UNPUB Game Testing: South Jersey Style

Image Copyright: Cartrunk Entertainment

This past weekend Cartrunk Entertainment, a visually suggestive if tongue twister of a company name, held one of their UNPUB Gaming events in South Jersey. Billing themselves as a growing community of game designers, publishers, players, retailers and artists bringing unpublished table-top games to the public for play-test I set out on the long and arduous journey from the City to South Jersey to attend the event. Despite the two-and-a-half hour drive and the unusual and unassuming setting for the affair (a quiet place, the Woodbury Community Center located on a suburban street far from any three story buildings) the event was an excellent experience in seeing some of the potential creators and designers behind upcoming table-top games, one of which was even slated to be picked up for production by a company towards the end of the year.

Woodbury Heights
Community Center

The unassuming site of
Game Play-testing…
Image Source:
northeastprecast.com

UNPUB, short for Unpublished games and Cartrunk Entertainment is the brain-child of John Moller who recounts his story of looking for others to play-test games he encountered a few years ago. Finding that there was indeed a pool of folks looking for these types of affairs led him to UNPUB where designers and players could meet in a cooperative and collaborative atmosphere and give and receive feedback. The first UNPUB was held in January 2012 and since then events and mini-events have been held along the Eastern Seaboard. On Saturday’s showcase I had the privilege to play three games currently in development and if the drive there and back wasn’t such a hurdle I would have loved to have sampled a few more.

Set up on fold-out tables in the expanse of a gymnasium the first game I tested was Kevin Kulp’s Animal Run. Slated as one of the games there part of the KidsZone which focuses on activities for youngsters Kevin described Animal Run as being inspired by Temple Run, a video game where explorers race through temples gathering coins and avoiding obstacles to end up with the most loot from the ravaged sites of antiquity.

The mechanics behind Animal Run closely mirrored Mayday’s Get Bit a game where players put tokens on a surface and place cards from their hands representing positioning in a ‘race’ against a shark, with each player trying to guess which position each other player is going to play for the round. The losers of that game are the ones whose tokens get devoured by the plastic shark that comes with the game, and the winner is the player left with any remaining body parts.

Animal Run by contrast consists of guessing which card will come up from a deck of cards that consist of Jump, Run, Slide, Turn and a few mixed combinations of these. Players are given one of each of these cards that count as their hand and each round determine, based on which cards have already been turned over from the deck and grouped accordingly, which card, or ‘move’ they wish to make for the round. The players who guess correctly get to move up in the order of tokens. Some cards have ‘coin’ values with pictures that represent goods that the tokens, a fish, elephant, giraffe and cow in the version I played, desire to have. The winner is the player who at the end of the game has the most ‘goods’ on their coin cards, which are drawn from a second treasure deck.

All in all the game is a mixed bag of largely guesses and luck made during most of the beginning of play and slight strategy based on what has been draw as the game progresses. As a kids game, the strategy, or basically guessing looks appealing for children and the treasures and animal tokens are sure to appeal to them as well. The large point spread in treasure cards though and the random guessing aspect of the game definitely places it outside the realm of strategy that I was looking for, but a fun kid oriented game nonetheless.

The next game I played was by a husband a wife duo called Tessen. The word is a reference to the war-fans used by Samurai during the feudal period of Japan and the game itself is a Japanese-themed card game where two players with opposing but virtually identical decks consisting of sets of animals and Japanese samurai cards play in real-time against one another by trying to match and put aside sets of their animal cards. To do so, players have five ‘slots’ in front of them, spaces where they can put animal cards from their hand down, and once a set of three or more identical animals are grouped a player can take these sets and put them out of play.

Tessen creator Chris Zinsli, shows fellow game designer Ruth Greenwood, creator of Phrase-It! the setup to his competitive solitaire-esque card game.
Image Copyright: Blackcoyotl

At the end of the round, players total up their assembled animal decks and the winner of the round is declared as the person who has the most animals cards. The game ends once a player has won three rounds, and to keep track a samurai card is placed outside of play from the winner’s deck, thus cycling out these samurai cards. Where these samurai cards come into play is that players can place them on their opponents slots, or stacks of in-play animals, and then if that player chooses, they place one of their own samurai cards from their hand to block this ‘attack’ If unable to do so, the player looses those animals immediately to the attacker.

Interestingly enough a few weeks ago I tried to teach my girlfriend, a budding Gamer how to play the card game Spit. For those unfamiliar, Spit is basically a two-player solitaire game where players match cards and place them in a central location under certain conditions trying to get rid of their cards as fast as possible. Growing up, Spit was one of my favorite games, and Tessen closely models its design on the Spit feel and mechanic of dual ‘solitaire’ players, a fact its designers Chris and Suzanne Zinsli readily point out as one of the games goals.

Tessen is an excellent update to a game that combines speed and strategy with an interesting flavor. The design of the cards, taken from public domain images of Japanese woodcuts for the prototype beautifully illustrates a feel that gives the dueling samurai motif an evocative and pleasing appeal. Combined with more advanced options to the game, like super-Samurai and a Dragon card, Tessen is a straight-forward enough game that is easy to see why it was picked up by VanRyderGames and I look forward to a commercial version of the game, which may opt for original artwork with the Kickstarter version possibly including the original set I played, in the future.

The appealing artwork to CardBoardEdison’s upcoming Tessen, a Japanese-themed two-person solitaire-esque design picked up by VanRyderGames.
Image Copyright: Blackcoyotl

I rounded out my day at the event with another designer couples table, Todd and Ruth,  who were play-testing their game Phrase-It! With a feel similar to the party game Apples To Apples, Phrase-It! has players rolling letters on three dice and drawing cards from three random decks coming up with the most outrageous or subtly comical phrases they can. Its a quick and quirky party game meant to be played with friends or as an ice-breaker that differentiates itself from other games by the interaction of random cards and random letter rolls.

Phrase-It! is a light-hearted game that has some interesting twists on the ones already out there. For me it will definitely be a memorable laugh due to one of the phrases that one of the women players at the play-test came up with during the game;

Category: What You Did Last Night

Letters Needed to create: H-G-S

Phrase came up with:  Had Great Sex.

Priceless.

The cards and dice used to create funny phrases in the alpha-testing of the party game Phrase-It!
Image Copyright: Blackcoyotl

Overall my experience at the UnPub event was great. Enthusiastic designers interacting and getting feedback from enthusiastic (if mostly other designer) players. The venue was off the road and off beat and despite the drive, had a real grass-roots feel to it. So when you get a chance, and feel like playing the next big table-top game yet to be released, or have an idea for one yourself, check out one of the upcoming UNPUB events and

Game Forth!

  • Look for upcoming opportunities in the play-testing world through John Moller’s UnPub.net.
  • Follow CardBoard Edison, the Creative Team behind the Tesson Game on Twitter here.
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4 thoughts on “UNPUB Game Testing: South Jersey Style

  1. Thanks for your kind words about Phraze-It…I forgive you for beating me at Tessen. Our Kickstarter campaign just started…would you mind if we quoted you?

    1. I would be honored! And for folks not in the know, Phraze-It is a kooky card game designed to be played at parties or amongst friends that teases the brain and the funny-bone, and from the looks of their Kickstarter, completely redone with great artwork and a spiffy looking container setup. So check ’em out!

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