Designers, Essen and charity!

zdjęcieWhen I was a kid video games were much harder than these days. In most cases you needed to use cheat codes and other tricks to handle bosses and hard core levels. In magazines dedicated to video games there were sections like “Tips & Tricks” where you were able to learn how to get unlimited ammo or find all hidden doors. Remember those days? I bet so!

Few days before Essen I came up with crazy idea – I will gather “Tips and Tricks” for board games. Ultimate Guide to win! Oh, yeah!

And then I will give it for charity.


I had a small notepad, I had a pen and I had this dead simple idea – approach as many as possible game designers at Essen and ask them to contribute to this little book. I know many designers by person so it looked like easy and fun task. The fair began.

On Wednesday I had no time to get any entries to my Ultimate Guide. I was too busy and in a fact there were not that many designers in the halls yet.

On Thursday I had… On Thursday I had no time to get any entries to my notepad. I was way too busy to even have a hot dog or cup of tea. That was crazy busy Essen day. In the evening I came back to my room and looked at my notepad. It was empty. No entries. I was sad. I was worried that my crazy idea has no chance to succeed. Essen was overwhelming this year.

On Friday I had…

OK, Friday looked just like Thursday. It was crazy. But, I didn’t give up. I managed to get entry from Kristian Ostby (designer of Escape) who visited our booth. I managed to get entry from Brad jr. Tolton (designer of Pixel Tactics) who visited our booth. And then breakthrough happened. My friend from CGE, Peter Cernak came to our booth with Matt Leacock (designer of…  c’mon, do I need to say it?!).

I asked Matt to contribute to my book and to write a tip how to win Pandemic. I explained him that I gather entries about winning games and I am creating Ultimate Strategy Guide and then, after Essen I will give it for charity. Matt, of course agreed.

“What a cool idea!” said Peter.

“I wish I had more time to go around halls and gather more entries.” I said.

“I’ll help!” replied Peter.

He took notebook. Few minutes later he was back with entries from all Czech designers that were at their booth.

And that was just beginning. Peter began to walk around the halls and talk about my project. He was asking designers to visit Portal Games booth and put entry into the book. Antoine Bauza came. Then designers began to tell each other about project. And then Merry helped. In a few hours my notebook had entries from Martin Wallace, Friedmann Friese, Bruno Cathala and many many other great designers.

I have tips and knowledge how to win Ghost Stories and Forbidden Island, and Chaos in the Old World, and Cold Express and Timeline and even Story Cubes! 😀

All together 23 entries from 23 designers about winning in 23 great games.

Here is a quick look at this piece of craziness…


I am happy to tell you that you can have my Ultimate Strategy Guide for Boardgamers. This is all unique item, this is great designers contributing for a good cause.

Here is the auction!

How cool our hobby is, huh?

38 questions

zdjęcieI put so much hope in every board game I bring home. I believe it will be awesome. I can’t wait to try it. Some offer great brain burning experience, some give me just pure laught and joy, some have theme that strong that I forgot about table and feel like I am having true adventure.

I love these moments. This pure excitement. My first time with Lewis and Clark. My first time with Five Tribes. My first time Star Realms. You finish the game and you have this huge smile on your face. That was awesome experience. You can’t wait for second game. What a gem!

I brought from Essen 38 games. Some of them – sadly – will suck. But some of them will put smile on my face. And I can’t wait to try them all!

That was most busy and exhausting and amazing at the same time Essen so far. I need to catch up with sleep, with rest, with everything, but hey, it’s Wednesday – I owe you a post, right! Here is some cool photos from Essen. Those of you who follow me on Twitter already saw them, for rest of us – here it is, Essen how I saw it.

zdj-cie 1 (1)Three big personalities of our hobby, from the left: Eric W. Martin, who covers for us all board games news, Tom Vasel, who covers for us reviews of nearly every game that is published in the world, and Brad Jr. Tolton, designer of publisher of great games (like Pixel Tactics or BattleCon). As we clearly see, Eric is just announcing that he heard about 600 new games that will be published and which need to be reviewed…

zdj-cie 1 (2)They say that in Essen you can buy everything for your board games. Well, I couldn’t find sleeves for this Settlers card…zdj-cie 2 (1)Best trolley ever!

zdj-cie 2 (2)Zee was stealing my thunder and signing box of Imperial Settlers. C’mon man, design a game by yourself! 😉

zdj-cie 3 (2)We all knew that Essen will be like a heaven for Ryan Metzler. It indeed was. 🙂

zdj-cie 5Don’t worry, I can fit one more game here! Everything is under control!

zdj-cie 4Runar had one suitcase. I had one car…

zdj-cie 3My Essen haul in all its glory!


This is a guest post by Charles Beauvais
You can learn about his game and back it at Kickstarter!


“What are you playing?”, she asked.
“It’s a new game idea I’m tinkering with.” I replied, somewhat distractedly.
“I want to play.”, she said.
“It’s not ready yet.”
The first thing you learn about game design is that your initial attempts are always bad. Not just unbalanced, or filled with unclear edge cases, or too fiddly, but really bad. The opposite of fun.
As such, I always do some solo playtesting before inflicting the game on anyone else. Sara, my wife, is often the first innocent victim of unfinished designs.

“I still want to play.”, she insisted.
“I don’t even know what the rules are yet. I’m just rolling the dice and moving pieces around.” I replied.
“But, you’re coloring!”


We had played a lot of Matt Leacock’s Roll Through the Ages, and I thought it would be an interesting design space to explore. In particular, the one side of each die where a player had to choose between 2 food and 2 workers. My goal was to combine RTtA with something like Delve, the solo dungeon-crawl dice game. In my mind, it was “Roll Through the Dungeon”, where the symbols on the dice would be swords, shields, wands, etc.
But, before I could allocate the symbols appropriately, I wanted to get a sense for the probabilities. I replaced the symbols with colors, and now I could roll 4 green, for example, or 2 purple. But what to do with them?
I sketched out a landscape scene: a river, tree, bird, sun, and arbitrarily assigned weights to them – this required 4 yellow, that required 2 green. And this nascent game is what my wife wanted to play.

A few weeks later, Sara’s mom (my primary Dominion opponent) was visiting. One morning, Sara woke me up.
“You’ve got to print out more puzzles. We’ve already colored in all the ones we could find.”

We’re out shopping, and I pick up a few boxes of crayons that are on sale, half-price.
“Buy more”, advises Sara, but I’m not sure.
“I’m still working on the game, and it might be a dud. I don’t want to be stuck with boxes of crayons.”
“You should buy them while they are on sale.”
“I’m sure crayons go on sale periodically. There’s plenty of time.”
Did I mention this was during September? When all the stores have their back-to-school sales? Periodically is right, I’d have to wait a year before crayons would be that cheap again.


“What is that?”
“It’s my coloring for this stained glass puzzle. I’m going to for an even distribution of the six colors.”
“It looks like a clown threw up. Print a blank copy for me, please.”
You be the judge. My version actually inflicts damage on the eyes.

Before finding a publisher, I created some copies of the prototype to demo and sell. While “how much would you pay for this game?” is a good question for playtesters, it’s even more powerful when it’s not hypothetical. I started with a print run of 250 dice, then another 250-die run, followed by two 1000-die print runs. That’s 2500 dice, all of which had to be stickered by hand. Each face of each die had two stickers, so, yes, we (with help from our friends) applied 30,000 stickers.
Three of the four corners can be stickered easily. Is it a purple die? Surround one corner with purple stickers, another corner with blue, and another corner with red. Simple. The last corner, however, required the remaining three colors in a specific configuration. For all 2500 dice, Sara was the only person I trusted (other than myself) to do this correctly.


I’m teaching the game to some new friends, and I start explaining the color bank mechanic.
“Wait,” interrupts Sara, “that’s not how it works.”
“Yes it is. I’ve changed it.”
“Well this new version is stupid. The last version was much more powerful.”
She’s right. The new version is weaker, but much simpler to explain. New players didn’t understand the old version, and thus didn’t use it correctly.
Game designers aren’t the only ones who find it hard to let go of clever mechanics. It affects early playtesters, too.


It’s 8:00 PM. We’ve just had dinner, and we sit down to sticker some more dice.
“I think it’s time.”, Sara says.
“Okay, let’s just finish this batch of dice.”
We finish the last batch of dice, and then drive to the hospital. Twelve hours later, our daughter is born.


“The publisher wants to add a trading phase at the start of each round.” I inform Sara.
“That won’t work. It’ll slow the game down too much. It’ll be a disaster.” she replies.
I also have my doubts. I could see the need for more interaction, but I was worried about slowing down a quick-moving game.
“We won’t know until we give it a try.”
We try it with some friends, who are new to the game, so we introduce trading after they’ve got the basic flow of the game going. And what do you know? It works. It doesn’t slow down the game, it gets players to interact with each other, pleading, threatening, and having a great time. It’s a great addition.


There are many emotions involved in game design: elation, despair, pride, and disappointment. But I’d like to talk about gratitude. I wouldn’t have been able to produce this game without Sara’s help and support. She’s guided me through the disappointment of being rejected (again) by potential publishers, and she’s shared the joy of reading great player feedback. She’s supported me in this crazy dream of being a game designer, and I hope I can show the same support in her next ambitious project.

5 things I will do at Essen 2014

7 days left. Essen is close. And since Essen is far too big to improvise I need a plan. A little bit of experience from previous shows, a little bit of wicked Trzewik and a little bit of craziness from my Twitter feed added together, shaked and here we are: my plan for Essen Spiel 2014


1. Find a hidden gem

As I wrote last week – Gen Con is all about huge releases from FFG, Asmodee, IELLO, Stronghold Games, Plaid Hat Games… At Essen you can find much more publishers that are small, that have no reputation yet, publishers who come to Essen with a small but a great game. Just like Portal Games in 2007 with Neuroshima Hex did.

My goal is to find a small publisher with an awesome game. It won’t be easy, because I will be stuck at Portal Games booth for most of the time and I will be unable to walk around and test little games, but hey, that’s where my cunning plan comes into play!

Here is a pocketbook. I will ask you guys about little games you found and you recommend. I will note down all titles you recommend and I will use you as my scouts, as my eyes and as my resource. With your help, with all of you gamers walking around here and there and searching for Essen2014 gem and reporting me results, I will find it.

So be prepared – you meet me, and I will ask you about a gem! A superb game from small publisher! This notebook awaits for your recommendations!

zdj-cie 2


2. Meet designers!

Excalibur suggested on my Twitter feed that I should: “get autographs of 10 dev”

This is actually an awesome idea!

Here is what I am going to do – I will have a diary with me. I will gather autographs of every designer I know and I manage to meet at Essen. I will ask them to write something to this Essen diary. I will try to get as many entries as possible. And when it is ready, after Essen I will give it for charity auction as a Designers Diary Essen 2014 and hopefully this will bring some money to those who are in need!

zdj-cie 1


3. Socialize!

I want to meet as many of you as possible! I want to do selfie with you. I want to sign your boxes of games. I want to chat with you about games you bought at Essen. I want to have fun with you guys.

Do not hesitate to say Hello, do not hesitate to stop me when I am running through halls! Chat with me. I am coming to Essen exactly for this reason – to meet you!

If Essen was only about selling games, trust me, I would send to Essen my Sales Team and spend weekend at home. But Essen is not only about selling games. It is mostly about meeting people!

I put most of my scheduled meetings for Saturday and Sunday so I can be at Portal’s booth for most of the Thursday and Friday. Please, come to us (hall 1-C120) and let’s have some fun!  Make photos, draw cows, chat about games! This is my plan for Essen 2014!


4. I will buy games!

This year I am going to catch up with some titles that are not in my collection and I find it a serious mistake. I want El Grande. I want Concordia. I want Jaipur.  And Telestrations. And Tamsk, Risk Legacy, Downfall of Pompeii… Yes, I plan to buy more than few games that my collection misses and Essen is the right place to hunt them all and bring home.

That’s the plan!

Any recommendations of old great games worth hunting?


5. Present Imperial Settlers!

I will present Imperial Settlers like crazy. This game had an amazing debut at Gen Con – we sold all copies we had in 26 minutes and for the 4 days of Gen Con we were able only to say: ‘We are sorry, it is sold out!”. It was freaking crazy!

Imperial Settlers is most important release for Portal Games this year. We will have a table to run demos, we will have space to present short explanation and we will be doing our best to show you this great game.

We will also have expansion for Theseus, we will also present Legacy, our great game released in 2013. Our special guest – just like the last year – will be Michiel Hendriks, designer of Legacy. You can come to our booth and congratulate him this superb design. And yes, ask him about expansion! 😉


6. And more!

Please, follow me on Twitter at @trzewik and please, subscribe to my You Tube channel. For all 4 days of Essen I will post photos and video right from the Essen, right from the biggest board game event in Europe. That’s gonna be 4 amazing days!

Gen Con versus Essen

Folks from USA tell that Gen Con is biggest board game convention on this planet. Folks from Europe say “Phew! Essen is bigger”. Tom Vasel pours oil to the flame and says that Gen Con not only managed to catch up Essen, but grew up bigger.

What can I say. I am one of these lucky bastards who attended both Essen and Gen Con. Let me add more oil and tell you what I think.


Let’s start with numbers.

Gen Con 2014 new releases? Eric W. Martin listed exactly 300 games. Not all of them were actually released. Not of them were actually new releases. But well, screw it. Let it be 300 new games.

What about Essen 2014? Eric W. Martin listed 502 games. Huge number but… Essen was cheating for years… Let me look into this list with a magnifying glass. There is more than 50 games on that list that – as far as I know – were already released at Gen Con and now are just listed again.

It’s more like 300 to 450.

Still, in terms of number of new releases, 1:0 for Essen.


What about number of visitors?

This is tricky part, Essen counts entries, not actual people. They say 150 000 people visited fair for 4 days, and it might mean about 37 000 unique visitors. It might mean that. We don’t know.

Gen Con says they had more than 60 000 unique visitors.

Looks like it is 1:0 for Gen Con…



What about gaming?

When exhibitor hall closes at Essen, gamers go to hotels and play all night long at hotel lobby, at hotel restaurant, at hotel rooms.

When exhibitor hall closes at Gen Con, gamers go to Open Gaming Area and play all night long. Or go to one of many game rooms at convention centre. Or go to any restaurant or pub around Indiana Con Centre and play. And in hotels too. And everywhere.

This is amazing – whole Indiana downtown around Con Centre changes into Game city for this 4 days. This is freaking awesome – you walk the streets and there are gamers, all around, playing, talking, having fun.

Gen Con wins 1:0



Anything more?

Essen fair is games fair – huge, insane huge exhibitor hall. That’s all.

Gen Con fair is games convention. It has huge exhibitor hall. And it has insane number of other attractions. Game nights, tournaments, panels, larps, RPG… Thousands (yes, you read it right – THOUSANDS!) of events that take place there. This con runs 24 hours without a 5 minutes break.

Gen con wins 1:0



Exhibitor hall – closer look.

Gen con is all about new releases. FFG is bringing all their best. AEG is bringing all their best. And IELLO, and Stronghold and Plaid Hat and Portal Games too. We put best stuff we have and we make US gamers feel like in heaven.

Essen has new releases too, but this list of new games is more diverse. You find here super rare gems. Games from Japan, games from Poland, Spain, Italy, games from Taiwan and games from Russia, games from all different parts of the world. Many unknown companies, many small gems that you can browse and try and hopefully find a treasure designed by new designer.

I would call it a draw. I love those hyped games like Dead of Winter, Five Tribes or Imperial Settlers (yes, I am doing product placement here). But I also love to walk around those all small booths at Essen and look for games and publishers I have never heard of. This feels like a gaming adventure. Gen Con vs Essen – 1:1



Exhibitor hall – second closer look

Gen con is mostly about game publishers.

Essen is also about game stores and second hand games stores. OMG! You can find there old games like El Grande or Tikal. You can buy games with super prices. You can negotiate prices. There are so many games on sale, there are so many chances to buy great games for 5 euro! Man, you just walk those corridors and you can not resist – special offers and discounts on every corner.

Essen wins. If you want to buy not-new-releases, Essen wins. Much wider selection and much better prices.



We may go on and on.

At Essen people believe I can actually speak English.

At Gen Con I can go and watch Indiana Colts match without even leaving convention center.

At Essen you can easily find grocery store with huuuuuge selection of cookies, chocolates, sweets…

At Gen Con I have wi fi on every corner of the street, in every store, pub, everywhere. Except exhibitor hall…

At Essen I meet gamers from whole Europe, from Spain, to Russia, from Italy to Hungary, from Norway to Croatia…


I love both conventions. I think I might fell in love with Gen Con lately. But Essen is still my good old love…



I plan to write a series of articles about organizing a game conventions. Without false modesty – I am pretty good at this stuff. I am doing cons for my whole life. I created and run many conventions, big ones, and small ones. I also attend hell of cons every year. I know much about mistakes, I know much about cool ideas.

But before we move on to this, let me just make a shout out to… myself!

Tomorrow I go to miniPionek (miniPawn). This is con I created few years ago. It is held twice a year in Gliwice. It is con for 50-80 gamers. Most of them are my friends. I would invite them all to my house and play games, but my house is too small. So we have this small con. We meet in Cultural Centre in Gliwice. One huge room, 20 or so tables and 2 days of gaming with friends.

I packed my car with games. That will be an amazing weekend. Shout out to me. I invented this con. And that was one of many brilliant ideas I had 😉