Thankful for Victories

I typically write a year in review style piece around this time. After all, the year is almost over. Though I may still write a more critical piece, as I often do, I thought it might be fun this year, especially on this "day of thanks," to write about some of my victories in 2017. Particularly in the tabletop space. Some really neat firsts occurred for me this year, and instead of bemoaning my continued failings as a publisher, I thought I'd get ahead of my gripes and talk about some of the neat stuff that happened.

VIP, me? 

This year I had not one, but two conventions reach out to me to invite me to attend as a VIP guest. This is the first time it's happened and felt like a nice recognition of my hard work in the space. Or, something like that.

Firstly, the folks at Shut Up & Sit Down invited me to the inaugural SHUX 2017 held just north of me in Vancouver. It was very kind of them and I worked to host an event I thought would be special. And, it was! Folks like Nicole Hoye, Isaac Vega, Joshua Buergel, Sen-Foong Lim, and Marguerite Cottrell helped me host a game design jam for a packed room. We gave them weird prompts, weird components, and forced them to design a game in only an hour. Shockingly...they came up with some amazing stuff. Seriously. I found out that this event was one, if not the, highest rated not Shut Up and Sit Down event at the convention. Awesome!

Secondly, I've been invited to attend Play Modena in Italy in April of 2018 to represent Cry Havoc. Why? Well, the fine folks who run the convention awarded the game their Goblin Magnifico award! That was pretty neat. I'm not sure I'll ever have a game be "as big" as Cry Havoc again, certainly not one up for any awards, so to finally squeak in and win one felt special. Scythe spent the first half of the year stealing all my candy. Curse you, Scythe. *shakes fist at sky*

Play Modena looks insane. Honestly, before they invited me it was already on my very short list of cons to attend. The entire gorgeous Italian city of Modena is converted into a convention and I cannot wait to go in April. When they reached out to me I smiled for, at least two hours. Which is a record for me.

Sign all the things.

I typically don't pursue many publishers these days. One of the first steps in having a game signed is identifying a publisher that would want the game. Often with my games, I sincerely don't know who would be interested in them. My games are often niche, require a learning game, or have a layer of complexity that (rightly) puts off many publishers. Remember, publishers are a business, not an art project. Furthermore, I have to want to work with the publisher. I have to like them, so I can partner with them. Respect their catalog, so that I know my design is in good hands. 

But, despite all this, I signed two games this year. Almost three! *pours one out for disappointment* Wait, this is a positive post. 

One of these games I cannot talk about, but I'll say that they came to me based on the success of Cry Havoc. That is the greatest compliment. I'm very very excited for this design and hope it'll see the light of day in 2018. It's a big deal for me.

Secondly, and probably most surprisingly, Kolossal Games came to me about...Solstice? Solstice is probably my most self-indulgent design to date (and that's saying something). I had a vision, I tested it, I knew it would put off most people, and I finished it. When I read the wonderful review of it by Dan Thurot I knew I wasn't quite ready to let it go. He perfectly identified what made the game special, but also what made it a tough sell. Well, Kolossal liked what they saw, and like me, also wanted to take a whack at it. And whack we shall! The new version is going to be simpler, tighter, more interesting, but is still built around its Dune-esque origins and counter-drafting gameplay. It is still not going to be a 100,000 copy seller, but I think it has a chance at really being great.

It's been fun working with good development teams at both of my publishers, Kolossal and <redacted>. It's crazy fun to get detailed notes, have healthy debates, tweak wording, and not be on the hook for everything. It's refreshing. 

Interest in games like Solstice has been guiding me in more of my efforts. I'm currently re-developing a simpler, tighter Druids. I also think the same can be done with Five Ravens, though I won't bother with that unless there's publisher interest. I'm even working on Sol Rising again with a really neat dice-based fleet management mechanism. 

Finally, I played my favorite design at SHUX with one of my favorite publishers on this earth. They're messing with it. Looking at it. Maybe they'll sign it? It'd be a true dream. #signallthethings

This year was the perfect combination of me doing things for me (Solstice, Five Ravens) and more proper businesses coming to me to work on more marketable ideas. I think it's been a good year. 

Simpler, Stronger

After Solstice, and no seriously this time, Five Ravens, I began pursuing simpler designs. Games that will hopefully reach a wider audience, either through my own efforts or from being signed by great publishing partners. I'm doing this with Druids, where I removed the stone powers and am leaning heavily on just the terrain and the novel movement mechanism. I'm doing this with Solstice, where we've greatly streamlined the design without affecting its soul. 

But, my proudest is with Acropolis, which I now call Rail Contango.

Tangent: How did it become a rail game? When I played this with Joel Eddy's group at SHUX, he noted it really reminded him of a train game and stock. Eureka! I finally had a FAR more intuitive theme. Antonio and I spent about 45 minutes looking at existing rail names on BGG and using the thesaurus. In the end, we think contango is both used accurately and fun to say. 

With Rail Contango, I began with a few restrictions on myself:

  • No text on any component. And, I didn't mean this as "Use hieroglyphics like Race for the Galaxy" no text. I meant this as "nothing is complex enough to require text" no text. 
  • Under an hour play time.
  • Social interaction, but not mean interaction. 
  • Euro style core. 
  • One novel mechanism, the rest should be simple. (In the end I think I do 3 novel things, but they're all dead simple!)

I'm so pleased with the current status of this game. It's tight, simple, does a few neat things. It's currently being looked at by a publisher, but perhaps more thrilling (because ultimately I expect all publisher to say no, it's been 7 years so my soul is dark and hardened), is that I was accepted into the Hippodice competition. They have my prototype right now. How cool is that? 

Although my new deckbuilder game is not as simple, it's definitely trending more towards Rail Contango than Solstice. Ultimately, after 7 years of tabletop design, and 12 years of game development professionally, I want to stay hungry. I want to learn new things. I want to improve. I'm excited to work within stricter constraints and I think in the end, I'll be a better designer for it. I consider this look inward a victory. 

I think three victories is enough, or I shall water down this rich, hearty broth. I think 2017 went pretty well, at least in terms of board games. How did your 2017 go?

Epilogue

Okay, one more quick victory. Less important in some ways, but more important in others. I played and learned so many amazing games this year. I continue to prioritize repeat plays of good games and quickly culling average or outright bad games. Instead of only playing games once, I try desperately to play them as many times as possible. I'll write a best games of 2017 article, but for now I want to highlight some great ones. A Feast for Odin (4 plays) is peak Rosenberg for me right now. I finally played No Thanks, and to make up for not playing it in the past 7 years, I played it over 40 times this month. Dominion continues to blow me away with its last two expansions. I'm thrilled to pick up the Vampire themed one. I've been playing a lot of Pusoy Dos, which really gives me perspective on how good simple games can be. It goes without saying that Cockroach Poker has really enhanced my year. And finally, I enjoyed the legendary War of the Rings, which finally arrived after two years of wait. Oh, and Star Trek Ascendancy is a fantastic distillation of the 4x concept. A truly wonderful design. 

Play your collection deeply. Prioritize the great games. It's truly rewarding.