The Connecticut Festival of Indie Games, Part 2!

And we’re back!

Yup, I attended the CT FIG event last Saturday, and there were so many great games to talk about that I simply couldn’t get the job done on Tuesday. So we’re back with the second half of my event recap.

Last time, I focused on games that are available now or will be soon; this time around, it’s all about games in development!

I’d say that more than half the games at the event were in development or not yet published. Some were clearly in beta testing or working with a prototype, hoping to gauge the interest level of puzzle and game fans. Others were gearing up for Kickstarter campaigns, or in the middle of one, or had even tried Kickstarter previously, only to go back to the drawing board. Still others were hoping to impress game publishers or make contacts to help take their games to the next level.

It was interesting and insightful to see the creative process at work here, not only to observe how crowdfunding has revitalized the puzzle-game and board-game markets, but simply to watch firsthand as designers interact with players and learn from each and every playthrough.

And, to be honest, it’s fun and invigorating to be around enthusiastic people. Virtually everyone I met at the CT FIG was genuinely excited to talk about their games, and they clearly loved what they do. For many of them, these prototype and unreleased games are their babies, their pride and joy, and they were absolutely stoked to show them off.

That’s the kind of infectious energy I can definitely get behind.

One of the first people I talked to at CT FIG was Darrin Horbal of DPH Studioz. He had three games to show off, all in varying stages of development.

His flagship game is The Guardians of AsunDur, a collaborative game where players work together as guardian angels to defend AsunDur from dark forces.

By rolling dice and utilizing colored gems, they battle back the forces of darkness in co-op game play that encourages teamwork and strong strategic planning.

That same style of game play factors into another of Darrin’s board-game projects, Starguard: The Grey Wars, a space-combat game where alien conquerers threaten six different star systems, and only a concerted team effort will prevent the invading alien forces from running roughshod across the galaxy.

I’m a big fan of co-op games, and both of these games had in-depth, elegant systems of play that offered plenty to keep experienced players busy without losing younger players in the shuffle.

The last game he brought for display was Khroma Zones, a more traditional player-versus-player card game that was easily the puzzliest of the three games. Utilizing the same color-matching game mechanic as Guardians of AsunDur in a simpler format, it’s a great game for families and younger players that might not be ready for more involved game play.

But Darrin was far from the only game designer to have multiple projects in the works.

[Ravenous River, a card game inspired by the classic cabbage-goat-wolf river-crossing brain teaser, shares space at a table with ChronoSphere, a Timeline-style card game with bluffing (recently funded on Kickstarter), and Baker Street Irregulars, a crime-solving puzzle game set in the world of Sherlock Holmes.]

I’m pretty sure Isaac Shalev of Kind Fortress set the high-water mark for the event. He had six games at his table, each with their own unique flavor. (Only one, the abovementioned Ravenous River, was available for purchase there, but I sincerely hope some of his other games follow suit soon.)

There was something for seemingly every style of card game or board game fan here, from the card-flipping game Flip the Table to the resource-management strategy game set in feudal Japan, Daimyo.

But the one that most appealed to my puzzly sensibilities was Seikatsu, a three-directional tile-placement game that mixes and matches elements from a half-dozen classic games to provide a wonderfully balanced game-play experience.

Unlike many scoring games where tile placement can easily disqualify you from gaining points, Seikatsu assigns one of three directions to each player, meaning virtually every tile on the board could score points for every player. This simple tweak adds massive game-play opportunities, making for a wonderful puzzly session that encourages, rather than discourages, new players.

Kickstarter was a recurring theme in many of the conversations I had with game designers that day. Several of the games I covered in Tuesday’s post were funded and brought to market thanks to crowdfunding, and many others would soon be following suit.

Super Hazard Quest, a card game inspired by 8-bit side-scrolling video games, is on Kickstarter right now (and recently passed its funding goal, thanks in part to the team’s impressive hustling during CT FIG, no doubt).

In the game, you take on the role of a classic video game archetypal hero — the floating princess, the spy, the alien hunter, etc. — and you build and explore a unique video game world while racing to be the first to reach the final boss.

As several event goers and I played through a spirited round of the game, co-creator Mike Mendizabal told me that the game was actually intended as a cooperative game (like Guardians of AsunDur or Forbidden Island), but the players in play testing refused to work together! So they ended up retooling the game for individual achievement.

I love learning little in-development details like that.

Christopher Bowden of Winter Moon Games shared his own story of development tribulations and lessons learned as I observed a playthrough of his company’s flagship game, Pandemonium Estate.

A board game with shifting board pieces and game play that encourages players to betray each other, Pandemonium Estate is a colorful, dark, and very fun game that indulges the more playfully mean-spirited side of board games. (You know that shamefully satisfying feeling when you play Sorry and bump another player’s game piece back to the start? Multiply that by about 50 and you get something approximating the sinister glee of Pandemonium Estate.)

Christopher told me that he and his team had already taken the game to Kickstarter, but they quickly realized they’d done so before either they or the game was ready. They took some much-needed time to retool, refocus, and get their ducks in a row, and it proved to be a valuable learning experience.

They’re looking forward to bringing their new and improved version of the game to Kickstarter sometime in the future, and I suspect they’ll have great success when they do.

One game that I expect will do quite well is This Is Only a Test, Carl Van Ostrand’s game featured at The Board Room’s table. (I also referenced The Board Room in my previous post when I covered the DNA dice game GATUCA.)

This Is Only a Test is a resource-management game fueled by ’50s nostalgia and doomsday prepping, as you and your fellow players try to gather the necessary materials to survive the end of the world. But be warned…this might be a real nuclear threat, or it might simply be a test. Neither you nor any of the other players will know which is the case until the very end of the game.

It’s an intriguing game mechanic, one I haven’t really encountered before. In most games, you might not know who will win, or how they’ll do it, or what obstacles they’ll face, but I can’t recall another game where the actual endgame is unknown until the last card is played.

Oh, and speaking of the end of days, that brings me to our next game, Pyramidia.

In this puzzly game of curses and construction, you and your fellow players are racing to build the finest Egyptian tomb possible. You gain points for your management of labor, for how much gold you save, and for how magnificent your structure is.

I think the physical building aspect, as well as the numerous ways to win the game, will appeal to puzzle solvers and board game fans both. The triangular game pieces not only added a nice touch stylistically to the game, but they created game play openings for players to either curse each other or themselves for a tactical advantage.

As the game was explained to me, it immediately became clear how much effort had gone into balancing the various styles of play, and I could easily imagine how many hours and hours of brainstorming and playtesting go into each and every one of these games.

And hey, if you’ve got a board-game idea and you’d like to meet up with fellow aspiring designers and players, look no further than CT FIG attendee Alex Wilkinson. He’s part of a group called Let’s Make Games CT based out of New Haven, and they’re always happy to participate in game testing, brainstorming, and all things game development.

He had two games to show off — a space exploration game called Hypergate that allowed for some engaging role-playing scenarios, and a hilarious card game called Misfit Monsters, where lesser-known creatures like the YOLO Phoenix and the Half-Centaur could do battle.

It’s genuinely exciting to be around people who love what they’re doing, and that positive energy was all over the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games.

I want to send a big thank you out to all of the amazing developers, designers, and game fans I talked to. I wish them all great success, and I hope to see many of these games on the shelves of game shops and retailers in the near future!


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The Connecticut Festival of Indie Games!

Last year, one of our most popular posts was Max’s review of the Boston Festival of Indie Games. And when I heard that Connecticut was hosting its first Festival of Indie Games this year on International TableTop Day, I definitely wanted to check it out.

Now, I have neither Max’s charm nor his good looks, but I hope you’ll indulge me in my own rundown of the CT FIG this weekend.

Elm City Games and The Grove combined forces to host the inaugural event in New Haven, and it made for a fun, intriguing, and intimate event.

The designers were spread out all over the building, wherever there was space, so you’d go down a hall and find a half-dozen tables, then head upstairs for a dozen more, and then down around random corners for a few more exhibitors. It was like a game-filled scavenger hunt with surprises around every turn.

One of the first booths I visited belonged to the folks at Geek Fever Games, because only last week, I touted their Kickstarter for Avoid the Void right here on PuzzleNation Blog!

They had a playtesting area set up where guests could try out the game, as well as several games available for sale, including an alien invasion game called Mars vs. Earth, a robot-building card game called Awesome Bots, and Young Wizards, a card game that brings magic and RPGs to life in a simple, easy-to-learn format.

I also had a chance to sit down with Todd from Filsinger Games — one of the nicest guys on the planet — who was offering an intriguing take on role-playing games: a pro-wrestling edition.

Yup, Filsinger Games figured out how to boil down all the mechanics and style of professional wrestling into a game you can play with any old six-sided die, and it’s great fun. The company has licensed with classic wrestlers and new indie stars to use their likenesses and move-sets for the game, and you can learn how to play in minutes flat.

I realize that RPGs and wrestling may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was thoroughly impressed by the simple, elegant design of the game, as well as the outside-the-box variations, like ’80s-style video game wrestlers, monsters, and more.

It’s worth noting at this point that my goal was to make it to noon before spending any money on games. I arrived at the event at 10:30.

Slideways was the puzzle game to first crack my resolve, then my wallet.

[A progression of my first time playing Slideways. The creator was red and I was gold. As you can see, I lost. Also, the last photo looks different because I photographed it in nighttime mode in order to better show off the metallic colors of the flippable tiles.]

Proudly displayed alongside an award earned at the Boston FIG, Slideways is the brainchild of Tricia McLaughlin and distributed by R&R Games.

Combining the classic four-in-a-row playing style of Connect Four or Quarto with the board-manipulating game play of Rush Hour Shift, Slideways offers a lot of choice in a little package.

Plus you can change moves your opponent has made, allowing even more flexibility of play! (And if you order through the R&R Games website, use the promotion code SLIDEWAYS to get 25% off!)

[Designer Tim Blank closes his eyes dramatically before bestowing judgment upon an unsuspecting player.]

After visiting the well-dressed fellows at Gameworthy Labs (and winning a copy of Oh My Gods! in a raffle; review coming soon!), I continued exploring the plethora of possible booths to check out.

(It’s worth noting that unlike Boston FIG, CT FIG was almost exclusively board games and card games, with very few digital games to be seen. I suspect more digital games will be involved with every passing year.)

One board game that caught my eye was Dragoon, a clever reversal of classic fantasy storytelling tropes by the team at Lay Waste Games.

Usually, it’s humans fighting off dragons, but in Dragoon, you play a dragon whose lands are being invaded by humans! How rude! So it’s up to you to roar and be generally dragon-y and keep them away, all while stealing their gold, because as we all know, dragons love gold.

It’s a funny concept executed beautifully. With a cloth map as your game board, well-crafted metal pieces for the dragon and its cave, and some sharp game play mechanics, it’s terrific stuff.

I spoke to Jon Ritter-Roderick of Lay Waste Games, and he shared that this was another Kickstarter success story, and that they were taking pre-orders for the game because they’d already sold out of their original print run! (Good news for my wallet, since I would definitely have bought a copy right then and there.)

I had a similar experience when I sat down with the dapper crew behind Movie Buff, a card game that pits your movie knowledge against that of your fellow players. If someone names a movie, how fast can you name an actor in it or quote that movie?

[And the Oscar for Best Hair goes to…]

Combining your own knowledge of the movies with the order-shifting rules of Uno, Movie Buff is a fun and frenetic way to establish your cinematic dominance over friends and loved ones alike.

Oh, and spoiler alert: When we played a round to show off the game, I won. (They’re also taking pre-orders now.)

I next tested my puzzle-game skills in a round of GATUCA, a dice-rolling combat game based on DNA, of all things. (And riffing on the sci-fi film Gattaca.)

Oh, and my opponent? The nephew of the friend of the guy who designed the game.

Allow me to explain: The designer and his pals from The Board Room needed a fourth person to demo their game-in-development This Is Only a Test, so this amiable fellow (nephew of the friend of the designer) stepped up. And when the designer and his team went off to do a livestream demonstration of one of their games, said nephew-friend was left to man the table.

But he stepped up and made for an impressive opponent in my first round of the game. You roll dice to determine what components you have available, and then you apply them to the game sheets in front of you in order to attack, defend, or evolve. It’s a little overwhelming at first, but new players will catch on quickly, and it’s a fun variation on simpler dice-rolling combat games.

I went from learning about DNA (and how to make it work to my advantage in combat) to learning about language and color theory with the team at TPG.

They’re teachers who also play and design games, and their mission is simple: combine those two worlds to create games that help students learn.

Their flagship product is Verba, a language game that uses the card-combining game play of Cards Against Humanity or Apples to Apples in order to reinforce and engage foreign-language learning. Students are given sentences (the blue cards) and must complete them with one of the white cards.

With editions in Latin, Spanish, French, and English (for English language learners), it’s a terrific immersive way to explore an unfamiliar language with practice and fun, one that appealed greatly to the word nerd and language lover in me.

(They also had a game where you hatched dragon eggs with color theory, which looked fascinating, but that I didn’t get to try out. Hopefully I’ll get a second chance to give that game a shot.)

I did, however, get to try my hand at wielding the elements and bringing items to life, thanks to the crew at Rampage Games and their game Elements.

Elements is all about combining the elements fire, air, earth, and water to bring different substances into existence. You have to manage your limited resources, use your cards wisely, and outwit your opponents in order to complete your substances before they complete theirs. I can easily see this game appealing to all sorts of puzzle fans. (And it must have, since its Kickstarter campaign closed out successfully that very day!)

Nick Rossetti of Rampage Games was kind enough to walk me through some of the other games they also have available, including quick-play survival games like Woodland and Adrift, as well as Iron Horses, a card game where competing train companies battle to be the biggest and best in the land.

But it was their soon-to-be-available card game Aurora that piqued my puzzly interest. While Elements is all about building single items or substances, Aurora is about building entire solar systems and tending to them so that intelligent life may emerge. Talk about ambitious!

[Aurora and Elements were both added to the increasingly long list of games I would’ve bought on the spot, had they been available.

I did end up returning to the Geek Fever Games table and buying Awesome Bots, as well as a card game called Plus Word Plus that’s all about finding common ground between words.

And several other games from other booths.]

As you can see, there were so many noteworthy and interesting games that I can barely describe them all. Heck, this is a pretty long post. And guess what? We’re only halfway done. There were so many great games to cover that I’m splitting my CT FIG recap into two posts.

I devoted this post to games that are available right now (or will be soon). Thursday’s post will be all about games in development or not yet available for sale!


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