Protospiel: Beginner's Guide
Good Day Internet!
Welcome back! We hope you had a great July :)
Our July was very hectic, but also quite enjoyable. Part of our many July travels included heading down to Protospiel Michigan from the 15th-17th. This was my second Protospiel in Michigan and third overall. During the weekend I learned a few lessons, and was reminded of some that I failed to recall from the previous year. Hopefully the following list will help to improve your prototype convention experiences (and remain fresh in my mind for next time).
1) Bring a Sweater
This has nothing to do with the weather, which was quite hot all weekend, instead, it has to do with convention halls trying to make sure visitors don’t overheat by blasting the A/C. The downside to this is that by the time the sun begins to set it stops being refreshing and starts becoming uncomfortably cold. Every evening I was forced to wear my bright yellow jacket to keep warm (even then my hands were very cold and I looked forward to getting back to my hotel room to warm up). To be honest, I should have known better, but bringing a sweater never crossed my mind when packing.
Beyond a sweater, I was very happy to have a water bottle that I could fill up in the bathroom after the water jugs emptied (taking one of the provided glasses to do the same just doesn’t feel quite right). Snacks were another great thing to have to survive until the typically late lunches and dinners, and I just found out this year that the area is licensed so you can bring in some beers if you’d like (it’s an easy way to make friends assuming you’re sharing).
2) Dinners are a Great Time to Connect
My plan was the same this year as last year: when I got to Michigan I went and bought enough groceries to last the whole weekend. That turned out to be a mistake (something I should have known and remembered from last year).
My thought process was that by not having to go out for meals I would get in more valuable playtesting time, but I missed out on the lunches and, especially, dinners with large groups of great designers and publishers. So although I managed to maximize my playtesting time, I missed out on the other half of what makes Protospiel so great: making connections. Of course, I did have the chance to make connections during playtesting, and I met a lot of great people. In terms of meeting publishers though, I didn’t. I played exactly one game with a publisher over the whole weekend, but never actually talked to them directly. Part of that is my fault for not seeking them out, which is something I definitely need to work on in the future.
Next year I’m going to bring some extra cash and expect to go out a few times for meals. That way I won’t only get the bonus of making those connections, but I can potentially negotiate getting one of our games in front of a publisher after our meal. From what I’ve seen, it seems that groups that go out together for meals always come back and immediately sit down to play a game by one of the designers. I can only assume that happened by discussing it during their meal.
3) The Best Designers ask Questions
This is something we’ve been touting for a while, but it comes to light every prototyping convention:
There is no shortage of people with (strong) opinions on games at these conventions (including the game designer). Opinions are fine (you’ll always hear a wide range of opinions on your game(s) at prototyping conventions), but when a designer asks for feedback and then defends their game to no end (especially experienced designers), it’s very tiring.
When I see a designer looking for feedback by asking more questions, writing them down, and processing/working them out, I get excited about the development of the game (regardless if my feedback is taken or not). This indicates to me that they are open to trying new ideas that they may not like but instead, may be good for the game. More importantly, it indicates that the designer is passionate about making the game the best it can be, and making themselves the best designer they can be. That’s the kind of designer you want to be. The one who is eagerly asking questions for feedback and willing to try new things.
If you make it to Protospiel, Unpub, or another prototyping convention, pick the brains of the designers and publishers on general game design and the world of publishing. There is a lot of great knowledge out there so take advantage of it (at Protospiel Madison 2015 we got to pick the brains of Jay Little which was awesome). Your game, and your knowledge of game design will improve by leaps and bounds.
4) Conventions are Better Together
Somehow I managed to be the one person out (literally) near the end of the convention on Sunday. Everyone was in game or mid-discussion for playtest feedback, which I didn’t want to interrupt. Last year I went down with three other people (including Allysha). This year I definitely missed them and especially Allysha for the times when I didn’t know what table to head too (when they were clearly all full), and when I needed someone to bounce ideas off of.
Find someone to bring down with you to these conventions. It’s a great time for everyone (including playtesters who have never playtested games before) and it’s so much better to have someone you can always just hangout with and discuss ideas.
July was hectic and August is only slightly less so. We were in Buffalo from July 26th to August 2nd for dance training for Allysha (there’s a reason we’re called Dancing Giant Games). During that time we headed out to meet Dan of Letiman Games in Rochester to do some playtesting and I headed down to playtest some games at Spielbany on the Saturday in Albany. At Dan’s we had the privilege of playing the very cute Gadgeteers which will launch on Kickstarter at the end of the month. Spielbany was a much smaller gathering than usual, but still a great time with some great people (and we still highly recommend it). We’ve also been working on revamping Swept Ashore and making minor adjustments to Pulled into Darkness.
Speaking of which, we had a great time at GenCon this past weekend and specifically playtesting Pulled into Darkness and Swept Ashore at the First Exposure Playtest Hall. We met a lot of great people and learned some lessons there too, which we’ll mention in next week’s recap blog.
Hopefully our hiatus wasn’t too long for you guys, it’s really great to be back!
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Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.