If you’ve never been to a Protospiel event, you owe it to yourself to check one out. Whether you come as a game designer or playtester, it is a weekend jam-packed with great people, good games, and lots of fun. Last weekend was, as far as I know, the biggest such event, Protospiel-Madison. All told, 174 people attended. I was one of them, and so was Fairway. (Read his write-up here.) The following is a rundown of some of the games I played.
Atmospug by Nyles Breecher ^
I started the weekend off light with Atmospug by Nyles Breecher. Interestingly, Nyles won the contract for designing this game in a
contest on Boardgame Geek. It is a cardboard tie-in to the app Atmospug, the Cloud Jumping Dog by Gut Shot Games. In the game, players place cloud cards on their mat, trying to complete a path for their pug to get from the start location to his doghouse.
Each card has an arrow that shows where he will jump next. But it’s not just a matter of completing the route, you also have to fulfill certain objectives. Most of these involve having a certain number of a specific card in your route. To make things even more difficult, only a few of the cards are available for a player to choose each turn. Overall, Atmospug is a brain-burner in a cute, family friendly package.
Evil Medieval by Kevin Jones ^
Next up was Evil Medieval by Kevin Jones. It is a worker placement game where players are vying for power in a medieval setting by building up their population (cubes representing peasants, priests, knights, etc.) These are used in subsequent rounds as multipliers to various effects like gaining money or trading in for victory points. These effects are triggered by regular maple workers, but that’s where it gets interesting. Actions don’t occur immediately; rather, players jockey for position. An existing worker can be displaced by a new one for an ever increasing fee. Only after all workers have been placed are all the actions resolved.
The second big thing in the game is events. These can be extremely harsh. To mitigate their effects, a worker can be placed on the event space, which allows that player to decide which of three events gets triggered. We didn’t complete the game, but we could see that it is a delicate balance of placing your workers at the right time and place and only displacing others when absolutely necessary. It was a good time, just needing a little polish.
Now Boarding by Tim Fowers (demoed by Vicki Dickson) ^
I started off Saturday with a game sent in by Tim Fowers, designer of a game I really enjoy, Paperback, as well as a few others. Now Boarding was demoed for him by Vicki Dickson. This is a cooperative game where each player is a pilot for a national airline. Each plane can only go on its own color routes or black ones. Passengers appear randomly at different airports, and the pilots have to shuttle them from place to place. Airports with too many passengers waiting cause complaints. Get too many complaints and you lose the game.
To make things especially stressful, each round a timer is started, new passengers are revealed, and players have just 30 seconds to complete all their actions. Successful deliveries mean gaining money, which can be used to buy upgrades to make the planes go faster or carry more passengers. I was really bad at Now Boarding, but despite this, our team made it right down to the finale before succumbing to excessive complaints. This game is somewhat infuriating frantic fun.
Reckoners by Seth Van Orden ^
Seth Van Orden brought the game Reckoners. It’s based on a book series set in an alternate world where some people have acquired super powers. Unfortunately these epics, as they are called, are all evil. The non-powered player characters work together to defend city blocks from the epics that appear. Mechanically, the game consists of Yahtzee/King of Tokyo style dice rolling, then moving characters on the city blocks and applying the dice effects to fight the epics or their minions or remove threat cubes. After dice are resolved, new cubes are drawn for each area, and those with too many cause new epics to come out or existing epics to kill civilians. Players have to complete objectives to uncover the head epic’s weakness, at which point a boss battle ensues. It is a race for the players to finish objectives before too many citizens are killed.
Due to the size of the city and the unique combination of actions rolled each round, there can be no alpha gamer problem in this co-op. Players tended to pair up to brainstorm strategies, and most people were engaged throughout our play of the game. Our biggest issue was the boss battle was underwhelming, but Seth recognizes this as a problem. With a Kickstarter planned and a good IP, this one has the potential to really blow up.
Tornado Chasers by Lucas Gerlach ^
Tornado Chasers by Lucas Gerlach was designed to fit in an Altoids tin for another BGG contest. A surprising amount of game was packed into this tiny space. As the name implies, the players are chasing tornados, trying to capture sightings or have the tornados hit their probes. They use action points to move their vehicles along the roads, deploy cameras or probes, or manipulate dice. These dice are situated on the four sides of the five by five tile play area. If a target number appears on both sides of the same row and column, a twister appears at the intersection. Points are scored for observing the tornado but lost for getting hit by it. Every round the players choose an upgrade like additional cameras, the 4×4 truck, or the probe.
While not without flaws, this one has a lot of potential.
Double Talk by Alex Hinners ^
On Saturday night, after being kicked out of the main convention at midnight, a few of us went to the hotel lobby and took a look at Alex Hinners’s mini-game, Double Talk. It’s a quick four-player game of deduction and bluffing that uses the face cards and aces of a standard deck of cards. In the true spirit of Protospiel, we brainstormed and tried out various versions of Alex’s original game. What we settled on is as follows. Deal five cards in an X shape (like the five pips on a die.) Each player chooses two of the three cards in front of them, the center card and the two on the side of the square facing them, looks at them and puts them back in place. Then they say what the cards are, but the twist is they have to tell the truth about one and lie about the other. The other players can briefly interrogate the active player, trying to get them to slip up and reveal their lie. After all players have done this, everyone writes down their guess of the five cards. They are flipped over one by one, and players score one point if a card is somewhere in the five and an additional point if it is in the right place.
After playing the game several times, tweaking as we went, we found a version that made a very legitimate mini-game.
The Cube Game by Jeremy Weaver and Nate Fuge ^
Saving the best for last, I played my favorite game of the weekend on Sunday. Jeremy Weaver and Nate Fuge, a design duo from Green Bay, WI, brought “The Cube Game.” As you might guess from the title, the game is light on theme. It was created because the designers challenged themselves to make a game mechanics-first rather than theme-first. And as far as mechanics go, it dramatically succeeded. Players start with a pyramid of cards in three rows, input, processing, and output. In the center, between the two players’ cards, are the product cards that the players are competing to claim to earn victory points. On a turn, the player moves a pawn up their pyramid, optionally performing the action associated with each card they land on. Input cards focus on acquiring resource cubes. Processing cards have ways of earning money or converting cubes. Output actions give opportunities to sell cubes or affect the center row cards. Finally, the pawn is moved to a product card where cubes can be dropped off into required slots. The player who completes a card’s requirements gains that card and the associated victory points. Over the course of the game, players add cards to expand their pyramid, widening upward until it can contain as many as 12 (I think) cards.
The six colors of resource cubes provide a mini economy. In between each of the three big phases of the game the market is reset with the most popular color moving up to be most expensive and vice versa. This adds an interesting dynamic as players can try to buy low in one phase and sell high in the next. There are many other facets to the strategy in this game. One has to choose upgrades wisely then place them in the best place within their production cycle. Then, navigating through the cards to trigger optimal actions is important. And finally, players have to choose wisely when and where they place their cubes to try to earn points. While there is little player interaction, the downtime is useful because players can plan out their turn while the opponent goes. I look forward to the further development of this one.
Almost all of the games shown at Protospiel are actively being worked on. As a player, it’s great to see the same games evolve over the years, especially when they end up being published. As a designer, the feedback you get is invaluable. In either case, I wholeheartedly suggest that you attend a Protospiel near you.