TTN: 6-8 November 2022
BGG.CON: 9-13 November 2022
Day 7 – Saturday 12 November
Finally, Saturday! Before the convention, I felt like this was going to be the biggest day – everything would be pretty tame as we ramped up to the busiest day of the week. In fact, by Saturday, it was starting to feel a lot more like the end of the whole event – many of our people had already left, and the rest of us were pretty low-battery after a week of late nights.
Small Furry Games/Drayer Ink Meet-Up
My biggest priority in the morning was to attend the meet-up that Emily from Small Furry Games and I had scheduled, and see who turned up. We met several new people, and had just started talking when Mik from Our Family Plays Games came in and challenged us to have a more diverse conversation – fewer people who looked like us, and more people who didn’t. I mentioned that while I was white-presenting, I’m not, and asked him if I might show him my game, The Valley, and explain what my mission was. He and Starla, his wife, who joined us a bit later, were really interested in it, and in my other designs, and said they would love to feature it on their channel, which is pretty much the dream for me – Drayer Ink is about inclusivity and representation in board games, and one of the biggest voices in that space is Our Family Plays Games. I completely failed to get a photo together, though, which shows you how very tired I was by then!
Here is their summary of the convention!
Te Ao Māori
Unfortunately for me, the good vibes after Mik and Starla left rapidly devolved into a very long conversation in which I tried to explain that the way the word “mana” is used in games is harmful and insulting to my culture, but that I don’t have the standing (or mana) to speak about it myself. It was very hard to convince several white people that, culturally, you can tell someone that something is not correct, but that you don’t have the authority to correct it. In the same way, a white person can tell another white person that they are using a term or element from another culture incorrectly, but they do not have the authority to tell them how to correct it – that should be referred to an expert within that culture. That’s why a cultural consultant is really important, even for people speaking from within the culture.
Imagine someone who has watched a couple of games of golf several decades ago, who decides to correct a game about tennis, instead of referring the designer to an expert tennis player, because they have a general idea of how sports work and they think that’s enough expertise. It feels a bit like that, only much more harmful, when someone like me, who was not raised within the culture, makes rulings or statements about Te Ao Māori (the Māori way of life). So while I can say, from my understanding of the rules of tennis, this doesn’t seem to sit right, perhaps you should consult an expert, it’s not my place to point out those errors unless I can back them up with evidence.
It’s emotionally exhausting trying to explain that it’s not my job to teach people what’s wrong, merely to point it out and encourage them to do their own research, so when the topic then came up twice more during the same day, I began to feel a rising panic because the emotional exhaustion was taking over my executive functions to the point that I wasn’t sure if I could even stay in the hotel. The worst part was that the third time this happened, both Will and I had our cultures discussed, and neither of us could get away from the topic because we were reliant on the people discussing them to get back to the hotel.
Please, if you are discussing elements of someone’s culture, remember to be respectful and keep them safe – check if it’s ok to talk about it, even if you have discussed it before, and if not, stop, completely. This also applies to lifestyle, sexual orientation, mental health and illness, and any other topic that requires heavy lifting. We might not show it on our faces, but your casual handling of things that are important or triggering for us could take us hours, days, or even weeks to recover from. The part that was hardest for me was that I had already asked, twice, for the conversation to stop, in this case, so by the time it was over, I was not well at all.
As we didn’t get to have Tex Mex the night before because Dallas was too busy and we needed to get back to play Spirit Island, Mallory and CW were kind enough to take us to lunch at their favourite Tex Mex spot nearby, Avila’s Restaurant.
I had my first ever queso, and I am currently utterly obsessed with it. “Queso” on its own just means “cheese”, but the dish with the same name is a thick, creamy, savoury dish with a hint of spice from the jalapeños. This particular version was served hot and creamy. I took Mallory’s advice and poured it into my personal salsa bowl with the tomato salsa, and scooped up with the delicious corn chips, it was VERY good. To be fair, when have tomatoes and cheese not been an incredibly good combination?
For my main, I was stoked to see enchiladas mole ( the mole with Mexican chocolate in it) on the menu, and even happier when it tasted good, and had my first really good meal since the BBQ on Tuesday night. It was a huge relief to be able to eat enough to feel properly full, and helped me manage the heavy emotional toll of those heavy conversations. Have I had better mole? Yes, definitely. But it was still very good, and a big relief to have comforting, familiar food in the midst of all the madness of the week, and I was very grateful for my full belly.
Lunch was very late – it was almost 3pm when we got back, only to realise to our horror and embarrassment that we were meant to have been in the only play session we booked, learning Delta V with Scott. It took me quite a while to track down his details and apologise, but it apparently turned out ok because he was able to test some other aspects of the game. Still, not something I ever want to do to someone, and I will be VERY careful with my bookings in future.
One of the reasons that I forgot about testing with Scott is that I was fixated on getting back in time for our second UnPub session, which ran from 3-7pm. Because I had been able to test all of my prototypes at other times, and becausse this was our first time actually meeting in person, Emily and I decided to focus on playing the game we co-designed, Wordy Laundry. I will go into detail about the testing itself in another post.
It was so good to actually be in the same room, handling the real components (I hadn’t even punched them because George and I continued our testing using my first paper prototype, and Emily and I tested online). We were lucky to have several testers sit down with us and give their feedback, and I performed a lot better in person that fighting my way through the challenges of the online platform, so it was a much more pleasant experience for me, personally.
After the test, we decided it made the most sense for Emily to keep the prototype I brought with me and use it to keep testing in person with anyone else she encountered, as I will be focusing on several of my other games, and the suitcase space was welcome, too. Emily and Clark are driving across the USA in a campervan, so they have the space for an extra board game box.
Got the T-Shirt
After the second test of Wordy Laundry, I realised that if I didn’t get it soon, I would miss out on collecting my free BGG t-shirt that came with the Premium badge, so I headed downstairs and collected it.
A few things caught my eye, including the bonus boxes, but even after giving myself permission to buy it and enjoy the fun of opening a mystery box, I ended up deciding against it. Apart from not wanting to fill up the collection with games I haven’t actively chosen, I was also acutely aware that this month has been incredibly expensive for us, with a big hit of Kickstarters all at once, the convention, and our major kitchen renovations all billing at once. So I decided to chill on the shopping. I relitigated this decision with George on Sunday, but as neither of us could justify the mystery boxes, even at clearance prices, we decided not to do it.
While I was getting t-shirts and not shopping, George was plugging away, getting more tests done for The Way Out Is Through, which may have a new name, Conundrum: The Way Out Is Through. Again, we will cover the testing and outcomes in another post, but overall, it seems like this game is coming along really well, and getting a lot of plays – out of all the games we brought with us, George’s solo game, the one we thought would be hardest to test, got by far the most plays.
More Testing and Family Dinner
One of the other fixtures of the UnPub scene was a charming man with glittery eyes who always seemed to be enjoying a joke I didn’t get. That man was Isaac Shalev, and the joke was that I had no idea that I was arguing about mechanics with the man who literally co-wrote the textbook. The other writer? One of the organisers of TTN, Geoff Engelstein. Ok so basically I had spent the entire week with the writers of my top wishlist book, and not known it. Awwwwkward. But very entertaining.
So anyway, when I got back into the room, Isaac invited me over to help test a game prototype by Richard, one of the UnPub team. This was the first prototype where I had some really serious feedback to give, because while there were some mechanical things that I really enjoyed, there was absolutely no thematic link.
I couldn’t get any indication of why I was doing anything in the game, or where it was leading, and the connections between the different elements made no sense to me. I could see there was a game underneath, but I would pretty much have to rewrite it. That’s not really helpful to a designer, so instead, I suggested some different ways to play this game that could make it work the way I thought it was meant to – changes that would take away the busywork and streamline the gameplay. And as part of that, I argued with Isaac Shalev about mechanics, haha. Awesome. I think he enjoyed that immensely, because he knew I had no idea. It was probably very refreshing. Given that I also argued with Geoff Engelstein over the mechanics of Fagner’s game early in the week, I guess it was true to form?
After we collectively tore poor Richard’s game to shreds, and I tried to leave him with some hope for making it work, we were invited to join the group for Family Dinner, an UnPub tradition. The pizza, although cold by the time our game finished, was magnificent, probably the best I have had in the USA, and being invited was even better.
After dinner, we spent a long time chatting at one of the tables, until some people came in and tried to use some of the tables to play other games, and we realised we needed to make use of the space we had booked.
I asked if anyone wanted to help me figure out what was wrong with Campfire, and I got some really excellent feedback and ideas. I will work through them in detail and report back once I have processed them!
After that, Richard, undeterred by the our feedback on his other game, asked us to help test his game about braille, which was really good and engaging – if he makes the right decisions from here, it could be extremely successful! I am looking forward to it, I really enjoyed learning and using the code and feeling like I was sending secret messages. If that element moves to the forefront of the game, it will be a hit.
Party All Night
It was already very late, but we were on a roll, so while George sat out and processed his play-testing, I moved on to play a party game called “Less is More”, thinking it would be the end of the night.
Once we finished, I realised that it was a lead-in for Isaac’s prototype, and at that point, George, being an adult, went to bed, while I, feeling I should really complete the process, played Isaac’s game.
Out of the two, I definitely preferred his – they were both word games where you write with a dry-erase marker and reveal your choices at the end, but Isaac’s game was more interesting to me. I can’t pinpoint exactly why – it just felt like there was slightly more depth to it. While I might have played Less is More with my university friends at the end of a night of drinking, I feel like we would have played the other game at any time, like in a gap between classes.
Anyway, when we finished our feedback and it was time to go to bed, I saw that I had indeed beaten my previous record and by the time I was ready to sleep, it was almost 2am. I haven’t had so many late nights in a very long time, and while the adrenaline kept me going through that week, it also ate into my sleeping time and made eating difficult, so in future conventions, I will let myself sleep in the next day if I can. I have a tendency to wake early in unfamiliar surroundings, so I will have to train myself to get over that if I want to survive!