I’ve recovered from my trip to UNPUB 6, so it’s time to look back, talk about the fun I had, and the lessons I learned.
We got in Thursday afternoon. After a big dinner and relaxing, we went to the hotel bar, where I taught some Oh My Goods, a published by Alexander Pfister, one of my current favorite games. By the time we finished, the baseball game let out, and a big group joined us. It was mostly talking and catching up.
Friday started with the designer breakfast and panels. We decided to play some games instead, so we left the main hall and sat down to play the postcard game I’ve been working on for the Board Game of the Month Club from Buttonshy. After the first game, we stripped out a lot of the extra complications and made it much more streamlined. I think we might keep the extra rules and only make them available online as the expert version. Sort of a director’s cut. Next I played the prototype Five Elements by Mark McGee. I missed a key rule, and once I figured it out halfway through the game. I really enjoyed it. It’s got a neat hand-management and slightly spatial element. It was late, after running out for lunch, we sat down, and I taught a quick game of Dead Man’s Chest, a bluffing game from Eagle-Gryphon. We also collected some prototype parts that didn’t arrive until after check in. We had the option of Trucks or Dudes. #TeamTruck.
I got a few minutes to try out an 18-card hand/deck building game I’m working on late in the afternoon. It kind of fell apart, so I need to figure out if it’s fixable or not. After an amazing dinner, we returned to the hall. I mostly chatted with a few other people, but got to play another postcard game prototype from Doug Levandowski. I’m pretty sure you haven’t played a game like this, so it’s fun to see postcard games pushing boundaries. We returned to the hotel a little after midnight. I got one more game in, Unpub the
UnPublished Card Game (so I guess it was Doug Levandowski night).
I was splitting my table with Dan Cassar for the weekend, and I started off with a 2 1/2 hour shift Saturday morning. As usual, it was a little slow at first, but it started to pick up between 11 and 11:30. I got two games of One Card Wonder in before we swapped. I ran into friends during the off shift, and we sat down for a light lunch. But honestly, I didn’t accomplish much in the meantime. Mostly, I walked around and looked at what else was popular. I started my next shift at 3. Although the floor was busy, it felt a little slow to me. I only got 3 games of One Card Wonder in in the second shift. I think there were a few contributors to that. First, OCW was running a little long (45 minutes with rules and discussion), so I got fewer games than I expected. Also, it seemed that there were more longer games this year, so there weren’t as many people looking for games after I finish a half hour game. And swapping out makes you lose your momentum with playtesters. Both times I swapped out, I had to leave people who would have played. If you keep playing the same game, people will tend to gather, and they’ll be able to find you. And of course, One Card Wonder wasn’t as flashy or well known as New Bedford was last year, so it doesn’t immediately grab you when you see it. That’s something I definitely plan to work on for next year.
I made my game trades Saturday evening. I took a big bag of games and came home with an even bigger bag of games. I’m not wild about every single game (some were part of a package), but I’m overall really happy with my haul. In the evening, I got to sit and play Daniel Newman’s Station. It plays mostly like a worker placement game, although the economic balance made it play a bit differently. I think some minor tweaks to the action rewards will tighten it up. After a delicious dinner at Nando’s Puri Puri and some excellent conversation, we returned to the hall. I watched friends play a quick game of Dancing Eggs. When that was over, we wanted something loud and goofy, but didn’t have anything with us, so we made something up. Dare or Dare: Legacy. The main gist is that everyone gets some blank cards and writes down a dare (anything you’d be comfortable asking your child to do as a boundary). Then everyone gets one card at a time and either does the dare, or bluffs and makes up their own dare. (Hence Dare or Dare.) Everyone else has to guess whether they were bluffing or not. We gave out star stickers for performance, but we decided it should be more of a group judging thing. Depending on the results of the bluff and whether you get called or not, you gain a couple of points. There’s no real score or objective besides having fun, which it did extremely well. Next big convention, I’ll pull it out again, we’ll rip up a few cards and make a few new ones. Hence the Legacy aspect.
Sunday was a little more hectic, trying to pack up and leave. Since Dan was leaving early, I let him take the whole morning shift. He had a very successful weekend with at least 40 tests by my count, and he handed out about 10 playtest kit. In the afternoon, I got 3 more tests of One Card Wonder in. The latest round of mechanic changes seems to be very positive, and accomplished everything I hoped. I just need to re-balance the new parts now, but it’s a much stronger game, so I’m looking forward to wrapping that up.
Overall, I spent a lot less time playing games than I expected to. Last year was too much, this year swung the other direction, so I’m hoping to find the right balance next year. I think one challenge may have been the timing of my shifts. First thing in the morning is always slow. And it seems like mid afternoon is a good time for people to go get lunch after they’ve been playing games all morning. Sunday is always slower, but it also starts to really slow after 3, as people pack up and leave. I think there’s still a challenge there to balance the table schedules across Unpub. One thing I’m really disappointed in is that I didn’t play any Role Selection. I made some improvements since the Meta game contest, and really wanted to see how they pull the game together. There’s always the next event, and hopefully I can put One Card Wonder to bed now.
Finally, here are my main takeaways from this year’s UNPUB.
- Chap Stick. I’ve talked about water and drinks before, but one thing I’m now noticing is that even when I drink enough, I’m talking all day, and my lips get chapped. It’s a problem that is easy and cheap to solve.
- Saturday is for heavier games, Sunday is for shorter games. From my unscientific survey, everyone (both designers and players) was pretty exhausted by Sunday. So get those heavier games out Saturday when people are fresher. Pick something shorter and lighter for Sunday. People will be more likely to jump into something that doesn’t require as much energy. And, it makes it easier because people leave on Sunday, if you have that one last game they can play for 20 minutes.
- Table presence is so important. There are lots of games in various stages of completion, and Table Presence can mean different things to different games. Size, color, artwork, polish of components goes a long way. But it goes beyond that, too. A tablecloth can make your game look even nicer. have good signage, including Sell Sheets, previous games (if you have them) to attract attention.
- Bring something new. Yes, sometimes you have that game you’ve been working on for a long time, and you really just need to put in front of a bunch of people and see a lot of playtests. But a lot of people (especially the other designers) go to these events again and again, and if you show the same game, you’re competing with lots of new things.
- And as a corollary, bring something to talk to publishers about. UNPUB isn’t really a pitching event, but if you have a chance, take it. If nothing else, you build your relationship with them, and that’s great professional development.
- Know *specifically* what you’re looking for. Players asked me what kind of feedback I wanted, and I didn’t have a good answer. I’m working on balance, but I didn’t think about how exactly to find out about balance.
- Talk to people. Walk around. Be your own advocate. I’ve got a, shall we say, “subtle” style. Don’t be subtle. People want to play games. Like pizza toppings or ice cream, people don’t want to make the decision. So if you go up and talk to people, that gives them a reason to say yes.