This last weekend (June 7th-10th) I had the pleasure of attending the first ever Tabletop Network Conference. I had first learned of the event from co-founder (and rockin' game designer) Tim Fowers while attending Protospiel in San Jose.
Tim described the event as a "GDC for board game developers". A long-time attendee of that show, I had grown disillusioned by it. I had met and talked to GDCc founder Chris Crawford about the original GDC and how it was "twenty people talking about game design in Crawford's living room." Now that sounded like an event I wanted to attend.
Tim had already lined-up a pretty impressive roster of speakers including Rob Daviau (Pandemic Legacy) Tom Lehmann (Roll for the Galaxy), Geoff Englestein (Ludology podcast) and Raph Koster (The Theory of Fun) when I talked to him and it was even more appealing is that many of these speakers were already acquaintances. The opportunity to learn from and socialize with these respectable creators was a powerful lure. Passes to the convention were made available via Kickstarter in March. I don't think I've backed anything faster.
Many months later, the weekend of the event finally approached and I flew out to Utah. After a harrowing flight (we were buffeted by winds so strong that the plane almost turned sideways! There were people actually whimpering in fear - not something you want to hear during a flight) so I was grateful to land at Salt Lake Airport.
Billed as "The most misunderstood ski resort" the Snowbird was an interesting mix of upscale hotel and sprawling resort. It was definitely large enough for the 125 attendees of the conference.
The conference itself was organized like the Game Developers Conference - with several hours of talks and Marc LeBlanc's famous game design workshop. A brief listing of the talks I attended were:
Hearthstone designer Eric Dodds discussed making games for everyone - although the highlight of the talk is tied between Tim having to dancing during technical difficulties and when a Moose strolled by. Best takeaways: Concentrate on player's stories. Give the player strong agency. Utilize randomness (it's not all bad), use combinatorics to create interesting interactions. Give the player a chance to generate content on their own.
Thurot takeaways: Memories are created by one of three events in a game: Betrayal, the Comeback and the Attack. make the most of these. While many designers think it's either "mechanics" or "theme" (or a combination of the two), it's really "Mechanics", "Components", "Setting", "Theme" and "Feedback". Use hierarchical proportion in your miniature (and component) design - the bigger the character, the more dangerous/important/valuable it is. A flawed game elicits more of a response than a "perfect" one.
Koster takeaways: Topology is an important way to analysis games. The human mind can only hold +/- 7 verbs in memory. Don't overload the player with too many things to do.
There was an engaging talk by retailer/publisher/designer Jennifer Graham-Macht about the four types of people designers should appeal to: Consumers, Retailers, Publishers and Content Creators (reviewers, etc.) - if you want your game to be successful, a game designer should interact with these. As for where to find publishers she reminded us that there have been thousands of games published on Kickstarter and designers should contact them as they are looking for games! Treat the publishers like people rather than a catch. Ask them about their brand and what they are looking for/looking to make.
There were even round-tables cover all manner of topics during lunch. There were so many that I wanted to sit in on!
As inspiring as the first day was, one of the best part was getting to play prototypes! It seemed like everyone had brought at least one (game designers always need feedback and playtesting) and there was no shortage of games to choose from - card games to miniature games and everything in-between!
Veteran game designer Tom Jolly (Wiz-Wars) was awarded a well-deserved influencer award at an evening ceremony.
But for me, the highlight of that first day was dinner. I always try to organize a "nice meal" at these events for myself and my friends - both old and new. Having a good steak with some of the brightest minds in game design is always a pleasure.
Mercury takeaways: A game should be finished but not perfect, get feedback about what works, what needs to be improved, what are some new ideas about the game and most importantly, did they "get it"
Shalev takeaways: Design for the user - correctly solve for the right problem. He had a great illustration of the "double diamond" for problem solving. You can read more about it here.
"Castle Climbers" was well received.
altitude sickness. Headache, lack of sleep and shortness of breath made for challenging mornings. As I told Tim, "if this conference were 8,000 ft lower, it would be perfect."