PAX unplugged, Philadelphia, PA, Friday night,11:20 pm. Myself, my partner Phil and some fellow indy tabletop creators we shared a room with from Short hop Games are just arriving at our room. We had all been playtesting our games with walk-ups all day in either the free play area or in the UNPUB space. We were all pretty wiped out but we had agreed we would play each other's games before we parted ways and this was really the only chance we had to do it. We tried to see if any of the tables in the room could be used but they were all bolted to the wall so we decided to go down to the lobby of the hotel. we had seen some tables and couches, it was like a row of 3 separate living rooms.
We head down and begin setting up Quests and Cannons, an in-progress freshman offering from our pals at Short Hop. Quests & Cannons is a 2 to 6 player exploration, resource management, trading, and ship upgrading battle at sea featuring tri-hex tiles, treasure, cards, and large boat-shaped player boards. Needless to say, it's table presence it's undeniable.
As we are nearing set up completion a somewhat tipsy fellow gamer saunters over. He starts decrying how the game he and his friends are playing in the neighboring living room is "bullshit" and "just Yatze with extra steps". He sees Quests & Cannons and starts grilling us about the game. Eric, Q&C's creator begins to explain. Our new friend hears about 30 seconds of pitch and leaves then immediately returns with some beers, sits down and asks "Okay, which one am I"?
We game. Our new friend espouses all kinds of feedback and ideas while playing. Granted some of it was a bit slurred, but nonetheless, honest player feedback. While we are playing though, numerous people come up and ask us about the game. They ask questions and Eric and his colleague Paul make some brief connections with some gamers.
All 4 of us start joking about how playing your own game in the lobby could well beat out trying to sell in the crowded, game filled con we all worked that day. Obviously the con setting is great we were thrilled to be there but there is just so much stuff to do and see and when pitching an indy game you're 1 of hundreds, if not thousands of other indy creators all trying to do the same thing. In this lobby, we were just having some casual fun and making a connection with gamers in a setting that didn't feel quite as contrived, it was easy, approachable.
We finish Q&C. Our 5th player generously shared most of his beer with us and we got to know each other a little bit, he was a really nice guy. He was also a very tired guy and left the game around 2:00 am, as one should. The 4 of us finished the game with Eric beating us handily, all the while a slow trickle of con attendees come by and take a look on the way to the elevator.
We then pull out Token Terrors Battlegrounds and Dicetroy the Castle. While playing these a few more people amble over and chat with us, one of which is a budding game reviewer and blogger, his business cards are POGS, we all love this.
It's almost 2:30 am, we are all nearing the end of our games (2 of us playing TTBG and the other 2 playing DtC). We are all really tired, the foot traffic in the lobby has mostly petered out. Then, this denim-clad fellow walks in, he's sporting a mullet and a beard of stubble. He introduces himself as Kevin and starts asking us about the games.
We all start pitching, he kind of stops us and explains that he is a rep for a rather successful game publisher and in fact was talking with a much larger publisher earlier in the day about new dexterity games (which Diectroy the Castle is a dex game). He then asks us to just fire off our elevator pitches so he can give us knee jerk reactions as both an industry insider and a gamer and then tactfully gives feedback from his viewpoint. All of this is kind of blowing our minds.
We sit and chat with Kevin until 4 o'clock in the morning. somewhere in there Phil and I show him Spaghattaboutit, our free to play co-op hand signal party game for 2 to 6 players, a game we have found in recent months seems to delight and entertain everyone who tries it. Kevin loves this. He thinks our group's content is great. We share information as he invites us to come to visit him tomorrow (Saturday) at his booth and even eludes to maybe being able to set up a meeting with the aforementioned big publisher to possibly pitch to them! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!
We all part ways and go to sleep.
The next day we all playtest and whatnot, neither of our groups are able to stay in Philly Saturday night. Team Terrible Games (myself and Phil) have to Return to Baltimore for the night with plans to leave around 3 pm. Team Short Hop has flights for that evening. Phil does go to see Kevin at this booth, Kevin and Phil recall the previous night, make pleasantries and whatnot. Kevin asks if we will be around at 4 pm cuz he may be able to facilitate a meeting. Sadly our obligations don't afford that. We all head home.
That night I attend 2 events back in Baltimore where drinking is happening. One of which is my best friend's annual Yule Ball, a Harry Potter-themed holiday party. I don't arrive home until 4 am. I am so dumb.
I wake up bright and early on Sunday at 7:30 am, get showered, make coffee and an egg and cheese sammy and leave with my other partner Tim and begin the car ride back to Philly.
We playtest all morning in the UNPUB room at PAX from 10:30 am till around 3:00 pm. Before we leave I make it a point to just go say goodbye to Kevin in person. Tim and I head over to his booth, I'm greeted with a handshake and hug combo.
Kevin first gifts me a copy of his companies flagship game. He then says that he spoke with the big publisher and, with our permission, is going to try and get them to use Spaghettaboutit as a giveaway game for killing time while in line for registration at an upcoming con they are organizing. He then starts asking about Dicetroy the Castle (some of the prototype components are visible from the top of our bag) and then offers assistance in sourcing prototypes from a nearby neoprene mat maker. He says he will contact me soon and maybe we can follow up. Tim and I leave.
Even if nothing actually comes from any of this, it was an enlightening experience. Everyone we met helped us improve our product and had fun with us. So the takeaway is - playtest, playtest, playtest but maybe do some playtesting in the hotel lobby after the bar closes, you never know who might stroll through.