Friday, October 24, 2014

First post-Essen thoughts and some more pictures

Essen 2014 was awesome! So many people we had seen in the past came by our booth again, lots of handshakes and hugs made Essen feel like a gathering of old friends, brought together by teh same passion - board games.

For the first time in the history of NSKN Games, we sold out in Essen having more than one product at our booth and the quantity was not negligible. Delivering more than 200 Kickstarter rewards while serving a lot of customers was another big challenge, but we seem to have passed the test.

It's hard to draw all the conclusions after just a few days, but the whole NSKN team has returned with a very good feeling. Next week we'll have to look more in depth into what this event represented for us and we'll come back and share the conclusions.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Essen 2014 - day 2 & day 3

This year's Spiel Essen turns out to be a truly amazing experience. We continue our story in images with photos from day 2 (Friday) and day 3 (Saturday).

Day 2 - what was supposed to be the slowest day...

Happy owners of brand new Progress: Evolution of Technology

Explaining Progress

...and playing Versailles

Happy girls

Day 3 - the "sold out" day

Hard thinking and... watching

Progress countdown on Saturday morning

Game delivered!

That's what we call original

Around 11;00 AM

One of the last copies of Progress delivered at Spiel

4 copies left

and just a few minutes later...

With Progress sold out, we still invite you to visit our booth. We have a few copies of Praetor and a few of Versailles for Sunday.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Essen 2014 - setup and day 1

Being in Essen for Spiel is always an amazing experience, but this year's first day has exceeded our expectations by far. Since another big day is ahead of us in several hours, we'll let the pictures do the talking...

Day -2: leaving home

Leaving friends at home...

Day -1: setting up the booth

No less than 10 pallets of games made it to our booth in Essen

The setup day was looooong

... and it included climbing a giant ladder

Day 0: the day before the official opening

Delivering Kickstarter copies of Progress

The game have slowly found their places on shelves... and everywhere else

Game previews at the BoardGameGeek booth

Day 1: Spiel '14 Essen has finally starter... full speed ahead

Playing tables

The stock of Progress is running low from the morning hours... should we have brought more games?


Progress: Evolution of Technology

And Versailles again

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Our Essen Hotness

From a publisher’s perspective, a convention or a trade show is exciting, but also somewhat stressful. It’s both about preparing everything in advance, as well as performing at peak efficiency for an extended period of time, to make sure that our games and – more importantly – the people who visit us, get all the enthusiasm and the positivity they deserve. And with Spiel 2014 starting in merely a blink of an eye, we can’t but get more and more excited with what awaits us in Essen.

Spiel is a celebration of games and gaming, and as passionate gamers we would lie if we said that only Progress or Versailles excites us. There is a fair amount of gaming goodness we will be more than happy to get our hands on, not just to see “what the competition has to offer”, but to simply have fun with when the dust finally settles.

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It seems that the game that equivocally excites all of us is Hyperborea by Andrea Chiarvesio and Pierluca Zizzi. It’s no secret we always had a soft spot for civilization and empire building games, so this one made us all interested from the first day it became a visible blip on our gaming radars. With good looking area control action and an immensely interesting pool building mechanism, Hyperborea looks like a game that will put a pretty cool twist on the “dudes on the map” genre, while showing off some clever Eurogame moves, asymmetrical player powers and some truly awesome art. Simply put: we cannot wait to see it in action.

And speaking about civilization building games: we will definitely be checking out Historia and Omega Centauri. The former seems to be sporting some really innovative approach towards civilization gaming in general, while the latter looks a little more straight up – but as a solid 4X game in space has a pretty good chance of making the creators of Exodus: Proxima Centauri quite excited about placing it on their Essen loot pile.

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There is also a lot of excitement about The Battle of Five Armies, as some of the NSKN folks are great fans of War of the Ring, while others (myself included) are fatally drawn to everything having anything to do with the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. And with some reviews already up, as well as having the exact same set of designers (Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello) as the legendary WotR, the culminating battle of The Hobbit in a board game format really looks like something we might want to have on our shelves.

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No Spiel would be complete without a new game by Uwe Rosenberg, and, more recently, without an offering from Stefan Feld and Antoine Bauza. And although we are slightly disappointed that Fields of Arle is a two player game only, we will definitely want to check it out, as well as take a good look at both Aquasphere and La Isla. And personally, I really can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Samurai Spirit.

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To tell the truth, the list could really go on. We want to try out Nations: The DiceGame, visit the Z-Man booth to see how Battle at Kemble’s Cascade makes an early video game go completely analogue, get a fix (in form of a new board) of the fabulous Concordia or witness with our very own eyes, how Phil Eklund and Philipp Klarmann managed to make a negotiation game for not only three or two players players, but also for one (some of us even want to visit actual Greeenland but that is a completely different story). We will delve in the Essen gaming hotness, but…

At the end of the day, we will be most excited to see everyone who deems our humble abodes welcoming enough to visit us, stay awhile and play our games or just say hello. We will be – and in fact we already are – most excited to see our old friends and make some new ones. Because, believe it or not, gaming is much more about the people than the games. So, as much as we are happy to be presenting, selling, playing, demoing and experiencing games, we will also be happy to share this experience with others. 

And, in a way, that is what our personal Essen Hotness is all about.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Designer Diary - Praetor (part II)

To read the first part of this designed diary please follow this link.

Praetor 1.1

Decreasing the number of tiles was an obvious choice. The game play was sound, but simply too long. Making less tiles of one kind (e.g. Gold Mines which would provide currency for players) did not decrease the number of choices, it simply made the game easier to grasp. The first “hair cut” left Praetor with less than 60 city tiles.

To avoid any scalability problems from the very beginning, I created a core set of about 25 city tiles which were used for the 2-player games and with each extra player several more tiles would be added. With each extra player there were more workers and more resources in the game and thus the play time would not increase significantly since more workers plus more resources meant faster building.

The one test I was the most afraid of was the first 6-player game. I knew that in theory the game should scale nicely, but I also knew that sometimes there’s a big difference between theory and practice. To increase the difficulty of the challenge even further, I chose a group of very casual gamers, people who would usually settle for game as complex as Monopoly. To my surprise, the game only took two hours and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Version 1.1 had passed its most difficult exam and the game was deemed ready for mass testing.

Nürnberg 2013 and the long months of testing

I had big doubts whether to present the prototype of Praetor to W Eric Martin of BoardGameGeek at the Nürnberg Toy Fair or not. I knew that showing a rough version with no graphic design could trigger negative opinions, but the team decided to go for it and see it would spark any interest. And it did!

Praetor 1.1 hex tile

It suddenly became a lot easier to find groups of testers and it also created the right expectations. People were playing an illustration-free game and they were giving feedback only to the game mechanisms which is exactly what I needed.

After I became convinced that the flow of the game is right, I added the last piece of the puzzle, the mechanism of tile placement. Every corner of each city tile was painted in one of four colors. When a player would build a new tile (district), he would also have to choose its place in the city. The more corners matched the neighboring tiles, the more extra points that player would get. It was another level of strategy and it also made the modular board look nicer, at least in my mind since there was not even a hint of illustration on the city tiles.

We took Praetor to a few small conventions and to the UK Games Expo in May 2013 and slowly drafted what looked like the final version. The last major decision was to limit the maximum number of player to 5. I won’t get into many details, it had a lot to do with the tradition in the industry, many games of this genre being limited to 4 or 5 players and a bit to do with adding diversity and limiting the chaos with a large number of players.

The last significant change in the game play was dropping the concept of initiative. At first, each tile would provide an amount of a resource called “initiative” which determined the order of play. This allowed the most developed player to play first in a subsequent turn, hence no catching-up mechanism. With the initiative out of the way, every turn the order of play was based on the number of favor points, from the lowest to the highest. I knew that it was a common thing in board games, but at that moment I felt like I discovered the wheel because the last shadow of concern related to the imbalance of the game disappeared.

Summer, public display and the first days of winter

We announced that we’d present Praetor in Spiel ’13 Essen quite long before we had any final graphics prepared. After extensive feedback, I was finally convinced to give up the hexes and use squares. The game play did not change, the tile placement mechanism became simpler and the work of the illustrator and graphic designer significantly easier. I had to accept that I was in love with my own concept and that I had to give up and embrace the fact that when many people tell you that you’re wrong it’s probably true.

One day last autumn I was chatting with a good friend on Skype and with a very casual voice he told me that he has heard of another game fresh on Kickstarter which employed “the same idea with worker which get experience”. I turned first red, than white, thinking that the last year of my life was in vain. How could this happen? Is the project dead? I don’t stress easily, but I must admit that I don’t remember much of those next ten minutes. I looked for the rules, browsed through, had a cold glass of water and ultimately calmed down. It was a different game (and I apologize for not even remembering the name, all I can recall is that it did well with its crowd-funding) and in my mind there could not be any sign of confusion. I finally replied with arrogance “great minds think alike” but I must confess that I had cold sweats just thinking that I took too long to design a game that I can be proud of and someone else beat me to it.

Illustration for Praetor City Tiles

Well, we made the deadline for Essen with all the illustration for the city tiles ready. On top of that, we increased the size of each city tile from 2.5 x 2.5 in to 3.2 x 3.2 in so the illustrations are more visible. Even as a prototype Praetor got a lot of attention and we had many offers from people willing to purchase our only prototype. I was convinced we were on the right track, so I spent the late autumn and the first days of winter working on the final rules and making sure that we’d have the final graphic design to complement the beautiful illustrations.

 Ready, Set, Go!

Praetor punchboards during the manufacturing process
In April 2014 we were able to touch the final product. With yet another graphic design update made by a professional designer, we released Praetor in seven languages and over 7500 copies, making it the largest title from NSKN Games to date.

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