One of the best parts about the game creation journey has been the people I meet along the way, as well as embracing new adventures in the field. On a whim, I signed up for what is referred to as a “protospiel,” or an event where game designers, playtesters, and publishers gather to try out game prototypes and give feedback to creators. Thankfully, Madison, WI, had a protospiel this past week I could attend in a short drive, allowing me to playtest and try others’ games for a full day without needing to pay for a hotel, expensive travel, etc.
Although I am an extrovert, I was absolutely terrified about the prospect of trying to not only convince strangers to try my game, but also hop into strangers’ games to give them feedback. Within minutes of arriving at the Protospiel, my fears were gone. Everyone was excited to talk games, peek at what I had brought, and share what they had created in a safe and non-threatening atmosphere.
I had the chance to playtest Gamestormers, my creative card game about designing a game, with a few different groups. I got some really powerful feedback and ideas, but honestly my favorite part was trying others’ games. I thought I’d share a bit about the games I tried and what I learned from a design standpoint from each.
The first big takeaway from sitting down to Rotundra in the beginning of Protospiel Madison was the importance of table presence. I saw Rotundra‘s unique, shifting circular platforms from across the room and knew I wanted to learn more. Having a really unique visual mechanic to your game is a great way to spark interest.
Once I sat down at the table, I met my opponent (it’s a 2 player game) and learned the rules from one of the designers. In Rotundra, you must either build two research stations at the top or sides of the mountain, or you must eliminate one of the workers for the opposing player. I really liked how there were multiple victory paths and the ability to pivot if your original strategy did not work.
Another lesson learned from the Rotundra playthrough was good playtesting etiquette. The creator paused to let us know that we had been learning and playing for about an hour and wanted to see if we wanted to finish out the game or find a natural stopping point in case we wanted to move on. We mutually agreed to stop after the next research station that was built, and I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to swing back to my Gamestormers stations to facilitate a playtest.
2. What’s Ours is Mine: A Divorce Game
The next game I stumbled upon was a great fit for my style of game – a humorous, thematic game that is easy to learn but hard to master. I met the designer and artist for What’s Ours is Mine: A Divorce Game and immediately was drawn to the narrative. Essentially, you and your opponent are a couple going through a divorce arbitration, and you must bid on items from your estate in order to “win” them. With a great sense of humor (who gets the Framed, Singing Salmon?!) and two rounds with distinct mechanics, it was a fun playtest.
My big takeaway from What’s Ours is Mine: A Divorce Game was the importance of committing to your theme and making sure your game capitalizes on it. By embracing the absurdity of arguing over trinkets, the game walks the fine line of satirizing a very traumatic and taboo topic with some lightheartedness. It’s definitely a game that will land perfectly with some players and completely repel others, and that is okay! You cannot expect every player to be drawn to your game, but if your fun take on an under-explored theme works really well, embrace it.
3. Spellslingers: Wizard Tournament
My last playtest of the day was a great mash-up of a board-based combat game and Magic: The Gathering called Spellslingers: Wizard Tournament. Not only was it enjoyable to meet the creator, but I also had the opportunity to play with two sisters who offer a playtesting business and critique instructions for The Gamecrafter. The game had interesting mechanics, such as using dice as both the player figurines and hit point counters, as well as being an indicator for determining the damage your characters could do. Spellslingers: Wizard Tournament also had nice asymmetry by having us select our character, complete with unique powers we could use on our turn.
My big takeaway from the game was that injecting new life into an existing game or genre could lead to a really interesting game. Spellslingers: Wizard Tournament took the established system of mana, spellcasting, and dueling, and turned it into a battle royale with movement, dice, and more. It made me step back and ask if I was reinventing a genre or simply copying what was already out there. In addition, it gave me some great ideas for how to approach the brainstorming process for future games.
Overall, I cannot recommend the experience of an event like Protospiel Madison. The people were incredibly supportive, the community believed in making everyone’s game better, and the games were fantastic. I am so thankful for the designers and playtesters I met at the event.