Tell Us Your Unpub3 Experiences!

Ok all you Unpubbers. You’re tweeting all over the place, back and forth to each other. It’s cool and all but we’re missing out on a lot. So here’s where you can let all us unfortunates know what you did at Unpub3. What game blew your socks off? What designs did you take if any? What cool people did you meet? If you attended Unpub3 tell us about it. I’m not completely sure this will work so I NEED YOUR INPUT! Give us a full download. Leave your comments below.

A Conversation With … TC Petty III, master barista of Viva Java: The Coffee Game

So this time I’m pleased to have TC Petty III as my guest. TC is the designer of Viva Java: The Coffee Game. Viva Java (VJ) was successfully Kickstartered last year by publisher Dice Hate Me Games. Welcome TC.

Tom: So TC, what do you want to tell us about yourself?

TC: Well, I’m a virgo.  I design board games.  My favorite candy is Caramello.  I took drum lessons for about 5 years and I taught myself to play guitar.  At one point, I played keyboards in a Viking Metal band.  My real name is Tom Petty, but no one calls me that, not because I’m offended, but because I’ve been known as “TC” for, like, all 31 years of my life.  I’m a licensed gas appliance technician.  I have a tendency to use a lot of extra commas and semi-colons; this practice is a hold-over from when I used to type out my stream-of-consciousness thoughts in high school.

Top Cat!

TC: With Boomerang, kids still know Top Cat.  Some do.  Yeah, we’re old.
I write well, but when I talk about myself I become long-winded.  So be very wary.

Tom: What do you do for a living?

TC: I work full-time as a game designer.


But, seriously, to make actual money, I am a part-time dealer at Hollywood Casino in Grantville, PA.  The pay is nice.  The hours are terrible, but I wanted to try a little bit of the starving artist routine and focus as much as possible on game design.  It may be a dream that goes unfulfilled, but it’s an artistic outlet where I finally feel I can express myself.  And that is worth pursuing.

Tom: So your life is saturated with gaming pretty much all the time. That’s cool. I admire you for chasing the dream. I have a good friend who is a comic book writer. He did the ‘starving artist’ thing for many years and it finally paid off. He’s one of Marvel’s best writers now. And you are not alone. I know at least 2 others locally who have jumped on that boat. (hint: Chris and Daniel)
TC: I love having creative friends.

Tom: Ain’t it great?! What game got all this started?

TC: Settlers of Catan and Fleadom.  Settlers of Catan made my mind explode about ten years ago and it’s taken me years to pick up all the pieces.  And Fleadom was my first game design: a mish-mash of modular tiles, RTS games like Warcraft, Shadows Over Camelot, weirdness, and Ameritrashy dice-combat/card draws on a patch of animal fur.  It was theme-heavy (religious Flea colonies with end of the world calamities) and unique, but it wasn’t good at all.  Deconstructing my first play of Settlers and trying to recreate that exceptional first experience has been my game design goal all along.  I want make games that blow your mind.

Tom: Settlers was my first Euro too. You have one published game – Viva Java The Coffee Game from Dice Hate Me Games. Tell us how if came about.

TC: VivaJava was birthed while walking out of a Starbucks and quickly realizing that a mega-corporation would never create an angry battling game of die-hard barista wars; they’d try to be more friendly and cooperative about it to enhance their brand.  So, the entire game was created as if it were the perfect, corporate, branded, schill of an experience.  VivaJava in a can.  Even the cover art looks like an advertisement and I think Chris really nailed the style I was going for.  We were on the same page.  It was probably one of the reasons he decided to publish it in the first place.

The Coffee Game was also my first attempt at a “bigger” game.  I call it Game No. 5.  Before it, most of my games were dreamed up and developed without a focus on what I wanted the end-result to be.  I was obsessed with encouraging new ways of player interaction, not always negative.  At the time, we had been playing a ton of Poker.  And Montgolfiere’s simultaneous actions were a huge inspiration for most of my earlier designs.  Looking back, I think these mindsets pretty obviously influenced the design direction of VivaJava.

The game was in development for three years before the final product was sent electronically to Panda manufacturing.  It’s been a crazy ride.  I’ve been very fortunate.

Tom: Tell us about your publishing journey with DHMG.

TC: Not every aspect of working with a small indie publisher is perfection.  There’s uncertainty, trial and error, and the critical “reception” that suffers from most gamers assuming that an untested company’s games are inherently flawed.  If a Kickstarter company doesn’t blow people away or literally grab players and shake them, the game is quickly forgotten.  Luckily, Dice Hate Me Games does quality very easily.  After Chris Kirkman contacted me about publishing VivaJava (unexpectedly), it was his work on the prototype of Carnival that forced me to sign the dotted line.  Sure, I was dreaming of a BIG publisher picking up my dazzling, new, coffee game, but he was extremely reasonable about expectations, and of course, very excited!  I wanted a graphic designer for VivaJava, not an artist, and Chris was even more skilled than I knew at the time.  Talented, fast, and equipped with a proper Southern drawl.  And the extra creative control over my baby when working with a small publisher whose success is directly related to my game being top-notch was a welcome bonus.

I also wonder how many designers have gotten to sleep on an air mattress at their publisher’s home while they finalize the rule-book.  Oh yes. The famous air mattress. Oh yes.  And, that’s dedication!  Chris creates the art for the blend “Cup O’ Cabana” while Cherilyn and I watch High Fidelity.  We quickly became friends.  We had a good working relationship even when butting heads.

Seriously, best year of my life.  Awesome final product made with love and care and attention.  No regrets.

Tom: It is a very well done game. And seems to have gotten a great reception. Did anything change from initial concept to final product?

TC: Most of the “core” concepts in VivaJava have been the same since the initial prototype.  I’m still too new to game design to have a game that received a major overhaul from concept to publication (although that may change soon).

Tom: Explain that, the idea of being ‘too new’ to have a major overhaul. I think I know what you mean but can you unwrap that.

TC: I think, for me, and probably for a lot of new designers, if you spend months on a game and then it doesn’t work, well, you just shelf it.  You might revisit later; you might not.  Currently, I have not revisited anything that I have shelved, but like I said, I’ve only been designing games for about six years.  This is why I’m always afraid of “licensed” games (Star Wars, LotR).  Sure, the designers on big licenses mean well, but if they have a shovelware title on their hands, they don’t have the option of “shelving it.”  They are getting paid to complete a project.  They have deadlines.  And as long as it is “thematic” it will be given a pass by those who love that license.  It’s hard to make a good board game, and even harder to do it with time (and fan-boy) pressure.

However, I feel dumb that a Turn Order Track was one of the last additions to VivaJava.  It streamlined so many fiddly things and if you’ve played the final game, it probably seems essential.  But, those are humbling game design moments, when the simplest of ideas take so long to discover.

Tom: What is unique about it? How is it different from other games?

TC: I think most all of the gameplay elements in VivaJava have been done before.  There’s worker placement/role selection.  There’s engine-building and tech-trees, chit-pulling, poker hands, variable turn order, and multiple game-ending conditions.  But, these have been pared down to base concepts on purpose to allow for the most unique plus; VivaJava doesn’t just “play up to 8 players,” it was designed specifically to be the only Euro game that is Best with 5-8 players.  

Tom: I absolutely agree. The game is much better with more than 4.

TC: Honestly, I still like it, but I recommend playing first with more.  The game has the distinction of actually adding more mechanics to the game to support Less players.  Usually games do the opposite, which when you think about it, makes no sense.  Adding more players adds more downtime and complexity already, why add another handful of rules?

Tom: I will say I’ve played an early version of the ‘inspansion’ but didn’t care for it. I understand that it has been improved considerably since then. I really need to play VJ again.

TC: I have a friend who didn’t like the Inspansion too.  

This is a picture of that game.

This is a picture of that game.

He also thought that “Batman & Robin” was the best Batman film of all time after seeing it in theaters. All joking aside, it’s not easy to scale from 3-8 players.  I like it best with 8, some might only have that number on special occasions, so it’s nice to have the option.
Tom: Playing best at 6-8 does make it a unique game. The first time I played it, at Casa Kirkman with you in fact, was with a full complement. It was very fun.  

TC: I still haven’t played “If I’m Going Down” yet, but I remember you explaining the prototype for Chris if I’m not mistaken.  Games really bring cool people together.

Tom:  IIGD is a good game. AJ did a fantastic job responding to feedback and the final version is better than the prototype I have. My son really enjoys that game.

The first, I like to call “forced cooperation.”  Every round, a player chooses which country of the world they will explore.  Whatever region this country is in (there are three regions) will determine which team they are on for that round.  Players are forced to work together for a round and then change alliances next round.  It creates an interesting dynamic of positive player interaction, where it is usually in a player’s best interest to work nicely together.  This also makes the social game an integral part of the experience and table-talk is required.

The second is a “degrading” market.  Once all players score for Blends they have created, these Blends degrade by one bean and are rearranged if this changes their ranking.  So, the Best Blends are temporary and become weaker over time, but players control the market by adding or not adding new Blends to the list.  And it’s always moving.  I hope more games use this degrading concept in the future.

Tom: I really like the ‘forced co-op’ mechanic. I do think it is for the most part unique in that the game isn’t a co-op game. The changing situations created by this and the degrading market are true highlights of the game. I had a difficult time getting my mind around the blends thing at first.

TC: It’s tough, because the most accessible aspect of the game is the Poker hand ranking scale.  It’s not that VivaJava is difficult to learn, it just has a wonderful strangeness to it.

Tom: I will agree with that.  

TC: It can even throw experienced gamers for a loop who are used to multiplayer solitaire or player interaction that is all negative.  Once you realize that the game is about happiness and flowers on the surface and strategic spite underneath, you begin to realize how perfect a business simulation this game really is.

Tom: That’s a good way of describing VJ. I hear that you have a couple of games in the works, one with babies and one with pirates. How about some info on those?

TC: So, let’s talk babies first.  One of my good friends, Jim Carl, created a game called “Explorers” which he brought to a party for a first playtest.  It was a tile-laying game where players tried to make it across the board first.  In all honesty, it didn’t go over well.  Player elimination, natives were attacking, lose-a-turn cards, impassable terrain, and movement was achingly slow.  But, I loved the idea of tile-laying to create a racetrack which was controlled by the players.  In fact, Jim Carl usually has a lot of good game ideas.

Without his blessing (but eventually with his blessing), I started creating my own Rock-Climbing game based on the tile-laying racing mechanic.  Players create the rock face as they race to the top.  But, I needed some figures to represent climbers.  So, of course I found some “king cake” baby figurines at Michaels to use.  Chris Kirkman saw the pictures I posted, dubbed the game, “Rock Babies” and the name has stuck.

Rock Babies on the move.

Rock Babies on the move.

Rock Babies is a coin-flipping, tile-laying race game, with all the trappings of a trashy filler game.  But, there are two key game elements that make it strategic.  Each turn, a player’s first action is to draw a tile and play it “anywhere”.  That means, bad tiles can be played in front of those in the lead, good tiles can be played in front of yourself.  Then, players climb by flipping energy coins.  Depending on where your baby is on the mountain-side, you regain a certain amount of coins every turn.  Each rockface tile has a coin total in the corner, saying how many coins must be flipped to enter the tile safely.  The cool thing is payment is “the act of flipping” not the result.  So, if I need to enter a 3-coin tile, I flip 3 coins.  No matter what the outcome is, I have already made it to the tile.  I then lose whatever energy coins are face-down.  The press-your-luck aspect comes into play when I don’t have enough energy to make a climb.  And there’s always the Danger Coin.  When you end your turn, you move your piton to your current location.  If you fall, you fall back to where your last piton was placed.

Tom: I want to play this. It sounds neat. I am working on a tile laying game myself inspired by Swamp People so I’m interested in how you get the tiles out and results of those tiles.

TC: Pirates of the Carbon Copy started as a joke between me and Darrell Louder, but the mechanics inspired us and we forged ahead to create a prototype in November.  In the game, you play pirate accountants trying to return home with as much loot as possible before tax time.  Problem is, the Royal Navy has set up blockades, so the only way for you to safely pass is to have forged receipts for all of your goods.  In the game, however, these receipts (cards) allow you special actions (royal privileges) if you play them.  So, players have to balance how much plundering they do with how much time they spend forging receipts and playing them, all the while time is counting down and they’ll receive huge penalties if they don’t make it to the homeland for the deadline.

Cool mechanics.  A deck of cards that act as a count down to the tax deadline.  You never know exactly “when” the game will end, but you see the countdown and the tension is always present.  Four different colored dice are rolled each round, and players take three action using these same dice results.  What’s unique is that the player can use the die color, the die number, or simply expend a die a if it were an action point, to take the three actions.  There is attacking and buried treasure and gold and rum and hexes and rondels galore, and some receipts can be used when it is not your turn, keeping the player interaction high.  Also, the player screens look like Pirate ships (c/o Darrell).

Tom: Darrell mentioned this one in our interview so I wanted to get your perspective. It sounds right up my alley too. I like the concept of Rich Dice and am using it in a game my son and I are designing about hunting. I would be interested in seeing this one too.  

TC: Using dice in every way imaginable so that players never “PASS” an action.  That’s the difficult part.

We set out to make THE gateway hobby game.  Darrell is an insanely fast and thorough graphic designer, and I complain a lot and make hard cuts.  I have a tendency to make one change, pace around for an hour, thinking about things.  Darrell could have the game printed and for sale within that time.  It’s a good dynamic.  He keeps me from complacency.  I keep him from getting super-excited.

Tom: Standard GFG question: What are the aspects of a good player?

TC: A good player recognizes that hobby games can be complex and prepares accordingly.

Knowing now how a game designer feels when their baby is thrashed by reviews or ratings, makes me give players one piece of advice in this modern world of gaming.  Read the rules BEFORE you set it down on the table.  If rule-books make your eyes bleed and steam emit from your ear holes, set the mood if you have to.  Put on some Romance era piano sonatas, light some scented candles, and read the manual by a crackling fire.  But, seriously, gone are the days of Milton Bradley.  You can’t plop the game in the center of the table, flip over the box lid and read the rules aloud.

Tom: I agree. Unfortunately for a lot of ‘our’ games there’s research involved to enable you to play them. That’s a BIG barrier to new gamers. But, as you said, if you know that you are going to have to at the very least read the rulebook PRIOR to playing, that gives you a headstart. I think one of the grails should be to simplify or boil down the rules for easier understanding. AND good grammar and graphic design in the rulebook. For goodness sake, get someone outside of gaming to read the rules before you publish. Designers/publishers, please get fresh eyes on these things before you commit.

TC: Totally.  What sucks is that people can’t seem to agree on what is a “good” rule-book.  Seriously though, get other eyes to proofread.  The best thing that Chris did was to put the VivaJava rules up during the Kickstarter and ask for feedback.  

Tom: That was a good and EASY thing to do. There are enough people out there in our community who are editors, etc. and are more than willing to peruse a document.

TC: Definitely.  One person even translated the entire VJ rule-book to Hungarian with zero prompting.  The community is willing, so abuse them.

Tom: We’ve had zombies, pirates, city building, deck building. What’s the next hot theme in board games?

TC: Oh, definitely fictional, pseudo-historical Euro-style games.  Lords of Waterdeep was based in a DnD fictional universe.  I’m expecting more along the lines of the Tempest series from AEG or the litany of Steampunky titles.  Basically, paste a “geek-friendly” theme onto a traditional Euro.  Not saying its a bad idea; in fact, I heartily support it.

Tom: That’s a new one. I think you have something there. You’re very active and plugged into the game design community. How did that happen?

TC: Luck and Twitter.  

Tom: Yeah, Twitter is pretty awesome for that.

TC: Indeed.  I recommend Twitter to every game designer.  My feed is filled with gems of ideas everyday, and I’ve met a ton of cool people and other designers that like to give feedback.  It helps that I truly enjoy these people as well.  Instead of awkward silence when we see each other in person, I can instantly skip small-talk and start commenting on current events.  It’s like a Google Hangout, but in real life.

And, because of my own search for a publisher, I met John Moller and attended the first Unpub.  Since then, Unpub has grown.  I’ve been to at least five of the minis, I believe, and helped run two of them.  It keeps me involved and giving back to the community.  I take no credit for the growth.  John has spearheaded this thing, setting up events across the U.S., even reaching out to the UK for some upcoming events, I hear.  Unpub 3 will be bigger than last year, Unpub 4 will be even huger.

With Kickstarter, the barrier to entry for publishing has been lowered, and Unpub is simply connecting those new and established publishers with the designers that will hopefully make them rich.  It’s nice to be in on the ground floor with something like that.

Tom: What’s your favorite unpublished game right now?

TC: Compounded was my favorite from 2011, but I can’t include that one anymore.  I don’t have a clear winner for 2012.  Some excellent games I’ve played this year:  Roll for Amusement – Garrett Herdter, Phobos – Brad Smoley,  East India Trading Company – Paul Owens, City Hall – Michael Keller, and I’m always interested in what Ben Rosset is cooking up.

Tom: Compounded is SO good. I can’t wait on it. I hear very good things about East India. I haven’t heard of the first two.

TC: Soo good.  I met Garrett at an Unpub Mini, then got to visit his honey bottling business to roll some dice.  Roll for Amusement is an interesting balance of press-your-luck amusement park building, with strategic multi-purpose cards.  I’m also a member of the Table Treasures design group, where I met Brad Smoley.  Phobos is an area-control, time-control, tile-laying-driven, cave-building, gem mining game on a moon, with robots.

Tom: Had me sold at time-control and amusement park. That’s a theme that doesn’t have a lot of games around it. Hmmm….What are you currently playing the most?

TC: My own prototypes, honestly.  I don’t hate them yet, so that’s a very good sign!
As for REAL games, I got a copy of Seasons for Christmas.  And I’ve been playing Glory to Rome, Chicken Caesar, and Coup.  Glory to Rome gets better and better each time I play.  Chicken Caesar is a big hit with every group I introduce it to.  Coup is a nice, focused, bluffing game.  Once I get my copy of Myrmes this month, that’ll be my new obsession, I’m sure.

Tom: I hear good things about Chicken Ceasar. I hope to play it soon. I’m interested in Coup. That one sounds fun.

TC: Coup is very cool.  Although I keep getting the rules wrong apparently.

Tom: What two pieces of advice would you give aspiring game designers?

TC: Number one: same advice every designer gets, every time.  “Worry about pretty art/design LAST and only when the component in question is nearly final.”  I’m still guilty of this cardinal design sin and no designer ever listens to this advice, but I’m getting better at being flexible and simple.  I write on everything.  I cross things out and literally throw pieces in the trash.  Don’t take your first prototype and print it out with The Game Crafter.  Wait.  Playtest ten more times.  Things will change.  Don’t let the art be better than your game.

And when your game is 95% complete, and you’re ready to hawk it to publishers, do every thing you can to have a face-to-face demo.  You can build a relationship through Twitter and emails, but nothing is a good substitute for direct interaction.  Do a little research.  Find out a convention that the publisher will be attending, figure out “who” makes decisions and shake their hand.  For example, tell Stephen Buonocore (StrongHold Games) that you have an excellent craft beer for him if he sits down and plays a game with you.  Tell Chris Kirkman (Dice Hate Me Games) that your game has a player tableau.  Elevator pitch the hell out of them and snag them for a real demo.  If you believe in your game, this is your best shot and it’s totally worth your time even if rejection comes.

Tom:What game surprised you and how?

TC: SpaceTeam for iOS.  It’s weird to call a video game “real time,” but it’s an electronic board game that requires everyone to be in the same room.  Each player is given a unique and randomly determined control panel with labeled buttons to press and dials to turn.  The object of the game is engage the warp drive, but in typical sci-fi fashion, every single time you warp, there’s always a million settings to activate and change and disaster looms around every corner.  On your screen it might say “Set the Ambiblathe to Maximum.” But, the problem is, there’s no Ambiblathe dial on your screen, so you have to yell out to the other players “Set the Ambiblathe to Maximum,” and whoever has that control is supposed to move that dial.  All the while, every single player has a different task that pops up on their screen and is yelling directions as well. Absolute joy.

Tom: That does sound fun. I need to check it out. What is next for you?  What else is in the que?  

TC: Unpub 3 is coming up very soon (Jan. 19 & 20) and I’m bringing two officially registered games with me:  VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game and Club Zen.  Plus, Pirates of the Carbon Copy will be there.  Club Zen is a worker placement game where players are trying to become the most relaxed at a resort.  Clocking in at 2 hours, it’s a solid medium-weight Euro game and my new personal baby.
Tom: I so wish I could make Unpub3. 40 designers and 60 games!!  

TC: That means 40 people are guaranteed to be in attendance.  It’s awesome!

2012 was a very productive year.  Tri-interval Velo-synchrometer, Rock Babies, The Message, VivaJava:TCG:TDG, Club Zen, and many more half-baked ideas just nearly there.  The queue is even longer, with a game about the end of the world, a victorian morality board game, a DVD-based Euro game about Mad Scientists and a revamp of an older game about Weather Forecasting.  Umm, yeah, so every odd-ball theme imaginable.

Tom: VJ:TCG:TDG????!!, I’ve heard of Rock Babies and would like to play it. Pirates sounds fun. I just watched ‘The Crimson Mutual Assurance’ yesterday. That DVD game sound like a groundbreaker to me.  

TC: That Monty Python skit is great.  Sadly, it has little to do with the Pirate game other than general accounting involved.  The mechanic of having to have a receipt for everything you plunder makes the game excellent.

And as a side-note, if I’m able to make a Euro game that actually uses a DVD (or tablet app) in an integral way, I win.  I have yet to play a DVD game that is even remotely strategic (or fun).

Tom: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

TC: Companies need to stop putting people on the cover of their games.  The medieval/renaissance cartographer, or the grinning band of raucous pirates, or the smug aristocrat looking at the camera and challenging you to build his mediterranean city’s architecture one stupid tile at a time.  I’ll never get the fascination.  And it’s such a needless barrier for entry for new gamers.  If I saw Caylus at Target, I’d be like “yeah, that looks boring.”  A clean, snazzy title in the center or a bad-ass castle is so much better.  The board game audien ce is broader than people think; let’s invite those new gamers in!

Also, I’m lucky because I have a higher percentage of female playtesters than most, but I still want to see more female designers.  How many have I met at Unpub?  Umm, let me think about that for no amount of time: zero.  You’re out there somewhere.  Board games are very male-centric and will continue to be so until those of the feminine persuasion jump in.  Get involved.

Tom: Oh how very true. Male centric. Daniel Solis lamented the same idea recently. How few female designers there are. I can only think of two – Susan McKinley Ross of Qwirkle and Frank’s Zoo’s Doris Matthaus of Frank & Doris game company. That’s a good topic for a future discussion. AND I should try to get

How can people contact you?  Are there any links you would like folks to visit?

TC: Hit me up on BGG (TheCrippledWerewolf) and follow me on Twitter @puppyshogun.

Thank a lot for joining me TC. It was a real blast getting to know you. I am looking forward to playing so games with you the next time you are in Durham!

TC mentioned Unpub3 a lot. Unpub3 is January 19 & 20 in Magnolia, Delaware. You can find more information here.unpub3_250-nd

Thanks for joining me and TC. I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I did. Please leave a comment below.

Coming up on Go Forth And Game: My interview with David Gregg, Nightfall’s designer, a long overdue review of Belfort, an interview with designer Paul Owen, and a new Question of The Month. Y’all come back now, ya hear!

Question of the Month – How do we grow gaming?

Ok, this is a big one.  How do we, as gamers, grow gaming? How do we infuse our passion for games into those around us? Can we bring gaming into the public spotlight somehow? What can we do to get others to love games? These questions have been out there for forever. So I thought I would take a stab at getting some answers for this eternal question. Let’s see what some of gamers, designers, and industry moguls think we should do.

Daniel Solis, designer of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and Belle of The Ball

Daniel Solis's upcoming Belle of the Ball

Daniel Solis’s upcoming Belle of the Ball

The central question remains. How do games live? Play. How do games die?When they are not played. How do we let games survive? Play.
Jodi Black of Beautiful Brains Books and Games
I think growing the game industry depends on a few things, but it all comes down to improving our people skills. First of all, we have to get more children involved and be more welcoming to families with children (most cons are doing a great job of this). Secondly, we need to be more welcoming of new players. Thirdly, we need to simply talk about gaming outside of our “gamer” friends, so that perhaps our non-gamer friends become gamer friends. And then there’s creating games people want to play. That’s the real hard part.

FamerLenny of I Slay The Dragon
I think the best way to grow gaming is to enjoy the hobby ourselves. If we’re always sour in talking about how Monopoly is a terrible game, that’s not very winsome (nor, if we focus on what we’re against, does it sound like we enjoy what we’re doing very much).
Beyond that, I think the best advice I have is to know your audience. Introducing Twilight Imperium into the family context (or perhaps just MY family context) will guarantee the fastest flight away from board games. My friends who love fantasy and sci-fi are probably less interested in a game about trading in the Mediterranean. A bad game choice–especially when someone else is not used to the idea of hobby board games–can severely hamstring any future efforts at trying to introduce new games. I think knowing the audience and choosing games well-suited to the audience are crucial.

Ken Coble, Commander of The Lead Cotillion
Hmm, that’s a good one. I had a couple of things I was going to mention here, but I realized that most of them actually fell more under the aegis of gamers reaching out to other gamers, like trying to get cardgamers to try boardgames, or boardgamers to try minis gaming, etc – basically, the classic game-store passer-by. The issue, of course, is that when you reach out to the person walking by you in the game store, or offer to teach a spectator a new game, you’re already preaching to the converted – after all, they’re already in the game venue watching you, right? Still, I think the basic concepts apply in a broader sense. Mainly: be approachable, or outgoing, but in a relaxed manner. Being too pushy or overzealous can be as bad as not engaging the prospective new player at all.

Chris James of Stratus Games
I believe it comes down to catering to casual gamers more effectively. Almost everyone enjoys games, but the general perception of board games is that they are either for kids or for hardcore gamer geeks. People who grew up playing video games are sticgi_issue1_smallll playing video games, yet most people who grew up playing board games gave them up long ago. I believe the video game industry has successfully changed the perception of who plays games, providing a comfortable atmosphere for adults to feel like gaming is for them. The board game industry would do well to take notice. We have a detailed analysis of this topic coming up in the next issue of Casual Game Insider.

In the hobby industry, people who do or would enjoy gaming on a casual level find it difficult to gain belonging in a community that caters primarily to hardcore gamers. We have to change the perception of gaming as something that anyone can enjoy – no experience or previous geekdom required.

Jamey Stegmaier, designer of Viticulture
We (i.e. gamers) can grow gaming by consistently inviting and including non-gamers to play games with us that aren’t mechanically or thematically intimidating. There’s nothing wrong with a gateway game—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone play Catan for the first time after having no experience with Euro games, and they simply light up. The world has just gotten a little bigger for them. At this point I very rarely want to play Catan, but if a few games with a newbie might lead to other games, it’s totally worth it. And honestly, I’m hoping that Viticulture will be a gateway game—thematically I know it is, but mechanically it may have turned out a little too complex. We’ll see. (Jamey Stegmaier, Stonemaier Games)

Dan Yarrington of GameSalute
Create as many positive incentives for all members of the gaming community to spread the word.

Sen-Foong Lim, co-designer of Belfort
The best way is to just play games with people and, especially, by teaching people how to play games well.  Starting game groups, clubs at college, offering to teach at conventions, etc.  as games get more wide and varied, it will require better instruction to ease belfort1people’s into gaming.  Picking games for people based on their likes vs. what’s hot… There’s a lot we alpha gamers can do…we just have to want to do it more thn we want to play the games that we personally like.

Jason Morningstar, designer of Durance and Fiasco
We grow gaming by making new gamers. We make new gamers by playing with non-gamers

Michael Harrison, famous GeekDad
It seems to me that there are two main ways to grow gaming: getting existing hobbyists to game more and bringing games to people who don’t game in the first place. I feel like the latter segment probably has more growth potential, and the best way to approach them is via casual games. I’m reminded of Nintendo’s strategy with the Wii. They lowered the barrier of entry and people flocked to their systems. I think it remains to be seen whether that was a good long-term strategy (how many Wiis started gathering dust a few months after purchase?), but it certainly grew Nintendo’s market share in the meantime. So, to answer the question: Introducing fun, easy-to-learn board games to non-gamers and then following up consistently with new options seems the best bet for growing games.

Britt Davis, gaming teacher
By simply being friendly and enthusiastic. Holding a demo or playing a game on a scheduled night at a local game store won’t inspire the passerby to want to spend time and money to engage in a new hobby.  Engage passers-by with an enthusiastic verbal invitation to learn more and to actually play the game….and SMILE. DON’T use the newbie as a punching bag in the game; DON’T play the game for the newbie; DON’T use jerk game behaviors, such as counting cards or oafish and belligerent behavior. I have recently begun to travel to Durham to game at Atomic Empire.  The store and its gamers have been very inviting.  Likewise, I have started playing a new game, Infinity, because of the enthusiasm and friendliness of the Infinity gamers at AE.  They have helped Kenny and me to learn the rules, run demos for us, show us the new Infinity products on the store shelves and have generally been very friendly.  Bottom line, I like gaming with these guys, and they have made an Infinity gamer and AE customer out of me.

Patrick Nickell of Crash Gamessigimg1
I think the best way to grow gaming is to do so in a natural, organic way. As we forge new relationships people will see that gaming is an important aspect of our lives. When people ask me about my marriage or they comment on how much my wife and I are in love I always let them know that gaming is a big and important part of my marriage. I have many more thoughts on this topic but this should at least scratch the surface.

Grant Rodiek of Farmaggedon fame
To start we must focus on accessibility. This means simpler mechanics, shorter playtimes, and broader themes that appeal to all genders, ages, and gradients of nerd. And publishers must take pains to bring down prices and be available in as many distribution channels as possible. $75, 4 hour games only in an FLGS only caters to current players.

Bellwether Games
Board gaming in particular builds community. Some of our best and most long lasting friends have been a result of board games. As a community of gamers, we need to continually emphasize this unique benefit of games when we play, in the way we play, and in the types of games we design.

Corey Young, gaming enthusiast
Get TableTop on cable television. Conduct structured regional, national, and international competitions for established board games. Isolated contests yield no press. How do we do this? Get the publishers and FLGSs involved. Publishers will sponsor and FLGSs will host. Reward FLGSs with promotion at upstream events. (tom)What games do you mean? Good question. Need a critical mass. Start w/games currently warranting tourneys played at Essen and GenCon

Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Gameslogo
Person upon person with better and better games.

Flash Forward Games
More exposure through common places ex. libraries, community clubs, coffee shops where people can openly play w/ others.

Results: 31 total answers

Most mentioned – Play more, bring in new people = 6 each

Next – increase the number of casual games being made = 5

Use/have decent people skills (don’t be a jerk) = 4

Get gaming more exposure, talk about games outside of our ‘closed’ community = 3 each

Start gaming groups = 2

Increase incentives to game, decrease the price of games, know audience, get kids involved = 1 each

So what do I think? The thing that stuck out to me the most was said best by Grant – ‘To start we must focus on accessibility. This means simpler mechanics, shorter playtimes, and broader themes that appeal to all genders, ages, and gradients of nerd.’ and reenforced by Chris ‘it comes down to catering to casual gamers more effectively’. Accessibility is key. The typical Euro game is going to turn a new or casual game off in most cases. Too many rules, rules too difficult to understand, too long, trading in the Mediterranean. All these things will  likely turn a casual gamer off. This also touches on the fact that we should know our audience. Several guests mentioned this point. We can’t expect a new or casual gamer to completely fall in love with Twilight Struggle or Through The Ages the first time we introduce it. We need more games like Survive, Eruption, No Thanks!, Cloud 9, and Guildhall.

I also think that we need to open our community up to new people. We can do this by inviting our friends and acquaintances to game with us. And when we do we need to be polite, welcoming, and explain the games well. And while we are playing, don’t be a jerk. Offer advice if applicable and welcomed. The question of whether to play as hard as normal or whether to throw the game comes up at this point. I’ll save that for another Question of The Month. One way of opening the community is exposure. Corey mentioned TableTop. It would be cool to see TableTop get some TV time. I understand that one of the major networks is developing a similar program. We are seeing more mention of games in the popular press. So exposure is increasing.

I’ll just mention price briefly. I’ll just say that price is a barrier, even for us gamers. GamerChris addresses this in a recent post here.

Lastly I’ll mention gaming with kids. This falls under the ‘make new gamers’ category but I’m going to talk about it. I have three kids between 18 and 10. The younger two are my gamers. They both share my love of games. And through them I have been able to introduce games to cousins and friends. Kids are very open to playing games. Outside of school play is kind of their job.  So they are open to playing games. Catch them early and you will have a gamer for life. Isn’t that how many of us started.

So there you have it. Some thoughts on how we can grow gaming.

What do you think? What are you doing to increase our numbers? Please leave a comment below and let us know.