UnPub7 Report with Jason Dinger – Part Two

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(Left) Daniel Newman, The Five By contibuter Ruth Boyack and Tony Miller at UnPub 7. Photo Credit: Aaron Wilson (Right) Aaron Wilson teaching me his roll-n-track game, “Nice Lil Beach Day”.

(Editor’s note:  Jason Dinger from Morgan City, Louisiana is the designer of the upcoming Essen 2018 release, Captains of the Gulf. He attended his first UnPub in Baltimore this month. His first entry covered the background of UnPub and some of the highlights of the con for Jason. Look for more posts from Jason in the future!) 

While UnPub 7 didn’t officially kick off until midday Friday, many designers got into town on Thursday and got together in the hotel lobby for an impromptu game night. That was the first of 4 fun-filled days where I got to hang out, game with, and get to know several talented designers who also happen to great people.

I was fortunate enough to interview 3 of them as the dust settled after the weekend: Aaron Wilson (AW), Daniel Newman (DN), and Tony Miller (TM).

Can you give us a little introduction / tell us about yourselves?

AW: I’m Aaron Wilson. My wife and I just had our second child, Silvie in November. Our first, Stella, just turned 3 in March. We live in Ossining, NY, home of the well known Sing Sing prison. I commute to NYC every weekday to my job in pharmaceutical advertising at a big agency where I do Creative Direction.

DN: Midwestern boy transplanted to Brooklyn, NY 15 years ago. Wife, kid, 2 dogs. Architectural model maker. Got into game design a couple of years ago. One published game (Ahead in the Clouds) released this year. Another (Mech Chores) was signed this past fall and should see print at the end of 2017. Other games with publishers under review.

TM: I’m a father, husband, game designer and IT fireman who is relocating to Portland, OR in mid-April.

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“Step Right Up” by Daniel Newman, a uniquely-themed medium weight Euro game with influences from both Feld and Gerdts.

Desribe UnPub in your own words. What does UnPub mean to you?

AW: It’s about meeting people. Seeing people you connect with. Playing games with friends and strangers. But most of all learning about what works with my own games and what doesn’t. What needs tweeking. Also, about getting your games in front of publishers.

Was super happy riding down and rooming with Dan Newman. Getting a lot of time with Dan, you, Donna, Tony Miller, Justin Brown, Isom and Duley. Getting some time with Ben Begal, Ian Zang, Jon Mofat, Chris Bryan, Adam McIver, Kerry Rundle, Josh Mills, Matt Wolfe, Nat Levan, Jason Kotarski, Zev, Rocco, Alex Kevern, Ruth, Jessica, Nicole and Anthony. I know this is a lot of name dropping but I love these people.

DN: UnPub is designer summer camp. It’s a great opportunity to connect with all the folks I talk to on Twitter all the time but only see at conventions. It’s also great way to get a tremendous amount of playtesting done in a short period of time with both other designers and the general public. But really, for me, it’s about reaffirming my place in the community and feeling like I belong.

TM: UnPub is where I go to be around the greatest people in the world, other game designers. My game design family is what keeps me going when I think about quitting.

Game designers in general are some of the hardest working and friendliest people anywhere. They know the struggles and hardships of building a design from scratch, testing it repeatedly, and continually iterating to attempt to make something the best that it can be. They understand the highs of seeing someone enjoying something that you’ve created and the lows of things just not quite coming together.

This makes me excited to be around other game designers and no convention offers that like UnPub. Gen Con has the new hotness, BGGCon has uninterrupted play time, but only UnPub has all of its time dedicated to the craft of design.

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“Back To Rth” by Tony Miller and John Prather, hand-building game with a very innovative action programming mechanic where players have 3 cards in their tableau and add 1 each round, which pushes the oldest card to the discard pile and activates the 3 remaining cards.

What games did you bring to show / test this year at UnPub 7?

AW: My big box game, New Reign, a 2-5 player political sci-fi area majority, card and dice game.

Nice Lil Beach Day, light filler push your luck dice game. Got a poker dice feel.

Dark Miss Down, a strategic 18 card 2 player game that’s about collect starship crew to complete ship repair tasks. This may be rethemed as a Hipster Brooklyn party promoter game for Tagmire’s Buttonshy contest.

DN: I brought Step Right Up (Carnival themed Euro with asymmetrical player boards) and Roll’d West (roll and write based on Gold West by J. Alex Kevern).

TM: My illustrious co-designer, John Prather, and I brought 7 games to the show:

Back to Rth – a hand-building/action-programming game about reclaiming a polluted Earth 1000s of years in the future.

Beat-em-Up – a real-time co-op symbol matching game based on old school side-scrolling brawlers.

Fire in the Library – a press-your-luck game about rescuing books from the Library of Alexandria as it burns down around you.

18teXmeX – a spatial stock manipulation game about investing in Taco Trucks.

Weather or Not – a trick taking game about wizards manipulating the weather in resort towns to maintain perfect vacation temperatures.

Busted! – a press-your-luck betting game that plays a bit like Blackjack.

Dice Heroes – a co-op abstracted dungeon crawl that features dice drafting as the means of activating abilities.

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“New Reign” by Aaron Wilson. Action selection, area majority, and dice where players are trying to embed secret agents into a futuristic government body.

What was the main game you showed at UnPub and how was the feedback / response from testers and publishers?

AW: New Reign. Huge positive response. Caught a little buzz. I got an offer from a publisher, but I’m still developing it and feel like it can be way better. We’ll see. Haha.

DN: Step Right Up was my primary game this year and it went over extremely well with play testers. By Sunday, it became pretty clear that the design was pretty much done and it was to the point where I was ready to pitch to publishers. I was able to get it in front of a few and have had requests for rules and PNP files from others who were unable to play it but wanted to take a look. I got a bunch of love on Twitter from people who played and wanted to share, which was awesome.

TM: The main game that I showed was Back to Rth, though both 18TeXMeX and Fire in the Library were played a lot too.

Feedback was generally positive with everyone agreeing that the core of the game was very smooth. Several players wanted it to be heavier than it is and others wanted a lighter game, so it mostly fell right where I wanted it. We got multiple wonderful ideas for both up-scaling and down-scaling the design, so we may end up doing both. 🙂

To find out more about Aaron, Daniel, and Tony follow them on Twitter at:
Aaron Wilson – @InternetsMagic
Daniel Newman – @dnlnwmn
Tony Miller – @beardedrogue or catch him on the Breaking Into Boardgames podcast on iTunes

— Jason Dinger  @jasondingr on Twitter

UnPub 7 Report with Jason Dinger (Part One)

((Editor’s note:  Jason Dinger from Morgan City, Louisiana is the designer of the upcoming Essen 2018 release, Captains of the Gulf. He attended his first UnPub in Baltimore this month. Look for more posts from Jason in the future!) 

Originally founded in 2010 by John Moller, UnPub is the Unpublished Games Network and includes game designers, artists, publishers, play testers, reviewers, and more. It serves as a resource for the board game community, as well as conventions, both large and small. It is currently run by Darrell Louder and a small, but dedicated staff.

UnPub conventions are invaluable opportunities for game designers to play test and get feedback from other designers, publishers, and veteran play testers alike. They also provide publishers wonderful exposure to hundreds of new, unpublished games looking for a home. There is no entry fee to UnPub, allowing gamers and play testers a little-to-no-cost chance to play a wide variety of games for two days.

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Playing Keith Matejka’s “Roll Player” the night before UnPub with fellow game designers Donna Dinger, Aaron Wilson, and Daniel Newman. Photo credit: Aaron Wilson

UnPub 7 took place from March 17th – 19th, 2017 at the Baltimore Convention Center. For three straight days, the con was abuzz with excitement, smiles, and gaming fun.

In addition to all of the great gaming and designing aspects, UnPubs feature an amazing community. From the newest gamer to the most-experienced designer or publisher, everyone came together, supported each other, and bonded over a shared loved of board games.

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Designer Daniel Newman (far right above) teaching his game, “Roll’d West”, a roll-n-write inspired by J. Alex Kevern’s Gold West” to a group of friends / designers including (left to right) Aaron Wilson, Chris Zinsli, John Prather, Tony Miller.

Day 1 of UnPub is a special day for designers and VIP play testers to play games, mingle, and also features a charity auction. This year’s auction benefitted the Dravet Syndrome Foundation. UnPub board member Mike Mullins lost his son, AJ, last November to Dravet Syndrome. The auction raised over $2,000.00 and 100% of the money was donated in AJ’s name.

 

Days 2 and 3 of UnPub are open to the public and gamers swarmed the convention floor, going from table to table, playing games, and getting to interact with the designers. Along with play testers, several publishers made their rounds, meeting designers, playing games, and more than a few took prototypes home with them.

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(from L to R) Designers Matt Riddle, Donna Dinger, Jason Dinger, and Ben Pinchback at UnPub 7. Matt & Ben have a prolific game design catalog including Fleet, Wharfside, Morocco, and the upcoming Ladder 29 which is on KickStarter now.

UnPub is not like any other gaming convention. I got the chance to play some fantastic games, but more importantly, I got the chance to meet some truly wonderful people. Part two of this series will feature mini-interviews / spotlights on three of those people who made my first UnPub an experience I will never forget.

(Editor’s Note: Come back on Wednesday for more UnPub 7 reports from Jason.)

— Jason Dinger @jasondingr on Twitter

 

 

Spice it up! With Baseball Highlights: 2045

I love baseball, and I love board games. I have been searching for years for a game that combines both of my favorite pastimes, and I will tell you all about my find today. Before we get to the discussion, this is a great time to do a quick review of Baseball Highlights:2045, because we should note that Eagle-Gryphon Games has made it easy to introduce the game to any audience.  Right now, there is a Kickstarter going on for three new expansions to the base game– but for new payers, there is also a “Spring Training” edition of the game. It is priced right at under $20 per copy, and gives enough cards for two players to learn and play the game. The box will be delivered to your door in September, just in time for the playoffs.  Play ball! 

I can still remember the smell of fresh cut grass and the feel of wet blades stuck to the bottom of my trousers. It was my first season coaching t-ball to my oldest child. I had not been at my hometown ballpark since I myself was just a wee lad. There were more fields now, and the bleachers seemed a little more worn down, but I slowly did a 360 degree turn and saw the entire park filled with happy children chasing each other in brightly colored uniforms.

Baseball. America’s favorite past time.

Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended, the nation’s eyes turn toward shiny ball parks in Arizona and Florida. It is spring training down there, and hundreds of players are stretching, spitting, and stealing bases in hopes of making it to The Show.

Is there a board game that can give players the excitement and tension of a real live major league baseball game? Are your game nights getting a little stale playing the same old wizards and zombie themed games?

Well then, Spice it up with Baseball Highlights: 2045!

Baseball Highlights is a “tactical card game with deck building elements” (as Sean Ramirez from The Dukes of Dice likes to say) by Mike Fitzgerald published by Eagle-Gryphon Games in 2014. I talked a little bit about the game in January in discussing Clank!, another deck building game that used deck building as the mechanic to help players explore a dungeon.

This month, let’s talk about a card game that simulates a futuristic style of baseball played with cyborgs, robots, and regular ole’ humans (called “naturals” in the game, because they do not have any augmented body parts like cyborgs do). Fitzgerald uses the deck building mechanic as a way to enhance the development of each team and to power the six-inning, seven game series of ball games.

Player board with Player Aid — four boards provided in the Deluxe Edition

Theme:

The year is 2045, and America has long since passed on the glory days of its favorite past-time. In an effort to revitalize the sport, the powers-that-be brought in robots (with amazing hitting prowess) and cyborgs (with amazing pitching arms) to bring excitement to the stands. The theme is carried through the beautiful artwork, the full color player boards, and especially through the player cards. Each card in the free agent deck has unique names that evoke well known baseball players (for the naturals), funky robotic names from the future, or cartoon style cyborg names.

I recommend you get the big box deluxe edition, which comes with the base game plus seven small expansions.  Each expansion not only adds tons of replayability to the game, but also has different themes like added cards for each of the types of players or combo cards that can really change the play style. I especially like the Rally cards which give teams a chance to mount a comeback or kill a rally.

Naturals, Cyborgs and Robots from the Free Agent Deck

Innovations:

Baseball Highlights: 2045 brings out a number of innovations. Sure, at first glance, it looks like another take on the deck building mechanic, but unlike the dry theme of Dominion, Baseball Highlights 2045 evokes the theme of baseball well.  It was one of the first card games that I played that used deck building as just a mechanic rather than the entire scheme, as in Dominion.  Instead of being the sole focus of gameplay, deck building here allows players to flesh out their teams with a dizzying array of free agent cards.

The game also is innovative in the way that Fitzgerald developed the cards and the game play.  It really feels like you are pitching and hitting against another team. Each side plays one card at a time, and the cards have varying effects which automatically stack depending upon the type of action.

 

Rookie cards from Boston and L.A.
Veterans from the base decks of New York and San Francisco
The game of baseball can be a bit long for some people, and would not translate well into a normal deck builder. That’s why Mike Fitzgerald came up with the idea of reducing the game to six innings (or six card hands.) It works really well in this format, and allows players to attack each other quickly over a seven game series.  The regular rules of baseball (steals, double plays, etc.) are generally used, although they come mostly in the form of immediate actions that are found on the cards.

Gameplay:

The game is surprisingly easy to teach.  Players start out with a small deck of 15 cards consisting of ‘veterans’ and ‘rookies.’ These are low powered cards of hitters and pitchers that have basic abilities.  Players play head to head over seven games, playing baseball player cards out of their hand and deck, trying to score more runs than the other player in only six innings.

The designer suggests that the two players play a three game mini-series. Each player during the game take turns laying down one of the six cards in their hand, and “threatening” hits like singles, doubles or even home runs. If the other player cannot counter that action, then the hit takes place, and runners are moved around the bases.

At the end of six innings (when the cards run out), the visiting player has a chance to “save the day” if he or she is behind, by playing a card from their pinch hit pile or a random card off the top of the deck. This always creates tension in the game, especially if the score is tied and the home team is about to rally for a walk off win.

At the end of each game, the players totally up each of their cards’ “buy value” and then hop into the free agent market. There, six cards are displayed, which offers the players better players, more abilities, better buy values, and stronger hitting or pitching. The player take turns buying the free agents. Once purchased, the card goes right onto the deck to be used in the very next game, which adds some strategy considerations since the other player has to decide whether to counter the card now, or continue with his or her own deck building strategy.  Of course, purchasing free agents also lets you tighten your deck, since you must discard one of the just used player cards right out of the game for every card you buy. Looks like Fitzgerald was serious about limiting each deck to only fifteen cards! Once the buy phase is completed, the next game starts until the World Series is decided (usually by winning four out of seven games).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

There will be plenty of joy in Cardville after playing this game. I have introduced Baseball Highlights:2045 to gamers, even those who don’t find any joy in the game of baseball, and it has been a big hit. There is something about the quick games, the take that card play, and period artwork that combine to make it a great expression of the beautiful game of baseball.  Throw in the free agent pool, where there are so many decisions as to what to buy to fill out your deck, and you have a real winner with plenty of deep strategy as well as emotional experiences.

Without a doubt, Mike Fitzgerald hit a home run with Baseball Highlights:2045. If your game nights are getting bland, or you are looking for a great two player card game (or even four player card game if you and three friends play side by side with the winners taking on each other), leg out a double to your Friendly Local Game Store and pick up a copy of Baseball Highlights: 2045. Or hit that Kickstarter for a great way to introduce yourself to the game. At only $19, it is a….steal!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!!

— B.J.

 

 

 

Allons Marcher! At Cool Stuff Inc. Games South near Walt Disney World

Board Game Gumbo is back, after a great Mardi Gras holiday. (Doesn’t everyone get a week or two off around the start of Lent?) As faithful readers know, we like to “run the roads”, and when we do, we like to visit local game stores.

Back in 1971, the Walt Disney Company opened the fabulous Walt Disney World resort. Consisting of a theme park, and themed hotels, along with 43 square miles of Florida space to build ever more parks and hotels and golf courses and shopping and….and you get the drift. The resort has been the temporary home of many happy vacationers over the years, but I wanted to know if it had any board game stores close by.

First, I checked “on property.” I could not find any board game stores listed at the new Disney Springs shopping facility (which replaced the former Downtown Disney shopping center including my beloved Adventurer’s Club), and I did not see any game stores on any of my frequent trips there. Disney Springs has some interesting stores that we do not see in Louisiana, plus a thriving nightlife and restaurant scene, but apparently, nothing for board gamers.

But I had some free time during one of the last afternoons of our stay to “get off the property.”   With the family safely napping at our condo, I wandered out to one of the numerous Cool Stuff locations scattered around the area.

Many of you will be familiar with Cool Stuff from their ads on the Dice Tower podcast, where Eric Summerer says each week in a somewhat disguised voice, “Cool Stuff Inc — cool stuff in stock at Cool Stuff Inc.com”.  You may also know that CSI has physical brick-and-mortar stores in Florida, called “Cool Stuff Inc. Games.”   My visit was to the closest one geographically from Walt Disney World.

I went to the Cool Stuff Games store on Orange Blossom Trail, just a short 20 minute trip down a toll road from the Epcot resorts area. The store is easy to find in a large outdoor shopping strip mall (the home of most of the game stores that I have been to, sadly.)  There is only a small sign out on the highway, but there is also a large inviting sign up above the store.

Inside the store is a board gamer and CCG gamer’s Nirvana. The front part of the store is dedicated to numerous shelves filled with the latest hot games, plenty of old favorites, and even a few games that are hard to get. For instance, The Networks, one of the sold out games at GenCon 2016 from Gil Hova and Formal Ferret Games, was just back in print and Cool Stuff Inc. Games had three copies on the front shelf at a very competitive price (in fact, even cheaper than Amazon.)

On the right, there was a long and cleanly organized desk for purchasing games staffed by friendly gamers.  The focus in this area seems to be collectable card games, specifically Magic:The Gathering, but I heard the staff giving friendly advice to many of the people wandering around that area.  When the desk was slow, I watched as the staff came out from behind the long desk and interact with store patrons, offering advice on what game to get next or just talking about the hobbies.

On the far left was a calendar of events as well as a small but well stocked board game library. I would guess there were about 25-30 games on the shelves of the library. Most were classic hobby games but there were a few new games there, too. Just in front of the board game library was a long row of computer monitor and keyboard set ups. I was intrigued as to why these would be present until I remembered that CSI’s main warehouse is over at the Maitland, Florida store. At the Orange Blossom Trail location, gamers could do research on a game and find out if it is in stock at CSI — my understanding is that they could reserve it for you or even bring it over, although I did not verify this part.

The store part covered the first third of the store. The rest of the store was made up of numerous tables and chairs set up all the way to the back of the store (where the store also has clean restrooms open to the gaming public.)  In this section, I saw at least groups of gamers with board games set up and being played.  I also saw tons of Magic:The Gathering players battling it out on the tables, too.

I talked to one of the store staffers, and he said that Thursdays are very busy with board gamers as it is their weekly board game night. Gamers come from all over the area to play. On Saturdays, he said that the main focus has been collectible card games. I asked if Star Wars:Destiny was available, and he could only chuckled. “Sold out for weeks,” he admitted.

I found out that of the Cool Stuff Games stores, the one near Walt Disney World has by far the biggest play area. It was as larg or larger than any play area I have ever seen in a game store, and could easily accommodate any kind tournament set up, from CCG to Star Wars X-Wing to regular hobby board games.

I enjoyed my visit to Cool Stuff Inc. Games South. I found the place clean, well lighted, and inviting.  I liked the set up with retail and snacks in the front, and plenty of clean tables and chairs in the back. The place was busy and had good energy. The next time you visit Walt Disney World, if you are jonesing to get a good price on a good board game, or have some free time to play, I can definitely recommend paying a visit to Cool Stuff Games.

Until next time, Laissez les bons temps rouler!

–B.J.