Working 9 to 5

I thought it might be time to give everyone an update of where I’m at with the blog, the podcast, videos and everything else I do in the industry. After all, we’re nearing the end of the year and everyone is starting to reflect on what they have achieved. However, there will be a separate article on my blog talking about what happened in 2019 in the industry in general and with regards to my work specifically, so here I focus on what is involved in producing the content for my various outlets and give you a behind-the-scenes look of what I do.

Alpha One

As some of you will know, I’m an alpha player at the core, which means I can take over co-operative games and tell people what to do. Even in competitive games I’m the one who makes sure rules are followed and actions are done in the right order. I even adjust tokens or tiles to line them up properly and ensure everything is in the right place. However, I’ve changed a lot over the last year or so and I want to share my journey with you. Maybe it will give you some tips for yourself, if you’re an alpha player too.

Games of Christmas

I guess it has become tradition now for boardgame blogs to suggest a number of games that people should play with their friends and family over the festive period. As I love tradition, I will do what everyone else is doing and give you a selection of games some of which may suit your taste and may also be a good match for whoever you choose to play with when you enjoy some time off over Christmas.

Kodama: The Tree Spirits (Saturday Review)

In a world where every tree is inhabited by its own gentle and benign spirit, it is your important task to ensure that every sapling grows strong and big, and offers a home for as many small creatures and plants as possible, thereby creating harmony and balance in the forest. If you can work in harmony with the seasons and nurture the worms, fireflies, flowers and mushrooms that grow on the tree that you have been tasked to look after, you will come out as the best caretaker and will be generously rewarded with health and happiness by the tree spirit, the kodama, that inhabits your tree. It is this work that you carry out in Kodama: The Tree Spirits by Action Phase Games.

Viewing platforms

I recently talked about how some of us need to let people know what we’re up to, by regularly sharing updates with our followers – see my article Image matters. Now I want to drill into this a little deeper and discuss the various platforms you might want to use. My focus is on tabletop game reviews, as this is one of the things I do, but you can apply the same ideas to similar content.

Colorful plastic monkeys

Community spirit

There are a lot of great things happening in the tabletop game community, which is great and for a lot of us, playing games is about meeting new people, having fun and sharing a hobby. Yet, growing the community and showing people, who have never heard about board games, what it is that we all love about playing them, is a different thing and often seen as something that is up to boardgame cafes, tabletop evangelists or game publishers’ marketing teams to achieve. However, we all can do something to grow the hobby and share with more people the joy of playing games.

Group mentality

Solo gaming has a huge following and playing against an AI or trying to solve an objective or puzzle set by the game can be very satisfying. Playing two player games is a different challenge, whether you play co-operative or competitive, and I love playing games with my wife. However, having three or more players changes the situation again and it is this player count that I want to delve into a bit deeper.

Kicking it

Let’s not beat around the bush – Kickstarter seems to become more and more the de facto way to sell tabletop games. It used to be the domain for small designers to make their game become a reality, but now established publishers use the crowdfunding platform to bring their latest release to market. I don’t want to discuss whether this trend is good or bad  – there are plenty of discussions on this topic already. Instead, I want to focus on how people use it to buy games and what their expectations are.

Abstract games

Chess, draughts, cribbage, bridge and many other traditional games are completely abstract in nature. Yes, sure, there is a theme in chess. There are two fighting armies facing each other in the battlefield, and it makes sense for the peasants, i.e. the pawns, forming the biggest part of the army and being the most dispensable – but it pretty tenuous when it comes to how these pieces move. Draughts, on the other hand, is a completely abstract game of course. Many traditional games have great depth and complexity, showing that there is no need for a theme in a good game. So let’s explore this some more.

Family gaming

I think for many in the hobby, playing games is about having fun with other people – and that is no more so true when it comes to enjoying a game with the family. I absolutely love spending an evening solving crimes or building the best bird reserve there is, instead of sitting in front of the TV. It’s great to play a quick mint tin game while we wait for our food in the pub on a family day out. There are many opportunities to play games with the family, and the games don’t necessarily need to be family games.

UK Games Expo is coming…

UK Games Expo 2019 is around the corner now. In just over three weeks, 40,000 or so visitors and over 350 exhibitors will descend on the Birmingham NEC to explore the over 24,000 sqm’s worth of exhibition halls, plus the dozen or so of rooms in the nearby NEC Hilton Hotel and probably other venues. From Friday, 31 May to Sunday, 2 June, the family friendly exhibition celebrates all things tabletop games and offers virtually everyone something of interest. I will be there on the Sunday and can’t wait to see what’s on offer.

Yucata (Saturday Review)

In my second review of online gaming platforms I look at Yucata, a free website that is all about a great, friendly community of people who love playing modern German-style tabletop games. It was started by Kay Wilke back in 2001, but since then he and many helpful people expanded the selection on the site into what it offers today – over 140 multi-player games for your enjoyment.

Replay

We all love to play lots of different games with lots of different people, it’s only natural. There is also always the draw of the Cult of the New and the Fear of Missing Out, tempting us to play new games all the time. Most of us only have a limited amount of time to play games each week, so chances are we play each game only once, or maybe twice – and if we’re really lucky three time – before moving onto the next. We might revisit a game if there is a lull, but usually only after many weeks, by which time we’ve forgotten how the game works. I am just as guilty as everyone else, but I have started to come round to the idea that playing the same game many times before moving on is actually much more fun.

Happy Meeple (Saturday Review)

In a new type of review, I talk about Happy Meeple in this article, a free to join website where you can play tabletop games online against other people as well as AIs. The brainchild of Nicolas Guibert, the website aims to introduce more people to modern tabletop games, which is something I highly encourage, by offering an easy way to learn these games, as well as creating a friendly, welcoming platform.

Fun and games

There are many reasons why people play modern tabletop games. Some love the competitive element of games and enjoy winning. There is nothing wrong with that of course, and that is highlighted by the amount of boardgame contests that are available every year. I also enjoy when I win a game, especially because it doesn’t happen very often, but for me playing games is much more about fun – and it’s this that I want to focus on in this article.

Teacher, teacher

We have a sort of house rule in our games group where you’re not allowed to introduce a new game, unless you know the rules and can teach it to the group. It might sound harsh, but it makes for a smoother experience during the games night. I know other groups do it differently. They might expect the whole group to learn the game themselves beforehand, which is of course also an option. However, whatever approach you choose, you will probably come across a situation where you will teach a game to someone, so I wanted to discuss an approach I have started to adopt recently.

Mint Tin Pirates (Saturday Review)

As you can tell from my previous reviews of subQuark’s games (Mint Tin Mini Skulduggery, Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse and Mint Tin Aliens), I love mint tin games. The love and effort Kate Beckett and David René Miller put into every game makes them very special indeed, and Mint Tin Pirates is no exception of course. It offers lots of pirate fun in a small tin that you can easily take with you, that is easy to learn, quick to play and has a small footprint, so can be played virtually anywhere. I believe Mint Tin Pirates was subQuark’s first game, and it already showed that it is possible to squeeze a lot of fun into a small package, something that the whole line of subQuark games shares.

Brain burners

Don’t get me wrong – I like heavy games, where you have to plan ahead and think about every step. I particularly like strategy games where you can outmanoeuvre your opponents by choosing your tactics wisely and making the right decisions at the right time. I enjoy it when I make steady progress and my position becomes stronger on every turn. It feels very satisfying when everything snaps into place and your earlier choices allow you to continue down the same route and everything just flows. Yet, it usually takes me quite a while to get good at a heavier game.

Intelligent design

Let me start by saying that I completely appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into thinking of, prototyping, designing, playtesting and developing a game. It takes hundreds of hours of playtest sessions to refine a game and very clever people to create a great game that flows nicely, is balanced and creates the intended player experience. So when people buy a game and change its rules without second thought, they disrespect the designers’ and developers’ hard work, time and effort. After all, your quick and hasty rule changes are unlikely to improve a game that has gone through years of development and been tested by many, many people. Yet, I think there are reasons why you would want to change a game, and I don’t think there is any disrespect to anyone by doing so in those situations.

New arrivals

For many of us it is easy to forget how we started with tabletop games. We have now played so many different games and followed the industry for some time that we forget the games we used to play and love. Of course, we have stopped playing some of these early games for good reasons. Our tastes will have changed and as we discovered more games we realized what it is that we enjoy more than the games we started with. However, that doesn’t mean our early games are bad games. In fact, it will be these games that are great for introducing new people into the community.

UK Games Expo

I joined the tabletop games industry as a blogger only recently (less than a year ago actually) and my journey really started when I visited UK Games Expo in 2018. I had started to work on a little project that I thought might eventually make it onto Kickstarter, and I felt that by attending the event I could do a little research, maybe get some contacts and generally get a better feel for the tabletop games industry and community. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, because the UK Games Expo is an amazing event, and the whole atmosphere is very friendly and welcoming. I would argue that my visit to the expo made up my mind about wanting to do more within this great community – and I knew I had to return for UK Games Expo 2019.

Online pros

As you may know, I’m very active on Yucata.de, a website where you can play over 60 games online with other people around the world on a play-and-pass basis. I also frequent The Crucible Online a fair bit, where I play with my KeyForge decks against others. You can find me as “oliverkinne” on both, so feel free to invite me to a game. I also play a few games against an AI on my smartphone, such as Star Realms and Terra Mystica. I would say I still prefer playing with my friends and family, because I love the face-to-face social element that you just don’t get with online games. However, online games, and I include apps as well as websites in this term, offer a number of advantages that make playing that way more enjoyable in other ways.

I see the light

For a lot of seasoned gamers only heavy games with a lot of complexity, many different mechanisms and that last at least two hours are worth playing. If you bring a light game to your weekly games group, chances are it will not be chosen and left on the pile. That is a real shame, because many of the recently released lighter games are a lot of fun and actually more tricky and demanding than you’d think.

We are family

Christmas is just around the corner, in case you hadn’t noticed, and soon it will be time to visit family and be merry together. For many of us, games will be part of this annual ritual, and I am sure we all have our selection of games that are tried and tested to be compatible with the varying experience within the various family groups who we will be seeing over the holidays. So here are those games that are my go to selection and come out whenever the wider family comes together – and not only at Christmas time.

I, Robot

A lot of games now come with an option to play against an artifical oponent – often called an AI, or automa. Don’t worry though, the AI won’t try to take over the world and enslave humanity. Instead an automa is there to offer the option of an additional player. In fact, some games allow you to add multiple automa, if you so wish. Artificial oponents come in many flavours and often provide different levels of difficulty, allowing you to choose how tough you want your new opponent to be.

Small is beautiful

The tabletop games industry has been booming for some years now. Back in September 2016, the The Guardian website describes how the Thirsty Meeples cafe in Oxford taps into “[t]he rise and rise of tabletop gaming” (1). In January 2017, the New Statesman website explains “[h]ow board games became a billion-dollar business” (2), and in December 2017 the Financial Review website describes how “the golden age of board games” (3) allows the Draughts game cafe in London to benefit from the popularity of boardgames and how the industry grew over time. Even as recently as April 2018, an article on the Bloomberg website (4) says that board game nights are the latest way to network. So the boom clearly continues, and it has made me wonder if small players, be they game publishers, designers or developers, rules writers, content creators, game cafe owners or games group or exhibiton organizers, still have a role in the industry.

Whenever, wherever

Inspired by Tweets following the recent Essen Spiel 2018 by a fair few people, I thought I write about one of the reasons I love the tabletop games industry: wanting to play a game whenever, wherever. In fact, many of us try and see a game in everyday activities. It is usually not about being competitive, but much more about being playful, having imagination and sharing an experience with other people – or it can be about beating your own best score, whether this is in a competitive, co-operative or solo game.

Tabletop Player Profile – Updated

In a previous article (see Co-op or competitive?) I showed what my tabletop player profile looks like, as per Quantic Foundry’s online form at https://apps.quanticfoundry.com/surveys/start/tabletop/ – which I highly recommend to everyone. In the article I said I would check my profile monthly, which didn’t come to pass as other things got in the way. However, I have now completed the survey again and unsurprisingly, my profile hasn’t changed a huge amount, but the subtle differences are interesting. You can see the latest results at the end of this article – and the previous results in the article Co-op or competitive?

Appy gaming

Tabletop games can be enjoyed in a large variety of ways. There are many people who prefer to play solo, usually playing against some sort of AI or automa, others prefer two-player games, often co-operative, but also competitive of course, then there are people who prefer games with several players, and of course there are plenty of people who enjoy a mix of all of the above.

Teach me

After playing games for a while, it is time for something new. If you are part of a games group, you may find that others in the group buy new games from time to time and bring them along – or maybe you find a new game that you really like and want to bring along. Either way, the game has to fit the group of course, because otherwise it will not get played at all, or some people in the group will not enjoy it and maybe feel sidelined. So assuming the new game that is being introduced is a good fit, what will happen at your next games night? How will you go about playing? There are several options.