I think I have finally recovered from the mad gaming extravaganza that was Unpub 4 this past weekend. As I lamented the end of the event, it seemed prudent to capture the tidbits of knowledge that the designers and playtesters still had fresh in their minds. Monday morning I asked the main Unpub twitter account to request that designers and playtesters share thoughts, experiences and photographs using the hashtag: #LessonsFromUnpub4 in order to fuel this post. However, I can’t claim to have come up with the idea on my own. I was inspired to request @TheUnpub to ask people to use the hashtag when I saw a conversation that happened on Monday morning and felt that the insight needed to be shared. I found the chat thanks to a retweet by @CardboardEdison(Chris and Suzanne Zinsli, co-designers of Tessen and Cottage Industry). The conversation was started by Jay Treat, designer of Khyber Station:



I think this tweet summarizes the Unpub program very well because it contains discussion points for both designers and playtesters. For designers, it is important to consider all feedback. Do not disregard feedback just because it came from a player, be sure you can provide a rationale for your decision, as a player felt that it was necessary to say. For players, it reminds us that is important to ask designers what they are looking for in regards to feedback. A designer may have chosen to limit the design of the game to 54 cards and if after the game, your feedback is add 12 more cards, it may not be helpful for the designer. I’ve seen this in my own play testing where someone will have designed a game with limited player interaction and players will ask for the ability to attack other players. It may not need to be added to the game, but the players want it because that is their play style. I vow to bring a script of questions to ask prior to sitting down to play any game at Unpub 5.

The idea of player style is another excellent lesson that was discussed at length on the hashtag. Discussion centered around having playtesters who like heavy euros wear different color badges or other visual identifiers to distinguish them from playtesters interested in lighter games. This would allow designers to recruit the playtesters most likely to enjoy their game. The entire event is based on the synergy between these two groups so it is important that designer and player are communicating expectations clearly before starting to play a game.

Another important lesson from Unpub involved preparations for the show. Designing sell sheets, making sure to pack all your prototype’s pieces and finalizing the rules are all crucial parts of the Unpub designer experience. Some designers lamented publicly about leaving these steps to the last minute or leaving portions of their prototypes behind. However, these preparations and limitations also led to some design breakthroughs according to Daniel Solis, Designer of The River Ancient and Unpub Alum Belle of the Ball:

This seems like a really good lesson to take away from Unpub 4 for designers. It is important to remember that more isn’t always better and simplicity and dare I say it, elegance, can be an important part of the success of a game. Daniel had some other great advice, some of which may require making some sacrifices after the expo hall closes each night. Daniel wrote about his observation that attitude and body language was as important to determining who would sit at his table as his sell sheet and amazing prototype(It was awesome and constantly evolving!). This means that you may need to stop working on your design with your new found design co-conspirator at 1am instead of 4am to put your best foot forward the next day! However, this sacrifice can be offset if you take Jason Kotarski’s advice:

As we talk about the design and playtesting lessons we learned from Unpub I feel like it is important to thank everyone who donated physical items to the giveaway that spanned the weekend. Our gracious host gave away games on the hour (or there abouts) almost every hour of the weekend.  Many games from the publishers attending Unpub(Thanks to Crash Games, Game Salute, Nevermore Games, Dice Hate Me Games, Van Ryder Games and more) as well as the designers themselves were able to be won simply by filling out feedback forms after playing a game! Event photographer Scott King (@ScottKing) donated a few copies of his gorgeous board game calendars too! Giving away things also worked as a way to get playtesters to sit at your table as Bryan Fischer was giving away pies for playing Pie Factory, The Dice Hate Me designers had buttons for their games, and Weston Stapleton, designer of Moles Holes had marble mole meeples  to give away to winners.  Nick Ferris, designer of Les Cartes Miserables and SuperShoppingSpree! was giving away copies of Les Cartes Miserable on Saturday to winners of a small tournament.  Finally, for all attendees there was a promo pack featuring cards for a variety of games like Fleet and King’s Forge as well as other games. I know these promos will be well loved in my game collection!

The penultimate Lesson from Unpub 4 was to arrive early and stay late. Many designers and publishers arrived on Thursday, allowing them to playtest games in the hotel, give each other feedback, help set up and even make an attempt at being well rested before the hall opened. If you don’t have to rush out of town to get to the airport on Sunday, you will be able to get that extra play test in and perhaps get the feedback that enables you to put the polish you want on your design before your next big pitch!


The last lesson from Unpub 4 is to attend Unpub. Some designers were not able to stay for the entirety of the event and some designers who missed the event shared what they learned:

I hope everyone remembers these lessons going forward and will apply them as they attend Unpub mini’s around the country and at Unpub 5. Some of the best tweets using #LessonsFromUnpub4 are embedded below, click here to see all the tweets: