Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Let me answer this way: have you seen my name on a Lookout Games box yet?
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Monday, October 31, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Thursday morning after the traditional German breakfast of coffee with fresh rolls from the corner bakery, I marched around the convention halls to get an overview of the different booths, which were still being hurriedly set up (and many games were just arriving or on their way). Sheets of cardboard were being punched and games were being set up on tables, while others were stacking boxes and marking prices. When the crowds were allowed in at 10:00, however, all eyes focused on the potential customers and the marathon demoing sessions began.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Friday, October 14, 2011
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Preparing the Canvas
October is a magic month for those in the board game scene. The SPIEL convention has become such a big event for designers and publishers—as well as a sort of pilgrimage for gamers—that the Mecca of board gaming conventions is referred to simply by its location: Essen. But there is another meeting in Germany that does not receive as much coverage outside the Fatherland. It’s the Essen before Essen—the annual Game Designer’s Convention that shows a glimpse into the future of German board gaming. And like Essen, it has become so big that it, too, is referred to only by the name of the city hosting the event: Göttingen.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
For anyone following international gaming trends the past couple of years, it may come as no surprise that there is a thriving gaming--and game design culture--in Finland. There are game publishers bringing their releases to Essen, and Finnish game designers getting their work published in other countries, including Germany.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Saturday, September 3, 2011
...waiting in line or in traffic...
...waiting for a special date...
...or waiting for the next turn in a boardgame...
I wrote about my personal battle with impatience in my newest article of my Postcards From Berlin series on Opinionated Gamers.
No one hates waiting more than a game designer...
Thursday, September 1, 2011
On my recent trip to the U.S., however, I found myself in the car with one of my sons, speeding around the twisting roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains with no CD's to choose from. I wanted to listen to some music, but I was at the mercy of FM Radio, and as I hit the "search" button repeatedly, every station turned up a country ditty, accompanied by the familiar twangy vocals and steel guitars. My 4-year -old German-born son asked, "Are they yodeling?"
Friday, August 26, 2011
My friend, Bernd Eisenstein, however, thought that the system might work with a conflict-oriented game he was working on, and soon it was the backbone of yet another game set in his favorite theme: antiquity. It also featured another of Bernd's favorite game elements: players starting from different positions with civilizations that have varying special powers (as in his first self-published title, Peloponnes).
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Saturday, August 20, 2011
I met Peer Sylvester in 2005 and travelled to my first Game Designer's Convention in Göttingen with him that year. Since then, we've both had our games published, and I've had the pleasure to playtest many of his ideas. One of them, Singapore, is scheduled for release in Essen this October. Although he brought the prototype once to the Spielwiese cafe when I was there, that night we happened to be playing on separate tables and I did not have the opportunity to play it. Pity! The prototype looked interesting, however, and the rules sound even more intriguing. I'm looking forward to playing it soon.
In the meantime, Peer has posted a Designer Diary about the making of the game on Boardgame Geek News, and editor W. Eric Martin has even added a summary of the gameplay.
Photo of the box cover courtesy White Goblin Games.
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Monday, August 8, 2011
Thursday, August 4, 2011
|The "Pool of Dreams" carved out of the Iowa corn fields.|
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Game designers often forget this lesson from the storytellers of other disciplines. In an age when the board game market is saturated with "engine building" mechanisms, many suffer from designers who wish to start their game play from the very beginning. While I can see the appeal of building something out of nothing during the course of the game, the result is often a very long, tedious prelude that drains the game of excitement long before things start getting interesting.
Monday, July 25, 2011
It is a stark contrast between the European metropolis and the Midwestern small town; between the urban life I now live and the rural roots I left behind, buried deep in the black Iowa soil. But I found myself returning home, flying alone, my seat locked in an upright position as I gazed out onto the square fields below, a view that could easily have been a game board.
I was on my way to the town where my father had grown up, a small town that once seemed so perfect it was proof that Andy Griffith’s Mayberry was not so mythic after all. Keystone sprang up along the railroad in the late 1800s, before the invention of the automobile. Like most small towns in the U.S., it thrived well into the second half of the 20th century, before the decline of the family farm and before the arrival of the interstate bypasses, strip malls and suburban shopping centers that effectively destroyed Main Streets across the country.
Monday, July 11, 2011
I’m sure the same thing happens regularly for Tim Walsh, but the 20-year veteran of the toy and game industry doesn’t shy away from that label. Born on Christmas Day, 1964 – the ultimate toy-giving holiday – he has proudly worn the badge “kid at heart” well into adulthood.
Friday, July 8, 2011
As with my favorite German board games, I always have much more that I would like to do in Berlin than is possible with my allotted actions and resources. Because of the capitol’s divided history, there were duplicates of everything in the east and west, and even now the city has scores of museums, no fewer than three opera houses, numerous concert halls, and plenty of alternative venues showing the cabarets and political satires for which it is famous. And though it’s changing, Berlin is still probably the most inexpensive capitol in the western world to experience all of these cultural events. If only I could find the time. I finally stopped buying Tip, one of the city’s best biweekly cultural magazines, which listed absolutely everything that was going on in Berlin each day, because it was simply too depressing to constantly read about all the things I was missing.Tip has since tried to narrow the choices for its increasingly busy readership, however, by running a series called “The 14 best things to do in the next two weeks.” One of its recommendations was an unassuming board gaming café in the heart of East Berlin’s new alternative scene.
On sunny days, customers can take the games outside.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Boardgamenews.com writer Valerie Putman introduced me to this component-less, two-player abstract in her column several years ago. Not only do I play it whenever I have a few minutes and there are no boardgames in eyeshot, but I've also incorporated the game into my Annual After Essen Parties, holding a tournament each year. Following are the rules:
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Thursday, June 23, 2011
There are many different motivations for making games. Of course, the goal is usually to make a game that appeals to as many people as possible and then get it published so that those people have the opportunity to play it. For me, however, sometimes a game design's sole purpose is simply to be a unique and personal gift for a good friend. And other times, I want to design a game that would be fun for my friends and family and I to play, no matter how unmarketable it may be. Street Basketball was one of those designs.
Monday, June 6, 2011
At a break in the traffic, I strolled to one of those crossings, lost in my thoughts as the city air turned cool in the early evening. After making it across one track, however, I was jolted out of my daydream by the sight of a streetcar coming towards me from the opposite direction on the other track. I saw it in plenty of time to stop and wait, however, because of the way the path across the island was designed: the civil engineers did not simply pave a straight path across, but, instead, made it jog a few meters so that the pedestrian would be forced to turn in the direction of the oncoming street car, no matter which way he would cross. There was no need for me to even turn my head to make sure the way was clear, and metal fences also prevented teenage cyclists from darting across carelessly while plugged into their iPods.
It may seem funny, but I was inspired by the thought that went into such a simple, utilitarian design. And I was impressed that--although it was purely functional and not at all an aesthetic work--it's design was successful in actually reducing human error and accidents. I began to ponder other areas of design in which the functional aspect can be so well thought-out that it limits human error, and, naturally, I thought of boardgame design as well.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
For over a decade, I've enjoyed watching improvisational comedy both live and on television. There was a time, in fact, when I was so addicted that I requested my parents send me videotaped episodes of Who's Line is it, Anyway? from the U.S. I took notes on the different improv games and situations, and soon hosted improv parties with my friends and youth group in Berlin. There was, of course, the occasional over- or under-acting among the amateurs I assembled, but I was always astounded by the creativity and humor that almost always emerged from each skit. Rarely did anything fall completely flat, and we often laughed so much, we were literally gasping for air.
I have often thought about how one could turn one of these improv games into a successful party board game and can happily report that a new game – Freeze, released at the Spiel 2010 convention – has done just that. Fellow Berlin designer Andrea Meyer has teamed up with Hans-Peter Stoll – himself an improv actor in an amateur theater group – to create what will arguably be the game most likely to draw a crowd in Essen this year.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
I already wrote about my experiences in filming a segment on game design for the ARTE program X:enius (see Part I, Part II, and Part II on this blog). The show was aired this week, and will only be online until next week. Furthermore, it is unfortunately blocked to viewers from the U.S. Below is a brief description of the final show, which lasted 26 minutes:
“Warum wir spielen, und was wir dadurch lernen (Why we play and what we learn from it)”
The program opens with the moderators, Dörthe und Pierre playing a large-scale game of Scotland Yard in the streets of Berlin with the help of an iPhone App. They discuss the enormity of the computer game market which transitions to a segment on South Korea, where professional gamers, earning 6-figure salaries, compete in the computer game Starcraft live, in front of 120,000 fans.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
In Korea werden die Computerspiel-Wettkämpfe der Gaming-Liga bereits in großen Stadien vor gut 100.000 Zuschauern abgehalten. Aber warum spielen wir und was lernen wir dadurch? Und was macht ein gutes Spiel aus? Dörthe Eickelberg und Pierre Girard erfahren von einem Spieleentwickler, wie Spiele konzipiert werden und dürfen dabei exklusiv einen bisher noch geheimen Prototypen testen.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
See Games in Galleries for news of the first presentation of the game.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
There were already “parking reserved” signs on the street in front of the Spielwiese early that week. These are usually reserved for moving trucks, and dreaded by most Berliners, as they take up valuable spaces and it’s not always easy to remember the dates scribbled on them. When the day usually arrives, in fact, the first order of business is for the police and towing service to remove the many cars that are still parked there, in order for the moving trucks to drive in. Bernd and I were even towed once during a game night there.
As far as I know, no cars were forcibly removed this time, and instead of moving trucks, a large van with the X:enius logo drove in and parked outside, as show moderators Dörthe Eikelberg und Pierre Girard popped out. Fredérique and the moderators’ camera/lighting/makeup team were there, too, ready to put the finishing touches on their show’s segment about the German boardgame scene and how a game idea is developed, published and entered into this competitive market. The Spielwiese is a good picture of how crowded that market is: the walls are crammed full of game boxes of every size and shape, and anyone unfamiliar with the popularity of the hobby here is immediately taken aback by the sight. The moderators and team were no different, amazed by the height and breadth of it all. They began by interviewing Michael, at home behind his coffee bar. They asked him typical questions about the gaming hobby and the concept of his gaming cafe/store/rental service. Meanwhile, Fredérique asked me to set my game up in another corner–one in which they had not yet filmed. Apparently, they were trying to record each scene or interview in a different corner of the room in order to change up everything a bit.
Then the woman in charge of make-up came over to me with a tiny white tube. “Do you mind if I put a little bit of this cream on your nose and forehead to take some of the shine away?” she asked politely. She demonstrated on her hand how it would turn the “glossy” into a “matte” finish, then added, “Most men in particular feel uncomfortable if I come at them with powder, but this cream works just as well.”
During a break in the shooting, I joked with Fredérique that it was a good thing the shooting hadn’t been scheduled for two days earlier. During that time, this whole district of the city had been taken over by left-wing protestors, sometimes instigating violent clashes with police in riot gear. The reason: nine squatters were being forcibly evicted from a run-down six-storey apartment building so that the owner of the building could finally renovate it and charge rent for the place. The event attracted just about anyone who was anti-establishment (and there are quite a few of those in Berlin), or any other person who fantasized about throwing a rock at the police or setting an Audi on fire. Thankfully, everything was in order again, just in time for the filming, although it would have made for an interesting backdrop.
Then it came time to play the prototype of Würfelburg with Dörthe und Pierre, both of whom were very enthusiastic. Without the benefit of practice–or any experience with flicking games, for that matter–Dörthe unfortunately used too much strength, and the dice flew off of the table each time.
After a couple of brief rounds, we sat down around the table and they asked questions about how a designer gets games like Würfelburg published. After the interview finished, they continued to ask questions, demonstrating that theirs was more than a “professional” curiosity. Looking at their shows online, I think I would enjoy having their adventurous jobs, learning about so many different things and participating in such a variety of activities.
This adventure into boardgame development was over, however, and they moved outside to shoot a couple of closing scenes. The Game-umentory should appear on TV and online in a couple months, Fredérique assured me.
Until then, "Cut!"
Monday, February 14, 2011
See here for Part I in this series.
Then one morning, the doorbell rang and writer/producer Fredérique Veith strolled in with her cameraman and another who did the sound & lighting. They had just a few pieces of equipment to carry, and set up quickly. All were very friendly, and before long, we were shooting in my living room.
It was fun to be able to hit the main points of the design process, recording each one in front of the camera, interjecting brief interviews on subjects such as the inspiration behind a game idea and the different elements that make up a good game. They filmed me paging through one of my son’s books on medieval castles, for example, as I pondered the design of Würfelburg. I also showed them a reconstructed “first prototype” that I made with my sons, using their wooden blocks and a standard square game box (the game was always meant to use both sides of the game box, the way many Zoch games do).
Many of the shots were quite repetitive, as they wanted multiple camera angles for each scene. At one point, for example, I was instructed to enter the room, move my hand along the games stacked in the bookshelf, pull one out to take a closer look, slip it back into place, pull out another one, slip it back, repeat again and again and again. Another time, they filmed me opening one of the drawers of wooden bits I keep for prototypes, searching through with my hands, then closing it again. Then I opened another, and another, until I came to the dice drawer, where I reached in to grab the correct colors of dice I needed. I supposed that there would be quite a few close-ups of my hands in the finished production.
They filmed me creating the graphics for the prototype on my laptop, but carefully avoided getting a shot of the obvious lighted brand symbol on the back of my computer. The camera then captured the action of graphics being printed out onto sticky-back paper and being laminated. Finally, it zoomed in on my scissors, as I cut out the glossy graphics and carefully peeled off the backs, sticking them to the dice and the cardboard. I could only imagine what kind of theme music they would use when this was all spliced together.
Towards the end, I brought out the finished prototype to demonstrate my first play-tests with it. Again, it was repetitive, as I flicked one die after the other. “Flick another one to exactly the same place,” I was often told. “If the game were that easy, I wouldn’t have designed it!” I wanted to say.
One angle Fredérique wanted to pursue was my background in architecture, and I dusted off my portfolio to show some of my work in that area. My design process with games is actually very similar to what it was with architecture. Back then, I would design through building models—sometimes using all sorts of materials, even wire and plaster. As a game designer, I prefer to design through prototyping, “building” many different versions until I finally feel comfortable taking it to my group for play-testing. Some designers prefer to have the game all worked out in their head, but I think better while I’m working with my hands and working on visual elements.
A few hours after the crew arrived, they were packed and out the door again. We met later that evening in the Spielwiese to film the most critical part of the design process: the play-testing session. Designer Bernd Eisenstein along with regular play-testers Rolf and Alfred were there. Jerome, a new designer to our group, who recently moved to Berlin from Canada, also joined us. Most of them were already familiar with my game, and we flicked dice under the bright lights as the camera moved about, capturing every angle imaginable. After filming a few minutes of the start, we moved the victory point markers ahead to jump to the end of the game. Then my play-testers were asked to give their impressions. Fredérique was excited to have Jerome there, as he came from Quebec and could answer in French, as X:enius is produced in two languages. Accordingly, I made an official request for a deep French voice for my overdub.
As I took a break to chat with Michael, they had the guys play some other games like Chess in front of the camera. That was probably the first time I’d ever seen that game come out in the Spielwiese!
The next and final step in the “Game-umentory” was on the following week, when the two moderators of the show came to the Spielwiese to interview owner Michael Schmitt, have a go with my prototype, and ask some more questions.
To be continued…