UK Games Expo for designers

This started more as a to do list for myself, but figured it’d probably be worth blogging about. So after the last post about (possible) great games at the Expo, here’s some stuff for designers to check out/ do:

Playtest! Playtesting your game is always the most important yet often most troublesome thing to do. Playtest UK will have tables and signup forms. This is a really valuable opportunity for all designers- get your games in front of people and find out what they really think. Better still, those nice volunteers will find people to play your game for you, and everybody understands it’s prototype time. Obviously, after (or before) having your game playtested, try and playtest someone else’s!

http://playtest.co.uk/

In addition, Playtest UK are running the Speed Dating, Networking and Wyvern’s Lair events. Whilst the dating and lair are way (way) too late to enter, you might still be able to join the networking event. Most designers will want to pitch to publishers, but not whilst they’re trying ot market their own games. The networking event (and the speed dating obviously) are the perfect times for this).

Seminar’s. Here’s the design seminar timetable from the Expo’s website itself:

There’s a lot of great information and advice there, being doled out for free. Obviously you can’t make everything, but I always find it worth going to one or two seminars and talks.

Tinkerbot Hackathon (2-T8). Sounds fun. If you’re one of the 10 who manage to make it, good luck! The redesign contests in the past were really popular, so I predict a queue for this. Will probably be proved emphatically wrong now.

Manufacturers, distributors and artists on the floor. Thinking of going down self-publishing and/ or kickstarter? These people are the ones you need to speak to. I’ve made a quick list here of just the manufacturers and distributors (no judgements, just c&p from the expo programme), but if you are self publishing you will need good art. Don’t neglect it:

  • Burley Games 1-A4
  • Spiral Galaxy Games 1-J6
  • Gamesquest 1-H16
  • Grand Prix International 1-K20
  • Fabryka Kart 1-E18
  • BoardGamesMaker.com 1-M1
  • Gibsons 1-B20

(there are probably others I’ve missed- Wingo have tweeted about being there, but I can’t find them on the list for example)

Let me know if there’s anything else I’ve missed, and I hope this expo is a fruitful one!

UK Games Expo 2018 preview- a few new things which stand out…

It’s the UKGames Expo 2018 soon, and as always this time of year I can’t wait. It’s the oasis of calm within exam season, and by oasis of calm I mean even more frenetic bargain hunting, demo playing run-around-as-many-stalls-as-you-can chaos. Love it. This year I’ve actually looked ahead to avoid the headless chicken approach, and thanks to this geeklist on BGG:  https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/240841/uk-games-expo-2018 I’ve found a number of things which interest me.

So, in no particular order!

Chocolate Factory!

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/240567/chocolate-factory

As much as I like chocolate, theme wouldn’t swing me to a game, but this apparently has “a physical conveyer belt mechanic and wooden chocolate pieces! Although still at an early stage of graphical and art development, the game is a great blend of physical tactile pieces and euro mechanics.” I love the idea of a conveyor belt style logistics game with tactile pieces, so I’m intrigued to see what this is all about.

 

Escape Tales: The Awakening

I’m a sucker for escape room games, and I’ve been saying (and prototyping) for a while that Escape Room games shouldn’t mean no theme or story, but in fact should be smashing them. Again, only heard of this from the publisher, but I want to see what they’ve got.

 

Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/245444/holding-troubled-life-billy-kerr

“All you know is this: His name is Billy Kerr, he’s 60, and he was admitted to your hospital following a massive heart attack on a flight from Sydney, Australia. Doctors give Billy days to live, but he’s hanging on as if he can’t, or won’t, let go.

Piece together Billy’s troubled past to finally reveal the three hidden memories that keep him holding on. Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr is a co-operative worker placement game featuring a compelling storyline that will be revealed as you play time and time again, but also allows players to replay all previous scenarios to learn more and improve upon past attempts.”

Really excited about this, a worker placement story game lives and dies by its story, but I have faith here. Not only that, but it sounds so refreshing, and I’d love to see boardgaming story telling mature into non-traditional realms. Super excited to play this.

 

Newspeak

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/221298/newspeak

“Newspeak is a tense game of dystopian subversion in which you take the role of either the ‘dissidents’ or the ‘moderators’ in a mind-bending battle of wits to determine the reality around you.

Will you challenge the status quo and shatter your fragile reality or seek to protect the safety of what you know?”

Apologies for the shilling, but if you haven’t had a chance to play this yet you’ll be able to at the Expo! Fantastic new setups to help ease players into it at a gentler pace, come along and give it a crack. Code making and breaking with hilarity and some really beautiful artwork.

 

Chronicles of Crime

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/239188/chronicles-crime

I purposefully didn’t join the Kickstarter for this, which was difficult because I love the idea so much- a detective game with so much replayability without needing new cases. However, I wanted to try it out first, to see if I would find the QR scanning annoying. This is my chance to probably regret not backing that Kickstarter in the first place.

 

Stuff by Bez

No particular game here, but if you haven’t encountered Bez and played any of his card games I encourage it. I understand he’s drawing cats now, although I have no idea what’s actually going on there.

 

A couple of other things- apparently there’s a big box of Agricola All Creatures Big and Small, which I love, but one of the reasons I love it is because of the small box so that’s out. And I’ll be there playtesting, and also manning the Shut Up and Sit Down stand somehow. More of that nearer the show!

So let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed, especially anything new, that scratches a different itch.

Accelerating Through the Finish

I’m still talking about pace*, and the third thing developers can do to make sure a game’s pace is on point:

  1.  Reduce downtime
  2.  Structured turns
  3.  Make the game evolve <—- we’re here

A common refrain from a disappointing game is the feeling that the gameplay at the end was no different then the gameplay at the start. It feels the same, or perhaps even is the same. Engine building games in which the engine sputters out before it really has the chance to shine, or games which don’t empower the player in any way. I have played some published games, as well as prototypes, in which the game settles into a rut, barely breaking out of it except for random event cards. No sense of urgency, just repeat until fade. So what can we do to prevent this from happening in games?

Have options change for players throughout the game. Something Agricola does to amazing effect is ramp up the efficiency of the available actions as the game progresses. You might still have to go back for wood, but really the fight is over growth without a room. Those later actions make the game exciting, and every turn begins with a new one. Important here is the idea that the actions are better, worse actions would slow the game down towards the end (and that can happen with pure random selections).

Empower the player, whether through engine building or power ups, make them feel constantly more powerful than previously. Agricola does this again masterfully- as your farm improves you are able to do more- whether take more actions, improved actions, or set up your feeding engine, players are rewarded for good play by having stronger rounds. Similarly, all Civ games are based upon this idea that your civilisation gets more powerful, and everything starts ticking along like clockwork (unfortunately, so does your opponents, but there’s the game). Ideally, a player should see a future action and consider it utterly impossible, only to find it more than possible by the game’s end.

Understand where in your game the key turning point from engine building to point scoring is going to be. Some of the best engine builders, whether deck or tableau based, have a key tempo change where players switch from engine to points. Switch too early and you may run out of steam, too late and you miss out on points. Dominion and Through The Ages, amongst others, have a key difference between experienced and inexperienced players being when to chase after the points. And when that tempo switches you don’t want to be behind on the curve.

In “From the Ground Up” (new name for 3 Districts, until I change my mind again),  I’ve tried to meet all three of these things. Player’s are in charge of the options available, but the higher victory points for the more powerful buildings means there should be a natural progression into more powerful actions. The engine being built is a relatively simple one- a money producing based upon the number of cards, but it works effectively to push players forward. The jump from Level 1 to 2 to 3 is decided upon by players, but it needs to be considered- too soon and you may not bring in enough money, too late and you’ll leave points on the table.

So there’s all my thoughts on pace, and hopefully a great deal to explain what I’ve done to make sure From the Ground Up is a well paced game. Making a number of changes to it which will need to be tested, but luckily I’ve got a playtesting spot at the UKGames Expo! New icons will need a bit of explaining, but I’m hoping to bring something which looks good and plays fantastically. If you’re going I hope to see you there.

 

 

 

*Although, saying what I’m going to post about so far in advance has really hurt my pace here ironically enough.