Thursday, September 4, 2008

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

I don't recall ever winning a game for several months after joining my first board game group in the now-defunct Berlin cafe "Alte Welt." The group would open one colorful box after another from the stacks that piled up on the ends of the tables. I would concentrate as best I could as they explained the rules in my second language. Every game was new to me, and most of the mechanics of the games were new to me. I was learning the vocabulary of game design just as I was expanding my German vocabulary.

But I was curious about a small group of gamers who would often be the first to take their places around the table. In fact, they were often already engaged in a game before others arrived. The games they were playing, however, did not come out of boxes with “Ravensburger” or “Hans im Glück” on them. And the materials were often ink-jet printed bits of paper. I soon discovered that this group-within-a-group was made up of game designers.

When something interests me, it does not take long for me to want to do it myself. I’ve even jotted down ideas for children’s stories, now that I’m reading Dr. Seuss to my twin sons daily. Needless to say, after many months of testing prototypes from such established designers as Andrea Meyer, Thorsten Gimmler and Hartmut Kommerell, I finally asked them to try out a prototype I had been working on. It wasn’t an instant success, but I found the feedback from the group and their own creative ideas intoxicating. My mind was filled with so many ideas, my pen could barely keep up, and soon I had files of game ideas, themes, and mechanics I wanted to try.

After the café closed, and the group-within-a-group decided to meet elsewhere, some newer designers and I began meeting in a newly-opened gaming café. Bernd Eisenstein, Peer Sylvester, established self-publisher Günter Cornett and I now meet Monday nights mainly to test our prototypes, although we enjoy a published game now and than. Others come to playtest the games or bring their own prototypes as well. The creative atmosphere is proving to be a productive one too—many of the games we’ve brought in to playtest there will be published in the coming years.

I’d like to use this blog to record the wonderful experiences we’ve had together as game designers and friends, and to promote the projects that have been produced and tested in this creative setting.


Anonymous said...

Happy (belated) blog-warming, Jeff! I've added you to my bloglines so will follow the posts here with interest (I am hoping to play a prototype of yours in October, actually). Should I give you a virtual cat? *evil grin*

Larry said...

No virtual critters from me, Jeff, but I'm looking forward to following your adventures here.