Board games that tell stories

You can follow me on Twitter at @trzewik I update this blog every Wednesday. This is BGG copy of my blog BoardgamesThatTellStories.com

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French revolution

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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I remember 2007 and our first Essen. We went to the Spiel with Neuroshima Hex and our pitch was 'hybrid game'. It was a time of two worlds colliding. On one hand, we had all those awesome American games, with a great theme, perfect artwork, and rules that were so-so. FFG was coming up with titles like Doom, Descent, Warcraft and it was the Ameritrash arm of the hobby.

On the other hand, 2007 is a year of Agricola, guys like Rosenberg or Feld were invading North America and making a very interesting point - there are geeks who like farming and point-salading.

Portal Games as a super small publisher back then was trying to convince everybody that the future is in the hybrid games. Super cool theme combined with solid rules. Neuroshima Hex had an Ameritrash theme, but euroish rules. Two years later we did Stronghold, which was on one hand pure euro with cubes, but at the same time one of the most thematic fantasy games ever. The same with Robinson Crusoe, hybrid again, euro rules, ameri theme.

There were more and more such games, designers were blurring the border between Ameritrash and Eurogames. Of course, we had Stefan Feld defending euro camp, of course, we had pure Ameri too, but more and more games were hybrid.

And then, French hit and man, they hit strong. Narration driven Dixit, story-driven Time Stories, and Sherlock Holmes changed the way we play today and changed what we are looking for in the games now.

I like to think of myself as a forerunner of this trend with Robinson Crusoe released in 2012 and the whole Board Games That Tell Stories concept, but of course, this is not true. There were more and more games focused on a good story, there were more and more gamers looking for that in games and then it just exploded. The tremendous success of Time Stories and the new edition of Sherlock Holmes, both games created in France were a true starting point of the revolution.

In 2017 among the most popular and most discussed games we had Gloomhaven and 7th Continent, both games with super strong narration. New edition of Robinson Crusoe was selling like crazy for the whole year, Sherlock Holmes was in Top 10 best selling games in America. For 2018 there are more story driven games announced, with my very own Detective: modern crime board game being one of them.

It's a great time for me. Portal Games was founded in 1999 as a company that was releasing Role Playing Games. Telling stories was always in our DNA. For years we were creating super thematic euro games, with Stronghold and Robinson Crusoe being the best examples. Now we can move further and focus even stronger on telling stories in our games.

I don't know what's next. I don't know how the industry and games will look like in 10 years. But the time we have now, the French revolution, the story-driven era is pretty awesome.

Bring me that horizon! I am ready to tell some good stories!
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Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:01 pm
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Robinson Crusoe contest - my 5 cents on your ideas and winner announced!

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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A few months ago we started the contest for the fan-created scenario. Since its release in 2012, Robinson Crusoe was lucky to have a ton of fan-created content. We encouraged players posting template files to make it easier for fans to build a scenario that looks just like the original one. We hoped for your creativity and man, we were not failed. There are so many amazing ideas on BGG.

Last year Portal Games released a new edition of Robinson Crusoe and since then we increased promotion of the game. One of the ideas we had was to give shout out to all creative fans of the game.

Hence, the contest.

***

We received 12 entries. To be honest, we expected some poor ideas and good ones, we knew that it is going to be a crazy mix of different missions, some of which are poor and bad, some average, and we hoped that among them we will find the pearl, the one that will surprise us.

We were wrong. We were so wrong.

First of all, from all missions, there was no single one that I'd call poor. When I was reading them, from the very beginning I decided to give them school-like grades. In Poland, we have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (being the best), which I assume translates into F, E, D, C, B, and A in U.S.

After I read all scenarios, and then checked the grades I gave it turned out that the lowest grade I gave was 3+ which translates into D+, which is above average, it is average but with +.

I liked every single one. Every entry was good. That was an awesome feeling.

And that's just beginning. Because in the search for the pearl I also faced unexpected - there were 4 (four!) missions with A grade. The entries were phenomenal. I read it with a smile on my face and I felt amazing - I was reading a fascinating content to my very own creation. That was so cool.

I somehow felt also so of these people who sent in their scenarios. They put their ideas on the paper, they tested them and then sent to me. It was probably a pretty big deal to send something you created to the author of the game and see what he will say. Each of the creators should be proud. Each of the scenarios was interesting.

Finally, I also felt amazing, because I knew we have a great content to publish and offer to the fans of Robinson Crusoe. Each of these missions probably needed some additional work and polishing but overall, we got a pack of great stuff for Robinson Crusoe fans.

Let me talk about the entries.

***

Gentelmen o'fortune was the first one we received for the contest. It introduces a very interesting concept of players having two ways to win scenario. They know pirates are coming toward the island and during the game, depending on how they feel about it they can either prepare and fight pirates and then win or rather build a raft and escape from the Island without any combat! Quite an interesting idea and for players important moment to make decision what to do. Fight or run? The scenario was sent by a fan from Lithuania and his name was Ignatius!

Then we received Flying Machine scenario from Hubert, Polish fan of the game. It is a full blown steam punk take on the Robinson. Crazy scientist crashes on the Island and players will have to help him fix the flying machine, they will have to find fuel on the island and on top of that, take care of the scientist - like Jenny, crazy scientist is Non-Player Character that you must save. Only he knows how to fly! Super thematic mission and steampunk, science - that's very much in the spirit of Julius Verne!

And then there was a Naval Battle mission. OMG, I loved that story. Players were taking part in the naval battle, the ship is hit very strong and the crew lands on the Island to fix the mast, and repair some damage. The problem, the battle continues and each time players draw [book] event, there is bombardment on the Island and random tile gets some serious damage. You don't want to have your shelter on that tile! Once again, super thematic mission, with cannon balls flying all over the place when you repair the mast.

Then we received scenario from Poland again, from Sebastian. The mission is called Voodoo Island and has a very dark and disturbing theme. In this mission, players were on the ship that transports slaves. During the travel imprisoned shaman cast a dark spell. The ship runs aground, players are affected by dark magic and slaves escape. Players must get rid of the spell and catch slaves. The theme is very dark. As with the first entry, this one also has two different way to end. When players find shaman, they will have to make decision to imprison him or kill and depending on the choice, different things will happen and rules change. Once again, interesting choice for players.

And then the idea from Greece, from Themis. This was a huge twist on the theme. The scenario is called Time Travel and it takes place in the modern times. At some point, players were bit by a snake. To heal they need the antidote, but the plants they need extinct many many years before. To survive, they must travel in time and land on the island full of ancient beasts and monsters. Uneven rounds are in the past, even rounds are in modern times, you jump here and there trying to survive. Extraordinary concept.

And then once again an idea from Poland, this time from Mariusz. He sent 2 scenarios. The first one was for playing with kids. It is called Adventures in Neverland and is - obviously - inspired by Peter Pan story. This family-oriented scenario let players fight Captain Hook, feed TikTak gator and do all things inspired by the book. It's filled with theme and kids who know the story will be in heaven. I loved the concept and as I believe Robinson can be a tremendeus family game to play with kids, I was so happy to see such a mission.

The other one sent by Mariusz was much different. It is called Us vs Them and it is the confrontational scenario. Fans for years asked if we can do the scenario that changes co-op Robinson into something else. Mariusz did it. He just did it - the mission works smooth, it divides players into two teams and let them score points for different achievements. A very unique and interesting approach to the Robinson Crusoe engine. Reading it was a treat.


Next mission is a take on horror in the Robinson Crusoe. Created by Norbert, the fan of Robinson from Poland. Players wake up in the middle of the jungle, don't remember much and must reach beach and escape. Each [totem] icon on the tiles is another dreadfull discovery and the morale in this mission goes really low. It's pretty hard mission, as you could expect from the theme.

And then Tempest came. Inspired by Shakespeare's play mission is a real treat for fans of literature. Players are trapped on the Island and have to prove Prospero they deserve to leave the island. They must build their inventions, they must use their abilities, they must gather Determination tokens and use them when they'll face Prospero. We have Kalibana trying to distract players, we have a good Ariel trying to help them. Great novel meets great play. What can I say! Amazing.

Next one was super simple and that was also very interesting. In The Curse of Mano-tiki players must gather gifts for angry gods of the mysterious island. There are four altars of four gods and each god demands different gifts. Trying to gather and collect all that stuff is quite the challenge although the basic rules of the mission are super simple and clear. Good job from Kamil.

And then we received scenario idea from Wojtek. It was called In the search of prisoners. The story starts quite similar like the Voodoo one. Players are on the ship that transport prisoners. The ship has a problem, and suddenly the prisoners escape. Players must go to the island, find them and bring back to the ship! Well, and here something interesting happens and I hope to meet Wojtek at one convention and talk with him about one tiny thing - how the hell he managed to get into my head and 'steal' one of my super secret ideas for The Lost City of Z!

On a more serious note, Wojtek came up with the same idea, I used in The Lost City of Z - into Hunting deck he shuffled prisoner cards that you look for (in City of Z there are crazy cultists shuffled in). This one idea changes the whole game dramatically and is absolutely awesome. I don't want to talk too much about it now, to not spoil too much of the City of Z, so... Wojtek, awesome job. And we need to talk!

***

And the winners?

After long long hours of debate and considering all things like theme, rules, uniqueness, I decided to give the first award to Time Travel mission. Themis from Greece is a winner and his mission will be officially printed and gifted to players with our Robinson Crusoe Event Kit. I cannot wait for you to play it!

I also give 3 additional awards. In the search for prisoners from Wojtek for its brilliant idea with prisoners shuffled into hunting deck, Us vs Them for achieving impossible and changing Robinson into competitive game and Adventures in the Neverland for showing that Robinson can be an amazing family game (Us vs Them and Adventures in the Neverland were designed by Mariusz).

Time Travel will be officially printed and offered in the Event Kit. Themis will receive a pack of prizes very soon. Wojtek and Mariusz will receive box with prizes as well. We will discuss with them additional testing and consider publishing these missions too. All other participants will receive box with smaller prizes too. We appreciate your talent, ideas and we want to award everybody.

We will contact winners through email.
Thank you. You cannot imagine how amazing it was to run this contest. It was a real treat. Thank you.
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Fri Jan 12, 2018 10:38 am
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From Heaven through Hell to Purgatory

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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In the previous blog post, I wrote about my perception of last year and how I will recall 2017 from the point of board games industry. There was one word - Kickstarter. The platform and its releases got super strong this past year, and Gloomhaven reaching #1 spot in BGG ranking was a great summary of the whole great year.

Today I'd like to tell you about my personal perception of 2017 and my company - Portal Games. It was the most insane year in the history of the company and the most emotionally driven year for me in years. We had one major release - First Martians, but man, this one game truly offered us a ride to remember.

***


The year began with the biggest hype for the game I ever faced and one of the biggest in the whole industry. The message that Portal Games was doing 'Robinson Crusoe on Mars' got somehow viral and got everybody excited. I saw it only once before - when Z-Man announced Pandemic Legacy. That was that level of hype.

I remember me flying to Vegas for GAMA Trade show and talking with distributors and retailers and trying to lower the hype. We even have one of these meetings recorded - I present the game and I say it over and over again - it is just a eurogame.

But the hype was there and it was out of the control. The more I talked about the game, the hype went higher. It was pointless.

On one hand, it was the best months of my designer career - my design was hot, everybody talked about it, I was so proud. I was designer of one of the most anticipated games in the whole industry. Quite the feeling. On the other hand, I knew I was screwed. It was impossible to meet the expectations, and the more I tried to lower the hype, the worse it got, the hype went up and up with every interview.

I remember this one evening in Niagara. It was in April, we were in the restaurant - me, JF, Matt Leacock, Rob Daviau and more friends. Somebody asked me how I feel about First Martians being that hot and if I am happy that everybody talks about the game. I remember precisely that moment, every second of that jiff. I said: 'I am terrified' and in that split second, I saw Rob Daviou nodding with his head. I looked at him and we had this super short, intimate moment of pure understanding. We both knew it. Rob was there with Pandemic Legacy, he was there with Seafall. Hype is awesome, but at some point it is terrifying. At some point, it's just a pure fear.

***


And then the hell began. The game was pre-released and the first feedback was very bad. Players had no clue how to play the game, the app had some problems, the rulebook apparently was a one big issue, and on top of that the game was too complex and got - in many cases - in the hands of people who jumped on the hype train, ordered the game without knowing what to expect and then hit the wall. Poor rulebook, very complex rules - the first date with First Martians was not that sexy as everybody expected. 'I hate this game', 'The biggest disappointment of 2017' threads were all over the BGG. I was devastated.

It was the hell. 3 years of hard work, designing 16 unique missions, hundreds of event cards, and nobody even talked about the game. The whole discussion was on the app, on poor the rulebook, on all other things. Of course, there were players who complained about gameplay, there were people who complained the theme is boring, but overall, the discussion was all about the ruleset, not the gameplay itself. It was clear that Ignacy publisher failed Ignacy designer.

It was probably the most miserable 3 months of my life. Everyday somebody was complaining about First Martians. New rules questions threads pop up every day. It was a horrible time for me, but I kept working. I answered every rule question on BGG. I responded to every tweet about the First Martians. I flew to Gencon and did my best promoting the game. And at Gencon, something very awkward happened. A ton, and by saying a ton, I mean like more than 20 or 30 people every day approached me and congratulated me First Martians. 'It's a great game. Don't read what they say on the Internet. I play it and I love it. The rulebook is not the best, but the game is awesome, thank you Ignacy.'

I had no clue what was going on. I was tired, I was confused, I just wanted First Martians to have never happened in my life. The feedback I was getting there, on the floor of the convention was super confusing.

I came back to Poland, and I kept working. I motivated my team to do their best to support the game even stronger. We released a brand new mission to the game. We released new event cards. We released First Martians Almanac PDF. We worked our asses as hard as possible.

And then, a few weeks later I finally walked out from the hell. I deserved to step into purgatory.


***


Today, when you browse the Internet you'll find in most cases only good feedback about the game. I browse Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook each day checking #FirstMartians hashtag and absolutely most of the posts are positive, people enjoy the game and have a good or even a great time with it. No longer I am afraid to search for First Martians opinions.

It's because of First Martians Almanac PDF?
It's because customers who buy the game today are ready and prepared for the complex game?
It's because there is a ton of content on BGG, with videos and threads helping people play the game?
It's because the app has now tutorial mode?
Probably all of that I guess.

I dreamed and hoped to design the best game on the planet. Well, I designed the most controversial game of 2017, that's for sure. I was in heaven, I was in hell, I am in purgatory now. First Martians did not meet the expectation of many players, but after all, it wasn't that bad as people were saying in summer. It has a solid fan base. It has a ton of content in the box, it has more content in the app and it will get more content in 2018. Some people will put it as an example of the overhyped project. Some will put it on the table over and over playing all those missions I was designing for years.

Overall? I learned a lot.
Overall? I definitely deserve a year of vacations after this insane ride.
Overall? I wish you a great time with the game. It's complex, it's hard but on top of that, it's a pretty good game. I am sorry I disappointed some of you. I am happy, reading that some other enjoy the game. Thank you.
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Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:33 am
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In the doorstep of the new era

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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Welcome to 2018. A year of huge changes as I see it. But before we head into that, first things first.

Congratulations to Isaac Childres, and his epic Gloomhaven game. Congratulations on reaching #1 on BGG. Congratulations on publishing the perfect KS game, the dream project, the game no publisher would ever release - the game with an absolutely absurd amount of cardboard packed in the ridiculous sized box. Congratulations on running the second campaign for the game. Congratulations on becoming the stamp, the moment in the history of board games, publishing the game, that changed the industry.

The industry is changing. Gloomhaven might be one of the best visual and spectacular examples of that.

***

I've spent most of 2017 talking with retailers and distributors about changes in the industry. I've run seminars for retailers and I've visited most of the distributors in U.S. and Europe discussing the topic. E-commerce is a fact. The Internet is a fact. Amazon, Alexa, eBay, discounters are a fact.

This is not fucking herpes you can wait over. Amazon is only going to get stronger.

Retail business - including game stores - is in trouble. Hence my seminars, hence my efforts to help best brick and mortar stores with event kits, with demo team running events, with early launch policy for each our product.

Even though, 2018 will be super hard for retailers. This Internet thing is pretty strong.

***

I've talked with many publishers and KS creators in 2017. Without giving names and focusing rather on general trend rather than particular cases, there are more and more KS creators who no longer dream about getting their game to regular distribution. The format, the process we knew from previous years - do a successful KS, print games, and then hope to find the distributor to sign a deal.

Gloomhaven did not look for the distributor. They just run another campaign and sold more copies that way than 99% of publishers in this industry will ever sell of any of their titles.

Creators of Batman board game already announced the game is Kickstarter exclusive and they don't mean to look for distribution. There are more creators, who are less vocal, less likely to go public with their strategy, but they don't see value in the distribution channels. They prefer to reach their customer directly, through KS.

That is an interesting question to see if distributors manage to get biggest KS games into their channels.

***

7 out of 10 the most anticipated board games of 2017 (based on BGG poll) were Kickstarter games. This is absolutely shocking proportion and shows that for many players (10k geeks voted) KS is the main source for exciting, awesome, great games, while publishers offer rather bland regular releases.

Are publishers playing too safe? Are their releases just another euro game, just another deck building game, just another release in the catalog and that's why no excitement? Or maybe it is rather the problem of no marketing, the problem of too many games released by each publisher, the street dates are that crowded that particular titles no longer have time to shine?

All 3 publisher's games from the list - Pandemic Legacy Season 2, First Martians and Charterstone had a long pre-release campaign and built a huge hype, just like KS projects regularly do, with a ton of buzz created a months before release.

Big titles released in a regular way, like new game from Eric Lang (Godfather), new game from Bruno Cathalha (Secrets), new game from Rob Daviou (Montains of Madness), new game from Bruno Cathala (Yamatai), new game from Vlaada Chvatil (That's the question) did not get that much hype this year, when compared to 7th Continent, Gloomhaven or This War of Mine.

***

The market is changing. I am excited. I am scared. I am focused. I am eager to see what 2018 will bring us. What's your thought on the topic?
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Wed Jan 3, 2018 12:57 pm
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In the doorstep of the new era

Ignacy Trzewiczek
Poland
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Welcome to 2018. A year of huge changes as I see it. But before we head into that, first things first.

Congratulations to Isaac Childres, and his epic Gloomhaven game. Congratulations on reaching #1 on BGG. Congratulations on publishing the perfect KS game, the dream project, the game no publisher would ever release - the game with an absolutely absurd amount of cardboard packed in the ridiculous sized box. Congratulations on running the second campaign for the game. Congratulations on becoming the stamp, the moment in the history of board games, publishing the game, that changed the industry.

The industry is changing. Gloomhaven might be one of the best visual and spectacular examples of that.

***

I've spent most of 2017 talking with retailers and distributors about changes in the industry. I've run seminars for retailers and I've visited most of the distributors in U.S. and Europe discussing the topic. E-commerce is a fact. The Internet is a fact. Amazon, Alexa, eBay, discounters are a fact.

This is not fucking herpes you can wait over. Amazon is only going to get stronger.

Retail business - including game stores - is in trouble. Hence my seminars, hence my efforts to help best brick and mortar stores with event kits, with demo team running events, with early launch policy for each our product.

Even though, 2018 will be super hard for retailers. This Internet thing is pretty strong.

***

I've talked with many publishers and KS creators in 2017. Without giving names and focusing rather on general trend rather than particular cases, there are more and more KS creators who no longer dream about getting their game to regular distribution. The format, the process we knew from previous years - do a successful KS, print games, and then hope to find the distributor to sign a deal.

Gloomhaven did not look for the distributor. They just run another campaign and sold more copies that way than 99% of publishers in this industry will ever sell of any of their titles.

Creators of Batman board game already announced the game is Kickstarter exclusive and they don't mean to look for distribution. There are more creators, who are less vocal, less likely to go public with their strategy, but they don't see value in the distribution channels. They prefer to reach their customer directly, through KS.

That is an interesting question to see if distributors manage to get biggest KS games into their channels.

***

7 out of 10 the most anticipated board games of 2017 (based on BGG poll) were Kickstarter games. This is absolutely shocking proportion and shows that for many players (10k geeks voted) KS is the main source for exciting, awesome, great games, while publishers offer rather bland regular releases.

Are publishers playing too safe? Are their releases just another euro game, just another deck building game, just another release in the catalog and that's why no excitement? Or maybe it is rather the problem of no marketing, the problem of too many games released by each publisher, the street dates are that crowded that particular titles no longer have time to shine?

All 3 publisher's games from the list - Pandemic Legacy Season 2, First Martians and Charterstone had a long pre-release campaign and built a huge hype, just like KS projects regularly do, with a ton of buzz created a months before release.

Big titles released in a regular way, like new game from Eric Lang (Godfather), new game from Bruno Cathalha (Secrets), new game from Rob Daviou (Montains of Madness), new game from Bruno Cathala (Yamatai), new game from Vlaada Chvatil (That's the question) did not get that much hype this year, when compared to 7th Continent, Gloomhaven or This War of Mine.

***

The market is changing. I am excited. I am scared. I am focused. I am eager to see what 2018 will bring us. What's your thought on the topic?
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Wed Jan 3, 2018 11:18 am
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Brainstorming ideas with fans

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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Last week we finished another contest for our fans. Previously this year we run a contest for new abilities for Cry Havoc, then we run a contest for a new scenario for Robinson Crusoe, then for new events and adventures for First Martians.

It's not a joke. It's not marketing bullshit trick. It's our conscious and serious strategy. Get fans involved. Results are remarkable. Let me show you few examples.

***


Late 2012 some dude posted on BGG a 'Naturalist' scenario for Robinson Crusoe. I contacted him and thanked for support for the game. In reply, he sent me additional mission as a gift for me. A few months later Portal Games published HMS Beagle campaign. Epic, mindblowing expansion for Robinson Crusoe. Designed by this exact dude from BGG (with my help). His name is Robert Manson and he changed the way I think about Robinson Crusoe. Robert is the reason I can now work on The Lost City of Z. He opened my eyes, back then in 2012.

***


Neuroshima Hex is our evergreen board game, still active and popular after 12 years since its release. Since 2007 we released 12 official expansions with Mephisto, Dancer, and Uranopolis being initially created by fans, posted on BGG and then picked by us as absolutely stunning ideas and fan content that may be published as an officiall expansion.

***


Let's face it. Fan ideas are not always awesome. Often they are not balanced, shifted in one or other side too much, focused on one aspect that is the area of interest of the fan. Fan designer often doesn't see the whole picture, the whole mechanism of the game. There is always a ton of work to develop these ideas and make them work smoothly with the whole engine. Michał Oracz, after developing Dancer, Mephisto and Uranolopis asked Portal Games to give him chance to do few his own armies instead of developing another fan army - work with adjusting fan content to the game system was really a massive task. Fan created HMS Beagle ended up with my name on the box, because the amount of work I needed to put into it so it worked well, was much more significant than I expected at the beginning of the work. From all of the ideas we received for Cry Havoc new ability contest, there was not a single one that we were able to publish as it was initially entered.

And yet...

I cannot express how much I value these ideas. I cannot praise enough the fact that among those ideas there is always mind opening one. There is always one fan who looks at the game from the angle I could never think of. There is this dude who changes Robinson into a campaign driven game. There is this dude who creates an army for Neuroshima without a single Unit tile. There is this dude who comes with idea that will change everything.

The work, the polishing, the development are all low price for opening new doors.

Today we released Aftermathexpansion for Cry Havoc. In the rules, you will find and list of people who participated in the contest. Let me copy it here. Randy de Graaf, Jeff LaFlam, Kurt Van Hoeyveld, Richard Sprayberry, Jeff Schauble,
Jay Peak, Nur Iskandar Bin Nuruddin, Andrew Wood, Darren Quinn, Shane Irons, Yoong Ken Yen, Robert Asberg, Egon Araujo, Dugrim
BloodAxe, Calvin Wong, Svenn ToreMauseth, Adhil Riad Patel, Chris Funk.

Today I thank again all fans who create content for our games. Thank you for challenging us. Thank you for pushing our designs in the most unexpected way. Thank you.
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Wed Dec 13, 2017 2:03 pm
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One fan at the time

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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It's Sunday morning. I am at Pax Unplugged, it's the last day of the con, I will be leaving convention center and heading to the airport in two or three hours. At some point, a guy comes, shakes my hand and says he was at my seminar on Friday evening and liked it a lot. He then decided to come to my Game Designer seminar, on Saturday and he liked it a lot too, although he knows no shit about game design and has no plans whatsoever to design a game. After the seminar, he came to our booth and bought Alien Artifacts.

It's Sunday morning. The guy stands in front of me and says that this weekend he discovered Portal Games, and he immediately became a fan of the company. He liked seminars, he liked Alien Artifacts, he did some research in the hotel and watch my vlog and found my blog, and now, Sunday morning he just came to shake my hand and says 'Good job, mate'

I smile. I fly back home now.

***


I hate travels. I am afraid of flying and on top of that, I don't do well with jet lag. When I have to travel, I am a terrible person and all my employees and family members try to have zero interaction with me a day or two before I leave. I am the worst version of myself. I should be put in a cage for these two days. I really hate traveling.

And yet, this year I visited Cannes Game Fair, then Gama Trade Show, then Gathering of Friends in Niagara, then Gathering of Friends in Etouvry. I flew to Atlanta, visited three different states in 5 days and then drove to Dice Tower con. I flew back home to Poland and then, two weeks later I flew back to US for Gen con. I flew back to Poland and almost immediately flew to Denmark. Then went to Essen and then flew back to US again for Pax Unplugged.

Now I am back in Poland. For a few days. Next week I fly to UK.

***


There is no ROI for meeting people. There is no way you can calculate if it's worth flying all over the world and meeting with fans and running demos of your prototype. No way I can measure if seminar for 40 people was less valuable than seminar for 100 people. No way to measure if flying to Italy makes sense and flying to Vegas was far too expensive and had low ROI. No way I can check if the chance to run demos 4 days long at Dice Tower was worth 2k USD for flight tickets. You never know.

Yesterday I got information that the first orders for Alien Artifacts are pretty awesome and again we have a very strong opening for our new game.

It's not because I ran thousands of ads on FB or BGG.
It's not because I had Star Wars IP.
It's not because it's a new game from Eric Lang or Bruno Cathalha.

It's because I ran demos of the game all year long, I shook many hands, I did a ton of test games, I ran weekly vlog, I ran many seminars, I tried to give something interesting and valuable all year long. Now, it paid off.

I say it, because you can do it too. You can work hard and have a success without Star Wars IP, without Mr. Lang's name on the box, without all those magical keys to success that big companies have.

There is one key that always works - it's one fan at the time.

It's that simple.
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Wed Nov 29, 2017 12:07 pm
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The problem with tutorials.

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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We - as an industry - struggle. To grow, we must expand. To expand we must find new customers, new gamers who will join our hobby. Finding them is the easier part, actually.

The hardest? Help them play the game.

***


You buy TV, you plug it in, and you are ready to watch NBA.
You buy iron, you plug it in, and you can iron your shirts.
You buy car, you start the engine, and you can drive.
You buy the board game, you must read the rulebook. If you are lucky, an hour later you are ready to play.

See the difference?
Yep. Everybody sees the difference.

Board games are not "Open and use"


***


Everybody in our industry understands the importance of the problem. We know that average human being on this planet is not used to having to read manual to use something. Especially, if we talk about entertainment. You buy stuff and you want to be entertained, not to read books and manuals, as in school.

Some publishers, including myself, decided to go video games industry route and tried the tutorial solution. Friedmann Friese just released Fast Forward series, my closest friend Michał Oracz did This War of Mine, Jamey Stegmaier did Charterstone. We all try to get as close as possible to "Open and use" format.

I'd like to discuss with you this route because it is pretty bumpy road to say at least.

***


I remember first opinions on Seafall, last year. I was searching the Internet like crazy for opinions because I was eager to see what people say and there was a ton of tweets and FB posts that were saying the same thing over and over: "The game starts slow. The tutorial is boooring."

'Aren't tutorials in general boring? Why so surprised?' I wondered seeing that feedback.

I also remember first opinions on First Martians, this summer. Try a guess, I was searching the Internet like crazy for opinions and there was a ton of people saying: 'The first mission is boring. All game long you build stuff.'

'This is the tutorial mission! It teaches you how to build stuff! That's why you build over and over!' I was screaming at the screen, but well, some players made their opinion and never tried the full game.

I write about these two examples of failures in delivering a tutorial experience in board games because this Monday I played Charterstone for the first time. Charterstone is built as a tutorial game. It is a legacy game and when you play there are more and more rules added every game. The whole game is created as a tutorial.

We played 4 players variant.

I liked the first game.
Marek liked the first game as well.
The third player said he was very disappointed and he expected Charterstone to be much better game. He said he might give it another try but is very skeptical.
The fourth player said the game was boring as hell and he will never play it again.

I was looking at them and I literally wanted to strangle them.

'You f... morons!' I started 'This was a tutorial game. You just learned the game. We have two workers, we have buildings, we have special characters we can gain, this is a damn tutorial.' I shouted at them - subconsciously blaming them also for all complaints on First Martians and Seafall tutorials.

'The game is boring' I heard back. 'Not gonna play again.'

I couldn't believe it. This was ridiculous.

***


If you asked me a year ago, I would be a strong advocate on tutorials idea in board games and the strong believer that this is the future of our hobby. Today, seeing how impatient the gamer is, knowing they have a dozen of games on the shelf and they must be entertained immediately or will reach out for the next game, I began to have a doubts.

I myself don't play video games tutorials and always move to the full game from the beginning. Why would I expect others to play my tutorials?

***


I think either, we as designers and publishers will educate gamers about the tutorials, either we'll explain them well what are they and why are they in the game, either we learn and educate ourselves how to make amazing, freaking amazing tutorials, or we will have to abandon the path.

This very Monday amazing Charterstone got two disappointed geeks in Poland only because Jamey wanted to help them play the game in the smoothest way possible.

This is the ridiculous effect of our industry great efforts.
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Wed Nov 8, 2017 4:50 pm
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11th anniversary or how to step up the game nevertheless

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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If I knew my shit and did the math right, we'd celebrate 10th Essen last year. Our first Essen was 2007 (the release of Neuroshima Hex) and last year I had this awesome plan, that we will celebrate 10th anniversary in 2017.

Then somebody explained me the math. You would not believe but 2007-2017 doesn't make 10. I am serious.

1. 2007
2. 2008
3. 2009
4. 2010
5. 2011
6. 2012
7. 2013
8. 2014
9. 2015
10. 2016
11. 2017

Magic, huh?

***


Having 10th or 11th anniversary, we wanted to present Portal Games at our best nevertheless. Instead of having just a booth with a demo of new games, we decided to focus on additional events and provide our fans unique experience and memories.

We have three main tracks, three ideas to offer you something more, than just a demo.

***


We will run seminars in a special conference room. We booked Mainland conference room in Hall 3 for whole Thursday and prepared 3 unique events for media and our fans.

We start at 10:00 am with the official release of Alien Artifacts. We invited Viola Kijowska and Marcin Ropka as our special guests. They will talk about designing the game, some anecdotes from the work, how the game evolved and all kind of different great stories. They will teach the game, they will give interviews for all media and press people interested. This is a perfect way to start the fair - instead of rushing into crowded halls, start the show in a comfortable conference room with a cup of coffee and great designers.

3 hours later, 1 pm we'll have Portal Games Keynotes. I will talk about some of our new releases for 2018. We will for the very first time officially announce few new products and we hope to have few awesome surprises for our fans and for press and media people. It's a perfect way to get the info right from the source, from Portal Games and be the first person to see what's coming from Portal in 2018!

2 hours later, 2:30 pm we will hold the first European tournament for Neuroshima Hex. For years all hardcore fans of Neuroshima Hex asked us to run an event and let them compete - and here we are. With a special guest, Michał Oracz onboard and with suuuuuuuper unique prizes for winners we have a chance to make Neuroshima Hex addicts happy and smiled. It's a perfect way to celebrate 11th anniversary For us, everything began exactly 11 years ago, with the release of Neuroshima Hex. Back then, I would not believe, that in 2017 we will run official European tournament of the game.


***


Meanwhile, for all 4 days, we'll use some of our booth space for a special Guest corner. Each day you will have a chance to visit Portal Games booth and meet our guest, chat with them, take a selfie, or autograph. We are honored to have onboard:

Rodney Smith from Watch It Played, who promised us to help you with Star Wars Rebellion rules...
Michał Oracz, designer of Neuroshima Hex and This War of Mine. Please, bring boxes, he will sign them!
Tomasz Jędruszek, illustrator for Imperial Settlers, Stronghold, Game of Thrones, Magic the Gathering... Bring boxes...
Mariusz Gandzel, illustrator of 51st State, Stronghold first edition, Star Wars LCG, X-Wing miniatures game... Bring boxes...
Grzegorz Bobrowski, illustrator of Imperial Settlers, 51st State, Star Wars LCG...
and of course, Viola Kijowska and Marcin Ropka, designers of Alien Artifacts!

We hope that Guest corner will be crowded by happy fans, and you will meet people whose work you appreciate and love!

***


The last event, the last but definitely not least is The Cookies Delivery Center. It will be run by Ignacy Trzewiczek himself. Every day, 10:00 am till 6:00 pm you can bring cookies to our booth and Ignacy will smile and take a photo with you.


***


I cannot express how excited I am about upcoming Essen. How proud I am of these 11 years. How happy I am that we grew, that each year we did our best to surprise you and to offer you more. How amazing it is to look behind and see the history of my company, with important steps being made each Essen.

We are stepping up the game again. I know that young Ignacy back then in 2007 would be mind blown seeing Portal Games in Essen 2017.

I am happy for him.



Link to the detailed schedule of all events and floor plans to booth and conference room is here.
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Wed Oct 18, 2017 4:21 pm
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Alien Artifacts GDJ - I've been here.

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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Back then in 2011, I wrote an article about the struggle with direct interaction and combat mechanism in 51st State. For long months I had no clue how to approach the problem - every single rule I designed was ruining the game. Engine building games, in general, are very delicate - one player builds an engine, the other player sends a nuke, destroys few cogs and the whole engine stops working.

The feeling of achievement, a pride that you built something cool is gone. That's not fun.

Alien Artifacts is an engine building game. An engine building game with cool space ships flying around and shooting nukes. When I sat to the prototype, I felt like Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow. I've been here, I thought. I've been here...

***


The prototype we got from Trefl had very simple combat rules - player buys warships for $. Each warship you buy adds to your Attack Strenght. Then, if you drew Attack Opportunity card you may attack a player with lower Strenght, and steal 1 of his VP tokens. If he or she has no VP tokens, nothing happens.

The lamest combat ever.

The work began.

1st change:
If he or she has no VP tokens, get 1 VP from the reserve. Still lame but at least you always score if you attack.

2nd change:
You can attack at any time you want. There was no need to draw Attack Opportunity card. Less lame. Very powerful though. Combat strategy brings a lot of VP now.

3rd change:
Ships no longer add to the Attack Strenght. You buy ships for $ and then you arm ships with torpedos (red resource). Each ship has a different number of slots for torpedos. Torpedos add to Attack Strenght. Very thematic. Very powerful. Everybody wants to attack and gains a lot of VP for that.

4th change:
Torpedos are one use only. When you attack, you discard them. Very thematic. Less powerful. When one player shoots his torpedos, he is defenseless and others attack him. People no longer want to attack.

20th change:
When you successfully attack, instead of VP, you block one of the opponents cards. Attacks are no longer lame. They are a real threat. The frustration of defender begins.

33rd change:
You can attack Aliens to get Victory Points and Alien Artifact cards. Players have a chance to gain alien powers - they are happy.

37th change:
There is no longer Torpedos. You no longer buy ships. You build them from the red resource. Rules are much simpler. Good.

49th change:
You can send a ship to attack Aliens or players. If you attack a player you put blockade tokens on their card. Less frustration for defenders. More options for the attacker. It looks like we are home...

***


The interaction between players is always a mess. It's merging fire and water. It is looking for a ruleset that will make attacking others fulfilling and rewarding and at the same time ruleset that will not make defender just flip the table after the attack.

Especially in engine building games, it is a challenge. Attacking strategy must be strong enough to be valid and interesting. And yet, must be subtle enough to not ruin the fun of building engines. Seeing your cool engine destroyed over and over by a jerk on the other side of the table is not fun.

We struggled with Alien Artifacts rules for combat for long months. This was the most often changed part of the game.

What's the final ruling?

You can go after Aliens. You will get VP and Alien Artifacts cards. This is a valid strategy to gain Victory Points. We encourage combat oriented players to kick aliens.

You can go after other players. You will put blockade tokens on their cards. This will slow them down, slow their combo, they will have to pay $ each time they want to use the combo. It's not the end of the world for them, but the precise attack can be very effective. We encourage players to hit once or twice with precisely planned attacks.

Want VP? Attack aliens.
Have a runaway leader at the table? Throw some sand into cogs.
Did we merge fire and water?
I hope.

***

What's your point of view? What are in your opinion good examples of games that are engine building and yet managed to create good combat rules?
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Wed Oct 11, 2017 10:14 am
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