Monday, April 23, 2018

Protospiel Milwaukee 2018 Recap

I've been going to Protospiel events since October 2014 and have found them amazing.  I don't have it in my budget or room in my busy family schedule to go to any of the big game conventions, but since I design games I'm able to convince my wife that going to Protospiels are important.  And they are!  In addition to all the networking that you get to do at a Protospiel (I've met tons of wonderful people), Protospiel is a great opportunity to get incredibly high quality feedback on your game designs.  Every time I go I find things to make my games better, even games I thought were finished.  The feedback you can get from just one playthrough with other experienced designers and publishers is worth a thousand playthroughs with a typical game group.  Not that regular playtests with your game group aren't important (my group is excellent and really does a lot to help me smooth out all the rough edges on my designs), but experienced designers look at games from a different perspective.  If you design games at all, I highly recommend taking it to at least one Protospiel event (or something similar where other designers will play and provide feedback).

The latest Protospiel was Protospiel Milwaukee on April 13-15.  This was my third time at Protospiel Milwaukee (I previously went in 2016 and 2017).  This year the attendance was down a bit.  A number of the 'regulars' had other commitments that weekend and bad weather prevented a lot of the drop-ins from coming.  That doesn't mean it wasn't fun or productive though.  If anything it made the atmosphere a bit more relaxed.  Usually table space is at a premium, so you need to make sure games are cleaned up right away.  This year games were able to be left set up on a lot of tables, which was great for both browsing and for quickly moving from game to game.  Hopefully next year's numbers are back up again, but I have no complaints about this year's event, other than not being able to hang out with a few good friends for the weekend (there were plenty of other good friends to hang out with though).

So, what did I play at Protospiel Milwaukee this year?  A whole bunch of games.  Some good, some great, but none that were bad this year.  I played 3.5 of my games (just half a play of one) and 11 other games.  My it of the weekend was Trick Builders, which was played 5 times, and none of the plays initiated by me.  Every time it was because someone specifically asked to play it!

Here's a rundown of all the games I played.  I'll include the designer, who I played with, 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, April 13, 2018
Title: Apogee-Perigee
By: Randy Ekl
Played with: Randy Ekl, Troy Pichelman, Andrew Hanson, Patrick Lindsay
Prototype Rating: 1-3-4

For the fourth Protospiel in a row the first game I played was designed by either Randy or Maxine Ekl.  At Madison 2016 it was Stripes by Maxine, Milwaukee 2017 it was Prime Location by Randy, then Chicago 2017 it was Middlin' by Randy, and Milwaukee 2018 was Apogee-Perigee by Randy.  Apogee-Perigee is a worker placement game where players have ships orbiting a star.  They must collect various items in the orbits and eventually trade them in to build space stations for points.  The game had some interesting decisions, but the items to collect were way too complex.  There were nine (?) different types of items to collect and most of those had variants based on which orbit and what quadrant of the board they were collected in.  This made for over 30 different items that could be collected, making things too complex to track easily.  The good thing is, with some streamlining, Apogee-Perigee has potential to be a pretty fun game with some interesting worker placement and path mechanics.

Title: The Manhattan Project: War Machine
By: Jan M. Gonzalez / Minion Games
Played with: James Mathe, Dustin Oakley, JT Smith
Prototype Rating: 3-4-4

This is one of the games that beat out my TMP dice game in the contest I entered last year.  Although I won the in-person submission portion of the contest, two games from the The Game Crafter portion of the contest were selected for publication and this was one of them.  This was a really solid game with great dice placement mechanics.  The name really didn't fit with the game though (it's based more on Energy Empire than the original The Manhattan Project).  While playing the game everything felt solid and well integrated, after thinking about it for a while I realized that all you're really trying to do in the game is construct buildings.  You have roll dice in order to activate areas on the board that lets you gain resources, build buildings, exchange resources, and a few other actions.  Essentially you have to manage three resources (money, metal, and plastic) in order to purchase buildings that give you certain benefits and end game points.  It's a solid game mechanically, but I hope that the development process brings some more interesting elements of the theme into the game.


Title: Death Trap Bits
By: Troy Pichelman
Played with: Dustin Oakley, JT Smith, Adelheid Zimmerman
Prototype Rating: 1-3-4

This is Troy Pichelman's entry for The Game Crafter's Bits Only game design contest.  You can't use any printed components for the contest (other than the box and rulebook).  Death Trap Bits is a dungeon crawler where people have to put together a team of adventurers to explore dungeon rooms, battle monsters, and collect loot.  The game was quite fun, although pretty unbalanced.  With some work (and a move to printed tiles for some of the elements) this could be pretty fun.


Title: Trick Builders
By: George Jaros
Played by:1st game:  JT Smith, Adelheid Zimmerman, Randy Ekl, Troy Pichelman 
2nd Game: Randy Ekl, Maxine Ekl, Eric Jome, Kevin Jones

Randy Ekl asked to play my new trick-taking / deck-building game, Trick Takers and a bunch joined in.  Throughout the game Randy kept saying it was very similar to a game that Maxine was trying to design (but without the deck-building aspect) and he wanted her to try.  So immediately after playing once we played a second time.  Both times everyone loved the game!  Playing with the group twice helped iron out a few rough spots and brought up a few edge cases that I had to resolve on the spot, but it was great to see that the changes I made after my last playtest with my local group were working.  And to hear everyone say they loved the game and thought it was great felt wonderful.  Later a few of them said my game was in the top 3 they played all weekend!  Woo hoo!


Title: Caverns of Antiquities
By: Jenny Fleishman
Played with: Kevin Jones, Maxine Ekl, Daniel Hartsig
Prototype Rating: 2-2-3

This game felt similar to Clank! in some ways.  Players draft from a dice pool to move adventurers around a map of paths and caverns trying to collect artifacts that they can then sell to complete contracts and earn points.  In this iteration of the game movement was way too restrictive, but a few ideas and discussions after playing for a bit and I think this game might have some potential.

Below are just some pictures of the event...

Castles of Sand by Daniel Hartsig - This is an 8-10 hour
game that he set up and had people drop in to play an
hour at a time over the course of the whole weekend.

Title: Goodbye Friend, Hello Dinner
By: Kevin Jones
Played with: Randy Ekl, Maxine Ekl, Jeremy Weaver, Jenny Fleishman
Prototype Rating: 4-4-5

I played this once before, at Protospiel Madison 2016, and had a great time.  So I was looking forward to seeing what had been updated.  This new version has tools and witch doctor cards that added quite a bit of interest and helped drive strategies.  After playing I suggested a chieftain piece in addition to the other pieces that counts double and can't be hunted.  I saw him testing this and a few other suggestions we gave (give everyone a different starting tool) later in the weekend and it was working very well.  I'm looking forward to playing this again in the future.  It was probably the best unsigned game I played all weekend - excepting my own, of course =)


Title: Trick Builders
By: George Jaros
Played with: Eric Jome, Keith Matejka, Kyle Rackley

The third game of Trick Takers on Friday was the result of it coming up in conversation and Kyle asking to play and Eric wanting to play it again.  Keith joined us and I was finally able to sit in on my own game.  Again the game went well, but Eric was pushing for me to try a drafting variant (as some in my local playtest group had suggested).  So I spent the night thinking about what would be needed to have the game work with drafting cards instead of purchasing cards.  The good news is, almost nothing would have to change

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Title: Race to the Moons
By: George Jaros
Played with: Lucas Gerlach, Neil Roberts, Michael Yanikowski

Onz Saturday morning I set up Race to the Moons.  It's a longer game so I was hoping to get a play in before lunch.  I had been especially hoping to test a few changes I had made since my last multi-player playtest, particularly the Production Outsourcing, and a few changes that would hopefully speed the game up.  The bad news is that the game went 3 hours (I had been shooting for about 2 hours).  The good news is that the Production Outsourcing pretty much worked (just needed some balancing of numbers and a minor mechanical tweak that I was able to implement on the fly), and everyone really enjoyed it and didn't notice that it took 3 hours.  The last hour of the game was exceptionally slow because there were so many rockets in play that the dice rolling to resolve them took quite a while.  So discussions afterward were mainly about how to speed up that part of the game.  I think I have a solution that will use less dice, so I'm excited to try that out sometime soon.


Title: Rurik: Dawn of Kiev
By: Stan Kordonskiy / Piecekeeper Games
Played with: Stan Kordonskiy, Kevin Jones, Brian Cable
Prototype Rating: 5-5-5

This game is in the final stages before launching on Kickstarter in July.  I had playtested it a few months ago, but didn't have the updated components to try it again.  So I was happy to test it out, and with the designer, too!  This is a great game of area control, resource management, and action bidding.  There's a ton going on in the game even though the rules are pretty simple.  I really enjoyed the game and am looking forward to the Kickstarter.

A 3D Printed sample of a Prince mini.


Title: Build the Skies
By: Steve Kaftansky
Played with: Jason McDowell, Steve Kaftanski
Prototype Rating: 3-4-4

In Build the Skies you lead a fleet of asteroid mining ships.  You'll send them out to asteroids in search of ice, metal, and rare minerals, which you'll then spend on things like upgrades, contracts, etc.  There are some interesting mechanics with asteroids sometimes getting destroyed from the mining, the earth moving so distances to/from asteroids change as the game progresses, and discovering new asteroids.  Ice is used to fuel your ships, so there's even the possibility of sending a rocket out only to get stranded.  The game dragged on a bit long, but in the discussion afterward we came up with some simple ways to speed the game up a bit.


Some more random pictures from the event of other games that I didn't play.


Title: Dice Chefs
By: Stan Kordonskiy
Played with: Keith Matejka, Jeremy Weaver
Prototype Rating: 3-3-4

As a professional chef, you'll be drafting different ingredients (dice) to create recipes.  The higher the dice values the more flavorful the recipes, so you'll need to use all your skills to make the best dishes.  This game needs a lot of balancing, and some minor tweaks to the board, skill cards, and recipes, but the core mechanics were pretty solid and the game was pretty fun.  It felt a bit automatic though, so some more choices would be great.

Title: Dual Powers: Revolution 1917
By: Brett Myers / Thunderworks Games
Played with: Matt Quock
Prototype Rating: 5-5-5

I played this for Keith Matejka so that I could review it for the Kickstarter that launched last week.  Suffice to say, I was blown away by the game.  This was by far the best game I played all weekend, and I'm so excited for the Kickstarter.  You can read my Kickstarter Preview Review to find out all about the game.  Spoiler though, I gave the game the highest rating I've ever given a Kickstarter preview.  Everything about the game is outstanding.


Title: Trick Builders
By: George Jaros
Played with: Keith Matejka, Kyle Rackley, Aaron Goodwine

Kyle asked to play Trick Builders again with his friend, so I decided to try out the drafting variant.  Using drafting to grow the deck instead of purchasing cards made the game a whole lot smoother and elegant, but it did take out a layer of complexity and depth with the gold and card costs.  The game played a lot faster and was easier to grasp.  This was the 4th time the game got played over the weekend and playtime dropped from about 45 minutes to 30 minutes.


I got to take a sneak peak at the board and box for the upcoming Lockup, a new game in the Roll Player universe by Stan Kordonskiy, coming from Thunderworks Games.


Title: Pharmacology
By: George Jaros
Played with: Keith Matejka, Kyle Rackley, Aaron Goodwine

We played about a half a game of Pharmacology.  They liked the mechanics, but felt that some of the locations were a bit confusing and that the game spent too much time on engine building and not enough on earning points.  But after thinking about this for a while I have some changes that I'll be making to the game.  I think it'll make the game better, even though I thought it was pretty much finished already!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Title: Fry Thief
By: Patrick Rauland
Played with: Jeff Swiggum
Prototype Rating: 3-2-4

In Fry Thief one player has French fries and the other wants the fries.  Most cards have two sides, one that can be used by the fry-eater, and one by the fry-stealer.  The goal is to be the one to eat the most fries.  When I played the game it was a mixture of printed cards and hand-written cards, so it looked like the game evolved quite a bit over the weekend.  It was a fun, fast two-player game but it felt a bit unbalanced.  In the discussion afterward we tweaked a few cards to balance the game a bit more and increase the excitement of the tug and pull of stealing fries back and forth.  In a message later in the week, Patrick said the advice I gave was the best advice he got all weekend.  Blush!


Title: Xtreme Snowboarding
By: George Jaros
Played with: Jeff Swiggum, Patrick Rauland, Gerry Hazen

This was only my second ever playtest of Xtreme Snowboarding, so I wasn't quite sure how it would go.  Surprisingly it went over pretty well!  A few rough spots that were pretty easy to smooth out, and a few rules tweaks on the fly, and the game ended up being pretty fun.  I took notes on some things to change and have already implemented them in the latest rules revision.  I'm looking forward to getting this to the table with my game group.



Title: Get Your Ducks in a Row
By: Maxine Ekl
Played with: Jenny Fleishman, Patrick Rauland
Prototype Rating: 2-4-4

Get Your Ducks in a Row is a casual pattern matching game that would be great for families.  You have a set of cards with shapes and colors and you'll need to manipulate the playing field in order to get your pattern.  The game played well enough, but some tweaks to the possible actions can really enhance the gameplay and make every action feel valuable.  I'm looking forward to trying this again at a future Protospiel.


Title: Xtreme Snowboarding
By: George Jaros
Played with: Randy Ekl, Maxine Ekl, Jenny Fleishman, Adam ?

The last game of Protospiel Milwaukee 2018 was another round of Trick Builders, but this time with the drafting again.  This was the 5th time the game got played and this time it was because Maxine wanted to play one more time before I left, and to try the drafting.  Again the drafting went very well and made the game much more streamlined.  However, after playing, both Maxine and Randy said they preferred the extra complexity of the card purchasing.  So what to do?  Some people preferred the faster, more streamlined play of the drafting, and some like the additional complexity and depth of the purchasing.  So why not both?  I've decided to make the game with two play styles.  A standard, simple version with drafting and an advanced, more complex version with the purchasing.  The good thing is that I think all the cards will work in both versions!

Well, that was Protospiel Milwaukee 2018 for me.  There were a ton of other games that I just didn't have the opportunity to play, but there's always the next Protospiel I guess.  I was there from about 1pm Friday until 2:30pm on Sunday.  I had been planning on staying later on Sunday, but the rainstorm that was predicted for the weekend turned into freezing rain and 5 inches of snow, so I left a bit early to make sure I was driving in daylight.  This year also marked the first time I stayed in the hotel hosting the event.  Usually I find someplace cheaper a short ways away, but this year the host hotel was only $10 more than anywhere nearby.  With the bad weather I'm super glad that I did stay on site.  Maybe I'll do that again next time!

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks George for writing this up!

    I saw you taking notes but my goodness this is *impressive*. I'll have to try writing up something like this at my next event as it's really helpful to look back on.

    Thanks for your feedback on Fry Thief. You were able to articulate (the key difference between you and other testers) what was going on. Many people said similar things but I don't think we got to the heart of the matter. You were able to get the heart of the problem in the game.

    Thanks again! Hope to see you around and show you an improved version of the game sometime. :)