Last weekend I attended Unpub 8 in Maryland. It was my first Unpub and I had a great time. Unpub takes place over 4 days and its primary focus is having the public play board game prototypes. So it seems to work better for very developed games.
I had a lot of trouble focusing on what designs to prepare leading up to Unpub. I was trying to get a lot ready and finally trimmed it down to Plutocracy, Comic Auction, Grab Bag, and Council of Guilds. They were mostly ready to go with Council of Guilds needing the most work. I decided to have Plutocracy and Comic Auction as my main focus and bring out Grab Bag and Council of Guilds if I had some time with designers.
Plutocracy is a 4X game where players don’t have their own faction. Instead they influence all of the factions against each other to gain power and manipulate economies.
Comic Auction is a game of collecting sets of comic characters through auctions, but every comic has 2 characters so your opponents might want the same comics as you.
Grab Bag is a tactile speed game. Players race to blindly pull the most matching shapes out of a bag, without pulling any wrong shapes. With many similar shapes, it can be tough to figure out what you’re actually holding in time.
Council of Guilds is an economic game where players must change who sits on the council in order to make the most money from selling their goods.
Thursday night was a dinner mixer for the designers and VIP testers. It was a chance to meet some people I already knew, people I’ve only talked to online, and entirely new people. After the dinner the game room was open for play testing. I got in a game of Comic Auction. As a result of this game I changed the auction/selling system into a closed auction system instead. It was mostly an improvement but still needs work. I also played Elements of the Gods. It was an interesting game of pushing cubes around the board to achieve different color combinations for scoring opportunities.
Friday started with a few panels on game design and publishing. I only made it to one about self-publishing which was interesting. Then I went and setup my table for my 3-7 slot.
I decided to setup Plutocracy first because it takes the most time. Friday was a pretty slow day for my table. Over the 4 hours I got in one partial game of Plutocracy and one game of Comic Auction. The feedback from Plutocracy was useful and gave me a few ideas to tweak the rules. The game of Comic Auction let me test the changes I had made the night before.
After 7 was open gaming. I managed to get in one game of Council of Guilds which I realized late had become a 3 player minimum game. Luckily we found a third player. The game went well. It needs work but there is definitely something there. Then I had a chance to play Gerrymandering and Brain Freeze. Gerrymandering was a neat 2 player, spacial puzzle. Trying to gerrymander and win the most districts. The puzzle was a lot of fun, but the cards need to be streamlined more to ease play. Brain Freeze was an interesting game of trying to read your opponents and possibly team up to score just the right amount of points. A quick game with some good table talk and distrust.
Because I had the Friday night slot I also had the Saturday morning slot. So I was in to setup at 9:30am. I went with Grab Bag first this time. It has a decent amount of table presence when you pour out the piles of bits. And it plays fast, so I was hoping to get in a bunch of games. Saturday was a busier day and Grab Bag was a good choice. I had a few groups play and it went over very well. These were my very first plays of Grab Bag, so the fact that it worked was exciting.
After a few games of Grab Bag I put Comic Auction back on the table. I got a few games in and tested out some different things. Then I managed to get in a partial game of Council of Guilds. I again forgot it was 3 players and only had one other player. So we played a few turns and mostly just talked over the mechanisms.
I had hoped to get a chance to play some more games by other designers in the second block of the day, but my time quickly got taken up by eating and recording podcasts.
Sunday morning I got to play Sniper Vs. Thieves. A fun one vs many dice drafting game of trying to collect money from a heist and escape in time, all while a sniper is shooting at you and setting traps. The game was enjoyable and had a nice tension of trying to escape and also controlling the dice pool to slow down your opponents. The game went a bit long, which is something the designers were trying to improve, I think with a bit more movement it should be an enjoyable 45 minutes.
Before leaving I was able to get in one more game of Comic Auction and Grab Bag, both of which confirmed my feedback from earlier.
There are really two distinct aspects of Unpub in my mind, play testing games and socializing.
For play testing games, it went well. I had some trouble getting groups to the table sometimes. I think the way it is setup, shorter games and games with good table presence have a better chance of getting played. I did get useful feedback on everything I played.
Plutocracy will get some tweaks to let missions continue even after they aren’t worth points to prevent the game from stalling out in certain situations.
Comic Auction needs something else in it. I’m not quite sure yet, but some hidden information so the economy isn’t calculable or some alternate options for players.
Grab Bag went very well and I even thought up a theme for it that should really push it over the top. If I can get it working the way I envision, it could be a great candidate for mass market retail.
Council of Guilds was even rougher than I realized, but I still got some great feedback and ideas for moving forward. I’ll probably end up cutting the auction aspect. It was usually pretty boring and caused more problems than it fixed. I’ll also expand the interactions with the council since that is the enjoyable part of the game and needs to be more of a focus. I’m thinking of making it a simultaneous action selection game which I almost did before.
Overall it was a lot of great testing. I wish I had gotten in some more plays of Plutocracy, but at 90 minutes plus rules and setup, it didn’t fit into the schedule so well.
For socializing it was a fantastic time. The game design community is a bunch of great people. Playing other people’s games, talking about design, podcasting, eating, and meeting new people. It’s a whirlwind of activity. The worst part is that there isn’t time for everything.
I’d say my first Unpub was a success. And I won a free table for Unpub 9 in a raffle, so I’ll definitely be back next year. Hopefully a bit better prepared. Thanks to everyone who played games and hung out with me. I hope to see you next year.