Where is Chris now?

Athens, Greece — Laura and I arrived a couple of days before I left for Germany.

What games are you playtesting?

All of them! OK, seriously:

  • Taco — after being shelved (then unshelved when a few publishers asked to see it), the winds of change have smiled upon it again. It’s simple, family-friendly, and rewards thinking ahead over simply what makes you the most points this round. Of all the games I pitched at Essen, this one received the most feedback / positive ideas.
  • Defuse — the ten-minute, real-time game was playtested and/or shown quite a bit at Essen. A couple of potential changes are small (keep the face-down discard pile rotated 90 degrees from everything else), while others may require re-balancing the whole game.
  • Secret Recipe — this was my most-pitched game, and it follows it was also the game I gave away the most prototypes for. My main goal playtesting this one is ensuring the actions are understood, and possibly changing the (already few) words to icons to make the game more language independent. (If anyone has a good icon suggestion for ‘savory / savoury’, I’m all ears!)

What’s happening behind the scenes?

Just after arriving in Athens, I bought a printer — with all the printing I needed to do before Essen I figured it would be cheaper and easier than the local print shop. No more having to schedule print runs during office hours! For a nomad like me, the reality is a little different — while I may be able to sell it when I leave Athens, even a ‘small’ inkjet printer is rather bulky in luggage. It’ll probably come out even when you factor in ink costs, but is more convenient.

Over the next week or so I’ll also be making those changes listed above and printing new versions of games. I ended up giving away over a dozen prototypes (including my playtesting copy of a couple of them), so the collection looks a little light right now.

What’s the next big thing?

Connecting with the gaming community here in Athens. I’m aware of a game night on Wednesdays and another event happening on Saturdays… and then there’s AthensCon in early December which looks like a thing for geeks and nerds of all types.

Essen 2018 was awesome, and here’s how I’ll be making Essen 2019 even better.

Wear your most comfortable shoes.

Very few people at a con like Essen are there looking fashionable with the occasional cosplayer or executive in a suit. Some have their favorite nerdy shirt on, while others wear a t-shirt of the company or game they love (or are representing as a volunteer). No one is looking at your shoes.

The flipbook rocks.

Wait, what’s a ‘flipbook’? It’s a A4/letter-sized binder with the clear plastic pockets pre-inserted, but without the metal rings. Put your papers in the pockets / sleeves, then flip them like a book. They’re usually a few bucks at most office supply stores, and just about every stationery / office supply store I’ve been to around the world has had them as well.

The uses at a convention are near endless:

  • As a catalog of sell sheets
  • To display photos of the game at different stages / game states
  • To display the rules of a game
  • To organize your ticket, hall schedule, appointment sheet, and so on
  • Add in a pad of paper to take notes with

Print more prototypes and fewer sell sheets.

After showing a sell sheet and/or a game, I would typically tell publishers I was happy to send them a print-and-play version of the game after I got home, or I could give them a prototype for them to take home. (Some asked if they could borrow a prototype to play and return before the end of the convention — I said ‘yes’ in every case I could, though it did mean more running around on Sunday trying to pick up loaned-out copies. Others asked )

How many prototypes? While this is obviously going to depend on your ability to research, pitch, and then demo your game,

As sell sheets went, almost everyone looked at the sell sheets, but almost no one requested them. In retrospect, it may not have been clear I had copies to hand out if people wanted them, and I rarely asked people if they wanted them…

Go language independent

The person you’re pitching likely speaks some English, but it’s the players you’re both thinking of. Games that can use icons instead of words can be sold without as much translation, editing, or other changes — and as a bonus, the production costs on, say, 10,000 copies of the same game is lower than 2,000 copies of 5 different languages.

This doesn’t matter to you now while in the pitching stage — after all, part of the reason you’re pitching is to let someone else worry about manufacturing and marketing and promotion. If you can make icons, either from public domain images and icons, add them where possible to show how language-independent your game is.

Use bigger pictures in sell sheets

Before breaking out a prototype, you might use a sell sheet to show off a game – a picture really is worth a thousand words since it shows off what a game looks like, the variety of cards, and so on.

Oh, and make sure your sell sheets are using current photos.

Leave early!

This may be Germany, but the Rapid Express intercity trains and the subway-like U trains are all crammed to the max with tens of thousands of people all trying to get in when it opens. If you get caught up in this crowd, just going from the train to the door to get in can take half an hour. Construction is also a factor, and replacement buses can take much longer than the trains.

Leaving early also goes when it’s time to leave the conference each day. Unless something’s keeping to the end of the day, even an hour or half-hour early will go a long way towards beating the crowd. The U11 train is really the only way to arrive via public transportation, so anyone not driving is taking it.

Food trucks rock — but bring your own bottle

No one comes to Essen for the food, but everyone’s gotta eat. Aim to have a big breakfast before arriving, then look for the food trucks near the corridors connecting the halls.

Bring your own bottle, though — for reasons unknown. a bottle of just about anything cold can cost 3 or 4 €.

Don’t bother with a coat unless you can stuff it somewhere.

Yes, it’ll be cold for a little while if you’re waiting outside. However, you can skip the queue at the coat check. If it’s the sort of jacket you can just stuff in your suitcase, that’s no big deal.

Understand how the rows and columns work — and where the system breaks down.

Rows of numbers run west to east, while columns of letters run north to south, A hall number like 1-C110 breaks down to hall 1, row C, number 110 in that row. Complications arise, however:

  • Not every booth has a number displayed.
  • Not every number exists in every rows.
  • Booths come in many different sizes.

This is rather critical information when you’re scurrying around, looking for where you’re supposed to meet a publisher in 5 minutes… Each row of numbers is internally consistent, though — numbers always go up when you head one way, and down when you head another.

It’s also easy to lose the forest for the trees — if you think you’re in the area, look up to see if their sign / flag / banner is hanging overhead.

Lugging around a big suitcase isn’t the best option…

…it’s just the least worst option. If you have a large backpack that can store all your prototypes or purchases, consider using that instead — just be careful when you swing around

When pitching, keep your English simple.

Some know English as a native or are fluent, but not everyone’s going to catch on to Americanisms, colloquialisms, etc. Avoid non-gaming slang as well, where possible.

Ask everyone you meet what they’re doing tonight.

Essen 2018 (and 2017) lacked any official after-event parties I was aware of, though there are plenty of informal get-together held by publishers or online groups. Whether you’re looking to play some games in a different atmosphere or are looking to network, those tens of thousands of attendees are all still in town and looking to enjoy the hobby wherever they can.

Pick up the sample kits for designers.

I’ll write more about these in a future post, and it’s important to note these are for self-publishing designers and other professionals in the industry. They’re not intended for gamers, as they’re meant to show off a manufacturer’s range and capabilities.

Over to you

How was your October? Comments are open.