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Unpub 3 Write-Up!

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The Event:
Over the weekend, Lisa, my girlfriend, and I attended an event called Unpub 3. It was a mini convention for unpublished games that the designers used to beta-test prototypes. There were over 65 games featured at the event, about 45 designers, a few publishers, and players.

For full discloser, you need to know that neither Lisa nor I are table top gamers. I game primarily on my Xbox and she does on her iPad so the event was a true eye opening experience for both of us. Saturday was our three year anniversary and the idea was that we were going to stop by Unpub 3 for maybe an hour and then go do some shopping and then have a nice fancy dinner. The whole reason we decided to go was because I’m writing a story where a character is an aspiring designer and wanted to do research on the culture and Lisa had tabletop gamer friends in college and thought the whole idea of Unpub sounded fun. Instead of peeking around for an hour like we had planned we were there for almost 10 hours and only left because they were shutting down for the night. Then we ended up canceling our plans for Sunday so that we could go back to Unpub 3.

Before I get into the games, I think it’s really important to talk about how organized Unpub 3 was. I’ve never gone to a gaming event or a gaming convention, but I’ve gone to more comic book conventions then I can count. I’ve gone to teaching conferences and I’ve gone to photography seminars. Stacked against my experiences, Unpub 3 was fantastic. The venue was clean, modern, and well lit. It was also the right size in the sense that it wasn’t too big nor was it too small. It felt right. After two days I felt like I had not seen everything that I wanted, but I had a good feel for it all.

The biggest thing Lisa and I walked away with is how personal Unpub 3 felt. We left feeling like we had really gotten to know people. Since neither she nor I are gamers that may be something that’s normal in the game community, but for us it was a new experience and we really enjoyed it. I made sure that I tracked down the organizer and our favorite designers on twitter and other social media because even though we aren’t traditional gamers I think both Lisa and myself are now fans of several designers.

When we arrived on Saturday and I saw that the hours were from 10 a.m. till 11p.m. I thought that was crazy talk. I know working at a booth at a comic convention can get existing after eight hours so the idea that these designers were going to be there for 13 hours seemed insane. Yet after attending the event for two days I now get it. Of the 65 games on display we only got to play 13 full games and six partial games. Had I known going into Unpub 3 that time would be so important I would have planned things out a little better, but I’m really lucky we went back on Sunday just so we could see and play some of the things we had missed.

The range of games was about what I expected to see. There were games that looked ready to be placed on store shelves and there were other game that used index cards, stickers on pennies, and paper cut outs. Since one of my goals of the weekend was research I loved seeing the creativity that goes into game design. Creators had elaborate pieces of art glued to foam board or stickers added to index cards and then lamented. It was a real treat to see the different states of prototypes.

The workflow of Unpub 3 was pretty simple. You’d pick a game you’d want to play. You’d wait for the next round of it to start. The designer would explain the mechanics. You would play the game and then afterwards you would sit and have a conversation about it or fill out an anonymous form giving feedback. Since my background is writing and teaching we tried really hard to give decent feed back. Our responses were never “this sucks” or “I didn’t like this.” Instead we tried to explain our emotional investment throughout the game and offer any other player-specific input. For the most part it was great because you could tell when a designer’s only goal was to get information so that they could improve their game. Only once or twice did we hit a wall were the designer had an attitude along the lines of “Well you’re stupid and don’t know what you are talking about. My game is awesome. You just didn’t play it right.”

Giving designers input was what made Unpub 3 special for us. We got to bond with the designers and now that we’ve left the event there is an emotional stake. We want to see the games again and we are rooting for the designer to improve them. So it was really fun when we were able to give input and then see the designer smile and quickly write down a note or two. It made us feel like we matters and that we were helping them out.

Our Three Favorite Games:

Compounded by Darrell Louder
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Compounded was Lisa’s favorite game and it was one of my favorite games. Lisa is a chemical engineer so when we walked in and saw a game that had a periodic table as a score card she was automatically interested. Then once we played it, she quickly informed me that we were backing it on Kickstarter and that once we got a copy of the game we would have to share it with EVERY ONE we have ever met because it was that awesome.
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The game flow of Compounded is pretty simple but there is a lot of strategy to it. The idea is that you are a chemist and you are using elements to create compounds. You draw random elements from a bag and then have to place them on cards to build the compounds. The simplicity of the core game means that it would be great for both children and adults, but then because there are modifiers and abilities that you can level up there is a depth that makes the game more accessible to anyone who enjoys strategy gaming.
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We had a lot of fun playing Compounded and although there is an element of luck to, the game the luck was never the dominant feature. The choices we made and strategies we invoked were way more important that the luck factors. The luck was just a way to keep things fresh and interesting, which is cool because it’s the kind of game where you could play it back to back with the same people and each game would feel completely different.

If you want to know more about Compounded, check them out on Kickstarter. Like I said we already backed it and that’s the highest endorsement I can give a game.

Belle of the Ball by Daniel Solis
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The problem with Belle of the Ball is that it was too short. Not in the sense that the designer screwed up and the game ended too fast. I mean that when the game was over I was frustrated because I was having so much fun and didn’t want it to end. Out of all the games we played all weekend it was the only game we played more than once.
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Belle of the Ball is a card game where each player is throwing a party on the same night. To win the game you have to have the most people attend your party. So at it’s center it’s a very friendly easy to learn game. However, there are some nifty scoring mechanics, which means that it takes some thinking and planning to win. Plus there are cards that are defensive and help you and then there are other cards which you can use to screw over another player. Ultimately it was a lot of fun and because it’s quick it’s perfect for people like us who don’t have the time to invest 90 to 120 minutes to a single game..

Tessen by Chris & Suzanne Zinsli
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Tessen is a real-time card game and it was my favorite game of Unpub 3. It reminded me of playing a first person shooter, which is a really weird comparison, but let me explain. I’m a smart guy and I’m really good at multi-tasking. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy FPS because in a single match you are making thousands of decisions. Should I go to this part of the map? Should I reload? Should I defend this point? Should I turn this way? Should I duck? and so forth. For a multi-tasker it’s fun because it truly makes me feel challenged. That’s what Tessen did for me in a way that a card game has never done before. When I finished a round of Tessen I felt mentally exhausted and I mean that in a good way.
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So how do you play? There are two decks and the idea of the game is to exhaust your deck by matching animals in pairs of three or more. The real time aspect is that each player is going through their deck at the same time and they can play warrior cards to sort of put a “freeze” on another players animal collection. It’s why multi-tasking is so important in the game because not only do you have to be aware of what you are doing and think fast but you also need to constantly watch what the other player is doing.

For me, Tessen was the perfect game. Lisa on the other hand isn’t a multi-tasker and isn’t decisive when it comes to decision making. So for her the real-time aspect of the game kicked her butt. Seriously I smoked her. We would end a round and I would have over 30 points and she would be lucky to have 15. That being said, when we left Unpub 3 she told me that even though she wasn’t good at the game she thought the overall design and gameplay was one of the most solid of those we saw at Unpub.

Other Games We Played or Check-out:
Keep in mind that we only saw and experienced about a quarter of the games at Unpub 3. So please don’t think that this list is the best of the best and all the other games stunk. It just means that these are the games we happened to get to play or got talk to the designer about.

Brewing up a Business by Benjamin Rosset
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Of all the games we play tested that were truly in a development stage, Brewing up a Business was a favorite. We saw Benjamin the night before on the Designers Panel and what struck me most about him is that the advice he was giving to other designers is very similar to the kind of advice I’d give about getting a comic published. So in that aspect it was neat to see the parallels of the comics publishing world and games publishing world.

Beta-testing Brewing up a Business was really intimidating at first because there were so many rules or components. However once we got playing it was really easy to pick up. The metaphor I used when describing the game back to Benjamin was that at first the game was this scary big forest that we got lost in, however as soon as we got into the forest there was a clear perfect trail that we were able to follow.
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The concept of the game is that the players are breweries trying to make and sell the most beer. The game takes place over the course of three years with each round representing a season. Unfortunately I don’ know buzz-words so I can’t say that “it’s a euro style luck based adaptive system” or whatever to describe it’s game play. So instead I’ll say that it reminded me of real time strategy games on my computer where I had to find resources and then use them to make something.

Ultimately it was a lot of fun and of all the games we played I really hope our input was useful so that Benjamin could use it to make the game even better.

AtataT by Charlie Hoopes
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Out of all the games we played or saw, AtataT was the game that I wish I had I could play right away on my iPhone or iPad. It’s a number based bridge building game but oddly enough it reminded me most of scrabble, boggle, words with friends, and those kind of letter based games. It’s also something I could see Lisa and I playing together on our electronic devices. We had a lot of fun playing it and it wasn’t too hard to learn.

Escape from Pirate Island by Mike Young
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It was only about two weeks ago that I first discovered that there were cooperative games like Pandemic or Castle Panic. So it was so much fun to play Escape from Pirate Island because I had never played a co-op game before. We really enjoyed the theme and working together.

Wartime by Josh Tempkin & Brad Lackey
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Wartime was recommended to us by several other players attending Unpub. However every time we went to check it out the designer was somewhere else playing some one else’s game. However it sounded so cool and I didn’t want to leave without playing it so Lisa and I did something bad. We read the rules and played a game unsupervised!

I had fun. Lisa didn’t. I don’t think it was her kind of game because like Tessen it happens real time, but it was so great because it was a war game, which normally takes HOURS but instead our whole match lasted just over five minutes. I really wish I had gotten to play it more or that I had gotten an opportunity to talk to the game’s designer.

Dungeon Crawl by Mathew Snouffer
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I may not be a D&D or role play gamer, but because I’m no stranger to console RPGS I enjoyed Dungeon Crawler. It seemed like a mix between a D&D campaign and a loot centric hack and slasher like Diablo II. It had some bugs and problems that needed to be worked out, but it’s something I would be more than willing to play test again. It was also nice because it was another one of those situations where the designer really wanted honest feedback so that he could improve the game instead of being all arrogant and protective about it. As a result I’m excited to see how the game grows and evolves.

States After the Fall by Mike Swiryn, Aaron Winkler, & David Golantry
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We talked to one of the desingers about States After the Fall and if we had more time it’s one of those games that I really wish we had gotten to play. It seemed war game based like Risk, but less tedious and more strategic. Unfortunately, time was short and once we learned he had a publisher and that the game would be out in 2014 we felt less pressure to play because it meant that we could simply support the designer by buying a copy when its released.

Rancheros by Patrick Nickell
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We talked to Patrick about Ranchero on Saturday and on Sunday it was on our must list for games to play. However the game’s designer ended up sick and didn’t come on Sunday so although we checked it out we were both really disappointed that we never got a chance to play it.

East India Company by Paul Owen
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I reallyyyyy wanted to give East India Company a try but every time we went to the table it was packed with players. I’m so bummed about it because like Wartime it was one of those games that I never even got to talk to the designer about.

Hostage Negotiator by AJ Porfiro
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I played Hostage Negotiator. It’s a single player game and it’s not easy. So I kind of cheated which lead me to realize that I shouldn’t play games where another player isn’t forcing me to be honest. However if you enjoy single player games Hostage Negotiator is something you may want to keep an eye on.

Skewphemisms by Chris & Suzanne Zinsli
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Skewphemisim is a party game like Taboo or Charades. In the game, the Clue Giver reads aliterative clues off a card and the guessers have to guess the phrase that the clues are hinting toward. So for example a clue like “pudgy puma” or “lard leopard” would be hints for the phrase, “Fat Cat.”

We played with eight people and on a whole it was a lot of fun. However, because I’m a writer I did have some problems with the clues or words not really meaning what they were supposed to, but those are all things that could easily get fixed.

Lego Pyramid
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I liked the concept of Lego Pyramid. The goal is to use legos to build a pyramid. You get points for how many lego blocks of your color are used in each pyramid. Originally the designer said that the game was a card game, but because of feedback from players he designed to make a three dimensional game and I think it’s paid off. There are still things he said he has to tweak and adjust in terms of gameplay and scoring, but the overall concept and mechanics of building something was really cool.

Photo-Dump:
Here is a random collection of some of the other games we played or checked out as well as other shots I took during the two days.

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Update:
Many of the designers featured in this post asked if they could use my photos. You guys are more than welcome to download the low resolution files directly here. If you want a high resolution photo you can get that from my photography site:

http://www.scottkingphotography.com/clients.html

Password: unpub3

Just add the photo to your cart and you can purchase a license agreement for free. Once you do you’ll be able to download a high rez file.

I didn’t know so many people would want the pictures. Had I known, I would’ve come in photographer-mode and worked for an hour to get better ones instead of just causally getting them inbefween games. Sorry!