The Board Game Design Course

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Game Design

Planning a Protospiel (or other game design event)

A Protospiel is a board game design event that typically takes place over two to three days. The focus is on bringing game designers together to playtest each other’s games and make them even better.

Several Protospiel events already happen in locations including Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, and our local event here in Toronto. Every few years, it seems like another one has popped up, which is great for the game design community.

While regular playtesting events at game stores, board game cafes, and other locations are great to have, they are often concentrated into an event that only lasts around three to six hours. This may be enough time to get your game to the table along with others, but sometimes you’ll run out of time before you get your game to the table.

Protospiels on the other hand are much bigger events that take place less regularly. Yes, they may involve travel. Yes, they will likely involve you spending some money to stay in a hotel (often at the location where the event is being held, which is very convenient). Yes, you will be able to get your game to the table many times with different groups or be able to playtest a whole bunch of different games over the course of the weekend. You can actually make quite a bit of progress with so much concentrated playtesting happening.

If you’re planning on running a Protospiel, or any other game design event for that matter, I’d like to share some tips that I’ve picked up as one of the co-organizers of Protospiel North.

Assemble your team

Your first step should be to assemble a team. It’s often difficult to run an event completely on your own, so having others to help you out is very necessary.

If you can find others who are also passionate about board games and game design and are willing to volunteer some of their time in exchange for getting into the event for free, then you’re off to a great start. It’s very helpful to have other organizers who can share responsibilities with you, but at the very least you’ll want to have some volunteers to help run the front desk and help you organize things.

Gauge interest

Before you drop a lot of money on booking a venue, you’ll want to make sure you’ll be able to bring in enough people to cover your costs. Running a Protospiel is not about making money or generating a profit, but at the same time, you don’t want to end up in the hole. Breaking even or generating a little bit of profit that you can put towards the next event is ideal.

Ask designers at other game design events in your area if they would be interested in attending an all-weekend game designers event. Find out how much they would be willing to pay or ask that may very specific ticket price would be reasonable. For example, “Would you pay $50 for a weekend-long dedicated playtesting event?”

If you have a large enough community of game designers in your area or know that some would be willing to travel a short distance to attend, you can move on to the next step of looking for a venue.

Make sure to gather contact information and emails if possible, so that you can reach out to these interested designers when you’ve got your event planned.

Timing

It’s a good idea to check when other big events are happening, including major board game conventions like Origins and Gen Con. You can find a fairly comprehensive list of board game events here.

In addition, check the dates of any other major events and attractions happening in your area. The more things that are happening on the weekend of your event, the more competition you will have, although many will not necessarily cross over.

Think about things like weather and time of the year as well. If you live in a region with brutal winters, planning your event in January might make travel difficult.

Pricing

Once you have a few good venue options and know what pricing to expect, you can quickly figure out how many people you would need to attend to break even.

For example, if all your expenses including the venue, taxes, and anything else you need for the event come to $2,000 and you feel that people would be willing to pay $50 to attend, you would need 40 participants to break even.

You might also want to consider different options for passes. You may have a full weekend pass or a single day pass. You may want to include passes for designers and passes for people who are just there to playtest. You may even have publishers or press planning to attend. It just depends on who your audience is and who you feel would be likely to attend.

If you do have multiple types of badges, you will want to price them accordingly. Playtesters should either be free or low cost (I lean towards low cost over free, as many people may sign up for a free event but then no-show) and one day passes should be much less than a full-weekend pass, of course.

Err on the side of caution. Be conservative with your estimates and make sure you’re confident that you’ll be able to at least break even, otherwise you’ll be on the hook to cover the losses.

Getting people to attend

Remember those game design events that I mentioned before where you talked to other designers about attending? Well, if you took down their contact information as I suggested, you can reach out to them and let them know your event is happening.

Make sure to have an easy way for people to find out about the event and purchase tickets. One site that makes this easy is tabletop.events.

Ask the organizers of other local events if you can hand out flyers or promote your event there. See if you can get a free listing in your local newspaper or local events website as well.

If you’re able to, offer an early bird price where people can save money by getting their ticket early. An early bird price that offers $10 off can really help. This will incentivize people to get tickets now and you’ll also have a better idea of your numbers well before the event.

Make sure to post about your event at local game and game design forums, as well as other meetups, and get the word out to every game designer you can.

Running the actual event

Now that you’ve got everything organized and the event is here, it’s time to run the show.

Make sure you’ve got badges printed out for anyone who has bought a ticket, along with a way for people to buy tickets in person. Having a printer handy for badges can be very helpful.

Make sure to put up signage to guide people to your event right from the front door to the location where everyone is meeting up so that everyone knows they are in the right place. Train everyone helping out on the check-in process, including giving people their badges and buying tickets in person. You probably don’t need someone there 24/7, but you’ll definitely want coverage in the early hours of each day, along with a way for newcomers to easily identify who is running the event and seek you out.

Get there early on day one to set up tables, signage, and the front desk. This will give you time to work out any other issues that may arise as well.

If you have enough people helping out and you can swap shifts at the check-in desk, you may even get in some playtesting yourself!

Final thoughts

Organizing any event can be a lot of work and Protospiels are no exception. It’s really helpful to have other organizers and volunteers to help you out. Otherwise, you may feel like you can’t get away for even a few minutes for a bathroom break or to grab something to eat.

The best part is that you’ll be bringing together lots of game designers for a great event, where they will be able to improve their games, meet new people, and see some familiar faces. Gather feedback and listen to what people have to say about your Protospiel so that you can make the next event even better.

Have you ever attended a Protospiel event (either in-person or online)? What was your experience like?

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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2 comments

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    Protospels are great fun. All the different game ideas are interesting to check out. One thing about them that helps me is the focus it creates to get games ready for playtesting. Get those special components printed or cut by yourself or a prototyping company. The excitement really does create motivation. The feedback is outstanding. Both feedback and motivation are what these events are great for, and just one even can push games leaps and bounds ahead in their design.

    For sure, Bill! They are a dedicated weekend of fun and playtesting. You can cover a lot of ground on one game or playtest many of your designs in a short period of time.