Protospiel North 2021

  With COVID numbers dropping, conventions and gatherings were opening up again! With the safety protocols they had in place, Bill and I felt confident enough that we could safely attend Protospiel North 2021, so we did! The last Protospiel North was the first Protospiel North, which happened in 2019. If you want to be reminded of our experience there, you can read about it here.   

Pre-emptive Apologies

  It has been a while since we have been to an event like this in person, so I forgot to do many of the things I used to do, like record people’s names and the names of their games. Hence, this report will probably not be particularly organized, and might miss crediting people directly for the games we played. I apologize for this, and if you were there and I mention your game, please feel free to identify yourself (or anyone else I missed!) in the comments here, or in the social media post where you found the link to this blog post. And my final apology is for this being written so long after the event; work has been busy and consuming much of my brain power. I have been feeling uncreative as of late.

The Event

  Protospiel North is the Toronto-based iteration of the Protospiel meetings which happen all over the world. Each year, game-designers gather to try out their designs with other designers and players to get feedback about their games and see which parts of their games work well, and which need to be tweaked (or thrown out altogether!) in order to make it better experience for players. This year’s Protospiel North was held November 12-14 at the Beverly Halls SPK. Protospiel North is organized by Joe Slack and Kevin Carmichael, and others whose names I unfortunately don’t have. I hope that someone will help me in giving credit to all of the organizers.

The Games

  First of all, it was great seeing people whom we haven’t seen for quite some time! It was also great to meet new people, who we hope will be our friends that we haven’t seen for a while at the next event we go to. I don’t actually remember what order I played games in, so I’m just going to post pictures from the event in random order and say something about each one.

  Here I am playing a game of our party word game “Say What, Now?” with Reed Mascola, his friend Joe, Sean Chappell and Kit Daven, and Christopher Chung. 

I sit at a round, wooden table with Sean, Kit, Joe, Reed, and Christopher, with our prototype cards for Say What, Now? on the table.
Some fun sentences were made, and matched to appropriate situations!

  I haven’t seen Reed for a while, but we met a couple of times at Snakes & Lattes, where he played this game in an earlier form, and I played his super hero game Vigilante, which has since been published! I was hanging out with Sean and Kit at Event Horizon Hobbies back in September for the store’s Popup GenCon Event. 

  We had fun, we had discussion, I made some notes.

  A game that I played was Breadboard by Nathan Schreiber. This game involved placing connectors and LEDs onto a board to make the LED light up by following the path of the current. It has been a while since I did anything like this (grade 11 electronics class!), and I certainly had flashes of old learning trying to reach the front of my brain.

A representation of a circuit board made in paper on a cork board sits on a wooden table.
I liked the look of this one, and can see great learning potential!

  The idea is that you need to connect all of the LEDs, but new ones get added on, and you only have a certain number of turns (and connectors) to do it. This is a fun way to learn about circuits at the high school level, and the fact that he had an actual board there which we inserted actual connectors and LEDs  into to see if they would light up was pretty cool. Nathan already has a game out called Valence, which involves building molecules from atoms, so he’s clearly focused on the science-learning with his games, which is awesome.

  Another game I played was Town Zero by Darrin Lauritzen. In this one, each player was a superhero fighting stacks of villains. Each character had special abilities and a background, and the art was super cool.

The crads from the game Town Zero laid out on a wooden table.
I played "Ghost Gun", and managed to pick up a sidekick: a gothy-looking character named "Grim Child", which seemed pretty fitting.

  On each turn, a player advanced around the stacks of villains, laid out in a circle, encountering and fighting them. Each villain had certain abilities that would activate if their symbols matched those on the cards that we flipped for combat. The cards also indicated if the character took damage. Once the player thought their character was too close to being defeated, they would pass their turn to the next player. Of course, there was more to it than that, with the abilities and the different villains, and the artwork was really cool. There were so many characters and villains, with names, backgrounds and themes… it was very creative.

  Bill and I played against each other in Soul Shard Skirmish, by Sebastian Slaman. Somebody please correct me if any of that is wrong. Like I said at the beginning, I didn’t take my usual notes, and I have forgotten a lot of details! This is a combat game in which my Dwarves were fighting Bill’s Elves across a modular map to gain control of territories. 

I was pretty sure I was going to like this just from the way it looked.

  This game had everything I liked in a game! I like territory control combat games, and using resources to buy new units, which could then be upgraded when you purchases special buildings. When units initiated combat in a hex, we used cards to “zoom in” to the combat and set up our combat lines. The different terrain features each had different effects, and the board was made from modular groups of hexes, so you could shuffle them and rebuild the board next time you play, for a different experience. Again, I don’t remember the details, but I’m pretty sure I kicked Bill’s ass at this game. 

  Okay, he kicked mine. That’s the truth. But I liked the way it played.

  After that, I played against Sebastian in Domination by Gordon James and Sean Iforgothislastname (sorry). This one had us creating a combat vehicle by drawing dominoes from a facedown pile. They hadn’t decided whether the vehicle was a tank or spaceship, but we liked the idea of spaceships better, so we went with that.

Behold, my space combat vehicle!

  Players start by building their spaceship. This is done by drawing two dominoes, then deciding which they want to use. Each number on the domino represents something different. The sixes are weapons, the fives are maneuvering thrusters, the fours are repair modules, etc. On your turn, you activate the domino tiles that are visible to do their actions. For example, you get an attack for each “6”, or you can attempt to repair for each “4” that is visible. The numbers across the bottom are hit locations, and you roll a die for each “6” that you have showing. The opponent may attempt to dodge the attacks (if they have any “5s”, or counter by shooting back with any “3” they have showing. If damage is dealt to a location, the domino tile is removed, revealing the one underneath. Thus, your ship’s abilities change as it is damaged! It is important to plan out your ship as you build it, which I quite liked, anticipating what I wanted to have available as different parts got blown off. What about the blank tiles? Shields. They negate incoming hits on that location.

Scott playing Domination at ProtoSpiel North 2021.
Here is the game in progress, as the designers look on.

  I liked this quite a bit, as I enjoy designing and creating combat vehicles in games, then watching them get shot to pieces. Well, I don’t enjoy that last part as much, but it happens a lot. I was reminded of Starfire, for which I designed a fleet of ships, but only ever played the game once, I think.

  Here’s a great-looking game by Joe Slack and Sylvain Plante. I can’t remember what they’re calling it, but it is about Monarch butterflies migrating south. 

The Butterfly Game
Sylvain outs together great-looking prototypes!

  This game had three phases. In the first, you draft red, black, yellow, orange, and brown cubes to give your butterfly special abilities. Next, you must get your butterflies south to Mexico, avoiding finches, storms, and fog. Once in Mexico, you have to get your butterflies into the best scoring positions on the trees. This is all done through rolling dice, and then managing what you do with each die or combination of dice. I like the elements of strategic planning, then carrying out your plan if the random elements go in your favour, or adapting your plan if the obstacles move into your way.

  Sylvain and Joe also brought Don’t Spill My Martini, a dexterity game reminiscent of classic like Don’t Tip the Waiter and Don’t Wake Daddy. Sylvain is a master of the foam core, and this looked really interesting on the table! Each player had a pile of glass beads of their colour, which, on their turn, they needed to place into some of the martini glasses. Where they placed them depended on a card that was drawn each round, but the players would play a card from their hand to determine how many beads to place, and whether they place their own or an opponent’s beads.

There was some discussion during the game.

  The martini glasses were balanced on a stand by a dowel than ran through them, making them pivot with the weight that was placed in them. The idea of the game was to have the fewest beads of your colour spilled onto the table at the end of the game. There were some hilariously tense moments as glasses tipped but didn’t spill, or when a dropped bead landed in a glass but then bounced right back out. The rules were pretty sound and it played well. We definitely had fun. Much of the discussion was about rules for how hard and from how high you can drop a bead into a glass.

  Those were the games that I played (and Bill played Don’t Spill My Martini and Soul Shard Skirmish as well), but Bill played a few others, too. I don’t have much information on those, so if you do know about them, (or you are the designer), please give credit! He did tell me about a game that involved breeding domesticated foxes as pets, which is was an actual experiment done in Russia in the late 1950’s.

Bill said it was very involved, but also very interesting!

  Here are some images of the other games Bill played:

I don't know what this one's about, but it looks pretty cool.
This looks like a space station! Why didn't I see this one and play it?

  And here are some pictures of people playing Sinoda:

  I’d also like to mention that I did get a few games of Mathemagician’s Duel level 2 in as well! With multiplication and division included, there must be a few changes to how it plays, but at the same time, I want to keep the basic feel the same, so you know it is essentially the same game. I got some great feedback, so there will some new things to try to see about maintaining that balance. With it being Level 2, we want it to feel like an upgrade, so spells will have different effects as well as being more powerful, but we don’t want it to become frustrating, because that would defeat our whole purpose of getting people to have fun while explicitly using math.

Mathemagician's Duel level 2 prototype
The prototype cards don't look anywhere near as good as the final versions!

The Final Word

  It was a great weekend, and we enjoyed seeing people whom we hadn’t seen in a year or more, and playing their games. When conventions were running freely, we’d sometimes see other designers and game aficionados several time in a year, but of course, lately, this has not been the case. The person I talked to whom I have not spoken to in the longest time was Eric Lang, whom I have not seen since high school. So that was a fun bit of catching up!

Eric Lang and us.
I ran into a guy I haven't seen since high school!

  But I enjoyed seeing everyone again, and meeting new friends as well. With the way things are heading, it looks like we may not be able to get together again soon, we we sure hope things are settled by March for Breakout Con so we can do this all again!

  Please stay safe everyone!