Archive for Hilko Drude
What are you doing!? I don't even know you!
On June 2-3, 2012, the Game Designer Convention in Göttingen, Germany will be held for the 31st time. Since its humble beginnings in 1983, the first – and still largest – convention of its kind has grown to fill the municipal hall in Göttingen pretty well. (There is still some room for further growth, but it is hard to see everything already.) In 2011, over 150 tables were set up so that designers from twelve countries – ranging from absolute newcomers to former Spiel des Jahres winners – could present their latest prototypes.
The event is co-hosted by the Fachdienst Kultur (department of culture) of the City of Göttingen, by veteran game designer Reinhold Wittig, and by yours truly. Reinhold Wittig had suggested a gathering of game designers in the early 1980s, and after some irregular dates in the beginning, it now always takes place on the first weekend of June.
Unlike at many other conventions where publishers have booths and everyone flocks around these (as in Essen or Nürnberg), the roles are reversed in Göttingen. Designers can book a table (for a mere €10 to keep it affordable for everyone), while the publishers send their representatives (editors rather than sales managers) to look around for promising new ideas.
Since most designers don't talk to publishers for an entire day and a half, we encourage them to go around and try out their fellow designers' prototypes or simply get to know one another. In 2011, this worked much better than in previous years; lonely people glued to their tables were rarely seen.
As mentioned before, there is hardly a chance to take in everything. Prototypes range from messy notepapers to lavishly designed pieces of art. Whenever I think I have the most spectacular pieces, others tell me about fascinating games that have completely eluded me. Well, that's what you get for trying to co-organize such an event, present your own prototype, and meet exciting people all at the same time.
On Saturday evening, a spaghetti dinner is held in a nearby restaurant for anyone who is interested. Of course, after the meal, games are put on the tables and it can be a great time to try games which you hadn't been able to look at during the day. It's a very communicative event in any case.
On Sunday, the event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is open to the public. This doesn't mean that thousands of people fill the halls, but anyone can have a look and try the new games on display.
On Saturday, the "Göttinger Inno-Spatz" is handed out, an award for outstanding contributions to the gaming world. While in earlier years the prize usually went to designers, nowadays it usually goes to organizations or groups of individuals. BoardGameGeek received it in 2010, for instance.
Two prizes are awarded to designers as well. One is the prize for the best unpublished designer, awarded by the Spiel des Jahres jury. Contestants have to be present in Göttingen and submit two prototypes which are tested extensively on Saturday. This award is open only to those who can communicate well in German, as the prize consists of a grant covering four week-long internships at a big publishing house, a small publishing house, an FLGS, and a game designer studio. (This itinerary changes each year to accommodate the winner's needs.) The 2011 award was won by Janet Kneisel, and judging from the output of previous winners, we can expect some published games from her in the coming years.
The other prize is the Hippodice Design Competition prize, for which the results were recently published on BGG News and elsewhere.
In recent years, the Göttingen Game Designer Convention has become more and more international. (I think designers from twelve countries were present in 2011, and we are receiving more and more inquiries from international publishers as well.) I am more than just a little curious about how this will develop in the future.
Those of you who are interested in participating in 2012 can download all the necessary materials here. If you need any additional information, you are more than welcome to contact me directly. Please be advised that due to another large event in Göttingen on the same dates, hotel rooms will be harder to get than usual. Don't let that scare you off, though; if you absolutely cannot find anything, let me know and I will try to make something possible.
Hope to see you in Göttingen!
What are you doing!? I don't even know you!
The story behind Tricky Bid is somewhat unexciting – it all happened so fast – so I have decided to write about the publication history as well. This is my first game to be published by a larger company, so it was an interesting process beyond the actual designing.
I had been toying with the idea of designing a trick-taking game for quite a while, but never seriously. One thought I had early on was based on the observation that some trick-taking games require players to play exactly one card per turn, while others let them play any number of cards, but I had never heard of a game that required players to play exactly two cards for each trick.
Now what to do with this idea? The answer came to me in February 2010, when I suddenly thought of tricks in which one card is used for actually winning the trick with the other one being the value of the trick. I carried that thought around for about two weeks until I finally picked up a set of Rage, sat down on a bed, and laid out some cards. (For some reason I didn't do this on the living room table – we might have had guests who slept in that room.) I am not good at developing ideas in pure theory; I always need to physically touch components to find out whether I'm heading anywhere.
One thing I tried out on a whim was to replace the traditional reward for the winner of a trick – namely leading the next one – by something new. I decided to give the winner of a trick a say in the choice of trump color. The trump color is random at the start of the game, and I thought the winner of the trick could decide whether a new (random) trump color would be chosen or whether the old trump would remain in effect. I chose this "reward" on a whim, and it has remained the most dividing aspect of the game (see below).
My first thought was to have two sets of cards in your hand: one for the bidding, one for the tricks. But I noticed immediately that this would be a wasted opportunity: The game gets much of its dynamics by forcing the players to choose which cards to bid and which to use for winning tricks. It was during this first solo test that I thought of the possibility of forcing one's way into someone else's bid, which then became a central point in the game.
This set of rules seemed to work, so essentially the game was done after my first attempt at getting a feel for it. But would it be any fun?
I am fortunate enough to have a group of willing designers/playtesters who meet regularly, so one or two weeks later I was able to put the idea to the test. The reaction from the test players was very encouraging and showed me that the game mechanisms were ready the way they were. Only the fact that I did away with the old "winner of a trick leads the next one" rule was debated quite a bit. Some people were happy to see something fresh here; others preferred the traditional way of trying to get control over the game and felt that the new approach was too luck-dependent. In the end, the dominant opinion was that the opposition to this rule was mostly caused by being used to the old one. What's more, since especially in the four-player game, leading a trick is not always an advantage, we stuck to what I had cooked up in my first draft.
Now the fine tuning began. How many players could play this? How many cards per player would be right? How many cards should be unknown (in the draw pile)? How many colors do we play with?
Since I usually like to play with larger groups (beyond four players), that was what I was aiming at – but almost every time we played with five or six players, there would be someone who scored zero points or almost nothing and was unhappy. I didn't want this to happen when test players tried the game for a publisher, so I decided to restrict the player number to four, at least for the submitted prototype. I didn't think the restriction was necessary once you know the game a bit; instead, it was more of a marketing decision.
Only at a rather late stage someone convinced me to try out the game with two players, and I was astonished by how well that worked. By now, I would almost say that it plays best with two, as it is most competitive (but others disagree here).
Encouraged by the positive reactions from the test players and their desire to re-play nearly each time we put it on the table, I submitted the rules to a publisher known for trick-taking games a mere six weeks after I had first laid out the cards on my bed. This is ridiculously quick, and I have never done it like that before or afterwards – but the publisher was even quicker and responded within less than 24 hours:
You are right, the game rules are super simple and the idea is by all means interesting. Still I have to turn it down. With (…), we have very good and successful trick-taking games in our line of products. That doesn't mean we won't produce anything in this field again, but the requirements are, considering these outstanding games, naturally very high. I believe that (…) will have fairly good chances at another publisher with more need for a new trick-taking game. I am keeping my fingers crossed for you. (...)
(translated from German)
It is interesting how a feeling of being rejected can distort one's reading of what is actually a friendly, encouraging email. After the first reading, my impression was, "We publish only good trick-taking games, mind you. Yours is alrighty."
I wasn't upset, though – it wasn't the first rejection of one of my games, after all – but felt motivated to show them that this could be successful. Another publisher I had in mind asked me to send the prototype and replied after about five weeks (also rather fast):
Your game left a good impression with us. Unfortunately, it is not what we are looking for right now. (…)
(translated from German)
As it was May by then, I decided to wait until the Göttingen Game Designer Convention in early June to present the game to other publishers. I did research about who else might publish trick-taking games and found that many publishers had done so in the past. I noted them down and planned to talk to a few of them during the convention.
That turned out not to be necessary as I managed to steer the editor of Winning Moves to my table in the first attempt and he was ready to test the game on the spot. (Very few editors take the time to do that!) I grabbed two other players and we played a short round of the game. The response was very encouraging – he took the game and promised that the decision for next year's games would be made in September.
September came and went, and there was no news. I was obviously anxious to get a reply, but I thought that if I didn't hear anything, I would talk to the Winning Moves staff in Essen without sounding too eager – but that turned out not to be necessary as in the middle of October I received a short email apologizing for the delay and confirming that the company was planning to publish the game by Nürnberg 2011. Yeah!
Another while went by, and I felt that the rest of the work was no longer up to me – except that there still wasn't a name for the game and that bothered me. I had some possible names, but none that I even liked myself. Finding a name for an abstract game can be a nightmare. Of course, I could leave this to the publisher, but a few days before the last editorial meeting that would decide on the final name, I opened a thread on BoardGameGeek asking for suggestions. The one I liked best was "It's tricky", as it had the trick-taking covered and the decision-making – do I use my high cards for winning the trick or for bidding? So mere hours before the editorial meeting, I phoned the editor and gave him the suggestion. Later that day he told me that "It's tricky" had been considered too cumbersome for the German public, but the name had evolved into Tricky Bid, which I was happy with.
The rest of the story is the usual: More waiting. The game wasn't ready for Nürnberg after all, but eventually hit the stores in June 2011, so it will count as a Spiel 2011 release. Initial reactions are rather encouraging, and of course I hope this will continue. Additional feedback is still welcome!
No green! (Image: Daniel Danzer)
What are you doing!? I don't even know you!
With the Nürnberg Toy Fair nearly over for 2011, I will attempt to write something about it. I have been there for all of Saturday and most of Sunday, and since most of you who read this probably have little or no opportunity to go there, I will try to let you know my impressions. This will be a completely subjective account of things I noticed, so please bear with me if I make no mention of your favorite publisher/designer/teddy bear or whatever. Thanks.
Here's what I won't do in this write-up:
• Give you an overview of new releases. Aside from being impossible to do in just two days, with the Nürnberg Canonical geeklist we have a much better tool for that already. (Editor's note: Boy, do I need to update that geeklist! —WEM)
• Show you hundreds of photos that I took. Officially, taking photos isn't even allowed for ordinary visitors. I asked every time that I wanted to take one, and permission was usually granted. Exceptions were large publishers who were more than happy to supply me with press folders containing CDs or a USB stick – I haven't even been able to look at all that material, although I am working on it – and in one isolated case I wasn't allowed to take a photo of a crossover of our two favorite timeless classics: Hello Kitty Yahtzee.
So after a while, I stopped taking photos of individual games altogether. I am neither great at it, nor was I willing to spend a large amount of my time asking permission and fumbling around with my shabby pocket camera, nor was there much use for it when with one smile I could get a bunch of professional pictures at once. I will upload as many as possible of these to the database, but it is a large task and will take me some time. For a good overview of many new releases, I recommend a visit to the German board game site hall9000, which offers a slide show covering many publishers' new releases.
• Tell you everything about the latest in toy cars, miniature trains, carnival costumes, wooden toys, the multitude of pitiful imitations of famous brand toys, children's stationery, plastic junk, construction kits, kids' science labs, remote controlled helicopters, bathtub toys, fluffy animals, less fluffy animals and so much more – it was all there, and there wasn't nearly enough time even if I had been interested in all of it.
I will, however, tell you something about LEGO and Playmobil, because A: everybody around here seems to love these two brands, B: LEGO at least does some board games, and C: their booths show quite well how this fair differs from, say, Essen.
The comparison to Essen seems a good starting point, I think, as many of you have been there or at least read all about it. Now Nürnberg is really different from Essen in many ways. First of all, the Nürnberg Toy Fair is considerably larger than Spiel. There are 17 halls of different sizes, and the areas between the halls are also bigger, containing many additional booths, snack points, information centers, press and conference rooms, etc. In fact, you can take a shuttle bus from the eastern entrance to the main entrance hall and back. (I don't particularly recommend doing this, however, and if you do try to make that trek, ALWAYS ask the driver which way s/he is going as the staff who directs people into the buses aren't always competent. When trying to reach my train on Saturday night, I (along with dozens of others) was sent on a 45-minute sightseeing drive to the adjacent parking lots, until I finally asked the driver to just let me out, after which I walked another 15 minutes to get to the other side of the fair – I'm a fast walker, mind you — just in time to get the train leaving one hour later than the one I would have easily caught just walking in the first place. End of rant.)
Another sign of the size of this event was getting lost and ending up in the back of the LEGO booth. There was an open door and I caught a glance... of an actual kitchen and canteen for the booth staff (I assume). I have no idea, really, but I estimate that the staff of the Danish toy giant probably numbered way over a hundred people.
A second major difference between Essen and Nürnberg is that Nürnberg is open only to people who belong to the industry. That means you can get a ticket only if you are either an exhibitor (or are invited by one, which does happen), a store owner, a journalist or anything else of the sort. Being a gamer doesn't qualify, unfortunately. Being a game designer does, though, and members of SAZ, the Game Designer Association can get a free ticket if they order it early enough, which is how I got mine. One upside of this restriction is that while there are a lot of people at the show, Nürnberg isn't remotely similar to Essen on a Saturday. There are no great lines at the entrances, and you always have enough room to walk rather fast, unless you are on an escalator or something similar. When you approach a booth of a larger publisher and ask for specific information, you often hear "Are you our customer already?" That doesn't mean, "Did you ever buy a LEGO set when you were little?" It just shows that the staff expect most visitors to be interested in business contacts. Bring plenty of name cards, as you will be asked repeatedly.
While it is possible to get somewhere fast, it isn't always easy to find out where you are. The aisles often have walls that are three meters high, so in many cases the signs showing you the way to whatever direction you are currently looking for are often covered from your view. I lost my orientation (briefly in each case) around 20 times over two days, and this was my second time in Nürnberg. There is some room for improvement here, I think.
The Playmobil booth was a good example of the purpose of this fair. I asked to have a look around to possibly write about it. I was asked for my name card, then told to wait for a moment. Then, as the person in charge of the press wasn't free yet, I was invited to have a look at the novelty show – and only then was I admitted into the actual booth. Once I was inside, plenty of people were ready to explain the details of what was on display, with most of the toys being behind glass. Explanations always included release dates within the year, target ages, product line, whether TV advertising was in the making and lots of other things I didn't care about. Most other customers did, however.
Once I finished, I again waited at the press counter. While doing that, I looked around and noticed a circle of maybe a dozen counters in the center of the booth. Each of these counters was staffed by someone in charge of distribution for a certain area, distinguished by zip codes for the German market, some international counters, etc. All of them were equipped with snacks, and there was interaction going on at many of these while I was waiting. Surrounding this area were more counters for additional business transactions. You could spend a long, long time in there, getting plenty of information and never touch a single Playmobil piece.
Eventually I was received by the press representative, told her what I was planning to do, and asked for a press folder. The whole conversation was very nice, and not being part of the "customer" crowd was happily accepted. And before walking out I got a cool Playmobil pirate – which made my daughter seriously happy.
What I just described about LEGO and Playmobil applies mostly to larger companies, of course – the smaller ones sometimes consist of a table and two people only. From a gamer's perspective, these are your only serious chance of actually playing anything. At the larger publishers' booths, you are guided from table to table and get a brief explanation of each game. There is neither any space nor any time to actually play – there aren't any free tables, and the next group or visitor will be close behind you. Two or three sample turns will be all you get, at most. There are some exceptions to this rule, particularly on Sunday afternoon (and up to Tuesday, the last day of the fair, I hear), but playing games is not a main concern of most exhibitors. The Game Designer Association runs a gaming cafe with a few tables and a game library, but it is often hard to get a seat and tables tend to be taken up by people not playing but chatting or doing business. It's a friendly atmosphere there, though.
Another problem with playing a game on display is that you might pick up a game box at a publisher's table and find out that it is just that: An empty box. (Sometimes they are made from rather thin paper and cannot even be opened.) And it's not like they are hiding away the components – the games are simply not ready yet, but rather are being announced for later this year. And while game publishers are usually quite relaxed about it, LEGO and other giants strictly prohibit taking photos of items not released yet.
The board and card game publishers actually take up a surprisingly large part of the whole show. However, it is a bit difficult to tell. There are some thematic halls, some regional halls, and others I couldn't figure out, but nothing is really strict. Haba was several halls away from any other publisher I checked out, for example. Don't ask me why. Maybe it's because Haba does not make only games but also other things, and they had to pick where to be placed? In any case, I estimate that game companies make up three or even four full halls out of the seventeen, which I find a remarkable share, as this fair pretty much covers all non-electronic toy sectors and some electronic stuff, too.
So is Nürnberg worth the trip for gamers (who are lucky enough to get a ticket)? Maybe. I had a great time and I am looking forward to going again next year (1st to 6th of February, 2012 – from Wednesday to Monday). Nürnberg can be a great place to meet people from the industry, and even to advertise your game if you are a designer. However, I do recommend making a plan of what you hope to do before you go. I find the show too big to just wander around looking for whatever highlights it might have in store. Make appointments with people you hope to meet and leave plenty of time in between – there's your recipe for a great experience.
Carcassonne: Das Gefolge – they really are transparent!
We've all flown on these airlines before.
Halli Galli Sommerspaß with waterproof cards – I think there is some potential for this concept considering the "no drinks on my table" debate...
Finally, my favorite image – The sign says: "Our company is looking for sales representatives". Well, good luck with that!