About a month ago, I had someone ask me question on Twitter. Is there an Australian board game developers / designer community? And my answer at the time was, “Not really.” Now, there’s definitely Australian board game designers (let’s name drop Brisbanite Peter Hawes and the friendly and generous Phil Walker-Harding who gave a talk at the Protospiel at TAGE) and there’s definitely an Australian board game community (no references, needed!) but the convergence of the two just didn’t seem significant enough in my head to warrant recognising a separate community.
It’s been two weeks since the Toy and Game Expo and the accompanying Protospiel, so I thought I’d revisit my expo experience and that question now. The Toy and Games Expo is what it sounds like, an open to the public exhibition of toys and games, and that distinction was pretty evident to me. There were kids running around playing with Nerf Guns and RC cars and gamers trying to work exactly how many games they could fit into their luggage. It was probably a similar size to CanCon, which seems to currently be Australia’s largest and most prominent tabletop convention, but if you’re considering that about half of that is taken up by screaming children, it’s really about half the size. I had a demo table on the Saturday, and several playthroughs of Hedron throughout the day. My demo rate was down from CanCon but I had a less great position and to be fair, Kim Brebach of Monstrous seemed to be throwing cards the whole time (don’t worry, it’s part of the game).
The Search for Community
So, if there was going to be a board game design community, it was going to be at the Toy and Games Expo. I saw some familiar faces from CanCon and got together with some of the designers kicking around the internet on the Saturday night for dinner and some late night playtesting. At some point, between mouthfuls of pho, a question was raised about many successful Australian board game Kickstarters there had been to date. The initial number thrown out was one, being Rule and Make’s Rise to Power. I managed not to choke on any noodles as I splurted out a few forgotten games and, between seven or so designers, we managed to come up with a few more. Looking back, I can definitely see why the initial answer of one came up, particularly from designers that are part of Australian’s board game community. Let’s pull up the Kickstarter results for tabletop games from Australia, and start making some excuses (PS, to save you a click ignore the current project about furries, it’s about as ready to fund as the thumbnail implies).
- 93 Made games Monster Town only just squeaked by and didn’t pop internationally (93 Made was at the convention and at dinner, by the way)
- Viking Hordes Papercraft was a Kickstarter success but it seems to be more of a cool thing with a game attached rather than a cool game
- Bedlam’s distinctive Australianess (and similarity to the much booed Munchkin) seems to have counted against it
- Elevenses is supported by cool guy and international superstar designer of Sushi Go, Phil Walker-Harding and might have happened without Kickstarter anyway
- And Conjure completely escaped my notice until just now (maybe cause I don’t play Magic)
Those are a few justifications of why the answer of one popped out, but perhaps the real reason is the answer to our initial question. Is there an Australian board game developers / designers community? Not yet, but let’s continue.
Anyway, after dinner we went to a late night games session and playtesting continue into the dark hours of the evening. (An interesting sidenote, since the game library was open til late at CanCon most designers seemed to be intent on demoing to the public during the evening, continuing business as usual, rather than testing with other designers; the after hours session seemed to give everyone permission to have a bit of a break from public time and engage with their peers), then the next day we had the playtest session itself. I won’t go into too much detail on this one, as I technically did sign a non-disclosure and I don’t how open the other designers want me to talk about their ideas. There was a small flurry of email activity between the designers after the Protospiel, and it looks like we’re going to see a couple of similar events happen, one in Adelaide and one in Sydney (so keep your ear to the ground). We were also pointed to a couple of Facebook groups by the organiser and a new BGG guild was created. I had a quick check-in of the activity of these and there seems to be a post once about every 5 days on one Facbook group and once a week on the other with a little bit of cross-posting going on as well. There’s been one forum post in the BGG guild. (Confession, I haven’t posting in any of these things, despite and because of being in late development stages for Hedron).
Okay, so the current evidence suggests there’s not a cohesive Australian game design community right now, but things are definitely happening. I’m personally still in contact with a few designers, both local and national, and things are starting to grow in Brisbane (and the Gold Coast) with our 4th playtest event coming up in Brisbane at the end of July. I’m guessing / hoping that there’s similar groups starting to pop in the other capital. There’s still a few more dates on the gaming calendar for 2014, including PAX in November, and I know I’ll be seeing some of the designer I met at TAGE and CanCon again and this time I’ll know them by by their faces not just their BGG avatar. It might be a while before we have an annual game design picnic or the Best Australian Game Design of the Year isn’t arbitrarily based on who actually released a game that year and lived in Australia at some point in turn (it went to Relic Runners this year).
There’s also the very real possibility that there’s a super secret club that nobody’s invited me into (help a brother out?)
Making A Difference
Jonathan King (Sarcastic Robot) made a call out, not too long ago, to support board game media, and not be a silent watcher. I’d also like to see less silent designers, so if you’re Australian and if you’re designing board games, get in touch or at least show your fellow designers a little like on social media. If you’ve got a game you’d like to get another opinion, reach out to one of your fellow designers and tell them that you like their stuff, and ask them what they think of yours. Like Facebook pages, follow Twitters and rate podcasts on iTunes (hint, hint). And if you’re
Want somewhere to start?’
I’m going to be a bit tricky / lazy and just give you a couple to start with. Hopefully, you’ll find more in the comments below.
- I played @TimeFightGame during Protospiel and had a rollicking good time
- @ChaoticPattern is Allen Chang, co-designer of Rise to Power
- Smashing Plastic is a new Brisbane-based board review show and Aussie reviewers are good for Aussie designers (shipping review prototpes to the US is expensive!)
Also, in case you weren’t aware Kickstarter now has a social feature, so we can all keep up to date with what’s being released and backed by our friends and peers. The aforementioned Allen Chang is definitely beating me at giving money to people.
P.S. leading up to the Hedron launch, I’ll be doing a series of post about board game design stuff with a focus on making games from Australia happen (so more industry, less mechanics).