This weekend I brought my game prototype to a board game convention in Gouda. It is the largest free-entry board game convention in the Netherlands. I arrived at least half an hour before it started, to make preparations. Publishers, shop owners, game designers and organisers were busy with their own preparations. After putting my game in a mid-game set-up, with some cards already on the table so I had something to show, immediately an early guest came in and started looking at my game.
He was a man of 60-something years old, not that different from the character you see when you scroll up right now, but with normal clothes and not as smelly. And no sign or mysterious book. Okay maybe he didn’t look like him. I tried to break the ice by asking him if he likes card games. “I enjoy all kinds of games,” he answered. So I invited him to sit at my table and we started playing.
The man quickly picked up the rules, started his turn before I was done explaining, and just learned the rules as I explained them during the game. Before I knew it, the game was over. I didn’t even notice that he beat me, I was too focused on explaining the game and looking for points of improvement. So I asked him what he thought of the game. “It was too quick, I need to play it from the start to form an opinion.” And so we did.
We played a 2-player variant that I’m still developing. The variant was fun, but it was over very quickly. And again, it resulted in a loss for me (note that I am still balancing the characters, so I can use that as an excuse). This time, I better had to be ready for feedback. The guy was very excited about the game, but also gave a lot of good advice on how to improve it further. I might elaborate on some of it in a next blog post. We discussed the game for about half an hour, finding new ways to make the game better and exploring the limits of the game together. After our discussion I asked for his name, because I actually forgot to introduce myself. That’s where everything made sense.
I hadn’t heard of his name, but he claimed to be the oldest board gamer of the Netherlands, playing board games for over 40 years. He is one of the founders of the Dutch board game association. He won a European board game championship once. He brought the game Dungeons and Dragons to the Netherlands. He was the first Dutch person with Magic the Gathering cards. He bought the cards while the makers were still testing the game. He sold his whole collection of Magic cards a few years ago, and bought a house from it. Now, he has been selling and giving away his board and card game collection because he will be emigrating to Asia to enjoy his retirement.
This guy is living proof that you need to play many board games to make good games, because his advice was on point. He also impressed me as a ‘board game pioneer’ as I call it, investing in games no one had heard about but that became really big later. Now you can see the benefits of that investment and involvement. As he walked away after telling his life story and leaving me behind astonished, I wondered what kind of pioneers we have today. Who is treading on new ground and taking risks that will or will not lead to success or profit later in life? What will be the next big thing? How will I look back at my life when I am 60 years old?
Later that day I played a different board game (Carcassonne) with someone who was practicing for a board game tournament. The old man joined us, and after a hectic battle I beat both of my opponents. At least I had my revenge then…