Protospiel 2014

Since last year’s Protospiel, a lot has changed for me, both with regards to the state of my prototype, as well as my level of contact within the board game designers’ community. So this year, trepidation and rookie mistakes were replaced with excitement to see some other designers (whom I know primarily online) in person and a clear sense of purpose.

Whereas before, I thought I was only a few small tweaks from a finished design, this time, I knew I had work to do. And my mission was to get some hard-hitting feedback in order to confirm things I knew, experiment with changes I had in mind, and get a few really workable suggestions in areas I was still scratching my head over.

This year, perhaps feeling a little guilty about having clear personal objectives, I wanted to make sure I paid it forward, so I tried out a few games before attempting to table Valour. I didn’t take great notes on several of the prototypes I played, so this is from memory, so a few may have slipped my mind. The highlights:

“Fortune Cookie” — A lightweight card game focused on asymmetric scoring, using the Chinese Zodiac and fortune cookie tropes as a theme. Very enjoyable. Our play group made some drastic changes and re-tested; remarkable to see the difference that can be achieved even within the same framework (we didn’t modify any components or cards) by rethinking assumptions.

“Nine Dragons” — Another Chinese-themed game, this one’s core mechanic involved hedging bets on a final outcome, while simultaneously voting in public on what that outcome would be. The public voting really powered some interesting groupthink around the betting mechanic.

“Dungeon Masters” — I’m gonna name drop a little here, this is one of James Mathe’s personal titles, which I had the fortune of trying last year as well. It’s “Manhattan Project” (which he published) meets “Dungeon Lords”. Worker placement and resource management with the aim of optimizing a dungeon to destroy invading Heroes. The trap-laying and invading mechanic felt more logical to me than Dungeon Lords, as Heroes don’t reverse-auction themselves into everyone’s dungeons.

Ascendant Crown — One of my personal Protospiel 2013 favorites (née Scarlet Sonata), back again with near-final art and some of the looser bits tidied up. Worker placement provides a framework for an extremely unique dice-combat system, which almost has to be seen to understand. There are basic units (Huntsmen), which can be upgraded twice (to Warriors and finally to Champions), so effectively three different types of units. They each bring a die to the battle; the more upgrades, the badder the die. Then each type hits on a different combination of die faces, providing a super fun combinatoric challenge to maximize the damage dealt. If that makes no sense, just come over and play it after I get a copy from Kickstarter; I’ll be backing this one on day one.

“Grips & Gaffers” — An limited-movement/object arrangement mini-game turns into arranging a movie set for shooting when combined with a clever time-tracking mechanic. Each player has a Grip, and a Gaffer, each of whom can only move certain pieces of equipment on your soundstage. The Grip and the Gaffer each spend units of ‘time’ to accomplish their tasks; the more time they spend, the more opponents will get to arrange their own sets before they are up to move again. To shoot a scene, you have to schedule your Grip and Gaffer together, and lock in the actors you require, which act as a mutual exclusion among players.

“Pirates of the Golden Isles” — Two pirate themed games glued together; a set-collection treasure hunt, and a hidden action combat system. It sounds like the designers are still working through some struggles with the push-pull between the two parts, and gamer segments to which each mode of play appeals. I was rather fond of both components, so I hope they can find a way to reconcile them such that they complement each other.

I got the opportunity to table Valour twice during the weekend. The first time, I was able to experiment with a few suggestions I got during the last Boulder playtests. Some experiments stuck,  others didn’t. The second time I broke it out, (sorry… one…two more name drops) I was fortunate enough to have Uwe and Gunter Eickert of Academy Games and Alex Yeager from Mayfair (yes, that Mayfair) among the testers. As luck would have it, the experiments and rule changes I confirmed during the first playtest made this run quite smoothly. Feedback was focused and fierce, and I tapped out notes on the iPad as quickly as I could possibly muster.

Such a great event. My hat is off to David Whitcher for putting it on year after year. For real, if you’re designing a board game, go to this. Or one of the similarly-named replicas in your part of the country:

As always, if you want periodic updates on Valour, there is a mailing list!