The Escapist Expo in Durham, North Carolina was our first official ProtoZone. We were at the event at the invitation and guidance of Game Salute and the residency assistant of DiceHateMe and Monkey238. We’re always grateful to be part of a Game Salute area, they provide us with plenty of players and activity all weekend long. They’re the place to be at a convention. I was pretty excited about the possibilities going into all of this and the weekend did not disappoint.

Despite the exhibit hall opening later than expected on Friday due to technical issues with some of the video game systems, board games were up and ready to play on time. Actually, as soon as the exhibit hall opened Unpub games were on the table. I started the ball rolling with a 4 player game of Flummox which ranks high among the best games of Flummox I’ve ever played.

Whilst that game was happening, Daniel Solis was able to get a group together to play one of his games, I think  it was Utara. Daniel’s official selection for the event was Belle of the Ball and I know he was itching to get to that, but he had a panel to rush off to, so I think he went with a shorter selection.

Things got busy once the exhibit hall was opened for sure and players were using the Game Salute Library to borrow and play all kinds of great games. Unpubs were still happening. I got in several plays of Flummox, Daniel came back with Belle of the Ball, and Chris Kirkman even got in a game of Compounded by designer Darrell Louder.

I am always sad to miss getting in on a game of Compounded, but I took the opportunity to get another one of my prototypes on the table. Pageantry is something I’ve been slowly working on over the past few weeks, and I enjoyed a play through at the Escapist. I got some great notes on this one and will continue to develop it. That’s what an Unpub event is about..

I finally had a chance to sit down with Daniel and play Belle of the Ball. It was a good experience. I really like the interactivity of the game. You get to take actions based on the actions that other player’s choose. There’s a lot of strategy to that, and I didn’t plum the depths of it as much as I could have. The theme is original and really fit what was going on within the mechanics of the game, which is always a plus. It’s a game about mingling at a  Victorian party. Your cards are guests and you’re building sets by grouping and grouping. Belle of the Ball is a little more complex than I first gave it credit for being, and definitely a game to note and watch for.

Saturday came along pretty quick and with it came Acute Care designed by Chris Norwood. Acute Care is a cooperative game about nursing. I think a good many people go “nursing?” that’s really something we all need to get over. Acute Care is really a pretty good game. Of all the Unpub games I played during the Escapist Expo weekend, Acute Care is the one I talk and think about the most (well, other than Flummox.)You and you co-workers are all nurses. You have to take care of your patients for one full shift or you’ll get your hospital shut down. The real goal is to get recommendations for your hospital and to keep those positive notices above the negative ones. It’s a lot harder than you’d think. I actually thought the game was much harder than it should be, since we lost the first game by about “lunchtime.” A second game proved to be a little easier after one game play change. It plays in  simultaneous turns, moves fast, is very interactive and is really about as entertaining as it is enlightening. I’m really looking forward to watching this grow.

I had a chance to try out a game called Lost Crystals by Peter Fall. It was a neat little free for all game that is reminiscent of Tetris with cards. You’re gaining crystals by matching sets of icons. All players are playing simultaneously. The game moves fast and your reflexes are your key. What makes this game more interesting is the choose your own adventure nature behind it. Each round puts your “adventurers” on different island. Each island adds a new set of cards into the mix. Each set of cards brings a new challenge or effect to the game, so it gets more complex/difficult as you continue to play. This was a lot of fun and we wish Peter well as he continues with his design.

Saturday saw another game of Compounded hit the table. I played in this way (subbed in when a Ruth had to leave.) She set me up for a great win!

Sunday was a lighter crowd, but still very busy. Belle of the Ball got a few more plays as did Flummox. I sat with some fine folks and played some upcoming games.

I tried Ruse, coming from Game Salute. It’s not my type of game.

We also got in a play of Jungle Ascent with Chris Kirkman. The game is coming from 5th Street Games, the makers of Farmageddon. It’s currently up on Kickstarter. I had a good time with this one. It was a fun adventure game with a cute card playing mechanic that relies on spatial relationships. It was fun and I’m really glad I had an opportunity to try it. Jungle Ascent may be a little more random than I like, but it was worth the time invested in the game. I’d play it again…hopefully I’ll get a chance to do that someday. It’s not one I’m going to rush out and buy, but it’s worth it if this is your type of game or something you could see your group playing often.

On Sunday I had a chance to meet Ryven Cedrylle for a few brief moments while he was playing a game of Belle of the Ball. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to try Ryven’s game Good, Fast, Cheap: Temptation’s Gate. Since we’re already planning some stuff for early-mid 2013 in the Durham area, I’ll have another chance and I’m looking forward to it. Ryven was a great guy to meet. …and I’m very sorry that we didn’t get to connect a little more.

Another guy that came late to the party, I simply know as Derrick. I don’t even know if that’s the right way to spell his name! This is more of a product of how I take notes at these events and that’s changing. Derrick talked with us on Saturday and then brought some of his prototypes on Sunday. This speaks volumes about the potential of our program. He showed up, saw what we had to offer and wanted to be a part of it. We’re structured in a way that he could be. We’ll be hearing more from him.

It was tough leaving Durham and the new friends we’d made there, but life has to go on. There’s always another new event on the horizon! Next week we have a Protozone in Tuscon, Arizona at RinCon. The week after that we’re in Rockville, MD. Unpublished games will continue to get exposure through Unpub.Net! This is awesome!

Big thanks to the DiceHateMe and Monkey238. Also HUGE Thank you to Dan Yarrington and Game Salute!