Play & Pub is a board game play-testing event in Toronto. It is an opportunity for designers to pitch games to publishers and gain invaluable feedback from players on how to improve their games. There were prototypes that were fresh ideas just being worked out and games that had been play-tested for years on the verge of being published. Most of all, it was a chance to meet fellow board game geeks and have fun playing games. These are some of the games I had a chance to play and that will hopefully make it to store shelves eventually.
The first game I played was an early prototype from designer Christopher Chung (Lanterns). Entitled Spell Smashers, it involved spelling words to deal damage to a monster. The rules were still very rough and were getting adjusted throughout the game. We, of course, encountered issues (as you do with all new games), but I really liked the general idea. Most spelling games offer more benefit for spelling large words, which slows the game down as players spend time figuring out a word that uses all the letters available to them. Spell Smashers encourages spelling short to medium words. Spelling a short word means you get to attack first, which gets you more gold, and medium words let you attack later, possibly being the player to finish off the monster. The exact benefits of each are still being designed, but a fast-paced spelling combat game is a wonderful concept.
One of the most innovative games I had the chance to test was Snyxtrap on the Larklamp. The Larklamp is a unique game system that casts shadows to create the game board. It has the potential to create new and inexpensive games. Playing in a dark room lit only by the game itself is an interesting atmosphere not typical of board game meetups. If swapping out the lamp panels to play a new game wasn't appealing enough, the board can change mid-game by raising the panel with a spacer. This was demonstrated in a quick game of Snyxtrap, where players attempt to capture the snyx in bars projected by the Larklamp. As you can see in the photos below, one section of the game surface changed when a card ability added a spacer to that player's section.
If you are a fan of heavier strategy games, Please Drive Thru is one to keep an eye out for. Designed by Joel Colombo, Please Drive Thru is a supply and demand game about restaurant owners attempting to serve their customers before neighboring restaurants can. Using a hidden action selection mechanism, players can add or remove demands from customers, swap customer positions so they visit restaurants in a different order, add a new item or inventory to their restaurant, and even more in later rounds. Players place two tiles face down -- one for the chosen restaurant and one item tile -- and an action card. When revealed, the item tiles have an advertising value that determines player order. So you need to decide to make your move first or try to go last and hope your opponents don't make changes that mess with the action you had planned. In the short play-testing slots, there wasn't enough time to get to the more advanced rounds that allow players to add customers, move restaurants, and even more. Players earn dollars for items sold, selling combos, and completing a customer's order. More money is scored at the end of the game from multipliers and for selling specific combos, which are added to the scoring track through customer bonuses. While a two hour play time is too much for some, Please Drive Thru was really fun trying to outwit your rival restaurant owners and really made you think about the actions you take.
Mischief Managed, designed by Shannon McDowell, was a fun game about wizards using spells to pull pranks around their school while avoiding getting caught by the teacher. Players take two actions per turn and then roll a die to move the teacher. Pranks are completed in bathrooms, hallways, or other rooms. Hallways pranks are worth more points, but draw the teacher closer to your position and can be disrupted by other players or the teacher. Casting spells costs energy, and, to replenish it, players must move back to the Nurse's Office or hope to draw an item card that adds more energy. Once a player completes eight pranks, all players need to get back to the dorm room before the teacher does a bed check. The game is very inspired by the Harry Potter series, and it's deeply embedded in the game. With more work, changes could be made to change theme, but hopefully Mischief Managed will find a publisher with the rights to Harry Potter.
Also showcased over the weekend was a board game based on The Visitor point-and-click game, a co-operative trivia game called The Facts Machine (the board looked like a fax machine, yay puns!), and some other interesting party games I didn't have a chance to try -- but judging by how loud they were, they must have been fun. Play & Pub and other similar conventions are a great opportunity to play new games that could go on to be massive hits. They are also very inspiring to just try out any small game idea you have. You'll soon find yourself at home printing out pieces of paper and starting to test things out.