[Edit: The "Dr. Wictz" design team has changed the name of their game from "Pole Position" to "Post Position," so I have updated it here for correctness. - PDO]
|Austin Smokowicz and Aaron Honsowetz|
with "Post Position"
Aaron and Austin's "Post Position" has every appearance of being a horse-racing game, but it is so, so much more than that. Players participate in a Dutch auction to acquire shares in individual horses out of a field of twelve, and the top six horses will pay prizes to their owners. But the fact is that owning a horse is just a small part of the player's stake in the winner.
The race is divided into five legs, and between legs, players can buy and sell contracts with each other to pay what would be the prize payout for a horse if it finishes in the top six. For example, I could sell a one share of a contract on the horse "T.T." to Aaron for $10. The contact stipulates that I agree to pay Aaron whatever he would have won from the track if he actually owned a share in the horse "T.T." So for example, if "T.T." finishes first, then I'd have to pay Aaron $22, the amount of the winner's prize. If "T.T." finishes sixth, I'd only have to pay Aaron $2. And if "T.T." finished seventh or worse, I wouldn't owe Aaron anything. So even though neither of us owns an actual share in "T.T.," the contract that I sold him for $10 means that we both have a stake in how "T.T." finishes in the race. Aaron wants "T.T." to finish near the front (so I owe him more), and I want "T.T." to finish near the back (so I owe him less).
After a four-minute market period in which players buy and sell contracts among each other, players then write up secret ballots for two or three horses to advance one, three, or seven places in the field of twelve for the upcoming leg of the race. Naturally, players who have a stake in a horse winning will tend to vote to advance that horse the most. The secret ballots are revealed and the horses are advanced to determine the new order in the field. Then another four-minute market phase opens in which players can buy and sell more contracts with each other to speculate on how the horses will finish. This cycle repeats for each of the five legs - a four-minute market phase of buying and selling, followed by a secret ballot for horses to advance in the race. The fifth and final leg determines the final order in which the horses finish the race and who gets paid how much.
|Aaron and Austin demonstrate "Post Position" to three|
I am very, very excited about "Post Position." This game is a brilliant exercise in pure capitalism. In fact, as it happens, Aaron and Austin are post-graduate economics students who put the game together as a model of the stock market - more precisely, the gold market crisis of 1869. Sunday was only the second day that they had ever playtested "Post Position," and I was thoroughly impressed with the excitement, tension, and speculation that infused this game. There are a few game design issues to work out, all of them eminently addressable. Each race took about 75 minutes, but the designers' intent is that a complete game would consist of three races, so game length is a factor. (A problem that I face as well with "East India Company.") The processes of writing up the paper contracts, filling out the secret ballots, and resolving the horses jockeying for position are just a little cumbersome, so there may be some "process improvement" options for streamlining the execution of the game without taking away from the fundamental elements of speculation and race excitement. But again, these are simple game-design problems that Aaron and Austin can probably fix without having to compromise the things that make "Post Position" so much fun.
|Yours truly, learning the way of the fish in "Salmon Run"|
from the designer, Jesse Catron
Photo by T.C. Petty III
In our game, I managed to win a very close race with Tim Hing, T.C. Petty, and Darrell Louder. "Salmon Run" reminded me of a simpler child's game from Simply Fun called Kayak Chaos, in which players are racing in kayaks down a stream. But whereas Kayak Chaos is played with a common draw-one-play-one card deck, "Salmon Run" employs a deck-building mechanic that is elegant and fun. Darrell even commented that he's not a deck-building game fan but really likes "Salmon Run." I have very little experience with deck-building; I will confess that I don't even own a copy of Dominion. But I really like what Jesse has done with "Salmon Run."
|Darrell Louder, T.C. Petty III, Jesse Catron, and Tim Hing|
just keep swimming in "Salmon Run"
Gryphon Games has picked up "Salmon Run," whose Kickstarter campaign has already successfully funded production more than twice over, even though it still has 18 days to go at this writing.
Bring and buy
The Congress of Gamers "Bring-and-buy" gives convention-goers an opportunity to buy and sell used games without having to sit at a flea market table. I brought two boxes of games in hopes of recovering some shelf space in my house. I managed to sell six of them, which I hope have found a second lease on life in their new homes:
- Labyrinth Treasure Hunt, which I'd originally picked up at the PrezCon auction
- Kayak Chaos, which I'd bought at the Simply Fun booth at my very first Congress of Gamers years ago
- Ellery Queen's Murder Mystery Game, another PrezCon auction acquisition that I thought my wife the murder mystery writer would like
- Angry Birds Card Game, a stocking stuffer one Christmas
- Turn the Tide, actually not a bad card game but one that never caught on in my family
- Roma, a well-reviewed two-player Stefan Feld game that for some reason fell flat for me
|(c) Z-man Games|
Used by permission
|Image (c) Dice Hate Me Games|
Used by permission
The next big thing
At the World Boardgaming Championships last August, Josh Tempkin had solicited my collaboration on a brand new game idea that he was working on. We each spent the last couple of months just mulling over the concept, and this weekend we really started working in earnest on how the game might work functionally. Since the game is in the very earliest stages of concept design, there's no point in discussing theme or mechanics here. Suffice it to say that as "East India Company" is maturing into something approaching a final form, it's nice to have something new in the hopper to start chewing on and hammering out and mixing metaphors with to see what comes out. I think it would not be too far gone to say that Josh and I somewhat kindred spirits in the universe of game designers, and so this collaboration might actually produce something fun. And that would be very cool indeed, in a geeky kind of way.