Among the many games we brought from this year’s Essen Spiel, there is a nice little cache of prototypes from newbie and veteran designers alike. This blog post is not about these prototypes. It’s about the ones we did not collect – and what made us pass on them the moment they landed on our table.
Some time ago I wrote a short series of articles on how to build a prototype in a way that will make a publisher more willing to play your game. What you are reading now is a spiritual successor to those posts, and what has been somewhat missing from them: what not to do. So, if you want to know how to make a publisher instantly uninterested in your prototype, just do one of the things listed below.
Before you continue though, please remember that what you read here may be an industry standard (as we are a part of the industry), but is a rule only when it comes to NSKN Games. Other publishers may be more (or much less) gracious than us, so your mileage may vary.
Also known as Extreme Cubeage. Easily recognizable, as you take fifteen minutes to set up your game due to the number of components barely fitting in that old Ticket to Ride box. Cubes, tokens, meeples, eight types of resources, each requiring fifty wooden markers, one hundred tiles and over two hundred cards.
I’m not saying that your game is bad just because there’s a lot of stuff inside. After all, there those notoriously lavish games like War of the Ring, but what you need to do is be sure that all of the components you bring are really necessary. So, before you significantly lower your chances, think about maybe switching out piles of tokens for player board tracks, and make sure that your thirty minute family game does not cost as much as Cthulhu Wars to produce.
Poker or Chess
While there are some games that are incredibly successful variants of Chess or Poker, introducing your prototype by saying: “It’s like Poker but…” is an almost certain way to make our minds instantly wander off. Both Chess and Poker are established games, with sets of rules that have been polished by millions of plays around the world. Unless you want to compete with that, think of a different mechanism to put under the hood of your creation.
However, remember that there is a difference between a game being a variant of Poker or a variant of Chess, and a game that draws from one of these classics to create an interesting mechanism in an innovative design. So, if you only collect resources using a mechanism reminiscent of Texas Hold’em, or make something work like a Chess Knight, by the love of all that is good and pure, do not introduce your design as a variant of the game you took the page from, as it will win you no friends.
Okay, we know that prototypes exist to be played over and over again. They exist to be handled (and occasionally mishandled) by many people and touched by many hands. We get that they are not as durable as professionally printed games. So, it’s okay when a prototype is worn out, as it even instantly suggests that the game has been played. What’s not okay is when we’re scared of touching your prototype without rubber gloves, and possibly a gas mask.
If you have any doubts when it comes to whether your prototype is still acceptable or not, consider erring on the side of caution. And if dozens of test have also added notes, scribbles, multiple corrections on top (or actually below) the oily crust on the cards and tokens, simply sit down and redo the prototype. Yes, we will probably see through the rough exterior, but why not better your chances?
Is that all?
Probably not, as going through prototypes is something we do on a regular basis. Maybe, though, you’ve come in contact with a prototype that made you want to run for the hills? Remember, sharing is caring!