Making Games by Gaslight: Hurricanes and Game Design
Like so many others, Hurricane Sandy has left me in the dark. Not that I’m complaining, others have it a lot worse than we do. One look at the photos from New York City or New Jersey is enough to have anyone count their blessings. Still, this is the third storm in two years to leave my home without power for more than a week at a time. Oh sure, I should have invested in a generator by now, but what were the odds we’d have another storm of the century so soon? Right? Pretty good, as it turns out.
Anywho, all of this leaves me with an interesting challenge this week, designing and assembling prototypes of new game designs by gaslight. Yep. As generators were impossible to come by (I’d missed a shot at the last Home Depot had by 45 seconds), I hunted down two gas hurricane lamps, which I thought would be better than the candles we used last year. I have to say I’m greatly pleased… less mess and more light.
As I crouch over the sample cards I’ve glued back to front, with my coat fending off the cold and my xacto knife poised for yet another cut, I can’t help but feel a touch of Dickens about me. Scrooge in the next room and me, wishing I had another coal to warm my hands, squinting in the dim light for the line to draw the razor across. It is slow going, but going well. Hand-assembling a game is fun, but is a lot of work.
Why bother? Well, this weekend is a grand opportunity to playtest a number of new designs, a whole weekend dedicated to bringing game designers and players, eager to try something newer than new, together. It’s a convention in Morristown, NJ, called Metatopia. It’s the second year running and is filled with panel discussions for fledgling designers, some of which I will be lending my experience to, and play testing from 9am to 4am the next day (for a few die-hards), before hitting it again on Sunday. I think I have almost every minute of that time scheduled – and valuable time it is. If you are local and have a board game you need playtested, there is no better venue. I heartily recommend it.
We are trotting out five new game designs, two slated for my own company, Smirk and Dagger Games, and three others that I will be attempting to license to larger game companies. I’ve done such a good job at building my own brand of ‘stab-your-friend-in-the-back’ games that some designs just don’t fit into my company’s line, nor are they tolerated by my fans, who greatly love poking each other with sticks. What can I say? I’ve trained them well.
Two of the designs are party games, which I will be pitching to companies like Hasbro, Buffalo Games, & Endless Games, to name a few, in two weeks in Chicago. Normally, big game companies do not look at unsolicited designs from unrecognized inventors without an agent (and agents basically take half of your earnings for having gotten your design an audience). But once a year, just before Thanksgiving, Chicago plays host to an amazing opportunity for inventors.
The Chicago Toy & Game Fair (CHITAG, November 17 -18) is held at Chicago’s Navy Pier, where the public can come out to preview, play and purchase hot new Toys and Games from around the world, and meet the inventors who created them. During the weekend, there is a Young Inventor’s Challenge, where kid’s toy and game designs are showcased. Over 150 kids entered last year from across the country and overseas. Besides great prizes, toy and game industry representatives provide advice, recognition and encouragement to dream big and discover the possibilities of play! Last year, one of the winners got licensed by a major toy company.
More important for adult designers are the two days before. T&GCon is the toy industry’s preeminent, most comprehensive conference available to toy and game inventors and seasoned industry professionals. Since 2006, T&GCon has brought together the nation’s leading toy and game industry experts and the independent inventing community for two days of invaluable networking and educational opportunities. If you’ve ever dreamed of getting a toy or game seen by a company – or better yet, produced, this is the place to be. I attended their first con ten years ago and a number since then – and learned so much it is incredible. Round table discussions, one – on – one chats with key decision makers, who can help guide you or potentially bring your designs back for further review, networking… plus an all around great time with some fabulously creative people.
And after a number of years attending T&G, Toy Fair, etc and having the good fortune to have licensed my 3-D Outdoor Chalk line to Crayola, the week opens up another unique opportunity. I-Spi, the International Summit for Professional Inventors, layers on top of T&Gcon with special events for recognized inventors in the community. Not only will we all get to hear the wishlists from the major toy and game companies and attend advanced workshops, but we’ll get some face time to pitch ideas too.
I can’t wait to trot out my new babies. Who knows, maybe next year you’ll see one of them on shelves for the Holidays. And that is why I am plugging away, working by gaslight, praying for the power to come back on.
Wish me luck – on either front!