August 2013 archive

My journey into game design

Cool Table gameI’ve only recently gotten into board games, at least in the grand scheme of things. It was only about three years ago, fresh out of college, that I discovered the whole huge world of board games. The first game I ever purchased and owned was Carcassonne. I was combing Amazon, looking for a birthday gift for the Boyfriend That Never Should Have Been. He was notoriously hard to shop for, but I remembered playing Ticket to Ride with his family, and I thought he might appreciate a weird copy of Monopoly or something.

Sifting through the “related products”, I came across Carcassonne. It was totally different from any other game I’d ever seen. I read everything about it that I could get my hands on. I learned about the Euro game “phenomenon”. I learned what a “meeple” was, and how a tile-laying game worked. Most importantly, I learned that there was a whole world of board games beyond Monopoly or more recent family games like Ticket to Ride.

Never one to half-ass things, I bought the Carcassonne Big Box. It cost an exorbitant amount of money – by far the most I had ever spent on a gift for somebody else. I waited in the mail for the game. 10 days later, it showed up in the mail. The Boyfriend That Never Should Have Been dumped me the day it arrived. I kept the game.

I didn’t actually play the game until perhaps three months later. My good friend – let’s call him Josh – had broken his jaw, and he couldn’t eat or do much of anything. He asked if I wanted to come over and run stuff through his juicer. I grabbed all the dubious produce in my fridge, along with Carcassonne, and walked over to his house. It was the beginning of an era.

Josh had invited his other friend, Mick, over. It sparked three straight months of hanging out every day, making juice and playing board games. We played Carcassonne and all the expansions several times over. I bought Fluxx and Zombie Fluxx. Josh bought Talisman. We even played a little Pathfinder – the thing that eventually broke up our friendship. I was – and I mean this totally literally – threatened with an actual, real-life axe.

Desperately in need of somebody to share my newfound hobby with, I took myself down to a gaming group I’d found online, Obscure Games. My first night there, I met my friend and eventual partner-in-game-design-crime, Stentor. It was about a year later that Stentor debuted a creation of his – a Monopoly mod that added dinosaurs. He called it “Dinosaur Hunter Monopoly”. I playtested it and was amazed. He’d turned Monopoly into a completely different game, beyond even the craziest of house rules. I came up with ideas for other games in the Dinosaur Hunter line. Stentor and I started working together on a “dinosaur mod pack” that people could buy to instantly double their collection of household games. Of course, now there are dozens of these, but we had no idea. We were excited just to create.

Eventually, Stentor and I branched out into unique designs. He did it first, with a super fun game called Who’s Your Heavenly Father? I started coming up with my own ideas – a game about stacking things! A game where the board shifts around! A game about exploring the moon! – and even designing them. I never really got past the idea stage. I had a few crappy prototypes and not much else.

Stentor and I founded Pittsburgh Game Designers to provide a better place for people to playtest their own creations. By that point, we’d met several other people who also designed games. We were part of the inaugural class of the Game Engine, an awesome design project/collective dreamed up by Connor Sites-Bowen. On a whim, I decided to submit my most heavily-themed game, Cool Table, to the Tabletop Deathmatch competition. At that point, I was working with three different games and not getting very far ahead with any of them. Each game was stalled in a different way.

Then came the Tabletop Deathmatch. I’m going to write about it, just not here – I penned a post for Games & Grub about the actual Deathmatch experience. You can find it here.

Oh, and check out this recap that Team Weasel wrote about their Deathmatch experience. It’s a great look at the contest!

Gen Con Highs and Lows

Gen Con Highs:

  • Getting Corey Young to sign my copy of Gravwell.
  • Buying way too many sets of dice even though I’m an RPG newbie.
  • Pitching Cool Table as part of the Tabletop Deathmatch.

Gen Con Low:

  • A guy wearing a shirt that said, “Will buy drinks for sex.” I have never seen such a literal embodiment of that guy

Gen Con Mediums:

  • Trains. I really wanted it to be better than it was.

[Insert requisite photos of all the things that other people also took pictures of here.]