Gen Con 50 from a designer's perspective
My approach to game design includes a large element of research. This isn't just an excuse to hoard more board games to the despair of my family (which, to be fair, it's a good reason) but it's also becoming a necessity when considering how to position and market a new game in what seems to be an increasingly crowded marketplace.
One could argue that it is becoming more difficult to innovate, and that it is becoming rare to see games with genuinely new ideas. For example, games with worker placement mechanics are very commonplace, and miniatures-heavy quest games and area control games continue to trend highly on Kickstarter.
Personally I’m a little more optimistic. As a proponent of strongly themed games, I view the ability of marrying a particular theme to its ideal mechanical expression as an art that any and every game designer should aspire to, and I think for many themes this is still yet to be done. Often for me a game will start with a theme and the design challenge of how to convert this to game which honours the spirit of the idea or source material.
Which brings me back to research. When considering how best to implement a particular theme or a particular mechanic I will go through BoardGameGeek.com to check what other touchstones and reference points there might be. What will experienced gamers compare my game to? Can I do any better?
Although I prefer to work exclusively on game design I know that these questions also matter to games publishers. I can save myself - and any potential publisher - a lot of effort by applying this sense of perspective to any project from it’s outset.
For these reasons I try to stay abreast of the latest industry news and go to as many conventions as possible. Attending GenCon50 this year was a first, and something of a milestone. As well as playing games and socialising I also scouted some of the latest new releases to see what was hot, and what was not.
Topping my list of new games expertly matching theme to gameplay were The Expanse (Wizkids), The Walking Dead: No Sanctuary (Cryptozoic), Cerebria (Mindclash) and The Thing (Mondo).
My approach and experience is what has brought me into partnership with Caezar Al-Jassar at Alley Cat Games. As well as trusting me with personal projects, I am privileged to be able to provide a perspective on every game that may become part of the Alley Cat stable. Another benefit of being at GenCon was being able to play games by a number of game designers, giving immediate criticism and feedback to aid Caezar’s decision-making process.
Another reason for attending GenCon as a designer was the opportunity to participate in ‘publisher speed dating’ organised by the Indie Games Alliance, which allowed me to pitch at a variety of potential publisher partners who I would not otherwise be able to meet in the UK.
Although my experience as a player and a designer may be considerable, my experience in being published is a more limited work in progress. I found the session useful in building both my confidence and my pitch approach, and also helpful in making industry connections that may pay off more in the long-term.