A board game design convention only two blue cards away

This past weekend the first annual Pow Wow conference was held in Charlottesville, Virginia. Like its predecessor Protospiel, the idea was to get together a group of German-style board game designers and have them play each other’s prototype games. Each game is then work-shopped, offering suggestions on what works, what doesn’t, what could be improved rules-wise and production wise, and even given suggestions on possible publication. The event was hosted by Stephen Glenn (Balloon Cup) and included special guest recent Spiel des Jahres winner Alan Moon (Ticket to Ride). Attendees mostly came from the east coast, though there were a couple people from the Midwest.

Unlike other conventions of its type, there was no formal schedule whatsoever. Anyone could whip out a prototype for the appropriate number of people milling about and go at it. Lots of playtests occurred, but even with five days, there wasn’t enough time to play them all. Games ranged from short and light to several hour long heavier games, with most of the games falling into that great 30-45 minutes quick with important decision niche. I saw at least three games with deduction elements, two negotiation games, a few tactical placement games, a whole lot of games with some kind of bidding, and three races (two of them using a push-your-luck type mechanic.) Game prototypes were generally pretty good looking, from the elaborate boards and wooden pieces to one game that featured at least one hundred cards each with custom drawn art. (!!!)

Alan Moon was a great guest. He was more than willing to jump into any prototype, and was very personable all-throughout (even when trying to break a game by bidding an extreme number). He was also very willing to answer questions about getting games published here or in Germany, about what different companies are like to work with, etc. He was up for a game of Texas Hold’Em, the poker of choice for game designers, as well. When sitting down to a game of Royal Turf, the rest of the attendees got to surprise Moon by bringing out a train-game cake while playing The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” to congratulate him on winning the Spiel Des Jahres. Revenge was sworn against Stephen Glenn, but hopefully there’ll be more such surprises in the future for Pow Wow attendees who win the Spiel Des Jahres as well.

Overall, I’d say the event was a great success. Though it was a very no-frills convention, just getting together a great group of people with similar interests in German-style board and card games went a long way towards creating a conducive environment to game improvement. Even those of us with regular playtesting groups still owe it to themselves to get involved in events like this, so you can see how people who aren’t your friends react to your games.

And plus, you get to play board games for five days and call it “work.”