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Subject: Proto Alley at BGG.CON 2009 rss

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Gil Hova
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Last year, I set up a room on the Friday of BGG.CON for our first Proto Alley. The idea was to have a room set up for raw, unpolished game prototypes that aren't really ready to be played by the regular BGG.CON crowd.

The response was ferocious! Much bigger than I expected. We went at least five tables wide for most of the event. The event was only scheduled for a few hours, but a lot of people got plays in.

So this year, I've expanded the event's hours. Proto Alley will be in the Dogwood Room on Friday, from 10 am to midnight.

Here are the three big Proto Alley ground rules. I don't think there's any need to officially enforce these rules just yet, so I think the honor system is fine for now.

1) Proto Alley is intended for raw, early-stage designs. These are games that haven't gotten much table time yet, and are problably closer to broken than publishable. Polished games can (and should) get played out in the main areas, exposed to the regular BGG.CON crowd, celebrities, and publishers. Proto Alley is for games that are too untested for the average BGG.CON attendee.

2) Only one prototype per designer, until everyone gets at least one game on the table. If you get a second game on the table before someone else gets his first game on the table, that's just plain unfair. Please be considerate and make sure every designer benefits from Proto Alley.

Now, there might be exceptions, and common sense applies here. If you have a few 15-minute trick-taking games, then it's no big deal spending 90 minutes running through a few of them. But if you have several 60- to 90-minute designs, expect to test only one of them at Proto Alley.

3) Please don't disappear immediately after you get your game tested. Proto Alley can only work if there are playtesters. If you don't stick around after your prototype is played, it becomes harder for folks who haven't had their proto played yet to test.

Again, there are going to be exceptions. You might have plans with someone, you might need to head to an event, emergencies come up, and so on. But if enough people stick with the spirit of the room and make sure they play as much as they can, it'll make the whole thing work.

---------------------------

Here are some general playtesting guidelines...

* Expect your playtest to run long. If you have a 30-minute game, count on it running 45-60 minutes. If you have a 90-minute game, count on it running 120 minutes. That's because in addition to the regular table talk, playtesters will discuss the game's design and offer suggestions. This will make the game run a little longer than you may expect.

* Don't be afraid to end the game early. If your game hasn't been playtested a lot yet, you might find yourself in a position where any further play won't get you additional data, and will be a grind for the playtesters. It's very common to end these tests prematurely, go over what went wrong with the playtesters and possible fixes, and get someone else's game out. It's not a sign that your game is "bad" at all. There is no game in your collection that worked right on its first try!

* Playtesters: be honest but polite. On one hand, the worst feedback you can give a designer is a lazy, "it was okay, I liked it." On the other hand, telling the designer that his game "sucks" is a great way to get his defenses up and tune you out.

Always start your feedback with something about the game you liked, no matter how small. Then tell the designer about what didn't work for you. If you didn't find the game fun, it's something he should know, even if it's unpleasant to discuss.

But if you're too blunt with your criticism, you lose credibility. Be polite. If you see the designer is starting to wince, pull back.

Also, try to hold your criticism back until the designer is done explaining the rules. Sometimes, something that seems like it won't work in theory works a lot better in practice. Also, it's polite.

* Designers: prepare to listen to what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Personally, I would love it if all my playtests wound up with feedback like, "Gil, you've done it again. I don't want to do anything but play this game for the rest of my life." But it's more likely I'll hear, "Hmmm, this isn't working for me. Something's missing."

Be strong. Don't defend your ideas. Write down your playtesters' feedback. Chew on it.

Of course, you shouldn't implement all your feedback. Your game will be a mess if you do! But if you keep hearing the same criticism over and over again, it's probably because it's true.

---------------------------

If you have any ideas about Proto Alley, here's the place to post them!
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Mark Goadrich
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This sounds great! My wife and I'll be at BGG.CON this year and will try to stop by the Proto Alley. Thanks for organizing this, Gil!
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Neal Carter

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If I could make a recommendation as someone who played a couple of the prototypes last year in proto alley.
Designers, please have a sign with abrief description of what your game is about that you can display next to it. Include the game name and maybe your name or BGG handle. This lets people who aren't currently playing your game know a bit about it and how to contact you. There were a couple of games that seemed interesting that I didn't get to play and I know absolutely NOTHING about the designers, etc. The first game (a fishing game of some sort) was already being played (and was gone when I came back) and the second (a space exploration/conquest game?) I couldn't find the designer when I was free.

Thanks for organizing this, Gil. I enjoyed playing the prototypes and highly recommend it to anyone that is interested.
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Tom Anderson
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So are we supposed to reserve a table at a specific time, or is it a completely ad hoc, first come, first served, free-for-all?
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Pete Belli
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Sounds like fun.

Quote:
raw, unpolished game prototypes that aren't really ready to be played by the regular BGG.CON crowd.


Who makes that call?

In other words, who decides what is raw and what isn't raw?
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Gil Hova
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tcanderson71 wrote:
So are we supposed to reserve a table at a specific time, or is it a completely ad hoc, first come, first served, free-for-all?


First-come, first-served. I've done it before, and it works pretty well.
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Gil Hova
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pete belli wrote:

Who makes that call?

In other words, who decides what is raw and what isn't raw?


I'll leave that to the designers' judgment.
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Michael Mindes
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jenniecide wrote:
If I could make a recommendation as someone who played a couple of the prototypes last year in proto alley.
Designers, please have a sign with abrief description of what your game is about that you can display next to it. Include the game name and maybe your name or BGG handle. This lets people who aren't currently playing your game know a bit about it and how to contact you. There were a couple of games that seemed interesting that I didn't get to play and I know absolutely NOTHING about the designers, etc. The first game (a fishing game of some sort) was already being played (and was gone when I came back) and the second (a space exploration/conquest game?) I couldn't find the designer when I was free.

Thanks for organizing this, Gil. I enjoyed playing the prototypes and highly recommend it to anyone that is interested.


This is key. You want people to be able to contact you for lots of reasons.

I am wondering if that space exlporation/conquest game was Terra Prime
 
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Seth Jaffee
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DrMayhem wrote:
I am wondering if that space exlporation/conquest game was Terra Prime

It was not. I did run a game of Terra Prime at bGG.con last year, but not in Proto Alley. The session report geeklist talks about it...
 
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Dwayne Hendrickson
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The Board Game Designers Guild of Utah has a great playtesting evaluation card that looks pretty concise. You can get to it via their FAQ
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Michael Nickoloff
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I'll be there with a couple of new prototypes to test out for my designers.
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Simon Dorfman
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I'm looking forward to getting feedback on my game. Thanks for organizing this, Gil!

@okiedokie
Thanks for that tip. Here's the direct link for anyone else looking for it:
http://bgdg.awardspace.com/main/Game_Evaluation_Criteria.pdf
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D Clevenger
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I plan to be there with a game - just saw this list after I posted here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/46197/item/1071666#ite...
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Calderwood Speer
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I will be bringing mine. Last Friday was the first playable version and now I'm busting my arse writing the manual and playtesting. No pressure

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Seth Jaffee
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Smav wrote:
I wish was able to go... you lucky, lucky bastards... shake

All it takes is a plane ticket!
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Wade Broadhead
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So my game is nowhere near raw but not ready to submit to publishers? Do I just walk round, or set up shop and look for testers?

Wade
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Brian Baird
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You grab some space in the room & let the testers come to you Any time I was in the "proto alley" last year, there were always lots of people looking for games & getting info from the designers in there.
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Dwayne Hendrickson
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I will be bringing my copy of Mother Road. It will only have 3 playtests prior to BGG.con


Do folks usually have stand alone rules ready or do they explain the game?
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Gil Hova
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okiedokie wrote:
I will be bringing my copy of Mother Road. It will only have 3 playtests prior to BGG.con


Do folks usually have stand alone rules ready or do they explain the game?


Depends on the designer. I usually don't write the rulebook until fairly late in the process, but other designers prefer to get the rulebook started early.
 
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Tom Anderson
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I will be in Proto Alley with three games:

1. "Wildcat!" -- oil exploration, up to 6 players, economic, map/board, leasing, seismic, drilling. Most publication-ready of the three.

2. "Mineral Quest" -- card game for 2-5 players, draw element cards to exchange for minerals tied to your chosen role. Moderately "raw", needs more playtesting.

3. "Tektonix" -- card game for 2-4 players, build a route across earth's tectonic plates and plate boundaries. Most "raw" of these.
 
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Tom Anderson
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okiedokie wrote:
I will be bringing my copy of Mother Road. It will only have 3 playtests prior to BGG.con ...

I'd like to give this one a try.
 
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Anthony Gill
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This sounds awesome! I have a question, though - I have a prototype that is a Cash And Guns Live style game for 8 - 20 players. A few BGG's ago there was enough space in one of the ballrooms to run C&GL. Do you think it's improbable to try and run this game at BGG.CON this year? Should I just check around at midnight and see if I there is space, or can I request to reserve a part of a room during some off-peak times?

It seems like BGG.CON is the perfect time to try it, it's just logistically challenging. (The game rules are at http://www.vbasementgames.com/ag_stuff/Room_Full_Of_Zombies/... and the cards are at http://www.vbasementgames.com/ag_stuff/Room_Full_Of_Zombies/....)
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Gil Hova
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If it's for up to 20 people standing, Dogwood may not be the best place for it. The tables will get in the way, especially if we're still busy.

Perhaps you can recruit people in Proto Alley, and start the game in the hallway at 10 pm or midnight or something. I've seen folks play C&G:L in the hallway, and it's a much better fit. It also makes a great tableau for passers-by.

I suggest starting a thread describing your game, and naming a start time. If you want to meet in Proto Alley and then move to a relatively uncluttered hallway, that might be the way to go. If it's not against con policy, you can also leave a few flyers on a table near the Dogwood entrance, so playtesters can plan to be in the event.

People love zombies, and the C&G:L approach is a nifty one, so I think you're going to get a lot of interest!
 
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Anthony Gill
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Thanks Gil - that's really encouraging! I think I'll work up some 'posters' for the game that can sit outside Proto Alley with maybe a text message sign-up sheet if people want to be reminded when the game starts.

Woo! Zombies!
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Michael Nickoloff
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I will be bringing "Queen's Anne's Revenge" from a designer I represent.
It takes 3-5 players (preferably 4). I'd rather not play and sit out, but I could play.

I'm looking feedback on a couple of items in the game (which I can explain during the playtest session on what to concentrate). I have a complete set of the rules, but I will teach.

Medium-weight Euro style game. (Heavier than Puerto Rico or Agricola. Probably on the level as Le Havre). Economic plus stock market mechanics.

The game takes about 1 1/2h to play with 30 min of teaching. We can cut it down to 45 minutes of playtime.

I'll probably be there at noon, but I'll try and get there as early as possible.



I'm happy to play for a couple of hours afterwards until my dinner meeting around 6pm.


If you're interested in playtesting it, email me and I'll make sure to include you in the test.
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