Tabletop Network/BGG.CON 2022 – 2

Event dates:
TTN: 6-8 November 2022
BGG.CON: 9-13 November 2022

Day 2 – Monday 7 November

Day 2 of our TTN/BGG adventure is day 1 at the TTN conference. I was so incredibly anxious beforehand, and it turned out to be a life-changing experience. I am certain that I wouldn’t have enjoyed BGG anywhere near as much without the connections formed at TTN, and I am very grateful that I overcame my anxiety and participated. It started out rough, but what an awesome day it turned out to be!

A tough start

Unfortunately, my day started with me feeling really tired after another bad sleep. As I mentioned in my overview post, I was pretty anxious because I hadn’t been able to get much information about the event beforehand, so I didn’t know what to expect – that always means a rough sleep.

Added to the understandable anxiety about TTN, the hotel room provided small, down-filled pillows, which was not great – I am quite allergic to feathers – but because I brought my own tri-pillow, I thought I might be ok. Given that we couldn’t get a response from reception about the missing cutlery for our room service meal, I didn’t have the spoons to call down for replacement pillows, either, so we both tossed and turned.

There was also a sensor light under my bedside table which was meant to light the way once we got out of bed, but it was so sensitive that whenever my foot was anywhere near the edge of the bed, it lit up. I sleep on the very edge of the bed, so it lit up a LOT. Added to an unfamiliar bed, lots of lights and sounds, and a lot of stress and pressure, sleep was elusive.

Regardless, after a nice shower, we started the day with breakfast at Centennial; attentive staff, decent food, but very expensive for people who barely fill one plate each. We will probably order off the menu if we go again, as we don’t eat enough to justify the buffet price.

The Tabletop Network conference begins

I arrived at the conference room after getting a bit lost in the hotel, but luckily, not late. When I wanled in, about half the seats were already taken, so I sat next to a woman who turned out to be my friend Bez’s friend, Ellie. As I sat down, someone else waved at me, who turned out to be Sarah. I already felt a little better – there were other women here! I had been very worried that it would only be men, and that I wouldn’t get a word in. I carried a lot of anxiety into this event, from my previous life experiences. Luckily, as soon as things got underway, my stage-fright calmed down, too.

As part of sign-up, I got a cool leather notebook. At the end of the first day, I initially offered it to George, as he is the main notebook-user in the family, but he is still using the one we got from Launch Tabletop, so I hung onto it. Eventually, I decided to use it as my “Convention Yearbook”, because we didn’t really have much of that tradition in NZ when I was at high school, and I thought it might be a nice tradition to start for myself.

Once everyone was settled, the organisers gave a good intro but immediately ran over-time – I felt that was a risk when I saw the schedule, and sure enough – we were already 30 minutes late before the Keynote speech even got to start. Still, I knew this was a new format, and I decided to just see where it took us and relax as much as I could.

The Keynote speaker, Fertessa Allyse, was really good. Her talk was an engaging story about how she got to her place in the industry through a combination of good timing, luck, and a great deal of hard work. I felt we had a lot of parallels in our experience as designers. We never crossed paths for long during the rest of the conference, which was a disappointment – I really wanted to spend more time getting to know her and talking about how we can each learn from each other’s experience. She seems like a really cool person, and I feel like if we have time to connect one day, we could be friends.

Once we had got through the formalities, we split into our groups. As I mentioned, Tabletop Network was trying a new format this year – instead of having a series of speakers in the conventional conference format, with attendees in the audience, the plan this time around was to give us all a topic, break us up into groups, and then have us bring our conclusions back to share with the group and with the general public via a presentation.

The topic I chose was “Positive Interactions in Board Games”, because that’s something I am actively working to include, thematically and ideologically, in my designs.

The team members were:
– Ellie Dix
– Fagner da Silva
– Will Thompson
– Waleed Ma’arouf
– a guy who left – Eric?
– me
– and our facilitator, Jeff Beck

I really liked how willing everyone in our group was to just jump in and participate, and I felt immediately welcomed by all the participants – I think most of us had experience facilitating meetings ourselves, so we were all really good at giving each other space to speak, making sure every idea was heard, and at the same time, keeping ourselves on track and avoiding scope creep.

I suggested we use the technique I use in brainstorming sessions at the start of requirements gathering, where it’s just a free-for-all with post-its and ideas; Waleed built on that idea with a technique he uses where we added to the ideas as we went, which is usually something I do after pulling things back in for a review – so we skipped that step and soon, ended up with a lot of ideas about what we consider to be positive interactions in gaming, how they come about, what environments foster positivity, and how we wanted to approach our presentation.

As a group, we then classified the ideas into topics, and split into pairs to work on them. We agreed that co-operative games were too obvious, and decided to focus on how to demonstrate positive interactions in competitive games.

Will and I had complimentary segments, so we decided to work on them together. I was really interested in how to create a chain reaction from a multi-player combo. My original idea was that one player would play a card or take an action, and another player could then build on that action. Out of that, we came up with the concepts of modelling equity within a game, and strategic gifting of excess.

Will and I had a great idea for a game during the session. It was based on the idea that all players have a skill to start with, then that skill also allows them to create a resource that another player needs, plus they can each also contribute something to the central, main goal of the team.

The example I started with was that a group of people decide to dig a mine – so will need to be actively digging, shoring up the tunnel, removing the spill, and processing the ore, while others provide the services around the mine – housing, supplies, utilities, etc – so while some are required early, some are only needed at particular times, and some throughout, which gives them the opportunity to also work with others on side-quests.

Will developed the idea further, talking about how to model equity all players have to start on an uneven playing field, therefore all games that model equity must by rights be asymmetrical. From there, we came up with the concept of strategic gifting of excess – if I have too much of something, I can either give it to a competitor for them to use is better than me (if they have a better ability to use it) or to slow them down, as a strategic measure.

Something I hadn’t completely anticipated was how amazing it is to work with a group of creative people again – especially this group. Everyone was very “yes, and” – in other words, all ideas were entertained and incorporated, and then as a group we decide which ones we wanted to take further. But more than that, we were almost immediately great friends, and it felt really amazing – like coming home after living in another culture for a long time.

We had lunch at Family Thais which was really nice, and the portions seem approachable. My appetite is tiny and I am struggling to eat enough to justify paying for food, so I had decent chicken satay, which was a good call.

Most of the group walked but I wasn’t sure if I could make it (hip issues), so Will was kind enough to drive, which meant he also drove some of us back in the pouring rain, dropped us at the hotel, parked, and then ran back from his car in the downpour. I got him a coffee as a thank you, but it doesn’t really compare to how much not having to walk made a difference in my experience that day – I think I would have just not gone with the group and been left out instead, and the bonds we made might not have included me as much. So a coffee doesn’t really cover how much value there was in that simple gesture for me.

We spent the afternoon re-energised, working through all the ideas we came up with before lunch, and establishing a format for the presentation we were making the next day.

As a note here: I was 100% willing to lean into the event as planned, but I had reservations about whether having us present back to the group would be the best use of our time – we certainly cut short some really great brainstorming and exchanges of ideas because we had to hone in on the “homework” part of the event. More on that in tomorrow’s post.

Dinner was as a group at the hotel bar, which I understand was a real mission for the TTN organisers to arrange. The hotel eventually accommodated us on low tables that kind of sucked fon trying to eat a meal, and we had to ask for things like water and cutlery multiple times. The food was ok, but again, I only managed a small amount of my chicken quesadilla, which was lucky, because George’s empanadas were hilariously tiny for the same price point, so he was able to finish my plate. It was a bit of a let-down after such a cool day, but we still got to talk to a lot of people from the conference, and that was really interesting.

It’s a really massive hotel, as I mentioned – as well as people setting up for BGG, and our conference, there was also a police ball on downstairs, an ambulance at the front gates, a gathering of bagpipe players in kilts, a lot of women in glamorous gowns, and a man in a large, white cowboy hat all passing at once as we made our way back through the hotel for the next part of the evening’s events.

After dinner, we attended a cellphone-based quiz game hosted by Rikki Tahta, designer of Coup. Rikki and I had had a great chat at dinner about applying the principles of our positive interactions brainstorm to a game like Coup. It will be cool if it comes to anything – I will keep an eye on his future releases!

The cellphone game was like a lot of those large group corporate quiz games – fun to a certain extent, but mainly a vehicle for getting to know and interact with your group. In that sense, it did a great job, and while our group lost heavily, it was a source of amusement rather than rancour.

After the scheduled events, it was time for open play-testing. We played Will’s “Winter Rabbit“, which is based on Cherokee traditions, and I enjoyed it a lot even though I was stupid-tired and hoarded resources instead of spending them because I only processed some of the instructions – the aim was to actually share them with the rest of the village through a recipe-making mechanic which I completely misunderstood.

Overall, I had an absolutely awesome day, even if it was 22.45 before we even got up to our room. After a bad sleep, I was hopeful that I would be tired enough to pass out this time! But it wasn’t to be… and the funniest part is that I thought that was a late bedtime!

If you want to hear me talk about my experience at TTN as a first-timer, why not join us for the Meeple Syrup Show tonight (in 2 hours) on Facebook or YouTube? You can also watch it later!

And here’s my video of the day – so busy that I didn’t get pictures and/or video of much of what happened, but this blog is doing its best to fill in those gaps!

Published by Drayer Ink

Artist, designer, ideas person

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