Before PAXU, I had never before demoed a board game. It's no surprise that I enjoyed it—I am a teacher by trade, and I love helping people learn and appreciate new things. But showing people how to play a board game over and over again also does a lot of interesting things to your relationship with that game. Especially if you only play the first 2–3 turns of it repeatedly, without ever getting to finish.
I wrote a positive review of Stellar Leap earlier this year, and I am a fan of Carla Kopp's solo bots. So Stellar Leap was the game that I demoed several times this weekend. I smoothed out my patter, found my weak spots in terms of remembering the rules, and learned what aspects of the game were most challenging for new players so that I could focus on explaining them better next time. I also, however, learned pretty much every card in the planet and event decks. I need a few months before I play this game again.
That said, I remain a fan of Stellar Leap. Actually, I think more highly of it as a game now than I did before I demoed it. I typically revisit games and my reviews of them anyway, but it was an especially cool experience to return to a game again and play it so intensely. I found myself thinking about strategies and desperately wanting to finish (or watch someone else finish) a full game, because I wanted to see what could happen. I have had a lot of time to contemplate Stellar Leap, and I definitely have a few new tricks up my sleeve to try the next time I go up against the AI during a solo session.
I think my biggest takeaway from this experience is: Never, ever agree to demo a game you don't enjoy. Demoing is a highly repetitive process, and there are going to be moments when your voice is failing or when you're tired of explaining the same rules for the 15th time that day. You will burn out on the game you are teaching to others, right at the moment when you're trying to help them see its charms. But as with any relationship, if you're spending lots of time with a game you really like, you'll end up glad that you put in that time... even if you also need to take a break.
This experience has also given me so much more respect for people who playtest their games extensively and who demo them at cons. It's probably different when you're showing off your "baby," but still—that is commitment.
The day before PAX was surprisingly quiet. I got in early on Thursday morning to help set up the booth for Weird Giraffe Games, where I will be demoing this weekend. #1606! Come say hello!
I've never demoed before, nor have I been to a convention bigger than Dice Tower Con. But I also never shy away from a challenge, and I think I'm going to have a great time this weekend. So far, so good!
Our first step of the day yesterday was booth setup, which was a really interesting process to see from 'the other side." Before now, I gotten to see finished booths and just have the experience of shopping around at them. I never really processed the fact that before the booths go up, you are basically inside of a huge, empty space. All of those table spaces, floors, display counters, shelves, what have you are actually transported and assembled by publishers the day before the convention starts. Our first act of the day was to haul boxes of stuff in from the loading docks to where the booth was located. We are a small outfit and used a dolly or two to transport everything. Later in the day, bigger publishers and companies were in there with forklifts. It was wild!
It's all the little things in a booth that you never think about. Or at least, that I never think about. Before assembling furniture or unboxing games for demo/sale, we started with the foundation—a floor for the booth! Not everyone bothers with a booth floor, but I think ours is pretty cool. It's also little stuff like this that reminds me why I appreciate Carla Kopp so much as a game designer and as a person in general. That level of attention to detail and general giving a damn never ceases to impress me. I especially dig the Okapi-shaped cutouts in some of the foam tiles. How cool is that?
After flooring comes furniture assembly, shelving, and generally trying to make the place look decent. Let's just say it was a good thing I wasn't in charge of this project—I would never have thought of stuff like nice coverings for the tables, enough banners to advertise games, a display shelf for smaller items. Now that I've seen this stuff in action, I know. But the learning curve for a high quality booth setup might be steeper than I realized! It was also really cool to look around and see other teams of people pouring their hearts into their own small patches of floor space. It was like watching a tiny city spring up overnight! And of course, our own little home patch got done eventually.
I also had time to do a bunch of other really cool stuff. I got to hang out and play games with friends all afternoon and evening—obviously the best part of any convention. And I got to meet and interview Keith Matejka! We had never met before, and it turns out that he is very nice and very fun to talk to about solo gaming. Keep an eye out on my channel for some snippets of our conversation!
Here's hoping that the first "real" day of PAXU is as enjoyable as Day 0.