Wednesday, February 27, 2008

PrezCon 2008

I attended the 15th annual PrezCon in Charlottesville, VA 21-24 February. Rick Steeves and I arrived later Thursday evening, PrezCon is a miniature WBC (World Boardgaming Championships), with the focus almost entirely on board (and card) game tournaments. Registered attendance was over 550. Justin Thompson, who runs the con, says it has grown larger every year.

PrezCon is purely boardgames and non-collectible card games--no role playing, no Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh, no "pure" miniatures (there was a Star Wars Minis tournament), no electronic games.

I don't go to conventions to play games, and I don't have much luck getting people to playtest because they're so busy with the official tournaments. Players pay a single fee and play as many tournaments as they can fit in, with wooden plaques for the winners. Most tournaments have two or three heats or rounds, then the most successful players play in a final.

GMT, Mayfair, Z-man, Cafe, and other game companies were there, but the vendors are a minor part of the convention compared with Origins. It really is a miniature WBC.

I've been at PrezCon every other year since 2004. I noticed this year that there seemed to be more kids (under18), and more folks in their 20s and 30s, and more females, though the most common demographic was still a gray-haired male. Some of those kids are offspring of the older folks, but the increase was certainly noticeable.

Early Friday I talked with Jason Hawkins (co-designer of Parthenon) at length about his elaborate but quite clever prototype game of Alexander's successors. I'm afraid Jason thought I was a curmudgeon with my questions about the complexity of it--I seem to be more and more into simple games these days rather than ones with a lot of detail. I also watched a bit of Richard Berg's prototype Dynasty (China) game being played, and skimmed the rules. Berg was also playing a cowboy game that he called a "growth game"--someone asked what had happened to him, as he's very well known for nuts-and-bolts wargames--but there was some gunslinging in it. Dynasty also appeared to be more about about growth than about war. Evidently Richard likes to write a full set of rules fairly early on, rather different from my typical practice (though I write the first-draft rules for quite simple games pretty early in the process).

The most useful thing I did was talk with Ron Magin of Cafe Games about my prototype Law & Chaos. He, Rick, and I played, and he then recommended to Pete, CEO of Mayfair Games, that he should try it. Pete talked at some length about where he has games printed (US, Germany, occasionally China, depending on what needs to be printed). The US has become cheaper than Germany owing to the high value of the Euro (or low value of the dollar, depends on how you look at it). Mayfair is one of the larger US publishers, in particular having the US franchise for Settlers of Catan, which sells in enormous numbers (six figures).

There was a small Britannia tournament, two rounds and then a final board, won again this year by Mark Smith in a tight game. About a third as many people participated as at WBC, which fits the attendance numbers (WBC is 1,500+ attendees).

Though I don't play at conventions, I look at lots of games in progress and talk with various people, and get a lot of good game ideas at a con. One in particular (using techniques from Law & Chaos) is likely to turn out well. Another is a space-themed, broader market, analog to Robo-Rally, my friend Rick's favorite game. Rick also played an eight hour Axis & Allies game, which reminded me of an old project I had to try to make a two hour WW II game that concentrated on the virtues of A&A (strategy) rather than its "unvirtues" (lots of dice, economy-driven, LONG). Many notes and much discussion took place, but I don't know if I'll get any further this time than last.

At the con I heard about a "broad market" (as opposed to mass market) version of a famous gateway game. That gateway game is quite simple, but this version is MUCH simpler, to appeal to a broader market--people who don't normally play boardgames at all except for Monopoly and such (I think), and who might buy them in places like Target or Macy's.

Just for the heck of it, I'm trying to develop a "broad market" version of Brit (the kind of thing that would sell with Risk and similar games). History may be too serious for a broad market, especially medieval British history, but it's an interesting exercise. I already have a "Brit Lite" version, and that can be played by casual gamers and video gamers, but I'm aiming at the sort of folks who might play Risk and Monopoly and checkers or chess, but not much else. I'm doing this for my own amusement, not with the idea of ever having it published.

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