Thursday, September 21, 2017

Protospiel Chicago 2017

Well, another Protospiel event has come and gone.  The second year of Protospiel Chicago was another huge success.  The event sold out by Saturday afternoon!  Nearly 100 designers and playtesters congregated on the Holiday Inn Express in Palatine, IL for three days of playing games in various states of development.  [UPDATE: In the comments below I got more detailed numbers.  There were 150 badges sold (plus some publisher, media, etc. that had complimentary badges)!  A few couldn't attend, but most did.  Over 150 people, and most attended for two or even three days!  What a great success!]

I love going to Protospiel events because the feedback I get in one or two plays of a game at a Protospiel is equal to the feedback from dozens of standard playtests.  Even for games I've been working on for years and think are pretty solid, I come away with ideas for changes and improvements.  It's also a wonderful place to playtest the games of a bunch of different designers, give some great feedback, and network with some great people.  I've met some really great friends at Protospiels over the years.

At this year's Protospiel Chicago I got 5 of my games played and played 10 other games, some of which were pretty good!  Here's a photo journal of the games I played and a little bit about each one, plus a few other fun photos.

Below I'll describe each game, list the designer and who I played with, the time spent both playing and discussing the game (to the best of my recollection), and also three ratings, from 1-5.  The first is how close to finished I felt the game was.  A 1 means it was a super early prototype and a 5 means it was very close to publication ready.  The second is how fun the game was in its current state.  A 1 means it needs a lot of work and wasn't really playable or much fun at all.  A 5 means I had a great time playing and would love to play again.  Finally, the third number is the potential the game has of becoming a really great game.  A 1 means I wasn't a huge fan of the game (luckily there weren't any of those) and a 5 means I thought the game was pretty awesome.

So a rating of 2-2-5 would mean that it was a pretty early prototype, wasn't a whole lot of fun yet, but had quite a bit of potential to be a pretty good game.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Middlin' by Randy Ekl
Title: Middlin'
By: Randy Ekl
Played with: Randy Ekl, Troy Pichelman, Jason Brooks, Brennan Aldridge, and Jeff Bantly
Time spent: 1:30
Prototype Rating: 3-4-4

The first game I played on Friday was Middlin' by Randy Ekl.  This is sort of a trick taking game with some interesting twists.  In Middlin' each player is dealt a hand of cards.  On their turn they can play, face-down one or two cards from their hand.  After everyone has played, cards are revealed each players' cards summed.  The highest and lowest players are out for the round and the other players can choose an action from one of their played cards to apply to their penguins on the game board.  Through careful selection of actions the penguins can huddle closer to the middle, gaining more points the closer to the middle they are.  But it's not always good to be in the middle.  Each time you are in the group to 'win' a trick you get a pebble.  At the end of the game pebbles are worth negative points, so you really want to balance taking actions with avoiding the pebbles.  This leads to some intense bluffing and deduction scenarios toward the end of the game.  I really enjoyed Middlin' and look forward to seeing it develop further.  The gameplay was solid, although it needed a bit of balancing and a few other tweaks.  This was a pretty early prototype copy, but had obviously been through a few iterations.

Worship / Warship by Jason Brooks

Worship / Warship by Jason Brooks
Title: Worship / Warship
By: Jason Brooks
Played with: Eric Engstrom, Brennan Aldridge, and Jeff Bantly
Time spent: 1:30
Prototype Rating: 2-2-4

Worship / Warship is a game in two halves about growing a religious following on your island and then eventually spreading off your island to conquer your neighbors.  It uses an interesting deck-building element as you convert the heathens on your island to be your followers.  You have two heathens to convert each round and they'll get added to your deck.  Any heathens you don't manage to convert escape to a central island where you'll get a second chance during the expansion phase.  Eventually you'll develop your nation to the point where you can start building warships and battling your opponents for control, which almost feels like a separate game.  This one was fun, but way too long.  We played for over an hour and were just starting to expand beyond our own islands.  So a lot needs to be done to speed things up.  Theres also some balancing needed as well as some tweaks to some cards to make the decisions in the game a little more interesting, however it does seem like there's potential for a decent game there, or maybe even two games!

Playmat for Pluto Attacks by Troy Pichelman of JTP Games.
I didn't play Pluto Attacks this time (I've played it at three other Protospiels), but Troy did show me the playmat he's ordered to sell with the game.  He also gave me a copy to review, so keep an eye out for that coming soon!

The Manhattan Project: Loaded Dice by George Jaros

The Manhattan Project: Loaded Dice by George Jaros

The Manhattan Project: Loaded Dice by George Jaros

The Manhattan Project: Loaded Dice by George Jaros
Title: The Manhattan Project: Loaded Dice
By: George Jaros
Played with: Troy Pichelman, Natasha Chmura, John Brussolo
Time spent: 2:20

NOTE: The game started off at a decent pace, but the last half dragged.  The time flew though and we didn't realize how long it took.  Got some good ideas on how to speed things up though.

Minion Games was running a contest for people to create a dice game set in their Manhattan Project universe and allowing designers to pitch their entries at Protospiel Chicago on Saturday.  My entry was The Manhattan Project: Loaded Dice, based on the original game.  I wanted to get it played at least once before presenting it to James Mathe and I'm glad I did.  I made a few minor changes to the game and printed out new rules and some adjusted cards after I got home late Friday night (actually early Saturday morning).

Friday afternoon at Protospiel Chicago.

Company of Thieves by Scott Starkey

Company of Thieves by Scott Starkey

Company of Thieves by Scott Starkey
Title: Company of Thieves
By: Scott Starkey
Played with: Peter Dast, Gary Dickson, and Dave Munger
Time spent: 1:15
Prototype Rating: 3-4-5

Company of Thieves is a really great competitive game that requires cooperating with your opponents  Even as a prototype this was a blast to play.  It's a game where each player is a burglar attempting to steal stuff from neighborhood houses (ok, so not the most moral of themes).  However, these houses are protected by all sorts of challenges that thieves may face.  Some are fairly standard, like traps and guards, but others are more fantastical and 'dungeon' themed.  They're fun and silly!  Each round has several steps, some of which are taken simultaneously and some individually.  Each round starts with players 'casing a joint'.  Choose one of the locations to visit.  If you visit a house you get to peek at the challenges there so you can better prepare.  If you visit the Guild you can collect additional 'resources' (they're more like skills - Fight, Tinker, and Sneak) that will be used to overcome challenges.  Next, each player chooses two more locations to visit that night.  These will be your attempts to actually burglarize the houses.  There's a chance that multiple players may go to the same house, and if they do they'll cooperate to try and defeat the challenges there.  Each challenge requires discarding specific skill cards to complete.  Defeating a challenge sometimes gives each player at the location a small bonus and if all challenges at a location are defeated they can plunder the treasure at that location.  They may gain Gold, Items, or wild cubes (maybe Treasure) and will also gain some Notoriety.  Items give cards that grant ongoing or one-time abilities and benefits, while Gold can be used to purchase more skill cards from the Guild.  At the end of the game players gain 1 point for each set of Gold, Item, and Notoriety cubes they have (with the wild cubes filling in gaps).

I found Company of Thieves to be a very fun mix of resource management, cooperation, bluffing, deduction, and competition.  Aside from some balancing and minor tweaks, this game is mechanically very solid and a ton of fun to play.  Table talk is allowed, although resources are all private, so depending on the players this can be a straightforward cooperative game or turn into a traitorous game of wheeling, dealing, bluffing, and deceit.  This was possibly the best game I played all weekend (aside from my own - I'm biased that way), although there was one other that was also pretty great.  I really hope everyone has a chance to play this one some day!  Great job Scott!

The Captain Dead: Episode 5 is by JT Smith
Title: The Captain Dead: Episode 5
By: JT Smith
Played with: Carl Klutzke, Eric Jome, Andrew Hansen
Time spent: 1:00
Prototype Rating: 1-2-4

This was by far the roughest prototype I played all weekend - just handwritten cards and pieces scrounged from other games and prototypes.  It's a very, very early version of what will eventually become the next game in the Captain is Dead series.  This one is a cooperative dungeon crawler style game about trying to escape an alien ship.  Right now it felt too much like the original Captain is Dead, but there is a ton of potential for cooperative puzzle solving on the alien ship and I can't wait to see where JT takes it!

Polter-Heist by George Jaros
Title: Polter-Heist
By: George Jaros
Played with: Carl Klutzke, Eric Jome, Andrew Hansen, Nate Jones
Time spent: 1:15

NOTE: As I kind of expected, the game is much better with the actions instead of roll & move, but the ghosts were quite a bit too powerful - players couldn't gather any items.  The game also still suffers from a lack of motivation and too much randomness.  The good thing is, even though the players ripped the game to shreds, I think I'll be able to pick up the pieces and come up with something much better, while still keeping the same theme and core ideas.  Polter-Heist 2.0 will be a major overhaul and I think will be much, much better.  They gave me a ton of great ideas to start working with!

Energy Empire Dice by Nate Jones
Title: Energy Empire Dice
By: Nate Jones
Played with: Nate Jones, Carl Klutzke, Eric Jome, Andrew Hansen
Time spent: 1:45
Prototype Rating: 2-2-3

My Manhattan Project dice game wasn't the only one at Protospiel Chicago.  I also got to play Nate Jones' take on Energy Empire.  In the game players manage money generated by their power plants to build more plants, generate power to enter new cities, and manage pollution caused by both power plants and disasters. I felt that this was a pretty good start, but needed some balancing and a bit more drive.  The game went on pretty long, too.  Tightening it up and having it end sooner would be a big plus.  As it was I felt like people's turns were very similar at the beginning, then started to differentiate, and by the end we were converging again.  The game should end toward the middle of that curve, before we all have a strong engine built up.  This will drive more strategic decisions earlier in the game and help drive it to a faster conclusion.  Still, it was good and has potential, I think.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Globalization by Dan Germain
Title: Globalization
By: Dan Germain
Played with: Rod Currie, Chris McGowan
Time spent: 1:30
Prototype Rating: 2-4-5

Along with Scott Starkey's Company of Thieves, I think Globalization was the best game I played all weekend.  This takes some mechanics from Ticket to Ride and blends them with an economic area control game.  Each card can be used for multiple purposes: either as set collection to gain control of areas, or for their economic abilities to produce, transport, or manufacture resources and goods.  Players can go for an economic victory or area control victory.  The game was pretty solid as is, but does have a few rough areas.  It only plays 2-3 players right now, so it needs to get gameplay up to 4 or even 5.  It also has some special bonus cards that were a bit overpowered because they came up repeatedly.  Making them one-time-use cards that are removed from the game after use will help drive early strategies without becoming over powerful in the end game.  A few of the economic tracks also need a bit of balancing, and maybe need to contribute to multiple potential end game conditions.  But overall the game was very solid, played quickly, and was both thought provoking and simple.  It's just a step up from Ticket to Ride in complexity, so it won't be hard to teach to others, but was deep enough that it'll appeal to even hard core gamers.  Keep an eye on this one, it could be a big hit!

8 Seconds: Vegas Showdown by George Jaros

8 Seconds: Vegas Showdown by George Jaros

8 Seconds: Vegas Showdown by George Jaros

8 Seconds: Vegas Showdown by George Jaros

8 Seconds: Vegas Showdown by George Jaros

8 Seconds: Vegas Showdown by George Jaros

8 Seconds: Vegas Showdown by George Jaros
Title: 8 Seconds w/ Vegas Showdown expansion
By: George Jaros
Played with: Rod Currie, Chris McGowen, Dan Germain
Time spent: 1:00

NOTE: 8 Seconds with the Vegas Showdown betting element has been a real winner.  People really seem to enjoy the betting, even though it slows down the game quite a bit.  This is the first time I tested with the refined rules for what happens after a first-roll Clown Out for betting and, while it's working better and no one mentioned anything, after this play and the one shortly after, I've decided to tweak that rule just a bit more.  Other than that, this game went awesome, ending with the last roll of the last player to ride a 15 point bull and snag the win by 1 point!

JT Smith taking a break from gaming
while wearing my gaming hat!
I've had this hat (that my dad made for me)
since the Halloween I was in 4th grade!
At this point I took a break for a little while before presenting my The Manhattan Project: Loaded Dice to James Mathe from Minion Games.  That pitch went very well, with James actually taking more time than I was allotted to play for a while.  He actually took the prototype home with him to playtest some more!  Call me thrilled!

Tanuki in the Garden by George Jaros
Title: Tanuki in the Garden
By: George Jaros
Played with: Carl Klutzke, Nate Jones, Jason Glover
Time spent: 1:10

NOTE: I mentioned it at the start of play, but we completely forgot about dropping shiitake on the tile they're lost at when a Tanuki attacks.  So the game went longer than I'd like, ending after about an hour.  However I did get some good feedback and have a few ideas I'd like to try with the game.

Sea Dogs by Dave Fulton
Title: Sea Dogs
By: Dave Fulton
Played with: Dave Fulton, Andrew Stackhouse, Dennis Nowak, Dave Munger
Time spent: 1:10
Prototype Rating: 3-3-4

Sea Dogs is a fairly fast pick-up and deliver game by Dave Fulton, part of the team that brought Grifters to the world.  The game is about dogs sailing from island to island, collecting loot, and trading it for gold, treasure, and other things pirates love.  Along the way you can attack your fellow pirates to maybe gain some of what they have in their hand, with a kind of go-fish mechanic with betting and bluffing.  Mechanically the game worked pretty well, but it felt sluggish at times and super fast.  The combat seemed a little awkward, especially when you could bluff with money from the bank, but with a bit more work this could be quite a fun little family game.

8 Seconds: Vegas Showdown by George Jaros

8 Seconds: Vegas Showdown by George Jaros
Title: 8 Seconds w/ Vegas Showdown expansion
By: George Jaros
Played with: Alex Yaeger, Julie Yaeger, Randy Ekl, Geoff ?
Time spent: 1:00

NOTE: Another good game of 8 Seconds with the betting.  I got some good feedback about being careful with the Golden Buckle point potentials as well as the player count (I'm going to list it as 1-6 players now).  It's playing in about 15 minutes per player, so even at 6 its probably going to be on the longer side for its weight.  It was also after this play that I decided the Clown Out bets had to change, even though still no one complained.  Overall a good playtest!

Saturday evening at Protospiel Chicago.
U.S.A.T. by Andrew Clark
Title: U.S.A.T.
By: Andrew Clark
Played with: Peter Dast, Carl Klutzke, Andrew Hansen
Time spent: 1:00
Prototype Rating: 2-2-5

U.S.A.T. is an attempt at combining a Euchre-like trick taking game with an area control and combat game.  If you recall, you might remember that I absolutely loved Radiant last year (which just funded in its third Kickstarter attempt), which was also a blend of trick-taking and area control.  Well, where Radiant's combat was very simple and determined by the winner of each trick, U.S.A.T. uses the tricks to power actions that maneuver and expand your armies on a map.  We didn't play long enough to complete a game, but it was enough to show that there's a great potential here.  A lot of the game will have to be reworked, particularly the trump and trick mechanics, but there's the spark of an awesome game here.

Get With the Program by Jordan Nardick
Title: Get With the Program
By: Jordan Nardick
Played with: Jordan Nardick, Rick Ward, Rob Huber, Anne Odom, Jeremy Weaver
Time spent: 1:15
Prototype Rating: 3-2-2

This is a social game where you don't know what team you are on.  At the start of the game you'll know the team of the player to your left, but no one else, including yourself.  Through a series of turns, players slowly gain knowledge, maybe.  Lying about what you know is just a part of the game.  In the first phase of each round players take turns exchanging information (whether true or not).  The next round each player gives two other players a team card for the team they think that person is on (or will be by the end of the game).  In the final round each player will roll a D3 die and then choose an action to be taken at the end of the round.  Higher dice can bump lower dice, so you might not get your action.  Ations included things like looking at another player's team card,  swapping two players' team cards, or requiring that you are told the truth in the next round.  Alternately you no place your die and gain one additional piece of information by looking at a team card given to another player so you know what team someone else thinks that player is on.  At the end of three rounds each player attempts to guess their own team.  Then scores are added up by seeing how many correct or incorrect guesses each player had.  The player with the most points wins for their team.

I must say that I really didn't care for this game,not because it didn't work, but because it only works if players lie.  If everyone tells the truth the game becomes just a cooperative game of deduction.  But as soon as players start lying all information becomes suspect and logic takes a backseat to emotion.  Everyone had fun with this, but I don't care if I never play again.  There will be some that will love this game, and with a bit of balancing of the actions that can be chosen, and some good, clear rules, I think this could find an audience, but unfortunately that won't include me.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Title: Monsters in the Darkness
By: Eric Pluff
Played with: Eric Jome, Brendan Riley, Eric Pluff
Time spent: 0:45
Prototype Rating: 2-1-2

We never actually even got a round into this game, and I'm still not sure what the goal of the game was.  It is a semi-cooperative game where players are trying to defeat the Darkness as a team (although teams aren't defined and seem more like casual alliances rather than teams) while also trying to overcome a personal obstacle, or character flaw.  Or you can go it alone and try to win by yourself, either by completing a goal on your own, going on the offensive and eliminating all other players, or turning to the dark side and joining the Darkness.  There was something about playing tiles to grow the land areas and somehow you could take actions to do stuff, too, but after over 30 minutes of the designer trying to explain the game we decided to give feedback on what we knew already, which included learning how to teach your game in 5 minutes or so, setting clear goals and expectations for the game, and getting rid of a player elimination, last-man-standing mechanic in a game that lasts over an hour.  There might be something of interest here, but honestly we didn't get far enough into the game to get any feel for the gameplay experience at all.

Title: Looiting MiniSkull Castle
By: George Jaros
Played with: Peter Dast, Natasha Chmura, George Jaros (yes, my dad!)
Time spent: 2:00

NOTE: This was the first time Looting MiniSkull Castle has hit the table in almost a year.  I had shelved it after Protospiel Madison, 2016 because I knew it needed something, but didn't get any great ideas back then.  I knew it needed to be faster and a bit smoother in areas, so wanted to get some new perspective on the game.  The game started out slow as I refreshed on some of the finer points of the rules, but then moved smoother, although still much slower than I really want.  I did get some great feedback though, and will be working on some changes to speed things up and make the game simpler in some areas.  Some of the rooms will be changing as well as many of the monsters.  I'm getting rid of the Minor Monster rooms and instead making those cubes that will get added to the rooms and must be defeated before gaining the room benefits.  I think the changes will make the game clearer and faster, which is what it needs!

Well, that's a wrap up of my experience at Protospiel Chicago, 2017.  I was there from 10am to 12am Friday, 10:30am to 11pm Saturday and 12:30pm to 4pm on Sunday.  I'm thrilled with all the great games I played, thankful for all the great feedback I got on my games, and disappointed that I didn't get to play all the games I wanted.  But I'd have needed several weeks of gaming to get to them all, so there's always the next Protospiel!

In all, I spent about 12 hours 40 minutes playing/discussing others' games and about 8 hours 45 minutes playing/discussing my own games, which means I have about 8 hours unaccounted for...  That must have been spent visiting and networking!  A huge thank you to Maxine and randy Ekl for organizing Protospiel Chicago, and I can't wait for next year!

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  1. Hi George, Thanks for the Protospiel Chicago Report! I had a great time as well.

    There were over 150 badges sold, plus a number of staff, publisher, and other badges. A handful of people ended up not being able to attend, but in total, about 150 did attend at some point during the weekend! And most of them attended two, or even all three days!

    I'm looking forward to the next Protospiel already!


  2. Thanks! I updated the post with your numbers. That's an awesome success!