New games from the Windy City: Protospiel Chicago 2018 Review

There are a lot of great games being designed in Chicago and the surrounding area, and I got to try out a lot of them a little over a week ago at the third annual Protospiel Chicago.  I had some other obligations to keep this weekend, so I couldn’t attend Protospiel for more than about 12 total hours, maybe 1/3rd of the total available time (if that) but it was enough to form some impressions.

Protospiel gathered some 50-60 game designers at a time on the 2 days that I was there, and probably many more of that in total, at the Crowne Hotel in Northbrook, IL.  The atmosphere is pretty loose.  There’s no real structure to it, but game designers put their games on display, and played them out.  I saw a lot of people teaching games, learning games, and having fun playing games.  I’m very impressed by the creative energy and the quality of the games I played there.  Many were near-professional looking.

I thought this space setup was really interesting, so I ended up playing Brave New Worlds by Mickey McDonald:

You search our solar system for planets, moons and asteroids.  You then fly out missions, plant flags and land robots on them or colonize them for points.  I really liked the use of circles instead of the usual hexes.  They were a little easier to work with, and that was important since you use your telescope to peek at them.  The game has a few things to work out but it’s close to ready in my opinion.

The first game I played was the Ogre’s Jewels by Troy Pichelman.  A bit like Clank, only instead of venturing into the dungeon, you send in a party of 4 different colored avatars.  You can build your party up to 6, plus arm them with swords and shields.  The colored avatars have advantages in rooms of their own color, and the rooms’ colors are randomized every game.  In the end, you’ve got a tough party of 6 with multiple swords and shields, but you’re also going up against tougher and tougher monsters as the game goes on. It’s a game where you throw a lot of dice, which is a lot fun.

I rolled this naturally, what are the chances? Of course, I wanted low numbers, but still.

Ultimately, you steal jewels from the Ogre.  This part, you need to roll 6s to steal the jewels.  I think the jewels should be worth more than they were, like 5 points instead of the 2 that they were worth in the game we played.  Otherwise, it’s a fun dungeon crawler.


Later on we played a card game by Troy called Rise of the Cabal.  I really like this one.  You want to ascend to “the chair” and then hold it for a whole round while the other players try to knock you down.  You can do it by reaching 10 in one category, or 9 in 2 categories, or 7 in 3 or something like that.  There are cards to build you up and cards to knock others down and ultimately, you’re going to need both in your hand if you want to win, which I did.


This car racing-and-stunt game is another one I tried out.  I regret not getting neither the name of the game nor the designer.  In this “episode” of reality TV, our cars are pitted against the dreaded Bass-nados.  You drive around, do stunts and collect points.  It was fun, but the car games I play are the ones where the cars have guns on them.

I also played a game where you are evil spirits in something resembling a slasher movie.  You can stalk, influence and seduce campers in different campsites, and even sacrifice them to gain power.  It was an interesting game with some interesting mechanics.

Didn’t get a chance to play these but I thought all looked interesting:

I also got play tests of both Cage Match and Watering Hole.

I didn’t take pictures of Cage Match because I have new art coming soon, so I was almost embarrassed to be playing the game with the old graphics, with some jury-rigged character cards, and with the action pads marked up with marker.  But nonetheless, both games went really, really well.  “Let’s play again!” was the response in both of the two duos who tried out the game.  That’s what we’re looking for.

The first match was between a husband and wife.  Bruna knocked out Lisa Lloyd the first time but Monica Alvarado defeated Bruna by knockout the second time around.

The next set of matches was between two men, relative strangers.  Gaziz Ibraimov submitted Thiago Barbosa in the first match, but Greg O’Connor won the second game with a knockout coming on a ground strike.

Both groups really liked the game.  I saw the husband, a good designer himself, the next day.  “My wife was still talking about your game last night” he said.  He said she probably wouldn’t have felt that way about the prior version, the advanced version of the game.  I think people said “let’s play again!” in part because it’s such a low investment now, only 5-10 minutes to play a match.  It’s enough to want to play again, or even play a bunch of matches at once.  Honestly, even in this environment of game designers with well-designed games, Cage Match is a great game, even if you don’t really care for MMA or fighting.

I also got in a play test of the latest version of Watering Hole as a 3-player game.  I think 3 players is the sweet spot because it lets everyone dominate a single category, and that’s exactly the way this game went for the 4 rounds that we played.  I’m getting close to getting the VP system right when the final scores were 12, 11, 11.  All 3 players could pay their rent and were well set up to start the next month.  That stated, it does take a while to run through the game.  The game really isn’t too far off, I just need to make the cards easier to read and make it faster, and I got ideas on both.  I also have some concerns about how it would play as a 4-player game, and I’d like to add a solo mode.

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