Trust

Remember the movie you saw last year? The one you didn’t like? Let’s face it. You will never have a chance to meet its director and tell him that he let you down.

And the book? Remember the book you read a few months ago? You’ll probably never meet the author of this book. You will never be able to discuss with him or her what you liked and what you didn’t like about it.

BTW: the game you played last week and you didn’t like? Go to GenCon or Essen and tell its designer what you think.

***

Of course not every designer attends GenCons. Not every designer is easily approachable. Not every designer is so open as to discuss and hang out with the fans. But many of us are. Many of us meet you—players—at conventions, hang out with you in pubs and talk vividly on social media platforms.

We love interaction, we love you and your feedback.

And we don’t want to fail you.

***

I always say that I am responsible not only for every game I’ve designed, but I also take full responsibility for every game Portal has ever published. I put my name—the Portal logo—on it and this means I fully recommend this design.

For years I’ve been building trust, I’ve published one title after another and I’ve never ever let myself disappoint you. I want you to know that if a game was published by Portal Games, that means I personally accepted it and I personally recommend it.

It takes years to build trust. It takes dozens of designs published year after year to build this repeating recognizable pattern of well-playtested, engaging, challenging games.

These days more and more often I read comments like ‘It’s a game from Portal Games so it tells a great story” or ‘It’s a game from Portal Games so I know it won’t disappoint me.”

It took years to build reputation and trust.

And you know what? It would take a second to lose it. But don’t worry. I put my name on these boxes. And trust me, I wouldn’t put it on anything less than the best…

 

Edited by Piotr, thank you!

Inseparable brothers

In the latest #askboardgames show I answered a very interesting question about keeping my motivation high during a long process of designing a board game. In fact, this question is not only about being motivated and focused this whole time. It’s about much more than that. It’s also about frustration, despair, and being stuck with no idea how to fix the damn prototype.

I had that feeling again only yesterday. It was another test of First Martians. Another test game when everything works smoothly, everything goes well, and yet I know the game is missing something. My testers says the game is great, but I know it’s bullshit. There is something wrong with how the gameplay works. Something I cannot name, something I cannot identify, but I know there is a problem. I am pissed off. I am playing another game, everything works, all mechanisms function well and it just drives me mad.

Don’t fucking pretend you are finished. Don’t try to look awesome. You suck. You are a bad game. I won’t publish you.

It’s not that late, sometime about 10PM but I feel like I am done for today. I am so frustrated I cannot focus on anything. I don’t want to read a book. I don’t want to watch a movie. I don’t want anything. Angry and frustrated, I go to bed. This day ends early and in an extremely bad manner.

***

It’s Friday morning. I‘m standing next to my desk with a cup of hot tea. After yesterday’s test session, the prototype is like a battlefield. I look at it with anger. I think about Robinson and I try to find the mysterious thing that is missing here in First Martians. That final detail, that invisible something that makes a difference.

And then it hit me. In a split second I can see everything clearly. I grab a piece of paper. I note it down.

And then I smile.

Despair and pure happiness. Every designer’s inseparable brothers.

edited by Piotr, thank you!

 

 

Show some respect!

It’s October 2009. Outside Poland no one heard a shit about me. I am a random Polish dude with his first big game being released during the Essen Game Fair. One day I got an email from the BGG team. They were preparing the very first Essen live stream and asked me if I was interested in presenting my game.

Hell, yes, I was. I scheduled a 30-minute-long demo in front of a camera.

And then I start practicing.

I prepared the whole demo at home and I practiced, day after day. Like an actor preparing for the play, I practiced my demo over and over again.

When the Essen’s time finally arrived, I was scared as shit. My spoken English was really poor and I had never done a live recording before.

And yet, I delivered one of the best demos of that show. My video was viewed an astonishing number of times. The game’s buzz grew like crazy.
***
It’s October 2012. I have a big game for the Essen show. It is called Robinson Crusoe. The BGG team contacts me again about a live stream. I immediately reply that yes, I am interested. I schedule the date and time.

And I start practicing.

I prepare the whole demo at home. I go for explaining the essence of the game. I go for emphasizing the most awesome key selling points of the game. And I go further than that. I prepare a hand out, I prepare Wilson – a volleyball with a handprint just like in the memorable movie with Tom Hanks.

Once again I am scared as shit. Once again my spoken English is pathetic. And once again I deliver one of the best demos among those live stream videos. When we finish recording and the camera is off, John from the BGG team asks me to keep one copy of Robinson for him. He will pick it up right after he finishes all the recording. He is not going back to the U.S. without the game.

In the meantime I receive dozens of text messages from Poland with friends telling me that they watched the demo and it rocked.

Practicing like crazy before the recording clearly paid off.
***
For the past few days Eric Martin has been publishing his interviews from the Nuremberg Fair. No finger-pointing, but let me just say this – once again there were publishers who did extremely poor demos. Boring. Unprepared. Chaotic. No hooks and no selling points presented, no idea and no concept behind it.

Honestly, I don’t get it.

BGG offers you the best exposure you can ever get. It’s free advertising. It’s John and Eric flying to Germany with a camera and giving you a chance to present your game to audiences worldwide. They approach you and say: “Hey, we have a few thousands viewers and we’d like you to present your game to our community. Interested?”.

Can’t you prepare a good demo? Can’t you find in your company a person who speaks fluent English, performs well in front of a camera and knows what he or she is going to talk about? Can’t you show some respect both to the BGG and to their viewers by preparing for the demo? Is it that hard to do a good show and promote your game?

Why are you so lazy? I don’t get it. Really.
***
Anyway, when contacted by the BGG before the Nuremberg Fair I did the same thing I had done a couple of times before. I told them I was interested. I scheduled the recording’s date and time. And then I began to practice. I noted down all the major key selling points and unique mechanisms we had in Cry Havoc – one of our big Gen con releases. I prepared every minute of this monologue.

And then I did the same thing for my game about Mars. I noted down a dozen of real life examples from the First Martians gameplay to show all players who were anxious about the app integrated with the boardgame that this was nothing to be afraid of. In short, during a few-minute-long video I was shooting with one example after another, like a freaking machine gun to convince the viewers that the app and First Martians combine into the most immerse experience they’ve ever had in their boardgaming history.

You won’t believe how many tweets, emails and text messages I already received after this video was published. All of them said: “I was skeptical. Now I am excited.”

I did my homework. I took the time to prepare. And I won a few hearts over.

So my message to my fellow publishers today is – show some respect. Prepare your demos. Make me excited about the game you are presenting.

 

Follow me on Twitter at: @trzewik

Follow me on Snapchat at: trzewik23

Watch my #askboardgames show at: #askboardgames

 

This is what I do

At some point she – out of nowhere actually – says something like: ‘This weekend we played Robinson, me and my family. We had a great time. My mom was so excited that she was standing next to the table, because she just couldn’t sit still. And you know, she is not a gamer, she never plays board games. We won. I know, I know, we played a few rules wrong, I double checked the rulebook after we finished the game. We had an amazing time together, though. It was great.’

This is my oxygen. This is why I work. This is why I stay up till 1AM cutting out prototype pieces and trying to playtest the shit out of this mess. This is why I have the strength to struggle with a prototype that is not working the way I want it to work. This is why I will trash bad ideas and look for good ones over and over again. This is why I am ready for sleepless nights and for long weeks of bad mood when I can’t find a solution and the prototype is not working.

I am ready for all this mess.

Because at the end of this struggle there is a family somewhere out there that will have a great time together.

And this is my oxygen.

 

edited by Piotr, thank you!

Enemy Number One

I’ve been there. I wrote Neuroshima RPG, put my heart and soul into it, made the game successful in Poland and then I became the main enemy of the fans of the game.

I couldn’t understand this. I was really shocked when I was reading mean comments on the Internet about me ruining the game. Fans were disappointed with the game’s expansions, or with the lack of expansions, or with the price of expansions, or with the artwork, or whatever. There was always–always!–a reason to complain about the Neuroshima series.

I was their main enemy. That jerk. That fucker. That Trzewiczek-the-asshole. The guy who ruined their beloved game.

I was sitting in front of my computer and I wanted to scream. Hey, guys! I am the one who created the game. I am the one who wrote the book you love. I am the one who gave you hundreds of hours of great RPG sessions. Why do you hate me?

That was tough. I learned the lesson. This year I’ll turn 40. A wise man, this Trzewiczek, has now become.

***

We are afraid of change. Change is always something unknown and we don’t like the unknown. We like the stuff we know. We feel safe with the stuff we know. There is this famous quote from a Polish movie that goes: ‘The songs I like the most are the songs I already know’. Pretty accurate, huh?

Announcing a new edition of the game is announcing a change. A publisher is telling you that the game you know, the game you love, the game you spent hundreds of hours with is going to change.

Let’s face it. These changes cannot be good. It’s obvious that they will ruin the game. Why would they change it in the first place?! Leave the game alone, you [redacted]!

***

A couple of days ago we announced a new edition of 51st State. The famous Master Set. The BGG threads went hot.

“F**k, this is the one thing I wished they kept”

“Horrible changes, the hype for me is dead.”

“It just sounds like they gutted all the things I found most interesting”

and so on and so forth.

First of all: it’s not ‘they’. It’s me. There is no Smoking Man who stays in the shadow and is ruining your game. It’s me. The guy who created the game in the first place in 2010.

I spent the last few months polishing the game and making it better. I removed a ton of rules that were not necessary. I rebalanced the cards. I made it quicker and more riveting. It’s either me or you now, there is no time for a ‘we have five rounds’ stroll as in Imperial Settlers. Just this weekend Merry crushed me at the end of the third round. That was something I did not see coming. You feel the pressure from the very first turn. Either you make your engine going or you are out. It’s a gamer’s game for real.

But even though I know the game is better, I know I will disappoint many fans of the game. I have no doubts about that. Because…

***

I’ve been there. I designed 51st State, put my heart and soul into it, made it the game successful worldwide and then I became the main…

 

edited by Piotr, thank you!

Cool Kid On The Block

IMG_0523

So Buonacoure makes fun of me. He calls me the Cool Kid On The Block because I use Snapchat and we all know that only kids use Snapchat, right?

Well, yes and no.

Snapchat is a medium for kids. It’s a medium for MTV celebs, for movie stars and sportsmen. I am none of them. No one is interested in seeing my wardrobe or my morning workout. I am pretty aware of that. So what the hell am I doing on Snapchat?

I talk about game design. I show my work. I show how I play test games. I show how my games are born.

Why not on Twitter? Why not on Facebook? Why not on YouTube? Why not here on this blog?

Cause each medium has its specific features and tools. Each medium is perfect for a different kind of message. You guys consume each medium for different reasons.

I chat with you on Twitter, I post mean comments to my board game friends, I banter and I love it. I got almost 10K followers because I feel that on Twitter I’m in my element, I can feel this medium with my entire soul. This is like my native environment. Punchlines, bantering, 140 letters that go straight to the point. Find me on Twitter at @trzewik and start bantering. Can’t wait to meet you there.

I have an official Facebook profile at facebook.com/trzewiczek where people who like my games can see updates every couple of days about what’s going on with me. I write short updates, post pictures and I am much more active there when I am visiting new places. It lets me show cool conventions and cities I visit. This is my most serious and official channel of communication with you.

I run the #askboardgames show (which previously was a Portal Games vlog and evolved). That is my medium for having a constant Q&A session with the gamers. When I visit conventions, you guys catch me and ask me many questions. That’s basically the formula for the show. You don’t need to grab me at conventions anymore. You can ask me questions about my opinion on Pandemic Legacy, about the app in First Martians or about the next Robinson Crusoe expansion release date and I’ll answer in the show. I used to answer a ton of email questions every day. Because of this show I was able to reduce it drastically. You guys are updated with my weekly answers. Clean and simple.

So, finally Snapchat, huh? Do I really need another channel of communication? What for?!

Snapchat is for unofficial stuff. It’s for prototypes that are in the works. It’s for stuff I  cannot post on BGG yet. It’s for videos that can’t get published on YouTube. It’s for work in progress, for dirty stuff, for uncut, unprepared versions of my games. The real work. Nothing photoshopped, if you know what I mean.

Listen, you don’t need to be the Cool Kid On The Block. You only need to be a gamer who wants to see First Martians coming to life in real time. Without photoshopping. Without the marketing bullshit. Just the real stuff and a real prototype.

Join Cool Kid.

Find me at trzewik23

 

I am tired of boring rulebooks

[warning: this post contains strong language. If you don’t accept such language, please, don’t read this post, visit me next week when I’ll have a new article. Thank you and sorry for the trouble.]

On Monday I posted a short article explaining how the Neuroshima RPG book came to life. It’s sort of a preface for today’s article, so if you have a moment please, head to my other blog post and read it. It’s a 3minute read, a really short story. It’ll give you a good background for today’s article.

Link to Monday’s article.

***

There were plenty of reasons why the Neuroshima RPG was a tremendous success. It was because there was no other post-apocalyptic game on the market. It was because of its rich and immersive world. It was because of a huge marketing campaign I created.

And it was because it read like no other book on the market.

Let me just give you a few examples.

How did we describe the Abilities of Player Characters in the Character Creation chapter? More or less like this:

Dexterity
You need this to be high to shoot well. If you can’t shoot, you’ll die. You need this to be high because you will need to escape from ruined buildings that have just collapsed, or to drive a motorbike and try to escape from mutants. You need this to be high or you’d better start creating a new character because this one is already dead.

Perception
You had better focus. There is death [to be found] in every corner of the ruins… in every bunker, old shelter… everywhere. If your perception sucks, you’ll wake up with a gun next to your stupid head and ‘boom!’ will be the last thing you’ll ever hear. Have too few points of Perception and you won’t even see that fucking tomahawk that is coming to cut you in half.

Charisma
Yeah, sure, invest in Charisma you dumb-ass. It’s super helpful when you are surrounded by 10 pissed-off villagers who want to kick your ass and your ammo is gone. Yeah, sure, I bet Perception will save your ass when you need to interrogate this ganger to know when his gang is going to attack your hideout. Let me just ask you one question. Have you ever hear of a dude who dodged a bullet when he had a gun next to his head? Because I tell you this… I did hear about a guy who was able to convince people to put the fucking gun away.
So low Charisma? I don’t think so…

Intelligence
Sure, you might be agile like a gorilla. You might have the perception of damn Jessie James. You might be a charismatic bad ass like Tommy Lee fucking Jones, but you’ll end up dumb as shit if you don’t invest in Intelligence. Guess, what…

And it went on and on in that manner. Every single sentence in the book was written for the player, and by saying “player” I mean a gamer who loves RPGs, who wants to create the best character possible and he wants to enjoy this process. Lots of jokes, lots of meta-stories, lots of bantering with player so he knows that we – authors of the book – know what we are talking about.

It’s not [merely] a boring rulebook that just includes all the how-to-play rules. It was an amazing, engaging, funny guide that told players how to survive in the world of Neuroshima and how to create a cool character. This is true for how we wrote the whole Character creation chapter and  this is true for how we wrote the rest of the book.

A chapter describing Europe in the Neuroshima RPG? It goes more or less like this: “Europe, mate?! I have no fucking idea what’s 10 miles away from the shithole we are in now and you ask me about Europe? Are you kidding me? There is no radio, no TV, no Internet, and you want to know about Europe. What’s the next thing you’ll want to know? What’s my opinion on the weather on Mars? Wake up, dumb-ass. No one knows a shit about Europe.”

And that’s all about Europe you’d find in the rulebook. That’s how we rolled back then.

***

I’m writing about the Neuroshima RPG because I strongly believe that the revolutionary approach we made regarding the language in this book… the way we wrote it… was an extremely important part of its success . Players loved to read it. Players immediately got engaged in the game and its world. Players would – they really would! – quote the book like some movie one-liners. They were posting ‘the best of’ quotes and sentences from the book. It was a blast for so many players.

Board game rulebooks are a whole different animal. They have much more in common with technical manuals for your new DVD player than with RPG books.

And yet, I’ve been struggling lately with the idea of making them more reader / geek friendly. I wonder what if instead of writing: “Each player draws 7 cards, chooses one to keep and passes the rest to the player on his left. Players repeat this process until every player has one card remaining. This card is kept along with all previously chosen cards.” I would just simply write: “Draft 7 cards. Friendly advice – choose the best of them and then crush your opponents.”

Wouldn’t it be cool to read rulebooks that are fun? Rulebooks that provide important information but don’t spend the time on explaining every stupid detail we all know? I mean, do we really need to read sentences like: “Put the board in the middle of the table so every player has a comfortable reach.”

I don’t know.

I have a well-earned reputation of a guy who was involved in extremely terrible rulebooks. I know that. I messed a lot. I am probably the last person who should talk about improving the way we write rulebooks. And yet, yes, I am struggling with this topic. And yes, I am trying a different approach. And yes, I want all of us to have better and better rulebooks.

I might try doing something crazy with the 51st State rulebook but before I do this, I’ll probably post some fragments on BGG and ask you guys for your opinion. Would you be interested in telling me that I should or shouldn’t take that route? Would you like rulebooks to be fun and engaging to read or you just want them to be extremely precise and you don’t care that they are boring as shit?

Please, give me your thoughts. Meanwhile, I’m going back to experiment with the 51st State rulebook…

Edited by Piotr, thank you.