Last year, I attended my first Protospiel event in Madison, WI. For those of you who might not be familiar, a protospiel is a gathering of board/card game designers, playtesters, publishers, and media members all trying out each others’ game prototypes. The system is simple – after you’ve played someone’s game, setup your own to be played. Rinse. Repeat.
This year, I applied to speak at CrafterCon, a one-day event prior to Madison Protospiel where folks in the industry share their best practices and expertise. I presented on two subjects – innovative marketing strategies and designing for different player types. You can check out my marketing strategies presentation below:
Beyond the wonderful opportunity to present, I also playtested some fantastic games during the Protospiel itself. Below are a few of the games along with some lessons learned from each!
The first game I played was Andrew Jones’ Eureka: Science Academy, a delightful twist on the dueling card game genre made popular by Magic: The Gathering. In this 2-player affair, the goal is to reach enough Victory Points through the successful defense of scientific theories and proposal of new inventions and concepts. To bring these new scientific discoveries into the play area, players draft new scientists and thinkers from history to generate enough combined expertise necessary to initially support said theories.
I had a number of takeaways from this game. For starters, the theme and gameplay sync up really well – I loved the idea of Rosalind Franklin and Louis Pasteur working together to defend the Periodic Table of Elements. Another great idea from the game was the simple act of acquiring a new thinker to “build” your engine – an alternating draft of two face-up scientists based on who is winning. This mechanic kept the game close and avoided randomness hurting someone’s chances by not getting any scientists in their drafting.
The second game I played was a charming dice drafting game named Potion Dice from Cassie Friedman of Making Magic Games. To succeed at Potion Dice, you aim to complete potion orders available in the public market after drafting and passing dice with other players. While the game may seem luck-driven, it’s important to keep an eye on your opponent’s strategy, turn order, and your secret bonus cards as well. For example, keeping dice others ahead of you are also keeping for the same potion might not be the best approach. In addition, using your acquired abilities to to target potions that will benefit your bonus move beyond luck and leverage strategic decisions.
One of my big takeaways from Potion Dice is turning luck into interesting choices. While a dice drafting game feels luck-heavy, Cassie added unique abilities to acquired potions like flipping a dice value to its opposite side to make it useful to the player. I also really appreciated the simple yet effective iconography to denote what dice are needed and what kind of potions I was getting. Potion Dice also reinforced something I think we can all agree on – rolling dice A LOT is just satisfying. You get to roll dice quite often in this game!
I got to play the incredibly original RSVP To Die at Protospiel, and I am completely blanking on the name of the gentleman who designed the game. In RSVP To Die, each player works together to corner unwitting guests at a party and murder them when they are alone in a room. To do so, each player uses numbered cards in their hand to activate abilities that can move guests, distract certain guests, murder guests, and draw cards. They must be played in descending order, and once no one can play anything next in order, the cards are discarded and their penalties take effect, making it harder to kill guests at the party.
One big lesson from this game was the original concept – rarely do we see games where the team is playing the role of the villain. I thought it made the game really unique and humorous. In addition, the dual role of the cards as numbers to play and penalties to endure was very clever overall. The final lesson came in the form of the board – each section had very clear iconography, and the color scheme for the mansion space felt pitch perfect for the overall theme.
Overall, I gained so many unique ideas from Protospiel Madison and the games I played. Every current or aspiring game designer could benefit from attending a protospiel.