Protospiel

Courtesy KublaCon

KublaCon is touted as the largest multi-genre gaming convention west of the Mississippi. My 5 days in San Francisco showed that the power of this gathering lies in its people. Mike Eckert, executive producer of KublaCon, expected his staff of 67 to cater to over 4000 people in this 19th year of the convention. Kubla is spread over 3 hotels south of San Francisco and includes Tournaments, Miniatures Gaming, Role Playing, LARPing, Board Games, Collectible Card Games, Painting and nearly every aspect of our strange little world. Special guests abounded, with the program listing nearly 20 designers, authors (I saw Andy Weir watching a game of Terraforming Mars), YouTubers and industry insiders.

The game development and design scene is very strong at Kubla, prompting Scott Rogers (Pantone, Rayguns and Rocketships), game designer and co-host of Ludology Podcast, to call it “one event in the industry I will never miss.” The Protospiel room, spearheaded by Jeremy Commandeur, housed true greats of the industry, who showed each other extremely early designs in a safe, open environment. I was lucky enough to see Matt Leacock (Pandemic, Forbidden Desert) demonstrating a new dexterity game, as well as Scott Rogers showing off Rayguns and Rocketships the Card Game and Castle Climbers. Early designs available for the public to play also included Lanterns Dice: Lights in the Sky and Wizardz Bluff, as well as Kickstarter projects Papillon, and Fickle. Open the the public, the KublaCon Game Design Contest has 30-40 entries judged by greats in the industry, with the top 4 games open to play throughout the convention. Past years have all created published games, including critical success March of the Ants in 2014.

One of the most impressive features of KublaCon is the community. More than once I saw people leave their prized games with complete strangers, or even in an empty room, with no fear of anything being stolen. Communities banded together in the long lines, feeding each other and reserving prized places waiting for events. The feeling of community was best seen in a tradition of call and echo, where one person will yell out “Kubla!” and the entire hotel will roar with an echo of “CON!” It just makes one proud to hear a sole 8 year old scream out his war cry and be answered by thousands of supportive gamers. For the very young, KublaCon hosts kids’ gaming and crafting rooms, occasionally dressing them up in armor and weapons and marching the army of gamers-in-training throughout the convention halls, intimidating the masses.

I was able to play great games at KublaCon, both rare and relatively unknown (Smartphone Inc) and popular (you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting Wingspan or Terraforming Mars). Impressive giant scale versions of favorites King of Tokyo, Shadows over Camelot, Azul, Tak, and Captain Sonar adorned the front room. I found fantastic deals in the flea market and dealer hall. But the thing I will remember the most from this convention is that every person I spoke to had the most amazing experiences and stories –  from Disney Imagineers to Google Executives to Game Designers to Cancer Survivors to long distance friends rarely seen, Kubla truly was a convention of the people, and I look forward to next year.

Celestispiel-Banner

For those of us fortunate enough to make it to gaming conventions often there are opportunities to do playtesting of games before they are published and often before all of the kinks have been worked out.  The League of Gamemakers has posted a very good blog post on playtesting at conventions.  There are actually two types of events that are aimed solely at playing, honing, and feeling out new games, those are Protospiel’s and Unpub’s.  These are great little events for game designers and aspiring designers to introduce their games.  But too often larger conventions are not so great about providing dedicated space for would be designers to get playtesting done.  Many times you will see designers needing to go to the open gaming area or even worse just trying to find people in hallways willing to test their games.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend both Origins and Gen Con this year.  I know that Gen Con did have some dedicated space for people to bring games for playtesting but that is truly the exception to the rule at most conventions.  While at Origins though I did playtest two different games.  One was in the Dice Tower booth called “Commissioned” that was being played there because the designer wanted to show it to Sam Healey.

But the other game I tested was one where the designer had to basically try to convince people in the board room to play his prototype called “Donut Time”.  Trying to get people who have come in with the mindset of playing something else that has been published and had most of the rough edges already rubbed off can be difficult.  that is why the League of Gamemakers really is advocating that conventions have a space that is not necessarily massive but simply a dedicated space that people enter knowing that they will be doing playtesting.  It sets expectations for both designers, publishers, and testers of what they will see when entering the space.

I would encourage you to head on over to the League of Gamemakers blog to read their post on this and their highlighting of Celestispiel which was held at Celesticon.  You can find their blog post here.