Jun 052015

7RPlGdIqBy Paco Garcia Jaen

This is my fourth year attending the biggest tabletop games convention in the UK. This is the third year that I help organise some events at the show. This is the last year things remain as they’ve been.

And that’s a good thing.

For the last few years, the UK Games Expo has grown as much as anyone could have wished and a lot more than anyone was expecting. This year alone there have been nearly 9000 unique visitors through the doors and more than 14000 visitors in total. Enough to prove the prediction of outgrowing the venue true. We knew it would happen. We didn’t now it’d happen so fast.

Yes my friends, we have to get out of the Hilton Metropole in Birmingham and upgrade to the NEC. Next year it will take place in both locations at the same time, with the trading floor taking place at NEC and the tournaments taking place again at the Hilton Metropole. How that’ll pan out it’s to be seen, but we’ll find out soon enough. Precisely in one year.

For now, let me give you my impressions of this year’s event.

I spend most of the time – as in 90% of the time – looking after the seminars and the press event that was organised this year for the first time, so my perspective is a little different.

How did the convention feel? Amazing. From day one – and that was Friday as this year the Expo had one extra day – the place felt buzzing with excitement. People arrived constantly to take part in the tournaments, volunteer or simply visit and enjoy a few days of gaming. With dozens of games going on pretty much all the time, and more demos on the trading floor I can even count, no one was ever too far from having a good time.

The press event was something we saw at Spiel, where it’s very successful. Basically, a room is reserved for the traders to showcase their games and only the press has access to. The exciting bit for me is that we had plenty of people showing new games at the Expo. Companies are indeed releasing games at the UK Games Expo and announcing games there too. This is very significative.

Releasing a game at convention is not just a matter of having a date, but also doing it at a place where there is enough traction to get people and distributors interested and ready to buy the game. It is the reason – or one of – why so many games are released at GenCon and Spiel; publishers have the attention guaranteed and the sales maximised. For small companies to have a place like the UKGE to set as a milestone of game release matters a lot.

And it matters a lot because the UKGE has got a very prominent role as the host of several championships that attract hundreds of participants and has large companies like Fantasy Flight and Mayfair games very much behind the show. Mind you, Mayfair Games has been the longest supporter of this trade show thanks to the shrewd mind of Larry Roznai, who saw the potential pretty much from day one.

Coiled Spring Games didn’t take long to follow and Esdevium didn’t miss out either. This is amongst many others. Enough that I won’t mention them because… well, because I wouldn’t be able to remember them all.

Something else caught my ear. It was something some guests from overseas said.

The panels, as always, are very well catered for by a tremendous selection of guests who gladly share their knowledge. This year we were very privileged. We had writer and Line Developer for Margaret Weiss Productions, Monica Valentinelli, Director of Publishing for DriveThruRPG.com Matt McElroy, genius designer and cool guy Eric Lang, Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing and other Star Wars games’ Lead Designer, Alex Davy and many others.

Surprisingly, though, the panels were a bit hit and miss. Some of them were very well attended whereas others that would have been expected to get a lot of attention didn’t really capture people’s imagination. Weird, but hey-ho. Those who made it had a great time!

Anyway… what they said that caught my ear was this: UK Games Expo today feels like Origins felt 10 years ago. Exciting, vibrant and growing.

And this is significative because Origins has been a very important trade show for a long time. Not as large as GenCon, Pax or Spiel, it did however have a gravitas that placed it firmly on the map. Still does, just not as prominently.

And now UKGE grows. Next year it will spread its meeples and step up to take a hall at NEC for the trading while keeping the hotel to host the gaming. That is very good news.

More space for more traders – UKGE organisers have had to turn down a number of companies who arrived too late to get a space to sell their goods – and those traders with more space to show their games and play with more people.

And it will get more attention too. This year I had enquiries from the BBC to get information about the event, though no confirmed sightings of anyone who contacted me, so I don’t know if any coverage was given. I reckon, though, that being at the NEC will be enough of a step up in prestige to attract the bigger media attention.

Of course this comes with risks as the expense to get it all sorted is greater and the logistics of staffing two locations is much more complex than doing just one. There will be some teething problems like there always are when new things are tried and that should surprise no one. However the organising team are far from being naive or stupid and there is no doubt the problem will be minimal, if at all existent.

I reckon even without the use of an advertising or PR agency (which I think the organisers should start considering) most of the trading floor will go by Spiel, as it always does, and the rest shortly after.

Heed my words, mortals, for this is one mammoth beast of a games convention that’s just starting to show its teeth and when it’s fully grown it’ll have nothing to envy from any other.

You’ve been warned.

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May 212015

1314906812115123483do20not20touch20sign_svg_medBy Paco Garcia Jaen

This is something that’s happened to me recently and it wasn’t a pleasant experience, so I thought I’d share some advice with you: When a player leaves a group temporarily and leaves a character behind, leave it alone.

Do not play with the character, do not take their things and do not mess with it.

Let me put this into context a bit.

Recently and for family reasons I rather not go into here, I had to leave my group for a few weeks. We had been playing the Pathfinder Rise of the Runelords Campaign. We are not the fastest players and we had been at it for nearly two years… To get to half the campaign.

Yeah… we take our time.

I was playing a halfling ranger. A cute little thing with as much dexterity as ability to be annoying; 21. Yes my friends, he can do the splits and then some.

Anyway, Higgsbottom found a horse after a few encounters just after starting the adventure. Not just any horse, but a war horse the size of a small house. And they became friends. The halfling learned to ride and got rank after rank after rank in riding so I could actually ride the horse. I got the feats I needed and when it levelled up I got Animal Affinity so, you know, I could relate to Shadowmist.

And I was having a *great* time with it.

Meanwhile there was some bewilderment among my friends because how could a halfling ride an animal that big? It didn’t make sense.

Because I was having fun and I didn’t really care what anyone had to say, I kept playing with the horse and it became a really important part of my character.

Until I left.

My GM arranged for a scene to take place so Hhiggsbottom could leave the group in a congruent manner and still be able to rejoin when I returned. I was going to stay behind in a keep we had cleansed many months ago creating a school of fighting. I thought that was amazing and I was super excited.

Then the problem happened. Something had happened to Shadowmist. I thought it had died in a fight, or maybe the party had taken the horse with them because some of the other members could do with having a horse. And I was cool with that. It would be a suitable use of an asset that was useful to the party.

However what happened is that someone decided to sell the horse. Not use it for anything else other than get a few coins.

Suddenly the animal I had been working on and with for nearly two years disappears. Not the replaceable ring of protection, or the amulets or magic weapons. The horse. Because a halfling is not meant to ride a horse. Dragons are cool and fireballs are perfectly reasonable, but halfling on a horse? Nah… too much.

So when the player leaves the character in stand-by for a few weeks, what do you do? Sell his most valuable possession.

Not cool. At all.

So, please, take my advice, if a player decides to leave their character behind, do not touch it. Do not do anything, and i mean *anything* that will change that character for then the player comes back. And if you feel you want to do something, and you need to do something with that character or any of their possessions, talk to the player first.

Developing a character is not just about the character itself. It’s about making that character evolve and change in a manner that makes it special to you as a player. It takes a lot of effort and work to do that and, even though it’s just a game, it’s also an investment of time and emotional charge that doesn’t deserve to be casually destroyed just because you think it’s going to be “funny” or add “drama”.

Let me assure you, when that character’s player get upset, they won’t be over-reacting. They will be rightfully angry just like you’d be angry if someone decided to delete your favourite apps in your tablet or delete some of your photos because “you look bad in them”.

Indeed not cool at all.

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Dec 082014

Dragonmeet-logo-square-300x257-250x250[1] By Paco Garcia Jaen

Well friends, as you know, Dragonmeet has come to pass and, since I am writing this two days after the event, it is positively ancient news.

But this is my blog and I talk about whatever I like, old as it might be. So there.

Dragonmeet also happened to be pretty awesome for many reasons.

Firstly because Ken Hite came to me and gave me a hug. That is not just unprecedented, but totally unexpected and one of those life events that I shall forever remember fondly.

OK, that was a bit hyperbolic. But it was very nice of him and I really appreciate that sort of small gestures. Thank you Ken.

Unlike previous years, this time Dragonmeet for me started a long time ago, when Chris Birch had the temerity to ask me if I’d organise the panels and I had the nerve to say yes. Since a lot of things have happened and those things have given me a much greater sense of anticipation for Dragonmeet. Knowing that I had a small role to play in the biggest RPG convention in London and maybe the whole of the UK, feels me with pride.

And I think they went well. They were well attended, though admittedly that didn’t take much because the room was small with just 60 chairs, which means by the time everyone had used all the space, came all close and cozy near each other and really crumbed the space, there were about 100 people there (OK, I’m exaggerating a bit. But not much). Yet the air-con worked and we didn’t feel like we were going to suffocate in each others oxygen-depleted breath. It was very pleasant!

Anyway, forgive me. I am jumping ahead of myself. Before the Saturday, there was a Friday. And that particular Friday I was feeling rather pally. Throat was hurting a fair bit and I hadn’t slept very well the night before. Or the one before that. But we packed the equipment and we commenced our pilgrimage.

We setup and thanks to both the excellent staff at the hotel and the help of Carlone we managed to get the audio setup and ready to rumble the following day. Everything went very, very smoothly. Smoothly enough to make us feel suspicious…

No matter. We went for dinner to the pub at the hotel, bracing ourselves for overpriced microwave reheated burgers and frozen pizzas that would no doubt accompany our pints. Oh joy when Martin took a piece of pizza to his mouth and said “this is nice!”. “Are you sure?” I asked, incredulous. “Yes!” he said “The dough is thin, the pizza is warm throughout, the edges are crispy and the topping is lovely!”. Well, that settled the matter.

My burger was actually blue. Just like I like it. And that doesn’t happen very often. Too many times people over cook burgers for no reason. So I was happy too.

But not as happy as I was when I managed to catch up with Chris Birth and his gang and took a look at Cultos Innombrables, Pequenos Detectives de Monstruos (remember those two titles. You’ll want to buy them soon) and Dreamraiders (you’ll also want to buy that one) and we discussed the mathematical prowess of FATE vs. Hitos (a new system you’ll hear about when it comes out. For now, trust me, it has more mathematics finesse than FATE).

The other joy of the evening was to talk Dr. Who with the always wonderful Lynne Hardy and her husband, Richard. Seriously. She can talk about anything, but her enthusiasm about the good old Doc is just a joy to behold. And they’re wonderful. I mean… who else can look at a photo of Thanatotagua and say “Ohhh… he looks so good in that picture!” That takes some love!

Then I went to bed because my throat was giving up on me. I’ve already had me knees giving up on me once, I didn’t want another body part – specially one I had to use a lot the following day – to go on strike too, so it was time to retire.

The morning started in the hectic way that convention preparations have us accustomed to. Cameras setting, equipment loading, white balancing, sound tests, people coming early, batteries, memory cards, panellists arriving…

And above all that, a surprise that nearly made me cry with joy. For real. This guy taps me in the shoulder and says “I really enjoy your podcasts. Please keep making them because they are very good”. If giving total strangers a big smooch without asking permissions, I would have embraced that man like a bear a pot of honey. Instead I said “Oh my goodness! Thank you very much! I’ll make sure we keep at it!”. I believe it was the right thing to do, but it certainly left me wanting to fully express how much I appreciated his words and “Thank you” doesn’t come anywhere near. So next time I see him (and make no mistake I will see him. You’ll know why in a bit) I will buy him a beer and have a good chat. I will also invite him to come to the podcast as a guest sometime.

The panels started and I was a bit anxious. Someone told me not long ago that panels are “a waste of valuable time at conventions”. I thought he was a bit of an idiot (though I am sure his mum doesn’t agree with me) but the doubt always lingers and I feared people wouldn’t be interested, specially when the trade floor and the gaming tables were *heaving* with people by the time the first panel started. It was for a good reason they had to open the doors early to let the crowds in!

But people came. Jon Hogson started his panel on art direction and a few artists and non-artists alike asked questions and Jon showed a hole lot of things that were really cool, like early prototypes of Dr Who card game cards and some other cool stuff I can’t tell you about because… because Dragonmeet was a long, long time ago now.

Anyway. Then started the second panel. That one was very important to me because it was about a subject I am very passionate about and I was going to host it with two people I am very fond of, Lynne Hardy (yes, her again) and Sarah Newton (who is a genius and wonderful and all things nice including Mindjammer). The subject was “Diversity in games”. We discussed why diversity is important and why companies should make more of an effort to get diversity on board. Not just in their games, but also in their staff.

Kat Tobin, Ken Hite, Simon Rogers, Robin Laws and Rob Heinsoo took on the stage for the next one but for that one I didn’t stay because I needed a break and, quite frankly, there was no space for me to stand on. Any panel with Ken and Robin will do well and this one did *very* well indeed.

The rest of the panels seemed to go just as well and something fun happened. The Kickstarter panel we had planned was looking like a no go area as we couldn’t secure enough people, but, somehow, Gerry Lively, the director of the two last D&D movies was around and he was kind enough to agree to a short QA session and that was quite interesting. It did give a very interesting insight on the shooting of the movies and the outcome (you have to watch them… I’m not going to tell you what I think of them here).

Soon after the seminars were over. The rather amazing Joe Dever gave a very good presentation of what his professional career had been like. It was quite something to hear him say “For legal reasons I can’t berate them” when talking about a former publishing partner. Feelings seemed to be still very much there… in the open!

More things happened that I didn’t get to see, like the recording of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast, or Cat Tobin’s talk on Disobedient Games. I also missed Modiphius and Cubible 7 panels, which is annoying because it’s always good to know what products I have to save money for in the following year.

The trading floor was properly packed and it wasn’t easy to move around, something that can be improved for the future, but the selection of traders was amazing and much better than I expected.

I know there were some issues with the volunteers not turning up or not being enough of them at any given time, so I am told some things weren’t as smooth as they could have been, so something else that next year will make the event even better.

Maybe see you there?

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Dec 082014

A while ago I asked some people if GG had affected us, the tabletop crowd. Some people said no. In fact, most people said no. I quietly disagreed with them and moved on to another conversation.

Today it has been made very clear to me that I was right.

I started  thread in RPG.net to discuss the topic of ethics in tabletop journalism. Nothing to do with GG (mostly because GG was nothing to do with ethics anywhere, or with journalism).

Yet there have been two overwhelming reactions to the thread.

One: People are not taking the conversation seriously. They think it’s some sort of satire joke. Because GG.

Two: People don’t want to talk about it, or think it’s unethical to talk about the topic. Because GG.

Really sad to think that the incredible pile of shite that GG is has actually made people weary of talking about a topic so important as ethics.

How sad that, even people who claim to be on the side of “GG is nothing to do with ethics in journalism” will associate the topic of “ethics in journalism” with GG. If it didn’t have anything to do with it, why are you associating it?

Are we really going to let a bunch of misogynists and assholes take away from us the chance to discuss the ways bloggers, podcasters and the like communicate and behave?

Are we going to let them take that from us?

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Nov 262014

TheApprentice-300x207[1] By Paco Garcia Jaen

Beware, this open letter is an opinionated rant about games in large department stores.

Last night, after our holidays, we decided to watch the only episode of The Apprentice I could have possibly had any interest in. The episode in which they have to design a board game from start to finish in 48 hours and then sell it.

Let’s not go into the issues of asking a bunch of self-serving, up-their-own-asses, pompous, arrogant cretins to create something none of them have a freaking clue about (I am sure their mum think they are wonderful and that if I took time to “get to know them” they would look or sound so bad; but the fact is that they sound that bad and that’s all I have to go with. Sorry).

Let’s not go into the fact that one of the groups designed – more like put together, but never mind – a game that children were actually enjoying even though it was Pictionary for geography without maps and ugly as hell. Geogeek, I think it was called. At least that one had hope of becoming something better if someone with 1/2 a brain took a look at it.

Let’s not go into the fact that the other game was a sexist piece of shit game in which people were giving a multiple choice question and they had to choose the answer. Questions like “What do women like more in a man? A smile, great clothes, lots of money”. Exactly. Let’s not get started on “The Relationship Guru”.

Instead lets get started on how the buying process from Waterstones and Toy R Us went. And for fairness’ sake, let’s assume this was all staged and it might not resemble reality, though by looking at the selection of games they have in those stores, it is safe to assume also that reality is not too far from that program.

During that process, the sellers pitched their “games” to people who looked like generic buyers and not games specialists (first mistake, dear department stores!) and were only interested in whether the game would sell or not, not if the game was any good or not.

And I know that because none of them played the game. None. A few times they asked the “apprentices” to play and explain the game in front of them, but that was it. No real interest in experience what their customers would go through or how much enjoyment they will derive from it. Nothing.

Still, they sold a lot of copies and even Toys R Us got some copies of the detestable Relationship Guru. That left me totally speechless, but I guess when you don’t have to worry about how much your game costs to produce because we, the TV licence payer is actually subsidising that, you can afford to sell a game for £8 even if it costs £12 or £15 to produce.

To say that I was dismayed is an understatement.

Today I went by the games section of WHSmith and then the shop window of Waterstones and suddenly it all made sense.

The rather poor selection of Monopolies, Boggles, Scrabbles, Risks and the like are there because the buyers are not interested in games. They are not interested in their customer’s satisfaction. They just want to make a quick buck.

And quick is the key word here.

If they were prepared to nurture a selection of customers who will come back time and time again, they’d be prepared to have games that might cost them a bit more than £8 to buy, they’d feel the benefits. If they had someone in the shop able to give an overview of a game that involved more than “roll two dice” or “draw a card and read from it” they would feel it.

But most importantly, if they actually had people who understand games running their games’ sections they could, probably would, become the next wave of games store in every single town with all the benefits that entails. Probably most of the people reading this article would be able to restock the shelves of any major store with a better games selection that could attract more customers.

Imagine this. Go into Waterstones in Brighton. They have a Costa cafe on the third floor. The games are on the ground floor (first floor for you American friends). Buy your game. Sit down with a coffee and start to play.

How could that possibly be a bad thing for any business?

So shops of the world, please get your act together. Hire people to the job who understand the product and, most importantly, the customer. Find a way to balance your need and your ability to sell to promote good games, not the same old tropes. It really doesn’t take much and the long-term benefits will be much, much bigger.

And if you need any help, let me know. I know people who know people who’d be delighted to help you too!

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Nov 092014

Dragonmeet-logo-square-300x257By Paco Garcia Jaen

When Chris Birch told me he had taken over the organising of Dragonmeet and asked me if I’d like to organise the panels I jumped in right away. I love panels, what can I say?

But why do I like them so much? While some people consider panels a waste of valuable time, and to each their own, I personally consider panels the perfect opportunity to learn and understand not just the games I play, but also the people behind the games and issues that surround games.

From the way the rules are created, to the thinking behind those rules and the genesis of the setting where they’ll go. All those aspects of gaming that are less discussed and less talked about than the rules and the setting themselves, are the things that make me tick and help me become a better player and a better GM.

So for me to be able to help organise panels that can bring a new layer of knowledge and understanding to some gamers who find it useful is an opportunity I can’t let pass me by.

One of the beauties of organising panels for Dragonmeet is that everyone is always willing to help. Ideas are proposed, people step forward to be part of the panels, ideas are thrown away after discussions and basically, it becomes a team effort to make sure there is variety and diversity all over the place.

And this is another reason I like organising panels and I feel panels are important. They give a voice to creators and gamers that otherwise would never be heard. Indie game developers and publishers, less well-known writers and artists in other media would never be heard. And that matters a lot.

Diversity, not just in gender, sexuality, ethnic and cultural background, but in level of exposure and expertise is a vital and integral part of what keeps the gaming hobby fresh and developing new ideas constantly. And it cannot be stressed enough how important that is.

Without diversity in our games and in our games creators pool, we would all end up playing in the same old setting. We would all be eating the same candy with a different wrapping. And let me assure you that is really, really bad.

So that’s my philosophy when I start to organise panels: Diversity. Diversity of games, diversity of panellists, diversity of topics.

In other words, richness.

So if you want to attend a bunch of panels that will certain have something to offer to the most curious minds, head to Dragonmeet this December, sit back and enjoy.

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