Archive for Hilko Drude
What are you doing!? I don't even know you!
What does Alfons X. of Castile, Galicia, and León (1221-1284) have to do with gaming? Well, he commissioned the "Book of Games" (Libro de los juegos), which contained game rules, chess problems, and other things and which is considered one of the most important medieval books on the subject of games. Some 730 years later, Laura and Ezequiel Wittner decided to create a game award and called it Premio Alfonso X. In 2017, it will be awarded for the second time. The submission deadline was on January 10, 2017, and the jury has started its work.
What's special about this prize, you may ask? Aren't there game awards in countless countries? Every once in a while we hear that one famous game or another is now also game of the year in Finland, Portugal, or San Marino. These awards usually aim at recommending the best games to gamers who aren't spending all their free time on BGG anyway. It is rare that a game wins a national award which the community hasn't heard about before.
But when I tell you the titles competing for the Premio Alfonso X in 2017, I will assume that hardly any of you has heard of even a single one of these games. Here we go:
• Ciudadano Ilustre
• Código Enigma
• Conejos en el Huerto
• Cultivos Mutantes
• La Macarena
There is a simple reason for this: The Premio Alfonso X will be awarded only to Argentinian designers (or those who have lived in Argentina for at least two years). The point is therefore not to introduce the best of the international gaming scene to an Argentinian audience, but to promote local design and publication efforts so that Argentinian games can compete with those from the outside world. Before now, domestic games often went entirely unnoticed, partly because the production quality and artwork were decidedly mediocre. One geek wrote that if I saw the component quality of the Argentinian edition of Catan, I would cry. For those who want to have a look themselves, here is an unboxing video. You can admire the sturdy box at about 7:45 and later the precision of the tile cutting. This needs to improve, so there is a special award for overall production value as well.
Lastly, games are admitted only if they state the names of the designers and artists — which is somewhat reminiscent of the situation in Germany thirty years ago (but the Spiel des Jahres jury didn't mention the designers in the first years, either).
So if there is a prize aimed at promoting domestic games, it doesn't seem like some nationalistic nonsense, but like an honest effort to make gaming more popular in Argentina. If I weren't from Germany, a country with a strong gaming scene, I might be grateful for something like that over here.
You might get an idea of the size of the Argentinian gaming scene when you hear that the nine titles competing for this year's prize aren't the finalists or anything, but the entire field of contestants. (Well, apart from four submissions in a separate category — games with a circulation of fewer than fifty copies — which are essentially prototypes.) In other words, that list more or less comprises what was published in Argentina by local designers in 2016. I assume many of you have purchased more than nine games in 2017 already...
There's probably still a long way to go until the vision of one Argentinian publisher comes true and gaming becomes as popular as football, but you have to start somewhere. All of these contestants have their own BGG entries, so let me give you a quick introduction:
Chernobyl is a cooperative game in which you try to rescue survivors from the destroyed reactor. To win the game, you have to bring them to the helipad. There is a competitive mode as well. Chernobyl was designed by Gonzalo Emanuel Aguetti and published by Yamat.
Ciudadano Ilustre ("Famous Citizen") was crowdfunded, easily breaking its modest target of $737. It's a trivia game with geography questions mostly about Argentina, but apparently also about some other places. The designers are Vera Mignaqui and Eugenia Pérez, with the latter doing the artwork, too.
Código Enigma ("Enigma Code") is set in WWII and of course it's about deciphering German codes. To do that, the players collect card sets and try to prevent others from doing the same. Apparently the Germans are also interfering at times. Designers are Joel Pellegrino Hotham and Silvina Fontenla, who also did the artwork. It was published by JuegosdeMesa.com.ar.
In Conejos en el Huerto ("Rabbits in the Orchard"), the players move their two rabbits through the variably set-up garden and try to collect valuable vegetables. Their position determines which type of vegetable they can reach. A watchdog is doing its best to stop them. This game was designed by Luis Fernando Marcantoni, with artwork by Celeste Barone. It was published by Ruibal Hermanos S.A.
Mutant Crops ("Cultivos Mutantes") is a short worker placement game by Sebastian Koziner that's illustrated by Rocio Ogñenovich. You use your actions to plant and harvest mutant crops and collect points. It was published as a cooperation between El Dragón Azul and OK Ediciones. An English version has been announced by Atheris Games.
Dinosaurus is a microgame with just 36 cards. Dinosaurs from different eras run around on a fantasy island and fight for food. Their favorite snacks are plants, mammals, and each other. It was designed and illustrated by Amelia Pereyra and Matías Esandi and published by Rewe Juegos.
La Macarena is a witch or magician looking for a new apprentice. The players collect cards with four elements, and whoever has the most of one kind can eventually exchange them for amulets with which they can gain La Macarena's favor. The game was designed and published by five people under the group name Maldón, with illustrations by Alberto Montt. Two of the designers were at the Spielwarenmesse 2017 toy fair in Nürnberg, Germany, so this is the only candidate game that I have played myself.
With Venecitas, Joel Pellegrino Hotham has a second game in the race (and he did the illustrations together with Silvina Fontenla as well). I couldn't really figure out what exactly Venecitas means, but the goal is to collect colors. You roll a color die, may turn it by one edge, and then everyone gets the color facing them, while the active player also gets the color on top. Certain color combos can be exchanged against victory points. Venecitas was also published by JuegosdeMesa.com.ar.
ZUC! is a party game designed and self-published by Agustin Carpaneto in which you try not to draw a bomb card (because if you do, you lose). When it's your turn, you can play cards to shield you from an explosion, force others to draw additional cards, or avoid drawing any yourself. Illustrations are by Mariana Ponte.
Those who would like to know more about the small print run category can check out the respective BGG entries for Arte de Batalla, Cerrojo, Kallat and Star Warships.
Who Will Win?
There are several votes taken into consideration to determine the winners. A jury of eight people has the biggest weight in the decision, and it includes a few well-known BGG users like lolcese, Mos Blues, and Pastor_Mora as well as last year's winner Bruss Brussco (whose "take that" game KINMO has become a family favorite in our house). Thirteen Argentinian gaming clubs also cast their votes (ensuring that the games get played by many people in the first place), and there will be some kind of public Facebook vote as well.
The award ceremony will take place at the Geek Out Festival in Buenos Aires on May 6, 2017, where more than 1,500 people are expected.
If you read Spanish, you can learn a lot about the Argentinian gaming scene on the Geek Out website. I find this initiative very impressive and commendable.
Note: If you have anything to share about new games from Latin America, please contact me. I will try to write about these games once in a while.
What are you doing!? I don't even know you!
It's a bit unusual that I can remember exactly when the first idea for a game popped into my mind, but in this case I can — or rather, for two games. But first things first.
On Thursday, June 7, 2012 I didn't have to go to work early for some reason, but could sleep in. When I slowly woke up without the help of an alarm clock, I had an idea for a game in my head. As my mind became clearer, I realized that a game like that already existed — but at that same moment, a new idea emerged, an idea about a card game in which the players have to fulfill silly tasks with useless items (in a storytelling form). Throughout the day, I pondered on this, and since I usually visit Reinhold Wittig on Friday afternoons to play and chat, I quickly noted a few tasks and items — I think there were about 15 tasks and 45 items — printed them on thin paper, and cut them out.
The next day, I went to Reinhold's place and told him I had brought something that I would like his opinion on, but before it came to that, we chatted about this and that. I wasn't expecting to play the game because it was clearly for three players and up, and at that time, we were usually the only ones at his place. Then the doorbell rang and Reinhold's friend D. showed up – a man in his late seventies, a friendly, but rather serious guy, only slightly interested in games, occasionally playing along, but usually content just watching. Hmm, I thought, maybe this is not a good day to show Reinhold my game. I was slightly disappointed, but the idea was so unrefined that I thought, well, I can give it some more thought until next week and try again. We chatted for a while, and as it got later, Reinhold reminded me I wanted to show him something. I said something like, nah, I don't want to push this on everyone, but he insisted. Then I explained the rules, which took only two or three minutes as the concept was quite simple, and suggested we could try it at the regular Tuesday designer meeting. He wouldn't hear of it, he wanted to try it, and convinced D. to play along. And then the most astonishing thing happened.
More than I had seen him laugh ever before (or since).
Even better, after we finished, we did some brainstorming for additional tasks and items, and he gave many good suggestions. That's when I knew I was really up to something.
I went home thrilled as this had been the best first impression any of my games had left. That night, I wrote to my designer friend Martijn, telling him I made a game in which you have to pick useless items to fulfill weird tasks and the other players had to guess which task you were going for just by seeing these items. I attached a first draft of the rules (just one page long). My excitement knew no bounds...for precisely eleven minutes, when I received his answer: Doesn't this sound a bit like Cat & Chocolate?
Oh no. My idea had been done before, somewhat successfully. My dreams were shattered for a moment, but upon reading more about Cat & Chocolate, I gladly noticed that the games weren't all that similar, despite the similar premise. A few months later, I managed to get hold of a copy and played it, which confirmed my belief that these games are different enough. To make sure not to get too close, I decided to stay away from any voting mechanism, although it was occasionally suggested by playtesters.
I was lucky to have the opportunity to play my prototype quite a lot in the next few weeks, with different player counts and different audiences. Everyone loved it, and the list of tasks and items grew. For the fifth play, I added a small mechanism to keep everyone more engaged during all parts of the game: a risk element (the option to interrupt the player choosing items to make an early bet). That was the last major change to the game for some years.
After that, I focused on refining the cards. It turned out that players tended to use quite different items in the same way — anything that was long and stick-shaped was used as a long stick, for example, no matter whether it was a broom or a fishing rod — so I had to make sure that I had a good selection of different items and tasks. I almost didn't have time for this at all because Reinhold had already told a publisher about the game, and that publisher wanted to see a prototype. I rushed one out to them, then the unromantic part about being a game designer started: Sending out a prototype, waiting for an answer, rinse and repeat. I got very nice responses from various publishers, but none were biting.
In the meantime, I played the game many more times and got plenty of suggestions from playtesters, but in the end, the core of the game remained the same. One frequent remark was that it was a pity there was no mechanism to reward the best stories with extra points. However, I noticed that the people who cared about good stories most weren't all that interested in the points, while the point lovers were fine with any kind of story (plus, I wanted to avoid a voting system, see above). Both groups can play together perfectly well, so I only added a variant and left the standard game intact.
I got about five rejections from publishers, and one initially positive reply about which I was very happy. Alas, it wasn't to be. In Nürnberg in 2014, the publisher told me that they had run into some difficulties through no fault of their own, and they wouldn't be able to publish my game in either 2014 or 2015, so they encouraged me to try other publishers first. They also told me about this French publisher in a booth across from theirs, and the game might be just what he was looking for.
So I walked over and met Franz of Le Droit de Perdre, a small French publisher of mostly communication games. He asked me to show him the prototype later (he was expecting someone at that moment), and we agreed on a time. Now I had to find someone to help me pitch the game, because the easiest way of explaining it is to just start playing, and we needed a third person for that. I had someone in mind, but that someone had to leave unexpectedly just before the appointment, so another designer came with me spontaneously. I was so relieved and grateful that I failed to properly inform him that this wouldn't be a playtest session, but a publisher pitch. We started playing the game, and the other designer kept making suggestions for changes instead of just playing along, which wasn't exactly what I needed at that moment...but I got a rather enthusiastic response from Franz anyway. Things seemed to be moving forward fast, and eventually I promised the French language rights to the game to him. Franz was a great person to meet, and we exchanged countless emails and sometimes spent a few hours talking on Skype (and he recently even stopped by my house for dinner and gaming). However, he kept thinking about changes because he essentially wanted a game that could be played right out of the box. I wasn't entirely convinced that this could be done, but he kept coming up with interesting ideas, so we kept the idea alive. He also thought of a cool French name: Débrouille-toi. Can't translate that properly as it's an expression that doesn't have an elegant counterpart in German, and I won't even try in English. Maybe some of those French speakers around here can help out...
Meanwhile, I hadn't made any progress for any languages other than French (which I don't know too well, so I won't be able to play the French edition myself). When the Göttingen Designer Gathering came around in early June 2014, I pitched the game to a few other publishers. This included some notable talks, such as two editors from the same publishing company arguing about the right way to deal with a game like this right in front of me.
And then there was an invitation to talk to K. from Vennerød. This time, I made sure the person joining me knew the situation (and the game) well. I did what I always do during those publisher pitch talks: I explained the basic idea for a minute or so, then set up a sample turn to show the game flow (really the easiest way of showing a game like this). I drew a task, picked some items for it, then the guy I had brought along made a guess and elaborated on what he thought I'd be doing (the essential storytelling part), which was great. Now it was K.'s turn. He mumbled something like, "I think you are trying to do this and that." No story. Silence. Then: "Sorry, but I hate this kind of game."
Here are the thoughts that I processed in the following second-and-a-half: Oh great, this isn't going well at all. Does the only really negative response have to happen at this very moment? Maybe the game sucks and my 100-odd playtesters have just been polite to me?
And then he continued: "You know, I personally like meaty games that take three or four hours to play. I just can't stand party games, but I think the game is good. I will have to discuss this with my partners before making any decisions. Could we meet with them in Essen?"
Fast forward to October, SPIEL 2014. I was able to go there only briefly that year, but at least I could go together with my wife (a rare opportunity). We met K. in a cafeteria that was otherwise mostly empty, but he had brought a couple of other Norwegian fellows to have a look, so we played a round while he was watching. The usual raucous laughter ensued, and the players wanted to do another round. Afterwards he thanked me and said he would need another week to make up his mind — which he did within three days, and it was a yes. I was obviously delighted.
2015 was a less than an ideal year for me. I got severely ill and spent several months in the hospital, and I wasn't always able to think clearly, but we stayed in contact, working out a contract, and began to discuss some details. I learned soon that the game wouldn't make Essen in 2015, and in retrospect I am not unhappy about that because when Essen came around, I was still not strong enough to go (although I was recovering). On the other hand, the thought of holding the finished game in my hands seemed a good enough reason to stay alive.
Prototype box; one editor regretted that no chocolate was inside
The game still lacked a name (for the English/German version). Until then, my prototype had been called "Impossible!?", but from early on, we had agreed on finding something better. Lots of ideas were flying around, but we didn't come up with anything really fitting. In desperation, I remembered what happened when my last game had needed a name, so this time I contacted Kathleen directly. She promised to do a brainstorming session in some of her game design classes in St. Louis. Next thing I knew, I was online watching a Google Doc grow as her students threw ideas at her, which she then speed-typed into the file. There were literally hundreds of suggestions, some quirky, some good, some outright strange. While she was typing, I marked those that I liked especially and tried to explain why, so the students could get a better idea of my thinking. It was a great experience, and I had never done anything this before — the magic of the internet.
Yet when we were done, there were a suggestion from Kathleen herself still sitting at the top of the document, and that was "Mission Impractical". The more I stared at the title, the more it grew on me, and in the end, we settled on it. For those of you who haven't seen Kathleen's GeekLists about her students' designs, do check them out as they are very well worth reading.
I met with K. again in Nürnberg in early 2016, and from this time onward, the project picked up speed. He showed me some works from Gjermund Bohne, the artist he had in mind, and those looked good to me. SPIEL 2016 was set as the publishing date, and I had something to look forward to. K. also gave me some homework: I was to make some suggestions for a cover motif. I am a horrible artist myself, so this is really something I was a bit unsure about, but I regarded it as an interesting challenge and sent in three suggestions.
Another while later, planning with Franz intensified. He suggested making a cooperative game out of Débrouille-toi, which wasn't something I had ever contemplated. Ideas went back and forth, I went back to playtesting and noticed that it was very cool, too — but at this point I finally realized that my original game wouldn't just see two different editions with different artwork, but two different games with the same basic idea. In other words, when I had woken up on that morning almost exactly four years earlier, I hadn't invented one, but two games. Débrouille-toi doesn't have a BGG entry or a publication date yet, but I am very excited about it, too.
The day after I had gotten the suggestion from Franz, Gjermund sent some thumbnails from which to choose a motif. They contained my suggestions but also several more. While number 4 looked great, 2 and 10 captured the spirit of the game best. Hard to decide – but in the end, we went with number 2, partly because of the box format. We discussed some minor tweaks, and in my opinion, Gjermund did an outstanding job — so much so that I tried to copy it. What do you think?
From then on, we worked on the details: component design, rules layout and some changes here and there, box back text, and so on. I felt involved in every step, which was a very pleasant experience. Some designers might be glad to not have to worry about stuff like this, but I was used to not having much of a clue what a publisher was doing to my designs, and I much prefer the more cooperative effort.
Now Mission Impractical is at the printers, and I am keeping all my available fingers crossed that it will make it to Essen in time for the fair.
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!