Aug 112015

triggerwarning By Paco Garcia Jaen

We’ve heard a lot about the need and demand of trigger warnings in games and gaming environments, let it be conventions, clubs, social media groups or simply around the table.

I am all up for trigger warnings. I have no idea if someone reading or hearing about homophobic actions, racial or sexual assault… whatever, will feel triggered and I can’t see a problem with saying “hey, we’re going to cover some sensitive and graphic content. If you feel uncomfortable, say it now”.

I do have a problem with “hey, I feel uncomfortable/offended; let’s stop the whole thing for everyone else”.

Sorry. No. I feel and understand you have a trauma (I have some traumas too), but that doesn’t mean everyone should be shielded from it like you need to be. And note how I say “need to be”. I understand the need and I think protection should be provided. It must be provided.

I don’t feel that person should just put up with the discomfort and get screwed. And this is where I think some people are going wrong. They think it’s an all or nothing sort of situation where either everyone puts up with the offensive/hurtful behaviour or no one does.

Emotional response is defined as “a reaction to a particular intrapsychic feeling or feelings, accompanied by physiologic changes that may or may not be outwardly manifested but that motivate or precipitate some action or behavioural response.”

When someone around the table, or at a convention or anywhere else, expresses an emotional response, ignoring it or demanding that person puts up with that impact (more often than not damaging) because you want to is the wrong decision to make. Very wrong.

If your game includes rape, paedophilia , sexism, racism or any other “ism” and people feel uncomfortable, demanding they continue playing, or avoiding doing something to minimise that discomfort, only makes you a douche. Seriously.

If you are running a game, the safety of your players is in *your* hands. It’s your responsibility to make as sure as you can that your players have a great time and that no noxious behaviour takes place around your table. And that includes dealing with behaviour that brings an emotional response or offence.

The same goes when you write a book or an adventure. Your work could trigger responses and it is your responsibility to find a way to tell people the contents can be difficult or triggering so they can make an informed choice and not read your work if they feel it’s unsafe.

And the thing is that not every emotional response can be helped. Not by you, not by anyone. And there are lots and lots of people out there who walk through life trying to avoid certain topics because the emotional response they get is uncontrollable and very damaging.

And thus the question I always ask people is: Why wouldn’t you want to warn people that what you write/design might be painful to read?

I don’t get it.

Of course helping the person deal with that emotional response is the best approach. But sometimes we can’t help. So although pandering to the emotional response completely is not the best solution, ignoring it is certainly the worst possible solution. In fact that is not a solution at all.

Point to remember: Just because you don’t consider it traumatic or doesn’t affect you, doesn’t mean it won’t affect anyone else. And if anyone says it’s affecting them, pay attention. People do not say these things for no reason.

Let’s differentiate two things here, though: emotional response vs. offence.

With emotional response we are talking about the psychological response with some physical manifestations (visible or otherwise) when we are exposed to something. The more traumatic the “thing” is, the more acute the response will be.

Offence, on the other hand, is “annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself. “

There are many kinds of offence. Offending someone by using racial, sexual or gender stereotypes or jokes is always wrong. Those are always going to bring some sort of emotional response attached and with good reason.

Also they are a very cheap shot that highlights only how dim-witted the offender is.

And I know people hate hate hate to be told this, but check your privilege. If someone is offended about something, find out why and stop saying “but it doesn’t offend me”. Just because it doesn’t offend you, doesn’t mean it’s not offensive.

That is when the problems truly occur around a table, or writing your game or adventure. It’s not just when you cause offence, but when you cause harm through offence. And repeat offence does cause harm, make no mistake.

And please, do not even think about coming to me with “if it is in the mind is not pain”. Fuck that shit.

It is very true that a lot of people are demanding not to be offended these days and pandering to that attitude is also pernicious. The issue is to make sure the offence is directed at something, not someone. And pondering if the offence was necessary or you’re just being an asshole. Because offending people for the sake of offending them makes you an asshole.

And yes, I think you should include a trigger warning and let people know they are likely to find content they might find offensive. There is no harm in that whatsoever. Then people can decide if they want to join your game, or read your book, or not.

So the point is this: do you want people sitting around your table having a good time? Do you want people reading your book or playing your game/adventure getting fond memories for the rest of their lives?

If your answer is “yes”, then it is your responsibility to make sure they *know* what they’re getting themselves into.

As a creator, you are free and entitled to create anything you want. Offensive, hurtful… whatever. You want to do it? Go ahead and do it.

But tell people! Just let them know!

And of course be prepared to be criticised for doing it. But that’s for another article.

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Aug 102015


By Paco Garcia Jaen

I am a firm believer in Paying It Forward. I have been running my website, podcasts and videos largely following that principle and I intend to continue doing so for as long as I can afford it. If you don’t know what Paying It Forward entails, it basically means that, instead of repaying a favour to the person who did you the favour, you repay to another three people instead.

Without asking for anything in return. That’s pretty key.

Since I started my website, I have tried to do more deeds to people than the deeds I have received. I have never asked for anything in return and I very rarely ask for review games. When a game is given to me, I do the unboxing videos and/or the podcast review and/or the written review. Sometimes it takes me a while, I admit, but every game gets the deserved mention.

I do the same for most of the games I buy, including Kickstarters. And many, many times I have backed Kickstarter and other projects just because I want to pay it forward for someone else. And oftentimes I buy products and do reviews or any promotion just because I like the people and they are friends.

So I’d like La Base Secreta to work on similar basis.

The cafe will hopefully become hive for gamers to come and play games, so I want to use that to help promote games that could have it difficult to find a distributor or publisher in Spain.

I want to turn the cafe into the centre where distributors and publishers big and small can come to try games and decide if they want to publish it in Spain. I am going to make sure that we keep a very detailed and up-to-date inventory of both board games and role playing games and make it freely available for anyone to read and play at the cafe any time and every time they want.

And I will continue to tweet, talk about it in Facebook and Google + and do the reviews, both written, podcast and videos for every single game we will have at the cafe.

And I want nothing in return.

And of course I will benefit too. Hopefully that’ll bring people to my cafe and hopefully they will buy drinks and food that will keep the business going. But they won’t have to buy anything.

And I know a lot of people who’ll say I’m mad. I don’t care.

Because I have faith in both the gaming community and because I believe is the right thing to do.

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Aug 062015

Blueberry_crepes By Paco Garcia Jaen

This is a very tricky question to answer. When deciding to open a game café you have to think what sort of place you want to be working in and what sort of environment you want to make available to your customers.

Some times what I want is not what people want or expect, though!

So the first thing I’ve done is to take a look online and find out what’s out there already and what’s successful. Yes, I have certainly found out what my “competition” is doing so I can improve on the formula. And I feel zero shame admitting it.

Mind you, there aren’t that many games cafes in Valencia, so I won’t be hurting anyone.

One thing I’ve thought often about game cafes when I’ve visited is “this looks too much like someone just got the games here to attract customers, not to make them feel special” and that is *exactly* what I want to avoid when I open La Base Secreta.

So I’ve spent a long, long time thinking with my friend Tony about what we’re going to do and what’s the ethos behind the place, and I can tell you, this is not easy!

Firstly we had to look at the existing business and its clients. Do we want them to stay and keep coming? Well, yes, why not? We recognise that some people won’t feel comfortable when we change the place into something new and different, so we’re prepared to see a drop in the existing client base as new clients, more game-orientated ones, join in.

So what’s the plan?

Well, firstly we’re going to get rid of all the alcohol on display at the moment. Although we’ll serve the odd beer and will have some liqueur for those so inclined to drink in moderation, we don’t want them to take a relevant role or be the reason people come to spend time at the café.

We also want to change the décor and give me a geek themed aspect. I am *incredibly* lucky to have my friend Raul there. He’s an absolutely fantastic artist with a really fervent imagination and he’ll create something amazing. Look at some of his work here.

And on that note, something I’ve always wanted to do has been to empower artists and help them get their wok promoted, so we’ll make available some wall space a couple of times a year so they can exhibit their work. Meanwhile we’ll be exhibiting the works of Wayne England I’ve been buying for the last 15 years. Wayne is a top fellow as well as a top artist, so I am truly excited to have his work on display.

During the first three months we’ll also change and improve the menu. Currently the business has a very typical Spanish selection of dishes. That might sound OK to you, my internationally savvy readers, but for us who’ve been eating the same things all our lives, it sounds less than exotic.

So we are going to engage in some cultural appropriation instead. As well as serving cakes and pastries, we are going to serve Crepes and Galettes.

Although we have an extremely rich cuisine in Spain and I’m fairly good at cooking, the truth is that I absolutely adore French Crepes and Galettes. But there is also a very good business reason for me to want to serve those.

Firstly they’re super quick to prepare. An average crepe can take something like 5 minutes to prepare from start to finish, which means my customers won’t have to wait long for their food.

Secondly they are very cheap to make from scratch, which means I’ll be able to serve food that’s totally hand made in the café and can still keep a good level of profitability to keep going.

Also, they are extremely versatile. There can be stuffed with sweet or savoury and also adapted for vegetarians and vegans very easily.

And as for drinks… well, we are going to have the traditional tea, coffee and soft drinks you’d expect, that’s for sure. But we’ll also serve a good selection of home-made smoothies and milkshakes.

I suppose with the food and drinks I want to have something that says “you are different, special and very nice and our food will acknowledge and celebrate that” at the same time that we offer something that’s healthier and helps people eat and drink something that they wouldn’t otherwise.

And that’s the plan.

So what about you? What’s your plan?

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Aug 052015

La-Base-Secreta--logoBy Paco Garcia Jaen

This is an article that has little to do with any particular game, but with a trend that started just a few years ago and it’s growing in popularity after a lot of success stories: The Game Café.

And how we’re going to open our very own.

Yes readers, you got that right. The creator of this website is going to put his money where your mouth is and open a café in Valencia, Spain, in the next few weeks. That would be me, by the way.

Why? Because I think the time has come to create my own business and set up some sort of future for myself. You see, I am 42 at the time of writing this article – though that’ll change, surely – and I am not getting any younger. Doesn’t look like I’m getting much older (certainly don’t behave like I am) either, but age is creeping, and I want to do something really cool that will allow me to earn a decent living and be a part of the gaming community in a constructive manner.

So I am giving up my job and my life in the United Kingdom to move back to Spain. That will have very little impact on the website, podcast and videos. It won’t impact my travels to Germany, though it will impact, at least for now, my involvement with Dragonmeet and the UK Games Expo.

So I am going to create a series of blog posts and articles about what it is like to open a games café, just to keep you amused and, for those of you who are thinking about doing the same, to learn from my mistakes.

The first thing I had to do was to look for places and the first place I found seemed perfect. Spacious, light, very well located and with a very affordable rent (since I can’t afford to buy the premises). Me and my friends went look at the place and we were in love. Great start!

Except, no. It wasn’t.

When we started to look into the place a bit more carefully, we realised it had something missing that the council planning regulations do demand and expect: Sound Proofing.

A couple of phone calls later and we had a quotation to sound proof the ceiling: €14000. Now that is a serious amount of money. Money I don’t have.

So, lesson number one: Look into the planning requirements and find out if your place has them in place. For example:

  • Is the toilet set for people with disabilities? Because if it doesn’t you probably need to adapt the existing washrooms.
  • Does it have a vent for any smoke coming out of the kitchen? Again something you’ll need, otherwise your council will probably just shut you down.
  • Is it sound proof? This is paramount if you are close to a residential area or a block of flats. And it’s not cheap, let me assure you.
  • How about ramps for disabled people? Without those, as well as restricting your business appeal, you’ll probably be breaking a few laws (at least in Europe) and, quite frankly, being a douche bag. If the place doesn’t have the ramps, get them organised and pronto!

Then we looked at another place and, I have to say, it wasn’t perfect. But somehow we could turn it into something pretty cool. Found it via a state agent and met the owner of the current business. In this occasion it was a bar that’s already running and it’s been doing well for the last 20 years. In an area of the city near the university and 5 minutes’ walk from a tube station.

After a couple of meetings I made an offer for the business and the owner was interested; until I asked for some proof to back his claim of profitability.

Suddenly providing accounts or tax papers was a bit too much work and that made him mistrust me. It would appear that asking people to show some proof that they’re honest makes me dishonest. Still we managed to get an agreement and things seemed to work.

Mind you, that agreement took more than a week to be drafted because the state agency simply couldn’t be bothered to make phone calls or visit the owner of the bar. They were extremely lazy and complaisant, not to mention deceitful in that they never told me what their commission was. I truly could have done without them wasting my time.

All set in place and deposit agreed, I was about to send the money when I decided to call and check bank account numbers. “Oh, we signed the paperwork with another buyer three hours ago”.

Oh… and he didn’t think of telling me. Great!

A month after this incident I walked by the bar on my way to see another property. The owner was still behind the bar. I can only guess things didn’t work out after all. I didn’t stop to ask.

Lessons learned:

  • Never trust the state agency. Check, double check and then call them again to check again that they’re doing their jobs. They have a ton of properties and they’ll for the easy ones first. Make sure they don’t forget you and make sure they earn the money they’ll charge you.
  • Always frown on people who can’t back their claims of profitability. No matter how much they try to sell you what an amazing place they have. If they are not prepared to show you the accounts or the tax-returns to legitimize their claims, be very suspicious.
  • Always always always check before you send any money, specially if you haven’t signed any papers yet.
  • Actually, scrap that. Always always always make sure you sign a pre-sale agreement before you send a deposit.

As you can imagine that was extremely frustrating, so me and my partner decided to take a step back, breathe a bit and take things calmly. The first thing we realised is that were weren’t doing this OK at all. And that there was a huge amount of choice of places to buy if we were prepared to choose carefully.

We started a list of places and placed all on a map. Found which ones were closer to schools, tube stations, distance from the city centre, size and distribution. That reduced the whole list to five different bars that were for sale.

la_base_secreta2A few phone calls later, we were on our way to see them all. Exciting!

Two of them we decided against pretty much right away. The location was good, but the layout and distribution wouldn’t allow us to create the sort of café we wanted. I will go into detail on this one another time.

The other three were perfect! Spacious, light, good decoration, welcoming and in great locations.

We had to choose one, so we had to draw a list of pros and cons of each place. Which one will likely attract more people? Which is easier to expand? Which has the lowest rent? Which has the best kitchen?… And on and on. We spoke about it for two or three days before going to see the places again. The second visit started to showcase the flaws of each place and that eventually showed us the winner, showed in the photos you can see in this article.

la_base_secreta1 Time to make an offer! This time, although we were dealing with a state agency, things seemed to go more smoothly. I took time to meet the young men who run the agency and tell them my expectations, which they endeavour to meet from the very beginning. They negotiated a great discount for me, arranged to meet the landlords to negotiate the price of the rent and got the paperwork I asked for, including some of the accounts and all the licenses.

So with that we are on our way to sign all the papers at the end of August 2015.

So here starts the adventure. Friends, welcome to La Base Secreta. Your Secret Base awaits you!

Please wish us luck!

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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 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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