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Board games that tell stories

You can follow me on Twitter at @trzewik I update this blog every Wednesday. This is BGG copy of my blog BoardgamesThatTellStories.com

Archive for Ignacy Trzewiczek

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Every once in a while

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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This article was first published at portalgames.pl


Every once in a while we receive a prototype that blows our minds. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. We found Legacy: Testament of duke de Crecy in 2012. Tides of Time happened in 2014. Crazy Karts came to us in 2015…

***


I remember exactly the first afternoon we played the Crazy Karts prototype. It was during a whole day that we at Portal Games dedicated to playtesting the submitted prototypes. After a few games, I was tired. I was disappointed. I was one step away from leaving the office and going home. There was nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing immersive in the prototypes we played that day.

Greg put another prototype on the table. “It’s a racing game”, he said. Hundreds of little hexes printed on a small board almost made me run away. The player boards were in French. The player screens were slender and tended to fall over. What a mess.

Anyway, we played. Sixty minutes went by like a second.

***


I remember looking up from the table at the other players. I remember looking at Greg and trying to make eye contact with him. I remember the smile slowly appearing on my face.

I remember thinking: ‘Well, that was actually fun. We've got something here. Oh dear, we've got something here…’

***


There were many issues with this game. The board, full of these small hexes, looked super boring. The rules for movement were too complicated. The scoring was… well, there was scoring in the first place! I was surprised. I didn’t race to score. I raced to be the first one to drive my cart across the finish line! I didn't want to score points...

But, below all of that, below all the mud and dirt there was a gem. There was pure fun. There was a brilliant idea of two drivers trying to steer one kart.

We contacted the designer. The work began. Time to polish this diamond.




[To learn more about Crazy Karts, please, visit website dedicated to the game]
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Thu May 19, 2016 6:01 pm
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First martians - Try again...

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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You play TIME Stories, you reach a point when there is not much to do because of your previous decisions. You make a time jump and start over with all the knowledge you gathered during the first run. This game is all about runs. The first, second, third. Time stories, huh?

You play Pandemic: Legacy, you reach a point when there is nothing left to do, the disease will just explode in a second. You shuffle the cards and play the month again...

You play Imperial Assault, you reach a point where the bad guys kicked your ass and are clearly winning the game? Well, sorry, but the game continues. The bad guys get some cool rewards and powers and will make a harder opponent next time but the campaign won't stop. You just gave them a few additional tools to screw you up.

Yeah, the campaign games. There is some tricky stuff going on there. Let's talk about our options.

***


Pandemic: Legacy keeps it pretty simple. Whether the players succeed or not, the story continues. They are—after all—only little human beings trying to stop the unstoppable. Pandemic doesn't give a crap about those few dudes trying to save the world. Pandemic is marching onwards no matter what. Players struggle, the game moves forward every single round (every other round, to be precise . It's both thematic and simple. Works perfect.

TIME Stories has a super-smart solution, too. When the players are stuck, they just restart the story and try again. Everybody who plays the game tries to do it in one run, but let's face it—we know a couple of reruns is needed to finish the story. We know that. We are prepared for that. We don't complain that, OMG I need to play this again from the start!! The idea of replaying the same scenario over and over is actually at the heart of the game.

Imperial Assault has this very efficient way of resolving the scenario effects—the winner gets a reward. The story continues. Clean and swift.
***


OK, let's talk about First Martians now, huh?

An average campaign takes about 5 scenarios. The story evolves, the players struggle, the tension builds up by the hour, with every successful roll, with every emotion experienced, and with every important decision made. Players got attached to their characters, they couldn't wait for the grand finale and the story's resolution.

Sorry, but this was not going to happen. In the middle of the fourth scenario, one of the characters kicked the bucket. End of story. He is dead. That's it. You didn't finish the campaign. You will never see the grand finale.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!
***


This problem is a tough one. Should I ask the players to actually play the whole campaign from the very beginning? Start with Scenario #1 and go through the whole campaign again? Or should I let them replay only the fourth scenario? How would you feel if you were to play again this one scenario that saw you die? How would you feel if you were to do it over and over, if this particular scenario was a difficult one and killed you time and time again?

At this moment—and you need to remember I'm writing these words when the game is still in development—I managed to teach the players that scenarios' goals, the objectives given by NASA are important, but surviving is crucial.

The game's campaign mode is built in such a way so that fulfilling the Objective is not mandatory to continue the campaign. The setup or the next scenario's objective will differ depending on the outcome of the previous scenario, but if you didn't achieve the goal the campaign will simply continue. The only problem is—the next scenario will probably be more difficult. If NASA asked you to give them coordinates for where to drop the supplies and you screwed this up... well, in the next scenario you will need to search for the place of this drop, because the supplies landed somewhere and only God knows where...

So failing one objective doesn't end the campaign. It only changes your situation for the next scenario.
However, what ends the campaign is getting killed.

Would you restart the scenario you died in?
Would you restart the whole campaign?
Would you just assume you didn't finish the campaign and moved on to the next campaign?

I REALLY REALLY appreciate your feedback here. Give me your thoughts on the subject.



P.S. First Martians now has its Facebook Page. Check it out!
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Mon Apr 25, 2016 7:10 pm
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First martians: Learning how not to play for a touchdown!

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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First of all thank you for all the feedback below my previous post. I very much appreciate all the comments.

One important note - many of you posted solutions how to fix the game. The game is not broken, there is nothing to fix. I wrote the article to show you how the players' behavior changes with the theme. The same mechanism, a different theme, different behavior. There is no problem with the game itself, though. Listen to today's story...




Learning how not to play for a touchdown!


When we play games, we have a clear goal to achieve. Get 25 points. Control most regions. Build 10 Wonders. When we get there, we win the game. It's like a touchdown.

Magic the Gathering is about reducing enemy's Life to 0. No matter how many points we have, no matter how great monsters he has, no matter what he would do to us next round and how badly he would kick our ass. Reduce him to 0 and you've won. Touchdown!

Race for the Galaxy? Build this tableau of 12 cards in front of you and finish the game - even if your opponent has a better Production/Consume combo under way and would win in the long run, you just score a touchdown and win the game.

Kemet? Grab 8 Victory Points - even temporary ones and you will be fine! No matter what happens next, no matter how weak your forces are, if you manage to get 8 points, you'll win no matter what.

Games teach us achieving goals. This is what you have to do. Do it, win. Touchdown.

And to be honest... actually that's what the games used to teach us. Because then Rob Daviau came and shook the box a little.

It turned out that blocking China in Pandemic: Legacy is awesome and will let you win the game, but now the road is blocked and you will have problems with that blockade for the next 6 long months. Legacy style game changes your approach. Suddenly you need to play wisely.

***


The case with “I am not rolling these fucking dice in space” is a perfect example of a classic approach to games. The player wants to achieve the scenario's goal and is not thinking about the upcoming scenarios or the big picture. He plays the way most games are played. He plays safe, he focuses on the goal and on nothing else, he achieves the goal. Touchdown, win.

In the second scenario he dies of hunger.

That's an interesting lesson, huh?

So he's learned his lesson. He plays again. And this time he does all he can to see the whole picture. The whole campaign.
A small problem with the Oxygenerator? It is a problem that might kill you sooner or later.
A warning of sand storm that might be heading towards the HUB? It is a signal that cannot be ignored.
Suspicious noises from the Command Control computer? They are no longer only stupid distractions. They are a clear signal that there is a problem with the Command Control and you'd better find out what's going on in there. Because sooner or later it might kick you in the guts.

In Legacy games, or let's call them Campaign games, everything matters because you play with a longer perspective in mind.

***


Playing Legacy games, or any campaign games, or playing First Martians, is actually learning to play board games from scratch. You will learn that your environment is so important. That you cannot devote all your attention to the goal of the game and ignore everything else, ignore things that keep your character alive or protect the cities from infection. You act in a more realistic manner, you act more like in real life. You care about your life and then you try to achieve the goal. Not the other way around.

Achieve the goal? Yes.
At any cost? Nope.

And that's something super interesting that changes entirely the way we play. When you play First Martians, there is no touchdown moment. Because there is always a new story behind the corner. And you'd better prepare yourself for that.
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Mon Apr 4, 2016 10:23 am
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Let's play... outside the box

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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It was a game of Elysium. I didn't pay enough attention when the rules were explained and it cost me a lot from the very beginning—I had no idea what to do.

And then I saw a card with an artwork by my favorite illustrator—Vincent Dutrait!

I grabbed that card and looked through the deck if there were any other cards that he illustrated. Indeed, there were.

I smiled. I had my goal for that game! Collect cards illustrated by Vincent Dutrait. Those cards only, and none other.

As you can imagine, this tactic didn't bring me many Victory Points, but my tableau looked amazing and I called the game a win!

***



We sit and play a board game with an obvious and clear goal—to win. If we play with a different goal in mind, we may ruin the game for somebody else at the table. Other players assume that our actions will be reasonable and lead us to victory. They adjust their strategy accordingly to that assumption.

If we start playing like a madman, doing random stuff, play in an unpredictable way—we will ruin the game.

That's bad. That's not why we play at all. But...

***



If we come up with a little twist for our strategy, if we announce that new goal and we make sure we will not spoil game for other players... it might be worth a shot. Build 7 buildings during a game of Citadel, each with a different value on it. Collect the most monsters in Kemet. Pick only the ugliest spouses possible in Legacy and build the ugliest family in the game.

Did you ever try playing outside the box?
Which game? What was your goal?
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Wed Mar 30, 2016 5:50 pm
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First Martians: the one about psychology!

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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A couple of years ago when I was writing about designing 51st State I wrote a story about Baby Swift. For those who don’t remember or didn’t follow my blog back then, here is a short recap.

One week into a 51st State playtesting marathon, we received new artwork for the game. I printed the old cards updated with the new artwork and prepared a newer version of the prototype. Among these new cards there was one—called Baby Swift—that gained an amazing piece of art (shown above).

Prior to that, the card was almost never drafted, but with that artwork it has become nearly the most often drafted card in the game. I didn’t change the card’s rule. I just put an amazing piece of art on it.

***

We always say that a lot of maths is involved in the process of designing games. We work very hard to balance stuff, to calculate the odds, to make all actions equally valuable. And yet, even though these calculations are pretty easy to do and in most cases we have no problems with that part of the designing process, we face many other problems, problems that cannot be just simply calculated away. The problems that have much to do with pure emotions and psychology.

Let me tell you today about some interesting problems I've faced when playtesting First Martians.

***

First Martians is being developed using the Robinson Crusoe engine. Both games use the same basic mechanism—you spend 1 Action Pawn and you roll a dice or you spend both of your Action Pawns and that’s an auto success.

For example, you go for the Explore action, you spend 1 Action Pawn, so you grab 3 green dice and roll them. Most likely you will succeed with your action (there are 5 success icons), most likely you will have an adventure (5 adventure icons), and there’s a chance you’ll be wounded (3 wound icons).

Even though all adventures in the deck are bad, players often want these encounters. They are eager to see what will happen. Will they get lost in the woods? Find a cursed hut? Stumble upon a corpse of a dead goat? So many cool things might happen!

They roll the dice, they have adventures, the game is rich in stories and theme. Robinson Crusoe at its best!

Let’s visit Mars.

There’s been an interesting issue for me to deal with. The playtesters don’t roll the dice. They perform all their actions with 2 Action Pawns and they do everything, literally everything they can, not to roll the dice.

The last test I ran? They didn’t plant the seeds in the greenhouse, the plants didn’t grow (obviously!), and in the second scenario the players will most likely die of hunger, because food reserves are really low. And yet they managed to just achieve the scenario’s objective, the absolute minimum they needed to achieve to finish the game. They did nothing more, no preparations were made for the next game.

‘Why didn’t you plant the seeds?’, I asked after the test game.

‘We had no time for that.’

‘You had the time. You kept using 2 Action Pawns for your actions. You could have easily split them, roll the dice and do the planting’, I pointed out.

‘I am not rolling these fucking dice’, I heard in response (and that’s a quote, just in case you wondered).

‘You will die of starvation in the campaign’s second scenario!’

‘This is space. I am not rolling these fucking dice in space.’

***

There is no logic in that. This is nothing I could have predicted when I was building the game. There is nothing in the rules that could be changed to resolve this issue. This is just a purely emotional problem. Having adventures on the Cursed Island is exciting and cool. Having adventures on Mars is…

‘I am not rolling these fucking dice.’
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Mon Mar 28, 2016 10:18 am
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The one about components in designing games

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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Yesterday I played a very interesting board game prototype. The theme is not a revolutionary one but it's not bad, either. What's interesting—the theme meshes well with the rules even though the game is—at its core—an abstract strategy. I know, sounds weird, but that's what it is. A thematic abstract strategy game.

Today, though, I am not writing about themes. Today I'm writing about the components.

The submitted prototype weighs 1.3kg (2.9lb). It comes with nearly 150 big wooden cubes, 2 boards, 4 player boards, more than 200 big tokens, then additional money tokens and cards, and so on and so forth...

***


The very first words I said when my employee Martin put this prototype on the table and began to set up the game were: “We are not going to publish this.” I looked at the components and I knew it was impossible to produce the game at a reasonable MSRP.

“I know, I know, this is crazy, but please, play it first, then we will discuss it and see what could be changed in the final production copy.”

So I shut up my mouth and played. I liked the game. To be honest, I can't wait to play it again. Also, I can't stop asking myself The Question:

Is it possible to have fewer components without hurting the game?

That's the question this game's designer will have to ask himself—and then answer it. And he'd better find a positive answer.

***


We regularly receive prototypes that are overproduced (sic!). Many young designers are so driven by passion and creativity that they tend to forget that eventually their games need to be produced and sold at reasonable prices. You can't squeeze an unlimited number of cubes, cards, and tokens in the box. It influences the production cost, it influences the MSRP, it might kill the game when it's released.

For me it is easier in many ways, of course. I know the prices. I know the production process. I have the comfort of designing games with my Production Manager every day looking at a prototype and complaining about the components I came up with the day before.

What can you do without a Production Manager watching your back?

Look at your game and think how much you would pay for it. Ask this question to your friends. Think about the final MSPR for the box when it's released. Is it a 20$ game? 40$? 60$?

Then take from your shelf the games that have MSRPs. List their components. See what's in the boxes. See how much the publishers put in these boxes.

Then look at your prototype again.

And if you put twice as much in yours, then, sir, you are in trouble.
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Wed Mar 23, 2016 5:41 pm
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They deserve better!

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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I am a huge fan of children's games. I have a big collection of board games for kids and even though my own kids got older and they won't play with me anymore, I still keep these kids games in my collection. I won't get rid of them. I will play with my grandchildren, right?!

There are some real gems among games for children. Ramses II. Labyrinth. Gulo gulo – to mention only a few classics.

And yet, even though these days game stores offer so many great innovative children's games, there is still a ton of mere unimaginative variants of memory games.

Yes, sure, kids like memory games. They have a great memory, they beat their parents easily and they enjoy it.

Once.
Twice.
Thrice.

But then at some point...

***


I was a teacher for a few years, and I was conducting board games classes. I would play with kids for hours. I would bring them stupid toyish games like Louping Louis, Operation, or Funny Bunny. Kids loved them.

I would bring different versions of memory games, with Chicken Cha Cha Cha, Monster Chase, or Ramses II being the highlights among many others.

And I would also bring them some more difficult games. Games like Batik Kids. Pickomino. Wicked Witches Way. Ribbit. And many more.

And guess what!

After a few lessons more and more kids were moving towards the more difficult games. They liked the challenge. They wanted to think deeper. They wanted to play something more than just another memory or toyish game. Operation and Funny Bunny sank into oblivion.

***


In 2015, Portal Games launched an amazing economy game for children (!) on the Polish market. It is called [b]My Happy Farm[/b] and was designed by the authors of Mysterium. It quickly won the hearts of board game fans in Poland.

Soon after the release, we decided to buy full rights to the English version of the game and to release it worldwide. This week it's going to hit retail stores in the U.S.

It is a very smart design. It challenges young players, it makes them think and engage with the game from the very beginning till the last minute of the play. Children will need to plan carefully in advance, they'll need to sow and plant, harvest, feed the animals – they will have to manage the whole farm!

That's a challenge they're going to love.
That's a story they will understand.
That's a task that will sound cool for them.

(and BTW: harvesting and feeding is something that you all love, too – I am looking at you, Agricola fans!)

Yesterday we began the game's promotional campaign. We say: "Don't feed your children with another memory game.", and I strongly, strongly, strongly believe in this message.

We all know they deserve much better than just another memory game.




Learn more about the game at: My Happy Farm Spotlight

Follow me on Twitter at: @trzewik

Follow me on Snapchat at: trzewik23

Watch my #askboardgames show at: #askboardgames

Read more articles at: https://boardgamesthattellstories.com
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Wed Mar 2, 2016 8:13 pm
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Show some respect!

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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It's October 2009. Outside Poland no one heard a shit about me. I am a random Polish dude with his first big game being released during the Essen Game Fair. One day I got an email from the BGG team. They were preparing the very first Essen live stream and asked me if I was interested in presenting my game.

Hell, yes, I was. I scheduled a 30-minute-long demo in front of a camera.

And then I start practicing.

I prepared the whole demo at home and I practiced, day after day. Like an actor preparing for the play, I practiced my demo over and over again.

When the Essen's time finally arrived, I was scared as shit. My spoken English was really poor and I had never done a live recording before.

And yet, I delivered one of the best demos of that show. My video was viewed an astonishing number of times. The game's buzz grew like crazy.

***



It's October 2012. I have a big game for the Essen show. It is called Robinson Crusoe. The BGG team contacts me again about a live stream. I immediately reply that yes, I am interested. I schedule the date and time.

And I start practicing.

I prepare the whole demo at home. I go for explaining the essence of the game. I go for emphasizing the most awesome key selling points of the game. And I go further than that. I prepare a hand out, I prepare Wilson - a volleyball with a handprint just like in the memorable movie with Tom Hanks.

Once again I am scared as shit. Once again my spoken English is pathetic. And once again I deliver one of the best demos among those live stream videos. When we finish recording and the camera is off, John from the BGG team asks me to keep one copy of Robinson for him. He will pick it up right after he finishes all the recording. He is not going back to the U.S. without the game.

In the meantime I receive dozens of text messages from Poland with friends telling me that they watched the demo and it rocked.

Practicing like crazy before the recording clearly paid off.

***



For the past few days Eric Martin has been publishing his interviews from the Nuremberg Fair. No finger-pointing, but let me just say this - once again there were publishers who did extremely poor demos. Boring. Unprepared. Chaotic. No hooks and no selling points presented, no idea and no concept behind it.

Honestly, I don't get it.

BGG offers you the best exposure you can ever get. It's free advertising. It's John and Eric flying to Germany with a camera and giving you a chance to present your game to audiences worldwide. They approach you and say: “Hey, we have a few thousands viewers and we'd like you to present your game to our community. Interested?”.

Can't you prepare a good demo? Can't you find in your company a person who speaks fluent English, performs well in front of a camera and knows what he or she is going to talk about? Can't you show some respect both to the BGG and to their viewers by preparing for the demo? Is it that hard to do a good show and promote your game?

Why are you so lazy? I don't get it. Really.

***


Anyway, when contacted by the BGG before the Nuremberg Fair I did the same thing I had done a couple of times before. I told them I was interested. I scheduled the recording's date and time. And then I began to practice. I noted down all the major key selling points and unique mechanisms we had in Cry Havoc - one of our big Gen con releases. I prepared every minute of this monologue.

And then I did the same thing for my game about Mars. I noted down a dozen of real life examples from the First Martians gameplay to show all players who were anxious about the app integrated with the boardgame that this was nothing to be afraid of. In short, during a few-minute-long video I was shooting with one example after another, like a freaking machine gun to convince the viewers that the app and First Martians combine into the most immerse experience they've ever had in their boardgaming history.

You won't believe how many tweets, emails and text messages I already received after this video was published. All of them said: "I was skeptical. Now I am excited."

I did my homework. I took the time to prepare. And I won a few hearts over.

So my message to my fellow publishers today is - show some respect. Prepare your demos. Make me excited about the game you are presenting.




First Martians - why app integration builds an incredible story:


Cry Havoc - key points and unique mechanisms:




Follow me on Twitter at: @trzewik

Follow me on Snapchat at: trzewik23

Watch my #askboardgames show at: #askboardgames

Read more articles at: https://boardgamesthattellstories.com
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Wed Feb 24, 2016 10:50 pm
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This is what I do

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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At some point she – out of nowhere actually – says something like: ‘This weekend we played Robinson, me and my family. We had a great time. My mom was so excited that she was standing next to the table, because she just couldn’t sit still. And you know, she is not a gamer, she never plays board games. We won. I know, I know, we played a few rules wrong, I double checked the rulebook after we finished the game. We had an amazing time together, though. It was great.’

This is my oxygen. This is why I work. This is why I stay up till 1AM cutting out prototype pieces and trying to playtest the shit out of this mess. This is why I have the strength to struggle with a prototype that is not working the way I want it to work. This is why I will trash bad ideas and look for good ones over and over again. This is why I am ready for sleepless nights and for long weeks of bad mood when I can’t find a solution and the prototype is not working.

I am ready for all this mess.

Because at the end of this struggle there is a family somewhere out there that will have a great time together.

And this is my oxygen.
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Tue Feb 9, 2016 3:41 pm
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Cool Kid on the Block

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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So Buonacoure makes fun of me. He calls me the Cool Kid On The Block because I use Snapchat and we all know that only kids use Snapchat, right?

Well, yes and no.

Snapchat is a medium for kids. It’s a medium for MTV celebs, for movie stars and sportsmen. I am none of them. No one is interested in seeing my wardrobe or my morning workout. I am pretty aware of that. So what the hell am I doing on Snapchat?

I talk about game design. I show my work. I show how I play test games. I show how my games are born.

Why not on Twitter? Why not on Facebook? Why not on YouTube? Why not here on this blog?

Cause each medium has its specific features and tools. Each medium is perfect for a different kind of message. You guys consume each medium for different reasons.

I chat with you on Twitter, I post mean comments to my board game friends, I banter and I love it. I got almost 10K followers because I feel that on Twitter I'm in my element, I can feel this medium with my entire soul. This is like my native environment. Punchlines, bantering, 140 letters that go straight to the point. Find me on Twitter at @trzewik and start bantering. Can’t wait to meet you there.

I have an official Facebook profile at facebook.com/trzewiczek where people who like my games can see updates every couple of days about what’s going on with me. I write short updates, post pictures and I am much more active there when I am visiting new places. It lets me show cool conventions and cities I visit. This is my most serious and official channel of communication with you.

I run the #askboardgames show (which previously was a Portal Games vlog and evolved). That is my medium for having a constant Q&A session with the gamers. When I visit conventions, you guys catch me and ask me many questions. That’s basically the formula for the show. You don’t need to grab me at conventions anymore. You can ask me questions about my opinion on Pandemic Legacy, about the app in First Martians or about the next Robinson Crusoe expansion release date and I’ll answer in the show. I used to answer a ton of email questions every day. Because of this show I was able to reduce it drastically. You guys are updated with my weekly answers. Clean and simple.

So, finally Snapchat, huh? Do I really need another channel of communication? What for?!

Snapchat is for unofficial stuff. It’s for prototypes that are in the works. It’s for stuff I cannot post on BGG yet. It’s for videos that can’t get published on YouTube. It’s for work in progress, for dirty stuff, for uncut, unprepared versions of my games. The real work. Nothing photoshopped, if you know what I mean.

Listen, you don’t need to be the Cool Kid On The Block. You only need to be a gamer who wants to see First Martians coming to life in real time. Without photoshopping. Without the marketing bullshit. Just the real stuff and a real prototype.

Join Cool Kid.

Find me at trzewik23
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Mon Feb 8, 2016 3:44 pm
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  • [+] Dice rolls

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