This last Incubator event was our second ever daytime one, and though we has slightly less people attending than the first one, we still saw a whole bunch of different games being playtested. We also had some newbies who had never attended an Incubator before playtesting their game and some who had previously attended but brought a game for the first time. Overall, I think it was a pretty successful event, although there are still some areas we could really improve on. I’ll start off my session report with what I played on the day:
Games I Played
I’m a sucker for puns, so I couldn’t NOT play this game. It’s a fairly light and fast-paced combat game about fighting between dwarven clans. You control various dwarf fighters over a set number of rounds and you win by defeating other dwarves and collecting the most beards as trophies. The combat rules are simple enough, with some similarities to Risk in that you roll a bunch of dice and compare them in descending rank order. Your dwarves also become less effective as they take damage (dwarves and health are represented by a stack of tiles, similar to Clinton’s Noble Intentions) unless they are hero units. You can also gain gold which lets you buy more power up cards and recruit more dwarves. Right now, the various systems work fine but it feels like there’s a lack of cohesion in them to add up to something more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fun game, but I think with a bit more thought in why those systems are there and how they can drive each other, it could be a more enjoyable game for me. Then again, the danger with overthinking the systems is it will detract from the quick, fast-paced nature of it. I’m curious to see where the designers will take this in future versions.
Played another game of Stefan’s Plunderrr! I’m still unsure about my strategy with it. The actions are fun to do, but I’m still not getting the overall strategy of the game. I think I’ll need to play this a bit more to figure out how to play better. With games like Love Letter, Coup and Mascarade, you can slowly learn some strategies and player tells as the card pool is locked in for a fair amount of time. In Plunderrr!, you have to quickly re-evaluate the situation as the rounds go pretty quickly and change up the pool. It’s a lot of doublethink which is cool, but the randomness and lack of continuity between rounds makes it a lot more tactical and you really need to keep an eye on who’s in the lead or close.
Giant Snail Will Not Prevail
I didn’t actually play this, but I did teach this game to a group of 4. I actually messed up the rules here and ended up making the game way too easy. It’s a darn good reminder to update the wording of the cards so that this doesn’t happen again. Also, I tried out a new way to deal with combat using the robot, but it still felt pretty clunky. Back to the drawing board for that. This was actually a great playtest as I got to note flaws in the difficulty level and its sensitivity to a slight misplay, and also in watching how the players dealt with the combat portion. One more thing I noticed is that the Tech cards weren’t being used as much, so there needs to be a look at the power levels and incentivisation there. Oh and huge thanks to Steve for the amazing 3D printed model of the giant snail!
Pitch Tune Up:
Since this event was happening the week before PAX Australia, where some people would be meeting up with publishers about their games, we thought it’d be a good idea to run a pitch practice session. The idea was that it’d be an opportunity for designers to practice pitching their games to people, and they could then rework them if needed while also gaining confidence in presenting to others.
We had 4 games booked in for the pitch practice session, and one more that requested a slot as we were running it:
- From Beneath the Icy Waves
- Dam Beavers
- Rocky Road Warriors
- Guild Master
I originally envisioned anyone who wasn’t playtesting could sit in to watch the pitch, as that was also a way to learn from others, and that was how we ran the first pitch. However, some people were uncomfortable presenting in front of a large number of people and requested to pitch just the Incubator admins. I was a little uncomfortable with this request, as I don’t actually have experience pitching to publishers. I believe our roles as admins are just to make sure things run and facilitate a healthy and welcoming environment for the events, and we’re not doing it because we’re more knowledgeable than others in the community. However, I also realise that pitching a game to a large audience can be daunting and since admins are more regularly at events, designers may feel more comfortable with us as a subset.
In the end, the format of the pitch session was slightly different for each game. I think the idea is solid and the pitch practice sessions went well, but in the future we’ll have to do a better job at setting up and communicating the intent and format of the sessions to the attendees. This was also our first time running such a session, so I’ll take that as a lesson learned.
Games I did not get to play:
Guild Master – Chris and Nathan returned with an updated prototype for Guild Master, which looks fantastic. Though I didn’t get to play the new prototype, it looked like the graphic design was much cleaner and functional compared to the last one, while still looking quite pretty.
Engines of Madness – Al is back with yet another prototype, in addition to Space Junkers from the last event. This looks like an engine-building game (duh!) that uses a bunch of dice, which have featured in most of the prototypes Al has brought to Incubator so far.
Planitects – Alex’s game of planetary construction. I like the rings that you add to increase the planet’s size.
From Beneath the Icy Waves – I like how the cards form a boat, and the description during the pitch session was pretty intriguing. It’s a 2-player asymmetrical card game where one player uses workers to build up to 4 reactors while the other tries to mess with the boat by throwing ice or slime at it.
Power & Prestige – Sye’s quick drafting game has come a long way from its original gem-dealing days. I feel like there could still be a maths pass to be done to make sure the scoring for the sets is balanced, but I like how it plays.
Hex Mex – I love food, games and puns. I’ve not worked out how this new version of Peter’s magical restaurant game has changed, but I do love that theme.
Conclave – From what I gathered, this was a real time trading game where you’re trying to manipulate the papal elections. Cool theme, and I am intrigued by real time trading.
Trapdoor – This is apparently Dale’s Peter Pumpkinhead, renamed. Unfortunately I don’t know much more than that.
Village Pillage – Another one from Peter, but I know nothing more than the name.
Elemental Tussle – First game brought to the table by Michael, but I don’t know more than that.
Alien Evolution – Another of Peter’s games. It looked like a co-operative game.
Rocky Road Warriors – This was pretty fun to watch, as it involves driving and crashing cars made out of lamingtons with marshmallow wheels and Tiny Teddy biscuits as passengers.
The Elementals – Ben brought this and had it set up, but unfortunately we didn’t get around to playing this as there was pitch practice going on and a bunch of other games as well.
Gunslave – I didn’t get to play it this time, but I had played this previously at a Godzilla Games event. Orion has done stellar work with the models of the mechs in this game, although the actual game pieces on the map are much smaller. I’m not really into Battletech or the tactical miniatures genre, so I couldn’t really comment on the game system which seems pretty complex to me, but I would gladly pay for those models.
Some final thoughts on the event:
Overall I think the event went quite well. We weren’t as organized in the lead up to the event this time, and just let designers organize their games after letting us know what games they would have available. I’m quite bummed out that Ben and Orion had set up their games, but due to lack of players and I think structure on our part, they didn’t end up playtesting their games. I want to try setting up a proper schedule and sign ups for the next event, so that people can guarantee their games get playtested at least once and I also want to encourage designers to playtest each others games and not just their own. Especially with the longer games, the daytime events are not as regular as our monthly ones, so I want to make sure they can get played then. I’ve just had a great time at PAX Australia and leading up to it chatting with a bunch of other people who have run similar events, and I’ll be chatting with the rest of the admins about what we’ve learned and see what we can do to improve Incubator. I’m still incredibly proud of the community that we have, and I’m really looking forward to making it even better now that we’ve managed to connect with our peers.
If you are interested in board game design or in playtesting prototypes, come along and join us at Games Laboratory. We will be having our November session toward the end of the month (I’ll update once we’ve confirmed the date with Games Laboratory) so keep an eye out on our Facebook group page. See you there!