I wanted to talk about an excited about a new game design idea from Grant Rodiek. Grant has started a blind playtesting program for designers. It’s called The Prototype PenPal Program and Grant was kind enough to join me to talk about it.
Tom: Grant, what is the Protoype PenPal Program?
Grant: The Prototype PenPal Program is a way for board and card game designers to obtain quality blind testing from dozens of designers (and their friends) at a relatively low expense. Designers sign up and submit a single prototype into the system. The first recipient will test it, provide feedback, then send it to the next designer in the loop. The only cost for each designer is a single prototype and the cost of shipping someone else’s prototype about once a month or so.
Tom: Why are you starting this?
Grant: A few reasons. I am fortunate to have a large and highly qualified test group, but it’s always difficult finding long-distance blind testers. People are reluctant to assemble print ‘n plays and I’m reluctant to send out dozens of copies. Plus, some people DON’T have such a local network and this can assist them. Secondly, this is a way to build the community. Finally, I think this will help us make better games AND give us insight on what our friends and peers are designing. It’s so rare we’ll actually find a publisher and at least this way, somebody else gets to try out your creation.
Tom: How has the response been?
Grant: Surprisingly strong. People are always reluctant to start new things. They are dubious of whether it will actually happen or succeed. But, so far I have just shy of 30 designers signed up, most of whom have prototypes ready to send right now. We’re actually going to give out the first round of assignments in the next day or so. I have 2 designers in Canada and 2 in Europe, which is also great (and if you’re from those places please join in! We have people for you!).
Tom: Who are some of the designers involved?
Grant: Some great folks I’ve met in person and hope to meet again at GenCon, plus some other folks. Jay Treat, Chevee Dodd, AJ Porfirio, Daniel Solis, Rael Dornfest, Duane O’Brien, Phil Kilcrease, Paul Imboden, Matthew O’Mally…and more!
Tom: What do you hope to get from this?
Grant: Great testing feedback, great community, and a little fun along the way. Not everyone can attend Protospiel, Unpub, GenCon, etc. so I’m hoping this program fills a hole for those on a budget or without a local test group.
It’s been great talking to you again Grant. It sounds like the program is hitting at just the right time. I’m excited to see what cool games develop out of it. And what cool ones will be showing up on my doorstep. Please keep me updated.
If you want more information about The Prototype PenPal Program you can find it at that link right there. I would encourage you to bookmark Hyperbole Games also. Grant has some fantastic posts on gaming, game design, and his games.
Welcome back! Here’s part 2 of my interview with gaming influencer, John Moller. We talk about what makes a good player, game themes, and of course Unpub.
Tom: How many Unpub events are planned for 2013?
John: We’re deep in the planning stages right now for a lot of events. Unpub 3, of course. January 19 and 20th we’ll have the flagship event and we’ll be announcing a lot of 2013 events then. We’ve got some big things in the works…and we’re still trying to set up more. If someone, a person or a store wants to run an Unpub Mini they should contact me. If there’s a convention that wants a Proto-Zone, they should contact me. We’re going to hit the ground running in January. So we’ve got a month (albeit a busy one) to get as many events on the books as we can.
Tom: Any chance of being near Durham?
John: Yes. I’ve had a few discussions and Unpub might be near or in Durham around 3 times next year. We might also be in Brazil…We’re definitely going to be in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Arizona, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, Washington D.C. and Washington State. Hopefully we’ll get to be back at some of the big cons in Ohio and Indiana as well… time will tell.
Tom: Actually I knew there was one being planned. But three! Cool. Because I’ll be participating with at least one game of my own. I’d be glad to help. What are the aspects of a good player?
John: Patience, Attention, Risk, and Malleability. You have to have patience with any new game because you don’t know what’s around the corner. It just doesn’t help to get frustrated with something until you get to the end and it’s over….then you can get frustrated with it. This is why I’m not a good
player. Attention is important. I don’t care what game it is, you have to be present…be in the game, in that moment. It’s just better for everyone and it’s a more satisfying experience. Being willing to take risks, particularly in a new game, is key. You want to try everything you can to stretch the game to it’s limits. Someone else is going to try to do that, why not you? Why not now? Don’t worry about hurting a designer’s feelings, you’ll be helping them in the long run. If they don’t realize that…then you’re teaching them another valuable lesson too. Just don’t be mean about it. Malleability, the one that has people rushing to their dictionaries… is all about agenda dropping. Having a set strategy is great, but don’t be afraid to change mid stream. It’s one of my top player attributes. It doesn’t always win me the game, but I’ve had far greater experiences because of it. I guess the last piece of the puzzle is that the one thing you cannot be in order to be a good player is closed minded. Even if you don’t like “this type” of game. If you sat down to play, give it your all. I’ve had many people say they don’t like a certain type of game only to find a game the exception to the rule…and if you don’t find a game to be your exception, talk to the designer about it. …because you may find what you have to say is important to making a positive change in the game. It’s just good business.
Tom: John, those are fantastic characteristics. I especially like attention. Being in the game and focused on what you are there to do with regards to play-testing is vital to be a good player/play-tester. You mentioned ‘types’ of games. We’ve had zombies, pirates, city building, deck building. What’s the next hot theme in board games?
John: I think what we’re really seeing now is a push towards the vintage of classic video games. Pixel Lincoln, Boss Monster spring to mind…but I know of some other games in pipelines that carry the thematic elements of classic adventure video games. I think we’re at the front of this craze and it’s going to become bigger and then fade away. That’s interesting. Now that you mention it, I see it. Hmm. I’m not really a prognosticator of trends… We’ll never see the end of Zombie Games, which is sad because I really don’t care for zombie games. Me too.But as to what’s next? I couldn’t tell you. I see such a wide variety of games in the Unpub program…I don’t sense any real trends in what people are presenting. …I take that back. Dice. Dice games are really becoming a thing. I’m starting to see a lot of dice games in the Unpub program.
Tom: What game surprised you and how?
John: If we’re talking Unpub games, then it’s got to be Viva Java. When I first encountered it, I had no idea what to expect. I fell asleep listening to the rules!…Then playing it, Viva Java just completely blew me away. The level of interaction in the game was so appealing. It was like a cooperative game, but not. You really had to pay attention to other players and their actions, you had to work with people (sometimes unwillingly,) you really had to have an idea but be willing to alter your plan. This was a game that really hit on all cylinders for me. It’s no secret, I decided to have the first Unpub because I saw it as a chance to get to play Viva Java again. I needed to show this one to my friends. I had to have other people experience this game. It had to happen…and here we are nearly two years later and people all over the world are playing it. I had nothing to do with the game… I don’t think I ever gave any feedback that helped the game… but I feel really proud of everything TC and the Dice Hate Me team has accomplished with it.
Tom: Viva Java is a good game. I’m glad it’s done so well for TC, Cherilyn, and Chris. What is next for you? What else is in the que?
John: Unpub3. The event is January 19 and 20th in Delaware. We have 40 games currently registered for the event. We’ve just added two panel discussions and we’re in talks to add a third. We’re adding a video demo service to what we offer at the event and we’re going to have a few podcasters and reviewers in the mix as well as a growing number of publishers. We’re in for two huge days of play-testing and networking and I couldn’t be happier about it. I expect we’ll keep adding and changing things to make the event bigger still as we get closer!
Tom: Is there anything else you would like to talk about? John: Unpub and Unpub3 are specifically where my head is right now, so I don’t have a lot else swimming around there to talk about. I… I think if I were to have one thing I really want people to hear and understand is that we’re a low cost/no cost program that is really driven by participants. If you think “Well, Unpub isn’t near me…” Then it’s your job to contact me and get Unpub near you. I’m not Unpub. I don’t need to be there for an Unpub Mini or an Unpub ProtoZone to happen. I just need passionate people who want this idea to continue and grow and blossom. It’s something that belongs to every designer, every store…anyone who wants game designers to get their games played and their dreams met. That’s what Unpub is…and anyone can be a part of it. We seem really
regional, but we’re really trying to break out. If you want us to come near you, we can…with your help. I want people to hear that and know it. That’s…our thing. It’s not a program about us, it’s about everyone who can use it and benefit from it.
Tom: How can people contact you? Are there any links you would like folks to visit?
John: My email is email@example.com, and I’m on twitter @cartrunkent . If people want to know more they should definitely visit Unpub.net.
Tom: Lastly, can you explain pizza noodles to me? Well, Pizza John: Noodles are like spaghetti for people who don’t do well under pressure.
Tom: That’s great! Thanks John.
What a fun and interesting interview! I got to spend some time with John at The Escapist Expo this year. He’s a fun, smart, thoughtful, and very sincere guy. He loves games and is extremely dedicated to bringing new, good games to fruition. I believe that Unpub is and will have a HUGE influence on the gaming industry. In five years we will point back to it as a key to many of the games we love. If you are a designer, publisher, or retailer you can contact John at these linked banners .
Thank you for joining me for another fantastic interview. I’d like to hear what you think about it. Please leave a comment below. Let’s have a conversation!
I have interviews with Paul Owen of Paul Owen Games, the results of The Question of The Month, and an In The Lab update in the que. Please come back often.