Friday, January 26, 2018

Humor in Infamous

Humor in board games is a tricky business. First, the experience of humor is a highly subjective one; more so, I think, than preference for particular board games. As such, some people might find the humor within a game to be a real boon to the experience, while others might find it to be a complete turn-off. Designers walk a delicate rope when they decide to inject humor into a design. I look at something like Galaxy Trucker (and its subtly clever & humorous rulebook) as an example of successful use of humor in a board game.  I see the recent KS campaign of HATE as a poor use of dark humor that is potentially turning away potential backers.

Perhaps most importantly, the theme and mechanics have to match the level and type of humor involved. A heavy, thinky Euro is probably not going to be a great place to inject slapstick humor (but it might very well be an appropriate venue for a more subtle, "sophisticated" humor?). Similarly, a casual family game that presents itself too seriously - imagine a grimdark adventure game for kids! - is a poor fit.

When it came to Infamous, I tried to let the humor come naturally. After I made a critical decision (between v1 and v2) to enhance the narrative element of the game, writing became a more central design component. There was going to be a LOT of flavor text in this game, and the purpose of it was to bring the characters to life and give the players a sense of living inside of a comic book. Each henchman and villain needed a description, so that it was easier for the players to develop feelings of attachment for their team. And perhaps most importantly, the contracts needed significant flavor text for Success and Fail states so that your actions in the game contributed to an overall narrative. Consider how important the flavor text is in games like Eldritch Horror. If you just conduct the skill rolls without immersing yourself in the story of what's happening, you miss out on so much of what the game is offering.

So the question became:  would the contracts be humorous, or would they take themselves fairly seriously?  My natural inclination led me towards humorous. These were supervillains, after all - and they were engaging in periodically horrific acts within the game (kidnapping, domestic terrorism, subjugation of the entire planet, etc.). If these acts were taken too seriously, the game could fall flat or potentially be offensive. I ended up leaning more towards Despicable Me vs. Dark Knight.

Instead, contracts provided an opportunity for these villains and henchmen to fail spectacularly - in often hilarious ways. This had the added benefit of taking the edge off of contract failure. You almost want to see what happens if you fail a contract; the story is amusing, and the effects are often persistent (e.g., Injuries, Powers).  Now you have a story to remember about that time your henchman was bit by genetically-modified sewer rats, or overdosed on super-fertility hormones.

With the decision to embrace humor in the game, the presentation had to follow appropriately. The theme matched, the relatively light mechanics matched, and now the art needed to match. This is probably the biggest reason why I really wanted to get Rob Guillory on board to do the art for Infamous. His artistic style is very dark-humor; stylized and clever and immediately funny.

Infamous is a game centered around the central tenant of FUN. The mechanics provide lots of opportunities to make fun, small decisions that influence the game-state and your likelihood of victory. The story that you and your opponents will create together is all about fun. Perhaps you'll laugh out loud, chuckle softly, or just groan at some of the humor in the game. Regardless, it's there to remind you - to remind all of us! - that games are meant to be fun, and sometimes nothing is more satisfying than sitting around the table with a group of friends sharing a laugh.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

2-player Infamous? Enter the D.O.P.E. squad!

Infamous has several interlocking mechanics, but perhaps the most central is the opening draft for Secret Base Room cards.  At the start of each round, players draft up to 3 new rooms to build into their base.  These rooms are central to your strategy.  Each one will provide a certain number of "attraction points" for different henchmen types (Beasts, Criminals, Scientists, and Mystics), and many rooms also possess unique activated abilities.

Drafting is a great mechanic for so many reasons.  I love how it speeds up play through simultaneous activity.  Every player is reviewing and choosing at the same time - not sitting around and watching someone else deliberate.  I also love how the cards you're choosing from are in your hand, and thus, easily readable.  Games which force players to choose from a communal line-up of cards lead to frustrating usability issues; for example, players not being able to read small card text from across the table.  Finally, drafting is a form of light player interaction.  The decisions you make influence the ones subsequent players can make.

However,  early on in playtesting, it became clear that drafting for room cards - and the subsequent attraction of henchmen to your base - didn't quite work with 2 players.  There wasn't enough interaction during the draft itself, and there was too little competition for the available henchmen.  Players could easily accrue a large retinue of henchmen each round and fulfill a bevy of contracts without feeling substantial pressure.

As such, I started to develop a dummy player (or automata) for 2-player games who could spice things up a bit.  Rather than make the dummy another, potentially faceless, supervillain, I thought it might be interesting to thematically dress up the dummy as a squad of superheroes.  These heroes interfere with the players by stealing away (arresting) henchmen during the Henchmen Phase, and patrolling the world during the Contract Phase.  

Perhaps most importantly, the automata rules were simple to instantiate and involved only a single deck of Hero cards.  As such, 2-player Infamous is:  1) only slightly different from the regular 3-5 player game, and 2) thematically fun - as you find yourself getting easily annoyed by the D.O.P.E. squad.

This post also gives me the chance to show off another piece of Rob's fantastic artwork, and also the superlative graphic design work by Kody Chamberlain.  This one piece of art (for the heroes) took some time, as I wanted to work through a set of specific characters with Rob:  one "defender" for each continent.  We wanted the cultural ties to be somewhat obvious without being offensive.  Personally, my favorite is Baby Penguin - defender of Antarctica!

While the D.O.P.E. squad is limited to the role of automata in Infamous for now, I have big plans for a future expansion which makes their presence much more... intrusive.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Infamous: the artist & cover illustration

The past two months have witnessed a furious pace of development on Infamous.  My publisher, Eagle-Gryphon Games (EGG), is ready to start revealing some of the artwork that's been created for the project, and so I figured I would make that the theme of this post.

I'm thrilled to announce that our artist for the entire project has been Rob Guillory, the Eisner-award wining comic book artist, primarily known for his work on Chew. I was introduced to Rob's art many years ago, when one of my research students was reading an issue of Chew in the lab.  This particular student and I shared a passion for comics and were often exchanging recommendations for series and graphic novels we thought the other might appreciate.  Chew sounded totally crazy and looked amazing.  Rob's art is unique - comedic and dark, detailed yet often absurdist.  Here's an example of what I mean:

Chew cover
In late July of this year, I started working with Charlie Bink who was assigned to be lead developer and art director on Infamous. Let me say right off that bat that Charlie has been amazing to work with. A true professional and always on top of his game. Charlie asked me for a list of potential artists that I could see doing the 100+ potential illustrations for Infamous. At this point, our goal was to hire one artist to do it all - but realistically, we didn't actually think that would be possible with the time schedule we had in mind (January/February KS launch).

I gave Charlie my dream-list. At the very top was Rob Guillory. For some reason, I just thought his style and humor would be a perfect match for Infamous. I wanted the art to clearly reflect the comic book vibe of the game, the dark (semi-mature) humor, the bizarre cast of characters. As luck would have it, when Charlie contacted Rob, he had the time and interest in the project. He agreed it sounded like a great match for his talent. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted.

Rob's done every single piece of art for the game, which has included:

  • 1 Box Cover (see below)
  • 5 Supervillains
  • 36 Henchmen
  • 5 Lackeys
  • 8 Mercencaries
  • 10 Powers
  • 75 Secret Base Rooms (!)
  • and 1 Hero Squad
Infamous front box cover illustration

What a great piece! The cover features one of our five Supervillains, Dr. Hominoid, surrounded by shadowy henchmen within the central control room of his secret base. A holographic globe floats between his hands. In the various computer monitors around the room, we're actually previewing some of the additional art within the game. I love the image and really think it expresses what Infamous is all about:  taking pleasure in being bad.

I can't wait to reveal more of Rob's fantastic work over the coming weeks and months. I'll be doing some here, some on BGG - and EGG will showing off pieces on Twitter and other social media sites.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Contracts at their Core

Another long hiatus from the blog! The past year has been a relatively slow one for game design and development. Infamous has sat in EGG's development queue for a while, but everything is picking up very quickly right now. As such, I though it might be a good time to start posting design entries again.

I think Infamous has some really fantastic design elements - in particular, how the base building directly feeds into henchman recruitment. It's thematic, intuitive, and strategic. Putting together a team of henchman and sending them out on a contract half-way around the world is evocative and satisfying.  I also really like how straightforward and tense contract resolution is - although it's possible some players won't like the centrality of dice-rolling within the design.

Contract Resolution

Let's take this contract as an example: Take Revenge Upon Your Nemesis.  This is a "Hard" difficulty contract, which requires a team size of 2 henchmen. You'll need to roll 5 successes to succeed. If your henchmen possess Brawn as a trait, you'll be more likely to succeed (that's what the flexing muscle icon means).  That's because each of your henchmen contributes a certain number of custom dice, based on what traits they possess.  A henchmen with 3 Brawn will contribute 3 Brawn dice.  A henchmen with 4 Stealth will contribute 4 Stealth dice, and so on.  The dice types differ in some ways; for example, Magic dice provide more extreme outcomes (spectacular power!  spectacular failure!), while Stealth dice are relatively consistent.

Furthermore, if you're rolling Brawn dice and the Brawn symbol comes up (1/6 chance), that will be worth 2 successes on a contract like the one shown. In contrast, Stealth, Intellect, and Magic icons will be worthless for this particular contract.

So there's some strategy is enhancing your odds here. And this leads to juicy choices when determining the composition of your team. For example, one of your team members could be: 1)  a Scientist with 5 Intellect - but no Brawn, 2) a Beast with 3 Brawn, 3) your Lackey, who has 1 Brawn but also lets you re-roll all your dice once. Who will you choose?

Then, gather up all your dice, roll 'em, and count your successes.  Wait!  Did you activate your Ectoplasmic Nexus with your Supervillain back at base?  If so, you can add another die of any type to your roll (add a Brawn die!).  Wait!  Did you bring your Lackey?  You get a free re-roll.  Wait!  Do you have a Scheme card in your back pocket (not literally) that gives you another re-roll?  There are so many ways to mitigate luck in this game, which I think is always important in dice-driven systems.

Greater games than mine have been based on repeated "skill checks." Arkham Horror/Eldritch Horror come to mind immediately, but the list goes on and on. Shoot, we might-as-well put D&D on that list. My concern isn't necessarily the role that luck is playing here - although that's part of it - but rather if rolling dice will feel enough like sending your team on a dangerous mission. It's an issue of abstraction.

For example, I imagine a (different) game in which you take your team, plop them onto a separate board that represents the specific location they're infiltrating, and you now take tactical control of a squad of villains. Movement, weapons, line-of-sight, rolling dice to hack electronic locks, stun guns, skill checks of different varieties, you name it. That's going to feel like going on a mission - but in Infamous, that would 1) turn the game into a tactical minis game, which is definitely not what I want it to be, and 2) make the game last 10x as long. One advantage of abstracting down the team's efforts to a dice-roll is that it makes the game move quickly and smoothly - especially since the other players are waiting while you resolve your contract.

Contract Difficulty

Right now, I think contracts are a bit too easy and I've got some additional tweaking to do. In my last solo (4-supervillain) runthrough, I probably achieved success on 90% of my contracts. That's too high. If players consistently succeed, the tension of the dice-rolls later in the game will dissolve. But maybe I'm achieving a high success rate because I'm good at the game and know how/when to press my luck. After all, if you play Infamous well, you know how to 1) recruit the right henchmen for the job, 2) build the right rooms to support your team, and 3) spend your resources (time, money, henchmen) wisely to achieve maximum value each round. 

The other factor playing a role here is the Supervillain strength/weakness. I've built in a specific strength and weakness for each Supervillain. For example, Dr. Hominoid gets to draw 2 Scheme cards instead of just 1 when he visits the Underground. These Scheme cards basically let you mess with other players more.

You can play Infamous where 1) everyone is playing vanilla supervillains and you ignore their strengths/weaknesses, 2) everyone is using their supervillain strengths (easier game), 3) everyone is using their weakneeses (hard more), or 4) everyone is using both. You can even mix and match, allowing you to handicap some players.

The vast majority of playtesting has been with people using strengths but not weaknesses. As such, my statistics are primarily based on easy mode. So perhaps a 90% success rate isn't surprising, or bad. But this is something I need to think about and play around with a lot more.

At a more fundamental, philosophy-of-fun level, I wonder if there's an optimal success rate that appeals to people. Games where you fail over half of your skill checks, I think, are considered tough and possibly frustrating. I'm thinking 66% success is possibly the right target. Just gut instinct. If you go on 5-6 contracts per game and fail 2 of them on average, that feels about right. And that's assuming "average" play - not blind idiocy (which should lead to a nearly 0% success rate), or high-level play (which should increase your rate substantially).

Lots to think about.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Infamous: a new game design

After a fairly long hiatus from this design blog, I'm happy to announce that I've signed a contract with Eagle Gryphon Games (EGG) to publish my second board game design.  As such, I'm going to start posting on here more regularly, to talk through some of the design choices and roadblocks I encounter through this next year's development process.  But let's start this off right!  Let me give you a quick summary.

Infamous (working title) is a strategy board game for 2-5 players that plays in around 2 hours.  It's a medium-light design - perhaps a "4" on a 1-10 scale - and while it sports some sleek, Eurogame mechanics, I'd say it falls firmly and confidently within the Ameritrash family.

In Infamous, you take on the role of a comic-book supervillain.  You goals are to build a secret base, recruit henchmen, and then use those henchmen to complete nefarious contracts around the world. Successfully doing so will earn you money and infamy points.  The player with the most infamy at the end of three turns wins the game.

Current prototype
There are four phases in each turn.

Base Building Phase

Prototype only (art stolen from internet)
The base building phase is primarily composed of a draft.  Each player is dealt 4 Secret Base Room cards.  They secretly decide to either build or sell one card.  The players reveal their decisions simultaneously, pass their remaining cards clockwise, and repeat two more times.  Thus, it is possible to add 3 new rooms to your base during each Base Building Phase.  These rooms are important for two reasons.  First, each room gives you "attraction points" for various types of henchmen.  For example, if you build a Money Laundering Facility, you will immediately earn 6 Criminal attraction points.  Criminals will now want to come live in your base!  You can also build rooms to attract Beasts, Scientists, and Mystics.  The second reason why rooms are important is that many of them have special powers that can be activated during the Contract Phase.  These powers might spell the difference between a successful mission and a failed one.

Henchmen Phase

Sample Henchmen card (prototype)
During the Henchmen Phase, each player will (hopefully) recruit henchmen to their side, depending upon how attractive their base is. Beasts, Criminals, Scientists, and Mystics will be drawn to the player who scores highest in attraction for that henchmen type. There are some additional subtleties to this, but the feel of it is that the Henchmen Phase flows directly out of the Base Building Phase and just takes a couple minutes to resolve. You'll immediately get feedback on whether your base is successfully competing with everyone else's for the henchmen's attention. The more henchmen you recruit, the better. Having a diverse crew will give you a lot more flexibility during the Contract Phase.

Contract Phase

This is the meat of the game. There's a big map of the world in front of you. Six (or seven, depending on player count) continent locations, each with a different Contract card. These contracts represent missions to which you can assign your henchmen. During this phase, players will take turns choosing contracts, forming teams of henchmen, and then rolling dice to see whether they succeed or fail. If you succeed, you'll earn cash and infamy. If you fail, your henchmen might get injured or captured. Then again, sometimes your henchmen will fail but end up receiving a cool, new Superpower (e.g., caught in a radioactive explosion)! In future entries, I'll spell out more of the rules for the Contract Phase. There's some fun strategy on display here, in addition to fistfuls of custom dice.

World Map board (prototype)

Sample Contract card (prototype)
Clean-Up Phase

It's not very exciting, but it's necessary.  You've got to pay your henchmen (including your Lackey), refresh any of them that are exhausted, and re-seed the world map with contracts.  Quick and easy. After three turns, the game ends!

The Story So Far

I've been working on Infamous for the past 6 months or so.  I would say it was around early December (2015) when I hit on a set of ideas that would eventually evolve into this game. My initial point of inspiration was actually from the mechanics end of things. For a while now, I've been pondering how I could adapt the "attract a hero" mechanic featured in the small card game, Boss Monster, into a bigger game. And make it a bit more interesting, to be honest, by having the people attracted be positive (members of your team, not enemies) and persistent. In some weird unconscious back-alley, this idea got mashed with the 2004 PC game, Evil Genius. I've always liked "dungeon"-building sims (Dungeon Keeper, etc.), and once I hit upon the idea of using room cards to attract different types of henchmen, the rest of the game started to fall into place. The hardest part was the Contract Phase - but I'll save that story for another post.

I got a solid ruleset and prototype in place around March or so. Initial playtesting was extremely positive. Kept working on it and polishing the proto until I felt it was ready to show to a couple publishers. I wanted it to be ready before Origins, since I thought that would be my best opportunity to pitch it to a number of different companies. But I first sent an email to Eagle (who published my last design, Clockwork Wars), and they asked me to send a copy of the prototype to the Gathering of Friends. They checked it out there, loved it right away, and offered me a contract. I happily accepted, and we'll be starting development within the next couple months. I expect a long road ahead, but after having gone through years and years of waiting and development work for Clockwork Wars, I have a much better understanding of the process this time around. I'm looking forward to the work and have really high hopes for this game.

Needless to say, I really love this game. It is so fun, and surprising, and constantly throws small but interesting decisions at you. The narrative you and your opponents create will set you laughing. The tone is playful, but the gameplay is consistently tense and engaging. In very broad terms, imagine a mash-up between:  Boss Monster, Among the Stars, & Eldritch Horror. It's a very different design from Clockwork Wars, but I think that's a good thing! I think it will appeal to many types of gamers, especially those who like (slightly heavier) beer & pretzels-type experiences, an emphasis on theme and narrative, and the conceit of playing a villain.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Origins Game Fair, 2015: Part 2

This is part 2 of my Origins 2015 retrospective. You can read part 1 here. This part will summarize my experiences demoing Clockwork Wars for Eagle-Gryphon at the con.

I demoed Clockwork Wars 2-6 times per day from Wednesday through Sunday, for a total of around 16 complete games. We had two demo copies available and (barely) enough space to have two 4-player games running concurrently. I tried to vary the maps and Discovery cards throughout the con - partially for playtesting, partially just to keep myself entertained.

The general pattern was like this: some people had previously signed up to play CW, and some people dropped by with generic tokens to see if there were any spots available. I think we were able to accommodate most people who wanted to play. I had players choose their race, and then started in on 1) general intro to the game (genre, weight, playtime, theme), 2) how to win, and 3) specific rules. In total, this probably took around 20 minutes (30 if people asked lots of questions). Rick had encouraged me to get my training spiel to 10 minutes or less, but I just don't think that's possible. Demo sessions were scheduled to last 2 hours and most people were able to finish their games in that time period (so, 20 min of rules, 100 min of play).

My approach to teaching was to orient them to their player aid (which turned out absolutely fantastic, design-wise), and then use that to march them through a single turn. What aspects of the game seemed to trip people up? First, understanding that you don't really move your troops around in CW. Once you deploy units to a territory, they usually stay there. Second, how combat is resolved. Specifically, reinforcement orders, battle resolution, and turn order. Understanding this system usually required experiencing a few battles in-game.

One nice thing about teaching games at cons is that pretty much everyone you run into has played a lot of board games, so they're 1) prepared to sit patiently and learn rules, and 2) capable of grokking systems quickly because of their prior gaming experience. I was often stunned at how quickly certain players figured out the game and started playing strategically. This wasn't everyone: most people played sub-optimally and were simply exploring the game systems without worrying to much about winning. But I remember a few people who honed in on certain strategies, formulated plans, and carried them out successfully. That was gratifying to see.

One individual, in particular, who I remember from one of my earliest sessions figured out the power of Espionage very quickly. He pursued a heavy court-espionage strategy, supported by conservative (but efficient) map expansion. This allowed him to stay under his opponents' radar for a large majority of the game, and he walked away with a solid win. Impressive. That group of four, by the way, was a wonderful group of people. They were super-friendly and asked me lots of questions about the design and development process during the game. They also really enjoyed the game and brought back several of their friends throughout the con to try out Clockwork Wars. It was nice for me to have such a positive demo experience like that early on.

What did I learn about balance, rules, and potential future errata? Well, I continue to be confident that nothing is broken in Clockwork Wars. There are no infinite loops, and I doubt there are any super-dominant strategies. However, given all the unique cards and effects in the game, it's not surprising that a few tricky cases come up periodically.

For example, a couple people asked whether the Operative could use her assassinate ability against a enemy soldier that was paired with an Engineer (the answer is no, the soldier needs to be alone). Also, after the Operative assassinates during her reinforcement stage, it often surprised people that if the targeted opponent came later in turn order, he could reinforce that battle to take out the Operative. Fortunately, this is a confusion that came up during playtesting and so the rulebook does explicitly cover this scenario.

The Spymaster action, Counter-Intel, is the one rule that is not well-explained in the manual. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is 100% my fault and I wish I could change the wording now to prevent the inevitable confusions that will arise.

With regards to the races, the easiest race to play does appear to be the Mongrels. Their Unique Unit, the Hunter, is powerful and relatively easy to understand. The Troglodytes are also easy to grasp, and people intuitively understand the idea of a combat-weak, research-focused unit. It was interesting to see how people dealt with the Purebreeds' Operative. Some people refused to deploy her at all, fearing her loss early in the game. Some, realizing she would be safe in the Court, simply deployed her there and never moved her. Very few used her like I do: aggressively, periodically placing her into perilous situations.

The Rhinochs, somewhat surprisingly, were the race that people most struggled to understand. The idea that the Crashers can only be deployed into enemy-controlled territory was often missed or misunderstood. If I wasn't paying attention, I'd often see a Crasher simply sitting on the map, defending someone's city (which is not possible - the Crasher acts as a kamikaze unit). I don't think the Rhinochs are underpowered, but after this Origins experience, I suspect that people will find it hardest to understand how best to use these units - and at what point in the game.

I am relieved to say that my previous worry that Espionage cards may be overpowered does not seem to be true. Indeed, players consistently were thrilled with the potent impact of these cards. A single card can significantly alter a turn, but just one card won't win you the game. I saw Poisoned Waters and Insurrection used to great effect. Treason might be under-powered compared to the rest of the deck, but I need to wait and see what player feedback is.

In terms of the Generals, people were drawn towards the Steamtank. The idea of a mobile uber-unit was appealing. The Steamtank is difficult to use effectively, but a couple people figured out that using Gambit can get it to your front lines quickly, and that's a necessity if you've waited until the middle or late-game to research it.  The least used General, I think, was the Guardian - which is perhaps not surprising, since he's defensive and not particularly sexy.

Many, many discoveries were used, and from my perspective, nothing seemed under or over-powered (except possibly Infallibility, a late age Religion discovery). I saw one player use Alchemy and Martyrdom to crank out VP's and win the game. I saw Cataclysm researched, placed on the map, and then used by different players as ownership switched hands over several turns. Generally speaking, people didn't save IP well (to purchase discoveries as soon as they became available), since they were often tempted by what they could afford at the moment. If there's one Discovery that dominated a game, it was probably Colossus. This card lets you destroy Early Age discoveries in play for their points, and the player who researched it got 11 VP's from this effect.

Component wise, I have no complaints. The tiles turned out great, and no one had issues reading the ID tags. The cards are beautiful and textured, and the player aids fantastic. The wooden pieces sit on the map well, but the battlefield is nicely spiced up by the presence of some plastic minis (UU's and Generals). Certainly, if I was buying this game, I'd make sure to spend a little more on getting the plastic UU's - they are so much cooler than the wooden pieces we included by default. The plastic insert that Rick designed is awesome. It is designed to hold all basegame and expansion components securely in one box. This is not an insert that people will be tossing.

Overall, I really thought this was an enormously successful convention for me and Clockwork Wars. The vast majority of the groups that I taught the game to thoroughly enjoyed it, and several went on to pre-order the game after their experience. The game plays well, it plays fast, and it challenges and delights. I'm certainly very proud of how it all came together. Now, I just have to wait a couple more weeks before KS copies ship and the game starts popping up in stores.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Origins Game Fair, 2015: Part 1

Last week I attended the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, OH, from Wednesday to Sunday. It was my first game convention experience, made all the more special because I spent the majority of my time in the Eagle-Gryphon demo booth teaching people how to play Clockwork Wars. It was fantastic, exhausting, and periodically overwhelming. In two posts, I'll record my thoughts on the experience. This first one will focus on everything NOT related to Clockwork Wars. My second one will predominantly discuss my experience demo-ing CW and new insights about balance and play.

First off, my hotel choice was a good one. My brother and I booked a room at the Renaissance Downtown. It was around a 15 minute walk to the convention center in a nice neighborhood. The room was great: spacious, clean, and relatively cheap. I'd certainly stay there again.

As for meals, I didn't treat myself particularly well the first couple days. After fairly light breakfasts, I ended up either skipping lunch or eating crappy convention food. By the third day, I figured out my schedule a bit better and reserved time to get out of the convention center and eat in North Market. In case you were wondering, it's every bit as good as everyone says it is. And it's only a 5 minute walk away.

I met a lot of really excellent people. This was my first time meeting all the Eagle-Gryphon folks face-to-face - people I've been collaborating with for (literally) years over email. I can't speak highly enough about Rick and Joanne Soued, who run Eagle-Gryphon. They are generous, kind, intelligent, interesting people. Rick is a huge reason why Clockwork Wars turned out as nice as it did. I also finally met Alex, his son, who was my primary developer on CW for nearly 2 years. He was warm and welcoming. It was also a pleasure to meet Rick Schrand, VP of sales and marketing at Eagle. He was affable, extroverted and witty.

In terms of other designers, I didn't get to meet and chat with as many as I had hoped. At an Eagle-Gryphon dinner, I met TC Petty III, designer of the VivaJava games and, more recently, Xenon Profiteer. It was interesting asking him about his goal of becoming a full-time game designer and his long-term strategy. I also met Matt Riddle, designer of Fleet, Eggs & Empires, and most recently, Floating Market. I played a copy of Floating Market in the Eagle demo booth and had a lot of fun. It's a clever, unique design, and I walked away respecting Matt as a designer even more than I had previously. But I wish I had had a chance to sit down and play games with some designers, and have leisurely chats about the design process, the industry, etc.

I spent a large amount of time working alongside a group of fantastic volunteers - the Eagle "wingmen" - who teach and demo games throughout the con. Every single one was welcoming and competent. It was a great team. Our demo area generally cranked: our most popular games were probably Age of Discovery, Francis Drake, Baseball Highlights: 2045, and Clockwork Wars. The production values of everything Eagle makes are truly astounding.

Finally, I was (embarrassingly) thrilled to meet several prominent personalities in the board gaming world. I briefly met Tom Vasel, as a prelude to a 10 min preview they did of Clockwork Wars. The interview itself was a bit stressful but I hope that once it's posted, it gets more people to check out the game. I got a chance to meet and briefly talk with Rodney Smith of Watch It Played fame. To my delight, he's interested in doing an instructional video for Clockwork Wars. It may or may not pan out, but my fingers are crossed. Finally, I met Marco Arnaudo, one of my favorite reviewers, and passed along a copy of CW for him to play and review. He has since posted a very positive review of the game, which is immensely gratifying.

I didn't expect to work and demo as much as I did. My plan going in was to demo Clockwork Wars for 1-2 "shifts" per day (each shift was around 3 hours), and then spend the rest of my time walking around with my brother trying out games. However, it became clear to me pretty quickly that no one else in the demo booth was really qualified to teach my game. I taught it to a couple other wingmen right away, and even got to play a few turns with them, but no one had read the rulebook beforehand, and it's a pretty dense game to pick up after a single partial play. I also realized (and Rick reiterated this) that people were going to have a much more fun, positive experience learning the game from me than anyone else. They would learn all the rules correctly, have the right person around to answer questions that came up, and get the "pleasure" of rubbing elbows with the designer. I also discovered that it was a huge rush to watch people play and enjoy the game. Why would I deny myself of that opportunity?

So I ended up spending the majority of each day (from around 9am to 10pm) in the Eagle demo booth, prepping and demo-ing Clockwork Wars. I'll talk more about that in my next entry. But I wasn't there the whole time - every day I took some time to walk around the convention center with my brother, checking out booths and games when I got a chance. Here are some of the experiences I recall:

I've been curious about the Conflict of Heroes system for a while now, and I thought my brother would be interested as well (since he's an old-school grognard). We wandered over to Academy Games and the gentleman there was kind enough to give the two of us a quick rules explanation and even let us play through a few turns of a single scenario. My honest opinion is that it's perhaps too "old school" for me. It feels like you're playing a streamlined ASL - but not a modern design. I-go, you-go, hex-based, lots of modifiers, range checking, dice-rolling, etc. Not my bag. But I will say that seeing both Fief and Freedom: the Underground Railroad up close was impressive. Academy publish such unique and beautiful games.

Inspired by its hugely successful Kickstarter, I signed up for a demo session of Posthuman. Our "instructor" was late, but once he showed up he gave us a very enthusiastic introduction to the game. A group of 5 of us played this post-apocalyptic, adventure-style game with prototype components. I wrote up my thoughts on BGG here. In short, I wasn't impressed. The downtime was horrendous, and it felt very odd to be exploring a world without a common map (everyone constructs their own). This one really made me wonder, for the 100th time, about Kickstarter and why certain games take off and others don't. Posthuman has an interesting (if slightly overplayed) theme, one cool mechanic (the idea of scars leading to mutation), and a very deep role-playing element, much like Arkham/Eldritch Horror. But otherwise, I don't precisely understand what drew people to the design.

On a more positive note, my brother and I got to try out the DC deck-building game: Forever Evil. Although this system gets some flak for being quite simple, my brother and I are big fans. I *like* that it's simple and somewhat mindless - and I love the presentation. Forever Evil impressed me. They've added some wrinkles to the design that make it slightly more complex and tie in with the "playing a villain" theme. Plus, taking down the Flash with Bane is incredibly satisfying. My brother bought a copy immediately after we played.

There was a huge demo of Flick 'em Up, an Old West themed dexterity game. After 5 minutes of rules explanation, I got to play with 3 other bystanders and we immediately started laughing. This one is a lot of fun, and I love how casual it is. The only impediment I see here is having a big enough table! Also, constantly looking for bullets that fly off the edge. I don't know if I'll buy it, but I'm tempted - it would be the first dexterity game in my collection.

What did I buy at the convention? Not much, but that's my style. I'm pretty reserved when it comes to game purchases. I bought Rhino Hero for my daughter and VivaJava: the Coffee Game: the Dice Game for myself. I'm excited to try the latter out with my game group, as several of us are coffee snobs, and I think this looks like a great dice-game. On that note, the Dice Hate Me booth was super-busy, and I think they sold out of VivaJava as well as Brew Crafters, another design that intrigues me.

SO, not as much game-playing as I expected! But part of that was becoming familiar with the system. If I go back again (which I'd love to), I suspect I'll be much more efficient about my gaming. Generally speaking, while there were some odd organizational elements to Origins, I found it to be a very pleasant convention. It seemed busy but not too busy. You could get demos relatively easily, but it helped to know the schedule and where to go. Unfortunately, it was often confusing trying to figure out where specifically a game was being demoed. This is a con that would greatly benefit from an App to help search and create an itinerary. I don't understand why every convention doesn't do this.

Next entry: my experience demo-ing Clockwork Wars.