This past Saturday, over 50 gamers descended on a small FOP lodge in Dover, Delaware to play games you've never heard of, but likely soon will. I joined them, spending my day rolling dice and moving pawns as part of the second annual Unpublished Games Festival.
Arranged by John Moller of Cartrunk Entertainment, UnPub 2 brought over 30 unreleased games to the table for one all-important task: playtesting. Board games represent the act of gaming in its rawest form, stripped of the flashy graphics and high-tech controllers that video games can lean on. If board game mechanics don't fuel a balanced and enjoyable competition, they will stick out like a sore thumb in this harsh environment.
Hours and hours of playtesting represent a designer's only chance to get much-needed feedback on their products, and UnPub 2 provided wave after wave of eager gamers. With a burgeoning independent game scene (Kickstarter.com provided $2M in 2011 for board game funding), expectations are high, and honest independent feedback is needed. The games on display at UnPub 2 surely received that, and should all be one step closer to release as a result.
Unfortunately, one man could never hope to play all thirty games in one day. What I did manage to try was impressive, though, so let's take a look at five upcoming board games that you should keep an eye out for.
For a more comprehensive look at the games played during UnPub 2, head on over to the Cartrunk Entertainment website, where each game will be featured in a series of recaps posts throughout the week.
Compounded - Design by Darrell Louder
A game all about scientists in the lab, Compounded challenges players to strategically collect elements and use them to claim compound cards via the "worker placement" mechanic. Along their march to collect victory points, players can earn lab equipment or points for their skill trees. Random hazards also make an appearance in the form of lab fires and a flood of oxygen.
Just like real science though, you can't go it alone as a genius stuck in the lab. You'll need to enlist the help of other scientists through trades of elements and favors. Just don't go back on your deals, or you may turn a friend into a mad scientist set to destroy your compounds.
A look at the available compound cards (with some elements already placed on them) as well as the scoring track.
An excellent play mat summarizes the entire game as well as provides storage for elements, lab equipment, and skill tree markers.
Viva Java: The Coffee Game - Design by TC Petty III
Sure, you can group together any old set of coffee beans, but will it blend? Viva Java is another worker placement game where players collect beans and must team up with their opponents to create best-selling coffee blends.
Six different colored beans are available to represent different origins, and blends are ranked in poker hand-style groupings of five as well as on color priority. Each turn, though, blends will "degrade", losing a bean and falling down the best-seller list. Judging your blend's chances at long-term success turns into a great mental exercise, and makes Viva Java a game you'll be itching to master.
Designer TC Petty III looks on as fellow designer attendee Joe Hopkins considers a move
In front of each player at the Viva Java table is a research track. If players who team up (based on the region of the world they placed their pawn on that turn) don't agree to blend, they'll each earn research points to advance the markers on this track. A slew of different abilities are present, each presenting a different path to victory.
Viva Java: The Coffee Game has been picked up by Dice Hate Me Games, the makers of Carnival, and will be hitting Kickstarter later this year.
Swinging Jivecat Voodoo Lounge - Design by Seth Roback
As far as themes go, I don't think 1950's hepcats has been done before. Manage the cards in your hand to match numbers on the board, and you too can expand your social clique by casting your voodoo spell over hipsters and low-brow party-goers. Victory points can be earned in the form of martini monkeys by fulfilling the requirements of various trend cards, or gaining access to private parties and getting all-important jivecats to join your clique.
Swinging Jivecat Voodoo Lounge is more than just shiny components and style, though. It's actually an incredibly fun game to play. You may recognize the game's publisher, Clever Mojo Games, as the original Kickstarter success behind Alien Frontiers, as seen in MTV Geek's Top 10 Board Games of 2010 post. Expect to see Swinging Jivecat Voodoo Lounge on Kickstarter this summer.
Pond Farr - Design by Jesse Catron
No, it's not another Star Trek game. Pond Farr pokes fun at the similarly-named Vulcan mating ritual in a game all about spawning salmon. At its core, Pond Farr is a racing game, but one that shows off a unique twist on the deck building mechanic. Cards can only be brought into a player's deck if their salmon passes over a space with that card's symbol on it. This forces players to make some tough decisions on whether to shoot straight for the spawning pool or make a few detours to pick up powerful abilities.
As salmon jump over rapids to swim upstream, they'll gain fatigue cards that jam up their deck, making the addition of such powerful cards an important balancing act. Throw in a series of re-configurable map sections, and you've got an appealing game on your hands. Pond Farr will be hitting Kickstarter this spring with a publishing sponsorship from Gryphon games
Princes of the Dragon Throne - Design by David and Fred MacKenzie
Another game set to be published by Clever Mojo Games, I didn't actually get the chance to play Princes of the Dragon Throne. I did hang around to see a few turns play out, and got a feel for what looks to be a game worth looking for when its Kickstarter project launches this summer.
Princes of the Dragon Throne uses a unique combination of area control, deck building, and resource management to create fierce competition among several offspring of the Dragon King vying to claim his throne.