Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Protospiel Chicago 2018 Recap

Support me on Patreon!

2018 marks the third year of Protospiel Chicago, which is great because it's pretty close to me (I'm about 60 miles west of Chicago).  This year the event happened to be just a few blocks from the apartment complex I used to live in for a year before getting married.  So it was kind of neat to be back in that area, but amazing at how much it's changed.

As usual, Protospiel was a wonderful opportunity to meet some wonderful people, play some interesting games, and get great feedback on some of my own designs.  This year I played 13 games, including 2 of my own, and had 5 of mine played (although only two were played to completion).

Here's a recap of the weekend.  As usual, 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, September 21, 2018

Title: The Ogre's Jewels
By: Troy Pichelman
Played with: Maxine Ekl, Brennan Aldridge, John Lash
Prototype Rating: 4-4-4

I played this back at Protospiel Milwaukee before it had a proper name (it was Death Trap Bits back then).  At that time it was a component only game without a board (for The Game Crafter's components only contest).  The game has come a long way since then and felt pretty solid and polished now, except for the final battle against the Ogre.  I ended up winning with a score of 21 points (vs 14, 10, and 9) and I never fought the Ogre.  Bumping up the titular Ogre's Jewels from 2pts to 5pts each would still have left me in the lead, but with a much closer 21, 20, 19, 16 game and it would have changed a number of my decisions.  Troy had this out a bunch more over the weekend, so hopefully he found the balance he needed because this was a very fun game otherwise.


Title: Machinations
By: Brennan Aldridge
Played with: Deirdrea Lyon, Andrew Nerger, Troy Pichelman, Rod Currie
Prototype Rating: 3-4-5

I played a lot of great games at this Protospiel, but I think this is the one that captured my mind the most.  I keep coming back to it and thinking about it.  As it is, it's still very rough and has a lot of excess that still needs to be trimmed, but there's a diamond of a game in there.  This is an area control game unlike any you've ever played before.  That's because, of the five factions in play, everyone controls all of them.  Your goal isn't to have your faction control the most of the board at the end of the game.  Instead, each player gets a secret goal based on a combination of two cards that you are dealt.  That goal may be to have one faction control the most population in a certain region.  Or it may be to have an opposing faction control more of a certain faction's territory.  Or maybe you need to establish the most trade routs.  There are a number of different possibilities and your goal is just as likely to be plotting a faction's demise as it is to build a faction up.  Only you will know your true agenda.  Throughout the game you'll play cards from a hand of cards that will let you manipulate the different factions, but each player will also be an adviser to one of the nations and they'll be able to respond.  Various events can also take place, creating a bit of chaos in the meantime.  One of the coolest aspects of the game is the central relationship grid that indicates which factions are allies, which are enemies, and which are rivals somewhere in between.  One moment two factions can be allies and the next they're at each other's throats.  Think of this as Game of Thrones, and you and the other players are scheming Varys and Littlefinger.  I really, really want the opportunity to play this again after it's streamlined a bit more.


Title: A Note for Murder
By: Robert Kerr
Played with: I watched Troy Pichelman, Carl Klutzke, and Robert Kerr play for a while, did not play myself.
Prototype Rating: 1-3-4

While I didn't play this one, I did watch for a while and got a very good sense of the game.  It's a Sherlock Holmes themed deduction game where each player is trying to deduce the card in their hand that they can't see, but everyone else can.  In Hanabi style, each player has an outward facing card they can't see that has a combination of suspect, location, and weapon for a case they need to solve.  Each player will have a hand of similar cards that they need to use to figure out what their case is.  Each card will have exactly 1 or 0 matching elements on it.  On your turn you draw a card and then play one card from your hand and the other players will tell you if there is or isn't a match.  They won't tell you which element matches though, so you need to do some careful deduction to figure things out.  Each player also has a special ability they can use, which may be limited or conditional.  I hope this makes it to another Protospiel I'm at because I'd love to try it out.


Title: Salvage
By: Tim L.
Played with: Adelheid Zimmerman, Vance Bronson
Prototype Rating: 1-1-3

Unfortunately I didn't enjoy this game at all.  It plays with a standard deck of cards where each suit does something different.  Some cards have monetary values on them, but the values range significantly.  The theme of the game is that there's a crashed spaceship and we're salvage teams trying to collect ship parts and valuable items and then get away before the crashed ship explodes.  So we need to collect enough fuel and rocket components to get out of the blast radius while also bringing the most valuable items with us.  There were also hook cards that would let us try and steal cards from our opponents.  The game started with a draft and then we each took turns playing one or two cards from our hand until we had played everything.  Unfortunately by the time the draft was over I knew I had no chance of winning because I wasn't able to draft enough fuel and rocket parts to escape.  So I played the entire last half of the game knowing I had no chance at anything.  The theme was the only interesting thing about this and it needs a ton of work to turn into anything meaningful.

Title: Rise of the Cabal
By: Troy Pichelman
Played with: Carl Klutzke, Marc Specter, John Lash
Prototype Rating: 2-3-3

This quick, simple card game had some interesting mechanics, but unfortunately turned into a Munchkin style leader bash.  The game is played with sets of 10 cards in four suits/colors, plus a few other cards like saboteurs, wilds, and damsels that do various things.  You need to play sets of cards to move your influence up in the four tracks and your goal is to become the leader in one of the top three tiers.  The catch is you need to have level three influence in exactly three tracks, or level four influence in exactly two tracks, or level one influence in exactly one track in order to become the leader.  Then you need to retain your leadership for a full round.  To move your influence up you play 3-6 cards to move up 1-4 levels, however you can't move more than one level higher than any track's current level (e.g. in the picture above I could use 4 orange cards to advance that track to the 7 space, but I couldn't use 5 cards to move to the 10 space since it's 2 spaces higher than the yellow track).  One other catch is that a card in your set has to meet or exceed the value of the level you're moving up to (a 7 or higher in my example).  All of this was a super interesting mechanic, but where the game fell short was with the saboteur and damsel cards.  Saboteurs let you knock any player down one level in that color, however damsels required everyone to knock down their highest level.  Unfortunately this meant players stored up those cards to either wait and knock down someone else before they could win, or to just prevent someone else from playing the cards against them.  So it turned into a knock down the leader game that seemed like it wouldn't ever end (unless someone makes a mistake, like I did).  So in all, I liked the core mechanics, but the game still needs some end-game work.  Or maybe this is just a part of a larger game, I could see this interplay being part of a bigger game, like Machinations.

Title: Moly
By: Ian Winningham
Played with: Solo, but alongside Carl Klutzke and with Arkadiusz Greniuk starting a 3rd game toward the end of mine.
Prototype Rating: 1-2-3

This was a puzzly, solo game with some programming elements to it.  Unfortunately Ian had us playing the easy mode and winning was mostly just a matter of time, not really a challenging puzzle.  The theme was about searching through your memories trying to rescue memories of family and friends before they were lost forever.  This could potentially be an interesting puzzle game, but it needed a combination of more control and more tension.

Title: Pharmacology
By: George Jaros
Played with: Troy Pichelman, Dusty Oakley, Randy Ekl, and Jim ?

Pharmacology went pretty well, although everyone agreed that the turns were long and it's pretty complex and needs at least one playthrough to recognize some of the strategies.  It's pretty clear that something needs to be done to keep player interest when it's not their turn, especially toward the end of the game when individual turns are a lot longer.  Maybe player powers or earned abilities that can increase player interaction somehow.  I already have the outreach cards that can do that a bit, but the game still needs more.  Players need to care about other players' turns to stay invested in the game.  We finished this game, but Jim left before the last round.

Saturday, September 22, 2018


Title: Paradise Lost
By: Tom Butler, but demoed by Eric Engstrom
Played with: Troy Pichelman, Tim L., Mike Rieman, and Spencer Campbell
Prototype Rating: 1-4-4

This was an interesting deduction game that used a journey mechanic similar to Tokaido.  The theme of the game is that each player is a fairy tale character that is trying to save the fantasy realm from an evil witch and a villain.  The problem is you don't know the villain, nor the weapon needed to defeat it.  Throughout the game players are going on a journey to visit three oracles to learn more about the ultimate foe.  Each location on the journey gives you a different benefit or action that you can take, and sometimes a penalty (I chose to stop on the Black Swan spaces that were generally pretty harmful every time, just to see what would happen - I still figured out the villain and weapon, but was last in line to guess).  The overall journey part of the game was interesting and presented some interesting player interaction opportunities, however there were some pretty rough spots that need some smoothing out and the end game felt anticlimactic.  Overall though I think there's a spark of something great here, as long as the fluff can be cleared out and the deduction aspects pushed even further.

Just a view of the playtest hall in the middle of the day on Saturday.  It was pretty packed!

Title: Race to the Moons
By: George Jaros
Played by: Troy Pichelman, Seth Van Orden, Eric Engstrom, Jim Wesley

I managed to get my once-a-Protospiel play of Race to the Moons in on Saturday afternoon.  The game went pretty smoothly and all the mechanics worked, however the end game still felt much longer than I wanted.  I still want research to happen faster, rockets to get produced faster, but still feel like it takes an effort to build to that point.  Also, the winner was pretty obvious and there was still going to be three rounds before the game was finished.  I'm really not sure how to improve this, but it needs something.  The problems were identified, but unfortunately solutions weren't.  Seth also feels that for publication this doesn't really have a great hook beyond theme.  Eric really liked the mission track and felt that was unique though.  He liked that the worker placement aspect of the game was building toward something external, not just building up your worker engine.  I need to really rethink this though and see what I can come up with to speed up the slow parts without speeding up the faster parts that already move along well.


Title: Pantheon (temporary title)
By: Seth Van Ordern
Played with: Alex Yeager, Randy Ekl, Eric Engstrom, Seth Van Orden
Prototype Rating: 2-3-4

This is a worker placement game about having factories produce goods that can be used to purchase upgrades for the factories and eventually score points.  There were two interesting mechanics here.  First was the way the worker placement worked.  When you place your workers you place them below the action slots, however when it's time to resolve the workers you can move them either to the action on the tier directly above them or move them to a more powerful, higher tier action by either sacrificing another worker or spending resources.  The other interesting thing is that the game is played in seasons, with each season not having enough worker spaces for everyone.  So some workers have to be placed in future seasons and won't activate in the current round.  You can even purposely place your workers in future seasons to plan for future actions.  Each season's action spaces are on their own boards, and those cycle around each round.  In its current state though there's just way too much going on with building upgrades, triggered abilities, choosing from potentially 27 different actions in multiple rounds, etc.  The two mechanics I mentioned are very interesting, but the game needs to be simplified a bit to make it much less overwhelming, especially initially.  It took about a round and a half before stuff started to click, but even after that the decision level was still pretty high.  I would like to see where this evolves to though.

Title: MiniSkull Castle
By: George Jaros
Played by: Frank Dillon, JT Smith, Carl Klutzke, Eric Jome

I pulled out the latest version of MiniSkull Castle, which hasn't been played in nearly a year.  Unfortunately it still has a number of issues, so we didn't truly finish the game (although JT would have easily won).  Loot cubes are way too plentiful now, room actions are still too complex, especially with text (icons may help with this), and there's usually an obvious best choice in where to move to.  I did get some good ideas though, like possibly having rooms spawn a pre-defined amount of loot and monsters, and possibly even pre-defined types of loot.  So I have a lot to think about for this again.  Hopefully it'll be less than a year before I get it to the table again.  Oh, and Eric insists that the minor monsters should be green and called goblins instead.  Everyone did agree that there should be more theme, so maybe I'll focus on some artwork, too.

Title: Supply Sergeant
By: Rod Currie
Played with: Carl Klutzke, JT Smith, Rod Currie, Frank Dillon, Francois ?
Prototype Rating: 4-3-5

I played this almost 2 years ago at Protospiel Madison 2016 and had a lot more fun with it back then.  The mechanics and balance were rougher then, but the open trading round was a lot of fun.  Open trading does bring in its own issues though, particularly when someone decides they don't want to trade, but that game had a level of energy that this game lacked.  However, the mechanics on this version went smoother for the most part.  There were still some issues that needed to be worked out and I ended up talking with Rod for almost 2 hours after the game brainstorming and discussing different options.  I think we identified a whole bunch of things to try that will streamline the game even more while still bringing back some open trading and increasing the theme.  Thematically each player is a WWII supply sergeant, providing supplies to reduce equipment shortages while also providing luxury items to the officers in exchange for favors (and points).  The theme is a blast and the mechanics work well.  I look forward to seeing the next version at my next Protospiel.

Title: Great Googa Mooga
By: Andy Malone
Played with: Deirdrea Lyon, Jonathan Chaffer, Julia Malone
Prototype Rating: 1-1-1 in my first game with the new rules, 1-4-4 with the old rules.

I first sat down to play Great Googa Mooga with the new, turn based rules, and was very underwhelmed.  All the game amounted to was rolling your dice up to three times, Yahtzee style, in an attempt to match the symbols on one of two cards.  There were no meaningful decisions, the gameplay was about as far removed from the theme as possible, and I was bored completely.  So we started talking about how a game needs to have some decision points and the gameplay has to match the theme.  In this case the theme is about fake, cartoon style swearing (like, Oh $#!%).  So we were talking about how the game should make you want to swear (in a fun way), but not be able to.  We ended up re-implementing his old rules with a few minor tweaks and then played again.  The game was suddenly exciting, frantic, and full of almost-swears!  It was a complete 180!  So Andy was forced to admit that his daughter was right all along about keeping the old rules, and that resulted in probably the best moment of the weekend.  Andy wrote Julie a letter admitting that she was right all along, and they got a great picture.  Thanks to Deirdrea Lyon for the below pictures.


Title: MiniSkull Quests
By: George Jaros
Played with: Deirdrea Lyon, Andy Malone, Julia Malone

MiniSkull Quests was a big hit.  They all seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.  The game went smoothly and Julia ended up the victor (she was a bit tired in the photo since it was almost midnight).  The biggest change I think that needs to be made is to finally finish up the custom dice.  That'll make the mental math a lot easier and faster.  I think I also need to change the Sellsword to it's own card type instead of calling it an Event since it doesn't behave like other Events.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Title: Trick Builders
By: George Jaros
Played with: George Jaros (my dad), Barbara Jaros (my mom), Dustin Oakley, Adelheid Zimmerman, Carl Klutzke (although he left to drive home after the second round)

My parents came out for a bit over an hour and played Trick Builders for the first time.  They're not quite used to some modern game mechanics and how there are often combinations and cards that break the standard rules, but they did catch on and quite enjoyed the game.  I pulled this out because a number of people had been asking to play over the weekend, which is always a great sign.  I played with the 5+ player cards and they all worked very well.  There were often a lot of questions asked about which card was winning which trick, but those mostly came from my parents and the gamers picked things up pretty easily.  The biggest complaint was that the backs of the reference cards didn't stand out enough from the standard backs, which I already knew.  Several people have told me I need to get this to a publisher, so now I need to figure out who's interested in publishing another trick-taking game...


Title: Get Your Ducks In A Row
By: Maxine Ekl
Played with: Deirdrea Lyon, Jonathan Chaffer
Prototype Rating: 4-5-5

I first played Get Your Ducks In A Row in April at Protospiel Milwaukee and had fun with it.  At Protospiel Chicago this seemed to be the hit of the weekend.  It was almost always being played by someone it seemed.  I finally got my chance to play it on Sunday and had a blast with it.  It's core is the same, take actions determined by dice rolls to manipulate ducks on the board.  Since then the game has been refined a bit, but the big thing is Maxine has added a little mini-game in between your main turns where you can shoot twiddly winks at the ducks to try to earn bonus action tickets.  This keeps everyone excited while putting pressure on the active player to make a decision before the bonus tickets are won.  I quite enjoyed this fast, 15 minute game and hope Maxine is able to get it published soon.


Title: 8 Seconds
By: George Jaros
Played by: Brennan Aldridge, Maxine Ekl, Deirdrea Lyon, Alex Yeager, Julie Yeager

I ended my Protospiel weekend with a game of 8 Seconds.  I was hoping Alex would be interested in evaluating it for his new game publishing company, but instead I got the first new, substantial feedback I've gotten on the game in over a year.  So I think I might actually be making some changes to the game and I think they'll be improvements.  I'm actually going to split the Bulls into two decks and add a few more.  One deck will have higher values and one lower values.  Players will have to draw one bull from each deck, plus a third from either deck.  This will ensure that players will always have a better spread of values to shoot for, and have a bit more control on if they want more easier bulls or more challenging bulls.  I'm also considering removing the option to turn in Foul Tokens to get an additional bull (although maybe not), removing the option to discard your highest bull to re-roll everything on a first roll clown out (you either end your turn or buy back clowns) to make that scenario simpler.  I'm also toying with the idea of having to discard your lowest point bull to re-roll, although if I do this I might have everyone draw 4 bulls to start their turn.  We'll see how that works out.

So, Protospiel Chicago 2018 is wrapped up, but I have a ton of work ahead of me.  I didn't get three games to the table that I was hoping to - A-TTACC MECHS, Bears Snacks, and MiniSkull Dungeons, but I have my local game group to test those and there's always Protospiel Madison at the end of November.  A HUGE THANK YOU to Maxine and Randy Ekl for organizing this each year, thank you to everyone that played my games and provided awesome feedback, thanks to everyone that brought a game to play, and of course, thanks to all the wonderful friends, new and old, that I got to spend the weekend with.  My biggest complaint about Protospiel weekends is that they end way too soon and there are so many games I don't get to play and people I don't get to meet.  See you all in Madison!

Did you like this article?  Show your support: Support me on Patreon! Also, click the heart at Board Game Links , like GJJ Games on Facebook , or follow on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

No comments:

Post a Comment