Today’s Post was meant to be posted last week after the Unpub Mini at Games and Stuff in Glen Burnie, MD. TC Petty III wrote this recap  within days of the event where he served as event captain. Thanks TC! Enjoy this recap everyone, I’m sorry it’s so late.

The road to publication is filled with Minis.

The Unpub Mini is, to me, the down and dirty, grittiest, grassroots proving ground for a designer’s work and therefore, quite possibly the most essential of the events to attend.

Unpub ProtoZones are sheltered areas at conventions where fledgeling game designers can mingle together under the big blue noodle and play test games all day long at their leisure.  Not only is it a meeting ground for designers and play testers, it also might be a new designer’s first brush with real publishers.  For some reason, persons of interest, dressed in polo shirts with their companies logo on their breast, always seem to pop in to have a look around.

And Unpub 3, which has became so fat with designers, publishers, and play testers that it had to be expanded to two days; this is where the hard work and tears and rules re-writing and constant photoshop work and card cutting and chit wrangling all culminates into something much more grand. Buzz! I don’t expect to sleep that weekend.  And if you’re an East Coast game designer, and you own a calendar, mark off Saturday and Sunday, January 19th & 20th.

But, if Unpub 3 is the Hell in a Cell main event, then the Unpub Mini at Games and Stuff in Glen Burnie, MD on October 27th was the back alley brawl where all the scouts scope out the newest upcoming talent. And it was a real slobberknocker of a dance card.

I arrived in apologetic fashion, a few minutes late to the large opening gaming area above Games and Stuff.  Luckily, everyone had secured a nice group of tables in the back, so with a couple of signs posted and quick introductions, the games had already begun.

Then, we got down to our dirty, dirty prototype breaking business.  I consider any Unpub event a success if every game gets played, and graciously almost every game received double, sometimes even triple treatment. This mini was a success and instantly productive.  This tight-knit clan of gamers and designers are not only encouraged, but many times expected to jump into another person’s game. In fact, it’s one of the aspects that I most enjoy.  The ideas bounce around freely, friendships develop, and the feedback is focused.

Some of the games, such as Eldritch Prison by Ty Finocchiaro, were making their first appearance outside of their own comfortable “friends and family” zone.  Meaning that, aside from private plays, this was the first time real anonymous people had attempted their games.

I’ll focus very quickly on the two games I was able to squeeze in, aside from one quick play of VivaJava Dice: the above mentioned Eldritch Prisons and Charlie Hoopes AtataT.

Eldritch Prison is a Lovecraftian game based on the Cthulhu Mythos where each player takes on the role of an Elder God (Yog-Sothoth, in my case) that is trying to escape from their inter-dimensional prison in order to do the really bad stuff they love to do to humans. They are somewhat asymmetrical in powers, but all draw cards from the same deck. Players gain magic points to cast Mythos cards and activate powers, but in order to really escape players must build gates and collect dice.  And not just a few, buttons! Twenty or more sometimes to roll all at once. Ameritrash heaven.

So, the coolest part is each card has a 4,6,8,10,12, or 20-sided die listed in the corner.  Players play sets of these dice to their “stacks” (three piles in front of them), gaining bonuses for better sets. Then, when a stack is at least 5 cards high, players may make a “stack conversion”. Meaning, you get to take dice from the supply and physically stack them on top of each other. Succeed in stacking them, and bank all of the dice. Don’t succeed and players get to try and steal them away.

AtataT is a route-building, semi-deduction, abstract strategy game that plays on a 5 x 5 grid of tiles numbered 1-25. Before each round of play, all players draw 6 small number tiles (1-25) and keep them secret from other players (a la Scrabble.) On your turn, you may place two planks to make a connection between any two numbers, then if possible you may reveal two of your secretly drawn numbers that have planks connecting them.  So, if I had small tiles 3 & 5, and there was a plank connecting 3 to 4 and 4 to 5, I would reveal both small tiles, pick up a plank at every connection point (worth 1 point each) and then I place either my 3 or 5 tile back into the supply and return the other to my hand.

The key is, every time I score a connection, I reveal one of my numbers to other players. Also, I have to flip over the other numbered Tile on the Grid, essentially blocking that spot for future connections. The tension builds as the Grid becomes smaller, and once a player has only one small tile remaining, the round ends and scores. AtataT also had the privilege of being the only game that day that did not include any dice.

In attendance as well was Brad Smoley with his hybrid, action point allocation, time control and area control, tile-laying, cave mining gem robot game, Phobos. I’ve had the chance to play before at other events, and the game is continually being tweaked to perfection. I peaked at some player feedback forms to find that they loved killing robots.  Personally, I prefer strategic placement and the tactical use of time tiles, to the short-sighted, spiteful, and senseless destruction of robots, but to each his own.

Josh Tempkin brought along his game, Death Dice Rally, which from the epic cheer that resounded through the room, probably went over well with those that were crowded around the table.  I had played this at Congress of Gamers, and it is a dice-rolling, dice allocation, dice rally, dice game with tons of colored dice. Balancing shifting gears, damage, and which dice to collect at certain points during the race will be the key to victory and survival.

And Garrett Herdter was rolling dice for fun in his game Rolling for Amusement. If I could take a blind stab at what all the colorful dice and player boards meant, I would guess that players were building rides and making an amusement park. This is all heresay, because I wasn’t able to play, but from the generally positive reactions and feedback, I’m thinking I missed out on another nice dice allocation game.  But, he lives nearby, so we’re going to track each other down.

I know this is usually about the designers, but Unpub Minis are nothing without the support of local gamers. Thanks to the awesome people that stuck it out through the entire day (I didn’t even know they still made Snus), and even the hesitant Magic players that jumped in for a game or two.  It was really awesome hanging out and talking afterwards.

Plus, Games and Stuff has an amazing game selection and a library of open copies with tables to play them on.

This is where it all starts. And it can be scary. First, you’re Michael R. Keller, a designer with a dream, tweaking prototypes for years, demoing constantly at conventions, attending Unpub Minis and Protozones. Then, Tasty Minstrel Games subsequently picks up one of your games, and you Kickstart your other game, City Hall.

…But the key is this: Find that small, ragtag group of designers at a gritty local event and get motivated to take the plunge from hobby to reality.

Check out the Unpub Mini Page here on Unpub.net and see how you can help make something  like this happen for you.