One interesting facet of any gaming convention is the independent game designers and publishers in attendance. These are those folks who, for whatever reason, have decided to self-publish the games they have designed. This is more possible than ever today, with resources such as Gamefound and Kickstarter for raising your funding by presenting your ideas and getting money ahead of time; social media allowing you to reach and engage a broad audience who are potential targets for your game; and the Internet in general, allowing anyone to run a full e-commerce site out of their house with minimal effort.
And who benefits from all of this? Well, we the gamers do, of course! Game ideas that a decade or so ago would never have seen the light of day can now build enough interest to get the funding necessary for an independent designer to take the risk and publish the game themselves. Even at that point, the road is a rocky one, especially right now with supply chain shortages and shipping issues plaguing all industries. For those people who persevere and bring their ideas and games to life, kudos to you! Let’s take a look at a small sample of what I saw at SaltCON 2022 in Layton, Utah, from March 3–6, 2022.
Binary Cocoa Brings Abstract Games to Life
Binary Cocoa is a game designer with both a digital and physical game footprint. On the board game side of the house, many of their games are abstract matching and strategy, which makes their latest Kickstarter fit right in. Mondrian: Color in Motion was a pleasant surprise and a pleasure to learn from Joseph Brower, President of Binary Cocoa. Mondrian: Color in Motion is an abstract color matching and token jumping game, inspired by the art of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. In 2020, it was a finalist for light strategy in the Ion Award presented at SaltCON, and further tweaks have made it even smoother. The subtle mix of matching the colored tiles and taking tokens seems simple until you see the Machiavellian strategies it offers. Despite any backstabbing, Mondrian is very approachable, even to the most die-hard board game hater out there, yet has enough depth to keep more serious gamers coming back for more. It is currently live on Kickstarter through the end of March 2022, and I happily backed this project based on the quality of the components and knowing it will be played frequently at my house.
Glacial Skies is a prototype of a different take on tabletop miniature wargaming. It aims to be easy to purchase, easy to play, and fun. I myself have never been much of a miniatures person, but when I tried Glacial Skies with Joseph, I was pleasantly surprised. The submarine warfare game has a great backstory and brings a clever hitpoint mechanic that feels right at home with the overall underwater warfare theme. Be sure to check out all the games Binary Cocoa has to offer on their site, or in person at their location in Rexburg, Idaho.
Last Night Games Shows the Benefits of Sleep Deprivation
Brothers Jake and Nathan Jenne found themselves designing games at night after their kids were in bed, and frequently would discuss the previous night’s work the next day. So when they decided to publish some of their games, the name Last Night Games was a natural fit. The brothers bring the perfect combination of skills to Last Night Games, with experience in logistics, production, and graphic design, and they are creating and distributing their games directly. Hailing from a town I’d never heard of on the shores of Utah Lake, they brought two games to SaltCON Spring 2022 for attendees to enjoy. Life of a Chameleon is a charming and colorful set collection game where you, as the chameleon, travel around the board trying to collect bugs of your same color. Of course, there are a lot of different colored bugs, so you can change your color to get those bugs as well, completing objective cards and aiming for the highest score at the end of the game. You can pick up Life of a Chameleon directly from their online shop.
Their other game is The Finest Fish and this one holds a special interest to me as I have a pond with several beautiful koi in my yard. In The Finest Fish, you are drafting cards to collect scales to place on your fish, creating patterns, and achieving goals and points. This game is not yet in production, but you can follow along at their website and on Twitter to find out more.
Oh No! Games Is Waking the Dragon
Oh No! Games is embarking on their first Kickstarter soon with Dragonwake, a card drafting and social deduction game. In Dragonwake, you are either a hero or a cultist trying to draw cards to win for your side. The heroes win if they find all of the relic cards, and the cultists win if the dragon card is revealed. It is a game for three to six players, and it plays pretty quickly at an estimated 10 to 20 minutes. There are other cards types such as artifacts, power, and events that can have an impact on the course of the game as well. I watched several groups play the game and everyone told me they enjoyed it. You can find out more at their website and sign up to be notified of their Kickstarter going live.
Joe Magic Isn’t Your Ordinary Magic
Mark Hanny is a one-man magic show with Joe Magic Games in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He designs his games, promotes them on Kickstarter for funding, and produces and ships them himself. Talking to Mark, he does it for the love of the game. It sounds like most of his games are single runs, so check out his games to see if he designs something you might be interested in because if you don’t get it the first time, you probably won’t be able to. His latest game, Levitation: Masters of Magic, is ranked on Boardgamegeek with good reviews. You can also see more information about all 28 of his games there as well.
It was a lot of fun to see all the people trying out their hand at developing games, and all of the attendees willing to sit for a spell and give them their time, energy, and feedback about those games. Some of the games were quite professional and at an obvious later stage in their development, having professionally printed cards, boards, and manuals. On the flip side, several were very early in their development, with game boards made from foam core decorated using markers, and various cards from different card games as proxies in sleeves to stand in for what the developer is envisioning. One card game I tried, designed by Cullen Hoggan, had the early title of Roundhouse Roundabout, and he described it as “gladiatorial roshambo” which I can agree with after playing a hand with him and his friends.
At SaltCON Spring 2022 some developers even reserved tables and put out sign-up sheets to get more feedback on their game ideas. Evan Clarke from Boise, Idaho, had two prototype games for people to try out. I didn’t get a chance to see his game Solar Struggle, but he and a few others were playing World of Maldavia when I stopped to observe. He talked about always wanting to create a Risk-type game, but with a much better combat system, and the person playing the game felt he was going in a good direction.
I know I can always count on board game conventions to give me fun surprises with games I have never heard of. And if you are willing to look a bit deeper and take a chance on some early prototypes, perhaps you can help influence the next big game coming from an eager designer looking for your thoughts and your time. All in all, this part of SaltCON Spring 2022 was thoroughly enjoyable and something I always look forward to.