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What I learned scouting unpublished games

As a newcomer to the tabletop industry, I jumped at the chance to scout for unpublished games at Munich’s Internationale Spieleerfinder-Messe.

As an Australian whose “Deutsche ist nicht sehr gut, entschuldigung,” I was nervous.

Luckily, the community welcomed me across the language barrier with open arms. Dozens of authors were kind enough to walk me through their projects, which stretched the gamut from kinderspiele to hardcore gamer’s games.

As a scout, you’re faced with tons of cardboard and little plastic things and dice by the truckload, and somehow you need to figure out which game is the most interesting.

Here’s the catch: they’re all interesting, because you love board games. Such a crazy situation, right?

But this is daily life for every gamer on the planet. There’s plenty of stuff and it all looks awesome. For that reason, thinking about the humble scout is a good way to think about your market.

These tips are intended for new designers, so we’ll start with something very concrete.

Your game may not need dice

I get it.

Board games and dice are pretty much synonymous (just look at the last two images I’ve used). Dice are a kind of conceptual shorthand. How else do you know when a player’s turn has started? Plus they’re fun to roll! But your game may not need dice.

Your game may not need a lot of things.

Cards, miniatures, variable powers, all the beautiful tools and ideas that tabletop gaming has fostered – each should be carefully scrutinized before letting them into your game.

It’s not about throwing out the rule book, vainly attempting to reinvent the wheel. Get new rule books! Play everything you can, keep stretching those horizons, and you may find your game fits elsewhere in the tabletop universe.

Like, what are you trying to do with this game? Really?

Do that thing. Just do it.

Less is more (unique)

Remember those hundreds of other titles? Your game needs a hook, friend.

One common trap for new designers is to keep adding more features, searching for that point of difference in sheer quantity. This is a common intuition across the arts – look at all this interesting stuff!

In fact, the opposite is often true. By narrowing the focus and throwing out the baggage until nothing but your game remains, you’ll have something more distinctive.

With this approach, it’s possible to not only find that hook, but also sharpen it to a fine point.

Think of it like a Venn Diagram. As the circle of your game expands, the greater likelihood it overlaps the same terrain (solving the same design problems) as other games.

And what if you’re designing a glorious big box game drenched in small details? That’s fantastic – go for it! Just keep that precious, original idea at the beating heart.

You’re onto something

Absolutely every game I saw in Munich had a great idea at its core.

And that idea is rarely a mechanic. It’s often a feeling, a relationship between players, an affection for certain aesthetics – the cardboard and rules are just vehicles. So do you really need those hidden roles, that event deck? And if it’s a distraction, why do you keep reaching for it?

Maybe the ‘twist’ should become your main idea, and it’s time to change everything. This is fine as well.

As a designer, you might spend weeks, months or (sometimes) years getting it just right. You obviously have a lot of faith in the central idea, or you wouldn’t have invested so much time and effort.

So, when it’s time to show your prototype to others, let that idea shine. Make your goals explicit. Help people understand what you want to do.

Because you’re onto something great – you know it.

Life is a point salad

People find joy in a lot of different ways, and we’re not all pursuing the same things.

Some designers want fame and fortune. Some publishers want to painstakingly hand-craft every wooden piece in their own garage. It’s all good.

So what do you want from game design? Think about that. Write it down if possible. Now think about your dream publisher. What do they want?

These goals should at least be compatible – ideally, they’ll be in harmony, each supporting the other. If they aren’t, you may need to reconsider your ideal publisher. That wasn’t your dream after all!

From this point of view, the sting of ‘rejection’ can seem very different.

When a publisher decides this isn’t the game for them, they’re not deciding it’s a bad game. Often it’s simply heading in a different direction, and doesn’t match their own hopes and dreams.

This can feel like a failure, but in reality you’ve dodged a bullet.

Have you ever gone on a bad date? Now imagine that lasting for months and months…

The tide is rising (so pick a ship)

It can be tempting in these situations to feel defensive, to imagine you’re in competition with other creators. But the tide of tabletop gaming is rising, lifting everyone across the industry, and their success is also your success.

And the truth is you’re not competing for some all-powerful gatekeeper to publish your game or condemn it to obscurity.

That kind of gatekeeper is dead.

With the advent of crowdfunding, smaller publishers are more like partners or consultants on the project of your game, with particular areas of expertise and equally particular restraints.

It’s fine to aim your game towards a large company, but there are alternatives! If you make that decision, it’s time to start thinking like a small publisher. What do they want? What are they thinking about?

Spoiler: it’s Kickstarter. Here is a great resource to get you started.

If you have a game you’d like Sweet Lemon Publishing or Korea Boardgames to check out, just send the print & play files via email.

See you in Munich next year!

12 fresh games for a chilled New Year’s Eve

Let’s face it – there’s a lot of pressure for New Year’s Eve to be amazing. The parties, the tequila, the sudden mania as singles hunt for The One in the dying moments of the year.

Ba-humbug.

Why not kick back with your closest buddies, roll a bunch of dice, and greet midnight in style?

Here’s the perfect list to get you started. Just click on the picture if you’d like to read more or maybe even buy a copy – because party games have moved beyond Pictionary, folks.
 

Stage 1: The Children are Still Awake

These games are sure to keep your little ones happy… until the sugar rush wears off and they stumble into bed.

 

2168-cap-3Magi Kitchen

Naughty magic students have bleached all the color from the vegetables for tonight’s dinner! Race to return the colors with your magic powers (which mostly involve slapping cards real quick).

Worth checking out for the tiny, wooden vegetables alone.

 

peter-and-the-grown-ups-2881-pp-2Peter and the Grown Ups

After a group of adults are mysteriously brought back to Neverland, they’ll need to earn the trust of the locals to fit in with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Of course, being adults, they’re always tempted to lie…

 

matanga-1794-arc-4_600x600Matanga!

Everyone starts with a sheet of jumbled numbers from 1-60. While sharing a single (weird and wobbly) pencil between the whole table, players roll dice and race to mark off their sheet in order.

It’s crazy, frantic and inexplicably fun.

 

Stage 2: Hidden Identity

Now the little ones are tucked in bed, it’s time to break open a classic of the party game genre. Hidden identities mean lies, laughter and a chance to play detective – just look into their eyes.

 

tofu-kingdom-2245-swa-1Tofu Kingdom

All the Tofu Prince wants to do is propose to the Tofu Princess, but there’s trouble brewing in the Tofu Kingdom.

With rebellious servants (who sometimes lie) and spies from the Fried Tofu Kingdom (who always lie) running amok, the prince will need to ask just the right questions and piece together the truth to save this wedding.

 

monster-my-neighbor-1365-kbg16Monster My Neighbor

There are strange rumors of magic, monsters, and even monster hunters around the village. But who are the hunters? Who is the hunted? Each round, cards are used to spy on, change, swap, and generally mess with each player’s hand – before the big reveal in the final round.

Hidden identity with a big splash of chaos.

 

animals-frightening-night-1955-mzg-10_600x600Animals Frightening Night!

Okay, who let the fox into the chicken coop? Not to mention the wolf… The other farmyard animals will need to be clever to outwit and outrun the predators – but who can they really trust in the chaos?

Clever location and voting mechanisms allow for plenty of bluffing, table talk, and horrible animal impersonations.

 

Stage 3: Let’s Get Physical

It’s time to get the blood pumping with some (usually very weird) physical challenges. Also a great chance to find out which of your buddies has a massive competitive streak.

 

kaiju-2806-lhs-9_600x600Kaiju

When a nuclear disaster wipes out humanity and spreads radioactive waste over the planet, it can only mean one thing: giant monster fights!

This is a super light party game with a fun dice tower made right out of the box.

 

reidemeister-2714-bfp-3_600x600Reidemeister

Remember playing cat’s cradle in school? Reidemeister is essentially a competitive version of that, with players racing to form complex patterns out of string.

Definitely a game that goes from good to great with a few drinks.

 

cha-dango-1968-mzg-11_600x600Cha Dango

Time for some delicious dango and green tea. But wouldn’t you know it? The waiter isn’t paying attention and customers are piling up without their orders.

It’s card slapping time – a very solid speed game with a cute theme.

 

Stage 4: The Main Event

We’re done with fillers and the night is in full swing. Time to bring out the big guns – the main course, the headliner – for the final stretch to midnight.

 

a-fake-artist-goes-to-new-york-1314-og-1581263eedae22_600x600A Fake Artist Goes to New York

Welcome to New York!

Oh, you’re an artist as well? Welcome to the club. Of course… I hear there’s a fake artist somewhere among us. It’s not you, is it? That would be such a tiresome cliche.

 

burano-1667-es4-3_600x600Burano

Okay, maybe your friends don’t like light games. Maybe they want to see in the new year with a heavy Euro – lots of components, weighty decisions, and interlocking mechanics that threaten to melt your brain.

You need Burano in your life.

 

mask-of-anubis-1529-gti-1_600x600Mask of Anubis

Here’s one for the tech-heads, as virtual reality meets cardboard in the deserts of Egypt. Players take turns ‘within’ an ancient temple, describing what they see to the other players who are working together to build a map.

Not as easy as it sounds!

 

Bonus Stage: The Morning After

Everyone’s gone home, but is it really a happy new year? Or is it too soon to tell? Either way, take a moment to relax before tackling the house.

Enjoy a little game just for you.

 

shephy-2054-bou-3_600x600Shephy

The time of humanity has passed; now majestic sheep rule the world. But many perilous dangers remain, and careful leadership is needed to guide them to the promised land.

A relaxing, meditative solo game – check out our full review here.

Whatever you play, we hope you have a great night and a happy new year! Send us your pics via Twitter to spread the tabletop love.