Saturday, October 30, 2010

News from Essen

Spiel Essen, the world's largest and most prestigious game fair, took place in Essen Germany last weekend. I'd been hoping that Railways of the Western U.S. would be ready in time to be shown there, and it was—just barely!

It seems to be standard practice for the initial printing of a new game product to be very small. This gives the publisher a chance to check the finished product for problems before paying to have thousands of copies made; and if there are no serious problems, the publisher has a few advance copies to show off and/or sell. The first shipment of Railways of the Western U.S. arrived in Essen on the morning of the first day of the show, just in time. It was 60 copies, and they immediately opened one copy and set it up to be shown off.

The BoardGameGeek web site (one of my favorite web destinations) had a presence at the show: they were interviewing publishers, and live-streaming video demos of the new games. Keith Blume demoed RotWUS for them on that first day, and if you're interested you can watch the video here. It's quick, only about three minutes.

The game sold out quickly; all 60 copies were gone by the second day of the show.

There was indeed one problem with those first few copies: there were no Fuel Depot tokens in the boxes. Fortunately those are not necessary components; they are used only with an optional rule, and you can play just fine without them. The people who purchased those copies can get replacement Fuel Depot tokens by contacting FRED Distribution customer service. If you are not one of the lucky few who got to go to Essen you won't have to worry about this, because it will be fixed for the first full print run.

The City Rotor tokens, the other new optional feature in the expansion, were included and apparently are pretty cool. I say "apparently" because I haven't seen them myself. Helen and I didn't go to Essen (we talked about going, but couldn't swing it this year) and so now there are some 60 people in the world who have actual copies of Railways of the Western U.S., and I'm not one of them! I've never even seen a copy I didn't make myself. There's something cosmically unfair about this, or so I keep telling myself.

But FRED says that the first real shipment will arrive soon, in just a couple of weeks. Then I should have my own copy at last, and they'll be available in both brick-and-mortar and online stores. Can't wait!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Suddenly, Spatial Delivery

I haven't had a lot of time for game design work recently. Until a month or so ago, I was finishing up Railways of the Western U.S. (okay, that's game design, but it's still only an expansion and not a complete game!), and since it was sent to the printers other things have taken precedence.

But now Spatial Delivery has reclaimed my attention, after months and years of neglect. It started when we heard of a publisher that might be interested in it. I emphasize might because so far it's as tenuous as a rumor; but from what we've heard, SD might be the kind of game this publisher is looking for. That set me to thinking again about the game's biggest weaknesses, and how they might be addressed. Then yesterday over lunch, Helen and I were kicking this around, and she had a brilliant-sounding idea. Today we tried it out. A little to my surprise, the part that sounded most brilliant didn't get much play, but after some experiments and more discussion, we developed a new set of rules that feel like a great improvement.

The new rules seem to solve several problems. They added tension, competition, and interest to the card draft. They eliminated a complaint of many playtesters who didn't like that drafted cards remained vulnerable until the draft was over. And it helped balance out the turn-order bias that's been a nagging concern for a while.

Like all new rule ideas, it needs more playtest before we can really assess it. Also I will have to rewrite the rulebook and cheat sheets, and design a side-board to hold a score track, player order track, and round counter. This will take a little while to get together.

But I'm encouraged. Cross your fingers!

(Julie Haehn, if you're reading this, I will send you the copy I promised... after the rules have settled down and the new components are ready!)