Dave and I attended the Terminal City tabletop convention (TCTC) in Vancouver last weekend to show our game Karmaka. TCTC dedicates a section of the convention to something they call “Proto-Alley”, an area where designers can show their games-in-development to folks looking to try out cool, new games before the rest of the World has even seen them. So Dave and I travelled a good distance to attend: Dave flew from Toronto, and I drove 8 hours from Nelson, BC. (We also have some great, old friends who live in Vancouver, whom we were very happy to visit.)
It was totally worth it. We got a lot of great feedback from gamers and designers alike which was super useful and encouraging. I’ll dive into that further down though. First I’d like to talk about the convention itself and the great people we met there.
The Proto-Alley Scene
On the first day of the convention we arrived early and “set up shop” at a table in the side-room where the Alley was situated. Things started quietly, which gave us a chance to check out some of the other games and chat with their creators. In general we were really impressed with the level of quality and polish of the games, and we had a great time meeting and chatting with everyone! We got to play Town Builder, a fun and super polished tableau-building game by Eric Raué. And we had a hoot playing Sloops, a fun, tactical naval-skirmish game by Sébastien Bernier-Wong and Peter Gorniak. I wish we had had more time to try some of the other games as well, including Primal Shift by Mike Cochand, Greed or Glory by Parallax Games (which looked super rad, and we had a great time chatting with Marcel Perro throughout the convention), and especially Symetra by Brad Finlayson, which has some spiritual similarities to Karmaka, being both philosophical in nature (with tile names like “Transcendence”, “Hate”, “Light”…) as well as highly tactical.
Despite spending 13 hours there on the first day, the day seemed to whiz past. Such is the nature of showing a game at a convention! On the second day things were a bit slower (a couple hundred people), and Dave had the great idea of asking if we could move from the side-room to the main convention hall where the majority of the gamers were playing and milling about. Shannon Lentz, the convention’s organizer, agreed, and so we moved over. The main room felt a lot more dynamic, and with the reduced separation between the real games and the prototypes, all the Proto-Alley games got a bunch more plays. We often had two or more games of Karmaka going in parallel, which was great! (At the end of the convention Shannon said he’d like to include Proto-Alley in the main room, perhaps moving some tournaments and/or role-playing sessions into an overflow space if necessary.)
Before the weekend was over, a few of the local designers invited us to their weekly, Tuesday-night meetup where they playtest each other’s games and chat about design, industry stuff, etc. We went and had another great night of game design fun. I got to play Town Builder again, as well as try World Defence Force by Adrian of Giant Monster Games, which was seat-of-your-pants fun. We also got to meet of Jay Cormier of Bamboozle Brothers, a successful, veteran designer who had many interesting things to say about the merits of designing versus publishing games – a topic very much on our minds these days. Dave played an upcoming LCG prototype of Jay’s, a proto of Andrei Filip’s called City Builders: Rome, and also showed Karmaka to some designer folks who hadn’t seen it at the con.
It turns out that a number of these creators are members of the Game Artisans of Canada, a guild of Canadian game designers and publishers. We hadn’t previously known of its existence, but it seems like an awesome resource & community for Canadian creators. Dave will definitely try to join the Toronto chapter. Sadly there isn’t a Nelson one – or at least not yet – so for now I’ll have to “orbit” the Vancouver group.
In general, we learned a ton, met some fun & interesting folk, and had a great time.
Karmaka at the Con
This was the first time we’ve presented Karmaka at a convention. In preparation we decided to print up a few high-quality sets of cards via makeplayingcards.com.
We were really pleased with the quality of the cards in terms of color, feel, etc. We plan to go with full plate-printing for the final game, but for just a few nice decks MPC’s print-on-demand service was awesome. We were super-jazzed to play with these cards ourselves and at the convention. They made it feel like a real game! And so, armed with our hot-off-the-presses cards, some laminated copies of the Karmic Ladder, rules booklets, and components (more on that subject in a future post), we hit the convention!
We’ve play-tested the game a ton over the last year of course, having played many games ourselves, with friends, and with gamers and designers at small events at local game shops – but showing Karmaka at the convention was a great step. The game was played several dozen times over the course of the weekend, mostly by strangers who had no preconceived notions of the game, nor any reason to tell us what we wanted to hear. Just watching these games was highly informative, useful, and entertaining to us. We also handed players Unpub-style feedback forms to collect more concrete results and opinions.
In general the feedback was awesome and super encouraging. People really enjoyed the game, especially loving the art and the theming, and the way the theme tied together so tightly with the game’s mechanics.
The game is quite polished at this point, but even so we received several interesting and nuanced suggestions from players, including some of the other designers in the Alley, which was super useful.
It was also great to see how different personalities and play styles worked in the context of the game, and how well the game supported them. Some people play games quite aggressively, while others tend to “do their own thing.” Where players lie on this spectrum – and the combination of personalities that participate – strongly affects a game’s dynamics, how it plays out. This is especially true in Karmaka, where players have the opportunity to really “zing” each other if they choose, but may also choose to “swallow their spite” and score to move ahead, ending the cycle of aggression. It was great to see the different match-ups, how well the game supported them (in terms of balance and the game’s karmic “narrative”), and how people’s play styles evolved over the course of a single game and multiple games.
A decent number of players came back for repeat plays, which delighted us of course! Some even asked if they could buy the game on the spot, but alas we had to tell them it isn’t actually out yet, instead suggesting they sign up for our Karmaka newsletter, to be notified when the Kickstarter goes live.
Last but certainly not least, we got to play and talk with Nels Anderson and Jesse Turner, who host Terminal7, a fun and rad podcast about NetRunner. They were actually at the con hosting a NetRunner tournament, which we would have loved to join in on, but of course we were busy showing our game. Anyway, once the tournament was over they came over to play Karmaka, which was super entertaining to watch.
We then joined them for an episode of their podcast, in which we talked about NetRunner, Karmaka, and our experience in designing a competitive card game. Their podcast is great listening if you’re into or curious about NetRunner. (And why wouldn’t you be? It’s an awesome game!) And definitely check out that episode if you’re curious about the design and behind-the-scenes creative process behind Karmaka.
Thanks again Nels and Jesse, Shannon and the convention organizers, and all the rad makers and players we met in Vancouver. Looking forward to next time!
Did you attend Terminal City? If so, what did we miss? :)