Excuse me, Protospiel?

Basically, designer’s heaven. Affordable, full of connections, game testing all weekend long!

Protospiel banner

What’s Inside

In this blog post we’re going to cover:

  • The games
  • The people and the “spirit”
  • Upcoming event dates
  • Tips for designers
  • and even being a good play tester!

Plus, for Luke Laurie or anyone interested or crazy enough to HOST a Protospiel, we’ve got a guide for that too!

THE GAMES

So, um, there are games at these things? YES! Sure, they may be in all states of “finished”, but it’s the essence of pure gaming. Protospiel has resulted in many published titles!

Published Protospiels as a BGG Geeklist!

Protospiel banner

Please add to the comments on these Published Protospiels on BGG if you have stories of how these games came to be!

THE PEOPLE AND THE SPIRIT

Protospiel was originally started by founders Stephen Glenn, Dominic Crapuchettes, and Mike Petty. We talked with some of the current Protospiel organizers David Whitcher, Eric Jome, & James Mathe to get some of the scoop on what it means to Protospiel.

It’s must be open to designers of all skill and experience levels. Testers are allowed but we want more designers than testers. The point is to get feedback from other designers.
David Whitcher Organizer, Protospiel Ann Arbor

David runs the event in Michigan annually, admins on the official Facebook group and maintains Protospiel.org. He confirmed that the main Protospiel event usually has around 80 testers and guests, with about 10 industry reps, growing about 10% a year. Whether you’re part of the original Protospiel alumni or someone who has just come in, it feels like a close group.

At a larger level, Protospiel is just an idea people share. No one owns it. The original creators ask that, if you use the name, you not use it to make money. If you run one, just make it modest and follow the principles.
Eric Jome Organizer, Protospiel Milwaukee

Clearly, someone who gets the spirit of Protospiel is Eric Jome. You’ll see more of his quotes and links in this article. He operates the Milwaukee event, which has hosted 3 events thus far, two in 2013, and another in 2014. Attendance ranged from 65-80 at these three events. Eric mentions that 90% or more of the attendees are designers, and that designers are the core demographic.

Protospiel is about getting some work done on your games. It’s about helping others get over some hurdles or fine tune (balance) their games. A standard convention is more about going and trying to have fun playing as many games as you can while a Protospiel is much more a workshop atmosphere.
James Mathe Publisher, Minion Games

James Mathe might be where I first heard about Protospiel, with all the design groups he sponsors. James has been attending Protospiel in Michigan for 5 years, and helped start Milwaukee and contributes to running promotions, registration and the website for the Milwaukee Protospiel. He attends as a publisher, a designer and as a tester. Minion Games has published over half a dozen titles found at Protospiel events. James also contributes a ton to the process of designing and publishing games at www.JamesMathe.com

UPCOMING EVENT DATES

Ok, so we’re IN. When is the next one?

Protospiel San Jose pic

Next Protospiel is May 9-11 in San Jose, CA!

Three members of the league are going! (Mark Major, Jeff Cornelius, and myself) We’re traveling up with recently transplanted Seattle designer/publisher, Andy Federspiel. Plus you’ll find:

  • Designers: Rob Daviau, Kevin G Nunn (also a Protospiel organizer!), Grant Rodiek & David Sirlin to name a few.
  • Publishers: Victory Point Games, SlugFest Games, Tasty Minstrel Games, Bezier Games and Jeff represents Cosmic Wombat Games.
  • Industry guests: Aldo Ghiozzi, Impressions Game Distribution, Eric Vogel from Evil Hat and Richard Bliss, host of Funding the Dream Podcast.

The San Jose event is run by Jeremy Commandeur of Boardgame Builders. There’s a Facebook page for the event, as well as some recent detailed posts on the schedule and a great FAQ at Boardgame Builders. The San Jose event is also an UNPUB event. UNPUB is a separate series from Protospiel -a topic for another blog post.

Here are the major Protospiel’s and their planned event status:

  • Protospiel South in Austin, Texas. Organizer, Jonathan Leistiko. Hosting May 24-25
  • Protospiel in Chelsea, Michigan. Organizer, David E. Whitcher. Hosting July 25-27
  • Protospiel North. Currently looking for a home in 2014.
  • Protospiel Milwaukee. Maintains complete Protospiel calendar! Just hosted in March. Next event estimated 2015.

Tips for Designers

Just a couple of tips for designers. Eric Jome sums it up like so:

The essence of Protospiel is collaborative design. I need help with my game. You need help with yours. Let’s work together! We’ll provide good, insightful, inspirational feedback and contributions because we are both designers, not just critics, gamers, or industry people. We can talk the same language. We can be respectful and equitable because we come to the table as peers. That is the spirit of Protospiel. Designers working together.
Eric Jome Protospiel organizer

James tells you to be prepared!

Designers should make sure you bring enough “sell sheets” with you. This is a paper that explains the basics of your game, why it would sell or is different and has your contact information on it. Nothing worse than seeing a game at the event and later wanting to contact the designer but they never gave you anything or only a business card that says nothing about the game presented. We need to associate you with your game for later contact.
James Mathe Publisher, Minion Games

Oh, and don’t forget not to geek out, just because there’s publishers present.

Industry people shouldn’t be pestered to look at game designs. My event has over 100 different games at it and our guests would stop attending if they had to deal with 50 designers trying to pitch to them. They are there to give informed input and to help designers understand the industry
David Whitcher Protospiel organizer

That said, this is no doubt a great networking opportunity between designers and publishers.

Out of the dozen or so titles we have, over half have been from Protospiel finds. This is why I try to give back to the community and help the designers where I can. It’s a great pool of potential games to market.
James Mathe Publisher, Minion Games

Tips for Play Testers

Ok, got it. Designers should keep a couple things in mind. But at least when you’re just testing games – that’s the easy part, right? Actually, this may be the toughest part of the process. Do you know know how to be a good play tester? Eric has a great write up on 10 Playtest principles over at BGG. You definitely want to read that list, whether you’re attending Protospiel, a convention, or even just games in your home.

Make Your Own!

Ok, now, without further ado:

the GUIDE TO MAKING YOUR OWN PROTOSPIEL

Guide? We don’t need no stinking guide! Rent yourself a ballroom, invite everyone, keep costs modest, follow the spirit, and tell us all about it.
Eric Jome Protospiel organizer

Eric advises you should probably go to one, but it really is that easy to make a Protospiel:

No one owns it. It is generally a good idea to be respectful of the name or you risk hurting it. It’s perhaps best to attend one before running one yourself. And best not to run one on top of someone else’s. But as long as you host a not-for-profits, collaborative design event, I’d say you could in good conscience call it a Protospiel
Eric Jome Protospiel organizer

Seriously though, are their steps?? Ok, fine, here are the 4 ‘rules’:

  • 1) It’s Non-Profit. Only charge what you need to cover costs. If you have money left over either give it to charity or roll it over to you next event. Of course you can give it to David too for the main coffers.
  • 2) Open-Source. It must be open to designers of all skill and experience levels. Testers are allowed, but we want more designers than testers. The point is to get feedback for other designers.
  • 3) Extras Optional. You can do panels, seminars, design exercises etc.. but the focus should be on testing.
  • 4) Industry Guests. As mentioned, don’t pester them, they are a big draw for designers. Comp their entrance fees and make it as painless as possible for them to attend.

Done and done. So when are you going to do a Protospiel?


A sincere thanks to Eric, David and James for the information re: Protospiel. I’ll be following up with more from Jeremy in San Jose after my first Protospiel experience.

I’m bringing four league games to San Jose: (five if you count donating What the Food?! for prizes!) Letter Tycoon, designed by Brad Brooks, Replicant from Luke Laurie and Breaking News from Norv Brooks. And hopefully a first appearance of my animal group battle game, Shapeshifters. Can’t wait for some feedback!

Jeff mentions he’s definitely bringing the Stones of Fate Zodiac expansion and then probably Grow, Garden, Grow; Ascendant; and possibly Campaign Trail. Cheers to games!

Protospiel Stamped!

P.S. Be sure to add this to your design, once you’ve tested at Protospiel. All the cool kids are doing it. Courtesy of James Mathe:
Protospiel Tested #1
Protospiel Tested #2
Protospiel Tested #3

Peter Vaughan

Game Designer at Squirmy Beast

Peter eats games for breakfast! A core gamer since the days of the Commodore 64, Peter is experienced in a wide variety of game styles and platforms, and designs for both mobile and tabletop experiences. A member of So Cal Playtesting, helping design the future of games. His first published board game is “What the Food?!”

Latest posts by Peter Vaughan (see all)

6 Readers Commented

Join discussion
  1. Peter, great article! Your name has crossed my path multiple times in the last few weeks and I am beginning to look forward to seeing the things you’ve written and discussed. Cheers!

  2. Christian Strain on May 5, 2014

    I beginning to feel like I’m missing all these great things being out here in Texas!

  3. Peter Vaughan Author on May 5, 2014

    @Chris – There’s a Protospiel in Austin, TX May 24-25! You can go and report back on another protospiel for our follow up article! Also, we’re going to get google hangout design going, right?

  4. Peter Vaughan Author on May 5, 2014

    @John – thank you so much! That’s such an awesome thing to say. It makes all the work on this league worth it. Cheers and well met – would like to talk to you further about your work with Richard Bliss and the blog you write over at gotgeniusgames.com The KS value alone in all your work on shipping/manufacturing – maybe a guest post over here if you’re up for it – you know after you can sleep again post campaign. Good luck with Linkage!

  5. Jon Vallerand on May 7, 2014

    Is there/will there be a Protospiel event outside the US? Or at least, is there a plan for it to get international?

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