Design Diary #2: A Tale of Two Conventions

It’s been a summer! If you haven’t seen me post in a bit, it’s because I was preparing for back-to-back design conventions (something I would not totally recommend). As I relax, wrapping up from the Stonemaier Game Design Day, getting over another cold, I wanted to share my experiences from both conventions.

Protospiel Chicago (9/15-17)

First, I’ll mention how difficult it is to get everything ready for a big game. Due to some non-board game related travel, I was down to the wire; printing, cutting, and preparing my latest iteration of Townies. In fact, despite planning to attend Protospiel Chicago from Friday to Sunday, I had so much to do, I ended up only attending Saturday afternoon.

If you’re not familiar, Protospiel is a type of board game design convention held all over America. Conventions can apply to use the name Protospiel, which acts as a way to advertise to nearby interested designers.

The Vibe: Protospiel Chicago was humble, but super fun. The event was held in a nearby suburb of Chicago on the second floor in a medium-sized conference room. Across the hall, there was some sort of youth acting event, and middle schoolers dressed like M&M’s were walking around. I’m sure they were equally weirded out by the adults playing unfinished cardboard prototypes. At Protospiel, with everyone being a designer, the atmosphere was laid-back, and it felt like a safe space to try new designs and fail.

I want to give a nod to the ample amount of water and healthy snacks that were available, as well as the lifesaving pizza delivered around dinnertime by Protospiel organizers (pizza which I devoured, despite being lactose intolerant). Ask anyone who’s spent time working a convention, and you’ll know how important taking care of your body is.

Two playtesters working through Act 1: Episode 1 of Townies’ 9 part story,

Playtesting: For playtesters, I formed up with a small group of three to four designers, and played each other’s prototypes until I left at around 9pm. My plan going into Protospiel was setting up my Townies prototype and playing the heck out of it. The goal was getting everything polished for the next event, Stonemaier Game Design day, the following weekend. This did not happen…which was okay. After a single playtest, I had so many helpful notes, great ideas, and a list of larger changes I wanted to make that it felt unnecessary to play Townies again at Protospiel. Despite putting a hold on continuing to playtest Townies, I had another smaller game with me that I played several times, making alterations between sessions.

One negative thing I noticed was that several designers set up their game on a table for the eight or nine hours I was there. Protospiel Chicago recommended that designers play other games as much their own. Now, it’s very possible that these people were playing other designer’s games the two days I did not attend. Equally possible, while their game was set up, they were testing elsewhere. This is all to say though, table space was limited, and it seemed difficult to find new players the day I was there.


Stonemaier Game Design Day (9/23)

The following weekend I drove down to St. Louis for the Stonemaier Game Design Day run by Jamey Stegmaier.  I registered for the event last April (where it sold out shortly after), and I treated it as the design goal for my entire summer. In April I thought I would have a polished beautiful prototype, but Protospiel Chicago ended up creating even more work, and the night before the event I was printing at FEDEX Kinkos, and quietly rewriting my game’s storybook while my friends played Concordia. No one said game design is painless!

The Vibe: First, let me say, Game Design Day is phenomenally run. The event is all about structure. Each attendant, (designer or not) plans their entire day ahead of them including meals. Each designer gets to playtest their game twice, and playtesters rank the games they play and provide helpful feedback.

Also, big shout out to the board game cafe Pieces, who co-hosted the event. They had fantastic food and service in a clean bright space.

Playtesting: First, I was surprised how excited people were about Townies during the event. With so many prototypes, I thought it would be buried, but I had several people tell me that they wished they could have tried it. With only two time slots for two players each, my audience was limited.

Moreover, Townies is getting to be a fun game. I have a ton of great notes to incorporate into my design, and most of the changes made after Protospiel were well received. I plan to write a lot more about the actual game development soon.

One caveat, the rating system used for ranking games during the event seemed a bit weird to me. Jamey gave out rating forms, and playtesters ranked games on a one to ten scale after they played them. Here’s an example of a few descriptions of rating numbers: “1- broken game–not much potential here”, “5- decent game, but it needs some work”, “10- one of the best games you’ve ever played.”

Jamey also uses these forms to gauge what games Stonemaier might be interested in publishing. As much as board gamers love rating things, I was more than happy with the feedback and the experience I got, and felt that the ratings were a little unnecessary. Rankings-wise, Townies was rated somewhere in the lower middle, with a median score of 7, or “a good game with the potential to be great” and a cumulative average of  6.75. I was more than happy with the ranking based on how the rule set and prototype are still fairly unpolished. Numbers wise, I’ll comment that the ranking system is also less accurate for two player games (in my case, a total of four playtesters), as compared to other games that may have had eight to fifteen playtesters. This is just a minor complaint to a great day. In fairness, I could also see how a designer or publisher might be interested in a high ranking.


So that’s the gist of it. For newer designers, I highly recommend getting your games playtested as much as possible. Townies is exponentially better than where it started even a few weeks ago. Most importantly, I should mention that I met a fantastic group of designers and playtesters at both events. I was blown away by several designs, and hope to see some of my new friends soon. As for Townies, I have some fantastic ideas where to take the game next, and I should have more written on the actual game mechanisms in the next few weeks.

So that’s my experience! Have you attended a Protospiel or Game Design day? Let me know in the comments, and please subscribe if you would like to see updates on current projects and recent articles.



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