The first event - and the biggie - was Unpub 5. Wow, do things change....my first Unpub was last earlier series of blog posts. This year, Unpub moved from the sleepy countryside of Delaware to the Baltimore Convention Center - and it's not hyperbole to say it was an incredible success. Many other people have covered it already, and I'll point you to the fantastic video that was made about the event. By way of comparison - at Unpub 4, I had a grand total of 4 plays of Santa's Workshop. At Unpub 5, I had 9 plays. Or was it 10? I lost track! On Saturday, especially, it was nonstop - in fact, I had to turn people away that evening, just because I had no voice, and I needed to actually eat something! That's a good problem to have!
year, at Unpub 4, which I covered in an
|Prepping the goodie bags|
Saturday, as I mentioned above was crazy. It was wall to wall people, and I was demoing Santa's Workshop non-stop. I was blown away - I got nothing by positive feedback from all the playtesters. There was little to no push back on any of the mechanics. Game length at most was about 1:15 - 1:20, and I reasoned that the same players, if they immediately played again, would probably be close to an hour, which is where I would like the game to be.
|Playtesting Santa's Workshop|
This, of course, is not exactly what I wanted to hear, and was reminiscent of what I heard from Game Salute at Unpub 4. But, Richard told me - and reiterated in a later conversation - that he thought it looked like a solid game, and he thought re-theming it would make it much more approachable for publishers.
On Sunday, I had a chance to demo the game for a publisher. I had reached out to this publisher prior to the con, as their website indicated that they were looking for non-violent, family friendly games that would also appeal to gamers. This is exactly how I was trying to design Santa's Workshop. For the demo, I enlisted Anna Rutledge to play as well, as she had played at Unpub 4, and I was eager to get her feedback on how she liked the changes.
The demo went very well, I thought, and the publisher gave me great feedback. First - he said that he really enjoyed the game - which is nice to hear! However, he thought that it was maybe a bit complicated for the intended market (i.e. families). In my opinion, the game is on the light end of euro-style worker placements, but as a gamer, I tend to forget that even games I consider "light" are still much more complex than games that non-gamers are used to. He opined that this is a common issue for first time game designers, but he also thought that some of the mechanics, like the plastic and the training room added some depth that is not often seen in first time designs. He also game me some recommendations on how he thought I could simplify the game. So, even though he didn't offer me a contract on the spot, it was still a positive experience, and I much appreciated his insight.
So, overall, Unpub 5 was a great success, with very positive feedback, mixed with a sobering reminder that the theme may be an issue. However, you may recall from previous posts, that another "industry insider" - Geoff Englestein - opined that he thought there would be a market for the game. So, still no clear path forward for me...but I had one more event before I really wanted to make the hard decisions.
That event was my annual trip to Prezcon. Now, I got to Prezcon to play games, not necessarily playtest, but I was hoping to get in a test or two. Specifically, I had pre-arranged to demo to another publisher, and other game industry folks - they had specifically told me at Unpub that they wanted to try the game. So, the first bad news came when they had to cancel their trip, due to some bad weather and other deadlines they had. That was no fault on them, but I was still a little bummed about that. However, I did get a chance to get one playtest in, with some folks that have become part of our regular gaming crowd. The Senzig family - 3 generations of them - showed up again, and they all played with my friend Brian, and also Mike Crescenzi, who'd I met last year with his brother Mark.
Now, Unpub was great - but I don't know how many of the people that played were really gamers. Among the Senzigs, Mike Sr. has been playing Acquire since it was published, Mike Jr. has won a few plaques, and even teenage Luke has gone toe to toe with the likes of Bill Crenshaw in Agricola. Mike Crescenzi won Lords of Waterdeep last year, and in the few games I've played with him...I've seen enough to know that he knows games. In short, these guys are all really good gamers. So, I thought I would get great feedback.
Unfortunately - everything that went so good at Unpub...seemed to go bad here. The game took 2+ hours. Mike C. used a plastic strategy to win by 100+ points. Some of the random event cards had really negative effects that caused more havoc than my intention. Now...I did get good feedback. Mike Jr. gave me some specific feedback on a few things he would change. But I wasn't sure what to take away from that playtest - was the game broken due to the runaway leader? It's hard to say - everyone was tired, there was a lot of distractions, no one was trying to stop the plastic strategy. But that uncertainty - is the game broken, or was this an anomalous game - is very frustrating.
|Did they break Santa's Workshop???|
I had wanted to come away from Prezcon with enough data to make a decision on where to take the game. But I came away with enough uncertainty and doubt, that I've just ended up putting the game on the shelf and not thinking about it for the last 6 weeks. I had very seriously thought about taking it to Origins this year and trying to show it to publishers. But since that's about 2 months away, that's looking unlikely.
Lastly, I'll mention that while I've had a few other ideas for games, I've not yet had a vision that was as clear to me as the first time I thought about Santa's Workshop. So, as an aspiring game designer, that's been frustrating. They say that if you're a writer, you need to write...and I know that's the same for game design - I just need to sit down and work on things. But that's easier said than done.
So, that's where I'm at now. I will update when I can. There may be an Unpub Mini happening in May that I'll take the game to, we'll see. I don't typically get a lot of comments on my blog (not blogging regularly doesn't lead to regular commenters) - but any ideas are welcome! Thanks for reading.