth Games in D.C.  And Chantilly, while in the D.C. metro area, is a bit out of the way.  But, they do have lots of tables, and room for playing.

Finally, and this was my biggest worry - was getting playtesters.  I feared that the 12 of us would just have to split up and play each others games all day.  I printed flyers, sent emails to several local gaming groups, and tried to spread the word in the Game Parlor itself.  More often than not I was met with a blank stare that read "why are you interrupting my game?!"  However, my fears were unfounded, as we had over 30 folks playing games at our event!  I had 30 on the sign up sheet, but I know there was a few I missed.  Every designer got multiple plays of their game(s) in, as far as I know.  So, huzzah!

Not a bad turnout...this is just about all Unpubbers!

Now, let me talk a little about the designers and their games.  I'll start with the ones I played.

Escape Velocity - Shadowsong Industries

The endless track of Escape Velocity
Escape Velocity is a spaceship racing game by the duo of Alf Shadowsong and Kiva Fecteau.  The game is asymmetric in the sense that the different ships have different abilities and stats.  At the beginning of the game, players have a chance to choose their "sponsor", which will give them additional abilities, depending on how many laps the race lasts.  Movement on the racetrack is achieved by playing cards, and spending points to use different actions on the cards.  The "track" is continuous...by means of a clever mechanic where the front board is transferred to the rear as racers approach the end.

I like the theme here, and this game has some things definitely going for it.  I like the asymmetric ships, and I like the board swapping mechanic.  I think some of the cards and some of the powers need further refinement and balancing - one card in particular killed me as Alf switched places with me when I was nearly a lap ahead of him - a killer in a 3 lap race.  The person who went first each turn was the person in last place, and it was not always clear to me who that was - you sort of had to look at the board...and at each player's ship tableau to figure that out.  The cards are also very text heavy - which means a lot of reading, particularly when you're dealt your initial hand.  I think if Alf and Kiva can get a little more balance in some of the card effects, and streamline things a bit for quicker play, they'll really be on to something here. 


Knot Dice - Black Oak Games

This is a very interesting dice game by Matthew O'Malley.  The game consists of 36 identical dice, each face having a portion of a Celtic Knot inscribed on it.  One of the great things about this, is that Matthew actually has several games designed using the dice.  There's a speed game, a puzzle game, a co-op game, and a "team" game where you are teaming (sort of) with the players on either side of you.  I sat down with Matthew and had a chance to play each of the iterations except for the "team" game.

The "speed game" (rolling your dice until you have no loose ends - whether it's one knot or several) and the "puzzle game" (where you can pass dice to your neighbor as you try to build a know) are pretty fleshed out games, and need little to no tweaking at this point.  In the co-op game, where we work together to build the highest score possible (scoring a point per die intersection - meaning a 6x6 grid would be the highest) - it was interesting but lacked a bit of tension.  Matthew and I spent the most time talking about this particular variant, and we eventually hit on the idea of being able to limit the amount of dice you could "throw out" of the game.  This was a little bit inspired by the "fuse" mechanism of Hanabi.  We played again, and the game definitely seemed more tense, and enjoyable.  I don't know if that's the final answer, but I think it was a step in the right direction.

I very much look forward to Matthew getting this published, as I think Knot Dice would make the perfect game to carry around and play at dinner, or in between other games or activities.  And for me, I am particularly drawn to the Celtic Knot theme (maybe I should have worn my kilt to the event).

Salvation Road - Michael Kelley

Waiting for Master Blaster to show up....
In this co-op game due to be published by Van Ryder games, players take on the roles of heroes or survivors in a Mad Max-style setting.  They must escape their fast deteriorating compound, and drive their truck to the town of "Salvation".  Players send their characters out to search locations of food, fuel and ammo, all the while trying to avoid marauders and battling hunger and other disasters.  Finally, when they get on the road, they must have collected enough supplies to make it through the journey.

I enjoyed this game, as much as for the setting as for the game play.  Thank god it wasn't another zombie game!  The game was tense, as we searched for supplies in an increasingly dangerous environment.  I enjoyed the asymmetric play of each character having different attributes (the "survivors" tend to have hindrances).  I look forward to playing this game with final artwork, as I think that will add to the overall theme.

Horrible Hex - Stone Circle Games

Not so horrible, really...in fact it's quite good!
I have to admit, this abstract game by Jon Moffat was not originally high on my list of games to try during the Unpub Mini, but I got a chance to sit down with Paul Owen and play a game, and I am certainly glad I did.  In this game, reminiscent of Hive, players are playing hex tiles in an ever building configuration.  The tiles are marked with either a circle or a star in the middle, and on different edges, there are arrows indicating how that tile can move in that direction - sliding, pushing, jumping, etc.  Each player is dealt two cards that show a winning formation of hexes, based on the circles and stars.  So, you are trying to manipulate the formation to complete one of your patterns, while avoiding completing your opponents.  This is easier said than done.  On two occasions, both Paul and I completed our own pattern..while simultaneously completing the opponents.  This game is the definition of simple mechanics, but deep strategy.  I had somewhat of a concern that it was too similar to Hive, but Paul convinced me that it was significantly different to stand on it's own - in particular, the different winning patterns for each player make it a different game.


Aesop's Gambit - Michael Karg

A "Fabled" variant of Poker
A few of us played this poker variant by Michael Karg, in which the cards represent different animals out of Aesop's Fables.  Each round, a situation is revealed, which requires different aspects to solve.  Players bet on the card that they will lay down, and if it will have the highest attributes for that particular event.  My feeling is that this game is still in the beginning design stages.  I think that there is probably a place for a poker variant, especially one with an interesting theme...and Michael obviously did his research into Aesop.  But the card play fell just a bit flat for me - if you had a "6" in the attribute needed that round, you bet...if not, you didn't.  I think the cards need some balancing so that you can win without having a "6".  Or maybe, I'm just a bad bluffer.  But, I look forward to seeing where Michael takes this game.

Other games I did not have a chance to play -

East India Company - Paul Owen

East India Company in action
In his blog, Paul details how he wanted to trim down EIC.  I cautioned him against throwing out too much, but he still streamlined it somewhat, and got in a playtest at our Unpub Mini.  The reaction was generally favorable, and Paul feels like he's moving in the right direction.

Reactor Scram - Paul Owen

A game very much still in progress, Paul reported that in the two plays at the Unpub Mini, one went very short (which was his main concern) - the but the second went very long, which was a surprise.  But I believe he got some good feedback from all of this.

Trove - David Somerville

The very popular Trove in action...
This game was most definitely hit, as I saw David continuously demoing it during the day, and everyone I talked to had good things to say about it.  I consistently heard that some tweaking needed to be done, but this asymmetric (someone gets to play the cave!) dungeon game seems destined for good things.  This is may be at the top of my list to play at the next Unpub event.


Lords of Baseball - Max Jamelli

Baseball junkies...take note!
This is a game I really wanted to try, given the description, but I never had a chance to play.  This appeared to be the "thinkiest" game at our event, and likely the longest.  As the organizer, I was a bit loathe to commit to a multi-hour game, but this is another one I'm eager to try.  I heard very good things from those who did play.

And they're off!

Post Position - Dr. Witcz

Another one I meant to play but didn't get a chance.  Paul had been talking this one up since last Unpub.  If there's one thing that I feel bad about, it's that I think I let down Austin Smokowicz a bit.  He was wanting to get a large player count in (the game holds up to 12), but we were only able to get him a 6 player game.

Is this legal?!

Underground Street Racing - Dr. Witcz

Austin was able to get in a few playtests of their new game.  I watched Paul play a few rounds, but I had trouble following the action.  I look forward to see how this is developed prior to Unpub 5




Boondoggle - Michael Karg

There's the "Bridge to Nowhere"

This was Mike's main game to bring, and I believe he got in 1 playtest.  I'm not sure how the game went, but from the discussion I saw afterward, I think he got plenty of feedback.





Movie Links - Andre Chautard

Thanks to Matthew O'Malley for getting me the correct title of this game by Andre. I think he got in at least 2 playtests, and I heard positive reviews.  This is a party game where you have cards with movie titles, and then are disks with things like "racy" or "adventure" on them, and you have to connect the movie cards with these disks somehow...I didn't get the full explanation...but I will tell you that I think it was neat that we had a "party game" mixed in with our allotment of euro and strategy games.

Last Bastion - Peter Gousis

Several people expressed interest in this game based on the description, and I know they got in one play...I myself didn't hear the feedback, but I hope the designers got good feedback.

Hey...what about Santa's Workshop?!?!

Who's naughty and who's nice here?

Oh yeah, I had a game there!  Well, I plan on dedicating a whole blog post to not only what came out of the Unpub Mini, but what I've been doing on the game since Unpub 4.  I had snuck in a playtest the previous Tuesday, and made some tweaks before our event.  At the Unpub Mini, I got in 2 playtests, and got some valuable feedback.  I think I'm headed in the right direction after a few months flailing since Unpub 4 - but there are still some tweaks to be made.  In the 2nd playtest on Saturday in particular, one flaw became much more clear, and I think I have a better grasp on fixing that.  Stay tuned to the next blog post!

So, that wrap things up - I'm sorry if I missed a game or two in my recap.  I'm definitely looking forward to the next Unpub event - I even have a devious plan to maybe do another "Mini" prior to Unpub 5, in order to do some tweaks prior to the big event.  We'll see.  In any case, I would like to thank the designer that came out, and all of the playtesters, and I look forward to seeing you folks at future events!


  1. Do not feel sad about there not being a 12 person game of Post Position. Paul and your hard work got over 30 play testers to attend the event. That by itself is more than what anyone can reasonably ask you to do.

    1. I'm glad you could make it, Austin. Also happy you were able to get in some playtests of Underground Street Racing...hopefully you got valuable feedback!

  2. Kudos on putting together a successful day. Well done!
    And a good writeup, too.