The midwest is getting chock-full of Protospiel events; Michigan, Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago, and the most recent I attended–Protospiel Minnesota. I traveled to frigid Minneapolis in January for another great weekend of gaming. And a busy weekend it was! From Thursday night to Sunday evening I played 15 games plus my own game twice. They ranged from ideas hatched in the last 24-hours to nicely produced prototypes and even an expansion to a published game. There was also a wide variety of themes, audiences, and play weights. Rather than sort games in the order I played them, for this article I have roughly ordered them by their “weight” from light family games to more intense strategy games. This post, part one of two, handles the lighter half, seven great prototypes from Protospiel Minnesota.
by Anrias Games (Sara Barnaby, Dave Burgwald, Lacey Johnson)
Definitely the easiest game of the weekend, 7blox up is geared toward young children, playable by ages four and up. Players take turns drawing a card and following its instructions to add a block to their tower. The instructions usually include a color and a position, for example, green next to blue. If you’re able to fulfill the instruction, you add the block. If not, play continues with the next player. The first to get seven blocks in their structure wins.
The game is purely random, no strategy involved, but it successfully fulfills its objective of teaching colors and positional relationships in a fun way. It is also quick, which is important given the young audience and their (lack of) attention span. I definitely recommend 7blox up as a replacement for Candyland as it is superior in both entertainment and educational value.
by Marcus Ross (Water Bear Games)
A competitive word game with some twists, Slapdash! takes stodgy word-building and turns it into a frantic good time. Each player is dealt two consonant cards, and a number of vowel cards are dealt to the center. These form the basis for building words. You can use all the letters except those in front of yourself. A timer is started, and players scramble to write a word on their dry erase boards. Here come the twists. First, starting with the quickest person, players take the cards of the letters they’ve used in their words, so you either have to be fast or use unusual letters to score. What’s more, for your play to be valid you have to follow a couple of offbeat rules that change each round. For example, you might have to draw something like flames or a cat or write the word in a special way, doubling each letter or making them upside down. This combination of constraints plus the time pressure makes for surprisingly stressful play, but in a good way. It also puts mere mortals on a more equal footing with Scrabble gods. The prototype we played already looks great, and Slapdash! is a lot of fun. I look forward to seeing it published or Kickstarted.
Toss Your Cookies ^
by David Sheppard (Presented by Ben Pierro)
A simple game of draw one, play one, in Toss Your Cookies, players are trying to get the most cookie cards in front of themselves at the end of the game. Cards can either be played face-up to activate their special power or hidden face-down. The powers are typical things like move cards, steal cards, and return from the discard pile. The trick of the game is that if two of the same cookie ever occur in a player’s area, both are discarded. The game is small, light, and fast. In the spirit of Protospiel, we played with several rule variations. While not exceptionally innovative, Toss Your Cookies fits its niche nicely. (Also see Fairway’s mini review for more.)
Chocolate Box Challenges ^
by Brett Myers
Continuing the food theme, a fairly early prototype by Brett Myers, Chocolate Box Challenges is a game of collecting chocolates as they go by on an imaginary conveyor belt. The primary mechanism is based on the Ultimatum Game economic/psychological experiment. The active player divides the current batch of chocolates and offers some to the opponent who can accept the arrangement, add a chocolate and re-offer, or send the lot to the box. When the box is full, players score points based on their numbers and types of chocolates in a way similar to Sushi Go or Ra. An interesting twist is that the chocolate tiles are double-sided. For the most part you see the shape and color (dark, milk, or white chocolate) but not the filling. This allows for some fun bluffing and double-dealing.
After playing, Brett and I talked about ways to simplify a bit so the gameplay better matches the light theme. This will be one to watch as it develops further.
Feline Frenzy ^
by Rod Currie
Kitties have to eat too. In Feline Frenzy, players try to direct their cats to catch mice while avoiding the dreaded, overly affectionate twin girls and the sleeping dogs. To accomplish this, players have movement cards with a little diagram. By playing them, they control a mouse or girl. Then their cat moves up to two spaces. The first to collect three mice is the winner.
The heart of the game is interactions between the various characters. Cats run away from the girls. Girls run away from the mice. Mice bump into each other and get redirected. When these collisions happen, players get to play extra cards to determine where the affected characters move. With a little refinement this game will be a fun light filler.
Dressed to the Nines ^
by Kevin L. Jones
The next game up has a quirky theme. Dressed to the Nines is a dice and card game of putting on your clothes for high society. That being said, the theme is really incidental to gameplay. Players each have five 10-side dice and nine cards. Everyone rolls and arranges their dice in a line from high to low. Then they simultaneously choose a card to play. These manipulate the value or order of the dice. Your goal is to have the highest die value in each position. That player or players scores points for each opponent with a lower value, so in a four-player game you can score zero to three points for each of the five dice. The game ends when a certain total point value is reached.
Dressed to the Nines did a good job of combining random chance with strategic manipulation options. In fact, the options may be too abundant, as the game could suffer from lags as people calculate the optimal way to affect the dice. Toward that end, our group of playtesters came up with some ways to simplify the decision making process. It will be interesting to see where Kevin takes the game from here.
Color Cavern ^
by Andrew Voigt
Back to a more traditional theme, Andrew Voigt’s Color Cavern has players exploring a labyrinth, fighting monsters, and collecting treasures. There were two novel aspects to this game. The dungeon is formed of tiles that depend upon line of sight to remain in play. As characters are moved around the map, corridors appear and disappear. The other twist is that each treasure card can be used in one of three ways: to improve the character’s fighting ability, as a simple gem for point scoring, or as a one-time use spell effect. The decision has to be made when the treasure is first acquired.
As an early prototype, Color Cavern had some rough spots. We discussed many options and even tried a few tweaks immediately. With further development this one has potential. Follow along with Andrew on twitter @gamestothetable, Facebook, and his blog with The Polaris Collective.
In Conclusion ^
These were the most casual games I played at Protospiel Minnesota. All were unique and interesting in their own way. Check back soon for the next installment of Played@ where I lay out the heavier games from the weekend in Minneapolis.